This article is part of our 2020 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we highlight the best TV episodes of 2020.
It’s the end of 2020. How about that? I’m not going to recount what a bad, strange year it’s been, because you’ve read that already. You read that every time you go online. I know I do. Instead, let’s talk about the thing that helped us get through, in spite of it all. The thing we never had to leave our homes for, to begin with.
Let’s talk about TV.
This was a remarkably good year for tv, even as it marked the end of a few giants. The departure of a brilliant show usually means brilliant last words, and those that left us left on their own terms, with finales (or near-finales) that were moving, cathartic, and tearful. By my count I cried watching five of the episodes on this list. One out of four ain’t bad.
Some of the best episodes, of course, were escapes — departures from the usual into the surreal, the strange, and, in one case, Pennsylvania.
And the best of the best episodes were those that helped us cope, either directly or purely by coincidence, with a world that’s changed. Those episodes that have helped us feel less alone, while at the same time reassuring us that alone is an okay thing to feel. If there’s one thing the best episodes of the year have offered us, it’s acceptance. Peace with ourselves, even when things don’t seem peaceful. And hope that, no matter what, life goes on.
Here are my favorite episodes of 2020.
20. “Elizabeth, Margaret And Larry” – Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
I’ll admit it: I have never been a huge fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm. But even I can appreciate a good bizarre, unnecessary trip into the absurd — for example, Jon Hamm gradually morphing into Larry David. What exactly makes Jon Hamm’s method research for “a Larry David type” role so funny? Is it the fact, as they explain, that they’re casting against type? Maybe it’s the fact that everyone calls him by his first and last name (“You’re banned, Jon Hamm!”) every single time. Maybe it’s just that whenever I see Jon Hamm post Mad Men, he seems to be having an absolute ball. Whatever it is, it’s a real delight.
19. “Episode X” – The Last Dance (Netflix)
I am not a basketball fan. I’m not even a sports fan. I still watched The Last Dance from start to finish with rapt attention. Chronicling the years leading up to the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls’ season (Michael Jordan‘s last), the miniseries ends on a moving and somewhat strange note when it becomes clear that no one, twenty years later, feels they were responsible for dissolving the team. In retrospect, was there really a good reason for it all to end? Maybe if it hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here now, talking about such finite greatness. Whatever the case, the final episode of The Last Dance truly captures the zeitgeist in a way anyone can appreciate.
18. “Episode 1” – Devs (Hulu)
Some shows’ finest episodes are the ones in which things finally click, and everything is revealed. And then others, like Devs, are at their best in the beginning, when all the dominoes are being set up. This pilot episode has it all: a disappearance, a terrible secret, a gruesome death, Nick Offerman as a spooky, beardy, Elon Musk type. That’s not to say that Devs doesn’t deliver later in its season, but there’s just so much glorious potential there, and nothing can quite top it.
17. “Walk into the Light” – I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (HBO)
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is so many things. A celebration of true crime investigators. A mystery. A biography of the late Michelle McNamara, and a somber look at the life and legacy she left behind. But it’s also a story of survival, and perseverance, and the show ends as it should: with the real capture of the man known decades before as the Golden State Killer and East Area Rapist, yes, but also with a party. A gathering of all the people who survived him, who outlasted him and thrived in spite of him. The documentary is a hell of a journey, the end of which you likely know before you go in. But the final episode offers a different ending, one of triumph, and of hope.
16. “The Future” – Steven Universe Future (Cartoon Network)
Steven Universe actually made this list last year for its supposed series finale. Well, guess who’s back with another series finale? That’s right. But this one feels less like the surprise, sucker punch closure of before, and more like something that is well and truly an ending, a celebration of growing up and moving on to new horizons. Heck, maybe it’ll be back again, and this list can get a good running joke going. But if the wonderful people behind Steven Universe actually do move on to new things, we can forever wrap up in the warm blanket of this cozy, bittersweet, and genuinely hopeful conclusion.