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The 20 Best TV Episodes of 2020

The year’s finest episodes helped us find peace and acceptance, even when we thought we couldn’t.
Best Tv Episodes
By  · Published on December 23rd, 2020

10. “Quarantine” – Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet (Apple TV+)

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This year made for a singularly bizarre viewing experience: watching TV that had been produced before the pandemic felt like peeking into an alternate universe where things like traveling, going to restaurants, and just standing near people wasn’t cause for alarm. With the exception, that is, of the special quarantine-themed episode of Rob McElhenney’s new show, Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet. Taking place (and filmed) entirely online, it deals head on with a company struggling to adapt to functioning during a pandemic, with everything from chaotic mutings and unmutings on zoom meetings, to really just not feeling okay. With the final line a lively “fuck you, coronavirus,” it’s one of the few truly relatable episodes of a unforeseeable year.

9. “Bagman” – Better Call Saul (AMC)

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No shot is ever wasted in Better Call Saul, and from the moment you see Jimmy casually dump half his water bottle to wipe a smudge off his shoe, you know this trip to the desert is going to go south. And go south it does, as a supposedly easy bail money pickup devolves into a harrowing shootout and a brutal march across the desert. It all comes to a head with a visually arresting Hail Mary for Jimmy, and a technically muted but no less dangerous meeting for Kim. Nothing is ever wasted in Better Call Saul, and “Bagman” packs it in even better than anything. 

8. “On the Run” – What We Do In The Shadows (FX)

Whatwedointheshadowsontherun best TV episodes 2020

What We Do in the Shadows is one of the funniest things on TV right now, achieving the nearly impossible feat of maintaining the same style as its 2014 movie namesake and forebear. It captures perfectly that sad, decaying, screw-up energy of a group of immortal idiots who are so hapless it’s hard to hold it against them if they eat the odd virgin. But by far the best episode of this season is the one that breaks out of their dingy, blood soaked, dismal Staten Island house and travels all the way to Pennsylvania, where Laszlo settles down to live out the rest of eternity, or at least a few days, in hiding.

Armed with the perfect disguise (a toothpick and a pair of blue jeans), Laszlo thrives as Jackie Daytona, Regular Human Bartender. That’s what makes the episode so special — the ease with which Laszlo (and probably any vampire) could find happiness and acceptance, if they only gave a single shit about trying. Of course it’s not fated to last, but that’s for the best. Better we get only a glimpse of what life was like for Jackie Daytona, the man who had it all. 

7. “Obsidian” – Adventure Time: Distant Lands (HBO Max)

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Adventure Time ended its main run in 2018, and, as I’ve said to anyone who’ll listen to me, it did so perfectly. One of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the finale was the canon confirmation, after years of hints and subtext, of the romantic relationship between Marceline the Vampire Queen and Princess Bubblegum. Now Adventure Time is back on HBO Max, and the canons are firing full blast as we get to see Marcy and Bonnie finally living together, being domestic, and working through the ups and downs of their relationship.

It’s a surprisingly adult take on a working, communication-driven partnership, and it’s wonderful to see. It does feel a little like fan service (or maybe like the show is making up for all those years of subtext by really shouting its text). But honestly? Who cares. It was worth the wait, and it’s the driving force in an episode that, regardless, is beautifully done. “Obsidian” is full of nostalgia and weirdness and, true to the show’s nature, the insistence that sometimes just being yourself is the best happy ending there is.

6. “Opening Night” – PEN15 (Hulu)

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The first season of Pen15 was good. The second season is exceptional. Any of its new crop of episodes could make this list just for their hyper-realistic portrayal of middle school in the early 2000s. (As a 32-year-old former drama kid, I had to take frequent breaks to be flooded by memories and whisper “How did they get it so right?”) But it’s the season finale that truly goes above and beyond, doubling down on its horrible realism while also taking a break for the beautiful, wordless, choreographed interlude that represents the school play. I hope Pen15 stays stuck in middle school forever.

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Liz Baessler is a frequent contributor and infrequent columnist at Film School Rejects. She has an MA in English and a lot of time on her hands. (She/Her)