It’s been a strange year and it’s been an especially quiet year for TV that hasn’t looked the way it’s done in the past. But there have been surprising delights sprinkled throughout particularly where finales are concerned. This year sounded differently, too as we took Best of 2020 TV Episodes to Marvelous Geeks Podcast in a two-part compilation with Nerdy Girl Notes and TV Examined. We discussed our favorite characters, performers, and platonic relationships in Part I followed by romantic relationships and episodes in Part II. Both of these incredible women also have their own Best of 2020 lists going, so be sure to check those out as their recommendations are always top-notch.
1. “Whenever You’re Ready”
The Good Place
Again, I’m ready for a lot of things but still not ready to talk about this episode and the exceptional balance Mike Schur achieved with this perfect finale. “Whenever You’re Ready” is an ode to starting a story and ending it precisely where the most growth has taken place. It’s a showcase of what it really means to tell a strong story that serves as a celebration of humanity. “Whenever You’re Ready” does an exemplary job with pace and it leads audiences to the type of conclusion that was both expected from this show, but also surprising. Starting from the Soul Squad learning that they have the option to move forward, to watching some characters delay it and sending everyone off in a way that would serve their character best worked so well in achieving a satisfying ending.
The Good Place never shoved emotions down our throats but somehow, it made us feel every ounce of the pain, uncertainty, and unbridled joy. It didn’t tell us how to feel but instead, it broke down emotions so beautifully, famous Philosophers wish they’d accomplish it this well. (Yes, I said that.) The Good Place is a plot-driven series, but it never once sidelined its characters or put them through careless situations solely for shock value. Every journey, every breakup, every makeup, every bizarre decision made sense. It’s an undeniable glimmer of hope when TV writers care about their characters, their stories, and inadvertently, the audience. It then makes for the kind of community that media generates, which can easily spark tearful joy whenever, wherever.
2. “Lights Out”
This might be my new favorite comedy birth episode and every time I watch it, I want to immediately rewatch it 20 more times after. “Lights Out” is a masterpiece of an episode done brilliantly in a way that could only work on a series as distinctly established as Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Between the citywide blackout to Jake rushing to the precinct on horseback, the episode was already thrilling. Then we got a stressed Rosa helping Amy and a firefighter deliver the baby, which made for a heartwarming display of friendship. But then Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” started playing and it was a whirlwind of emotions from then. I don’t remember the last time I laughed and cried this hard simultaneously.
“Lights Out” is pure, incomparable joy that not only captures the heart of the series, but it reminds viewers why it’s so special. It’s the relationships. It’s Jake and Amy’s ardent adoration for one another, their realistic fears of not being good parents. It’s Rosa and Amy’s distinct dynamic as polar opposites who care about one another tremendously. It’s Charles trying to decide between what Jake’s baby will call him and once again being the greatest cheerleader in doing everything he can to make sure they get to the birth on time. It’s Holt and Terry and their ridiculous choreography. It’s Hitchcock and Scully actually doing something good for once. It’s the added characters who are somehow so entertaining and so fitting for a series that’s always doing the best job of addressing real issues through comedy.
3. “Make Rebecca Great Again”
Ted Lasso is 2020’s unexpected treasure and we’re never going to stop singing praises for this exemplary show. “Make Rebecca Great Again” might not be the best title, but it makes the triggering moto somehow less horrifying. Ted Lasso’s seventh episode is a remarkably moving half-hour gem that manages to evoke 101 emotions in a seemingly effortless manner. It’s an episode where grown men are seen mouthing the lyrics to Frozen’s “Let it Go” and having panic attacks. It’s an episode where women uplift each other and are unapologetically supportive of one another.
“Make Rebecca Great Again” is a remarkable showcase of what it means to have a healthy support system on your side, and it’s an episode that reminds its viewers of the fact that vulnerability takes strength. It’s an episode that allows men to feel and be comforted in a way so poignantly well done, it leaves me hopeful that episodes like this pave the road for important conversations. We don’t often see displays of anxiety or panic attacks on screen the way we have this year, and to have it be shown through a character like Ted, who’s always smiling and uplifting others serves as the crucial reminder that it’s often those helping others that need the help themselves. This is the episode that remarkably exhibits the fact that at its core, Ted Lasso is a series about friendship. It’s a series where people aren’t always their best selves, but when they screw up, they will have people by their side to bring them home again. It’s the episode that adds myriad layers to a show that’s already done a great job of grounding itself towards realism, and thus, it makes the optimism that much more realistic. It’s an episode that brought Frozen’s “Let it Go” back.
4. “After the Rain”
How does one choose a single episode to highlight from Bridgerton’s exquisite series debut? It’s nearly impossible, but as most of the series featured on this list, we went with the finale. “After the Rain” is a gorgeous grand finish to an opening season, which not only wraps up the social event we were presented with in the beginning, but sets up the future with a sting. “After the Rain” is full of some incredibly special moments between the Bridgerton family, friends, and Simon and Daphne as a couple.
“After the Rain” is thoroughly packed with both quiet moments and explosive ones, and it’s the episode that solidifies the essence of the series–the beautiful detail that love is a choice. As Violet chooses to comfort her daughter one more time with a potent moment of vulnerability, it serves to illuminate what will come from the rest of the series. “We chose to love each other, every single day. It is a choice, dearest. One that is never too late to make. […] You are a Bridgerton. There’s nothing you cannot do.” And that, dear readers, is what makes this finale so special. The scene that follows with unexpected rain at the final Hastings ball serves as a gorgeous moment of clarity. A moment which Phoebe Dynevor brought to life so well, you could feel Daphne’s infectious joy. As childlike bliss takes over Daphne, she does what Bridgertons do best and she opens up her heart to help someone else. Boldly and fervently declaring her love Simon showcases just how far they’ve come in both friendship and adoration. It started as an arrangement, but it’s now so much more. It’s a moment that we’re going to be talking about for a long, long time because as Violet says, love is a choice, and this was Daphne promising that she’d choose Simon through everything, and she would love him through all his imperfections.
“After the Rain” is all about new beginnings, the start of a family, the start of a wanderlust adventure, the start of the Featherington family’s fall, the start of grief and uncovering, the start of practice, and the start of trying. It’s the end of a the duke and duchess’ season, and the start of the viscount and viscountess. And we’re ready. It was a beautifully romantic adventure full of comedic Bridgerton family moments, but it was also the reveal of Lady Whistledown. The reveal many audience members were expecting, and some were thoroughly surprised by. But it’s the most appropriate end to signify that Bridgerton is unlike series that have come before it–it’s better and smarter.
5. “Stand Tall”
Julie and the Phantoms
Julie and the Phantoms is an extraordinary little gem, and the events of “Stand Tall” made for a perfect finale, along with a great addition in our Best of 2020 TV Episodes list. Madison Reyes is one of our favorite performers of the year, and the work she did in “Stand Tall” was nothing short of sensational. Between the excitement and crippling sadness before she got on stage, Reyes layered Julie with a full range of emotions that resorted us into a blubbering mess. At its core Julie and the Phantoms is a series about friendship. It’s a series about helping the people we love achieve the things they want because no one accomplishes anything alone. It’s teamwork. And this series exemplifies what teamwork can mean at such a prime age.
Whether it’s Flynn’s beautifully fervent belief in Julie and all that she’s capable of accomplishing or the electric “Stand Tall” performances that’s representative of so much, the episode is a gem that reiterates the importance of love’s power. We don’t exactly know what that ending means, but we do know that there’s so much genuine adoration for the entire band that their love was healing. Something cracks and whatever that something means, is reflective of what happens when people put another person’s desires before their own. Julie begging the band to go join Caleb’s band is everything we need to know about the purity of her own heart. The love between this group, including Flynn and Julie’s family is going to ensure none of them ever fall, and even when they do, they’ll have people to pick them up. And sometimes, in beautifully symbolic ways such as dahlias as a sign.
6. “Episode 12”
Normal People is brilliant and so staggeringly intimate, but the final episode is much less daunting than you’d expect it to be. It’s beautifully vulnerable, sincere, and profoundly poignant. “Episode 12” takes us to a New Year’s Eve party where the audience gets a parallel celebratory kiss to Connell and Marianne’s first. It’s an episode that in its final moments showcases the weight of how two people have impacted one another, and the fact that wherever they go in life, they’ll remember what the other person has meant to them. It’s the episode where Marianne not only gets to experience a real Christmas with a family that adores her, but it’s an episode that rightfully closes a season with just enough events that never feel as if they’re being pushed in for the sake of a finale. It works.
“There’s been a lot of stuff that’s been difficult and painful. And this would be difficult and amazing.” The entire scene with Marianne trying to convince Connell to go to New York followed by the endearing declarations of just how much the two have done for each other is nothing short of beautiful. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal bring the poignant parting to life with such palpable sadness, it’s impossible not to feel for the characters, and it’s impossible not to somehow feel okay. It’s entirely due to the way Edgar-Jones says “and we’ll be okay” that’s like a promise to the audience to the audience will be too. We will be okay. They’ll be okay. And even if they find themselves on different paths after a year, it doesn’t change the depth or importance of their love. I’ve said this before, but every shot from this movie feels like a photographic gem that could be dissected and analyzed, this final one is no exception. Just look at that picture we chose and try not to cry.
7. “Chapter 16: The Rescue”
Fans everywhere were eagerly awaiting to see what Jon Favreau had in store for the second season of The Mandalorian, arguably the biggest success to date from Disney+. And fans were not disappointed as we went through a roller coaster of emotions, from enthusiasm to fear and from shock to sorrow, proving it deserves a spot on every Best of 2020 list. The companionship between The Child, or Grogu as we have learned, and the titular Mandalorian has always captivated its viewers since the first episode, but the profoundness of the relationship reached new emotional bounds in the season two finale. We were hoping and expecting for a reunion between Grogu and Mando, only to have our hearts torn out as they headed separate ways as Grogu departed with Luke Skywalker and R2-D2. Of course, the most heart-wrenching scene is when Mando takes off his helmet for Grogu to see his face. Despite not being a relationship of many words, the pained expression and sadness emoted by Pedro Pascal displays the strength of their attachment and care towards one another.
The episode also provided thrills as it was filled with action-packed scenes, including an epic battle between Mando and Moff Gideon. We also learned that Mando now wields the Darksaber. But the greatest surprise was at the end of the episode as Mando and company prepared to face off the third-generation Dark Troopers. A mysterious, cloaked figure easily makes his way through the Dark Troopers. Slowly, the clues pop up for the audience to piece together: the arrival of only one X-wing, black robes, a green lightsaber, then a singular-gloved right hand. The answer seems obvious, but it’s only when he removes his hood and the “Force Theme” starts playing in the background that we realize it really is Luke Skywalker. And in that moment, we all feel the flutter of familiar feelings experienced, feelings of exactly when and why we fell in love with Star Wars. And while there’s plenty of excitement, there are many questions hanging in the air, leaving us wanting more to see what is in store for next year.
8. “Happy Ending”
Schitt’s Creek was special from the very season, as the first comedy, I personally got into immediately, it was clear from day one that this series was going somewhere worthwhile. I hate goodbyes and I hate it when people have to leave, but what makes “Happy Ending” so special is that each of these characters not only found themselves through this ridiculous series, but they learned that loving each other as they are is enough. The episode opens up in a very Rose family fashion with a storm ruining David and Patrick‘s wedding plans, and it ends with hearty callbacks to the Pilot. It’s Alexis openly showing her emotions to her family, realizing she’s glad they lost their money, and telling Moira she loves her very much while Moira tries to desperately keep it together.
It’s the entire town coming together to make the wedding happen. It’s Alexis wearing a wedding dress! It’s Moira in the glorious outfit even people who’ve never seen the series know of. It’s Stevie crying as they get to the end of the aisle. It’s David tearfully telling Alexis he’s continuously impressed by her before she boops his nose. It’s the jazzagals singing “Simply the Best.” It’s Moira finally breaking and giving in to the happiness that’s captivated her and sobbing through her speech. Finally, it’s David and Patrick’s vows—vows so beautiful, so perfectly moving, and appropriately featuring Maria Carey’s “Always Be My Baby.” It’s the union of two people who’ve grown together through immeasurable sincerity, gratifying adoration, and a gorgeous vulnerability that’s the very heart of their relationship and the series. “Happy Ending” is the kind of ending that hurts because it’s so easy to want to hold on, but it feels so right at the end of the day. Schitt’s Creek is the place where everyone fits in and everyone’s always welcomed back. Schitt’s Creek is home, it’s beautiful and it’s inclusive and it’s utterly chaotic in the best way.
9. “A Parks and Recreation Special”
Parks and Recreation
I don’t ever want to see anything done through zoom again. I want to forget the entire existence of this pandemic. But if there’s any show that was going to do a special return episode in this fashion and succeed in making me cry, it was Parks and Recreation. It worked for this show, and of course, it’d be one of our Best of 2020 TV Episodes. It worked in achieving the kind of hopeful balance we’d all need in an otherwise fairly bleak time in the world. Katie over at Nerdy Girl Notes did a fantastic job of covering the episode, and because she made me ugly cry to no end, we’ll leave you with most of what she said. I got to watch it virtually with my real-life Ann Perkins and the experience alone made the episode that much more special. For a moment, everything felt okay. For a moment, the characters and all that they were up to felt true to what we’d known that made the series so unbelievably special.
10. “Kristy’s Big Day”
The Baby-Sitters Club
Good news, Alicia Silverstone still manages to have some of the best scene stealing moments and years later she could still make me cry like a baby. “Kristy’s Big Day” is such a special episode, which again, Katie gets into on our Best of 2020 episode of Marvelous Geeks. But the episode’s not just special because it features a wedding and a girl getting her period for the first time, but it’s special for it’s an excellent showcase of friendships. (Which is clearly the overarching theme this year.)
Friends being there for friends with a pad and smiles on their face followed by the declaration of wanting cake is everything that’s great in the world. It’s raw and it’s as it should be. But what gets me is the ending between mother and daughter. The declaration and understanding that as the only daughter (And the favorite. Lol.) Kristy gets it tough at times, but it’s because she’s capable of so much greatness, which her mother knows. It’s Alicia Silverstone resorting me into a puddle of tears as a mom who’s honest, a mom who’s not perfect, and a mom who feels incredibly real and warm. It’s a mother/daughter relationship we can’t wait to see more of when the series returns for a second season. And the ending shot with the girls dancing together is just about the most lively moment the series could have left us with.
What are your Best of 2020 TV Episodes? Tell us in the comments below!