What a strange and dumb year this was. Almost all of it, really. Throw the whole thing in the trash and let’s start over in January, I say. Actually, wait. I do not say that. I say this: Let’s look back on 2020 and pick out the things worth keeping — a few lessons, a few funny and weird things, a few rays of sunshine through the clouds — and put them in a little box for safekeeping. And then throw the whole thing in the trash. In fact, let’s start doing it right now.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, it is time, once again, for The Very Specific TV Awards, our year-end roundup of the best and worst and weirdest of the year in television. This marks the third year I’ve done it, and the third time it has been my favorite thing to do all year long. I can’t believe some of this stuff happened this year. I can’t believe some of it happened at all, to be honest. I could have just made a list of things that happened in The New Pope and it would have been the weirdest thing you’ll read all year. But I didn’t. I only included one entry from The New Pope. Because I am a professional.
As always, a few notes before we begin
- This list is not fully comprehensive
- Some painful cuts were made
- I am sorry if your favorite show was not included
- I’m doing the best I can
- Make your own list if you’re so great
Let the festivities begin.
Best Fake Name — What We Do In The Shadows
No doubt about it: Jackie Daytona was the best fake name on television this year. It might be the best fake name in the history of television, with apologies to legends like Zach Pizazz and Jackie Nevada, among others. There’s just something lyrical about it, the hard consonants peppering their way through the five syllables, the last name “Daytona,” all of it. Add in Matt Berry’s delivery and this was all never even a contest.
Best Villain — Lalo Salamanca from Better Call Saul
It is impressive and almost a little infuriating that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould can just up and create a top-five character in the Breaking Bad universe after almost a decade of the original and a half-decade of the spin-off. It’s almost showing off. Either way, they did do it with Lalo, a charismatic charmer who is also a violent sociopath and also surprisingly athletic. What a maniac. I love him. I know it won’t end well for him because Better Call Saul is a prequel and he’s not around in Breaking Bad, but until things go sideways I can still pretend he takes over the entire southwest and starts an empire of smiling terror.
Best Promotional Picture — Narcos: Mexico and Growing Belushi (tie)
Narcos has a long history of perfect promotional pictures dating back to Pablo Escobar’s Mountain of Cocaine and Sad Pablo on a Bench Swing, and, while this isn’t quite in that category (NOTHING IS), you could do a whole lot worse than Female Drug Lord Posing For A Glamour Shot in Front of a Cocaine-Stuffed Truck. It’s a nice piece of business, as was this promotional picture from a new show about Jim Belushi’s weed farm.
Is it a coincidence that the best promotional pictures feature drugs and/or the people that produce them? I’m going to say no. Let’s hope, say, Ted Lasso makes a note for next season. Speaking of Ted Lasso…
Best Speech — Ted Lasso
Listen, it’s very simple. If you recreate the Allen Iverson practice rant in a fun sitcom and have it delivered by a sweet man with a luxurious mustache, you are making this list.
Most Devastating Exchange Between Estranged Spouses — Billions
Chuck Rhoades, played by Paul Giamatti, is a masochist. We know this because he held a press conference and said the phrase “I am a masochist” into a microphone in front of god and the press and everyone. But this one… ouch. I think even he felt a little unpleasant sting when it hit his ears. It’s just so cutting, so mean, so devastating. Please do not ever say this to me. I will definitely not like it.
Best Turbine Chat — Down to Earth With Zac Efron
No one in the history of turbines has ever been as excited to check out some turbines as Zac Efron. It wasn’t just turbines, either. Zac Efron was so freaking jazzed to check out all sorts of science stuff throughout this entire show. It made the whole endeavor surprisingly fun, just watching someone get unending joy out of discovering and sharing cool stuff they found. His enthusiasm was infectious. I ended up pretty stoked about turbines by the end of this episode, too.
Most Disquieting Coffee Order — McMillion$
Best Answer To A Question I Asked, Whatever, It’s My List, Leave Me Alone — Walton Goggins
I got to interview Walton Goggins this year, which was cool for a bunch of reasons. (He’s very nice.) The biggest reason, though, was that it gave me a chance to finally ask him a question that has been on my mind for years now: Does he think his character from Justified, Boyd Crowder, would have been a good Dairy Queen franchise owner if this plan to go legit via ice cream had worked out? I was asking for fun, but his answer gave me a whole new perspective on what was already one of my favorite characters.
I think he would have been a very successful Dairy Queen franchise owner, very successful. And that episode in particular, it’s very … All of this shit is very personal to me. I’m a poor kid from Georgia. We’re divided on a lot of things in this country. The one thing that a lot of us aren’t divided on is poverty. And for me, Boyd Crowder was what I wanted to say about rural America and my version of it. And that for him, there was a glass ceiling, and he couldn’t break it. And all he ever wanted was that, was the ability to escape a life that he came from, and to be somebody, and to be respected in a different way, and not through fear and intimidation.
With my story, I participated in kind of all of it. And I said, “We got to say this, man.” Because there was a dude in my hometown whose dad had four Dairy Queen franchises, and he made it. He was a success. And so, to answer your question, as fastidious as Boyd Crowder was, and as great of a compartmentalizer as he was… yeah, I think you would have seen Dairy Queens popping up in places that you never anticipated.
I mean, damn, right?
Best Skater And/Or Stoner — Kirt from Betty
I loved Betty, HBO’s series about teen skateboard girls in New York. It was smart and funny and, above all else, cool as hell. And Kirt was a blast. How could you not love Kirt? She was a huge stoner who only cared about skating and doing drugs and fighting anyone who crossed her friends. And bubble tea. And hooking up. And her pet rat, Perstephanie. Kirt was the best.
Best Cameo — The New Pope
Plenty of wild stuff happened on The New Pope, starting right at the beginning when a bird stole the Pope’s big speech and lasting until the end when there was what appeared to be a death via crowdsurfing. At some point between those two bookends, things got even wilder, as the titular new Pope — played by John Malkovich — invited Marilyn Manson to the Vatican for a conversation.
I must stress this next part: This really happened. I am not making it up. Marilyn Manson met with the new Pope and asked him what happened to the old Pope, who was actually the young Pope from The Young Pope. The whole thing was a blessing. .
Weirdest Thing That Became A Trend — Burning someone’s flesh with the barrel of a gun
On this season of Perry Mason, Matthew Rhys, in character as Perry Mason, was captured by an evil studio boss’s goons and held still while the barrel of a gun was heated-up red-hot and pressed into his torso, leaving a ring-shaped burn in his flesh so he would never forget. I had not seen this before on a television show.
A few months later, on Fargo, a hitman for the mafia was cornered in a fiery heist by the crew working for Chris Rock’s character, Loy Cannon, and then one member of the crew held a shotgun over the open flame, heated it up red-hot, and pressed it into his cheek, leaving a ring-shaped burn in his flesh so he would never forget.
Twice! It happened twice! It’s kind of like the time a few years ago where multiple characters on multiple shows got killed by falling air conditioners after many years of it not happening at all. I’m dying to see what the next trend is. I hope it’s, like, characters getting a pineapple smashed on their head. I would like that.
Best “Not So Different” — The Crown and The Mandolorian (tie)
Shout out to The Mandalorian for catering specifically to me this season, between adding Timothy Olyphant and Titus Welliver and doing a slightly modified “we’re not so different” scene. That’s the only explanation I can think of for all of this happening in the span of a few weeks. If Baby Yoda shows up in a Brian Dawkins Eagles jersey in the season finale, we’ll have no choice but to confirm it.
Shoutout also to The Crown for kind of building an entire season of television to what amounted to a very extended “we’re not so different” scene between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher. That’s what the scene was, basically. I swear it was. Go watch it again. I’m not crazy.
Best Chess Dope — Benny from The Queen’s Gambit
The Queen’s Gambit was most notable for Anya Taylor-Joy staring lasers through a procession of chess bozos, which was good and fun and something I did not know I needed. One of those chess bozos — dopes, if you will — was a prodigy named Benny Watts who showed up to a big chess tournament dressed like Dorky Indiana Jones, complete with hat and knife, for reasons that were never really, really explained. I adored it. Imagine you show up to a chess tournament and some goof walks in looking like he’s taking a quick break from his search for the lost city of Atlantis. I don’t think I’d ever stop laughing. Until he beat me. Then I’d stop laughing. For a minute. Until I saw him get up and put on his ridiculous coat and hat. Then I’d start laughing again. A lot.
Most Outstanding Use Of Bull Semen — 911: Lonestar
Two important things to know about 911: Lonestar:
- Everything that takes place in the series is the direct result of a janitor starting a fire in a manure plant by leaving the foil on the burrito he was microwaving, which itself resulted in a massive explosion that killed an entire fire department
- One episode featured a disaster at a bull semen warehouse
Do we get canisters of bull stuff launching into the sky like rounds of artillery?
You know we do, baby.
Best Fart — Fargo
It is very important to note that the winner of Best Fart last year was Jeremy Irons. That will never not be incredible to me. Watchmen was such a good show. This was a solid fart, too, in large part because it was the last thing this mob boss did before he was almost assassinated. Real double whammy for everyone else in the car.
Most Outstanding Athletic Achievement — Mallory from Holey Moley
Holey Moley is America’s finest television program. This we all know. What you might not know is that its best contestant this year was a kickboxer named Mallory who, and I must reiterate that this was an unprecedented development, got walloped by all three of the course’s best obstacles in one episode. She got wiped out by the windmills, above. She got wiped out by the zipline, below…
And she got wiped out by the portable toilets, too.
This is a big deal. All three! Mallory got absolutely ROCKED by all three! And she still won! She advanced to the next round!
We did not make a big enough deal about this. I’m trying to remedy that.
Best Payoff — The Good Place
I loved many things about The Good Place. I loved that it was a smart show that asked big questions about what it means to be a good person. I loved that it gave Ted Danson a chance to be incredibly silly on network television. I loved that it loved crappy food puns as much as I do. (A lot.) But I think what I loved most was that the show finally paid off its repeated references to my sweet beloved doofus Jason Mendoza’s favorite Florida eatery, Stupid Nick’s Wing Dump, a place where ladies eat free if they’re topless and a place that had to close because a pelican got into the deep fryer. I pointed at the screen and shouted a little when I saw it appear on screen. I had to rewind the episode a few minutes later because I missed important dialogue while I was thinking about Stupid Nick’s. I’m still thinking about it, to be honest. I wish it were a real place. I would eat there. You would, too. Do not lie to me or Jason Mendoza.
Most Lovable Supervillain — Bane from Harley Quinn
I don’t know why no one in the long history of Batman decided to make Bane an insecure doofus for laughs prior to the animated Harley Quinn series. It seems so obvious in hindsight. I’m glad Harley Quinn did, though. What a delight this has been through two seasons, watching this big hulking monster get pushed around by lesser villains and spend multiple episodes arguing about the quality of the chair he gets in the Legion of Doom conference room. Lots of stuff in this show is good. Better, some might say. But nothing makes me laugh harder than sweet, sad Bane moping as he scrunches his massive body into a tiny chair. Picture it now if you haven’t seen the show. Then go watch the show. Do it.
Best Distillation Of The Entire Year In A Single GIF — Uh, this one
A television legend trying to extinguish a stubborn trash fire during an Emmys ceremony that took place in an empty building and also featured a live llama at one point. The Chaos Emmys were a lot of fun but I hope we never have to do them again.
Most Revolutionary Breakfast Maneuver — Bosch
Look at how Bosch eats pancakes.
LOOK AT HOW BOSCH EATS PANCAKES.
LOOK AT HOW BOSCH EATS PANCAKES.
Outstanding Achievement In The Field Of Making Andre Braugher Say Things With His Voice — Brooklyn Nine-Nine
It must be so fun to write for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. You just think up the wildest stuff you can think of for Andre Braugher to say with his voice, and then he goes out and actually says it. It’s tremendous, still, many seasons into the show. Imagine having that kind of power. I would try to work in phrases like “one million rotten cantaloupes” just to hear him say them. I would get fired very quickly. But it would be worth it.
Most Perplexing But Amazing Tweet Involving A Celebrity Chef — The Guy Fieri Dinner
The meeting of the masters. The great Al Pacino meets the great @GuyFieri!!! I really respect these guys. @JayGlazer pic.twitter.com/bj3YHmMSwK
— Sylvester Stallone (@TheSlyStallone) January 10, 2020
Back in January, Sylvester Stallone tweeted out this video of himself, Al Pacino, NFL insider Jay Glazer, and Guy Fieri preparing to eat dinner. I have been thinking about it ever since. Not, like, consistently, but every few weeks for an hour or so at a time. It’s so fascinating to me. I have so many questions about it. (Examples: How? Why? How?!) But mostly it’s infuriating. The video cuts off before the meal. Come on. Come on! You can’t just do that to me. I need footage of the whole thing. I want to see Guy serving up the sides, and I want to hear Stallone mumble grace, and I want to hear Pacino say, like, “PLEASE pass the MASHED poTAtoes” in his most Pacino growl. I would have paid $39.99 for the full video. I would pay $1000 to be invited to the next one. I am not joking.
Best Piece Of Information I Wish I Knew Decades Ago — James Gandolfini loved Green Day
James Gandolfini loved Green Day. How did we not know this until this year? How did we not know it until Michael Imperioli casually mentioned it in the comments of his own Instagram post? I’d be mad it if didn’t bring me so much unending joy. I mean, look at this.
“Gandolfini would also sing basket case and make up his own lyrics about HBO and the writers and producers of the sopranos,” Imperioli wrote to us. “Usually when he was feeling overworked and overexposed, and his lyrics would reflect that. Some of the more musical crew members would add a verse or two. Great fun.”
A few hours later, he followed up: “He also named his dog dookie and used it in his email address.”
If you can read that and not immediately hear James Gandolfini singing “Welcome to Paradise” in his most breathy, nasally Tony Soprano voice, I don’t know what I can do for you. You might be beyond help.
Best Baby In A Trash Can — Killing Eve
Yup, sure enough, that’s a baby in a trash can. No arguing with this one.
Most Convincing Case For Beans — Joe Pera Talks With You
Three things worth noting here:
- Joe Pera Talks With You is a lovely show and I think you will like it
- I cared more about the bean arch he grew this season than I did about half the characters on the other shows I watched
- There is not a single lie in any of the things he says in those screencaps
In conclusion: Beans. Thank you and here’s to 2021.