As 2016 comes to a close, the Uproxx staff will be chiming in on some of its favorite things about television from the year. The selections will be presented in no particular order. Like lists, but also not. Today, we present our Best Episodes of 2016.
“The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears,” The Americans
In 1983, “illusionist” David Copperfield stunned the world by making the Statue of Liberty vanish. But that’s nothing compared to FX’s The Americans, which pulled the show’s best-ever episode out of its hat last season with “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears.” It starts with a silent cold open where we say goodbye to a “poor” audience surrogate; it continues with Elizabeth forcing Paige to observe Pastor Tim and Alice because “that is all that stands between us and this family being destroyed”; and it ends seven months later, with Paige’s heartless monitoring now simply part of her routine. “The Magic of David Copperfield V” is tense and tragic, introspective and unexpected, perfectly acted and subtly scripted. It’s near-perfect television. The only thing missing is the show’s real hero: Mail Robot. — Josh Kurp
“The Threshold,” Halt And Catch Fire
The best under-watched drama on television, Halt and Catch Fire started out as a somewhat callow Mad Men retread, and evolved in its next two seasons into a profound meditation on ambition, the duality of professional success and failure, and the arc that relationships take over the course of many years. In the series’ second season, Halt and Catch Fire took on an feminist bent by shifting the focus from Joe (Lee Pace) and Gordon (Scoot McNairy) to the women they had once overshadowed, Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna (Kerry Bishe). Cameron and Donna’s bond became the crux of the whole series, but in season three, small cracks began to form, until “The Threshold,” when things finally fell apart.
The episode’s climactic business meeting, in which the precarious state of the burgeoning online community Mutiny swings unexpectedly toward salvation and oblivion before winding up at an inevitable conclusion, was one of the great recent TV depictions of a marriage dissolving in real time. Halt and Catch Fire is littered with marriages and couplings, both literal and figurative, that thrive for a time and then start to fail due to faulty coding in one or both of the principals. What starts out with good intentions always turns to deep resentment by a series of small disappointments. Hardly the easiest thing to dramatize, but Halt and Catch Fire did it with style and a swelling sense of melancholy that became overwhelming by the time of “The Threshold.” — Steven Hyden
“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”, The X-Files
The last time we saw Mulder and Scully on screen together was 2008’s unenthusiastic The X-Files: I Want to Believe. It wasn’t bad but it felt like an episode rather than a film and it wasn’t a great send off for our beloved characters. That’s why when the revival was announced, I wasn’t wondering “Why?” like I do with most pop culture resurgences but rather, “Good!” Chris Carter’s miniseries failed to wow overall but it did have a few standout moments and one of them was Darin Morgan’s “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” The more comedic episodes of the X-Files were always my favorites so I was thrilled we got one in the revival that showcased stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny having a lot of fun. But the real MVPs were guest stars Rhys Darby and Kumail Nanjiani who brought Morgan’s story to the next level. Between them, some deep thoughts about life itself, Mulder trying to master a smartphone camera, and the fantastic call-backs to seasons past (Queequeg forever!!), this was an excellent addition to the X-Files. — Jill Pantozzi
“Pineapples in Paris,” Rectify
Scattered over five seasons of the evocative, captivating Rectify are profound moments of joy, sadness, heartbreak and epiphany, as we see these small-town characters confront their own identities. “Pineapples in Paris,” the fifth episode in the fifth and final season, is the culmination of five years of incredible character work, the episode where the characters finally unburden themselves in ways both good and bad. Ted Sr., admits he silently resents his wife; Daniel admits he was sexually assaulted in prison; Bobby Dean admits he wrongfully beat Daniel at the graveside; and Teddy, Jr., asks Tawney for a divorce, not because he wants one, but as a kindness to his wife. It’s a staggering episode, an emotional awakening for the characters as powerful as anything on television this year. — Dustin Rowles
“Fish Out of Water,” BoJack Horseman
BoJack Horseman is one of the funniest shows on television (or whatever exactly Netflix is). It is also one of the bleakest. And the silliest. And the saddest. It is a profoundly weird show, and I mean that in the best way possible.
This brings us to “Fish Out of Water,” the fourth episode of season three. It’s almost impossible describe in a blurb, but here’s a shot: It was a mostly silent episode that took place during an underwater film festival, and it featured BoJack — again, a depressed millionaire cartoon horse who starred in a fictional ’90s sitcom — attempting to reunite a lost baby seahorse with its family. It was funny and full of really great sight gags, but also touching and heartbreaking in a way a wordless episode about a horse in the ocean has no business being. That’s about the best explanation you’re gonna get in one paragraph. It’s better if you just watch. — Brian Grubb
“You Sold Me The Laundromat, Remember?,” Shameless
After six seasons, I was convinced that Shameless had run its course. The kids were mostly grown but running in place, the family patriarch, Frank Gallagher (William H. Macy), seemed like he was being underutilized, and the pile of calamities encountered by the dysfunctional Gallagher clan was starting to get a bit too high for believability’s sake. Thankfully, those concerns have been negated. In season seven, Shameless has found another gear by, strangely enough, embracing stability, or at least the pursuit of it.
Fiona (the underpaid Emmy Rossum) and Lip (Jeremy Allan White) have sacrificed to fill in for their absentee parents while dealing with their burning need to not make the same mistakes that they made. Which is why the contrast shown in this season’s eighth episode is so heartbreaking.
Fiona, who is struggling to turn a dilapidated laundromat into a trendy nightspot, steals from a kindly old woman with dementia to partially fund the repairs and then gets the George Bailey treatment as everyone in their grimy community (including Frank) stops by to lend her a hand. Meanwhile, Lip finds himself in a relationship and on the cusp of being re-admitted into college following a drunken escapade that threw his once-bright future into doubt. But things don’t work out for Lip and he is laid to waste by his demons. This after being humbled by his past failure. This after resigning himself to a life away from college and the easier path to something more. Lip dared to hope and the universe punished him for it.
Apparently, there is such a thing as destiny, it isn’t always good or fair, and it’s a real bastard to beat back. When Shameless reminds us of that (effectively conveying the frustration and struggle that comes from living in the bottom third of the economic landscape), it’s one of the best shows on television. — Jason Tabrys
“San Junipero,” Black Mirror
Black Mirror is known for causing existential dread in the hearts and minds of its viewers, and the new Netflix season (the third for the show) was, for the most part, no different. However, in the middle of war games and the horrifying implications of social media addiction was a beautiful ray of sunshine called “San Junipero.” Featuring a pair of stunning performances from Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis, “San Junipero” is probably the only Black Mirror episode that could ever be called optimistic. In the seaside town of San Junipero in the late ‘80s, two young women cut through the bullsh*t and fall in love, with a science fiction twist. Davis in particular is equal parts awkward and luminescent as Yorkie, whose reticence has held her back from living a full life, until she meets Kelly (Mbatha-Raw). While this could have easily devolved into a manic pixie dream girl scenario, writer and creator Charlie Brooker creates two fully fleshed out and flawed protagonists, brought to life by the talented leads. Come for the ‘80s references, stay for the best love story to air on television this year. You’ll never listen to Belinda Carlisle the same way again. — Alyssa Fikse
“Home,” Ash vs Evil Dead
2016 isn’t short of excellent television episodes. From Westworld‘s inaugural “The Original” to the X-Files revival’s “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” drama and comedy alike garnered plenty of entries on this (and many other) best-of lists. Yet the second season premiere of Ash vs Evil Dead, the horror-comedy spin-off series that successfully turned Sam Raimi’s cult classic Evil Dead films into a television goldmine for Starz, deserves just as much recognition. Why? Because “Home” achieves the improbable — continuing the first season’s outstanding streak while also contributing further to the mythos surrounding Ashley “Ash” J. Williams (Bruce Campbell). Yes, there’s still lots of guts, gore and awful one-liners, but “Home” digs just deep enough to make its audience care about an otherwise awful character. — Andrew Husband
“Dungeons and Dragons,” The Goldbergs
The Goldbergs is marketed as an ‘80s nostalgia fest, but underneath the warm family hugs and pop culture gags, the show is often a pointed critique of dumb plots, lazy character arcs, and pat endings. The episode “Dungeons And Dragons, Anyone?” is the best example. The basic premise is simple: Scrawny nerd Adam (Sean Giambrone), sick of being picked last in gym every time, attempts to lead a PE revolution with his nerdy friends, only to discover once he’s team captain that, uh, his friends are scrawny nerds and if he doesn’t want to get pelted with kickballs, he’d better pick the jocks.
Since their PE teacher is fired up about changing the natural order of gym class, Adam is quickly forced to play D&D with his team of athletes, and what looks like a story of nerds vs. jocks quickly dissolves; the jocks, it turns out, are decent kids willing to roll some dice, but they’re just out of their depth. Instead it becomes a story about how easy it is to hurt people just by being a little bit selfish, something reflected in the B-plot as Jeff Garlin’s benignly neglectful Murray suddenly realizes that a future without his beloved “morons” in the house is here, and he promptly hits the roof. They both, of course, realize the error of his ways and patch things up in the end, but the episode lingers on the tongue as a twist on what’s easy and expected on TV. — Dan Seitz
“Chapter Six,” American Horror Story
American Horror Story isn’t a show that usually turns up on many end of the year lists. Despite award-winning performances by a seasoned, stellar cast, often times the uneven narratives and shaky writing prevent it from achieving something truly great. “Episode Six” of American Horror Story: Roanoke, on the other hand, was just that. Viewers knew a big twist was coming halfway into the season, and even with those high expectations set in place Ryan Murphy and company managed to turn the tables in a brilliantly clever way by teaming up the reality series stars with the actors who played them in the reenactments, and throwing in a few doses of cast drama for good measure. The stage was then set for all-out carnage as viewers were informed that all but one of the characters we had spent the first five episodes getting to know would be picked off one by one. At its best American Horror Story is campy, creepy fun and this episode embodied the perfect balance of those elements. — Stacey Ritzen