We watch way too much television for this list to have been easy, but we managed to collect the 15 best TV episodes of 2016. Some are familiar and others you may have never heard of, either way we recommend you check them out.
1. Atlanta: “Juneteenth” (S1E9) [FX]
2. Atlanta: “Value” (S1E6) [FX]
3. Atlanta: “Go for Broke” (S1E3) [FX]
4. Atlanta: “The Jacket” (S1E10) [FX]
I may have just lost some credibility listing four Atlanta episodes as my top four. This show kept outdoing itself every week. It’s perfection. Nothing else on television can compare. I wish that was a hyperbolic hot take, but I 100% stand by that statement.
5. Horace and Pete: “Episode 3” (S1E3) [LouisCK.com]
Horace and Pete is now available on Hulu because Louis CK didn’t make enough money releasing it through his website. That is blasphemy. Go support this series and listen to Louis’ interview on WTF with Marc Maron. Episode 3 features Laurie Metcalf’s monologue that needs to win all of the awards every year from now until the end of TV. But, like Atlanta, the 10 episodes in this series could populate the rest of my list.
6. You’re the Worst: “A Right Proper Story” (S2E10) [FXX]
Okay this is my one 2015 episode but to be fair, it premiered on Hulu in 2016 and that’s all that matters anymore right? This episode deals with Gretchen’s depression and Jimmy’s insane British relatives and could not be more tragic or hilarious. I’m sure if I had access to season 3 one of those episodes would be on my list too.
7. Please Like Me: “Pancakes with Faces” (S3E6) [Australian Broadcasting Company/Hulu]
I’m going to say this every time I have some sort of public platform: WHY AREN’T MORE PEOPLE WATCHING THIS SHOW?! Season three featured an abortion subplot that is extremely well done, like everything else on this show tbh.
8. Insecure: “Insecure AF” (S1E1) [HBO]
I’m still breaking down the narrative of Insecure’s first season and a few problems I have with it but, going against the theory that “all pilots are shit”, the pilot of Insecure is very strong. I’ll point to the scene when Issa tries on various lipsticks/personas in her bathroom and settles on wearing lip balm: ME AF.
9. Transparent: “Exciting and New” (S3E10) [Amazon]
Season 2 was stronger imho, but Transparent is at its best when its main characters are stuck together, like on a cruise ship in this season three finale.
10. Togetherness: “The Sand Situation” (S2E7) [HBO]
Togetherness was not a perfect show but, as always, Mark and Jay Duplass created complex, interesting characters and played with following those characters over two short seasons. With less pressure than the finale, the penultimate episode of Togetherness shows the four main characters working together for a common goal, with all of the complexities and rewards that come with it.
11. Better Things: “Woman is the Something of the Something” (S1E4) [FX]
I admit, the quiet ease of Better Things almost made me forget about it. And made me reluctant to finish the season. But, Better Things deserves to be examined. Pamela Adlon is brilliant as creator/writer/director/actor. This episode’s subplot of Sam’s agent hiding a movie role from her which, again, with quiet ease, reveals a hidden side of Hollywood.
12. Fleabag: “Episode 6” (S1E6) [BBC3/Amazon]
This show takes anti-heroine to a whole new level. I’m all about learning Fleabag’s motivations, which are beautifully but slowly revealed throughout the short first season and faced head-on in the season’s finale.
13. Halt and Catch Fire: “NIM” (S3E9) [AMC]
I’ll just link to the “Velouria” dance. Female business owners. Lee Pace. Time jumps. I’m so about this show.
14. Girls: “The Panic in Central Park” (S5E6) [HBO]
Michelle’s blurb on this will be much better than mine but my religious watching of Girls through some real shit seasons paid off with Marnie’s stand out episode.
15. The Fall: “The Gates of Life” (S3E3) [BBC2/Netflix]
This show’s third season is…odd. But the third episode breaks the fourth wall and man is it satisfying. I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of that rhetorical strategy. Plus, Gillian Anderson is boss.
Black Mirror: “San Junipero” (S3E4) [Netflix]
Catastrophe: “Episode #2.1” (S2E1) [Channel 4/Amazon]
Game of Thrones: “Battle of the Bastards” (S6E9) [HBO]
House of Cards: “Chapter 52” (S4E13) [Netflix]
Love: “Magic” (S1E7) [Netflix]
Stranger Things: (S1) [Netflix]
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: “Kimmy Finds Her Mom!” (S2E13) [Netflix]
Westworld: “The Bicameral Mind” (S1E10) [HBO]
Disclaimer: This list was curated through my passionate exclamations about these episodes after viewing them. I also only discovered through making this list that I tend to really love the 6th episode of a series, which is something I’m looking into. I hope you enjoy.
1. Black Mirror: “San Junipero” (S3E4) [Netflix]
This episode changed my life. I know that might seem like a bold statement, but it’s true. “San Junipero” is hands down one of the best hours of television I have ever seen. Straying away from the looming cynicism of most Black Mirror episodes, “San Junipero” reels you in with the first striking difference: we’re in the 80s. A show that typically sets itself up in the present or near future, introducing this episode as one in the “past” already creates an intrigue for the audience. Charlie Brooker then goes on to give us a beautiful love story between Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who meet in the beachside town at a local bar called Tucker’s. Over the course of the episode you start to pick up on the fact that San Junipero might not be what it seems, and that there is a darker tone to this colorful, light episode. I won’t spoil it, because my obsessive Facebook and Twitter accounts already have, but I will tell you that the direction of Owen Harris matched with the excellent writing of Brooker brings to life a story for the ages, and one that is accessible to anyone who has ever been in love. Davis and Mbatha-Raw are beyond amazing in their roles, and in my opinion, are award winning. Note: you will get stuck in the 80s and you’ll never hear Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” the same ever again.
2. Stranger Things: “Chapter 3: Holly Jolly” (S1E3) [Netflix]
Chapter 3 of Stranger Things picks up immediately where Chapter 2 left off. There’s some heat going on up in Steve Harington’s bedroom as him and Nancy start hooking up, while Nancy’s best friend Barb is left outside by the pool. Opening the episode with Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” leads us to believe this is just another 80s “first time” scene, but what we get through a series of cuts is a brutally, violent attack on Barb by some unknown, monster. As Barb screams for any form of help, her voice is masked by the love ballad. I love that as Nancy is experiencing a life changing event, Barb is ultimately losing her life. I once linked this to the loss of innocence associated with losing your virginity, and I think I still stand by that. Barb was Nancy’s best friend who was reserved, trustworthy, sincere, innocent, and representative of Nancy’s youth and “former” self. The parallel between the two events isn’t to punish Nancy or suggest having sex is “wrong”, but I think it’s vital for Nancy’s character to step out of the box of conformity and popularity into the world of maturing into a woman. This episode is shot beautifully and the chill of the December winter in Hawkins, resonates with every shot.
3. Halt and Catch Fire: “NIM” (S3E9) [AMC]
Halt and Catch Fire is one of those shows that followed a major hit and fan favorite, and in turn, was initially dismissed as the replacement. That’s a shame, because it’s an outstanding series about the personal computer boom of the 80s. Season 3 takes us out of Dallas and into Silicon Valley. By the time we get to “NIM”, we’ve experienced a four year time jump and the main characters are virtually removed from each other’s lives through divorce, new business ventures, failed projects, moving out of the country, etc. After at least 4 years of no contact, Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) goes to COMDEX 1990 to find Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis). Two and half seasons of back and forth love affairs and hookups behind them, the now mature Cameron and seemingly calmer Joe decide to catch up and spend the night talking about what went wrong with their previous projects. Throughout their day, they play a game called NIM which ends up being a spark for a new revolutionary idea in Joe. They end up at the Atari party to support Cameron’s video game and end up dancing to Pixies’ “Velouria.” I’ll end on that note and just let you watch my second favorite scene of this year. Just watch the characters let loose, intensely look into each other’s eyes, bask in the aesthetic of the college/indie rock scene, and live. The show is entering its fourth and final season in 2017, so I highly recommend starting it now.
4. Atlanta: “Value” (S1E6) [FX]
Atlanta is without a doubt one of the best new shows to come out of 2016. Each week, the episodes appeared to have outdone the week before. Everything about the show was perfect and came together so well each week, which is while it was hard to settle on which episode was actually my favorite of the 10 that aired. I chose “Value” because for the first time in the series, Earn’s baby mama and sometimes girlfriend Van, finally had a chance to be her own character. In this episode, Van meets up with her friend Jayde for dinner and the two immediately clash over their starkly different lifestyles. An accurate display of female competition within friends and the competitive nature of outdoing the other, the two settle on smoking some weed to reconcile. Van forgetting she has a scheduled drug test the following day, freaks out and frantically searches for an alternative to her own urine. She decides on using her daughter’s urine from used diapers and with great effort, she is successful. However, once she gets to the school for testing, the urine spills all over her and she is stuck telling her boss the incident, which leads to her boss understanding but following up with a termination. Once again, Van is caught up in the dichotomy of right and wrong and the feeling of being trapped in her life, but at least after this episode, we can feel Van and see that she’s just as much of value to the show as Earn, Alfred, and Darius.
5. Girls: “The Panic in Central Park” (S5E6) [HBO]
Girls has been one of those shows that I remain loyal to, even after those few seasons where the series fell flat, but season 5 came out of nowhere with redemption. The best episode of the season, ended up being the “Marnie” episode titled “The Panic in Central Park.” Rumors surfaced around the release of this episode that Christopher Abbot who played Marnie’s ex-long term boyfriend Charlie was returning after a two and half season hiatus. Here’s where I started developing anxiety before the episode premiered. Charlie is returning…great, I love him! This must mean Marnie and him will interact and maybe get back together…OMG please! But wait, “The Panic in Central Park” sounds familiar. Here’s where being a film nerd stirs up unwanted nervousness prior to the episode. The Panic in Central Park is a play on the title of a film in the 70s called The Panic in Needle Park, which was about the heroin epidemic in NYC. Back to the episode, we find Marnie and Desi in another one of their explicitly unhappy moments and Marnie bails to go for a walk. She ends up in a shoddy part of town, where she ends up crossing paths with Charlie. Charlie looking vastly different then when we last saw him, charms his way into convincing Marnie to hang out with him. The two spend the night together in the most romantic, broken heart repairing way, and eventually move to Charlie’s rundown apartment to have sex. When Marnie wakes in the morning to shower, she comes back to find Charlie sleeping and decides to clean the room up a bit. Here, a syringe and strap fall from his pocket and the pain sets in. Marnie confronts an evidently high Charlie who claims he’s diabetic and she immediately leaves. Heading home without her belongings, soaking wet, and barefoot, Marnie has never looked more naked but more free. Allison Williams has always been radiant as her character Marnie, but in this episode, she gets to show her range and pulls you into Marnie’s sadness. There isn’t anything I can really complain about when it comes to this episode, because there is just so much within it that reminds me of why I fell in love with Girls in the first place, but also something new. It’s an episode about love, trust, friendship, relationships, identity, growth, and saying goodbye to who we were, what we knew, and who we loved. Beyond bittersweet, it might be my favorite episode ever written from the show.
6. Broad City: “Burning Bridges” (S3E8) [Comedy Central]
“Burning Bridges” is the first episode in the three seasons of Broad City where Abbi and Ilana are faced with an issue in their friendship. A moment of growth for both, the episode tackles dissolving relationships, new relationships, confidence, trust, and lying. There’s still the organic humor the audience loves in Broad City, but there’s genuine heartbreak and betrayal. And it feels unbelievably sad, but not alienating or derailing for the series. For the first time, Abbi and Ilana are more us than we could have ever imagined, and it feels awesome.
7. American Crime Story: The People Vs. OJ Simpson: “Marcia Marcia Marcia” (S1E6) [FX]
The People Vs. OJ Simpson was a determined portrayal of the very famous trial of OJ Simpson for the murder of his wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman. In this episode, the focus is on prosecutor Marcia Cross, who very publicly was criticized for her looks which the public believed would affect her ability to prosecute accordingly. Sarah Paulson is the perfect Marcia Cross, and for a brief moment, you forget this is acting and not the real deal, because of how well Paulson executes the humiliation and overwhelming pressure Marcia is facing. It’ll infuriate you and it will shatter you. Especially if you’ve ever dealt with scrutiny for how you may look, what gender you are, etc. It was a contender for awards season and appropriately won, because this was the most “real” episode of the miniseries.
8. Stranger Things: “Chapter 2: The Weirdo on Maple Street” (S1E2) [Netflix]
Although this is the second episode of the series, it’s jampacked with noteworthy details for the narrative. The boys find out their strange new friend’s name is Eleven based on a tattoo on her arm, Jonathan decides to investigate and scope out the woods for Will, and Nancy and Barb find a divide while partying at Steve’s. Jonathan stumbles upon Steve’s house as he gazes from the woods to find the teens partying by the pool. Nancy is attempting to win Steve and his friend’s over by engaging in a beer shotgun. She pressures Barb to join in, but in an attempt to cut the whole into the can, the knife slips and Barb ends up with a massive gash in her hand. The two girls eventually argue about Nancy staying over and Steve’s intentions, but Nancy tells Barb to leave while she motions upstairs to Steve’s bedroom. This is the beginning of the end for Barb.
9. Orange Is the New Black: “The Animals” (S4E12) [Netflix]
Race played an important role in the fourth season of Orange Is the New Black. Tensions were high at Litchfield as the prison became corporate owned, new officers were assigned jobs, and there was an increase in inmates flooding the bunks. “The Animals” is a particularly tense episode as the inmates decide to unite after months of mistreatment and abuse from the COs. In a peaceful protest, the inmates stand on the cafeteria tables until the head officer resigns. However, this angers him to the decision to remove the inmates all by force. Crazy Eyes has a PTSD-like outburst where multiple inmates try to restrain her and calm her down, but the officers become violent. One officer in particular, a younger man named Bailey, ends up restraining an inmate (I won’t spoil it) with great force it leads to their death. This episode mirrored the police brutality in our country over the last few years, and especially the Eric Garner case that gained traction after the victim explicitly exclaimed “I can’t breathe” while officers choked him to death. It’s heartbreaking, deafening, and you will feel overwhelmed with a mixture of feelings that range from furious to devastated. The one thing I took away from this episode was how engrossing it became. When it ended, I was brought back to reality and realized I wasn’t in that cafeteria with them, but instead I was a spectator in my living room.
10. Love: “The End of the Beginning” (S1E10) [Netflix]
I loved Love, dearly. Judd Apatow, Gillian Jacobs, Paul Rust, and Netflix…what more could I ask for in a new comedy? Love felt fresh in most areas of the show, but there were still some standard clichés and tropes that made their way into the show. It was always messy, but in the best way possible. Gus (Rust) and Mickey (Jacobs) just had a major fallout which ended their short lived relationship in the previous episode, but in “The End of the Beginning” the two are trying to “move on” but are plagued by the inevitable guilt and sadness that comes with an unresolved break up. The final scene of this episode is what makes it my favorite of the season. The characters are vulnerable, but no one more so than Mickey. In this moment, she exposes herself for who she is, her flaws, her problems with love, sex, and drugs, and she doesn’t ask for anything other than Gus’ forgiveness and understanding that she never intended to act the way she did. Gillian Jacobs brings Mickey to life, but I think it’s in this monologue that we see her ability to weave in and out of comedy and drama. Also, Gus is me AF.
11. Insecure: “Broken As Fuck” (S1E8) [HBO]
Insecure did a great job at bouncing from comedy to drama without force and cookie cutter format, but “Broken As Fuck” sits more on the drama side. Not that this is an issue or anything, it’s just that I want to make it clear that this was an important episode to the series because of that element. Issa finds herself managing two strained relationships: her friendship with Molly and her relationship with Lawrence. “Broken As Fuck” highlights Issa’s biggest flaws which are disregarding her fault in situations and expecting those closest to her to always be around. The core of this episode is female friendship as the girls end up celebrating Kelly’s birthday in a rental home. Issa and Molly are evidently feuding and it makes the weekend tense, but when Issa gets a call from Lawrence unexpectedly and needs to get back home, Molly is there to drive her. They discuss their issues on the drive back and immediately return to the good state of their friendship. However, when Issa returns to her apartment expecting to see Lawrence, she realizes he has left her and she breaks down in a painfully broken performance by Issa Rae. I think this hurts to watch because Issa is a ray of sunshine throughout the show, even when she’s being terrible. So to see this bright, witty, and fun character shattered by the realization that her life as she knew it is “over”, breaks your heart as a viewer.
12. Game of Thrones: “The Battle of the Bastards” (S6E9) [HBO]
Jon Snow vs. Ramsey Bolton. This gets bloody. This gets brutal. This becomes one of the craziest episodes in Game of Thrones history on technical aspects alone. The cinematography of this episode is out of this world. Season six generously gave us detailed, visionary episodes through the skillful shots and extraordinary editing. Based on the title alone, it can be inferred that this episode is centric around the men of the episode, but it is in fact just as focused on the women. Daenerys in Meereen and Sansa in Winterfell (featuring Lyanna Mormont) show their strength as women and as leaders with tactful execution of dominating the men who have held them back or hurt them. There’s a really gnarly scene involving Sansa that might make the faint of heart sick to their stomachs, but undeniably will make the feminist in you give her a standing ovation.
13. Mr. Robot: “eps2.6_succesor.p12” (S2E8) [USA]
Mr. Robot was bizarre this season, and I mean that in terms of really solid moments that echoed the incredible first season and then really unfit, disappointing moments. It shouldn’t go without mention though that season 2 was for the women, and they dominated the narrative. In this episode Darlene and fsociety find themselves in an unexpectedly dangerous situation when they break into Susan Jacobs’ smart home. Angela is faced with the pressing issue of being linked to the 5/9 hack and decides to go out to celebrate the Fourth of July. As she progressively becomes more intoxicated she heads to the stage for an emotionally stripped karaoke version of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. Angela’s drunk karaoke plays over frantic scenes from inside Jacobs’ home as Darlene and the crew try to fix their situation. That’s sequence of events makes the episode and Portia Doubleday’s vulnerable performance as Angela is key.
14. House of Cards: “Chapter 43” (S4E4) [Netflix]
This episode was huge for the events that take place within it. Assassination attempts on President Underwood. The death of a beloved character. Games are being played with an opponent who is ready to win. But most importantly, it’s an episode directed by the lovely Robin Wright and it’s one of the more notable of the series, showing that she can dominate both on and off screen.
15. The Americans: “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears” (S4E8) [FX]
There’s a lot of detail in this episode, so I’ll make this brief. This episode was pivotal for the series and it truly felt like it was a wrap for the season, but this was only the 8th episode. There’s a time jump within this episode, a key character has a sendoff, the main stars in the Jennings seem like they’ve had enough and reached their limits, and the history of the characters resurfaced in a beneficial way for the narrative. The music in this episode is on point, and it’s undoubtedly the best episode of the season.