The Best TV Shows, Episodes, and Performances of 2016

Best TV Episodes:

5) “Fish Out Of Water,” Bojack Horseman

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A show that’s so pun and dialogue-heavy daring to go almost entirely silent for an episode? That’s worth consideration on that fact alone. But moreso, it’s that “Fish Out of Water” took that conceit and let it seep into every part of the episode. It removed its puns so it could focus on physical, almost Looney Tunes-esque gags and it removed its dialogue so it could let the animation and the inability to communicate become its messaging. It deserves to be rewarded for its boldness and its success in crafting a silent episode about not being able to communicate only enhances how wonderful this episode is.

4) “B.A.N.,” Atlanta

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There might be a theme here.

Atlanta took a break in the middle of its story to jump to a brilliantly-composed interlude/parody of a local-access talk show. While it could have been an unnecessary jaunt, Donald Glover’s direction and the sheer commitment to its satire instead announces loudly that Atlanta is going to experiment however the hell it would like, and that you’re free to follow along. It recalls the best of Chapelle’s Show touching on issues like racial identity, transphobia, and celebrity culture while retaining an anarchic and hilarious spirit. This is also the best of Brian Tyree Henry’s Paper Boi, a performance that feels almost too casual to be a performance but still stuns with how real and honest it is.

3) “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” American Crime Story

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A quick stop from the Trial of the Century to go in deep on one of its characters turned out to be one of the most powerful decisions American Crime Story made. Marcia Clark was an unfairly villainized part of the Simpson trial, her supposed incompetence and issues with the mere concept of a powerful woman got plastered all over tabloid headlines. Someone who was just looking to do their job became a celebrity and for all the wrong reasons.

It’s an undeniably dark hour of television and it’s because it doesn’t give easy answered to the questions of gender that it asks. Marcia Clark doesn’t have a way to win, things are gonna keep piling on her, and she just has to take it, that’s the world she lives in. It’s difficult and complex couched in the familiar lawyer procedure, American Crime Story at its best. It’s also a masterclass from Sarah Paulson, who drills down to give the performance of a career, making the world out of every little gesture and every little moment.

2) “The Winds of Winter,” Game of Thrones

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Honestly, this would be my favorite episode of Game of Thrones if it was just its intro. A breathtaking sequence of Cersei taking her final revenge and the damage it does all set to a haunting piece by Ramin Djawadi. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say it’s the best sequence by director Miguel Sapochnik, the kind of “on-the-edge-of-your-seat, watch-it-before-its-spoiled” stuff that the best Game of Thrones is made of.

But it never lets up for the whole of its runtime, packing a season’s worth of twists and turns and gasps into a single episode, an exemplification of why people so love Game of Thrones. Sapochnik’s steady hand keeps this thing moving at a breakneck pace, and no season finale left me more in anticipation of what was coming next.

1) “San Junipero,” Black Mirror

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To be honest with you, this almost didn’t make the list. Not because I wouldn’t have put it here, but because I spent a while trying to wrestle with how to put it on my Top Films of 2016 list, where it would have made the Top 10.

This is just a stunning piece of work from top to bottom. Its lead actresses, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis, have stunning chemistry and have drilled deep to find their characters. The writing is the best of Black Mirror, finding plenty of warmth in a show that often doesn’t have much. It seems so out of step with Black Mirror as it’s often presented (i.e. TECHNOLOGY BAD), but it is of a piece with a show about how technology will change us and the lives we leave. Its look is stunning, its music (both soundtrack and Clint Mansell score) is perfect. Every time I watch this, my heart melts. It just doesn’t get better for me than “San Junipero.”

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