You’re the worst, “LCD Sound system” – The second season of FXX’s cult-hit series assayed its lead character’s depression; it was a hard right turn for a series that had previously been an insouciant comedy, and one that yielded television that was often qualitatively “better” than it was actually watchable.
Master of None, “Mornings” – The strongest half-hour of Aziz Ansari’s new sitcom was its most formally inventive. Moving quickly through months in the lives of the central cohabitating couple, the episode depicts the various stages of new romance; from infatuation to disenchantment to trying to figure out a way to actually live together.
Mad Men, “Person to Person” – The final stretch of Mad Men, taken as a whole, was far more interesting than any single episode; it’s hard to single out any particular instance from a run that was so thematically cohesive and so across-the-board satisfying.
Looking, “Looking for a Plot” – HBO’s moody half-hour came in for criticism throughout its now-concluded run for being “boring.” This was the series’ most eventful episode, sure–encompassing a trip to a funeral in Modesto and a car crash.
A scene at a gay bar, in which the show’s characters contemplate what life would be like had they never grown up and gone west, is as fuzzily moving as any the show produced.
Broad City, “Hashtag FOMO” – The second season of Comedy Central’s most amiably insane show had real points to make about “FOMO”–the “fear of missing out” that’s been painfully exacerbated by social media. But it also contained the year’s best sight gag, with the revelation that Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) turns into a fedora-wearing lounge singer every time she blacks out drinking.
House of Cards, “Chapter 39” – Netflix series tend to have serious problems with pacing; episodes of House of Cards have, for most of the series’ run, blended together into one endless mega-sode. Not so the season 3 finale, which stood out both for ratcheting up the tension to make viewers finally care about a seemingly pointless long-term subplot–the fate of poor Rachel–and for clarifying what, exactly the show, had been about all along.
Project Green light, “The Pivot” – This early-2000s reality TV standard brought the years most emotionally and politically charged relationship, between headstrong director Jason Mann and empathic producer Effie Brown. Both were forced to work together on a film about which both had very strong ideas on everything from the film stock (Mann’s passion) to onscreen diversity (Brown’s principle).
Scandal, “Dog-Whistle Politics” – Scandal has righted itself; after spending far too much time on an outlandish secret-spy program, the show has redoubled its focus on its most provocative parallels with the real world. Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) made her status as the President’s girlfriend public, giving rise to controversy that felt as though it could happen in our world.
The Last Man on Earth, “Alive in Tucson” – The single most inventive show currently on TV, The Last Man on Earth has, in its first two seasons, rebooted itself countless times, tearing down central parts of its premise in service of something that might be more fun. It’s exhilarating–never more so than in the show’s pilot, which establishes Phil Miller (Will Forte) as a balefully lonely apocalypse survivor before tossing away the concept with the introduction of a new companion (Kristen Schaal).
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Joe Biden interview – In his third episode doing late-night talk as himself, Colbert defined the role he would occupy with a sympathetic but not partisan interview with the Vice President. Politics-watchers expected Biden to announce a run for the Presidency on the show; they were surprised when Colbert and Biden bonded over shared grief over still-painful losses.