Honorable Mentions: “Fight” from Masters of Sex, “The Symbolic Exemplar” from Transparent, “Possession” from Penny Dreadful, “Streets of Fire” from Arrow, “7” from The Affair, “5 p.m.-6 p.m.” from 24: Live Another Day, “The Truth About Unicorns” from Banshee, “Get the Rope” from The Knick, “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” from Silicon Valley, “Alicia” from Veep, “A Whole Other Hole” from Orange Is the New Black, “The Mountain and the Viper” from Game of Thrones
Other notable shows I haven’t been able to watch yet: Broad City, Over the Garden Wall, The Legend of Korra, Rick and Morty, Looking, Black Mirror
SPECIAL MENTION: “Too Many Cooks”, Adult Swim
20. Homeland: “There’s Something Else Going On”
19. Justified: “Shot All to Hell”
18. Fargo: “A Fox, A Rabbit, and A Cabbage”
Shout out: “Buridan’s Ass”
17. Person of Interest: “/”
Shout outs: “Beta”, “The Devil You Know”
16. Girls: “Flo”
Shout out: “Beach House”
15. Community: “Cooperative Polygraphy”
After a shaky season four, Community got back on track with a good string of episodes to kick off season five. At the heart of it all was “Cooperative Polygraphy”, a follow-up to “Cooperative Calligraphy” and a wonderful ride all on its own. It featured a moving ending to the Pierce storyline, a wildly entertaining Walton Goggins, and tons of laughs. Let’s keep this going with season six.
14. Boardwalk Empire: “Devil You Know”
After bursting onto the scene in its first season, the show eventually became one of the most overlooked on television. It was flawed for sure, but there was no denying the sheer brilliance of the performances given by Michael Kenneth Williams and Michael Shannon; that especially applied to “Devil You Know”, a beautiful, messy, poetic, and sad ending to both characters’ storylines.
13. The Good Wife: “The Last Call”
Last year’s “Hitting the Fan” was one of the best episodes of television I have ever seen, and this year’s “The Last Call” featured quite possibly the best Julianna Margulies performance I have ever seen (and trust me, that’s saying something). It was not just a fallout episode; it was a fascinating character study, an hour of incredible moments for David Lee and Alicia, and an emotion-driven tour de force.
Shout outs: “Oppo Research”, “A Few Words”
12. You’re the Worst: “Finish Your Milk”
This was the best episode in a great debut season for the FX comedy, and it was certainly the emotional climax of the Gretchen-Jimmy story. It was funny and uncomfortable, and it packed a huge punch at the end after Gretchen found the ring and after the two broke up.
11. Review: “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes”
Forrest MacNeil ate a bunch of pancakes, and it was one of my favorite episodes of TV in 2014. Seriously, though. Andrew Daly took a simple scenario and crafted a comic wonder out of it, and it was a poignant and hilarious half hour; it also kicked off an eventual downward spiral for the character, one that played out over the rest of the season and was brilliant at every turn.
10. New Girl: “Background Check”
This was a bottle episode for the New Girl crew, and I adored it so much. I was laughing nonstop throughout, and it hit all the sweet spots for me: a Winston-centric episode, Nick Miller being Nick Miller, Coach and “Daquan”, pretty much every single line being instantly quotable. This was classic New Girl.
9. The Americans: “Martial Eagle”
This was, first and foremost, an incredible episode for Matthew Rhys, especially when he was facing off with Pastor Tim at the end. It was fraught with tension throughout the entire hour, and it solidified the show as both a spy thriller and a deep character study.
Shout out: “New Car”
8. Rectify: “Donald the Normal”
There were quite a few candidates for this spot, but I ultimately went with “Donald the Normal” because it showcased the beauty of the calm before the storm. Later episodes were wonderful, but none quite hit the simple, gorgeous moments that the show is known for with the same hand as “Donald the Normal”. This episode also featured yet another awards-worthy performance from Aden Young.
Shout out: “Until You’re Blue”
7. Nathan For You: “Souvenir Shop/ELAIFF”
This show is pretty much an exercise in glorious awkwardness and creativity. “Souvenir Shop/ELAIFF” started in one place, then built and built and built until it became a work of comedic genius. Johnny Depp impersonator. Cringeworthy attempts at onscreen kisses. “The Web”. What more could you ask for?
Shout out: “Dumb Starbucks”
6. True Detective: “Who Goes There”
Yup, that tracking shot. This was an entire hour of sustained tension and mood, and it all broke loose in that impeccable final sequence, that final sequence directed so well by Cary Joji Fukunaga. This episode and the next were the high points of a season that took the world by storm, and it was a thrilling and captivating experience.
Shout out: “The Secret Fate of All Life”
5. Shameless: “Iron City”
Fiona and Lip are two of the most well-written and well-acted characters on TV right now, and it’s a shame Rossum and White aren’t getting more recognition. “Iron City” was a powerful episode, one that featured a complex moral dilemma, countless heartbreaking moments, and two stellar performances by Emmy Rossum and Jeremy Allen White.
Shout outs: “There’s the Rub”, “The Legend of Bonnie and Carl”
4. The Leftovers: “Guest”
The two standalone episodes of the show were definitely the best, and they benefited from a laser focus on one character each. “Guest” was anchored by a fantastic Carrie Coon, and the questions and themes the show brought up were never more compelling than they were here. The final moment between Wayne and Nora was simply perfect.
Shout out: “Two Boats and a Helicopter”
3. Louie: “In the Woods”
Although the season went by quickly, it left a mark in the form of the “So Did the Fat Lady” monologue; it then delivered an hour-long story about young Louie with “In the Woods”, and man, did it deliver. Featuring moving performances from Amy Landecker, Skipp Sudduth, Jeremy Renner, and Devin Druid, it was a dramatic, heartwarming, and heartbreaking story. It was a short film on TV, and it was great.
Shout out: “So Did the Fat Lady”
2. Mad Men: “The Strategy”
The penultimate episode of season 7a once again returned to the beautiful platonic relationship between Don Draper and Peggy Olson, and the “My Way” slow dance scene will live on as one of the essential scenes in the show. In addition, the episode dealt wonderfully with the idea of family, with the closing shot summing up a Mad Men masterpiece. If the show had ended right then and there, I would’ve been fine with it.
Shout out: “A Day’s Work”
1. Hannibal: “Mizumono”
This was the easiest decision to make when putting together this list. “Mizumono” was a stunning, shocking, and brutal ending to season two, and it was truly a work of art. Watching it as it unfolded was one of the most nerve-racking TV experiences I have ever had, and it is a worthy successor to last year’s #1 TV episode: “Ozymandias”.
Photo credit: NBC, Hannibal, AMC, Mad Men, Comedy Central, Review, HBO, True Detective, FX, Fargo, Boardwalk Empire