25. “Game of Thrones” Season 5, Episode 8 – “Hardhome”
Even if you don’t love “Game of Thrones,” it’s hard to deny the filmmaking on display in what was the season’s finest installment, featuring a long-awaited sit-down between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), brilliant acting across the board from its ensemble cast and an epic battle between Jon Snow, the Wildlings and the White Walkers that cemented the show’s reputation for some of the best-executed action on TV. Jon Snow swinging his sword against the ice zombies was one of the year’s most viscerally thrilling moments, even if it was a moment of triumph quickly undercut by failure.
24. “Hannibal” Season 3, Episode 13 – “The Wrath of the Lamb”
“Hannibal” was never a perfect show, but it was always a gorgeous show, even at its most violent and insane. In this final installment, creator Bryan Fuller amped up the crazy to 11 with a violent climax that featured our favorite Murder Husbands at peak Murder Husbandry. That, combined with a final shot still emotionally scarring six months later, showcased the show’s talent for finding the beauty in blood. Nothing else will ever be like “Hannibal,” and that is a damn shame.
23. “Public Morals” Season 1, Episode 1 – “A Fine Line”
The first of two unjustly canceled series on this list, Edward Burns’ first foray into television started strong and stayed that way. “A Fine Line” set the tone for a series familiar in style to “The Departed,” familiar in character to family cop dramas of the highest order and completely unique in and of itself. Burns — who wrote and directed every episode — hit the 2015 cinematography zeitgeist by incorporating a few impressive long takes into a series where the overall technique lived up to its addictive opening hour. Hold this episode dear, TV viewers. They don’t come out of the gate like this all that often.
22. “Episodes” Season 4, Episode 5 – “Episode 5”
Not counting “House of Lies” (which isn’t purely for laughs) and “Shameless” (which isn’t really about laughs at all), “Episodes” is the only comedy left on Showtime. Lucky for them, it’s a great one. Matt LeBlanc making a second career off his first by playing an exaggerated version of Matt LeBlanc sounds like a disastrous idea in 2015. After all, there have been so many meta-comedies, and so many have failed. Yet “Episodes” perseveres, in large part because of consistently great writing and LeBlanc’s natural charisma drawn from his inverted TV persona. All of these are on display and then some in “Episode 5,” as LeBlanc’s inflated ego is brought down to earth and the de facto leads are forced into working with a former partner turned con artist. The highlight, amid sex tapes and TV pitches, is LeBlanc’s moral quandary around attending the party of a dictator infamous for mass genocide. Yet the joke doesn’t fully pay off until the end, when a surprise reveal hits a funny bone you didn’t even know you had.
21. “Red Oaks” Season 1, Episode 7 – “Body Swap”
Amazon’s underappreciated freshman comedy “Red Oaks” is a fascinating blend of nostalgia and authenticity. Despite its ’80s setting, rarely does the Gregory Jacobs and Joe Gangemi-created comedy dip its toe into the kitschy elements of a decade many remember for its Rubix cubes and DeLoreans. Yet it’s also unafraid to subtly exemplify its knowledge of the era and all its distracting trademarks — including casting Jennifer Grey as the main character’s mother. (She’s amazing, by the way.) So it’s both fitting and surprising that the seventh episode of “Red Oaks” is a classic body-swap comedy where David (Craig Roberts) and his father, Sam (Richard Kind), switch bodies. Though you know just about every plot beat just before it happens, “Body Swap” finds new depths to the well-worn trope and ends up being not some random aberration to the series’ story, but a vital lesson influencing decisions to come.