5. House of Cards – “Chapter Eight” (premiered Feb. 1)
Easily the standout amongst many very good but ultimately frustrating episodes. In this diversion, Frank goes back to his alma mater for a library dedication and reconnects with his best college buddies, one of whom he was very close to. There was a vulnerability to Frank that only briefly appeared in this episode, and boy did it change my perception of his character, only to realize he has a heart of pure evil a few episodes later.
4. The Americans — “Only You” (aired April 10)
There were no duds in the first season of FX’s soviet spy drama, so it was tough to pick just one. But I had to settle on the episode that seemed to raise the stakes the most, with Gregory (guest star Derek Luke) refusing to go into exile after taking the rap for a murder. A lot of this show, like the Cold War itself, comes down to stubborn people refusing to yield to the other. Gregory yielded to no one.
3. Hannibal – “Savoureux” (aired June 20)
It was neck-and-neck as to which stylish drama would be the best new show of the year. Hannibal wins by a liver. The first season finale ended with Will’s mental breakdown reaching its lowest point yet, as he can’t be sure if the murder he saw was in his head or by his hands. Like the best dramas, the finales are frustrating solely because I want the next season to start already.
2. Modern Family – “Goodnight Gracie” (aired May 22)
Season Four showed marked improvement from Season Three. It certainly wouldn’t be in my top 5 shows overall, but this finale moved me in a way few other shows have. Phil deals with the loss of his mother, and there were lots of poignant reminders of my grandfather, whom I lost earlier this year. Besides the personal connection, there was the right combination of humor and heart, which when done well, Modern Family does better than any show on TV.
1. Parks and Recreation – “Leslie and Ben” (aired Feb. 21)
I usually hate wedding episodes. They’re usually contrived and overly emotional. But Parks and Rec found a way to underplay it and include a fart joke. The show is so consistent week-to-week it can often be difficult to find a standout, but this is event TV done right.