The Best 30 Episodes of Television in 2016

2016 has been shit. Decipher the why’s for yourselves, but there are plenty of them. Due to this-perhaps inspite of it-more and more we have turned to entertainment to keep the demons at bay and distract our mind with television old, new and everything that falls in between. We continue to coast on the wave that is Peak Television and due to it we here at TYF had an alarmingly tough time trying to narrow this list down to simply 30 episodes. By forcing our hand to not include everything we loved, it meant series such as Crazy Ex-GirlfriendBob’s BurgersVeep and The Last Man on Earth – among others – were left off the final list. Take a peak below at the 30 episodes we named the very best of the year and let us know in the comments what you agree with and what ones you might’ve added to your own list.

The Americans – “Travel Agents”

In the middle of The American’s stellar, Emmy-nominated fourth season was “Travel Agents”. Here, in the midst of drama involving Paige, plans for Pastor Tim, and the mission at hand involving chemical weapons, we have an episode that is bringing a close to the storyline involving poor Martha. Alison Wright has had her share of time on this series, but this was the episode that really allowed her to shine. As the world closed in around Martha, we got to see a tearful conversation between her and her parents, before eventually being somewhat forcefully brought into hiding by Elizabeth. Additionally, this was the rare episode that actually had every character dealing with the same issue. From the Jennings to the FBI to those at the Rezidentura, everyone had to deal with Martha. “Travel Agents” is smart in terms of its plotting, very well shot as far as capturing both the setting and Martha’s own emotional state and well-acted in a way that has been consistent for this series. It was great to see The Americans get much more recognition this year and this episode was a standout as far as why it works so well as one of the best dramatic series out there. –Aaron Neuwirth

American Crime – Season 2×08

American Crime season two is essential television. Weaving expertly through topics of consent, sexuality, class and race, season 2’s storyline comes to a head at episode eight, the aftermath of a school shooting. Intercutting the episode with testimonials from real survivors of school shootings and bullying feels far from cheap, but only highlights the episode’s themes and deepens our understanding of the repercussions of such an event. And still, the episode doesn’t focus so much on the shooting and shooter itself, but on healing and recovery. As we hear the survivors’ tales of healing, we see the characters try to do that as well. –Gabrielle Bondi

Atlanta- “Value”

Each episode of Atlanta feels so carefully crafted to make its point to the greatest effect. Of all the episodes that make up this show’s outstanding first season, “Value” resonates the strongest, giving us a perspective on Vanessa (Van), the mother of Earn’s daughter. Often portrayed in a shrewish way because we’re used to see her giving Earn a hard time, this episode shows us Van’s frustrations, while taking account the many different factors that contribute to those frustrations. Add that to Zazie Beetz’s stellar performance, “Value” goes to show that Atlanta’s cast of characters are much more than what meets the eye.  –Gabrielle Bondi


Black-ish – “Hope”

Black-ish isn’t a show that’s on my constant weekly rotation but there are episodes that announce themselves to the audience and demand our attention. Such was the case with season two’s stunner “Hope” which both gave Anthony Anderson a chance to deliver his best performance on the series thus far (and it was far from comedic) and also allowed for the episode to be self-contained, digging deep on the tragedy they’re watching unfold on their streets. The show has never been afraid to talk about racial politics and prejudices but in “Hope” they reach a new apex of their skewering of the current racial climate. In a true to life narrative, the family watches as a trial over an innocent black who was shot and killed goes exactly the way we’ve come to expect in the past few years and the protests that follow. Their sense of tragedy but, ultimately, as the episode of the title implies, their hope in that whatever they face they’ll be doing it together, lands a serious, emotional punch during a time period that’s been so fraught with incessant fear. Black-ish is almost always funny and/or entertaining television, with “Hope” it was important television too. –Allyson Johnson 

Black Mirror – “San Junipero”

Black Mirror isn’t known for being an uplifting series. Instead it’s known largely for it’s bleak assumption that technology is going to ruin our lives as we further enhance our gadgets and lives that often seem ruined by the end of the episode. “San Junipero” has become so beloved because of the show turning the tides on that mentality but also, especially, because of the love story at its center between Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Soulful, emotional and impeccably performed, “San Junipero” is the episode that fans of the show should remember. –Allyson Johnson 

Bojack Horseman – “That’s Too Much, Man!”

There was much (mostly inner) conflict over what episode to ultimately go with for the excellent season three of Netflix’s Bojack Horesman. Sure, “Fish Out of Water” is innovative and captures everything that makes Bojack such a fascinating series as it broke narrative conventions but it’s “That’s Too Much, Man!” that went for the emotional sucker punch. After going on a bender that spans weeks after finding out the truth of his supposed Oscar nomination, the rock bottom he’s found himself in ends in a further tragedy that even we couldn’t have predicted. Even worse is that this time, Bojack realizes his hand in the outcome and the guilt the character goes on to experience is potent. Bojack has always had a mighty hand in his own distress and misery and he’s contributed to many others but this time he’s self-aware enough to understand the gravity of his actions that lead to the events at the end of the episode. Bojack was never a “good guy”, but there’s always been a lingering suspicion that if he could move past his bloated sense of self-worth and narcissism he could improve himself but the season three penultimate episode all but extinguishes this notion. It’s a heavy episode, one masked in grays and rain clouds as Bojack reckons with past mistakes. –Allyson Johnson


Broad City – “Burning Bridges” 

While this season didn’t bring as many consistent laugh out loud moments as its previous two, season three of Broad City was still uniformly strong. It’s best episode  however was “Burning Bridges” as Ilana has to come to the realization that not all of her relationships-or lack thereof-will stay in the stagnant position she’s willed them into. Lincoln isn’t able to keep her in his life after he is in a committed, monogamous relationship, and that crushes her to a point that we haven’t ever seen the character. For the majority of the season we watched as it was Abbi that was making strides in her personal and professional life as the usually confident Ilana floundered, demonstrated in her genuinely sexy relationship with Trey until she was too insecure to move forward with. “Burning Bridges” was the reminder that even when the romantic relationships in their lives aren’t going as planned, Ilana and Abbi will always have one another at the end of a long day, and really,  Broad City is at its best when it’s prime focus is on the sweet and sometimes odd dynamic between these two dysfunctional women. -Allyson Johnson 

Catastrophe – “Episode Four”

After introducing season two with a time jump, Catastrophe didn’t cover the likely traumatic experience that Rob and Sharon went through when their first child arrived much too early, meaning that the parents who had been amidst a screaming match when the first season ended would be putting their anger aside to share their stress over their newborn. The fourth episode of the second season finally comes back around to this notion of grief when the couple has a rare moment to themselves, sans kids. It being their anniversary however reminds them of that troubling day, it having shared itwith Sharon having gone into early labor. The two actors are remarkable as they stare down the ugly truths of their shared history, paving way to a further understanding of how these two characters function and their relationship since that fateful night. The script doesn’t forget it’s acidic humor, but it reminds us that even Rob and Sharon aren’t always laughing but rather often laugh in order to mask pain. They’re real, flawed and hilarious characters which is what makes them feel so impossibly human. –Allyson Johnson 


The Flash – “The Runaway Dinosaur”

I had some mighty issues with season two of The Flash as I believed it had forgone its winsome and bright tone for something more dour, self-serious and ultimately boring. There were a number of standout episodes however that reminded us viewers just why we fell in love with the series and one of them is the excellent, Kevin Smith directed “The Runaway Dinosaur” that finally (so we thought) allowed Barry to process his grief over his mother’s passing and his perceived inability to save her. It’s constructed beautifully with a wonderful three act structure that builds not to a big action climax, but an emotional one as Barry, stuck inside the speed force, speaks to fragments of his mother and the embodiment of that force. That he escapes with the help of Iris-the one voice that could really ever pull him back home-is an added bonus by the time it comes. Grant Gustin delivers one of many fine performances as Barry Allen and the interconnected scenes with Iris and Cisco back at Star Labs is a nice reminder of how talented the ensemble is that even the oddest pairings can deliver some hilarious dynamics. It’s an episode that once again embraces the light and color that The Flash should utilize with its Scarlet Speedster leading the charge. –Allyson Johnson 

Fresh Off the Boat – “Hi, My Name Is…”

Fresh Off the Boat is beacon of light in an otherwise whitewashed TV show landscape. It perfectly shows the struggles of first generation immigrant families and drives the message home with strong humor while remaining completely respectful. This show is not only a much needed positive representation of the Asian community, but it also serves as a learning tool for white America. I can personally vouch for many of the situations in the show since I am the child of immigrants who came to America for a better life. “Hi, My Name Is…” is the most powerful and affecting episode to come out this year. It deals with the notion of sacrificing cultural identity to try and assimilate into American society better. Things like adopting an American pseudonym so people can pronounce your name and not discriminate against you. That is the reason my parents chose the name they did for me, and also why they were socially forced to change their names. Like the show, what I would learn later in life is that changing your name to better adapt in society doesn’t mean you are sacrificing or betraying your cultural heritage or history. Your name is a part of you and it doesn’t define the kind of person you will become. -Jon Espino 

Game of Thrones -“Battle of the Bastards” 

This was a hard pick for the TYF staff as we had to stack the epic, hour long battle of “Battle of the Bastards” against the operatic season finale “The Winds of Winter” which began with a tragedy for the perceived antagonist and ended with triumphs for who we believe to be the last standing heroes of the series. Due to some passionate voices it was the former than won out and despite being a bigger fan of the latter, I can hardly be agitated considering how wonderfully thrilling “Battle of the Bastards” ended up being. The staged battle was unlike anything we’ve ever seen on television before and Kit Harrington gave Jon Snow a positively domineering presence as he stood a lone figure against an impending army. Sansa is allowed a small moment of glory that she’s deserved ever since fans unfairly maligned her character after the first season and we finally are rid of the series poisoning Ramsay Bolton in one of the most gratifying send offs the show has ever delivered on. It’s wide shots and bright vibrancy give the world a grander scale than any other previous battle, and it will go down as one of televisions best staged moments. –Allyson Johnson 

Girl Meets World – “Girl Meets STEM” 

Girl Meets World is a wonderful gem in young adult entertainment at the moment. Even though its messages often feel a little heavy handed, there are moments where the episode gets its point across perfectly, and “Girl Meets STEM” is one of them. One of its most feminist episodes yet, Riley becomes annoyed when their science teacher assigns a project that allows one lab partner to do one simple task and other lab partner to do rest of the complex tasks to complete the project. Riley notices that it’s the girls in the class who take the simple task, and although being paired with Farkle, the class brain, Riley refuses to do the easy task and encourages the girls to take a stand and not automatically disregard an interest in science. –Gabrielle Bondi

Halt & Catch Fire – “Yerba Buena”

Halt and Catch Fire is the definition of a show for grown-ups. A workplace drama that focuses on how the character’s work affects their personal lives and vice versa, suspicion in the workplace bleeds into mistrust in the bedroom…especially if you work with you spouse. “Yerba Buena” was the turning point of the third season of Halt and Catch Fire. The marriage of Donna and Gordon hung in the balance, as Gordon disagreed with Donna’s stance with Cameron over their company Mutiny (a place Gordon now works but isn’t an owner). Their attempts to reconnect on a deeper lever during the 4th of July turn out to be impossible Gordon realized he still can’t trust his wife, the strong businesswoman with questionable ethics. Bos and Cameron, a make-shift family, returned to Texas only to realize their wounds never healed…Bos still feels the loss of his family and Cameron still misses her father (even with Bos around for support) and loves Tom (the best surprise of the season was his return). Despite their strong relationship, neither can make up for the family they lost and trying to rips them apart and at least this season. Then there’s Joe. Lee Pace is pretty much giving the best performance of his career on this show. The soulful loneliness Joe shows in “Yerba Buena” is something to behold. It’s simple, it’s touching, and it uses period detail not for color, but context. Thank goodness we are getting a final fourth season. –Lesley Coffin 

Horace and Pete – “Episode 10” 

There’s not much left to be said of the pivotal nature of Louis C.K.’s innovating, theatrical series Horace and Pete. While there were singular moments through the ten episodes that were standouts and performances that will go down as some of the finest of 2016, it was the finale “Episode 10” that was the real gut punch. Offering viewers a glimpse of hope before ruthlessly taking it away, it’s pure demonstration of classic tragedy. The less you know about the series before starting the better –Allyson Johnson 

How to Get Away With Murder – “Who’s Dead?”

Opinions may vary when it comes to the overall tone of ABC’s soapy How to Get Away with Murder but when it lands a good episode it’s riveting television. The winter finale of season three encapsulates everything that makes the mystery series so addictive as one rug is pulled out from us only to be lead into yet another trap rounding the corner. Our predictions didn’t come true on who we all thought was dead and instead we were left with a genuinely upsetting ending that left both the characters and ourselves shaken by the events. Bonnie and Frank became emotional anchors of the episode while the Keating Five were left to the deal with the pieces after the body was received from the fire. Tense, emotional and edge of your seat worthy, the episode thrived on everything that makes us fans and delivered an episode of television that sold on the idea of its premise- Allyson Johnson 

Insecure – “Broken as Fuck”

Between Issa, Molly, and Lawrence, you have to hand it to Insecure for leaving its first season with its main characters seeming pretty unlikable. The season finale deals with the repercussions of Issa’s cheating, Lawrence finding out about it, and Molly being angry at Issa for getting a little too honest with her. Yet, it ends by reminding us about a relationship we’ve been rooting for from the start: Issa and Molly. Their friendship is the heart of the show, and their bond is much stronger than whatever was between Issa and Lawrence. Despite how broken these characters feel, there was seriously love found and love lost in the finale. Author- Gabrielle Bondi

iZombie – “Reflections On How Liv Used to Be”

People are quick to dismiss iZombie for two reasons. One, it’s name is ridiculous and two, it’s on The CW. At this point we should be able to look past the name issue (hello Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and begin to realize that The CW, despite it’s soapy, sun bleached, teen drama past, has put out some genuinely quality television in the past few years (ditto Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). iZombie is often times the best of the channels lineup but no one is noticing due to the other, more prestige fare on the network or because of the superheroes. “Reflections On How Liv Used to Be” is a highlight in a tremendously strong second season as Liv finally is forced into bringing Clive into the loop of the world of zombies that Liv resides in. The tension has grown to exponential levels at this point without sacrificing the humor or, more importantly, the strong relationships between all of the characters. Liv telling the truth to Clive isn’t a big moment because it’s a reveal, it’s a big moment because it’s a monumental reveal about something that could shatter a dynamic we’ve grown to care deeply about. – Allyson Johnson 

Luke Cage – “Moment of Truth”

The titular character of Luke Cage may have found his television start in Marvel’s own Jessica Jones, but thanks to a commanding presence from actor Mike Colter, it was only a matter of time before his character also received the Netflix treatment. And boy did this series hit hard. “Moment of Truth,” the pilot premiere for Netflix’s Luke Cage series, is undoubtedly one of the year’s finest episodes to air. Unlike Marvel’s cinematic universe, which chooses colorful characters over a grimmer story, Luke Cage is all about painting this tragic hero as just your average man trying to get by, who just so happens to be invincible. Expertly crafted to introduce us to not only a likable leading man, but an array of twisted villains he’ll begrudgingly have to face whether he wants to or not, “Moment of Truth” cranks out one of Marvel television’s best narratives to date. – Donald Stroham 

The Magicians – “The World in the Walls”

Laugh it up internet but SyFy’s The Magicians was one of the most interesting new shows of 2016. Based on the popular book series, the show stuck relatively close to canon for the majority of the season with one it’s biggest sidesteps happening in episode four “The World in the Walls” when Quentin wakes up in a mental institution. It was a clever way to play with audiences expectations and character history as we know that Quentin has dealt with mental illness in the past and even spent time in a hospital for it. Playful (that “Shake It Up” sequence) and thrilling, the episode refuses to give us the answers to Quentin or our own questions easily, making us guess for nearly half of the episode before letting the clues slide in. It’s one of many strong episodes of the series but the one that definitively struck out on what the tone for the series would be. – Allyson Johnson 

The Night Of – “The Season of the Witch”

Whether Naz is guilty or innocent almost seems besides the point when we get to “The Season of the Witch” in HBO’s acclaimed miniseries, The Night Of. Partly a courtroom drama, this episode is The Night Of at its best, with its naturalistic approach to police procedures (Box finally decides to be a real detective), its bleak, unflinching look at the prison system (Naz’s continued struggles to survive a place as dehumanizing as Rikers), and its portrayal of the prosecution who seems to care more about winning than justice. –Gabrielle Bondi

Outlander – “Faith”

Outlander had a strong second season, and while it didn’t hit some of the highs of the first season, it brought “Faith,” which is easily Outlander’s most heartbreaking and emotional episode yet. Reeling from the loss of her infant baby, Claire must put her despair aside so she can make a deal with the king of France to get Jamie out of jail. Claire’s loss frames the episode, and it’s a nice reminder that Outlander is very much still Claire’s story. –Gabrielle Bondi

The People vs. O.J. – “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”

A tour-de-force performance from Sarah Paulson meets the fascinating person of the OJ Simpson murder trial: Marcia Clark. The lead prosecutor of the trial, Marcia faced an avalanche of scrutiny for her life in and out of the courtroom. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” takes a moment to examine what that meant to and how it affected Clark during the biggest trial of her life. It’s an incredibly entertaining episode that is also pretty dark and depressing. How can a woman win when blatant and unapologetic sexism is constantly thrown her in face? –Gabrielle Bondi

Preacher – “Pilot”

Preacher unfortunately didn’t always manage to live up to both its initial hype but if anything, it nailed the pilot and made a convincing arguement for Seth Rogen and co., to make a movie version of the popular comic books. Perhaps, if that were the case, it would be able to sustain the tone, narrative and sense of urgency that it lost about a halfway into the season. If you need a refresher however, go back to the pilot which perfectly encapsulated what makes the story and, especially, the characters so enigmatic and captivating. Ruth Negga, Dominic Cooper and particularly Joe Gilgun are excellent as the leading characters and the world so wonderfully built up from the minute the episode starts that we’re instantly intrigued to explore the rest of it- Allyson Johnson 

Rectify – “A House Divided”

If there’s a better-written show on TV than Rectify, I haven’t found it. A gothic drama, timeless tragedy, and vital story about the prison crisis, Rectify is just a beautifully written show made all the better by the topnotch cast it has. Season four premiered with the introduction of Daniel’s new life, away from his family and hometown (where he’s still known as the murderer who got out). He’s found a job and half-way house to live in, but still can’t connect with people, even the fellow prisoners in the house. Even the pretty artist who welcomes him into her studio leaves him struggling to communicate (although she finally gets through with her artwork). When blamed that his silence made his roommate leave and a for a mistake at work, he finds he needs to seek real guidance. He needs help confronting what being out of prison really means for him and what we get is one of the best-written scenes in the history of TV. – Lesley Coffin

Steven Universe – “Bismuth”

Steven Universe continues to be a fantastic show that champions diversity and deals with complex, but relatable issues. At no point does it insult the viewer or treat them condescendingly. Darkness exists in the world and oftentimes it has a friendly face. In “Bismuth”, the Crystal Gems are reunited with a long lost friend, Bismuth, who fits seamlessly into the group as if they’ve never been gone. The truth about Bismuth’s disappearance is much darker. War changes people and sometimes you become the very thing you are fighting against. Bismuth sought a quick resolution to the war against homeworld, even if it meant murdering other gems to do it. This episode has a wonderful message of fighting with integrity and never succumbing to the easy road of darkness. It also touches on the idea that everyone deserves the chance at redemption or rehabilitation, especially your enemies. Compassion is what will ultimately win the war. Oh, and did I mention that Bismuth is voiced by the amazing Uzo Aduba because that is also one of the main reasons this was the best Steven Universe episode this year. – Jon Espino 

Stranger Things – “Holly Jolly”

For a lot of people, they were hooked on Stranger Things from the very first episodes. But episode three was definitely the point when binge watching started to make the most sense for me. After all, we finally started to really build some of the teams in “Holly, Jolly” that would continue through to the finale climax. After the loss of Barb (a tragedy the internet still hasn’t gotten over) Nancy and Steven join up to find her friend and his brother and Nancy sees the monster for herself. The monster is also seen by Joyce, who’s become unhinged in her desperation and grief, but also completely right about her son being present and brilliant with how she decides to communicate with him. It’s sad and inspiring to see her hang the Christmas lights to try to communicate with her son, knowing the only way she can make Hopper understand what she’s doing is to remind him that he was also once a parent. And then there’s Hopper’s discovery of Will’s body in the quarry right in front of his friends and having to tell Joyce, right after she ran out of the house when the monster came through the walls after her. –Lesley Coffin 

Superstore – “Election Day”

“Election Day” is a showcase for all of Superstore’s strengths. Each of the two main plot lines has a great character pairing at its center. Jonah and Amy’s quest to educate their gullible coworkers is all about escalating the romantic tension in their whole “will they/won’t they” dynamic. Their chemistry is obvious whether they’re picking fonts or practicing stereotypical New York accents. As good as Ben Feldman and America Ferrera are as Jonah and Amy, the real power couple of the episode are Mark McKinney and Lauren Ash as Glenn and Dina.The episode slowly builds to their final confrontation in Glenn’s office with each one trying to record the other incriminating themselves in voter fraud. The entire episode is worth watching just to hear Dina’s impression of Glenn. “Election Day” manages to get laughs out of the election season without picking a side and is a very funny episode of television that can be enjoyed by newcomers and Superstore fans alike. – Jose Cordova 

This is Us – “Pilot”

This Is Us has been NBC’s break out show. Each episode has taken us further into the complicated stories of the Pearson family, making us cry and laugh all at once (with especially vulnerable performances from Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia). In its first season the show has successfully taken on the task of tackling complex issues within the framework of one family. Jack and Rebecca’s evolving relationship and the hardships that come with raising children, Kate’s struggle with weight, Kevin’s inability to break through in his career, and Randall’s yearning for finding his biological family are only a few topics that have come up in the first nine episodes. What made the pilot the best episode of all, however, was the unique path it took in introducing the Pearson family. The connection that bonds the characters seems to be that they were all celebrating their 36th birthday on the same day; as the episode continues we get a closer look into their lives. The episode ends with the most beautiful scene in the series, showing Jack and Rebecca as the parents of twins Kate and Kevin and adoptive parents of Randall; and it continues to travel seamlessly between these two generations of Pearson’s to show us that their stories are more similar than we would imagine them to be. – Melissa Linares

Westworld – “Trompe L’Oeil”

You may want to glance away to avoid Westworld’s best twist… Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) is a host. Landing in this episode’s final moments, it was a perfectly executed twist that audiences did not see coming at all. The episode builds to this moment with precision, and never once had you question who was human or host on the show until this moment. “Trompe L”Oeil” changed the game big time for Westworld and made us all the more eager to uncover more of its secrets. – Gabrielle Bondi

You’re the Worst – “ Twenty-Two”

The third season of You’re the Worst largely suffered from its lack of focus but if there was one character who largely benefited it was Desmin Borges PTSD ridden Edgar. This was highlighted with the most poetic grace and visual flourishes with “Twenty-Two” as Edgar went on a bite size odyssey where he faces the unfairness veterans face, contemplated suicide, and found rescue in a fellow vet who had discovered a nifty way to counteract his own PTSD. It’s a delicately paced episode with a stunning and insightful performance by Borges. While You’re the Worst is by its nature a funny series, its sweet spot has always been when the show has introduced themes of drama and personal strife. Edgar has always been a bit of an enigma in the group and with “Twenty-Two” we were allowed a peak into what makes him tick and hopefully, what will help him proceed to become a happier and more fulfilled human being. – Allyson Johnson 



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