While there are a number of excellent television episodes that aired during the first half of the year, not all of them made our list, due to a number of reasons, chief among them the simple fact that there are too many episodes potentially worthy of inclusion for the entire panel to watch them all. This is where our individual picks come in. Each panelist was given one slot to fill with any episode that hadn’t made the list, but which they felt belonged there. Here are our individual picks, to complement our list of the Best Episodes of 2015 (so far):
Whitney’s pick: The Comeback, “Valerie Finally Gets What She Really Wants”
Written by Michael Patrick King & Lisa Kudrow
Directed by Michael Patrick King
Aired December 28th, 2014 on HBO
Note: While this episode aired in 2014, it aired after the publication of Sound on Sight’s Best of 2014 list, hence its place on this list.
The genius of The Comeback’s second season, and probable series, finale is the way it upended expectations. All season long, Valerie Cherish acts horribly towards her friends, family, and co-workers even as she is at times being treated similarly by others. Her actions in pursuit of fame and success slowly alienate the people closest to her without her realizing it until it is too late. So, with a title like “Valerie Finally Gets What She Really Wants”, there could be any number of awful and awkward situations to come in the final episode. Yet her last minute rush to Mickey’s hospital bed, as her Emmy category is announced, is full of so much heart and in such direct opposition to all the grossness that comes before that it’s hard not to choke up watching Valerie do the right thing for her friend. The show’s separation from its “mockumentary” style once Valerie leaves the theater for the hospital compounds the already stark emotional turn and sucks the audience into her mad rush to Mickey all that much more. It is a triumphant end, narratively and creatively, to one of the best seasons of any show in recent memory. [Whitney M]
Ricky’s pick: The Walking Dead, “Them”
Directed by Julius Ramsay
Written by Heather Bellson
Aired February 15, 2015 on AMC
The Walking Dead has been hammering in the comparison between the living and the undead since its conception. “Them” opens with our survivors attempting to walk sixty miles down one long rural road, with the same mindless persistence as the zombies who try to eat them. Aesthetically, Julius Ramsay’s direction is the reason to love this episode, as he finds ways to beautifully capture the desolate landscape which highlights the danger and unpredictability of our group’s surroundings. Not much changes by the time the credits role, but “Them” is a necessary episode that forces the group to rethink their current situation and reassess their plan for survival. It also features a few great moments. The scene when the entire group presses themselves against the barn doors easily feels like a fever dream and the agony on Norman Reedus’ face when Daryl sneaks off to cry is gut-wrenching. And finally, the blankness in our survivors’ eyes as they chow down on the dog meat is chilling, but it’s Noah’s troubled stare at the dog collar that delivers the real punch to the gut. [Ricky D]
Kate’s pick: The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, “Chapter 5: ‘Family Values’”/“Chapter 6: ‘What the Hell Did I Do?’”
Written by Andrew Jarecki, Marc Smerling, and Zachary Stuart-Pontier
Directed by Andrew Jarecki
Aired March 8th and March 15th, 2015 on HBO
The Jinx was captivating from its first episode, Robert Durst making for an at times relatable, at times chilling onscreen presence. But the turn that comes in episode five, [SPOILERS for real life] when the adopted son of alleged Durst victim and longtime Durst friend Susan Berman discovers a forgotten and damning piece of evidence, is stunning, the kind of twist one would condemn as overly convenient in fiction. Watching Berman’s son react to this discovery and how it recontextualizes years of his life is gripping and that only continues in episode six, when director Andrew Jarecki considers how to interview Durst and present him with this evidence. The final conversation between the two is fairly straightforward, though certainly intense for viewers, but it’s the audio caught afterwards when Durst leaves the interview, but forgets he’s still wired for sound, that makes these two episodes among the greatest television achievements of the year, so far. There are plenty of very valid questions about the timeline and ethics of Jarecki and his team, but as a piece of television, little if anything in 2015 will top The Jinx. [Kate K]
Randy’s Pick: Schitt’s Creek, “Honeymoon”
Written by Daniel Levy
Directed by Jerry Ciccoritti
Aired March 10th, 2015 on Pop TV
Blink and you missed Schitt’s Creek, the Canadian comedy import created by father/son duo Eugene and Dan Levy that aired on Pop TV (formerly the TV Guide Network) in the spring. A mix of Arrested Development and Green Acres, the lighthearted fish-out-of-water adventures of the Rose family disguised a subtler, darker exploration of a failed businessman, a past-her-prime TV actress, and their two entitled, indulgent children, struggling to heal their broken relationships in the town of Schitt’s Creek, the only asset the family has left.
The high mark of the show’s surprising freshman season is the Dan Levy-scripted “Honeymoon”, an episode that turns two generational dinner parties into revelatory character moments, particularly for Johnny Rose and town mayor Roland, who bond over the shared tension in their relationships with their sons. Equally poignant and hilarious, these dinner parties exhibit both the heart and mind of Schitt’s Creek, moving beyond the simple comedic ironies of early episodes into stories more nuanced and emotionally poignant (the episode also unpacks the complex sexuality of David—one of the Roses’ two children—with a hilarious wine metaphor), delvering the show’s finest episode of its freshman season in the process. [Randy D]
Deepayan’s pick: Big Time in Hollywood, FL, “A Night In”
Written by Ben Seccombe
Directed by Rob Schrab
Aired April 22nd, 2015 on Comedy Central
From its first episode, Big Time in Hollywood, FL proved itself as a show worth keeping an eye on, using its high production value to not only wring laughs, but throw the audience off balance, only escalating from there. The season’s deftest balance between humour, real-world stakes, and high production values came in “A Night In”, which also worked effectively in adding dimension to the Dolfe marriage.
Possibly the best aspect of the episode is the manner in which it transitions from the foibles of the older Dolfe couple to the younger Dolfe siblings. Not only is the episode’s use of a single focal point to shift the scene wonderfully executed every time, the juxtaposition of the crime scene with the dinner date does a great job at highlighting not only the show’s absurdity, but how effectively it manages to juggle these disparate tones with ease. The addition of genuinely unexpected plot twists, hilariously inept actions by characters that are nonetheless completely believable in context, and the straight-faced manner in which it is all played out make this one of the best episodes on television so far this year. [Deepayan S]
Sean’s Pick: Louie, “Untitled”
Written by Louie C.K.
Directed by Louie C.K.
Aired May 7th, 2015 on FX
As Louie has begun to experiment more and more with serialization in the last couple years, episodes like “Untitled” stand out as fascinating oddballs, twenty-minute segments that hold off on the emotional and philosophical depth Louie often employs in favor of presenting a more abstract work of art. “Untitled” is a terrifying piece of television, haunted by a naked figure that torments Louie’s sleep. It’s satisfying and surprising to see Louie pull off psychological horror, since the series is usually funny and/or dramatic in theme-driven ways. “Untitled” eventually reverts to those qualities, suggesting that those moments of relatively harmless selfishness can eat away at our unconscious. But the refusal of the episode to let the viewer get comfortable separates it from anything else Louie has done structurally, proving once again that Louis C.K. is a unique working talent in television who is never content to repeat past successes. Watch this one with the lights on. [Sean C]
Simon’s pick: Penny Dreadful, “The Nightcomers”
Written by John Logan
Directed by Brian Kirk
Aired May 17th, 2015 on Showtime
If consistency is your TV watchword, Showtime’s Penny Dreadful is not the show for you. John Logan’s Victorian genre mashup is perennially poised to become truly great, until one (or several) of the series’ recurring plotlines, characters, or tropes rears its ugly head and gets in the way of the series’ momentum. On the other hand, there’s nothing else around remotely like it, though it can occasionally feel like something Ryan Murphy could do if he had a history doctorate and a steady supply of antistimulants. It’s essentially a collection of arcane gothic trivia cobbled together to form a series, albeit one aided by a handful of strong performances and an unwavering sense of style and atmosphere. It makes sense, then, that “The Nightcomers” would act as perhaps the series’ strongest hour to date, given that it isolates viewers mostly in one location with only one principal character, Vanessa Ives (the singular Eva Green), and a stellar one-off guest star, Broadway legend and all-around badass Patti LuPone. Without the clutter that can often mar Penny Dreadful, “The Nightcomers” is allowed to be a wonderfully macabre yet affecting dual character study, as well as a showcase for two very well-matched performers. It’s a reminder that beyond the sumptuous production design, hammy acting, and stomach-churning gore, Penny Dreadful can manage real dramatic heft and serious heart. [Simon H]