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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

5. “Ego Death” – I May Destroy You (HBO)

Imaydestroyyouegodeath best TV episodes 2020

One of the most affecting series of the year was Michaela Coel’s riveting, unflinching I May Destroy You. But in terms of technical storytelling and stark emotional payoff, nothing is better than the finale, “Ego Death.” How do you reckon with the end of a story about sexual assault? What could a good ending possibly be? What would be satisfying? Cathartic? Good television? I May Destroy You ends by asking that very question, then asking it again and again. And again, playing out a series of conclusions that are slightly uncanny, already repeatedly-trod paths of similar stories. But in the end, none of them are real. What is real is Arabella’s own healing. And that’s the only conclusion worth embracing.

4. “Whenever You’re Ready” – The Good Place (NBC)

Thegoodplacewheneveryoureready best TV episodes 2020

In a show that starts with everyone dead, it’s a hell of a thing to end on a note that feels so much like saying goodbye. And in a universe where paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, it’s even more of a hell of a thing to find satisfaction. But The Good Place does that and more in a finale that’s moving, cathartic, and really, truly heartbreaking. I cried watching this episode. I cried a lot. But when it was over, I felt a peace and an acceptance it’s been hard to find this year. And that, it turns out, is really what it’s all about. Goodbye, The Good Place. Take it sleazy.

3. “The View from Halfway Down” – BoJack Horseman (Netflix)

Bojackhoremantheviewfromhalfwaydown best TV episodes 2020

Every year, BoJack Horseman does a showstopper episode, one that breaks tradition and the rules and somehow catapults the show beyond its already incomparable state. This year (yes, it was in January, so believe it or not this counts for 2020) BoJack Horseman came to an end. And while the finale was all kinds of perfect, the undeniable showstopper was the penultimate episode, “The View from Halfway Down.” An amorphous, semi-sinister dream state, it’s obvious from the start that this episode takes place in some kind of liminal space between life and death.

There are no tricks, no gotchas. The question from the beginning isn’t whether or not BoJack is drowning. The question is whether or not he’ll be saved. And, perfectly, it doesn’t answer that question. Although it’s a penultimate episode, it’s also an episode of last words, an episode of closure, a final farewell to all the people BoJack has wronged and lost throughout his life. Given the exquisite open-ended-ness of the finale, this is the show’s last chance for real catharsis, for the opportunity to say goodbye, even when you don’t want to. It’s perfect.

2. “Mouse of Silver” – The Midnight Gospel (Netflix)

Themidnightgospelmouseofsilver best TV episodes 2020

A joint project between Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time) and Duncan Trussell (The Duncan Trussell Family Hour), The Midnight Gospel is a series of interviews conducted by Trussell and set to surreal, beautiful, unsettling animation. The episodes are always strange, thought-provoking, and a little unexpected. Some people adored it, and some people just didn’t get it. And that’s fine.

But everyone (I hope) can agree that the final episode, “Mouse of Silver,” is something else entirely: more religious experience than TV. The audio is a conversation between Trussell and his mother, Deneen Fendig, recorded three weeks before she passed away in 2013. It follows them as they talk frankly, through laugher and tears, about life, death, acceptance, and a thousand other things.

The animation, sometimes chaotic and sometimes painfully still, follows their avatars as they age, die, are reborn, transcend form, and are slowly, inexorably pulled apart. It is probably the most moving thing you could watch this year, and you don’t need to see the rest of the show to understand it. You just need to be human. If you are, go find it on Netflix right now.

1. “How to Cook the Perfect Risotto” – How To with John Wilson (HBO)

Howtocooktheperfectrisotto best TV episodes 2020

How To with John Wilson is everything that’s right with quiet, empathetic, slightly odd TV. Reminiscent of Joe Pera Talks with You and Nathan for You (Nathan Fielder is an executive producer here), it is still entirely its own beast. Ostensibly a how-to guide, the first-person documentary is a series of bumbling, shaggy dog journeys down the garden path of real life.

And none gets more real than the finale, in which a simple concept — cooking the perfect risotto — gets sideswiped by the coronavirus pandemic. Taking place in the very earliest spring days of quarantine, the episode is a trip to watch in December. Everyone is nervous and unsure, stockpiling groceries and pitching makeshift plastic sheets around cash registers. To a viewer not just practiced, but utterly numbed to COVID-19 protocols, it’s almost quaint seeing how naïve we once were.

But there’s also something so comforting about it, watching John Wilson cook a makeshift risotto when the perfect risotto is clearly out of reach. And there’s solace in hearing a gentle, slightly stammering voice telling you, in the traditional second-person of a how-to, that things are strange and scary, but they’re not all bad. And maybe, just maybe, they won’t always be this way. It pairs excellently with this year, like a glass of wine with a perfect (or just okay) risotto.

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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)