At the halfway point of the year, it’s only right that we reflect on the best that 2017 TV has had to offer. But even though we’ve singled out our picks for the greatest shows from the past six months, that still leaves plenty of quality TV experiences unpraised.
With that in mind, we singled out 20 of the best TV episodes of the year. Some are from shows we’ll already given high marks to, while others are standout installments from series that sadly flew under the radar as they aired. The result is a cross-section of TV that covers comedy, drama, tragedy, triumph and all the spaces in between.
20. “Legion” – Season 1, Episode 6, “Chapter 6”
It’s almost too fitting that a man named Hiro directed the best episode of FX’s non-superhero superhero series, “Legion.” An hour-long dance through David (Dan Stevens), Syd (Rachel Keller), and the team’s memories — featuring an unparalleled actual dance number from Aubrey Plaza — Hiro Murai’s mindtrap is gorgeous, intricate, and then some. It made us question everything we’d watched before until we caught up with the emotional stakes at play near the chapter’s end. Lenny’s diabolical plotting rules the episode, but each character gets their moment in the spotlight as they try to escape The Devil With the Yellow Eyes’ elaborate ruse to discover the enemy’s repressed secrets — and take control of David once and for all. Beautiful, engrossing, and oh so very wild, “Chapter 6” is “Legion” at its best.
19. “Catastrophe” – Season 3, “Episode 6”
In the season finale, the ballad that is the rocky marriage of Sharon and Rob (Sharon Horgan, Rob Delaney) reached its surprise verse, one full of heartache, shock and regret. They’ve already endured so much together, including the recent loss of Sharon’s father and two almost-infidelities, and the finale is primed for them to finally come together, stronger than before. But Rob has fallen off the wagon this season, and the final scene, in which Sharon learns how assiduously he’s been hiding his illness from her, is abrupt and devastating. While the show has always pushed the rom-com envelope in terms of its heavier storylines, this will be the ultimate test to see if Season 4 will be the coda to their song.
18. “American Gods” – Season 1, Episode 8, “Come to Jesus”
From the tragic backstory of Bilquist, to the introduction of Easter, much was packed into this installment, which brought the old gods and the new together in a way we’d been craving all season long. Thank every deity out there, real or fictional, that there’s another season coming, because this episode made it crave it more than we crave Easter chocolate.
17. “The Leftovers” – Season 3, Episode 2, “Don’t Be Ridiculous”
After three seasons of “The Leftovers” (and one episode of “Fargo”), it’s clear that if a writer sits down knowing only that Carrie Coon is carrying the episode they’re writing, well, they’re already off to an exceptional start. The third time was just as charmed as the first two episodes Coon shouldered on Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s outstanding series, and “Don’t Be Ridiculous” ended up sharing a lot of DNA with her Season 1 episode, “Guest,” and Season 2’s “Lens.” There was a trip (two, really). There was a complicated discussion with Kevin (Justin Theroux). There was an intense interaction with Erika (Regina King). But there was also a trampoline. And a tattoo. And Mark Linn Baker. “Don’t Be Ridiculous” stretched Nora to her limits, forcing the stubborn non-believer to think outside the box. It was the first step in a long walk to the LADR; to her children and back again; to ridiculous hope and permanent healing. And through every extreme emotion, she was there: a writer’s best friend, Carrie Coon.
16. “Silicon Valley” – Season 5, Episode 2, “Terms of Service”
John P. Johnson
Farewell, CEO Dinesh. You were too pure for this world. (You also almost single-handedly sunk Pied Piper under an eleven-figure sea of child privacy violations.) Beneath the sweet new hairdo, “Silicon Valley” found one of the most satisfying episode endings of the year, the lovely sweet spot where a stroke of good luck for Pied Piper meets a cyclone of Gavin Belson rage. (It also gave them the chance to bring back everyone’s favorite focus group leader.) Richard went through a particularly volatile journey this season — his final moments of being a Pied Piper outsider helped set up what the team stood to lose even after their fortunes changed. “Silicon Valley” is a never ending back-and-forth of innovation and frustration. Few times has this roller-coaster been as enjoyable.
15. “Man Seeking Woman” – Season 3, Episode 7, “Bagel”
One of the best aspects of the Simon Rich romantic comedy was that its stories were always simultaneously simple and complex. So while there were many extraordinary installments from the show’s final season, we choose to celebrate one of its most absurd yet delightful and heartfelt installments: “Bagel.” Just try not to cry, as Lucy and Josh sort out their problems, and find more and more ways to propose to each other. Try not to believe in love, when you watch this.
14. “Review” – Season 3, Episode 1, “Locorito, Pet Euthanasia, Dream”
While the Forrest/AJ sidekick swap was probably the most illuminating bit of “Review” this year, it’s hard to top the show’s triumphant return, one that wasted no time plunging its host right back into the ceaseless cycle of despair. Only “Review” could make the eating of a moldy burrito as soul-crushing an exercise as revisiting the previous season’s cliffhanger (one that left a central character paralyzed). What really sets this one apart is how quickly the show is able to create and destroy deeply felt relationships, much as it’s done to bleak comedic effect numerous times over. Like the nurse at the beginning of Season 2, this premiere saw Forrest visited by that same cycle of hope and devastation, this time via a bearded dragon named Beyoncé. In the world of Forrest MacNeil, the only thing that lasts forever is “Review” itself.
13. “GLOW” – Season 1, Episode 3, “The Wrath of Kuntar”
This episode epitomizes why “GLOW” is the most deliriously fun new show of the summer. The wrestling show’s director Sam (Marc Maron) and producer Bash (Christopher Lowell) must develop the storytelling and characters for the women, but clash over their creative visions. It’s hard to argue with a dystopian tale of desperate women fighting to mate with the last male “Specimen” on earth, but playing up to the most superficial, racist stereotypes has always worked also. From the strangest script reading ever to an equally bizarre party complete with Spanish-speaking coke-dealing robot, “GLOW” cranks its neon lights to 11 with this raucously silly, yet empowering, installment.
12. “Veep” – Season 6, Episode “Justice”
This episode is “Veep” at its peak in so many different ways: the upended dynamic between Gary and Selina when the former lands in the hospital, Jonah continuing his momentous upward failure, the oh-so-D.C. instantaneous morphing of rumor into reality. Thematically, it works with Season 6’s continual readjustment to life outside the White House. But a heavily medicated Gary would make this episode a highlight, even if it was completely unrelated to the story surrounding it. The season finale became a surprising culmination of weeks’ worth of poisonous buildup from the inept and the disgruntled, but this was the episode that provided the funniest, heaviest dosage.
11. “The Americans” – Season 5, Episode 1, “Amber Waves”
Looking back at the fifth season of FX’s Emmy-nominated drama series, the premiere joyfully exhibited what was coming in the new year; what would frustrate some viewers (and critics) while enthralling others. For 14 minutes, we watched people dig a hole, straight down into the Earth. What they found was critical, but the importance of watching them dig was widely debated. Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg created a $100,000 pit and asked the audience to delight in seeing it dug. And over the course of the season, they asked us — more than ever before — to examine and reexamine a family digging deep into itself to discover what they’re made of and what they’re capable of doing. The end result left them better informed, emotionally raw, and in more danger than ever, even if, literally, they were in the same place they were when they started. There’s a lot to value at the bottom of that pit, even if it seems like the digging was just resurfacing the same ground. #TeamPit
Next: The afterlife, the weirdness of “Twin Peaks” and the brutal moments that ruined us.