There were hundreds of TV shows and thousands of episodes from 2016 airing on everything from broadcast TV to premium cable to streaming services to Louis C.K.’s personal website. Here is my list of the 25 best episodes of television from the year.
#25 “Worlds Finest,” Supergirl
This special crossover brought Barry Allen as the Flash to National City to fight side-by-side with the Girl of Steel, expanding the scope of both universes and giving us plenty of joyful superhero action and banter.
#24 “Chapter 6,” American Horror Story: Roanoke
The first half of the season was interesting as it showed us the fake docu-drama My Roanoke Nightmare, but this is the episode when things got really good, showing us a behind-the-scenes sequel to the series that brought the “real-life” people who survived the nightmare face-to-face with the “actors” who played them in the reenactments. It was a clever structural and stylistic twist that made this season the best one in years.
#23 “A Chill Day In,” New Girl
For Cece’s bachelorette party, she and Jess got stoned and tried returning a damaged bread maker to the store. Their zany stoner antics made this an episode that really highlighted the hilarious female talent in this comedy.
#22 “Episode 10,” Horace and Pete
Louis C.K.’s passion project that he released on his own website came to an end with a bittersweet yet beautiful hour. The first half served as a flashback with the cast members playing their parents while the second half brought a shocking and tragic ending courtesy of Pete’s mental illness.
#21 “Kimmy Walks Into a Bar!,” Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Jacqueline threw her gala charity event in this episode that is on this list solely because of the guest performance by Anna Camp as Jacqueline’s rival Deirdre, a brilliant and sociopathic trophy wife who takes joy in crushing others and being crushed herself.
#20 “Norman,” Bates Motel
The season 4 finale finally pushed us one step closer to Psycho with the death of Norma Bates. Norman went more psycho than ever and Freddie Highmore’s performance in coping with the loss was powerful.
#19 “The Day the World Went Away,” Person of Interest
In the show’s 100th episode, Finch’s number came up and a harrowing battle ensued, leading to the tragic death of Root, Finch being arrested for treason and the man who created the Machine finally deciding to step up and try to kill the rival spy software, Samaritan. It was filled with action, great acting and the episode set up the endgame for the series.
#18 “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” The X-Files
The reboot of FOX gave us one of the staples of the original series: a silly, funny, weird episode. This entire hour was surreal, filled with the kind of absurdist comedy that was a trademark of a handful of the original X-Files episodes, proving that not all cases are scary.
#17 “Don’t Call Me Shurley,” Supernatural
This was the big episode where Chuck Shurley, author of the Supernatural series of books, was revealed to be God. His scenes with Metatron were funny and entertaining, giving us a clear idea of why He’s been gone for so long and why, at this moment, God finally decided to enter the story.
#16 “Welcome to Earth-2” and “Escape from Earth-2,” The Flash
This pair of episodes introduced us to the concept of the multiverse, giving us doppelgangers of almost every character as well as plenty of Justice League Easter Eggs. It was a great way to give the cast new roles to play and it has become very important given the rise of aliens, Supergirl, multiple Harrisons and a truly expanded sense of reality.
#15 “Pilot,” This Is Us
The debut of this heartwarming family drama was perfect, from Kevin’s Manny meltdown to Randall reconnecting with his biological father to Jack and Rebecca having their babies. Every storyline worked, blending comedy and drama, laughter and tears. It was great, and then we got the game-changing, time-bending twist that tied it all together and gave the show its unique format.
#14 “Most Improved Player,” The Good Place
After Eleanor revealed that she doesn’t belong in the Good Place, this episode featured Michael interrogating her and everyone around her, also giving us an endless supply of cactus sight gags and introducing the hilarious Adam Scott as Michael’s dick-ish counterpart in the Bad Place.
#13 “Potential Energy,” The Fosters
The season 4 premiere of this touching family drama dealt with guns as the school went into lockdown because of Mariana’s boyfriend. It was tense and all-too-real, but powerful and important nonetheless.
#12 “The Sound of Silence,” Grey’s Anatomy
When Meredith was attacked by a patient, we got to see every agonizing moment in great detail, including a superb, dialogue-free section that put viewers in Meredith’s head as she struggled to cling to life.
#11 “Dead Beat” and “Salvation Army,” iZombie
The final two episodes of season 2 brought everything to a head as Liv revealed the truth about zombies to Marcus and the team invaded Max Rager to take down the corrupt organization. From Steven Weber’s fiendishly villainous performance and cruel ending to a hilarious cameo by “the one and only Rob Thomas” who got his brains eaten by zombies, this ending was the high point of the series.
#10 “Toast Can’t Never Be Bread Again,” Orange Is the New Black
The fourth season of Netflix’s prison dramedy ended on a very dark night with a tragic death that inspired an uprising against the abusive guards. It was poignant and once again proved that this show is at its best when it’s a full-on drama.
#9 “Season 2: Episode 10,” American Crime
The second season of this anthology dealt with rape, teenage homosexuality, schools, race, cyber bullying, gun violence and every other topical issue you can name. And the ending was positively brutal as the lives of almost every single character were severely and permanently ruined. The show’s unwavering, bleak outlook on these situations may seem cynical, but it’s also sadly realistic.
#8 “Invasion!,” The Flash, Arrow and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow
Aliens came to Central City and the result was an epic crossover with the teams from all three of these shows joining forces with Supergirl. With a sprawling cast, there were new and wonderful combinations everywhere, plus a great 100th episode of Arrow in the middle that brought back many old faces. The whole event was wildly entertaining and a ratings bonanza for the CW.
#7 “The Original,” Westworld
The premiere of this HBO drama introduced us to a new world with excitement, action and a flawless combination of the Old West and advanced sci-fi technology. In particular, the safe-stealing sequence set to “Paint It Black” was the single best scene of the entire first season.
#6 “The Winds of Winter,” Game of Thrones
The season 6 finale gave us everything we could want, including an answer to Jon Snow’s mother, Daenerys finally making her way across the Narrow Sea and, of course, Cersei taking the Iron Throne. The opening segment, with Cersei exacting her revenge by killing all of her enemies, was one of the best things on TV all year.
#5 “Winter,” Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
This beloved dramedy returned in true form with a great start. It had fast-talking Gilmores, lots of comedy (Kirk’s Ooober and Paris’ fertility clinic) plus some major heartbreaking family drama surrounding the funeral of Richard Gilmore. It had everything fans could’ve dreamed of and more.
#4 “Mother,” Veep
If you want to know why Julia Louis-Dreyfus won her fifth Emmy in a row, look no farther than this episode. Selina’s mother has a stroke and dies while she’s dealing with a Nevada recount in her presidential election, leading to a storm of inappropriate emotions. When Selina learns she lost the recount (and the popular vote) right before her eulogy, it leads to a presidential meltdown of epic proportions. In this episode, Julia Louis-Dreyfus delivered the single best performance of the year.
#3 “Battle of the Bastards,” Game of Thrones
Nothing on TV (or film) comes close to this HBO epic regarding action sequences. The glorious Battle of the Bastards, with giants, horses, arrows and mountains of corpses, was a visual feast, culminating with the satisfying death of Ramsey Bolton in front of Sansa.
#2 “Last Christmas,” This Is Us
The best new show of the year, this NBC drama delivered a truly magical Christmas episode. Told in six separate vignettes, we got a little bit of everything. There was the emotion of Dr. K. and Kate’s surgeries in the past, the wackiness of Kevin attending Hanukkah dinner pretending to be his playwright’s boyfriend, the tension of Randall stopping a co-worker from committing suicide and the shocking revelation that Randall’s biological father is gay (or at least bi, according to Randall’s precocious daughter). And after an entire episode where we were promised that nothing bad ever happens on Christmas Eve, something truly heartbreaking did occur at the very end.
#1 “Hope,” Black-ish
This poignant and funny episode dealt with police brutality against black men and how Andre and Bow talk to their children about what’s happening. There are laughs, sadness and, yes, even some hope. Not only is this a great episode of television, but it’s an important one that everyone should watch.