Top 10 TV Episodes of 2016

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As we continue to count down the best of 2016, we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the best pieces of filmmaking on a smaller scale in television. Some TV episodes are better than the season as a whole, while some can make or break the episodes that came before it. Here are our favorite episodes of TV for the year.

 

Matt’s Take:

10. The Get Down “Raise Your Words, Not Your Voice” (Season 1 Episode 6)

Photo Credit:http://projectfandom.com/the-get-down-s1e6-review/

The Get Down‘s season finale wins the spot as it’s best episode for being its most musically charged episode. This is the entry where Dizzee gets “Set Me Free” to play at a gay club, through a beautiful extended sequence of drag queens vogueing, discovered sexuality, and freedom. No series before it, not even Looking, has captured the spirit and energy of why gay clubs exist independently of other clubs. Then there’s the final showdown where Zeke shows up just in time to save his friends from musical failure. It’s an emotional moment followed by 10 minutes or so of musical celebration. “Raise Your Words, Not Your Voice” is all about spirit, making the the most essential to The Get Down‘s overall spirit.

 

9. Orange is the New Black “The Animals” (Season 4 Episode 12)

Photo Credit:http://orange-is-the-new-black.wikia.com/wiki/The_Animals

There’s no question that season four of Orange was a bit of a comedown from previous seasons. You wouldn’t know it from the last three episodes though. “The Animals” ranks among their best ever, highlight the key romances throughout with a deliberate, almost calm sweetness. Meanwhile, the different factions of Litchfield try to come together to oppress their ruthless, abusive guards. It ends on perhaps the most emotional scene of the series, as the women, constantly divided by race, stand together peacefully in favor of their own well-being. The ultimate tragedy, however, is Poussey’s death, which all too closely mirrors some real-world headlines. “The Animals” proved that even in a more comfortable, relaxed season, Orange is the New Black is still essential.

 

8. Star Wars Rebels “Twilight of the Apprentice” (Season 2 Episode 20)

Photo Credit:http://starwarsrebels.wikia.com/wiki/Twilight_of_the_Apprentice

Disney’s first foray into Star Wars television can be as uneven as they come, but the season two finale is a masterpiece, showcasing deep mythology that ties the entire series together. Perhaps most impressively, “Twilight of the Apprentice” shows just how easily the Dark Side can be introduced to the mind of a young Jedi. This is exactly where Revenge of the Sith failed, so it’s great to see that Star Wars is in fact capable of justifying this turn, or at least the potential beginning of it. But apart from that, the season two finale features the return of Darth Maul from the shadows, after being resurrected in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and a climactic, emotional duel between Darth Vader (James Earl Jones reprises and astonishes) and his former apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, the best Star Wars character outside the films. Gut-wrenching and perfectly crafted, “Twilight of the Apprentice” is classic Star Wars for the open-minded, every bit as essential to the films and infectious for all the same reasons.

 

7. Divorce “Christmas” (Season 1 Episode 6)

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Divorce struggles with an inconsistent tone throughout its premiere season, but there’s one episode where everything great about the series just clicks into place, taking us on an emotional journey through the awkwardness of a holiday where you have to out up a bit of a facade. Frances hasn’t told her parents yet that she and Robert are getting a divorce, which leads to tension, hilarity (“I was going to sing the ‘rum pa pum pum’ song”), and a very sweet payoff (Robert lying to his in-laws to save their image of their daughter). Throw in the incredible quick flashes to the other characters and their respective families, from Diane and Nick trying to get through dinner with the family to Dallas vocally hoping her son isn’t getting a hand job from his girlfriend on the couch next to her, and you’ve got an episode that perfectly captures all the little emotions we see and feel around Christmas that don’t typically get highlighted.

 

6. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” (Season 1 Episode 6)

Photo Credit:http://www.ew.com/article/2016/03/08/people-v-oj-simpson-sarah-paulson-marcia-clark

Back in 1994, the country was so invested in whether O.J. Simpson himself was guilty that another rising public figure involved was placed under unnecessary and unfair scrutiny. Marcia Clarke’s plight throughout this case dug so deeply into her private life that it bordered on abuse. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” is the best example of the struggles this woman just trying to live her life according to her morals went through. From her parenting tactics to a mere haircut, no part of Marcia Clarke’s life was easy, and that’s something that Sarah Paulson perfectly nails in the episode, showing that Marcia needs the small moments with her children and Darden to keep herself above water.

 

5. Atlanta “Juneteenth” (Season 1 Episode 9)

Photo Credit:http://www.thewrap.com/atlanta-yes-juneteenth-is-a-real-holiday/

In our current racial climate, no episode this year better explored the uncomfortable tip-toeing we do around certain issues than “Juneteenth.” The best episode of this dynamite first season saw Earn accompany Van to a Juneteenth party put on by the black elite of Atlanta. Their primary host is a white man who’s decorated his home with artifacts and art, some he created himself, representative of African-American culture. His obsession is awkward, particularly to Earn, who doesn’t typically mingle with this crowd (he refers to the party as “Spike Lee’s Eyes Wide Shut“). Earn and even Van are usually part of the black America many see as a “problem.” Van’s yearning for acceptance among this crowd proves her own disavowment. How Earn and Van end up leaving the party is a perfect statement on their characters and how they maybe don’t fit into either side, because not everyone has to.

 

4. Veep “Mother” (Season 5 Episode 4)

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Veep is a comedy that lives in cynicism, and season five’s “Mother” may just be the best example of that. With Selina Meyers’ mother on her death bed and the recount in Nevada in full swing, emotions are high among all the chief characters in this entry. With the country expecting Selina to be in mourning, she has her staff constantly checking their phones for any information on the vote, celebrating signs of victory just moments after he mother passes. Then we just see Catherine’s loud, inhuman moan of grief, while Selina appears repulsed by her expression of emotion. “Mother” is a masterclass in dark comedy, proving Veep is the best ever in its specific branch of comedy.

 

3. Game of Thrones “Battle of the Bastards” and
“The Winds of Winter” (Season 6 Episodes 9 and 10)

gotPhoto Credit:http://www.sbnation.com/2016/6/27/12039030/game-of-thrones-scorecard-episode-6-10-the-winds-of-winter

I couldn’t pick. Game of Thrones double-wammy at the end of season six are the two best episodes the show has ever done. Both directed by Miguel Sapochnik, “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter” push the series toward its inevitable conclusion with massive payoffs and epic battles. “Battle of the Bastards” is the first TV episode in history that might make the heads of Mel Gibson or Peter Jackson turn. Then, “The Winds of Winter’s” eloquent, vicious opening is the best sequence in all six seasons, followed by huge revelations and payoffs that make all that walking in past seasons totally worth it. The final shot of the season, with Dany finally sailing to Westeros alongside many of the show’s most likable characters, is one of hope as we head into the final two batches of episodes.

 

2. BoJack Horseman “Fish Out of Water” (Season 3 Episode 4)

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A masterpiece of animation, and television in general, “Fish Out of Water” is a hilarious, emotional, and ultimately tragic expansion of the world of BoJack Horseman into the sea. Almost completely devoid of dialogue, apart from the opening scene and the devastating final punchline, the episode encapsulates the themes and comedy of BoJack in a mere 25 minutes without a sound. Continuing to explore BoJack’s loneliness and yearning to find his place in the world, this foreign world to him offers two opportunities for at least some form of self atonement. One, when he recovers a seahorse baby, succeeds for everyone watching, but not BoJack himself. The second, his apology letter to Kelsey, his Secretariat director, is too little too late. BoJack may be personally unfulfilled, but this episode’s artful meditation on its main character reaps some of the greatest rewards on TV all year.

 

1. Horace and Pete “Episode 3” (Season 1 Episode 3)

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The third episode of Louis C.K.’s masterful experiment is aggressively simple. The camera is pointed at Laurie Metcalf, playing Horace’s ex-wife, who he cheated on, and she delivers a monologue about love, life, mistakes, regret, and reconciliation. About half way through, it becomes a bit more of a conversation between her and Horace, but that happens precisely when it needs to. Her ideas and guilt need to be addressed by another for her to move forward. Metcalf gives a legendary, all-time great performance, peering into the human soul more directly than anyone else did on TV this year. This episode of Horace and Pete has a quiet power to it we’ve never seen before on television. It’s part of what made the show as a whole so great, but this episode in particular contributes the most to the show’s unique stamp on the world. Maybe very few people actually watched Horace and Pete, but those who did were treated with this episode, treated to a unique expression perfect delivered with a raw grace.

 

Mike’s Take:

10. Search Party “The House of Uncanny Truths” (Season 1 Episode 10)

Photo Credit: http://i.cdn.turner.com/v5cache/TBS/Images/Dynamic/i695/search-party-se1e10-the-house-of-uncanny-truths-800x450-800x450_081720160253.jpgAh, yes. The end of the whodunnit, where the kids solve the mystery and save the day. Except not really. Search Party‘s missing-person thriller culminates in Dory and her friends finding the house where Chantal has been hiding, but coming away with totally different answers to their questions. The brilliant season finale ties together all of the lingering threads in Dory’s life, and then shoves them back at her in a way that’s underwhelming and overwhelming at the same time. It’s hard to fully describe without giving things away, so I’ll just say this: it’s perhaps the only ending to a mystery that will leave you both laughing and gasping in shock.

 

 9. Atlanta “The Club” (Season 1 Episode 8)

Photo Credit: http://intotheopenfield.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/the-club-PB.jpgAtlanta‘s surrealist style is one of its best traits, and this episode is the perfect example of how it can hone in on some distinct truths by being a little over-the-top. Watching Earn in an environment he clearly doesn’t want to be in only gets funnier as he’s forced to deal with nightclub stereotypes, like an all-knowing bartender and a shady club owner (who, by the way, has a Scooby Doo-esque hidden door that he slips into to avoid paying for Paper Boi’s public appearance). Meanwhile, Alfred tries to make the best of his table and bottle service, only to get schooled by a girl who plays the game way better than he does. And then there’s Darius, who’s conversations with the bouncer—and everyone else, for that matter—are pure gold. By the time the episode gets to Alfred’s snapchats of everyone drunkenly singing along to Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” in an uber, you’ll be in stitches. With “The Club,” Atlanta hits several nails right on their heads, and still manages to squeeze in an excellent joke about an invisible car.

 

8. Girls “The Panic in Central Park” (Season 5 Episode 6)

Photo Credit: http://www.slantmagazine.com/assets/house/25805/tv_girls0506__article-house-780x440.jpgGirls‘ had a major upswing during its fifth season, and that’s mostly thanks to this beautifully written and expertly directed episode, that almost could have been a mini movie all its own. It’s interesting that the the focus is put on Marnie—easily Girls‘ most polarizing character—but it works extremely well. This show has never cared about making its characters likable, but giving her the chance to shed her most irritating qualities and stand up for herself proves to be a breath of fresh air. The story follows Marnie (Allison Williams has never been better) as she runs into her ex Charlie (a great guest re-appearance from Christopher Abbott), who’s changed a lot since they split. What happens next is a mesmerizing adventure through subways, a dress boutique, a ritzy Manhattan hotel, and, yes, Central Park, as Marnie gets to shrug off her stresses and really learn about herself. From the moment she first walks past Charlie on the street to her final, incredible, confrontation with Desi, it’s clear that this is one of the best things Girls has ever done.

 

7. You’re the Worst “The Inherent, Unsullied Qualitative Value of Anything” (Season 3 Episode 11)

Photo Credit: http://i.onionstatic.com/avclub/6100/49/16x9/960.jpgThe third season of Stephen Falk’s achingly honest dramedy didn’t necessarily have a gamechanger episode like it did with last season’s reveal of Gretchen’s depression, but it did have this, and it’s a wonder to behold. Shot in stunning, Birdman-esque long takes, the entire episode takes place at a wedding as we whip around to different characters and get to be a fly on the wall during their intimate discussions. Several different plot threads—Lindsay and Paul’s failing marriage, Edgar’s sudden success and Dorothy’s resentment of him, Jimmy’s existential crisis—occur throughout the half-hour, but each are given equal weight so there’s really never a moment to look away. When the swirling camerawork stops to focus on a specific set of characters, it’s always to deliver an emotional blow, and none is more heartbreaking than the final confrontation between Gretchen and Jimmy, where they say things they might not be able to take back later.

 

6. Veep “Mother” (Season 5 Episode 4)

Photo Credit: http://image.tmdb.org/t/p/w780/5vkhPRTtt4aKl1lk1KxY7IWF4nz.jpgVeep is not known for being a light and sunny comedy, but “Mother” takes things to a whole other level. The episode centers around the passing of Selina’s estranged mom, while simultaneously focusing on the Nevada recount, making the grieving process extremely complicated. Watching a show with a group of cynical workaholics tackle the death of a family member might not sound like too much fun, but the genius of this episode is how it effortlessly will get you to laugh, despite the dire circumstance. On top of this, we get some brief, tender moments where Selina temporarily lets her guard down, and we get to see the humanity behind the public figure she’s worked so hard to build up. Julia Louis-Dreyfus gives an absolutely flawless performance here, and she’s anchored by a strong ensemble as well. The juxtaposition of her rigid reaction to her mother’s passing with Catherine’s overly emotional one, brings about a darkly comedic chemistry that flows through entire episode in spectacular fashion.

 

5. Transparent “The Open Road” (Season 3 Episode 6)

Photo Credit: http://i.onionstatic.com/avclub/6111/50/16x9/960.jpgOne of the great things about Transparent‘s third season is it was totally unafraid to call the Pfefferman’s on their shit. Despite they’re liberal open-mindedness, this family can often be incredibly self-serving and totally oblivious to the rest of the world. The best example of this is in “The Open Road,” which largely focuses on Josh and Shea’s road trip to give Colton his mother’s ashes. Shea is a trans woman who lives a wholly different life from Maura’s mostly priveledged existence, and so the trip ends up being a rude awakening for Josh. Trace Lysette gives a truly knockout performance here, both when she’s sweetly opening up about her life, and when she’s furiously berating Josh for some of the ignorant things he says. By the time she’s shouting “I’m not your fucking adventure, I’m a person!” you are right there with her. Transparent has broken so much ground since it first premiered, but this is easily one of the most powerful things they’ve ever done.

 

4. Black Mirror “San Junipero” (Season 3 Episode 4)

Photo Credit: http://api.rue89.nouvelobs.com/sites/news/files/article/thumbnail_full/2016/10/blackmirror-sanjunipero-s03_0.jpgCharlie Brooker’s visions of the near-future are mostly hellish dystopias that show how the worst of human nature can interact with technology in dangerous and terrifying ways. “San Junipero,” however, provides an unexpected delight as one of the first positive stories to ever come from the series. The episode, based on the idea of nostalgia therapy, follows two women (Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, each turning in sublime performances) as they meet and fall in love in a dreamy beach town in the 80s. It’s clear from the start that there’s something off about their perpetually fun surroundings, but the reveal is so much more uplifting than you’d think. More importantly, the connection that these two women share feels wonderfully real, making every step of their journey climactic. The final sequence—perfectly set to Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth”—is a happy-tear-inducing moment of pure love, and enough to melt even the coldest of hearts. Most of Brooker’s stories offer a bleak look at what’s right around the corner, but “San Junipero” offers us something much more valuable: a ray of hope.

 

3. Bojack Horseman “Fish Out of Water” (Season 3 Episode 4)

Photo Credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/g8RlnyAGJTk/maxresdefault.jpgBojack Horseman is just as skilled at fleshing out the world of its anthropomorphic animals as it is developing its deeply nuanced characters. “Fish Out of Water” is the perfect marriage between these two traits, as it takes Bojack to the underwater world of the Pacific Ocean Film Festival. Acting as a bit of an homage to Lost in Translation, this episode is almost entirely wordless, and follows Bojack as he rescues a lost baby seahorse and attempts to apologize to Kelsey, who’s career took a downturn after she was fired from his film. The episode functions as a way for Bojack to make amends, and though it shows him being capable of good, it also shows how he still can get so wrapped up in himself, even when he has the best of intentions. To put it bluntly, “Fish Out of Water” is a beautiful piece of art; a masterful meditation on loneliness and the struggle to do what’s right. It’s able to say so much while technically saying so little. The ending punchline brings about a welcome dose of humor, but episode succeeds as a whole by quietly commanding your attention from start to finish.

 

2. Orange is the New Black “Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again” (Season 4 Episode 13)

Photo Credit: https://typeset-beta.imgix.net/rehost/2016/9/14/35ba188a-6c62-433c-8115-6a0dcb0d68f1.jpgPoussey’s tragic fate in Orange‘s fourth season was a shocking, and somewhat divisive, move on the part of the writers, but it allowed the final episodes of the season to explore some of the series’ most interesting and provocative themes yet. The aftermath of her death culminates in several things, chief of which is an angry uprising amongst the inmates after they find out that Bayley is getting off easy. It’s a bold outburst at the systemic abuse of the private prison system, particularly against women and minorities, and it couldn’t have come at a more precise time in our country. What makes the actions in Litchfield all the more poignant, however, is that they’re interspersed with scenes from one of Poussey’s happiest days—a night out in New York with her friends where she gets lost, and goes on an adventure that can only really happen in a big city. These moments of magic, paired with the blistering reality of the present day, make for one of the most raw and important viewing experiences of the year.

 

1. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” (Season 1 Episode 6)

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O.J. Simpson was the primary suspect in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, but Marcia Clark is the person that America really put on trial. We all judged her—whether it was for something as serious as her mishandling of the case, or as superficial as the way she chose to dress and wear her hair. The only bad thing about “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” is that it took this long for Clark to finally get her due. This all-out masterpiece of television gives her a redemption story for the ages, putting us through the ringer right alongside her, and shoving our own scrutiny of her prosecution and personal life right back in our faces. Sarah Paulson’s Emmy-winning performance in this episode is easily the year’s best, as she expertly displays layers of Clarke that the courtroom cameras and tabloid articles were unable to catch before. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” has a strong message about the unjust double standards that women face every day. The fact that this message is relayed through the story of one woman with an unwavering sense of determination to do what’s right makes this the best hour of TV this year.

 

 

What were your favorite episodes of the year? Sound off below!

 

 

By Matt Dougherty and Mike Papirmeister

 

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