My List(s) of the Best Episodes of TV I’ve Seen in 2020

I’m going to be honest. Compared to some of my fellow writers here on the website, I don’t watch a lot of movies. Surprisingly few in fact. Just as an example, even during a nearly year long pandemic when quarantining is the (sensible) rule of the land, I didn’t watch a movie between June and September. Not a single one. It’s to the point I wouldn’t be able to make a best of 2020 list of movies I’ve seen that have come out this year because it would just be a list of what I’ve seen. And honestly, I can’t tell you exactly why this is the case.

What I do watch a lot of, though, is TV. If you’ve been following along with my writing here for Off the Beaten Path and Watercooler Reviews, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even among my 7 Watercooler Reviews, only two of them aren’t about tv shows. So, out of curiosity, I decided to keep track of every season of TV I watched over the year, both new and old. As of now, that number is over 110, totaling over 1,200 episodes (and that’s just what I have recorded). I know, wild isn’t it? Ungodly even. So I decided that if I’m going to release a best of 2020 list, why not cover the medium I indulge in the most.

For this post, I’m going to cover the best episodes of any and all TV I’ve watched over the past year. I’ve given myself a few ground rules for this list to keep it manageable. First, everything on this list is from a season/series of TV that I watched in full (sorry Lovecraft Country S1 and The Fugitive S1, I’ll finish you both soon). Second, each category will include my 5 favorite episodes, in no particular order, along with some quality runner ups. Lastly, if I picked a show in one category I won’t include an episode from the same show in another category, if only to foster variety. Also, while not itself a rule, I’m going to try and avoid listing only season and series finales. Everything else is fair game. I hope you enjoy this list and check some of these shows out.

Best of 2020 on Off the Beaten Path

To start off these lists, I figured why not start with the shows on Off the Beaten Path. The reason, beyond these already being addressed here on the website, is simple. Namely, these are the shows I’ve devoted the most time and energy to. I mean, you kind of have to when writing reviews that can creep up to five-digit word counts. Plus, there are plenty of episodes to choose from. Over the year, I’ve covered 109 episodes across 14 seasons of television on Off the Beaten Path, which looking back on it is rather wild in itself. As such, take these five episodes, plus the runner ups, as the true cream of the 2020 crop on Off the Beaten Path. 

FLCL – S1E2 Firestarter

Out of the 14 seasons of TV I covered on Off the Beaten Path in 2020, FLCL is my favorite. Hell, I’d go as far as saying this is the best show I’ve watched all year, or at least, the most memorable. It’s an utterly imaginative show with memorable characters and near-endless rewatch value.

Out of those 6 episodes, I decided that Firestarter was my favorite. Why you might ask? Well, not to say that I didn’t like the narratively driven back half of the season, far from it. It’s just that I preferred the slice-of-life episodes that make up the first half of the season. Plus, it’s not like there’s a shortage of surreal animation and wacky robot fights in those episodes.

What sets Firestarter apart though is the story of Mamimi. Here we see her unhealthy attachment to Naota is born out of both a need for companionship and a need to be needed. This poor girl, who has no one who cares about her and has no place to go, brings a sense of pathos I didn’t expect the show would attempt, let alone carry with surprising ease. If there’s an episode of this classic I would recommend to people, it’s Firestarter.

Utopia (UK) – S2E5 Episode 2.5

One thing you’ll notice as I go through these lists is that many of these episodes are defined by reveals and shifts that make you go “oh shit!”. In Episode 2.5, we get one hell of an “oh shit!” moment. The first one of the year in fact.

I won’t spoil it here – if you want to know the secret feel free to read my review or, you know, watch the show on Amazon Prime now that it’s thankfully available to watch here in the states – but it was a paradigm shift in Utopia (UK) that would have defined the ongoing narrative if the show hadn’t been canceled after this season.

Motives collapse, conspiracies threaten to destroy everything, people are killed and are nearly killed. It’s a taught thrill ride from beginning to end that feels all the more powerful here in the year of COVID-19.

Off the Air – S1E3 Dance

Now this is the surprising entry. The true dark horse of all my lists. Why, of all episodes, would I pick Dance? I mean it’s just a 10 minute collection of dancing viral videos from the 2000s edited together into a surreal mass of footage? There’s not even any story involved. It’s just dancing.

The answer; out of everything I’ve covered on Off the Beaten Path, it’s the episode I’ve rewatched the most since I reviewed it. Somehow this visual mixtape has wormed its way into my brain so that whenever I’m feeling exceptionally stoned I’ll just toss it on and watch in wonder. It’s not perfect by any means – the few episodes from later seasons of Off the Air I’ve seen outstrip Dance in quality rather handily – but man is it a statement of the old Adult Swim ethos.

Blood Drive – S1E11 Rise of the Primo

If you’re looking for another quality “oh shit!” moment, look no further than Rise of the Primo. Since I watched Blood Drive back in October, this episode has only risen in my estimation. The moment of Arthur’s transformation, the culmination of 11 episodes of growth and struggle, is still one of the biggest gut-punches I’ve seen in all of 2020. Plus, the episode ending could have been one of the most perfectly nihilistic and thematically poignant endings to a show if they hadn’t gone and made 2 more episodes.

And all this from a show about psychopaths racing across America in cars that run on human blood. It’s a shame more people didn’t see this happen in real-time cause if they did we might have gotten more Blood Drive (or Blood Island. which is what the last scene was setting up) and, more importantly, more episodes like Rise of the Primo.

Top of the Lake – S1E3 The Edge of the Universe

Compared to the other serialized dramas I’ve covered on Off the Beaten PathTop of the Lake is truly a singular beast. While the others thrive on flashy cinematography and wild acting, Top of the Lake goes the opposite route. It’s quiet, empathic, and meditative. It’s this quality that has allowed Top of the Lake to remain at the top as the best drama show I’ve covered.

Out of those episodes, none struck me more than The Edge of the Universe. It’s a great meditation on how trauma, both past and current, shapes our lives for better and for worst even if the sufferer is by all accounts a monster.

Plus, it goes without saying that Elizabeth Moss’ acting in Top of the Lake is the best I’ve seen on Off the Beaten Path, and her performance here in The Edge of the Universe was the most dynamic. It’s really a wonder to behold.

Runner Ups

CrashingS1E2 Episode 1.2

Kolchak: The Night StalkerS1E7 The Devil’s Platform

Jean-Claude Van JohnsonS1E3 A Little Conversation About Trust

Best New Episodes of 2020 That Premiered in 2020

Next on the list are the best episodes that themselves premiered in 2020. Normally, I’m not the greatest at keeping up with new shows as they come out. This year though, I tried to keep up with shows as they premiered with some decent success. Side note, part of the reason I started Watercooler Reviews was that I wanted an excuse to cover new shows as they came out. So if you’re looking for some recommendations for stuff that came out this year, or if you want to see some of the best episodes I covered on Watercooler Reviews, this list is for you.

The Good Place – S4E13 Whenever You’re Ready

As someone who consumes an unhealthy amount of TV, I’ve seen my fair share or series finales. Some are exceptional, others not so. A good finale has the power to elevate a show and a bad finale has the power to sink a show. The finale of The Good Place, Whenever You’re Ready, falls squarely in the exceptional camp.

I’ve been following The Good Place since the first season was uploaded onto Netflix back in 2017. And while I think season 4 is spotty in places – the experiment that was the first half of the season could easily be an episode or two shorter – the finale was goddamn perfect. It not only cemented The Good Place as one of the best shows of the 2010’s but was a perfect send-off for the intrepid soul squad after spending seasons trying to find a path to salvation in an unfair afterlife.

If you need further proof of Whenever You’re Ready‘s strength as a series finale, I’m not much of a crier, but watching this two-part send-off had me nearly in tears the first time I watched it. Take from that what you will.

The Haunting of Bly Manor – S1E8 The Romance of Certain Old Clothes

I’m going to get this out of the way. While I don’t think The Haunting of Bly Manor is better than The Haunting of Hill House, I think Bly Manor is the best gothic romance story I’ve seen in a long time. Also, while an argument can be made for The Altar of the Dead being the best of the bunch, I myself am drawn to The Romance of Certain Old Clothes.

I’ve always been a fan of one-off episodes that follow a side character. It’s what drew me to the slice-of-life genre to begin with. With The Romance of Certain Clothes, we follow the one-off story of Viola Willoughby, a gothic tragedy about her descent from the self-assured owner of Bly Manor to the violent shade of herself as the Lady of the Lake.

Beyond being a tragic story about how hate robs us of our humanity, it’s a gorgeously shot and acted episode, a highlight in a miniseries filled with gorgeous shots and great acting.

Primal – S1E8 Coven of the Damned

Out of all the shows I’ve covered on Watercooler Reviews, the second half of Primal is easily my favorite. Sure, it helps the first half of Primal was my favorite new show of 2019, but that doesn’t expressly mean Primal S1.5 would be as good. Luckily for all of us starved prehistoric fiction fans, Tartakovsky delivered on the back half of this season.

Out of the 5 episodes that came out, my favorite was easily Coven of the Damned. I say this even though the episode I watched the most from this batch was The Plague of Madness. So why then is Coven of the Damned my favorite? That’s because it’s so emotionally rich. While Primal always shines when there’s some bloody carnage going on, I think it enters a higher level of quality when there’s an emotional backbone.

In Coven of the Damned, it’s the emotional arc of Lulu, the witch tasked with preparing Spear for the coven’s next fertility ritual. I won’t go into too much detail because just thinking about it is making me well up, but I’ll just say that it’s a beautiful story of parental loss and the power of empathy, all told without dialogue.

What We Do in the Shadows – S2E6 On the Run

Since 2019, I’ve started coming back around to the idea of weekly episode releases. Waiting for the next episode of a show gives my week a feeling of structure. Once the COVID-19 pandemic sunk its claws here in the states and the lockdowns began, that weekly release helped measure the passage of time while giving me something to look forward to during a span of time that might as well have been indistinguishable.

Out of the shows I’ve watched this way -from Devs to Cake S3 to The Titan Games S2 – none are better than the second season of What We Do in the Shadows. It’s not an exaggeration to say it kept me going through some of my most emotionally turbulent times of the year.

As for On the Run, it’s just pure comedy genius. Everything about Lazlo’s sojourn into a Pennsylvania town as Jackie Daytona, human bartender, to avoid paying Mark Hamil an insignificant debt is just hysterical. Just do yourselves a favor and watch it. If you aren’t nearly in tears from laughter I’m not sure you’re human.

The Great – S1E10 The Beaver’s Nose

I’m not gonna lie. After watching The Beaver’s Nose, the final episode of The Great S1, I was rather conflicted. Up till that point, I was fully into Catherine’s quest to free herself from the shackles of Peter III – aka fratboy Joffrey – and become empress of Russia. Plus, you know, those members of the Royal Court, especially the ones allied with Peter, are so easy and fun to hate.

Maybe it’s the proletariat comrade in me, but for weeks after I watched the show I kept imagining what they’d do if someone from the future were to show up and tell them about a little series of events known as the February and October Revolutions. In other words, this comedic tale about the ascendancy of an empress had me hooked like little else had and has.

So when the finale rolled around and the coup was in motion but Catherine wasn’t in power by the time the credits rolled, I got a strong case of narrative blue balls. It was like the episode ended 10 minutes too early. I wanted, no, needed, to see Catherine throw everyone who made her life in the royal court a living hell down into the mud where they belonged. Since I wasn’t aware if this was a miniseries or the first season of a show, I couldn’t decide if I really liked the show or hated it.

Since then a second season has been ordered, so I’ve come back around to really liking this show. Now all I need is to see Elle Fanning sitting on the throne in season 2 and I’ll be one hell of a happy man.

Runner Ups

Raised by Wolves – S1E10 The Beginning

The Queen’s Gambit – S1E7 End Game

The Mandalorian – S2E8 The Rescue

Devs – S1E7 Episode 7

Harley Quinn – S2E7 There’s No Place to Go but Down

Best New Episodes of 2020 From 2019 and Earlier

Next up are the shows and episodes from 2019 and earlier that I watched for the first time in 2020. Back when 2020 first rolled in, my New Years Resolution was to watch at least 10 new movies a month. This was because in 2019 I felt like I was in a rut, consuming the same media over and over and over again until I felt like I was going a little insane. Plus, even then I wasn’t watching many movies. While this resolution obviously failed, I kept to the spirit of consuming new media in other ways, mostly with TV. So, consider this a list that covers the biggest category of shows and series that I watched in 2020.

Watchmen – S1E6 This Extraordinary Being

After I watched Watchmen back in January, I immediately wished I had seen this as it premiered. Man to have been part of that discussion. While I’ll be talking about some of my favorite superhero TV in the coming list, Watchmen quickly leapfrogged its way to the top of the list of greatest superhero tv I’ve seen. It honestly wasn’t that hard. It was an unexpectedly great sequel to one of the greatest graphic novels of all time – thank god it completely ignored the mediocre Watchmen movie. Plus, it told a story that meant something.

While A God Walked Into Abar has crept up in my estimation, the episode that really solidified my love of this miniseries was This Extraordinary Being. The drug-induced flashback about Hooded Justice is not only a great story in itself about familial lineage but also a heartbreaking indictment on the horrific treatment of people of color in a time many people consider America’s Golden Age. Alongside some breathtaking cinematography and performances, I’d go so far as to say this is a perfect episode of television, a sterling example of how far the medium has come over the years.

Kill La Kill – S1E11 I’m Not Your Cute Woman

Out of all the tv I’ve seen over the year, I’m Not Your Cute Woman might have the biggest “oh shit!” moment I’ve seen. Up till that point, I thought Kill La Kill was a decent anime. It had some wild ass fights and wacky situational comedy that poked fun at shonen convention, and Ryoko Matoi was a compelling enough protagonist. That said, I was always dancing on the edge of quitting the show early. For one, I was having a hard time taking the fascistic academy run by Student Council president/uber-rich bitch Satsuki Kiryuin seriously (like, where were all the fucking adults in the room?). More so though, it felt weird watching near-naked highschool girls just beating the ever-loving shit out of each other.

That changed after I’m Not Your Cute Woman. Approaching the apex of a tournament arc, everything related to the high school setting was thrown out the window when a little blond woman in a pink dress and armed with nothing but a pink parasol named Nui Harime floated onto the battlefield like some Barbie-fied Mary Poppins.

Within 5 minutes, she annihilated the last combatant of the tournament with nothing but a pinky and a smile (a feat thought impossible at that point), and revealed the answer to Ryoko’s quest up till this point (to find her father’s killer and avenge his death). Beyond that, it opened the world beyond this school/city-state, which allowed the show to move beyond the child’s play of Satsuki and allowed the true villain of the series, Satsuki’s mother Ragyo Kiryuin, to ascend.

Safe to say, I was hooked line and sinker after that. Even better, the series kept growing in strength and quality up till the end. So while there are some equally powerful “oh shit!” moments that define the back half of the show, it’s that entrance by the greatest dragon (in the TVTropes sense) since Darth Vader that has stuck with me.

The Addams Family – S1E16 The Addams Family Meets the Undercover Man

Back around September, I decided to explore tv from before 1990. Up till that point, all I had seen of that era was Cheers and some isolated episodes of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. Plus, listening to the podcast Cancelled Too Soon made me all too aware of how much quality tv I was closing myself off from my only focusing on tv from this century. By the time this article has been published, I will have covered 3 shows from the 80’s and earlier on Off the Beaten Path, and have watched or am currently watching a few others. But here’s the thing. Out of all the older shows I’ve watched over the year, the one that has earned the top spot was The Addams Family.

Over the months of October and November, I watched all 64 episodes of this sitcom classic. Beyond the culture-clash satire that defines the entire series, it’s just how strong the family unit is that won me over (personally, I identify most with ol’ Uncle Fester). It’s just charming how much this ghoulish family cares for and supports one another. I honestly think of The Addams Family as a proto-Bob’s Burgers for the Cold War era in that regard. And like Bob’s BurgersThe Addams Family is destined to become one of the shows I’ll end up rewatching endlessly.

When it comes to my favorite episodes, they tend to be the ones that involve most, if not all, the family in some fashion. In the end, I picked The Addams Family Meets the Undercover Man as my favorite because it’s one I like to rewatch. I mean, the U.S. government thinking a ham radio setup lil’ Pugsley set up is the center of a communist spy ring and their ham-fisted investigation is just so full of high jinks and wacky shenanigans, how can you not have fun watching it?

Fleabag – S1E6 Episode 1.6

Back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns, I decided to give Fleabag another chance. I had tried to watch it at least once, but I could never make it past the 1st episode. The reason? I couldn’t get past the 4th wall breaking. It just bugged me for some reason. Then, spurred on by the (at the time) High Fidelity appreciation wave here at CFS, I decided to watch the new Hulu remake. It was ok, but after that, I thought that if I could get past the 4th wall breaking there, I could make it through Fleabag.

After watching the whole series in 2 afternoons (at 12 episodes total, it wasn’t at all hard), I can safely say Fleabag blows High Fidelity out of the fucking water. This show just shines with personality like the Sun. It has low-key ruined any and all shows for me that follow a late 20s/early 30s-something single man/woman trying to survive in the city, including other shows written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. It’s just that good.

Picking a favorite among this already classic run is tough since I can make arguments for at least 4 separate episodes to win a spot on this list. In the end, I decided on Episode 1.6, the finale of season 1. While season 2 was the better season (the other 3 episode I could make arguments for are all in season 2), nothing hit me harder than Fleabag’s breakdown when she’s forced to confront her role in her best friend’s suicide and being shunned by her family at her moment of crisis. To someone that has struggled with depression over the last decade, it felt almost too real. On a lighter note, that final scene with the loan application made it all but inevitable I would watch season 2 as soon as I clocked out of work the following day.

Veronica Mars – S1E22 Leave It to Beaver

From late May through early July, I watched nothing but animated tv (outside of weekly What We Do In the Shadows S2 episodes). By the 4th, I decided I needed a change of pace. For some reason I can’t fully recall (I think I wanted a show that was more “case of the week” than an ongoing story on top of being a Kristen Bell fan), I decided on Veronica Mars. While I didn’t exactly binge the first season – I watched on average two episodes every other day over the month into August – the stories of Neptune High kept me on the hook enough that I’d return even if it was almost a week between watch sessions.

So while there were a number of episodes that I consider classic, unsurprisingly the one that had me reeling was the season 1 finale Leave It To Beaver. I mean, how can it not? Lily Kane’s murder was solved, the Mars family reputation was well on it’s way to being redeemed in the eyes of the people of Neptune, and the mystery of Veronica’s familial relationship to the Kane clan was resolved, all in a satisfying way. While I haven’t watched beyond the first season yet, the strength of the first season and the finale have me on the hook whenever I decide to return to the halls of Neptune High.

Runner Ups

Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place – S1E1 Once Upon a Beginning

Gravity Falls – S2E7 Society of the Blind Eye

Lodge 49 – S2E9 Le Reve Impossible

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power – S4E13 Destiny (Part 2)

Best Rewatched Episodes of 2020

For the last category, I figured why not cover my favorite rewatched episodes of 2020. I know, the justification for this list is flimsier, especially when I just talked about how I strove to only consume new media. That said, while I did try to stick to the goal of watching mostly new content as I mentioned above, sometimes I just needed something familiar. But, still wanting to avoid feeling like I was consuming the same piece of media over and over ad infinitum, I tried to rewatch shows I hadn’t seen in a while (>1 year) and/or more than once. You know, the diet version of that goal. Plus, I’d be lying if I said some of these episodes didn’t hit me as hard as many of the episodes I covered above.

Legion – S1E7 Chapter 7

Back when this premiered in 2017, I followed Legion as it came out. When season 2 rolled out, I didn’t keep up. It just fell by the wayside. I honestly couldn’t tell you why, just that there are a number of shows I watched, enjoyed, but never pick up again. Which is odd, because I considered Legion S1 to be (at the time) the best live-action superhero show I had ever seen.

That is, until February 2020. One weekend, I had my apartment to myself, and in the spirit of watching something new, I decided on a whim to finish the show I had left behind, starting with a rewatch of that classic first season. 72 hours later, I was done with all three seasons. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about the later seasons. While I don’t disagree with the idea of turning David Haller and the show in general into a supervillain origin story, I’m not sure how well it worked in practice.

One thing that didn’t change though was my love of season 1. Everything about it slaps. The highlight was easily Chapter 7 when the whole crew is trapped the Astral Plane by the Shadow King. Not only is it a good character exploration anchored by Aubrey Plaza’s performance (I’ve been low-key in love with her since her days on Park and Rec) as Lenny/Amoul Farouk/the Shadow King, but even now in 2020 I think the final confrontation of Syd and Carry versus the Shadow King is the most interesting and inventive superpowered confrontation I’ve seen in film.

The Venture Bros – S7E3 Arrears in Science

When I mentioned above how some of these episodes hit me as hard, if not harder than many of the first time watches on this list, it’s episodes like Arrears in Science I had in mind.

A little backstory. I first watched The Venture Bros back in college and quickly fell in love with the animated love letter to the silver age of comics and adventure fiction. When season 6 rolled around though, I was lowkey disappointed. Something about it just didn’t grab me, especially after the fantastic special All This and Gargantua-2. So when season 7 rolled around, I didn’t think much of it other than it was season 6 2.0.

Fast forward to June and I decided that I needed something familiar after watching Killl La Kill, so I rewatched the whole series in about 10ish days. This time, something clicked. While I still wasn’t fully feeling season 6, my estimation of season 7 blasted through the roof. It was nigh perfect season, a great redemption season that deepened the world of The Venture Bros. What solidified this change of heart was Arrears in Science.

The final episode of a three-episode arc that opens the season, Arrears in Science is what The Venture Bros operating at peak efficiency looks like. It’s a compelling story about a bit character from season 5 that spans generations, weaving a tragic tale of betrayal and revenge from seemingly unrelated details that span the entire series that adds untold dimension while setting up a deeper conflict between Rusty Venture and the Monarch. If you’re still unconvinced, let me put it another way. They manage to end a three-episode arc with essentially two robots falling down an escalator and an old man having a stroke, and it’s one of the most nail-biting endings I’ve seen in recent memory.

Mob Psycho 100 – S2E5 Discord ~ Choices ~

In terms of ongoing manga, One Punch Man has been my go-to since I first watched the anime back in 2017. I still follow the manga as it’s released chapter by chapter. But why am I talking about One-Punch Man? Well, ONE, the author of One-Punch Man, wrote another fantastic manga featuring a similarly overpowered protagonist called Mob Psycho 100, which has since been adapted into 2 fantastic seasons of anime.

Here’s the thing. While I’m overall a bigger fan of One-Punch Man, I think Mob Psycho 100 is the better story. A lot of this comes down to Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama, the protagonist of Mob Psycho 100, being more compelling as a character. He’s the kind of overpowered hero we should aspire to be.

So, wanting to watch something familiar with some quality behind it, I decided to rewatch Mob Psycho 100 for the first time back in September.

Out of this rewatch, my favorite episode was Discord ~ Choices ~, the conclusion of the two-part Mogami arc. In it, Mob has been battling Mogami, a former psychic who has become the most dangerous dark spirit in existence, in an attempt to perform a highly unorthodox and dangerous exorcism. After an extremely torturous six months (to Mob’s perspective, outside the Astral Plane only half an hour or so has elapsed) in the Astral Plane, Mob rises from the depths of despair and becomes a true hero because goddamnit that’s what he came here to do and the possessed girl needs his help. It’s a heartwarming climax that marks a great moment of change for Mob, accompanied by an action set-piece that is one of the greatest fight scenes I’ve seen put to screen.

The Terror – S1E10 We Are Gone

I’m not gonna lie. Back in April and May, my mind was in a weird place. Not coping too well with the new lockdowns – by that point, I was definitely feeling some cabin fever – my mind turned to the morbid in some weird coping mechanism. For one, I listened to The Shining on audiobook even though it’s an ode to the horror of cabin fever. Before that though, I listened to a great audiobook on the Donner Party (the book is called Indifferent Stars Above, give it read it’s a fantastic non-fiction tome) after listening to the Donner Party series on The Last Podcast on the Left. As a result, famine cannibalism was often on my mind. So, in need of a new show to (re)watch and in the mood for something darker and on theme, I decided to rewatch The Terror S1.

Man, I forgot just how harrowing this show is. I mean, if you want to boil down the plot, you could say it’s a season-long portrait of a bunch of Victorian men dying slowly (if you’re more curious, it’s based on the historical account of the lost Franklin Expedition). And again, that portrait is harrowing. The last episode, We Are Gone, was the most harrowing of the bunch. It’s an hour of men, or at least what’s left of them, succumbing to their worst instincts and dying out in the Canadian Arctic. And that includes on-screen and implied cannibalism.

But that’s not to say I watched it solely for the cannibalism. It’s some fantastic horror and tragic drama. The death scenes, at least for the protagonists still kicking, are some of the most tragic I’ve seen on film. They’re the kind that kept me up at night and haunted me for weeks, something very few movies and shows have ever done. And you know what? I can’t recommend that enough.

Avatar: The Last Airbender – S2E20 The Crossroads of Destiny

Now a list about the best rewatches wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Avatar: The Last Airbender. My younger sisters are huge fans of the franchise, ready to watch some episodes, if not the whole series, at the drop of a hat. That’s not to say I’m against this. Far from it. While I don’t rewatch the show with the same amount of zeal as they do, I consider it a bonafide classic, a landmark in the evolution of animation as a storytelling medium. Hell, I was the one who got them into the shows back around 2010. So, once we were all at home at my parent’s house during the lockdowns and with the series back on Netflix, the rewatch started almost immediately. Like, within hours.

Between me and my siblings, I’m the only one who prefers Book 2 over Book 3. Granted, it’s like comparing a 9.5/10 to a 9/10, but still. While there are many classics from season 2, the one I think is best is the finale, The Crossroads of Destiny. I mean, come one, it’s like the perfect season finale. Everything is at the crossroads of destiny. The fate of the Ba Sing Se and the Earth Kingdom, the individual members of the Gaang, everyone. The most prominent is Zuko, who must make a choice that will determine the fate of everyone. Plus, it all culminates in highly dramatic, both in animation and from story weight, battle in the Crystal Catacombs beneath the Earth Kingdom Palace. Again, it’s got everything you’d want from a season finale.

Runner Ups

The Haunting of Hill House – S1E6 Two Storms

Santa Clarita Diet – S2E7 Strange or Just Inconsiderate

Metalocalypse – S2E1 Dethecution

Orphan Black – S2E4 Governed as It Were by Chance

Dishonorable Episodes of 2020

You know, I can’t make a list of the best of 2020 post without mentioning the worst of 2020. Which, if you think about TV, is pretty unusual. In my experience, a bad episode of television is forgettable for the most part. Maybe it’s a filler episode? Maybe the writing is too formulaic or just not memorable? Whatever it is, it usually passes by in a blip and slips from consciousness just as quickly. Not these episodes though. These episodes are somehow so aggressively terrible that I can’t help but remember them. Which is a sad victory in its own way. While this isn’t a full list, feel free to look upon these episodes and despair, for their faults are mighty.

V: The Final Battle – S1E3 Part 3

Back in September, I reviewed V: The Original Miniseries for Off the Beaten Path. After watching it, I was pretty interested in how the story went, so I threw on the 1984 sequel V: The Final Battle. I won’t go into too much detail since I plan on covering the miniseries later in January – why not celebrate Biden’s swearing-in ceremony and the removal of fascists from executive office with a miniseries about the overthrow of a fascist regime – but I’ll leave you with this.

Until the last 15ish minutes, I thought the miniseries was a decent, if unsurprising, follow up. The set-pieces were bigger, the personal connections grew tighter and more melodramatic. You know, typical sequel stuff.

Then that ending happened. Telepathy? Magic, complete with sparkling hands? All without a single shred of set-up. Like what the fuck? I had seen ass-pulls and deus ex machina before, but never this blatant. It was the first time in I don’t know how long that an ending ruined the experience of everything before it so completely. Seriously, fuck that dumb as shit ending.

Spicy City – S1E2 Mano’s Hands

I’m going to keep this simple. Out of everything I’ve seen and reviewed in 2020, Spicy City was easily the worst thing I saw. Out of the 6 episodes that make up this cyberpunk travesty, the worst episode is easily Mano’s Hands. It’s the worst thing I watched all year. It’s almost inspiring how terrible it was. It’s like some government scientists under the New Mexican desert conspired to engineer the shittiest science fiction story they could (that is, if you can even call it science fiction).

Yet it’s also not Cats bad, which is at least fun to watch if you’re in the right head space. There aren’t going to be any packed theaters with cheering and intoxicated patrons watching and singing along. Mano’s Hands is just bad. Offensively bad even. And I say this as a Ralph Bakshi fan. Hell, it makes Part 3 of V: The Final Battle look good. Like, at least Part 3 was entertaining until that ending. Mano’s Hands doesn’t even get that far.

If for some reason you feel like watching this animated misfire, steer clear of Mano’s Hands; it’s everything wrong with this show wrapped up into a shit package.

So those are my lists of the best (and worst) tv episodes I watched in 2020

If you have any suggestions for what I should watch next or questions/complaints about what is or isn’t on this list, feel free to comment below.

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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