You know that thing where you look out the window, and the sky is all red and there’s thunder and lighting and then an enormous, dark, satanic figure descends to smite down all those who do not obey him, so you close the curtains and go back to just staring at your television screen, occasionally pressing the button to say that yes, Netflix, I am still watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? You know, 2017? Yeah, that.
Thankfully, there’s been a lot of great TV to distract us from the outside world this year, and here at ShortList, we’ve clubbed together to decide on our 10 favourite episodes from 2017.
We’re not saying these are the definitive best, they’re just our best. Let us know what you think, and if there are any of your favourites we’ve missed out.
So, in no particular order…
1.'Stranger Things' - ‘The Spy’
Stranger Things 2 may well have been the most-hyped show of the year. The young stars’ talents are now being milked dry by every American chat show under the sun (just leave them alone, they’re kids!), and that’s because it’s rare to find such a brilliant group of young actors, who remain the heart of the show, despite our obvious love for Winona Ryder and David Harbour.
Anyway, Season 2 of the hit Netflix Original definitely lived up to the hype, and Episode 6, ‘The Spy’, was the best of the lot. It gave us the Steve and Dustin double-act we never knew we needed (but oh man, did we need it), and also one of the series’ best comic moments. I say moment, really it was the entire extended scene between Nancy, Jonathan and Murray, the detective when they hole up in his shack.
Meanwhile, the battle between Will and the Shadow Monster is raging. We begin to understand a little more about how deeply they are connected, as ‘The Spy’ ramps up the tension and the stakes ahead of the gangbusting finale.
2.'Master of None' - ‘New York, I Love You’
2017 was the year we learned once and for all that ‘a great episode’ and ‘an episode in which a bunch of exciting stuff happens’ are not the same thing. In fact, the opposite is often true.
In ‘New York, I Love You’, Master of None presents a number of seemingly unrelated stories which, if we base our expectations on common tropes, we expect to all come together in a moment of high drama. That makes us more attentive, and gets us to engross ourselves in the lives of characters we don’t often see (and who some might suggest the mythical everyman viewer might not be too invested in). Merely conceiving of the episode might be bold in and of itself, but the execution lifts it to an even higher level.
3.'The Handmaid’s Tale' - ‘Faithful’
Quite frankly, it’s hard to choose a single episode as the best from this outstanding Hulu series based on the work of writer Margaret Atwood. Each scene is an intense, claustrophobic and terrifying display of how male power operates - and it seems to have developed particular poignance in our era of Donald Trump and sexual harassment revelations.
But one episode that did manage to stand out was episode five; not only does Emily (Alexis Bledel) mount a shocking fightback by driving a car through a crowded market, but the viewers’ own assumptions are shaken in a conversation between June (Elisabeth Moss) and her new companion - who, before the revolution, was a drug addict living in awful poverty. For her, society’s theocratic transformation, which has effectively enslaved the female population, helped give her stability, dignity and hope. This provocative scene truly messed with my mind and made me question pretty much everything.
4.'Game of Thrones' - 'The Spoils of War'
The expectations around Game of Thrones now are truly ridiculous. No show has ever been run through with such a fine-tooth comb, so deconstructed and analysed to broken down into the minutest of detail. However, with Season 7’s fourth episode, ‘The Spoils of War’, Benioff and Weiss created a piece of TV that was almost universally adored.
The single-shot of Bronn scrambling his way through the orange-tinted heat of the battlefield was reminiscent of how we saw Jon during the Battle of the Bastards, and gave a beloved secondary character a deserved defining scene.
The magic of Game of Thrones now is that it has connected us and made us fall for characters on every side of the war. It doesn’t deal in such tired conceits as ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Nothing proves this more than the moment of terror we all felt as Jaime drove his horse headlong towards Daenerys and Drogon, in one of the most enrapturing closing scenes of an episode of TV you’re ever likely to see.
5.'Better Call Saul' - 'Chicanery'
Despite being a show about lawyers, Better Call Saul has mostly avoided slipping into the well-trodden but always gripping territory of being a courtroom drama. However, in ‘Chicanery’, it allows itself that luxury, and man are we happy it did.
It’s the episode in which three seasons of boiling tension between Jimmy and Chuck finally reaches its peak - Chuck’s hatred for Jimmy, and Jimmy’s pain played out officially, in front of a judge, all documented in permanent legal records that can never be scratched. It’s an incredibly intense and ultimately deeply satisfying episode that proves Better Call Saul is far more than just a Breaking Bad spin-off, but then we knew that already.
6.'BoJack Horseman' - ‘The Old Sugarman Place’
By this stage, anyone familiar with BoJack Horseman will know any description of the animation as a ‘comedy’ is reductive, but it took an altogether bleaker turn in its fourth season. The jokes (both visual and dialogue-based) remained, but were often pushed further into the background.
A major case in point is ‘The Old Sugarman Place’, the second episode of the season, which sees the show leap into more upsetting narratives earlier than usual. When you’re running out of ways to make the future more dismal, as was the worry put forward by some fans, why not present an even more desolate and unimaginably heartbreaking past?
7.'The Good Place' - 'Michael's Gambit'
A common trait of good television is how you pull off scenarios which - by their definition - can only be attempted once. We’ve seen it done well in the past with Breaking Bad’s game-changing episodes in its fourth and fifth seasons, but the gravity of The Good Place’s Season 1 closer comes with different requirements, given the nature of the show.
It might ostensibly be a comedy, but it still needs to hang together from a narrative and character point of view. Indeed, those who have watched the show will know it has to do so more than other programmes within its unique set-up. Of course, part two of nailing the episode (without giving too much away) comes with nailing those which follow, and - thankfully - the second season seems to have delivered so far.
8.'Big Mouth' - ‘Am I Gay?’
It’s true that Big Mouth fearlessly explores teenage sexuality in a non-creepy, sex-positive way, but that’s not why the show is so great. Fundamentally, this Netflix Original is just downright hilarious. In Episode 3, ‘Am I Gay?’ Andrew watches an especially erotic trailer starring The Rock and begins to wonder whether he could be gay. The episode is comedy gold - and it features a fabulous musical number led by the ghost of Freddie Mercury. What more could you possibly ask for?!
9.'The Good Fight' - 'Inauguration'
Anyone who’s seen the incredible US legal drama The Good Wife didn’t need to be convinced to watch its spin-off show The Good Fight - which aired in the UK on More4. And this series, which tackles complex issues around racism and police brutality, adds a freshness to the franchise.
Episode 1, titled ‘Inauguration,’ is timely, fast-paced and heart-stoppingly dramatic - basically everything you want it to be. And the female leads Christine Baranski, Cush Jumbo and Rose Leslie absolutely sparkle. For fans of procedural, investigative TV, this is unmissable stuff.
10.'Mr. Robot' - ‘eps3.5_kill-pr0cess.inc’
A lot of people found Mr. Robot’s second season disappointing, and it put them off the show after what had been a stellar debut. Personally, I still loved it, but even if you were one of Season 2’s haters, you couldn’t deny that Season 3 was a true return to form, and perhaps the best the show has ever been.
’Kill Process’ is one of those episodes which just doesn’t allow you to breathe. From Dom going rogue and trying to take down Tyrell, to Elliot’s race against a literal ticking time bomb to stop the Dark Army from blowing up an E-Corp building, we’re never given a second to relax.
The internal battle between Elliot and Mr. Robot could be seen as farcical if both Rami Malek and Christian Slater weren’t so totally convincing. Instead it feels like we’re reaching their relationship’s zenith. We get the pay off we deserve when the pair finally work together to stop the attack, before we are broken to pieces by the closing scene. Outstanding TV.