We spend a lot of time in front of the TV. The longer a series lasts, the more invested we become in the characters, their stories, and their relationships. And while one season of a show has several episodes, there are always those that stand out among the rest. 2017 has had its fair share of great TV and for the mid-year list this year, we focused on the best episodes of the year. The list is comprised of episodes that made us cry, made us laugh, or kept us so engaged, we forgot the rest of the world for an hour or so. Whether it was a tearjerker episode, like This is Us’ “Memphis,” Brooklyn Nine-Nine tackling racial profiling in “Moo Moo,” or Aubrey Plaza stealing the show in the memorable Legion episode, “Chapter 7,” there has been a lot of greatness.
Check out the top ten TV episodes of 2017 (so far) below to see which episodes made the list!
10. This is Us – “Memphis”
Since its inaugural episode, This Is Us has leaned hard into the best kind of emotional manipulation; but in ‘“Memphis,” the show took the tears to a whole new level. Choosing to break the structure and conventions we’ve come to expect, the episode doesn’t bounce around between the lives of the Big Three. Instead, it devotes its energy to only one character: William. As Randall goes on a pilgrimage to return his biological father to his childhood home, audiences were finally given a satisfying backstory for William, who until this point had been the most mysterious presence in the main ensemble. After voyaging through the pain and hardship that seems to have plagued him since birth, we finally see William for who he is. The emotional heft of the episode is such that simply recalling it is enough to make you start tearing up. “Memphis” is the unparalleled example of how much This Is Us loves to make its viewers ugly cry. It was a moment of genuine beauty that encompassed everything we love about the show. —Brian Thompson
9. Better Call Saul – “Chicanery”
If ever there was an argument in favor of Better Call Saul dropping Mike Ehrmantraut as a character and refocusing solely on the misadventures of Jimmy McGill, “Chicanery” is it. Far and away the best episode yet of Better Call Saul (and arguably better than any episode of Breaking Bad), “Chicanery” focuses entirely on the bar hearing concerning Jimmy’s breaking and entering of his brother Chuck’s house. It proves that between the high stakes guns-and-drugs world of Mike and Gus and the relatively low stakes deep-seated sibling rivalry between Jimmy and Chuck, the latter packs a significantly stronger emotional punch every time. The episode demonstrates that in Jimmy, played so empathetically by Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul has the most compelling, relatable, and conflicted protagonist in the Breaking Bad universe.
“Chicanery” takes place almost entirely within the confines of the hearing room, yet is directed masterfully by Daniel Sackheim to make every shot reflect the scenario’s incredible tension building up throughout the episode. The episode relies heavily on dialogue, and the script by Gordon Smith contains some of the most wonderful monologues and character moments of anything on TV this year. Truly, one could not praise “Chicanery” and the Better Call Saul team enough for what they’ve accomplished here. —Eli Fine
8. Feud – “You Mean All This We Could Have Been Friends”
Feud: Bette and Joan is, to put it mildly, a devastating, dispiriting series, and its ruthless heartbreak and heartache can be seen (and very, very much felt) in full with its brutal, remorseful season finale, “You Mean All This Time We Could’ve Been Friends?” Providing a ruthlessly bleak closure of these notoriously dejected former big screen personalities, this beautifully somber season finale offers an isolated, tragically engrossing final chapter for the ultimately miserable lives of Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange, truly brilliant in this role, as per usual) and Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon).
As we watch these once impervious powerhouse performances wither and crumble like broken leaves left to dry on the sidewalk, we are at once moved and awed, struck by the almost unbearable sadness but nevertheless stunned by its powerful resonance and unwavering impact. Above all else, it’s a romantic finale, and it’s a deeply felt one too. But throughout it all, the creators are never afraid to let the execution be blunt and bold, much like the leading ladies themselves (and the women they play), respecting the truth and its conviction while simultaneously dressing it up with incredible crafts(wo)manship and impeccable dramatic and emotional range. It’s the last chapter in this nostalgic, continuously compelling series, and it’s the truly best installment too. —Will Ashton
7. Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “Moo Moo”
Season four of comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine was it’s best to date by a long shot. Both it’s most consistently funny while also finally managing to find that balance of marrying humor with longer narrative arcs, the season hit its quality sweet spot week in and week out. The confidence of the series, however, was no better demonstrated than it’s late in the season episode, “Moo Moo,” where Terry is racially profiled by another cop. It never turns into a “very special episode,” but it takes the subject matter seriously while never forgetting the overall tone of the series. There are plenty of room for jokes but the subject at hand isn’t a laughing matter. It’s this distinction and the remarkable work done by Terry Crewes and Andre Braugher in the episode that makes it such a poignant highlight for the series. —Allyson Johnson
6. Big Little Lies – “You Get What You Need”
What makes the Big Little Lies finale powerful is not just the fact that it is the end of an excellent series that lulled into the belief that it was just about feuding suburban housewives, when it was really so much deeper. “You Get What You Need” was a fulfilling episode which seemed to bring closure but still maintain the aura of mystery that surrounded the series. There were excellent performances from everyone in the main cast – Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz, Laura Dern – even the supporting cast did an amazing job. One of the scenes worked well just by the acting of the performers, without even having to explain what happened, we read it on the faces of the actors, we lived through Jane’s trauma, we saw Bonnie’s demons, we felt Madeline’s sympathy, we read Celeste’s fear. The writing, the editing, the direction on this miniseries was top notch but the greatness of it all rested on the brilliant portrayals of the characters by the actors playing them. —Caryn Welby-Solomon
5. The Flash – “Duet”
Who would have thought we’d ever be witness to a live-action superhero musical? It’s never been done before, but what better way to do it than in a crossover episode of The Flash? “Duet” exceeded expectations (and I’ll admit to having my own reservations) and is essentially a superhero episode of TV wrapped inside a musical dreamworld, and sprinkled with some Disney-style magic (true love’s kiss was involved, naturally). “Duet” mixed old-school glitz and glamour with fantastic showmanship, an engaging plot that had West Side Story vibes, and reiterated what a joy The Flash can be when it pairs together the right elements. It definitely helps when half the cast can sing and/or tap dance. “Duet” pulled out all the stops. It had an enchanting atmosphere, with some actors pulling double duty in different roles, charming lead performances, impeccable costumes, and an entertaining villain who believed in the power of love.
Some of the best parts of “Duet” included Jesse L. Martin and Victor Garber singing “More I Cannot Wish You” to Candice Patton’s Millie Floss (whose accent was superb), Barry (Grant Gustin) and Kara (Melissa Benoist) catching their significant others kissing in the musical world, and then later singing (and tap dancing to) the immensely enjoyable “Super Friends.” But the most heartfelt and powerful scene of the musical comes at the end, when Barry sings “Runnin’ Home to You” to Iris and proposes (again). It’s a moment that wonderfully summarizes their relationship in a song and is beautifully executed, romantic, and quite possibly one of the best proposals to ever air on TV. —Mae Abdulbaki
4. Legion – “Chapter 7”
Who might’ve guessed at the start of FX’s series Legion that Aubrey Plaza, of all people, was going to be the MVP? And yet, here we are, and I’m desperately pulling for her to garner a best supporting actress turn come next Thursday. “Chapter 7” best exemplifies the series’ tonal madness while also allowing Plaza, the surprise of the series, revel in the character she had created. She straddles the line between nightmarish and horrific realism, feminine and masculine, to comically garish, and morbidly comical. The duality in her role is demonstrated in the episode as all of our characters are pushed their farthest to the brink of desperation before they’re able to start grabbing hold and bringing themselves back in. —Allyson Johnson
3. The Leftovers – “The Book of Nora”
Starting out as a dreary mystery and ending with something romantic and hopeful goes to show how transformative The Leftovers managed to be in its three-season run. It is easy to think this is only Kevin’s story, but the series finale reveals just how much we’ve also been watching Nora’s journey unfold, after experiencing her inexplicable loss. “The Book of Nora” begins with a teasing twist, which brings about the kind of confusion that gets your mind racing. Once we get to its final moments, when the characters open up and finally speak their truths, it’s a cathartic and immensely magnetic moment. It’s a truly fitting ending for a show as evocative as The Leftovers and one that will go down in TV history as one of the best. —Gabrielle Bondi
2. Dear White People – “Chapter V”
Dear White People needed a change in direction. After four episodes covering several angles of the Pastiche party, “Chapter V” moves the story forward in ways that shouldn’t be as unexpected as they are. If anything, this episode is a visceral and timely reminder of how the world works and who is always at a disadvantage. The episode handles its theme of anti-black police violence with delicacy, and Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ deftness at stripping away the excess from a moment to let its heaviness weigh on the audience is what makes “Chapter V” not just a stand-out episode of this series, but of television in general. —Gabrielle Bondi
1. Master of None – “Thanksgiving”
One of several Netflix offerings, Master of None has always stood out on its own. Not many shows can have a collection of standalone episodes while easily flowing from one to another. In the show’s second season, it’s “Thanksgiving” that stands out above the rest. The episode spotlights Dev’s (Aziz Ansari) friend, Denise (Lena Waithe), whose history and family had been previously unexplored. Dev, who’s known Denise since childhood, spends every Thanksgiving with her family. From the moment Denise tells Dev that she’s into girls, she knows it’s something she could never divulge to her mother, Catherine (Angela Bassett). When she finally comes out to her mother years later, it’s hard to not feel for Denise as she faces the struggle to be accepted in her mother’s eyes. Catherine is disappointed. She clearly still loves her daughter, but the news is something she can’t quite grasp.
The episode is handled so well and there are a lot of small moments that take it from good to outstanding: the way Bassett plays Catherine’s discomfort during the lunch date, how she and Denise don’t make a lot of eye contact in the scene, how the pair deal with the situation in a way that feels natural and realistic to a daughter seeking approval and a parent’s disappointment. One of the most wonderful things is that the comedy is never diminished and continues to permeate the episode, alleviating some of the tension between Denise and her family. By the time the final scene rolls around, it’s clear something’s different in the family dynamic. It’s not perfect, but it’s better, and it’s quite touching and beautiful. “Thanksgiving” is subtly powerful in all the right ways. The performances are exceptional in an episode that’s heartfelt and poignant. It’s one of the best episodes of Master of None and of 2017 so far. —Mae Abdulbaki