The best queer TV episodes of 2020 list is not an easy one to make, so instead we asked our whole team — and not just our TV Team — to pick their favorite episode of queer TV of 2020. What came together was a list as varied as our writers identities and interests! Cartoons! Dramas! Hauntings! And even reality TV! While you’re here, you might also enjoy our list of favorite and least favorite lesbian, bisexual, and trans TV characters of 2020. And, as always, we’d love to read about your favorites in the comments.
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power 512 and 513: “The Heart Part 1” and “The Heart Part 2”
She-Ra and the Princesses of Power‘s final season — and especially its two-part finale — finally gave queer nerds what we’ve been craving our entire lives: the luxury of seeing ourselves in a legendary space opera and epic fantasy story, not just as sidekicks, but as main characters who save the day with their heroism and also with their BIG GAY LOVE. Every lesbian, bisexual, and queer character has their moment to shine in the finale, from longterm couple Spinarella and Netossa, to Bow’s gay dads, to fan favorite baby angel Scorpia and her new love interest Perfuma.
But mostly the episode belongs to Catra and Adora. Catra who sacrifices herself for Adora (again!), Catra who finally gets real and begs Adora to stay, Catra who confesses her way-more-than-friends feelings; and then Adora, who is able to summon the power of She-Ra only to save Catra, and then able to use that power to reset the world. It’s the final hour of that last movie in any Star Wars trilogy or Lord of the Rings film. And it’s all just so normal! Adora also finally learns something that most fantasy heroes don’t — that she is worth more than what she can give to other people, and that she is worthy of love simply because of who she is. — Heather Hogan
Dead To Me 206: “You Don’t Have To”
I’ve been known to incorrectly predict queer vibes on TV, but when I shouted, “THIS IS GONNA BE GAY” while watching season two of Dead To Me, I was happily correct. A whole lot happens in this episode — Charlie gets grounded, Jen realizes she’s falling for the identical twin of the dude she killed — but let’s just get to the gay stuff. Judy and her new gal pal Michelle have a flirty “friend hang” at a taco stand. Michelle reveals that she’s still living with her ex girlfriend, but Judy ignores the red flag.
Later, they finally start making out at Michelle’s place until Michelle’s ex-girlfriend gets home, and guess who she is — DETECTIVE PEREZ! THE DETECTIVE WHO’S BEEN INVESTIGATING JUDY! I love an abrupt plot twist. Here are two more reasons why I love this episode: 1. Judy never “comes out.” When she starts dating a woman, no one says a damn thing about it. 2. Natalie Morales and Linda Cardellini are absolutely adorable together. — Malic White
Vida 306: “Episode 22”
Vida was by far my favorite queer show of recent years. Watching the finale was painful, but I tried to savor every beautiful and satisfying minute. Emma yelled “Que soy marimacha” in front of her father and his entire congregation. She also took a nostalgic walk past buildings we’ve come to know over the three seasons of the show. Eddy got to have a moment of romance after two seasons of tragedy. There was a telenovela-style big reveal of a long-kept family secret. And my absolute favorite scene was Nico’s grand romantic gesture asking Emma to move away with her, perfectly framed on a fire escape staircase.
The episode aired during the height of the US exploding with anger over systemic racism, and showrunner Tanya Saracho Tweeted, “It feels so wrong to try to celebrate or observe anything that has to do with Vida ending right now. How can I say goodbye? The world is on fire.” I understand why she would feel this way, but I truly believe media, including fictitious characters and stories, have the power to move progress forward. And Vida did that in a beautiful and organic way.
It’s not wrong to observe how the show ending was especially hard then and still celebrate the three amazing seasons it brought us. Tanya assembled a beautifully diverse cast of queer characters allowing some people to see themselves on the small screen for the very first time. She told these stories with honesty, beautiful cinematography, brilliant writing, acting and music. And most of all she gave us the gift of Emma. How can a character look so hot no matter what she’s doing? — Tracy Levesque
For my money, Vida will go down as the best queer series in television history. In three far-too-short seasons, it set a new bar for what queer television could be and established itself as the standard upon which other series — who are truly aspiring to greatness — should measure themselves against. Every episode of the show is remarkable but the series finale remains a standout.
Unsurprisingly, it is Emma’s final scenes that still reverberate deeply. Her presence in East LA at all is improbable — in the pilot, Emma refers to living in Boyle Heights as being “stuck” — but, by the finale, Emma has reclaimed her home. The scars of what happened here…of what caused her to be sent away…are finally healing. She steps into her father’s church ready to defend what’s hers — this bar that she barely even wanted in the beginning but now calls home — and when he pushes back, lashing out at the hedonism he witnessed, Emma claims her identity loudly.
“Oh, not just my mother, Victor…Your daughter, la hija del pastor, is a queer. Que soy marimacha. Que soy marimacha,” Emma announces to the entire church. It’s a far cry from the Emma who told Lynn, “I don’t identify as anything. I’m just me,” in Vida‘s first season. It is a superbly written character arc… every moment we’ve spent with Emma has been leading to this wholesale embrace of all facets of her identity. Emma’s evolution over these three seasons, and its culmination in the finale, are the highlight of the series for me. — Natalie
The “showiest” parts of Vida’s stellar series finale happens much earlier in the episode, Emma reclaiming her own shame about being queer and instead finding pride, finding a new understanding for her mother’s own pain bravery that has otherwise haunted her throughout the series, and standing in her father’s storefront church and proclaiming “Que soy marimacha.” It’s a show stopper, a climax three years in the making. And it’s certainly worthy of all praise for both Mishel Prada as an actor and Tanya Saracho as writer and showrunner. Emma, who has gone out of her way to eschew labels and has been looking for words to describe her own journey, staring down her mother’s abuser and calling herself a dyke. It’s a coming-of-age never before told, and one I’ll never forget.
But for me, the image I will never let go of comes much later. When Nico meets Emma on the fire escape of Vida’s Bar. It’s the big romantic swoon, Nico asking Emma to run away with her. But what most caught me was the shot itself — it is a near perfect copy of West Side Story. And while West Side Story itself has a complicated history in Latinx cinema, there is no denying that Tony and Maria on that fire escape is one of the first times a Latina character (even one played by a white actress, Natalie Wood) is cast as a romantic lead. Saracho does very little by chance, so I know the staging of Vida in this moment was purposeful. It’s queering one of — if not the — most famous romantic moments in our Latinx canon to date. Without even saying it, she’s already said so much. — Carmen
Dare Me Season 105: “Parallel Trenches”
Dare Me is a murdery teen thriller about cheerleaders and their ruthless coach that should not have been cancelled after just one season because god it was so good!!!!! It spins a tale of obsession and manipulation, and watching it feels like watching a cheerleader flung into the air—something gorgeous and terrifying. “Parallel Trenches” is one of my favorite episodes of television to air all year. It tells the same story from three different perspectives, touching on the ways trauma warps memory and perception. It’s a pivotal episode for the series. — Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya
The Circle 105: “Sliding Into DMs”
Remember The Circle? It was that reality competition show on Netflix where a bunch of people were alone in an apartment and could only communicate with others through their screens. Wild premise, I know. But even before it became the most unfortunately prescient program of the year, its recreation of our social media lives felt sharply relatable. And something I learned from Are You the One? season eight is I actually love reality TV when it’s super gay. Unfortunately, the first American season of The Circle got less gay as it went along (and more male and more annoying), but those are early episodes were a DELIGHT. The peak of the show arrived in the season’s fifth episode, “Sliding Into DMs.”
Newcomer “Adam” (actually the obnoxious Alex) goes on a date with “Rebecca” (actually the delightfully clueless Seaburn) and their bizarre faux date is one of those things that’s so straight it becomes funny in a gay way. Then bisexual fan favorite Sammie and bicurious Miranda have a sexting contest with Joey that feels less about Joey and more about their own flirting. And, of course, this is the episode where Sammie shares her #ImTheDaddy picture which causes real life lesbian Karyn to speak for all of us in declaring her love. It feels almost too easy to draw parallels between The Circle and our current way of life. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t received a pictured in quarantine that made me shout “I love her!” followed quickly by — “Oh God I wonder what she’s like IRL.” Upside down smiley face emoji. And send. — Drew
The Haunting of Bly Manor 109: “The Beast in the Jungle”
I’ve already waxed poetic about this show on this >very website page but I still have to specifically call out the finale as one of my favorite episodes of queer TV in the history of ever. Jamie and Dani’s story arc is better than a lot of lesbian movies I’ve seen, and the entire episode was full of queer joy and heartache and love and pain. It’s two women in love who have their fair share of trauma, who are taking their lives together one day at a time, because they know better than anyone that tomorrow isn’t a guarantee. The episode fills my heart all the way up and then makes me cry so very hard every single time I watch it. And sometimes even when I’m just thinking about it. — Valerie Anne
The Big Flower Fight 108: “Fairytale Finale”
Perhaps it’s surprising to see my name here in this roundtable, seeing as I barely watch TV and thus never contribute to any TV coverage on Autostraddle dot com. However, while I don’t think I’ve binged quite as many things as the average human during this pandemic year, I have watched more TV than is regular for me because what else is there to do? Truly not much of anything. Anyhow, all of that said, have you heard of the show The Big Flower Fight? It’s not really specifically gay but it also is deeply gay because it’s a show where a bunch of florists and artists get together to compete in a pretty friendly and kind way over who can make the most beautiful giant flower structures and then every week one team wins BEST IN BLOOM (are you kidding me with that gay name??!?!)?
And there are a few queer contestants on the show, and the host wears really excellent suits every week, and ***SPOILER*** the lovable gay art school couple Andrew and Ryan do win the whole damn thing, which is why I chose the finale episode specifically as my favorite LGBTQ TV episode of 2020, but that’s not really why this show is so gay. It’s more the whole thing, the entire energy behind it, do you know what I mean? Anyhow please don’t yell at me for this choice, I found the show when Brandon Taylor tweeted about it and I thought wow, this would be perfect to watch with my mom when I have to move back in with my parents and we’re all stuck at home together because there’s a pandemic and I need some fun and easy stress-free TV for us to watch together and you know what? I was right!
It was perfect, and the queer couple are joined by so many other neat characters, particularly an amazing father/son duo who made me cry real tears because of the dad’s love and support for his anxious son! Which, if you think about it, is also pretty gay. Anyway I loved this show, I hope there’s a season two and I hope there are more lesbians this time around! — Vanessa Friedman
How to Get Away With Murder 611: “The Reckoning”
How to Get Away With Murder‘s final season was, perhaps, it’s queerest. Not in the way I’d hoped for: there was no reunion with Eve, no torrid affair with Tegan Price… just a dark-skinned, 53-year-old black woman coming to grips with her own identity in a cerebral way, not a sexual one.
Coming out is a young person’s game, especially on television… the stories we see over and over again are about young people coming into their full selves and proclaiming their identities, loudly and proudly. Even as a young person, that wasn’t Annalise Keating’s story. She’d fallen into a relationship with a woman during law school… but instead of professing her love for that woman or telling her mother that she’d found happiness and peace with Eve Rothlo, she ran to therapy. She was black and “from the damn Bible Belt,” she couldn’t be gay.
It takes Annalise Keating nearly three decades to come out to her mother. She’s almost cavalier in her admission — Her name is Eve, Mama. And we were more than just friends — belying the toll it’s taken to get to this point. The reality is, she doesn’t know any more about her identity in “The Reckoning” than she did as a law student… but she’s facing a possible life sentence, her mother’s got dementia… and, suddenly, admitting the truth doesn’t feel like the scariest thing in the world. — Natalie
High Fidelity 404: “Good Luck and Goodbye”
I know there are the official love languages but if I could create my own, I’d say mine was music. I was a fan of the original High Fidelity film but when the series came out I was all over it. It’s been some time since I connected so deeply with a fictional character and then Rob came along. In this episode, she starts her official journey down the road of ex’s past to figure out why she was destined to be left and to be alone. This episode explores what it’s like to be heartbroken, to think that you were the cause of every failed relationship that you’ve had. I have been there, wanting (but never actually) to reach out to the women who I gave my heart to so they could tell me — what’s wrong with me?
The episode starts out on a high, Rob sees that maybe there was nothing really “wrong” with her, but that the relationships just played out as they were meant to. She gets over confident, rejects warnings from friends to quit while she’s ahead, and goes to her biggest and most recent heartbreak. By the end Rob realizes she’s bit off more than she can chew, she wasn’t ready, she has to stop and do what she dreads the most — fucking feel and figure her shit out for herself. The plan was for other people to do the work for her and for a minute it worked. Looking at yourself can be difficult, and to risk sounding like an after school special, at least it gets slightly easier every time you have to do it. — Shelli Nicole
The L Word: Generation Q 108: “Lapse in Judgement”
There’s a lot about this episode that flopped, like Bette’s campaign for mayor and the underwhelming yet somehow celebrated reconciliation between Nat and Alice. But, we also got Roxane Gay and a touching callback featuring Angie and her Mom, Bette Porter, doing a nice little midweek hike to let some air in. And we also got a terrific cliffhanger, and my favorite sex scene in L Word history. It’s not glossy or overdone, there’s no male gaze, just two girls — one who is terrified of sober sex and actual intimacy, the other whom is engaged to somebody she definitely shouldn’t marry — who know and understand each other, who can switch from fear to lust to joy again and again.
Finley has never looked happier than she does in this scene, and Sophie is so emotionally present. I’ve thought about this scene a lot this year. We all have those things, maybe. “Remember when we did [xxx] in [January or February or even early March] like civilization wasn’t near collapse?” For me, somehow, THIS moment — sitting on my bed at 1am texting Drew and Analyssa about this episode, just totally losing it over two fictional characters hooking up as if we were all bored closeted teenagers — is the one I think about when I think about the things we had the room to care about so entirely. — Riese
Little Fires Everywhere 106: “The Uncanny”
At last we came to Mia’s most fully inhabited flashback episode, where her story becomes queerer than I’d expected in my wildest dreams from a book that didn’t explicitly assign queerness to any of their characters. Tiffany Boone plays teenage Mia Warren as she leaves home for New York City. Amid the ‘80s art world, where artists were defining and building movements that pushed established boundaries and eventually the limits of their own bodies, she is enraptured by Pauline Hawthorne, an artist with whom Mia eventually falls in love. Seeing Pauline fall right back is so sweet and perfect. “Art should either bring something new into the world or something strange and familiar and terrifying, or at the very least uncomfortable,” Mia says, and it’s true about art and it’s true about this episode — which juxtaposes Mia’s with Elena’s during that same early 80s time period — too. — Riese
When I tried to think back — past the upheaval and pain of this year — to really focus on television, more than full episodes that came back to me, it was images. Flashes of these moments of perfection where everything else seemed to melt away and for a brief, flittering moment I could get lost in the story. I used to take “getting lost in the story” for granted, you know, in the before times but now my focus is much harder to fight for, my anxiety is too high to let go of. Anyway, one of those brief perfect moments came in this episode: Mia Warren and her queer mentor who has become her lover, Pauline Hawthorne, together alone in Pauline’s bathtub.
The image itself is already famous by the time it happens on screen, a photograph of Mia in that bathtub is her most prized possession and follows her throughout the series. But to see it in real time — to watch the playfulness, the acceptance, (and to be very honest — the sexiness of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen two Black women laid so bare on television before), it’s simply unreal. Even once the surprise has been lost, I find myself returning to it time and again in my memory. A truly perfect moment of acting, of cinematography, of television. Easily the best of the year. — Carmen