[Editor’s Note: The following contains light spoilers for the included series.]
Season 1, Episode 3
Written by: Allen Hughes, Lasse Jarvi, Doug Pray
Directed by: Allen Hughes
Allen Hughes’ well-cut music documentary is populated with enough industry giants that just listening to them babble for four hours would’ve been well worth the time. But Hughes skillfully incorporated historical footage with those fascinating reflections, and never is the combination more captivating than in Episode 3.
Taking us back to the release of Dr. Dre’s “Chronic” album, Episode 3 features vital discussions about free speech, how rap was a misunderstood tool of rebellion, and why Jimmy Iovine and Dre persevered despited persecution. It’s not just about overcoming censorship and catering to the demand of customers: “The Defiant Ones” shows and tells us why this was a make-or-break moment for the most popular music in the country (especially as coastal rap battles turned deadly).
Where to Watch: HBO NOW
Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
Written by: Andrea Savage
Directed by: Rachel Goldenberg
Judith Light telling Andrea Savage to fuck off about air conditioning is not something anyone knew they needed until it happened, but now it’s impossible to imagine a world without it. These are the joys of “I’m Sorry,” a charming addition to the “Curb Your Enthusiasm”/”Louie” awkward comedy genre. Savage, as an alternate version of herself, is a confident, confrontational voice thrust into situations where a polite, timid discourse is the norm. Hence, conflicts like the A/C dispute pop up in the most hysterical ways. Both adventurous and assured, the pilot sets a tone any freshman series would want, making us excited to see where the rest of the season goes.
Where to Watch: TruTV, Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
Season 2, Episode 1, “Hella Great”
Written by: Issa Rae
Directed by: Melina Matsoukas
“Insecure” returned more confident than ever in its Season 2 premiere, as we picked up shortly after Issa and Lawrence’s break-up. Because Issa knows what she wants — to get back together with her ex — both she and the series overall have a renewed focus. Issa’s rap about first-date struggles is set up nicely by propulsive editing and her out-of-control party, designed to impress Lawrence, does more than emphasize her future disappointment. It’s fun and surprising, just like the show. If you haven’t binged yet, be sure to get on it. Season 2 is just getting started.
Where to Watch: HBO NOW
Season 3, Episode 8, “Old Pueblo”
Written by: Byron Balasco
Directed by: Michael Morris
“Kingdom” is so good, you guys. As soon as it becomes more widely available, which feels inevitable now that the series is ending, be sure to track this down immediately. For those of you with DirecTV access, the eighth episode of Season 3 stood out for more than its jarring opening: An elderly woman played by Talia Shire, later revealed to be Alvey’s mother, attempted to jump off a parking garage. The lengthy sequence set up an episode of bonding between brothers. Be it literal brothers like Nate (Nick Jonas) and Jay (Jonathan Tucker) or brothers in the ring, like Ryan (Matt Lauria) and Alvey (Frank Grillo), the Kulina matriarch’s suicide attempt brought everyone back to center. (But we haven’t forgotten about her wants yet, and neither has Alvey. These final two episodes are going to be intense.)
Where to Watch: Audience Network
Season 2, Episode 6, “The Curse”
Directed by: Adam Ridley
Sometimes you forget what you’re watching; not literally (we hope), but it’s easy to get so sucked up in a narrative you forget its unique perspective. Maybe you’ve been watching “House of Cards” so long it seems natural for people to roll their eyes at the camera, or perhaps you’ve been bingeing “Friday Night Lights” long enough to think everyone has a thick, seductive Texas twang. “Last Chance U” gives viewers a declarative reminder of what it’s all about in Episode 6, when the Goliath football team from East Mississippi Community College visits Coahoma, a program that can barely field a squad. Most junior college teams look like Coahoma: They’re not that bad, but they’re far from the elite, Division-1A worthy team put together at EMCC. How the schools collide on and off the field proves to be fascinating drama, offering just the right shift before Season 2 wraps up.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Continue reading for the best episodes of “Ozark,” “Twin Peaks,” and a very recent premiere.
Season 1, Episode 8, “Kaleidoscope”
Written by: Ryan Farley
Directed by: Ellen Kuras
It’s hard to choose a favorite from “Ozark” Season 1: The first episode sets up everything to come beautifully, with a number of jarring twists that feel like a foot has been firmly depressed on the story’s accelerator. The finale has a number of shocks, too, including a haunting message about the values of family, honesty, and sticking together. (Being truthful with your kids has consequences, folks.) Then there are moments in between, like Marty (Jason Bateman) and Ruth (Julia Garner) stealing from a strip club and the central couple’s most devastating fight in Episode 7, “Next Box.”
But “Kaleidoscope” is the most vital entry of the lot. A flashback episode conveying loads of emotional insight, Episode 8 is also told nonlinearly. It’s a challenge to put the puzzle together, but each piece clicks in place at just the right time. Marty’s heartbreak, shared with Wendy (Laura Linney) at the end of the previous hour, isn’t fully felt until this episode ends. Similarly, your understanding of Wendy’s motivations shift from scene to scene, only coming into focus at the very end. While it’s turning, Episode 8 is fascinating. When it stops, you’re left with a clear, unforgettable image.
Where to Watch: Netflix
Season 3, Episode 2, “Rickmancing the Stone”
Written by: Jane Becker
Directed by: Dominic Polcino
“Rick and Morty” made an episode inspired by “Mad Max: Fury Road,” so yeah, it’s been on this list since long before it actually aired. A few battles in the thunderdome — er, the “blood dome” — later and it’s clear the slot was well-earned. Morty’s murderous King Kong arm betraying his innocent intentions is hilarious, and Summer’s assimilation into the desert army of mutants was well-utilized to drive home the episode’s overall message: Moving on is difficult, but you shouldn’t hold on to things too long. You know, unless you’re drowning a bad guy in a bathtub.
Where to Watch: adult swim, Amazon Video, Vudu
Season 1, Episode 1, “Ralphie”
Written by: Mark Duplass
Directed by: Sarah Adina Smith
IndieWire spoke to Sarah Adina Smith about the premiere episode of “Room 104,” so we won’t repeat ourselves too much here. But the debut half-hour of Mark and Jay Duplass’ new HBO series is a stunner. If you’re enticed at all by mysterious, surprising short films, “Ralphie” should be up any festival-goer’s alley. This episode can be sampled on its own, but it will certainly make you want to keep visiting “Room 104,” again and again.
Where to Watch: HBO NOW
Season 1, Episode 3, “Slow Hand”
Written by: Leonard Chang
Directed by: Daniel Attias
“Snowfall” tracks a number of stories in chronicling how crack became a dominant drug in the United States, but its lead and (arguably) most compelling character is Franklin (Damson Idris). A kid fed up with his narrow options — limited by his race, his neighborhood, and the class system in general — Franklin makes a daring, illegal move to steal the American dream. You start to see the consequences of his risk right away, but Episode 3 makes it clear that Franklin can never go back. He’s forever changed and not by his choice. He’s caught up in a plan that, yes, he set in motion, but without knowing where it would go. Watching this unwilling but permanent transformation leaves a mark on the audience, as well.
Where to Watch: FX, Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
Season 3, Episode 11, “Part 11”
Written by: David Lynch and Mark Frost
Directed by: David Lynch
Part 11 sucked us in like, well, like this:
Anyone looking for answers was happy. Anyone looking for unbridled (and inexplicable) creativity was happy. Anyone hoping for a comedic homage to David Fincher’s “Se7en” was ecstatic. “Part 11” had a little bit for everyone, but it was Lynchian, through and through. At this point, we’ll follow him all the way through portal, to the other side, filled with dirty bearded men in a room.
Where to Watch: Showtime, Hulu
Given Andy Samberg’s faux sports documentary clocks in at just 41 minutes — which is even shorter than your typical network drama, sans commercials — we could consider the whole thing an episode of television rather than a TV special. But to fit with the spirit of this list in spotlighting the micro over the macro, we’ve honed our choice down to one singular aspect worth celebrating: James Marsden.
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