With so much TV now, I had trouble cutting off my top 10. That left me with a surplus of great shows I needed to honor in some way. So here are my 15 honorable mentions, standout episodes that were either the best of a show that just missed the cut, or were shining hours in otherwise dim seasons.
A.P. Bio – “Rosemary’s Boyfriend”
While this show never quite took a leap – which it still might do – I couldn’t help but love the ensemble of weirdo students entrusted to Jack (Glenn Howerton). Trapped in his small town after a series of career setbacks, he refuses to teach any of charges actual Advanced Placement Biology. But, of course, they end up teaching each other. In the series’ nastiest episode, Jack learns his mom was regularly boning her gentleman caller (Michael Gross), so for revenge he hooks up with the man’s daughter. It’s dark and absurd, and showed just how adrift Jack is without his classroom.
Bodyguard – “Episode 2”
Anyone can do a gripping first episode. But in my No. 11 show of the year, they took things up a notch in the second hour, including another thwarted terror attack, a late-night tryst and a harrowing shootout. More than just fireworks, each scene has a purpose, as David begins to question from whom exactly he’s supposed to be taking orders, and if he should follow them. For someone who still sees himself as a soldier, that’s a big conflict.
Crashing – “Too Good”
The series’ best episode finds Pete trying and failing to keep alive a friendship with his one-night stand (Jamie Lee). Thanks to Pete’s endless supply of charm, he never comes off as pathetic. Over one wild night, our puppy dog of a protagonist proves himself to be a very good boy indeed.
Final Deployment 4: Queen Battle Walkthrough
The creators of Too Many Cooks had to top themselves somehow, and they did just that with this extremely clever send-up of video game walk-throughs. Now, I haven’t played video games regularly in years, but even though I was unfamiliar with the set-up, every dark joke landed, including an extended, horrifying riff on PTSD.
Forever – “Andre and Sarah”
Amazon’s metaphysical rom-com started out strong, but meandered once its big premise was revealed. But it shined brightly one last time with this stand-alone episode featuring characters we never see before or after. Even more so than the series as a whole, this half-hour encapsulated its big questions: Do we have soulmates? If so, do we only get one? What happens if we don’t move heaven and earth to be with them? Are we stuck forever and beyond with the people we did choose?
The Haunting of Hill House – “Two Storms”
I wasn’t wholeheartedly into Mike Flanagan’s inherited trauma take on Shirley Jackson’s novel. (It’s hard to top one of the best horror movies of all time.) But it often worked, no more effectively than the series’ sixth episode. The year’s most astonishing directorial achievement, each scene is done in one take, with the modern-day funeral scenes allowing the grown-up Crain kids to air their grievances, while the flashbacks to a terrifying stormy night at the Hill House show the seeds of the family’s deep hurts.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “Mac Finds His Pride”
While I laughed a lot harder at the ill-advised sexual harassment episode “Time’s Up for the Gang,” the last five minutes of this season finale are the most jaw-dropping thing the show has ever done, which is really saying something. Mac, struggling to find the words to come out to his father, instead allows his wounded heart to speak through a choreographed dance set to Sigur Rós. Finally allowing genuine emotion on a show like this? Now that’s daring.
Joe Pera Talks with You – “Joe Pera Reads You the Church Announcements”
Anyone who’s found themselves evangelizing a great new band, film or streaming show knows the feeling. It’s just surprising no one’s ever captured it like this before. Joe Pera, in the midst of reading the mundane announcements to the congregation, can’t stop professing his love for the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” It’s a simple premise, but Pera takes it so some wonderfully unexpected places.
Legion – “Chapter 14”
In its second season, my No. 2 show of 2017 went completely off the rails, culminating in a baffling finale that strips away any sympathy we had for our antihero. But at least it gave us this incredible hour, showing what life would be like for David had he not found a place to learn about and control his powers. There’s a lot of depression, a lot of deception and a lot of destruction.
Orange Is the New Black – “Be Free”
After last season’s high mark, this is another show that lost its way. As many of its inmates were split up, we were introduced to a lot of unpleasant characters. But its finale brought things together in devastating fashion, with old rivalries ending in bloodshed, a character’s hope of a new start being completely shattered, and even Piper’s release being tainted by the knowledge that she’ll never be the same.
Ozark – “The Big Sleep”
Only Ozark would burn through this much plot, and then leave two episodes to go. After Rachel OD’s on bad heroin, Marty gets his revenge on Roy, in one of the most cold-blooded moves on the show. Even if Roy is the worst character, hurting his mother like that is scorched-earth stuff. Marty may not have realized it yet, but there’s no going back. Everyone’s tainted. Everyone’s dirty.
Silicon Valley – “Tech Evangelist”
The show’s silliest bit of satire finds their diverse board of investors shaken by the revelation that Dee Dee (A.D. Miles) is *gasp* a Christian. It’s ordinarily the stuff of terrible low-budget faith-based movie, but here the laughs are intentional, skewering the hypocrisy of white liberals.
This Is Us – “This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life”
When I first saw this episode title, I rolled my eyes. But over its three-part story, it showed just how easy it is for people on the edge of society to fall off. One mistake alters lives forever. One tragedy spins into ongoing misery. And while it hasn’t gone back to it yet, the show shined a spotlight on problems that seemed to have a little more weight than the Pearsons’ struggles.
Waco – “Day 51”
Paramount’s big foray into prestige TV wasn’t a total knockout, but it still made a solid impression. This miniseries focused more on the pride of the DEA and FBI, who couldn’t stand that these “rubes” were making them look so foolish. In the finale, they get tired of waiting, laying siege to the Branch Davidian compound, causing a blaze that killed dozens – including women and children. A lot of people are dead, all because some powerful men didn’t want to be embarrassed.
Westworld – “Kiksuya”
While I quickly binged the first season with my wife last December, this second season meandered. There were occasional bright spots – particularly the fourth episode “The Riddle of the Sphinx” – but its finest hour was this stand-alone episode, focusing on Zahn McClarnon’s Akecheta. As he retells his tragic life, this one story explores the show’s themes of identity and what it means to be human better than it did in macro.