Part 1 of the best episodes of television this year included many installments from such shows as Black Mirror, Girls, Scandal and more! Here are the next ten:
25. “Natural Selection” (Orphan Black): The episode the started one of the year’s best new sci-fi dramas! While I did not fall in love with Orphan Black in the same way many other television viewers did, I must admit that the series is never boring and always exciting! In my opinion, the series premiere is at its most exciting--it’s most pulsing! The premise is something that should come across as goofy, but turns out to be terrific fun anchored by a handful of terrific performances by one very special actress named Tatiana Maslany. Sarah, a street smart hustler on the run from a lifetime of bad decisions witnesses the suicide of a stranger who looks exactly like her. Sarah then assumes the dead woman’s identity hoping to clean out her bank account which only results in Sarah putting herself in the middle of a deadly conspiracy. Vaguely intriguing plot aside, Maslany is the main reason of why and how this show works so well. It's a spectacular feat in acting that only grows as the the series continues!
24. “Blood Crieth Unto Heaven” (American Dad!): Theatrics at its most comical best! In what is probably my most favorite episode of Seth MacFarlane’s better half, the series channels “August: Osage County”. A dark secret in the Smith family’s past is unveiled when Francine invites Stan’s incarcerated dad, Jack, to Stan’s birthday party. The high-concept episode is wonderfully bizarre and somehow truly compelling. It commits to the stage format, adding Patrick Stewart in for the ridiculous ride and adhering to many genre tropes that are sharply observed and mocked for the fun of it! There are theater clichés all over the place, hitting every note, from audience interaction to sound design and lighting cues. While mocking these theater elements, the series also pays some respect to theater as a whole which is great. Lighthearted, playful and downright hilarious, it is an American Dad! best.
23. “Chapter One” (House of Cards): The Netflix original began with terrific momentum and set-up. The cards are slowly put into place and the power players in this political drama are drawn out. The time spent building the world and realizing Frank Underwood’s motives end up being one of the best things about the series as it goes on. And the David Fincher directed series premiere does it with stylistic poise and precision. Frank, being passed over for the Secretary of State job, puts into motion his plans to get what he wants while punishing those who had the audacity to deny him. Kevin Spacey’s performance brings out the tone of the series and the supporting cast around him are knockouts as well, namely Corey Stroll, Kate Mara and Robin Wright. This would be the hour of a butcher sharpening their tools as they prepare for the slaughter. Some might find the actual slaughter much more satisfying, but then again, the meticulous set-up can be just as, if not more compelling.
22. “The Horde” (The Returned): The French miniseries that does something refreshing with the idea of the decaying dead returning to walk the earth ends with little answers to the questions it posed all season. What makes the finale so excellent and stirring is how the recently departed join forces in a stand-off between them and the living. Introducing new elements to the idea of horror that is a resurfacing horde of the deceased, the episode is at its darkest and most dreamy, more than the others and fails to give any satisfying answers---mostly because it doesn‘t have to, not yet and never ever if it chooses. In this world, strange things happen all the time and right now isn’t the time for answers. The showdown that this first season finale perpetrates takes an emotional toll. Bitter pill after bitter pill is swallowed as the episode reaches to a beautiful climax, the overall message of clinging to life before death comes to take it away (again) grows more apparent--more vital.
21. “Running” (Veep): The hilarious HBO political comedy delivers a hectic episode full to the brim with some of the best comedic performances of the year, detailing Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tony Hale as a hysterical, genius comedy tag team. Not only does the episode feature Vice President Selina Myer hopped up on painkillers and getting too familiar with her staff after an absurd injury in which she walks through a glass door, but it presents a game-changing turn in plot development that holds more possibilities in the D.C. centric storytelling. All of this ridiculousness picks up after an episode in which Selina strikes a leadership pose during a television interview, highlighting that just when it’s starting to look good for the Vice President, something else trips her up. In this episode, Madame Vice President Myer takes a stand, making decisions without going to her staff for advice--will these decisions make or break her? All of the goings on result in a stuffed yet very hilarious, transforming installment! Certainly a series favorite!
20. “Life Matters” (True Blood): Tonal inconsistency happened to turn into one of the popular HBO vampire drama’s hallmarks for some time now. Take it or leave it, True Blood’s style of horror camp is one of a kind. In the penultimate episode of its sixth season, the series pulled off its most grossest, operatic and violent episodes ever juxtaposed with a sweet, sincere funeral for a major character. It’s absurd and over the top while observing the human consequence of violence that the series has somehow ignored until now. In the first episode of True Blood to take place entirely during the day, viewers are presented with a funeral that says goodbye to fan favorite good guy, Terry Bellefleur, who died under the some bizarre circumstances. The result not only makes for a moving goodbye to a lost character, but one that affects where the story of our main characters go from here on. All the while, at the vampire prison, Eric Northman inflicts brutal and gleeful revenge, saving vampire kind. It is gloriously dramatic yet riveting and memorable. This is episodic juxtaposition done right!
19. “Erlkönig” (Boardwalk Empire): “I strive.” This episode belongs to Eddie Kessler, the ever loyal yet undervalued servant standing by Nucky Thompson’s side. Up until this particular episode, the fourth season has been rather bereft of particularly high-stake situations. While we delve into the many facets (most of them monstrous) and characteristics of new and old characters, there are many engaging plot advancements. Agent Knox is determined to break Nucky Thompson’s weakest link and unfortunately, Mr. Kessler is zeroed in on and successfully broken in some pretty brutal interrogation scenes. All the while, Nucky tends to other issues, leaving his perhaps most loyal companion in his periphery. The theme of bloodlines is at the head of this episode--blood is thick and as far as this installment is concerned, it more often than not leads to tragedy. Either you are family or you’re expendable. In Eddie Kessler’s case, he is the latter and his arc ends in an appropriately tragic manner.
18. “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” (Grey’s Anatomy): After ten seasons, one might wonder how a series like Grey’s Anatomy keeps its magic. During an iffy tenth season, the series delivered a surprising series best that focused on one of most popular relationships on the show: Callie and Arizona (or Calzona). Grey’s is usually at its best when the operating room is more of a backdrop for the centric drama and this episode is evidence of that. Callie is being sued by an Olympic snowboarder who, after a post-op infection debacle, ends up losing both his legs. Amongst the courtroom dramatics, we delve into the complicated relationship dynamics of Callie and Arizona as they try to come to terms after the events of the plane crash that took one of Arizona’s legs. The hurt of blame and guilt is lifted and we see into the truth: Both Callie and Arizona are imperfect, flawed and real human beings that have been hurt through their own impulsive advances to move past previous traumas. The writing and direction is full of surprising revelations, emotional character developments and results in another powerful performance from Sara Ramirez!
17. “In Care Of” (Mad Men): The sixth season of AMC’s great American novel series ended with many surprising emotional turns. Everything here is emotionally overwhelming and it took me a while to highlight the reason why, but now it seems so obvious: Truth. This is the episode in which Don Draper becomes Dick Whitman and begins to finally tell and be the truth. But instead of making things better by it, he’s destroying things--himself and others. The truth will set you free? Apparently not, but it will destroy. This leaves the viewer wondering…what does this late unveiling of the truth mean for the final season of this masterful series? This is the kind of thing that makes Matthew Weiner’s brand of storytelling so compelling. You kind of feel like you’re watching the world’s most depressing self-revolution. For a man in advertising, the lie that is Donald Draper is expelled, flipping the entire premise of the series on its head. Consider the fact that every other character ends by stepping into the unknown so to speak, and you’ve got a season finale that leaves viewers waiting in curious anticipation.
16. “World War Zimmerman” (South Park): Satire at its best generally leaves you with burn marks--you’re not charred, but just a little scorched. This brilliant episode of South Park scorches everyone as it tackles the infamous George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin debacle that made the entire country pause and debate over racially-charged violence and absurd contradictory laws that seem to ignite a fire in everyone’s stomach. Utilizing the end of the world dramatics of Brad Pitt’s “World War Z”, the always ridiculous Eric Cartman embodies an idiotic fear-mongering and “get over it” attitude that struck the nation during the Zimmerman trial. From there the episode’s scorching brilliance burns brighter and brighter, looking at all aspects of the situation from gun-control laws, racial profiling, inherent contradictions of the American justice system and the condescending nature of the fear-mongerers. Yep, it’s a brutal episode, but in the most meaningful and impactful way possible. With this installment South Park once again solidifies itself as the best series out there tackling society’s many controversies in a hilarious, clever (and burning) fashion.
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© Patrick Broadnax 2013