10. “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” Season 1, Episode 11 – “Kimmy Rides a Bike!”
We already made quite the case for this episode’s importance in our mid-year list, so rather than introduce a few new adjectives describing the layered brilliance of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s evaluation of women, men and the power dynamic between them, we’ll just say this: There’s one helluva good “Eyes Wide Shut” joke in here. And we love a good “Eyes Wide Shut” joke. Also: Jon Hamm.
9. “UnREAL” Season 1, Episode 1 – “Return”
“UnREAL” had a lot to prove right out of the gate. Not only was it trying to establish itself as something different from the standard Lifetime brand, but it was tackling a subject matter — reality dating shows — that could have been written off as superficial. Instead, “UnREAL” hit the ground running with its brutal take on modern television and modern romance. From its pitch-perfect imitation of reality TV tropes to its quick establishment of character and conflict, it’s a pilot that stuck with us all year long, setting the stage for a bold as hell first season.
8. “BoJack Horseman” Season 2, Episode 11 – “Escape From L.A.”
“BoJack’s” second season had some standout installments (“Let’s Find Out,” featuring Mr. Peanutbutter’s new game show in all its glory, alongside hilarious voice work by Daniel Radcliffe and Tatiana Maslany, nearly beat it out to this list). But “Escape From L.A.” gets the pick because it’s the beating heart of this season; a beating heart which breaks wide open in the final minutes. Our hero BoJack’s attempt to evade his disappointing life with delusion is like a slow motion car crash, rich with tragedy because of how inescapable it became.
7. “The Americans” Season 3, Episode 10 – “Stingers”
Generally, on best episode lists, it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid picking too many season finales. Typically, they’re tempting because so much happens within their twisty, turn-y hours and half-hours, or at least one big thing goes down as the kicker. But it’s key to keep in mind that setting up events to come with grand disclosures or epic cliffhangers often isn’t as important as paying off on those promises. While the third season finale of “The Americans” may have been an excellent example of effect, “Stingers” was its cause. After years of build up and a season’s worth of tension, Paige finally learned the truth about her parents in a tense dinner table sit-down reminiscent of so many common nuclear family talks, but this time on an extremely uncommon topic. “Stingers” was a pivotal moment for the series, both rewarding veteran viewers for their investment and creating new dramatic enticements that will undoubtedly pay dividends in Season 4 and beyond. “Stingers” may not have been a season finale, but it was Season 3’s most crucial episode.
6. “Master of None” Season 1, Episode 2 – “Parents”
The first season of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s intimate and hilarious Netflix series had no shortage of showcase moments, but “Parents” had the most buzz coming out of the gate. What makes the episode so special is what in general made the show so special: In a media landscape cluttered with “everyman” narratives, Ansari and Yang dug into their own lives to tell a story that felt specific and true to the experiences of first-generation immigrants and their children. In that specificity, though, they found a universal appeal, especially for anyone who’s struggled to connect with a parent, and it was really funny (shoutout to Dr. Shoukath Ansari, a newcomer to acting but with a lifetime’s worth of experience as Aziz’s father). The fact that “Master of None” only built on this excellence is a massive testament to one of the year’s strongest freshman series.