The Greatest TV Episodes of 2020

The Best TV Episodes of 2020

Even deep in the binge-watching era – and in a year when most of us binged more than ever before – individual episodes still matter. This is where the New York Times television critics recall that, of the thousands who saw them this year, broke the mess and stayed with them in 2020.

Suspended between death and life, streaming of the most popular drug-abusing celebrity horse meets the ghosts of his past – his mother, former producer Zach Braff – at an insightful and haunting dream dinner party in the Great Beyond. (Streaming on Netflix.)

It would have been enough for “Dave” to be a dirty and cute hip-hop industrial comedy with an inordinate amount of penis hypospadias jokes. But “Dave” has shifted into a higher gear with this episode, highlighting the fight against bipolar disorder of GaTa (the real stage partner of star Dave Burd, better known as rapper Lil Dicky). It captured the soul of a series that, apart from jokes, is about how people can be more than they seem. (Streaming on Hulu.)

This strange flaneur video essay from a series about the quirks of New York City life unfolded like a sneak attack. It set out one thoughtful tale of shaggy dogs after another and then ended up in that haymaker of a final episode that led us to the arrival of the pandemic that pulled the strings of the season together, though one by one they cut our threads in connection. (Streaming on HBO Max.)

The comedian Duncan Trussell (in collaboration with the animator Pendleton Ward of “Adventure Time”) adapted his philosophical podcast into a surreal animation series in which he interviewed his mother, the psychologist Deneen Fendig, shortly before she died of cancer. This episode, which marks their farewell in an endless cosmic cycle of death and rebirth, comes as close to a religious experience as a TV cartoon can offer. (Streaming on Netflix.)

Television’s best restless attempts to capture the life of a pandemic through fiction came from this video game development satire whose characters – professional digital world creators – caught the banality and disoriented craziness of a life lived virtually. (Streaming on Apple TV +.)

This charmer’s first season wrapped a growing up story into a story of family grief in a rom-com with a teen triangle. Maitreyi Ramakrishnan did an outstanding job in the Laugh While You Cry finale, which earned bonus points for flawlessly paying off the show’s running joke of telling the story of a high school girl from tennis star John McEnroe. It was an ace on match point. (Streaming on Netflix.)

One of the strengths of Ramy Youssef’s Muslim-American family drama is that it can be just as compelling, or more, to focus on the characters it’s not named after. The highlight of the second season is a breathtaking character portrait of Ramy’s uncle (Laith Nakli), whose abrasiveness is rooted in a life as a closed gay man. (Streaming on Hulu.)

After the first season of this laser-guided parody of black pop culture, the special – which was released not in February but for June 19 – expanded the scope of the show (with John Legend holding court in a Harlem Renaissance sketch) and provided a welcome, wise smile the Black Lives Matter summers. (Streaming on Hulu.)

Amid the pandemic and snooping around the launch of HBO Max, not much has been said about this new series set in the universe of Pendleton Ward’s magical animated epic, Adventure Time, which ended in 2018. But it was the best excuse for the service to exist. In “Obsidian”, Marceline and Princess Bubblegum compete against a dragon who threatens the Glass Kingdom, teaches a lesson in the virtues of fragility and affirms their love in the process. (Streaming on HBO Max.)

In a season dominated by Rhea Seehorn’s steely performance as Kim Wexler – the corporate attorney both puzzled and intrigued by the nihilism of her husband, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) – this episode featured Seehorn’s Tour de Force: Kim’s Insincere Spur He’s currently scolding a drug dealer who’s deciding whether to let her and Saul live. (Streaming on AMC.)

It’s a miracle of American television that John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf, two of our best actors, still play Dan Conner and his sister-in-law, Jackie Harris, 32 years after the premiere of “Roseanne”. This touching episode, performed live (twice) on the night of Democratic Elementary School in New Hampshire, did a good job for Goodman as the widower Dan struggled to get on with his life, and gave Metcalf an opportunity to demonstrate the voice of Hillary Clinton perfected for “Hillary and Clinton” on Broadway. (Streaming on Hulu.)

The show’s season one finale was a risky and fun tightrope act as the generally unsuspecting white rapper Lil Dicky began to understand why his new track, with its jail rape jokes, might be considered offensive. (Streaming on Hulu.)

Not the whole episode – never the whole episode – but Dave Chappelle’s contrary, essential, fearless monologue after Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the presidential election. “I don’t even want to wear your mask because it’s oppressive – try to wear the mask I’ve been wearing all these years. I can’t even tell the truth unless there is a punch line behind it, “he told the studio audience and the millions who had tuned in.” You’re not ready. You are not ready for this. You don’t know how to survive yourself. Black people, we’re the only ones who know how to survive this. “(Streaming on Hulu.)

Sports documentaries tend to follow a formula, but this six-part web series about the Seattle Mariners is one of the most imaginative, ambitious, and distinctive shows I’ve ever seen. It was without a doubt my favorite show this spring. In the first episode, the combination of serious computing, faux-serious wonder, and the ability to derive meaning from Arcana’s Arcana was made. There’s not enough talk about jello-filled toilets these days, but what really makes this episode special is the language it set for the rest of the series. It was a different form of fan analysis; Like a song that is so special, when you just hear it, it feels like you’re singing it too. (Streaming on YouTube.)

I don’t know if this episode is an instant classic, but just the name “Jackie Daytona” is one of the highlights of the year. I don’t mean TV-wise – I mean everything. Escaping a duel, Laszlo (Matt Berry) goes from Staten Island to Pennsylvania because it sounds like Transylvania, where he becomes a bartender and high school volleyball enthusiast. “What We Do In The Shadows” took two tired genres – vampires and mockumentary comedies – and made them one of the freshest and funniest shows out there. (Streaming on Hulu.)

Much bedtime for young children requires delicate choreography. In just seven minutes, this “Bluey” segment captures the wonderful expanse of the child’s imagination, a dreamy space ballet (step to the side, “WALL-E”), the frustrations of “Can I drink some water?”. middle of the night and the indescribable sorrow within the mortality of parenthood. But sweet! Really sweet! What a great show. (Stream on Disney now.)

All three parts of this curvy miniseries are great, but the first episode serves as the surprisingly emotional genesis story for Who Wants to be a Millionaire? And shows how exciting this show felt when it was new – and how exciting a lot of things felt about it late 90s. Sometimes shows set in the recent past force a naivete on their characters or make their attitudes seem vaguely goofy. But “Quiz” has a real clarity about timing and context, which makes the mess of the scam scandal at the center of the story even clearer. (Streaming on AMC.)