2022 gave us a stunning amount of brilliant television. Somehow, Severance and Abbott Elementary Season 2 (and most of Season 1!) aired in the exact same year, even though it feels like they aired in two different eras. With the recent merger of HBO Max and Discovery+ into an unnamed and definitely worse streaming service, we fear that 2022 may have been not only the very peak of Peak TV, but the last year where the overall quality was demonstrably great. Thus, we present you with the staff of Screen Speck shouting out our top TV episodes of 2022. We promise there’s something for everyone.
Bad Sisters Season 1 Episode 10 (“Saving Grace”)
“Saving Grace,” the Bad Sisters Season 1 finale, is the epitome of a perfect episode. And if you haven’t watched the series yet, hop onto the next episode on our list of the top TV episodes of 2022, because this entry will spoil it. There’s no other way to praise the beauty of this episode. “Saving Grace” wraps up the series’ first season brilliantly and finally tells viewers what really happened to John Paul (Claes Bang). But he’s more lovingly known as “The Prick” to our beloved Garvey sisters, and so we shall call him that from now on. “Saving Grace” is a stunning episode that ties up all of the loose ends for what was presumably going to be a limited series. (Bad Sisters has since been renewed for a second season, and who am I to complain when Sharon Horgan has consistently given us some of the best and most underrated writing on television.)
With the season building up to the reveal of how exactly this piece of shit’s life came to an end after several botched murder attempts by each member of the sisters, it’s delightful when we learn that his demise came at none other than the hands of Grace, the wife he’d been abusing for the entirety of their marriage. Throughout Bad Sisters, we see how truly awful The Prick is to everyone, each episode revealing how he’s caused harm to Garvey’s sister, especially Grace. He belittles her at every chance and makes her feel less than for simply just existing. He doesn’t respect her, expects her to bow to his every whim, and does so in front of her sisters repeatedly. He never speaks to her in a tone that isn’t condescending or aggressive for the sake of being aggressive. It’s no wonder the Garvey sisters plan to kill John Paul to save their sister from the hellish marriage she has been trapped in.
When we learn that Grace is the one to take matters into her own hand, it’s incredibly satisfying to watch. Not just because she’s finally freed from this disgusting relationship but also because it’s an act of self-defense after he hits her (presumably, it’s the first time that he does so, but it’s not the first thing he’s done to anyone that murder would be the best solution for revenge, let’s be honest). In a series where a group of sisters try to save Grace unbeknownst to her, Grace is who saves herself in the end. It’s poetic justice. For the person who has suffered most at his hands to be the one who ultimately causes his demise is just … perfect. Anne-Marie Duff‘s performance is exquisite. Between the start and the end of the episode, we see Grace transform from a woman living in constant distress to someone who is finally at peace, knowing that the worst part of her life is truly behind her and that no matter what, she’ll always have her sisters to count on and look out for her, even when she’s least expecting it. (Sydney Grullon-Matos)
Abbott Elementary Season 1 Episode 8 (“Work Family”)
The first season of Abbott Elementary is so stellar that I continue to say it’s hard to nail down a favorite episode. I love every one of them for different reasons; for the purposes of this list, though, I’ve chosen Episode 8, “Work Family.” It’s the one where Janine (Quinta Brunson) is shocked to learn her colleague and ostensible friend Jacob (Chris Perfetti) has a boyfriend of two years about whom Janine didn’t know a thing. Upon realizing she’s not as close to her work friends as she had thought, Janine spirals into an existential crisis. Meanwhile, Gregory (Tyler James Williams) struggles to motivate his students before standardized testing, so he turns to Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph) and Melissa (Lisa Ann Walter) for advice.
This episode of Abbott Elementary works so well because it showcases everything viewers have come to love about the show. Janine’s well-meaning attempts to bond with her coworkers end in ridicule when she admits that she’s been with her boyfriend, Tariq (Zack Fox), since the eighth grade. (The reaction that follows from Ava (Janelle James), who sits down in a chair specifically to fall out of it laughing, is perhaps one of my favorite moments of television this year. It’s a perfect example of the brilliant comic timing that James employs all season long.) Then, Tariq, who’s also an aspiring rapper, pays a visit to Abbott to perform for the students at their Friends Against Drug Exposure (F.A.D.E.) assembly. Tariq’s song about drugs and his “artistic interlude,” in which he describes how sad it would be if the student stage manager died from a drug overdose, is yet another “Work Family” highlight.
The episode also shows us a bit more about Gregory as he adjusts to his substitute position at Abbott. Still fed up that he was passed over for the principal job, Gregory isn’t sure Abbott is where he wants to be, and he admits to his father that he’s been applying for principal jobs elsewhere. When Gregory’s dad dismisses the idea and insists that his son should just come work at the family landscaping business, Gregory’s pain he feels is palpable. After the conversation, Gregory checks on Janine, who is upset by the general mockery of Tariq. So, in a departure from his usual closed-off self, Gregory opens up to Janine about his father’s disapproval. Janine asks whether teaching makes Gregory happy – because that happiness is all that ought to matter, even if his father doesn’t see it that way. Gregory then turns the question back on Janine, asking if Tariq makes her happy and offering her the same advice. It’s one of the episode’s quieter moments, highlighting the special bond that Gregory and Janine have had since the pilot as well as the different sides of each other that they seem to bring out.
“Work Family” treats each of its storylines with immense care. With Barbara and Melissa’s help, Gregory realizes that he has to meet his students where they are, meaning he sometimes has to indulge questions he might find silly and let the kids just be kids. Janine grapples with the same problem in a different age bracket: as clear as it is that she might have outgrown Tariq, it’s also obvious that Tariq cares about Janine a great deal. In fact, that’s part of why Janine doesn’t understand why her friends seem so baffled that she hasn’t considered being with anyone else. In the end, it’s Jacob who gives Janine a piece of good advice regarding Tariq. Going one step beyond Gregory’s question, Jacob asks Janine to consider her growth as a person and how Tariq fits into that.
Abbott Elementary is the perfect example of how a sitcom can be hilarious, heartwarming, and thoughtful. I’m so glad we have this gem on network television right now. (Kara Powell)
Somebody, Somewhere Season 1 Episode 5 (“Tee-Te Pa-Pah”)
Somebody Somewhere relishes in the simplicities of life and the everyday struggles of everyday people. Amid the fantasy world-building and post-apocalyptic narratives permeating the media landscape, Somebody Somewhere is a peaceful respite from our world’s chaotic pace. An endless green field in Kansas backdrops Sam’s (Bridget Everett) grief after losing her sister. It’s indicative of the beauty of a series that takes on the commonplace grievances of characters like Sam and Joel (Jeff Hiller), whose lives continue to be a mystery to them even as they reach middle age.
Coming home after tragedy is hard. But coming home feeling like you’ve been defeated in the great battle of life is another dimension of tragedy. After losing her sister to a mysterious illness after spending time as her caregiver, Sam is back where she started. But how can she return to a place that never felt like home to begin with? This land watched her grow up, then gradually faded along the way. We’ve all been there. Places that were once so familiar to us – almost like a second instinct – become as unrecognizable as strangers on a busy street.
With time, though, Sam learns to remember what made Kansas home in the first place. Tethered to her is Sam’s frail connection with her family. Nowhere is the thread more frayed than with Sam’s remaining sister, Tricia (Mary Catherine Garrison), whose strained relationship pushes Sam back out of Kansas every time. However, there’s a moment when both sisters put down their swords and try to mend the string that’s barely holding them together. Somebody Somewhere Season 1 Episode 5, “Tee-Tee Pa-Pah,” paints an especially complex picture of the fickle relationships of siblings. Sam and Tricia get stuck inside a barn while a storm brews outside, matching the storm inside the two sisters. The circumstances leave them circling the unhealed wound left behind by the loss of their third sister combined with years of neglecting each other.
During a silent truce, Sam decides to extend an olive branch to Tricia by revealing her husband’s infidelities with Tricia’s best friend. There’s no greater act of love than honesty, even if the cost could be ruining the sisters’ tenuous reconnection. Somebody Somewhere gives weight to the silent, enormous moments in our lives. Whatever happens in the wider world, there’s nothing more devastating than our immediate world crumbling around us.
And in this case, the ties binding Tricia and Sam weren’t as severed as the two of them thought. Thanks to the same circumstances that trapped them in the first place, the sisters manage to salvage their relationship. Which reinforces another key theme of the series: Somebody Somewhere is about second chances, but it’s also about letting go to make room for new things in life. Things that help you heal and reconcile with pieces of the past that still haunt your present. (Mariana Delgado)
Our Flag Means Death Season 1 Episode 8 (“We Gull Way Back”)
Our Flag Means Death took social media platforms by storm. It was a huge topic of conversation for weeks, even months. (And don’t get me started on the extended period when HBO Max left all of us waiting for any sign that OFMD Season 2 would be a reality.) As good as this show is, it is difficult for me to pick a favorite episode from such a great selection; this show is essentially a queer romantic comedy.
Our Flag Means Death Episode 8, “We Gull Way Back,” fits into that equation as the moment where the romantic couple’s relationship is most tested. In this case, Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) must navigate the interference of Calico Jack (Will Arnett), Blackbeard’s old shipmate and ex-fling. He drives a wedge between the two by showing Stede all the bits and pieces that make up Blackbeard’s past – which happen to be the same parts of himself he’s trying to shed for Stede. Throughout the entirety of OFMD Season 1, Stede is also haunted by the fact that he took a life and that when he finds out that the man he loves is a killer, he is proud of it! It’s a true test of his and Blackbeard’s relationship. Everyone watching might think this is the end for our obviously lovestruck gay pirates, but then Blackbeard returns for Stede to the tune of Fleetwood Mac‘s “The Chain,” and that by itself deserved all the Emmys. (Josie Meléndez)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 Episode 8 (“How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?”)
In my mind, the most iconic scenes from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are not one of Midge’s (Rachel Brosnahan) spur-of-the-moment stand-up sets or the quick-witted, high-speed arguments her family has and that are a mainstay of Amy Sherman Palladino’s shows. Rather, it’s any scene between Midge and Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby). Mrs. Maisel is, on the surface, about comedy in the 60s, but another important element of the show is Midge’s love life, something that’s woven throughout the entire story. The show begins with Midge’s husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), leaving her because he’s cheating. After a failed attempt at rekindling the relationship, Joel leaves again when he can’t deal with Midge being a comedian. When Midge meets Lenny, their relationship is at first platonic, but their mutual respect for each other and insane chemistry resulted in viewers hoping that Mrs. Maisel would rewrite history and allow them to get together.
The Mrs. Maisel Season 4 finale, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?”, overcomes the previous mediocre episodes and becomes one of the best of the series, as well as one of the best television episodes of the year. Season 4 was all over the place, frustratingly so, with storylines about Midge’s family and career feeling both under-baked and chaotic. Mrs. Maisel felt most focused when it brought in Lenny to force Midge to reckon with her sometimes poor decision-making. The finale did the same by bringing the family storyline together, with Moishe (Kevin Pollak) in the hospital after his heart attack and great performances throughout from Tony Shalhoub, Marin Hinkle, and Caroline Aaron.
After Midge rushes from the hospital to the strip club where she’s been performing stand-up, she finds Lenny waiting for her backstage after her set. He apologizes for being a jerk only to offer her a gig opening for Tony Bennett – which he can’t do because he’s playing at Carnegie Hall. One of the most frustrating things about Mrs. Maisel is Midge’s self-sabotaging tendencies, and, as we’ve seen from the rest of the season, she refuses to be an opener for anyone. But before we see her turn Lenny down, the strip club is raided by cops. Midge and Lenny run out into the snow, bickering as always like an old married couple, before ducking into the hotel Carnegie Hall is paying Lenny to stay at. Eager to escape the snow, they go up to this room.
Luke Kirby and Rachel Brosnahan have some of the most explosive onscreen chemistry I’ve ever seen. This makes it hard to root for Midge and Lenny to do anything but pursue a romance. The way they bounce back and forth between jokes is something neither of them can do with anyone else. Midge has always looked up to Lenny, and he’s been there to guide her as she started out in comedy, so it makes sense she would be fearful to pursue anything with him. They talk, and after some playful jokes about Midge’s show corset, they both realize what’s about to happen. Lenny says he didn’t plan this, and Midge questions why he didn’t plan the snow and the raid. Is she not important enough? And then we get the most romantic line in recent television history when Lenny references a joke Midge made in an earlier set, telling her, “You are more important than God.” She’s shocked that he even listened, but he says, “To you? Always.”
So Lenny and Midge sleep together. But not before she begs him to remember, no matter what, that she is very funny. She’s worried about losing Lenny’s respect and knows that if they have sex, the relationship changes deeply. It’s a great scene that makes up for four seasons of agonizing will-they-won’t-they drama, one that gets cut short when Midge finds drugs in Lenny’s bathroom, a sign that Lenny Bruce’s real-life fate is creeping up.
“How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?,” already a standout episode, gets even more impressive with Lenny’s performance at Carnegie Hall. He kills, of course, and, after bringing Midge backstage, we pivot to a more serious tone. The two of them walk out onto the empty stage, Midge rendered speechless by the scale and scope of the space. We then have the best scene of the episode. Lenny, furious that Midge turned down the Tony Bennett gig, reams her out for being too scared to bet on herself and take the chances she needs to help her career. Yes, he’s risky and says what he wants, but she can’t. If Midge wants to be on stage at Carnegie Hall doing what Lenny did, she has to sacrifice a little bit. It’s hard to watch, especially knowing they just slept together, but in the end, Lenny keeps his promise. He didn’t forget how funny she is, and he isn’t going to let Midge throw her career away – as Lenny says, if Midge blows this, she will break his heart and ours. “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?” brings the entire show into focus and works through many of the issues at Mrs. Maisel‘s heart. (Miriam Handel)
Gentleman Jack Season 2, Episode 4 (“I’m Not the Other Woman, She Is”)
With the rise of the binge-watching model and limited anthologies, the merit of a single television episode is becoming harder to judge. We have critics who are adamant about describing television as a movie that is separated into chapters instead of viewing the episodic unit as what makes television a fundamentally unique genre. Initially, Gentleman Jack wasn’t a series that ought to be judged by the merit of its standalone episodes, since its first season, driven by the highs and lows of lesbian courtship, was highly serialized. With only eight episodes but five million words in Lister’s diaries, Gentleman Jack had to be ruthless with the scenes they chose to air. There was no room in Season 1 for Sally Wainwright to dedicate an entire standalone episode to Lister’s politics or business dealings.
In Gentleman Jack Season 2, however, Wainwright upends the plot-driven narrative arc in favor of an honest, multi-faceted character study of Anne Lister (Suranne Jones). This time around, Wainwright’s period drama can be broken down into slightly more disparate episodes, with each one rigorously tackling Lister’s various moral failings: her conservative politics, her mistreatment of her servants, and her affair with Mariana Lawton (Lydia Leonard).
Wainwright’s commitment to the truth is both inspiring and audacious: her refusal to sanitize lesbian history to garner straight acceptance in Gentleman Jack Season 2 presents an ambitious turning point in lesbian representation. Which is why Gentleman Jack Season 2 Episode 4 is such a spectacular television episode. It functions as a standalone arc that documents Lister’s affair with Mariana, but it is also an incisive commentary on the homophobic circumstances that forced both women apart.
In this episode, Lister arrives at Lawton Hall determined to put an old flame to rest. A futile endeavor ensues in figuring out where her relationship with Mariana went wrong. During their short stroll around Lawton, Mariana tells Lister that they are going in circles. Lister replies: “We are where we are.” It is a brief, astute line that says nothing but means everything — there is no bargaining with homophobia. Mariana was forced to marry a man she despises to avoid being disinherited, and Lister, who would never marry a man, was forced to wait for her uncle to die so she could inherit Shibden Hall. Lister blames Mariana for not having faith in their future together, and Mariana blames Lister for marrying Walker. Every accusation they lob at each other during their walk is full of spite, rage, and deep mourning for what could have been. Lister and Mariana know that their anger is futile. Still, they continue blaming one another to avoid the horrific truth that they aren’t fated because lesbian existence was impossible in the 19th century.
“I’m Not the Other Woman” is an episode with barely any scenes of Lister and Ann Walker (Sophie Rundle) together, but it speaks volumes of their world-altering love for each other. While Walker’s devotion to Lister is brave, she is also independently wealthy and would never have to marry a man for money. As we see from this episode, what Mariana mourns for is not her past romance with Lister but the life of possibility and fulfillment that Lister represents. When Lister returns to Shibden hall, Mariana’s unhappy fate is irrevocably sealed — she will spend the rest of eternity with a man who couldn’t care less about her. Gentleman Jack Season 2 Episode 4 may be an indictment of Lister’s moral failings, but it is, first and foremost, a necessary recognition of lesbians like Mariana, who will always grieve the futures they would have had if not for homophobia. It is a standalone arc that also allows us to view Lister’s marriage to Walker through the lens of empathy and everlasting heartbreak. It is the first time I saw my grief on-screen, and I can only hope that Gentleman Jack gets the renewal that it deserves. (Shar Tan)
The Bear Season 1, Episode 7 (“Review”)
The Bear Season 1 Episode 7 is only twenty minutes long. ONLY. TWENTY. MINUTES. It’s onecontinuous shot of pure adrenaline and fits in more character development than your average 45-minute Mickey Mouse Marvel production. An opening montage shows Chicago streets; trains; people; places; and archival footage of Chicagoans through history, with Sufjan Stevens‘ “Chicago” playing over the top of it. And then we see Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), a renowned chef who took over his older brother’s restaurant business after his suicide, headed to work. As we glide into the small establishment, one of the cooks reads a restaurant review aloud: “Can the Windy City evolve without losing its true essence?” Although there are some questions regarding the accuracy with which The Bear portrays of Chicago, I believe that The Bear‘s world-building through astute character development deserves some credence. After the cook finishes reading the review, we fall into a silence that we won’t get again until “Review” is over. Before we know it, we’re thrust into the chaos of Carmy and his crew’s world, where it’s only “Twenty minutes to open!”
There’s continued tension from Episode 6 due to an incident involving one of the new chefs, Sydney Adamu (Ayo Edebiri, who is phenomenal in this show). Sydney served a dish that wasn’t on the menu to a food reviewer, getting the restaurant its best review. Carmy, who told her the dish wasn’t “ready to be served,” says he’s fine with the review. But is he? Nope. Richard “Richie” Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), Carmy’s crooked cousin, isn’t fine with it either, and thinks Sydney has something to hide. Tina (Liza Colón-Zayas) brings her disobedient son to work so that he can learn new skills, but on the busiest day? Probably not the greatest timing. Sydney also decided to introduce the restaurant to online food ordering, but she forgot to turn off the pre-order option the night before. So now, they have over 300+ orders to cook in ONLY. TWENTY. MINUTES. So Carmy brings the review back up with Sydney. He wasn’t fine. Nothing is fine about this situation. In fact, at this point, I’m panicking and pausing the episode every few minutes to calm down.
“Review” becomes even more visceral as it edges toward an explosion. Sydney and Richie continue to argue as Sydney helps Carmy prepare the rest of the crew, but she can’t catch a break. At one point, Sydney grabs a knife during an argument with Richie and gives a fake threat, only for Richie to back straight into the knife. When Marcus (Lionel Boyce) offers Carmy a dessert he’s been working on, Carmy, who’s reached his last straw, just knocks it out of his hand.
In the final few minutes, Sydney quits and Carmy destroys the tablet for online orders as Richie says there’s a line to get into the restaurant: “Are we open or not?” And that’s the episode. The immersion into the rush with the constant need to collaborate through the chaos felt brutally grounded. It reminded me of days in customer service when you’re so overwhelmed that you can’t take in what’s actually happening. Those shortest days in my life were actually the longest, and they left a mark on me emotionally, mentally, and physically without me even being aware of it at the time. “Review” is a masterpiece of raging restaurant madness, and everything about this episode felt so layered in the humanness of our mistakes, insecurities, and pain. I felt a lot of feelings watching this episode. And it was ONLY. TWENTY. MINUTES. (Sharena Sigmon)
Severance Season 1 Episode 9 (“The We We Are”)
The Season 1 finale of Apple TV+’s Severance, “The We We Are,” is probably the most tense and breathless I have been watching an episode of television since Breaking Bad aired “Ozymandias.” (Funnily enough, there are kidnapping subplots in both.) Directed by Ben Stiller, the core group of Innies for whom we have come to root — Mark (Adam Scott); Helly (Britt Lower); Irving (John Turturro); and Dylan (Zach Cherry) — staged a plan to awaken themselves in their outside bodies. Through a system function called the Overtime Contingency, Dylan holds two levers that activate Innie consciousness and memories of the other three beyond the walls of Lumon Industries. Will they succeed in getting the message to their Outies that what’s happening on the severed floor isn’t what Lumon says it is? Will they get caught by their corporate overlords? Will Mark find out that his dead wife is actually…not dead? All of these questions loom over the course of the episode, and boy does it ever deliver.
Through the script by creator Dan Erickson, the direction by Stiller, and taut editing, it feels like you’re watching an episode of 24 as the Innies navigate the outside world in almost real-time. Clocking in at just 40 minutes, “The We We Are” – the shortest episode of Severance Season 1 despite being the season finale – is a masterclass in execution, packing its punch in its deployment of revelations that have built up all season long while still hiding in plain sight. It’s true that the best mystery thriller season finales are the ones that answer some questions to audience satisfaction while also creating new ones. “The We We Are” does this in spades.
Yet, what makes “The We We Are” a world-class finale is how Erickson and Stiller so readily blow up the entire world they spent the previous eight episodes crafting. When all is said and done — as Mark discovers who his wife is, as Helly learns of her outside identity while causing very public mass chaos at the Eagan family gala, as the severed floor administration realizes of just how much anarchy is about to ensue — you are only left wondering how these four Innies will ever come together the same way again.
One also has to appreciate the deeper meaning of the episode title. “The You You Are,” the hokey self-help book written by Mark’s brother-in-law (and the title of Severance Season 1 Episode 4), taught them how to fight for individual freedom. But somehow, despite Lumon’s best efforts at dampening the Innies’ humanity, the four made the connections necessary to care for each other, to fight for one another. They are whole persons, but they also can’t do it alone. In coming together, they realize that they don’t have to. (Samantha Moya)
Atlanta Season 4 Episode 8 (“The Goof Who Sat by the Door”)
What on Earth did I watch? Many episodes of Donald Glover‘s masterpiece Atlanta have left viewers with this exact sentiment, and the eighth episode of the final season, “The Goof Who Sat by the Door,” is no different. The episode is a perfect example of the show’s ethos, as it interweaves the surreal into seemingly, everyday reality to satirically comment on how Black people interact with mainstream media. Past episodes of the show have used both horror and humor to tackle important issues such as racism in the music industry, reparations for Black Americans, and gender politics in the inner city.
“The Goof Who Sat by the Door” opts to exclude the main cast, instead stylizing the episode as a faux documentary that combines real-life footage of the 1992 LA riots and archival Disney animation with a fictional tale of “Disney’s first Black CEO.” The fictional story of Thomas Washington (Eric Berryman) truly begins when, after the explosive outcome of the LA riots, Disney accidentally appoints him as CEO, and he decides to make the “Blackest movie of all time.” He questions the company’s history by asking why Mickey Mouse would own a pet dog named Pluto if his friend Goofy is also a dog. Washington also asks why Disney insists that “the White boy” be in his film; this white boy in question refers to Mickey.
Recalling Stuart Hall‘s theories on media encoding and decoding, this Atlanta episode satirizes how Black audiences interpret messages from films and television. Put more concisely, the Black community has long claimed Disney’s A Goofy Movie and Goofy himself as “one of our own.” The episode’s title also clues the audience in on its meaning, as it references Sam Greenlee‘s novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door. The book tells the fictional story of the CIA’s first Black agent who shares the agency’s covert tactics with Black power groups of the 1960s to start a revolution. In a meta-fictional way, this episode may be commenting on Atlanta itself, as it uses the mainstream platform of FX to broadcast one of “the Blackest shows” of all time. “The Goof Who Sat by the Door” is a standout episode of an exceptional show that is sure to be remembered as a classic of Black American television. (Zion Murphy)
This is Going to Hurt Season 1, Episode 6
Adapted from Dr. Adam Kay‘s memoir of the same title, BBC One’s This is Going to Hurt (also written by Kay) is one of this year’s underrated television gems. Like the memoir, the series documents the distressing plight of Dr. Adam Kay (Ben Whishaw) and Dr. Shruti Archarya (Ambika Mod) as they work for UK’s severely underfunded NHS. As junior doctors, both Adam and Shruti are both extremely overworked and exhausted, with the latter often receiving the brunt of Adam’s dismissive behavior. This is Going to Hurt suggests that Adam’s cruelty is the direct product of a toxic and classist working culture in the UK; his seniority is not indicative of his intelligence as much it does his posh background, which alienates him from Shruti, a working-class woman with immigrant parents.
Episode 6 of This is Going to Hurt is a heart-wrenching hour of television as it gradually culminates in Shruti’s suicide off-screen. Shruti’s character is a new addition to the adaptation, and it works to devastating effect, as her death is a public accusation levied at the conservative UK government and emotionally hardened senior staff like Adam for their calculated apathy. Shruti’s compassion for her patients is precisely incompatible with a system that equates career success with cruelty. In this episode, we watch as Shruti, who was an inexperienced, flustered doctor in Episode 1, tackle hundreds of patients with immense skill. She’s finally hacked it. But something is amiss. The Shruti who once used her precious off-hours to care for a patient suspected of being a domestic abuse victim has tragically taken a backseat.
Kay’s rewriting of This is Going to Hurt suggests that the medical institution is incapable of producing caring doctors like Shruti. The better doctors are at their jobs, the more likely they are to be complicit in perpetuating abuse. It is a horrifically chilling moment when Adam finally compliments Shruti on how good she is at her job, because Shruti realizes that she is becoming exactly like him. And so Shruti takes the advice that her consultant had given her – if she couldn’t hack it, she should just quit. I’m sorry. I really did try. Those were Shruti’s final words to the audience, and if the world had any justice, those words – uttered by so many doctors in the UK – would have inspired a systemic change a long time ago. (Shar Tan)
Better Call Saul Season 6 Episode 12 (“Waterworks”)
In “Waterworks,” Better Call Saul‘s aptly named penultimate episode, things get messy. Kim Wexler’s (Rhea Seehorn) return was a sight for sore eyes after her disappearance for two episodes following “Fun and Games” and her breakup with Jimmy. Despite the numerous storylines that the episode focused on, but Kim was the heart and emotional core of “Waterworks.”
In a flashback, we see Kim finalize her divorce with Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) and, in a perfect cameo, share the screen with Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Six years later, Kim is leading a suburban life in Florida, the antithesis of the “more” that she was seeking all those years ago. She is now working in a sprinkler manufacturer company where the only lawyering she gets to do is defend the palate of “Miracle Whip” – a fate worse than death. She gets a call from Jimmy (now Gene) and she tells him to turn himself in. He refuses, telling her she needs to atone for what happened to Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) as well. In a spectacular artistic decision, this phone call was muted in the previous episode, and it served as the first domino piece dropping that unraveled Kim and Jimmy’s connection as we know it. Kim submits an affidavit to the district attorney admitting to her involvement in Hamlin’s murder, and later, visits his wife, Cheryl (Sandrine Holt), who threatens to sue her for everything she owns. On the way back to the airport, Kim bursts into tears on the bus in a scene that went on for a few minutes of absolute anguish.
At the same time, Gene is running his own little schemes with Marion’s (Carol Burnett) son, Jeff (Pat Healy), who gets arrested by the police during their latest heist. This raises Marion’s suspicions about the true identity of Gene, which prompts her to look him up on the internet. Her suspicions are confirmed and she calls for help.
The reason that I loved this episode so much was that between Jimmy and Kim, Jimmy has always been the more impassioned one out of the two. At least, he is reckless with his emotions, while Kim is level-headed and focused. “Waterworks” flipped that narrative. Kim does not cry over spilled milk. She goes out and fixes her problems, which is why that prolonged scene of her anguish was a horrifying representation of the toll that the past six years had taken on her. Crying is a relief that Kim felt like a luxury she didn’t deserve.
When Kim feels like she’s a bad person, she punishes herself by putting herself in situations that she despises: isolating herself from her loved ones, getting in loveless relationships, working a boring job, and not even giving herself the luxury of emotional release. Her breakup with Jimmy in “Fun and Games” in itself was mostly an act of self-sabotage. She thinks that someone who’s capable of inflicting horror and pain is not deserving of a loving relationship. This episode showed that both Jimmy and Kim are driven by similar motives: self-sabotage, tying loose ends, love, and revenge, even though they don’t realize it and it confuses them trying to have it all.
“Waterworks” is Seehorn’s magnum opus. Being able to portray Kim in vastly different and opposing parts of her life while still maintaining her core and heart is a feat. It was a privilege to watch her prowess on screen, and if this doesn’t land her her long-awaited Emmy win, then I don’t know what will. (Farah Sadek)
A League of Their Own Season 1 Episode 6 (“Stealing Home”)
Are you a friend of Dorothy? Episode 6 of Amazon Prime’s A League of Their Own asks that very question. It is very known in queer culture exactly what that phrase means, especially since it is the subtext that has kept us safe and allowed us to seek out safe spaces. For a queer woman like Carson (Abbi Jacobson), this particular phrase that she asks is the perfect way to introduce her and other queer people who are figuring out their identities, into the history of the queer community.
Throughout the show, Carson has been slowly experimenting with her sexuality. She finally allows herself to be with a woman, Greta (D’Arcy Carden) and dismantles the closet’s walls. While the episodes leading up to this particular one were about the discovery of the self, this episode focuses on community and the safe spaces that were built through our love for one another.
Queer and lesbian joy for both Carson and Max (Chanté Adams) is the main focus of this episode. A League of Their Own gently places Carson and Max alongside each other as they struggle to come to terms with their identities. Carson is in awe and slightly disbelief at the possibilities that accepting her queerness has opened up. Meanwhile, Max struggles to deconstruct the internalized toxic societal views on transness and lesbian gender identity. This episode focuses on acceptance, opening your eyes to the world around you, and being aware of what’s happening outside of your own inner panic. But most importantly, it is about having fun and believing in yourself and your team because we are stronger together than apart, and if we believe in our community, we can accomplish anything.
But in true “all is lost” fashion, what goes up must come down, and the episode ends with the harsh reality of homophobia. The safe spaces we build are infiltrated by hatred and bigotry and taken apart by insurmountable anger that can still be seen today in the shootings of the Pulse nightclub in Florida and, most recently, Club Q in Colorado. Through its allusion to The Wizard of Oz, “Stealing Home” reminds us to find the light even in the darkest times, lean on our community, and support each other no matter what because we will persevere. (Aiko Hilkinger)
Only Murders in the Building Season 2 Episode 7 (“Flipping the Pieces”)
Structured around puzzle pieces and flashbacks, “Flipping the Pieces” delves into the difficulty of dealing with trauma and the effects of pushing it away indefinitely. Season 2 of Only Murders in the Building follows our trio of crime-solvers Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short), and Charles (Steve Martin) after their apartment building’s board president, Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell), is found stabbed with a knitting needle in Mabel’s apartment. Mabel is the prime suspect, but her memories of the fateful night are a little fuzzy.
“Flipping the Pieces” picks up right after Mabel has been recorded stabbing someone on the subway. She wakes up in her estranged acquaintance Theo (James Caverly)’s apartment with no memory of the events that happened the night before, which scares her. If she had stabbed someone and didn’t remember it, she could have easily done the same with Bunny. While I don’t have experience with Mabel’s sort of trauma (nor have I ever been the suspect in a murder case), I know all too well the pain that comes from not being able to trust your own memories or even worse, afraid that your memories may paint you as the bad guy after all.
Theo’s also familiar with this endless scouring of past memories; he can’t stop thinking about whether he actually saw Mabel’s friend, Zoe, slip off the building’s roof so many years ago, or if he actually pushed her. Our brains have a way of lying to us, whether to keep us safe or to torture us, and Mabel and Theo can relate to each other under these unfortunate circumstances. Mabel’s fuzzy memories date back to age seven, when her dad died of cancer. In an attempt to protect her, her parents didn’t tell her that her father was sick, but that only led to Mabel trying — and failing — to cope on her own. Her father’s illness is her first lost memory.
But even though Mabel’s afraid of the painful truth, she starts to put the pieces together quite literally. As she imagines herself in her father’s bedroom, where the two would watch The X-Files and put together jigsaw puzzles, the pieces of her memory fly into the air and connect. Mabel realizes that Bunny has already been stabbed when she notices her. The memory is painful, but she knows the truth. Realizing that Theo hasn’t been communicating with his father, who he has a complicated relationship with after being arrested for jewel thieving (what a show), Mabel tells him that avoiding the bad memories and uncomfortable situations haven’t made her any happier. As Mabel walks off, knowing she is innocent, Theo calls his father back.
Even ignoring the episode’s hilarious B-plot, which follows Oliver and Charles trying to figure out what to do with a found murder weapon and some amazing singing from Oliver and Detective Williams (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), “Flipping the Pieces” is a standout episode. Only Murders in the Building has a penchant for using the surreal in its otherwise grounded episodes, and the physical metaphor of puzzle pieces revealing an image perfectly illustrates the emotional weight of trying to remember what you’d rather forget. (Catie McCarthy)
Single Drunk Female Season 1 Episode 10 (“A Wedding”)
Single Drunk Female is a show on FreeForm about Samantha Fink (Sofia Black-D’Elia), who moves back in with her mother and attempts to get sober after spending longer than she realized as an alcoholic. Sam deals with many things in Season one of Single Drunk Female, including repairing her relationship with her mother (Ally Sheedy), seeing her best friend (Lily Mae Harrington) she never appreciated as well as she should’ve, and visiting a former best friend (Sasha Compère) who is marrying someone Sam had previously dated in high school.
We’ve seen it time and time again – shows or movies fumbling addiction. 9-1-1, Pivoting, and even The Avengers give some pretty significant hints only for them to give up on following up. They form a character whose entire personality surrounds their addiction, and refuses them a life outside of that. Single Drunk Female is where they get it right.
Sam goes to meetings, but she has setbacks. Sam meets people whom she learns to love and watches as they relapse. Addiction is a disease that hurts everyone around you as well as yourself, and Single Drunk Female shines a light on the people “outside” of the direct addiction, showing how destructive addiction can be. Sam also goes to meetings and goes to another one the same week if she has to. She learns to lean on her sponsor, her mother, and her friends. Sam learns that her habits led to the collapse of some of her most valued friendships, and she makes an effort to better them.
Set to attend her former best friend’s wedding after not being invited at the beginning of the season, “A Wedding” features a sober Sam working on bettering herself as she surrounds herself with loved ones and sober companions. Sofia Black-D’Elia as Sam is breathtaking – she puts so much love and respect into playing Samantha Fink, our main character, and you can tell how much Sofia herself respects Sam. During the episode, Sam is tempted, more than once, to relapse – by strangers and even by her sober companion – but she eventually recognizes that her work have become more valuable than a relationship with someone who isn’t willing to give up the same things she is to make the relationship work.
The unique thing about “A Wedding” is that it’s not set up as dominoes falling over in each scene, but as one big car crash that you can’t look away from. Everything seems to implode at once for Sam. But in the end, when she’s home, the person she’s silently comforted by, who she’s silently comforting, is Brit (Compère). “A Wedding” speaks to the love story between Sam and her best friend. It speaks to love that survives addiction and battles it with light instead of darkness and opens up a can of worms that couldn’t possibly lead to another season. (Laura Wanberg)
Evil Season 3 Episode 8 (“The Demon of Parenthood”)
Evil is one of the most ambitious and intelligent television shows on air right now. Created by Robert King and Michelle King – the duo behind The Good Wife and The Good Fight – the series is sharply fascinating look at the intersections of science, religious faith, and contemporaneity. Perhaps what most striking about Evil is the way it subverts beloved cultural tropes in order to make a scathing commentary on the moral rot that defines the American national imaginary.
Directed by the ever so stunning and talented Aisha Tyler, “The Demon of Parenthood” is a delicate episode that delves deep into the debate between nature and nurture. It continues examining Kristen Bouchard’s (Katja Herbers) fear of motherhood. As we recall from the previous two seasons of Evil, Kristen has many fears regarding her daughter Lexis (Maddy Crocco), who was conceived via IVF at the RSM fertility clinic. This fertility clinic seems to be impregnating women with demonic psychopathic babies and Kristen keeps trying to find out whether Lexis is one of those babies. Kristen remains unsure whether Lexis is actually just a normal kid or whether her anxieties over Lexis’ personality is justified – after all, Kristen did hack a serial killer to death, in cold blood, in order to protect her children. Maybe Lexis’ weird vampire fangs and monstrous tail are physical manifestations of Kristen’s propensity for violence, an aspect of herself that she hates and tries to run away from. Also, Kristen cheated on her deadbeat husband with two men. She is absolutely failing suburban motherhood, and in this episode, her failure culminates in a dream where Kristen nurses a demonic baby with tenderness and love.
In order for Lexis to turn out good because of nurture, Kristen has to believe that she has been a good mother. But Evil tells us that this belief is difficult to achieve in a world where the policemen are murder accomplices and mothers crumble under the weight of expensive mortgages (a recurring plot point in Evil is Kristen worrying over raising four daughters, who are outgrowing their two bunk beds, on $50,000 a year). Kristen desires punishment for killing a man in cold blood, but the state isn’t wired to give it to her because she’s a respectable white woman. And so Lexis’ troubling behavior is Kristen’s punishment, or so she tries to believe. But the shot of Kristen cradling a monstrous entity – so filled with warmth – tells us that maybe Kristen is ready to accept that motherhood can never be perfect and this isn’t her fault.
While the abject horror of pregnancy is an age-old trope which tackles our fears at failing parenthood, Evil transforms this fear into something almost beautiful; that Kristen fears that her mistakes will affect her daughter is a sign that she is a good parent. “The Demon of Parenthood” is a stunningly spectacular episode that treats mothers like Kristen with immense kindness, and, for that, it deserves all the praise we have to give. (Shar Tan)