The Atlantic

The Best Television Episodes of 2016

Staff selections from a year of great TV
Source: Zak Bickel / Katie Martin / Paul Spella / The Atlantic

The Atlantic’s editors and writers pick their favorite 2016 moments from Fleabag, You’re the Worst, High Maintenance, The Good Place, and more. (Just to be clear, spoilers abound.)

Atlanta, “Value

One of the best things to happen in the world of Peak TV has been shows going out of their way to emphasize the characters who are not the stars. “Value,” in a series in which every episode is a legitimate contender for “best,” stands out, in particular, in regards to that intentional empathy. The episode belongs to Van; here, the woman who had thus far been defined in relation to Earn—as his on-again, off-again girlfriend, patient and long-suffering, and also as the mother of his young daughter—gets her due. And, powerfully, as herself. Things start out simply: Van has an obnoxiously fancy dinner with an obnoxiously fancy friend; the friend talks her into some post-dinner weed; only afterward will Van find out that the school where she works has selected the following day for employee drug-testing. The remainder of “Value” finds Van trying, with equal parts desperation and entrepreneurialism, to pass the test. It’s an effort that affords “Value” not just impressively quiet comedy, but that also works as a metaphor—for the arbitrariness of rules, and for the difficulty of staying afloat in a world that can be so determined to weigh people down.  

Megan Garber

Bojack Horseman, “Fish Out of Water

“Fish Out of Water” (better known as “the underwater episode”) is the rare Bojack installment that’s easy to appreciate as a standalone. It features a single arc: The equine protagonist must make his way to the premiere of his new film, a Secretariat biopic, at a prestigious undersea festival. The episode starts out fairly normally, but after around minute three there’s a dramatic, yet nearly imperceptible, shift: The dialogue disappears. What follows is a gentle, beautifully animated watercolor fantasia that channels Charlie Chaplin and Lost in Translation to explore the ways people try, and often miserably fail, to connect with one another. There are enough visual gags to make up for the lack of verbal ones, and the score does a muscular job of modulating the pace and mood. It’s a testament to the show’s creative team that, for a series that derives so much power from an obsession with language, the best episode doesn’t need many words at all.

Lenika Cruz

Broad City, “Co-Op

In “Co-op,” Abbi and Ilana, the best friends-and-odd couple-and-also-platonic life partners of Broad City, finally do the inevitable: They switch places. Ilana has to complete a shift at her Brooklyn co-op (it’s her final day to do so before, yep, the current moon cycle ends); she has a doctor’s appointment, though, that conflicts with the shift. Abbi agrees to fill in for her friend—but, the co-op rules being uncooperatively strident, she ends up having to fill in not just

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min readPolitics
Tom Steyer on Impeachment: ‘We Have Won the Argument. Period.’
A conversation with the billionaire activist who has been narrowly focused on removing Donald Trump from office
The Atlantic6 min readSociety
The British Empire's Homophobia Lives On in Former Colonies
NAIROBI—When the Nigerian writer Unoma Azuah was growing up in the Asaba Niger Delta, she once asked her grandmother about a teenage boy in her village with an effeminate aura whom others would tease, calling him a girl. Her grandmother replied that
The Atlantic3 min read
Generation Z Gets Its Coming-of-Age Classic
Refreshingly free of stereotype, Olivia Wilde’s wonderful film Booksmart should easily join the teen-movie canon.