As 2016 comes to a close, it’s easy to be negative. Heck, it’s probably even reasonable to be negative. But for eternal optimists like me, who enjoy finding the bright side of life, looking back at the year that was represents a chance to find some good in that dumpster truck pileup of crap that was 2016. I want to find a metaphorical diamond in the roughly 30 gallons of despair, if you will.
Where do I look for good in a year of seemingly relentless bad? Where I always go when reality gets the better of me: TV, of course! Even as the world struggled around it, 2016 was actually a pretty fantastic year for TV. So now, in an attempt to look at the bright side of 2016, I present my annual list of favorite TV episodes from the year.
GROUND RULES: The episode must have originally aired in the United States during 2016, 1 episode is allowed per show, two-parters (EX: Finale Part 1/Finale Part 2) are counted as one.
DISCLAIMER: I am human, there’s no way for me to watch every episode of TV that came out this year. This isn’t a list of the definitive best episodes of TV released this year, or even the best shows, this is just one man’s opinion on what he liked most from the year in TV. So if your favorite show isn’t on here, that’s why. Unless that show is named The Big Bang Theory, in which case, you’re the worst and stop reading this now.
Now that we got that all cleared up, without further ado, I present my 10 favorite episodes of television from 2016.
Episodes are listed in no particular order.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Silicon Valley (Meinertzhagen’s Haversack), The Grinder (Full Circle), Brooklyn Nine Nine (Halloween IV), You’re The Worst (Twenty-Two), This Is Us (The Big Three), American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson (The Run Of His Life), The Good Place (Most Improved Player), Galavant (The Battle Of The Three Armies), Westworld (The Bicameral Mind), The Flash (Runaway Dinosaur), Sense8 (A Christmas Special)
Atlanta – “Juneteenth”
I’ve made no secret in the past of my admiration for Donald Glover. The multi-hyphenate former Community star is probably my favorite creative in this, or any industry, working today. Atlanta is Donald Glover at his purest, most unapologetic, and most unique form. Atlanta has such high aspirations that it can falter at times (“Value” and “The Club” both fell strangely flat for me) but when the show does reach its lofty goals (As it does in “Juneteenth”, “B.A.N”, and “Streets On Lock”) it produces some of the best TV that I’ve ever seen.
“Juneteenth” is the best episode of Atlanta, by a pretty wide margin. Glover is at his best playing off of the just strange emancipation party (“Do I have to explain alliteration to you?”), and Zazie Beetz has by far her best episode of the season as well. Like a lot of Atlanta, “Juneteenth” is both hilarious and thought-provoking, while being simultaneously grounded and surreal. It’s a show, and an episode, that on paper is trying to do too much, but in practice pulls it all off with apparent ease.
As much as I love “Juneteenth”, another episode of Atlanta, “B.A.N”, is home to my favorite line from all of TV this year…
New Girl – “Road Trip” / “A Chill Day In”
New Girl is cyclical. It’ll go through four or five episode stretches where it’s the funniest show on TV, only to deliver three straight that completely miss the target immediately after. Season 5 of New Girl had every right to be one of those rough patches. Between Zooey Deschanel’s pregnancy and the season’s disjointed production and release schedules, all signs pointed to this being a down year for the loft. Instead, New Girl seemed energized by the challenge, delivering its most consistent and confident season in years.
There were many highlights for New Girl this year (Megan Fox was fantastic in her guest appearances, Schmidt and Cece’s wedding was incredibly well-done, and the Bent fan in me will always love seeing David Walton on screen) but the season peaked with it’s pre-wedding two-parter. For a show that has a tendency to get stuck in a rutt,“Road Trip” and “A Chill Day In” are a pretty big departure for New Girl. “Road Trip” follows the guys on Schmidt’s uber-masculine bachelor party, while “A Chill Day In” see’s the return of high Jess for Cece’s party. Both of the episodes feature fantastic character moments to go with some of the funniest scenes the show has ever produced.
What sets these episodes apart is the show’s most underrated, and undervalued, pairing: Winston and Aly. I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy Lamorne Morris’ portrayal of Winston, he’s delivering one of TV’s best comedic performances week after week. Winston was never New Girl’s strongest character, but since season 3 or so, he’s definitely become the show’s funniest. Nasim Pedrad shines playing off Morris’ absurdity, and New Girl’s patient build up to their romantic pairing made the eventual payoff even better. Seeing Winny-the-Bish finally get the girl after five seasons of disappointment was the perfect cap to two fantastic episodes.
Game Of Thrones – “Battle Of The Bastards”
This episode probably would’ve made my best movies list of 2016. Brutal and brilliant, “The Battle Of The Bastards” is Game Of Thrones at it’s absolute best. I don’t even know where to start with this episode, thankfully, Leslie Jones has me covered…
The Magicians – “The Worlds Of The Walls”
SyFy’s The Magicians was one of the biggest surprises of 2016. I had pretty low expectations going in, but the pilot was entertaining enough for me to give it a few more episodes. It wasn’t until “The Worlds Of The Walls” that the show completely hooked me. A lot of science fiction show’s attempt a “the whole thing is a dream” episode, but the premise is never really believable. Usually the show’s premise and story is too far along for the audience to buy that everything that’s happened so far was some hallucination or dream. But The Magicians pulled the rug out from under itself in just its fourth episode, early enough to make the audience believe the twist. The degree of difficulty on “The Worlds Of The Walls” is astronomical, but The Magicians passed the test with flying colors.
The episode features some fantastic visuals and perhaps the most clever twist of the year (I dare you to find a better use of Taylor Swift than The Magicians does here). It’s a great episode that sells you on the potential of this show, one that has suffered some significant growing pains. Without it, I doubt I’d be as excited for the show to come back in a few weeks.
Pitch – “Beanball”
In an incredibly good year for new TV, my favorite new show of 2016 was FOX’s baseball drama Pitch. The show successfully translated the sports movie formula to TV, something that is way easier said than done. Despite some growing pains here and there, this show had one of the best first season runs in recent memory.
Pitch’s third episode, “Beanball” put all of the show’s considerable strengths on display. From the performances to the writing, to the show’s fantastic music “Beanball” represents Pitch firing on all cylinders, heck, even the flashbacks have value here. The sports genre is inherently predictable, more often than not the team the audience is rooting for ends up getting the win. Pitch stays true to that formula, but finds new means to give audiences that victory. In “Beanball”, that win doesn’t have anything to do with the scoreboard, but rather each of the characters defeating their own personal opposition. I know it sounds cheesy, but hey it’s sports movie, its supposed to be!
The Carmichael Show – “Fallen Heroes”
The Carmichael Show thrives on controversy, but taking on Bill Cosby was a huge risk, even for a show made to discuss and debate issues. For a story revolving around a comedian, there was nothing about the Bill Cosby scandal that was particularly funny. It was heartbreaking, angering, tragic and just overall hard to really process. Not a very good subject for a half hour TV comedy.
And yet, The Carmichael Show handled it with grace, style and maturity. Instead of tacking the subject head on, after all the morality of what took place isn’t really up for debate, the show got to the bigger question at play: “Can you separate an artist’s body of work from their personal life? And if you can, should you?”
For someone who can still quote Cosby’s Noah word-for-word, it was an interesting and important discussion to listen to. “Fallen Heroes” wasn’t The Carmichael’s Show’s funniest episode of the year (That’s a tie between “Facebook” and “Porn Addiction”), but it was by far their most poignant. In a year filled with knee-jerk angry reactions, The Carmichael Show’s measured, mature, and well-thought-out approach was a breath of fresh air.
Saturday Night Live – “Tom Hanks”
After ending 2015 on a morally questionable note, Saturday Night Live has quietly had a pretty fantastic year. There was no shortage of material, some of it possibly self inflicted (Okay, I’ll stop now), but SNL stepped up to the plate and hit an admittedly soft pitch out of the ballpark. SNL has, very smartly I should add, essentially handed the show over to Kate McKinnon. That decision, combined with some of the best writing the show’s had since the Wiig/Hader/Samberg/Sudeikis era, has led to some fantastic sketches. From McKinnon and Alec Baldwin’s instant classic debate skits to Kellyanne Conway’s Day Off, SNL has been on quite a run in 2016.
Dave Chappelle’s post election episode was probably the most important installment of the show in quite some time, but to me, SNL hasn’t flown quite as high as when they welcomed Tom Hanks in October. The episode showcased everything SNL can offer, from whip-smart political comedy…
To the downright silly…
Seriously though, if you didn’t though David S. Pumpkins wasn’t getting on the list, you don’t know me at all.
Stranger Things – “Chapter Six: The Monster”
So much has happened since this summer, it’s easy to forget that just a few short months ago Stranger Things absolutely took over the pop culture world. Out of absolutely nowhere, The Duffer Brother’s NETFLIX original became 2016 biggest breakout hit. Despite the fact that our world seems doomed into becoming the Upside Down, let’s not forget how much fun it was to discover in the first place.
It’s hard to pick just one episode out, the show is essentially an eight hour movie. But if I had to choose, Chapter Six would be the highlight. Every storyline reaches a climax here, from Nancy and Jonathan going through the portal to Eleven taking elementary school bullying to a whole other level. Chapter Six has all of the horror, the thrills and the excitement that helped Stranger Things become a pop culture phenomenon. Cannot wait to discover more in 2017!
Superstore – “Guns, Pills and Birds”
“Guns, Pills and Birds” is a slow burn, but one with fantastic payoff. Though Superstore has never been afraid to take on more serious issues, the decision to tackle gun rights and contraception in the same half hour was a huge risk for the show. The episode’s set up is a little clumsy, as the show attempts to address these issues without really taking much of a stance. As soon as one character chirps up with an opinion, another character is quick to offer an opposing one. But as the episode goes on, the show starts to really hit its groove.
From Jonah’s nervousness at the gun counter, to Glenn’s buying off all the morning after pills, to Garrett’s fear of Pigeons (“A group of them is called a murder!”) there are no shortage of great moments within “Guns, Pills and Birds”. What earned the episode a spot on the list aren’t any moments from the individual stories, but the clever, hysterical way the storylines collide in one glorious climax.
Black Mirror – “San Junipero”
“San Junipero” is an astounding episode of TV. It’s jaw-on-the-floor, tear-inducing, “What the hell am I doing with my life?” level good. For my money, this is hands down the best episode of the year, by a good margin too.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, Black Mirror doesn’t hate technology, it hates people. The show’s creator Charlie Brooker uses technology to point out the problems within ourselves, and more broadly within our society. The whole point of the show is to depict how technology will bring out the worst in people. Black Mirror is so gut-wrenching because it shows us the evil within ourselves, and within our own world. “San Junipero” appears to be headed right to that same conclusion, until suddenly it switches gears and offers up Black Mirror’s biggest twist yet: Hope.
The world building alone done within “San Junipero” is awe-inspiring. In just one episode, the attachment you feel to the world, and the characters that inhabit it, is magnetic. You simply can’t help but fall. You fall in love in this world, only get your heart ripped out from your chest, only to fall right back in love again. “San Junipero” is an emotional, heart-wrenching, thrilling, and just plain spectacular episode of TV. It inspired me in more ways than I’d like to admit publicly. Just watch it.
That’s it for this year’s list. Here’s hoping 2017 can deliver more great TV!
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