Hello and welcome to the second annual Ideas At Play 5 Favorite Episodes of the Year. For what it’s worth here’s a link to last year’s rankings.
The rules for this list are simple. It’s a subjective list of my favorite episodes that aired in 2017. As a tiebreaker, I used the strength of the entire season as a whole, but this is NOT a measure of the best seasons of TV this year. You can find those all over the place, and frankly, some of the best shows this year didn’t make my list.
I watched a lot more TV in 2017, but as is always the case, I missed just as much. Before we get to the honorable mentions, apologies to the shows I didn’t have time for, or are not caught up on in 2017:
- Twin Peaks
- The Deuce
- Better Things
- Top of the Lake
I’ll be rolling out the top 5 between now and the end of the year, but in the meantime, here are my 10 honorable mentions (in no particular order), with a few words on what made each so memorable and only the vaguest of spoilers:
Game of Thrones “The Spoils of War”
While there was a lot to not like about season 7 of Game of Thrones – which I wrote about extensively in my newsletter – this episode was not one of them. The final sequence of “The Spoils of War” was something that could only happen on Game of Thrones. It was the biggest spectacle on television this year by a mile, literally setting the world record for most people on fire in a single scene and was an achievement of both practical and computer generated effects that would make the biggest blockbusters blush. It was something that fans had been waiting for for decades, to see a full grown dragon in action, and it did not disappoint.
Rick and Morty “Pickle Rick”
While this episode had lots of great moments, Susan Sarandon’s guest performance takes the cake for me. Rick and Morty has always had a great self-awareness of who its characters are, but no character has ever been undressed in quite the same way as Rick by Sarandon’s therapist. I could try to explain why but it’s best to just read a snippet here:
“You chose to come here, you chose to talk to belittle my vocation, just as you chose to become a pickle. You are the master of your universe, and yet you are dripping with rat blood and feces. Your enormous mind literally vegetating by your own hand.”
Mindhunter “Episode 10”
Mindhunter is not a show known for individual episodes, but it would be wrong for me not to give it’s finale an honorable mention, as its entire season was a masterpiece. On a show about psychologically examining the examiners, it only makes sense to highlight the episode that holds the mirror up to Agent Holden Ford and forces him to face himself, who he is, and who he may yet become. The episode is not just the application of all we’ve learned in the interrogation room, but also in each character.
Crazy Ex Girlfriend “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Wants Revenge”
I’ve said this before, but the best TV comes after the writers have written themselves into a corner, having shifted the paradigm of their show. It requires creative solutions and bold choices that either result in spectacular success or failure. Season 2 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ended with just such a structural change, leaving its audience wondering what could possibly happen next. The season 3 premiere brought a new direction, remained true to the show’s roots, and might be the funniest episode of the series so far. The highlight: coprophagia jokes. And that’s the second episode on this list with jokes about coprophagia. That’s a little unsettling.
Stranger Things “The Spy”
“The Spy” is the gem of Stranger Things 2, giving direction for the endgame of the season, while also giving us one of the most unlikely, but great bromances in TV history: Dustin and Steve. If they had their own spin-off episode, it definitely would have cracked the top 5.
Catastrophe “Episode 6”
Catastrophe’s excellent third season finale contains some of the final scenes Carrie Fisher ever shot, and you can tell she was still at the top of her game. Each of her scenes is incredibly funny, as only she can be, but that’s not the only reason to watch this episode. Catastrophe toes the line between humor and dealing with incredible heartbreak, a reminder to accept that disaster is part of living. Instead, it chooses to focus instead on the opportunities for humor that are there, which is a feeling we can all get behind.
The Young Pope “Tenth Episode”
I started watching so I could yell “YOUNG POPE” at the TV like I was Jude Law’s own personal hype man, but the series became a beautiful story about faith in a way that I never saw coming. It provided the same ambiguous experience that religion provides, the feeling of something greater, however vague it may feel. The finale provided us equal parts closure to a character’s genuine growth and the uncertainty that comes at the end of anything, a delicate mirror of life.
Bojack Horseman “Time’s Arrow”
The strongest episode of the most recent season of Bojack Horseman, interestingly enough, barely included any of the characters we’d come to care for. Instead, it was an origin story of one of Bojack’s greatest antagonists, his mother, and told a truly heartbreaking story about the nature of inherited trauma in one of the most creative ways possible. The structure of this episode, told through the eyes of dementia, blurred the lines of past and present in the same way that all of our experiences make us who we are, for better or for worse.
Handmaid’s Tale “Late”
Watching The Handmaid’s Tale is difficult and, as a man, shameful. I feel terrible if I enjoy it because it is so brutal and violent towards women, but I also feel guilty if I don’t. The stakes for me are so minimal. The show bears little to no resemblance to my day-to-day experience. Grappling with those feelings is necessary though, and the third installment of the series is perhaps the biggest test of them all. Just watch Alexis Bledel’s eyes.
Big Little Lies “Serious Mothering”
You can watch my video essay on Big Little Lies for a more comprehensive breakdown of the montage that comes near the end of this episode, but as an editing dork, this was as good as it gets for me. That scene alone earns this episode and honorable mention, as it was filmmaking at its best, guiding us along an emotional spectrum as we moved from thread to thread in a way that was both subtle and powerful.