2017 has come and gone, and my God was it a wonderful year for television. Every channel seemed to be on point, from the old guard of ABC and NBC to the cable giants HBO and FX to the new vanguard of Netflix and Hulu. This is the year where we saw classic novels come to life, where animation transported us to terrifying new (and old) worlds, and we were introduced to the wonderful nightmare Corrine. I’ve done my best to watch them all, to laugh and cry and just enjoy myself. While I don’t write many reviews of television anymore (although you can find my reviews of Sherlock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt here and here), that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching. In fact, television this year has been so good, I’ve had the hardest time yet putting these lists together. But put them together I have, and I am pleased to share with you all my first piece on the best television of the year: the Best Television Moments of 2017 and the Best Television Episodes of 2017!
Before I begin sharing these lists with you all, allow me to provide my yearly disclaimer: I’m just one man, trying to do it all. I can only watch so much television a year, and certain shows end up falling through the cracks, especially without subscriptions for several channels. This means I haven’t watched The Keepers or Insecure, This Is Us or Better Call Saul, Five Came Back (despite loving the book) or SMILF, The Crown or Fargo, and so on. I’ve done my best to catch up over the last few weeks, but I can only do so much. This also means there are some shows that I didn’t quite finish in their entirety, both because of time constraint and waning interest (they’re good, but if I’m only moderately intrigued, why not move on to a show I might love). This means that there are some episodes or moments from Stranger Things 2, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, or Black Mirror that might otherwise make it, but they didn’t clear my cutoff. And finally, a caveat: most critics this year agreed that the best television show of the year was The Leftovers. I have never seen The Leftovers. I finally have a copy of it to watch, but I wouldn’t dare start watching until after I’ve seen seasons one or two. Therefore, The Leftovers will not be appearing this week or next week on my Top Ten Lists. My apologies, we all have our blind spots. But now that we’ve gotten these disclaimers out of the way, it’s time to start breaking down the best television of 2017!
Best TV Moments
*Spoilers Below, Scroll to Television Episodes to avoid*
This was a year where all eyes were glued to the television, for one reason or another. It was such a wild, crazy year, television became a necessity, whether to keep us up to date on what is happening around us, to distract from the soul-crushing nature of things, or to transport us to another world entirely. Thus, certain moments from different shows managed to transcend the material and burn its way into our subconscious, getting us to laugh, cry, panic, or cheer. Whether these moments were twenty seconds or twenty minutes matters not; all that matters is that you remember them, either emotionally or technically. Examples include the one-shot master class in True Detective, or The Battle of the Bastards on Game of Thrones, or when Rachel Bloom performed “You Stupid B*tch” on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. There were several moments this year that could have made the cut: “I’m Just A Slave” from black-ish, The Clown Cult emerging from the field to murder Emma Roberts on American Horror Story, The Revelation on Big Little Lies, a dream sequence where Clay comforts and saves Hannah on 13 Reasons Why, and both the absurd horrors of The Ceremony and the sheer emotion on Alexis Bledel’s face after her surgery on The Handmaid’s Tale. One of my favorite moments of the year involved Susan Sarandon emerging from her dressing room as Baby Jane on Feud, while Chris Diamantopoulos had a wonderfully raunchy monologue on Silicon Valley, which he followed up with a reference to my favorite podcast by driving off while blasting “Last Resort” by Papa Roach. Eric Andre did the greatest Joker impression ever on Man Seeking Woman, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything as disturbing as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s sequence involving Dee getting revenge on a stripper. And finally, there’s The Electric Slide from Big Mouth, which was one of the year’s saddest, funniest scenes, and featuring all of your favorite comedians.
However, there are two moments in particular that I want to give notice to, both as an Honorable Mention and a Dishonorable Mention. The Dishonorable Mention was the performance of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from the remake of Dirty Dancing. I’ve posted the video at the bottom of this paragraph, although it doesn’t really work if you didn’t have the buildup of two hours of disappointment, but I don’t know how you can watch a bunch of bad singers and bad dancers perform one of the most famous musical sequences in all of film, climaxing not once, but twice: first when poor Abigail Breslin fails the lift, and again when Bruce Greenwood starts singing the bridge of the song to Debra Messing in what is supposed to be the special’s new hidden message. It was such a beautiful, wonderful mess. And as for my Honorable Mention, I don’t know how I could do a list of the most memorable scenes of the year without talking about the Best Picture Snafu. No moment had people talking more this year than when the wrong film was declared the winner at the Oscars, and producer Jordan Horowitz honorably and upliftingly held up the card to declare underdog Moonlight the winner of the biggest award in all of cinema. You can relive that famous moment below, and with that settled, it’s time for the Best TV Moments of 2017!
10. Sean Spicer – “Kristen Stewart” (Saturday Night Live)
2017 was not as great a year for Saturday Night Live as 2016. Perhaps the pressure was too high after one of its best runs in decades. Perhaps it is harder to perform spoofs of things that already feel satirical. Or perhaps Bobby Moynihan and Vanessa Bayer were more important to the show than we realize. Nevertheless, while nothing felt as inspired as the previous season’s run, there were still several great sketches, ranging from the slightly topical like “Thank You Scott,” “A Sketch For the Women,” and “Dog Translator,” to the overtly topical, like “Where In The World Is Kellyanne Conway?” “Kellywise,” and “Welcome to Hell,” to the just downright silly and fun, like Aziz Ansari’s “Pizza Town,” Kyle Mooney and Larry David’s “Beers,” and Tiffany Haddish’s tour-de-force opening monologue. However, if we’re going to talk about sketches that feel downright memorable, it would have to be what Melissa McCarthy accomplished as Sean Spicer in her surprise guest appearance. Truth be told, the sketch itself proved to be of diminishing returns, as things never seemed as funny after that initial sketch (although the image of McCarthy in the bushes was downright hilarious), but man, what a work of art that original was. It was the perfect example of satire, spoof, and what can happen when you actually have an angle to your comedy. Watching McCarthy’s unusually angry Spicer berate the press, angrily confront Moynihan’s Glenn Thrush, and use her podium as both a Segway and a weapon is a work of art, and no one can deliver a line like “I’m using soapy water to wash out that filthy mouth!” like McCarthy. It was truly a watershed moment for SNL, capturing the art of satire in a way that a certain someone’s impression of a certain president never has and never will.
9. Bockmire’s Meltdown – “Rally Cap” (Brockmire)
Hank Azaria is arguably a national treasure, having wowed us in a variety of projects, from The Simpsons to Friends to The Birdcage. However, I don’t think he’s ever had as open and talented a performance as his work on Brockmire. Based on a Funny or Die faux 30 For 30, the sketch followed a sports broadcaster who went off the deep end after his beloved wife of twenty years was caught cheating on him. That’s a funny idea for a sketch, but the show uses it as a jumping off point, following his attempt to redeem himself by serving as the announcer of a crappy minor league baseball team. There are several memorable moments from the show’s stellar first season (who knew Amanda Peet could act?), but few are as memorable as the recreation of the infamous monologue where Brockmire has his on-air meltdown. Because the show doesn’t settle for a few biting one-liner the way the sketch does. No, the show allows Azaria to unleash a verbal tirade at a rapid rate, becoming increasingly vicious, hilarious, and NSFW. I really don’t know what’s funnier here: Azaria’s facial responses, his scathing takedowns (“sexual astronaut” should be a mainstream term) or the families trying to cover their young children’s ears. All I know is that this is a vulgar masterpiece that introduced this show to the world in the best way possible. I’ve posted a shortened version of the scene below, but be warned: it is incredibly NSFW.
8. Let’s Generalize About Men – “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Wants Revenge.” (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)
At two and a half seasons, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has declared itself as one of the best shows in television history. It’s like a mad cross between 30 Rock, Flight of the Conchords, and The Sopranos. And because it is an original musical with several original performances each week, there are many moments I could pick from as the best of 2017. There’s Rachel Bloom’s memorable “My Diagnosis” or “Heinous B*tch,” Scott Michael Foster’s fabulous introduction “Let’s Have Intercourse,” and Donna Lynne Champlin’s all-time great ABBA spoof “First Penis I Saw.” Hell, there’s even a couple of scenes involving straightforward acting that could qualify for the list, involving Rebecca’s meltdown and her later apology to her friends. However, in terms of sheer musicality, theatricality, and altogether songwriting, I’m not sure I can think of anything better than the Pointer Sisters spoof “Let’s Generalize About Men.” Serving as both an appraisal and a critique of the art of getting together with your best girlfriends to discuss the awful traits of men as a whole, the song discusses the therapeutic nature of bunching all of those assh*les (and loved ones) together, while also pointing out the narcissistic and dangerous side effects of doing so. However, while the dialogue itself is hilarious, what I’m more excited about is the performance itself. Rebecca, Paula, Heather, and former rival Valencia are all talented performers and hilarious comedians, and yet this number is the first time we get to see them all perform together. I would never have thought I’d want a Valencia/Heather duet, and after hearing them harmonize, I don’t want anything else. Watching them dance in confetti while wearing brightly colored 80s clothing is my new identity. And above all, it’s just a good, fun song, even outside of the comedy/spoof genre. This is good television, period, and it helps establish why I (and many others) truly love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
7. Put It Down – “Put It Down” (South Park)
2017 was a good rebounding year for South Park. While the show itself wasn’t quite as hilariously perfect as it has been in the past, Trey Parker and Matt Stone have finally rebounded after getting thrown off their game in 2016. By getting back to their roots, the duo managed to make the show funnier, smarter, and more topical than it’s been in a long time. And while it’s tempting to declare the Barbershop Quartet the boys have that performs “Two Princes,” I don’t think there is a moment from this year as poignantly funny in its satire, genius, and just all-around fun as “Put It Down.” In an episode that dealt with the fear of nuclear war, whether irrational or not (the episode settles on “both”), the relationship between two young boys of different personalities (Tweek is emotional, Craig is cynical and stoic), and Texting While Driving PSAs, the episode ended with an emotional, cathartic performance for the sweetest couple on TV. Set up as a PSA about a “very serious issue,” the song goes on to take on a different type of cell phone use. The song is poignant and hilarious, and keeps building with visual joke after visual joke, including a children’s choir, a jab at a certain former politician, and a rap portion where Eric Cartman channels his inner Logic in a skewering of “1-800” (God bless him, he meant so well). I don’t want to spoil the punchline, but I can promise you that it is worth it. This was a high water mark for the year, and for the entire South Park run.
6. The Bad Place – “Michael’s Gambit” (The Good Place)
There were a ton of great moments this year in television, but I don’t think there’s a moment anywhere on this list that completely changed the course of an entire show the same way that the season finale of The Good Place did. Now, I haven’t watched The Good Place since the first couple of episodes – while I love Michael Schur, Ted Danson, and especially Kristen Bell, the show just never clicked with me in a way that made me want to return. However, I did tune in for the season finale, because I heard everyone talking about it. And after watching the episode, I can see why. You see, the main crux of the show was that Bell’s Eleanor had made it into The Good Place (i.e. Heaven) by accident, and had to prove that she could change in order to earn her place. As she meets her “neighbors,” she learns that none of the other members of Heaven were all they were cracked up to be, flawed by their vanity, egos, and lies from Earth. However, as things got weirder and weirder, the members of the cast continued to get more and more confused, until Eleanor had a striking revelation. As it turns out, The Good Place wasn’t some weird version of Our Town; it was No Exit. The characters that audiences had come to care about were revealed to be in Hell the entire time, designed specifically to torture each other at the whim of Danson’s perverse Valet. This was a stunning revelation, as it completely changed what the thesis of the show was. By allowing us to follow, connect, and care for these characters, we learn that no one is wholly good or wholly bad, and we feel offended at their inclusion in “Hell” with all the bad people. It makes us rethink our own judgmental behaviors, and helps us understand that everyone has a chance to choose good behavior and bad behavior, and neither helps define who we are overall. This is a stunning shift in a family sitcom, and if the entire show is as brilliant as this twist, I may have to start watching again.
5. Rick’s Szechuan Sauce Rant – “The Rickshank Redemption” (Rick and Morty)
Oh, Rick and Morty, it’s good to have your nihilistic cynicism back on the air once again. Yes, after season two closed out on a downer note and the promise of “see you in a year and a half…or longer…” fans waited anxiously for the show to make its triumphant return. And that it did, with a strong, trippy season that continued to pit in the face of logic and comfort, like a trip to an all-Rick and Morty world that served as a blatant socio-political allegory, or the intentionally fan-angering Pickle Rick. Now, there were several standout moments I could have chosen for this list, including Rick’s “heartfelt” message to “Morty” in “Vindicators 3,” a dark joke involving a planet of immortality in “The Whirly-Dirly Conspiracy,” and the pure joy of Rick and Morty Bugs Bunnying President Obama in the season finale. However, for my money, the best moment from this past season came at the end of the first episode, not only because of its sheer memorability, but because of its real-world implications. In the season premiere, “The Rickshank Redemption,” the show finds itself at a reset back to the first season, with the exception of mother Beth divorcing beta father Jerry. While Morty is traumatized by this revelation, Rick reveals that it was all a part of his master plan for more freedom over the universe, and continues to harass Morty with the revelation that things were going to take a dark turn this season. And then, things get weird: Rick takes a fourth wall-breaking tangent into discussing his lifelong quest for Szechuan Sauce, a McDonald’s dipping sauce tie-in for the 1998 film Mulan. This monologue, presented as a mirror of Rick’s pilot episode thesis statement (“Rick and Morty, a hundred years Rick and Morty!”), is many things: it’s funny, it’s satirical about the notion of the “driving force” in storytelling, like the One-Armed Man or Rosebud, and it’s dumb. Pretty much a good summary of why we love Rick and Morty. However, this moment’s story doesn’t end there. Fast forward to September, after the season finale, when McDonald’s thought it would be a fun idea to bring back Szechuan Sauce for one day only. Boy did that backfire. Not only was the whole thing poorly planned and executed (most employees hated the idea), but as it turned out, they didn’t have enough. Most McDonald’s only had two-dozen for lines down the street, leaving many fans irate (I was a part of the turned-away crowds, although I have self respect and did not become angered over the loss). Containers were sold on eBay for thousands of dollars, fans called for a boycott of the chain restaurant – and all because of a dumb throwaway joke on an animated show. That speaks to the power of the sequence, and why it stands as one of the best TV Moments of the year.
4. Sex And The Glass Box – “My Log Has A Message For You” (Twin Peaks: The Return)
Twin Peaks: The Return was pretty much the show I expected Twin Peaks to be when I first watched it. Which is to say, instead of being a smart, surreal, funny look at the way death can affect a community, it was an odd, nonsensical jumble of ideas and themes that left you often saying, “Wait, what?” And while that may not be what writer Mark Frost intended, that’s certainly what co-creator David Lynch intended. And to be fair, not every moment in the new series was as uncomfortably surreal as the Chocolate Bunny scene, or even as bizarre as Kyle MacLachlan’s Dale Cooper coming back as a simpleton and replacing his equally-simple clone Dougie. Sometimes there was a moment of pure art that changed the game and broke new ground in the series that originated breaking new ground. Sometimes this came in a simple moment, like Bobby Briggs looking at a picture of Laura Palmer for the first time in 25 years. However, the moment that comes most clearly to mind was The Glass Box, as seen in the new season’s premiere episode, “My Log Has A Message For You.” With so little of the new season taking place in the town of Twin Peaks, when we are introduced to couple Sam Colby and Tracey Barberito, we assume that they are going to be our new leads. We don’t know much about them, except that Sam is part of a government agency that requires him to watch a glass box for the entire night. Nothing has happened under Sam’s watch, but the previous guard was traumatized by what he saw in it. One night, the guard goes missing, and Sam sneaks Tracey in for a midnight tryst. And this is where Lynch unleashes the best of his abilities, evoking the best storytelling and surrealist techniques he can to show the audience something unique. As we cut between the couple and the box, we know something is coming, and we don’t know what. The reveal is too great and too surreal to give away, so I advise you watch the video below, but beware: it is NSFW. ABC did a great job of reining in Lynch’s more out-there tendencies that kept it from reaching the rest of the season’s awkwardness, but if moving to Showtime allowed Lynch to make a sequence this beautiful, this disquieting, and this perfect, then give him this level of freedom for the rest of eternity.
3. Uncle Jeff In The Hospital – “A Woman First” (Veep)
On last year’s list, I wrote about a scene on Veep involving Timothy Simons’ Congressional candidate Jonah Ryan using horribly vulgar language, only to be scolded by his campaign manager, as played by Peter MacNichol, for swearing in an elementary school. It was single-handedly one of the funniest visuals of the year. Since that clip aired, I’ve come to learn that that campaign manager was Ryan’s Uncle Jeff, who despised his nephew and only reluctantly ran his campaign. Which brings us to season six. Over the course of the season, we watched Jonah attempt two missions: make a mark in Congress, and find a wife (you can’t have affairs without a wife, Jonah explains). The first mission results in a government shutdown over Daylight Savings Time. The second results in Jonah marrying a Jewish heiress and undergoing a circumcision. Which brings us back to Uncle Jeff. While Jonah rests in the hospital after his procedure, Uncle Jeff pays a visit, and what follows is single handedly one of the greatest monologues in the history of television. Peter MacNichol unleashes such a funny, brutal tirade upon his nephew, I honestly don’t know how he did it. I don’t know how anyone could create that level of utter contempt for anyone in order to deliver those lines in such a hilarious, hilarious manner. I can’t write much more about this speech, because I don’t think I can get away with writing half the words that are uttered on this forum. All I can say is that MacNichol transcends television in this performance, and in a just world he would win an Oscar on top of an Emmy for his work (he was nominated for neither). I warn you that the following speech is incredibly, incredibly NSFW, but watch it below anyway, for it is proof that the best TV moments come from a great HBO monologue.
2. Olenna Tyrell’s Final Speech – “The Queen’s Justice” (Game Of Thrones)
Speaking of great HBO monologues, Game of Thrones! I won’t lie to you all and pretend I loved season seven. It felt more like fan service than anything this show has done before, what with the dragon fighting and the big reveals and all of the characters meeting up and so on. However, just because I didn’t love the new season doesn’t mean it didn’t have some great moments. The death of Littlefinger was the perfect way to send out a complicated, infuriating character (he’s literally a darker, more ambiguous Snape). And Arya Stark finally avenging the Red Wedding was pure television pleasure. However, the best moment of the new season came with the send-off for Diana Riggs’ Olenna Tyrell. One of the show’s best characters, Olenna was the grandmother of Queen Margarey, and one of the funniest, smartest, most brutal characters we’ve seen. She’s the silver-tongued genius that, along with Littlefinger, came up with the plan to assassinate the monstrous King Joffrey. And when her family was eliminated by Queen Cersei, she was one of the first prominent figures to jump up and ally herself with the Sand Snakes and Daenerys in order to take back the throne. Unfortunately, the Lannisters are cunning opponents, and they eliminated Tyrell’s forces before she had a chance to strike back. Luckily, this gave us the opportunity to see Riggs prove herself as one of the greatest stage and screen actresses of all time with a killer sequence that allowed her character to go out on top. After being given the chance for an “honorable death” by Jaime Lannister, she downs her poison without a moment’s hesitation, embracing her fate like a champ. However, this isn’t the moment that makes this scene stand out. While most people would face death with fear or with regret, Riggs, relishing each word like a work of art, looks Jaime in the face and makes him aware of the fact that she was responsible for killing his son. “Tell Cersei for me, won’t you?” she utters as her last words, a smile on her face. This is the type of acting they show you in drama school, and it proves that Riggs was always so much more than a Bond Girl or Emma Peele. She was a master-class actress who could command a scene all the way to the grave. Here’s hoping she gets the chance for one more great performance in her illustrious career.
1. Titus Lemonades – “Kimmy’s Roommate Lemonades!” (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
And finally, the Best TV Moment of the year. This year, I don’t know how I could go with anything else but the wonderful achievement that Tituss Burgess pulled off on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Burgess is a tremendously talented actor and singer, as can be seen in both his hilarious turn “murdering” Dionne Warwick and his rousing performance of “Boobs In California” (as his character puts it, “the most vile thing I’ve ever done”). However, I don’t know of any moment as truly iconic, hilarious, heartwarming, and heartbreaking as when a jilted Titus Andromedon deals with the pain of losing his boyfriend Mikey by Lemonading. To clarify, Titus creates his own version of the sensational Beyoncé album Lemonade, featuring three spoofs of Beyoncé songs (“Hold Up,” “Sorry,” and “All Night”). Each song is a perfectly crafted spoof, utilizing imagery, motifs, and musical influence to create funny, likable spoofs of the now-iconic songs. I probably know just as many words to “Hell No” as I do to “Hold Up.” The jokes and references build upon each other in a glorious tribute to the Lemonade. And if that wasn’t enough, as Titus lacks the money for a proper studio, he creates his music by mashing up “the Rosie O’Donnell cast album of Grease, ‘Spooky Sounds of the Haunted Mansion,’ and the best TV commericals.” Which means that composer Jeff Richmond had to create something that sounds like Lemonade through the opening strums of “Summer Nights” and an old Menin commercial (listen closely for the “By Menin!” in the songs; it’s divine). Titus Andromedon is arguably the greatest character on television right now, and this medley of songs serves as his magnum opus.
Best TV Episodes
And now we’ll look at the best TV episodes of 2017! As per usual, my only rule here is that I will only pick one episode per show, so no matter how many shows have more than one fantastic episode, only one can make the list. Furthermore, because of how many great half-hours and hours of television there were this year, many shows ended up not making the cut. That means Archer didn’t make it in for “Archer Dreamland: Auflösung,” and Silicon Valley didn’t make it in for “Success/Failure.” The Best Show of 2016, You’re the Worst, had a pretty bad season four, but had great episodes in “Odysseus” and “Not A Great Bet.” Some good shows had great episodes, like The Middle’s “The Par-tay” and “The Confirmation,” or “Scarlett Johansson” for Saturday Night Live, while some average/bad shows stood out with one solid run, like “Tape 6, Side A” for 13 Reasons Why. Certain shows also just missed the cut because the show itself was greater than the sum of its parts, like “Pilot” for GLOW, “Nailed” for American Vandal, or “And The Winner Is (The Oscars of 1963),” “Mommie Dearest,” and “You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?” for Feud. I rather liked “Library” for Veep, and Man Seeking Woman had a wonderful final season with “Shrimp,” “Bagel,” and “Dolphin.” And finally, the ones that almost made the list. South Park came dangerously close with “Put It Down,” and the final season of Girls continued its run of controversial, topical, smart episodes with the moment that defined a year, “American B*tch.” And I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to the two best episodes of a very weird, possibly final season of Sherlock, “The Lying Detective” (the better of the two) and “The Final Problem” (the episode that actually elevated my heart rate over 100 in fear).
Finally, I want to give one very special shout out to an episode of investigative journalism that was unlike anything I had ever seen. That piece was Elle Reeve’s report for Vice News Tonight, “Charlottesville: Race and Terror.” The special allowed us a front row seat to a Neo-Nazi riot on U.S. soil, featuring interviews with controversial figures whose names I will not report so as not to give them an outlet or coverage (if you watch the special, you can learn the names of these heinous figures). You can literally see, up close and personal, how hate can fester inside a person to the point of radicalization, and when they praise the man who would go on to commit an act of domestic terrorism on camera, you get an understanding of how far this hatred can spread. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and it deserves recognition even if it isn’t the kind of episodic television I normally report. Now that we’ve address this more serious topic, let’s return to fun with the Top Ten Television Episodes of 2017!
10. Offred – The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale was arguably the most talked about show of 2017. Green lit almost two years ago and based on a book written over thirty, the series took on an almost topical feeling in a year where women finally managed to speak up against the abuse perpetrated against them by those in power. Overall, the series is messy, surreal, bombastic, and cinematic – all of which is intentional, and not unlike the book (which I actually enjoy much more than the series). However, if there’s any moment that stands out as a thesis statement for the year as a whole, it is “Offred.” Based on the first few chapters of Margaret Atwood’s novel, the episode jumps between the last remaining years of the old world and the first few years of the new, as Gilead’s power is established. It is here we watch as Offred was pulled away from her husband and daughter as they tried to escape to Canada, only to find herself placed in a Handmaid Training Camp (as women still able to bear children were transformed into breeding cattle) and eventually in the home of The Commander. The episode has several memorable moments, including the subtle work done by Alexis Bledel as a fellow Handmaid, the insane sequence of Offred and the other Handmaid’s being instructed to beat a rapist to death, the over-the-top nature of the Ceremony, and Ann Dowd’s stunning, wonderful performance as Aunt Lydia, the Handmaid’s trainer/captor. The dialogue, often taken directly from the novel, is striking, and the imagery helps bring to life the classic novel in such a unique way. The episode ends with Offred finally referring to herself by her rightful name, June, and it stands out as one of the most triumphant moments of the year. The show itself might not quite be a masterpiece, but its stunning pilot does help establish it as one of the most unique experiences of the year.
9. U.S.S. Callister – Black Mirror
Speaking of timeliness, “U.S.S. Callister!” For years now, Black Mirror has been turning out innovative, exciting stories about man’s addiction to technology. It’s sort of a modern Twilight Zone! Last year, they challenged us with the unique love story “San Junipero,” but this year they returned to their bleak, allegorical roots with a metaphor for geek culture, the myth of the Forgotten Man, and what happens when you allow toxic masculinity to run rampant. It also satirizes the “Hero Male” image that sci-fi has built in figures like Han Solo and particularly Captain Kirk. Following Robert Daly, the creator of a massively popular online video game, we learn that Daly had his company stolen out from under him, is bullied by his coworkers, and cannot create a functioning relationship with another human being. The only place that he can feel any sense of control is his own personal VR escape, an adaptation of his favorite sci-fi series, Space Fleet. In the game, he can be the hero. However, things begin to take a dark turn as we realize that he creates his crew by stealing the DNA – and the consciousness – of his coworkers and tormenting them in-game. As he is the universe’s Dark God, he can take away their ability to breathe, leaving them to suffer throughout eternity, to shift their shapes at his whim, and even force them to watch their son dying in space on an endless loop, all to keep them in check. However, upon the insertion of a new coder in the company, Lt. Cole, the ship begins to build up the nerve to fight back and defeat their oppressor. The episode is timely in its portrayal of abusive male commanders in tech companies, as well as the women who speak up to fight back against aggressive misogyny. Plus, it gives us great performances by Billy Magnussen, Jimmi Simpson (who gets to show us his Ken-like nether region, to great effect), and especially Cristin Milioti and Jesse Plemons. I love Milioti to death, and seeing her lead a sci-fi adventure is exactly what the doctor ordered (please put her in everything), but I won’t lie: while Plemons’ Daly is a monstrous example of toxic masculinity who filled me with rage, can he just do impressions of William Shatner for the rest of eternity? Pretty please? Even if the answer is no, “U.S.S. Callister” is a wonderful take on Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life,” and easily one of the best television episodes of the year.
8. The Rickshank Redemption – Rick and Morty
There were several fantastic episodes of Rick and Morty in its triumphant third season. “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender” was a terrific spoof of superhero films, as well as a look at how horrible a protagonist Rick Sanchez truly is. “The Whirly Dirly Conspiracy” put together two diametric opposites in order to maximize the humor, and featured both the darkest and most surreal moments of television of the year. And yes, “Pickle Rick” is hilarious. Suck it, haters. However, if there’s one episode that truly captures what Rick and Morty is about, it’s “The Rickshank Redemption,” the season premiere that set the tone for “the darkest year of their adventures.” The episode tied together past themes and ideas, including Cronenberg World, the Council of Ricks, and the previous season finale, which saw Rick arrested as an international terrorist for defying the Galactic Federation. We got to see Summer and Morty quest across the multiverse in order to rescue their grandfather, who is meanwhile swapping and murdering a series of bodies in order to move his consciousness into a duplicate Rick. And in the defining moment of Rick’s life, he defeats both of his rivals: the Galactic Federation and the Council of his Alternate Universe selves, with a series of basic maneuvers. There are few moments as hilariously poignant as when he topples an entire regime by changing their currency from “1” to “0.” I haven’t even mentioned Szechuan Sauce (ok, I did above) or a cameo by Nathan Fillion. However, if there’s one thing that really makes this episode unique, it’s the way it was released. Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland chose to release this episode, which had been highly anticipated for months, on April 1st without any publicity. They just suddenly began marathoning it for fun because they could. And they did it a year and a half to the day that the second season finale declared “See you in a year and a half…or longer.” That is the Rick Sanchez way. I am incredibly happy that we got Rick and Morty back on the air in 2017, and I’m glad that this third season premiere was as remarkable as it ended up being.
7. Mother Nature – black-ish
black-ish continues, well into its fourth season, to be one of the funniest and most uplifting shows on television. It’s also one of those shows where the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts (don’t even ask me to pick a favorite character, because I couldn’t narrow it down past Zoe, Bow, Diane, or Charles). However, there are two episodes from this year’s charcuterie board of talent that stand out above the others. The first is “Lemons,” the episode that showed the election of President Trump and the country’s division from a black family’s perspective (which is quite different and more special than being from someone speaking for African Americans’ perspective). However, the episode that I feel best encapsulates what this show can pull off is “Mother Nature,” the second episode of the fourth season. After the difficult birth of the finale, Bow finds herself suffering from postpartum depression. The show deftly blends comedy and drama as we watch her struggle to handle her emotions, as well as husband Dre’s (often ill-guided) attempts to help her. It’s a loving, compassionate episode, showing that despite his flaws, Dre is a good and loving husband, and showing women suffering from postpartum that it is ok to reach out for help if they need it. And the subplot with son Junior deciding that he needs to make himself over as the new mother of baby DaVonte and administering skin-to-skin contact via a shirtless Baby Bjorn provides the humor whenever the show finds itself becoming too difficult to watch. However, what makes black-ish a great show is the way it can embrace the heartwarming nature of, say, a Brady Bunch or C*sby Show while still elevating the material. And that’s exactly what we get in the end here – the family coming together to help Bow, including the normally antagonistic Ruby. The show features good performances by Anthony Anderson and Jenifer Lewis, but it’s truly a master class in acting by Tracee Ellis Ross, who captures the mixture of emotions that go along with postpartum. And when mixed with the great jokes and writing that normally accompany the show, it made for one of the most memorable half-hours of television all year.
6. Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy. – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has been doing some really special stuff this year. It has started playing with format, themes and storytelling in a really cool, different way. Examples can be seen in the narrated little wonder “Josh Is The Man of My Dreams, Right?” and the truly heartbreaking, almost unwatchable “I Never Want To See Josh Again.” I even toyed with adding “Josh Is Irrelevant.” to the list, but none of them felt as right or as original as “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy.” The episode is distinct in the series not only for limiting the number of songs performed (there are really only two songs, and one of them is more a sample than it is a full-blown number), and not just because it takes the form of a takedown of the female revenge thriller. No, it’s distinct because it brings together everything the show has been building towards mere episodes into the third season. The revelations, the thematic loose ends, and the character growth (or lack thereof) that’s been building since the pilot finally come to fruition, and it was here that the show finally fulfilled the promise of the title: Rebecca becomes the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. In a lot of ways, the episode plays as a test of what we are able to subject ourselves to without any control. We care about each of these characters, so we don’t want to watch Rebecca hone in on each of her friends’ weaknesses and exploit them for maximum pain as punishment for “turning on her,” but we do. We don’t want to watch her try to destroy Josh’s life a la Swimfan, but we do (also, hi Rory O’Malley!) While we do want to see her stalk Josh like a horror movie while dressed like a shrub, we don’t like what it means for her psyche. And when she sinks to a new low by kidnapping Josh’s mom, we fear what the only recourse can be – if this is truly a spoof of films like Swimfan and Fatal Attraction, the only option is her death. And yet that’s still not the worst moment. For we have one brief moment of hope when she receives a call from the only person to truly get her, Greg, only to learn it is a butt dial, and that he’s moved on with his life. I won’t spoil the episode’s final moments, but it is truly one of the most painful moments I’ve ever seen, and not even a depressingly ingenious song by Josh Groban can help the episode end on an upper note. This is not happy television in the slightest, but it does show the lengths, the depths, and the extremes that the show is willing to go to – for if we don’t understand the painful lows of Rebecca’s “crazy,” we can never build to the happy ending that she – and we as an audience – deserve.
5. Kimmy’s Roommate Lemonades! – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
I’ve already declared that Titus marching down the street in a yellow dress was the greatest moment of 2017. However, even if the episode didn’t possess those wonderful musical interludes (or perhaps because of them), it would still be one of the funniest, loveliest episodes of the year. I’ve written before about how this season of Kimmy Schmidt felt like the story Tina Fey has wanted to tell, and this episode is the perfect example of that. Every aspect is firing on the perfect Fey-esque level. Kimmy’s realization that she wants to go to college as a crossing guard seems like the logical next step, and the introduction to Daveed Diggs’ love interest is cute and wonderful. It’s understandable why Ellie Kemper is a national treasure because of this turn, as only she could sell a joke about applying at Hudson University, the stand-in “bad college” on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Meanwhile, the C-plot features aging hippie conspiracy theorist Lillian going full Trump in her campaign against Jacqueline, and it is just as great as it sounds (watching the incredibly talented Carol Kane leading a crowd in a chant of “Lock her up” against a confused Jane Krakowski is like watching an artist at work). However, if you’re watching this episode, it’s because of the incredible turn by Tituss Burgess. Outside of his musical performances, he continues his streak of wonderful one-liners, opening the episode with such gems as “Kim Kebow” and (when asked how he knew that his boyfriend Mikey’s new friend was even gay), “Everybody’s gay, Kimmy, it’s the 90s!” However, beyond the humor and joy he brings us in his performance, he also laces it in a layer of heart. The relationship between Titus and Mikey has long been one of the show’s secret weapons, and by breaking them up in order to show the struggles of finding love immediately after coming out, and the pain of first relationships while discovering yourself, is all shown inside of a plot that features Titus taking a bat to a fire hydrant. This is clever, fun television at its best, and it shows why Fey is one of our best writers and why Kimmy Schmidt is one of our most lovable shows.
4. The Gang Turns Black – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It’s really a miracle what It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia can do twelve years into their run. I mean, most shows don’t have a season that great in five, let alone twelve. And yet, the show that has been called “Seinfeld on crack” has just wrapped up one of their best seasons yet, giving us episode after episode of future classics. I was really quite tempted to include “Making Dennis Reynolds a Murderer” (the best true crime spoof of the year before American Vandal changed the game), but I feel it would be wrong to include anything but their season premiere, “The Gang Turns Black.” Released the first week of 2017, I knew almost instantly I had seen a Top Five contender for Best Episodes of the Year, and had it not been for a few minor masterpieces, it very well could have. The episode showed the kind of irreverent, ingenious satire that only this band of idiots could get away with, and it made a clear case about white privilege (and selfishness), the complex nature of race relations, and really broke down the weird nuances of this show. After being electrocuted during a lightning storm while watching The Wiz and declaring that “black people have it easy,” the Gang awakens to find themselves looking the same to each other, but appearing as a group of African-Americans to the rest of the world. Oh, and it’s a musical. And so they set out on a quest to determine “what kind of body swap movie they’re in” – is it The Wiz, or The Hot Chick, or Quantum Leap? Their quest leads them into encounters with the police, African-Americans they’d encountered in previous episodes, and even Scott Bakula, who had lost all his money and is now working as a janitor (and yes, he also has a solo). The episode also uses their racial body swap to explore the vanities and complexities of the characters – Dennis is upset that the person he’s become is overweight, Dee tries to prove that she’s a proper “woke liberal,” Mac tries to figure out if he’s one of the “good blacks,” Frank sets out to try and say the “n-word” without repercussions, and Charlie bonds with a social worker who hears his plight. Charlie’s sequence is perhaps one of the smarter in the episode, as he has taken the form of a young African-American boy, and while we have spent twelve years hearing of his horrible life with a sense of twisted glee, watching the social worker hear it out of the mouth of a young child reveals just how horrible things have been for poor Charlie (also, he nails a patter song). The episode ends with Charlie trying to bond with the police by showing them his toy train, only to be shot down – and the cuts between Charlie getting shot and a young African-American boy being shot force you to laugh not out of humor, but out of necessity (it’s more just air escaping your throat than it is an actual laugh). There are few episodes of television as smart, as funny, and as all-around perfect as “The Gang Turns Black,” and the fact that It’s Always Sunny can do something this funny and this ambitious this far into their run is a testament to the talents of everyone involved.
3. Finding Frances – Nathan For You
Nathan For You is a hard show to sell to people. A surrealist experiment that blends prank show with business makeover, it is hard to tell what is real and what is fake. You know that Nathan Fielder’s crazy schemes to help failing shows are truly terrible, and yet you also know that he has tried them in the real world, as certain experiments like Dumb Starbucks and his infamous Magic Trick have gone viral. However, that blending of the real and the fake that Fielder has built a career off of is exactly what he wishes to explore in the single best documentary of the year, “Finding Frances.” Built up to in the preceding weeks as a special event, “Finding Frances” forgoes Nathan’s usual shenanigans in order to use his show’s budget to help a former castmate William Heath (an amateur Bill Gates impersonator) find his long-lost love. And sure, a few of Nathan’s more insane stunts are featured in the episode – in order to find a yearbook to discover the love’s last name, Nathan pretends to be the director of Mud 2: Never Clean, and later he stages a 57th year anniversary at the local high school. However, things really begin to morph as he begins to learn that Bill isn’t all he’s cracked up to be – he’s creepy, he’s narcissistic, and he’s a bit of a liar. And running parallel to this, Nathan develops a relationship with an escort that he accidentally hires, named Marci. The show continues its blend of the fact, the fiction, and the surreal as Nathan attempts a relationship with Marci, who is wholly aware that this could be a part of his show, that he makes a living making fun of people (even though he insists that’s not what he does), and the only time they ever see each other involves payment (just for talking, though, Nathan insists). It’s really hard to explain what makes “Finding Frances” so great – although Errol Morris does a great job in this article in The New Yorker – but it is easy to say that it is one of the best documentaries on the complexities of love and fact vs. fiction in history. I’m currently prepared to name it the best documentary of the year, but in the meantime, I feel confident in naming it one of the best episodes of television this year.
2. Thanksgiving – Master of None
Look, there were a lot of good episodes of Master of None this year. I personally thought “The Thief” was an excellent tribute to The Bicycle Thief. However, there is really only one episode that stands out amongst this collection of episodes. It is the one that made Emmys history. It is the one that got people talking. It is the one that got writer/actress Lena Waithe her own television show. That episode is “Thanksgiving,” the episode that gave everyone across every swath of life the opportunity to see what it’s like to be with an African-American family on Thanksgiving when one person has come out. By using the same day over the years as a framing device, we get to see Denise come of age with her family over the years, starting when she was very young and realizing that she was attracted to women through her coming out to her family and friends and finally through her ill-fated attempts at bringing girlfriends home with her for the holidays. The episode follows two characters in particular across this journey: Denise as she struggles to be herself in her own home with the woman she loves, and her mother Catherine (played wonderfully by Angela Bassett) as an African-American mother struggling with the weight of their community, her own personal biases, and her desire for what is best for her daughter. The episode deftly balances realistic touches (the way an African-American family spoke about the O.J. trial in 1995, or the mother’s desire to hide her daughter’s sexuality from the grandmother) to the hilarious (watching Ansari’s Dev continue to poke the new, bad girlfriend about her horrifically inappropriate Instagram handle is an absolute joy). In the end, we watch as Catherine finally manages to come to terms with Denise, and even bonds with the new girlfriend Joyce (over, what else, Denise’s stubborn and irritating quirks, as every mother and partner is wont to do). Watching the family say grace together in the end feels like a triumphant moment, and it is. Look, it is absolutely true that this episode is special and unique because it was the first black woman to win an Emmy (or be nominated) and it gave us some insight into an African-American family over the holidays, but to simply refer to this episode as “Important” undercuts its wonder. It is excellent television at its finest, a showcase in writing, directing, and acting. And it stands tall as one of the most unique television experiences of the year.
1. Time’s Arrow – BoJack Horseman
I have been doing television write-ups on my own for four years now. This is the third year out of its four-year run that BoJack Horseman has taken the #1 spot for Best Television Episode (in 2015, it took the #2 spot to It’s Always Sunny’s “Charlie Work”). I think this can be attributed to two things: one, it is consistently one of the funniest, saddest, best shows on television; and two, it never wants to settle for just being “the best” – creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg consistently wants to change the game with his work, and to tell stories in a new and unique way. This season, he did it several times over – he did it in “The Old Sugarman Place” by jumping between time periods to show how depression can pass through a family. He did it in “Thoughts and Prayers” by giving us a unique, twisted take on the gun crisis and Hollywood’s potentially complicit hand in it. He did it in “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” by giving us an inside look at what a depressed person’s mind looks like 24/7. And he did it in “Ruthie” by setting up a storytelling narrative for the sole purpose of pulling the rug out from under us in the final two minutes, for maximum impact. However, no episode this season, or this year, came close to the visual and thematic marvel that was “Time’s Arrow.” BoJack’s mother Beatrice, as played by Wendie Malick, has always been the show’s greatest villain. Her emotional abuse of BoJack is the heart of most of our protagonist’s problems. However, by showing us her memories of her broken, flawed life, we begin to feel empathy grow for a woman who has openly punished her son simply “for being alive.” We see the sexist mistreatment she suffered at the hands of her billionaire father, voiced with a malicious, abusive intent by Matthew Broderick – who is so maniacally evil that it just never feels right that he’s in this role, and yet he fits in so perfectly. We see her happy marriage fall apart with cheating, lying SOB Butterscotch Horseman. And we see the events set in motion that build up to Season Four’s overall arc. However, what makes this episode most shocking is the fact that, while the episode takes place in Beatrice’s memories, she is stuck in the late stages of dementia, meaning that everything is jumbled, confusing, and blurred together in a mishmash of memories and time periods. It’s perhaps the best look at dementia ever put on television, and watching this poor old woman go through it is painful, even if we know of the abuse she has committed in her life. The episode ends with BoJack and Beatrice finally having a heart-to-heart, with BoJack doing the mature thing in trying to comfort an old woman with whom he’s had a complex relationship in what might be her final hours. Everyone in this episode is top notch, from writer Kate Purdy and director Aaron Long to voice actors Broderick, Will Arnett, and especially Wendie Malick, who proves why she’s been a go-to talent in the industry for so many years. This is the type of episode that proves why I love this show, why many people love this show, and the kind of emotional impact that can come from well-made art. This was the year I declared BoJack Horseman as my Favorite Show of All Time (tied with Frasier, of course), and the fact it contained the #1 episode of 2017 is a large part of that.
Well, that wraps up this massive article. Tune in next week to learn what the best overall shows were of the past year, and please let me know in the comments what you think of this list, and if there’s any that you think I missed!