Every week, viewers tune in to their favorite television shows hoping to see the characters they love embark on some thrilling, powerful, or hilarious adventure (depending on the genre, of course). While the current television landscape — from traditional networks to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon — is jam-packed with standout examples of must-see programming (including some brand new additions), every once in a great while a series delivers an episode that manages to stand out even with the high standards that some of the most popular shows maintain week to week.
As 2016 winds down, we’re taking a closer look at some of the most unforgettable episodes to emerge from some of the best shows currently in production. For the record, we’re focusing on individual episodes rather than crossover events or multi-part story arcs, though traditionally serialized shows still qualify for consideration. However, fans of The CW’s ambitious “Invasion!” arc — which took place across all four DC Comics-based series on the network — will be disappointed by its absence here.
10. “Killer Frost,” The Flash
Even though we can’t give props to the series’ crossover with sister shows Supergirl, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow, we still have to give credit to this episode for Caitlin’s short-term turn to the dark side and the reveal of Doctor Alchemy’s true identity.
9. “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack,” Silicon Valley
This acclaimed comedy series has a pretty consistent track record when it comes to laughs, thanks largely to its top-notch cast. The surprising twists and inspired gags are even more impressive in this episode, however, which draws upon elements of a heist thriller to create something truly unique.
8. “B.A.N.,” Atlanta
Donald Glover may be set to enter the Star Wars universe as the young Lando Calrissian, but this FX series may mark his career high point to date. The series is just so narratively rich, and this episode — which centers on a fictional black television network — embodies everything that makes it so hilarious.
7. “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears,” The Americans
Some shows struggle to gain their footing at the beginning of a new season. Yet, for this FX series, Season 8 began with an intriguing jump ahead several months, bringing the characters (and, by extension, viewers) right into the thick of a thrilling new chapter. A bold move indeed.
6. “The Beach,” The Night Of
HBO is known for taking creative risks, but this deconstruction of the justice system is among the network’s most daring programs in years. While the quality is pretty consistent (due in part to the serialized nature of the story), this episode — which kicks the whole thing off — still stays with us.
5. “Kissing Your Sister,” Veep
Especially in today’s political landscape, a good satire of Washington, D.C. is perhaps more needed than ever before. Thankfully, the creative team behind this comedy series is equipped to deliver the goods. This faux-documentary episode just might be this year’s high point.
4. “Fish Out of Water,” BoJack Horseman
Few shows have managed to successfully take on a one-episode gimmick. However, this bitingly funny (and, at times, bittersweet) animated series accomplished the impossible. Set completely underwater, this nearly dialogue-free episode is easily one of the most ambitious and unforgettable ones the show has made.
3. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
This FX limited series has gained critical acclaim and tons of awards recognition, and with good reason. The ensemble cast is uniformly strong, and the writing wrings the real-life story for all its dramatic potential. However, this episode puts Sarah Paulson’s Marcia Clark — considered by many to be the show’s MVP — center stage. Need we say more?
2. “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” The Walking Dead
For months, fans stewed over which beloved character would meet his or her end at the hands of the ruthless Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). When the answer finally came, viewers were left reeling in shock and realizing that the show would never be the same again.
1. “The Winds of Winter,” Game of Thrones
We very nearly gave this top spot to the penultimate episode of this HBO hit, but the Season 6 finale ultimately won out. As the series lines up its end game, many key characters are making their long-awaited moves for power, and fans are left salivating to see what will happen in Westeros next.
Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable
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