Television used to be viewed exclusively through these little boxes you may have heard of called television sets. Now any TV without an internet connection is likely to just sit there collecting dust. Streaming services mean that TV is truly everywhere.
Whole seasons of shows get binged within a day or two via a laptop, phone, or tablet. The difference between a Hollywood blockbuster and a season of Game of Thrones is narrower than ever. So with all these factors is it possible one day we won’t even know what to brand as “TV” anymore?
Probably not thanks to one often overlooked, underappreciated aspect of TV: episodes. The fact that TV shows are broken down into three distinct narrative acts (series, seasons and episodes) is the last bastion of TV’s identity against other forms of visual entertainment. Sure, shows like Game of Thrones may look like movies now but they still consist of episodes. In a world where television is no longer exclusively televised, the loose definition of a TV show can be considered as “anything that has episodes.”
Still, the humble episode is often unappreciated. So instead of celebrating the best overall shows from the 2015 TV season, here are its best individual episodes. Note that we’ve limited the list to one episode per show and have ordered the list alphabetically. Beware of spoilers….
Adventure Time: “The More You Moe, The Moe You Know”
Coming off the heels of the okay but ultimately disappointing 8-part Marceline miniseries, “Stakes,” Adventure Time immediately got back in my good graces with this BMO-focused two-parter. Now in its seventh season, Adventure Time can look a bit long in the tooth. These days it frequently putters along for long periods without anything too exciting happening, often lost in the shadow of Steven Universe (which, at this point, is indeed usually the better show).
But there are occasional highlights and for me they often come with BMO episodes. With his simple design and brilliant voice work by Niki Yang, BMO is just plain one of the cutest characters ever, so when the writers make things hard for him, it’s very easy to feel bad for the little robot. In recent years they’ve continued to make BMO more complex, presenting him as lonely and confused about just who or what he is (earlier this year, the BMO episode “Football,” was also nicely dark and tragic).
“The More You Moe, The Moe You Know” is great because it sees BMO tackling what it is to be a grownup, how much you lose your identity through maturity, and whether growth is even possible for a little video game machine thingy. It’s deep, sad, and insightful stuff but what elevates it further is that this is also one of the funniest episodes Adventure Time has done in a good while. There’s a hilarious, bizarre reference to Burgess Meredith of all people and lots of great quotes from BMO, like “I’m just a little baby kid still, even though it’s my birthday. Happy birthday, BMO.” Also, “I’m not grown up or I’m too grown up now. I think I just killed someone.” And then there’s the capper of Jake telling BMO, “Sorry your birthday was weird.”
– Joe Matar
The Affair – “205”
The Affair jumped back and forth in time an unprecedented extent this season, but one moment remains seared in my mind: The change after people begin reading Noah’s manuscript. Up until now, Alison has gotten into a steady groove working as Yvonne’s assistant and Robert’s physical therapist (and confidante when they pretend to shoot his dog but instead let it go). Sure, there were some hiccups when the older couple discovered that Noah and Alison’s relationship began with an affair, but she seemed to have found her place in Cold Spring while Noah’s career was starting to take off. Then, Yvonne began reading Descent.
The shifts in Yvonne and Robert’s dynamics with Alison are so subtle that she, and we the viewers, almost think we’re imagining it: Yvonne snapping at Alison’s clothing and criticizing her work ethic. Then there’s that awful, cringing scene with Robert getting a hard-on while Alison is massaging his leg. I felt Alison’s disgust and shame and anger like physical pangs; I couldn’t blame her for leaving as soon as she could.
So much happens afterward, as Alison cements her life with Noah by giving birth to their daughter and trying to live the high life in New York City while the business proposition of buying The Lobster Roll calls her back to Montauk. But this episode is the turning point, where she realizes that rather than be considered Noah’s partner, she’s no more than his muse.
– Natalie Zutter
Agent Carter — “Snafu”
Agent Carter’s short season at the beginning of the year was a breath of fresh air on a TV landscape that had yet to embrace any other female-centric superhero shows. The period drama chronicling Agent Peggy Carter’s post-war transition back into civilian life through her work in the SSR put sexism at the forefront, as the uber-competent Peggy is forced to carry on an investigation into Leviathan’s machinations on her own while getting coffee for her male colleagues at the SSR.
This all comes to a head in “Snafu,” the seventh episode of the season. In it, Peggy is interrogated by her friends and co-workers at the SSR under suspicions of being a spy, while the real threat, Ivchenko, lays the foundation for a horrifying escape in a nearby office. This is the episode we waited all season for, the one in which Peggy is finally able to explain to her co-workers just how frustratingly and dangerously condescending they have all been: “I conducted my own investigation because no one listens to me. I got away with it because no one looks at me. Because — unless I have your reports, your coffees, or your lunch — I’m invisible … I’m not playing a game. I never was.”
The episode ends with Peggy’s bomb-wearing boss jumping out a window to save his colleagues, but, before he does, he finally looks at Peggy with the respect she deserves, asking her rather than any of his male agents to take Ivchenko down. It’s heartbreaking and gratifying at the same time, tragic for all of the time the SSR lost in not treating Peggy as an equal.
– Kayti Burt
The Americans – “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”
The Americans is as about as high concept as drama gets: a family of Russian spies is deeply embedded in American culture as the couple next door. Yet it’s in the show’s quieter, more understated episodes that it truly shines.
In “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” Philip and Elizabeth Jennings infiltrate a repair facility to hack into the eponymous “mail robot” for classified F.B.I. information. Unfortunately, the owner of the facility, an old woman named Betty, is still in her office when Philip and Elizabeth arrive. Elizabeth knows that they cannot leave any witnesses and she will be forced to kill Betty, but that’s not before she spends an entire episode listening to her stories about a relatively happy marriage and what it’s like to live the American dream.
“Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” is about as bleak as it gets. Thankfully, The Americans is a show that trusts that the audience is not only mature enough to handle it but in a sense also deserves something realistically bleak and weirdly beautiful.
– Alec Bojalad
Banshee – “A Fixer of Sorts”
Banshee is a show that unfortunately isn’t on everybody’s radar, but the third season of Cinemax’s ultraviolent series ended up delivering the most satisfying installments to date. “A Fixer Of Sorts” is a gut punch of an episode that literally crams a season’s worth of content into an entire episode, firing off at a relentless pace and never letting up. Con man-turned-sheriff Lucas Hood has struggled to keep his secret past hidden throughout the entire series, and this episode rips all of that off like a stubborn Band-Aid. The whole series is at the risk of unspooling when Hood is kidnapped by Raymond Brantley. Schuler Hensley makes a meal out of this deliciously evil role, and even though it’s the only time we see this character, he makes a heavy impression. He seriously feels like some sort of Bond villain, as the larger-than-life character oozes personality, like with his ledger that he’s constantly checking and updating.
Banshee is one of the most brutal television series I’ve ever encountered and “A Fixer Of Sorts” rises to the occasion in all sorts of ways. To begin with, Hood’s kidnapping from Brantley sees him in transit on an 18-wheeler for the bulk of the episode, which builds to one of the most gruesome escapes and death sequences the show has executed. Elsewhere, an impeccably choreographed fight scene (which is underselling it) between Burton and Nola sees them running through various weapons and scenery in a set piece that could give The Raid a run for its money. And this isn’t even touching on half of what happens here. It’s insane that this is only the third episode of the season, and already all of this is getting thrown at you. It creates an incredible feeling of not knowing how the rest of the season can possibly follow this.
– Daniel Kurland
Better Call Saul – “Five-O”
Better Call Saul was such a gamble for Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and AMC, coming right off the overwhelming success of Breaking Bad, easily TV’s high water mark of the decade. It took serious gumption to craft a spinoff that would feel worthy of its parent show’s legacy, but Gilligan and Co. did just that, bringing Bob Odenkirk’s Saul back for an origin story that has been executed with unfathomable skill and keen attention to detail.
Though the show gets its namesake from slimeball lawyer Saul Goodman, we also get to witness the origin of another one of Breaking Bad’s standout players, the fixer Mike Ehrmantraut. Mike’s backstory is finally revealed in “Five-O,” and it’s a gut-wrenching character study that left me mesmerized and heartbroken by its sad story and sheer excellence. In what is essentially “The Ballad of Mike Ehrmantraut,” the best Bruce Springsteen song The Boss never wrote, Mike plays a Humphrey Bogart-type gumshoe in a Neo-Noir that ingeniously uses some non-linear editing to explain just how Mike became the hardnosed curmudgeon that we know and love. Jonathan Banks gives the most powerful monologue of the year, a devastating, emotional speech about dirty cops and a father’s love for his son. In a matter of minutes, we get closer to Mike than we ever did on Breaking Bad and it adds new context for his scenes in that series.
– Nick Harley
BoJack Horseman – “Escape from L.A.”
“He’s just trying to be a better horseman,” Netflix’s advertising campaign cheekily intoned over several posters leading up to BoJack Horseman’s second season. It seems like it’s just a clever pun but after bingeing through two season of this excellent animated comedy, it’s clear that the quip is a pretty concise mission statement for what the show is all about. BoJack Horseman is the story of a (horse)man who sincerely just wants to be a better person, but some inherent pain or ugliness within himself keeps that from ever happening.
Nowhere in BoJack Horseman does BoJack try harder and fail more miserably to be a better person than in “Escape from L.A.”. BoJack leaves behind his Hollywood mansion to reconnect with an old flame in New Mexico. The decision to leave behind the Hollywood bullshit is a solid one for his soul but he’s just trading one unhealthy obsession with the past for another unhealthy obsession with the past. And that leads to the series’ most heartbreaking moment in the series yet.
– Alec Bojalad
Community – “Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television”
Tumultuously fighting to keep being a show its entire life, Community sadly seems to have finally given up the ghost with its sixth, online season on Yahoo. In truth, it’s very likely for the best; though this is one of my all-time favorite shows, Community has been mostly treading water since the third season.
However, though it’s had a very bumpy track record, the finale was one of the best episodes of the show’s entire run. For the most meta show ever, it only made sense that the final ever episode would explore the very dynamics of what made Community the show it was, with each of the characters pitching their concepts of what a future, imagined season of the show might look like. It’s the sort of thing I’d think would be utterly insufferable and confusing to someone unfamiliar with the series, but truly, at this stage in the show’s life, who else was watching but the fans who had been there from the beginning?
For us, it was witty, hilarious, bittersweet, and a truly great series sendoff (one that washed out the awful aftertaste of the terrible season five finale). Really, the simple fact of it is that Community was always a very emotional show for me, but it hadn’t gotten me in the gut for a long time. The series finale brought back that feeling.
– Joe Matar
Daredevil – “Nelson v. Murdock”
The three most famous superheroes (Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man) are all known for their dual lives. Their secret identities are major parts of who they are, which makes it an interesting contrast to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite a tease at the end of the first Iron Man, the whole continuity went a long while without having to use the secret identity trope. Outside of Agent Carter, Daredevil is the first major use of it and by the tenth episode, we see why it might not be as ideal as it was back in the ‘60s when everyone had a second life to juggle.
There’s a lot of good stuff throughout, such as Karen Page leading Ben Urich into an investigation against his will and Kingpin’s hold on his empire and personal life crumbling around him. But really, it’s all about the fallout of Foggy Nelson discovering that his best friend and business partner Matt Murdock has been going out and starting fights as a masked vigilante.
He doesn’t see it the way Matt or decades of comic book narratives see it. As far as Foggy knows, his best friend is a liar who takes advantage of people and Foggy isn’t wrong. We go back and forth between their days studying together and the present, where Foggy is incredibly frustrated and offended that Matt’s never come clean about his “sight” or double life. Unlike Matt, Foggy refuses to see the greater good in lying to your close ones, nor does he accept Matt’s lie detector hearing as anything more than shifty.
Any time these two are arguing in this episode is fascinating and it’s shocking that they were able to find a great follow up to such a wonderful episode concept as “Daredevil randomly fights a ninja.”
– Gavin Jasper
Doctor Who — “Face the Raven”/”Heaven Sent”/”Hell Bent”
Doctor Who wrapped up its best season in recent history with a three-part story of how far The Doctor will go to save Clara and how far Clara will justifiably go to get a say in her own story. Clara’s early seasons on the show were marked by flat writing, but her departure story is perhaps the best of any companion in the history of Doctor Who and, after two solid seasons of Clara characterizations, it is sad to see her go.
Doctor Who is arguably at its best when it is exploring the tragedy of near-immortality, and this final arc did that so well. When The Doctor loses Clara, he literally goes through his own version of hell (a Groundhog’s Day-like reality that lasts 4.2 billion years) just for the chance to rescue her. When he does find her again, it is clear the two can’t stay together. After all, The Doctor was willing to fracture all of time and space to save her. One of them must have their mind wiped of the other and, after what is essentially a coin toss, it is The Doctor who must suffer the same fate he once forced upon Donna.
Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, and recurring guest star Maisie Williams all brought their A games to this arc. Eighteen-year-old Williams shone in her portrayal of an immortal with shifting motivations who hasn’t lost the ability to empathize after years of loneliness. Capaldi sold The Doctor’s desperation, heartbreak, and unimaginable stubbornness as (more or less) the lone player in “Heaven Sent,” a beautifully-directed hour that was like nothing else seen on TV this year. And Coleman played Clara’s kind of final moments with a ferocity that made me wish she was staying on for many more seasons: “Tomorrow’s promised to no one, but I insist upon my past. I am entitled to that.”
– Kayti Burt
The Fall – “What is in Me Dark Illumine”
While the countless loose ends were tied up throughout the entirety of this season finale, oh so many more were created, including Gibson’s disdain, yet persistent infatuation with serial killer, Paul Spector. The episode was full of intriguing, intensive conversations between the characters. It almost felt hypnotic as the characters sucked you into this toxic and captivating world. This finale really highlighted enthralling performances by Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan, and Colin Morgan and ended with even more questions than what you started with.
– Lindsey McGhee
Fargo – “The Castle”
Oh you betchya that Fargo was going to make this list! Season two of Fargo was arguably the most talked about show on TV this fall due to its brilliant cast, cocksure writing, and an immersive retro setting that heightened the show’s idiosyncratic Midwestern vibe. Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Jean Smart, Jeffery Donovan, and Bokeem Woodbine all gave dynamite turns, but the editors, cinematographers, and directors shined equally as bright, making Fargo a stylish standout in a year full of stellar television.
My favorite episode of the bunch had to be the brutal penultimate hour “The Castle.” The second to last installment of the season was a master class in building suspense and sports a body count hirer than anything that I watched this year, barring Game of Thrones. Expertly using cross-cut editing and a killer soundtrack, the episode sets the stage and introduces the players, but instead of marching them directly to the slaughter, the episode takes its time to let the tension mount while also adding shade to our central characters, like flashy triggerman Mike Milligan, who’s suggested to be less confident than we had perceived him to be. The hour is full of dramatic tension, guilty laughs, gruesome headshots, a bizarre appearance by some out-of-this-world visitors, and it’s arguably more satisfying conclusion on a surface-level than the show’s final hour. “The Castle” is a great encapsulation of Fargo; violent, funny, engrossing, and odd.
– Nick Harley
The Flash – “Fast Enough”
While Netflix superhero extravaganzas Daredevil and Jessica Jones, proved that even superheroes can thrive within the “serious cable drama” format, The Flash was quietly consistent all year long in its efforts to make sure that its audience felt some kind of personal connection with virtually every member of its supporting cast. It succeeded, probably by the middle of the season, but it was “Fast Enough” that drove home just how important that was.
“Fast Enough” not only wrapped up every important storyline and solved every mystery that had been floating around since the first episode, it delivered enough surprises to keep even the most scholarly DC Comics fan guessing until the last possible minute.
Most importantly, though, it laid out in no uncertain terms what being a “hero” means on this show. It’s not about raw power or a tragic past (both of which Barry Allen has by the bag), it’s about selflessness and empathy. Barry Allen may be the hero of The Flash, but “Fast Enough” showed us that it’s not his speed that makes him one, and that it’s often ordinary people who are the real superheroes.
– Mike Cecchini
Game of Thrones – “Hardhome”
The name of the eighth episode in this season of Game of Thrones was entitled “Hardhome.” However, it should have been called, “We’ll Top The Walking Dead in 15 Minutes.”
By breaking formula and having their grandest climax in the eighth episode (instead of the penultimate ninth), showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss prove that differing from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” can sometimes be a good thing. While we only heard murmurings about the horrors of the Battle for Hardhome in A Dance with Dragons when Jon Snow receives a raven from the aftermath, we see Kit Harington lead the bloody expedition himself here. And winter finally came with a vengeance.
The brutality with which White Walker children slaughter pleading adults makes the rest of the Seven Kingdoms’ petty grievances look like fiddling while Volantis burns. And the White Walkers haven’t even reached the Wall yet! The sudden and immediate threat of a wintry apocalypse is stunning, and the quiet close of the dead rising put any other zombie television sequence to shame with its wordless, abject terror.
– David Crow
Hannibal – “The Wrath of The Lamb”
For the longest time I thought that Hannibal (and largely most of television) would be unable to top the remarkable feat that they pulled off in the second season’s finale, “Mizumuno.” And yet somehow, against all odds, Hannibal concludes its most controversial season to date with an even more unbelievable finish than what they did before. Hannibal’s third season made fantastic use of Francis Dolarhyde and the Red Dragon arc of the text (with Richard Armitage delivering a performance that at times was even topping Mikkelsen and Dancy), and it’s shocking that material that’s been adapted two times over now could still be so surprising.
I firmly believe that Hannibal is one of the most artistic, thoughtful shows that has ever been made for television, and Bryan Fuller and his crew conclude all of this in the most satisfying manner. Many fans were devastated over the news of the show’s cancelation, but when seeing how perfect of a sendoff it had, it’s hard to be too gutted over things. Not only does one of the most beautiful love stories of our time in the form of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham come together in the most perfect way possible, it’s done so in a style that’s just staggering.
Bon Soir, indeed.
– Daniel Kurland
Inside Amy Schumer – “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer”
If it weren’t for last year’s Adult Swim brilliant pop-culture existential mind-fuck “Too Many Cooks,” “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” might have been the smartest televised piece of comedy in my lifetime. As it stands, it’s the best half-hour of anything to air on TV this year and deserves mention in the pantheon of all-time great episodes.
“12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” abandons Inside Amy Schumer’s sketch comedy format for an extended full-episode parody of the classic film 12 Angry Men where an all-male jury must come to a ruling as to whether Amy Schumer is hot enough for television. As a parody its pitch perfect; 12 Angry Men is one of my favorite films ever and the level of detail in this is remarkable. But as a social commentary it’s somehow even better. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the whole thing is relentlessly hilarious. Amy Schumer had a big year and it’s admirable while the spotlight was on her she sidelined herself for an entire episode to just be a passive object to argue over to make a grander point and create a tremendous half-hour of television.
– Alec Bojalad
Jessica Jones – “AKA WWJD”
For better or worse, this is a turning point for the show as Kilgrave goes from a looming darkness to a more dimensional threat. Jessica is basically forced into living with Kilgrave in her old home and while he tries to act all nice about it and swears he won’t touch her unless she allows it, it’s still the ickiest thing.
Other than diving into their abusive relationship, the episode is about trying to project Kilgrave as something other than the worst person ever, whether it’s from him, Jessica, or even us. Kilgrave tries to paint himself as a victim of a terrible upbringing, doomed to be a piece of garbage. Jessica is torn by the realization that with the right coaching, Kilgrave could do the world a lot of good. Then we the viewers get to see Kilgrave use his powers against Jessica’s next door neighbor, and I don’t know about you, but I found myself cheering on the unrepentant rapist as he proceeded to mess with and completely humble the lonely, old woman. That’s messed up.
Meanwhile, Officer Simpson goes in the opposite direction. While Kilgrave gains more dimension as a villain, Simpson begins to lose our sympathy as he becomes a shallower and more dangerous threat than what we’ve been used to. It was just an interesting and tense episode all around.
– Gavin Jasper
The Jinx – “Chapter 6: What The Hell Did I Do?”
Before Netflix’s Making a Murder came along, the best true crime saga on TV this year was The Jinx. Perhaps inspired by the success of the podcast Serial, which reignited interest in the true crime genre, HBO and filmmaker Andrew Jarecki teamed up to tell the story of Robert Durst, an American real estate heir that was connected, but not convicted, in the deaths of three people, including his wife. The whole sprawling, too strange to be coincidence tale is dealt out with expert precision, but really succeeds due to the involvement of Durst himself, who agreed to be interviewed multiple times for the miniseries.
Durst may have been the best character on TV this year. With his gravelly voice and black, beady eyes, Durst is startlingly matter-of-fact about his connection to the murders, but steadfastly denies his involvement, despite mounting evidence. His cold charisma and eccentric facial tics would be fascinating if Durst wasn’t a real human being who weaseled his way out of three murder convictions. His creepy unflappability is put to the test in the miniseries’ dramatic conclusion, “Chapter 6: What the Hell Did I Do?” where Durst ostensibly admits his guilt to himself while unknowingly wearing a live microphone when talking to himself in the bathroom just after being presented with a key new piece of evidence. To hear the hushed, anxious, possible confession is enthralling, so powerful that it may have been a deciding factor in the police reopening the case of Susan Berman. Thrills like these are tough to come by, especially when they’re non-fiction.
– Nick Harley
The Last Man on Earth – “Silent Night”
After returning from a unique, controversial debut season, this year on The Last Man On Earth began working on turning this group of deserted misfits into an actual family. All of the angst, love, and ridiculousness that’s been bouncing around these people in Miami funnels itself into this new, stronger dynamic that’s been erected. The first season of this show might have been unlike anything else on television, but this season strived to make it more human and an empathetic vehicle, with “Christmas” being a marvelous example of just how far the show has come.
“Christmas” is nicely a culmination of everything the season has been juggling, with Phil’s appendicitis and Mike Miller’s lost in space-ness particularly coming to a head. The concept of needing to operate on someone when you have next-to-no knowledge on the topic is legitimately terrifying, and the sort of high stakes situation that only this series is capable of. It’s also just a very, very funny episode of television, whether it’s through the unnecessary exhuming of corpses, the colossal sexual tension that’s’ still present, and Tandy’s mouth that just won’t stop running.
Seeing Sudeikis’ Mike Miller’s situation in space expertly handled is also very satisfying and his material is simply stunning. Essentially everyone has a breakdown in this episode and the cast brings some of their most powerful, emotional work out of the show. The final minutes of this episode are as tense as anything out of Fargo or Hannibal this season, making you forget that you’re watching some silly comedy starring a buffoon named Tandy. By the end of this several lives hang in the balance, and this is absolutely the show to have the guts to start offing people when appropriate.
– Daniel Kurland
The Leftovers – “Axis Mundi”
So many episodes from The Leftovers season two are worthy of making this list. From the emotionally devastating “Lens” to the emotionally devastating “No Room at the Inn” to even the emotionally devastating “International Assassin.” Man, this show is really emotionally devastating. But “Axis Mundi” is the clear choice here because it represents everything that was great about this season.
There’s the ten-minute dialogue-less opening that adds a dose of religious mysticism. Then there’s the introduction of a new, exciting location and family (Miracle and the Murphys) combined with the old (Mapleton and the Garveys). The Leftovers answered plenty of questions in season two, while leaving plenty unanswered as well. It’s this first episode, however, those questions are just allowed to linger and we can let the mystery be and enjoy or new surroundings.
– Alec Bojalad
Louie – “Untitled”
Five seasons in, Louie is rightfully known for being one of the most experimental shows on TV. It’s technically a comedy but that classification is really just an excuse for Louis C.K. to do whatever he wants with a camera – tone, genre, or even reality be damned. Still, very few would have expected that outright horror would have been one of the genres Louie wanted to play around in.
Season five was imperfect and uneven but “Untitled” stands among the best episodes Louie has ever produced precisely because it’s unlike any other episode of Louie. Louie deals with a recurring nightmare of a fleshy, eyeless humanoid monster stalking him around from location to location. And to the show’s credit, each nightmare is believably dream-like and horrifying.
– Alec Bojalad
Mad Men – “Person to Person”
Mad Men was truly great in its final season, with several episodes worthy of this list. But it’s the final episode itself that packed the most punch. “Person to Person” has plenty of satisfying fan-service-y moments like Peggy and Stan’s blossoming romance, Joan finally deciding to live and work for herself, and the welcome presence of Bret Gelman.
Still, at the end of the day this is a story about Don Draper and Don gets the ending he deserves: which isn’t an ending at all. Don truly goes through something in this episode, breaking down on the phone to Peggy listing off all of his greatest sins. Then after all the tears are gone and the hugs are meted out, he comes to the conclusion that maybe his life’s purpose is just to make a really, really good Coke ad. Call it cynical if you want or call it a mature acceptance of his own identity. I call it a great finale.
– Alec Bojalad
Manhattan – “Fatherland”
Every young network needs a breakout hit. Some come right away like AMC and its first original drama series, Mad Men. Other networks take years of swings and misses before landing a winner. WGN America could have a breakout candidate as the network waits for the world to catch on to its second original series, Manhattan, a period piece loosely based on the building of the world’s first atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Topping a critically acclaimed first season, Manhattan had quite a few bombs to drop in season two. Yet, it was an episode that was completely contained that deserves to elevate the show’s lead, John Benjamin Hickey, to his second Emmy nomination. “Fatherland,” the second episode of season two, finds Frank Winter isolated from Los Alamos and imprisoned. He’s caught in a physically and mentally demanding mind game against guest star Justin Kirk. The sharply acted and directed episode could be considered a standalone episode, a snapshot of all the great elements that make Manhattan TV’s hidden gem.
– Chris Longo
Man Seeking Woman – “Teacup/Woman Seeking Man”
Man Seeking Woman is a show that earns its chuckles by subverting the audience’s expectations in the most literal of situations. So when the Simon Rich’s rom-com completely flipped premise and title around, the penultimate episode of season one became a fan favorite.
Fantastic work from the underutilized Britt Lower and a brilliant script from Sofia Alvarez topped off a memorable season in which trolls were dated, a texting decision turned into a war room, and Eric Andre closed out the run as a sex slave. If we learned anything, it’s that a woman’s needs should always come first and robots make poor lovers. Abide by the former, and take solace in the latter, single men of the future!
– Chris Longo
Master of None – “Mornings”
Aziz Ansari launched into the stratosphere of television auteurs like Louis CK and Larry David in 2015. Doing an undeniable job at proving that he is far from the trend-drenched bombastic poser from Parks and Recreation, Aziz Ansari opened up to audiences, showing the complicated, empathetic wanderer persona that fits him like a glove. Ansari’s recent comedic endeavors—whether it’s stand-up specials or books—entail a growing fascination with “modern romance” and technology’s inundation into our dating lives. Master of None becomes the most polished take on Ansari’s material, with the original Netflix series debuting to mass acclaim (the series is currently sitting at a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, FYI).
With a stellar supporting cast consisting of comedy heavyweights like Eric Wareheim and Noël Wells (who has finally found her breakout project), and a challenging, honest perspective that eludes most of television, there is a lot to get excited about. “Mornings,” in particular, is a showcase of the series’ storytelling and stylistic abilities, as it perfectly encapsulates the realistic adventure of moving in with your partner. The episode ambitiously chronicles a large portion of Dev and Rachel’s relationship after moving in together, however the entry only presents you various mornings from the timeline as evidence. It’s fascinating to witness how the fun comforts of a routine can grow into a stranglehold, with the repetitious construct seeing expert utilization. Watching the small cracks form here as Dev and Rachel’s relationship goes through the same strains that countless others have is deeply powerful, and it’s Master of None at its strongest.
The episode still relies on a sappy, positive ending, but it’s one that feels genuinely earned. Not only is it impressive that Ansari and company can make you care so much for the Dev and Rachel relationship when we really haven’t actually seen that much of them together, but they also inexplicably cause us to see ourselves in them. “Mornings” honestly feels like a full-blown romantic comedy film, and yet this distillation is only a mere thirty minutes. Knock back a Martinelli’s and enjoy.
– Daniel Kurland
Mr. Robot 1×06 “eps1.5_br4ve-trave1er.asf”
For all that Elliot’s endgame is to take revenge on Evil Corp, he spends a solid amount of the first season of Mr. Robot locked in battle with drug dealer Fernando Vera. Early on, when Elliot manages to get one over Vera for drugging and raping Shayla, it was one of his “hell yeah!” victories through which we viewers love to live vicariously – the hacker outsmarting the dealer. But we didn’t count on Vera coming back so quickly and so brutally–or, rather, his brother, who needs Elliot to spring Vera from the inside.
What follows is a solid heist episode, with Darlene’s half-assed (but very effective) script, multiple double-crosses, and a horrifying ending on the same wavelength as Se7en or Saw: the knowledge that Shayla’s fate was sealed from the start.
This episode also featured, in one of its subplots, one of my absolute favorite scenes on television this year: Tyrell Wellick trashing his opulent Chelsea kitchen in a screaming rage, while his pregnant wife Joanna calmly sits eating IKEA meatballs in a takeout box.
– Natalie Zutter
The Muppets – “Going, Going Gonzo”
The documentary-style Muppet re-launch started weak, but eventually found its footing and became great. This episode takes the new style, works in the characters’ history, and brings something purely heartfelt and uplifting. After a mishap on the set, Gonzo becomes nostalgic for his days as a daredevil and to help him fulfill his dream of performing “the stunt that got away,” Kermit offers to let him perform it on Up Late with Miss Piggy, accompanied by Dave Grohl rocking out.
Gonzo soon realizes how dire the stunt is and feels trapped in what will surely be his televised execution. His interactions with Kermit as well as the climax are completely heartwarming and vindicate this show’s existence.
The other subplots are incredibly fun as well, such as Scooter’s attempt to hang out with the Electric Mayhem in order to break out of his shell and Piggy’s business venture where she’s backed a brand of bottled water that is actually completely gross and unhealthy. Then you have the end credits sequence, where Grohl and Animal have a long-awaited showdown that you simply need to see.
– Gavin Jasper
Nathan For You – “Smokers Allowed”
There’s been a lot of brouhaha and ballyhoo over the season finale of Nathan For You in which Nathan Fielder takes on the persona of another man and, conceptually, I have to agree it’s the most ambitious episode the series has ever done, not to mention probably the most morally dubious. However, in terms of pure entertainment value, “Smokers Allowed” is my episode of choice.
No other episode of TV this year elicited from me such a wide spectrum of feelings. It was all at once incredible, sad, and hilarious that Nathan got some people to believe in his non-play as a true of work of art. It’s stunning what an insane attention to detail went toward recreating an unremarkable night at a bar (during the credits, Nathan’s production is shown playing alongside footage of the night it mimics). And the cornerstone of the episode is Nathan forcing an actress to look him in the eyes and repeat “I love you” 11 times. It’s altogether uncomfortable, bizarre, and oddly a bit moving. “Smokers Allowed” provided me with a unique mélange of feelings that only Nathan For You could pull off and it was easily one of the best things I saw on TV this year.
– Joe Matar
Orange is the New Black – “Trust No Bitch”
The third season of Orange is the New Black was divisive, to say the
least. It dialed back much of the intensity that propelled its complex novel-esque season two to incredible heights that we didn’t realize the first season was missing. Season three was a lot like the third year of another show that I love – Veronica Mars. The momentum had slowed down considerably, the status quo had changed, and important regular characters were abruptly sent away without much warning or fanfare. Plus, Piper and Alex were like Veronica and Logan: they were together, finally, in a quasi-stable relationship that was starting to
get boring. Hence the addition of a “Piz” character Stella to stir things up.
But by the end of the season finale, “Trust No Bitch,” you realize that even if you were confused by most of the seemingly meaningless storylines you sat through this year, and even if everything reached a new level of absurdity, you were actually watching what was a transitional year that doubled as a breather. The final scenes in which most of the inmates run out into the nearby lake and enjoy stolen moments of freedom felt powerfully deserved and long overdue. They were given a break, finally, right before things get crazier. And it was spiritually refreshing.
The lake sequence cuts off before the episode ends to give way to a haunting montage of new female inmates being bused in, new bunks being installed, new possibilities emerging…and a new storm cloud on the horizon. It’s all set to Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and it cuts deep. The juxtaposition of such a emotional power ballad with the ominous shots of prisoners being ushered into Litchfield made me realize that the ladies had actually had it pretty good this year, all things considered, and that the future was going to be a bigger challenge than anyone might expect.
– Stephen Harber
Orphan Black — “Certain Agony of the Battlefield”
Orphan Black sets a gloriously hectic pace as a TV show. It doesn’t usually take the time to linger too long on character-driven hallucinations. But, with “Certain Agony of the Battlefield,” the sixth episode of the third season, it did, giving us Sarah’s visions of her conversations with Beth Childs, the clone she impersonated, but never met. Before this episode, Beth was a character it didn’t seem necessary to revisit. She set this entire narrative into motion with her suicide in the show’s opening scene, but we never really got to know her past what she meant to a few of the other characters. “Certain Agony of the Battlefield,” however, makes an argument for how much Beth still affects all of these characters.
But this episode was really about Paul, the character who was arguably the least developed headed into season three. Before “Certain Agony of the Battlefield,” we never really knew where Paul’s allegiances lay. To be fair, seemingly neither did Paul. But it took his death to find clarity. Beth may be the clone whose death he carried with him, but Sarah was the clone he loved.
Of course, because this is action-packed Orphan Black, this episode also included Allison and Donnie twerking in their underwear while their drug money rains down around them, a usually-empathetic Felix torturing Rachel for information about Sarah, and Helena choosing her sisters in this war against Castor. Orphan Black may be at its best when it slows down to clarify these characters’ motivations, but, even then, it is still one of the most effectively frenetic shows on television.
– Kayti Burt
Parks and Recreation – “Leslie and Ron”
After an absolutely fire emoji final season, Parks and Recreation will go down in history as one of the best network sitcoms ever and maybe even the last of a dying NBC must-see comedy breed. The best episode by far in this truly excellent season was the touching and hilarious “Leslie and Ron.”
The show has always mined the stark differences between Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson for humor but this is the episode that finally figuratively and literally locks them in a room to figure out how two people who are so different can still love and respect each other. It turns out that all any two people truly need to share is a belief that the other is doing their best… and a deep profound love for breakfast food.
– Alec Bojalad
Penny Dreadful – “The Nightcomers”
In what is hopefully the confirmation of a trend, it would appear that every season of Penny Dreadful must now have a flashback episode to Vanessa Ives’ youth. And bless John Logan for doing so, because they are two-for-two now in being some of the best hours of television in any year. With “The Nightcomers,” Ives recalls first true encounter with witchcraft that occurred during a meeting the Cut-Wife, a master of the dark arts, magic, and illegal, but necessary abortions.
It is the last one that proves her undoing as men in the nearby town choose to crucify her sense of compassion, but not before we get a wonderful episode of Eva Green playing off Patti LuPone. LuPone embodies the Cut-Wife, Joan Clayton, with a guarded ferocity and a layered warmth that in one episode created a series highlight. She and Green share some of the best scenes of the year simply via the pleasure of having two great actresses sink their teeth in meaty, concurrent roles.
The episode ends in bloodshed, but like the very best horror literature that inspires Penny Dreadful, it demands to be revisited again and again to savor the atmosphere and divine misery that is omnipresent.
– David Crow
Review – “Happiness, Pillow Fight, Imaginary Friend”
TV comedy is so freaking good right now that the only way to fairly judge it at times is by pure audacity and showmanship. Every episode of Review with its amusing high concept fares well under this test but “Happiness, Pillow Fight, Imaginary Friend” is the season’s best showing in terms of pure high-wire-act brilliance.
Forrest MacNeil is in prison after murdering another human being (technically in self-defense but not really) and is still fielding requests to review life experiences. “Happiness” doesn’t go so well and neither does “pillow fight” but surprisingly adopting an imaginary friend named “Clovers” brings Forrest the only comfort he’s felt in a long time. The unseen, non-existent Clovers might be the 2015 TV season’s best character and the other inmates seem to agree, co-opting Clovers for their own purposes before shanking him to death in an act of vengeance.
– Alec Bojalad
Rick and Morty – “Total Rickall”
Rick and Morty followed up a truly great first season with perhaps an even better second one. Many episodes proved to be surprisingly emotionally affecting in the vein of other “sad comedies” like the aforementioned Review and BoJack Horseman. But the best episode of the season and the most purely hilarious episode on TV this year is the flashback heavy “Total Rickall.”
“Total Rickall” features aliens that reproduce by burrowing into your brain and creating false memories. These memories reproduce until the Smith household is packed to the gills with zany characters that the family has to suss out and eliminate.
– Alec Bojalad
Scandal – “Dog-Whistle Politics”
Shonda Rhimes delivered in this current season’s fourth episode when she tackled how women are portrayed and tainted by the media. Each actor gave stellar performances, including the recently added cast member, Cornelius Smith Jr. playing Marcus who exceled as he stood up and slammed the media as they tried to tear Olivia down. Olivia Pope and Associates has not looked this good in a while, and this episode marked the beginning of a revived crew of passionate, aggressive lawyers on Olivia’s team.
– Lindsey McGhee
South Park – “Where My Country Gone”
Following up a season premiere in which PC Principal vowed to rid South Park of two decades of intolerance and micro-aggressions, “Where My Country Gone” made Mr. Garrison the last line of defense for good ole’ days, when all it took was some fucking to get immigrants to leave our borders. Only these weren’t Goobacks from the future, this time, Canadians—with their weird alphabet, religious customs (facing east at 8 a.m. with a trumpet and playing Chuck Mangione), and Slow Cosby’s—overran South Park.
In a callback to the previous episode, Kyle, so often the voice of reason, is torn apart by the other boys for his “black and white” morality play speeches, leaving two extremes to battle it out: The PC Principal Left and the Garrison “Fuck all the Immigrants to Death” Right. What we got was an episode with non-stop laughs and the best takedown of Donald Trump in 2015 with Mr. Garrison fucking Trump’s Canadian stand-in to death and running on the platform of not understanding “politics, or immigration policies, or the law, or basic ideological concepts.”
– Chris Longo
UnREAL – “Wife”
While the producers of Everlasting had already shown us the lows to which they were willing to sink to wring good ratings out of their contestants, things started to really pick up about a third through the season. By temporarily moving the shoot out of the claustrophobic house to Adam’s withering vineyard, we get to see how the crew handles situations they can’t control as easily. We also get a sense of Adam’s personal stakes, as he wants to use Everlasting’s budget to rebuild and pitch the place to investors. After several episodes of seeming like a smarmy playboy who was only in it for the image rehab, he revealed a rare earnestness. Which makes it even more disturbing when he manipulates his leading ladies into feeling sorry for him sexting his ex-girlfriend while shooting the show.
This episode also marked an obvious thickening in sexual tension that continues throughout the rest of the season. Mary, who is starting to unravel at the seams, realizes she has to up the seduction factor to stay above the other girls. Yet while Adam is playing along with her on-camera, moments later he’s caught up with Rachel in what I still consider the show’s hottest moment: the not-quite-a-kiss that still gets captured on camera. And who could forget the bizarre end moment where Rachel stumbles upon Adam prostituting himself for an investor’s wife in exchange for money for his vineyard? That scene was flabbergasting, intense, and the teeniest bit hot… just like the show.
– Natalie Zutter
The Walking Dead – “Here’s Not Here”
The Walking Dead ended its first half-season on a slightly down note. The concept of spreading eight episodes worth of zombie wrangling over one eventful day turned out to be unsustainable but for the first four it was exhilarating. And few hours of television this year were as exhilarating or affecting as the all-Morgan hour “Here’s Not Here.”
It was risky to take a pause in the action for a longer-than-usual episode delving into one character’s history but Lennie James as Morgan and John Carroll Lynch as Eastman imbue it with more emotional depth than a lot of genre shows are capable of. Lynch, in particular, is amazing in a one-off role and somehow makes a convincing argument that violence isn’t necessary in an inherently violent world despite dozens and dozens of episodes worth of evidence to the contrary.
– Alec Bojalad
You’re the Worst – “There is Not Currently a Problem”
It feels super reductive to classify You’re The Worst as a sitcom but that’s the label usually placed on it which would make it the first sitcom to ever accurately portray clinical depression.
“There Is Not Currently A Problem” takes what was already one of the most clever shows on TV and makes it one of the realest by giving Gretchen (played by Aya Cash) a mental disorder that over 300 million people suffer from worldwide but is seldom addressed on television, let alone realistically.
“There Is Not Currently A Problem” shakes up the status quo for You’re The Worst. Previously, Gretchen’s hard partying and drug consumption were treated lightly, never belying the dark secret that she was self-medicating. It begins an arc that spans the rest of the season in which Aya Cash brilliantly portrays the effects of Gretchen’s depression on not only herself, but also everyone else in her life.
– Zack Zagranis
The 100 – “Blood Must Have Blood, Parts 1 and 2”
The beauty of CW’s The 100 is that it’s not afraid to visit crushing defeat and betrayal upon its protagonists, and nowhere was this deluge of tragedy more present than in the two-part season two finale entitled “Blood Must Have Blood.” Whether it was the sudden retreat of the Grounders or the repeated capture and release of the 47 Arker prisoners, the unexpected turns were enough to make anyone’s head spin.
But even more of a punch to the gut were the morally questionable decisions made by several supposedly good characters in the finale. Based on the many deaths that the show’s hero, Clarke, is responsible for both directly and indirectly, it’s no wonder that she imposes exile on herself. What’s perhaps more shocking is that viewers love the repeated punishment and disappointment The 100 deals out on a weekly basis. It’s masochistic entertainment at its best!
– Michael Ahr