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The 30 Best TV Episodes of 2018, Ranked

In a year which shattered our concept of reality, these episodes put the pieces together.

teddy perkins elizabeth barry

FX/HBO

IndieWire Best of 2018

In an age when people are far too used to blasting through entire seasons (or series) in a weekend, it’s a pleasure to celebrate the concept of the great episode: a concise bite of storytelling that functions as its own narrative as well as a part of a larger whole.

Last year’s list was 25 episodes, but expanding this list to 30 became necessary given the incredible scope of television to be considered — across all platforms, there was too much to celebrate. Some of the series below represent the year’s most significant programs, while others may not have made IndieWire’s best-of lists, but deserved recognition for what they achieved within individual installments. From soul-deep despair to giggle-inducing joy, the range of TV in 2018 covered all corners of the human existence.

IndieWire’s picks for the best episodes of the year are an eclectic bunch, but what they have in common is this: great stories, told well. An enthralling 20-minute narrative can stick with you far longer than your average full season. When boiled down to this core parameter, length doesn’t matter any more.

30. “Single Parents”

SINGLE PARENTS - "They Call Me DOCTOR Biscuits!" - When Graham and Rory are cast in their school's production of "Grease," with Graham as the lead and Rory with a lesser known part, Poppy and Angie get involved and try to appeal to the drama teacher, Dr. Biscuits (Rhys Darby), to make changes. Meanwhile, Will is not ready to tell Sophie that he's seeing Dr. Dewan (Hannah Simone), so against his better judgment, he takes Douglas' advice and lies to Sophie, on an all-new episode of "Single Parents," WEDNESDAY, NOV. 7 (9:31-10:00 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Richard Cartwright)TYLER WLADIS, DEVIN TREY CAMPBELL

“Single Parents.”

ABC

Season 1, Episode 7, “They Call Me Doctor Biscuits”

  • directed by Maggie Carey
  • written by Berkley Johnson

This gem of a comedy from “New Girl’s” Elizabeth Meriwether and J. J. Philbin found its flavor of inspired lunacy straight out of the gate. The seventh episode epitomizes how the ensemble works in almost any combination — yes, kids mixed with adults included — and how pretty much anything goes for this talented and goofy cast. Building an elaborate lie and then digging the hole to outrageous depths to avoid telling your kid the real truth (that you’re dating their pediatrician) is only the first course in this madcap buffet of shenanigans that finishes with the pièce de résistance or, should we say, Grease de résistance, a bizarre adaptation of the popular play as performed by only two kids. This is the episode in which there are no small parts, only small actors (they’re kids, after all!), but the dividends are huge. – HN

29. “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow”

Legends of Tomorrow

“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.”

The CW

Season 3, Episode 17, “Guest Starring John Noble”

  • directed by Ralph Hemecker
  • written by Keto Shimizu & James Eagan

Some great shows have a tipping point: They suddenly go from being a fun time to something truly special, and there’s no question that the weirdest and most delightful of the CW’s DC spinoffs arrived at this juncture toward the end of its third season. In the cold open of “Guest Starring John Noble,” a college-aged Barack Obama is working away in his dorm room, when he’s attacked by a super-intelligent time-traveling giant gorilla. To be clear: This really happened on a broadcast network television show in the year 2018.

What’s so special about this episode is that the whole Obama-gorilla thing isn’t even the craziest part. As per the title, most of the plot revolves around orchestrating a con to trick a father and daughter possessed by evil, which involves a visit to the real-life John Noble (as himself). It might sound ridiculous, but the reasons why and how actually do make sense in context, and are just yet another part of the formula which makes this one of TV’s most delightful series right now. – LSM

28. “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”

Kiernan Shipka and Michelle Gomez, "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina"

Kiernan Shipka and Michelle Gomez, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”

Diyah Pera/Netflix

Season 1, Episode 7, “Chapter Seven: Feast or Feasts”

  • directed by Viet Nguyen
  • written by Oanh Ly

The Thanksgiving episode goes deliciously dark when the local Feast of Feasts tradition is revealed: a witch sacrifices her body to be consumed by the rest of the coven. It’s supposed to be an honor for the witch in question, but it’s one that half-mortal, half-witch Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) rightly calls out as barbaric and eventually discovers has a problematic, patriarchal past. The premise encapsulates what the show does so well: challenge established systems and ways of thinking through the lens of horror, yet never compromising the show’s black humor or its heroine’s continued exploration of virtue and free will. Mankind’s fascination with cannibalism has never abated, and here it is explored in a far more nuanced way than just a means of survival or sexual fetish, one that brings in concepts of faith and selfhood. Finally, Tati Gabrielle as mean girl rival Prudence was also a standout this season, and this episode doesn’t just give her a spotlight, but a literal throne from which she rules. – HN

27. “Lovesick”

Lovesick

“Lovesick.”

Courtesy of Netflix

Season 3, Episode 4, “Evie”

  • directed by Gordon Anderson
  • written by Tom Edge

After two and a half seasons of following one character’s roundabout search for a magical fairytale moment, the series’ best episode to date deals with what happens after he finally finds it. As much a showcase for Dylan’s singular friend group as it is for him, a trio of unexpected romantic developments help highlight love it all its crazy, unpredictable forms. There’s the joy of finally breaking the long-simmering tension at the center of the show, but there’s real heartache in watching the necessity of this new relationship having to come at the expense of something that had also flourished with a real sweetness. “Lovesick” has tried to look at love from so many different angles that it’s a rush to see it handle so many of them in one self-contained episode. – SG

26. “Counterpart”

Season 1, Episode 6, “Act Like You’ve Been There Before”

  • directed by Jennifer Getzinger
  • written by Justin Britt-Gibson

One of the reasons this Starz drama is one of the best new shows of the year is that amidst all of the very sharp world-building it manages to squeeze into its opening episodes, a deep mystery is building underneath, cresting before the audience can grasp its full significance. Hopping between alternate realities without too much of the sci-fi trappings, the ending revelation of this episode is what locks a huge chunk of the espionage mystery into place. Later episodes in the season would build its shock on a harsher sense of tragedy and violence, but the single pair of looks between two people that punctuates this episode might be the biggest gut punch of them all. – SG

25. “The Magicians”

THE MAGICIANS -- "A Life in the Day" Episode 305 -- Pictured: Summer Bishil as Margo Hanson -- (Photo by: Eric Milner/Syfy)

“The Magicians.”

Eric Milner/Syfy

Season 3, Episode 5, “A Life in the Day”

  • directed by John Scott
  • written by Mike Moore

This packed episode includes a beheading, a royal marriage, unwanted powers, and possible hallucinations, and yet it’s the slowest, sweetest, and most mundane storyline that created the real magic. As part of the season-long quest to obtain seven keys, Quentin (Jason Ralph) and Eliot (Hale Appleman) go on a quest in Fillory to create a mosaic that represents the beauty of the world. Only, this is no simple task and takes years, nay, a literal lifetime to accomplish, during which viewers witness all the major milestones of their existence, including love, loss, family, and eventually, death.  Only when Quentin digs a grave for Eliot does the golden tile show up to complete the mosaic; their experience together is what enabled the mosaic to be complete, and thus earn the key. This celebration of dedication, sacrifice, and most of all, love is the type of stealth sentimentality that “The Magicians” has running through its usually shiny, sassy veins. The episode is utterly confident in its tone and how it presents the journey, which is reflection on the many storytelling leaps that the show has taken over the year, and precisely why it’s built up such a fierce following. – HN

24. “AP Bio”

A.P. BIO -- "Eight Pigs and a Rat" Episode 111 -- Pictured: Allisyn Ashley Arm as Heather -- (Photo by: Vivian Zink/NBC)

“A.P. Bio.”

Vivian Zink/NBC

Season 1, Episode 11, “Eight Pigs and a Rat”

  • directed by Carrie Brownstein
  • written by Mike O’Brien & Zeke Nicholson

The way in which things escalate in this midseason installment of NBC’s surprisingly dark comedy (directed by “Portlandia’s” Carrie Brownstein!) is pretty impressive: A class assignment to dissect fetal pigs first gets twisted into another one of Jack’s (Glenn Howerton) quests for vengeance, before it takes quite the right turn and focuses on finding the one kid who tried to rat out their teacher. (Hence the title.) The show’s top-notch ensemble is in fine form during Jack’s torture sessions, with the delightful Heather (breakout star Allisyn Ashley Arm) owning the episode’s final moments: How many episodes of television this year offered up plenty of laughs while also teaching the proper way to butcher a pig? “A.P. Bio” really delivered some magic with this one. – LSM

23. “GLOW”

Glow Season 2 Episode 8

“GLOW”

Katrina Marcinowski/Netflix

Season 2, Episode 8, “The Good Twin”

  • directed by Meera Menon
  • written by Nick Jones & Rachel Shukert

So many episodes of “GLOW” Season 2 delivered on the show’s inherent charm, but look: For over a season-and-a-half, viewers wanted to know what the actual show about gorgeous ladies who wrestle looks like. “The Good Twin” is the answer; a silly, joyous, sketch-driven half-hour that reveals what all the blood, sweat, tears, and ruined relationships are for. Every actor is fully committed to the goofy acting and high-octane wrestling action. Plus, with the explanation as to how an injured Ruth (Alison Brie) is still a part of the action, it becomes clear just how “GLOW,” within and without the show, might become an enduring franchise. – LSM

22. “Sharp Objects”

Sharp Objects Episode 7 Patricia Clarkson

Patricia Clarkson in “Sharp Objects”

Anne Marie Fox/HBO

Episode 7, “Falling”

  • directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
  • written by Gillian Flynn & Scott Brown

Sometimes the appetizer is even better than the main course. The series finale of “Sharp Objects,” HBO’s sizzling summer mystery, didn’t disappoint one iota, but how well the preceding episode set up a series of brutal revelations and teeth-chattering twists proved just as compelling as the final moments. Moreover, “Falling” brought much-needed closure (and confidence) to Camille (Amy Adams), as she finally sees Det. Richard Willis (Chris Messina) and suspect John Keene (Taylor John Smith) for who they really are, reckoning with her past through theirs in order to prepare for a
challenging future. Throw in Patricia Clarkson’s delectable scene-chewing, Elizabeth Perkins’ drunken confession, and a whole lot of clues, and suddenly “Falling” is rising to the top of the series. It sets the night on fire, even as it pulls you further into the dark. – BT

21. “The Good Place”

THE GOOD PLACE -- "Janet (s)" Episode 310 -- Pictured: D'Arcy Carden as Janet -- (Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

“The Good Place.”

Colleen Hayes/NBC

Season 3, Episode 10, “Janet(s)”

  • directed by Morgan Sackett
  • written by Dylan Morgan and Josh Siegal

If this episode were an equation, the math would be simple: Six Janets equals six times the fun. And for the most part, that’s not an inaccurate assessment, only a shortsighted one. D’Arcy Carden does sextuple duty as a result of bringing the humans into her void while simultaneously visiting Accounting, and this is all a sneaky setup to examine some big questions of selfhood and personal identity. “The Good Place” has always been clever in how it pondered some of life’s knotty problems, but this installment was a beautiful melding of these concepts and its ongoing, loving narrative between Arizona trash bag Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and ulcer-ridden philosopher Chidi (William Jackson Harper). Innovative, irreverent, and most of all, hopeful, “The Good Place” once again takes the boundaries of TV comedies and restructures it within its twisted reality. – HN

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