While Best of 2020 TV lists are dropping all over the place — look for Polygon’s next week — there’s something very important worth noting: 2020 isn’t actually over. Nor is the current television season. One of the overwhelming perks of living in the time of Peak TV: The once doldrums of the television landscape are now no longer that. Year-round television — what a concept!
With that in mind, here’s a list of special, new and returning series, and hidden television gems to look forward to as we close out 2020, the longest year of all time.
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical! (Dec. 9, NBC)
Over the past few years, musical presentations — both live and prerecorded-yet-calling-themselves-live — have become a boon for primetime television. This has especially been the case for NBC, with its past productions: The Sound of Music Live!, Peter Pan Live!, The Wiz Live!, Hairspray Live!, and Jesus Chris Superstar Live in Concert (which officially broke the titling scheme). With Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch Musical! (which was on Broadway in 2006 and 2007), former Glee star Matthew Morrison stars as the titular Grinch in this two-hour production, filmed at the Troubadour Theatre in London and directed by Julia Knowles. As Morrison told The Today Show, “While the pandemic presents some challenges in bringing the stage musical to life, we are putting together a really special show with some crazy, fun, imaginative things going on.” If that — meaning this — sounds like your kind of nightmare fuel, enjoy.
Small Axe: Alex Wheatle (Dec. 11, Amazon Prime)
In case 2020’s streaming-heavy release schedule didn’t blur the line between mediums enough, you can close out the year by continuing to debate whether or not director Steve McQueen’s anthology series Small Axe is a TV series or set of movies. (You see, because “anthology series” suggests television, but “film” suggests … film.) The fourth installment, Alex Wheatle, stars Sheyi Cole as the titular character, a Black British novelist who was sentenced to imprisonment after the 1981 Brixton uprising (aka “Bloody Saturday”).
The Wilds (Dec. 11, Amazon Prime)
You ever wonder what Lord of the Flies would be like if it was teenage girls instead of teenage boys? Then Amazon’s The Wilds is possibly the show for you. The premise is simple: After a plane crashes on a deserted island, a group of teen girls from different backgrounds has no choice but to survive and coexist. It’s all a very Real World—in its original, purest form, of course—situation, honestly. But because the Lord of the Flies comparison is natural and because everything needs a hook, that’s not all: According to Amazon, “There’s just one twist to this thrilling [drama] … these girls did not end up on this island by accident.” So the series will also have Lost comparisons to contend with — as well as the fact that Amazon decided the twist wasn’t twisty enough to actually keep a twist.
Pennyworth (Dec. 13, Epix)
Epix’s series about the early life of Batman’s caretaker Alfred Pennyworth returns for a second season, and no: he’s still not a butler yet. That’s because this season takes place just a year after the events of the first, finding England embroiled in a civil war, as the Raven Society (now the Raven Union) and Lord James Harwood attempt to control the country. At this time, Alfred is apparently residing in the West End Neutral Zone, running The Delaney, which is described as “a black-market Soho club that welcomes everyone, regardless of their politics.” (Alfred once called the Raven Society as “some kind of secret Gestapo.” But apparently they’re totally cool to drink with, as long as you don’t talk politics.) But really, Alfred would rather be in America. Hope that works out for him.
Tiny Pretty Things (Dec. 14, Netflix)
Based on the 2015 Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton novel of the same name, Tiny Pretty Things is a mystery series set in the hyper-competitive world of ballet. According to Netflix, “when an attack brings down the star student at an elite ballet school, her replacement enters a world of lies, betrayal — and cutthroat competition.” Created by Michael MacLennan (Queer As Folk, Bomb Girls), Tiny Pretty Things stars Kylie Jefferson and Lauren Holly, alongside real-life professional dancers (which includes Jefferson).
Song Exploder: Volume 2 (Dec. 15, Netflix)
Hrishikesh Hirway’s in-depth music Netflix series returns with another four episodes, this time exploring the creative process behind songs from Nine Inch Nails (“Hurt”), Dua Lipa (“Love Again”), The Killers (“When You Were Young”), and Natalia Lafourcade (“Hasta La Raíz”). Will this round of episodes finally feature the explosion of song (whatever that could possibly entail) that has been promised since the series’ humble podcast beginnings?
The Expanse (Dec. 16, Amazon Prime Video)
The beloved science-fiction adventure series returns for its fifth and penultimate season, releasing its first three episodes of the 10-episode season on Dec. 16, before shifting to one episode per week (now known as “The Boys model.”) At this year’s New York Comic-Con, The Expanse showrunner Naren Shankar called this season “the most epic and the most personal season we have ever done, simultaneously.” And according to Amazon, the season “picks up as multitudes of humans leave the solar system in search of new homes and vast fortunes on the earth-like worlds beyond the alien Ring, and a heavy price for centuries of exploitation of the Belt finally comes due and a reckoning is at hand.”
The Stand (Dec. 17, CBS All Access)
Perhaps the most anticipated program of the year, The Stand — based on the 1978 Stephen King novel of the same name — takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, decimated by a pandemic and deep in a struggle between good and evil. So, not just the most anticipated by also, funnily enough, the most eerily perfect program to close out 2020. Developed by director Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) and writer Benjamin Cavell (SEAL Team), The Stand limited series boasts an all-star cast, featuring Whoopi Goldberg as the 108-year-old Mother Abigail (on that good side of the struggle) and Alexander Skarsgård as Randall Flagg (the “dark man,” obviously on that bad side of the struggle). James Marsden, Amber Heard, Greg Kinnear, Ezra Miller, and Heather Graham also star, among others. And just to warn you right now: CBS All Access will be dropping these episodes on a week-to-week basis.
A Creepshow Holiday Special (Dec. 18, Shudder)
‘Tis the season … the season for creeps. Shudder is getting into the holiday spirit with an hour-long Creepshow holiday special called “Shapeshifters Anonymous.” And unlike this year’s animated Halloween special, this will actually be a live-action, single story. Based on a J.A. Konrath short story about a support group for werewolves, “Shapeshifters Anonymous” stars Anna Camp and Adam Pally.
Bridgerton (Dec. 24, Netflix)
The highly-anticipated Bridgerton, inspired by the Julia Quinn novel series of the same name, premieres this Christmas. Created by Shondaland stalwart Chris Van Dusen and produced by Shonda Rhimes herself, the series follows eight siblings (all of which had their own book in Quinn’s series) of the Bridgerton family, navigating London high society in the 1800s. But the real hook — of both the novel and the television series — is the mysterious gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, voiced by Dame Julie Andrews. (“xoxo Lady Whistledown,” and all that jazz.)
Letterkenny (Dec. 26, Hulu)
On Boxing Day, everyone’s favorite rural Canadian sitcom — that’s still on the air and doesn’t star Catherine O’Hara — returns for its ninth season. This new season will consist of seven episodes, in which the town of Letterkenny both gets a competing restaurant (a “breastaurant,” actually) and “really into sleepover activities.” And you know what? They also get a little religious education, as the hockey players also learn about Judaism this season.
The Masked Dancer (Dec. 27, Fox)
As Fox attempts to fulfill the prophecy of having an entire line-up of Masked franchise series, the next step in its plan is a little something called The Masked Dancer. Hosted by Craig Robinson, The Masked Dancer’s line-up of panelists include Ken Jeong (officially bridging the Masked Cinematic Universe), Paula Abdul (who actually makes more sense on a competition series for dancing than she every really did one for singing), Brian Austin Green (former Masked Singer Giraffe), and Ashley Tisdale (part of it). Is it worth noting that this show was originally conceived (and executed) as a bit — a spoof, mocking the very idea of a Masked Singer spin-off of this type — on The Ellen DeGeneres Show? Probably. But again: The prophecy must be fulfilled.
Transformers: War for Cybertron - Earthrise (Dec. 30, Netflix)
The second chapter in the Transformers: War for Cybertron trilogy, Earthrise picks up where Siege left off. The Transformers leave a decimated Cybertron in search of the AllSpark, which leads the warring Autobots and Decepticons to land over Earth. (Thus the title, Earthrise. The titular Earth.) Like Siege, Earthrise will be six half-hour episodes.
Yearly Departed (Dec. 30, Amazon Prime Video)
2 Dope Queens comedian Phoebe Robinson hosts this farewell (or really, eulogy) to 2020 comedy special, executive produced by (and also featuring) The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Rachel Brosnahan. (Amazon clearly realizes that when you win a streaming service a few major awards, you should be allowed to executive produce whatever you want for them.) The comedy special’s all-women line-up includes Tiffany Haddish, Sarah Silverman, Natasha Rothwell, Natasha Leggero, and Patti Harrison.
Vikings (Dec. 30, Amazon Prime Video)
For Vikings fans in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, and Austria, the series’ final 10 episodes — the second half of its sixth and final season — are set to drop on Amazon just before the new year. Of the shift to this first-run streaming deal, series creator Michael Hirst said, “Prime Video will uniquely expose the series finale to a streaming audience first. Prepare to be astonished, and for many surprises along the way. And if you have tears to shed, then also be prepared to shed them.” And for those viewers who wish to shed those tears on a week-to-week basis, as they had grown accustomed to, these final episodes of Vikings will eventually air on their original home, History Channel.
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Dec. 31, Netflix)
Billed as the final chapter of the series, the eight-episode “Part 4” of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina closes out 2020 with the threat of the Eldritch Terrors (The Darkness, The Weird, and others) now unleashed. Witch war is underway in Greendale — as is the End of All Things. Honestly, it seems that much like The Stand, suddenly, the fourth, final season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is the most appropriate way one can end 2020.