Update: My Top 25 Episodes of 2015
By: Dylan Hysen
This is an updated and finalized version of my Top 25 Episodes of 2015, originally published on November 23rd. The introduction and conclusion are left as written then, and updates to the list are #25, 24, and 1.
These are my top 25 episodes of television of 2015, from 25 to 1. Some of these are animated (this is an animation website after all), some are not. I think it’s important to rank my top episodes in general and not just animation ones to give legitimacy to how great animation was this year on TV. It doesn’t warrant a separate category, animation is among the very best on TV. To be clear, this list is the best 25 episodes of TV this year that I’ve seen (shows I don’t watch couldn’t have been included).
25) “The Wedding of Rad (Lie)”, Moonbeam City
All throughout the Fall season Moonbeam City was the most promising new show airing, but it never really could hit its stride. That changed in its final entry for the season (and likely the series) which finally reached the level of consistently high quality storytelling I was looking for. Moonbeam City was very funny throughout the season but especially so here in its last episode.
24) “The Hero”, Nathan For You
“The Hero” is the most absurd thing I’ve seen on television this year not close. Mostly, it’s absurd in a great and hilarious way, just like all of Nathan For You. The episode takes an absurd concept and goes all in on it, resulting in an end product I wasn’t in awe of in terms of critical quality, but was thoroughly entertained by. It caps off a great season of Nathan For You and even if you don’t regularly watch the show I’d recommend checking out this episode if just because you haven’t seen anything like it before.
23) “The Dark Cloud”, Adventure Time
Adventure Time’s “Stakes” mini-series was one of the highlights of animation this year and “The Dark Cloud” was its climactic, poetic conclusion. Featuring Rebecca Sugar’s gorgeous “Everything Stays” song sung by Olivia Olson, “The Dark Cloud” gives us no thrilling conclusions to any story elements, but is one of the most thematically strong episodes of television of the year.
22) “Indians on TV”, Masters of None
“Indians on TV” seems to be a personal recounting of Aziz Ansari’s experiences with race in his profession told in the form of an incredibly well-crafted episode of television. What’s remarkable is how well the episode executes its storytelling, given the strong message and personal element it has. Masters of None has a similar episode to this with feminism, and while that episode is also very good, it doesn’t manage to integrate its commentary into its storytelling as well as this episode.
21) “Too Far”, Steven Universe
Peridot might have the best single-episode characterization in “Too Far” of anything on television this year (outside of my #1 episode). Her growing dynamic with Earth and the gems, especially Amethyst, is fascinating. This episode is a great compliment to “Back to the Barn” and expands on that episode’s commentary on our societal norms in a more expansive and subtle way. I think I might even be underrating “Too Far” with its placement here.
20) “The Ricks Must Be Crazy”, Rick and Morty
“The Ricks Must Be Crazy” is a incredibly solid episode of television with no holes to be found. Its A plot is cerebral enough and funny, while its B plot is one of the most hilarious on TV all year. For me, the A plot doesn’t go to the depth that one other episode of the show this year went to, and the episode overall wasn’t as funny as another, but it still ranks among the year’s best.
19) “Everything Stays”, Adventure Time
“Everything Stays” is the heart of the “Stakes”, and is the best entry in the mini-series. The episode beautifully chronicles the past of Marceline through short flashback vignettes. The difference between this episode and the Steven Universe ones in the top 10 is that this episode feels limited by its 11 minute run time, while those thrive within it.
18) “Weirdmageddon 2: Escape from Reality”, Gravity Falls
17) “Weirdmageddon Part 1”, Gravity Falls
“Weirdmageddon Part 1” isn’t a truly great episode of television (its second half is just ok), but overall it’s so incredibly weird, and I think will go down as an all-time cartoon classic. Its apocalyptic aesthetic is so distinctive and they go all-in on it throughout the episode, making for one of my most memorable television experiences of the year.
Part 2 is also flawed, but has incredible moments between one of the best two-character dynamics of the year, Dipper and Mabel. I think just like Part 1 it will go down as a classic despite its flaws.
I was looking for any excuse to put an episode of Jane the Virgin on this list, and “Chapter Twenty-Eight” stood out from other episodes in being one of the most coherent, effective “passage of time” episodes I’ve seen on TV. It covers five months over the course of 40-something minutes when the entire first season of the show took place over nine and it does so masterfully. Like any episode of Jane, “Chapter Twenty-Eight” is heartfelt, hilarious, intelligent, interesting. Jane is one of the best shows on TV and while no episode this year was top ten worthy, every episode is consistently great and as a whole the show is top five material.
15) “Mortynight Run”, Rick and Morty
In contention for funniest TV episode of the year, “Mortynight Run” is clever and hilarious. The Fart and Krombopulos Michael are two of the funniest guest characters on TV this year and the “Roy videogame” gag was one the best best things on all of television.
14) “Back to the Barn”, Steven Universe
“Back to the Barn” features some of the best mythology-building storytelling I’ve seen and it ties with some great metaphors to preconceived notions in our society. Neither of these are new to Steven Universe and are two of the show’s best traits, but this episode does both of them better than any other episode of the show. In retrospect I think this episode might end up higher than this, but for now it’s only the 4th best episode of Steven Universe this year.
13) “Chapter 39″, House of Cards
Maybe the best season finale of the year (probably second to Steven Universe’s “Jailbreak” but still), “Chapter 39” might be my favorite episode of House of Cards ever, in my favorite season. Many critics did not have a positive view of Season 3, but I thought it featured a more solid and cohesive narrative than any season of the show before. Highlights were Doug Stamper’s recovery arc and Frank and Claire’s relationship, both of which culminate brilliantly in this finale. “Chapter 39” is House of Cards’ “Crossroads of Destiny”, an intense, brilliant episode that wraps up the season perfectly and brings to a close one of the best character arcs of the year.
12) “Lost Horizon”, Mad Men
11) “The Milk and Honey Route”, Mad Men
10) “Person to Person”, Mad Men
Three entries on this list is what the excellent final season of Mad Men deserves, and these final three entries to the show are incredible. “Person to Person” features an appropriate and great ending to one of the best TV series of all time and all of the final three episodes feature excellent ends to some of the best character arcs ever.
9) “Mornings”, Master of None
Flat out the best episode of television that I’ve seen exploring real world relationships, “Mornings” is the best episode of one of the best shows of the year. While Jane the Virgin‘s “Chapter Twenty-Eight” excellently explores the passage of time for the life of a new mother, “Mornings” deals with time lapses somehow even more expertly, about the life cycle of a relationship. It features incredible performances from Aziz Ansari and Noël Wells and really just has it all.
8) “Hardhome”, Game of Thrones
Unlike other shows on this list where I was happy to put an incredible season’s best entry onto the list, Game of Thrones had easily its worst season this year and it was one that was frustrating and terribly sexist. This is a list of individual episodes though and “Hardhome” escaped the problems of the rest of the season, even rising to the show’s best episode of its run. Highlighted by an absolutely stunning battle sequence north of the wall, “Hardhome” is the most cinematic episode of television I’ve ever seen and is truly great.
7) “Bodyguard of Lies”, The 100
The 100 quietly had one of the best seasons of television of the year and “Bodyguard of Lies” was its best entry. The season was tense and powerful, with an incredible female dominated cast led by Eliza Taylor as Clarke, one of the year’s best characters. “Bodyguard of Lies” was highlighted by a complex and emotionally charged scene between the two opposing leaders Clarke and Lexa, one of the year’s very best scenes.
6) “Jailbreak”, Steven Universe
“Jailbreak” is incredible in how much storytelling it achieves in its short time, but that’s also its biggest flaw as it’s much less focused than the two Steven Universe episodes I have ahead of it on this list. Nonetheless the episode is great with Garnet’s “Stronger Than You” easily one of the highlights on all of television this year.
5) “Sworn to the Sword”, Steven Universe
Not even the best emotional Pearl episode of the year, “Sworn to the Sword” is nonetheless incredible. “Do it For Her” is a feat of storytelling, achieving incredible emotional depth and backstory for Pearl, while also simultaneously developing Connie’s character. The episode hits a little too bluntly at the end, but overall it’s easily one of the year’s best.
4) “The Woman Who Lived”, Doctor Who
Steven Moffat finally lets a woman write an episode and what do you know it’s the best episode during his time as showrunner. Catherine Tregenna pens one of the best scripts in Doctor Who history and Maisie Williams gives an incredibly powerful performance in “The Woman Who Lived”. The episode serves as a better character manifesto for The Doctor than any I’ve seen before and is an all-time classic.
3) “Total Rickall”, Rick and Morty
For me, “Total Rickall” was the best episode in this year’s excellent Rick and Morty season. The episode was hilarious, clever, and maintained its excellence for its entire run time, culminating in the best ending of any episode on television this year. It’s the funniest episode of TV of the year, and the most intellectually satisfying.
2) “Rose’s Scabbard”, Steven Universe
The description for this entry doesn’t make sense anymore after the update, but the sentiment holds. The episode is still incredible even if I think it was one-upped.
Fittingly, the best episode of TV this year was animated.”Rose’s Scabbard” was the best episode of the year and it’s not close. No other episode this year achieved the emotional depths that “Rose’s Scabbard” explored with Pearl. Pearl is the television character of the year and she shines in this episode. Her complexity, her anguish, her incredibly complex view of Steven. No other episode of television this year achieves so much depth and complexity, and “Rose’s Scabbard” does it all in 11 minutes.
1) “Heaven Sent”, Doctor Who
I think “Heaven Sent” is Steven Moffat’s magnum opus. Somehow better than “Blink”, better than “Girl in the Fireplace”, it’s the best modern Doctor Who episode ever and is perfect television. Peter Capaldi delivers a commanding, career topping performance in an episode that features just him. Moffat writes the perfect script and Rachel Talalay executes it perfectly. The last 15 minutes of “Heaven Sent” are blissful storytelling and the previous 35 are excellent tonal and plot set-up that are even better on subsequent viewings. This was an episode for the ages.
Animation makes up 14 of the 25 entries on this list, and while this mostly reveals my viewing habits this year (I had to watch almost entirely animation once this podcast began), it also shows how strong of a year animation had. Even without Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra anchoring it in critical quality, animation is thriving. There are multiple high critical quality animated shows airing now, including the best show on television, Steven Universe.