2016 is coming to an end, and the time is now to look back at all the TV shows that filled the small screen throughout the year. Some shows can boast better entries than others, and in honor of the TV season's impending end, we've compiled a list of the 10 best episodes that hit the airwaves in 2016. Some earned their places on this list due to all-around greatness, and others made the cut because they absolutely dominated in action or acting or escalating tension to mind-blowing heights. Prepare yourself for some blasts from the past 12 months and check out our picks for the top 10 episodes of 2016!
Warning: spoilers ahead for some of the best shows of 2016.
"Fish Out Of Water" - BoJack Horseman
Netflix's BoJack Horseman is one of the most unconventional series to air in 2016 (or any time), and its most experimental episode to date took BoJack underwater to the Pacific Ocean Film Festival. He spent most of the episode unable to speak intelligibly with others due to his air bubble, and his attempts throughout the episode to deliver an apology to a former director and promote his new film failed, as he ended up taking care of an abandoned baby seahorse. The episode could have made for a boring half hour as it ran almost entirely without dialogue; instead, it held on to the classic BoJack Horseman pathos while taking the main character on an introspective journey through an alien and gorgeous landscape.
"Marcia, Marcia, Marcia" - The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson proved to be a critical and cultural hit when it debuted in early 2016. The arguable highlight of the season was "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia," which put the spotlight on head prosecutor Marcia Clark's struggles throughout the trial of the century. Her unexpected and unwanted celebrity put her under widespread public scrutiny when all she wanted to do was her job to the best of her ability. The invasive commentary on everything from her hair to her body, from people who only knew her from her work on the trial, took a toll on her as both a woman and an attorney, and Sarah Paulson was absolutely fantastic throughout, definitely earning her Emmy.
"Invasion" - The Flash
The CW kicked off its biggest superhero event to date in 2016 with the four-show crossover between Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. Although the crossover technically started on Supergirl, the characters from all four shows didn't actually congregate until The Flash's "Invasion." The episode brought together Supergirl and the best of Team Flash, Team Arrow, and the Legends to debate how to best combat the threat of the alien Dominators. It was the most well-rounded leg of the crossover, striking a balance between big characters from four separate series. "Invasion" featured major reveals that affected all four shows, and it truly felt like the first act of a superhero team-up feature film. The Flash crossover episode proved that DC TV can, in fact, balance superpowers with skills that rival DC's big screen offerings.
The Tom Hanks One - Saturday Night Live
Tom Hanks has hosted Saturday Night Live no less than nine times, and he seemingly gets funnier every time. In his October 2016 hosting gig, he starred in sketches that ranged from a take on Captain Sully Sullenberger's ego to a bold round of "Black Jeopardy." Hanks also played the new character of David S. Pumpkins in a Halloween sketch that will almost certainly go down as one of the best holiday-themed clips that SNL has ever produced. Hanks also featured into the fantastic final "Debate" sketch between Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton. Season 42 has been a reviving one for SNL, and we can only hope that Tom Hanks will return to host a tenth episode sooner rather than later.
"Battle of the Bastards" - Game of Thrones
To date, "Battle of the Bastards" may be the single most cinematic episode of Game of Thrones, if not all TV shows. The hour finally pitted the recently-resurrected Jon Snow against the sadistic Ramsey Bolton in an epic battle for Winterfell. The odds were against Jon with his army of wildlings, most of whom lacked horses and had no idea how folks fought south of The Wall. But when Ramsey murdered young Rickon Stark in front of Jon, it provoked the former Lord Commander into abandoning his strategy, and viewers watched an unprecedented battle unfold on a scale grander than any before it. Jon emerged the victor in a rare win for a Stark in "Battle of the Bastards," and Sansa got to unleash Ramsey's hounds on their master.
"The Club" - Atlanta
Atlanta was one of the most compelling new series to premiere in 2016 as Donald Glover gave viewers a hilarious and nuanced take on the Atlanta music scene (among other things). The Season 1 highlight is "The Club," which took Earn, Alfred, and Darius into a club for the night to try and boost Alfred's Paper Boi rap persona. Unfortunately, they ended up staking out a V.I.P. section on the same night that a pro football player took over the club. So while while Alfred was stewing in his own lack of fame, Darius was barred from the V.I.P. section, and Earn had a surreal time chasing down the slippery club manager to get paid. There aren't many shows that can pull off a secret passageway, an invisible car, and social commentary in the same episode, but "The Club" made it work.
"The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" - The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead was one of the most talked-about series of 2016, largely thanks to new bad guy Negan and his baseball bat Lucille. The one thing that the Season 7 premiere really needed to do was resolve the big cliffhanger from the Season 6 finale, and "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" went above and beyond the bare minimum to kick off Season 7. It was an episode so filled with tension and terror that viewers were pretty much working their way through the stages of grief afterward. Season 7 hasn't been perfect, but "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" was a killer episode that served as a reminder of how scary The Walking Dead really can be, especially when the threat is human.
"San Junipero" - Black Mirror
Episodes of Black Mirror often linger with viewers, but usually due to their dark and sometimes disturbing messages about the impact of evolving technologies on society. The show made a departure from its norm with the Season 3 episode "San Junipero," which was a heartbreakingly human story about two people who seemed to find a real connection with one another, albeit with a twist. Each time it seemed that the episode was going to twist from a love story into a cautionary tale about the dangers of technology, the narrative swerved away from darkness and ultimately delivered a happy ending (of sorts) to the two leading ladies. "San Junipero" wasn't a trap designed to pull a last minute "Gotcha!" on viewers; it was just a lovely and emotionally-rooted episode of a not-always-so-lovely show.
"The Animals" - Orange is the New Black
"The Animals" was the penultimate episode of Orange is the New Black Season 4, and it floored viewers with the tragic death of Poussey Washington. The ladies of Litchfield Penitentiary spent most of the hour being pushed to their breaking points by overbearing prison guard Desi Piscatella, and they finally staged a Dead Poets Society-esque protest in the cafeteria that started out peacefully...until it very suddenly was not. In an attempt to stop Crazy Eyes from being manhandled, Poussey ended up facedown on the floor with a full-grown man kneeling on her back and unwittingly suffocating her, with nobody noticing her plight until it was too late. That, combined with an equally heartbreaking backstory for how the fan favorite landed in Litchfield, "The Animals" will undoubtedly go down as one of Orange is the New Black's most memorable episodes.
"The Original" - Westworld
Westworld debuted relatively late in 2016, but it almost immediately became one of the most buzzworthy shows on television. The pilot, showcased here, introduced the premise of a theme park simulation of the Old West, where just about anything is possible for folks willing to pay the price. Android hosts are on hand at Westworld as guests' entertainment/victims, and the corporation goes to extreme lengths to keep the guests happy and the androids ignorant of their roles in the theme park. But someone wants to change that, thus kicking off a mind-boggling and occasionally absurd plot that oozes mysteries and dissectible dialogue at every step. The series was years in the making, and a lot was riding on the pilot to deliver on all the hype; luckily, it all paid off, with a stellar cast and meticulous writing that works on multiple levels.
Where there is a list of the best, there will always be potential entries that fell just beneath the cut. In the case of 2016's best TV episodes, we could have gone into triple digits, but here are five more episodes that also helped to make this one of the best years of television ever.
"Mother" - Veep
"Forever" - Bates Motel
"Period" - Better Things
"Persona Non Grata" - The Americans
"Invasion" - Arrow
There was plenty of great TV over the past year. Let us know your favorite episodes from 2016, and take a look at our midseason TV premiere schedule to see what will be in the running for 2017.