The Ten Best TV Episodes of 2020

Last year, myself and guest writer Daniel Nicholl compiled a list of the best TV episodes of 2019. So given the fact that 2020 has been another excellent year for TV (and TV alone) – it seemed wise for us to carry on this trend. So, in no particular order, here is a list of what we believe to be the ten best episodes of television this year.

‘Ego Death’ (I May Destroy You – 1×12)

Arabella (Michaela Coel) confronts her abuser.
Image Courtesy of BBC.

By far the best show of the year, Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You is generational TV – that defines the culture of 2020. Tackling the themes of sexual consent, the show questions the line between liberation and exploitation in the world of hook-up applications and online profiles. Other episodes provided great insight and acknowledgement of people who have been sexual assaulted and how differing factors can relive that trauma. But the finale, ‘Ego Death’, has Arabella’s (Michaela Coel) memory recalled of her assault, trying to tackle these demons and the accuser himself. It elevates the show into something greater, with us the viewer directly in Arabella’s mind playing out various scenarios. – JP

Colin’s Promotion (What We Do in the Shadows – 2×05)

Colin (Mark Proksch) with a full head of hair stares to the camera.
Image Courtesy of FX.

What We Do In the Shadows truly excelled this year. From a pretty terrific first season that felt like a loose continuation of the film it’s managed to flesh out its own world and push itself even further as one of the funniest shows on television. ‘Colin’s Promotion’ see’s the show’s titular energy vampire, who has been a wonderful part of the ensemble up to that point pushed to the forefront for an episode that perfectly highlights what made Shadows so funny this season. It’s through Mark Proksch’s incredible performance and the way the episode focuses on his rise to power that led to some of this season’s best gags. I think what really makes the TV version of Shadows so spectacular is it understands one of the essential aspects of comedy is through its characters, how they change and grow and interact with the world. It’s what led to the funniest show this year. – DN

‘Six’ (I Know This Much Is True – 1×06)

Mark Ruffalo sits on a tree stump smoking.
Image Courtesy of HBO.

Sometimes downer-TV is a no go, especially in 2020. And whilst I Know This Much Is True seems to be that way from its concept and initial few episodes, the finale of this mini-series is no happy ending but a fitting one nevertheless. Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines), the show has Mark Ruffalo playing twins Dominick and Thomas Birdsey, with the focus being on Dominick trying to get his brother, a schizophrenic released from an asylum. The finale highlights Ruffalo’s acting masterclass as Dominick comes to terms with his own guilt, reconciling how he can move forward.  – JP

‘The View from Halfway Down’ (BoJack Horseman – 6×15)

BoJack runs away from his nightmares chasing him.
Image Courtesy of Netflix.

It’s strange to think that Bojack Horseman ended all the way back in January. I think it speaks to the quality of its writing that it’s penultimate episode The View From Halfway Down has stuck with me this whole time, it’s fixations and musings on life and regret, failed stardom and the crippling effects of depression that can sometimes lead to figures like Bojack who we really want to like doing terrible things are all brought to the forefront. It’s a show that’s never been afraid to experiment but it’s fitting that its greatest experiment feels so simple. We’re taken on a journey through Bojack’s mind in a surreal and discomforting exploration of his greatest regrets and the people he’s hurt and left behind on the way. It’s made all the more discomforting how a show that took great pride in making its viewers laugh delves so fully into pitch black existentialism. It’s maybe the best way Bojack could’ve possibly ended and it’s made all the better by the fact it refuses to end right here. – DN

‘Episode 10’ (Normal People – 1×10)

Marianne and Connell embrace one another.
Image Courtesy of BBC.

My brain is unable to comprehend that this show was released this year, but it is a TV highlight regardless. It’s impossible to just pick one episode and anyone could argue for an alternative and I wouldn’t disagree in the slightest but Episode 10 seemed to elevate this show further than just a love story between Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal). The episode tackles Connell’s struggle with severe depression and the support beacon that Marianne is for him. No matter what happens from here on out, Episode 10 demonstrated the true connection that these two have with emphatic writing by Alice Birch; based on Sally Rooney’s novel.  – JP

‘Bagman’ (Better Call Saul – 5×08)

Saul stands in front of Mike and two bags filled with money.
Image Courtesy of AMC.

Better Call Saul has always felt like a show that shouldn’t work. Quickly commissioned after Breaking Bad’s seminal final season it’s easy to think the show could have possibly been a cash grab, something that would rob one of Breaking Bad’s most interesting characters of all mystique. Yet Better Call Saul really isn’t any of these things. What Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan have done here with the character, turning him from comic relief into a tragic figure fully deserving of a show of his own right. It’s a masterfully composed show, taking us through the interesting day to day lives of the various criminals and lawyers Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) has to deal with. It’s built so beautifully that an episode like Bagman can truly catch a viewer off guard as the very devastating effects of the transformed Saul Goodman’s actions come into full effect, beautifully paralleling its sister show as it sends him on an odyssey through the desert. Better Call Saul may not have the same cultural effect Breaking Bad will have, but it’s just as brilliant and trusts in its audience to build up to something truly fantastic. – DN

‘Episode V’ (The Last Dance – 1×05)

Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant stand next to each other during a game.
Image Courtesy of ESPN and Netflix.

One of the TV events of the summer, ESPN’s The Last Dance was a ground-breaking docuseries and is likely to be the reasoning for any athlete under the sun getting their own ten episode documentary after this. Its multi-stranded timeline brilliantly combats archive and behind-the-scenes footage with modern day talking heads. Whilst each episode feels like a crescendo to its finale, I have to highlight ‘Episode V’. This episode is the penultimate throwback to the 90s, focusing on Air Jordan’s and the Olympic Dream Team. But the opening 10-15 minutes focusing on the 98 All Star Game and with that the competition between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant is especially poignant. Seeing one great ready to leave the game and make way for the next star, Kobe’s inclusion resonates harder after his untimely death back in January.  – JP

‘The Ghost’ (The Third Day – 1×03)

Jude Law, bruised and dirty stares through a broken window.
Image Courtesy of HBO.

It’s very easy to see why The Third Day fell under the radar, its premise doesn’t offer a lot to those looking for something new and narratives focusing on Cults have become a common staple in pop culture. It’s what this show does with this premise that catapult’s it to one of the most interesting shows of the year. Jude Law masterfully guides us through the madness, anchoring us to fascinating exploration of a man’s grief and a narrative that ramps up in intensity fittingly directed by Marc Munden who gives the proceedings an often uncomfortably close and disturbing aesthetic. All of this culminates in a third episode that offers emotional catharsis and builds its tension masterfully. It’s a show not many have seen but remains one of the most interesting narratives of the year. – DN

‘Trouble Don’t Last Always’ (Euphoria – Special)

Rue sitting in a diner, stares at the ceiling.
Image Courtesy of HBO.

As well as the one of the best episodes of 2020, Euphoria gave us possibly one of the best Christmas episodes of the last century. The show became an instant cult favourite in its first season last year as a depiction of teenage adolescence in Generation Z. A darker and more stylistic Skins was fronted by breakout stars like Hunter Schafer and Sydney Sweeney – but sometimes felt more style than substance with its glitter-balled parties and A-star soundtrack. But this episode, which has been heavily labelled as not Season Two, strips the show to its bare essentials and is an excellent character study of Zendaya’s Rue. Following the events of Season One’s finale, Rue is relapsing and sits opposite her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) in a diner on Christmas Eve. Sometimes the bare essentials are all you need, and creator Sam Levinson brings his a-game with the honest and concise dialogue that Rue and Ali exchange between one another.  – JP

‘Walk Into The Light’ (I’ll Be Gone In The Dark – 1×06)

An establishing shot of a light blue sky before sunset overlooking a suburb.
Image Courtesy of HBO.

I love True Crime; it satisfies a morbid itch in me that a lot of nonfiction really can’t. It’s the essence of trying to find answers that makes it so compelling. I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is one of the best TV shows of the year because it truly explores our fascination with True Crime and gives us very human answers as to why we’re so obsessed with the dark. Based on the bestselling novel by Michelle McNamara I’ll Be Gone In The Dark chronicles the search for the Golden State Killer, who’s reign of terror lasted 20 years. It doesn’t just focus on that. Instead the show leans on Michelle McNamara as its central character, we see her anxieties and failures, her successes and her deep-rooted obsession with finding the killer. It beautifully sets apart I’ll Be Gone In The Dark from other True Crime, giving it a human and empathetic approach. This is perfectly capitalised in the show’s final episode as revelations are brought to light and we finally get the answers we’ve been seeking, yet it chooses to focus on those affected by The Golden State Killer in a remarkably unexpected and touching way, turning itself from an exploration on a true monster’s crimes to a bittersweet eulogy on a remarkable woman and the people left behind in her wake and celebrates those who commit to hunting down the monster even to their own detriment. – DN

Overall a great year for TV, and hopefully 2021 can continue the peak of this Golden Age of Television for the foreseeable future.