The Golden Age of Television, while coined years ago to dubious looks from movie snobs, only continued in 2018.
Some of the best TV shows are now even mimicking the experience of feature films, with episodes that stand out and beg to be acclaimed for their self-contained brilliance. From Atlanta to BoJack Horseman, these excellent episodes defied genre conventions and pushed the boundaries of TV in 2018.
14. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Jake and Amy”
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is an underappreciated masterpiece, a fact that became abundantly clear when FOX canceled it and NBC swooped in after fan uproar.
Season 5 saw the long-awaited wedding of our day 1 ship, Jake Peralta and Amy Santiago, in a ceremony that brought out the best of everyone in the Nine-Nine and fit perfectly into the Mike Schur pantheon of indelible TV romance. –Proma Khosla
13. Castle Rock Season 1, episode 9: “Henry Deaver”
In a season full of terror and intrigue, Castle Rock still managed to pull the whole damn rug from under us by revealing that The Kid is also Henry Deaver, from another dimension. The Henry played by Bill Skarsgård is far better off than his Andre Hollande counterpart, and it’s almost painful for us to see Castle Rock as happy and peaceful as it could be – as it is, somewhere out there. But no matter which dimension, Castle Rock hides a Kid, a secret, a soul not from this world that doesn’t age and festers in captivity, biding his time ’til he can go home. –Proma Khosla
12. Last Man on Earth Season 4, episode 9: “Karl”
Before its tragic cancellation, Last Man was a show that could do wonders with the bottle episode by exploring the individual journeys of those who escaped humanity’s end. “Karl” followed the titular character, a cannibalistic serial killer (who loves to paint) who survived the virus in a Mexican prison. The episode hinges entirely on Fred Armisen’s deranged and deceptively light performance in a role he was arguably born to play. When Karl meets our main cast at the end, they have no idea what they’re dealing with. –Proma Khosla
11. Forever Season 1 episode 6, “Andre and Sarah”
The eight-episode series from Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard flew largely under the radar, but it’s that type of show – understated, peculiar, yet nonetheless engrossing. “Andre and Sarah” departed entirely from our main characters (Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen), instead following the lives of two people with an undeniable connection who can’t quite find the right timing. Their story inspires June (Rudolph) and sets up the final episodes. –Proma Khosla
10. Kidding Season 1, episode 8: “Philliam” (Alexis)
Every episode of Kidding is another piece in the puzzle of what finally brings Jim Carrey’s Jeff Pickles to his breaking point, but the standout from the first season’s slow descent into madness is surely “Philliam,” essentially a capsule episode taking place near entirely in the past.
In addition to giving background character Darelle something of an origin story, “Philliam” also gives context for the depth of Jeff’s empathy and an indication that the alleged starting point of his problems — the death of his son — was not the watershed moment it had previously seemed to be. “Philliam” is about fathers and sons, legacies, and repayment. It pokes at structural inequalities and gives the show’s sole black character, Darelle as played by Alex Raul Barrios, several long moments to hold his own as a fascinating and complex character. If you didn’t cry when you say Say the Fly…you’re basically not human. –Alexis Nedd
9. Sharp Objects, Season 1, Episode 7: “Falling”
It’s hard to pick one piece from a series that’s such a perfectly fractured whole, like a reoccurring bad dream of disorientingly disjointed horrors. But “Falling” is when the shards of Sharp Objects’ puzzle finally come together, giving shape to the unimaginable atrocity of its mystery. From the surreal opening shot of a doll house recreation of the Preaker mansion, to the final image of Camille pulling into the real house’s driveway, the uncanniness is claustrophobic. Sharp Objects usually moves with the slow, belabored pace of a hot Missouri summer day. But as Camille finally sees her mother and sister’s death for what it is, it picks up speed to mimic the sensation of, well, free fall. –Jess Joho
8. GLOW Season 2, Episode 8: “The Good Twin”
Bottle episodes — or self-contained stories that lie outside a show’s usual scope — can go horribly wrong (sorry, Stranger Things Season 2’s “The Last Sister”) or blow a series wide open (see BoJack). GLOW‘s show-within-a-show recreated the real-life ’80s local broadcast TV inspiration behind the Netflix series. After an extremely ’80s opening credits, it spotlight each member of its stellar ensemble cast. Leaning into everything that makes GLOW great, the episode is much more than just a funny look back at one of America’s most bizarre decades. It captures the humanity and hilarity of every character, revealing the relatable person within the sparkly neon spandex. –Jess Joho
7. Westworld Season 2, episode 8 “Kiksuya”
In a sophomore season that largely disappointed, Westworld did harken to its early brilliance with a few standout episodes. “Kiksuya,” meaning “remember,” follows the Ghost Nation’s Akecheta as he narrates the unique story of his life. The story stays simple – a format that suits Westworld – telling of his early days with the tribe and a bittersweet love that did not get its deserved ending. –Proma Khosla
6. Dear White People Season 2, episode 8: “Chapter VIII”
We could write hundreds of words about this episode (in fact, we did) in which Sam and Gabe, alone in the recording studio, tear into the emotional baggage of their identities and relationship. The actors inject brutal sincerity into every word of dialogue; the choreography and direction keep us mesmerized and right there with them. This is a journey, not an argument, and it’s masterful. –Proma Khosla
5. Barry Season 1, episode 7: “Loud, Fast, and Keep Going”
You may remember this as the episode with the Thing In The Car – the episode where Barry has to deal with the aftermath of the airstrip ambush debacle (while somehow preparing an acting showcase scene from Macbeth). Barry confronts a panic-stricken Chris about how to cover up their tracks, and in the show’s most haunting and pivotal scene, only one of them leaves. Not only is it a perfect case for Bill Hader’s brilliant performance, but it’s shot and edited almost clinically – illustrating Barry’s professionalism but also the devastating personal toll of his job, which you can only see in Hader’s eyes. –Proma Khosla
4. BoJack Horseman Season 5, Episode 6: “Free Churro”
Ever since BoJack‘s award-winning, dialogue-free Season 3 Episode “Fish out of Water,” the show has continued the tradition of one boundary-pushing concept episode per season. Compared to last year’s “Stupid Piece of Sh*t,” the (nearly) static 22-minute one-shot of BoJack’s eulogy at his mother’s funeral is the most quietly revelatory one yet. Both in and outside animation, it’s one of the most darkly real portraits of one’s agony as they say goodbye to an abusive parent. Like BoJack, the camera does not allow us a single second of escape from the pain, climaxing with his realization that he’d been mistaken about the only remotely tender moment they’d ever shared together. The gallows humor ends with the final shot revealing he was at the wrong funeral the whole time. –Jess Joho
3. The Haunting of Hill House, Season 1, Episode 6: “Two Storms”
Both a technical and emotional feat, Episode 6 of The Haunting of Hill House uses a (pseudo) one-shot to immerse viewers in the overwhelming inner turmoil of its characters’ grief. Flowing seamlessly (and sometimes even concurrently) between the Crains then and now, the centerpiece remains Nell, as both a dead body and heavily felt absences. In one particularly brilliant shot, the camera follows the patriarch’s arrival at the funeral, before panning to show his perspective and how how he will always see his children as the little kids who he lost all those years ago. “Two Storms” captures the unending, inescapable, all-encompassing spiral of grief — and how the horror of a funeral is not the ghosts, but the broken, living people you can’t escape. –Jess Joho
2. Killing Eve Season 1, Episode 3: “Don’t I Know You?”
Killing Eve is a show so fresh that part of the thrill is trying to figure out the exact parameters of its story. We’ve never seen a detective show like this, nor any characters like quite like Villanelle, Eve, or their ill-fated relationship. The mystery isn’t whodunit, since we already know who the killer is — intimately. Instead, the biggest tension of the show lies in questions like, “How far will these two woman go for each other? What can become of their unlikely flirtation?” Episode 3 added a devastatingly high-stakes consequence to those questions, only heightening the tantalizing anxiety of their cat-and-mouse game. –Jess Joho
1. Atlanta Season 2, Episode 6: “Teddy Perkins”
The best horror movie of 2018 wasn’t Hereditary. Because nothing rivals the deeply distressing journey of Atlanta‘s 35-minute episode, airing without any commercial breaks, “Teddy Perkins.” Using the show’s characteristic balance of surrealism and crushing reality, the main character recalls the tragedy of Michael Jackson, turning the racial politics behind his deterioration into a monstrous funhouse mirror. The mysteries or “true meaning” behind Teddy Perkins remain purposefully obscured by creator Donald Glover, who we later discovered actually played the character in white face. With the Emmys stint, Glover cemented Teddy Perkins into the stuff of legend. We won’t ever fully understand who he is. A partial extrapolation of Glover’s anxieties over what fame can do to black people in America, it’s a social commentary too evocative to pin down. Also, #neverforget the horror of Teddy Perkins fingering a soft-boiled ostrich egg. –Jess Joho
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