The (ultimately meaningless) struggle of Peak TV got even worse this year. Even with this now annual inclusion of 10 stand-out achievements that didn’t make my top 10, I still didn’t have a place for shows I enjoyed watching, including Crashing, Grace and Frankie and The Tick. That’s the abundance of options we have now. Here, then, are some other standouts. (If I were ranking individual episodes, many of these would best the shows on my top 10, but the seasons they came from weren’t as consistently great.)
American Vandal – “A Limp Alibi”
Though most people cited the series’ game-changing fourth episode, in which Peter releases his documentary online, as the high point of this true crime parody, I knew I was hooked on this incredibly stupid/brilliant show in its second episode, when Alex Trimboli’s eyewitness testimony comes into question when he lies about receiving a handjob from one of the school’s most popular girls. It’s an intricate web of lies that begins to unravel, brought to life by a parody of cheap Taiwanese animation.
The Crown – “Vergangenheit”
Were I to rank individual episodes of TV this year, this would likely be at or near the very top. Elizabeth faces a moral crisis when her uncle, who abdicated the throne, returns to England in hope of receiving an important post to give his life some meaning. While there had been whispers that he and Wallis were Nazi sympathizers, the full scope of his betrayal is truly shocking. Elizabeth’s guide through this is Billy Graham (guest star Paul Sparks), who never preaches directly at her, instead giving her practical advice based on Christian teaching. Even in its historical context, this episode is surprisingly timely, given the Nazis hiding in many families, and how far Franklin Graham has fallen from his father by getting into bed with white supremacists himself.
Curb Your Enthusiasm – “Fatwa!”
The first season of Curb in six years wasn’t always consistent, and nowhere near the heights of past seasons. But all the shenanigans came to a head in the season finale, which included a busty sign language interpreter, Larry David’s pettiest moment ever and a duel with Lin-Manuel Miranda that recalled Hamilton, but with paintball guns.
Five Came Back
Netflix’s stellar documentary mini-series adapts Mark Harris’ terrific book, pairing five modern filmmakers with the five American directors who spent much of World War II overseas shooting propaganda for the U.S. government. The series reveals a lot about this program (that most don’t even know about), including the directors’ challenges to the Pentagon, their struggles adjusting to life back home and the troubles they had completing projects on such a large scale.
GLOW – “Debbie Does Something”
This female-focused show took a while to get going, but once it found its voice, it was among the most joyous watches this year. The debut season’s fifth episode is when everything kicks into high gear, as Debbie (Betty Gilpin) finally puts aside her doubts and embarrassment over wrestling and realizes it’s not all that different from her years on soap operas.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Turns Black”
An episode that could have gone wrong in a million different ways went oh so very right. In the season premiere, the gang experiences a body swap with a black family and learns all the joys and horrors of living as African-Americans. Oh, did I mention it’s a musical, too? What are the rules? It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia continues to break all of them.
The Sinner – “Part VII”
This summer mini-series – about a murder committed by Cora Tennetti (Jessica Biel, never better) and the repressed trauma buried inside her – didn’t always make a lot of sense. It could have cut out everything having to do with Detective Ambrose’s personal life, it could have been a much tighter six episodes. But it couldn’t have lost this intense hour, told entirely in flashback, when we finally find out what happened that horrible night.
Stranger Things – “The Spy”
Like a lot of sequels, Stranger Things 2 tried to go bigger and missed a lot of what made the original so great. This season was certainly good overall, but not nearly on the level of Season One. Its highlight is certainly its sixth episode, as Dustin and Steve team up to track Dart while Will is rushed to the hospital and unleashes hell on everyone around him.
This Is Us – “Jack Pearson’s Son”
While Season Two did offer us an incredible triptych of episodes to close out the year, the best thing the show did in 2017 was this episode, in which Randall suffers a mental breakdown after trying (and failing) to hide the stresses of his job and his father’s declining health. It’s an important episode for its audience and for its characters, featuring Kevin’s most mature moment to date.
Veep – “Blurb”
While part of this season felt like the show spinning its wheels, any time the show focused on newly elected Congressman Jonah Ryan, I was doubled over with laughter. Starting his own version of the Freedom Caucus, Jonah grabs a little bit of attention and runs with it. And now that he has some modicum of power, he can actually enact a bit of revenge on the people (read: everyone) who refuse to take him seriously. And that’s just what he does when he shuts down the government, simply because he can, like a kid throwing a temper tantrum (which sadly does not feel that far-fetched).