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Because we all watched a lot of it this year

By Tom Gliatto
Updated December 31, 2020 10:55 AM
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If you're anything like us, you've spent most of the past nine months of quarantine on the couch at night, checking out the latest small-screen hits. And thankfully, there were a lot of them. Despite the production shutdown earlier in the year, Hollywood managed to churn out myriad addictive shows, touching on everything from chess and the royal family to Michael Jordan and yes, a tiger king.

Here, PEOPLE's 18 favorites series and mini-series of the year, all streaming now. And see more of PEOPLE's best in music, movies and books in this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.

The Queen's Gambit

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Netflix's The Queen's Gambit
| Credit: Charlie Gray/Netflix

Chess probably isn't the chief reason this Netflix series about the world's greatest woman player (Emma's Anya Taylor-Joy) became a hit. Across seven beautifully tailored and upholstered episodes, Gambit, based on a book by Walter Tevis, was the year's sterling example of how episodic TV has become the new novel — a relaxing way to occupy the mind for hours and hours, chapter by chapter. (Netflix)

Small Axe

'Mangrove'
Amazon's Small Axe

You can think of this as a miniseries of five separate films — all directed with impressive assurance by Steve McQueen — about London's West Indian community. Standouts: "Mangrove," which culminates in a terrific court scene, and the sensual "Lovers Rock," about a house party. (Amazon)

Lovecraft Country

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HBO's Lovecraft Country
| Credit: Joshua Ade/HBO

This series reimagined the gory fantasies of writer H.P. Lovecraft, an avowed racist, in terms of Black experience. If that sounds like a thesis proposal, the result wasn't. Scary! (HBO)

Mrs. America

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FX on Hulu's Mrs. America
| Credit: Sabrina Lantos/FX

Cate Blanchett gave a fascinating performance — immaculately arch — as conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly, a powerful political operator who thought a woman's place was in the home. In the end, that irony stings Mrs. Schlafly badly. (FX on Hulu)

Ted Lasso

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Apple TV+'s Ted Lasso
| Credit: apple tv+

The surprise hit, which grew out of a character Jason Sudeikis created to promote British soccer for NBC sports, gave us the hero we needed in a bleak year. Ted Lasso, an American football coach hired to oversee a soccer team in the U.K., was a chortling, easygoing nice guy — a fish out of water only too willing to get in the swim of things. Isn't he how we used to like to think of ourselves? (Apple TV+)

I'll Be Gone in the Dark

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HBO's I'll Be Gone in the Dark
| Credit: HBO

How the late Michelle McNamara — who was comedian Patton Oswalt's wife — tracked the notorious Golden State Killer. A classic of the cold-case genre. (HBO)

The Crown

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Netflix's The Crown
| Credit: Des Willie/Netflix

Season 4 gave us the wedding of guileless fawn Diana (Emma Corrin) and dunderhead Prince Charles (Josh O'Connor). What the public embraced as happily-ever-after was wretched-from-the-get-go. (Netflix)

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness

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Netflix's Tiger King

Lockdown's must-see show was the story of one Joe Exotic, owner of an exotic-animal park, and his nemesis, animal-rescue advocate Carole Baskin. She wound up on Dancing with the Stars. (Netflix)

Normal People

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Hulu's Normal People
| Credit: Enda Bowe/Hulu

Haunting in its understatement, Normal was about the endlessly evolving, sometimes anguished romance of two young Irish lovers, beautifully played by newcomers Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. (Hulu)

I May Destroy You

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HBO's I May Destroy You
| Credit: HBO

Michaela Coel, an actress of stunning boldness, also created and wrote this unsettling series about a woman who was drugged and raped. (HBO)

McMillion$

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HBO's McMillion$

The HBO docuseries about the $24 million McDonald’s Monopoly promotion scam that ran between 1989 and 2001 had unexpected twists at every turn and a charismatic featured interviewee other docuseries could only dream about in FBI agent Doug Mathews, who shares his experience with boundless humor and enthusiasm. (HBO)

The Last Dance

The Last Dance
Michael Jordan in The Last Dance
| Credit: Courtesy ESPN/Netflix

At 10 hours, this documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls is a mammoth project — a real basketballapalooza — but it’s thoroughly watchable and highly informative. At the center, of course, is the charismatic Jordan, described as “the ultimate sports alpha male.” (Jordan is generally spoken of in the most extravagant terms and never ironically.) Dance is also a fascinating primer on how management operates, how court strategy is developed and how a team is built — and, as its players age out, rebuilt. (Netflix)

Never Have I Ever

NEVER HAVE I EVER
Netflix's Never Have I Ever
| Credit: Lara Solanki/Netflix

The coming of age series, created by Mindy Kaling, followed an Indian American high school student struggling to cope with the recent death of her father, all narrated by tennis player John McEnroe. The Asian stereotype-busting series is equally hilarious and heartbreaking, buoyed further by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan’s star turn. (Netflix)

The Undoing

The Undoing
HBO's The Undoing
| Credit: Niko Tavernise/HBO

Nicole Kidman, as a Manhattan therapist with an unusually large wardrobe of brocaded dresses and coats, suspects her husband (Hugh Grant) of murder. An enjoyably improbable but addictive thriller with a bangup finish. (HBO)

Perry Mason

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HBO's Perry Mason
| Credit: Merrick Morton/HBO

The famous legal-detection hero, played by Raymond Burr on a hit TV series 50 years ago, gets a reboot in this streamy, sordid L.A. noir set in the 1930s. The Americans’ Matthew Rhys, troubled and tousled but tenacious, takes over as Mr. Mason. (HBO)

Ozark

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Netflix's Ozark
| Credit: Steve Deitl/Netflix

Essentially Breaking Bad in a Missouri vacation setting, Ozark keeps getting better and better — sharper, more nail-bitingly brutal. Season 3’s climax was a real shocker, and points season 4 in a dangerous new direction. (Netflix)

Love Fraud

Love Fraud
Showtime's Love Fraud
| Credit: Courtesy SHOWTIME

An outlandish docuseries, tawdry but true, about how the victims of a con-man Lothario banded together to confront him and bring him to justice. (Showtime)

The Baby-Sitters Club

THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB
Netflix's The Baby-Sitters Club
| Credit: Netflix

An adorable series, very gently broaching serious issues, about a group of enterprising middle school girls. (Netflix)