Television continues to be a growing medium of real art full of talent. It’s certainly getting harder and harder to pick the best of the year as TV continues its impressive stride. Viewers are getting more passionate about their favorites and this year might have the most eclectic selection of choices. As appropriate for the Year in Review, here I make a case for this 2015’s best episodes of television:
35. “Kimmy Goes Outside!” (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)
A successful pilot episode for a comedy series is rare, so it was my surprise to find radiating charm bustling out of this Netflix gem. Ellie Kemper and Titus Burgess quickly become one of the year’s most interesting duos on television. The comedic chemistry is off the charts and they are ultimately what makes this pilot so great.
34. “The Debate” (The Good Wife)
Do you know just how self-absorbed and exploitative politics can be at the price of an oppressed and traumatized people—in this case it’s the pains of a hurt black community after another death of their own is reported by the hands of police officers. As the lawyers and politicians all wait for a verdict on the situation, they use the tragedy as a pedestal. Our main character, Alicia Florrick is even among the manipulation in her run for state senate. Most critics and fans of the show alike find the episode reprehensible. And they should, but not for the right reasons, I would argue. Even when people are trying to do the right thing, they are usually only doing it for their own interest. Life still goes on for them, so far removed from a hurt community’s reality. This is only a moment for them. That blatant flippancy and critique of politics is jarring and powerful no matter how ugly it is to watch.
33. “Untitled” (Louie)
The fifth season of Louie isn’t one of the best, but it has a few gems, like the season’s fifth episode. It’s crazy how easily a relatively normal day can quickly mutate into a nightmare—quite literally. Fear and shame are close cousins and it shows when Louie is plagued by bizarre nightmares and a fleshy phantom keen on gumming at our protagonist’s neck. Surreal is a vague and tepid descriptor, but it is especially apt.
32. “The Word” (black-ish)
Some would argue that a family sitcom with a major focus on being black in America would have to one day have an episode that tackles the N-word. The Johnson family’s discussion and thoughtfulness starts when Dre and Jack sing the uncensored version of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger”. The episode is one of the show’s most hilarious which might be shocking given the sensitive subject matter, but it does not forget to really dig into the meat of such an important conversation.
31. “I Can’t Leave Her” (Sense8)
The show saved the best for last certainly. The first season finale is a doozy in various ways, but mostly in how it comments on its own special chosen characters. The eight Sensates, being compelling puzzle pieces to a powerful whole come together to save some of their own. The huge set piece of the finale ends with an inspirational culmination but does not forget to take note of the main characters’ flaws and even questions the nature of its future.
30. “Devil’s Night” (American Horror Story: Hotel)
The fifth season of the FX horror anthology series is lackluster in most places, but still has shining moments of fun. The fourth episode marks the Halloween special and it might be the show’s best thus far. The ghosts of America’s most notorious serial killers pile into the Hotel Cortez for a special, intimate get-together amply named, Devil’s Night. It’s the only truly wickedly fun episode of the season from beginning to end.
29. “Return” (UnReal):
The pilot series of this Lifetime original series is one of the biggest shockers of the year. No one seemed to want to see the best in this show given its easily superficial concept (a dating competition reality television show that manipulates contestants in order to get outrageous footage) but right out of the gate, the show impresses. This show has balls and ambition to the point of arrogance. But again, the series wears that arrogance well probably nowhere better than its first installment, quickly becoming addictive.
28. “Parents” (Master of None)
The sacrifices of our parents often largely go unnoticed or unappreciated. This is especially true for immigrants from ethnic countries who come to America to make a family and grant their children more room and freedom to have new and varied experiences. It’s a gift that keeps giving even when the recipients neglect it. Dev’s parents (played by Aziz Ansari’s actual parents) are not just there for him and his friend, Brian to bounce their ideas of generational disconnect off of. Their parents are actual characters who have moments of nostalgic, remember hardships of being an immigrant, and have their own character quirks. It’s a humorous and important study on culture, generational divides and immigration experiences.
27. “Pilot” (Scream Queens)
Before it went to hell, the FOX horror comedy series showed real promise to be Fall’s best new guilty pleasure—one of wicked indulgence and politically incorrect intrigue that seemed to really have something to say about the state of American fraternities and sororities. The very first hour of Scream Queens delivers on both its labels as a horror and a comedy. It’s ridiculous and absurd—pure fun full of laugh-out-loud moments and bizarre violent thrills. It’s too bad the show falters dramatically soon afterward.
26. “What Did We Do?” (How to Get Away with Murder)
If you want the wildest episode of the show’s admittedly short yet intense run, look no further than its 2015 season two fall finale. The emotional beats that make this season a major step up from its first finally crescendo with a tumultuous impact that feels real and deliberate—inevitable and more focused in its execution than anything that came previous to it. Viola Davis is of course on top of her game but even the rest of the cast is exquisite in the tumultuous trail leading up to multiple twisted shockers.