The Best TV Episodes of 2017

For TV fans, the Peak TV era is both a blessing and curse. There is so much great television out there, and yet there is also too much to keep up with. Halfway through the year, Chris Cabin and I pause and take stock of the great series and episodes that have already aired, but now that we’ve reached the end of 2017, we’ve updated our list with the best episodes since June.

If you don’t see your favorite on here, fear not — there was a lot of great TV, and while we tried to get to most of it, we can’t watch everything. Plus, there are also absences for great shows like Big Little Lies and Feud: Bette and Joan, series I loved but where one particular episode didn’t jump out at me, though the works as a whole are wonderfully engaging (and visually stunning). Let us know your favorites in the comments, and be sure to also check out my list of the Best 25 TV Shows of 2017, as well as Emma Frazer’s essential playlist of the Best Songs on TV this year.

A note on spoilers: If you aren’t caught up with a show, skip past it!

Preacher Season 2: “Mumbai Sky Tower”

Writer: Sam Catlin

Directors: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Though Preacher ultimately lost me (and I had already struggled to return after the Season 1 finale), the new season’s second episode felt like the show coming into a creative renaissance. “Mumbai Sky Tower” was a surprisingly emotion (and visually exceptional) standalone story of the angel Fiore (Tom Brooke), who attempts to kill himself over and over again after losing his partner DeBlanc, but can’t because of his powers of immediate resurrection. The way Fiore tries to off himself in front of a crowd and then realizes that he can turn that into an act (with increasingly gruesome ways of killing himself, before popping back up again) is a unexpectedly touching story, especially when he “finds peace” through the Saint of Killers. Brooke did an exceptional job of conveying Fiore’s depression and ennui, yet also his slight pleasure at entertaining the crowds. — Allison Keene

Legion Season 1: "Pilot"

It’s a bit of a cheat to pick a season premiere as a best episode, even more so a series premiere. Pilots and premieres are built and designed to immediately entice and ensnare the audience in the world that, if all goes well, will be built up and out as the episodes go on. And yet, it’s impossible to ignore the immediate and ruminative delights that Noah Hawley lays out in the series premiere of Legion. Tricked out with all manner of “Look Ma!” camera movies, flourishes of bright color, and a superb cast fronted by Dan Stevens and Aubrey Plaza, the story of David Haller (Stevens) — one of the most formidable mutant in the X-Men universe — is first and foremost a trip to witness. The scenes in Clockworks are dazzlingly expressive and bold even by FX’s standards. And at the core of the show’s success is Hawley’s unwavering interest in diving into his main character’s knotty inner issues, as the show fixes itself more on the importance of self-knowledge, skepticism, and self-care in defeating villains than the ability to turn a person inside out or grow blue hair and hang from the ceiling. 

Nevertheless, Hawley decides to cap this electrifying hour of visual storytelling off with a thrilling escape that includes telekinetic tosses, burnt corpses, and a beachfront rescue via helicopter should show just how much ambition the visionary has culled from here. With “Chapter 1,” he’s issued a serious challenge to any Marvel adaptation that thinks exclusively in terms of plot, which is to say most of them, and by the end of the season, the challenge stands. — Chris Cabin

The Crown Season 2: “Vergangenheit”

Writer: Peter Morgan

Director: Philippa Lowthorpe

Though each of The Crown’s episodes are distinct, one of that most affecting was “Vergangenheit,” which documented the Duke of Windsor and his wife’s social affiliations with the Nazi party, and how — had he remained King — England might have surrendered to Hitler. There are a lot of damning sequences in “Vergangenheit,” not the least of which are the scenes of archival footage where Edward is touring Nazi Germany and meeting Hitler. But “Vergangenheit” was also a consideration of faith, as Queen Elizabeth (Claire Foy) invites Billy Graham (Paul Sparks) to England, and asks for his counsel regarding forgiveness as a Christian virtue. How can she possibly forgive her Nazi-sympathizing uncle, who suggested to the Germans they keep shelling England because that would likely make them give up? It’s a complicated episode full of emotional stress and not a particularly satisfying conclusion, even though Edward is booted out of England forever. It’s simply a necessary acknowledgement of a hard truth about one’s family — which is at the heart of The Crown. — Allison Keene

Game of Thrones Season 7: “Spoils of War”

Writer: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss

Director: Matt Shakman

“Spoils of War” had everything that an early seasons’ Game of Thrones fan might have thought would never happen. Arya returns to Winterfell, Bran and Littlefinger have a reckoning about the dagger, Jon convinces Dany to join forces with him (and … more?), and then we got that final fight where Dany rides Drogon to destroy the Lannister army. That battle — which including breathtaking scenes of the Dothraki in full fight mode, let us not forget — included not only a dragon lighting up an entire army, but some hero moments from Bronn, and a perilous(ly dumb) moment from Jaime. More than anything, it was an episode that had my heart racing, my nerves shattered, and visceral reactions to what was happening onscreen. While later episodes in Season 7 felt, at times, a little too fan service-y, “Spoils of War” was an unparalleled experience in pure joy and excitement, and was a fantastic culmination of so many storylines that we have been following for the better part of a decade. — Allison Keene

Fargo Season 3: ”The Law of Non-Contradiction”

Writers: Matt Wolpert & Ben Nedivi

Director: John Cameron

It’s rare for a show to make it onto our list twice, but if any show deserves it it’s Fargo. Noah Hawley’s loving crafted anthology series is a work of aesthetic control and purposeful restraint, whether it’s in the muted “Minnesota nice” of its heroes, or in the deliberately swift and brutal movements of its villains. “The Law of Non-Contradiction” broke form, though, as a capsule episode and a road trip that took the show out of the tundra and to California, where Gloria (Carrie Coon) set to find out more about her recently murdered step-father. It’s a showcase for Coon’s talents, which is always delightful to behold, but it also included an extended animated sequence that illustrated her step-father’s lost sci-fi novel “The Planet Wyh,” featuring a helpful android named MNSKY. Hawley’s incorporation of animation is something nearly unheard of in the world “prestige TV dramas,” and it was a fantastic story-within-a-story-within-a-story that (with the flashback) also felt Twin Peaks-y in its use of diners and old Hollywood scams and suddenly escalated violence. A stand-out episode for what has always been a stand-out series. — Allison Keene

Master of None Season 2: “First Date”

Writers: Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang

Director: Eric Wareheim

If you’ve used online dating and lived in any major city, Master of None‘s “First Date” probably hit a little too close to home. Edited with finesse and paced brilliantly, this trip through a flurry of first dates, fragmented into representative flashes, allows Aziz Ansari’s Dev to react to a number of distinct types. There’s the spoiled young woman frivolously living off her parents; the flirty colleague; the busy but good-humored career woman; and, of course, the witty, warm stoner who takes him home. Ansari gives even the least admirable of these characters a relatable pulse of life. He averts treating any of them like a simple stereotype, and the results is 20-odd minutes that evokes the thrill of meeting new people and possible romantic parties while also highlight how exhausting, confusing, and repellant the dating scene can be. No small feat. — Chris Cabin

Twin Peaks: The Return: “Part 8”

Director: David Lynch

Writers: David Lynch & Mark Frost

In the middle of one of the greatest seasons of television that the medium has yet to produce with Twin Peaks: The Return, David Lynch decided to drop a bomb. After a rather short intro, involving the murder and subsequent resuscitation of Bad Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), and an appearance by Nine Inch Nails, Lynch sent us out into the ether of history, wherein the aftermath of the creation and detonation of the atomic bomb evinces monstrous human and metaphysical effects. On its own, at less than an hour in length, the episode would count as a highlight in a career marked almost exclusively by peaks. In the realm of TV, the experimental nature of the episode and its surreal, frightening tone counted as a defining moment in the medium, the wildly rare case in which TV truly had it over anything that was seeing release in the movie theater. – Chris Cabin

The Punisher Season 1: “The Judas Goat”

Director: Jeremy Webb

Writer: Christine Boylan

I wasn’t sure about The Punisher at first. The pilot episode felt like a knock-off of some misbegotten 1980s action flick and the slow pace of Frank Castle and Micro’s budding friendship and working relationship that followed did not give me great hope. Still, there were signs throughout the first five episodes that prepared you for the most agonizingly intimate and vulnerable moments in “The Judas Goat,” in which Castle reveals himself to his erstwhile best friend, Billy Russo (Ben Barnes), who he does not know secretly works for the villainous Rawlins. The series’ true subject is how men communicate feelings, acts, and ideas that are often seen as the opposite of masculine, such as loving another man or feeling vulnerable, and seeing the joy and relief Frank gets out of just seeing his brother-in-arms is itself a kind of revelation for the series. It’s the first time that we fully know that Castle’s humanity is still alive underneath all the grief, resentment, and vengeance. And it’s that exact thing that ends up differentiating him from the confused, angry men and monsters who he hunts throughout the series, and its what makes it so much easier to empathize with him when all the bloody work is done. – Chris Cabin

Legends of Tomorrow Season 2: “The Legion of Doom”

Writers: Phil Klemmer & Marc Guggenheim

Director: Eric Laneuville

Oh boy oh boy did I love this episode of Legends of Tomorrow. Like several other series on this list, Legends vastly improved with its second season. One of the biggest reasons was thanks to its new villain team, the Legion of Doom, made up of Arrow-verse baddies Eobard Thawne (Matt Letscher), Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), and Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman). The episode which bears their names came with a fantastic Eobard introduction, as well as the reveal that the speedster is being chased out of existence by Black Flash (the first time we’ve seen him return since The Flash’s Season 2 finale). All of this helps the Legion balance out their power and become a truly united force in their ultimate quest for power. It was a great episode (I wrote more about it here) that allowed the villains to have their moment to not only bicker with one another (which was gleeful fun), but it solidified them in these new roles. Plus, the hour ended with Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill) shooting George Washington in 1776, which is really just peak Legends on every level. — Allison Keene

Better Call Saul Season 3: “Sabrosito”

Writer: Jonathan Glatzer

Director: Thomas Schnauz

In a Better Call Saul season that travelled further into the world of Breaking Bad than ever before, “Sabrosito” showed the right balance of how to keep the Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) storyline intact and still flirt with “Breaking Bad: Origins” for a multitude of other characters. I’ll admit that I was very hesitant at the start of the season with the time the show was spending with Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) while lessening time spent with characters like Kim (Rhea Seehorn), but “Sabrosito” showed exactly how the two shows can be reconciled in one fantastic episode (which I wrote about more in-depth here). It was a taught, tense, twisty, and fantastically acted episode that shows the series at its best. Now if only we would get some news on that Season 4 renewal … — Allison Keene

Hap and Leonard Season 2: “Holy Mojo”

Writer: John Wirth

Director: Abe Sylvia 

In Hap and Leonard’s second season, the series tackled some serious racial issues. “Holy Mojo” started out with a lynching and the burning of a church that happened decades earlier in an East Texas town, a key event to the unfolding horrors unfolding in the show’s present timeline. The church’s burning by the Klan also held an important clue that Hap (James Purefoy) and Leonard (Michael K. Williams) use to try and find a serial killer, but in the course of that investigation, the show takes a quirky but emotional turn as they are run out of a neighborhood by fed-up mothers who think they are after their sons.

“Holy Mojo” is the best example of how Hap and Leonard can walk the line between deep feeling and and understated humor. There’s a wryness, even in dark moments (like having to submerge a van that holds a recently deceased friend) that keeps the show from ever getting too macabre. Despite its devastating start, “Holy Mojo” also allows for a moment of triumph as the two friends save young man from doom, and there’s are several great moments relating to Leonard’s creative revenge strategies. “Holy Mojo” is an emotional rollercoaster, but also the show at its best, where the past and present meet together in unsettling but important ways. — Allison Keene

The Girlfriend Experience Season 1: “Bria: Admitting”

Director / Writer: Amy Seimetz

One of the great elements of the second season of The Girlfriend Experience is the respect and empathy that’s shown for sex workers even when they are in situations that speak lowly of their moral mettle. This comes out thoroughly in the second episode of the season and the first to introduce us to Bria (Carmen Ejogo), who escaped a dark fate as the longtime girlfriend of a merciless drug kingpin by promising to testify against him. As the episode goes on, Bria is given a number of rules and tactics to utilize to ensure her safety and the great drama of the situation is that she has been living her life in the hopes of never having to think about other people’s rules. Even her act of bravery is also something of a rebellion against a man who made her act under his rules. Seimetz builds tension magnificently, shot to shot, and it lays the groundwork for a storyline that speaks to the complex relationship between independence and power, how controlling others becomes an inherent wish of those who simply wish to be their own person. – Chris Cabin

Mr. Robot Season 3: “Runtime Error”

Writer: Kor Adana & Randolph Leon

Director: Sam Esmail

Though “Runtime Error” wasn’t exactly one unbroken take, it felt like one. In the vein of Birdman, director and show creator Sam Esmail made us feeling like we were trapped in the same never-ending nightmare that Elliot and Angela were. The queasy, relentless pace of a single-take episode (or again, one that was designed to feel that way and mostly was) was augmented by the chaos that was happening at E Corps, and the high stakes that Angela was faced with in her collusion with Mr. Robot. It was a spellbinding episode that reinvigorated the series — briefly — and showed off how innovative Mr. Robot can be. — Allison Keene

Downward Dog Season 1: “Pilot”

Writers: Samm Hodges & Michael Killen

Director: Michael Killen

Few comedies are as sincere — and sincerely funny — as Downward Dog, a show that has no right to work, and yet does so beautifully. In the “Pilot” we are introduced by Martin (played by Ned the dog), who is an existential hipster of a pooch, explaining to us with a narration and solo cutaways the important aspects of his day while his owner Nan (Allison Tolman) is at work. But we spend equal time with Nan at her Urban Outfitters-like corporate job, where she fights against the ignorance and sexism of her idiot boss to create an ad campaign that will actually make shoppers feel good about themselves. What makes “Pilot” work so well is that Nan’s original throw-in-the-towel idea is literally destroyed by a bored Martin, and is replaced instead with an idea inspired by him; for people to see themselves with the unconditional love that a dog like Martin has. It sounds cheesy but by God it’s not, and through Killen’s directing (both of the hilarious Martin and the color-saturated world of Pittsburgh in the summertime), the show is elevated by its cinematic style. Downward Dog is a genuinely great show that is witty and joyous, and “Pilot” is the perfect introduction. — Allison Keene

Mindhunter Season 1: “Episode 5”

Writer: Jennifer Haley

Director: Tobias Lindholm

There were many exceptional moments in Mindhunter’s first season, but the episode that really felt like a standout for me was one that was more procedural than most of the series. “Episode 5” dealt with a gruesome crime committed in Altoona, Pennsylvania, one that is brought to Holden and Bill’s attention thanks to the Road School. While the Road School itself starts to fade away a bit after this episode, it highlights how much small communities need the help and expertise of the FBI when it comes to such grisly incidents involving their own citizens. Though the crime is not exactly solved (as far as who actually killed Beverly Jean), the twisted family story at the center of it is a great example of the stomach churning cases that Mindhunter investigates. It’s also a rare moment where both Bill and Holden are right and wrong and different points in the episode, and warily begin to trust the expertise of the other (a balance that will get increasingly off-kilter as the season progresses). — Allison Keene

The White Princess: “Traitors”

Writers: Loren McLaughlan & Amy Roberts

Director: Alex Kalymnios

It’s hard to pick just one episode of the excellent Starz miniseries The White Princess to highlight since it’s so short and tightly focused in its narrative. However, “Traitors” was a important pivot for the show’s character drama. In it, we spent some quality time with “The Boy,” who is potentially the disposed heir to the English throne — or an imposter. Patrick Gibson’s serene performance could go either way, and it’s part of the series’ core conflict. It shows the now-Queen Lizzie (Jodie Comer) choosing her husband the King’s (Jacob Collins-Levy) side over her York heritage, and her mother (Essie Davis) pulling one last coup. Meanwhile, we learn the true murderer of the princes in the tower (or who the show chooses to point to for it), which has dire consequences across the board. “Traitors” laid all of the political cards on the table, and beautifully sets up the series’ final episodes with an emotional urgency. Even if you know how the history plays out, The White Princess — in this particular hour — makes you question everything you think you know. It’s an incredibly engaging episode for a superbly wrought historical drama. — Allison Keene

Girls Season 6: “American Bitch”

Writer: Lena Dunham

Director: Richard Shepard

Plenty of digital ink has already been spilled over this exception episode from arguably the very best season of Girls to date. As a dissection of sexual politics in the age of men’s rights activists, it’s sublime, and watching the great Matthew Rhys’ take on a special sect of misogynists is borderline decadent. The swarm of often legitimate reasons that Rhys’ controversial writer gives for his sexism turns out to be little more the calculated, craven machinations of a devilish prankster, which reflects a day and age where its hard to know if people are complex and self-aware or scheming and self-obsessed. Beyond that, the episode is a simple but rare sort of delight: two characters that are very hard to like talking it out to see just how much they enjoy hating each other, played by two phenomenal performers.  — Chris Cabin

Animal Kingdom Season 2: “Betrayal”

Writer / Director: John Wells

As I wrote earlier this yearIn its second season, Animal Kingdom became more than just a fun, eye-candy-filled summer series. The show has always been a compelling family drama, but those dynamics — as well as the show’s trademark heists — reached a new high this year. The finale, “Betrayal,” brought to a close one of the show’s most major tensions (Baz finding out that Pope killed Catherine), but it revealed a new one: that Lucy has now set him up and robbed him. The series could have easily ended its second season on the “who shot Baz?” cliffhanger, but it didn’t need to. Lucy’s betrayal of Baz is just the start of the family repairing itself after a season of being ripped apart.

More than anything, though, “Betrayal” capped off a great season full of heists and emotional tension that not only came to a satisfying peak in the finale, but set up a great twist for the season ahead. — Allison Keene

American Vandal Season 1: “Hard Facts: Vandalism and Vulgarity”

Director: Tony Yacenda

Writers: Tony Yacenda & Dan Perrault

Inarguably the best first season of comedy that TV debuted in 2017, American Vandal not only ended up skewering the NPR crowd but also pulled no punches for the future of America’s dumbest. Tony Yacenda, who co-created the series with Dan Perrault, lays out the world of high school drama and rumors clearly in the pilot episode of the season, as well as the case against one Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), who is accused of spray-painting dozens of dicks on cars in the school parking lot. Tyler Alvarez and Griffin Gluck do excellent work as the two kids that are investigating the case against Dylan, but it’s Tatro who steals the entire show here. His delivery is varied and consistently uproarious but he also quickly establishes Dylan’s vulnerability and bruised ego. The series obsessively catalogs humorous details about the characters, the neighborhood, the numerous suspects, and Dylan and Tatro similarly, subtly brings out innumerable feelings and fleeting ideas, most of which are inspired in their idiocy, in his lonesome character, whose future seems to be in juggling enough gigs from Post Mates or Lyft to fund his burgeoning YouTube personality and pay the rent. – Chris Cabin

Arrow Season 5: “Lian Yu”

Writers: Wendy Mericle & Marc Guggenheim

Director: Jesse Warn

Guys, there’s an episode of Arrow on this list. Yes, Arrow! After nearly giving up on the series to start its fifth season, the show won me back in a big way with the advent of Prometheus as such an effective foil for Oliver (Stephen Amell), who was forced to confront his past. The season finale, “Lian Yu,” brought the show back to its literal beginning on the island, as well as restoring some major characters from the past. It could have, in many ways, served a series finale, as all of Oliver’s (living) friends and foes came together in a final epic, emotional battle.

Still, in the end, it was Prometheus who had the final laugh (so it seems) by again being ahead of Team Arrow yet again and literally blowing shit up. It’s a fantastic potential reset for the series, as well as a great culmination to the Prometheus storyline, Oliver needing to step up as a father, and the perfect way to end a season that worked hard to get back to its roots. — Allison Keene

This Is Us Season 1: “Memphis”

Writer: Dan Fogelman

Directors: John Requa & Glenn Ficarra

Though most of This Is Us’ inaugural season was engineered to be emotional, one episode that truly stood out was “Memphis.” Look, if you didn’t cry at this episode I don’t know why you even watch this show. “Memphis” told the story of William (Ron Cephas Jones), who returned to his hometown on a road trip with his son Randall (Sterling K. Brown) as a final wish before he passed away. The father-son dynamic here was beautiful and heart-wrenching, as were the flashbacks to William’s early life and what could have been for him. Meeting up with his cousin at a jazz club was Treme-like in its unhurried desire to let the band jam on, as an ebullient Randall got increasingly sloshed. This last-hoorah for the two, who had only just recently gotten to know one another, was an important step for Randall’s character, especially in the end when he got to be the strong one. But mostly, it was a lovely capsule episode that did what This Is Us does best: get to the heart of family matters.  — Allison Keene

She’s Gotta Have It Season 1: “#LBD”

Director: Spike Lee

Writer: Lynn Nottage

She’s Gotta Have It is, on the whole, as radical a vision of femininity, youth, sexuality, and blackness as TV has ever produced but “#LBD” deserves special mention amongst the overflowing spring of humor and ideas that the series represents. LBD stands for “little black dress,” specifically the one bought by Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) from a snooty, white boutique owner. This being Lee, the matter of how Darling affords the dress and how it psychologically eases her pain are important to the story, but what’s more important is how her three suitors respond to it. Wealthy lawyer Jamie Overstreet tries to protect her and worries about the sexual fantasies other men might be having at her expense, and down-to-earth neighborhood boy Mars Blackmon does something similar, though he is spurred by the attention she receives at a concert by a well-known musician. Greer Childs, the vain photographer with the impeccable bodice, sees art that he can co-opt, an aesthetic of beauty that he can essentially own by capturing it within an image. The great playwright Lynn Nottage wrote the fantastic, attentive script and under any other director, that would be enough. With Lee at the helm, “#LBD” becomes at once a riotous adult comedy and a searing indictment of even the most negligible strain of toxic masculinity. – Chris Cabin

Better Things Season 2: “White Rock”

Writer: Pamela Adlon & Louis C.K.

Director: Pamela Adlon

There were many excellent episodes of Better Things’ second season, including the emotional taught “Phil” and the as well as “Eulogy,” where Sam’s kids were briefly not terrible to her. And as great as the finale, “Graduation,” turned out to be, “White Rock” stood apart for effectively combining a family trip with old secrets, new bonds, and a ghost story. It was a gorgeous episode (Adlon’s direction has been unique and compelling all season), and one that allowed the family to come together in a new way. It was a beautiful story and a heartbreaking one, as Sam finds out about an aunt she never knew who was institutionalized as a young woman and left to die there, forgotten. But the stunning scenery and the cozy atmosphere created by the trip to British Columbia made “White Rock” itself unforgettable. — Allison Keene

Man Seeking Woman Season 3: “Bagel”

Writer: Stefani Robinson

Director: Ryan Case

In a series that has always leaned heavily into the surreal, “Bagel” was a genuinely sweet episode that (in typical Man Seeking Woman form) started off with raunchy irony before settling into one of the series’ most affecting stories. In the third and final season, Josh (Jay Baruchel) finally ends up in a happy and stable relationship with Lucy (Katie Findlay), and in “Bagel” he proposes. But first, he asks her parents, who presume he’s asking for permission to have anal sex, which is completely horrifying and played with total sincerity, making it fully on-brand for the show. But “Bagel” then transforms into Josh’s neuroses getting the better of him and keeping him from popping the question, until a fight between them brings it out. Ultimately, Josh and Lucy propose to each other, through an escalating and absurd series of novelty rings that represent all of the things they like to do together, and “Bagel” represents an already great series at its best through a marriage: of sweetness and rude comedy. — Allison Keene

Detroiters Season 1: “Happy Birthday Mr. Duvet”

Writer: Amber Ruffin

Director: Becky Martin

It’s easy for a show like Comedy Central’s Detroiters to get lost among the Peak TV fray, but I sincerely encourage you to go back and watch it (for reference, here’s my review).

There are a lot of things to love about the quirky comedy, but “Happy Birthday Mr. Duvet” took the show to a new level. The jokes and interactions between Sam Richardson (whose character is terrified about giving the perfect speech for his father’s party) and Tim Robinson (who has a hilarious obsession with a clown’s antics — or lack thereof) are pretty fantastic per usual. But it’s the sudden cuts to the group all doing the Detroit Hustle after every randomly placed prompt that pushes “Happy Birthday Mr. Duvet” beyond comedy and satire and into a surreal dreamscape (or hellscape, later, if you’re Sam) that brings out the show’s unique style and wonderfully hyper-localized references. The cringe comedy is at an all-time high here, but the show’s biggest asset is that Richardson and Robinson’s sincere affection and comedic rapport are truly unmatched. Hey everybody, let’s Hustle! — Allison Keene

The Arrowverse: “Crisis on Earth-X”

Writers: Robert Rovner (Supergirl) Jessica Queller (Supergirl) Wendy Mericle (Arrow) Ben Sokolowski (Arrow) Todd Helbing (Flash) Phil Klemmer (LoT) Keto Shimizu (LoT)

Directors: Larry Teng (Supergirl) James Bamford (Arrow) Dermott Downs (Flash) Gregory Smith (LoT)

Though I had some issues with “Crisis on Earth-X,” overall the positives outweighed the negatives. The mega four-way crossover managed to meaningfully incorporate all four shows (The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow) while not caring about timeslots; for example, Barry and Iris’ wedding happened technically on Supergirl. It was astonishing to see how much story was juggled in these episodes, and a joy to see heroes interacting that haven’t had a chance to before. Plus, The Ray was introduced in live-action, and a favorite character returned (slightly changed). It was an immensely enjoyable, often mind-boggling four-hour event. — Allison Keene

Fargo Season 3: “Aporia”

Writers: Noah Hawley & Bob DeLaurentis

Director: Keith Gordon

In a marked contrast to the other Fargo episode on our list, “Aporia” was a fast-paced penultimate hour for the season that laid out pivotal character moments, particularly for Carrie Coon’s Gloria (this is a theme — Carrie Coon is fantastic). But it was also the season’s most triumphant moment for Nikki (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who had teamed up with the forever-Fargo character Mr. Wrench (Russell Harvard) to neutralize the dastardly Varga (David Thewlis) — and impress him along the way (not once but twice).

But for Gloria, things were hardly so clear, as Varga’s machinations overturn her murder investigation. The way all of this is choreographed and edited together is sweeping experience, punctuated at the end of the hour by Gloria’s confession that she feels unseen by the world, and her fellow cop friend Winnie (Olivia Sandoval) bucks her up enough so her confidence is restored and she makes herself seen. It’s a glorious episode that led to a so-so finale, but “Aporia’s” pacing, character moments, and narrative satisfaction made it one of the best episodes of a very good season. — Allison Keene

Queen Sugar Season 2: “Freedom’s Plow”

Writer: Anthony Sparks

Director: Amanda Marsalis

When one considers Queen Sugar’s midseason finale, “Freedom’s Plow,” in light of the rest of the season, it feels particularly optimistic. But it was a beautiful episode regardless, one that was both on-message and full of joyful emotions. On the latter’s part, we saw several of our main will-they-won’t-they couples finally get together, or start working together on a new level. But we also saw Darla have a fantastic moment with Blue when she explained why she hadn’t been around in a way a child could understand, as well as Charley committed to her natural hair (whoo-hoo!) and Nova and Dubois had an honest conversation about how he was “playing the game” (and later, working to sabotage it). But most importantly, we saw Micah open up about his experience when he got arrested that has left him so shaken all season. It was heartbreaking, timely, and important, and the way the show let it come out naturally (after being so reticent, and now we know why) was impressive. On many, many fronts, “Freedom’s Plow” was a pitch-perfect example of Queen Sugar’s potent family drama, and how much the show has made fans feel personally invested in the trials of the Bordelon family. — Allison Keene

The Deuce Season 1: ”What Kind of Bad?"

Writer: Story by Richard Price, Teleplay by Will Ralston & Chris Yakaitis

Director: Uta Briesewitz

“What Kind of Bad?” was a turning point in The Deuce, as we saw characters who either accepted their fates and moved on to something new, or drew a clear line about where they wouldn’t go. Bobby and Vincent end up getting in deeper with the mob by opening up a “massage parlor,” and Abby sees Darlene back with Larry, and also realizes that the experiences of her college friends are incredibly shallow compared to what she’s been witnessing of real life at the Hi-Hat. But the episode really belonged, as so many episodes did, to Maggie Gyllenhaal as Candy. In “What Kind of Bad,” she turns down yet another pitch from Rodney about him being her pimp, making him increasingly angry and nasty towards her, which she gives back in full force. She laughs at him, and then starts to cry, and the melding of the two is part of a stunning performance. Most importantly, it’s a scene that eventually pushes Candy into the porn world instead of prostitution on the streets, where she’s able to not only have more control, but is able to use her smarts to also work behind the camera. — Allison Keene

Manhunt: Unabomber: “Ted”

Writer: Andrew Sodroski

Director: Greg Yaitanes

Though all of Manhunt: Unabomber was an engaging exploration of how the FBI handled the Ted Kaczynski case through the lens of one gifted agent who created “forensic linguistics,” the episode “Ted” focused fully on Kaczynski himself. Going back to his childhood and investigating how a combination of loneliness and being part of the MK Ultra experiment at Harvard psychologically damaged him beyond repair, the story unfolds as part of a letter Ted writes to his brother (who would eventually turn him). But it’s also bookended by scenes of present day (at that time) Ted living a rugged and lonely existence on the outskirts of a remote Montana town. Here, Paul Bettany portrays Ted as someone whose life could have turned out differently, but he was too deeply driven by the darkness that came out of a lifetime of “betrayal” (as he saw it) that twisted his genius into bitterness and madness. In the way it explored these complicated feelings and, essentially “making a murderer,” “Ted” was an exceptional hour. — Allison Keene

Baskets Season 2: “Ronald Regan Library”

Writer: Samuel D. Hunter

Director: Jonathan Krisel

In its much improved second season, FX’s quirky drama Baskets became more of a series of beautifully shot vignettes that increasingly included the show’s standout performance of Louie Anderson as Bakersfield mom Christine Baskets. “Ronald Regan Library” is the show at its best and most emotionally raw, as Christine travels to go bail her son Chip (Zach Galifinakis) out of jail, and ends up going on a date of sorts to the Presidential Library with the father of one of Chip’s fellow sundries. There are a number of things that work really, really well in this episode, including Chip escaping the library tour in order to deliver a pan flute of a deceased friend to that friend’s family. But as always, Anderson steals the show, elevating Christine’s mundane conversations into something spellbinding. The best moment, though, comes at the end when Christine’s date (a Jimmy Carter fan) buys her a Regan bracelet she’s been eyeing. When she hugs him, Anderson allows a multitude of emotions to pass over his face, in one of the year’s most affecting TV moments. It also helped solidified Baskets’ true diamond-in-the-rough status as a TV gem. — Allison Keene

Dear White People Season 1: “Chapter V”

Director: Barry Jenkins

Writers: Chuck Hayward & Jack Moore

Though 2018 will bring Barry Jenkins’ highly anticipated follow-up to Moonlight, the most immediate confirmation that Jenkins’ talents extend beyond the overwhelming brilliance of Moonlight came with “Chapter V” of Netflix’s Dear White People. Visually, the episode, which focuses on Marque Richardson’s outspoken Reggie, is luminous, edited into alternatively rhythmic and tensely stoic sections of his day at Winchester University. Much of his day involves flaunting his skills as a STEM-literate hacker and design nerd or brooding over the fact that Sam (Logan Browning) has a new (white) boyfriend, Gabe (John Patrick Amedori). The night ends with him standing at a college party with a police office pointing a loaded gun at his head for far too long to make anyone with any empathy for fellow humans comfortable. Jenkins builds to this shattering climax naturally, and Chuck Hayward and Jack Moore’s script elevates Reggie’s exchange with the cop ever so slightly with each line until its suddenly off the rails. The scene with Reggie alone back in his dorm, ripped apart by a world that doesn’t have much respect for his life, is enough to break your heart cleanly in two. Jenkins renders it all convincingly, speaking not only to the strength of his skills but also to the timeliness and importance of the subject matter. – Chris Cabin

Outlander Season 3: “Uncharted”

Writers: Karen Campbell & Shannon Goss

Director: Charlotte Brandström

Outlander’s mostly excellent third season took us to some unexpected places (at least, for those who haven’t read the books), including the Caribbean and the American colonies. As for the former, one of the show’s most outstanding episodes was “Uncharted,” where Claire — desperate to get word to Jamie that he has a bounty on his head — jumps ship to float to an island. What she finds there is a harsh and unwelcoming environment, and one which plays out (for most of the episode) as a kind of mini-Castaway. Caitriona Balfe, who is so wonderful as Claire, is silent through most of these early scenes, but conveys everything we need to know about Claire’s mental, physical, and emotional state. It was a rare capsule-like episode, and completely different from anything the show has done before, but it was done perfectly. Eventually Claire is rescued, but an odd duck who brings some levity to the situation, and the episode closes with everything we require from Outlander: Claire and Jamie together. — Allison Keene

Twin Peaks: The Return: “Part 1 & 2”

Writers: David Lynch and Mark Frost

Director: David Lynch

The same year that brought us “Peak TV” has also brought us proof that most TV is just child’s play. This is thanks to the reemergence of David Lynch, the master behind Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, and the incomparable Eraserhead. When stacked up alongside the staggering first seven episodes of the show’s third season, other shows seem cautious, tedious, bound to outdated storytelling devices, and seismically lacking in style. This is a long way of saying that  25 years after the show originally broke TV, Twin Peaks has not only returned just as weird and wonderful as it ever was, but has reinvented itself in total. In the first two episodes, Lynch sets up a transcendental world of menace, madness, and messy humanity, one that quietly criticizes and embraces the trend of remaking old shows or returning to long-cancelled programs. Most of all, Twin Peaks’ return  has character, the feeling of being the brainchild of a singular artistic team led by a visionary. The series’ eerie, rapturous spell is cast well before the second episode ends and it hasn’t let up yet. — Chris Cabin

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: “Net Neutrality 2/Brexit 2”

In a year of mediocre sequels — John Wick 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, The Reagan Era 2, etc. — John Oliver delivered two blockbuster sequels to his HBO-backed exposes on Net Neutrality and Brexit in his essential fourth season hosting Last Week Tonight. For the continued fight over a free and open internet, Oliver called on legions of 4chan trolls and reddit misfits to storm the FCC’s website; the website crashed within 30 minutes after the show ended. It was an inspiring moment that capped off an hysterical criticism of the FCC’s weak reasoning, the we-mean-no-harm fallacy sold by Net Neutrality opponents, and that ridiculous Reese’s mug. And to usher in what may well be the end of his homeland, Oliver flew the very real Lord Buckethead across the pond to hype him as the best possible choice to lead Brexit negotiations, after dismantling any and all notions that the conservatives or Theresa May have any idea what they’re doing. I hope he does this for another decade. — Chris Cabin

American Gods Season 1: “Head Full of Snow”

Writers: Michael Green, Bryan Fuller

Director: David Slade

Much like Twin Peaks, it’s hard to pick a single episode in a series like American Gods that feels so cohesive and governed by its own narrative and aesthetic impulses. This one gets the edge for the Jinn storyline, in which a heated romance erupts between a bottomed-up Muslin salesman (Omid Abtahi) and a fire-eyed Jinn posing as a taxi cab. The sex scene belongs in the history books, but the opening story of Anubus (Chris Obi) and the Egyptian grandmother, as well as Shadow (Ricky Whittle) and Wednesday’s (Ian McShane) snowy heist, are flush with grand symbolic gestures and flashes of debauched humor. Mr. Nancy’s (Orlando Jones) outstanding introduction on the slave ship may remain the show’s most noteworthy sequence but “Head Full of Snow” reveals an audacity and empathy in Bryan Fuller and Michael Green that matches the most dazzling and daring moments in Hannibal. — Chris Cabin

Legends of Tomorrow Season 3: “Beebo the God of War”

Writer: Grainne Godfree & James Eagan

Director: Kevin Mock

I keep a running list of my favorite episodes throughout year, and for several weeks “Return of the Mack” was on my radar for Legends of Tomorrow. And while the fight sequence in “Return of the Mack” was exceptional, “Beebo the God of War” was overall a delight. As if things weren’t great enough with a time-displaced Beebo doll being workshop as a god of death by the Vikings, but we got a puppet version of Victor Garber wielded by Wentworth Miller, not to mention Neal McDonough as Odin. It just doesn’t get much better than this, and yet somehow, Legends grounded this entire story with a final farewell to Professor Stein, with an emotional arc faced by Jax after his partner’s sacrifice. And in the end: Constantine! It was the show at its very best — zany, unexpected, and full of great character moments — and should convinced anyone who still needs to catch up that this may be the most fun of all the Arrow-verse shows.  — Allison Keene

Stranger Things Season 2: “Chapter Six”

Writer: Kate Trefry

Director: Andrew Stanton

Though the Netflix model of binge television doesn’t always allow for episodes to stand out on their own (with the exception of The Crown), Stranger Things’ “Chapter Six: The Spy” was notable mostly because it’s when we really see Steve and Dustin bond. There are some weird (but funny) moments with Nancy and Jonathan spending the night together, and a lot of scary sequences with the demodogs (including Dart), plus the twist that Will lied to everyone because he’s being controlled by the Shadow Monster. But the very best part was seeing Steve protecting the brood (Dustin, Lucas, and Max) from the demodogs, as well as the conversation Steve and Dustin have on the train tracks about Dustin’s crush. It was Stranger Things at its very best: full of great character moments, with just a hint of peril. — Allison Keene

Speechless Season 1: “R-U-N—RUNAWAY”

Writer: Mark Kunerth

Director: Claire Scanlon

Speechless is the kind of show that could have been, from the start, a cutesy show about the “lessons” that the public needs to learn about caring for a child with disabilities. But the series instead walked a very fine line between the irreverent and the sincere in a way that has made it one of the year’s best. An episode like “R-U-N-RUNAWAY” could have tipped that balance, but instead it was just an extremely affecting half hour about how JJ (Micah Fowler) wants to run away but literally can’t because of his wheelchair. Though his mother (Minnie Driver) tries to facilitate him taking off, JJ is still trapped in her sights. His frustration is agonizing.

Eventually he meets up with another wheelchair-bound young man, who gives him the advice to live his life on his own terms — that he can do things on his own like a normal teenager (which is all JJ, and the show, wants to be), he just has to do it in his own way. The execution of this whole storyline is far better than I can accurately describe it in just a few sentences, but it’s also mirrored by a fun and similarly affecting plot between Cedric Yarbrough’s Kenneth (reliving his days as a former basketball player) and the hyper-competitive Dylan (Kyla Kenedy). Speechless’ “lessons” are usually skewed or inverted in some way to keep things from ever being too sentimental, but “R-U-N-RUNAWAY” embraces the tender side a little more in a way that only this show can do so effectively. — Allison Keene

Mindhunter Season 1: “Episode 6”

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Writers: Tobias Lindholm & Joe Penhall

Though much of Mindhunter hinges on the crackling chemistry between Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff as the lead investigators Tench and Ford, the unsung heroine of the series is Anna Torv’s Wendy Carr. It’s Carr who lends their entire operation a sense of legitimacy and an air of cool-headed work ethic to balance out Ford’s wide-eyed dreams of learning what makes these men murderers. And yet, we don’t find out much about her away from her interactions with her work colleagues until “Episode 6,” in which Carr must decide whether or not to officially take a job with Ford, Tench, and the FBI. It’s here that we begin to understand Carr’s conflicted inner life, prominently troubled by her condescending partner, Annaliese, played by the great Lena Olin. In a show made alluring by burrowing into the minds of violent men and the men who hunt them, this respite proved crucial to the series’ attention to personal and intimate turmoil away from unspeakable mutilations. The image of Torv strolling home to the tune of Fleetwood Mac’s sublime “Albatross” in this episode caught onto a soulfulness that was only gleaned in quick glances earlier in the season. – Chris Cabin

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: “Alex Jones”

Those who found themselves joining what was loosely called “The Resistance” this year had plenty of politically-tinged entertainment to get them good and riled. Podcasts like Pod Save America and Chapo Trap House looked at the neverending news from center-left and hard-left perspectives, while movies like Get Out, Good Time, and, for better or worse, The Post spoke to issues that felt all the more urgent after Trump arrived at the White House. John Oliver didn’t have to change his formula that much in this switch-over but you could tell that the comedian was way more angry than he has been in the years before, a bit more serious when the serious points came up at the end of the program. He took on Trump weekly, centered a whole show on violent, armed lunatic Joe Arpaio, and kept tabs on a seriously faltering media class, but he was perhaps never as entertaining as when he took on Alex Jones, the Austin-based conspiracy peddler with a legion of addled followers. In the era of “fake news,” it’s helpful to be able to suss out the true cranks and Oliver, backed by clips and a bounty of research, made quick work of Jones, who is ultimately nothing more than an untalented salesman with a nose for truly noxious conspiracy theories. – Chris Cabin

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