Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Best TV Episodes of 2016 So Far

I've already taken a look at what 2016 has offered in terms of great cinema (found here), so it only seemed right that I also put together a short list of some of the best TV that the year has offered us so far. Already this year we've seen shows hit new peaks (Veep, The Tunnel, Orange is the New Black), drop to new lows (Modern Family, Game of Thrones), and even new shows have come along and immediately left their mark on 2016's television legacy (Stranger Things). So, without further stalling, here is an alphabetical list of the best episodes of TV that 2016 has given us so far...

"A Blade of Grass" - Penny Dreadful [IMDb Score - 9.4]

Penny Dreadful's final season was also its strongest, and the biggest case point for this was its fourth episode. "A Blade of Grass" confined itself to one room and just three faces, taking a trip into the past to explore what made the show's most compelling character who she is. Eva Green's performance was exquisite, perfectly capturing the trauma and despair that Vanessa felt within the asylum, but it's the episode's beautifully poetic script that forces it to the top of the show's pretty stellar catalogue. No other show was written with the delicacy that Penny Dreadful offered. 

"The Animals" - Orange is the New Black [IMDb Score - 9.5]

Orange is the New Black was always a solid show, coasting by on its enormous array of enjoyable characters, but it never really fell into greatness until the second half of its fourth season. The show found a well earned dark side and tackled some topical and thought provoking themes in a seriously harrowing way, and the season's penultimate episode ends by claiming the life of the one character who didn't get caught up in the mess. Yet, "The Animals" truly earns this moment, and the final sequence lands like a dagger in both the heart and the back at the same time.

"The Bathtub" - Stranger Things [IMDb Score - 9.1]

Stranger Things essentially exploded into a cultural phenomenon within weeks of Netflix releasing the entire season, and it isn't tough to see why. The show's nostalgic feel and rich characters are immediately lovable, and when the story's various threads all finally collided in penultimate episode "The Bathtub" the show found its sense of magic. The plot lurched forward, characters were deepened in the last available moment, and Stranger Things hit perfection for the very first time. 

"Battle of the Bastards" - Game of Thrones [IMDb Score - 9.9]

The show's sixth season may have been much more structurally sloppy than all that came before, but much like it always does, Game of Thrones didn't let us down with its ninth episode. "Battle of the Bastards" was exhilarating, breathtaking television, displaying a sense of scale unlike anything TV had seen before. The peak of the season by a wide margin, Jon Snow's battle against Ramsay Bolton proved that even with the show's misfires front and centre, it can pull off a whole bunch of things that no other show could even think about doing.

"Episode Four" - The Tunnel [IMDb Score - 9.1]

After a solid but uninspired debut series, The Tunnel rocketed back with a sophomore year that improved in every respect. Acting as a major turning point for the season, "Episode Four" proved that The Tunnel wasn't playing it safe - major players in the series were wiped out, the show deepened its thematic focus on terrorism, and the stakes were raised to such an extent that almost any eventuality felt plausible. The bulk of the episode takes place inside a raided police station, and with an episode this intense, it's easy to forget that the rest of the world exists. 

"Kissing Your Sister" - Veep [IMDb Score - 9.2]

Probably the strongest episode of TV all year, Veep hit astronomical heights in the penultimate episode of its fifth season. Hysterically funny and intricately paced, "Kissing Your Sister" sits back and lets the viewer watch Catherine's documentary on the Presidential election, and the tightly packed structure allows old moments in the season to have deeper meaning, as well as finding brilliant moments of hilarity in the smallest of touches. It brings out the very best in its excellent cast, and it is quite simply as audacious, funny, and intricate as comedy can be. 

"Mother" - Veep [IMDb Score - 9.0]

There is a reason that Veep is the only show to have two episodes on this list, and that reason can be summed up in three words: Julia Louis-Dreyfus. In what will surely go down in history as one of the defining roles for women in comedy, Dreyfus plays Selina Meyer with a sense of realism that is almost impossible to describe. "Mother" gave Dreyfus her toughest challenge yet, but, as expected, she nails it with ease. The episode's pitch black heart tackled some risky humour, but it all came together masterfully in one of the show's strongest ever episodes. 

"The Scandal of Altruism" - Orphan Black [IMDb Score - 9.4]

After a muddled and underwhelming third year, Orphan Black went back to basics for season four. While still far from the show's peak in its debut season, episodes like "The Scandal of Altruism" demonstrate what the show does best: it thrills with a seamless blend of sci-fi and human drama. Tatiana Maslany was on top form as the world came crashing down for every clone the show offers in an episode that felt just as tense and heart-stopping as the show's earlier glory years. With one season left before the show ends for good, there's only one thing on my mind: more like this, please. 

"Spread Your Wings" - Modern Family [IMDb Score - 8.3]

In the middle of a sloppy and woefully uneven season, Modern Family sprung up a solid contender for its all time best episode. In its later years Modern Family only truly excelled when it broke up the formula, but the brilliance of "Spread Your Wings" comes from the knowledge that it is just trademark Modern Family through and through. The episode has a powerful thematic core running through the middle, it's consistently very funny, and it even builds to a conclusion so touching in such a deft way that it becomes possible to ignore all of the season's missteps, and you'll just fall in love with the show all over again.

"Twilight of the Apprentice" - Star Wars Rebels [IMDb Score - 9.8]

Star Wars Rebels, as enjoyable as it is, had no right putting out a finale as good as "Twilight of the Apprentice". The show's second season improved over the first, but it still struggled to outgrow its uneven storytelling and awkward humour. Then, like a bolt from the blue, came the season two finale. "Twilight" is bold, exciting, intense, emotional, and seriously engaging. It's a simply thrilling piece of television that ends on a surprisingly artistic montage that wraps up everything the season had worked towards, and sets up an even better third year.

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