Pop Culturing: 5 Under the Radar TV Shows You Missed in 2020

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Friday October 30, 2020

Jordan Kristine Seamón, left, Jack Dylan Grazer, right, in a scene from "We Are Who We Are."
Jordan Kristine Seamón, left, Jack Dylan Grazer, right, in a scene from "We Are Who We Are."  (Source:Photograph by Yannis Drakoulidis/HBO)

Though the pandemic has halted a number of projects in Hollywood, there wasn't much a shortage in the world TV. With so many programs debuting in 2020 (not to mention keeping up with the world around us) it's easy to let a fantastic show slip through the cracks. Below is a breakdown of five TV shows that may have gone under your radar this year.

"Raised by Wolves" Season 1
Where to watch: HBO Max

The somewhat high concept sci-fi drama "Raised by Wolves" (created by "Prisoners" screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski) is one of the most surprising new shows of the year. Debuting on HBO Max in September, the series' first two episodes were helmed by director Ridley Scott — pretty notable considering he's made some of the most important sci-fi films of the last few decades. "Raised by Wolves" follows two androids Father (Abubakar Salim) and Mother (a stellar performance from Amanda Collin), who are instructed to raise a group of children on (the real planet) Kepler-22b after the Earth was destroyed by a massive war sparked by religious differences. The show tackles huge themes, including spirituality, mortality, artificial intelligence and much more. Imagine "Westworld" but way more interesting, thoughtful and dynamic.

"I May Destroy" Season 1
Where to watch: HBO

There has never been a TV show like "I May Destroy You." It's the kind of show that makes you thankful this era of Peak TV exists. It's a harrowing, brave, funny, and brilliant 12-episode season created, written, co-directed and starring British actor Michaela Coel, best known for her Netflix series "Chewing Gum." But on "I May Destroy You," Coel, who puts her own story of rape at the show's center, creates an exciting and youthful world, upending expectations and tackling subjects and situations rarely seen on the small screen. In some ways, the easiest comparison to make is that "I May Destroy You" is similar to "Fleabag." And while some of the themes overlap, Coel's show has many more ideas on its mind, resulting in some of the best TV moments of the year.

"PEN15" Season 2
Where to watch: Hulu

The critically beloved comedy "PEN15" returned to Hulu for seven fantastic episodes this summer, somehow improving on an already impeccable first season. Season 2 feels bigger even with the shorter season (the second of half of Season 2 will arrive sometime next year); it's definitely more accomplished and ambitious, deserving to be in the conversation of the most-talked-about modern comedies. The show follows actors Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, who play 13-year-old versions of themselves while in 7th grade in 2000. The gimmick is that the 30-something-year-olds star in the show with real teens. But the comedy is much more than genius gag and its juvenile name. It's an emotional journey that balances the trials and tribulations of how hard it is it to be a teen girl with some of the funniest writing on TV; it will make you laugh, cringe and cry and laugh again.

"The Queen's Gambit"
Where to watch: Netflix

"The Queen's Gambit," a 7-episode miniseries about a chess prodigy, in many ways defies the ways in which Peak TV has trained our brains. Unlike most prestige shows, "The Queen's Gambit," based on Walter Tevis' 1983 novel and developed for the streamer by screenwriter Scott Frank ("Godless," "Out of Sight"), upends expectations. It is not a cynical show, yet it maintains the same tension and stakes as something like "Perry Mason" or "Ratched" without delving into misery porn or being over the top. In a stellar performance, Anya Taylor-Joy ("The Witch," "Split"), plays Beth Harmon, an orphan who, at a young age, discovers her passion for chess...and happens to be a genius at the game. The show follows her rise from a 9-year-old girl beating guys twice her age to a young adult...beating men twice her age. It's also about the people she meets along the way, including the janitor who taught her chess (Bill Camp), her foster mother Alma ("Can You Ever Forgive Me" director Marielle Heller), handsome chess player Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), fierce competitor Benny (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and more.

"We Are Who We Are"
Where to watch: HBO

"We Are Who We Are" has all the best hallmarks of Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagninio, best known for his gay coming-of-age movie "Call Me By Your Name." The new show is another vibrant coming-of-age story, this time set in a U.S. military base in Venice, Italy, that follows two young teens coming into their own as they discover their sexuality and identity. And like the Oscar-nominated film, it's partly a fish-out-of-water story except one that is not solely focused on romance; in the moving "We Are Who We Are" a Guadagninio celebrates what it means to be young and cherishes the journey it takes to find self-discovery. It stars "It" actor Jack Dylan Grazer, newcomer Jordan Kristine Seamon, Chloë Sevigny, Scott Mescudi (also known as rapper Kid Cudi) and more.

Pop Culturing

This story is part of our special report titled Pop Culturing. Want to read more? Here's the full list.