Warning: contains spoilers.
A first, in 2019. For the decade that Den Of Geek has been asking our terrific band of writers to nominate their favourite TV episodes, the democratically elected winner (there are point weightings, spreadsheet filters, a TV editor pulling out her hair, it’s a whole thing) has always been a drama, most commonly a drama of the sci-fi and fantasy persuasion*.
Not this year. This year, a comedy stormed to the lead, closely followed by a heap of other comedies and SFF shows, plus one very-definitely-not-a-comedy about a nuclear meltdown. Perhaps this year more than most, we all felt the need to laugh.
*(For any interested list fans: over the past ten years there’ve been three Doctor Who wins, three Game Of Thrones wins, and individual top spots for Dexter, The Walking Dead, Black Mirror and The Haunting Of Hill House.)
Here they are then, with spoilers, our writers’ favourite individual TV episodes of the year. Do add your own nominations below, to give every show that deserves it a shout-out.
10. Schitt’s Creek season five – The Crowening
Written and directed by: Dan Levy and Laurie Lind
What happened: In Bosnia, Moira Rose attempts to rally a disaffected director into caring about the schlocky bird-based horror movie he’s making (and succeeds), while Johnny misses her, and David panics that his relationship with Patrick is becoming stultifying before realising it’s exactly how they both want it to be.
Our reviewer said: “If the sight of Catherine O’Hara plotting world domination inside a gigantic bird nest dressed as a mutant scientist crow while filming her latest feature The Crows Have Eyes 3 doesn’t tickle you, then you may well need a check-up. The mad brilliance of Moira’s movie plotline is just one of several treats on offer here.”
9. Veep season seven – Veep
Written and directed by: David Mandel
What happened: At a brokered convention, Selina sells what’s left of her soul to secure her party’s presidential nomination, throwing colleagues, friends, lovers and family under the bus to get her mitts on the top job she’s been craving for seven seasons. When she finally achieves it though, was it worth the sacrifice?
Our reviewer said: “Julia Louis-Dreyfus puts teeth in an already vicious character and does it with both criminally callous disregard and deeply moving immersion. She doesn’t blink an eye as Selina casually offers up anything and everything she’s ever held sacred in this work of satiric genius.”
8. Watchmen – A God Walks Into Abar
Written and directed by: Jeff Jensen & Damon Lindelof; Nicole Kassell
What happened: In 2009, Angela meets Doctor Manhattan in a Saigon bar (not that she accepts it’s really him), and he tells her the story of what he’s been doing since leaving Earth almost twenty five years earlier. The story unfolds through various timelines, gradually revealing just how important these two are to each other. Also: cake.
Our reviewer said: “It’s a sprawling episode of television. The plot moves from a bar in Saigon to a utopia in Europa to a lair in Antartica to Will Reeve’s home in New York and all the way back to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a thrilling battle, expertly directed by Nicole Kassell. It covers a lot of time and it covers a lot of space. But within all that time and all that space, there is still only one thing that matters: love.
Also nominated: This Extraordinary Being
7. Game Of Thrones – A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms
Written and directed by: Bryan Cogman and David Nutter
What happened: As our heroes (and anti-heroes) await the arrival of the army of the dead, one night in Winterfell sees Jaime Lannister join the white hats, Dany and Sansa at odds, Bran concoct a plan in which he acts as bait to the Night King and Arya seducing Gendry, and Brienne finally being knighted. It’s a ‘last night of their lives’ deal, full of touching character moments.
Our reviewer said: “It feels strange to praise an entire company of actors, but there are no real slouches among the Game Of Thrones crew, and David Nutter’s sharpness in the director’s chair only helps that. He gets brilliant performances out of his actors, and he knows exactly when to cut to a reaction shot to make the most out of that reaction shot. […] These are actors preparing to say goodbye to characters some of them have inhabited for close to a decade. Tears of joy tonight, tears of sorrow next week.”
Also nominated: The Battle Of Winterfell, The Long Night
6. Succession – Safe Room
Written and directed by: Jesse Armstrong & Georgia Pritchitt and Shari Springer Bergman and Robert Pulcini
What happens: An active shooter scare in the office sends Waystar and the Roy siblings into lockdown in a tense, revealing episode that also takes in a funeral, a management training course, a turkey costume, yet more legal proceedings, and Hitler’s dog.
Our reviewer said: “Jesse Armstrong’s black comedy about the world of mega-corporations, mega-wealthy families and extreme nepotism has expertly portrayed, vilified and satirized the comings and goings of modern and past figures like the Murdochs and the Hearsts from day one. It’s done this by never lying to the audience, but laying out everything that’s painfully awful and cringe-worthy about these characters in excruciating detail.”
Also nominated: Tern Haven
5. The Orville – Identity Part 2
Written and directed by: Jon Cassar and Seth MacFarlane
What happens: So much. The Orville’s been taken over, its crew are imprisoned and all biological life on Earth is on the brink of extermination thanks to the invading Kaylon fleet. Some daring escapes later, there’s a stand-off between the crew’s Kaylon science officer Isaac and his species’ leader that shows where Isaac’s loyalties truly lie.
Our reviewer said: “Action-packed and entertaining despite the lack of a novel approach to escaping the old ‘superior alien force taking over our heroes’ ship and bringing it along with their armada to attack Earth’ routine.”
4. GLOW – Freaky Tuesday
Written and directed by: Mark A. Burley and Marquita Robinson
What happens: The Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling decide to switch roles in the ring for one night only. Debbie plays Zoya the Destroyer while Ruth takes on the All-American Liberty Belle persona, the others all mix it up and Sheila pulls of a surprise to beat the band.
Our reviewer said: “Episode five [Freaky Tuesday] has one of the best moments in the ring of the entire series so far. It’s so full of joy and it recaptures that initial feeling of the wrestling from season one.”
Also nominated: Outwood Bound
3. What We Do In The Shadows – The Orgy
Written and directed by: Jason Woliner and Marika Sawyer
What happens: it’s the Staten Island vampires’ turn to host the Biannual Vampire Orgy, an event that could make or break their reputation in the underworld. Kinks abound, virgins are sullied and Laszlo’s feelings are hurt when Nadia says she’s unexcited by his vampire-themed porno films.
Our reviewer said: “What We Do In The Shadows does what it does best in The Orgy. It promises delights that the characters fully commit to, only to have their dreams dry out before the first sip.”
2. Chernobyl – Vichnaya Pamyat
Written and directed by: Johan Renck and Craig Mazin
What happens: Legasov (Jared Harris) recants his previous testimony, in which he lied to cover up the cause and blame of the Chernobyl disaster, and tells the truth. His testimony is suppressed and he loses his career, as footage of the real-life Legasov and others in the drama is played and their sad fates are revealed.
Our reviewer said: “It’s a rightly devastating account that evolves from sci-fi horror to political thriller while honouring and holding to account the true stories it tells.”
Also nominated: One Two Three Four Five
1. Fleabag series two finale
Written and directed by: Harry Bradbeer and Phoebe Waller-Bridge
What happens: Godmother (Olivia Colman) and Dad (Bill Paterson) get married. Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) returns Godmother’s stolen statue. Claire (Sian Clifford) stands up to the odious Martin and, at Fleabag’s urging, chooses love and happiness. Fleabag tells the Priest (Andrew Scott) she loves him and he tells her “It’ll pass.” And finally, with a wave, she leaves us behind.
Our reviewer said: “Poised, painful, perfect comedy. Waller-Bridge not only had a good idea for the new run (Fleabag vs God: a love story) but has turned it into exquisite TV. Exquisitely painful TV, but the real deal. […] the sort of episode that leaves you feeling as though a stranger has just pressed something very precious and very secret into the palm of your hand.”
Also nominated: Series two episode one
Other episodes nominated (but not by quite enough people to make the top 10), in alphabetical order:
Barry: ronny/lilly, Black Mirror: Striking Vipers, Carnival Row: Grieve No More, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: I’m In Love, Deadwood the Movie, His Dark Materials: The Lost Boy, Line Of Duty: series five, episode four, Mindhunter: series two, episode nine, Mr. Robot: Proxy Identification Required, Orange Is The New Black: And Brown Is The New Orange, Peaky Blinders: Black Tuesday, Russian Doll: Ariadne, She-Ra: The Portal, Star Trek: Discovery: Such Sweet Sorrow Pt. 2, The Affair: season four, episode 11, The Dark Crystal: The First Thing I Remember Is Fire, The Good Place: The Answer, This Time With Alan Partridge: episodes one and four, Years And Years: episode four.