Anna Taylor-Joy as the fictional Beth Harmon in ’The Queen's Gambit’, with Marcin Dorocinski as Vasily Borgov. Picture: Netflix
Anna Taylor-Joy as the fictional Beth Harmon in ’The Queen's Gambit’, with Marcin Dorocinski as Vasily Borgov. Picture: Netflix

10 most popular international shows of 2020

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Dec 31, 2020

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As we countdown until 2021, let’s revisit the shows that got us through the rough patches during the Covid-19 lockdown.

The shows not only got everyone talking but it also provided a wonderful escape from our new reality.

Little Fires Everywhere

That is starred Reese Witherspoon on the back of “Big Little Lies”, fans were curious to see what she was bringing with another picture-perfect suburban family scenario playing out.

Cast as Elena Richardson, she shared the screen with Kerry Washington as Mia Warren, a talented artist who is a single mother to a teenage daughter, Pearl.

The two cross paths after Elena rents their property to Mia, who works as a waitress.

But the lives of both families are upended by past and present secrets as Elena seeks answers while Mia wants justice.

This was a powerful drama on M-Net and Showmax.

Tiger King

This true-life docu-series was a hit with Netflix viewers and critics alike. In fact, it was one of the streaming platforms most successful releases to date.

Hosted by Joel McHale, the series exposed the long-running feud between Joe Exotic, the owner of G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and Carole Baskin, who is the CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa Florida.

Their beef was documented in threatening videos, harassment campaigns and legal allegations. It ended with Joe Exotic’s 22-year federal prison sentence.

Indian Matchmaking

This Netflix reality series may have left critics and fans divided in opinion as some found it was sexist and it propagated classism and colourism while others lapped up the entertaining drama.

Sima Taparia, a marriage consultant from Mumbai, was tasked with finding partners for several singletons around the world.

And she had her work cut out for her as her clients - and their family - were uncompromising on their idea of the perfect partner.

Although her matchmaking abilities proved fruitless, fans are salivating a second season with fussy clients, impossible demands and disastrous dates.

I May Destroy You

This Showmax series centres on Arabella (Michaela Coel) who, while taking a break for meeting the deadline of her second novel, decides to enjoy a night out in London with friends.

The following morning, she is unable to recall what happened to her and, with the help of her friends Terry (Weruche Opia) and Kwame (Paapa Essiedu), pieces things together.

While hard-hitting with its subject matter, the nuanced writing and brilliant performances converted many viewers into fans.

Lovecraft Country

This 1Magic and Showmax fantasy horror series had me hooked from the first episode.

It followed the journey of Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), who is joined by his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and Uncle George (Courtney B Vance), in search of his missing father.

Their road trip across Jim Crow America in the 1950s sees them encounter racism along with terrifying monsters that appear to be plucked from the novel of horror author HP Lovecraft.

The deft direction, seasoned cast and jawdropping special effects made this a must-see series.

Ratched

With Sarah Paulson at the helm of this psychological thriller, I was undeniably intrigued. She’s one of my favourite actresses and she didn’t disappoint in this 8-part Netflix series.

Cast as Nurse Mildred Ratched, she arrives in Northern California determined to get a job at Lucia State Hospital. However, there is an ulterior motive behind this move.

This show has been praised for its excellent casting of Cynthia Nixon, Judy Davis and Sharon Stone among others, its character development and adroit direction. Don’t get me started on the stylish period costumes and the brilliant cinematography and authentic 1940s setting.

The Undoing

This six-part psychological thriller with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant as husband and wife, Grace and Jonathan Fraser, respectively, sparked curiosity. Comparisons to Kidman’s earlier series, “Big Little Lies”, were par for the course when the first episode aired with the mother a student being murdered.

The series follows the unravelling of Grace’s life after her oncologist husband becomes the prime suspect in the murder of Elena. As the investigation intensifies a few home truths come to light.

This series is a twisted take on a sort of “The Good Wife” meets the mindf**k that is “Gone Girl”. Great start but the same can’t be said of the ending.

The Queen’s Gambit

I just couldn’t stop watching this series. In fact, I binged the entire season in two days.

All the praise that has been heaped on this show is deserved. I would go so far as to say this Netflix coming-of-age period drama is one of the best shows of the year.

The 7-part series follows the journey of Beth Harmon, an orphan and chess prodigy, who started playing chess with the janitor in the basement.

After she is adopted by Alma Wheatley and her husband, who leaves her shortly after.

It is then that Beth starts entering chess tournaments and gains recognition for her talent.

The two form a deep bond and enjoy a life of fame and prestige.

However, Beth’s journey is fraught with drug and alcohol abuse until she is helped to get back on track.

A nail-biting and entertaining character-driven series.

The Crown

The fourth season of the Netflix series has been grabbing a lot of headlines while ruffling a few royal feathers.

This season looks at Queen Elizabeth II’s reign spanning between 1979 and 1990. This time frame is set during Margaret Thatcher’s appointment as the first female prime minister.

The historical drama also includes the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, their unhappy marriage and the birth of Prince William.

The well-written fictionalised script has become a very surreal watch. That said, the streaming giant refused to carry a disclaimer despite pressure from the British government.

Bridgerton

This has been one of the most hugely-anticipated Shonda Rhimes releases for the year. And she doesn’t disappoint with the period romance.

Based on Julia Quinn’s best-selling novels, it is set in 1813 where London’s young ladies who are ready for marriage are presented to the Queen.

Daphne Bridgerton’s flawless beauty gets the Queen’s attention along with the many suitors at the party.

To avoid several of unsuitable suitors, Daphne forges an alliance with Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, until things get a bit complicated between the two.

Also contributing drama in this little town is Lady Whistledown and her scandalous news pamphlet, where she reveals the dirty little secrets of some of the townsfolk.

Be warned, this series is addictive.

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