Note: This is a combination of TV episodes, scenes, moments, shots, or whatever you want to call it. This is not to be confused with “The Best TV series of 2016” which ranks an entire season, and will be posted shortly…
Honorable Mention: “The Good Wife” Iowa episode…”The Good Wife” gave us a lot of good episodes over the years, it’s just too bad that the last great one—detailing Florrick’s presidential campaign in Iowa—of the series would happen waaay before the series finale, which would easily be on a “Worst TV Episodes” of the year list.
Runner-Up: “The X-Files” 2nd episode…There’s a singular, spooky image of a young boy breathing easily underwater in his pool while his panicked mom is afraid he’s drowning. It’s the kind-of expertly crafted suspense that the reboot needed way more of.
20. The end of the 2nd episode of “Graves”…Former President Graves deeply regrets his past demonization of illegal immigrants, and invites any currently under threat of deportation to live on his Arizona ranch where the federal government “hasn’t got the balls to go.” The episode ends with hundreds of people taking him up on the offer. We can only dream of a Republican President having such self-awareness during these times. But…
19. The end of “The Strain” third season…An atomic bomb blowing up The Statue of Liberty and casting Manhattan in a sun-smothering cloud that allows vampires to pick people off in broad daylight? Something tells me this is how the Trump presidency will be more likely to go down than “Graves.”
18. Hit man Mike doesn’t kill Tuco on “Better Call Saul”…The problem with a prequel? We know Tuco doesn’t get killed by Mike years before Walt and Jesse even meet him, but Mike’s clever way to get rid of him for a while by getting beat up in a parking lot (he calls the police beforehand) is still a stand-out scene.
17. “The Walking Dead” Richonne happens…Score one for the ‘shippers. After seasons of unacknowledged sexual chemsitry, Rick and Michonne finally get together, and it’s currently the only good thing about Rick.
16. “Chance” pilot episode, Ethan Suplee’s “D” backs down an aggressive driver…There’s an a-hole in a sports car honking aggressively, and “D” deliberately stands in his way until the guy averts his gaze. Come on, who hasn’t wanted to do that?
15. “Sex, and Drugs, and Rock and Roll” Irish potato famine musical…To be fair, anytime Campbell Scott was on-screen was electric (whether barking psychological taunts about crayons, lying his ass off to any character who will listen, coloring a unicorn’s tail, etc.) but the best of all came in episode 8 of the second season when a Hamilton-rip-off called “Feast” (about the Irish potato famine) debuted and the rap/rock musical numbers were actually pretty catchy.
14. The series finale of “Galavant”…A show that most people just never gave a chance, but the second-season (and series) finale reminded fans of why they loved it in the first place.
13. The death of Ragnar Lothbrok on “Vikings”…”Vikings” final episode of 2016 (but not of the season) was designed to break our hearts. After he bonded with his disabled son Ivar (and Ivar killing ten people by crawling on the ground to get them is a great scene too), Ragnar set a trap for his British nemesis King Ecbert that, sadly, had to see him sacrifice himself.
12. “The Jim Gaffigan Show” takes on political correctness with “The Trial”…Political correctness turned out to be a big theme in this year’s campaign, and Gaffigan had the best parody of it in this episode that found him literally defending a tweet in the court of public opinion. The court sketch artist drawings and Zachary Quinto’s prosecutor are hilarious.
11. “Man Seeking Woman” reveals the perils of wooing girls who have a boyfriend in “Honey” episode…The brilliant sixth episode of the second season finds Josh publically campaign for the “job” of boyfriend, find out his crush is literally dating Jesus, and hibernate to wait out their break-up. A universally hilarious episode for anyone who’s ever found themselves in an unrequited love triangle.
10. Cullen Bohannon finds happiness with Mei on “Hell On Wheels”…If there was ever a TV character that deserved happiness, it’s Cullen Bohannon, who has had more than one love interest be murdered during the show’s run, and lost another wife to a rival. When he finally seems happy with Chinese railroad worker Mei (herself pretending to be a man to work), it’s hard not to wish them the best.
9. Nina’s death on “The Americans”…When Nina is executed it’s horrifying, an act of ice-cold bureaucracy shocking in its banality.
8. The infamous Bronco chase in “The People Vs. OJ”…Cuba Gooding Jr. acts his ass off for the second episode of “American Crime Story,” simultaneously oblivious to his predicament and enraptured by his own self-pity (OJ barely seems to be aware of the special treatment he’s getting). Seeing an event we thought we knew unfold through various characters—and setting up the race dynamic of the OJ trial—is as close as we’ll ever come to being there.
7. Battle of the Bastards “Game of Thrones”…The title of episode 9 is simply “Battle of the Bastards” and boy does this deliver. Watching horses mash into each other in a mud-covered field has never been mistaken for high art, but that first sequence of the clashing armies is damn close to an oil painting brought to motion.
6. The post-trial period of “O.J. Made in America”…You’re probably thinking that this wildly praised O.J. doc is overrated, but what really sold me was the last hour or so after the trial revealing such jaw-dropping footage of O.J.’s “crew” before their ill-fated memorabilia burglary (this is the F-list Ocean’s Eleven), O.J. trying to win back the public in cringe-worthy interviews, and an honest-to-God rap video when Simpson was trying to cultivate a post-trial thug image.
In no specific order because they’re all excellent…
John Stone’s closing statement in “The Night Of”…His closing statement—and final shot where he’s visibly moved by a “Save the Cats” animal hotline commercial—is an emotional breakthrough for an otherwise cynical and realistic series. He may be saying that the good guys don’t always win, but you should never stop trying to.
Quarry’s action scenes…”Quarry” is the best show you’ve never heard of, and the action scenes are blisteringly realistic, from an elaborate Vietnam war sequence (shot like an intimate raid on a drug den) to a gun-deal gone wrong that leads to a terrifically low-tech car chase, this is the perfect anti-dote to all those fake CGI blockbusters.
The “House of Cards” season 4 final shot…Frank Underwood seems to be in serious trouble, until he declares an open war on Islamic terror groups, and allows one of their captives to be live-stream killed as a distraction from his own problems. In the final shot, Frank addresses the camera “We make the terror” and Claire actually hears him too. A sure-sign that they’ll be working together as partners in season 5 or that both of them will be going the way of the MacBeths soon? Either way, the finale made nihilism look aspirational, and captured the midnight-black atmosphere of an election still just heating up at that time.
The revelation of who “The Man in Black” actually is…We knew something was up with Ed Harris’ “Man in Black” but who could’ve possibly guessed what it was? The season-finale reveal knocked me on my butt, but makes perfect sense when you go back and watch the rest of the season. The twist is so good, I won’t spoil it here.
“The Winds of Winter” on “Game of Thrones”…The whole episode is a buffet of things we’ve been dying to see: We find out who Jon Snow’s real parents are (widely rumored but never confirmed). We watch Cersei get revenge on The High Sparrow and finally ascend the throne. And perhaps most consequential of all we see Daenerys finally set sail for Westoros with a giant fleet and fully grown dragons. It seems like “Game of Thrones” is no longer in the “anticipation” phase and now wants to satisfy.