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Monday, December 5, 2016

The 10 Best Television Episodes of 2016

10) "Shut Up and Dance" Black Mirror (Netflix)
Season 3 / Episode 3
Premiere Date: October 21, 2016
Starring: Alex Lawther & Jerome Flynn
Directed By: James Watkins

Brief Description: "Shut Up and Dance" mainly follows a young man named Kenny (Lawther) who is being blackmailed by an anonymous hacker to do horrendous things after getting caught masturbating. Along his journey he meets up with Hector (Flynn), and the two are asked to do one horrific act after another.

"Shut Up and Dance" may not be the best Black Mirror episode that premiered in 2016, but it's certainly the one that elicited the biggest emotional reaction from me. That reaction was mostly horror and anger, but at least it made me feel something. A lot of what Charlie Brooker and company did this season was to show the downsides of technology, whether it was how horrible it is to get your self-worth from online ratings or how terrible technology can be in the hands of the military amidst mass hysteria, but that's all most of the episodes did. We all know technology and the device you're reading this blog post on is bad for us, but so what? That's why the best Black Mirror episodes bring a human element and a very specific story (which in turn creates a broad audience) to the downsides of technology, and "Shut Up and Dance" did that and then some. This episode was Black Mirror at its bleakest, and I loved it.

9) "Master Slave" Mr. Robot (USA)
Season 2 / Episode 6
Premiere Date: August 10, 2016
Starring: Rami Malek & Christian Slater
Directed By: Sam Esmail

Brief Description: My personal  favorite moment of Mr. Robot was in the second half of the premiere when Scott Knowles takes a suitcase full of money and then lights it on fire while "Take Me Home" by Phil Collins plays, but this is a list of the best episodes, not the best moments (sort of). Therefore, I had to go with the best and weirdest episode of the series- the one were Elliot is stuck in a 90's sitcom with Alf. Mr. Robot has always been a show that's clearly, and for the better, different than any show on television. Creator, writer, director, producer Sam Esmail proved that once again with "Master Slave" where he used his main character's mental illness in order to tell the most creative stories possible.

8) "The Inherent, Unsullied Qualitative Value of Anything"
You're The Worst (FX)
Season 3 / Episode 11
Premiere Date: November 9, 2016
Starring: Chris Geere & Aya Cash
Directed By: Wendey Stanzler

Brief Description: A lot of times, all it takes to earn a spot on this list is to be a variation of conventional form. Although, that makes sense considering to stand out in a conventional medium is to be unconventional. You're The Worst played with form in a handful of episodes in its excellent third season. We saw an episode dedicated solely to Edgar dealing with his PTSD and we saw an episode solely centered on two minor characters who get stuck in the woods. However, the episode that stuck out to me was the one towards the end filmed Birdman style; seemingly as one long take. It wasn't the "lack of edits" that I enjoyed though, but rather how the form accentuated four plus couples and their arguments- many of which was nearing their breaking point. You're The Worst can struggle dealing with more than one or two story lines per episode effectively, but "The Inherent, Unsullied Qualitative Value of Anything" managed to deal with every character's relationship (plus a hint at some coked out waiters awaiting to set up their own restaurant) effectively and in a humorous way.

7) "Nobody Beats The Biebs" Atlanta (FX)
Season 1 / Episode 5
Premiere Date: September 27, 2016
Starring: Donald Glover & Brian Tyree Henry
Directed By: Hiro Murai

Brief Description: Atlanta probably works better as a book than its individual chapters, but there was a stretch in the middle starting with this episode, followed by "Value" (the one focusing on Van), and ending with "B.A.N." (the one centered around a fake cable access program) where the show made us say "daaaaaaamn". "Nobody Beats The Biebs" was Atlanta's coming out party where we really got a look into Donald Glover's surrealist vision when he made Justin Bieber black. Glover could have made a statement on how the media treats Bieber differently because he's white and how they treat Black stars differently than white ones, but basically, the show just wanted to be funny and goofy. While the main story focused on Earn (Glover) and Paper Boi (Henry) at a celebrity basketball game with the Biebs, we were also treated to a very funny subplot involving Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) at a local gun range.

6) "Fallen Heroes" The Carmichael Show (NBC)
Season 2 / Episode 2
Premiere Date: March 13, 2016
Starring: Jerrod Carmichael & Amber Stevens West
Written By: Jerrod Carmichael and Mike Scully

Brief Description: The Carmichael Show works well because it's a sitcom that's a vehicle of the comedian Jerrod Carmichael to tell his stand up jokes, and "Fallen Heroes" tackles a tough dilemma that seems to get harder and harder every day: Can you appreciate art when the artist is a horrible human being? At the beginning of the episode, Jerrod gets two (essentially) free tickets to see Bill Cosby live in concert. This of course sparks debate between every one in his family and they argue about the merits of Bill Cosby the horrific excuse for a human being versus The Cosby Show, a work of art that was beloved by millions. Whether or not you agree with the final outcome, the debate is enjoyable and worth the watch.

5) "Battle of the Bastards" Game of Thrones (HBO)
Season 6 / Episode 9
Premiere Date: June 19, 2016
Starring: Kit Harrington & Iwan Rheon
Directed By: Miguel Sapochnik

Brief Description: One of the main reasons Game of Thrones is so effective is that it subverts the traditional fantasy genre tropes. The hero of the story not only dies once (Ned Stark) but twice (Robb Stark). The bag guy (King Joffrey) lives way longer than he should have, and when he does perish, another, more brutal villain (Ramsey Bolton) rises up in his absence. Yet, for all the genre bending that Game of Thrones does, at the end of the day, all the audience wants to see is the hero win and blow shit up along the way. It's both ends of this spectrum that makes "Battle of the Bastards" such an engrossing hour of television. The penultimate episode of Season 6 pits Ramsay Bolton up against Jon Snow. We know how the episode will play out, but we love it anyways. Game of Thrones is at its best when it spends most or all of an episode at a battle in one locale, and this episode is no exception. "Battle of the Bastards" rises to the top next to "Blackwater" and "Hardhomme" as one of the best Game of Thrones episodes of all time.

4) "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" 
The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)
Season 1 / Episode 6
Premiere Date: March 8, 2016
Starring: Sarah Paulson, Sterling K. Brown & Courtney B. Vance
Directed By: Ryan Murphy

Brief Description: Basically, The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story did everything right. The entire mini-series was just so fantastic that it was difficult to pick just one episode to honor. However, one episode that shone just a tad bit brighter than the others was "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia". OJ Simpson was able to touch on so many issues (in large part because the actual case touched on them) and one of which was misogyny in the media. I was too young to witness and comprehend the trial when it was actually happening, but I do know that prosecutor Marcia Clark was vilified throughout the entire process- a lot of people thought fairly considering how much she and the rest of the State blundered the case. However, by making Marcia Clark a sympathetic victim, the show was able to detail the ugly side of our human nature.

3) "Fish Out of Water' BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Season 3 / Episode 4
Premiere Date: July 22, 2016
Voices Of: Will Arnett & Angela Bassett
Directed By: Mike Hollingworth

Brief Description: If you're reading a "Best Episodes of 2016" list and it for some reason doesn't include "Fish Out of Water", feel free to go over to that writer's house and burn their computer. They're clearly doing it wrong. In fact, I might need to burn my laptop for having this episode so low. Outside of a brief conversation between the show's star BoJack Horseman (Arnett) and his publicist (Bassett), the show takes place without any dialogue- and entirely underwater. Not only did it add richness and layers to this world containing both human and anthropomorphized animals, but its ability to tell such a sad story about our depressed protagonist was a work of pure genius. It's the type of episode which makes you want to write internet think pieces about. Which The Internet did.

2) "Hope" Black-ish (ABC)
Season 2 / Episode 16
Premiere Date: February 24, 2016
Starring: Anthony Anderson & Tracee Ellis Ross
Directed By: Beth McCarthy-Miller

Brief Description: Another episode that The Internet raved about- and for good reason. This is the episode that got me hooked on to the show and the one that seems more timely almost a year after it aired. In a tumultuous year where many parents were asking themselves "What do I tell my kids?" Black-ish attempted to answer the question in regard to the seemingly litany of acts of police brutality against African-Americans. Framed almost like an episode of The Carmichael Show, the Johnson family sit around a television awaiting a verdict of a police officer accused of killing a young, Black teen. Ultimately, the answer the to the question "What do I tell my kids?" and even "How do I tell them?" is "I have no friggin idea" but we need to fight like hell for a better tomorrow.

1) "San Junipero" Black Mirror (Netflix)
Season 3 / Episode 4
Premiere Date: October 21, 2016
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Mackenzie Davis
Directed By: Owen Harris

Brief Description: Easily, my favorite episode of 2016 is the Black Mirror stand out "San Junipero". In a series that's dark and bleak and wary of how technology is impacting our society. "San Junipero" stands alone as the bright beacon of hope of the good technology can do. Originally set in the 1980's in the mysterious, eponymous town, a shy Yorkie (Davis) stumbles upon the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Kelly (Mbatha-Raw). Like all Black Mirror episodes, strange things start to happen and the show starts to devolve into confusion. Ultimately, all questions are answered, but not before we're able to explore the journey that Yorkie and Kelly have together and how much happiness technology can bring into these women's lives. Maybe I was still shaking at "Shut Up and Dance" and needed a bright episode like "San Junipero" to calm me down, or maybe because Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis are just superb in this episode and have great chemistry, or maybe it's just because of Charlie Brooker's incredible's writing, but "San Junipero" is easily the best episode of 2016.