The 25 Best Episodes Of TV Since 201012/03/2019
- Arts & Entertainment
Narrowing down the 25 best TV episodes from the past 10 years is maybe a silly thing to do. But we tried it anyway.
ByAdam B. Vary and Tomi Obaro and Sylvia Obell and Shannon Keating and Rachel Sanders and Hayes Brown and Anne Helen Petersen and David Mack and Zachary Ares and Scaachi Koul and Krystie Lee Yandoli
Conservatively speaking, there have been approximately 84 quadrillion episodes of television this decade, so narrowing down the 25 best over the last 10 years is on its face a silly thing to do. But we tried it anyway, because, simply put, there was never a better time to be a fan of TV than in the 2010s. The term “peak TV” was coined to define the explosion in content largely thanks to the ascendancy of Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, but it’s also come to reflect the spike in quality television as well. So to cast as wide a net as possible, we only allowed one episode per show on our list, and even then, there is every chance we didn’t include at least one of your favorites. This is what comment sections are for, so please reflect with us, in chronological order, on some of the best TV had to offer since 2010, and then share your personal favorites as well.
Bob’s Burgers: “Bad Tina,” Season 2, Episode 8
First aired: May 13, 2012
Since it premiered in 2011, Bob’s Burgers, created by Loren Bouchard, has been a very weird but ultimately very heartening piece of counterintuitive programming amid general 2010s darkness. And Tina, the oldest daughter voiced by a deadpan Dan Mintz, is the show’s most original character. A hopelessly awkward, relentlessly horny preteen who loves horses and likes to write “erotic friend fiction,” she’s painfully, endearingly earnest.
That’s what makes “Bad Tina” so hilarious. When new classmate Tammy (the always-excellent Jenny Slate) shows up and starts encouraging Tina to act out — we’re talking getting drunk on margarita mix and temporary tattoos — she’s blackmailed by both her conniving younger siblings Louise (Kristen Schaal) and Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Tammy, who threatens to show Tina’s fiction to her longtime crush, Jimmy Jr. (H. Jon Benjamin, who also plays Bob). When Louise and Gene find out about Tammy, the siblings conspire to help Tina. The episode ends with Tina reading her erotica out loud to the whole school; as the students laugh at her, Tammy accidentally goes on a farting frenzy and Tina emerges unscathed. Fart jokes, a pitch-perfect Stomp parody, and some unexpected family bonding — what more do you want from an episode of TV? —Tomi Obaro
Other great episodes: “Boyz 4 Now” (Louise develops a crush on a boy band member), “Mazel-Tina” (the Belchers cater a bat mitzvah), “World Wharf II: The Wharfening (or How Bob Saves/Destroys the Town, Part 2)” (the Belchers almost die!).
Vanderpump Rules: “Bitch Slap” (Season 2, Episode 13)
First aired: Jan. 27, 2014
After nearly an entire season of speculation that Jax (who’s dating Stassi) slept with Stassi’s best friend, Kristin (who’s dating Jax’s best friend, Tom), it comes to a head in “Bitch Slap.” They’re all getting progressively drunker at a bar, when Stassi screams at Kristin, “You banged him!” Kristin continues to deny it while Jax gives up all the details — namely that they had sex while Tom was in the next room.
“You’re a dirty fucking whore,” Stassi says. Then she slaps Kristin in the face so hard you can almost hear her bones crunch. And then she dunks a drink on her head. This happens a mere 20 minutes into the 43-minute episode.
I don’t know if there’s another episode of television in the history of telecom that uses the word “banging” so frequently. I also didn’t know this was an honor I wanted to bestow on a show until I watched it happen. —Scaachi Koul
Other great episodes: “Vegas With a Vengeance” (Frank whips off his button-up and Jax takes off his tasteful cable-knit sweater and they start fighting in a parking lot), “It’s Not About the Pasta” (Lala and James argue over whether it is, indeed, about the pasta), “Masquerade” (it’s revealed that Jax cheated on Brittany while an elderly woman slept right next to him — long story, Jesus Christ).
BoJack Horseman: “Fish Out of Water” (Season 3, Episode 4)
First available: July 22, 2016
Listen, BoJack Horseman is a perfect show, and if I could put every episode on this list, I would have. But I went with “Fish Out of Water” because it’s the moment I first realized I wasn’t just watching a really good animated series about an anthropomorphized horse named BoJack (Will Arnett) who starred on a hit TGIF-y sitcom in the 1990s and has become an embittered and depressive alcoholic but is also funny. As BoJack arrives at the Pacific Ocean Film Festival — where (he thinks) communication is impossible because everyone’s underwater — I watched the nearly wordless episode unfold with a level of visual invention and wonder that honestly brought me to tears. BoJack is unquantifiable — it’s comedy, tragedy, satire, farce, absurdism, realism, magical, and devastating. “Fish Out of Water” is all of those things at once. —A.B.V.
Other great episodes: “Hank After Dark” (BoJack’s friend Diane accuses beloved TV personality Hank Hippopopalous of sexual misconduct, two years before #MeToo exploded), “That’s Too Much, Man!” (BoJack goes on a massive bender with his old costar with shocking consequences), “Stupid Piece of Sh*t” (BoJack’s mother moves in with him, plunging him into a spiral of self-doubt), “Free Churro” (BoJack eulogizes his mother in a single, unbroken scene).
Jane the Virgin: “Chapter Fifty-Four” (Season 3, Episode 10)
First aired: Oct. 31, 2016
Jane the Virgin was always very good at genuine plot twists and perhaps none were more devastating than this Season 3 episode.
At the beginning of the season, Michael (Brett Dier), Jane (Gina Rodriguez)’s first love and now-husband, was hospitalized and fighting for his life after he was shot on their wedding night by the evil villain Sin Rostro. But he had since recovered, reluctantly resigning from the police force and planning on attending law school.
In “Chapter Fifty-Four,” which is interspersed with flashbacks of the origins of Jane and Michael’s love story, we see the characters get back into the swing of things as Michael prepares for the LSAT and Jane tries to win over her mean boss at her publishing job. But then, at the very end of the episode, Michael falls to the floor while taking the test and dies. It’s a shocking turn of events, especially since it happens in the middle of the season.
Jane the Virgin has always excelled at mining ordinary human pathos from extraordinary events and Gina Rodriguez is an acting tour de force in the episode. Michael’s death was a risky gambit on showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman’s part, but it paid off. Even when Michael, in another shocking plot twist, returns to Jane’s life with his memory erased, it was his initial death that uprooted Jane’s life forever. —Krystie Lee Yandoli
Other great episodes of this show: “Chapter Forty-Seven” (Jane finally has sex for the first time), “Chapter Eighty-One” (Jane discovers her husband Michael isn’t actually dead), “Chapter One Hundred” (a very satisfying series finale, “straight out of a telenovela”).
The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit” (Season 1, Episode 13)
First aired: Jan. 19, 2017
I don’t believe in preserving spoilers for shows or movies that came out years ago — unless, I guess, I have not seen said show or movie, in which case I become irate if it’s ruined for me — but The Good Place is one where I really don’t want to spoil it for anyone. The concept of the show is so smart and so brilliantly plotted, that the Season 1 finale hit me so hard I audibly screamed.
After Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) dies and spends Season 1 in the Good Place worrying that her heavenly neighborhood’s architect Michael (Ted Danson) will find out she doesn’t belong, she winds up with a few others who also feel like maybe there’s something amiss: Chidi (William Jackson Harper), a stressed-out, overthinking ethicist, Jason (Manny Jacinto), a Jacksonville dirtbag who loves to dance, and Tahani (Jameela Jamil), a British socialite caught up in one-upping everyone, even in the afterlife. By the finale, Eleanor realizes what’s happening, and it’s one of the most satisfying twists in television history. Nothing better than a show that’s so good, it makes you feel a little bit dumb. —Scaachi Koul
Other great episodes: “Everything Is Fine” (maybe the best, most-well-contained pilot in recent history), “Jeremy Bearimy” (Chidi’s greatest work), “Somewhere Else” (the gang gets a second chance on Earth).
The Leftovers: “The Book of Nora” (Season 3, Episode 8)
First aired: June 4, 2017
It seemed, at least to me, pretty much impossible that this gorgeous show could possibly deliver on its premise — a bunch of people on the planet randomly disappearing into thin air — in a truly satisfying way. No season finale for a show involving fantastical mysteries could ever be worse than Lost’s, and I had faith in these showrunners, but still. How would The Leftovers come to an end?
But the three acts of “The Book of Nora” ended up embodying the spirit of this show in moving and remarkable ways. Nora (Carrie Coon) decides that she’d rather clamber into a mysterious person-zapping machine in case it might be able to deliver her to her missing children — rather than living another moment without them. At the episode’s start, Matt (Christopher Eccleston) and Nora mad-lib Nora’s obituary, and it’s so lovely and funny and so, so sad. The episode’s middle chunk, meanwhile, is very ??? in a classic Leftovers way: Does Kevin (Justin Theroux) really not remember his and Nora’s relationship? What the hell is this rural Australian wedding? ARE YOU NOT GOING TO TELL US WHAT HAPPENED TO NORA WHEN SHE WENT INTO THE MACHINE????
By the third act, we do learn what happened to Nora; or we learn what she tells us happened to her. It’s up to us to determine whether we believe her: that, in another world, the departed had lost everyone who remained in Kevin and Nora’s world. When Kevin, teary-faced, tells Nora he believes her, and the score starts up — ugh! Extraordinary. —Shannon Keating
Other great episodes: “I Live Here Now” (the Season 2 finale, in which Kevin sings karaoke to get back home), “International Assassin” (because it’s completely batshit wild), “No Room at the Inn” (when Matt and Mary are locked out of Jarden), hell, even the pilot. All of it, really.
Halt and Catch Fire: “Goodwill” (Season 4, Episode 8)
First aired: Oct. 7, 2017
I spent most of the final three episodes of Halt and Catch Fire in snotty, uncontrollable tears. Partly I was crying over the end of my favorite (criminally under-viewed) TV show. Mostly I was crying for Donna (Kerry Bishé), Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), Gordon (Scoot McNairy), and Joe (Lee Pace), these fictional people I cared about more deeply than I’d realized after four years in real time and a decade onscreen.
“Goodwill,” written by series co-creator Christopher Cantwell and Zack Whedon, acts as an elegy not just for Gordon (who pulls a Six Feet Under by dying suddenly at the end of the previous episode) but for the whole series. It’s a quiet, deliberate pause in the season’s action that unfolds like a stage play, tracking the shell-shocked characters in different pairings through one day, almost entirely in one house, as they pack up Gordon’s things. Sad as it is, there are also some surprisingly funny moments — Joe’s thrift store heist, Cameron’s quippy comebacks — that speak to the delicacy of the writing on a show that never settled for playing only the power chords.
At this point, it borders on cliché that exploring the messy reality of grief often makes for memorable television, but the emotional gut-punch of “Goodwill” still feels fully earned. Halt and Catch Fire was never really “about” the tech industry of the ’80s and ’90s, or anything other than the lives and relationships of its central characters, which meant the writers never treated anyone as disposable or cashed in emotional chips casually. When Gordon’s gone, you feel his absence in a truly visceral way. “Goodwill” is the pivotal, bittersweet moment when years of narrative tension start to dissolve and Donna, Cameron, and Joe begin to face not only Gordon’s death but all of the ways they’ve hurt each other — and how much they still care. Watching them, how can you not care, too?
Other great episodes: “Up Helly Aa” (Comdex round 1: Who’s going to eat all those shrimp?), “Heaven Is a Place” (the now-leading ladies head for Silicon Valley), “NIM” and “NeXT” (Comdex round 2; the gang reunites), and “Ten of Swords” (the gang faces the future).
Atlanta: “Barbershop” (Season 2, Episode 5)
First aired: March 29, 2018
The beauty of Atlanta is it tells stories and inside jokes about black men in the US in a way that feels unprecedented, and “Barbershop” is the proof in the banana pudding.
In this stand-alone episode, Al (Brian Tyree Henry), who’s become a bit of a hometown hero for his hit rap single “Paper Boi,” tries to get his hair cut before a photo shoot. When Al arrives at the shop, his barber Bibby (Robert S. Powell) tells Al he has to run across town to do something “real quick” and invites Al to join. Real ones know that no one in the history of black people who has uttered that phrase means it, and Bibby is no exception.
The brilliance of this episode is that it hones in on such a specific experience that is as hilarious as it is true. It’s often joked about that when a black man leaves to get his hair cut, there’s no telling what time he’ll be back. And while the obstacles Al had to face for this particular haircut were outlandish, they were not completely unfathomable. I promise you not one black man wondered why he didn’t just let someone else at the shop take care of him. —S.O.
Other great episodes of this show: “Teddy Perkins” (the strangely brilliant one where Donald Glover does whiteface); “B.A.N.” (the news program one featuring a young man who is “transracial”), “The Club” (the one about going to the club).
Insecure: “High-Like” (Season 3, Episode 5)
First aired: Sept. 9, 2018
The magic of Insecure has always lied in its genuine understanding of black millennial culture. In “High-Like,” we see this firsthand as the girls — Issa (Issa Rae), Molly (Yvonne Orji), Kelli (Natasha Rothwell), and Tiffany (Amanda Seales) — go to Coachella to see Beyoncé.
Before the show that night though, Issa takes the gang on a hoe-mission to meet up with her current bae Nathan (Kendrick Sampson) at a pool party. There the group takes molly and delicious chaos ensues.
Issa and Nathan have sex on the infamous Coachella Ferris wheel — one of the most electric scenes everrrr. Down below, the rest of the gang end up “battling the whites in the field” after Kelli decides to fight a white woman who unapologetically blocks her view of the concert stage because she’s on a man’s shoulders, ultimately getting them kicked out.
In a desperate last-minute attempt to see Bey, Kelli risks it all trying to bum-rush the gate, only to get tased by a security guard. She falls facedown to the ground, pees on herself, and, as her friends run to her, cries out, “Remember me different!”
The next day, Issa runs into her ex-boyfriend Lawrence (for the first time all season!) at the convenience store.
This episode is Insecure at its best — hilarious, relatable, shocking, and black AF. What other show could take something as triggering as being tased and make us laugh about it? Where else on TV do you get to see black women partake in the stoner comedy antics normally reserved for white men? Who else is clever enough to center a plot around Beyoncé without us ever actually seeing Beyoncé? What other fanbase is as hilariously annoying as the #LawrenceHive? (Look it up and thank me later.) —S.O.
Other great episodes of this show: “Hella LA” (the one where Kelli gets fingered at the diner after the Kiss ‘n’ Grind party), “Hella Perspective” (the one where Issa and Lawrence finally get closure), “Obsessed-Like” (the case study on ghosting we all deserve).
Fleabag: Series Finale (Season 2, Episode 6)
First aired: April 8, 2019
This season, it was surprisingly lovely to see that Fleabag (creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge) — she of the endless bad hookups and other horrible decisions — actually has her shit together. Her family is still a mess though. Her sister Claire (Sian Clifford) has had a miscarriage and is still married to a gigantic douche of a man; her father and his clueless fiancé (Olivia Colman) don’t quite seem to believe that Fleabag’s not about to spiral back into her days of chronic stealing and other various fuckups.
In the finale, during Claire and Fleabag’s father’s wedding, Fleabag empowers her sister to go after what she really wants: a Finnish dude also named Klare. The sisters, with their at-odds personalities, have struggled to really connect, but the end of the show brings them closer in a way that feels truly earned, marked by one of Fleabag’s sweetest and most memorable lines: “The only person I’d run through an airport for is you.”
When Fleabag tells the hot (!) priest (Andrew Scott) she loves him, after his adorably unhinged speech about how terrible but great love is at the wedding, he tells her, heartbreakingly, that it’ll pass — but also that he loves her too. I choose to believe the theory that the fox at the very end of the episode signifies that the priest will eventually choose Fleabag over God. But even if the show doesn’t have a romantically happy ending, what’s so freaking good about Fleabag’s conclusion is that by loving someone else — someone who, throughout the season, saw through Fleabag’s fourth-wall-breaking disassociation from the present-day realities of her life — she was able to leave the last of her trauma coping mechanisms behind for good. —Shannon Keating
Other great episodes: Season 2, Episode 4 (when Hot Priest tells Fleabag to kneel!!!); Season 2, Episode 1 (The jumpsuit! “This is a love story”! “Well fuck you, then!”), Season 2, Episode 3 (when Fleabag “helps” Claire with a fancy meeting) — the whole second season is perfect. In the darker first season, there are still some moments of levity, like Episode 4, when Claire and Fleabag’s trip to a silent retreat involves a woman getting wordlessly attacked by bees.
Veep: “Veep” (Season 7, Episode 7)
First aired: May 12, 2019
In the 2010s, television alternated between depicting politics as an aspirational realm that rewards hope and brilliance (Parks and Recreation, Madam Secretary) or as Machiavellian drama rich in conspiracy and murder (House of Cards, Scandal). But it was Veep that truly nailed the ugly, absurd, self-serving, desperate, conniving, and hilariously incompetent truth of political life in America.
Look no further than the perfect series finale. Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) attempts to outmaneuver rivals at a deadlocked 2020 convention where she hopes to win her party’s nomination for the White House. After inadvertently becoming an advocate for trans rights by using a conveniently located men’s restroom in conservative North Carolina, she cravenly offers to outlaw same-sex marriage in a bid to win the support of a religious governor. But in order to finally achieve her dream, she has to sacrifice devoted aide Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) and offer the unhinged Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) the promotion of a lifetime.
Louis-Dreyfus’s seven seasons of brilliance (she won the Emmy for almost every season) culminated in this tour-de-force farewell for a foul-mouthed, monstrous, sociopathic character who had rarely sunk lower. Its coda — Meyer alone at a desk, then many years later as her funeral coverage is interrupted by the death of Tom Hanks — is both haunting and hilarious. —D.M.
Other great episodes: “Helsinki” (where we first meet Sally Phillips’ brilliant Finnish prime minister Minna Häkkinen), “Debate” (the one where Selina gets that haircut).
Orange Is the New Black: “Minority Deport” (Season 7, Episode 5)
First available: July 26, 2019
This groundbreaking Netflix series was always most moving when it used ripped-from-the-headlines news stories to inform its increasingly dark storylines — from Litchfield’s transition from state-owned penitentiary to grimly bureaucratic private prison in Season 3 to the forced solitary confinement for trans hairdresser Sophia Burset (Laverne Cox) supposedly for her “own protection.” But Season 4’s frustrating, All Lives Mattering of Poussey (Samira Wiley) temporarily torpedoed the show’s momentum, and seasons 5 and 6 became bogged down with too many new characters.
The show’s final season righted the ship, bringing us back to the core characters we’ve grown to love while refusing to sugarcoat the effects of systemic poverty and discrimination on these mostly poor black and brown women. “Minority Deport” is a particularly gutting episode that captures the essence of the show in all its funny, heartbreaking glory.
Piper (Taylor Schilling), newly freed, chafes under parole. Taystee (Danielle Brooks) is still grappling with her life sentence. Aleida (Elizabeth Rodriguez) tries to stop her eighth-grade daughter from ending up in prison like her older sister Daya (Dascha Polanco) — only to wind up getting arrested (again). But arguably the most devastating storyline goes to the ditzy but lovable Maritza Ramos (Diane Guerrero). After believing she was a US citizen for most of her life, she’s been detained by ICE and, in this episode, is unceremoniously deported. The episode’s final scene shows a group of 11 women about to be deported sitting in an airplane, in chains, an ICE guard with a gun standing watch. One by one, each woman slowly fades out. Maritza is the last one remaining, until she too is gone. It’s an incredibly powerful moment that showcases what OITNB did best — keeping it real, even if it breaks your heart. —T.O.
Other great episodes: “Can’t Fix Crazy” (the one where Piper finally loses her shit and beats Pennsatucky to a bloody pulp), “We Have Manners. We’re Polite.” (Rosa goes out with a bang!), “Trust No Bitch” (the women find a lake).
Succession: “Safe Room” (Season 2, Episode 5)
First aired: Sept. 1, 2019
Yet another prestige HBO program devoted to the lives of horrible rich white people doesn’t have any right to occupy nearly as much of my brain as Succession has in 2019. And yet I can’t help but dearly love it. It’s somehow possible to feel for these characters, despite how much bad shit they’re doing to society — especially Kendall (Jeremy Strong), who opens “Safe Room” on the roof of the Fox-like ATN, idly strolling by the low railings separating him from oblivion.
The best thing about the second season of Succession is that the show starts to really grapple with ATN’s political evils. Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) is tasked with interviewing an anchor who’s gotten himself in some PR trouble for having fascist friends and naming his dog after Hitler’s dog (“different spelling” though, the anchor assures him). Greg (Nicholas Braun) telling Tom that Nazis are, indeed, “the worst” paints a horribly comical picture of these people’s lack of any sort of moral integrity. The Greg and Tom dynamic is a highlight of this episode, especially when, after Greg tries to quit, Tom pelts him with water bottles while they shelter in a conference room from a potential shooter — and when Tom is positively tickled that Greg has the balls to blackmail him later.
But what makes “Safe Room” a standout for me is that, halfway through the season, we’re all left uneasily uncertain of whether Kendall’s dad is planning to fuck him over in the end. Is Logan (Brian Cox) really worried about Kendall during the shooting, or is he only worried because Kendall has his pills? And, most breathtakingly, when at the end of the episode Kendall finds his rooftop escape has been fitted with giant glass walls — preventing him from, someday, tumbling to his death — we have to wonder whether his dad is genuinely concerned for his safety or if Kendall is just another pricey asset to be hoarded.
Throw in the sexual beginnings of Gerri and Roman (J. Smith-Cameron and Kieran Culkin) (he masturbates to her calling him a “revolting little pig”), Connor’s (Alan Ruck) absurd eulogy for family friend “Mo” Lester, and Kendall tragically crying into Shiv’s (Sarah Snook) shoulder in a moment where, were this another family, they could finally support each other in an actual human way, and this is Succession at its best. —Shannon Keating
Other great episodes: Obviously the Season 2 finale, where we see Kendall’s triumphant rise. The Season 1 finale where we see Kendall forced to surrender to his father’s mercy in a Chappaquiddick-style tragedy, is a gut punch too.●
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Tomi Obaro is a senior culture editor for BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
Contact Tomi Obaro at [email protected]
Sylvia Obell is an entertainment reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Sylvia Obell at [email protected]
Shannon Keating is a senior culture writer and editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Shannon Keating at [email protected]
Rachel Sanders is a deputy culture editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Rachel Sanders at [email protected]
Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Hayes Brown at [email protected]
Anne Helen Petersen is a senior culture writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in Missoula, Montana.
Contact Anne Helen Petersen at [email protected]
David Mack is a deputy director of breaking news for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact David Mack at [email protected]
Zachary Ares is a motion graphics designer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His alter ego, Syzygy, is an approachable young businesswoman, teacher, leader, mentor, tv star, producer, host, director, and investigative reporter / woman.
Contact Zachary Ares at [email protected]
Scaachi Koul is a senior culture writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Scaachi Koul at [email protected]
Krystie Yandoli is an entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Krystie Lee Yandoli at [email protected]
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