Let’s be real: There’s no shortage of television content. This year has seen an outpouring of mind-blowing, socially responsible, innovative and downright hilarious shows that may not get awards but will still stay queued up on our DVRs (or, ya know, added to our Netflix queue). Here are the most excellent episodes from the top shows of 2018.
Episode 5, Season 3
Everything’s better with Beyoncé. The queenly quartet—Issa, Molly, Tiffany and Kelli—head to Coachella to see Mrs. Carter and the most hilarious episode of the award-winning series ensues. After popping a few reality-altering drugs, the crew spiral individual shenanigans, including a brawl, a mile-high-esque rendezvous, and a sobering heart-to-heart about how friendships change. Nothing beats Kelli’s famous last words: “remember me different!” We will, Kelli. We will.
Episode 6, Season 2
Atlanta—a show that masterfully executes exceptional writing, well-timed comedy and social commentary—arguably aired the best television episode of the year when Donald Glover transformed into Teddy Perkins. Lakeith Stanfield’s Darius is at the center of the 35-minute cinematic short film as he set out to acquire a piano from the wealthy, troubled musician. The creepy-yet-funny thriller brims with sinister twists while Lakeith’s memorable character finds himself in a situation as horrifying as Get Out.
“Your Passages Have Been Paid”
Episode 11, Season 3
One of the most stunning aspects of Queen Sugar is its deep, consistent exploration of the Black family and its intergenerational impact. In this episode, that kinship is further illuminated as Charley is not only trying to protect Black farmers from the Landrys, but she is also fighting to comfort her son, Micah, who is exploring his own ties to his ancestors through activism. As Darla grapples with her positioning as a co-parent to Blue, her own mother steps in to provide comfort and guidance. The bookend of the season’s most poignant episode is Nova’s investigation of her family’s history and their ties to their land and to the parish. Empowered by what she learns, the journalist finally focus her pen on her own story.
Episode 1, Season 1
We are oversaturated with excellent content to watch, so if your show’s pilot can’t hold the audience’s attention at the onset, it could be dead in the water. The pilot episode of Lena Waithe’s Showtime offering gives us exactly what we need. In a gripping first few minutes, The Chi‘s characters are forever intertwined by a single act of violence. Against a South Side Chicago backdrop, the rest of the episode plays out masterfully, jumping between stars Jason Mitchell, Kevin Hibbert, Sonja Sohn and Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine to show how a community is impacted by gangs and guns.
“Love Is The Message”
Episode 6, Season 1
Ryan Murphy’s history-making drama became a runaway hit for its laser-focus on a not-yet-mainstream aspect of the Black/Latinx LGBTQ community: the height of ballroom culture in New York City in the grungy but lively ’80s. Starring MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Dominique Jackson, Hailie Sahar and Angelica Ross, Pose follows trans women finding confidence and community on the scene and demanding respect and humanity in their everyday lives. But in this brilliant episode, the focus is on how terrifying it was for the queer community in the ’80s due to the ignorance around and stigma of AIDS. Pray Tell, played by the magnificent Tony-winning talent that is Billy Porter, performs The Wiz‘s “Home” for the AIDS ward where his boyfriend is dying. Elsewhere, Angel (Moore) is confronted by her boyfriend’s wife (Kate Mara) only to deliver one of the season’s best monologues about what it means to be trans in the larger world.
This Is Us
Episode 8, Season 3
Throughout the award-winning NBC hit series,Tess Pearson (Eris Baker), the on-screen tween of Sterling K. Brown’s Randall and Susan Kelechi Watson’s Beth, casually steals scenes with her witty candor. In the episode chronicling each Pearson’s holiday drama, however, the eldest Pearson grandchild takes on a quieter, more serious persona as she processes her sexual identity.
Tess first reveals the possibility that she might be gay to Kate (Chrissy Metz) before coming out to her parents as a lesbian. During Tess’ tearful revelation, she continues to grapple with the idea of it and begs for her interest in girls to not become “a thing” — a not-so subtle nod to normalizing homosexuality, especially for youth.
In true This Is Us fashion, her family is warm and immediately supportive; Hats off to Baker, Brown and Kelechi Watson for one of the most touching episodes in a series of touching episodes. But most compelling is the impact of the deeply intimate scene; especially during the holidays, showing a family loving on and embracing their queer Black girl child. Revolutionary.
Episode 21, Season 4
When you watch Kenya Barris’ show, you expect a heavy dose of laughter with its exploration of perceived Blackness. Yet, over a four-part series arc, viewers watch as Dre and Bow’s marriage erodes. In particular, this episode showcases the slow, brutal uncoupling that threatens to break the Johnsons up permanently.
At first, the Johnsons are colorful and cheery, but as Bow attempts to remodel the kitchen and Dre reflects on better days with his better half, a faded blue tone settles across the scenes as a reflection of love lost. Marked by Dre’s words, “How the hell did we get here,” the two agree to take space from one another and Dre moves out. It’s unfathomable in a comedy but completely realistic to the show and the truthfulness of storytelling. It’s a bold risk and it pays off.
“Of Gods and Men”
Episode 5, Season 1
It’s a feat all its own to select one standout portion of this one-and-done series thanks to Regina King’s breathtaking performance as Latrice Butler, a grieving mother. The series focuses on a child’s murder by the cops and the unraveling of faith in the face of tragedy and is weighted with emotional turmoil. In this particular episode, it’s clear how ravaged each character is by the circumstances, finally forcing them to face, or even turn away from, the systems and faiths they believe in.
Dear White People
Chapter 5, Volume 2
Who doesn’t stan a queen who can own her own episode? Joelle Brooks, played by Ashley Blaine Featherson, eats up the spotlight during the fifth installment of season 2 as she is courted by a fellow Winchester University student. He’s perfect — intellectual and thoughtful. He introduces her to the hidden gems on campus. But much like each 30-minute episode of DWP, everyone who seems “woke” ain’t necessarily on the side of right. The date might be a fail, but Featherson front-and-center is always a win!
On My Block
Episode 5, Season 1
This coming-of-age Netflix series was a breakout hit when it first landed on the streaming service early 2018. Starring Sierra Capri (Monse), Jason Genao (Ruby Martinez), Diego Tinoco (Cesar) and Brett Gray as Jamal, each 20-minute installment showcases a remarkably talented band of inner-city Los Angeles kids on quests of self-discovery, love and even a neighborhood treasure. By “Chapter Three,” the squad threatens to come undone at the revelation of Monse’s kiss with Ruby’s crush. With all parties on lockdown in one room, it’s unadulterated, warm-hearted comedy watching them all, especially Jamal, attempt to keep the smooch a secret.
“Un-Break My Heart”
Episode 7, Season 1
Girls to the rescue when Zoey Johnson, played by Yara Shahidi, reels following a breakup with basketball bae, Cash. The black-ish spin-off show dives into the highs, lows and hookups of your average college student, but here, the comedy series takes a break from laughs as Zoey processes post-heartbreak etiquette. Believe it or not, the YA drama is riveting and nostalgic.