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16 TV Shows That Came Out Of Nowhere In 2020

December 21, 2020 1.3k votes 236 voters 2.9k views16 items

List RulesVote up the TV shows that came out of nowhere in 2020.

The most popular shows of 2020 included some strange outliers that no one would have expected back in 2019. Whether it was a classic children's action show gaining a new life on Netflix or a chess drama somehow sweeping the nation, a lot of the most talked-about shows of 2020 came as a complete surprise.

There are plenty of reasons a show can be a surprise hit. Maybe it came out in a programming lull where there weren't other new shows to compete with. Maybe it was just a fantastic show, and word of mouth slowly grew its audience week to week, regardless of the fact that it was already on its second or third season. Or, like in the case of Tiger King, maybe the subject matter was just too unbelievable to be ignored. In a year when everyone had a lot more time to be at home watching TV, the TV shows we were obsessed with in 2020 covered a lot of ground.

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  • The Queen's Gambit
    Photo: Netflix

    The Queen's Gambit follows a chess prodigy as she, well, plays chess. That doesn't sound like a sure-fire cultural smash-hit to rival viral sensations like The Mandalorian, but the series received more than 62 million views and became Netflix's largest-ever scripted miniseries. 

    The Guardian accounted for the show's surprise success by looking at the cultural moment in which it came into being. At the height of a contentious election season and in the midst of a global pandemic, a period piece about a sports underdog was "grade-A escapism." 

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  • While Netflix seemed to inspire most of the binge-viewing in 2020, the massive success of The Boys gave Amazon a hit of their own. The Boys' first season had a decent following, but the release of Season 2 saw their viewership almost double in size. What was once just one of many superhero adaptations on the air became the show everyone was talking about. Just weeks into the second season's release, a spin-off was announced. 

    Part of the reason the new season did so much better was due to switching to a weekly release schedule, whereas the first season dropped all at once. Instead of fans watching separately and forgetting about it, everyone had to watch it weekly, giving new fans time to catch up and jump on the bandwagon to be a part of the discussion. 

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  • Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
    Photo: Netflix

    Americans love true crime, but as CNN put it, Tiger King was on a "whole different level." The Netflix documentary series centered on Joe Exotic, his exotic animal business, and a series of scandals that spanned from animal abuse to attempted (and alleged) murder. It's an absolutely bonkers show starring an absolutely bonkers cast of real-life characters. According to CNN executive Scott Safon, Tiger King "succeeds because it crams all of our favorite binge-watching obsessions into one tiger-print package." 

    Even those who didn't watch Tiger King absolutely knew of the show (and probably could name most of its colorful subjects) thanks to its pervasive online presence at the start of 2020. The memes and references to the characters absolutely could not be avoided.

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  • The Umbrella Academy
    Photo: Netflix

    The Chicago Tribune wrote about how even though the first season of The Umbrella Academy was the third most popular show on Netflix in 2019, there was still a good chance you hadn't heard of it. With Season 2 of The Umbrella Academy in 2020, that began to change as the series started to have more of an impact on pop culture.

    Part of the reason this season did better was simply that it was better. The internet has been ablaze with think pieces as to why. It basically boils down to the fact that the first season was stuffed with origins and set-up, while the second season was able to cut loose and have some fun. By some metrics, the series finished out 2020 as Netflix's top original show

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