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Homeland Season 4 began, I was excited. The Carrie (Claire Danes)/Brody (Damien Lewis) romance that had dominated the show for far too long was over. I thought, Perhaps Homeland could return to its roots and reboot, offering viewers the truly insane, shocking, endless strategic twists and turns that made them fall in love with the show in the first place.
But the beginning of Season 4 was a total turnoff, with Carrie jumping into bed with yet another asset. And just as I was about to give up on the show for good, Haissam Haqqani (Numan Acar) pulled Saul (Mandy Patinkin) out of his car, showing Carrie and co. — via a drone camera — that the third most hunted man in the world has mysteriously kidnapped their dear friend. Things started to get exciting (read: Carrie was drugged and hallucinated that Brody was alive and holding her), but it was “Halfway to a Donut” that really solidified the fact that Homeland was back.
It was thrilling to watch Saul’s midnight escape from his holding cell and Carrie’s lies that convince him to drop the gun he had at his throat, leading him right into a trap that would force him to be recaptured. Also in this episode, Pakistani official Aasar Khan (Raza Jaffrey) flips sides and shows his loyalty to Carrie by warning her that Dennis Boyd (Mark Moses) is a leak in the embassy. Yes, it’s crazy, but also completely addictive. —Emily Orley
Season 1, Episode 8 Although “The Heap” began with the same poisonous gender stereotypes that pervaded the whole series (“You don’t cheat on Miss Hubbard County,” a heartbroken beauty queen says after looking at her perky tits), it was riveting television. Deputy Solverson (Allison Tolman) is at her persistent, frustrated best, pressing on with her investigation despite the protestations of the dumb men who outrank her. Seeing her doggedness — even after an entire year is dissolved away — was a treat. —Ariane Lange
The Simpsons and Family Guy was a hilarious tossed salad of Family Guy’s cutaway gags and classic Simpsons humor. SPOILER ALERT: The show ends with a huge fight between Peter and Homer, but after they make up, the beef is settled, and all is well again in adult-cartoon land. —Christine Olivo
Season 1, Episode 8 “Best New Girl” surprised and delighted and horrified me and made me laugh and made me cry. The Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) camp flashbacks were so INTENSELY vicariously exciting for her that I had my breath held the entire time. I don’t want to say much more because this show and this episode in particular are so much better the less you know and expect. But it’s not just one of my favorite episodes of TV this year, it’s one of my favorite ever. —Summer Anne Burton
Season 2, Episode 14 “The Desert” brought us the perfect apotheosis of Mindy (Mindy Kaling) and Danny’s (Chris Messina) rollicking chemistry. In this episode, we got the usual drama with Cliff (Glenn Howerton), Danny’s family, and Mindy’s wine-soaked breakup ritual, but let’s skip right to that intensely satisfying ending. The turbulence! Tonic water! Danny’s epiphany! The kiss! As a January mid-season finale, it was the perfect winter tease, and Mindy and Danny’s long-coming makeout was romantic enough to make sitting in coach seem magical. —Jessica Misener
Season 3, Episode 5 “Like a lot of short people, if you piss [Putin] off, bad things happen to you.”
Parts Unknown’s timely trip to Moscow at the beginning of the Sochi Winter Olympics focused more on the complicated politics of Vladimir Putin’s Russia than on the region’s cuisine. But the episode, littered with Anthony Bourdain’s vodka-soaked analysis of Russia’s powerful leader in his own backyard, proved that the CNN host is, like it or not, redefining what a cable news pundit can be. —Dorsey Shaw
Season 4, Episode 8 Hands down, the best episode of a show ever: The now-famous ending! The tension as you hope and pray that Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) gets his revenge! The entire episode lead-up to that moment! It was an extremely well-done episode. —Sydney Scott
Season 7, Episode 6 The two best episodes in the series so far both focused on Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) and Don’s (Jon Hamm) relationship. Season 4’s “The Suitcase” is the first, and the second is “The Strategy.” This episode marks the reconciliation between the two characters and if the whole show ended on the heartbreakingly beautiful scene of the two of them dancing to “My Way,” it would have felt right. —Marie Telling
Season 2, Episode 7 It’s hard to pick just one episode from the revived
Comeback to single out. Should it be the first of its eight-episode run, “Valerie Makes a Pilot,” just because it was so gratifying to see Lisa Kudrow as Valerie for the first time since 2005? Or maybe “Valerie Is Brought to Her Knees,” when we see that Valerie has gotten herself into an emotionally dangerous situation by signing up to do Paulie G’s HBO show? I could name them all, actually. But of all the standouts, the standiest outest (not real words!) is “Valerie Faces the Critics.”
While trying to win Mark (Damian Young) back, Valerie self-sabotages by allowing Jane’s documentary cameras to follow her during what’s meant to be a private dinner, leading Mark to (rightly) blow up at her. Valerie’s realization that she’s made the wrong choice, and the couple’s explosive, real, heartbreaking fight that follows (recorded not only by Laura Silverman’s increasingly aggressive Jane, but by TMZ cameras) — I could cry thinking about it now. The scene is inventively shot, and is written like a 2014 version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
Kudrow does so much here, as always, as Valerie goes from being hyper aware of the cameras to forgetting they’re there to capture her life falling apart. And Young as Mark is so natural that I feel like he’s a person I know at this point. Kudrow and Michael Patrick King have done so much with The Comeback’s second chance that it makes me angry to think of the half-assed reboots that are often thrust into pop culture. That the other long scene in “Valerie Faces the Critics” — a junket interview for Valerie’s Emmy campaign — is one of the season’s most comedic shows this team’s unparalleled skills. I can’t let these characters leave my life again, HBO. —Kate Aurthur
Red Rose basically summed up the tragic nature of the show. Jax (Charlie Hunnam) finally comes face to face with Tara’s (Maggie Siff) killer, and the scene in which he exacts his revenge is truly heartbreaking. And with the casual killing off of three main characters, the episode set up the series finale perfectly. In many ways, it was the series finale, with the last episode being just an epilogue. —Andre Borges
Season 4, Episode 17 Literally the perfect parody of how a cybergang of adult men ruined a safe space for little girls. Also Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) has to undercover at a con, gets drunk, gets a tattoo, and fights a bunch of equestricals (equestranauts with testicles) to win Tina’s (Dan Mintz) rare Equestranaut figurine back, because he is the best fucking dad on TV. —Krutika Mallikarjuna
Season 4, Episode 5 It’s hard to choose between this episode and the Season 4 finale, “Lazarus” — they’re like the open and close parentheses of the bleakest and most moving run of episodes on the show so far. But “There’s the Rub” was such a roller coaster of foreshadowing and false hope that it stuck with me for weeks.
The tragedy of this episode came as a complete shock, since Fiona (Emmy Rossum) finally appeared to be on track with her career and aware of her own issues — it was easy to imagine that her next downslide would be finding out about Ian resurfacing in poor shape, or Frank’s (William H. Macy) latest health issues. But the ending of the episode, with baby Liam whisked off to the hospital after ingesting cocaine and Fiona arrested, threatens to fracture the family beyond repair.
The agile writing and effortless acting make this episode a great example of how
Shameless lends humanity and depth to characters who, on another show, might be pigeonholed as criminals and addicts. —Sarah Willson
Season 1, Episode 8 I think the whole first season of this show was basically perfect, but this episode is really the emotional high point, when all of Jimmy (Chris Geere) and Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) issues finally come crashing down on them. And the beautiful little speech Jimmy gives to Gretchen’s parents, in what you think is just going to be a cringey farce of a scene, is the moment when you realize that this very funny, seemingly cynical show is actually romantic as heck. —Rachel Sanders
The Good Wife, it’s often difficult to pick out a single episode for praise, but “Dramatics, Your Honor” ranks among the very best installments on any show in the last year. In the era of spoiler journalism, it’s rare that any plot twist on a television show manages to spring itself and retain its aura of surprise, but the fact that creators Robert and Michelle King managed to keep the lid on the shocking death of Will Gardner (Josh Charles) — shot as he wrangled a gun away from his unstable client in the courtroom — is reason for celebration. I watched the episode live, in a true state of horror, as the fact that Will was truly dead finally sunk in.
The sight of Will’s body, lying on a hospital gurney, makes it all hit home. It’s a televised gut-punch as Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) and Diane (Christine Baranski) pull back the sheet and discover Will’s corpse, bloody and pale, a crimson puddle under his head. As Kalinda and Diane crumpled into jagged sobs, so did I: And, even months later, it’s still emotionally hard to write about this episode. Will was such a pivotal, central character on The Good Wife, and his death left things entirely unresolved in regards to his relationship with Alicia (Julianna Margulies). Death, fictional or otherwise, does that. It’s not neat or pat. It’s not always a tearful, solemn good-bye as a loved one slips away from life. Sometimes it’s messy and brutal and unexpected. And, like this episode, it can wake you from the reverie of your life and make you realize just how fragile and tenuous our existence truly is. —Jace Lacob
15. “Say You, Séance” (The Hotwives of Orlando)
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ iconic dinner party from hell was the best damn thing I’ve ever seen tbh. —Stephanie Anderson
The Knick was stunning, heart-racing, and, by being set during the 1900 NYC race riot, poignant to the point of discomfort. —Eugene Yang
Season 4, Episode 2 There was a sketch in this episode where a guy in a neck brace is trying to hit on girls in the club but he keeps screaming because the neck brace hurts. There’s just something about this whole episode that, by the neck brace guy sketch, I nearly vomited from laughter (was not even stoned, I swear). I hadn’t laughed until physically ill at a TV show in a long time. It was the kind of really dumb slapstick joke that only worked because it was done really, really well. —Katie Notopoulos
Season 4, Episode 9 Usually, an episode covers multiple storylines, but this one focused entirely on the battle of Castle Black. We really see Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) come into his own as a leader, and it is action-packed from beginning to end. Oh, and giants. Who doesn’t love giants? —Javier Moreno
Season 2, Episode 3 This episode relied so much on two characters being in one room and keeping the story going simply by talking to each other (and OK, having sex a few times in-between). It ended up being one of the most fascinating episodes the show’s ever done and handled expository writing in the most subtle way — like having Bill (Michael Sheen) and Virginia (Lizzy Caplan) role-play some of the times and not others, blurring the lines of what is true about them and what isn’t. —Julia Pugachevsky
Looking in all of its debut season glory, but the episode that brought me from the honeymoon stage to full-fledged commitment was easily “Looking for the Future,” in which typically goody two-shoes Patrick (Jonathan Groff) decides to call in sick to work to spend the day strolling through San Francisco with a new guy he’s seeing Richie (Raúl Castillo). It is basically Looking’s equivalent of Mad Men’s highly lauded installment, “The Suitcase”: Two characters from different backgrounds learn about each other in near real-time. Patrick and Richie talk about their first times, coming out to their parents, previous relationships, and marriage, all over hot dogs and hand-holding.
But what really roped me in was the planetarium scene that conjured, in my mind, Ross and Rachel’s iconic first time at the museum on Friends. Just as I started mocking myself for the mere thought, Richie actually mentioned the episode. With that, the character, “Looking for the Future,” and the show at large officially had my heart. And the fact that Patrick only remembered the word “sacapuntas” (pencil sharpener) from his early Spanish lessons (my personal favorite elementary school word), sealed the deal. Those details might seem mundane or shallow, but they speak to the extreme relatability of Looking, whether you identify as gay, straight, bi, trans, male, female, or something else. Yes, there is a totally realistic (from what I hear) rimming scene that kicks off the episode, but there is also a Goonies reference minutes later.
Basically, “Looking for the Future” is television at its best: You’ll feel Richie and Patrick’s first-date butterflies and you won’t want it to end. —Jaimie Etkin
Season 5, Episode 3 The weed delivery web series premiered its first pay episodes this fall, a trio of installments that were longer and more ambitious than anything creators Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair had tried before. They’re all good, but one of them, “Ruth,” is legit wonderful, bringing back a character from earlier in the show and uniting her with a genial security guard for a blind date and a follow-up. The (of course) pot-fueled encounters are perfectly sour-sweet — two tentative, road-worn grown-ups trying one another on for size, and they somehow make an unfortunate encounter between a sensitive body part and some hot peppers into the stuff of romance. —Alison Willmore
Season 5, Episode 1 There was nothing more satisfying to me than the Season 5 premiere of
The Walking Dead. Why? First of all, Carol (Melissa McBride) toasts everyone with her super-badassery, preventing the precious Daryl (Norman Reedus) from dying. Then, all the reunions happen, and I audibly bawled at the TV. Carol and Daryl seeing each other was so damn beautiful and it was so nice and rewarding for the audience to finally see the entire cast back together again, like the good ole days — except for Beth (Emily Kinney) ‘cause she sucks. —Candace Lowry
Outlander felt so earned, mainly because we’d seen Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) making sex eyes at each other all season, and then, they finally got to consummate those eye fucks with actual fucks. It was an hour-long episode that was essentially pure foreplay and boning, and I watched it roughly a dozen times. Alone. With wine. (TMI? Whatever.) —Erin La Rosa
24. “You Also Have a Pizza” (Orange Is the New Black)
Season 2, Episode 6 I almost gave this one to Season 2’s final episode, “We Have Manners. We’re Polite.” Although “You Also Have A Pizza” lacks a scene in which the season’s antagonist gets hit by a runaway prison transport van, it has heart — and a scissoring scene! As the show’s Valentine’s Day episode, the scenes weave in between love and the loss of it, from explorations of Poussey’s (Samira Wiley) heartbreaking backstory to the tender scene between Maritza (Diane Guerrero) and Flaca (Jackie Cruz). —Monique Melendez
Season 1, Episode 7 Aside from being a really solid episode all around, the last five minutes pull a MASSIVE reset that completely changes the tone of the show — and maybe even swaps the protagonist: I’d posit that the real main character of
Gotham is Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), not Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie). Other notable moments include the introduction of the first fully realized Batman villain with Victor Zsasz’s (Anthony Carrigan) sequence. —Alexis Nedd
26. “Lemonhope Part One” and “Lemonhope Part Two” (Adventure Time)
Lemonhope Part One and Two fulfill the geek-dream promise that every world-building show teases, but never delivers on: a standalone movie about a tertiary character journeying through the expanded universe. But who cares? The real reason it stays with you is because it’s a brutally honest story about a child confronting the inevitable expectations of life (and death), told through unshakeable psychedelic dream sequences that other ostensible kids’ shows will still be chasing 15 years from now. —Daniel Kibblesmith
Season 1, Episode 6 The best segment from the brilliant and painfully underrated first season of
Review is “There All Is Aching,” in which Forest McNeil (Andy Daly) torments himself by pondering a nonsense phrase from Twitter. But the best episode is “Road Rage; Orgy,” in which McNeil’s insane eagerness to rate any life experience suggested by his audience brings him is pushed to the most violent and perverse extremes.
New Girl, for me, was easily one of the best episodes of television in 2014, first and foremost, because I nearly wasted a gulp of wine when I couldn’t keep myself together as Nick (Jake Johnson) and Jess (Zooey Deschanel) were “breathing through their genitals” in couples yoga. But more important, the few scenes of the show in which the group is trapped in one room were truly why this episode was great.
It’s obvious that Nick and Jess belong together, but the New Girl writers didn’t give viewers a happy ending, which was admirable. Instead, they did what they do best: threw these six actors into a room for hilarious banter, and ended the season on a totally ridiculous, yet insanely accurate, “family portrait” that perfectly portrays the characters and the easy humor of the show. —Alessia Santoro
Supernatural’s 200th episode was pure unadulterated fan service and it was beautiful. After nine and a half seasons, the writers gave the fans everything we wanted (kind of) in an insanely meta wait-this-episode-is-a-musical-one?! way. We had references to Destiel, Samstiel, and (*shudder*) Wincest, as well as a casual reminder that the third Winchester brother, Adam (Jake Abel), remains totally forgotten, burning in Hell with Lucifer.
Oh yeah and God, aka Chuck (Rob Benedict), had a cameo at the end of the episode after being absent for a few seasons. Fangirls and fanboys everywhere basically spent the entire episode screaming, “DID THEY JUST—,” which is pretty much the best way to spend a milestone episode. —Cates Holderness
Hannibal’s amazing second season had Michael Pitt’s Mason Verger high on psychedelic drugs PEELING HIS FACE OFF. This episode was a perfect blend of the show’s dark humor and elegiac horror, and the increasing claustrophobia of Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Dr. Lecter’s (Mads Mikkelsen) cat-and-mouse game set up the finale perfectly. —Ira Madison III
Season 1, Episode 4 I was already totally hooked on the show by this point, but “Who Goes There” — and in particular,
that scene — blew me away. It was exciting to watch in terms of what was happening within the story, but also on another level of I-am-witnessing-incredible-TV-right-now; that was actually magical. —Jenna Guillaume
Season 1, Episode 11 “Tell me that I’m good.”
Quite simply, the darkest, most heartrending, most brilliant 25-minutes of TV I’ve seen all year. —Daniel Dalton
Rectify’s terrific second season, “Running With the Bull,” deftly explored multiple facets of what makes Rectify such a fascinating show. The episode gave us the fallout from the attack on Daniel (Aden Young) that ended the first season. There was the tug-of-war between Daniel’s emotional family members — especially the always-fierce sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) and a local leadership structure reluctant to approach the case because of the workings of small-town politics — but the episode also delved deeply into Rectify’s philosophical side via a dream sequence with Daniel and his death-row friend Kerwin (Johnny Ray Gill) that allowed the show to elegantly ponder the balancing act of life and death that casts its shadow over the entire series. —Adam Davis
34. “The Garveys at Their Best” (The Leftovers)
Season 1, Episode 9 The show isn’t without flaws, but this is the episode that made it all worth it. We finally get some background and find out where everyone was when the departure occurred. Nora’s (Carrie Coon) story especially is so gut-wrenching, it’s actually more difficult to watch than the show’s most violent scenes. Definitely one of the saddest hours of television this year. —Anais Bordages
Season 1, Episode 3 There was a lot of wonderful reality television this year — Starz’s compelling movie-making docuseries
The Chair, Bravo’s biting Ladies of London, and The Food Network’s Chopped all delivered the goods — but, for my money, there was no more compelling real-life story than the one that played out on OWN’s Lindsay.
The eight-part docuseries, which followed actress Lindsay Lohan as she attempted to get her life together, was a study in chaos from start to finish. First, Lohan refused to accommodate the filmmakers’ schedule, turning director Amy Rice into an unwilling on-screen participant as she had to provide context for all the footage of their crew waiting outside Lohan’s New York City apartment. The times when Rice’s crew was given access, their subject was scattered, uncooperative, and attempted to control the show’s narrative in a way that evoked Valerie Cherish (of The Comeback fame).
After weeks of running into walls, OWN called in the big guns: Oprah Winfrey. In an attempt to get Lohan back in line, the TV icon drove to Long Island, New York — where Lohan’s mother, Dina, lives — for a come-to-Jesus talk in Episode 3. Winfrey, who was delightfully candid on her docuseries in 2011 (the incredibly good Season 25: Oprah Behind The Scenes), brought that same unfiltered personality here, telling Lohan, “You need to cut the bullshit.”
And Lohan did (as everyone must when Oprah commands them to), but that didn’t make Lindsay any less compelling as the subsequent episodes included a rumored relapse, a miscarriage, bizarre “art” footage of Lohan staring directly into camera while smoking a cigarette, and a hypnotic chronicling of just how difficult it was (is?) for the actress to overcome Hollywood’s perception of her. —Jarett Wieselman
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