2017 may have seemed like an endless onslaught of demoralizing and downright depressing news, but if you could manage to avert your eyes from the blazing dumpster fire that’s been burning bright on cable news networks and your Twitter feed, you’d be relieved to discover that there’s still a ton of great television to escape with and distract. Like, a ton. Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO, Showtime and all of the cable mainstays, deciding which lauded new series to binge next has never been a more overwhelming prospect. Luckily, with so many expertly crafted options to choose from, it’s hard to go wrong.
It’s difficult, and a bit silly, to definitively determine what are the best series that aired this year when faced with choices as varied as, for example, Twin Peaks: The Return and Nathan For You, so that’s why we pinpointed our favorite episodes of our favorite programs, to give you a taste of what our staff loved and to highlight the very best that TV had to offer. Enjoy and chime in with your favorites!
Better Call Saul, “Chicanery”
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Trials make for great TV drama. Why do you think Judge Judy is the highest paid personality on television? The legal throwdown between the Brothers McGill made for the most illuminating and devastating episode of the series thus far. “Chicanery” widens the chasm between Jimmy and Chuck until it’s irreparable. Years of resentment and anger fuel a 40-minute courtroom battle that leaves Chuck stripped of his pride and, no longer worried about impressing or honoring his brother, pushes Jimmy down the path that will transform him into Saul Goodman.
Utilizing the satisfying courtroom structure allows the episode to deliver weighty monologues, high-stakes reveals, and clear winners and losers, though neither side leaves feeling especially victorious. More than proving itself to be a worthy extension of its parent series Breaking Bad, “Chicanery” proves Better Call Saul can keep you on the edge of your seat even without scientific wizardry, explosions, gunfire, or drug deals, just by showing two brothers figuratively blow up their relationship.
– Nick Harley
The Leftovers, “Don’t Be Ridiculous”
Slightly mirroring the Nora-focused season one highlight “Guest,” “Don’t Be Ridiculous” is an absolutely stunning emotional rollercoaster that not only further highlights fan favorite Nora Durst, but also plants many of the mysterious seeds of The Leftovers’ transcendent final season. Actress Carrie Coon delivers a steamrolling performance so immaculate and dynamic that you’ll take personal offense to the fact that she was snubbed repeatedly by the year’s award shows. Grappling with the loss of yet another child, Nora is like a raw nerve, and she bounces from being tough and resolute to despondent and staggered in all too human a fashion. Somehow she’s able to make a story about the origins of Wu Tang Clan tattoo sound like the most heart-wrenching thing you’ve ever heard. In a season full of memorable, mystifying moments, “Don’t Be Ridiculous” is the most awe-inspiring hour.
– Nick Harley
Master of None, “Amarsi Un Po”
Aziz Ansari’s experimental comedy masterpiece Master of None is not lacking for potential episodes to include on a year-end list. There’s the first hour, “The Thief,” which essentially amounts to an Italian-language black and white indie film. There’s “New York, I Love You,” which tells the loosely interconnected stories of three anonymous New Yorkers making their way in the big city.” And there’s the Emmy-winning “Thanksgiving” that follows Dev (Ansari) and his childhood friend Denise (Lena Waithe) as Denise endures the years long, painful process of coming out to her mom and gaining her acceptance.
Still, the best episode of Master of None circa 2017 is the most conventional—the penultimate unrequited-ish love story “Amarsi Un Po.” “Amarsi Un Po” could not be simpler in its story structure. Dev loves a girl. That girl has a fiancé. That’s it. But the level of raw human emotion that Ansari and Alessandra Mastronardi as Francesca bring to the table is equal parts astonishing and devastating.
Italian Francesca is visiting New York for the month when she asks Dev to show her around the city. As Dev and Francesca share their adventure throughout the Big Apple, it’s clear the two share mutual feelings for each other, leading Dev to ask himself whether he should tell her he’s in love with her.
In many ways, Master of None represents the fears previous generations have about Millennials—with their smartphones and wildly experimental Netflix anthology series, and the like. “Amarsi Un Po” suggests, however, that culture and generations change but the terrifying implications of love remain the same.
– Alec Bojalad
The Good Place, “Dance Dance Resolution”
Time has become a tricky thing for TV shows in the modern era. There was a era in the not too distant past where all hour-long shows were 42 minutes and all half-hour shows were 21-minutes, and there was little room for compromise in any direction. That has changed in the advent of the streaming era, with shows getting more or less time to tell their story as they see fit. On the terrestrial network channels, however, a half-hour is still only 21 minutes.
That’s what makes The Good Place’s “Dance Dance Resolution” so spectacular. It’s an excellent, inventive, funny episode of television but it also flagrantly abuses what little time it has as a resource. “Dance Dance Resolution” burns a whole season (or maybe even series) worth of brilliant ideas in one 20-ish minute package. SPOILER ALERT: Demon Michael (Ted Danson) has “rebooted” the false Good Place after the people he was supposed to be torturing wisened up in the first season finale. Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani uncover the trick yet again in the season 2 premiere, so at the beginning of “Dance Dance Resolution,” Michael has to reboot again. And again. And again. And again. And again. Until before we know it, Michael has restarted Eleanor and company’s afterlife more than 800 times.
“Dance Dance Resolution” fits perfectly into The Good Place’s thematic windows. It’s like a cheerier Matrix where the machines discover just how hard it is to properly fool human beings. Like annoying little Goldilocks’ we can only accept a reality with a very specific ratio of pure torment to pure joy. Beyond that, however, “Dance Dance Resolution” provides the talented Good Place’s writers’ room to continually top one another, which they do so gleefully. Without “Dance Dance Resolution” we wouldn’t have had a mountain of Megan Amram-written food puns like “Lasagna Come Out Tomorrow” and “Beignet and the Jets,” and somehow 2017 would have been even more unbearable.
– Alec Bojalad
Stranger Things, “Chapter Nine: The Gate”
Way back in the first moments of season 1 of Stranger Things, we see our young mop-headed heroes playing a raucous game of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a fitting beginning to an exciting sci-fi series that wears its influences on its sleeves (I mean REALLY wears them) because the best episodes of Stranger Things often resemble particularly satisfying games of D&D.
The finale of Stranger Things season 2 (or just Stranger Things 2 as it insists on being called) is the best episode of the show’s run so far because it’s exactly what every finale should fulfill: it’s a finale. Like a properly constructed RPG game, every player enjoys a role in the ultimate defeat of the enemy. That some play a bigger role than others is a moot point. The Hopper/Byers/Wheeler crew of Hawken, Indiana is a team and knows how to operate like one.
Joyce, Nancy, and Jonathan head to Hopper’s remote cabin with Will to smoke the Mindflayer out of the boy’s body. Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Max, and Steve head into the grody underwood of Hawken to battle some demo-dogs to distract the encroaching evil from the true mission—that is Hopper and Eleven’s mission to “close the gate.”
“The Gate” is such a wonderful, exciting episode of television that knows how to combine beautiful visuals with legitimate, affecting, and emotional moments. No scene encapsulates this better than Jim Hopper and Eleven descending into a creepy underworld so that Eleven can close an interdimensional gate while Hopper protects her with his Badass Shotgun (+3 to attack with a ward save).
That the show caps this all off with a cathartic, yet believable school dance is just icing on the Stephen King/Steven Spielberg cake. Another +3 to Nancy for saving Dustin a dance.
– Alec Bojalad
Skam, “If You’re Sad, I’m Sad”
If you’re not on a particular corner of the internet, then perhaps you haven’t heard of Skam, the Norwegian teen drama that wrapped up its fourth and final season this spring. The web and TV series, which released its episodes in real-time, was so popular both within Norway and abroad that it’s getting an American remake that will “air” on Facebook.
Season 4 followed Sana, a Muslim-Norwegian teen struggling to balance her many identities in communities that didn’t always accept her for who she was, as well as struggled to wrap up the larger narratives of the many characters Skam followed over its four intensely character-driven seasons.
“If You’re Not Sad, I’m Not Sad,” also known as Episode 5, aka the one where everyone sings karaoke, represents some of the best of what Skam had to offer. Sana deals with the microaggressions of her friends and frenemies; Elias gives Sana his perspective on how being religious is not always the same thing as being good, and being atheist is not the same thing as being faithless; and everyone helps Even sing “Imagine” when he falters.
Skam Season 4 wasn’t without its flaws, but it was always a show that believed in the potential good of people, the building of a more inclusive world, and in the power of forgiveness and compassion in a landscape where we all make mistakes.
– Kayti Burt
Doctor Who, “Thin Ice”
Like most seasons of Doctor Who, season 10 was wildly uneven. When it was bad, it was infuriating and when it was good, it was “Thin Ice.” Sarah Dollard’s tale of a serpent living in the Thames during London’s last great frost fair in 1814 was when Bill’s role as the Doctor’s companion really clicked. Here, Bill challenges the Doctor’s ability to normalize the death and injustice that surrounds them while also acting as a much-needed diverse perspective in a story that directly confronts inequality.
From the moment the Doctor and Bill first step out of the TARDIS, Bill’s blackness is acknowledged in active ways. We are worlds away from the Tenth Doctor’s ignorant instruction to Martha that she “just walk around like you own the place—works for me” in season 3’s “The Shakespeare Code.” Here, Bill notes that Regency England is “a bit more black than they show on the movies.” “So was Jesus,” the Doctor says. “History’s a whitewash.”
At its most basic, the role of the companion in Doctor Who, or at least NuWho, has been to remind the Doctor of his, for lack of a better word, humanity. As pickpocketing kids start disappearing into the Thames, and Bill refuses to let the Doctor dismiss his own horrified feelings about the situation. “If I don’t move on, more people will die,” the Doctor angrily tells Bill. But if the Doctor stops acknowledging his response to the deaths of innocents, he will become just like this episode’s true villain: the racist, classist Sutcliffe, who feeds poor people to the serpent under the Thames to make energy cubes and accrue more wealth.
“Human progress isn’t measured by industry,” the Doctor tells Sutcliffe in one of the great speeches of the season. “It’s measured by the value you place on a life, an unimportant life, a life without privilege. The boy who died on the river, that boy’s value is your value. That’s what defines an age. That’s what defines a species.”
– Kayti Burt
Outlander, “Freedom & Whisky”
Outlander is a show that is constantly reinventing itself. This year alone it has been to 1960s Boston, 1750s Scotland, and 1760s Jamaica. This has made for a disorienting season, which hasn’t always been able to pull off the disparate time periods and settings. “Freedom & Whisky” didn’t have this problem, keeping the action completely in 1968 Boston, as Claire decides to return to the past to find Jamie, and Brianna decides to let her mother go.
While some were frustrated with an episode that prolonged the separation of Claire and Jamie after many episodes apart, “Freedom & Whisky” gave some much-needed depth to the relationship between Claire and Bree while also hammering home all that Claire was sacrificing by choosing to return to the 18th century. The show itself indulged in that sacrifice, too, making ample use of its 1960s-setting while it still could with a sewing montage set to the Batman theme song and a thematic subplot involving the trip to the moon.
“How do you take a trip like that and come back to life as you know it?” Joe asks Claire as they watch a televised transmission of the Apollo 8 mission. The first stretch of Season 3 reveled in this question, as both Claire and Jamie struggled to continue on with their lives after knowing such passionate love. Here, Bree and Roger. and even Frank’s mistress Sandy get a chance to revel in it too. Outlander has rarely given so much to do to such a wide variety of characters.
– Kayti Burt
Star Trek: Discovery, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”
When Harry Mudd puts the crew of the Discovery in a time loop in order to pull off the ultimate heist, Burnham, Stamets, and the rest of the gang must learn to trust each other in order to avoid their permanent deaths. The time loop narrative is a mainstay of the Star Trek TV universe, and the narrative framework was exactly what Star Trek: Discovery needed to slow down the larger plot arcs of this series and focus on the people.
“Magic to Make the Sanest Man to Go Mad” is as much about the relationships between the crew of the Discovery as it is about stopping Mudd (though the two are intertwined). Burnham confesses to Stamets that she has never been in love, and he teaches her how to dance; Stamets tells the story of how he and Culber first met and fell in love; Tilly is great at parties; and the Discovery has never felt more lived-in.
Ultimately, this episode is about Burnham learning how to be vulnerable, most especially with Lieutenant Tyler, as well as her newfound family. “Despite my fears to the contrary, I seem to have found my place on this Discovery. An air of routine has descended upon the ship, and even I am a part of it. I’ve made friends,” Burnham says in her personal log. “I guess the truth is, we never really know what’s coming. Sometimes the only way to find out where you fit in is to step out of the routine, because sometimes where you really belong was waiting right around the corner all along.”
Forget war with the Klingons or parallel universes. This is what Star Trek is all about.
– Kayti Burt
Review, “Cryogenics; Lightning; Last Review”
Review’s third and final season came and went so fast that we nearly forgot it aired in 2017. The show deserved much more than just a three episode final season (after all, we named it the best comedy of 2015). Despite the limited episode order, Review was nearly flawless in closing out the story of Andy Daly’s life reviewer Forrest MacNeil. The second season saw Forrest upend his life in every conceivable way and the ending could have made for a great and tragic series finale. Thankfully, instead of cancelling the sadly under-appreciated series, Comedy Central opted to let Daly return for three episodes, albeit bittersweet ones.
Really, there was only so much more ante-upping Review could do before Forrest did something that would either land him in jail or end his life (both of those things nearly happened a few times over). Without spoiling the finale, because you absolutely need to make time for a Review binge, Forrest’s time as host of Review ends in a fitting way that stays true to the character and unpredictability of his series. Review was always a hilarious premise that Daly took full advantage of, but the final episode is as much of a heartbreaking family drama as it is a test of wills for a thick-headed reviewer of life.
– Chris Longo
The Handmaid’s Tale, “Late”
The first episode of Hulu’s multiple Emmy-winning The Handmaid’s Tale introduced the world of Gilead and the second episode exposed us to a birth and the Ceremony, but the third is where they raised the stakes. This episode left me feeling absolutely gutted by the way Gilead so completely denied the humanity of LGBTQ folks on every level. It would certainly not be the last time The Handmaid’s Tale would punch us in the gut, but it was the first time that viewers realized just how bad things would be in this near-future world. Book readers were similarly blown away, as this was the first major invention for the show, beyond a reveal of Offred’s first name.
Alexis Bledel was rightfully nominated for and won a Creative Arts Emmy for her work in “Late,” around which this entire episode was built. We often hear about performances that are restrained, but in this case it’s in the literal sense. During pivotal moments Bledel only has her eyes, restrained body, and muffled cries at her disposal as an actor. There is one long, nearly wordless, uncut (or seemingly so) sequence where we watched Bledel’s Emily and her lover realize they are about to be separated by death. They frantically scramble to express their feelings for one another while bound and unable to speak, and all the while the end rapidly approaches. This heartbreaking exchange grows more brutal as her lover is hanged in full view of Emily as part of their collective punishment for “gender treachery,” before driving Emily away to meet her own fate. As the episode closes, we experience the horror and confusion right alongside Emily as she quietly realizes that she’s been sentenced to a life of pain via Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) for the crime of loving another woman. Alexis Bledel brought the horror of Gilead to life in a devastatingly brutal way with her emotional performance.
– Delia Harrington
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, “Josh is Irrelevant”
Since the show was first announced, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has had to contend with its title, and all the stereotypes and emotional baggage it implies. Fans of the show would often reassure me that, “they totally address that!” which is true, but up until season three they had addressed it by sidestepping and sending up the tropes of hysterical women who become “Stage 5 Clingers.” Season three has taken on Rebecca’s mental health directly, and thus holds its protagonist, audience, and writers fully accountable, perhaps for the first time. No episode does this more than “Josh is Irrelevant,” in which we see Rebecca and her friends in West Covina react to her suicide attempt at the end of the previous episode.
Handling a sensitive topic like mental health and a suicide attempt is difficult under the best of circumstances, but threading the needle is even harder on a show known for zany antics and full-on musical numbers. This episode effectively grounds itself in the very real struggles of borderline personality disorder and behavioral health issues more broadly. We get to spend some time on the varied reactions from those who love Rebecca most, and even recast some of her prior actions in light of her diagnosis. The episode’s title remains in the format of relating everything in Rebecca’s journey to Josh, even when the connection is tenuous at best, as a way of expressing Rebecca’s focus on her ex. But for the first time, Josh feels truly irrelevant to the larger story of Rebecca’s personal journey.
The episode doesn’t let Rebecca off the hook, and it’s proof that comedy can be fertile ground for character exploration and thoughtful exploration of challenging issues. “Josh is Irrelevant” sets the tone that while the playful show is still fundamentally about Rebecca’s antics, that is underpinned by the way a group of oddballs care for one another, and Rebecca’s emotional health will not be relegated to a very special episode.
– Delia Harrington
Twin Peaks: The Return – Part 8: “Gotta Light?” and Part 15: “There’s Some Fear in Letting Go”
The Twin Peaks revival was simply the weirdest thing on television this year. The pacing, effects, imagery, and sound design made for an experience like nothing ever broadcast on a major network before. “Part 8” was unquestionably the fullest expression of this. The first half of it followed characters we knew, but then, after a performance by Nine Inch Nails, any pretense of familiarity was fully cast off, giving way to an extended arthouse horror film exploring the genesis of evil by way of the first atom bomb detonation. It’s a bizarre, gripping hour that boldly and handily redefines what an episode of television can be.
Though “Part 8” deserves every accolade it’s gotten, I did find “Part 15” of The Return more fun to watch. A more conventional episode (if such a thing even exists for this revival), but one that satisfyingly served up equal parts of the surreal and dramatic. It’s got a very cool, extended sequence where Evil Cooper has a conversation with a giant tea kettle.
But it also goes in hard on the character drama, finally bringing closure to the long-unrequited romance of Norma and Big Ed. Further, there’s the achingly sad and sweet final appearance of the Log Lady. Finally, after so many episodes of Cooper being not all there, he shows signs of regaining his senses. “Part 15” is packed with drama, weirdness, and multiple huge payoffs. Plus, it ends on my favorite scene of the entire series: a girl shrieking through a Roadhouse performance. It’s just so creepy and awesome.
– Joe Matar
Rick and Morty, “The Ricklantis Mixup”
Rick and Morty’s third season was consistently stunning when it came to plotting. Almost every episode featured a complex storyline chock full of surprising, inventive story turns and smart gags. Far and away the most sublime showing, however, was “The Ricklantis Mixup,” aka “Tales From The Citadel.” It focuses on a day in the lives of a bunch of different Ricks and Mortys who dwell in the Citadel of Ricks.
What makes the episode so incredible is how deftly and concretely it introduces an entirely new setting with dozens of characters. The Citadel was featured previously, but here it’s been expanded into a full society with a class system. The fact that every character is a Rick or a Morty only makes it more impressive because, amazingly, they’re all distinctly defined from one another. We follow them through plots that smartly riff on conventional storylines (e.g., the cop drama and the coming of age tale), but they’ve been retrofitted into the Citadel setting, so everything feels simultaneously fresh and familiar.
The episode ends with the upending of the Citadel’s status quo, so basically the Rick and Morty team made and unmade an entire society in 22 minutes. Color me impressed.
– Joe Matar
Nathan For You – “Finding Frances”
Nathan For You season 4 ended with the absolutely stunning feature-length finale, “Finding Frances.” In it, Nathan Fielder tries to track down subpar Bill Gates impersonator Bill Heath’s long-lost love, Frances. There are some goofy hijinks along the way (like when Nathan and Bill gain access to a high school’s old yearbooks by way an of elaborate scheme in which they pretend to be casting for a sequel to Matthew McConaughey’s Mud). However, like a lot of Nathan’s work, “Finding Frances” is more uncomfortable than it is funny.
Most of this is the result of an unforeseen subplot about Nathan hiring and dating an escort named Maci. Watching their manufactured, on-camera relationship blossom produced in me such a bizarre cocktail of emotional reactions. It’s at once enthralling, moving, and deeply, deeply awkward television. A scene in which Maci and Nathan kiss in a hotel room made me cringe so hard I could hardly watch. The audience is left wondering where the show ends and reality begins, and loftier questions besides. How much of what we call love is a construct? To what extent are we all playing characters? Nathan Fielder is Andy Kaufman as documentarian and I mean that in the most complimentary way.
There were two incredibly odd, totally unique, must-watch works of art on TV in 2017. The first was Twin Peaks. The other was “Finding Frances.” I don’t think my praise can get much higher than that.
– Joe Matar
Game of Thrones, “The Spoils of War” and “The Dragon and the Wolf”
At a certain point, it is difficult to call any hour of Game of Thrones merely a television episode. With the amount of talent, money, and resources that go into each increasingly eye-popping installment, they eventually transcend into something even beyond most cinema—they become elemental and entrenched into our culture. Indeed, there is only one hour of TV this year that had New York neighborhoods celebrating like it was the Fourth of July, and that’s “The Spoils of War.” Merely the fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ penultimate season, and directed by first-time helmer for the series Matt Shakman (of traditional It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fame), this was perhaps the most cathartic moment of the entire series to date. For seven years, the show has promised Daenerys Targaryen would bring fire and blood to Westeros, and the series finally made good on that potential in spectacular fashion.
As Emilia Clarke’s digital beastie lay waste to Lannister forces, the series was in the singularly unique position of having two fan favorites (Dany and Jaime Lannister) on opposing sides of a battle while trying to kill each other. Emotions were mixed as a dragon rained hellfire in Saving Private Ryan gusts of flame atop an army of “bad guys,” who in turn were crying as they melted away inside their armor. Still think those dragons are cute? Coupled with being the episode where Arya Stark finally came home, it is easily the most fan-pleasing event of the season.
And yet, we also want to give a special nod to the season 7 finale of the HBO flagship, “The Dragon and the Wolf.” While lacking in almost any major CG spectacle until its final moments, the episode instead returned to the series’ original strengths: amazing characters who hate each other being forced to co-exist within small spaces. Gathering most of the surviving cast to King’s Landing’s dragonspit, as if it were a meeting of the Five Families in The Godfather, Cersei got to be supremely arrogant, Tyrion was his old self while playing off his siblings in heartbreaking sequences of resentment, and Jon Snow proved he really was a Stark… by saying something stupid in the south. Throw in the Stark Sisters of Arya and Sansa finally getting the upper-hand on Littlefinger and bringing justice to the weasel after seven years of shoulder-whispering is the icing on the blood-soaked cake.
– David Crow
Big Little Lies, “You Get What You Need”
Big Little Lies is one of those difficult to classify shows. Is it a subversive comedy or disturbing drama? Is it a miniseries or the first season of a TV show? Is it merely good or something truly extraordinary? Well, the season finale answered the last question with this devastating hour that saw all of the mothers of Monterey come together and messily conspire in the murder of an abusive husband. Done without dialogue or even the sounds of his fists trying to shatter Nicole Kidman’s ribs (the bathroom sequence at the top of the episode may be the most disturbing thing ever put on television, by the by), it is all silent glances, and knowing rage that leads to four women standing atop concrete stairs, overlooking a dead monster. Working together instead of competing, they achieve great things in an even greater episode. They also leave more questions than they answered to the authorities, who appear to be in hot pursuit of the group as the season closes. This captures the chaos of life while showcasing all five central and stunning performances.
– David Crow
BoJack Horseman, “Time’s Arrow”
BoJack Horseman is a series that knows how to cut to the core and reflect humanity and all its flaws back at itself like no other program on television. Ever since its first season, the series hasn’t held back with the many mistakes that BoJack makes in his journey to learn how to accept himself. The show’s fourth season shines a light on BoJack’s past and those that came before him, and “Time’s Arrow” is the culmination of all of this. The episode flashes black to the childhood of BoJack’s mother, Beatrice Sugarman, and chronicles how she came to be the one that BoJack resents so much. Not only is the episode a glowing character study and a glimpse into generational abuse, but it also provides an incredible look at the ravages of age and mental illness. Many characters have scribbled out faces and details blur and get obscured because Beatrice’s memory begins to fail. It’s a grueling, emotional installment that’s in a lot of ways the key to the entire series.
– Daniel Kurland
Legion, “Chapter 7”
Noah Hawley’s Legion was one of the biggest surprises of 2017. It’s one thing to turn out a different take on the superhero genre, but this show completely reinvents the game. Legion is a show that does many things beautifully, whether it’s the depiction of memory, how to come to terms with superpowers, or the power of love, with all of that at its best in the season’s penultimate episode.
“Chapter 7” finally gives the audience answers, but it’s also the series’ biggest mind fuck. Two unbelievable set-pieces punctuate this episode. One is told entirely through an animated sequence via chalk on a blackboard that explains David’s long-questioned parentage. The other turns Legion into a silent expressionist horror film in one of the most captivating, terrifying sequences of the entire year (and this is a year that includes a wacked out return of Twin Peaks.) “Chapter 7” also contains the best work of Aubrey Plaza’s career. If this portrayal of the Shadow King technically qualifies, then it’s arguably the best depiction of a Marvel villain on screen to date.
– Daniel Kurland
The Expanse, “Godspeed”
There are few shows better at depicting the true experience of being in space than The Expanse, and in season 2, the series knocked our socks off by giving us an unparalleled sense of the sheer scale of the emptiness of the void. Always a stickler for Newton’s laws, The Expanse uses real science when velocity and acceleration are applied to huge objects at rest like the miles-long Mormon generation ship, the Nauvoo.
In “Godspeed,” the protagonists had to decide how to deflect a massive asteroid headed for Earth, and what better was is there than to ram a gigantic colony ship under construction into it? Not only were the visual effects of the tugboats maneuvering the juggernaut into position incredibly impressive; the heart-pounding action on the runaway asteroid itself was enough to get us jumping out of our seats. “Godspeed” was a show-stopping episode in a season full of stellar offerings.
– Michael Ahr
Timeless, “Karma Chameleon”
NBC’s Timeless was immediately a fan favorite in its first season, and although not all episodes hit the mark, episode 13, “Karma Chameleon,” was a winner: not surprising when you consider that it was originally slated to be the season finale before the network ordered three more scripts. As the title might have given away, the time travel series took a trip to the ‘80s in order for Wyatt to try to prevent the death of his wife by undoing the birth of her killer.
The episode successfully banked on ‘80s nostalgia with pop culture references to Galaga, Manimal, and Rufus’ description of the plan to separate the killer’s parents as “a reverse Back to the Future.” Also, shifting the focus from the main character, Lucy, during a time when she was also trying to change something in her own past, was a refreshing turn for the series. The emotional moments, big reveals, real consequences, and a killer cliffhanger make “Karma Chameleon” one of the best episodes of 2017.
– Michael Ahr
12 Monkeys, “Thief”
The first two seasons of 12 Monkeys were all about preventing the plague by going after who caused it and figuring out why they did it in the first place. Season 3 went after the identity of the culprit himself: the Witness. “Thief” was a departure from the typical episode in that it gave us a closer look at the son Cole and Cassie conceived outside of time whom they were convinced they could prevent from becoming the enemy they most feared.
Featuring Battlestar Galactica’s James Callis as Athan, the supposed future Witness, the episode followed his journey through time as he took an involuntary pit stop in Victorian England to repair his vest. Not only was the episode brilliantly framed by Cole and Cassie reading the narrative in their son’s journals as viewers experienced it through Athan’s eyes; it also was a touching love story that showed Athan as a sympathetic character who simply wanted to avoid his fate. Rarely does genre television pack so much enthralling storytelling into one episode.
– Michael Ahr
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, “Shapes and Colors”
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a hidden gem on BBC America, and it features witty dialogue, compelling characters, and unbridled fun in each and every episode. But “Shapes and Colors” took the proudly weird show to a whole new level as a peace spell was cast on a concert crowd in a failed attempt by the villain to calm the heaving masses so that she could get to Dirk Gently.
What resulted was a uncontrollable outpouring of love between the insecure main characters, Dirk, Todd, and Farah, not to mention a declaration by season 2 fan favorite, Tina: “I want to f*ck everybody here!” Simultaneously, the Rowdy 3 were pulled triumphantly from their prison by Amanda with her newfound powers, and the resulting swell of emotions from Amanda’s success and the breaking of Dirk’s funk was cathartic in the extreme. Fans left this episode feeling positive for days and continued to mention their high on social media long after “Shapes and Colors” had aired.
– Michael Ahr
Broad City: “Witches”
For the fourth season, Broad City decided to move into the winter months. Sure a move like that allows for a change of scenery and a new set of hijinks, however, it turns out that a change of season held a lot more weight given the outcome of the presidential election. “Witches” comments on the Donald Trump win in a way that is so on brand for Broad City; a show that is all about the power and tenacity of women.
In this episode Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer) are both struggling in their own ways. Abbi is feeling the weight of getting older after finding a gray hair, while Ilana is having trouble in the bedroom. Ilana’s story is really at the heart of this episode. Her sexuality is compromised because, “A sexual assault bragging steak salesman has become our president.” But in a beautiful twist, it’s thinking about the powerful women of the world who bring Ilana out of her funk. The predatory speak of Trump is drowned out by Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high,” and Hillary Clinton’s, “Women can get stuff done!”
This episode is so great because it highlights all the ways women can feel suppressed or comprised not only by men but, in this case, by a government who is supposed to protect them. At the end, the witchiness is embraced because women are powerful. They don’t becomes useless just because they age. They can feel powerful, strong, sexual, smart, ambitious and nothing can or should stop that.
– Daniella Bondar
Difficult People, “Strike Rat”
Difficult People is one of the best things to happen to television. It’s unapologetically insulting and rude. And also, brilliant.
Billy (Billy Eichner) and Julie (Julie Klausner) learn that if they carry around a makeshift strike rat they can get into all the NYC hotspots without waiting. In the midst of their new revelation, both Billy and Julie are faced with a moral conundrum. Billy is thinking about pretending to be straight to get six grand through Mike Pence’s conversion program. While Julie gets cast in a new Woody Allen Amazon joint for the part of “Esther. White Female. Over sixteen. Unfuckable.”
Julie decides to take the part in order to try and make some change from the inside of probably the worst show to ever be made. “I’m a mental imbecile but you, you’re vibrating on a sexual energy. I must be your muse.” That’s a made up line from a fake show, but it sums up pretty much every Allen flick ever. The only difference in Difficult People’s fake show is that Julie is over the age of seventeen.
This episode aired before Hollywood hotshots were falling like dominoes, but it is so relevant right now that it should be played on loop until people stop working with Allen. “Strike Rat” perfectly highlights the double standard when it comes to Allen. People, both celebrities and civilians, who are ready to call out Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey will still work with the alleged child molester and line up to see Wonder Wheel. Difficult People got it right while staying true to their take no prisoners approach, which makes this episode pretty perfect.
– Daniella Bondar
Better Things, “White Rock”
Since Better Things premiered last year it has fostered this idea of family and motherhood that hinges on the fact that love is messy and people, even mothers, are human.
Sam (Pamela Adlon) takes her three daughters to visit her uncle in Canada. Sam learns that she has another aunt who grew up in a mental institution that her mother, Phil (Celia Imre), never told her about. Sam decides to track her aunt down only to learn that she passed away. No one came looking and no one knew. While she deals with that ghost from her past, Sam’s youngest, Duke (Olivia Edward) is seeing a dead women on the beach.
There are episodes of Better Things with much stronger messages or better scenes, but this episode provides an ethereal break that really just punches right at you. Each shot is just so beautiful and calming. While so much of the series is fast conversation and bickering, “White Rock” cuts right through that. It’s a lullaby.
– Daniella Bondar
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “ The Gang Turns Black”
What could be said about the Sunny gang tackling racism?
“The Gang Turns Black” is a musical episode in which Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Dee (Kaitlin Olson), Charlie (Charlie Day), Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Frank (Danny DeVito) wake up from being electrocuted only to wake up in the bodies of black people. Yes, of course that’s how goes.
The episode starts off with a musical number, that carries through, called “What are the rules?” Which is in part about being in a Quantum Leap/ Freaky Friday/ The Hot Chick/ The Change Up/ Like Farther, Like Son … but mostly about what the rules are for being black. As the gang struggles to figure out the rules they are forced to deal with their own prejudices, and learn that they can’t act the way they did while in their own bodies. Everyday things become a lot more difficult.
The whole ordeal turns out to be Old Black Guy’s dream. The gang learns nothing of course, but it probably one of the most creative ways that a show has decided to comment on racism in America.
– Daniella Bondar