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Best TV Episodes of 2016

Which episodes will reign supreme?

Alexander Zalben

TV is, as a medium, is made up of parts. Unlike movies, one episode is just a chunk of the story... But sometimes the story in that larger story is so good, it stands out on its own. Here are TV Guide's picks for the best singular TV episodes of 2016.

And if you disagree? That's great! Let us know what your picks for the top TV episodes of 2016 were, right here.

10. "San Junipero," Black Mirror

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis; Black Mirror

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis; Black Mirror

Laurie Sparham/Netflix

"San Junipero" hits like a sledgehammer by the time the post-credits sequence rolls and we see Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) dance away the rest of their lives in love to Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth," rounding out the most important and inclusive episode of television of 2016. The lesbian and interracial sci-fi love story, where the dead are uploaded to a virtual heaven, deservedly got headlines for the way it was portrayed as hardly anything unusual -- it's just love, guys -- but "San Junipero" also tells a love story about two demographics that are largely ignored on television: the elderly, and the disabled. The happiest and least tech-dependent episode of Black Mirror's three seasons, "San Junipero" is also its best, most eyeball-wringing, and most important episode. -- Tim Surette

9. "Manifest," Luke Cage


Marvel's Luke Cage

Myles Aronowitz/Netflix,

Few TV shows have so boldly turned the initial concept on its head as Luke Cage did in the seventh episode of its freshman season. The superhero/hip-hop infused epic had been building to a confrontation between the bulletproof Luke (Mike Colter) and Harlem crime boss Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes (Mahershala Ali) for nearly seven hours... But in an episode heavy on flashbacks to Stokes' youth, we learned how the formerly sensitive, Julliard-hopeful boy became the hardened criminal we know now; and then he was violently murdered, shockingly and suddenly by his sister Mariah (Alfre Woodard). We're hard pressed to think of a superhero show -- or any show, really -- that gave their main villain such a full, rounded arc only to take him off the board when the show was only half over. Sweet Christmas, indeed. -- Alex Zalben

8. "Mother," Veep


Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matt Walsh, Tony Hale

Veep is at its best when it shows Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) at her worst, which is exactly what "Mother" did. Selina's mother is dying just as she realizes the presidency is slipping through her fingers during a recount. Of course, the latter concerns Selina more. Watching Louis-Dreyfus -- who submitted this episode en route to winning her fifth straight, and sixth total comedy lead actress Emmy -- modulate Selina's narcissism and grief while nailing her acid-tongued barbs is nothing short of stunning. On the surface, it seems like her grief is misplaced, but as someone who hated a mother who never gave her the love and approval she wanted and needed, Selina coming to terms with the end of a complicated relationship -- with her mother, and with the presidency -- is brutally honest and relatable. It culminates with her sobbing eulogy -- a slice of dark comedy that ought to be studied for years to come. -- Joyce Eng

7. "Fish Out of Water," BoJack Horseman


BoJack Horseman

Netflix's animated comedy isn't afraid of taking risks, from a shockingly hilarious pop song about abortion, to the basic concept of the show: an alcoholic, washed-out sitcom star who happens to be a horse. But the fourth episode of the show's third season was a stand-out, as BoJack (Will Arnett) traveled under the ocean for a film festival/almost literal fish out of water story. Told entirely through music, action, and bubbles (BoJack doesn't talk fish language) the episode could have been a one joke premise; but as usual with this show it took things one step further for a meditation on fatherhood, owning up to your mistakes and an epic chase through a taffy factory. -- Alex Zalben

6. "Dave Chapelle/A Tribe Called Quest," Saturday Night Live

A Tribe Called Quest, Dave Chappelle; Saturday Night Live

A Tribe Called Quest, Dave Chappelle

Rosalind O'Connor/NBC

The triumphant returns of comedian Dave Chappelle and rap group A Tribe Called Quest would be notable under any circumstances, but this one came just a few days after an election that left half the country stunned and reeling. Chappelle's monologue, the election night sketch with Chris Rock and Tribe's fiery performance of "We the People" were cathartic and inspiring in a moment when hope for some Americans was in short supply. -- Liam Mathews

5. "The Beach," The Night Of


Riz Ahmed, The Night Of

HBO's crime drama got off to fantastic start thanks to a tense hour that never denied that something was about to go horribly wrong for Naz Khan (Riz Ahmed). That sense of impending dread was almost Hitchcockian, as we watched for clues to what was about to happen; but the truly terrifying part was when we watched the penal system unfold as Naz was busted for murder. We've seen plenty of crime shows from the cops' perspective, but seeing the perp go through all the tedious, yet life-changing hoops while the police unemotionally went through their normal day-to-day routine was the real scary part. -- Tim Surette

4. "The Animals," Orange is the New Black


Orange Is the New Black

JoJo Whilden/Netflix

That sound you heard over the summer was Orange Is the New Black fans' hearts collectively breaking, after the show decided to kill off fan-favorite character Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley). Borrowing its title from the show's theme song, "The Animals" showed the Litchfield prisoners being treated as such by the guards, many of whom lost any traces of their own humanity after this episode. At once a game-changing plot twist and a political statement about police brutality and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Poussey's heartbreaking demise in the penultimate episode became not only the most pivotal moment of the season, but perhaps the entire series. The hour and its aftermath left us wondering, both in regards to the show and to the state of the world in general: "Where do we go from here?" -- Liz Raftery

3. "The Winds of Winter," Game of Thrones


Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage

All season long, the women of Westeros were preparing to make their moves... And in the finale, they were finally ready. Between Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Olenna (Diana Rigg) sailing towards Westeros together, Cersei (Lena Headey) crowning herself queen, Lyanna (Bella Ramsey) crowning Jon (Kit Harington) king and Arya (Maisie Williams) gleefully slitting Walder Frey's (David Bradley) throat, "The Winds of Winter" allowed the women of this world to bring many long-running storylines to a close, all while expertly setting the board for show's dramatic conclusion. -- Sadie Gennis

2. "B.A.N." Atlanta


Brian Tyree Henry as Alfred Miles

This one is a feat of sequencing. "B.A.N." is the seventh episode of Atlanta's brilliant first season. The prior six episodes had each gotten progressively more surreal, instructing viewers not to get comfortable with any particular form or tone. And then the seventh episode was a Charlie Rose-style talk show called Montague on the fictional Black America Network, where rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry)and two random guest stars debate the media's portrayal of black people and trans people. Series star Donald Glover wasn't even in the episode! It was the peak of Atlanta's audacious risk-taking, and we can't think of anything that made us laugh harder than the show within a show's fake Arizona Iced Tea commercial. -- Liam Mathews

1. "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia," The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story


Sarah Paulson a Marcia Clark, Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden

Episode 6 of The People v. O.J. Simpson finally gave Marcia Clark (Sarah Paulson), lead prosecutor in Simpson's murder trial, a chance to tell her side of the story, through Paulson's exquisite performance. Though she was vilified during the actual case, Marcia Clark's tale is one of redemption and even vindication in "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia," which lays bare the atrocious, sexist criticism she was subject to over the course of the trial and beyond... Criticism about everything from her haircut, to her demeanor in court, to her choice of vacation attire. Look no further than the scene in which Paulson's face crumples as Clark tries to maintain her composure in court to see why she was the shoo-in choice for the Lead Actress Emmy award this year. This episode marks the moment when Ryan Murphy's miniseries elevated itself from a true crime docudrama, to a poignant piece of art seeking to convey a powerful message. -- Liz Raftery

Check out the rest of our Best of 2016:

Best TV Shows of 2016

Best TV Performances of 2016

...And vote for your own Best of 2016:

Your Best TV Shows of 2016

Your Best TV Performances of 2016

Your Best TV Episodes of 2016