It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Streaming on Amazon Prime, “Yearly Departed” turns a glance back at 2020 into a comedy special disguised as a memorial service.
Female comics and actresses, including Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Ziwe Fumudoh, Tiffany Haddish (“Girls Trip”), Patti Harrison (“Shrill”), Natasha Leggero (“Another Period”), Natasha Rothwell (“Insecure”) and Sarah Silverman (“I Love You, America”) wear mourning clothes and gather at a funeral parlor to deliver eulogies for the departing year as well as pop culture matters, TV genres and other topics that will not live to see 2021.
The stilted setting encourages long monologues and prevents much group chemistry from developing.
— While “Departed” isn’t bad enough to rank among the worst shows of 2020, it shares one thing in common with my choice for the year’s biggest dud: a conspicuous waste of talent.
Netflix’s “Space Force” stars Steve Carell as Gen. Mark R. Naird, the head of a new branch of the armed forces, a Pentagon bureaucrat as hapless as he is clueless. Contemptuously ignorant of science, the general is kept in check by Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich), a scientist who is actually in charge.
This lifeless affair demonstrates how an entertainment culture estranged from military life has no business creating “service comedies.” It also demonstrates comedy writers’ overreliance on the current president for material. Netflix has announced a second season, but it will have to stream after its inspiration has left office.
If “Space Force,” is 2020’s worst, I nominate Netflix’s “Unorthodox” as the best new series of the year. Set in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, it stars Israeli actress Shira Haas as Esther Shapiro, a petite woman estranged from her husband and the controlling subculture that has defined her life. Her escape to Berlin, home of her exiled mother, unfolds like a thriller.
As much as Esther’s sanity depends on her departure and personal liberation, “Unorthodox” never depicts her family or her childlike husband as villains. The brief series is smart enough to be generous to all of its characters as it illuminates a way of life that few of us understand.
Another notable series from 2020, the comedy “Upload” streams on Amazon Prime. It’s set in the near future, where a commercialized digital “afterlife” is defined by wealth and status. It’s also a rare show where the main character (Robbie Amell) gets to evolve from a basic jerk to a likable guy. Even after he’s dead!
I also must recommend “Devs,” another tech fantasy, streaming on FX on Hulu, starring Nick Offerman as a visionary using quantum computing to challenge our very notions of time and reality.
Both series use a murder investigation as a means of entry to very mind-bending stories.
— Originally on History, “Vikings” streams its final season on Amazon Prime. Technically, this is the second half of the sixth season. “Valhalla, I am coming.”
TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS
— New chief, old beefs on “Chicago Med” (8 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
— Dean Cain hosts “Heroes on the Front Line” (8 p.m., CW, TV-PG).
— Memories haunt Severide on “Chicago Fire” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
— Athena stumbles on “9-1-1” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14).
— Kevin Frazier and Nischelle Turner host “Dogs of the Year” (9 p.m., CW, r, TV-PG).
— A colleague’s son faces a murder charge on “Chicago P.D.” (10 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).
Chuck Connors (“The Rifleman,” “Branded”) stars in the 1963 children’s adventure “Flipper” (6:15 p.m., TCM , TV-G), later adapted as a popular NBC series.
Befriending a tormentor on “Young Sheldon” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) … “The Masked Dancer” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG) … Adam outgrows his peers on “The Goldbergs” (8 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) … A dateless night on “Mom” (8:30 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) … A surprise visit on “American Housewife” (8:30 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG).
Sonny’s chance encounter on “SEAL Team” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14) … On four helpings of “The Conners” (ABC, r): quarantine (9 p.m., TV-PG); isolation (9:30 p.m., TV-14); a first birthday (10 p.m., TV-PG); politics (10:30 p.m., TV-PG) … A wayward sibling on “S.W.A.T.” (10 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).
Laci Mosley appears on “Conan” (11 p.m., TBS, r) … Kate Winslet and Michael Eric Dyson are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (11:35 p.m., CBS, r) … Keegan-Michael Key, Isla Fisher and Ingrid Andress appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (11:35 p.m., ABC, r) … David Oyelowo and Sam Smith appear on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (12:35 a.m., CBS, r).