Screen Scholars’ Favorite Episodes of 2015

What defines a great episode of television can range from a grand concept outside the program’s usual structure to a show that perfectly captures the spirit and characters of the series’ universe. While they often have a social mission, sometimes they are simply a well-executed, deftly written snapshot of a compelling moment or characters’ turning point. Our list of favorite episodes of 2015 contains all of these types of shows and more.

Warning: Abandon ye all hope of avoiding spoilers once you pass this point!

Broad City

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Episode: “St. Mark’s”
Originally Aired: 3/18/2015
Watch at: Hulu

Few television shows inhabit the city in which they live as Broad City does New York City. Its remarkable second season is practically a love letter to the passive joys of the city that always brings the drama, seen through the eyes of two blissed-out, critical, yet adoring natives. If the opening subway stride brilliantly set the season up, Abbi & Ilana’s stroll through one of NYC’s supremely bohemian boulevards — one that’s famously and undeniably feeling the strain of rampant gentrification — wraps up the season in a manner that exquisitely fits the Broad City universe. St. Mark’s Place is a wonderfully messy mix of surviving tattoo parlors, t-shirt and sock salesmen, cartoonish creations like Treeman, obnoxious bridge-and-tunnel gawkers, street urchins with trust funds, archaic poets and hipster wannabes, foodies, soused frat boys chasing discount beer deals, and so on — basically, it’s the good and the bad of many eras of a mutating urban center all mingled together. And it provides perfect backdrop for the imperfect Broad City duo — a pair of pals trying hard to navigate life in a city that can be unbending to say the least. More than anything, Abbi & Ilana find it in friendship, a bond ideally illustrated by their adventures in “St. Mark’s,” particularly by an ending which veers away from comedy as the two cuddle under a blanket on the city street sharing some very simple and earnest hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. It’s an honesty and openness few cool comedies could pull off. Broad City does.
Jason Thurston

Fargo

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Episode: “Loplop”
Originally Aired: 12/7/2015
Watch at: Amazon Prime

As is the case Fargo’s episodes, there’s a lot going on here; Ed and Peggy are trapped in a cabin with Dodd, the cops are hot on the trail, the mobs are unhappy and clueless, and two steps ahead of everyone is Hanzee.
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“Loplop” is truly Hanzee’s episode (sorry, Peggy). In spite of hallucinations and trade deals, he is always out there. Stalking through the wilds of Midwest, Hanzee. Reflecting the massacre of Native Americans, amid puke, Hanzee. (The plaque commemorating the hanging of Native Americans was a nod to this, right?) Demanding answers and meteing out justice, Hanzee. Killing anyone who crosses his path, from the seemingly innocent to the definitely-had-it-coming, Hanzee. Plotting, I am sure of it, from state to state, the ends of his adopted family—because no one cares about Dodd, not this much—Hanzee.
Hanzee is compelling in his mystery, and there are little answers in this season, or the next after he ascends the throne of the Fargo mob as Moses Tripoli.

But when I think of Hanzee, I think of him as a singular man—a singular man—stalking through the wilderness and across the suburban baseball fields, into and out of the ether, a man unnoticed and absolutely untouchable.
Katherine M. Hill

Inside Amy Schumer

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Episode: “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer”
Originally Aired: 5/5/2015
Watch at: Hulu

It takes a certain type of metaphorical balls to make an important piece of satire using a half-century old black-and-white movie to affect mainstream social change — not to mention one that makes a strong feminist statement which doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. However, Schumer could do very little wrong in 2015 (this year seems to be a bit different, fwiw) and the highlight of her spectacular third season was this pitch perfect, star-studded parody of the 1957 classic 12 Angry Men.

As the show sheds its multi-sketch format for one continuous story/bit, John Hawkes shines in Henry Fonda’s role as Juror #8. This time the one-man army heroically advocates — against an 11-man sea of dissent — the basic notion that Amy Schumer is attractive enough to “deserve” to be a movie’s leading lady. While the tightly wound thirty minutes does not spare the gut laughs (including dryness king Kumail Nanjiani’s response to a dildo which takes the place of the original movie’s switchblade), the episode hits its points on about every front. Schumer doesn’t merely lay herself bare to a barrage of the petty critiques and body shaming which have haunted her career, but takes on the clear absurdity in the double standard where women have to adhere to a Nurse Ratched-strict list of ideal looks guidelines that men like Hawkes and Dennis Quaid and many others in her stacked jury do not. And again, the episode is simply funny and a spot-on homage to the original — not an easy task; one which makes it perhaps the most impressive episode of television from 2015.
Jason Thurston

The Jim Gaffigan Show

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Episode: “The Bible Story”
Originally Aired: 11/9/2015
Watch at: Amazon Prime

In his moderately successful mainstream career, Gaffigan has made no secret about (and created some hilarious longform routines around) the factor religion — specifically: Catholicism — plays in his life. However, much of the narrative success of the first season of his enhanced autobiographical sitcom has been in not making a big deal about it, even with a priest in the main cast. The show’s also been strong in its commitment to realism, letting its strong characters and conversations naturally drive the stories. Of course, its best episode throws all that out the window.

Circumstances burden Gaffigan with a ginormous Bible at a comedy nightclub, a book he accidentally holds up as if a talisman when a fan takes a pic with him. The photo goes viral, then macguffin, as the genially neurotic comic’s attempts to alternately embrace and explain away his faith — including a visit to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show — dig him in deeper, earning him famous enemies on all sides of the debate. The episode reaches a fever pitch in a marvelous montage when hiding in bed, Gaffigan flips through the channels, as everyone from Rachel Maddow to Bill O’Reilly to Nancy Grace brutally destroy the defeated comic. It’s a silly high-concept episode, but it works as both a fun ride and an examination of the media’s tendency to latch onto the most provocative parts of a story and twist it to its own intent, to the point any deeper meaning or sense is long lost.
Jason Thurston

Mad Men

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Episode: “Lost Horizon”
Originally Aired: 5/3/2015
Watch At: Amazon Prime

One of the most memorable episodes and gifs of the season, maybe even series, is centered around gasp, Peggy??? Sorry Don, we’ve had enough of your self-absorbed melancholy. Yes, you are being reduced to one of many and you are no longer the star of the show so go out west and do some soul searching. This episode is for women everywhere trying to find their place in a male-dominated world and workplace.  While waiting around at the old office because there was no office for her at McCann, Peggy is begged by Roger to hang out. One last drink for the road he says. Ha, famous last words! They have a drink or five, manage to roller-skate around the office and have a heart to heart. It’s kinda sweet the way Roger offers up some fatherly advice which becomes the collective “a-ha” moment for all women watching.

We already know from Shirley’s wise observation that “advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone” as she throws in the towel before the acquisition. Joan is finding that out during her first week at McCann. Even in her high position she is told she is not even entitled to her own emotions and is pushed out of the company for half of what is owed her. Peggy knows that first-hand also, but still timidly kept on the good fight, trying her best never to disturb anyone with her presence. When she declines Roger’s offer to take the pornographic octopus painting because she has to, “make men feel at ease,” Roger retorts “Who told you that?” … OOF. Point taken. It seems everyone’s future is dismal at this point. But when a rebellious, thick-skinned Peggy 2.0 walks in to McCann a few days later — hangover sunglasses on, cigarette toting, carrying the octopus painting under her arm (LIKE A BOSS) we can rest assured she is ready to take on whatever the agency has waiting and SC&P will continue to live on through her.
Navani Otero

Master of None

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Episode: “Parents”
Originally Aired: 11/6/2015
Watch at: Netflix

As heartwarming as it is funny, this episode successfully portrays the dynamic of second generation immigrant kids with their parents. And who better to showcase what that relationship looks like than Aziz’ real parents portraying his fictional family?  It’s this subtle authenticity they brought to the screen that earns it a spot as one of the best episodes of the year.

After dodging their parents requests to hang out, Dev and Brian finally decide to double date and all go out for a meal. Up until this point, neither of the sons had really bothered to ask about what it was like for their parents to move to America. Instead of the grandiose, happy tale they probably expected, they hear how Dev’s mom sat on the couch and cried, how both his dad and mom feared answering the telephone because of their accents. Brian’s dad shares this affliction. Both Brian and Dev leave truly affected and with a new appreciation for their parent’s struggle. It changes their relationship for the better. Dev puts in a weekly reminder in his dad’s iPad to have catch-up call, which Papa Ansari had been struggling to use throughout the whole episode. Then all our hearts melted and we called our parents immediately.
Navani Otero

The Nightly Show

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Episode: “Episode 51”
Originally Aired: 4/30/2015
Watch at: Comedy Central

When I think of The Nightly Show and I look back on Larry’s short tenure on air, what I remember with the most warmth is his sit down with Baltimore’s gang members during Baltimore tumultuous spring. Larry finally brought humanity to the crisis and Baltimore’s own people, when other network were making a real mess of journalistic integrity. (You can see Larry’s critique of that here. Watch his segment at the Double T and ask me about The Wire like some asshole who thinks the show is hyperrealistic yet not a city where people live.)

This is Larry at his best. He’s funny (“when have property taxes elicited laughs like this”) and he’s serious and respectful, too. Larry doesn’t pander or patronize, and what we get is a first rate interview the newsmen couldn’t get.
Katherine M. Hill

Parks and Recreation

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Episode: “One Last Ride”
Originally Aired: 2/24/2015
Watch at: Netflix

When Six Feet Under pulled off its near-perfect finale, it extended to the furthest future, to celebrate the remainder of the Fisher family lives through their moments of death. The vastly sunnier Parks and Recreation plays off this tactic for its finale, however with its own fitting twist. As indefatigable politician Leslie Knope hugs each of her fellow Pawnee travelers, we see their life paths through to each character’s happiest of moments (only one whose real death we witness is L/G/B/Terry — and it’s on his 100th birthday, surrounded by his ageless, loving family of Christie Brinkleys). While all the outcomes exhibit characters’ achieving absurd levels of success, these triumphs are earned by individuals established as most deserving of human beings.

One nice touch: Jon Daly’s drunk from the first scene of the first episode, returns to the slide he clogged up then, now as a cleaned-up citizen demanding repairs — as good a parallel as any for a show which began about as laggard and poorly reviewed as any, only to transform into one of the most marvelous and iconic programs of all-time.
Jason Thurston

Playing House

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Episode: “Knotty Pine”
Air Date: 8/18/2015
Watch on: Amazon Prime

Emma and Maggie spend extracurricular time with their nemesis, Bird Bones, and dedicate themselves to keep her married to Mark. Their dedication almost overshadows the quiet, lonely agony Mark and Bird Bones are suffering at home (“It’s not a train set, it’s a tabletop railroad modeling system set in a miniature Pinebrook.”), which Playing House treats with unexpected grace and gentleness. Mark and Bird Bones break up quietly, privately, and because Playing House is the joy we were promised in a post-Bridesmaids world, Emma and Maggie pick up the pieces…with humor, kindness, and fro yo.
Katherine M. Hill

The Walking Dead

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Episode: “JSS”
Originally Aired: 10/18/2015
Watch at: Amazon Prime

The sixth season of Robert Kirkman’s basic-cable changing zombie series was its usual hit-or-miss mix of thrillride and stuttering over-exposition. However, when it was on, it shined with a brilliant intensity few shows can match.

“JSS” sets up a quiet day in Alexandria with Carol wryly, and with no shortage of passive aggression, discussing dinner plans with the town’s residents. With most of our featured players handling an undead crisis a few miles outside the fort’s walls, the plot proceeds quietly for a half-hour, until Carol places a casserole in the oven; as the uber-warrior masquerading as a housewife crouches into the left of the screen, we focus on an Alexandrian innocuously smoking in front of her house. Without warning, she is gorily macheted to death by a hooded attacker. From there all chaos breaks loose as the frequently foreshadowed Wolves attack the compound, Carol clashes with Morgan over his non-killing policy (while she does her usual kicking of ass), an attacker’s truck’s horn draws zombies, teenaged Enid suspiciously leaves town and Carl(lll!), and the overwhelmed Alexandrians try their best to save their own.

And just as quickly as it started, it’s over. As Carl removes Carol’s now-cooked casserole from the oven, the viewer is left to ponder our own ethics and philosophies vis a vis human life. How would we react in kill-or-be-killed times? Oh, we also wonder just how the heck the gang is going to get themselves out of the latest fine mess.
Jason Thurston

Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp

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Episode: “Electro/City”
Originally Aired: 7/31/2015
Watch at: Netflix

If the initial conceit back in 2001 of mostly 30-somethings playing raging teen camp counselors seemed a longshot, what exactly would you call the odds of the same cast returning a decade-and-a-half hence — to create a prequel. Yet it works — and not totally b/c Hollywood stars like Rudd, Cooper, and Banks are ageless, but mostly due to its unlikely ability to add a real heart and compelling plot deep within the wall of broad farce.

The center of that story is the gang’s bizarre ultra-1980s musical, planned throughout the season, performed in the sixth episode. It’s both strikingly prepared to fit with the culture of the time to the point you’ll find yourself checking the internet, sure of its existence, and so peculiarly plotted as to blow your mind if you try to piece together just what the hell is going on upon the stage. More impressive is the ensemble’s ability to weave almost a dozen subplots into this performance, with all climaxing in one impressive wave — of course, right as the play-within-the-series reaches its crescendo.
Jason Thurston

You’re the Worst

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Episode: “Other Things You Could Be Doing”
Originally Aired: 12/2/2015
Watch at: Hulu

What a whirlwind this season has been. My new favorite couple Gretchen and Jimmy are certainly have a bumpy ride which all gets magnified in this tumultuous episode. The two have officially taken a break after her manic depression set in leaving Jimmy totally blindsided. Gretch has since moved in with her bestie, the only other person who seems to be familiar with this side of her. Gretchen has reached an all-time low causing a never-ending feud with her clients (Sam, Shitstain and Honeynutz), pulling out a gun on someone and then balling up in the fetal position back at Jimmy’s in the dark.

Jimmy has given his all but after being pushed away for so long he strikes up an emotional and physical affair with the local bar maiden. She offers him up a romantic getaway to have a romp and he bites. Jimmy goes home to pack a bag and sees Gretchen there crawled up in a ball in the dark. He realizes he can’t just leave her like that. So, he makes a decision and off to making a fort he goes and crawls up beside her. When Gretchen finally wakes up and sees he is there and never left she cries like a baby, signaling that she can actually feel again, and of course I am crying right along with them. “You stayed?” she asks. Omg, he did! At that point you realize Jimmy really loves her even if he hasn’t come to terms with it himself yet. Never have I seen mental illness explored in such a human way where no one is demonized, you feel for everyone involved and you somehow get through it. Maybe love does conquer all.
Navani Otero

Our Top 30 Shows of 2015:
30-21
20-11
10-1

3 thoughts on “Screen Scholars’ Favorite Episodes of 2015

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