Sometimes it feels like there’s not much of a distinction left between “television” and everything else. As major media conglomerates hold investor presentations in which they present their upcoming streaming wares as “multiple-hour movies,” how is a beleaguered television fanbase supposed to distinguish TV shows from the dreaded, amorphous concept of “content”?
By episodes, of course! Episodes are one of the last remaining hallmarks of what makes the entity known as television distinct. Though we largely watch all our entertainment on the same kinds of screens nowadays, it’s television that lays claim to distinct episodes and distinct seasons as part of their larger gestalt. The Best TV Shows of 2020 deserve our commendation (and they will receive it very soon), but so too these smaller stories and pieces within them. The Best TV Episodes of 2020 are just as important to our appreciation of the medium and its long-term health.
Gathered here are 25 of Den of Geek’s favorite episodes of television in 2020. Voted on by our contributors, and arranged in alphabetical order, these are the half-hours, hours, and more that inspired and thrilled us in this most challenging year.
Better Call Saul – “Bagman”
In a season packed with memorable moments and 5-star episodes, Better Call Saul’s “Bagman” takes the cake as season 5’s finest hour and one of the absolute best episodes of television of 2020. Directly recalling Breaking Bad’s season 2 highlight “Four Days Out,” returning director and Breaking Bad auteur Vince Gilligan pulls out his old playbook and pumps “Bagman” up with high-octane shootouts, tense face-to-face showdowns, and his penchant for dark comedy.
As notable as it is to restage and one-up “Four Days Out,” “Bagman” also finally bridges the gap between Jimmy McGill’s new “friend of the cartel” world and that of his straight and narrow girlfriend Kim’s, a moment Better Call Saul fans have been anticipating and dreading with equal measure. Seeing Kim interact with Lalo, perhaps the best villain yet in the Breaking Bad/BCS universe, is a trip. Between Lalo’s cackling over the news of the burnt down Los Pollos Hermanos, surprise at Kim being “Mrs. Goodman,” and his lack of concern for “la cucaracha,” Lalo is a pure delight, even when he’s being stomach-churningly awful.
A desert twist on The Sopranos’ “Pine Barrens,” “Bagman” is a thrilling, highly consequential installment that is as equally introspective as it is explosive. I tend to bristle at episodes that so clearly ape Breaking Bad’s style and rhythms, but with Vince Gilligan at the helm, “Bagman” is purely undeniable. This is the moment that the show’s separate storylines began collapsing in on each other and truly feels like the beginning of the end for Better Call Saul.
– Nick Harley
BoJack Horseman – “The View From Halfway Down”
BoJack Horseman was never going to actually kill off its titular horseman. Though the depressive former ‘90s sitcom actor had been courting death for much of the series with addictions to booze, pills, and self-loathing, the show was always destined to end with him giving things another shot – again and again and again. That’s the point. It never ends. You’re stuck with yourself, flaws and all, and you’ve just gotta keep trying. BoJack indeed gets his umpteenth chance to start over in the series elegiac series finale, “Nice While It Lasted.” Before that, however, the show’s penultimate episode gets to vividly imagine what the end would look like for BoJack Horseman, and it makes for one of the series’ best episodes ever.
“The View From Halfway Down” picks up with BoJack drunk and at the bottom of a pool, slowly drowning. Meanwhile his consciousness takes a trip to a gaudy mansion where he enjoys dinner and a show with all the dead people he knows. Sarah Lynn, Corduroy, Crackerjack, Herb Kazzaz, and Beatrice are all there to enjoy their last meals (a single lemon for Corduroy, hospital food for Beatrice, and a pile of pills for BoJack) and then have one final sendoff before entering the infinite. This is where BoJack’s father, Butterscotch (incognito as BoJack’s hero Secretariat) turns up and delivers one of the most startling, affecting poems in TV history: “The View From Halfway Down.”
Near-death experience episodes are not uncommon on television (none other than The Sopranos may have had the definitive version with season 6’s “Join the Club”) but “The View From Halfway Down” somehow injects life (or rather dripping sludge of black death) into the stale concept. This might not be the final episode of BoJack Horseman, but it’s likely to be the one most people remember. It’s a discomfiting exploration of ego death…and death-death.
– Alec Bojalad
The Boys – “What I Know”
The Boys season 2 had its ups and downs, and a couple of episodes early on felt very low on action, but in the end, Amazon’s ultraviolent hit series managed to build towards a sophomore season finale that was so goddamn satisfying it felt almost illegal.
In “What I Know”, Karl Urban’s Bill Butcher finally faces off against Homelander and escapes with his life, while paying a devastating price. Hughie finds a way to drag himself up from a pit of despair and start a real relationship with Starlight. Kimiko and Frenchie get closer by working through their trauma together. Mother’s Milk is reunited with his family. And Stormfront? Well, that Nazi bitch gets what she deserved.
In fact, “What I Know” wrapped up most of The Boys’ ongoing plotlines so tidily you’d be forgiven for thinking that the action-packed episode was a series finale, not a season finale. Of course, The Boys had one final twist in store, but even if “What I Know” had been the last we’d seen of the show, it would have been just about enough to keep any anguish at bay. TV writers should study “What I Know” for future reference, cuz that’s how you do a season finale.
– Kirsten Howard
Dark – “Life and Death”
Since Dark knew that it was ending in its third season, there were plenty of mind-blowing episodes leading to a very poignant finale, but one episode that stood out was episode 305, “Life and Death.” This was not an episode that directly explored the deeper time travel mythology of the show nor did it feature the characters that were normally center stage. Instead, it shocked us with two acts of brutality by minor characters.
One involved the discoveries of Katharina, the much maligned wife, daughter, and mother who conducted a solo journey through time in search of her husband, Ulrich. The violence between Katharina and her mother provides surprising insights despite its unexpectedness. Meanwhile, another brutal act in the apocalypse of 2020 sheds light on how young Elisabeth evolved into a hardened warrior of the future.
– Michael Ahr
Dave – “Hype Man”
FX’s Dave was a bit of an odd duck from the get-go. Developed by and starring real life rapper Dave “Lil Dicky” Burd, Dave sought to encapsulate the strange contradictions of its title character. Dave is a comedy rapper…but he’s also kind of sincere? Dave is probably kidding about his malformed penis and all the trauma it’s caused him…but he’s also not? Dave is Lil Dickey…but he’s really just Dave? It was a tall order for a novice storyteller to work through, even with the help of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Shaffer as showrunner.
But roughly halfway through its 10 episode-run, Dave…and Dave figure themselves out and start to string together a series of truly quality episodes. The turn starts with “Hype Man,” the show’s fifth installment and perhaps its best. “Hype Man” follows Lil Dicky’s real life (and also fictional) friend GaTa. After Dave makes the decision to install GaTa as his hype man, viewers are entreated to bits of GaTa’s past where his untreated bipolar disorder leads to public disruptions and even a heartbreaking moment with his mother while tied to a hospital bed. In the present, GaTa can’t quite figure his new dosage of meds out and it leads to a decidedly less-than-hyped hype man.
That’s when GaTa reveals his diagnosis to his new friends. As the tears stream down GaTa’s face and as his new crew gracefully accepts him, just as he is, it’s clear that it’s a cathartic moment for all involved that goes well beyond just the confines of television.
– Alec Bojalad
Devs – “Episode 8”
Perhaps no show in 2020 was as beguiling or intriguing as sci-fi maestro Alex Garland’s first TV effort Devs. From its first episode which featured a mysterious murder and the introduction of an awe-inspiring machine, Devs promised a truculent sci-fi television experience. Of course, as is often the case with these things, the impact of the show hinged on how it chose to wrap up the story of Amaya’s secretive Devs program.
That ending, in “Episode 8”, succeeds because it knows the precisely correct ratio of answers to non-answers it needs to provide. This finale deftly articulates the show’s vision of determinism and leaves open the question of just how much of our fate resides in our own hands. It’s also downright Biblical at times with striking imagery, allusions to Christ, and even something resembling an afterlife.
Above all else, it provides one of the most charming bits of title trickery on television this year. “I’ll tell you a secret, Lily,” Forest (Nick Offerman) says to his fated counterpart. “I’ve been wanting to tell someone for awhile. The name of the project is not Devs. The ‘v’ is Roman…so actually a ‘u’.” Deus. Lily can only laugh – another tech CEO who thinks he’s God. It’s just that…this one happens to be right.
– Alec Bojalad
Doctor Who – “The Haunting of Villa Diodati”
“The Haunting of Villa Diodati” isn’t the only example of Doctor Who taking on the haunted house genre, but it may be its best. In this season 12 episode, the science fiction series pays homage to the arguable birthplace of the sci-fi genre: the Swiss villa where Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein. There, the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her fam meet Mary, baby William, Lord Byron, John Polidori, Claire Clairmont, valet Fletcher, and a missing Percy Shelley. With such a large guest cast, you’d think it would be hard to get three Companions in on the action, but first-time Doctor Who scriptwriter Maxine Alderton manages to do so, making good use of Ryan (Tosin Cole), Graham (Bradley Walsh), and Yaz (Mandip Gillip) especially, as the group gets split up while investigating the very real ghosts that seem to be haunting the villa.
With its literary in-jokes and honest-to-goodness scares, “The Haunting of Villa Diodati” would have easily been one of the highlights of season 12 if it was simply a standalone mystery. That it all ends with a third-act Cybermen twist that ties the episode to Doctor Who legacy and kickstarts the high-stakes, season-ending plot raises this installment from “good” to “great.”
– Kayti Burt
The Good Place – “Whenever You’re Ready”
Between BoJack Horseman’s “The View From Halfway Down” and The Good Place’s series finale, “Whenever You’re Ready,” it was a banner year for half-hour comedies addressing cosmic oblivion in 2020. While BoJack’s exploration of death is dark and spooky, The Good Place’s interpretation is one almost of celebration – a reward for a life, and many afterlives well-lived.
However one feels about The Good Place series finale, it’s hard to argue that the concept at its core isn’t ingenious. Our human protagonists Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani, alongside their otherworldly friends Michael and Janet, spend almost a literal eternity grappling with the inequity of the afterlife’s rewards system. Then, in the final stretch of the show’s last season, the gang fixes the system once and for all and arrives at the actual Good Place. There’s only one problem: the occupants of The Good Place are shambling emotionless zombies whose dopamine receptors have been reduced to mush from eons of wish fulfillment and immediate satisfaction. That’s when Eleanor and Michael realize the afterlife’s missing piece: death.
This is not only a fascinating philosophical concept but it sets up a finale filled with goodbyes that all these characters so richly deserve. One by one our heroes decide when they’re ready, and then step through a door to enter the unknown. And of course it all culminates in what might be the best sitcom sign-offs ever from Ted Danson’s Michael: “I’ll say this to you, my friend, with all the love in my heart and all the wisdom of the universe: Take it sleazy.”
– Alec Bojalad
The Haunting of Bly Manor – “The Altar of the Dead”
Perhaps the only thing harder than pulling off an honest-to-goodness serialized horror TV show is doing so twice. But that’s exactly what Mike Flanagan was able to pull off this year with his Netflix followup to The Haunting of Hill House. Like Hill House before it, Bly Manor is based on the works of a classic ghost story writer, in this case Henry James. Unlike Hill House, however, Bly Manor takes a few episodes to really find its rhythm.
Once it does, though, there’s virtually no stopping it. And it’s all thanks to midseason installment “The Altar of the Dead.” It’s clear from moment one that something is off with Bly Manor’s housekeeper Hannah Grose (T’Nia Miller). This is the episode that finally begins to fill in some of the blanks in her story, and subsequently the story of the rest of the house. Much like Billy Pilgrim before her, Miss Grose has become unstuck in time. As Hannah jumps back and forth between her history at Bly Manor, the sinister nature of the property becomes clear. Through Grose’s eyes, we’re treated to the courtship of Rebecca Jessel and Peter Quint. Then we’re taken through all the way to Peter Quint’s death, subsequent possession of Miles, and Hannah’s eventual murder.
It’s not just that “The Altar of the Dead” clarifies the plot of The Haunting of Bly Manor so much that it damn near reveals all of it. And the show is all the better for it. Every episode after “Altar” is able to move forward with a confidence and assuredness that can come only after a masterfully executed setup. It’s all perfectly splendid.
– Alec Bojalad
How To with John Wilson – “How To Cook the Perfect Risotto”
How To With John Wilson’s charms come from the ways that the titular socially awkward documentarian highlights the surreal, funny, perplexing little moments that so frequently occur in public spaces. However, that surreality is turned up to 11 in “How to Cook the Perfect Risotto” as we watch the coronavirus pandemic slowly transform New York City from a bustling, odd metropolis full of characters that are more than willing to invite a complete stranger into their home for a cooking lesson, into a quiet ghost town filmed from the safety of Wilson’s apartment.
Wilson attempts to make his elderly landlord the perfect risotto as a way of thanking her for her kindness, which includes doing Wilson’s laundry, watching Jeopardy with him and delivering him delicious meals. Simultaneously as he’s trying to quit smoking, Wilson is comically frustrated by the endless variables that cause his risotto to not quite live up to his lofty expectations. As he tries to improve his cooking and keep his sanity during nicotine withdrawal, COVID-19 hits the city and causes Wilson’s perspective to completely change. It’s relatable, poignant stuff that sneaks up on you and offers a look at what life has been like in this pandemic in a way that no other piece of art has yet to capture.
– Nick Harley
I May Destroy You – “Ego Death”
‘Ego Death’ was a transcendent half hour. The conclusion to Michaela Coel’s autobiographically inspired drama about surviving sexual assault, it was as probing and inventive as the rest of I May Destroy You.
In the episode, Coel offered viewers three alternative endings. Her character Bella played out fantasy confrontations with the man who, a year earlier, had drugged and attacked her. One is a kickass heist riffing on movie sisterhood and rape revenge. Another is an anti-climax that offers scant closure. Another is gentle, romantic and utterly disorienting. Allowing for multiple interpretations and perspectives, they all happened, and none of them happened.
The climax comes with Bella’s realization that her trauma wouldn’t leave her unless she made it leave. The finale ends with a growing garden, a book reading and an inhalation of breath. With dogged commitment to honesty and no easy answers, it achieved in 30 minutes what some dramas struggle to say in a whole season.
– Louisa Mellor
Killing Eve – “Are You From Pinner?”
Killing Eve has been celebrated for its depiction of the cat and mouse game between its star characters Eve, the former MI6 agent played by Sandra Oh, and Villanelle, the assassin played by Jodie Comer who shares with Eve a mutual obsession. Season 3 experimented with different points of view and delved deeper into the mystery of The Twelve, but it was the backstory of Villanelle (formerly Oksana) in episode 5, “Are You from Pinner?” which really showcased Comer’s depth and the character’s complexity.
The beauty of the episode was the way it lulled the audience into a sense of comfort. Here was Oksana’s long lost family, and they seemed to be happy, fun-loving people who might even welcome their damaged prodigal daughter home. However, even after a joyous carnival, it becomes clear that her mother’s abandonment hides a deeper secret, and the resulting violence and moments of mercy heighten sympathy for the assassin like no episode before or since.
– Michael Ahr
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts – “Real Cats Wear Plaid”
That title alone would earn this episode a spot on the list but its story is even better! “Real Cats Wear Plaid” is the perfect combination of everything that makes Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts so unique and wonderful. There are giant cats who not only wear plaid, they carry axes, have giant yarn balls in their trees, sing ramblin’ folk songs, and love eating pancakes. Kipo has to find their leader named Yumyan Hammerpaw, whose namesake song is easily one of the best in the series, to get the cats’ help.
Watching Kipo not only break her friends free from the cats but slowly win over their trust gives us a good look at how she’ll overcome a lot of obstacles throughout the series. She doesn’t go with the simple solution; she uses her brain and her desire to make friends to win the day. Throw in some absolutely gorgeous visuals and you’ve got a warm, comforting, and totally unique piece of television that only this show could pull off. It’ll make a die-hard Kipo fan out of you, guaranteed.
– Shamus Kelley
Legends of Tomorrow – “The One Where We’re Trapped on TV”
“The One Where We’re Trapped on TV” was the high point of a season full of them for Legends of Tomorrow, showcasing everything this series is capable of. We got three note-perfect parodies of shows – Star Trek, Friends, and the funniest one, Downton Abbey – with wildly divergent tones; A+ workplace comedy and lightning fast plot propulsion; and a cast (especially Caity Lotz and Dominic Purcell summarizing and savaging The Wrath of Khan in 35 seconds, and Matt Ryan beautifully jamming parodies of four different Downton characters into one bit) visibly having the time of their lives. All of that was mixed in with serious, genuine, character growth and emotion.
It’s amazing that Legends went from a forgettable side jaunt in the Arrowverse to a stoner workplace time travel sitcom that culminated one season with a Voltron Tickle Me Elmo. Even more amazing is that Season 5 actually topped it, and “The One Where We’re Trapped on TV” was this season’s peak.
– Jim Dandy
Lovecraft Country – “Sundown”
Lovecraft Country was television’s most ambitious show in 2020. Playing with horror and science fiction tropes while mixing in history lessons that compared the racism of 1950s America with the civil unrest of today, Lovecraft Country took bigger swings than Jackie Robinson clobbering an alien with his Louisville Slugger. Not every episode or moment was successful, but premiere episode “Sundown” is one of the most self-assured, confident debuts of a series in recent memory, a mission statement that establishes characters and blazes through plot points that most shows would have spent a season laboring over.
Our hero Atticus “Tic” Freeman (Jonathan Majors) returns to Chicago to reunite with his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and old crush Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) before going off in search of his missing father Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams) in Ardham, Massachusetts–a location similar to Arkham, which is prevalent in the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, the favorite author of both Tic and Montrose. In Ardham, the gang find horrors both fictional and painfully real. The hour-long episode feels like a miniature movie. Its best moment is a montage of the trio traveling through segregated America set to a James Baldwin monologue. It’s little touches like that which makes Lovecraft Country so unique, gripping, and grounded, even with all of the supernatural elements on display.
– Nick Harley
The Mandalorian – “The Jedi”
Chapter 13 of The Mandalorian was an unexpected midseason payoff for everyone wondering if the story of Din Djarin and “Baby Yoda” would pootle along for a good while longer without answering many questions or tying their adventure into any past Star Wars mythology. This installment threw one game-changing piece of info after another at viewers.
We learned that the adorable green sprog had an actual name (Grogu), that he had been suffering from PTSD so severe that he mentally blocked out a lot of his past before being rescued by Mando, and that he would need to seek out a Jedi to train him to walk the path he might be destined for. Ah, and we also got to meet the live-action version of Ahsoka Tano, played by Rosario Dawson in a very deliberate and self-assured way. After we spent a few minutes with Ahsoka, it was clear that Lucasfilm still had bigger plans for her character beyond The Mandalorian.
Putting aside the many other wonderful Western and samurai influences visually blessing “The Jedi”, the episode formed an important step toward a very different version of Grogu who may develop in future seasons, and as Tano infers, we might not like who he becomes if the darkness creeps in, which only strengthens the bond between Din and The Child, and our investment in the story itself.
– Kirsten Howard
Mythic Quest – “A Dark Quiet Death”
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet was one of 2020’s most pleasant surprises. Apple TV+’s comedy about a videogame studio running a successful MMORPG, worked for all the reasons one might assume. The core showrunning team of Rob McElhenney, Megan Ganz, and David Hornsby (all of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) had a solid handle on the show’s concept and characters, and they also clearly did their research on the videogame industry.
Still, in addition to all of that “expected” stuff, Mythic Quest excels in pulling off concepts that viewers might not anticipate from a nine-episode, half-hour sitcom. The ultimate example is “A Dark Quiet Death,” a fascinating installment of television that falls halfway through the show’s first season. “A Dark Quiet Death” completely abandons the show’s main plotline and takes viewers back to the ‘90s where two game developers, played by Jake Johnson and Christin Milioti, meet, fall in love, and decide to build something together.
Soon, however, the two designers are confronted with questions about commerce vs. art and must figure out how many compromises they’re willing to make. In the process they lose themselves, each other, and the art itself. Mythic Quest eventually brings things back tenuously to the present to reveal that Ian Grimm and the Mythic Quest team now occupy the warehouse studio space they once did. Refreshingly there isn’t much of a lesson to be learned from this adjournment other than: all of this is very hard and you’ll want someone by your side to help…but even that’s pretty hard too.
– Alec Bojalad
Outlander – “The Ballad of Roger Mac”
Outlander season 5’s long-awaited battle between the Regulators and Governor Tryon’s militia delivered the sudden and gut-punching loss of one of its fan-favorite characters, Duncan Lacroix’s Murtagh, and also did the impossible in the same episode – made viewers genuinely invested in whether the guitar-strumming Roger Mackenzie lived or died. Even if his past behavior hadn’t covered him in glory, no one wanted to see Bree’s beau go out at the noose-end of a redcoat’s rope.
But the real heart of the episode was the final scenes between Sam Heughan’s character, Jamie Fraser, who didn’t have much time to celebrate his 50th birthday, and his father figure Murtugh, a stubborn-but-loyal man that had saved him countless times since birth, as he unexpectedly passed the patriarchal torch on once and for all. As Jamie fell apart during “The Ballad of Roger Mac” so did we, and a standout episode in Outlander’s middling fifth season was forever etched on our memory.
– Kirsten Howard
Pen15 – “Opening Night”
At its core, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle’s brilliant coming-of-age comedy Pen15 is all about capturing feelings. This show, featuring Erskine and Konkle deftly embodying their middle school selves (all the while surrounded by actual middle schoolers), understands the feeling of your crush smiling at you, or the best sleepover ever, or the summer of infinite possibilities. Its season two finale “Opening Night,” is perhaps the best example of what the show does so well yet.
Much of “Opening Night” takes place after opening night of the school play, where Maya was the star and Anna was the tech queen. The girls and their families retire to a perfectly acceptable local Italian restaurant where Maya and Anna live out the copacabana scene from Goodfellas and just generally feel on top of the world.
Of course, in adolescence, nothing gold can stay. While “Opening Night” captures the thrill of a “best night ever” it also subtly, devastatingly presents Anna having to deal with the reality of her parents’ incoming divorce and Maya being rejected by a boy once again. Pen15 draws much of its comedy from the novelty of its core duo experiencing every new life event as the Biggest Deal Ever (™). “Opening Night” proves that that’s where the show draws its pathos from as well.
– Alec Bojalad
The Queen’s Gambit – “End Game”
For being one of the best shows of 2020, not much happens in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit that could be considered surprising. True to Scott Frank’s limited series sports movie (or bildungsroman) format, chess prodigy Beth Harmon displays preternatural talent, suffers some setbacks, and then comes out on top again. What makes the show excellent, however, is in its execution of that formula.
Nowhere is the show’s execution more acute and satisfying than it is in the finale, “End Game.” This final hour finds Beth finally heading to Moscow to take on her only real rival one final time. The outcome is never really in doubt, but the journey is a supremely satisfying one. There are no shortage of fist-pumping moments, from Beth winning the admiration of her chess idol, to all her friends jumping on the phone to pre-game her final match. It’s the final coda that lingers most pleasantly though. Now on top of the chess world, Beth heads outside to find several Russian citizens playing some exhibition matches. The challenge is over, the day is won, and now all that’s left to do is to keep playing. Not for anyone else but herself.
– Alec Bojalad
Schitt’s Creek – “The Presidential Suite”
The sixth and final season of Schitt’s Creek had a lot of loose ends to tie. The saga of the Rose family, who lost everything but the town Johnny Rose bought for a joke took us on a redemptive journey, not just for them but for town as a whole. It would be easy for the sake of this list, then, to select “Happy Ending” the glorious, hyperbolic finale which includes David and Patrick’s wedding and Moira’s greatest ensemble yet as the best ep. Instead though, it’s this lower key episode from season we choose to celebrate for it’s pitch perfect mix of hope, humor and humanity. This is Alexis and Ted’s episode. While David and Patrick’s romance and nuptials dominate the later series of the show, in “The Presidential Suite” we see Alexis and Ted’s relationship come to a close.
Ted has been offered his dream job in the Galapagos Islands. Alexis’s career as a publicist is starting to take off. He’s travelled back to spend a long weekend with her but his plans got derailed due to some dodgy airline milk. So now the two have just one evening together, and it turns out it’ll be spent saying goodbye. In possibly the most devastating scene in the whole show the two have a private dinner at the Cafe Tropical, where they reflect on how the relationship has helped them both grow. It’s understated, it’s grown up and it’s deeply moving, with gravitas given to characters who are generally speaking not taken very seriously. It’s perfect. Elsewhere in the ep, the second Rosebud motel is almost ready to open and the Roses and the Schitts are competing to christen the best room for the night, while Patrick’s spray tan results in photographic hilarity. There are plenty of great gags – Patrick’s face being one of them – but “Presidential Suite” belongs to Alexis and Ted.
– Rosie Fletcher
Solar Opposites – “Terry and Korvo Steal a Bear”
“Terry and Korvo Steal a Bear” deserves a spot on our best-of list due to title trickery alone. The synopsis of Solar Opposites season 1’s penultimate episode reads “Terry, Korvo, Yumyulack, and Jesse team up to steal a bear from the zoo” but of course: precisely none of this happens. In reality Justin Roiland and Mike McMahan’s excellent animated comedy for Hulu plays a truly wonderful sleight of hand.
The entirety of this episode takes place inside young alien Jesse’s bedroom terrarium where she has imprisoned dozens of shrunken human beings. The show picks up with the goings on “inside the wall” several times throughout the season, but this episode devotes the entirety of its running time to the stories of Tim, Cherie, and all the other people inside this shockingly complex political ecosystem.
Perhaps the best thing any installment of television can do is to make us care deeply about something that we weren’t even aware of to begin with. And that’s the real strength of “Terry and Korvo Steal a Bear.” Though all of this is happening on a truly small scale, it’s hard not to get swept up in the drama of Tim’s fight against The Duke or perhaps even shed some tears at the loss of a very sweet mouse named Molly.
– Alec Bojalad
Ted Lasso – “The Hope That Kills You”
Any sports fan can tell you that it is indeed “the hope that kills you”. Hope is one of the most dangerous things to have in any endeavor you truly care about. After all, how can expectations lead to anything other than disappointment? Defying expectations, however, is Apple TV+’s sports comedy, Ted Lasso, which builds up a lot of hope through its first nine episodes, and then delivers on that hope in a truly satisfying way for the finale.
The Jason Sudeikis and Bill Lawrence-produced Ted Lasso has the sports movie beats down pat. American football coach Ted Lasso gets an English football coaching job through some truly ridiculous circumstances. His team, AFC Richmond, naturally struggles on the pitch but begin to flourish off of it thanks to the relentless optimism of their new gaffer. This remarkable finale is where the rubber finally meets the road. Can AFC Richmond win one game to avoid relegation and fulfill their coach’s hope in them? The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is no.
But the real accomplishment of “The Hope That Kills You” is that it finds hope and victory in defeat all the same.
– Alec Bojalad
The Umbrella Academy – “743”
The penultimate episode of The Umbrella Academy’s second season provided a hefty amount of buildup for the finale, but it was also distinguished by several major reveals and sacrifices, some of which have yet to be fully realized. In the space of a single episode, the apocalypse is averted (again), Hargreeves reveals his true nature (sort of), and the time travel cops of the Commission prepare for a war that perfectly sets up the finale.
The most poignant sacrifice is made by Ben as he explores the depths of Vanya’s mind to keep her from using her powers to start a third world war, but he was technically already dead and has taken a new form of sorts by the end of the season. But other sacrifices put this episode over the top, including the inevitable death of Kennedy and the destruction of the briefcase that could have taken Five and his family home.
– Michael Ahr
What We Do in the Shadows – “On the Run”
Imagine getting none other than Mark Hamill to guest star as a white-haired vampire named Jim upset about a rental agreement on your show. And then imagine not pursuing that rich vein of comedy in favor of having one of your other vampire characters don a “human” disguise and then hit the road merely to avoid paying off some bed and breakfast debts. Well you don’t have to imagine such a scenario if you’re the folks behind FX’s hilarious and brilliant What We Do in the Shadows. This TV adaptation of Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s classic mockumentary film remained as bold and experimental as ever in its second season. Nowhere was it bolder, however, than in the instantly iconic “On the Run.”
“On the Run” exploits one of the tried and true rules of comedic storytelling on television: give Matt Berry the ball and let him cook like LeBron James. Berry has the time of his life in this half hour as Laszlo flees his Staten Island home and heads into hiding in Pennsylvania as Jackie Daytona, normal human bartender. It’s just remarkable to watch Laszl…we mean Jackie Daytona have the time of his life as a pillar of the community and major booster of the local girls high school volleyball team. Of course, the piece de resistance, is everyone’s shocking inability to recognize him as an undead bloodsucker. Even Hamill’s Jim the Vampire doesn’t recognize his foe until Laszlo pulls the signature Jackie Daytona toothpick out of his mouth.
“On the Run” may be pound for pound the funniest episode of television to air this year and all we normal humans are better for having experienced it.
– Alec Bojalad