BY ALAN SEPINWALL
For all that Netflix and some other outlets want to treat the season as the new unit of TV storytelling measurement, the individual episode still has tons of value. When you watch a show weekly, a particularly great episode can leave you elated over the seven days until the next installment, and when you binge, an episode that’s distinct from the ones before and after — like this season’s silent BoJack Horseman — stands out even more. A transcendent episode can make a special series even more so, and it can make a frustrating series feel worth it for the occasional rewards like it.
In assembling the below list of notable episodes from 2016, I specifically avoided ones from shows that wound up on either my overall top 20 or my list of the year’s best new shows. It’s not just that I alluded to some obvious candidates — “Fish Out of Water,” The Night Of premiere, the Game of Thrones finale — in those earlier lists, but that doing it this way allowed me to cast a light on some shows that either fell just short of a prior list, or were too uneven to qualify but capable of occasional genius.
(And even with these 13 choices, on top of the 40+ shows listed earlier in the week , I still haven’t mentioned all the series I enjoyed this year — I couldn’t, for instance, decide on my favorite Bob’s Burger episode — because even my Everybody Gets a Trophy year-end philosophy robs me of superlatives before I’m done.)
In alphabetical order, here are some individual episodes worthy of note before we say goodbye to 2016:
Mr. Robot: “Successor”
In its first season, Rami Malek was so fundamental to everything that made Mr. Robot work that it would have been unthinkable for the show to do an episode without him. Not only did season 2 attempt it with this Darlene spotlight, but it turned out to be perhaps the strongest, and definitely the most consistent, installment of a wildly uneven season, which otherwise had many wild swings in mood and quality even within individual episodes, let alone from week to week. With Elliot — and his rich, complicated inner life — getting the week off for “Successor,” the show was free to tell a simpler, tense psychological thriller about the burdens his sister carries trying to lead the revolution without him.
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