We mainly focus on films on the Cinema Bros Podcast, but we wanted to recognize what a great year 2017 was for television. While we didn’t see everything – In this age of “Peak TV” there is just too much sometimes – there were many individual episodes that struck a chord with us over the course of the year. An episode is just one part of a bigger whole when it comes to TV but, rather than run the risk of spoiling entire seasons for those that may have not seen them yet, we have decided to highlight our favorite individual episodes from the year. So, in no particular order, here are our favorite television episodes from 2017:
Game of Thrones (S7) – “The Spoils of War”
For a series laden with the constant, looming threat of warfare, the viewer sees very little of the actual battlefield in Game of Thrones. This is largely driven by logistics – it takes millions of dollars and hundreds of hours to construct a Thrones battle sequence. Wisely, the showrunners have chosen to make this show about its characters and their interactions with one another. Since it’s very first season Thrones has upended genre convention by largely being a show in which people talk to each other in an assortment of different rooms. Once or twice a season, however, Thrones fans are given a gigantic battle set-piece. “Blackwater,” “The Watchers on the Wall,” “Hardhome,” and the magnificent “Battle of the Bastards” established Thrones as a show that can deliver one hell of a battle sequence. “The Spoils of War” is now added to that list of seriously epic battles in Game of Thrones lore.
What comes before the battle in this episode is largely forgotten once the clash begins. The plot necessarily moves along up to the point at which we are introduced to one of the most satisfying and unforeseen bouts in Game of Thrones history. As the Lannister army prepares its final caravan to leave Highgarden with supplies, a faint sound is heard in the distance. As the earth shakes, Jaime and Bronn realize that Daenerys has mounted a full-on attack with her Dothraki horde – followed by Dany herself on the back of the mighty Drogon. What follows is nothing short of masterful skill and attention to filmmaking detail. The director, Matt Shakman, has referenced films such as Stagecoach, Apocalypse Now, and Saving Private Ryan as inspirations for this battle sequence, and it shows…big time. The end result is one of the best-ever episodes of Game of Thrones and one of the greatest battles ever seen on television.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (S4) – “Moo Moo”
Brooklyn 99 is a hilarious show and it never fails to make me laugh, but buried beneath this outright hilarity is a need to inform. This is a show that from its very start tried to comment on the difficulties facing the homosexual community as much as possible. This season, the delightfully titled “Moo Moo” deals with a similarly tough topic: racism.
Terry Crews’ character, SGT Jeffords, is stopped by a white police officer while walking through his home neighborhood. He is only let off the hook when he is able to prove that he is also a police officer. This sets up a few different encounters that really pave the way for this episode’s most brilliant moments. The most painful of these moments is when Jefford’s daughters ask their babysitters (Andy Samberg and Melissa Fumero) if it is “bad to be black.” Jeffords himself also has significantly difficult discussions with his police chief Raymond Holt. Holt, who is also a black man, believes he is doing the right thing by stopping Jeffords from complaining about the incident in order to save his career. In the end Holt realizes that if not for this moment why else did he rise to the rank of captain. The ending, for a comedy, is not happy. Nothing is wrapped up in a neat little bow. But that is what makes this episode a standout for the series. It recognizes the problem, puts it out there in accessible terms, and hopes that someone will start on the path to fixing it.
Room 104 – “The Internet”
I don’t know if you can even call “The Internet” an episode. Like all of the Duplass brothers’ Room 104, it is essentially a short film and the only connection to the other entries in the series is that it is set in Room 104 of a motel. And is what makes the entire series so incredibly compelling and allows for such a beautiful work of art as “The Internet” to exist.
Directed by long-time cinematographer Doug Emmett and starring Karan Soni in the best performance I have ever seen from him, “The Internet” tells the story of a young man in the 90s on the verge of a big meeting with a book publisher trying to instruct his mother on how to send him an email. After rushing into his motel room and excitedly telling his mother about the meeting, he realizes he forgot his laptop at home, and thus the book he was going to pitch at the meeting. He then tries to walk his mother through sending him a copy of the book over email, a process that is hampered by the fact that she has never used a computer.
What I love about “The Internet” is that, much like the Duplass’ other works, it starts from a very relatable, uncomfortably funny place and then goes to extremely emotional places from there. Through a powerhouse of a performance from Karan Soni (And an equally impressive voice performance from Poorna Jagannathan as his mother), the episode tackles so much. We see the frustration of trying to explain a process you know extremely well to a parent who knows nothing about it, we see Soni’s character realize his mother’s true love for him even as he is furious with her, and we also see how sometimes destruction is a necessary part of creation. Much like another piece of art I saw this year (Lady Bird), “The Internet” will make you want to call your mother and thank her for all she’s done for you. Beautifully captured and expertly performed, “The Internet” is a representation of the best that television can bring us and it left me completely broken and thankful for the love I have received.
Broadchurch (S3) – “Episode 5”
I started this British crime drama mainly to get a sense of what kind of actress Jodie Whittaker is, seeing as how she will soon be taking up the mantle of The Doctor in Doctor Who. I had heard good things about Broadchurch and the rest of the cast is spectacular so I knew it would at least be an interesting watch. What I didn’t expect was that this would be one of the most beautifully shot and ridiculously relevant shows I would see all year. This is especially true of its third season which shifts its focus to the problems of sexual assault and rape.
There are so many subjects and situations that this season shines a light on of which I was completely oblivious. The most heartbreaking of these is the difficulty that victims of rape have in assisting in the investigation of their rape. The first four episodes of season three show the pain that the character Trish goes through in even remembering the events that led up to her assault. Episode five serves as both a turning point for the show and as another example of the trauma these women go through. A new victim of possibly the same man reveals herself to the police. The difference here is that she has waited two whole years to tell anyone about what happened to her. Towards the end of her testimony she reveals that she sees it as her fault that Trish was raped since she chose not to talk. Trish and another rape victim also echo this sentiment that they are somehow to blame for what has happened to them.
With sexual harassment and assault so prevalent in our minds right now I feel that the third season of Broadchurch is amazingly relevant. It pinpoints the problems in the system but it also shows that there are good people trying to help in many different ways.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (S12) – “Hero or Hate Crime?”
In a series that has long hung its metaphorical hat on shock and awe offensiveness, “Hero or Hate Crime?” finds Sunny going all in. The premise is simple: each member of the Gang are outside doing typical Gang things. Dee drops a scratcher lotto ticket and Mac sees it blowing down the sidewalk. Rushing to get it, Mac finds himself under a piano being hoisted into a building. As the rope breaks and the piano begins to fall, Frank yells out a homophobic slur to get Mac’s attention. Mac narrowly escapes death, but the philosophical conundrum has been planted – and the Gang certainly won’t skip an opportunity to cash in.
Working with three different arbiters over the course of 17 hours, and using a few more common slurs for black people, gay people, and women throughout the episode, the Gang wants to know the answer to one question: who gets the lotto ticket? This simple focal point is Sunny at it’s finest. It’s merely peripheral that Frank used an offensive slur to get Mac’s attention. At the peak of their despicable natures, they just want to know who gets the money. Money, by the way, that may not even exist – the lotto ticket is unscratched. What ensues is a cringe-worthy yet relevant episode of comedy gold. As far as I’m concerned, the team behind Sunny can keep making new episodes forever if they are anything like the episodes contained in Season 12.
Bojack Horseman (S4) – “Time’s Arrow”
I started Bojack Horseman for no other reason than I had run out of other things to watch and I randomly happened upon it on Netflix. Now, after four seasons, I am so happy that I started this incredible show. From the very beginning it was doing some astounding things with animation and diving into subjects that no cartoon show about an anthropomorphic horse should be expected to.
Season four’s penultimate episode dives deeper than most before it. It follows Beatrice, Bojack’s mother, who up until this point in the show has been a side character used to show why Bojack ended up as cynical and uncaring as he did. The twist here is that Beatrice is in the late stages of dementia so we follow her on a visually confusing trip down memory lane. This trip includes her childhood, the year she met Bojack’s father, and her life raising Bojack and having to live with a husband she no longer loves. The animator’s outdid themselves in this episode by creating the terrifyingly bizarre world of a dementia riddled mind. Anyone of too small of note in her memories is given a blank white slate for a face. The coloring and lighting of the episode changes to depict whether the memory was happy or sad. The writing on signs and doors is in constant flux showing the indecision in her mind of how her life actually happened. It is an altogether jarring experience, but there is a sad beauty beneath it all. We finally see who this character is and by the end of the episode, in a way, so does Bojack.
Dear White People – “Chapter V”
Not only was “Chapter V” of Dear White People a deeply affecting episode in an incredible show, but it also contained the most emotionally resonant shot of any show I watched all year. That shot is the image you see above: The image of Reggie (Marque Richardson), a fierce activist for black rights shaken to his very core after being yet another victim of police violence.
I could have honestly chosen almost any episode in the debut season of Justin Simien’s Dear White People. It is a show that is filled with so many incredible performances, biting commentary on the black and queer experience, visually sumptuous images and it tackles the issues brought forward by looking at them from different perspectives. What makes “Chapter V” so special is it is our first glimpse of Reggie’s perspective, it is directed by Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins and it tackles one of the most talked-about topics when it comes to race in America: Police violence against non-white people. What Simien and Jenkins do in showing a fearless, proud man become the victim staring down the barrel of a gun is heartbreaking, powerful and an episode of television I won’t soon forget.
Orange is the New Black (S5) – “Sing it, White Effie”
Orange is the New Black has been pushing the boundaries of television since it began in 2013. It’s also a show that is constantly recreating itself – it never fails to surprise in profound and deeply relevant ways. Season five takes place during a prison riot following the death of a black inmate and thus records some of the most urgent social commentary in television/film of last year. It comes as no coincidence that 2017, the year in which this season was released, was a year marred by racism, sexual assault revelations, and the continued disproportionate incarceration and killing of people of color in the United States.
In both its flashbacks and present-day events, this episode is a constant reminder of white privilege and the suppression of minority voices. In flashbacks, we see a young Janae Watson visit a wealthy, white private school that may allow her to attend because of her high marks and intelligence. Upon touring the theater auditorium, Janae witnesses a young, white girl audition for a part in a Dreamgirls production as the character Effie. Janae (and the viewer) hear the white character sing a nauseating rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”- originally recorded by a black singer. Janae’s eyes fill with angry tears, for good reason.
The finest moment of this episode, however, is delivered by the fan-favorite Taystee. Agreeing to release the celebrity inmate, Judy King, Taystee and company are advised to let King – notably white – do the talking for them. They exit the prison with King, who begins to give a statement. Taystee begins to shake her head “no” and steps forward. What unfolds before the viewer is one of the most impassioned, powerful, and relevant speeches about the suppression of black pain and injustice that I have ever heard; it brought tears to my eyes. For Taystee, this is real. Her friend was the inmate that was killed prior to Season five, and Danielle Brooks’ portrayal of Taystee makes you feel her loss and anger in your bones. As such, Orange is the New Black remains essential television as social commentary. With current events as of late, showrunner Jenji Kohan shouldn’t have much trouble picking what she wants to tackle next.
Legion – “Chapter 4”
From the very beginning Legion was a trippy and wonderful delight. From the random man camouflaged against a bush (which has yet to be explained) to the French dance number appearing out of nowhere in the first episode (not the only dance sequence in the season), this was one of the most insane viewing experiences I have had in a while. I knew that this show was something special from the beginning but “Chapter 4” really solidified that for me.
The very first visual in this episode is actor Jemaine Clement in a yellow leisure suit against a icy blue background. This in itself was surprising, not only because of the astounding array of colors and textures in the shot, but also because I had no idea Clement was even in the show. They use him perfectly. He proceeds to start rambling about philosophy quotes, children’s stories, and the difference between right and wrong. It is awkward, somehow deep, and altogether entertaining. Although Clement is more than just a one-off character in the introduction of this episode, I think it speaks to how crazy Legion is that having him be a one-off would have totally fit.
Master of None (S2) – “Thanksgiving”
The best episode of Master of None Season 2 and the best episode of television I saw in 2017 was “Thanksgiving”, the hilarious and touching story inspired by Lena Waithe’s own coming-out story. Waithe, who also co-wrote the episode with her co-star and showrunner Aziz Ansari, delivers the best performance in the entire series as we see her character, Denise, discover and reveal her identity as a queer woman over the course of several Thanksgivings.
The episode is beautifully bookended by symmetrical shots looking down at Denise’s family (and Ansari’s Dev) at the dining room table; One of the many fantastic visual touches director Melina Matsoukas brings to the episode. Between those two shots, we see that symmetry crack when Denise comes out to her mother (played by the brilliant Angela Bassett). Unlike the support she received from Dev, her mother is devastated at hearing that her daughter is gay. But, as much as the episode is an exploration of the cold reactions many queer people face when coming out, it also is a wonderfully hilarious (NipplesandToes23) and heartwarming story (The scene between Denise’s mother and her girlfriend in the kitchen is brilliant) of a family learning acceptance. With “Thanksgiving”, Waithe and Ansari gave us an incredible story of symmetry and love being restored, something that I think was much needed in our current times.
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