Top 10 TV Episodes of 2017

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An episode of a series sometimes has more power over the show itself—or even the television landscape at large—than the season it’s within. That’s why it’s important to highlight individual achievements for the best entries of old favorites and newcomers alike. These picks encapsulate the best the many great series talked about in this article have to offer. Here are our picks for the ten best episodes of TV this year—and sorry in advance for how many of them are episodes of The Leftovers (but not really, it was that good on an individual basis).

Matt’s Take: 

10. “The Law of Non-Contradiction” (Fargo Season 3 Episode 3)

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The biggest reason Fargo season three was something of a disappointment is that its small town vibes too rarely took themselves out of the norm established in the first two seasons of the anthology series (no UFO’s this time, just more of the small-town same). But that norm remains entertaining, and for the first time, it took a visit to one of the country’s most progressive, populated metropolises. Gloria Burgle’s trip to LA exposes this technophobic, old-fashioned good police officer for who she really is: steadfast in her values, strong-willed, but ultimately a fish out of water not just in Hollywood, but anywhere she goes. Carrie Coon gives her second showstopper of a performance on the small screen this year as Gloria, and this is the episode marries all of the character’s strengths and weaknesses, showing not only how small her world is, but how important it is not to treat it as such.

 

 

9. “The Most Powerful Man in the World (And His Identical Twin Brother)” (The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 7)

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The climax of The Leftovers‘ third and final season largely plays out offscreen in its penultimate episode. The seventh anniversary of the Sudden Departure brings one hell of a rain storm to at least one part of Australia, delivering the great anti-climax that the series needed to have its message land. But those seeking climactic movements were treated to them anyway, with Kevin’s insane, hilarious, thrilling, and totally bonkers return to…wherever he goes when he “dies.” Playing both an assassin and the president, Kevin’s dual-identity represents his inability to commit—out of fear—in the real world. His journey slowly but joyfully builds to an emotional confrontation with himself, as mediated by, of course, Ann Dowd’s Patti Levin, acting as the Secretary of State in Kevin’s mad fever dream (or is it the actual afterlife?). This spiritual sequel to season two’s “International Assassin” is the culmination the show deserved. It’s big, emotional, intimate, weird, hilarious, and devastating. It’s The Leftovers.

 

8. “Witches” (Broad City Season 4 Episode 6)

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Though the strokes of brilliance are a little less frequent now, it didn’t take long for Broad City‘s fourth season to establish itself as a hot yet culturally aware chicken soup for those the Trump Administration has degraded. “Witches” takes it a step farther. Abbi and Ilana are on very separate journeys throughout. Abbi is selling her artwork on the cold street while on older woman, who seemingly knows too much about her and her path, all but cackles at her. She later runs into an ex and faces impossible standards of beauty. Ilana, meanwhile, hasn’t had an orgasm since Election Day, and thus visits a sex therapist to try and initiate a stimulating stir. What does it, of course, are thoughts of all the powerful women who are still doing their thing even under Trump. The episode culminates in an amazing, hilarious, but also low-key emotional gathering of strong women the pair met throughout the episode and others howling like witches into the night—the perfect medicine.

 

7. “Hang the DJ” (Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 4)

Once a season or so, Black Mirror puts out something just cripplingly emotional that re-defines what the show can be going forward. Season four’s “Hang the DJ” follows the footsteps of season three’s revered “San Junipero,” but raises it a notch by sticking the landing with an ending that’s rewarding, romantic, but still emotionally complicated. Going back a bit, it has to be said that Joe Gole and Georgina Campbell as Frank and Amy, respectively, have the most immediately electric chemistry of any new romance on television this year. Their story, going through a dating app that controls who you date and for how long, which constantly seems to be separating them and briefly bringing them back together, is somehow one of the most true romances to grace the small screen this year. It’s a concept episode that uses said concept to extract a pure humanity from its characters. The twist that that was the app’s goal all along lands somewhere between cute and chilling, but also remains proof that even Black Mirror is capable of finding hope.

 

6. “You Get What You Need” (Big Little Lies Season 1 Episode 7)

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Perhaps the most rewarding recurrence on television this year was the coming together of strong women to build each other up. After making an arc out of it, Big Little Lies’ terrific finale proved to be the best example of this. As the tension built throughout the season starts to boil over, HBO’s extended satire in liberal suburbia delivered one of the most emotionally fulfilling endings on television all year. There’s not much left to be said about Nicole Kidman’s bravura performance that hasn’t been said already, but it reaches its peak here, and the same can be said for Shailene Woodley and Zoe Kravitz. It all leads to the tense climax and positively gorgeous resolution, which proves that some things are too big to let the little things get in the way.

 

5. “Pickle Rick” (Rick and Morty Season 3 Episode 3)

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Was there a more joyfully inventive episode of television this year? With time to ruminate, it’s become clear that “Pickle Rick” is Rick and Morty’s best episode to date. For every moment of ridiculous pickle-related comedy, there’s an emotional undercurrent of a family trying to put themselves back together, and what it’s going to take for them all to commit to that journey. The spotlight is mostly on Rick himself, as he relishes in minute accomplishments like controlling a rat’s severed limbs as his own and taking down a government facility (with the help of the purposefully cliche Jaguar). But the ending suggests a slightly brighter future for at least Rick and Beth, which may or may not prove to be just as toxic for Morty and Summer. At least it’s progress. By the way, if you have any friends or family that eat poop and would like to stop give them my number.

 

4. “American Bitch” (Girls Season 6 Episode 3)

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Despite Lena Dunham’s recent controversial comments, “American Bitch” has quite possibly become the most relevant singular piece of television this year as 2017 has horrifically soldiered on. Ditching Girls’ usual formula, the episode follows Hannah as she confronts, in person, an author she greatly admires who was recently accused of sexual assault (perfectly played by Matthew Rhys). What occurs is a discussion about power and its relation to gender and art that ended up being more vital and more profound than the rest of Girls’ strong final season. In the end, Hannah is left to realize that society has created an imbalance that men in power, yet still with lives of their own, are taking advantage of because no one told them they couldn’t. What Girls wants us to ask ourselves is how many more women will we subject to this to maintain our respect for an artist. And boy did 2017 answer.

 

3. “The Book of Nora” (The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 8)

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Going off of all the grief and tension 2017 has delivered, “The Book of Nora,” the perfect series finale to what is sure to become an all-time great in the same vein as The Wire, was the most healing episode of television all year. Grounded by Carrie Coon’s beautifully tender performance as Nora Durst, the episode takes us on a roundabout journey of love, though one that begs its characters to learn from their mistakes and once again embrace life and all of its gifts. Through all the lies—to themselves and to others—Nora and Kevin have to find truth in themselves before they can find any form of solace. But with a potential answer The Leftovers practically promised never to give us, trust emerges in them again, and love is allowed to win.

 

2. “Chicanery” (Better Call Saul Season 3 Episode 5)

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Better Call Saul occasionally stumbles when it tries to mix its own tone and nature with that of Breaking Bad‘s, but “Chicanery” is the most pure Better Call Saul episode to date, proving that its own unique identity can stand as tall as its predecessor’s. A culmination of everything that came before it, the courtroom confrontation between Jimmy and Chuck is among the best written and acted scenes of television this decade. Before that, you have the sweet but ill-fated flashback that shows us their relationship just after Chuck started suffering from mental illness. You see the relationship they’re supposed to have, one built on brotherly love and support, just before it crumbles and dies in front of an audience. There’s also the slightly lesser, but still immensely satisfying climax of Kim questioning Howard on the witness stand. No matter what way you slice it, this is the best episode of Saul yet, and by a long shot.

 

1. “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt World” (The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 5) 

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No, this isn’t some narcissistic ranking attributed to my own name. The Leftovers became truly great in season one’s “Two Boats and a Helicopter,” the first of the series’ solo Matt entries that let the priest’s life play out like a chapter of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Season three’s Matt episode pushes him to the brink and even allows him to confront God, or at least a man who claims to be God, before finally seeing the flaws in himself and achieving something he thought he already had: enlightenment. “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt World” puts the titular hero on his way to Australia to bring Kevin back to Miracle before the world is supposed to end. Along the way, this man of God is forced to take passage on a boat rented out entirely by a sex cult worshipping Frasier the Sensuous Lion (a real thing, by the way). Amidst the orgies overflowing with lion iconography, Matt, dying of cancer, faces everything that’s been troubling him since the Sudden Departure. He reconciles with himself and his faith in a way that’s powerful and deeply satisfying. And finally, in the series’ most brutal, savage, laugh-out-loud bit of irony, Matt achieves victory when the lion aboard the ship gets loose and immediately kills the false “God.” What’s most rewarding is that Matt, after going through everything he does on the ship, doesn’t even relish in it. His life is ending, and he’s finally learned what truly matters.

 

Mike’s Take: 

10. “Not a Great Bet” (You’re the Worst Season 4 Episode 7)

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As I said in our best (and worst) TV shows roundupYou’re the Worst unfortunately debuted its weakest season yet in 2017. What gives me hope for the fifth and final season, however, is the fantastic bottle episode “Not a Great Bet.”  The story takes Gretchen (Aya Cash) away from her toxic relationships in LA and back to her hometown for the birth of her sister-in-law’s baby. Instead of attending to her family obligations, though, she spends the day with an old high school friend named Heidi (Zosia Mamet, miles away from her character on Girls). The episode is shot in a dreamy haze, as if Gretchen has left the real world behind by going on this trip down memory lane. In a way, she has. What’s especially poignant, though, is the narrative’s assertion that Gretchen isn’t any better than the people in her hometown just because she left, and her problems can’t be fixed by comparing her life to others. It’s a melancholic statement, but it also serves as a profound wakeup call. If the rest of season 4 had exhibited this kind of development, it would’ve been a success.

 

9. “Carry the Weight” (The Bold Type Season 1 Episode 10)

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ABC Family’s Freeform’s The Bold Type is a fun, frothy show about three best friends with impossibly fabulous wardrobes, who work at a stand-in for Cosmopolitan Magazine at a time when print journalism is struggling to survive. It’s aspirational, escapist entertainment and it wears its very woke heart on its sleeve—sometimes to an annoying degree. Yet, amid all the merriment, the season finale presented a plotline on sexual assault that was one of the smartest, most nuanced depictions on TV this year. What starts out as a story assignment for Jane (Katie Stevens) turns into a stirring, highly relevant discussion on the aftermath of a traumatic event. Most importantly, the episode never takes any easy shots to tug at your heartstrings and get your tear ducts flowing. It tackles its subject with an impressive sense of authenticity, which is why the final scenes are all the more emotional.

 

8. “Sweet Tea” (Difficult People Season 3 Episode 9)

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Questioning whether or not you’ve put yourself on the right path is an essential part of the human experience. In “Sweet Tea,” Billy, Julie, Marilyn, and Arthur all have crises of conscience about their lives, careers, and whether or not they should keep hacking it in New York. The episode begins by throwing some rough curveballs at everyone, but culminates in an outrageously funny Ayahuasca sequence in which everyone hallucinates their truth. The hallucinations take place in the form of movie and TV parodies, with wonderful send ups of everything from The Big Lebowski to Being John Malkovich to Nocturnal Animals. Though it was only recently announced that this season of Difficult People would be its last, this episode has a fitting air of finality to it. Julie and Billy have spent most of their adult lives trying to make it in showbiz in the Big Apple, so seeing them reach turning points felt like a major moment of character development. The fact that it involved as many laugh-out-loud moments as it did is a testament to this show’s deftly comedic sensibilities.

 

7. “Mushrooms” (Broad City Season 4 Episode 4)

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It’s so easy to mess up a drug trip episode by simple focusing on the humor behind normal people acting out-of-character. Broad City is no stranger to subverting comedy norms, though, so “Mushrooms” never falters. As Abbi and Ilana start to feel the effect of the ‘shrooms, the episode becomes entirely animated, drawn by the series’ title sequence illustrator Mike Perry. It’s vibrant and psychedelic, with callbacks to some of the show’s best running jokes that make this worth watching more than once. Even better than the visuals of “Mushrooms” is the conflict that arises once Abbi has to complete a work task. I could’ve watched the animated portion for hours, but seeing real-world consequences seep in to the ladies’ candy-colored utopia was fascinating. The high has got to end sometime, and luckily these broads will be here for each other when it does.

 

6. “New York, I Love You” (Master of None Season 2 Episode 6)

Photo Credit: http://www.overlyanimated.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/mon1.jpgI’m not exactly sure what draws auteurist creators to New York, but the city has played host to countless tales of growing up, falling in and out of love, and finding oneself. A large majority of them, however, feature white, affluent protagonists that are so wrapped up in their own thoughts because they never have to worry about things like making ends meet. The truth is, most people who live in New York don’t live like this. That’s what makes “New York, I Love You” so special. The story takes a step back from Dev’s adventures with friends and plays out in three separate vignettes about working class people living their day-to-day lives. We follow the life of a doorman working at an apartment complex with wealthy, and often ungrateful, residents. Next, an entirely silent—but visually striking—sequence features a deaf bodega worker getting in a fight with her boyfriend. Finally, we see a cab driver and his friends trying to enjoy a well-deserved night on the town. Specificity is key to making these stories work, but the real feat here is how simultaneously relatable everyone is. We are all only human, after all, even if we come from different backgrounds. The empathy for everyone’s differences in this episode is what makes it one of the best New York stories in recent memory.

 

5. “And the Winner Is…” (Feud: Bette and Joan Season 1 Episode 5)

Photo Credit: https://2.bp.blogspot.com/-MG7sJKk-G2E/WOHAhSKs8iI/AAAAAAABAyA/l_EcU2it4hUoNOpg918dtfLSK5FUNWwJACLcB/w1200-h630-p-k-no-nu/4%253A2%253A17%2BFeud.jpegYou can’t discuss the notorious feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford without discussing the 1963 Oscars. Davis was nominated for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? while Crawford was not. “And the Winner Is…” take a look inside the Academy Awards race as Crawford attempts to ruin her co-stars chances of going home with the gold. Jessica Lange does some of her best work on the series as she puts all her energy into manipulating the competition; finagling her way into being a presenter and wearing the iconic dress that made her look somewhat like a trophy herself. The episode’s direction is mesmerizing, featuring an elongated tracking shot that follows Crawford through various backstage rooms at the show, encapsulating just how much she enjoyed being queen of her kingdom. The entire story is enthralling, but it’s the episode’s final moments that are the most haunting. After the glitz and glamour of the awards show is over, and Crawford gets what she wants, we’re left alone with her to see just how empty and lonely she really is.

 

4. “Michael’s Gambit” (The Good Place Season 1 Episode 13)

Photo Credit: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DRG2rixUEAA-6gT.jpg:smallGame-changing twists are becoming such a gimmick on TV—especially network TV—nowadays, that it’s almost more surprising when everything plays out as expected. That being said, the twist at the end of The Good Place‘s first season is so revelatory, so ingenious, and so genuinely surprising that, even though enough time has passed, I dare not spoil it here. All I say is that “Michael’s Gambit” is the moment when the show’s narrative arcs come to a head, and then everything is flipped on its head in an instant. The afterlife is a great setting for a sitcom because you don’t have to stick to the laws of the regular world when coming up with new situations and conflicts for your characters. Still, nothing prepared me for how wide the doors would be blown open with this one. There’s a moment when one of the main characters will change your opinion of them with a single, twisted smile. It’s absolutely spectacular, because you realize that this show is now in a whole new ballgame.

 

 

3. “Chapter V” (Dear White People Season 1 Episode 5)

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It was a smart idea for Justin Simien to adapt his 2014 film into a Netflix series, as the elongated format allowed him to create fully realized characters and really hone in on both the subtle and forthright ways that racism can creep onto college campuses. “Chapter V” was not one of the entries on subtleties. What starts as a typical examination of a love triangle throughout a day of party-hopping, ends in a total nightmare. The episode is directed by Barry Jenkins, whose neon-hued visuals were a part of the reason that his film Moonlight took home Oscar gold. Here, he again makes the most out imagery, depicting a horrific sequence in which a fight at a party escalates into a cop pointing a gun at Reggie’s (Marque Richardson, absolutely heartbreaking) head. It’s a heart-in-your stomach type of moment that Jenkins draws out for exactly how long he needs to get his message across. The fear in Reggie’s eyes is all too real, and it’s a fear we all should be paying a hell of a lot more attention to.

 

2. “The Book of Nora” (The Leftovers Season 3 Episode 8)

Photo Credit: http://www4.pictures.zimbio.com/mp/QkLOaF5moU0l.jpgFor a show that’s set in a world where 2% of the population has suddenly vanished, it could be expected that the final season would get around to answering what happened to them. The Leftovers magnificent finale both does and doesn’t do this, but the ambiguity didn’t bother me in the slightest. This show, especially in its third season, became so much more than some supernatural mystery. It’s about what we do as humans when the unfathomable happens. It’s about our beliefs, our fears, and what spurs us to have the will to go on. So it’s only fitting that “The Book of Nora” offers a flash of where the 2% disappeared to, but doesn’t dwell on the meaning behind it. Carrie Coon gives a tour-de-force performance as she recounts a harrowing ordeal of briefly reuniting with her family and coming to a great realization. Life will always go on as we desperately pine for answers to who we are and what we need, so sometimes the best thing to do is just live it.

 

1. “You Get What You Need” (Big Little Lies Season 1 Episode 7)

Photo Credit: https://m.pupuys.com/p.php?url=http://img3.doubanio.com/view/photo/photo/public/p2453873806.jpgHaving read the novel on which this series is based, I more or less knew what was going to happen in the Big Little Lies‘ finale before it aired. It’s a testament to its impressiveness, then, that I was still glued to the edge of my seat for the majority of the episode. Such is the power of great TV, and there was no better TV this year than the final hour of this wholly arresting show. “You Get What You Need” is the culmination of a lot of different plot threads for the women in Monterey, but no moment or emotion is too rushed. There are scenes when Jean-Marc Valleé’s tension-filled direction literally felt like it was controlling my heartbeat. The lives of Madeline (an electric Reese Witherspoon), Jane (an earnest Shailene Woodley), and Celeste (a transcendent Nicole Kidman) collide in a breathtaking, wordless sequence that seamlessly reveals the season’s central mysteries. The moment is thrilling, for sure, but what really seals the deal on this exquisite final chapter are the moments that come afterward. Big Little Lies explored the differences between the women in a community, and bringing them together despite their differences was nothing short of a triumph.

 

 

By Matt Dougherty and Mike Papirmeister

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