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The 25 Best TV Episodes of 2017, Ranked

The year that was bore witness to some truly beautiful installments of television, some which literally blew us away.

Handmaid's Tale Twin Peaks Master of None

Hulu / Showtime / Netflix

18. “Big Mouth”

Big Mouth Season 1 Hormone Monstress

Season 1, Episode 9, “I Survived Jessi’s Bat Mitzvah”

  • directed by Mike L. Mayfield
  • written by Kelly Galuska

There’s a lot of “Big Mouth” that focuses on new beginnings. But this episode showed that puberty is just as much about endings, too. Andrew and Missy’s breakup, Jessi watching her parents’ marriage dissolve even further, and Nick slowly moving away from his mother: going through changes, indeed. Compressing all of these ideas into a single episode would be impossible without the show’s breakneck joke pace (so much happens before we even get to talking shellfish). Tack on an actual appearance of the oft-discussed Guy Bilzarian law commercial and a great showcase for the pair of Hormone Monsters and you have a standout installment of one of the year’s best new shows. After all, what is 2017 if not a chorus of people singing “Life is a Fucked Up Mess” in perfect harmony?

17. “Man Seeking Woman”

MAN SEEKING WOMAN -- "Bagel" -- Season 3, Episode 7 (Airs February 15, 10:30 pm e/p) Pictured (l-r): Jay Baruchel as Josh, Katie Findlay as Lucy. CR: Michael Gibson/FXX

“Man Seeking Woman”

Michael Gibson/FXX

Season 3, Episode 7, “Bagel”

  • directed by Ryan Case
  • written by Stefani Robinson

Proposal episodes present many of the same problems for TV shows that real-life couples face. There’s the danger of being too saccharine, too simple, too extravagant, or too far from the spirit of the relationship itself. But leave it to a show that saw its share of surrealness to ensure that the potential start of Josh and Lucy’s engagement would be anything but normal. A riff on Comic-Con, a markedly different take on asking for parents’ permission, and a spinoff-worthy pair of segments with Lucy as Sherlock Holmes made for a rocky, emotional road to “Will you marry me?” that felt completely in line with the heart of the series. There’s true storytelling magic in that closing montage, as simple and pure a representation of love as you’ll see anywhere else. Like much of the series-best Season 3, it was unconventional, but perfect in its own way.

16. “Halt and Catch Fire”

Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan - Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 4, Episode 8 - Photo Credit: Tina Rowden/AMC

Season 4, Episode 8, “Goodwill”

  • directed by Christopher Cantwell
  • written by Zack Whedon

Mourning is an extremely personal process. While occasionally used as an excuse for bad or odd behavior, everyone really does enter and exit the state of grief differently. That can make it tricky for TV writers to authentically capture characters going through it, as they’re often tempted toward extremes in order to make their series unique.

“Halt and Catch Fire” finds a special place in the discussion by honing in on individuals, not eccentricities. “Goodwill” examines a family who’s just begun to cope with a major and unexpected loss. Tasked with packing up the departed’s belongings, young and old, friends and family, all gather to fight, cry, talk, and stay silent as they attempt to do the impossible. You’ll never look at a Goodwill the same way again — or a bowl of soup, for that matter. That’s just how powerful these personal processes come across: You’re one of the mourners.

15. “Black Mirror”

Black Mirror Season 4 USS Callister

Season 4, Episode 2, “USS Calister”

  • directed by Toby Haynes
  • written by William Bridges and Charlie Brooker

Technically, we should apologize for including this on the list. Because spoilers are bad and “USS Calister” doesn’t premiere until December 29, we can’t tell you much about it. But just know that while the Netflix anthology series might appear to be having some fun with “Star Trek” fan service, what’s actually going on under the surface in “USS Callister” is incisive cultural commentary with a side order of timely horror. Add in the fantastic ensemble — including Jesse Plemons, Crisitin Milioti, and Jimmi Simpson — and the end result is perhaps one of the strongest “Black Mirror” episodes to date.

14. “I Love Dick”

I Love Dick Season 1 Episode 5 India Menuez Roberta Colindrez

Season 1, Episode 5, “A Short History of Weird Girls”

  • directed by Jill Soloway
  • written by Annie Baker and Heidi Schreck

“I Love Dick,” as a series, had its fascinating moments, but Episode 5, “A Short History of Weird Girls,” was perhaps the most impactful installment overall. A series of vignettes spotlighting the show’s female energy serves as a complete breakout from the main series, but invokes the show’s fascination with legendary female artists. It pays tribute to creators who had come before while also developing the women of the series beyond (the always awesome) Kathryn Hahn. “A Short History of Weird Girls,” on its own, is a fascinating experiment. But it’s also a vital part of one of 2017’s most intriguing series.

13. “Legion”

LEGION -- "Chapter 6" – Season 1, Episode 6 (Airs Wednesday, March 15, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Dan Stevens as David Haller, Aubrey Plaza as Lenny "Cornflakes" Busker. CR: Michelle Faye/FX

Season 1, Episode 6, “Chapter 6”

  • directed by Hiro Murai
  • written by Nathaniel Halpern

Trust FX and Noah Hawley to bring together a superhero story unlike anything that’s ever been seen on TV. While the mind of the (mutant? schizophrenic?) David Haller proves to be a rich playground for some of the most trippy and frisky scenes imaginable – the Bollywood dance and “Bolero” fight scene particularly come to mind – “Chapter 6” brings all of that combined with vital storytelling in the space of one episode. While the shared hallucination places each of David’s team in the hot seat as their psyches are laid bare, the puzzle begins to unravel, which lays the groundwork for a big revelation: the frightening Devil With Yellow Eyes is far more insidious than expected. David’s mind has been too fertile, too convoluted, which has allowed someone with the face of his friend Lenny to hide out. This culminates in the episode’s highlight: an exuberant dance set to “Feelin’ Good,” which is the psychic equivalent to sinister schadenfreude. On “Legion,” the battle of good versus evil is still happening, but instead of punches and laser blasts, it weaponizes trickery and style.

12. “The Leftovers”

  • directed by Mimi Leder
  • written by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta

It’s easy to pick finales for a best episodes list. So much of the season’s narrative is either building to them or being saved for them, finales are typically a safe bet for relevance, action, and conclusions. “The Leftovers” finale delivered all three and more, but it should also be admired as an entity unto itself.

A woman, heartbroken over the loss of her children, risks her life to see them again. Next thing we know, it’s decades into the future. The same woman is now living alone, in Australia, when she’s visited by the former love of her life. They talk. They dance. There are doves, goats, and bike rides. But in the end, it’s all about that first scene: Did the risk pay off? Did the woman see her children again?

The belief she craves so much that she fears even asking for it can be felt in every frame of Mimi Leder’s ambitious, beautiful ending. Each word written by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta carries meaning built up by the 27 episodes preceding this, but never do they have to betray the immediacy of this hour-long episode. It’s a love story, and an impeccable one at that. To say that it’s just a good ending lessens the creative gamble taken by all involved. It’s a damn fine episode of television.

11. “Rick and Morty”

"Rick and Morty"

“Rick and Morty”

Adult Swim

Season 3, Episode 7, “The Ricklantis Mixup”

  • directed by Dominic Polcino and Wesley Archer
  • written by Dan Guterman and Ryan Ridley

Pressing pause on the adventures of the Rick and Morty audiences have come to know and love (and be slightly skeptical of at times), the show took a diversion through The Citadel. “Rick and Morty” has always used the flexible rules of the multiverse to its full potential, but diving into the day-to-day life of the divergent Ricks and Mortys in a walled-off environment was transformative in a way that not even a sentient cucumber could be. Some of the series’ best episodes have been its densest (just remember how many brand new characters cycled through “Total Rickall”), but doing it on a city-wide scale, bringing in stories of police violence, workplace exploitation, and teenage angst is a complex web worth parsing out. (When a Steve Jobs version of Rick is the 1,843rd most jarring thing about the episode, you know it’s done its job.) It’s a profound, bold gamble of an episode, one that manages to speak volumes about commercialism and corruption on every level.

10. “Nathan For You”

Nathan for You Finding Frances

“Nathan for You”

Comedy Central

Season 4, Episode 7, “Finding Frances”

  • directed by Nathan Fielder
  • written by Leo Allen, Nathan Fielder, Carrie Kemper, Michael Koman, Adam Locke-Norton, Eric Notarnicola

This feature-length finale preserved some of the trademark touches that ran through much of the four seasons of “Nathan for You”: awkward auditions, neverending quests for love, unnecessarily convoluted routes to simple solutions. Somehow, Fielder and Co. manage to tell the story of one man’s search for a bygone sweetheart without betraying all the reasons why it might not be the best idea in the first place. By capturing all the messy emotions that come with dredging up the past, it embraces every bit of what some parts of people’s minds would rather keep hidden. Across pop-up high school reunions and through the contents of long-neglected microfiche, “Finding Frances” is the natural evolution of every metafictional aspect the show has woven into its fabric from the outset. (Oh, and there’s a running gag about a nonexistent sequel and its matching merchandise that might be the best joke of the year.) “Nathan for You” has always taken up residence right in the heart of “too good to be true.” Pulling back the facade just enough, it arrived at a story so poignant that it almost doesn’t matter whether it is or not.

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