2018 has come to an end, and if anything, it was an unprecedented great year for television. While the old guard may have started to slip, either due to some game-changing risks that didn’t always pan out (black-ish) or a decline in prestige (This Is Us), almost every other channel stepped up in a major way. The British gave us assassin fighting detectives, Netflix gave us haunted houses and lady wrestlers, and HBO and Showtime gave us morose assassins learning improv and an “Israeli” colonel exposing bigotry in the U.S. Like I said, a crazy, groundbreaking year. In fact, it was such a great year for television, I’ve been having trouble figuring out the exact order that I want this list, and I’ve struggled making cuts. But eventually I just have to suck it up and make some hard cuts, and that’s exactly what I did. So I am pleased to share with you all my first piece on the best television of 2018: the Best Television Moments of 2018 and the Best Television Episodes!
Before we start breaking these lists down, allow me to provide my yearly disclaimer: I’m just one man. I can only watch so much in a year, and certain shows end up falling by the wayside, especially when I don’t have a consistent subscription to HBO, Showtime, YouTube Red, and more. This means I haven’t watched Better Call Saul or Wild, Wild Country, The Haunting of Hill House or Maniac, The Good Place or Patrick Melrose, Pose and Forever, American Vandal or One Day At A Time, and so on. There are also shows that I never finished in their entirety, due to either time constraints or a general “meh” reaction to the material, so you may not see much of Westworld, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, or Arrested Development. And finally, my yearly “I’m Too Far Behind To Catch Up” caveat (aka The Leftovers Disclaimer): most critics agree that the best show of 2018 was The Americans. I never started The Americans, and while I would love to catch up with it, I want to start from the beginning. So unfortunately, The Americans will not be on any of my lists this year. Sorry. But now that we’ve gotten my blind spots out of the way, we can turn our attentions back to the important items on the docket: the best TV of 2018!
Best TV Moments
*Spoilers Below, Scroll to TV Episodes to avoid*
This was a year when all eyes were glued to the television, for one reason or another. It was a year where we found ourselves battling with reality in the form of terrific television, whether it was heartwarming, tear inducing, or infuriating. Thus, certain moments from certain shows managed to burrow their way into our brains, transporting us from the world of the present to a world of enchantment, terror, or hilarity. Whether these moments lasted mere seconds or entire minutes matters not; all that matters is that they stand out to you, emotionally, technically, or spiritually. Examples include the tracking shot from True Detective, The Battle of the Bastards on Game of Thrones, and last year’s winner, the Beyoncé Spoof on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
This year, there were several moments that could have made the cut. Both black-ish and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt had hilarious homages to the Sunken Place from Get Out. Black-ish also had an entire episode dedicated to Prince and his music videos, which included some of the funniest moments of the year. Succession gave us the hilarious moment when Shiv and Roman Roy break out in a fist fight in the hospital waiting room (and fiancé Tom walks in and out faster than Grandpa Simpson). And Brooklyn Nine-Nine had one of the greatest viral videos of the year thanks to the Backstreet Boys cold open. Then there are the shows that had multiple contenders. Homecoming gave us that stunning sequence that showed the creation of the “medication,” as well as the sequence where Julia Roberts’ Heidi figured out what was going on and the aspect ratio shifted (what a great scene). The Daily Show has been in a slump ever since Jon Stewart left (Trevor Noah is a talented comedian but he is just not the right fit for the show), but they had two guffah-inducing sequneces in Hasan Minaj’s Mad Money spoof surrounding the Dow plummet at the beginning of the year, and there was no sequence as hysterical to me as when Neil Brennan performed his riff on the existence of Santa and disproving other lies we tell ourselves. Saturday Night Live has been in a slump ever since their terrific run in 2016, but they still had some great skits last year, including their “Divided We Stand” Off-Broadway spoof, the Bill C*sby jail cell sketch, and above all else, the Adam Driver “Career Day” bit (there is no better proof that Adam Driver is one of the greatest actors of his time than the level of commitment he dedicated to playing an old-timey oil baron). And let’s not forget Big Mouth, which gave us a litany of terrific original songs, including “The Shame Wizard’s Song,” “We Love Our Bodies,” and the hilariously vulgar “Guy Town” (Jason Mantzoukas singing!). Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two award show moments that took the year by storm, so here they are: first, Oprah Winfrey delivered a speech at the Golden Globes so poignant and heartwarming that people demanded she run for president (she probably isn’t, but still…). And second, the Parkland Drama Club, whose teacher had been chosen by the Tony Awards as the high school director of the year even before the massacre, showed up to honor both her and their fallen friends and fellow students with a rousing, emotional rendition of “Seasons of Love” (a tribute to those we’ve lost in the wake of a national tragedy). It was a powerful moment, to say the least.
And finally, while there weren’t any insane moments to share like I had in the past (looking at you, Dirty Dancing Not Live), I did have two films I desperately wanted to shout out that didn’t quite make the list, even though they were on an early draft. The first is the Turkey Monologue on black-ish, which put a neat little bow on a ballsy arc where the show threatened to split up its central couple – it made all the pain of the all-too-real (and honestly, way too long) plotline worth it. And from a trend-breaking comedy standpoint, I want to give a shout out to the unprecedented crossover between The Tonight Show, Late Night, and Conan (i.e. a cable talk show), where the three hosts filmed a joint cold open that ran simultaneously on three channels in the aftermath of their derision by a certain speechmaker. It took the high road in its comedy, allowed each host to play to their strengths, and provided laughs for all. And again, as natural as it seemed, this was also a historic event in the history of late night TV. That’s certainly commendable. Now, with all that settled, let’s dive into the Best TV Moments of 2018!
10. Eve And Villanelle Have Dinner – “I Have A Thing About Bathrooms” (Killing Eve)
As a stylish, fun cross between Silence of the Lambs and Catch Me If You Can, Killing Eve – the breakout hit of 2018 that reminded everyone that Sandra Oh is one of the greatest treasures of our time – had a litany of stand-out moments, including a series of hits, assassin Villanelle’s (Jodie Comer) terrific delivery of “Take me to the Hole!” and the shocking death of main character Bill in just the third episode of the series. However, no moment best summed up the show’s main premise – the weird bond shared between Villanelle and the woman hunting her, MI6 agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) – as their first real confrontation in Eve’s kitchen. The scene manages to capture the tone of the show in just a few minutes – the tension as Eve finds Villanelle has broken into her house and can anticipate her every move, the humor of Villanelle’s desire to just have dinner and the fact that Eve’s password is “1-2-3-4,” the determination in Eve telling the woman holding a knife to her neck that she will “find the thing you care about in life, and I am gonna kill it,” and just the sheer joy of watching two top-of-their-game actresses trade Phoebe Waller-Bridge barbs. It’s one of the best scenes of the year, and this excerpt alone is the equivalent of taking a month’s worth of acting classes.
9. Henry Fondle – “Head In The Clouds” (BoJack Horseman)
Another year, another appearance by BoJack Horseman on the Best TV Moments list. Easily the best show of the decade, BoJack takes risks in every episode, whether it’s through drama, like BoJack’s many breakdown, or through comedy, like the multitudes of animal puns (my favorite is “Lowe’s, But Like An Animal Version”). The show’s groundbreaking fifth season had tons of great moments, including the dramatic fight between BoJack and Diane, BoJack’s episode-long monologue at his mother’s funeral, and the emotional Bob Fosse homage in the eleventh episode. However, I’m going to go with a moment that traverses several episodes, popping up in the background of four episodes to great effect each time. I’m talking, of course, about the most hilarious plot point known to man, Henry Fondle. Originally introduced as a throwaway joke surrounding asexual character Todd’s (Aaron Paul) vision of what the perfect sex toy would be for his girlfriend, Henry Fondle is a hilarious concoction of garbage, sex toys, and Paul haphazardly delivering bad riffs on dirty talk (“I like it when you call me…father…”). This alone is funny enough, but things take a dark, hysterical turn as the robot’s sexual innunedos are interpreted by figures in power interpret his vulgar talk as “the can-do attitude of winners,” and he is promoted to the head of a movie studio. It’s a scathing satire of the W*insteins of the world and the way their behavior was accepted for years – made more apparent when Fondle is fired (ironically for his only comments that weren’t sexual) and is immediately given a job at “Disney-Fox-AT&T-AOL-Time Warner-PepsiCo-Viacom-Halliburton-Skynet-Toyota-Trader Joes.” There’s a dark, important subtext to the entire ordeal, but at the core of it all is a hilarious looking trash robot, and that is all I need to hear to make Henry Fondle one of the best TV moments of the year.
8. Superstar – Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert
Jesus Christ Superstar: Live In Concert marks the first truly great rendition of the Live Show format that the networks have been releasing in recent years (although Hairspray Live! was also pretty great). Thanks to a smarter format (i.e. a concert-styled “loose” musical), a key date (releasing the ultimate Easter musical on Easter was an ingenious marketing decision), and perfect casting (John Legend! Norm Lewis! Alice Cooper!), Superstar managed to take the world by storm, and make one of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s more iffy musicals feel like a real, well, superstar. There were several standout moments in the show, including Lewis and Jin Ha’s harmonizing on “This Jesus Must Die,” John Legend’s “Gethsemane,” and Alice Cooper truly bringing the house down with his cameo appearance as King Herod (what could have been dumb, gimmicky casting ended up feeling like a can’t-miss moment). However, no moment summed up the sheer spectacle of the musical, emotional or otherwise, as Superstar’s centerpiece, “Superstar.” Performed here by Broadway legend Brandon Victor Dixon, “Superstar” is a tour-du-force musical number, one that features the showmanship, emotionality, and spectacularity needed to bring the show to its dramatic conclusion. From the costumes to the choreography, from the vocals to the musical accompaniment, “Superstar” is the embodiment of why people liked Jesus Christ Superstar: it was a true water cooler moment, a sequence that proved that the Live TV Musical was alive and thriving, and worth tuning in for. It was, in short, a true moment of artistic and entertaining merit.
7. Mort Crim’s Garner Weich Ad – “Mort Crim” (Detroiters)
I’m a Detroit boy, born and bred. For this reason, the short-lived but incredibly funny Detroiters works for me in ways that it might not for others. Oh, sure, most people could tune in and watch Jim Harbaugh throw a temper tantrum at a Little Caesar’s charity event, but for that sequence to really pack a punch, you have to really be deep into Michigan lore, cheering on the Wolverines and eating the best chain pizza this side of the Mississippi (I will fight you if you try to drag my beloved Caesar’s). And as someone deep on the inside, I’m here to tell you that the Mort Crim episode is not only hysterical, it’s a f*cking revelation. And the sheer joy that comes out of it isn’t just because of Crim’s iconic voice and perfect inflection. No, it’s because they got a Detroit legend to gamely make a fool out of himself in order to deliver one of the funniest TV sequences in recent history. Legendary Detroit news anchor Mort Crim appears as the idol to main characters Tim (Tim Robinson) and Sam (Sam Richardson), two ad men trying to make it in the slowly-rebuilding city. When the duo lands a job writing for Garner Weich (a clear knockoff of Detroit brand Gardner White), they reach out to their idol to appear in their local commercial. He says yes, only to start improving the minute he gets on set. And the direction he takes it…holy sh*t. I won’t spoil the punchline, and I especially won’t spoil how far down the rabbit hole it goes. But I will say I respect the hell out of Detroiters for pulling this bit off, and I respect them even more for giving a local legend a chance to shine on the national stage.
6. Florida Man – “Florida Man” (Atlanta)
Due to its surreal nature, Atlanta is a show that will always provide some of the best moments of the year. Every time some random quirk happens, like an alligator walking down the middle of the street, or a strange man in whiteface threatening a poor twentysomething who wanted a piano, or a shot-for-shot remake of a YouTube video where a suburban mom flips out over a rap video, Donald Glover successfully fleshes out the bizarre universe he’s created – something of a real-world, modern day Twin Peaks. There were several moments this season of Atlanta that had me both cackling and screaming “What the f*ck?” including a teenybopper ukulele cover of Paper Boi’s hit song and the scene where Glover’s Earn decides to race the real Michael Vick in a strip club parking lot (triumphant music plays as the two begin to race, but it immediately cuts to Glover sulking in defeat). However, to me, no moment was as funny, as creepy, or as brilliant as the “Florida Man” sequence. Described as the Boogeyman of black people, Florida Man is described in an eerie, entirely straight monologue by the terrific LaKeith Stanfield as Darius. As the speech plays out, eerie, True Detective-esque montages play out depicting Florida Man’s activities – only for the viewer to realize that the incidents in question aren’t imaginary. These are all real headlines from the batsh*t state that is Florida, all personified in one hilarious entity (i.e. “Florida Man High On Bath Salts”). The only thing better than the insane monologue is the reason Darius gives for Florida Man’s existence – “It’s so the government can keep black people from voting in Florida!” It’s a brilliant piece of satire and pop culture parody, silly and smart at the same time, and it’s one of the early moments that confirmed that Atlanta: Season Two would be one for the ages.
5. “My Lord, The Queen Is Dead” – Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, Keep Going” (Barry)
Barry turned out to be the surprise hit of the year, in many ways. Thanks to Bill Hader’s surprisingly good writing and his ability to blend comedy and drama at the drop of a hat, the show ends up feeling like a weird, synergistic blend of Breaking Bad, Waiting for Guffman, and BoJack Horseman. In its first season, which follows kind-hearted hitman Barry (played brilliantly by Hader) trying to turn over a new leaf as a rising actor in L.A., there were several moments that stood out, both for comedic reasons and dramatic. There’s the heartbreaking “I Love You” acting session, the action-packed raid sequences in Episodes 5 and 6, and the sheer joy of watching Barry try to deliver an upbeat, supportive version of the infamous Glengarry Glen Ross monologue. However, no moment in the entire show is as emotionally impactful as Barry’s big scene in “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, Keep Going.” Having lied to himself that he was a good person who had turned over a new leaf, Barry finds himself at the bottom of an emotional cesspool. He had driven away the first person he had ever loved with his douchey behavior (someone he was still expected to perform with that night), he had just led a mission that had gotten two fellow former Marines killed, and after watching his only friend, Chris, have a breakdown and threaten to out the two of them to the police, Barry ends up killing him, leaving a young girl fatherless and shattering Barry’s belief that he was a good person. All of these emotions explode on stage when he delivers his first emotionally raw performance in the line, “The Queen, my Lord, is dead.” It’s a seemingly simple moment, and yet Hader sells the hell out of it, layering the delivery with subtext upon subtext, and wowing the hell out of both the in-show audience and the audience at home.
4.The Roy Moore Interview – “103” (Who Is America?)
Sometimes an artist does something so risky, so ballsy, and so necessary, you must stop, take notice, and pay homage. This is the type of comedy Sacha Baron Cohen has been performing for the past twenty years, confronting major policy makers, influencers, and celebrities and exposing them in their lies, hypocrisies, and racist/sexist/xenophobic/awful undertones. While he’s struggled to find an outlet for this brand of comedy in recent years (ever since Borat made him a superstar), Cohen finally returned to televisions this year with Who Is America? The show itself was a bit of a letdown (although his characters Erran Morad and Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello are pretty great), but there were a few standout moments – watching Cohen’s Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr. take on Bernie Sanders is pretty entertaining, his interviews with groups of anti-immigration teams in the Deep South are hilarious and shocking, and the fact that his interview with a racist Georgia state representative actually got the guy kicked out of the House is pretty great icing on the cake. However, if I’m going to give Cohen credit for the sheer amount of balls it took to pull it off, I’m going to have to give the edge to his interview with Roy Moore, the former Senatorial contender from Alabama who lost a long-held Republican seat to his Democratic opponent due to, but not limited to, racism/neo-Confederate ties, the fact he actually rode a horse to the polls like an idiot, and most importantly, the fact that there were multiple credible accusations (with evidence and everything) that Moore had spent a good portion of his adult life preying on teenage girls (the man was literally banned from shopping malls in the 80s, the peak time to be a creepy man in the mall). Cohen sits down with the man to talk about “his support of Israel,” and during the course of the interview, pulls out a piece of Israeli technology that “detects pedophiles.” And the minute that the device beeps, in Roy Moore’s face, you realize that Cohen gives zero f*cks, and is willing to do whatever it takes in front of individuals that both the left and most of the right agree are pretty despicable. It’s a shocking, hilarious moment, and I respect the hell out of Cohen for having the courage to go through with it.
3. Mac’s Dance – “Mac Finds His Pride” (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia)
Season 13 of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia was a bit of an up and down roller coaster. On the one hand, it wasn’t as revolutionary or groundbreaking as Season 12. On the other hand, how many shows can say that they’re still this good 13 years into their run? The answer is not many, and that’s why I want to commend them on the episodes and moments from this season that did work. One of my favorites that would have made the list if it had been a nine-episode season was the speech that Dennis (Glenn Howerton) gives accusing the gang of inappropriate behavior, both confirming the show’s best-worst tendencies in a moment of reckoning and hilariously ignoring Dennis’ own predilections for sexual misconduct. However, the moment I’m going to call one of the best of 2018 is not one of shock comedy, or even a demonstration of terribleness; instead, I’m going to reward a moment of true and open vulnerability, and give the edge to Mac’s Dance in the final scene of the season. After seasons of milking Mac’s closeted state for eleven and a half seasons, creator Rob McElhenney decided to have his character finally end his circular behavior and come out for good, and the past season has focused on Mac’s behavior as an out man – which, honestly, isn’t that different from his normal behavior. For nine episodes, it seemed like it wasn’t that big a deal; and then came the season finale, “Mac Finds His Pride.” And for once, the show takes a serious turn as Mac struggled with his sexuality, who he was in the community, and how to come out to his dad. Throughout the episode, he comments (fairly humorously), that in his mind, his being gay was like “an interpretive dance with God, portrayed as a loving woman, who helped him grapple with his demons.” It’s a weird description, and it seems like that’s all it’s supposed to be. And then comes the final five minutes, when Mac finally tells his father, in prison, that he is gay, and performs the routine with acclaimed dancer Kylie Shae. And unlike the rest of the show, it is quite simply beautiful. The emotions on display, the look of anguish on McElhenney’s face, the sheer physicality of the performance, and the acceptance of the prisoners. Sure, Mac’s dad walks away in disgust, but Mac finds a new father figure in Danny DeVito’s Frank, who finally “gets” Mac and comes to terms with his sexuality. It’s one of the most beautiful, poignant moments in all of television this decade, and it came from the show that gave us Kitten Mittons.
2. Don’t Kidnap – “The Good Twin” (GLOW)
GLOW has grown into the show it promised in its setup. The cast is superb, the writing humorous, and the interactions are on par with Cheers and Arrested Development. And over the course of its second season, GLOW has delivered, time and time again, moments that I can only describe as sheer joy. There’s the scene where Alison Brie’s Ruth battles Betty Gilpin’s coked-up, losing-her-mind Debbie. There’s the scene where Marc Maron bashes in the windshield of sexually-harassing TV president Tom Grant’s car. Almost any moment featuring Kia Stevens’ Tammé is great, and I’m particularly fond of the sequence where the group tries to film an opening title sequence. However, there’s no sequence that has the same energy and the same all-encapsulating power as “Don’t Kidnap.” Featured in the episode-within-the-episode “The Good Twin” (see below), “Don’t Kidnap” takes the form of an 80s PSA. However instead of taking a stance against, say, smoking or premarital sex, “Don’t Kidnap” tries to convince people to, well, not kidnap. And it is a g*ddamn national treasure. Every detail of this song captures the zaniness of the “We Are The World” era, and every member of the ensemble shows up, incredibly game. There’s Liberty Belle’s over-the-top acting, Machu Picchu’s underwhelming acting, the presence of Zoya the Destroya despite her being the in-universe kidnapper, and Sheila the She-Wolf doing a Stevie Wonder impersonation. The lyrics, might I mention, feature such insightful lines as “Don’t Kidnap/Kidnapping is wrong to do!” And the editing is the epitome of 80s-nostaliga. And let’s not forget in-universe show creators Sam and an ever-nervous Bash showing up as mustachioed, trench-coat wearing kidnappers poorly dancing in the background. The song has the same brilliance as the surrealist works of Tim and Eric, in all the best ways, and I haven’t stopped listening to it since June. It’s truly a work of art.
1. Don’t Be A Lawyer – “I’m On My Own Path” (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)
I’ve known for quite some time that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would be my #1 TV Moment of the Year; the only question was which song. There have been so many great ones these past two seasons, it’s a little difficult to make up my mind. I actually had to take a poll to make my eventual decision. Some honorable mentions include the Oklahoma tribute “The Group Mind Has Decided You’re In Love,” the Beach Boys spoof “Trapped In A Car With Someone You Don’t Wanna Be Trapped In A Car With,” Luca Padovan’s dark satire of child star singers “I Want To Be A Child Star,” Patton Oswalt’s take on “The Monster Mash” titled “The Cringe,” two Donna Lynne Champlin numbers in “The Miracle of Birth” and “I’ve Always Never Believed In You,” and the hysterically brilliant “F*ckton of Cats.” However, no moment from all of 2018 – and indeed, few moments in the history of the show – were as brilliant as side actor Burl Moseley’s throwback hit “Don’t Be A Lawyer.” Dressed like Arsenio Hall and styled after Bobby Brown-era 90s R&B, the song is a master class in almost every regard – in satire, in pastiche, in general comedy, and in musical writing. The song, sung by Moseley’s Jim, a lawyer-turned-pretzel-maker who warns a young law student that becoming a lawyer is “the quickest way to ruin your life.” And from there the jokes just refuse to stop. His arguments range from the petty (everyone hates lawyers) to the hyper-detailed (“Did you always dream to be working on a pharmaceutical company’s merger with another pharmaceutical company?”) and proceeds to destroy every fallacy surrounding the glory of being a lawyer (the righteous ones, like immigration, environmental, and social pay nothing, and there is truly no chance that you’ll ever make the Supreme Court). Interspersed in the introspective material are zingers like, “No one you work with/looks like Ally McBeal” and “There are so many other professions/that don’t turn you into Jeff Sessions.” And I haven’t even mentioned that the piece ends with the TV studio’s lawyer issuing a disclaimer about the previous song, growing disheartened while doing so, and proceeding to dive head first out the window. After hearing the piece, and immediately knowing it was a contender for the top spot, I played it for my best friend, who is currently a law student. At the end, I asked him if he thought it was funny. His response? “Not really. Honestly, it’s just too accurate.” For this reason alone, I award “Don’t Be A Lawyer” the title of the Best TV Moment of 2018 (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s second time in this spot).
Best TV Episodes
And now we’ll look at the Best TV Episodes of 2018! As per usual, I only have two rules here. First, I will only pick one episode per show, meaning that no matter how many shows have more than one fantastic episode (and there were many), only one could make the list. And second, series finales can’t count – that seems like a cheap to make the list, and while I’ll always give a great finale an honorable mention, I won’t play that game (season finales are fair game, though). Now, as this has been a banner year for television, I have quite a few Honorable Mentions, so let’s just plow right through those, shall we? Killing Eve really hit the ground running with “Nice Face,” “Don’t I Know You?” and “I Have a Thing About Bathrooms.” Succession proved it was more than a “rich people are d*cks” show in episode two with “Sh*t Show At The F*ck Factory.” The Goldbergs very rarely makes any of my best-of lists, despite being consistently pleasing, but their episode “Dinner” was far too realistic and frightening not to acknowledge. Sharp Objects is probably the show with the most consistently good episodes, it’s just that none of the episodes were necessarily better than the others – although I did rather enjoy “Falling,” “Ripe,” “Vanish,” and “Milk.” As mentioned before, Black-ish took some risks this year, and while they didn’t always land, none were as successful as “Blue Valentime,” their thirty-minute homage to the underrated and underseen masterpiece Blue Valentine; and for those of you who prefer happy black-ish, might I suggest “Purple Rain,” their hilarious and heartwarming Prince tribute? And finally, a special shout out for the craziest episode of television all year: Law and Order: SVU’s “Revenge,” in which Olivia Benson and Fin Tutuola investigate the newfound trend of “incels.” It’s as insane as it sounds. Now that that’s all settled, let’s take a look at the Top Ten Television Episodes of 2018!
10. Dega Don’t – Queer Eye
It took me a while to get into the Queer Eye reboot. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood the first time I tuned in, maybe the first episode just takes some time to get going, but for whatever reason, I had a delayed response to the show. However, like all escapist television, once you’re in, you’re in. And the episode that gets the most people “in” has to be “Dega Don’t.” What works about “Dega Don’t” is that not only is it the epitome of what the show does right – it features the best of Antoni, Tan, Karamo, Bobby, and especially Jonathan (who I originally found way too extroverted for my liking and have since warmed to fondly, even though Tan’s still my Fav Fab Five) – but it also proves to be an episode of cathartic healing for a currently divided nation. When the Fab Five goes to meet Cory, they couldn’t be more opposite – Cory is a Southern NASCAR fan, police officer, and vocal Trump supporter, while the Fab Five are very out, proud, gay liberals. Furthermore, Cory’s buddy on the force, the one who arranged for the meet-up with the Fab Five, hazed them when they first arrived to town by pulling them over, putting the African-American Karamo on edge (probably staged for the drama of the episode, but whatever, doesn’t take away from the enjoyment). However, neither side let’s political or personal differences get in the way – while the Fab Five playfully ribs Cory after finding giant Trump sign in the garage, and Cory ribs them right back, it’s clear there’s no deep-seated hatred between the six. After that, things are almost tear-inducingly beautiful – Tan helps Cory find some nicer suits, Antoni teaches him how to prepare an avocado-grapefruit appetizer (which has become a staple in my house), Bobby helped rearrange the main floor so Cory, his wife, and their daughters have more room, and Jonathan helps his skin and hairline thrive. Each of these moments helps turn Cory into the man-about-town that he wants to be and deserves to be. However, the highlight of the episode comes when Karamo and Cory take a drive back from Atlanta and have an open heart-to-heart about the state of the country, and actually find common ground. In a time when people are so entrenched in their beliefs, it’s nice to see two people opening up with the other side, talking things out, and finding the logical middle ground by saying the things that need to be said, respectfully and clearly. And the fact that both men call this moment the highlight of their week and openly cry after talking about it is a true joy. Perhaps I’m being naïve that the conversation in the car wasn’t scripted, but I’d rather live in the world where two people from different backgrounds can have calm, loving conversations with each other where they find common ground and understand each other’s backgrounds. That’s the world I want to live in, and that’s the world promised by “Dega Don’t.”
9. The Box – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the perfect show to drop and return to whenever you feel like – it will never disappoint you, you will always laugh, and it will adequately scratch the itch located at the back of your brain. However, it very rarely breaks onto these lists in a major way (although not for lack of trying). As a show of consistently good-to-great episodes and plotlines, it just needed some sort of edge to put it over the top and become the hands-on best. And luckily, “The Box” manages to accomplish that task, serving as a one-two-three punch that both shakes up the show’s format while never changing its own roots and style to do so. A tribute to the classic Homicide: Life on the Street, one of the most influential police procedurals of all time which focused on a gifted Baltimore police interrogator named Frank Pemberton (played by Nine-Nine’s Andre Braugher), the episode follows Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Captain Holt (Braugher) as they spend all night trying to crack dentist Phillip Davidson (guest star Sterling K. Brown), who is accused of murdering his partner, and will go free in the morning. While the episode is jam packed with jokes (Samberg’s entire performance, a great back-and-forth where Jake asks Holt if the opera he was planning to see was “the Bugs Bunny one,” and Holt’s annoyed confirming of it, etc.), the joy of the episode is the fact they play it so straight. Brown’s Davidson is highly intelligent, has an excuse for everything, and can read the detectives well enough to play off their insecurities (he turns around Holt’s attempt to insult dentists by playing off Holt’s belief that professors are superior to doctors). He’s also smart enough to stay one step ahead of them for every trick they try to pull, from an attempt to good cop-dumb cop him (with Jake as the dumb cop) and Jake throwing a chair at the glass window to intimidate him (and knocking himself out). However, the catch comes in the finale, when Jake uses the oldest trick in the book to catch Phillip off-guard – playing off his ego. Sure, it’s funny because Jake gets the entire plan wrong in a dramatic monologue that paints the crime as a bumbling accident, but that’s where the genius comes in. He knows the plan he’s pitching is wrong – he just wants Phillip’s ego to correct his inaccuracies. And that’s the epitome of what Brooklyn Nine-Nine does well, and what Schur has done well from The Office to Parks and Rec to here – while the characters are goofy, the scenario over-the-top, and the jokes funny, he never mistakes these characters as bad at their jobs. Jake and Holt are both top-notch detectives, trying to outsmart an overly-confident and highly intelligent suspect, and the fact that they are so good at this is what makes this episode – and this show – what it is.
8. House By The Lake – The Assassination of Gianni Versace
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is a real slow burn of a series. Unlike The People vs. O.J. Simpson, it didn’t really follow a clear through line – it used one crime that was part of a series in order to explore a series of different themes – and, therefore, had a series of episodes that each had a style and genre of their own. Of course, while the show itself works better as a whole as opposed to a series of episodes (I myself took three weeks to really get onboard with what the showrunners were doing), there were a few standout episodes. “Manhunt” was the first time we got a glimpse inside Andrew Cunanan’s (played excellently by Darren Criss) mind, and “Creator/Destroyer” was a solid origin story for a true sociopath. However, if I had to pick one episode that stood out as an embodiment of the series, I have to go with “House By The Lake,” which drew inspiration from the horror genre, the thriller genre, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. The early set-up to the episode seems simple enough – two lovers, David Madsen (Cody Fern) and Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock) meet up to discuss their third friend, Jeff’s former partner and David’s current roommate/fling Andrew. Jeff’s creeped out by his stalkerish behavior and the fact that his gun was just stolen, while David pities him due to his inherent loneliness. However, things immediately take a hard left turn when, upon entering the apartment, Andrew immediately and brutally beats Jeff to death out of jealousy. What follows is a journey into hell for poor David, as Andrew holds him hostage in his own apartment, and then proceeds to drag him on a cross-state escape to evade capture and “start a new life together.” It’s a lose-lose for David, as he either is the prisoner of a sociopath for the rest of his life, or he pisses off Andrew and is killed in a fit of rage – or, most likely, both. Throughout the episode, Andrew’s mood swings keep us guessing how things are going to end – during a scene set in a bar, a particularly sad song almost sets Andrew over the edge and could lead to murder-suicide (even though we logically know this can’t be the case, due to the timing of the events). It’s an in-depth look at what it’s like to be trapped with a sociopath, in all the best ways. Meanwhile, while these events are transpiring, the B-plot to the episode explores homophobia in the higher ranks of society. We learn here that the reason Andrew’s murder spree lasted as long as it did was because the police force, uncaring about gay victims, barely investigated upon finding Jeff’s bloodied corpse – and inevitably allowed the deaths of four more individuals (at least). And throughout the episode, David struggles with the fact he may never see his father again, with whom he had a complicated relationship. Thankfully, we see David escape to safety, to his father who finally is ready to accept him for his sexuality – only to have our happiness snatched away, as a distraught Andrew (whose own dreams were destroyed as he realized his delusions were unraveling) guns him down by a house by the lake. Over the course of one hour, Daniel Minahan and Tom Rob Smith offer us a master class in psychological storytelling, and thanks to the great performances of Criss and especially Fern, it stands as one of the best TV episodes of the year.
7. I’m Not The Person I Used To Be – Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Well it should come as no surprise to you that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has made the list for the fourth straight year – and with the final season still churning out great episodes, you can expect it to appear again next year, too. After ending 2017 with Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca Bunch in her darkest place yet, it was a great relief that the second half of season three and the first half of season four have transformed into a welcome respite (hell, the worst behavior we’ve seen since last Christmas is more on par with Friends than The Sopranos). And because things have been so much happier, there are quite a few episodes to pick from. Sure, the second half of season three was a bit simplistic (almost unfortunately so, but Bloom and Brosh McKenna never do bad), but it did give us the format challenging “Nathaniel and I Are Just Friends!” And when Season Four premiered with a vengeance, it gave us three great episodes in a (near) row in “I Want To Be Here,” “I Am Ashamed,” and “I’m Making Up For Lost Time.” However, I am a man of simple tastes: I like the episodes with good songs, sharp humor, and the heavy meta-references. And no episode accomplishes this goal better than “I’m Not The Person I Used To Be,” which both gives fans like me what they want while also challenging what we know altogether. Focused around the West Covina High School’s 12-year high school reunion (class president Hector forgot to organize it for the 10-year anniversary), the episode’s premise is prime for fun match-ups and scenarios – Valencia! Josh! George! WhiJo! Father Brah! Each character has a major subplot that allows for rich comedy and smart interactions, but what makes this scenario the most significant is who it allows to come back. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: Greg is back! The season one love interest played by Santino Fontana, Greg was the top choice amongst fans for who they wanted Rebecca to end up with before the show shockingly wrote him off in season two (half planned, half so Fontana could return to his Broadway roots), so his return has been highly anticipated. However, because Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is no ordinary show, they decided to incorporate some risks into the character’s reintroduction: due to Greg’s newfound sobriety and positive outlook on life, and therefore no longer being the “same” person as when Rebecca/the audience knew him, Fontana (who is currently on Broadway in Tootsie) has been replaced in the role by Skyler Astin. And what’s great about the episode is that it works! Astin has the exact same personality and line delivery as Fontana, but his general demeanor is much more optimistic (this may be a testament to the writing). This subtle difference helps the audience feel that this is the same Greg, just one who has evolved in the three years since we knew him. The rest of the episode is inconsequential – the fact they managed to pull this shift off so fluidly and integrate it into the episode is what matters. That being said, I do want to commend a few other aspects of the episode. For one, it does an excellent job of challenging its characters with major revelations that, while devastating, still feel self contained – they range from the mild, like Josh finding out he wasn’t actually Prom King; to the moderately heartbreaking, like Valencia discovering that her One Who Got Away, Father Brah (the greatest priest on TV, for the record), never got her love letter and things could have turned out differently for them; and the truly devastating, like Rebecca revealing to Greg that during her Shame Spiral in season three, she had a one-night stand with his father. And then there are the meta jokes, from the major one about Greg “looking different” to the fact the characters openly discuss who they ship Rebecca with to the fact that many characters claim that they are “back until the end of the series…meaning the series of holidays, aka Valentine’s Day.” And George gets a Gwen Stefani tribute called “What U Missed While U Were PopUlar!” This episode has everything! This is one of the riskiest episodes of television I’ve ever seen, and the fact it worked is a musical miracle. Oh, and side note, I agree with Other Rebecca in the title sequence – I too miss the Season 1 theme song.
6. Dark Side of the Boob – Big Mouth
Welcome to the list, Big Mouth! Last year, Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s raunchy coming-of-age comedy was a breakout hit. It came close to making several of my best-of lists, but I held off. Why? Well, quite frankly, while there were a few funny episodes throughout the first season, it was clear the show was still finding itself. It needed to establish its characters more thoroughly, and ease the audience into the surreal hilarity with a bit more gravitas. Luckily, what few kinks existed in the format were smoothed over in between the first and second seasons, as the show dominated Netflix this October with a series of terrific episodes. There’s the episode where we meet the Shame Wizard for the first time, as well as the vignette episode that took on America’s struggles with sexual education. However, if there’s one episode that best encapsulates everything that this show does well, it’s “Dark Side of the Boob.” “Dark Side” is the perfect template for a Big Mouth episode. It explores the triumphs, terrors, shame, experimentation, and backstabbing that goes along with being 13 through absurdist surrealism and metaphors. The episode starts off in the most innocent of ways – the first kiss, and the first trip to second base between young couple Nick (Kroll) and Gina (Gina Rodriguez). The kiss, as is all sexuality in the show, is shown through magical realism: the children’s Hormone Monsters (go with it) Connie (Maya Rudolph) and newbie Tyler (John Gemberling) orchestrate a symphony, a la “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in Fantasia. Connie conducts each touch of the hands, each movement of lips, and more so, while Tyler’s incessant banging of cymbals represents Nick’s naïve overuse of tongue in the kiss. It’s a sweet, funny representation of two teenagers in love experimenting with their newfound desires. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, especially when the Shame Wizard (David Thewlis) is about. And that’s what makes this episode so good, the fact that it forces all these characters into one location, traps them with a perfectly-voiced creature determined to fill them with shame for every mix-up or natural impulse, and see what happens. We see as he fills Gina with shame for letting herself be sexual, fills Missy with shame for her nightly writhing, fills Jessie with shame for shaming Gina, shames Matthew for having no redeeming qualities outside of his quick wit and his self-loathed homosexuality, and fills Nick with shame for betraying Gina’s trust. And how does this Professor Lupin-voiced Wizard reveal his “evil” desires? Well, through a great big musical number, of course! The episode also touches on the trauma of growing up as a teenage girl, as we see a previous episode’s “funny” scene of the boys being obsessed with breasts from the girl’s perspective, and see how uncomfortable the attention makes her. We also spend a significant portion of the episode focused on the feuding between the girls in the class, as jealousy, insecurity, and good-old fashioned evil force the girls to slut shame, bully, assault, and embarrass each other as they struggle to understand their bodies. No girl is safe from the blowback – not Gina, not Jessie, and not Missy. And before you tune out because of all the darkness and thematic material I just described, yes, this is a comedy, and yes, it is one of the funniest episodes of the year. Nathan Fillion shows up solely for a joke about being Missy’s (Jenny Slate) sexual awakening, there’s a great line about The Shame Wizard’s only hobby being his collection of “Vintage Nazi…dildos,” and along the way, we get some classic Coach Steve-isms, because Coach Steve is one of the greatest characters in modern television. Few shows are as innovative as Big Mouth, and no episode proves that point quite like “Dark Side of the Boob.”
5. Time’s Up For The Gang – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It’s hard to find any shows on television that are willing to take as many risks as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Whether it’s an all-musical revue/proposal, a breathtaking one-take through Paddy’s Pub, or a musical/body switching race comedy, the darkest show on television loves to push the envelope in terms of both technical and visual storytelling. This year, the show was a bit more predictable in its choices, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t great episodes. I’ve already written above about “Mac Finds His Pride,” but honestly, few episodes are as truly brilliant as “Time’s Up For The Gang.” It’s pretty clear from the jump that only a woman could write this episode and have it ring so true, so honest, and so hysterical – and it helps that Megan Ganz is not only one of the funniest writers in the business right now, but that she was also at the forefront of the #MeToo movement, having outed (and having a wonderfully open conversation with) Dan Harmon for his behavior on Community. But it’s refreshing to see the show both call out its own problematic behavior while still maintaining the hilarious sense of horribleness that makes this show – and its characters – so great. The premise, as is usually the case with Sunny, is simple: the gang has been put on a feminist blog’s “Sh*tty Bar” list, and they have to go to a Sexual Harassment Seminar in order to have their record expunged. Chaos ensues. Throughout the episode, the Gang continuously says and does terrible things, as they are wont to do, and several cast members give top-of-their-game performances, including Glenn Howerton’s Dennis and Kaitlin Olsen’s gloating Dee (few moments sum up their self-righteous, awful behavior than when she enters the bar chanting “Aw yeah! Time’s up, time’s up, time’s up!”). But the episode isn’t interested in just having terrible people ruin a good cause – it wants to self-reflect. Throughout the episode, the characters reflect on past behavior and begin to act as they normally do – and each time this happens, the outside characters force the protagonists to reflect on what they’ve done wrong in their lives. Mac’s usual berating of Dee culminates in him literally grabbing her by the p*ssy, which, while she doesn’t mind, she immediately tries to exploit (and which Mac tries to defend as “ok because he’s gay). Charlie is confronted with the fact that, while his love for The Waitress was supposedly “pure,” he continuously stalked, harassed, and ruined her life with his sh*tty behavior. And while Dee tries to feel high and mighty over the group, it is quickly pointed out to her that when she and Charlie first hooked up back in season 9, she never received consent, and he was uncomfortable the whole time. Each character is forced to confront their own behavior, its effects on others, and the humor – or lack thereof – inherent in the premise. And Dennis’ final monologue is not only hilarious in the payoff (he created the entire seminar as a way of getting revenge on the group), but also serves as a metaphor for how the worst and most vile men on the planet have survived by co-opting the movement for their own benefit, in order to hide their crimes (when asked about consent, Dennis confirms that every woman he’s ever had sex with has texted him to acknowledge consent – or, at least, “Their phones did…”). This is a brilliant example of how to tackle weighty themes in a funny way. Meanwhile, the episode is visually and technically groundbreaking in the way it subtly uses filmmaking to create allusions and leitmotifs to drive its themes home. There’s a random bell that rings every time a character is revealed to have harassed or assaulted another individual, immediately prompting them to sweat (because “the climate” is affecting them, a reference to the harassers criticism that no one can survive “in this political climate”). At first, the bell seems to just be a creative choice – nothing too fancy, just a fun sound cue. That is, until Dennis’ speech, where the bell is played again each time he declares that a character’s “time is up.” Suddenly, it’s not just a bell – it’s an egg time, indicating that the behavior on display from our favorite characters, if imitated, will bring about a swift and appropriate downfall. Oh, and just because Danny DeVito is game for anything, Ganz and director Kat Coiro brilliantly decide that he’s the perfect candidate to walk around in a Harvey W*instein robe – and it works. It’s Always Sunny has always been at its funniest when it is simultaneously reminding its audience that, in the real world, the behavior of these character is and always will be appalling. “Time’s Up For The Gang” uses this reminder not only as a punchline, but as social commentary – and it makes for one of the year’s smartest, funniest episodes to date.
4. The Dog Days Are Over – BoJack Horseman
BoJack Horseman has never not made my list of Best TV Episodes since its inception. And whether it’s first, like Seasons 1 and 4, or only Top Five, like Seasons 2 and 3, finding out which episode places where is something of a tradition around these parts. This year, BoJack managed to earn a fourth spot on the list, and not for the episode you may think. Yes, “Free Churro,” the episode where Will Arnett monologues for thirty minutes about his character’s deceased mother, their strained relationship, and the meaning of life and death is certainly a worthy entry, and the mind-bending, character-straining twists of “The Showstopper” featured some of my favorite moments of the season. However, I think my favorite episode of the season, and one of my favorites of the year, has to be “The Dog Days Are Over.” While the show has branched out to follow most of the side characters during its five year run, it has never really taken a deep dive into the character of Diane (Alison Brie), the opinionated, troubled writer who won BoJack’s heart and was, until recently, married to the optimistic Mister Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins). Season Five remedies this by not only giving Brie her own episode, but an episode that directly deals with one of the few flaws critics and audiences have found with the groundbreaking show. Much like the rest of season five, “The Dog Days Are Over” addresses past controversy, calls itself out, and works towards understanding its own legacy. Here, it deals with the fact that the Caucasian Brie voices Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American woman, by exploring Diane’s inability to connect to any one world, not feeling Vietnamese enough to fit in with her “ancestral roots” and the fact that she’s an outsider in America, as well. Using this setup as a launching point, “Dog Days” uses Diane’s struggles to connect, both to other people and her own roots, as a means of exploring her greater psychological well-being in the aftermath of her recent divorce. Opening with Diane in tears, she immediately boards a plane and flies to Vietnam, her cultural heritage despite her parents’ adamant denial of their racial background. Combining the Lost in Translation sense of loneliness (between this and Season Three’s “Fish Out Of Water,” someone in the BoJack writer’s room really loves that movie) with the format of a Buzzfeed-esque listicle, the show provides bullet points for why Diane wants to make the trip, while flashing back to show her ex-husband’s moving on with waitress Pickles (side note: Hong Chau’s character of Pickles is an absolute delight). We see a truly loving recreation of Vietnam in this animal-human world, and we explore the differences in culture that force Diane to be as great an outsider as the multitudes of idiot tourists from all over the world. We also see her as she deals with those who assume that she is Vietnamese (tourists/Americans), as well as those who rightly guess that she is American (Vietnamese), forcing her further into her lack of belonging in the world. But even if Diane doesn’t exactly learn more about herself, we, the audience, do – a key scene explores the notion that BoJack and Diane are cut from the same, depressed, alcoholic cloth, even though Diane’s conscience prevents her from making the same mistakes he does. And in true BoJack fashion, it never skimps on the jokes in spite of its dark story. I mean, they spend the entire episode joking about Laura Linney starring in a movie in Vietnam, only for the actual Linney to show up and voice herself in a perfect twelve second cameo (I’m not kidding; it’s that short). However, what’s brilliant about the listicle angle is that while it can be perceived as a mere joke about a lesser writing form (and let’s not pretend it isn’t at its core), the choice also explores the mental health of those making the lists – there’s a reason a writer pitches a list to begin with, whether it’s a passion, a fear, or something weighing on their minds. Diane’s desire to write about her “home country” of Vietnam is a call for help, a sign that she doesn’t know who she is, and doesn’t know how to find out. It’s a moment of true catharsis, stemming from a cheesy list on a shallow website. And it’s a truly brilliant touch. BoJack is nothing if not a show that takes risks, and “The Dog Days Are Over” is one of its biggest, most successful risks yet.
3. Teddy Perkins – Atlanta
Few things spark joy in my life (we’ll get to that show next year) like Atlanta’s weird-ass sense of comedy and surrealism. Each episode is like a thesis, and each played-straight joke is like a little Buñuel flourish. What Donald Glover and Hiro Murai accomplish each week is nothing short of fantastic, and I have several episodes to pick from for the #3 spot of 2018. There’s “Money Bag Shawty,” which explores wealth in the African-American community, as well as “Florida Man,” which deals with the inner fighting of families in the region. However, anyone who really follows the show knows that the only true choice for Robbin’ Season is the unforgettable forty-minute horror film that is “Teddy Perkins.” Presented without commercial interruption on original release, “Perkins” is perhaps one of the greatest experiments in the history of the show, and the fact it works at all honestly kind of baffles me. The main themes are, in essence, quite simple: the episode explores the way the music industry changes people, especially African-Americans, in order to achieve success, as well as the ramifications of the ways fathers treat their children in their quest to achieve greatness for their children. Centered on tertiary character Darius, LaKeith Stanfield’s stoner lovable “dope” (he’s into conspiracy theories, but he’s no idiot), the story follows Darius’ quest to buy a piano from reclusive millionaire Teddy Perkins. Perkins, credited as himself (we’ll get to that in a minute), is a deformed, lonely man with a Michael Jackson-esque voice and a deformed pale-white face – and underneath that face is a tour-du-force performance from Donald Glover. From the get-go, we learn that Teddy lives in the mansion with his successful pianist brother, whom we never see, and that the two men were beaten mercilessly by their father as children, leaving Teddy with the notion that all art must come from, and therefore be, pain. This is explained in beautiful debates between the two men about whether music can be joyful – Teddy doesn’t believe that can be the case, and it creates a divide between the man who came from R&B and classical piano and the man who grew up listening to Paper Boi and the Atlanta hip-hop scene, whose goal is to create fun music for people to dance to. Things get creepier as you come to understand that Teddy enjoyed his father’s abuse, believing it made the brothers more talented – when discussing the museum he wants to build for his brother, he notes, “I want to dedicate this museum to all the great fathers. Joe Jackson. Marvin Gaye, Sr. Tiger Woods’ father. Serena Williams’ father. The father who drops off Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club…” But underneath the jokes about parenthood and class (Teddy is introduced eating a giant ostrich egg in he grossest way possible), there’s a real sense of dread – Teddy is clearly unstable, there’s a general lack of music and sense of unease going around, mysterious surveillance cameras keep watch over the house, and it is heavily implied that Benny and Teddy are the same person (the answer leads to a shocking conclusion). I don’t want to spoil any more, but I will note that the bookending of the episode with Stevie Wonder’s “Sweet Little Girl” and “Evil” is incredibly telling (I particularly like the use of the lyric “Evil/Why have you destroyed so many minds”). In the end, the piano is confiscated, meaning Darius’ entire journey was for naught. And that’s what makes this episode so great – the fact that all this pain, all this terror, and all this destruction is just another notch in the timeline of history. There’s real depth hidden inside Glover’s surrealist horror extravaganza, and it’s the type of risk no other show would dare take, and one that makes it one of the best TV episodes of 2018.
2. Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, And Keep Going – Barry
If a show can successfully blend a sense of Arrested Development-esque absurdity with Breaking Bad’s staging of action/drama, it will most likely produce a series of very good episodes. The premiere season of Bill Hader’s Barry proves that point rather effectively, thanks to the sweet “Chapter Three: Make The Unsafe Choice” and the shocking “Chapter Six: Listen With Your Ears, React With Your Face.” However, the episode that really cemented this show as a modern powerhouse, as well as featured several of the best performances of the year, was “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, and Keep Going.” Not only did the episode combine and put a bow on several of the key threads intersecting throughout the season, but it did so with grace, dignity, and chilling existentialist and moral dread. Starting with his army buddies’ botched attempt on a Colombian drug lord’s life, leading Barry to indirectly have two lives on his hands, Barry and his only true friend Chris (Chris Marquette) flee for their lives. Chris is traumatized, having never witnessed actual violence; and having shot a man to save Barry’s life during their escape, he wants to confess. He emotionally tells Barry about his desire to go to the police, and that is when we get to see a master class in acting. On the one hand, we see Chris emotionally, cathartically weeping about where his life has led him, a man who wants to have it all and competently succeeds in spite of his veteran status – something of the opposite side of the coin from Barry. It’s a powerful performance, and a shock coming from the man who “slapped a ham to that Samantha James’ poster” in Just Friends. However, it’s nothing compared to what comes next: the look on Hader’s face when he realizes the only way to give himself a fresh start. Barry wants a fresh start, and the opportunity to be a good person, and he sees his acting job as his only chance to do so. If he’s arrested for his role in the hits, that fresh start that he arguably deserves is gone. So he has to make a choice: a choice that will break his one rule about never killing good people, and ironically destroying his chance at being a good person. In short, he has to kill Chris, which he does after a tension-filled scene. Now, in a show like Breaking Bad, which inspired Barry’s blend of comedy and drama, there would be little investigation of the ramifications of these actions on the main character’s psyche. But grief, trauma, and consequences are Barry’s bread and butter, and we are forced to witness, alongside Barry’s imagination, the phone call to Chris’ widow, an image of his fatherless son, and the eventual funeral for the only friend he ever knew. This all builds to his performance at the Shakespeare gala in front of the agents (a fantastic joke shows the front row is reserved for agencies CAA and WME, and are completely empty), where Barry’s ex Sally needs an emotional performance as Macbeth to prove her worth. She needs Barry to give her something to feed off of – and Barry channels all his pain into the line “The Queen, My Lord, Is Dead.” It’s a terrific sequence, and incredibly tragic in the realization that the only way Barry can ever be a great actor is to relive his greatest moment of shame. It’s a master class in writing and acting. Oh, and as a side note on the acting, Henry Winkler shows up to deliver great lines, like this monologue: “Are you on drugs, Barry? Because getting clean is an important part of an actor’s journey. A little story to illustrate: I was doing Long Day’s Journey into night at the Pasadena playhouse with a bunch of cokeheads. It’s usually about a three-hour play. We could bring it in just under 37 minutes. We thought we were great. Apparently we were unintelligible. It was the beginning of the bad years, Barry.” Look, Barry is a great show, and this episode is easily one of the best of the year.
1. The Good Twin – GLOW
There’s nothing I love more than a good-old fashioned “just have fun with it” television episode. The ones where the cast and crew throw caution to the wind to just let the actors go as wild as they want with a wicked-smart script and idea. The episodes like “Modern Warfare” from Community, most episodes of Seinfeld, and the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes of The Simpsons. And no show on television right now captures that sense of “just having fun” quite like GLOW, a show that, while exploring dramatic ideas and themes, is more interested in providing an ensemble comedy, complete with one of the best ensembles currently on TV. Season Two is a major success in ways that the still-great Season One could only dream of, and a lot of that is because of some really solid episodes. Ensemble-wise, I’m fond of “Viking Funeral,” and “Mother Of All Matches” explores stereotyping and the effects it has on Tammé aka The Welfare Queen. However, there’s really no other episode you can pick from GLOW, or from any show this year, that can compete with “The Good Twin.” What is “The Good Twin,” you may ask? Well, it’s only a show-within-a-show where you get to watch an entire episode of the cheesy 80s morning show, complete with intentionally-bad acting, decidedly cheap production design, and a variety of in-jokes for the audience at home. Honestly, this episode is a g*ddamn delight, having fun with the set-up and letting the ensemble play a bunch of average actresses having fun performing “real” wrestling, performing skits, and just overall hamming it up while they have the time of their lives just one last time (the show is in danger of cancellation). The setup is simple, having combined several topics and arcs discussed in the background throughout Season Two: there’s Britannica the Scientist Wrestler’s (Kate Nash) quest to create a man, Weird Science-style (apparently an attempt by the real writers to purge her feelings towards the 80s cult classic), there’s Cherry’s (Sydelle Noel) dramatic return to the ring as “Black Magic,” and, most important of all, there’s the Kidnapping Story. Supervillain Zoya The Destroya (Alison Brie, doing legendary work on par with Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball), sidelined after breaking her leg in a match, sits idly by after kidnapping hero Liberty Belle’s (Betty Gilpin, who deserves an Emmy for this performance) daughter. Due to the injury, the show “needs” to find a way to work Zoya in without having her wrestle: enter Olga, Zoya’s twin sister from Soviet Russia who possesses a heart of gold and who travels to America by goat to help our heroine win her daughter back. Interspersed are sketches involving Sheila the She-Wolf’s (Gayle Rankin) date with, harassment by, and eventual devouring of the goat (you did not read that sentence wrong), Liberty Belle leading a Pilates class that involves her beauty pageant smile combined with over-the-top crying (again: Give Betty Gilpin The Emmy), and producer Bash’s (Chris Lowell) innocently terrible attempts to act, bless his heart. And to top it all off, there’s a PSA in the middle of the show to tackle an important theme – here, it’s kidnapping, resulting in the weirdest spoof-infomercial this side of “Too Many Cooks” and Tim & Eric. This is a show that revels in the cheesy fun of 80s television, and it rewards those of us that recognize its style. Having seen all the work that goes into making “GLOW” the fictional show a success, it’s nice that the makers of GLOW the actual show allowed us to see that hard work pay off. And the fact that it does so in such a fun, enjoyable way makes for the best TV of 2018.
Well, that wraps up my longest article of the year. Sorry it took so long, everyone – I promise the upcoming articles for the shows of the year, as well as film, will be up in the near future. In the meantime, please let me know in the comments what you think of this list, and if there’s anything you think I missed! See you all soon!