My Top 25 Episodes of TV for 2016
By: Dylan Hysen
2016 has been another great year of television and once again I’ll be giving you my top 25 episodes of the year. As always, these are the 25 best, purely in my own opinion, only from shows I have seen. Even though we are an animation site, I rank live-action shows next to animated ones to showcase where I think a lot of the episodes we’ve been discussing this year fall in a broader context.
The thing you’ll immediately notice is that 10 of these are Steven Universe episodes. That’s for a few reasons. One, I think it was the best show on TV once again this year. Two, it’s prolific, producing more episodes a year than most of the other shows I watch, and three, it achieves a higher quality in more episodes (by pure numbers) than any other show.
Honorable mentions: “Collection and Extraction”, Voltron: Legendary Defender; “Simon Says”, Miraculous Ladybug; “Origins, Parts 1 and 2”, Miraculous Ladybug; “Thirteen”, The 100; “Log Date 7 15 2”, Steven Universe; “Barn Mates”, Steven Universe; “Gem Drill”, Steven Universe; “It Could’ve Been Great”, Steven Universe; “Too Short to Ride”, Steven Universe; “The Door”, Game of Thrones; “Kimmy Sees a Sunet!”, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; “Kimmy Finds Her Mom!”, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; “Chapter Fourty-Four”, Jane the Virgin; “Nosedive”, Black Mirror; “Playtest”, Black Mirror; “Beginning of the End”, RWBY; “Power Up Puff”, The Powerpuff Girls”; “Arachno Romance”, The Powerpuff Girls; “Frenemy”, The Powerpuff Girls; “Bubbles of the Opera”, The Powerpuff Girls; “The Secret Life of Blossom Powerpuff”, The Powerpuff Girls; “Poorbucks”, The Powerpuff Girls; “eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z”, Mr. Robot; “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12”, Mr. Robot; “Bad Jubies”, Adventure Time; “Broke His Crown”, Adventure Time; “Elemental”, Adventure Time.
25) “The Hall of Egress”, Adventure Time
Adventure Time had a strong year and is almost better than ever heading into the end of its run. “The Hall of Egress” is my pick for its best of the year, an incredibly cerebral and distinctive episode that only Adventure Time could do. The unique aesthetic of this episode, and the feelings it elicits, were a joy. It was one of many different-feeling episodes that Adventure Time is capable of, and each I can’t get anywhere else on TV.
24) “Monster Reunion”, Steven Universe
From my ranking of the Summer of Steven Episodes: I really love the storytelling accomplished from Centipeedle. The scene with her showing Steven what happened to her through drawings was incredibly successful, and a hallmark example of this show’s unique storytelling capabilities. The rest of the episode was also very good; Steven and Centi’s interactions were great throughout.
23) “Kissing your Sister”, Veep
From my mid-year list: Veep is already top tier television (and has been for years), when it does experimental storytelling and pulls it off so much, it ascends to another level. This episode does incredible work through the lens of a documentary, advancing the plot in major ways, givings us some of the best character work of the season, and as always with this show, some of the best humor on TV.
22) “Chapter Forty-Five”, Jane the Virgin
The Jane Season 3 premiere was incredibly emotional, and no show does a better job affecting emotion from its audience than Jane. There are always frustrations with some of the more ridiculous plot lines on the show (the Anezka arc!) but Jane with its over the top, earnest, emotional overtones still makes for one of the best viewing experiences on TV. And the show is still incredibly consistent: any of its episodes this year could have made this list.
21) “Viral Spiral”, The Powerpuff Girls
I include this partly to troll you all, partly as an attempt to give this show the recognition it’s not getting elsewhere, and partly because it’s been genuinely very good. Look at how many episodes I included in my honorable mentions above: the new Powerpuff Girls reboot is remarkably consistent and has achieved a high level of quality with a significant number of episodes. “Viral Spiral” specifically is inventive, hilarious, and, like the show in general, features incredible characterization.
20) “Mr. Greg”, Steven Universe
From my ranking of the Summer of Steven Episodes: One of the best episodes of Steven Universe. Every song was effective and the story they told was great. “It’s Over Isn’t It” is the standout of the episode and maybe of this event but every song was solid if not great. The episode could have used some more breathing room and was a little heavy-handed in its narrative, but overall it was truly great.
19) “Million Dollar Gamble”, Survivor
As I said last year: Survivor isn’t scripted, but it contains a carefully crafted narrative and deserves to be compared among TV’s best. This episode (specifically the 2nd hour) was just that, one of the best episodes of television of the year, featuring a dramatic and tense Tribal Council, and one of my favorite scenes of the year with Zeke and Bret discussing the generational differences of being gay. One of TV’s best LGBT scenes of 2016 came from Survivor and that’s incredible.
18) “Gem Hunt”, Steven Universe
From my ranking of the Summer of Steven Episodes: A great showcase for three of the show’s best characters. Connie is incredible in this episode and needs to be used on the show more. Her and Steven’s dynamic is spectacular as always and Pearl is at classic, peak Pearl here. Combine that great characterization with a unique tundra aesthetic and a super solid Jasper plot and you get a top 25 Steven Universe episode.
17) “Mr. Candle Cares”, Star vs. the Forces of Evil
Star vs. the Forces of Evil has gone from good to great this year, entering into upper realm of American animation. The show is still wildly inconsistent, as its first season was, but the average episode quality has gone way up, and there are two standouts in particular. The first is “Mr. Candle Cares” a hilarious, self-referential episode. The character and relationship building moments towards the end of this episode are unparalleled by any other this year. It feels like a classic cartoon episode, and I hope it will go down as one.
16) “eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z”, Mr. Robot
Yes, Mr. Robot had a slightly down sophomore year. But it was still great and one of the best seasons of TV this year. Things really picked up at the end and this finale episode was excellent and featured an incredible climactic scene with Elliot and Tyrell, one of the best of the year.
15) “Same Old World”, Steven Universe
From my mid-year list: “Same Old World” does incredible jobs of expanding the characterization of Lapis and of Steven and Lapis’ dynamic. It’s a gorgeous episode, that also features world building and a great backstory sequence. All of this in the context of a wonderful melancholy tone, “Same Old World” is an excellently done, tight and focused package.
14) “Greg the Babysitter”, Steven Universe
From my ranking of the Summer of Steven Episodes: This is the most successful flashback episode the show has done and by far the most successful presentation of Rose. I actually felt like I somewhat knew Rose for the first time from watching this. The scene with her explaining to Greg on the beach why she finds humans so fascinating is a triumph. The rest of the episode is great too, constructing a nice little narrative with Vidalia, Greg, and Rose. And the incredible song in the beginning framing the whole episode! This is a top 15 episode of the entire series.
13) “Hated in the Nation”, Black Mirror
Black Mirror returned this year with a very strong 3rd season. This was already one of my favorite shows, and this season completely reinforced that. This episode of the anthology series is a played-straight police procedural thriller. It’s a very effective entry in that genre, with some very tense and compelling TV. The two leads of the episode are interesting and sympathetic, the use of technology in the episode is fascinating, the narrative and pacing wonderful, and overall the episode makes for one of the most compelling viewings this year.
12) “The New Lars”, Steven Univese
From my ranking of the Summer of Steven Episodes: I know literally no one agrees with me on this, but “The New Lars” is one of the best episodes of Steven Universe. The short reason why this episode is so good is that it’s narratively perfect. It constructs a perfect cyclical narrative, one that contains tons of small, appealing plot elements and has a great emotional heart with the Steven!Lars and Sadie scene at her house. This is by far the best example of Steven Universe doing a quiet, non-plot episode and proof of concept that this show can succeed without any aliens. It’s also the best character-swap episode I’ve ever seen and somehow doesn’t come out as ridiculous or contrived. Seriously, take another look at this one, it’s so good.
11) “The Winds of Winter”, Game of Thrones
From my mid-year list: Game of Thrones had some major difficulty with spacing and long-term plot arcs this season, but it certainly nailed the landing with its last two episodes. The finale was almost perfect, landing major plot developments, great character moments, and great set-up for the final run. Director Miguel Sapochnik puts his two episodes in this top 25 and has done some really special things with Game of Thrones these last two years. The first 20 minutes of this episode in particular were spectacularly executed.
10) “The Answer”, Steven Universe
From my mid-year list: “The Answer” is a miraculous fairy tale, showcasing incredible visuals and music for an emotional, brilliant love story that also provides world-building. The episode is sparse on plot specifics, but that’s with the territory of it being a fairy tale, and it accomplishes that thematically very well.
9) “Return of the Gladiator”, Voltron: Legendary Defender
From my mid-year list: Easily the best episode of the new Voltron, “Return of the Gladiator” features the best fight scene of the year, great backstory for a character, and finishes with an incredibly well executed twist. What an episode.
8) “Battle of the Bastards”, Game of Thrones
From my mid-year list: Mixing great character work with the biggest battle in TV history, “Battle of the Bastards” was definitely special. The battle itself has some excellent and coherent storytelling with of course some incredible visuals and action. But outside of that the episode featured great character-to-character scenes with the characters involved in the battle, and with Dany and Yara, in my favorite scene of the season.
7) “Bon Bon the Birthday Clown”, Star vs. the Forces of Evil
My pick for the most impeccably executed episode of animation, and maybe even in general, of the year. It’s hilarious and features great characterization, like all of Star. But this episode in particular has stunning animation, a wonderfully interesting fight scene, and some incredible character and relationship drama.
6) “Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back The Falls”, Gravity Falls
From my mid-year list: Gravity Falls has an essentially perfect finale, ending one of the best animated shows of the current era. The finale hit all the right notes and even if the episode didn’t do anything too standout and played it safe, it was extraordinarily solid.
5) “Hit the Diamond”, Steven Universe
From my mid-year list: Arguably a perfect episode of television, “Hit the Diamond” is truly special. It takes a ridiculous concept for an episode and jam packs in some incredible character work and humor in such a short time. Highlights are obviously Ruby and Sapphire’s flirting and the five Homeworld Rubys. The episode is hilarious and emotional, and Steven Universe at its best.
4) “Earthlings”, Steven Universe
From my ranking of the Summer of Steven Episodes: Incredible from start to finish, this episode does so much. The introduction of Smoky Quartz and the Steven and Amethyst moments preceding it are absolutely outstanding. The dramatic plot revelations with Jasper at the end are outstanding. The Peridot moments are outstanding. I’m not sure another episode of Steven Universe packs in so much quality narrative, and for a show that sometimes struggles to put much of any substantial narrative into 11 minute segments, this episode is truly special and a top 10 episode of the show overall.
3) “The Panic in Central Park”, Girls
From my mid-year list: I think Girls is easily going to down as one of the best shows of the last decade, and “The Panic in Central Park” might be the series’ best episode. This is the best one character showcase episode I’ve ever seen and the remarkable thing is it’s about a fairly weak character in the series. Marnie has always been an okay character going through unremarkable plot arcs, but here she and Allison Williams absolutely shine in an absolutely incredible emotional, introspective, stagnant yet plot-moving episode.
2) “Bismuth”, Steven Universe
From my ranking of the Summer of Steven Episodes: Nearly perfect television (the exception being the super quick wrap-up and somewhat unsatisfactory resolution of Bismuth continuing to be bubbled –however I ultimately think this was a reasonable storytelling choice given it gives the rest of the episode time to end up as good as it is), “Bismuth” is the best episode of TV I’ve seen in months, if not years. This easily joins the ranks of “Rose’s Scabbard”, “Sword to the Sword”, and “Jailbreak” to now make up the Top 4 highest tier episodes of Steven Universe. This one episode introduction to Bismuth is the best one-off new character episode spotlight I’ve ever seen, and her wonderful characterization also provides great moments for each of Steven, Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Steven in particular really shines in this episode and the climactic face-off is oh so good. It’s possible this should be a perfect 10: it’s that good.
1) “San Junipero”, Black Mirror
“San Junipero” is the rare 10 out of 10. It’s flawless and one of my favorite episodes of TV ever. This episode has: incredible characterization, a compelling narrative, flawless directorial and editorial execution, a unique and appealing aesthetic, the best romance of the year, wonderful queer representation, a well executed twist, one of the best song usages ever, and one of my favorite endings ever. All of that contained in an incredibly appealing and heartwarming package. The episode is smart, twisted, joyful, dramatic, profound, and I can’t recommend it enough. The year’s best and one of the best episodes of TV we’ve seen in a while.