12 Best TV Episodes of 2017
By: Taylor Gates
This year has been a return to the “age of television.” We’ve had some amazing series shine this year and I felt the need to explore the “12 Best TV Episodes of 2017” to be sure readers have a chance to check out magical TV moments that will stick with you and linger in your life.
Before I start listing what I consider to be the best episodes of television this year, I’d like to lay out some disclaimers. First of all, I’ll be the first to admit there are some glaring holes in my viewing habits. For example, I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones and still haven’t started Stranger Things (though I’ve been meaning to for about a year and a half.) Also, while I have no doubt The Handmaid’s Tale is just as incredible as everyone claims, I’m too chicken to take the plunge and press play. Secondly, the purpose of this list isn’t to rank so much as to celebrate some of the incredible television we’ve been graced with this year. Because I’m a fallible human and my tastes are always changing, I know the minute this gets published I’ll probably remember a shameful omission, but after much reflection and retrospect, this is what I’ve come up with. So, without further adieu, here are my twelve favorite TV episodes of 2017:
- The Mick, “Pilot” (Fox)
Two words: Kaitlin Olson. Part of the reason I found The Mick’s pilot to be so successful was how unexpected it was. The premise we’re introduced to in the setup is a familiar one: low class aunt is put in charge of her spoiled nieces and nephews. However, from the first episode Olson manages to bring something fresh to what could easily be a cliche role. She brings a certain twisted, magnetic charm to her role as Mackenzie (“Mick”) and we root for her right away despite how terrible she can be.
- Younger, “The Gift of Maggie” (TV Land)
It’s a shame that Younger has been shut out of nearly every major awards show as its pool of comedic talent is overflowing. No episode showcased this better than “The Gift of Maggie,” which (among other things) gave us the goldmine that is Debi Mazar stabbing a canvas with a switchblade…before proceeding to pick up an hors d’oeuvre with it. The insane moment also leads to Diana (national treasure Miriam Shor) asking Liza (Sutton Foster) to arrange a meeting between the two of them. The thought of that alone is a mental masterpiece and one can only hope we’ll get to see it take place on screen next season.
- House of Cards, “Chapter 65” (Netflix)
As a whole, this season of House of Cards was a fairly uneven one. With the exception of a few bright spots—the addition of deliciously unpredictable Jane Davis (Patricia Clarkson), for instance—its relatively slow pace made for some tedious viewing. However, the last few moments of the season finale with Claire (Robin Wright) breaking the fourth wall to declare that it’s her turn to rule evoked screams, chills and restless anticipation for Wright to take her rightful place as the show’s lead during its final season.
- Riverdale, “The Outsiders” (CW)
At its core, Riverdale is soapy, mysterious fun. And although the teens are usually at the center of the action, it’s the parents—with their messy histories and checkered pasts—who have the juiciest moments. Alice Cooper (played by scene stealer Mädchen Amick) currently has one of the most intriguing arcs on television. Her character development shows no signs of slowing down, especially now that she’s starting to embrace her serpent roots in Season Two. However, Season One’s “The Outsiders” is one of the first times viewers started seeing a more vulnerable and genuinely caring side of her. After learning her husband Hal (Lochlyn Munro) pressured their daughter Polly (Tiera Skovbye) into getting an abortion, she furiously kicks him out. Not only does this set the stage for the iconic brick throwing fiasco in the next episode, but it also leads to the heartbreaking admission that Hal pressured Alice into terminating her own teen pregnancy. (She later reveals she reluctantly gave her son up for adoption instead.) Alice’s growth, mixed with the fact this episode had one of the most tense, hilarious baby showers of all time, earns it a spot on the list.
- Madam Secretary, “Seventh Floor” (CBS)
I’m going to come right out and say it—Madam Secretary is a criminally underrated gem. Despite being one of the most-watched dramas on television, it’s often written off as a quiet, cut-and-dry government procedural. Rest assured, it’s anything but serving up energy and optimism every week: two things the world certainly needed more of in 2017. Between the touching moment Blake (Erich Bergen) came out as bisexual, Nadine’s (Bebe Neuwirth) beautiful sendoff, Kat Sandoval’s (Sara Ramirez) refreshing introduction and both Elizabeth (Téa Leoni) and daughter Alison (Kathrine Herzer) fighting misogyny and sexual harassment, the CBS drama had never been more timely. This made it difficult to choose a favorite episode, but the unconventional structure of “Seventh Floor” (which feels like five united mini movies focusing on each member of Elizabeth’s staff) sticks out as one of the best. Plus, the episode ends with Elizabeth giving newly-pregnant Daisy (Patina Miller) parenting advice, which shows a softer and sweeter side of the fierce leader.
- The Good Place, “Michael’s Gambit” (NBC)
It was the twist heard ‘round the world. The writing on The Good Place has always been sharp and consistent, brimming with wit and intelligence, but the final few moments of the season one finale took things to the next level and made it a television phenomenon. The shocking epiphany that [spoiler] The Good Place is actually The Bad Place sparked many a think piece and water cooler conversation—a harder and harder feat with the growing television landscape, especially considering its difficult position as a network comedy.
- Speechless, “Road Trip” (ABC)
Speechless has been rightfully lauded for its pioneering, realistic depiction of raising a child with cerebral palsy. While Micah Fowler’s turn as JJ is truly excellent and endlessly impressive, it’s Ray-centric (Mason Cook) episode “Road Trip” that takes the cake for me. When hyper-organized Ray ends up in the hospital with a appendicitis on the DiMeo family’s annual road trip, Maya (the fantastic Minnie Driver) springs into action, surprisingly prepared with medical binders galore. It leads to an unusually tender moment between the two, who are usually butting heads. The episode also includes one of Jimmy’s (the equally fantastic John Ross Bowie) hits-you-right-in-the-feels speeches.
- The Fosters, “The Long Haul” (Freeform)
Groundbreaking transgender representation, free speech debates and undocumented immigrants: those are just a few of the issues The Fosters has covered—and covered really well—in the past year alone. And while The Fosters has no trouble pulling off high drama, “The Long Haul” encompasses the bittersweet tone it does best. In addition to an LGBTQ+ sex education course and beautiful “second wedding” ceremony between matriarchs Stef (Teri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum), this episode also allowed two secondary characters to shine when Emma (Amanda Leighton) told Sharon (Annie Potts) about her abortion. Emma finally allowing herself to breakdown and find comfort in an unexpected source had the audience reaching for yet another box of tissues.
- One Day at a Time, “Strays” (Netflix)
Picking a best One Day at a Time episode proved to be challenging, as the freshman season didn’t have a single misstep. While Penelope’s (Justina Machado) PTSD plot and Elena’s (Isabella Gomez) coming out storylines have gotten the most buzz (and for good reason; they’re revolutionary and beautifully done), my personal favorite is one that features star-in-the-making Ariela Barer as Carmen. (Or, as Penelope affectionately refers to her “Latina Twilight.”) When Carmen’s parents are deported to Mexico, Elena helps her secretly live in the Alvarez house. The scene where Penelope and Lydia (Rita Moreno) find out the truth will rip your heart into a million little pieces.
- Big Little Lies, “You Get What You Need” (HBO)
There’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said about Big Little Lies. This show has gotten an insane amount of buzz and it’s earned every bit of it. Each episode is tight and cinematic, features sublime performances and is all woven together with a kickass soundtrack. Everything about it is top-notch and the entire finale had viewers on the edge of their seats. All the gradual building pays off in an explosive, epic climax when [spoiler] we see peace-preaching Bonnie (Zoë Kravitz) push Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) abusive husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård) off a balcony. The closing moments with Celeste, Bonnie, Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and Jane (Shailene Woodley) playing with their children on the beach while a detective suspiciously watches on is lovely without tying things up too neatly.
- The Bold Type, “The Breast Issue” and “Carry the Weight” (Freeform)
I know it’s kind of cheating to pick two episodes, but I just couldn’t decide. Advertisements for The Bold Type made the show look fun, but it quickly proved itself to be much more and these two episodes clearly showcase why. At the center of “The Breast Issue” is Jane (Katie Stevens) and her fear of carrying the dangerous BRCA gene, made even more complicated by the fact her mother died of breast cancer. “Carry the Weight” depicts an artist whose work seeks to show women who have been sexually assaulted that they are not alone. Both of these issues are obviously deeply complex, but while most writers would shy away from content so sensitive and risky, creator Sarah Watson tackled them head-on and her ambition certainly paid off. Not once does The Bold Type veer into preachy after school special territory. The supportive friendship of Jane, Sutton (Meghann Fahy) and Kat (Aisha Dee) ground the show in positivity and humor while Muslim lesbian artist Adeena (Nikohl Boosheri) and inspirational boss Jacqueline (Melora Hardin) challenge stereotypes at every turn. The pitch-perfect mixture of feel-goodness and relatability cemented The Bold Type’s place in the feminist television canon.
- Better Things, “Eulogy” (FX)
Better Things was one of the best things on television this year. Pamela Adlon, who directed and starred in every episode this season, did the impossible and managed to make this round of episodes top its nearly-perfect debut batch. The set-up of “Eulogy” is brilliant – portraying Sam hard at work teaching an acting class and shooting a small, tedious scene an inane number of times. The abrupt tonal shift of the family casually watching television to the deafening, guilty silence once Sam storms out of the house is jarring, masterfully demonstrating how quickly tiny tiffs can spiral out of control and reveal much deeper cracks in familial relationships. The disappointment of Sam’s friends Tressa (Rebecca Metz) and Rich (Diedrich Bader) towards Max (Mikey Madison) and Frankie (Hannah Alligood) is particularly gut-punching. But it’s Max and Frankie eulogizing their mother—one of the rawest scenes in television history—that earn this episode the number one spot.