Emerald Recommends: Best TV episodes of 2017
This year brought a slew of new and exciting TV shows to TVs and phone screens across the country. Many addressed the current political climate. Some chose to ignore it and focus on other concepts such as mortality. Other series returned to the humor that brought audiences to them in the first place. Either way, 2017 was a big year for network TV and original shows on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon.
Read about the Emerald’s favorite episodes of the year below:
Sararosa Davies’ picks:
5. “The Disappointment of the Dionne Quintuplets” (Nov. 28) — “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” burst onto the scene fairly recently, but the show and its fast-talking characters are garnering critical acclaim — and for good reason. In the late 1950s, Upper East Side housewife Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) discovers a hidden talent for stand up comedy right after her husband leaves her.
One of the best parts of “Mrs. Maisel” is the quick glimpses the audience has of different acts, both fictional and not, that come through the show’s comedy clubs. This episode is chock full of those moments, including dark ventriloquist humor and references to actual comedian Lenny Bruce. “Mrs. Maisel” is at its best in this way — with fleshed out jokes and characters alike.
4. “Foisted!” (Oct. 21) — “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
After audiences survived years without it, “Seinfeld” creator Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is back. As always David spares no one in his tirades, not even himself. This first episode of the new season follows David as he fires an assistant (played with perfect timing by Sleater-Kinney and “Portlandia’s” Carrie Brownstein), and enrages both the leader of Iran and his friend Jeff Greene’s lesbian barber. It’s a wonderful (and hilarious) welcome back to Larry David’s world. And the rest of the season follows, with David annoying everyone from his therapist to his mail carrier. “Pretty, pretty, pretty good,” David says, and he’s not wrong.
3. “New York, I Love You” (May 12) — “Master of None”
The third season of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” went to bold new heights this year, bringing in references to Italian film and LCD Soundsystem songs. “New York, I Love You” takes a break from Ansari’s character Dev’s romantic storyline with a woman he met at pasta making school in Italy, and instead immerses the audience in the lives of ordinary New Yorkers who all end up at the same movie. The most beautiful part of the episode is the care with which the writing treats each set of characters. From a Deaf couple’s conversation (via American Sign Language) about their sex life in the middle of a gift store to a doorman’s unfortunate interaction with a parakeet, “New York, I Love You” is a sweet ode to a city and its inhabitants.
2. “Witches” (Oct. 25) — “Broad City”
“Broad City,” the slacker comedy about two Jewish women and their misadventures in New York, took a turn for the political this season by bleeping out President Donald Trump’s name, among other social statements. The show’s Halloween episode, “Witches,” follows Abbi Abrams (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer) as Abbi finds contemplates her own mortality after finding a gray hair, and Ilana, erm, addresses the fact that she hasn’t orgasmed since President Trump was elected.
In typical “Broad City” manner, the episode never gets too serious; however, this is one of the darkest episodes of the show yet. It ends with a “coven” of women, including a plastic surgeon Abbi meets earlier in the episode, howling at the moon.
1. “Florida” (Nov. 8) — “Broad City”
Any “Broad City” episode involving Ilana’s family lands at the top of my list. Ilana, with her crazy curly hair, is exactly like her mom, Bobbi Wexler (Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman). In this episode, Abbi tags along as Ilana, Bobbi and Ilana’s brother, Eliot, fly to Florida to clean out Ilana’s grandma’s apartment. What follows is one of Broad City’s best episodes in its 4 seasons — for many reasons, including Ilana’s interaction with her kin.
Life in a Florida retirement community seems easy compared Abbi and Ilana’s lives in New York, so they apply for a spot in an apartment — only to find out the shocking reason for their acceptance to the community. This is one of the best punchlines in a “Broad City” episode, and the slow build to it makes it even funnier. Seeing Ilana’s aunt (Fran Drescher) and Bobbi argue stands out as one of the funniest moments on TV this year. Broad City just kept getting better, and for that, yas kween!
Dana Alston’s picks:
4. “Part 8” (June 25) — “Twin Peaks: The Return”
When it was announced that David Lynch would direct the entirety of his “Twin Peaks” revival/sequel, it sounded too good to be true. Fans of the unsettling, wacky and endlessly watchable original program rejoiced in knowing that the story of Laura Palmer would soon be back in the hands of their favorite mad genius. But nobody could have expected what Lynch delivered, partially because nothing like “The Return” has ever been broadcasted on television.
There is still a coherent story — kind of — that follows Special Agent Dale Cooper’s (Kyle Maclachlan) consciousness split between multiple versions of himself. But “Part 8” takes a nightmarish detour into…aliens and nuclear bombs? Yep. Abandoning his characters and plot for 40 minutes, Lynch takes us straight into the origins of modern evil, laying the blame on humanity’s capacity for destruction. It’s as strange and thrilling as anything on TV this year, even if it leaves its audience members scratching their heads.
3. “Episode 9” (Oct. 13) — “Mindhunter”
Before the term “serial killer” entered the vernacular, the FBI looked at mentally ill murderers like sick animals. “Mindhunter” follows the creation of the Behavioral Science Unit, headed by Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and his partner Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), conceived as an effort to better understand, thwart and ultimately convict violent and insane individuals. Ford and Tench interview convicts and pick at their brains, trying to understand how and why they could have murdered so many people.
In the series’ ninth episode, Ford’s obsession with his interviewees starts making his colleagues and loved ones uneasy. That obsession leads to convictions, breakthroughs and useful data. But Ford’s closeness with psychotic killers is unnerving. And when you’re dealing with psychopaths, how close is too close?
2. “The Spy” (Oct. 27) —”Stranger Things 2”
“Stranger Things’” first season seemed more concerned with checking genre boxes than it was being…well, good. Luckily, the second go-round is as entertaining as a show about monsters and 11-year-old psychics should be. “The Spy” is a perfect encapsulation of everything the show does well, including a series of excellent character moments and a wonderfully tense cliffhanger. Steve and Dustin form a proper bond as they try to eradicate an alien from Dustin’s basement. Nancy and Jonathan begin to expose the vast conspiracy controlling Hawkins. And the Duffer Brothers show off their vast 80’s reference repertoire, staging a tense ending around a sequence from “Aliens.” It’s fast, loose sci-fi fun that manages to maintain some serious stakes.
1. “Michael’s Gambit” (Jan. 19) — “The Good Place”
Few shows can successfully tackle issues of morality in a drama format. Michael Shur — the creative force behind “Parks & Recreation,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and now “The Good Place” — managed to do it with a half-hour network comedy. The series follows Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a woman who is sent to heaven by mistake and must earn her place among the afterlife’s do-gooders. Michael (Ted Danson) is the heavenly neighborhood’s insecure architect. The setup is clever, and Shur constantly fills his 20-minute episodes with laughs and honest-to-goodness debates on what it means to be a good person.
“The Good Place” is a triumph, and the season one finale “Michael’s Gambit” blows the doors off of network TV. Shur doesn’t just pull the rug out from under audiences; he lights the rug on fire and twists it into an impossibly large knot. Nobody — seriously, nobody — could have seen this twist coming. Based on the show’s relatively low ratings, not very many people are watching in the first place. That’s a crime, so see it while you still can.
Follow Sararosa and Dana on Twitter @srosiedosie and @AlstonDalston, respectively.