This one took some real thinking, but of the many hours of television I watched this year, I believe I’ve narrowed it down to 10 favorite episodes. With no further ado:
10) How to Get Away With Murder – “Pilot”
Fellow writers in particular understand that creating a great pilot is really, really hard. Pilots are very finicky beasts. You need to set up an entire world, introduce a ton of characters, and tell a compelling story that will simultaneously create a fulfilling standalone episode and also a perfect jumping off point for an entire series, all without making it too overwhelming or confusing for the audience. This pilot was just very well done. It was well-acted, dramatic, compelling, and sexy, and threw out a ton of information without being too convoluted. Yes, this show is campy, and yes I will keep referring to it as “this show” because the title is too damn long to type every time. But it embraces its camp, it KNOWS it’s silly that Viola Davis only ever calls on the series regulars in class, and this pilot set up what became a really fun 9-episode ride this fall. It is the only new fall show that became a staple in my weekly line-up, and I am excited for its return.
9) Orange is the New Black – “A Whole Other Hole” and “Appropriately Sized Pots”
Yes, I am cheating a little here by picking two episodes, but I enjoyed them both equally for such different reasons that I felt they both earned a mention here. “A Whole Other Hole”, episode 4 of OINTB‘s second season, revealed the surprising backstory of Lorna Morello, the seemingly sweet inmate who talks non-stop about her fiance and the wedding she will have once she gets out of prison. I loved this episode because it was the one that shocked me the most out of the entire season- that image of her in the veil in the bathtub is perhaps one of my favorite moments from this entire series to date. Meanwhile, “Appropriately Sized Pots” told the backstory of Rosa, a somewhat soft-spoken cancer patient inmate, and it was just fantastic. Up until this episode we never knew why Rosa was in jail, and I think it’s safe to say multiple armed bank robberies would not have been anyone’s first guess. These flashbacks were also perfectly interwoven with the touching and humorous story of the boy Rosa meets and, in a way, mentors while receiving chemotherapy.
8) Girls – “Beach House”
Most of you know I am generally not the biggest fan of this show. Around the end of season 2/beginning of season 3 I even vowed that if the show didn’t get better by the end of season 3 that I would stop watching. Well, I’ll be damned because it did, and I plan to tune back in in January. But the standout for me in an overall improved season was this episode, during which Marnie invites the other girls to spend the weekend at a beach house in order to, in her words, “prove to everyone via Instagram that we can still have fun as a group.” The episode climaxes in a drunken confrontation where all of the main characters spill years worth of pent-up feelings and frustrations. I always feel a little upset when I relate to this show because I don’t WANT to be like any of these characters or have anything in common with them, but so many parts of this episode, which was simply about old friends growing apart and trying to relate to each other even after they have all changed, really resonated with me. I still Youtube Shoshanna’s rant semi-regularly because I just love it.
7) Parks and Recreation – “Moving Up”
Many people were surprised this sixth season finale of Parks and Rec was not a series finale, because it honestly would have been a great one. This episode has everything from incredibly heartwarming character moments to a performance by Ginuwine to surprise Jon Hamm to THE FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES to an insane twist ending that left me, and everyone else, wondering “did they really just do that?!” Most shows can’t deliver surprises like that anymore by their 112th episode, but Parks is stronger than ever. I was surprised by NBC’s recent announcement that they will be kind of burning off the show’s final 13 episodes in just 7 weeks, and I am not ready for one of my favorite comedies to leave me.
6) Rectify – “Unhinged”
Rectify is the kind of show where it is sometimes hard to remember specific episodes because in many ways, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but the season 2 finale was stand-out excellent. I have already written about the show at length here, but this episode was a tense, taut, emotional hour that hit all the right notes.
5) Orphan Black – “To Hound Nature in Her Wanderings”
Objectively, this may not be the actual best episode from season 2, but it is my personal favorite in a season where I struggled to pick just one since I loved them all. Most will remember this as the “clone road trip episode” that brought us Helena, who may have surpassed Alison as my favorite clone this season, singing in the car, getting drunk and causing trouble in a bar (“White Russian?”), and even flirting in a way only Helena can. Shout-out to the SAG Awards for recognizing Tatiana Maslany’s brilliance with a nomination!
4) The Mindy Project – “Danny and Mindy”
You all knew this one was coming. The season two finale of the comedy I can’t shut up about my love for was written by Mindy Kaling herself and essentially a love letter to both the entire romantic comedy genre and also the viewers who had been waiting two seasons (which really isn’t even that long compared to most shows) for Danny and Mindy to get together. This episode was a bit of an emotional roller coaster, and I yelled at my TV, cried, and smiled until my face hurt all within 30 minutes. AND it set up what has truly been a fantastic season 3 so far.
3) Hannibal – “Mizumono”
While my reaction to the previously mentioned Parks and Rec finale was “did they really just do that?” my reaction at the end of Hannibal‘s season 2 finale was “are they even ALLOWED to just do that?” This episode defies essentially every convention of broadcast TV, leaving the majority of series regulars in mortal peril (I don’t consider that a spoiler since these characters are on a show called Hannibal and are basically ALWAYS in mortal peril) and blows up the entire framework of the show. There is no turning back from where the story went in this episode, and I know that season 3 will embrace this bold choice head-on.
2) Transparent – “Symbolic Exemplar”
I already discussed this show and this episode at length, but to reiterate, this was probably my favorite new show of the year and this was the episode where it became that. In terms of being representative of the rest of the series, this episode is not, which may be why I like it. In addition to the departure from conventional storytelling and break from reality this episode also featured the talent show scene, which I found to be the most emotionally charged moment of all of season one. I have thought about it a lot since first watching it.
1) Masters of Sex – “Fight”
The reason I started watching this show in the first place was because after this episode aired I saw a ton of tweets from TV critics I respect praising this brilliant episode as one of the best hours of television in recent memory. They were not wrong. I have touched on this before, but “Fight” is essentially a bottle episode, in large part playing out with only the two main characters, played by the extraordinary and consistently under recognized Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, in a hotel room. It is a master class in both acting and writing and makes you feel as if you are watching an intimate stage play and not a television drama. It was simply riveting, and therefore my pick for my favorite television episode of the year.