From the ‘Queen’s Gambit’ to ‘Ratched’: 25 best Netflix series released in 2020

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From the 'Queen's Gambit' to 'Ratched': 25 best Netflix series released in 2020

2020 is finally coming to an end. Phew, what a relief! What is one the worst years in recent history has had nothing to offer except isolation, social and emotional distancing and the overriding sense of anguish. 

However, it is because of the streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and more that we are still filled with entertainment readily available in our own homes. While we have all tried to indulge in our hobbies, trying to bring out the artist within ourselves, these streaming platforms have incessantly served content, starting from films and documentaries to TV series. 

2020 has been a mixed year for Netflix series. While some have been undoubtedly and unexpectedly riveting, others have failed to make an impression. While it has been a reasonably good year for Netflix Originals, we feel Netflix can do better with TV series.

That being said, series like The Queen’s Gambit, Ratched, The Haunting of Bly Manor and more have, with their intense and compelling plots and subplots, compelled us to think. 

Here, we decided to list 25 best Netflix series, ranked from best to worst, released in 2020. 

Let’s get cracking! 

25 best Netflix series released in 2020:

25. White Lines (Alex Pina, 2020)

Axel Collins, a DJ in Ibiza, disappeared 20 years ago quite mysteriously. He is suddenly discovered dead, which forces his sister Zoe Collins to seek answers in order to find the identity of his killer. 

Intense and riveting, the series will thrill the binge-watcher in you to find out the identity of the killer. The characters are flawed, but the lack of development overshadows the overall appeal of the series. Zoe is a typical exploiter of white girl privilege as she harbours narcissist expectations of people sharing her emotional burden in equal amounts. 

Alex Pina being the creator of Money Heist, somehow holds back. The dysfunctional narrative is somehow indulgent yet good enough to keep your attention for the ten episodes to find out who is at the bottom of this murder mystery.

“He’s hiding something.”

24. Dracula (Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, 2020)

From the creators of the beloved Sherlock series, comes this highly unexpected series that leave gothic fans and Dracula aficionados somewhat shocked. Following the set pattern traced by Bram Stoker’s original novel, it takes place over a broader time period with the finale being based in the modern-day world, where the infamous Count Dracula travels from Transylvania to London. 

While we all love ourselves a good old Dracula story, it is indeed the most widely recognised vampire story in the world which makes it devoid of the surprise element. While the series has nothing new to offer in terms of the basic plot structure, it is interesting to note how they tweak the important questions of desire, anxiety, sexual repression and toxic masculinity and carefully avoid it to prevent conflict. 

“Dreams are a haven where we sin without consequence.”

23. I Am Not Okay With (This (Jonathan Entwistle, 2020)

Based on Charles Forsman’s comic of the same name, the series revolves around the awkward teen Sydney Novak who discovers her telekinetic powers while reeling under the ill-effects of her father’s suicide.

After a few emotional encounters that do not end very well for her, Sydney realises that unabated power resides within her. Growing afraid of her own abilities, she must learn to harness these powers quickly lest she causes further chaos and destruction.

With a charming and moving look at the awkwardness and tension during adolescence, the series is imbued by Sophia Lillis’ engrossing performance. A wonderful look at grief, pain, pangs of young love, rejection and failure, the series has an innate supernatural element that adds to its raw charm.

 “Paint me yellow and call me fucking Sunshine, Goob.”

22. Cursed (Frank Miller Tom Wheeler, 2020)

Often described as the “re-imagining of the Arthurian legend”, the series is seen through the perspective of Nimue who is fated to become the tragic Lady of the Lake. When she embarks on a quest to find an ancient and powerful sword after her mother’s demise, she finds an unlikely ally in the mercenary Arthur.

Amidst the hostile and violent situation, it is an epic story where Nimue becomes the symbol of courage and rebellion as well as the voice of protest against the unjust obstacles. She provides the sight to venture into the impossible in a world plagued by religious intolerance, mindless violence and warring communities that threaten the very existence of life. The rebel teen is the strong feminist voice that dares to rise against oppression with the hopes of emerging victorious.

“You are not some fragile maid, you are a warrior and you are strong.”

21. Ares (Pieter Kuijpers, Iris Otten, Sander van Meurs, 2020)

What if an elite student society named Ares promised to help you get what you want? In return, you would have to be a part of their dangerous hazing rituals before they reveal their sinister motives. How far would you go to achieve your dreams? Would you be an adamant Rosa or would you be as cowardly as Jacob?

This Dutch horror series is quite terrifying. The elite cult-like society and its ominous dungeons, as well as the hidden black creature, is scary and petrifying. The predicament of the novices is quite heartbreaking; however, ambition comes with a price. How far is Rosa willing to go to rise up the ranks is the real question.

“We have only just begun.”

20. Get Even (Holy Phillips, 2020)

In this British teen serial which comprises thriller elements, four elite high school girls embark on a noble mission to expose the school bullies. 

This unlikely group comprises Kitty Wei, a girl pressured by parental expectations, Bree Deringer, the troublemaker with a wealthy dad, Margot Rivers, a lonely American gamer as well as the popular girl Olivia Hayes. However, they soon find themselves in a soup when a man tries to frame them for murder. 

With good acting and unpredictable twists and turns, the series is a compelling watch. This disparate group and their misadventures are reminiscent of the marriage between Pretty Little Liars and The Breakfast Club

“The one thing we had in common is that we wanted justice.”

19. Valeria (Inma Torrente, Nelly Reguera, 2020)

Valeria faces a major writing block, one that is equally unbridgeable as the emotional gap between her and her husband. She takes a trip with her friends Lola, Carmen and Nerea, and together they embark on a wild and crazy rollercoaster of emotions, cheating, doubts, love, lust, happiness and hope. 

Watch Valeria for the plot, but most essentially, watch Valeria for MaxiIglesias, the handsome hunk whose smouldering gaze is set upon seducing the married, crisis-struck Valeria. The series captures the essence of desire and longing quite deftly. 

“Remember when we thought we’d have everything by the age of 30?”

18. Freud (Marvin Kren, Stefan Brunner, Benjamin Hessler, 2020)

If your idea of the Father of Psychoanalysis is a suave and handsome, bearded man with supernatural powers, solving murder mysteries in 1880s Vienna, then you will probably be an avid fan of this Netflix series. Based on historical fiction yet deriving snippets of inspiration from the real-life Freud, this series features his love interest Salome as well as the policeman Alfred Kiss. 

While there is some truth value to the series, with Freud’s initial attempts at hypnosis being explored, the series is mostly fictional. Bizarre and at times absurd, it is not what Freudian psychoanalysts would least expect. According to Bustle, the lead actor Robert Finster, who plays the titular character, talks about how “Freud is a bottomless pit”, and despite extensive research, it is hard to come to a conclusion. 

He plays the early years of the wise Freud with the storyline being entirely fictional; a perfect concoction of truth and paranormal gibberish which results in a nearly likeable result. 

“I’m a house, it’s dark in me. My consciousness is a lonely light, a candle. Everything else is in the shade, the unconscious: Instincts, forbidden desires and memories we don’t want to see in the light. They dance around us in the darkness. They torment and poke us.”

17. The Stranger (Daniel O’Hara, Hannah Quinn, 2020) 

What if you had a lot of secrets? What if you woke up one day to encounter an unknown woman in a baseball cap, conscious of your deepest and darkest secrets? Would that not disrupt your perfectly smooth life? Based on Harlan Coben’s novel of the same name, the series focuses on one such Stranger whose knowledge of all things personal affects Adam Price and his seemingly happy family life, after his wife Corinne disappears.

While the book was far more gripping and addictive, the cast members deliver compelling performances which keep the narrative tightly bound. One wishes they would not rush the ending as that could have changed its game.

“Adam, this isn’t what you think. There’s more to this.” 

16. Curon (Fabio Mollo, Lyda Patitucci, 2020)

Described as a “supernatural teen drama”, Curon follows the twins, Dario and Mauro’s return to their mother Anna’s creepy hometown Curon, as their mother is continuously plagued by recurrent nightmares. With their mother’s eventual disappearance, the twins are drawn to the mysterious lake and uncover secrets that help them solve the mystery and unravel the secrets of the eerie Curon. 

It is refreshing to watch this series as the recurrent anecdotes related to teenage problems and high schools make the show relatable and enjoyable. With the exploration of themes like love, lesbianism, past connections, fear and grief, the show is not as unsettling as it should have been. However, the air of suspense surrounding the ominous secret of Curon leads to the respective self-discovery of the twins while they are in a self-proclaimed willing suspension of disbelief. 

“There are legends about this place. It sounds like terrible things happened. Disappearances, violent deaths, visions, shadows.”

15. The Woods (W glebi lasu, 2020)

In this disjointed narrative set in Poland, the series has been adapted from Harlan Coben’s novel, comprising emotionally conflicted and anxiety-ridden characters with past trauma. This narrative oscillates back and forth between two different time periods, 1994 and 2019. Brilliant cinematography and twist in the plots make it an intriguing watch.

Paweł Kopciński cannot seem to avoid his fate and trauma as well as his terrifying experience involving the woods. His sister had gone missing, which led to his estranged relationship with his parents due to immense grief. One of the victims who had been murdered reappears with a completely different identity which brings back the anguish of the horrifying past events.

“Tell me, what do you remember?” 

14. Caliphate (Goran Kapetanovic, 2020)

Superbly gripping with an intense and topical plot, the series boasts of wonderful performances, especially that of Aliette Opheim. It remains one of the most viewed Swedish series to date, exploring intricate themes such as women’s rights and human rights, Islam rife with civil wars, extremism, radicalism and terrorism.

Agent Fatima learns of an impending ISIS attack in Sweden. Based on real-life events, this series follows the entanglement of the lives of various women in the wake of a terrorist attack.

“It is not your choice.”

13. Hollywood (Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, 2020)

Ever wondered what Hollywood looked like shortly after the Second World War? Following the journey of aspiring actors and filmmakers portrayed by an ensemble cast, this series focuses on the Golden Age of Hollywood with gripping performances, stellar cast and a nostalgic trip through Hollywood. 

While the series is beautiful, there are some unignorable issues which somehow loom large over the script. Yet, it is a wonderful watch. To echo what Richard Roeper, had this to say: “It’s a fascinating blend of fact (or least stories based on factual characters) and fiction, and the performances from the cast of rising stars and reliable veterans are dazzling — but like many a motion picture, Hollywood can’t overcome script problems that surface about midway through the story.”

“I want to go to Dreamland.”

12. Dash & Lily (Joe Tracz, 2020)

Dash & Lily is a quintessential Christmas series based on David Levithan and Rachel Cohn’s book. The series focuses on the budding love between a Christmas-hating, cynical Dahs and a merry and optimistic, Christmas-loving Lily, who hides the red notebook across various locations in New York City. The notebook contains messages and dares.

With numerous Christmas tropes, it is a visual treat to the eyes. Austin Abrams and Midori Francis do justice to their peppy, teenage roles. With the holiday season around the corner, this series is a fun watch devoid of sappy rom-com essentials. 

“Imagine you’re in New York and it’s Christmas. You’re in a bookstore and there is a red notebook. Do you dare?”

11. Outer Banks  (Josh Pate, Jonas Pate, Shannon Burke, 2020)

The Pogues are a group of hot and rebellious teenagers living at the Cut, who are fixated on uncovering the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of their ringleader John B’s father. Soon they come across the legend of a treasure which has deeper connections with the missing patriarch. Pursued by wealthy and crooked Kooks as well as the law, it is upon the Pogues to battle with inner demons, love, betrayal and drugs while trying to achieve success in this quest of finally finding John B’s father.

Melodramatic and intense, it kicks in the perfect summer adventure spirit. A visual delight starring an attractive cast, the series is a light and breezy one time watch that will leave you with strongly formed opinions regarding the characters, but often leave you questioning the ethical morales which include the themes of trust and friendship.

“I’ve an urge to do something stupid.”

10. Locke & Key (Carlton Cuse, Meredith Averill, Aron Eli Coleite, 2020)

Based on Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s novel of the same name, the series is based on the lives of the Lockes after they return to the Keyhouse.

After their father, Rendell Locke’s murder at the hands of his student, the three Locke children Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, move to their ancestral Keyhousewith their mother Nina, where they discover numerous mysterious keys that can lock various magical doors. This awakens a malicious demon who tries to overpower the Locke children as they try to establish a connection between the keys and their father’s death. 

A wonderful tale of love and loss, grief and denial, this series accentuates the importance of a loving and close-knit family. With wonderfully complicated subplots thickening the main plot, the series bears witness to great performances. According to USA Today, Locke and Key has had “nearly as strong a debut as Stranger Things in 2016, but it [needs] a few tweaks to jump the hurdle between good and great.”

“Just because I don’t have fear, doesn’t make me irrational.”

9. Spinning Out (Samantha Stratton, 2020)

An ambitious figure skater with vaulting ambition, decaying mental health, struggling with love and family ties, takes centre stage in the series. Will Kat Baker and her partner live their Olympic dream? Or will their personal issues break them completely?

January Jones is resplendent in her role, doing absolute justice to her screen time. It displays enough skating to delight skaters yet not enough to bore non-skaters, which is quite commendable. As Caroline Framke of Variety said, “The series has all the right ingredients for an addictive watch: a solid premise, some compelling actors, and some classic teen show tensions and rhythms in the earnest vein of Degrassi braiding it all together. But as the season plods towards its uneven finale, Spinning Out instead does exactly what its title promises instead of sticking the landing.”

“Skating is like breathing. I can’t imagine not doing it.” 

8. Emily in Paris (Darren Star, 2020)

A beautiful American woman who is a determined go-getter is sent to France instead of her pregnant colleague. In the city of romance, Paris, Emily falls in love and gets involved in various rendezvous while trying to gain acceptance from the snobbish people surrounding her, who dislike her guts, lack of poise and absolute ignorance to their native culture and language. However, Emily is resilient and wins over hearts throughout the series while often being faced with difficult, impossible situations.

The show has spectacular visuals, especially the one at the Van Gogh museum. However, it has been heavily criticised for being influenced by American prejudices, embracing stereotypes about the French culture and not being real and honest about it. Lily Collins as the bubbly strategist at the posh Savoir is relatable and funny as her failures often bear testament to what we would be like in a foreign land. Peppered with beautiful men and women, the focus of the show is Lucas Bravo as the attractive chef-cum-neighbour who has the hots for Emily.

“I like Paris, but I’m not really sure if Paris likes me.”

7.  The English Game (Julian Fellowes, 2020) 

Julian Fellowes, the creator of brilliant shows such as Downtown Abbey and Gosford Park, presents a sports biopic which traces the origin of playing competitive football in England. Football used to be a wealthy man’s game, the notion of which was shattered once Etonian scholars and Northern factory workers started laying together transcending the class prejudices imposed on them. 

The English Game is a favourable watch for non-football fans as well as it is an engaging and interesting chronicling of how the class barriers were shattered owing to a game. The competitive atmosphere of the miniseries is exhilarating. The tension between the wealthy and the working class is palpable, but it is endearing to watch the unification based on a competitive sport. 

Supported by brilliant performances, and a good balance of melodrama, romance and light-hearted fun, The English Game is a recommended watch for anyone looking to binge on a short and enjoyable series. 

6. Never Have I Ever (Mindy Kaling, Lang fisher, 2020)

Starring Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as the protagonist Devi, this coming-of-age series follows the journey of the 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar who is still recuperating from the death of her father and a strained relationship with her mother. The series is a heartfelt and amusing take on life in an Indian-American household where there is not only a clash between the varying cultures but also the anxieties and frustrations of having a different identity.

Honest and sweet, the series provides an intimate insight into the clash of identities. With a bunch of fresh, talented faces, Maitreyi, as Devi stands out from the crowd. Her quarrels with her mother are reflective of the pre-adult mood swings while her memories with her father are extremely moving. While it is a close look at the manifestation of grief, absence of a parent and its subsequent impact on a young adult’s mind, it is also reminiscent of the physical and psychological struggles of being a high schooler.

“I want you to allow yourself to acknowledge the pain that you so clearly feel.” 

5. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness(Eric Goode, 2020)

Exciting and nerve-wracking, this series provides an insight into the fascinating world of Joe Exotic, the eccentric zoo owner, and his long-time feud with Carole Baskin, and Doc Antle. This series abounds in bizarre subjects, starting from big cats ownership, assassination attempts, murder mysteries, alligators as well as a “three-way-same sex marriage”. 

This miniseries was designed like a docuseries, chronicling Joe Exotifc’s life to the T. Extremely compelling and captivating, the series paints a wonderfully gripping portrait of how an obsession can subsequently lead to downfall. One cannot help but agree with Josua Rivera when he says, “every minute of Tiger King yields some new surprise, an unbelievable turn or charismatic stranger with incredible stories to tell.”

“I went to work every day prepared to die in a tiger cage. Dying doesn’t scare me. At all.”

4. Unorthodox (Maria Schrader, 2020)

Based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 autobiographical novel, the series revolves around a 19-year old Jewish woman Esty who is trapped in an arranged marriage and lives in an orthodox Hasidic community in New York City. In an attempt to explore the nuances of life, she elopes to Berlin but is pursued by her husband and his cousin when the latter comes to know of her pregnancy.

The first-ever show on Netflix to be in Yiddish, the series is nurtured carefully and delicately. As the series focuses on the rigidity of various communities, it is hopeful in its spirit of the young woman embarking on her path towards freedom. Shira Haas delivers a splendid performance, and the sense of urgency in her portrayal makes the series even more compelling and moving.

“God expected too much of me.”

3. The Haunting of Bly Manor (Mike Flanagan, 2020)

The series, set in a quaint fictional village named Bly, is focused on the various events that occur in Bly Manor over a certain period. A young American woman, Dani Clayton, nursing her wounds and personal demons, travels to Bly to look after two orphans, Miles and Flora Wingrave, and reside with them as their au-pair. However, Dani soon comes to terms with the sinister occurrences inside the house as well. 

Flanagan’s nearly perfect portrayal of the human mind grappling with the complex emotions of love and loss takes the audience for a rough rollercoaster ride that scars and heals them at the same time. An intense, spine-chilling and blood-curdling psychological rampage, Bly Manor tackles the subject of grief and loss as well as love quite maturely. 

At times, they cannot be distinguished from one another. The series is built on a series of flashbacks that give an insight into the life of the characters in question, and the first pangs of love and loss are felt by all the inmates of Bly. In the end, the series conveys that it was never about the ghosts, but about the ‘perfectly splendid’ terror of being aware of one being lonely and forgotten. 

“There’s a difference between feeling good and feeling alive. The two aren’t always the same.” 

2. Ratched (Ryan Murphy, 2020)

The Netflix series which debuted on September 18, 2020, however, is a prequel to the iconic film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is set in 1947 and follows the classic and notorious villain Mildred Ratched’s journey and evolution into the malicious and barbaric nurse. Portrayed by the uber-talented Sarah Paulson, the series attempts to delve deeper into the nurse’s twisted psyche in an attempt to understand what led to her reign of tyranny in the film.

The series creator Murphy has said that the nurse “became almost like a catchphrase for any sort of institutional abuse of power. What was interesting was trying to create an emotional character from a reputation that’s very cold…trying to figure out every little detail about her childhood, her relationships, her sexuality. Because when people think of Ratched, they think of her as shutoff and cruel and uncaring.” 

He keeps the fans on their toes with an ambiguous finale where Mildred’s brother, Edmund Tolleson, rings up her and her lover Gwendolyn (Cynthia Nixon). He threatens to kill them and the level-headed Ratched retorts that she would kill him first. 

 “You’re going to tell me that I’ve betrayed you and that you’re coming for me and that I should be very afraid … Well, let me tell you something. You are the one who should be afraid because I am coming for you, Edmund.”

1. The Queen’s Gambit (Scott Frank, Allan Scott, 2020)

The Queen’s Gambit is a fictional story set in the mid-1950s and continues to the 1960s. It revolves around an orphaned chess prodigy Beth Garmon who embarks on a quest to become the world’s greatest chess player. However, various obstacles stand in her way, including emotional problems and dependency on alcohol and drugs. 

A riveting watch, The Queen’s Gambit is most definitely one of Netflix’s finest creations and has been well-received by the chess community as well as the members were hopeful that it would ignite interest within youngsters to start partaking in the game, especially among young female players. 

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth delivers a stellar performance and has received high praise, including taking the number one spot in our list of 2020 greats.

“Do you ever go over games in your head? When you’re alone, I mean. Play all the way through them?”