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The 20 Best TV Episodes of 2017 (So Far)

Follow us back through a fateful courtroom showdown, history's wildest Easter party and one of the best TV twists we've ever seen.

<< Page 1: Episodes 20-11.

10. “The Good Place” – Season 1, Episode 13, “Michael’s Gambit”

THE GOOD PLACE -- "Michael's Gambit" Episode 113 -- Pictured: Ted Danson as Michael -- (Photo by: Vivian Zink/NBC)

“The Good Place”

Vivian Zink/NBC

With almost six months to process it, this episode remains nothing short of a minor miracle. The final payoff to a masterful bit of season-long misdirection, it’s also a perfect showcase for the talents of its cast. That devious Danson cackle, (Fake) Eleanor’s shocking moment of realization and a full-fledged reset that barely anyone saw coming — all of this combines to form a parting flourish that any slight-of-hand expert would applaud. Like all good magic tricks, this one holds up on repeated viewings, and the emotions of the core group we’d been following for 13 episodes of world-building still track, even in the midst of a show that’s giddy to hit the reset button. Thank whoever high up on The Good Place chain is responsible for a Season 2. (Let’s go with Janet. It’s probably a Janet.)

READ MORE: ‘The Good Place’ Season Finale Review: ‘Lost’-Style Twists Turn the Show Upside Down For Season 2

9. “I Love Dick” – Season 1, Episode 5, “A Short History of Weird Girls”

I Love Dick Season 1 Episode 5 India Menuez Roberta Colindrez

Like a break from the season surrounding it, “A Short History of Weird Girls” is distinct in both structure and story. And yet thematically, it ties the series together. Director Jill Soloway and writers Annie Baker and Heidi Schreck craft individual arcs for each of the show’s main female characters, and Chris (Kathryn Hahn), Devon (Roberta Colindrez), Paula (Lily Mojekwu), Toby (India Menuez), and more read letters straight to camera about their various desires. It’s passionate, confessional, and confidant, and it’s captured in punchy, effective segments binded together over their form and fashion. It’s an experimental episode that knows exactly what it’s doing, and does it very, very well.

READ MORE: ‘I Love Dick’: Kathryn Hahn and Jill Soloway on Empowering Sex Scenes That Aren’t All About Ejaculation

8. “Twin Peaks” – “The Return,” Episode 8, “Part 8”

Twin Peaks Part 8

After getting one scene of fairly straightforward plot out of the way, David Lynch cracks his knuckles and delivers nearly 50 minutes of avant-garde spectacle that is as breathtaking as it is unconventional. Beginning with an A-bomb detonation that balloons into a fluffy mushroom cloud, image after image follows that implies combustion, agitation, mobilization, retaliation, and ultimately a spark of… something. Lynch has electrified pond scum to create life, but no sooner has that been accomplished than he moves on to the next scene and the next, veering from images of young love, the birth of hope, and malevolent evil. The episode leaves it up to the viewer to parse meaning, or one can just take IndieWire Chief Film Critic Eric Kohn’s advice and just appreciate Lynch’s masterpiece without trying to figure it out.

7. “Master of None” – Season 2, Episode 8, “Thanksgiving”

Master of None Season 2 Lena Waithe

Ever since childhood, Dev (Aziz Ansari) has spent Thanksgiving with his pal Denise (Lena Waithe) and her family, since his own doesn’t celebrate the holiday. Through successive Thanksgivings over the course of 20-odd years, we see the evolution of their friendship and how Denise comes to the realization that she’s gay and all that entails, including eventually coming out to her family. And even though her story is only told one day of the year at a time, this construct serves to show just how change can happen, eventually. It’s an ingenious way to give a rich backstory to a character we’ve been wanting to know more about since the first season, but it’s also a meditation on acceptance, family, and how one forms identity through our relationships.

6. “Dear White People” – Season 1, Episode 5, “Chapter V”

Dear White People Season 1 Marque Richardson Netflix

It’s a tricky thing to incorporate drama into a comedy, let alone deadly serious social issues into a half-hour episode built on a love triangle. But Episode 5 of “Dear White People” does it cleverly — just like Justin Simien’s Netflix series manages throughout its stellar first season — this time by introducing the episode’s new lead character, Reggie (Marque Richardson), as a human rights advocate who’s about to live the issue he’d been protesting against. Then we forget about it. He (and thus we) get wrapped up in his broken heart and party distractions before things go horribly awry at episode’s end. Director Barry Jenkins manages the pacing well and brings an intense insight to each scene, especially a quick takedown of Quentin Tarantino that doubles to remind viewers of the edge these students constantly walk. There’s never a time when Reggie and his friends can completely forget their troubles (unlike their privileged classmates), and “Chapter V” illustrates this in a universally moving manner.

READ MORE: Giancarlo Esposito is Invisible on ‘Dear White People,’ But It’s His Best Performance of the Year

5. “The Carmichael Show” – Season 3, Episode 1, “Yes Means Yes”

THE CARMICHAEL SHOW -- "Yes Means Yes" Episode 302 -- Pictured: (l-r) Lil Rel Howery as Bobby Carmichael, Tiffany Haddish as Nekeisha, Amber Stevens West as Maxine, Jerrod Carmichael as Jerrod Carmichael, David Alan Grier as Joe Carmichael, Loretta Devine as Cynthia Carmichael -- (Photo by: Chris Haston/NBC)

“The Carmichael Show”

Chris Haston/NBC

In what we now know was its final season premiere, “The Carmichael Show” pulled off a dangerously impossible feat: an episode-long discussion of sexual assault that was as thoughtful and incisive as it was funny. It reinforced the idea that “The Carmichael Show” was so much more than a delivery device for sitcom stereotypes. It was a vital, accessible forum for giving Americans a chance to talk about some of society’s biggest taboos. Jerrod Carmichael was a steady anchor for the show that shared his name, but this episode also showed that Lil Rel Howery, Tiffany Haddish and David Alan Grier always had an equal chance to deliver some of the show’s greatest jokes. “The Carmichael Show” never purported to have definitive solutions to every issue it addressed, but each episode came with a way to give a voice to the people affected most.

READ MORE: ‘The Carmichael Show’ Review: TV’s Boldest Sitcom Is Funnier Than Ever, Even In A Season 3 Filled with Deep Questions

4. “Better Call Saul” – Season 3, Episode 5, “Chicanery”

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

While this season of the “Breaking Bad” prequel nearly killed us, it isn’t this episode we might officially consider to be the knife. However, it does represent the show at its absolute best, featuring a performance by Michael McKean that defines just why “Better Call Saul” has had such an impact on us; cruel, human, and true, we came to fully understand Chuck McGill in his moments on the stand. No one made it out of that episode untarnished, but for reasons more complex than any simple description could encapsulate — reasons that make it some of the most unforgettable TV of the year so far.

3. “Big Little Lies” – Episode 8, “You Get What You Need”

Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon, "Big Little Lies"

Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon, “Big Little Lies”

HBO

David E. Kelley is the composer, and Jean-Marc Vallee is the conductor who orchestrated the symphony of suspicion, jealousy, and soul-deep agony that is the finale of “Big Little Lies.” But even as each of the characters circle each other like distrustful sharks adrift in a buoyant sea of booze, the glitz of the evening adds a layer of ridiculousness and irony into the mix. You see, the  culmination of the season-long tease of who got murdered and by whom takes place during the ultimate theatrical event: an “Elvis Presley and Audrey Hepburn”-themed fundraiser turned bacchanal. But as the strains of karaoke crooning fade, and the police sirens wail in their place, what’s left is a disparate group of women united by the knowledge that only by supporting each other can they truly fight back against the patriarchy.

2. “The Leftovers” – Season 3, Episode 5, “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”

Lion. Sex. Boat. Party. Why should we bother discussing this any more? Oh, only because Christopher Eccleston gives a magnificent performance amidst the most absurd of experiences; “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World” features a narrative so beautifully plot-driven, so entirely consuming, that it’s impossible to look away. From the dazzling opening sequence, which totally reapproaches our understanding of what’s possible with something filmed on a submarine, to the central set piece which has us wanting to make custom T-shirts and take boat rides to Melbourne, “The Leftovers” gave us so many gifts this year, including this:

And we’ll always be thankful.

READ MORE: ‘The Leftovers’ Christopher Eccleston on Matt’s Boat Orgy Breakthrough and Why His Character is Actually Damon Lindelof

1. “The Handmaid’s Tale” – Season 1, Episode 3, “Late”

The Handmaid's Tale -- "Late" Episode 103 -- Offred visits Janine’s baby with Serena Joy and remembers the early days of the revolution before Gilead. Ofglen faces a difficult challenge. Ofglen (Alexis Bledel), shown. (Photo by: George Kraychyk/Hulu)

There’s so much about “The Handmaid’s Tale” that made it an unforgettable experience this spring, but the third episode of the season, packed with so much tragedy and horror, was the moment where we knew we were hooked forever. Beyond its shocking ending, “Late” was packed with so much detail about the rise of this new world, as well as what awful measures were in place to keep it in power. We’ll never quite get over those final few moments. And honestly, we never should.

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