The Saboscrivner’s Top 20 TV Shows of 2020

The Saboscrivner’s Top 20 TV Shows of 2020

These are the shows I would rank 11-20, in no specific order.  They were perfectly fine and entertaining.  I enjoyed most of these shows most of the time, but I watched too much good TV this year, and they didn’t crack my Top Ten.

Upload s1 (Amazon Prime)
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
Doom Patrol s2 (HBO Max)
Bosch s6 (Amazon Prime)
Dead to Me s2 (Netflix)
Umbrella Academy s2 (Netflix)
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow s5 (CW)
Hunters s1 (Amazon Prime)
Fargo s4 (FX; now on Hulu)
Medical Police s1 (Netflix)

Now for my Top Ten, ranked in order:

10. Lovecraft Country s1 (HBO) – Probably the most ambitious and audacious show I watched all year, a 1950s period piece with a majority Black cast that contrasts fictional horrors (eldritch horror, body horror, cosmic horror) with real social horrors that continue to perpetuate today. Each episode had a very different feel, all harkening back to weird tales from pulp fiction – a creepy cabin in the woods, a cult of wealthy white wizards, a haunted house, an Indiana Jones-style adventure full of deadly booby traps, body swapping, a sex demon, a tour of the multiverse, malevolent spirits tormenting an innocent, and time travel back to one of the darkest hours in our history – and all while highlighting issues of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, police brutality, and systemic inequality. If it sounds heavy, it sometimes is. There were uneven points and some aspects I didn’t love, but the show hits more than it misses. It deserves all the credit in the world for trying, and for being unafraid to shock audiences and make them uncomfortable. And it seemed to make Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett into stars, which they deserve to become. It was definitely one of the shows that captured the zeitgeist of 2020, this hell year.

9. Snowpiercer s1 (TNT) – Another show that captured the zeitgeist, this was a bleak and grim postapocalyptic adventure, where survivors of a frozen planet live on a titanic train that hurtles around the dead Earth, trapped in strict social strata, with the first class passengers continuing lives of luxury while the tail section subsists in squalor. Of course there are class struggles, which lead to a murder mystery and a violent uprising. I think this show comes closest to the feeling of Game of Thrones, with its social order of dangerous, depraved haves and rebellious have-nots with nothing to lose, where life is cheap and justice and equality are unheard of. And I’m always thrilled to see my ‘90s crush Jennifer Connelly and the multitalented Daveed Diggs in anything.

8. The Good Place s4 (NBC) – We got the final four episodes of this triumphant show way back in January, which feels like a lifetime ago. A rare show that cracked us up, kept us guessing, and stealthily gave us ideas for how to be better people, The Good Place offered us humor, hope, and love over the last four years when we really needed all of the above. It culminated in a finale that was both beautiful and sad. I will never forget this show, and I’ll never stop recommending it.

7. Perry Mason s1 (HBO) – A wonderful neo-noir with a fantastic cast headlined by Matthew Rhys, Tatiana Maslany, Shea Whigham, and John Lithgow. Here, Perry Mason is a rumpled, low-rent detective in 1930s L.A., but the season is his origin story for becoming a legendary trial attorney. It’s another bleak and grim show, but we don’t watch noir for moral uplift or happy endings, do we? It’s gorgeous to look at and remarkably well made in every aspect. I hope HBO makes more.

6. Schitt’s Creek s6 (Netflix) – Now here’s a show we watch for moral uplift and happy endings. My wife and I had never seen this show or even heard much about it until it won all of the Emmys earlier this year, so we binged all six seasons and fell in love with it, after a slow start. This is the epitome of a feel-good show, detailing a rich, spoiled family’s fall from grace, and how they had to lose everything to learn how to be good people. The admittedly lousy town of Schitt’s Creek changed the Roses for the better, but they changed the town and its inhabitants for the better as well. Everyone made the most of their opportunities to grow and change, learned humility, and found success, friendship, love, and happiness they never dreamed would be possible. Who couldn’t use some of that right now? The last three episodes of the sixth and final season are just one scene of pure joy after another, and I guarantee you’ll cry happy tears when you aren’t laughing.

5. Ted Lasso s1 (Apple TV+) – Maybe the most pleasant surprise of 2020, an Apple TV+ show from Bill Lawrence, the creator of the great sitcom Scrubs, starring the affable Saturday Night Live alumnus Jason Sudeikis in the role he was born to play. Ted Lasso is a genial Midwestern college football coach hired to come to England to manage a struggling soccer team. He takes the gig, despite knowing next to nothing about soccer. But the show is first and foremost a character piece about one of the biggest mensches in fiction, right up there with Superman, Captain America, and Special Agent Dale Cooper.  He’s a kind, empathetic, patient, loyal, and surprisingly wise mentor, friend, and boss.  He helps, uplifts, and improves the lives of everyone he encounters. There is no cynicism here, but don’t get me wrong – it’s not a saccharine-sweet, glurgy, preachy show either. I hate that stuff, so don’t worry. Also, it is often hilarious. While I harbored concerns about a show in 2020 about a clearly mediocre and undeserving white dude who gets rewarded with a good job he doesn’t belong in, I was proven wrong. Coach Lasso’s empathy and humanity make him the right man for the job, and it’s about damn time for that.

4. The Mandalorian s2 (Disney+) – We binged both seasons back to back late this year, and I enjoyed it more than anything Star Wars-related since the original trilogy of my youth. After eight movies in between that ranged from good (Episode VII) to unnecessary (Solo) to terrible (take a guess!), The Mandalorian distilled everything I have always loved about Star Wars and made it into a galaxy-spanning western and a homage to Lone Wolf and Cub. By now, I’m sure you’re familiar with the Beskar-armored bounty hunter who doesn’t remove his helmet for anyone, and the adorable and gifted child under his protection. Season 2 improved on Season 1 in almost every way by introducing new and old allies, raising the stakes, and tying the show into the larger Star Wars continuity. The finale was pure fan-service in the best possible way, but I had plenty of mark-out moments throughout the season, including when one of my favorite actors, associated with other modern badass westerns, showed up as an ally, and when a beloved Star Wars character reappeared for a redemption arc. This show is clearly a labor of love for everyone involved, and it showed.

3. Black Monday s2 (Showtime) – Another show we binged during the pandemic, and very possibly the least-known show in my Top Ten. A Showtime series about Wall Street iconoclasts and schemers set in the late ‘80s, it will bring to mind Scorsese’s excellent Wolf of Wall Street (the funniest movie he ever made) and John Landis’ 1983 classic Trading Places. Yes, it’s a sitcom, but an intricately plotted sitcom about some really smart, really awful people double- and triple-crossing each other as they claw their way to the top, like crabs in a barrel. Full of hilarious ‘80s references, terrible fashions, and ridiculously clever wordplay (from David Caspe, the creator of Happy Endings), this is the best and funniest show you’ve very likely never heard of. And on top of that, it will shock you with some major plot twists along the way. Plus, it stars Don Cheadle, Regina Hall, Andrew Rannells, and Casey Wilson, who elevate almost everything they’re in.

2. AEW Dynamite (TNT) – The hell year 2020 made me a pro wrestling fan again, after I drifted away from WWE 15 years ago, when the great Eddie Guerrero died tragicially. This brand-new wrestling federation owned by billionaire Tony Khan started airing on TNT last fall, but watching Dynamite on Wednesday nights became a pleasant routine for me during the pandemic, and something I would look forward to all week. I thrilled to the in-ring action, learned everything I could about the characters on the screen and their real-life personalities, and became a “mark” for several of the incredibly talented and charismatic performers, who regularly risk their health and safety to tell stories, take bumps, defy gravity, and sometimes bleed for our entertainment. As usual, I gravitated toward underdogs like Orange Cassidy, Sonny Kiss, John Silver, and “The Librarian” Leva Bates, mostly good guys and goofballs. But on AEW, even the main-eventers are all hard workers and generous performers who share the spotlight and don’t make everything all about them.

AEW Dynamite aired my favorite TV moment of 2020: “Le Dinner Debonair,” a taped segment where two pompous heel (bad guy) wrestlers tried to psych each other out over a steak dinner, only to transition into an old-timey Hollywood musical number with full choreography, where they both sang and danced. It was entrancing. This past week, a wrestler who went by the character name Brodie Lee died suddenly. He was a year younger than me, but in peak physical condition, unlike me. He was a giant man who played a convincing heel (bad guy) who I never appreciated enough on screen, but was apparently the nicest guy ever, with a wife and two young sons. Last night I watched the most beautiful episode of Dynamite, a fitting tribute to the man’s career and life, both cut far too short. I cried when they showed a montage of his best moments, set to my musical hero Tom Waits’ song “Ol’ 55.” It was a wrestling show made with care, pride, and love, from people who seem to love their jobs, their craft, and their co-workers. AEW doesn’t seem to suffer from the massive egos and backstage politics of the WCW and WWE, that I used to watch and get frustrated by. The veterans constantly “put over” (elevate) the young talent of tomorrow, and everyone collaborates and supports each other, even while pretending to cause each other grievous bodily harm.

1. Better Call Saul s5 (AMC) – The best-acted, best-written, best show on TV. It fills me with tension and dread the way its predecessor Breaking Bad did, but I argue this prequel/spinoff series has surpassed the original show. I always say comedians make excellent dramatic actors because they have so much inner darkness to draw from, and I think everyone realized that about series lead Bob Odenkirk a long time ago. But this season belonged to the best and most underrated actress on television, Rhea Seehorn, whose character Kim Wexler is the heart and soul of the show. She consistently amazes and astonishes. I’m still hoping for a flash-forward to a happy ending for Jimmy McGill, aka Saul Goodman, but the fact that Kim’s fate remains completely unknown makes her scenes that much more riveting. This might have been the best season yet, and that’s the highest possible praise.

For anyone who cares, here are my lists from 2019 and 2018:

Top Twenty TV Shows of 2019
Top Ten Movies of 2019
Top Ten TV Shows of 2018
Top Ten Movies of 2018

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Fiddler’s Green Irish Pub

I don’t drink anymore, but I always appreciate an atmospheric pub or bar that serves warm, hearty fare.  Pub grub is some of the ultimate comfort food, especially when the temperature finally drops a bit (which in Florida means a few days in the 50s and nights in the 40s).  I miss the old Fox’s Sherron Inn in South Miami, a dimly lit dive bar straight out of a Tom Waits song, jukebox and all, that served surprisingly good food.  It has been gone for over a decade, and it makes me sad that there’s no trace remaining, and too many people will never even know it was there.

But on a happier note, ever since I moved to Orlando in late 2004, I’ve been a huge fan of the great Irish pub in Winter Park, Fiddler’s Green (https://fiddlersgreen.pub/).  It feels like it was teleported here directly from Ireland — full of dark wood, no windows, a cozy little hideout near Park Avenue and Rollins College.  Luckily almost everyone knows the place, and those who know it love it.  Over the past 15 years, I’ve eaten countless meals at Fiddler’s Green that nourished the body and the soul, always accompanied by my wife or friends or co-workers, and good times were had by all.  Once, on one of their rare visits up here, I even brought my parents to Fiddler’s Green.  These are people who like what they like and don’t always like trying new things, but they loved it.  Years later, they still talk about the dinner we had — certainly nothing fancy, but one of those “perfect in every way” meals that just hit the spot for everyone.

This is the fish and chips ($17.95) that won my parents over, and also my wife’s go-to order at Fiddler’s Green.  You get three huge beer-battered Atlantic cod filets, fried to crispy golden-brown perfection — never too greasy, always tender, with just the right level of crunch to the batter.  The batter stays on and maintained that ideal crispness even after transporting my most recent order home.  The fish is served with a cool, creamy remoulade sauce, with the slightest tangy zip to it. 

Here’s a close-up of that gorgeous fried fish.  It’ll make you moan “Oh my cod!”

And here are the chips, delicious potato wedges.  I figure anyone reading this review knows that with British and Irish fish and chips, the “chips” refer to fries, and if you want thinner, crunchier potato chips, those are “crisps.”  So much for a common language, eh wot?  As far as fries/chips go, I’m often skeptical of potato wedges because they are rarely crispy, and if I wanted a baked potato (which I never do), I’d just order a baked potato.  But these are firm on the outside and soft on the inside, but not flaking apart either. 

You might expect an Irish pub would serve potatoes using multiple masterful methods, and you’d be right.  These are the ceili chips ($4.95), which are actually the potato chips most of us know and love… so in Irish pub parlance, they are crisps.  Don’t expect the hard crunchiness of store-bought kettle chips — these are thinner and crispier, and thankfully never soggy from grease.  We can’t go to Fiddler’s Green and not order a round of these. 

Longtime Saboscrivner subscribers know I am obsessed with condiments, so whenever we would go to Fiddler’s Green, I would request a bottle of HP Sauce for the table and dunk the ceili chips (crisps) and potato wedges (chips) in it.  It’s a British condiment that’s a dark reddish-brown, savory and tangy, with a superficial similarity to our A1 sauce, but a million times better.  I asked for a few dipping cups of HP Sauce with this takeout order, and they were kind enough to oblige, but I really should just buy a bottle at our local British Shoppe in Orlando’s Mills 50 district.

I am especially obsessed with mustards, and Fiddler’s also has glass bottles of sinus-clearing Coleman’s prepared English mustard that they will bring to the table upon request.  A little of that stuff goes a long way, but it’s totally worth trying a dab, especially if you are congested.

But after all this talk of fried potatoes and far-flung condiments, I ordered myself an entree that was also really good: Irish stew ($16.95), a thick, rich, heavy concoction of lamb, potatoes, carrots, “and a hint of thyme,” according to the website.  Lamb is one of my favorite meats and thyme is one of favorite herbs, and you can definitely taste them in a perfect melange in this stew.  Of course they top it with a dollop of creamy mashed potatoes and some scallions.  Some people might mix it into the stew like it’s a container of hummus with a little island of sun-dried tomatoes in the middle, but I prefer to get a little morsel of the mash in every spoonful of stew. 

This is one of those ultimate cold weather comfort foods for me, like chili and lasagna.  If there wasn’t a pandemic going on, I’d love to sit down to another bowl of Irish stew inside Fiddler’s Green the next time we get a cold (for Florida) day.  It just feels good — the warmth, the familiarity, the surroundings, the Irish music playing in the background or sometimes performed live by wonderful local musicians.

On other visits, I have also enjoyed the corned beef and cabbage (the best thing to add a dab of the Coleman’s mustard to), bangers and mash with these delicious caramelized pearl onions I would eat by the bowlful, and rich potato leek soup, topped with bacon and cheddar cheese.  I think of these as fall and winter foods, even though we don’t really get a fall here, and our winter consists of random days that add up to about two weeks out of the year.

Long before COVID, I was at a point where I don’t hang out at bars and pubs anymore unless I’m eating or going out of my way to catch live music.  That said, Fiddler’s Green has always felt warm and welcoming, like a piece of home.  I love that it’s a little dark inside with no windows.  On a sweltering, humid Florida summer day, it can transport you to the old country, even if Ireland was never your people’s old country.  And on our rare days of jacket weather, it feels like a safe, comforting cave in the best possible way.  Maybe some day soon, we can all feel safe and comfortable huddling in there again, over pints and chips (crisps) with family and friends.  In the meantime, I’ll keep ordering takeout from here, and hopefully we have a few more chilly days this season for maximum enjoyment of it.

Ramen Takagi

There are some foods I crave literally all of the time.  Loaded Italian subs.  Turkish lahmacun.  Nova salmon.  Jamaican oxtails.  Hot pastrami with grilled onions and good mustard.  Prosciutto.  Oysters.  Auntie Anne’s pretzels.  (Sorry, not sorry!)  Obviously I don’t eat them all the time because I don’t want to die, but I sure do love them.  And another one on this list is tonkotsu ramen, springy noodles and fat-marbled chashu pork slices in a gloriously rich and creamy pork bone broth.  There are other kinds of ramen that are all worthy of love, but for me, tonkotsu is the bowl that rules them all.

There are a few restaurants to get a delicious bowl of ramen around Orlando, and I’ve reviewed a few of them: Susuru down near Disney Springs, Domu in the East End Market in Orlando’s hip Audubon Park neighborhood, Kai Asian Street Fare on the edge of Casselberry and Winter Park, Jade Sushi & New Asian in College Park near downtown Orlando.

But this past week, a brand-new restaurant specializing in ramen opened on Aloma Avenue in Oviedo, between Tuskawilla Road and the 417, placing it very close to Winter Springs, Casselberry, and Winter Park, and ten minutes from our home.  The place is Ramen Takagi (https://ramentakagi.com/), and I’ve been waiting months for it to finally open.  (It is open every day except Tuesdays!)  When I arrived, I was the only customer, but three staff members were chatting inside.  I was pleased to see they were all wearing masks, even though they were alone in their restaurant, and they were warm and friendly when I got there and introduced myself.  After visiting tonight for the first time, I was so glad to welcome them to the neighborhood, and I promised these new neighbors they would be seeing a lot more of me.

This is the tonkotsu ramen ($13), with the sliced chashu pork, ajitamago (a marinated, soft-boiled egg), pickled ginger, and scallions over a generous portion of perfectly-cooked noodles.  Even before adding the broth, it was beautiful.

This is the rich, creamy pork bone broth, which had already started separating in the ten minutes it took me to drive home, but a quick stir melded everything back together.  I appreciated it so much that they packed the broth separately.

Here’s the beautiful bowl with the broth stirred up and poured in over everything.  I loved it so very much.  Is it my favorite tonkotsu ramen in Orlando?  It was one of those meals that was so good, my eyes rolled back into my head.  It’s a heck of a lot more convenient than Domu (which has the excellent Richie Rich tonkotsu I reviewed earlier this year, pre-pandemic), and so much closer than Susuru, which I liked a lot, but it’s an hour from our door.  So for multiple reasons, it might be my new favorite.  It might become your new favorite too.

I couldn’t resist trying the mazesoba ($11), an order of savory ground pork with diced chashu, another ajitamago egg, strips of nori seaweed, and scallions over noodles.  This is a brothless ramen dish, and it was still tasty, but the tonkotsu broth was so good, it was hard for the mazesoba to measure up.  In the near future, I will try all the other forms of ramen at Ramen Takagi: shio (chicken bone broth with a salt base), shoyu (chicken bone broth with a soy base), and miso (pork and chicken blended broth, which can be ordered spicy or non-spicy).

This was kaedama, literally translated to an extra order of noodles, which were a very reasonable $1.50.  I had considered adding them to any leftover tonkotsu broth, but instead my wife really enjoyed them with just a small splash of the broth. 

These are onigiri, tasty triangles of seafood wrapped in sushi rice and wrapped again in delicious nori, the same thin sheets of crispy seaweed used for sushi rolls.  I liked how these came wrapped in cellophane with a red stripe down the center that you pull to tear it open, and then release the cellophane from the sides.

I chose the tuna with mayo (left, $2.50) and the smoked salmon (right, $3).  For the tuna with mayo, I was really expecting raw or seared ahi tuna, rich and purple, hopefully adorned with the orange spicy mayo I love so much with sushi, poke, and pretty much everything.  I was surprised it was more like tuna salad.  It wasn’t bad, just not at all what I expected.  I liked the smoked salmon more, but even it was flakes of smoked salmon instead of… I don’t know if I expected thin slices of nova or belly lox or what.  Still, as always, I’m so glad I tried them.

As I said, Ramen Takagi just opened a week ago, after the sign had been up for several months.  I was starting to worry the restaurant might end up another casualty of 2020, and they might never open their doors at all.  But they’re here, and they’re already off to a bang-up start.  I was extremely impressed by their mask protocol, being alone in the shop without the prying eyes of concerned customers, and they had their masks on, taking things seriously before they could have possibly seen me approach.  And I was just as impressed by the quality of my takeout food.

I’m so glad to have another great restaurant near our home, along with a much closer and quicker source for one of my favorite dishes, tonkotsu ramen.  When I was in college, eating instant Nissin noodles that cost a buck for seven salty single servings, I never would have dreamed that over 20 years later, I’d have a wonderful wife, make an okay living, write a food blog that a handful of people actually read, or pay $13 for a bowl of delicious, beautiful, fresh ramen without thinking twice about it.  It makes me feel very lucky to be where I am, doing what I’m doing, and eating what I’m eating.  I intend to become a regular at Ramen Takagi, and I encourage my dozens of readers to do the same!