Sunday, December 17, 2017

The 12 Best TV Episodes of 2017

2017 is coming to a close. So now, it's time to look back on the year that was and honor all of the greatness that happened in television. Here, I'm listing some of my favorite episodes from 2017. Enjoy!

Before I get to the actual list, it must be stated that all lists - especially at this time of the year - are completely subjective. I whittled this list down to just 12 episodes. I did so for brevity's sake and because the list would no longer be special if I was talking about 50 or so episodes. These were the episodes that have stuck with me from 2017. Your list could be completely different. And yes, I am ranking my lists this year. That adds to the fun of this whole process. But again, you shouldn't be too concerned about where a specific episode is ranked. It's all completely subjective. My favorite episode of the year could be your tenth best. You could have really enjoyed an episode of a show that I just didn't watch. These are my personal favorites for the year of 2017. It should also be noted that I kept the list to just one episode from each show. In some cases, that was a really agonizing thing to do because there were a couple standout moments in the season. HBO's The Leftovers is a wonderful example where I could have highlighted a number of really impressive hours. But I only included one on this list in order to have more of a variety in the list overall.

And with all of that being said, here's my list of the best episodes from 2017!

12. FX's Feud: Bette and Joan - "And the Winner Is... (The Oscars of 1963)"

Before this year's Oscars ceremony, the 1963 awards were the most scandalous. They featured the snub of Joan Crawford for her work in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? She would then go on to campaign against her co-star, Bette Davis, and accept the award on the behalf of Anne Bancroft. This hour delved into all of these intricate details that went into this lavish affair. The production design alone was remarkable to see. The team made sure that every single detail of the ceremony was replicated completely. And then, it used a gorgeous one-shot sequence in order to show off the fantastic craftsmanship. That was such a compelling sequence. But underneath all of the schemes and manipulations, there was a heart and desire to feel relevant in an age where one was feeling insignificant. This was the pivotal hour of the series. Joan and Bette put all their faith in this ceremony being able to revive their careers. It ultimately only turned them further against each other and not against the system that pitted them against each other in the first place.

11. Netflix's BoJack Horseman - "Time's Arrow"

The fourth season of the animated comedy went into the heads of a number of characters for episodic spotlights. It explored how BoJack's depression is a constant nagging voice in his head that forces his destructive tendencies. It explored the fantasy that Princess Carolyn needs to hold onto as she faces yet another setback in trying to get pregnant. But it was this episode that explores the traumatic and erratic past of BoJack's dementia-stricken mother that brought the season's main narrative to its most tragic moments. It was a story of this whole life being re-contextualized in a way that could only possibly play to the audience. We were understanding the tragic circumstances of Beatrice's life and learning how her pain was passed down to BoJack. But there was the added tragedy of BoJack never being able to share that connection with his mother because of her disease. It took her from him and ensured that she would forever be tortured by these memories of the past. It was a revealing episode of family secrets. Secrets that seemed like they would forever be lost to time. Because they weren't is remarkable. But the tragedy of this hour is even more poignant as a result too.

10. Comedy Central's Review - "Cryogenics, Lightning, Last Review"

Across three seasons, Forrest MacNeil did a lot of crazy things for the sake of his show. He destroyed every meaningful relationship in his life. He did it all because he believed the viewers at home needed his reviews for life experiences. The series finale pushed him to the brink of living. He easily could have been killed by being frozen alive or struck by lightning. And yet, he miraculously survives both of those experiences. Instead, things are much more personally destructive and tragic when he is faced with having to give up this life altogether. He could be perfectly happy once more if he just gave up reviewing. It's a decision he genuinely wants to do but still feels the pull of the show. Him vetoing this request from his ex-wife makes him so delusional and gullible. But it's the final twist that it was all for naught - his show has been cancelled - that makes it an absolute gut punch. It's a completely fitting conclusion for Forrest to be trapped inside that studio believing the show is still going on with everyone involved being a part of an elaborate practical joke. He never deserved an uplifting fate. But the tinge of ironic tragedy in the end is just so brutal yet so perfect.

9. ABC's Black-ish - "Lemons"

The turnaround for this episode was remarkable. The creative team of Black-ish wrote and shot this episode about the 2016 presidential election and got it on the air before the inauguration. It perfectly conveyed all of the feelings of the country. It encapsulated the ideas of "what went wrong" and "what kind of world are we now living in." It was a powerful episode that took the turn for the dramatic a couple of times in really effective ways. It served as an insightful criticism of white women not doing enough to help elect Hillary Clinton. But it also had some surprises as well in exploring what these feelings mean for these characters moving forward. It was a moving way to start 2017. Dre has a speech talking about how angry he has always been and appreciating how the rest of the country now understands that anger too. That was terrific. And it still manages to end on a message of hope by focusing on the Johnson kids as their simple actions of making lemonade can be enough to find a way through these increasingly troubling times.

8. Comedy Central's Broad City - "Witches"

It was so inspiring to watch Broad City use a change of season in its fourth season in order to tell different stories with its familiar characters. This has always been a political show. It's never been afraid to tell stories about young women in the modern era. But this episode got even more political then usual. It starts with a story about Ilana not being able to orgasm since the election. Her pent-up feelings of anger and confusion are having a compromising effect on her body. But the episode then pivots into a discussion of how powerful and special it is to be a woman. Older women in particular are quite magical. This episode is an appreciation of that. It's a powerful statement to bleep Trump's name out like a curse word that can't be said on basic cable. But it's even more powerful to see a group of women coming together in the woods for a celebration of life that is able to inspire the younger generation to even more greatness. It's a story that goes to some over-the-top places. But the satire of it all makes it have an even more striking comparison to the real world and what's going on in politics.

7. FX's Better Things - "White Rock"

As with the season on a whole, one's appreciation for this episode will ultimately come down to whether the viewer can separate the art from the artist. Better Things is Pamela Adlon's story. But Louis C.K. co-wrote this script with her. That's been a complicated thing to deal with over the past few months. And yet, there is just so much beauty that comes from this episode. On one level, it's about escape. Escaping the responsibilities of life to a place of magical beauty. But on another level, it's a story about the desire to understand and connect. Sam takes her kids to visit family members the audience has never known about. That turns into a story of Sam learning about relatives she never knew about. There's sadness in the reality that there are whole portions of people's lives that are a complete mystery to others - even those closest to them. It's sad and unexpected while still being remarkably beautiful in the end. Sam is striving to do better by her own kids. She gives them this memorable vacation. But she still does it at the expense of her own mother whom she doesn't strive to connect with more after it's all over either.

6. Netflix's Master of None - "Thanksgiving"

The greatest quality of Master of None has to be its willingness to tell stories about people who normally never get the spotlight. There were so many brilliant episodes this season. And yet, "Thanksgiving" was the most personal and most powerful. It tells the moving story of Lena Waithe's Denise exploring her sexuality and coming out to her family. It's told in these vignettes that span the decades of her family celebrating Thanksgiving. It's a half-hour that truly spans the gauntlet of emotions. It is able to be both funny about this important subject while making sure that it delivers the appropriate emotions as well. The coming-out story is so important to see. Diversity within that story is important as well. This is a black family dealing with this. It's awkward in some moments while still remaining truthful to the overall story. It highlights how time normalizes everything. In this case, it's for the better as Denise's family grows from uncomfortable to completely accepting in just a few years. It's empowering to see Denise so happy and for Waithe to have the spotlight that she does here.

5. NBC's The Good Place - "Dance Dance Resolution"

This episode would deserve a placement on this list for the restaurant-themed puns alone. The signs in this show are some of the best running jokes out there. Here is just a taste of some that appear in this episode: Lasagne Come Out Tomorrow, Biscotti Pippen, You Do the Hokey Gnocchi and You Get Yourself Some Food, The Pesto's Yet to Come, etc. And yet, this episode works so immensely well because it is told with such conviction. It proved that the second season of the show had no intention of playing things safe and simply repeating what worked in the first season. This episode gets its power from repetition. It is the same story being told multiple times in the span of one episode. It's absolutely delightful because the audience can see the toil it is taking on the characters even though it's quite ridiculous and absurd to watch. It's easily the funniest half-hour of television this year. But it's also the episode that would come to define this season of the show. It's taking the audience on a wild ride and we just have to go along with all of the craziness.

4. HBO's The Leftovers - "Certified"

There were so many episodes from the final season of The Leftovers that I could have talked about here. I could have honored the episode that riffed on Perfect Strangers. Or the episode with a Tasmanian lion sex boat. Or the episode that ended on the amazing shot of Nora crying in the hotel while the sprinklers are going off. Or the episode that returned Kevin to the crazy world of "International Assassin." Or the series finale and it's crazy but personal twists! But instead, I opted for the episode about Laurie. It was the hour that highlighted how the world is permanently broken no matter how far removed from the Sudden Departure it gets. That event permanently changed everyone. Some people have gone crazy believing themselves to be special. It's up to them to save the world from another global event. It was easy for the audience to get swept up into that story of feeling like these characters were important in mystical and uncertain ways. But this hour highlights how even the character who is seemingly the happiness and the pillar of mental health is actually broken deep inside. She's the one always tasked with helping others on their journeys. But this hour points out how little she truly understands or how much she actually wants to. There is only so much she - or anyone for that matter - can do to mask the pain. Even though she seems perfectly happy, she's still suicidal. That's a reveal that is slow coming but leads to one of the most powerful and ambiguous endings of the entire year in television.

3. AMC's Better Call Saul - "Chicanery"

It's so unexpected that the conflict that has been brewing between Jimmy and Chuck McGill for the entire series would reach its climatic moments at the halfway point of the drama's third season. And yet, that's exactly what occurred. It produced the most memorable sequence set in a courtroom in a long time. It was an hour completely devoted to the story of the McGill brothers. Over the years, Better Call Saul has diverged into two different shows with Breaking Bad connections. And surprisingly, the story of Jimmy and Chuck has turned out to be the more effective one. This season pushed that dynamic to its breaking points. The two facing off in court was so destructive. The brothers know each other so well. They can anticipate each other's moves well in advanced. They both believe that they have outflanked the other and will emerge victorious in this battle for disbarment. And then, the story reaches a stunning conclusion that offers definitive proof on the true nature of Chuck's health. It was such a stunning sequence to watch. Sure, it's not surprising for a courtroom battle to be this explosive and over-the-top on television. But this hour understands the importance of the stakes between the brothers. This is the hour that changes everything. This is the hour that truly breaks them apart for good.

2. AMC's Halt and Catch Fire - "Goodwill"

The death of a beloved character in the final season of a show isn't a surprising development. But the way that Halt and Catch Fire dealt with this shocking twist was absolutely beautiful. "Goodwill" is an hour that is mostly spent inside a house with a bunch of characters who have a long and complicated history with one another. The series has always been at its best when it's used the rise of technology in society to tell human stories about the need for connection. This death shocked everyone in the cast. But it also served as a way to bring them all together in the end. This was a final season that separated people and made it seem unlikely that their relationships will ever be what they once were. This death ensured that tragedy will change all of their lives and bring this chapter to a close. But it also forced painful and important conversations amongst them. Even in such a confined space, there is distance between the characters. The direction is so remarkable in this hour. The characters are all feeling the same pain. But they are struggling to reach out and ask for help from the only people who have a connection as to what they're going through. It's a difficult episode. One that is so emotional to watch. But it's so absolutely breathtaking as well. Everyone emerges through the pain with a new sense of contentment even though several dynamics are still uncertain heading into the series finale.

1. Showtime's Twin Peaks: The Return - "Part 8"

After "Part 8" finished airing, I was at a loss for words. My review of the episode was basically just talking about how I couldn't quite wrap my head around what I just saw. It was an hour that needed to sit with me. It was an hour where new depths would constantly be revealed the more that the viewer thought about it. It was certainly the strangest and most bizarre and surreal episode to air in 2017. It's an hour that brings the overall narrative to a stop in order to tell a story about the creation of evil. That's the fundamental nature of this story. But the imagery and sound design of this episode was truly special. I still don't quite have the words to talk about how special this hour was. It starts as one story and completely goes off on a tangent that mixes images and sound in new and interesting ways. It was unlike anything I have ever seen or heard in television. That's a remarkable achievement. It could serve as a thesis statement for Twin Peaks: The Return as a whole. It was something that no one was expecting at all. It went off in a complete different direction that could fall apart at any given moment. And yet, the story was complete and absolutely mystifying. It was so engrossing to see the camera move in on a nuclear blast that then made way for an exploration of the cosmos followed by vomit just flowing through the void with the physical embodiment of evil in its midst. That seems particularly crazy to type out. But it was such a powerful sequence to watch. It's an episode that rewards repeat viewing. New details emerge. New theories can be drawn about what it all means. But it's also just a really effective story of how confusing and complicated the world can be. This makes as much sense as anything in the world does. So, that makes it rational and beautiful but in a way that is still striking and terrifying in some immense and unexpected ways.