One thing’s for sure: There was a lot of truly excellent television in 2014. Like, a lot. But that didn’t stop the Zap2it team from combing through our favorite shows to bring you our list of the 17 best episodes of the year, spanning our favorite comedies and dramas, airing on big broadcast networks and niche cable networks alike.
Check out the list below.
‘Iran,’ ‘Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown’
Anthony Bourdain bristles at being called a journalist. Fine — he’s an essayist. But “Parts Unknown” is still better reported and more illuminating than 50 standard news stories, none moreso than his trip to Iran. “Fascinating” only begins to cover the hour, which showcased the everyday contradictions of the country.
‘Moving Up,’ ‘Parks and Recreation’
“Parks” is one of the few shows on television that makes you root for every character, and the Season 6 finale proved that with its touching Pawnee/Eagleton Unity Concert filled with epic-ness, capped with an unexpected time jump that made fans so proud of the Parks Dept. crew and so anxious for Season 7.
‘Buridan’s Ass,’ ‘Fargo’
“Fargo” was solid from top to bottom, but “Buridan’s Ass” saw several storylines climax in a shootout amidst a blinding snowstorm, followed by Lester going full-on sociopath by framing his brother for Pearl’s murder by planting a gun on his 10-year-old nephew. The episode was brutal and expertly paced, and is a great showcase of what made the FX series so strong.
‘Rick Potion #9,’ ‘Rick and Morty’
The animated sci-fi comedy “Rick and Morty” often subverts genre expectations, but reached brilliance in its Season 1 winter finale when its titular main characters so destroy their own reality that they need to enter an alternate one where they both had just died, and then take on that reality’s versions of themselves. It’s a convoluted conceit but one that is pulled off flawlessly, and is a perfect example of why “Rick and Morty” is one of the best new shows of the year.
‘So Did the Fat Lady,’ ‘Louie’
“So Did the Fat Lady” is one of the finest examples of what makes “Louie” so special, and featured arguably the biggest conversation starter of Season 4. Actress Sarah Baker delivered a breakout performance as a waitress who becomes fed up with Louis CK after a straightforward courtship of him and delivers a brutally honest monologue about what it’s like to date as a “fat lady” in New York.
‘The Secret Fate of All Life,’ ‘True Detective’
From the beginning, Detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) was never viewed as a completely innocent man by the detectives interrogating him or by the viewers, but in the fifth episode of the series, the spotlight and the suspicion is finally directly thrown on him making viewers question what they think they know. It’s also most definitely the episode that explains how Cohle got so hooked on that “time is a flat circle” theory.
‘The Grove,’ ‘The Walking Dead’
As “The Walking Dead” continues to develop into one of the most challenging and engaging character studies on television, the best episode of a show about the zombie apocalypse was one of its quietest. “The Grove” explored how the survivors are forced to cope with mental illness in a world without psychiatric help, and it was devastating. Between this and Season 5’s “Consumed,” Melissa McBride cemented herself as the emotional heart of the series.
Bryan Fuller is conducting a masterpiece in “Hannibal,” and Season 2’s finale crescendoed into such a symphony of horror that it’s still hard to conceive how the show will move on from it. “Mizumono” provided the payoff of the confrontation between Jack Crawford and Hannibal Lecter, and left virtually all of its main characters either dead or close enough to it. The bloody massacre was choreographed beautifully and is a testament to everything “Hannibal” does so, so well.
‘Fight,’ ‘Masters of Sex’
Set almost entirely in one room, “Fight” somehow managed to be the most dynamic episode the show has done in its two seasons. As a boxing match plays in the background, Bill and Virginia circle and jab at one another like fighters, each revealing more than the other (or the audience) has ever known about them. Season 2 of “Masters of Sex” may have been a little unfocused as a whole, but this hour was dialed in magnificently.
‘The Children,’ ‘Game of Thrones’
“Game of Thrones” broke its own stereotype when its finale proved to be the biggest episode of the season instead of a jaw-dropping episode 9. Each of the characters’ stories reached an epic point — Arya proved there’s no softness to her, Dany got an ego check and Tyrion finally proved to his father that he isn’t one to be trifled with. “The Children” was thrilling from start to finish, and a perfect cap to an excellent season.
‘Flash vs. Arrow,’ ‘The Flash’
The CW’s new DC superhero series debuted to the network’s biggest numbers ever and solid episodes throughout the first half of its inaugural run, but perhaps the strongest entry was this crossover episode that brought the ultra-serious characters from the network’s other DC hit, “Arrow,” and blended them seamlessly into a lighthearted comic-book adventure perfect for fans and newbies alike.
The death of Will Gardner was a shocking cap to an otherwise normal “The
Good Wife” episode, but the real emotional gut punch came the following
week, as we saw Alicia, Diane and the rest of the
Florick/Agos/Lockhart/Gardner crew deal with their friend’s death.
‘PTSD,’ ‘You’re The Worst’
The idea behind “You’re the Worst” is that Gretchen and Jimmy are pretty
much the worst people, but they’re perfect for each other and it is with
each other that they manage to find moments of not being the worst.
“PTSD” explores just how low the two of them will go to try to prove
they’re not a couple and ends with an appropriately juvenile agreement
to finally just admit they like each other and want to be exclusive. But it’s in the final moments of the episode when a montage reveals how poisonous they are to those whose lives they touch that “You’re the Worst” proves it’s not going to look away from the flaws of its protagonists, and shows that it’s actually the best.
‘Spacewalker,’ ‘The 100’
“The 100” has been solid throughout its first and second seasons, but in “Spacewalker,” a crime was answered for in the gutsiest of ways — in a way not usually seen on network television. It was a bold choice that once and for all launched the sci-fi series into the upper echelon of TV drama. If you’re not watching, “Spacewalker” proved it’s time to start.
‘We Have Manners. We’re Polite,’ ‘Orange Is the New Black’
“OITNB” stepped up in so many ways in Season 2, but that finale was a non-stop ride, from Crazy Eyes’ heart-wrenching realization that she’d been manipulated by Vee, Poussey and Taystee’s reunion and, of course, Miss Rosa driving off in that prison van. It simultaneously tied up loose ends from Season 2 while opening plenty of doors for great Season 3 stories. Is it summer yet?
‘Waterloo,’ ‘Mad Men’
Although “Mad Men” isn’t as buzzy as it once was — and its abbreviated half-season/dragging the last season out for two years hasn’t helped — there were several strong entries in the second-to-last seven episodes. The finest hour was its finale, “Waterloo,” which saw a beautiful exit for one of the show’s minor characters and left the ad men (and women) we’ve grown to know and love on the cusp of the ’70s — and ready for their seven-episode swan song in 2015.
‘Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes,’ ‘Review’
“Review,” a satirical show about a man who reviews life experiences for his (presumably cable access) television show, is often hilarious. The best example of its commentary on the deeper meaning of it all is when his character completes a frivolous assignment about eating pancakes, then reconsiders its worth after divorcing his wife.