“The best show on TV” is a lie. No one can confidently call a series the best show on television anymore because it’s laughably improbable and borderline impossible that someone has consumed all of the original content being produced across broadcast TV, cable, streaming platforms, and in other countries. Our staff at Den of Geek watches more TV than can reasonably be called healthy and even we can’t keep up with the constant onslaught of new shows to watch. Hell, Netflix probably added four new series and a standup special while you were reading this paragraph. “Everybody’s on a barge / Floating down the endless stream of great TV,” an English rock star crooned on a divisive album this year, and our TV writers have never felt a lyric so deeply.
So instead of disingenuously listing the best programs that aired in 2018, we decided to highlight some of our favorite episodes, specials, and events. It will give you a good snapshot of our staff’s diverse tastes and the things we appreciated, loved, and obsessed over while hopefully steering you toward the next thing to add to your watch queue. As we surely missed something, sound off in the comments with your favorites.
– Nick Harley
Adventure Time, “Come Along with Me”
Adventure Time ended this year with this wonderful 45-minute episode. It’s a pretty harrowing finale; the Land of Ooo gets all but decimated and many of the characters we’ve grown to love over the past 10 seasons get put in seemingly insurmountable mortal peril. However, most everyone makes it through. It’s a smart way to end things. Adventure Time has never been shy about jumping forward in time to show us that this world keeps going even after the characters we’re familiar with are gone (the finale itself is framed by a flashforward) and obviously we don’t actually want to watch Finn and Jake die on screen.
But things still get donked up enough that it feels like a climax. Some characters do die, while others reconnect, and others achieve a kind of salvation. Maybe the sequence that takes place in a dream is a bit overlong, but otherwise “Come Along with Me” is equal parts silly and sad, with music playing a major role. In other words, it’s everything we loved about Adventure Time. – Joe Matar
The Americans, “START”
We’ve always had a rough idea of how FX’s brilliant spy drama, The Americans, would end. This was historical fiction, after all. The U.S.S.R. would collapse and the Cold War would end. We didn’t know, however, exactly what that would mean for Elizabeth and Philip Jennings.
“START” is a near-perfect series finale. It finds an ending for our characters that is unexpected but not outlandish; one that’s punitive for Philip and Elizabeth’s various sins, but not disrespectful of their humanity. In short, “START” is fair. It’s also a wonderful, pulse-pounding action film. From a stunning, sparse scene in a parking garage, to a simple exiting of a train, “START” knows how to take mundanely American scenery and turn them into a suburban battleground of ideologies and eventually, pain.
And not for nothing but claiming a song as big as “With or Without You” by U2 to be your series official swan song is a bold move and it’s insane how well it works out. – Alec Bojalad
Atlanta, “Woods”/ “Teddy Perkins”
I know, I know. Everyone loves “Teddy Perkins,” but that episode was too over-the-top for me. “Woods” is a much more grounded, but no less surreal, affair as Alfred/Paper Boi finds himself stranded in the middle of some Atlantan woods near the highway. The episode achieves a creepy tone with very little: some (very Twin Peaksian) overhead shots of the forest, a dead deer that Al comes across twice, and the appearance of Old Wally—an unpredictable homeless man who lives in the woods.
Coming near the end of Robbin’ Season, the events of “Woods” are the culmination of a build to a major character change for Paper Boi as he comes to learn that with his growing celebrity status, he can no longer live his life the same way. Furthermore, it’s almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, but the subtle opening scene implies that what Alfred experiences in “Woods” may be, at least in part, about him coping with the death of his mother. A very cool, creepy, sad, and multilayered episode of a great season. – Joe Matar
On “Teddy Perkins”:
You remember the face–pale and taut as though Michael Jackson did a Tim Burton movie. The mere sight of Teddy Perkins (as played by Donald Glover in what unnervingly doesn’t seem like THAT much makeup) was one of television’s most unexpected and terrifying surprises in 2018. The episode that bears Teddy Perkins’ name is somehow even more unnerving…and one of the best television experiences of the year, full stop.
“Teddy Perkins” is a seemingly quiet midseason two-hander in which Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) arrives at Teddy’s house to pick up a piano. The mysterious Teddy seems eager to have a guest…too eager. Darius witnesses Teddy slurping down the contents of an ostrich egg, and observes all the strange curios of his house before he eventually realizes that Teddy might not let him leave.
“Teddy Perkins” works tremendously as a straight-up horror movie from one very unlikely source. But like everything else on Atlanta, there’s levels to this shit. Teddy could be a commentary on the fragile nature of black celebrity, how the sins of our fathers carry into adulthood, or simply the horror of isolation. – Alec Bojalad
Barry, “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, and Keep Going”
Barry, Bill Hader’s dramedy series about a career hitman deciding to pursue a career as an actor, is a Hollywood satire, cringe comedy showcase, and dark character study rolled up into one, arriving out of the gate as one of the most self-assured and impressive shows on television. Hader made it clear while promoting the series that he wasn’t interested in reveling in the show’s violent moments, choosing instead to view Barry’s day job as mundane and uncinematic. However, by refusing to glorify Barry’s bursts of violence, the artificial quality is zapped from these moments, making them seem closer to life and therefore scarier in their authenticity.
No moment on Barry is more frightening than when Barry is forced to murder his Marine buddy Chris after a failed raid on a private Bolivian airstrip in “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, and Keep Going.” Chris had saved Barry by killing a Bolivian at point blank range, and Chris’ reaction to taking another man’s life is far from Barry’s. When Chris starts spiraling and openly contemplating confessing to the police, Barry makes the cold, calculated decision to kill his friend, and then astoundingly just goes about his day. The realization that this kill isn’t akin to his contract murders catches up to Barry just as he’s set to perform at his acting class’ showcase, and the raw emotion allows Barry to finally nail his scene. Bill Hader is incredible in this moment and throughout the episode, somehow earning uncomfortable laughs in the midst of the series’ heaviest moment. As remarkable as this show has been thus far, expect more genius work from Hader to come and for this show to appear on many more Best Of lists in the future. – Nick Harley
Better Call Saul, “Coushatta”
In a season of Better Call Saul that found Jimmy McGill and his partner Kim operating on almost completely different wavelengths, following the shocking death of Jimmy’s brother Chuck, Season 4’s best episode finds the couple entirely in sync and at the height of their respective powers. But this isn’t just the pair at peak performance; “Coushatta” is a textbook example of Better Call Saul at its best, a distillation of this show’s key components.
When one thinks about the universe that co-creator Vince Gilligan has created, which will expand further with an upcoming Breaking Bad movie, the mind instantly conjures a slick montage of impeccably executed, Machiavellian schemes that are as interested in the minutiae of the process as the whiz-bang results. Jimmy and Kim’s con job to make fan favorite Huell look like the Santa Claus of the bayou is a perfect example, uniting them against a common enemy and bringing out their best traits. Jimmy is able to schmooze and slip into playful new personas and Kim becomes a bureaucratic battering ram against an equally steely district attorney. Chock-full of wit, layered performances, tense showdowns, and alternating gut-busting and heart-wrenching scenes, “Coushatta” is Season 4’s turning point and could stand as the last hurrah of the Jimmy-Kim relationship. – Nick Harley
Black Lightning, “Black Jesus: The Book of Crucifixion”
Black Lightning is at its best not when it explores the struggles and joys of Jefferson Pierce’s work as a superhero, but when it explores the struggles and joys of his work as an educator, administrator, and visible leader of Freeland’s black community. Thus season 1’s emotional climax came when the corrupt Freeland P.D. planted Green Light amongst Jeff’s possessions and had him dragged out of his school in full view of his students.
“Tavon, no one wants to see another black man in cuffs today,” Jeff tells one of his students who tries to stop the cops from arresting his principal and mentor. Black Lightning is doing some of the best superhero storytelling on television, and it does it in part by centering black community and family. Anyone can be a superhero, and we need far more diverse representation in our superhero media, and Black Lightning represents without ever forgetting what is inherently unique about being a black person in today’s America. – Kayti Burt
Bob’s Burgers, “Roller? I Hardly Know Her!”
To be perfectly honest, it’s not like this episode blew me away or anything, but then Bob’s Burgers is rarely the kind of series that does that, and that’s the point. This is the best conventional family sitcom currently running and it deserves some credit just for being consistently well-plotted, funny, and full of sweet character moments.
“Roller? I Hardly Know Her!” just feels like it’s got the quintessential Bob’s Burgers formula down. There’s a conflict that resolves with the Belchers technically failing. However, that conflict was never the crux for our characters. In this case, Gene loses a roller-dancing competition, but the important thing is he reconnects with his new best friend. There’s also a side-plot about a woman with agoraphobia who picks Bob’s restaurant as the place she’ll visit to try and get over her fears. It’s such a simple little plot, but it’s so in-line with how this series works that Bob, Linda, and Teddy get deeply invested in helping this random stranger make incremental improvements to her life. – Joe Matar
Brockmire, “In The Cellar”
The penultimate episode of Brockmire season two begins with Jim (Hank Azaria) landing in the hospital due to his excessive partying. It yields a bunch of great STI jokes and the revelation that Brockmire somehow contracted scurvy, making him a medical marvel. The revelations only get bigger from there. Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) organizes an intervention for Brockmire with the only people who still care about him: his salt of the earth sister (Becky Ann-Baker), his adulterous ex-wife (Katie Finneran), his competition Raj (Utkarsh Ambudkar) and Joe Buck via Skype, and his drinking buddy and former ballplayer Pedro Uribe (Hemky Madera). It’s less of an intervention and more of a “circle of adult dysfunction.” Some of the speeches toward Jim are heartfelt, but others are inappropriate and self-serving.
Eventually, Jim flips the script on the intervention narrative (they held it in a bar in New Orleans so he wouldn’t leave from the outset) by viciously pointing out the flaws of the people he cares about. It all culminates in an emotionally tense scene between Jim and Charles that represents a fork in the road of their relationship. Charles won’t continue to work with Jim unless he goes to rehab. After being pressed about his alcoholism, Jim admits that he fears people won’t like him when he’s sober since all of his big wins in life have come under the influence. Seeing Brockmire and Charles at their most vulnerable, and some of the series’ best guest stars add depth to a character we already loved, made this episode a series high point while setting up for a truly shocking and rewarding season two finale. – Chris Longo
Cardcaptor Sakura Clear Card, “Sakura, the Shrine, and the Zoo”
Throughout the Cardcaptor Sakura series, Sakura is often portrayed as someone who can roll with the punches. Give a smile and simply know things will always work out. Here though she finally breaks down, finally admitting that she can’t handle it. It makes the seemingly perfect character at last have a second of true humanity. The moment Syaoran shows up is arguably the greatest moment in the franchise, the way he calmly helps her work through the torrent of fear she’s being overwhelmed by. “It’s okay. I’m here. Are you still scared? Can you take a deep breath?”
This episode shows that sometimes you just need to cry and let someone else help you along until you’re strong enough again. That’s beautiful and so incredibly needed in the world we live in today. – Shamus Kelley
Castle Rock, “The Queen”
If It: Chapter One and the underrated Gerald’s Game were a delicious Stephen King entree of terror, then Castle Rock is undoubtedly the dessert. The anthology series is a much campier exploration of the King universe, one that ties together many of the horror master’s greatest stories, from The Shining to The Dark Tower, in one tale set in the most cursed town in Maine.
While Castle Rock‘s first season doesn’t quite stand with the best King adaptation, there are two or three episodes that really got it right. “The Box” and “Past Perfect” are Castle Rock at its most shocking and, in the case of the latter episode, fun. (“Past Perfect” tells the story of a deadly bed and breakfast located in the most haunted house in the town.) But it’s the Sissy Spacek-centric “The Queen” that takes the cake. An exploration of trauma, aging, and the deteriorating mind of the show’s matriarch, “The Queen” is Castle Rock at its most powerful.
This episode, which sees a confused Spacek (whose character, Ruth Deaver, is suffering from Alzheimer’s) facing off against boogeymen both in the past and present, gets the most important aspect of King storytelling right. When you open a new King book, you might be showing up for the scary monsters, but you stay for the characters, to see how they deal with their demons and how, for the most part, they defeat them. “The Queen” is Ruth’s moment to do just that and Spacek absolutely shines in her character’s most desperate moment.
There wasn’t enough Ruth after “The Queen,” but this episode’s heartbreaking conclusion reverberates through the remainder of the season. If you’re even a tiny bit interested in Castle Rock, give it a watch just so you can experience this excellent hour of television. – John Saavedra
Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, “The Returned Man”
The biggest problem with the first season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina it was that it took until the penultimate episode of its initial run for Sabrina to discover the consequences of her actions. But when she did, yikes. This brutal powerhouse of an installment has the titular teenage witch dealing with the aftermath of bringing Harvey’s brother back to life, not to mention the fact that she deeply unbalanced the natural order of things by trying to cheat death out of claiming her frenemy Agatha’s soul. While all these issues are coming to a head, Sabrina’s friends have their own supernatural encounters that help shed a light on the young Spellman’s true nature.
There’s a lot of fantastic moments in this episode, and indeed the events of the finale seem by-the-numbers when compared to the shit that goes down here. If there is one standout scene, however, it is the confrontation between Sabrina and Zelda, when the former gets a dressing down and starts to realize that, as much as she would like to, she has no right to play with matters of life and death. This lesson is one that Sabrina needed to learn, and she did–seemingly losing her relationship with Harvey as a result. – Chris Cummins
Cloak and Dagger (Freeform), “First Light”
The Freeform adaptation of the superhero duo of Tyrone Johnson (aka Cloak) and Tandy Bowen (aka Dagger) hits the ground running. In this first episode, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball, Beyond the Lights), we meet Tyrone and Tandy as kids, learning about the tragic accidents that inform their superpowered identities, as well as their bond, both of which only manifest years later.
“We wanted to make sure we weren’t just telling white male stories with an actress or telling white male stories with a black man,” showrunner Joe Pokaski told Den of Geek. “We wanted to tell stories authentic to who Tandy or Tyrone were.” This is apparent from the opening sequence of “First Light,” immediately setting the tone for what kind of superhero TV show Cloak & Dagger would be: emotional, intimate, and grounded in contemporary American struggles like institutional racism and poverty. – Kayti Burt
Daredevil Season 3 Episode 8: Upstairs/Downstairs
The third season of Daredevil was the best batch of episodes Marvel TV has ever produced. It not only delivered a propulsive story that broke the Marvel Netflix curse of stretching 10 episodes worth of story across 13, while also giving fans the definitive on-screen portrayal of one of Matt Murdock’s greatest foes with Bullseye. It was a tremendous achievement…so of course it was promptly canceled.
And while the season had no shortage of action (episode four and its spectacular, endless single take action sequence was another strong contender for this list), the best moment of the season (and perhaps in Marvel TV history) came in episode eight, with not a costume in sight or a punch to be thrown. After three seasons, Deborah Ann Woll’s Karen Page finally got to share a scene with Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk. The scene is an absolute powerhouse, the culmination of years of loathing, leading to an incredibly tense moment when Karen says a little more than she should.
Both Woll and D’Onofrio, who had long been highlights of the show were at their absolute best in the scene, and if this is indeed the last we see of them on screen together, they couldn’t have gone out on a higher note. Woll described the season as the culmination of the characters’ “very Shakespearean mutual disgust for one another…It was a great day. It was a snowstorm out when we shot it, so it felt very like we were all stuck in this little sound stage. And the winds are roaring outside and the emotions were roaring inside.”
Dear White People, “Chapter VIII”
The confrontation between lead Sam White and her ex-boyfriend Gabe felt inevitable, yet the ending was anything but. The pair spend this bottle episode talking about the kinds of issues of race and gender that seem to be everywhere these days. Instead of feeling didactic (one of the major criticisms of the show and movie it’s based on), the conversation is completely human and grounded in their relationship. Two people who truly care about each other, no straw men, no excuses. It feels like their relationship won’t survive unless they make it through this crucible, and right up until the end, it still might not be enough.
This episode feels like the antidote to so much of the (warranted) criticism of season one, the movie, and Sam (in-world), about aloof intellectualizing. The show doesn’t let itself (or Sam) off the hook, nor is Gabe allowed to simply poke holes in her arguments. It’s easy to deal in absolutes when everything is in the abstract, but this isn’t a conversation between two avatars, it’s between two fully fleshed out characters who care deeply for one another. As much as Dear White People is fun for its rat-a-tat script that largely preaches to the choir, some of its hardest episodes this season were also its best. – Delia Harrington
Deutschland 86 (Sundance TV), “Dragon Rouge”
Set three years after the events of Deutschland 83, Deutschland 86 catches up with unlucky protagonist Martin Rauch as he is pulled back into the political machinations of the late Eastern bloc by his Stasi agent aunt Lenora. It all comes to a mini-climax in “Dragon Rouge,” which acts as its own standalone action film, as Martin and Lenora get caught in a proxy conflict at an Angolan oil refinery that ends with Lenora leaving her nephew to his presumed death.
In one particularly stunning scene, mercenary Gary Banks’ suitcase of money erupts, sending thousands of dollars in American cash flying through the air. The episode shifts to slow-motion. Soldiers on both sides of the conflict put down their weapons in favor of grasping joyfully for the money, stuffing 100-dollar bills down their clothes as as Talk Talk’s “Such a Shame” thumps along as their synth-pop soundtrack.
Eventually, they all remember they’re meant to be fighting. The scene ends in an abstract montage of guns firing and blood splattering across the falling currency. It’s an overt visual metaphor for the series’ exploration of how economic systems inform our lives, and how greed and the desire for power so often leads to violence. – Kayti Burt
Doctor Who, “Rosa”
It’s been awhile since Doctor Who was a series that was about something. The past couple of seasons under Steven Moffat’s watch struggled to find their own identity, lost in the writer’s love for his own mythology. (Despite the excellent work of Peter Capaldi.) With the arrival of Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and new showrunner Chris Chibnall, this seems to have changed. Now the series appears concerned with stories about how the good work of one individual can change the universe, as best exemplified by “Rosa.”
The Doctor’s meeting of historical figures in the revived series has become as expected as the annual holiday episode. But despite popular opinion, many of these installments have fallen flat. (Plenty of people remember the admittedly excellent final scene of “Vincent and the Doctor,” but the preceding 40 minutes leading up to it were a bit of a dud). None of this is the case with “Rosa,” which is not only the best of these sort of episodes, but one of the finest Doctor Who stories ever told. Written by Chibnall and Malorie Blackman, the story has the Doctor, Graham, Ryan, and Yaz arriving in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, dealing with a racist time traveler who has arrived to thwart Rosa Park’s refusal to give up her bus seat–an act of defiance that kickstarted the civil rights movement. As wonderfully portrayed by Vinette Robinson, Park is an extraordinary woman who yearns to make the world a place of inclusion–and indeed this a theme that recurs throughout Doctor Who.
In lesser hands, this episode could have been a well-meaning disaster. Instead Chibnall and Blackman have crafted a thoughtful examination of how a single person’s actions helped make life better for millions. Like Deep Space Nine’s “Far Beyond the Stars” before it, it does not sugarcoat America’s racist history. Given the current state of this country, episodes like this are needed to illustrate how in times of hate, rebellion and action can shape the future for the better. – Chris Cummins
DuckTales, “Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System!”
The greatest thing about “Beware the B.U.D.D.Y. System!” is just how much it manages to accomplish in such a short run time. Not only do you have a poignant focus on Launchpad, but you also get the introduction of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Fenton/Gizmoduck and an extended Darkwing Duck tribute. You fall in love with Fenton instantly and you learn just how much Launchpad needs acknowledgment by Scrooge. Also, there’s a Tokusatsu style transformation sequence for Gizmoduck. This episode should be overstuffed, but it balances everything perfectly. If you a want a lesson in how to tell multiple stories in a half-hour span, this is a masterclass. – Shamus Kelley
A Spanish-language teen soap opera that somehow manages to evoke Gossip Girl, Veronica Mars, Big Little Lies, and 13 Reasons Why all at once? If you have yet to binge-watch the Élite on Netflix, then you might not believe this possible, but the addictive drama somehow manages to pull it off—and makes it look easy in the process.
Élite centers around the lives of a gaggle of beautiful students at Las Encinas, the most exclusive private school in Spain. Our narrative action begins when three working class kids get scholarships to attend the school, setting into motion a slow-building simmering of class tensions and repressed feelings that eventually boils over into murder.
All eight episodes of Élite’s first season are delightfully addictive, but the season finale—“Assilah”—manages the herculean task of delivering a satisfying climax to the horrific murder that has been teased all season while also delivering cathartic conclusions for the more relatable, lower-stakes storylines that make this show so emotionally resonant. – Kayti Burt
The Expanse, “Immolation”
It was very cruel of Syfy to give us such an amazing episode of The Expanse the week after announcing its cancellation! Luckily, Amazon saved the show giving us more to look forward to in 2019. Regardless, “Immolation” had everything, from Bobbie’s soaring chase to Holden’s reconciliation with Naomi, and it was all perfectly paced and played for maximum emotional impact, whether chillingly frightening, deeply poignant, or otherwise. This episode likely even satisfied readers of the Corey novels, who saw scenes they expected and eagerly anticipated rendered flawlessly on the screen—including the emergence of the Ring from Venus that became so important to the rest of the season. Wow, what a visual!
“Immolation” was a turning point in season 3 in that past moments of dishonesty or betrayal were cast aside in the name of survival. With the protomolecule hybrids being launched in deadly numbers toward Mars, Naomi could have gone to Fred and the OPA without consulting her crew family, but she didn’t. And once the group decided together to get Tycho’s help, the irony of Fred using Earth’s stolen nukes to win the day was not lost on viewers.
On top of its narrative successes, “Immolation” was unmatched for its action sequences that kept fans on the edge of their seats. With Prax on the verge of killing a man, Bobbie going after a hybrid in her power suit, Naomi trying in vain to stop the pod launches, and Cotyar making the ultimate sacrifice, there was plenty of excitement to be had. Plus the naked smooches between Holden and Naomi certainly didn’t hurt. – Michael Ahr
The First, “Two Portraits”
Hulu’s The First, from House of Cards creator Beau Willimon and starring a chiseled and appropriately stoic Sean Penn, failed to capture much attention with its debut season, set in the near future and centered on the first manned mission to Mars. Perhaps things are too scary here on Earth to get swept up in a head-in-the-stars tale or maybe The First’s uneven pacing and grounded, science and civics-based approach to the material left viewers feeling cold. Still, just because The First wasn’t one of the year’s best shows doesn’t mean it wasn’t capable of delivering one of the year’s finest hours.
Leaning into the father-daughter story that is the true heart of The First and wisely focusing on Denise (Anna Jacoby-Heron), the daughter of widowed astronaut Tom Haggerty (Penn), “Two Portraits” dives into the Haggerty family’s history from Denise’s wounded perspective. Racing through the relationship of Tom and his troubled wife, Denise’s childhood, and the pain that Tom’s previous mission to the moon caused, it’s an ambitious, tour de force episode that explores memory, illness, addiction and grief. Deploying disorienting time-jumps and an almost black box theater technique, it is one of the rare hours of television that equally stands out for substance and style, painting a complete portrait of a broken family. Jacoby-Heron surely is a soon-to-be star after delivering such a dynamic, raw-nerve of a performance. – Nick Harley
The Flash/Arrow/Supergirl: Elseworlds
The annual Arrowverse crossover left Legends of Tomorrow out of the party this year, but that’s because it had enough work to do without adding another ensemble to its ambitious three episode story. From a comedic body swap between Barry Allen and Oliver Queen, to the return of Tyler Hoechlin as Superman, a special appearance by John Wesley Shipp as the original TV Flash (classic costume and all) and the introduction of Elizabeth Tulloch as Lois Lane and Ruby Rose as Batwoman, “Elseworlds” could have collapsed under the weight of its own fan service.
Ah, but it didn’t. The body swapping was an excellent way to explore what makes Flash and Green Arrow so special as heroes, Supergirl was never overshadowed by her cousin, and Batwoman made a credible case for her spinoff show that will arrive next year. All that would have been enough, but then throw in a setup for a TV adaptation of one of the most famous DC Comics events in history, and you have a recipe for one of the most elegant, unapologetic weeks of superhero TV of all time. Whether it’s the result of perfect casting, respect for the source material (and the audience’s intelligence), or some other multiversal alchemy, DC fans have never had it better than they did with “Elseworlds.” – Mike Cecchini
GLOW, “The Good Twin”
In the age of supposed Peak Television, it’s nice to see a freshman darling actually transcend its initial peak. One of the funnier and more insightful comedies of 2017, GLOW is debatably the comic MVP of 2018, featuring a daft 10-episode journey into syndicated exploitation glory. While much of season 2 landed with crescendoing delight, the highest crest in its lunatic waves is “The Good Twin,” aka the bad TV show trapped inside of a great one.
Near the end of the second season, Alison Brie’s Ruth has been wrecked and seemingly ruined by one of their own, her former BFF and erstwhile frenemy Debbie (Betty Gilpin). With a bum leg, it should be impossible for her to continue acting on the wrestling series that has given her so much purpose and joy. But that’s only true if it were a traditional television show. Fortunately for viewers at home, both in the series’ 1980s setting and streaming today, GLOW isn’t a regular weekly smackdown; it’s a showcase for often overlooked and marginalized female talent who can, finally, let their freak flag fly.
The show leans into the low-budget and amateurish quality one associates with a Sam Sylvia production, but the beauty of this episode is that when no one pays attention to these ladies, they can at last indulge in true creative inspiration and transgressive hilarity, such as Ruth pretending to be the disabled “good twin” of her evil Soviet character, Sheila the She-Wolf (Gayle Rankin) demonstrating for men what happens when you don’t take “no” for an answer, and a deliriously on-the-nose parable where “Britannica” (Kate Nash), the alleged smartest woman in the world, trades away her brains for a slab of man meat that was originally a mannequin.
It’s all bizarre and also quite brilliant. Giving its entire female cast a chance to shine, from glossy musical numbers to actual in-the-ring brawls, “The Good Twin” transforms a it’s-so-bad-it’s-good series within a series into something grand. – David Crow
The Good Place, “Somewhere Else”
Through two seasons The Good Place had conditioned its audience to be surprised. But The Good Place Season 2 finale (season 2 ended in early 2018 while the majority of season 3 has aired in 2018 and will be concluded in January) delivers something much deeper than mere surprise. “Somewhere Else” is equal parts twisty storytelling and emotional fulfillment.
“Somewhere Else” essentially delivers what is to be the third season’s premiere in the season 2 finale. Eleanor and company begin the episode in the Judge’s celestial chambers, waiting for demon-turned-nice-dude Michael to come up with a solution to save their souls. Michael gets the Judge (Maya Rudolph) to agree to a sort of redo and just like that, we’re back on Earth… with an astonishing amount of episode still left to go.
“Somewhere Else” upends what’s possible for The Good Place once again. Not only that, it does so in an astonishingly emotional and affecting fashion. Eleanor’s life back on Earth is a perfectly told little parable of being a good person sometimes seems so much harder than it really is. – Alec Bojalad
The Haunting of Hill House, “Two Storms”
More and more, it seems like with every new TV season comes another definitive “tracking shot” episode. Audiences have proven time and time again that we’re suckers for long, uninterrupted takes. Sometimes you worry the market will get oversaturated with conspicuously creative camerawork. Then you get something like The Haunting of Hill House’s “Two Storms” this year.
Yes, “Two Storms” is the proverbial tracking shot episode. It’s also much more. “Two Storms” takes place in two locations over two timelines. In the first, the adult Craine children try to deal with a very stressful, very stormy wake for a loved one. In the second, we see the young Craine family in the past at Hill House as a sudden storm threatens to blow out the windows and tear down the walls.
The camerawork here isn’t merely for show. It helps to put viewers right beside the Craine children in both the funeral home and the haunted house. In just one episode of television, The Haunting of Hill House provides a truly realistic, chilling depiction of a wake and also produces a truly standout, truly terrifying haunted house short story. – Alec Bojalad
Inside No. 9, “Dead Line”
Inside No. 9 is a British anthology program that weaves deliciously dark comedic stories, but it’s also no stranger to pushing the envelope, whether it’s with an entirely silent episode, an episode that’s told in reverse chronology, or an installment that’s completely done in iambic pentameter. However, “Dead Line” is truly the series’ crowning achievement. “Dead Line” was built up as an ambitious live episode of the series, but within the first few minutes it appears that audio technical difficulties begin to crop up. Multiple glitches continue to occur until the network’s continuity announcer apologizes and announces that the live episode will air at a later date and instead a repeat will air. The repeat begins to air for several minutes until it’s revealed that all of this has been an intentional part of the episode’s brilliant conceit. It’s the television studio itself that is haunted, which is the cause for these technical errors.
Apparently, this dedication to the craft caused 20 percent of the program’s audience to change the channel, unaware of the gag, and the rest of the installment continued to have fun and take advantage of the “live” angle. What’s incredible here is that beyond all of these impressive twists, the episode still crafts an intelligent, frightening story that even dips into the history of the network to tell its ghost story. Astonishingly, amidst all of these extra touches, all of the episode was still performed live, right down to the episode’s score. It is without a doubt the most elaborate, creative piece of television that aired all year and a new benchmark for avant-garde TV. – Daniel Kurland
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “Mac Finds His Pride”
Since nothing made sense in 2018, it was totally on brand that the year’s most poignant television moment would come to us via It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The long-running FXX sitcom about a group of Philly-based miscreants wrapped up its 13th season with “Mac Finds His Pride,” a stunningly non-traditional episode that examines the pain of the coming out experience.
In this episode, written by show creator Rob McElhenney, Mac (portrayed by McElhenney) finds himself yearning to fit in with the LGBT community as Paddy’s Pub prepares a float for Philadelphia’s Gay Pride Parade. Although Frank (Danny DeVito) freely admits that he never really understood Mac–a feeling that has grown exponentially since he came out of the closet–he decides to help him anyway, guiding him through several gay subcultures with typical Always Sunny results.
Then comes the game-changing third act of the episode in which Mac decides that the only way he will truly be comfortable with himself is by showing his true self to his criminal father. He does just this, then immediately launches into a choreographed dance with Kylie Shea that visualizes the internal tumult of the coming out experience. To the haunting sounds of Sigur Rós’ “Varúð,” McElhenney and Shea (a highly skilled professional dancer) present a triumphant five-minute sequence that is unlike anything the show has ever attempted. The dance serves as a cathartic experience for Mac and Frank, who finally gets what his friend has been going through. It’s impossible to think of how the show can return to its status quo after this moment, but even if it does, “Mac Finds His Pride” will still be a landmark LGBT television moment. – Chris Cummins
Joe Pera Talks With You, “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements”
So many programs on Adult Swim pride themselves in their ability to shock or offend their audiences, which is why the humble and wholesome Joe Pera Talks With You is such a breath of fresh air for the network. The show carries an incredibly earnest, genuine attitude as each episode sees Joe Pera calmly explore a new area of interest. Pera’s journey into these topics is always entertaining, whether the subject is iron, breakfast, or the Rat Wars of Alberta, but true gold is found in “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements.”
Despite its title, this episode revolves around Pera encountering the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” for the first time and the experience irrevocably changes his life for the better. It’s inexplicably cathartic to watch Joe Pera bliss out over his new favorite song and his frantic attempts to try to put the music’s majesty into words. Joe Pera Talks With You is all about finding the joy and beauty in the mundane and no episode expresses that better than “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements.” It’s a moving tribute to something simple and it’s impossible to not get caught up in Pera’s enthusiasm. – Daniel Kurland
12 Monkeys, “The Beginning”
There were a lot of five-star reviews in the stellar final season of Syfy’s 12 Monkeys, but much of the success for the legacy of the show hinged on nailing the finale. And wow, did it ever! In a two-hour cinematic tour-de-force, the time travel show managed to wrap up loose ends, bring forward references that appeared as far back as season 1, deliver unmatched action and special effects, and even—against all reasonable expectations—give fans a happy ending. It shouldn’t have been possible!
Even the epilogue gave viewers hints as to how many of the characters, some of whom had died in earlier iterations of the timeline, lived out their lives after the events of the finale. Despite knowing that tragedy could be undone by time travel, 12 Monkeys managed to keep the stakes at the highest possible level and to maintain the idea that the ultimate sacrifice would be needed to undo the damage done by the Army of the 12 Monkeys and the Witness. There was even a shot of a red leaf before the credits rolled for those who chose a darker, red-forest-related interpretation of the final moments. Brilliant! – Michael Ahr
Killing Eve, “Nice Face”
It’s hard to choose just one episode of Killing Eve’s excellent first season. The BBC America spy drama from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the creator of Fleabag, is a quirky, feminist subversion of the spy drama genre that keeps viewers on their toes throughout all eight episodes. Still, “Nice Face” holds a special place in my heart as the original and the hour that introduced these two enigmatic characters: Eve (Sandra Oh), the MI6 agent who dreams of getting out in the field, and Villanelle, the Russian assassin who revels in her job.
This series opener is violent, funny, pretty, and oh, so cool. It’s a mission statement for the show moving forward: a game of cat-and-mouse filled with female characters who are hyper-content, angry, and often unabashedly unlikeable. “Nice Face” is a promise of what’s to come that doesn’t pull any of its punches in the meantime. – Kayti Burt
Legion, “Chapter 14”
Legion’s first season already pushed the limits of what was possible in not only a comic book adaptation, but also television as a whole. The show’s sophomore year doubled down on the ambitious storytelling and turned out quite the controversial season of television that was too much for some, but always visually fascinating and innovative. Legion is a series that’s not afraid to go off on tangents and dive into rabbit holes and this season’s “Chapter 14” is a marvelous example of just how far those detours can be pushed. The result is one of the most creative and unusual episodes of the year.
In what’s essentially Legion’s version of “Tales From the Citadel” from Rick and Morty, the episode splinters into several different realities that look at what David’s life would be like if he made different decisions. Several powerful alternatives of David’s reality are presented and the episode acts as a brilliant way to maturely tackle the multiverse concept. What makes this stylistic experiment even more impressive is that David goes into this safeguarded mental state to explore what else is out there because the events of real life become so drastic that he wants to run away and hide. It doubles as a unique take on repression and compartmentalization. Oh, and there’s also a bonkers Clockwork Orange riff on top of everything else! – Daniel Kurland
The Magicians, “A Life In The Day”
The Magicians had its ups and downs in its first two seasons, but the third season was firing on all cylinders. Nowhere was the story more in tune with the magic of Fillory and the amazing chemistry among its characters than in “A Life in the Day,” an episode that, like several others in the quest-oriented season, featured the search for one of seven magical keys. Because the series has been able to employ time travel quite successfully when needed, this particular key was hidden in the storybook world’s past with a seemingly impossible puzzle to solve, which was intriguing enough on its own.
Amazingly, though, it was a montage of Eliot and Quentin trying to piece together a mosaic over the course of years that brought such depth as well as the episode title to “A Life in the Day.” Not only did #Queliot shippers get a kiss that will live on in their memories for seasons to come; they also felt the joy of Quentin’s fatherhood and the pain of Eliot’s death after a long and fulfilling life. Then, just as suddenly, the quest was solved and the pair was returned to their original lives with only a day having passed. But they remembered their life together, and so will we — forever. – Michael Ahr
Maniac, “Option C”
It is impossible to limit the intoxicating nuttiness of Maniac to one episode. As conceived for American audiences by Cary Joji Fukunaga and Patrick Somerville, the show resembles less a traditional television series in its structure than a novel, and its temperament is likewise highly cinematic. Refreshingly so. As such, nearly every episode of varying chapter-length offers a chance for actors and filmmakers to brush off world-building in favor of aesthetic and tonal experimentation. It would be easy to celebrate just “Furs by Sebastian,” the Coen Brothers-esque half-hour where Emma Stone and Jonah Hill wallow in Long Island accents and hairstyles. I’m also quite partial to “Utangatta,” in which Hill and Stone go the full Dr. Strangelove via sardonic violence and peculiar Icelandic accents during absurdist geopolitics.
Yet for my money, the single best episode is the one where all such fantasy pretenses are put away and the characters are forced to live in the pseudo-real world with their diminished expectations… that have nevertheless grown slightly more cheery. After the drug experiment that precipitated Annie and Owen’s delusions ends in abject failure, both return to their lives, attempting to pretend the experience meant nothing. But even if they cannot find the secret to happiness in a pill, their connection to each other builds something deeply affecting for the characters and viewers.
Hill has never been better than when Owen commits familial suicide on a witness stand and admits his brother is a rapist. Suddenly his sad sack routine in dramatic roles has a jagged edge of defiance to it. And Stone’s subtle merging of Annie’s personalities with her past lives, including Lin’s thick outer-outer borough drawl, is a cathartic delight when she springs Hill from his mental health hell. This is a true final ending but not a TV finale; they’re not even sure they have a car that can get out of the state, much less to Annie’s dream of Salt Lake City. Happiness around the corner is not a guarantee, but their triumphant escape is nonetheless the antithesis to the romantic doom of The Graduate denouement it echoes. Life will always be hard, depression or not, but human connection can make it satisfying. And in this particular moment, it’s deliriously giddy, right down to Dan Romer’s phenomenal score (the best on TV this year). It doesn’t even matter that we never fully learn what an “Ad Buddy” is, what matters is the world it helped create feels full and complete, even if such notions remain elusive for its characters. – David Crow
The Mick, “The Juice”
FOX’s The Mick was truly too good for this world. It delivered two incredibly sharp, outrageous seasons of comedy and gave Kaitlin Olson a playground to show off her comedic range even more effectively than she does on It’s Always Sunny. The Mick’s second season went for broke and by the end of the year there wasn’t a character who hadn’t had a limb severed off or suffered some kind of major injury. The episode “The Juice” is largely just a regular episode of the series, but that’s kind of what makes it so great. The fact that this level of insanity is the show’s baseline is a testament to the exaggerated lengths that this show would go to for comedy.
The specifics of the episode see Mickey getting increasingly in over her head with a gambling debt that she ropes Chip and his friend into as well. It makes for a strong example of how simple storylines will spiral out of control and that the show doesn’t cheat its way out of its problem. The episode also features Jimmy reluctantly kicking the asses of an entire girl’s soccer team and the brutal display is without a doubt one of the funniest pieces of physical comedy of 2018. – Daniel Kurland
New Girl, “Engram Pattersky”
New Girl’s seventh season came as a last-minute surprise to most people—cast included. However, the truncated final year that jumped three years forward in the future turned out to be the perfect swan song for the series. Eight episodes was just enough time to introduce and wrap up new storylines and push all of the show’s characters to new places. This is best encapsulated in the show’s series finale, “Engram Pattersky,” which is basically one big love letter to the show and its characters.
“Engram Pattersky” sees Jess and friends come to terms with saying goodbye to one another, just as the audience does the same thing with the series. It’s the perfect capper to the series that attempts to cram as much fun as possible into its 22-minutes. Not only does “Engram Pattersky” accomplish its goal, but it also goes out on an incredibly surprise twist ending and a reminder that Winston Bishop is one of the most underrated characters in sitcom history. – Daniel Kurland
Riverdale, “A Night to Remember”
Leave it to Riverdale to be audacious enough to center a musical episode around an infamous 30-year-old Broadway dud. But the series did just that in the second season offering “A Night to Remember.” Using a Riverdale High staging of Carrie: The Musical as an excuse to examine how the series’ characters fit into classic teenage archetypes (the rich girl, the outsider, etc.), this hugely self-aware installment also reignited the somewhat stagnant Black Hood storyline with a (spoiler alert) shocking murder of a supporting character during a climactic musical number.
Packed with songs that are cleverly appropriate for both the Carrie and Riverdale characters, “A Night to Remember” allowed showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who none-so-coincidentally also penned the Carrie remake a few years back) to mash up his biggest showbiz interests into one highly satisfying gestalt entity of storytelling that, for musical theater lovers, does the seemingly impossible by redeeming a show that was previously considered a laughing stock. – Chris Cummins
Star Wars Rebels, “A World Between Worlds”
Star Wars Rebels was largely hit or miss in its second and third seasons, but it really got its act together in its final year of adventures, as the rebels faced off against the Imperial war machine led by Grand Admiral Thrawn as well as the powerful Sith trying to exterminate the Jedi once and for all. The ongoing war against the Empire takes Ezra, Hera, Kanan, Sabine, Zeb, and Chopper from Mandalore back to Lothal, Ezra’s homeworld and the focal point of the series. It’s here where these rebels face their biggest challenge, as they try to free the planet from the Emperor’s clutches.
When Kanan dies while helping his friends escape an Imperial onslaught on Lothal, Ezra suddenly finds himself against a wall and without a mentor to help him complete his training as a Jedi. In “A World Between Worlds,” the already legendary episode that introduced the concept of time travel to the Star Wars universe, Ezra has a chance to save Kanan from his sad fate by traveling through a mysterious portal inside a Jedi Temple.
Ezra’s decision at the end of the episode is heartbreaking, although necessary to his continued mission to free Lothal and become a Jedi. Along the way, he witnesses the past, present, and future of the Star Wars saga, faces off against the Emperor, and even reunites with Ahsoka. “A World Between Worlds” is basically the Star Wars Rebels episode fans had been waiting for and it absolutely delivered. – John Saavedra
The Shivering Truth, “Pilot”
The weirdos behind The Shivering Truth, PFFR, were also responsible for Xavier: Renegade Angel, Wonder Showzen, and The Heart, She Holler, series that were equal parts comedic and nightmarish. The Shivering Truth’s pilot, though still hilarious in places, makes immediately evident that it’s going to lean heavily on the nightmare fuel as it comes roaring disturbingly out of the gate with a vignette about a girl with a lump on her back that gets salvaged for lunchmeat.
The pilot only gets more bonkers (or bonkers-er) from there with a tale about a guy (voiced by Michael Cera) who runs a private suicide hotline (he talks people into doing it rather than not) and then an extended fable about a war between butterflies and the Balinese. Like PFFR’s past best work, it’s gross and unsettling stupidity that feels somehow profound. Constantly subverting conventions, The Shivering Truth pilot brilliantly establishes the internal logic of the series as the story progresses in the most unexpected, yet still coherent way possible at every turn. Mind-rending stuff! And the rest of series (six more episodes all discoverable online) doesn’t let up one iota. – Joe Matar
Silicon Valley, “Tech Evangelist”
Like the Silicon Valley from which it takes its name, things move fast on Silicon Valley. For five years now the show has charted the ups and (many) downs of Richard Hendrix’s start up, Pied Piper, in satisfyingly thorough ways. Usually the best episodes of Silicon Valley contain massive, existential threats to Pied Piper so that we can experience the hilarious thrill of how Richard and friends do or don’t defeat them.
Season 5’s fourth episode, “Tech Evangelist,” is a little bit different. As a midseason episode, the stakes aren’t quite as large. Richard is trying to bring more gaming companies into the fold to use his Piper Net “new internet” service. In the process, Richard accidentally “outs” one of the CEOS of a company – not as gay (though this CEO is) but as a Christian. Unexpectedly this causes problems as a lot of the other CEOs don’t want to work with someone like that.
Every episode of Silicon Valley satirizes the real Silicon Valley to a certain extent but “Tech Evangelist” does so in such a refreshingly weird and creative way that it becomes the best episode of the show’s fifth season. – Alec Bojalad
Steven Universe, “What’s Your Problem?”
The way Steven Universe deals with weighty emotional issues never ceases to amaze and inspire but this episode took it to another level. It plays with the expectations of why Amethyst is avoiding really talking with Steven. The powerful revelation that she doesn’t want to burden him with her baggage is especially effective because it isn’t an edgelordy moment.
It’s Amethyst demonstrating how much she’s matured over the series and her acknowledgment that Steven needs more help than her right now. The series never shames her for dealing with those emotional issues on her own; it’s presented as just her way of working through things. That’s simple and yet so powerful. – Shamus Kelley
Succession, “Which Side Are You On?”
Begrudgingly left out of our Best Comedies of 2018 list because it’s technically a drama, Succession was consistently one of the funniest shows on TV and the sleeper hit of the summer. A thinly fictionalized version of the Murdochs that operated more like Arrested Development’s Bluth family, the Roy clan of Succession is a dysfunctional, contemptuous bunch squabbling for power while hurling insults as sharp and inventive as you’d find in fellow HBO hit and Emmy darling Veep. When Roy patriarch Logan (the hilariously cantankerous Brian Cox) refuses to hand his media company over to his primed son Kendall (Jeremy Strong) after an 18-month preparation process, and again after a life-threatening stroke, Kendall schemes with his other siblings to grab control of the company against his father’s will.
That power struggle comes to a head in “Which Side Are You On?” when Kendall orchestrates a vote of no confidence against his father in a board meeting. However, after scrambling and hobnobbing to secure the needed votes, Kendall finds himself stuck in NYC traffic and must climactically run through the streets of Manhattan to arrive to the meeting on time. When he gets there, his father’s sneering reaction is so visceral that it causes Kendall’s smarmy, spineless brother Roman, among others, to go back on their word, causing Kendall to lose the vote and be promptly fired by Logan and shunned from the family. It’s an expected outcome, as Kendall beating Logan would have ended the series’ central conflict too quickly, but that doesn’t make the moment any less brutal. Kendall’s stunning defeat also sets the series up nicely for the back half of its season, where the show really found its groove, as the family tries to stitch itself back together after almost tearing each other apart. – Nick Harley
The Terror, “A Mercy”
The Terror is the historical horror drama you’ve been waiting for. The tale of a British Navy expedition into uncharted Arctic waters, the first season of this anthology series is based on the true story of two ships that became stuck in the ice during a search for the mythical Northwest Passage through the North Atlantic. The series does a great job of exploring both the factual evidence and the campfire stories told about the ill-fated expedition, mixing a man vs. nature survival story akin to the work of Jack London with a supernatural monster tale most reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
If that comparison whet your appetite, wait until you watch the first season’s very best episode, “A Mercy.” After months of being trapped in the ice with no hope of freeing the ships, the men in charge decide that it’s time to go on foot to the nearest outpost many miles away. But before their journey, one of the captains organizes a carnival on the ice to boost his men’s morale. What proceeds is a surreal dive into what feels like another plane of existence as the camera takes us through the different corners of this tented carnival, as the men try to hold on to whatever sanity and hope they have left. Unfortunately, this party doesn’t turn out to be the relief they hoped for… – John Saavedra
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, “Party Monster: Scratching the Surface”
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has this charming habit of being six to 18 months behind the latest pop culture trend because of its production schedule and Netflix’s seemingly laissez faire approach to airing it. By the time Kimmy gets around to lampooning something, we should have already heard all the jokes. Somehow the show’s satire almost always feels completely fresh anyway
“Party Monster: Scratching the Surface” debuted in May of 2018 and it’s a pretty direct parody of Netflix’s Making a Murderer (which debuted on December 2015). Despite the two and a half year gap, “Party Monster” is a truly wonderful, hilarious satire. “Party Monster” breaks the usual Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt storytelling mold and instead consists of a documentary made by DJ Fingablast, who is trying to find out whatever happened to his childhood hero, DJ Slizzard. DJ Slizzard’s real name just happens to be Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, a.k.a the guy who locked Kimmy and three other women in a doomsday bunker. You know what that means, folks. We’ve got ourselves a Jon Hamm Party. – Alec Bojalad
Voltron, “The Journey Within”
In this emotionally stirring adventure, the team is stranded in space without their lions. Without any of the usual threats to face, all of the characters confront their own insecurities. Why are they together? Do they really have a bond? Who are they without Voltron?
Hunk is the real star here. He reminds the whole team how far they’ve come and that sure, they were thrown together by chance but that’s life. It doesn’t matter why they came together, all that matters now is that they’re friends. They have a bond, and that bond is what keeps them alive. The series has done so much work to get to this point and this episode perfectly sums up Voltron’s strongest element: its characters. – Shamus Kelley
We Bare Bears, “Baby Bears Can’t Jump”
Wrapped in We Bare Bears’ most loving tribute to the 90’s yet is a reminder of the melancholy undertone that runs through the series. The Baby Bears are simply trying to win the basketball game to get some food. Rather than dwell on that depressing notion and lose the fun, this episode (and the series) meshes it with the absurd and manages to punch you in the feels while still making you laugh.
That absurd element being Charles Barkley magically coming to life from a trading card just makes it all the better and anything but “turrible.” – Shamus Kelley
The mission in Timeless, to save history and defeat Rittenhouse, the shadow organization trying to control it, has always been fraught with tension and repeated defeat. “Hollywoodland” gave us the show’s first real glimmer of hope that everything might actually turn out okay, and then it cruelly and magnificently dashed those hopes into the ground.
The storyline of Hedy Lamarr was reason enough to include this Timeless episode on the list of best episodes, but in addition to giving us a top notch historical context, “Hollywoodland” gave us one of Rufus’ only instances where he was leading the way for the team, something that sadly won’t happen again since the show was canceled. But the lightheartedness continued with Abigail Spencer expertly singing, “You Made Me Love You,” making the sparks fly between her and Wyatt.
One might say that the coming together of Lucy and Wyatt in a moment of bliss makes this the best episode of Timeless full stop, even though the couple was immediately torn apart by the sudden resurrection of Wyatt’s lost wife, Jessica. No matter! This turning point for the season gave viewers a sense of joy that the show would fight to regain for the remainder of the season. Hopefully, Timeless can revisit this joy in its December finale movie event to finish out 2018 with one last hurrah. – Michael Ahr
VIDA, “A Night Out”
This amazing slice of life show about life after the death of a matriarch in Latinx LA flew largely under the radar, but has so much to offer. There’s older sister workaholic Emma, sent away as a kid for being queer, only to discover now that her dead mother had a wife. Younger sister Lyn flits through life without thinking about the ramifications of anything, until the very real debts (of her mother’s bar, of her own past, of her continual screwing around) show up on her door step. And there’s Eddy, the widow of the deceased matriarch, trying to keep the bar afloat while the two daughters – Emma especially – shoot daggers from their eyes any chance they get.
This episode crystallizes the road not taken and the distance from there to here that we’ve been able to see all along. No matter what Lyn thinks, she doesn’t belong with those bougie, white LA instagrammers. It takes seeing the way they treat the Latinx maid and trash talk the neighborhood they don’t realize she’s from for her to realize what they really think of her. Meanwhile, Mari discovers that even supposedly progressive dudes are misogynist jerks who film you without your consent. Finally, we get to see Emma allowed to be openly queer in the neighborhood that she grew up in. It’s a glimpse of what her experience might have been like, had she been allowed to come back and live there in her teens and twenties. – Delia Harrington
Westworld, “Riddle of the Sphinx”
Westworld might have been inconsistent in its sophomore effort, but when Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s synthetic Western fires on all six-shooters, there is nothing better on TV. And it never achieved greater marksmanship than “Riddle of the Sphinx,” the fourth episode of the season and one that was directed by Joy herself. Showing a real knack for mesmeric camera movements, the co-creator follows a time-jumping episode that, as always, kept us mostly in the dark about when a scene was occurring, or that you’re slowly watching the endless looping epiphany of awaking in a Sisyphean hell.
The star of the episode is a previously small character from everyone else’s flashbacks: James Delos (Peter Mullan). In spite of being the man that the Westworld company is named after, Delos has long been dead… or at least he should be. As revealed in this episode, he’s tried to beat the devil by having his consciousness copied and downloaded onto a robot. And yet, when we see his loop interrupted time and again by his son-in-law William (first as Jimmi Simpson and then Ed Harris), it becomes clear there are ghosts in the machine: most notably Big Jim’s.
In the end, there is no cheating the devil, nor does Old Man William even want to try. At a certain point, the power dynamic between subservient successor and delusional monster blur in Simpson and Harris’ complementary performances, and Mullan matches it with a pitifully sympathetic personification of impotent rage as he learns his memory is all but forgotten. It’s a brilliant science fiction novella of what digital purgatory might one day be like for those who seek immortality, all while nestled in a larger series about artificial intelligence’s ascendency. And it’s about as perfect an hour of television as we saw all year. – David Crow
Wynonna Earp, “Colder Weather”
Wynonna Earp may be known for its snarky humor and its offbeat action, but it doesn’t get recognized enough for its emotional drama. Supernatural TV shows are notorious for eschewing consequence, but “Colder Weather” not only cements the reality that Dolls is dead, but refuses to shy away from the emotional repercussions of that truth. Grief is hard to depict on network TV. The formulaic aspect of monster-of-the-week programming doesn’t usually allow for shows to fall into the morass of painful emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one. Wynonna Earp manages it beautifully, painting a diverse portrait of grief that is as complex as it is relatable. – Kayti Burt
Who Is America?, “102”
Nathan Fielder was listed as a consulting producer on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America? and his influence is felt. The series often wasn’t just about confusing people and making them look dumb in interviews, but testing, a la Nathan For You, just how far folks would go along with insane premises. And it turns out the answer is pretty damn far!
The second episode deserves special recognition because it’s the only one where the mark, Georgian GOP state representative Jason Spencer, disgraced himself so irredeemably that he had to resign shortly after the show’s airing. With little urging, Cohen gets the guy to shout racial epithets and run around with his pants down shouting “’MERICA!” It’s a wonderful spectacle to behold. The episode also features one of the series’ absolute best bits of trolling as Cohen’s ultra-woke character, Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello, pitches the construction of the largest mosque outside of the Middle East to a town hall of increasingly irate conservatives in Kingman, Arizona. – Joe Matar