THR TV Critics' Favorite Episodes of 2015

10:00 AM 12/20/2015

by Tim Goodman and Daniel Fienberg

Tim Goodman and Daniel Fienberg weigh in on episodes from 'Fargo,' 'The Last Man on Earth' and others that made an indelible impact this year.

Courtesy of HBO; Mathias Clamer/FX; Patrick Harbon/FX
  • The Americans

    Episode: "Stingers"

    Patrick Harbon/FX

    Shows with major secrets resist revealing them; that’s what enhances the drama. This series about Soviet sleeper-cell spies — whose kids are born and raised in the United States, unaware of what their parents do — was always heading toward the big reveal that happened in this episode. When Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys) tell teenage daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) what she’s been guessing at and pushing for, you can feel the air leave her body (and yours, probably). It’s so inevitable, so matter-of-fact and yet so fraught with peril (and such a game-changer for the show) that the impact is less fireworks-surprise than oh-god-what-have- you-done dread. Taylor is one of the rare young actors capable of pulling this off. — T.G.

  • BoJack Horseman

    Episode: "Escape From L.A."

    Courtesy of Netflix

    "I didn't like the person I was in L.A.," BoJack said, explaining why he left Hollywood behind and followed doe-eyed former flame Charlotte to Santa Fe, unaware that she was married, with a boner-prone teenage son and a doppelganger 17-year-old daughter. What followed was 25 minutes of ever-increasing mortification as BoJack insinuated himself into Charlotte's life and seemed doomed to make a soul-crushing mistake of some sort. In classic BoJack style, there were hilarious moments, including his ill-fated attempt to infiltrate a high school prom and also the '80s sitcom-y "Kyle & the Kids" theme song, but the episode spiraled downward to Charlotte's harsh comment that a new location won't help BoJack because, "You can't escape you." And then things got worse. —D.F.

  • Fargo

    Episode: "Waiting for Dutch"

    Chris Large/FX

    Holy hell, creator Noah Hawley didn’t mess around when kicking off this season, set in 1979. While there’s much to love throughout, the defining minutes come when things go awry — as they often do in Fargo — after a simple shakedown attempt inside The Waffle Hut. A small-time thug tries to extort money from a judge, gets sprayed in the eyes, stabbed in the back, sees a UFO and then gets hit by a Corvair (unsafe at any speed), going through the front window — but not before shooting the judge, the cook and the waitress (twice) and losing his shoe. It’s chaotic, horrifying, hilarious, weird and unexpected. And you’re hooked. — T.G.

  • Game of Thrones

    Episode: "Hardhome"

    Courtesy of HBO

    Emmys and residual Top 10 lists notwithstanding, the fifth season of Game of Thrones was rough: a diffuse, pacing-challenged mess of disconnected characters and shoddy special effects. But whatever lows the season had, it also had this Miguel Sapochnik-directed episode, which culminated in an epic battle between Jon Snow and his army of wildlings and a burgeoning undead force of wights. The fracas raised the bar from the show's sustained action classics "Blackwater" and "Watchers on the Wall," suggesting that maybe the reason Daenerys' dragons looks so shoddy this season was because they were saving money for this extravaganza. The action was intense and unrelenting, and despite almost no time for character development, it packed an emotional punch, especially with the chilling — pun intended — closing image of the Night's King. — D.F.

  • The Jinx

    Episode: "What The Hell Did I Do?"

    Courtesy of HBO

    Stupid TV-spoiling law enforcement. We watched five episodes of HBO's docudrama from Andrew Jarecki (and Marc Smerling and Zachary Stuart-Pointier) and we were eagerly awaiting the finale to see how close the filmmakers were going to come to nailing alleged murderer Robert Durst. Then on the eve of the finale, Durst was arrested in New Orleans and the series had a new ending. Despite having the series' end in the news, "What The Hell Did I Do?" was a chilling, disturbing, gripping and dazzlingly cathartic episode of television as Jarecki and his team pursued the increasingly reticent Durst and confronted him with newly discovered evidence seeming to point to his guilt. The ending, with Durst talking to himself in the bathroom and forgetting he'd left his mic pack on, was a symphony of muttering and burping and resignation. "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course." — D.F.

  • The Last Man on Earth

    Episode: "Alive in Tucson"

    Jordin Althaus/FOX

    Written by series star Will Forte and directed by executive producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the series premiere of Fox's The Last Man on Earth was one of the strongest network comedy pilots of the past decade. Before the show began expanding its cast to a half-dozen regulars and a cow, the pilot was basically just Forte, combining a physical comedy dexterity and lonely melancholy that are truly Buster Keaton-esque. Phil Miller's attempts to stay sane in a world devoid of company were punctuated by escalating anarchic gags and soulfully funny conversations with a bar full of friendly balls. Whether Last Man on Earth lost you with Phil's descent into antisocial assholery or you stuck with the show for the nice rebound at the end of season one and start of season two, the pilot was rule-breaking and unique. — D.F.

  • The Leftovers

    Episode: "International Assassin"

    Van Redin/HBO

    Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux, totally going with it) "dies" in the real world, then turns up in an alt-universe/netherworld dream-sequence/seance/fugue state that runs the viewer's mind right off the rails. If Kevin can kill the ghost of Patti, the dead woman haunting him in season two, then he can be free of her and continue to live his completely depressing, tortured life. It’s a tour de force of artistic excess/whimsy/ambition that actually works (on multiple levels) while being weird, sad, funny and revelatory. You don’t see this everyday. — T.G.

  • Louie

    Episode: "Bobby’s House"

    KC Bailey/FX

    It’s inconceivable how much brilliance is packed into these 30 minutes. The episode is hilarious and heartbreaking, full of naked emotions, role-reversals and on-point performances. The key plot elements are: Louie (Louis C.K.) getting beaten up by a woman; taken care of by a woman, Pamela (Pamela Adlon); taken (somewhat) advantage of by Pamela in conventional-gender- role-reversal sex; then being dumped by Pamela and left to cry through his mascara. And that's only the funny parts and not the sweet, heartbreaking bits that make this show and the life lessons it offers so unique. — T.G.

  • Mad Men

    Episode: "Person to Person"

    Courtesy of AMC

    Never mind season finales; it’s series finales that are the most divisive. There’s so much on the line and Matt Weiner didn’t make it easy with this gem, concluding Don Draper’s epic road trip in search of himself with what amounted to a torturous rebirth. Formerly prone to black suits in gloomy New York, Don (Jon Hamm) sits cross-legged and Zen-filled, dressed in white, by the sea in sunny Big Sur, California, finding his inner peace and dreaming up a brilliant Coke ad campaign in the process. While it divided fans as to whether the final message was cynical (Don learns nothing, stays the same and returns to advertising) or positive (Don gets enlightened, returns to advertising and channels his new enlightenment into an ad), I think Weiner leans toward the latter, concluding television’s most existentially fraught series with a hard-earned inner reconciliation that was neither black nor white — like life itself. — T.G.

  • Survivor's Remorse

    Episode: "A Time to Punch"

    Courtesy of Starz

    Mike O'Malley's Starz basketball series went from a short, sharply written first season to a place among TV's best comedies in the second season, an ascension made clear in episode two. Cam's decision to start charging his family for the free Coke machine in their house caused sister M-Chuck to punch him in the face, sparking a national — and talk-radio — referendum on domestic abuse and masculinity in sports. Survivor's Remorse has always been at its best when it tackles hot-button issues in smart and shockingly funny fashion, and the climactic PSA "Domestic violence is nothing to joke about" sponsored by the site www.menbruisetoo.org was brilliantly barbed satire. — D.F.

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