The Washington Post Sunday
The top episodes from standout series including ‘Atlanta’ and ‘This Is Us’
We get it: There is too much television. The good news is that great television is, well, really great.
These are the gems within gems — the episodes from standout shows that stayed with me long after I watched them.
But first, the obligatory acknowledgment that there are great episodes I’ve overlooked here (too much television and all). 1. “Atlanta”: “Teddy Perkins”
It would be hard to choose the best episode in the brilliant second season (dubbed “Robbin’ Season”) of Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” if not for “Teddy Perkins,” which is easily the most innovative television episode of the year. At 35 minutes, the installment plays like a short film, and it looks like one, too — thanks to gorgeous visuals from director Hiro Murai and the director of photography for “Atlanta,” Christian Sprenger.
Darius, the delightfully weird character played by Lakeith Stanfield, takes center stage, visiting the mansion of Teddy Perkins (Glover, credited only as “Teddy Perkins”), a musician with a mysterious condition that renders his skin a chalky white.
The episode is a masterpiece, at turns haunting and laugh-out-loud funny, with incisive commentary on internalized racism, fame and the scars of childhood.
Also consider: “FUBU” 2. “The Americans”: “START”
Few shows stick the landing the way that FX’s Cold War-era espionage drama did. The series ends on a heart-wrenching note as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings confront the reality of their work.
The finale’s most riveting scene features a long-awaited confrontation between the couple and Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), an FBI agent who had become an unlikely friend of the Jennings family — and Philip, in particular. It’s an emotional scene that captures what made “The Americans” such a poignant and mesmerizing show.
Also consider: “Jennings, Elizabeth”
3. “Barry”: “Make Your Mark”
One could argue that eight episodes on this list should be devoted to “Barry,” a critically acclaimed HBO dramedy from Alec Berg and “Saturday Night Live” alum Bill Hader. I’m bestowing the highest honor on the sharp pilot episode, which introduces us to Barry (Hader), an aimless hit man who finds unexpected passion in an acting class.
“Make Your Mark,” directed by Hader, is an apt title because the episode establishes everything that’s wonderful about “Barry” — Barry’s earnestness, the quirky cast of characters in his acting class (taught by an especially delightful Henry Winkler) and the dumb but hilarious goons intent on keeping Barry in his less-savory line of work. Also consider: “Loud, Fast and Keep Going” 4. “Killing Eve”: “I Have a Thing About Bathrooms”
The fifth episode of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s thriller, based on the novella series by Luke Jennings, brings the cat-and-mouse game between unlikely spy Eve (Sandra Oh) and psychopathic assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) to thrilling heights as the two meet (officially) for the first time.
It’s not the contentious confrontation a casual viewer might expect. Eve is empathetic toward Villanelle, and even though Villanelle may be incapable of returning said empathy, the women share an air of longing that deepens their mutual obsession. It’s one of the most suspenseful moments of the series — and that’s saying something for a show that kept us on edge week after week. Also consider: “God, I’m Tired” 5. “This Is Us”: “The Car”
NBC put a lot of promo power behind the storied “Super Bowl Sunday” episode of “This Is Us,” which finally answered the question of how Jack (the Pearson family patriarch played by Milo Ventimiglia) died. But it was the following episode, titled “The Car,” that encapsulated the crushing weight of that loss.
In flashbacks, Jack goes to great lengths to buy a Wagoneer that is perfect for his family, but firmly outside their budget. As the timeline moves forward, we see how integral the car is to the Pearsons and their lives together — through health scares, petty arguments and teenage milestones. Watching those largely mundane moments play out in the wake of Jack’s death makes the loss even more emotional. “The Car” is a stunning portrait of family grief — and a father’s unconditional love. Also consider: “Super Bowl Sunday” 6. “The Haunting of Hill House”: “Two Storms”
Amid all of the chills and thrills of Netflix’s adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 gothic horror novel, the show deftly explores the complex dynamics of a family marked by grief. “Two Storms” brings that grief into sharp focus, as the Crain siblings gather to mourn.
The ensemble cast, particularly Timothy Hutton as Hugh, the Crain family patriarch, does some of its best work here, as they unfurl all of the hurt, blame and resentment that grief can dredge up. The episode certainly validates all those “This Is Us” comparisons. Also consider: “The BentNeck Lady” 7. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”: “The Box”
Fans came to the rescue of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” after Fox canceled the comedy earlier this year (the sixth season will premiere on NBC in January) and this delightful bottle episode captures why the show is so beloved.
Sterling K. Brown guest stars as a dentist suspected of murdering the co-owner of his practice. Over the course of one night, he is interrogated by poker-faced Capt. Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher) and his best detective, the lovable goofball Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg). “The Box” showcases the hilarious banter between the two officers as they try to get the quick-witted Philip Davidson (Brown, showcasing his comedic chops, in typically fine form) to confess his crime. Also consider: “Jake and Amy” 8. “Forever”: “Andre and Sarah”
Amazon’s dreamy “Forever” is about June (Maya Rudolph) and Oscar (Fred Armisen), a married couple whose lives together take an unexpected turn. But the sixth episode shifts its perspective to another pair altogether. Andre and Sarah (Jason Mitchell and Hong Chau) are two real-estate agents who find themselves drawn to each other after meeting at an open house.
The episode explores their deep connection — and the realities that threaten it — but “Forever” resists the inclination to explain exactly what’s going on and how they relate to June and Oscar’s story. That’s a good call, allowing “Andre and Sarah” to function as both a stand-alone episode and a funhouse mirror to the show’s contemplative themes. Also consider: “Goodbye Forever” 9. “The Good Place”: “Rhonda, Diana, Jake and Trent”
This Season 2 episode of Michael Schur’s afterlife comedy follows Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jason (Manny Jacinto) out of the Good Place and into, ahem, another realm. The trip offers fans multiple gifts: disguises, aliases and double duty from D’Arcy Carden, who plays two versions of Janet, the show’s transcendent concierge. Michael (Ted Danson) is their helpful guide, who is responsible for some of the episode’s best lines including: “Jason, this is hell. Of course there’s a gift shop.” But it’s Tahani who sums up the episode’s appeal: “Character work. Such fun!” Also consider: “Best Self” 10. “BoJack Horseman”: “The Stopped Show”
This episode marks a satisfying end to the fifth season of this consistently good Netflix show about an anthropomorphic horse struggling with addiction and the pitfalls of fame. It finds BoJack at the center of a public-relations disaster that forces him to confront his demons — and his tendency to hurt the women in his life. The episode is a shrewd sendup of Hollywood (or, in this case, Hollywoo) and the culture that has enabled widespread abuse and harassment by powerful men. Also consider: “Free Churro”