2015 in Review: Great Episodes, July to December

My look back at the year in TV continues with episodes that aired between July and December. As I said in yesterday’s post for January to June episodes, I somewhat arbitrarily chose not to include episodes of shows that appeared on my Top 10 list. If I had, I might have included the Fargo thriller “Rhinoceros”; the Review stunners “William Tell, Grant a Wish, Rowboat” and “Happiness, Pillow Fight, Imaginary Friend”; the poignant “Parents,” perceptive “Ladies and Gentleman” and romantic “Mornings” from Master of None; and pretty much every episode of The Leftovers season two.

Another note: this list is by no means comprehensive. There are plenty of TV shows and episodes I liked this year that I didn’t include on this list, and there are many times more TV shows and episodes that I would have liked had I the time and energy to watch them. If your favorites aren’t on here, you either experienced something great that I haven’t yet, or we have different tastes. Both are more than acceptable.

And in case you missed them, read my ten favorite shows of 2015 and the first half of this great episodes collection.

UnREAL, “Fly”

Season one, episode six. Written by Alex Metcalf, directed by Peter Werner. Aired July 6, Lifetime.

Unreal

This is the episode in which Lifetime’s darkly satirical exploration of romance-based reality competition series hit a new nadir of darkness, when one of the contestants on Everlasting, the show’s analog to ABC’s The Bachelor, commits suicide after one of the Everlasting producers went off-script and tampered with her medications. There were other moments of sociopathic behavior and ill intentions throughout this deliciously unflinching drama, but few had the classic TV shock value of this episode’s climactic event.

Hannibal, “Digestivo”

Season three, episode seven. Written by Steve Lightfoot and Bryan Fuller, directed by Adam Kane. Aired July 18, NBC.

After an instant-classic season, Hannibal followed its gonzo narrative ambitions even further and wilder in its third season, with even more experimental camerawork, jarring editing and dazzling depictions of gruesome violence. At times, the show felt less like an immersive exploration of these characters and more like a technical exercise in giving the rest of the non-surreal television landscape an enormous middle finger. I appreciated this season more than I loved it, but the final episode in the season’s Europe-set first half represented the peak of its haunting effect, marrying gory imagery with tragic beauty.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, “Series Finale”

Aired August 6, Comedy Central.

Even more so than David Letterman’s moving final hour in May, Jon Stewart’s double-length send-off perfectly encapsulated everything that made Stewart an icon over the course of his decade and a half at the desk. It also highlighted the extraordinary breeding ground for multifaceted platform that The Daily Show became under Stewart’s tenure, with nearly every significant correspondent returning to wish their fearless leader well. Highlights include Stephen Colbert’s extraordinary and heartfelt tribute, to which Stewart responded with a mixture of cowering and crying, and the ecstatic Bruce Springsteen dance party over the closing credits. Stewart has since signed a deal with HBO, returned to The Daily Show as a guest and even crashed Colbert’s monologue on CBS. But this finale remains his most stirring moment of 2015.

Rectify, “The Source”

Season three, episode six. Written and directed by Ray McKinnon. Aired August 13, Sundance.

Rectify

Several shots in the Sundance drama’s third season have an almost otherworldly power, depicting Daniel Holden as he takes his court-ordered trip out of Georgia, away from his family and into unknown territory, in terms of where he’s living, who he’ll be with and what he’ll do. Not much happens in this episode, but an entire world of emotion plays across the faces of the ensemble as they close the book on much of what has defined this heartbreaking show’s emotional center of gravity thus far.

The Carmichael Show, “Protest

Season one, episode two. Written by Jerrod Carmichael and Ari Katcher, directed by Gerry Cohen. Aired August 26, NBC.

This show ducked in and out of the NBC lineup in the dog days of summer, but don’t let the network’s lackadaiscal scheduling and the show’s antiquated multi-camera sitcom format keep you from experiencing one of the most thematically ambitious, politically charged comedies of the year. Standup Jerrod Carmichael isn’t the strongest actor on the show — that honor goes to Loretta Devine and David Alan Grier as Jerrod’s kooky parents — but he brings a socially conscious perspective to a format that typically prioritizes hackneyed gags and lazy stereotypes. This episode and the following one, “Gender,” offer nuanced takes on some of the nation’s most controversial issues. That they’re uproariously funny as well is a welcome bonus.

Black-ish, “THE Word”

Season two, episode one. Written by Kenya Barris, Lisa McQuillan and Damilare Sonoiki, directed by Matt Sohn. Aired Sept. 23, ABC.

I quite liked the fall 2014 pilot for this ABC comedy filtered through the perspective of an upper-middle-class black American family, but for whatever reason, I never got around to watching the rest of the first season. Now I’m wondering if I just missed the boat, or if season two represents an enormous leap in quality.  “The Word” deftly tackles a topic loaded with centuries of baggage and finds the comedy in the absurdity of the N-word debate, but it doesn’t trivialize the generations of conflict that continue to render this debate a lightning rod.

Documentary Now, “Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee”

Season one, episodes six and seven. Written by Fred Armisen, Bill Hader and Erik Kenward, directed by Alex Buono and Rhys Thomas. Aired September 24, IFC.

I haven’t seen all six episodes of this idiosyncratic faux-documentary series from creators Bill Hader, Fred Armisen and Seth Meyers. But this two-part finale is riotously funny, affectionately accurate and shockingly heartfelt. It’s as much a celebration of the documentaries it’s lampooning as it is a parody, and it finds moments of genuine human feeling even while it engages in the technical exercise of replicating the beats of a classic rock-umentary – talking heads, concert footage, rampant nostalgia. This kind of show wouldn’t have been possible in the era of three networks. But on the niche platform at IFC, these three SNL alums and some of their behind-the-scenes collaborators found a venue for their exciting blend of mockery and homage.

Fresh Off the Boat, “Boy II Man”

Season two, episode two. Written by Matt Kuhn and staff, directed by Claire Scanlon. Aired September 29, ABC.

The first season of Fresh Off the Boat was promising but inconsistent. Some episodes were funny and perceptive, while others leaned too heavily on stereotype, caricature and cliche. But this season, rid off the unnecessary voice-over narration from the real-life Eddie Huang, the show feels liberated, bursting with comedic gems and boasting sparkling performances from Randall Park and Constance Wu. All three kids have come into their own, the callbacks to ’90s music have been on point, and even the parade of high-profile guest stars — Jeremy Lin, Shaquille O’Neal, DMX — haven’t distracted from what makes this show special. It’s not just that it tackles the well-trod family sitcom genre through the underrepresented lens of Chinese-American immigrants. The show succeeds because it capitalizes on the opportunity to tell stories that other shows with characters with different backgrounds couldn’t and because it mines laughs from situations both specific and universal.

You’re the Worst, “There is Not Currently a Problem

Season two, episode seven. Written by Stephen Falk and Philippe Iujvidin, directed by Wendey Stanzler. Aired October 21, FX.

One of last year’s best new shows turned in a formally and thematically ambitious second season, with an unexpected commitment to depicting the ins and outs of clinical depression through the eyes of Gretchen (Aya Cash). After a few episodes of subtle build-up, this one confines the show’s entire cast to the home of Gretchen’s boyfriend Jimmy (Chris Geere), bringing Gretchen’s struggles to the fore and providing one of many compelling showcases for Cash’s unflinching dramatic work. This episode is the finest example this season of storytelling that shows compassion for its characters’ perspectives, even when they’ can be hostile to each other’s.

The Grinder, “A Hero Has Fallen”

Season one, episode two. Written by Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, directed by Jake Kasdan. Aired October 6, Fox.

The first few episodes of this Fox comedy had only a few jokes — TV star Dean Sanderson (Rob Lowe) lacks self-awareness and thinks he’s in a TV show; his brother Stewart (Fred Savage) wants him to come down to earth and get out of his life — but they wring those jokes for all the comedy they’re worth. But to my surprise, later episodes have deepened the show’s relationships, complicated its satire of network television drama tropes and introduced a potent strain of humanity, especially in the recent two-parter with guest stars Jason Alexander and Timothy Olyphant. This second episode points the way for the fun that would come later in the season, as Dean introduces an indelible catchphrase, in response to someone saying that something can’t be done: “But what if it could?”

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Halloween III”

Season three, episode five. Written by David Phillips, directed by Michael McDonald. Aired October 25, Fox.

Few series are as consistently, reliably solid as this one, which rarely hits the highs of its forebear Parks and Recreation, but hits its marks with ease and consistently finds new gears for its colorful cast of characters. This year’s Halloween episode pits goofy detective Jake against his friendly rival and boss, the stone-faced Captain Holt (Andre Braugher), as they abandon their professional duties for an elaborate game of deception.

 

 

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