Another year of television filled with incredible stories. It’s also important to acknowledge the hard work behind making an episode of TV amid the ongoing strikes. Writers and actors are vital behind some of our favorite episodes this year. Screen Speck staff has once again come together to compile their list of favorite television episodes for the year 2023.
From swoon-worthy moments to one of this year’s most shocking deaths on a plane, see what Screen Speck found most noteworthy on T.V. this year.
Abbott Elementary Season 2 Episode 14 (“Valentine’s Day”)
Love is in the air during Abbott Elementary‘s Valentine’s Day episode. Cheekily, it’s the second season’s fourteenth episode. However, amidst schoolboy crushes and surprises from Melissa’s (Lisa Ann Walter) previously off-screen romantic partner, the holiday episode of the beloved series offers fans and followers the first big crumbs in the ongoing saga of “will they or won’t they” between Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory (Tyler James Williams). After discovering Gregory’s massive crush on Janine, the quirky and curious Jacob (Chris Perfetti) spills the beans. The moment filled this writer with glee as it was a long-awaited first step towards the endgame of these two beautifully sweet characters getting together.
Every little tease and crumb means so much more than the sum of its parts when viewers crave their OTP (T.V. trope abbreviation for “one true pair”). The mere mention of Gregory’s crush on Janine provides the characters and the show’s loyal fans with nostalgia, evoking memories of Valentine swapping, slipping notes in middle school lockers, and long nights on the phone giggling after Mom and Dad have gone to sleep. After a season and a half of seeing just how perfect these two kindhearted souls would be together, seeing the knowledge shared canonically is enough to make this episode one of the most memorable of the years.
The slow burn is still ongoing, as the season ended with Janine and Gregory choosing to remain friends (for now). However, the slow burn keeps fans coming back for more! Rather than being together as we all are desperate to see, Gregory is dating an Abbott Elementary student’s parent, Amber (Naté Jones). Janine is dating Gregory’s old friend Maurice (Vince Staples). However, one of the final beats from the episode sees a hilariously adorable gift swap in which Gregory gets Amber a LEGO flower set better fit for Janine. At the same time, Maurice buys her a swanky bag, better for Amber—causing fans to collectively point at their T.V. screens and point out how OBVIOUS it is that these two couples switch around! The episode provides fans with just enough to keep them hoping and wishing while also providing a classic holiday-themed episode akin to the network television shows we all grew up loving. (Christian Hubbard)
Succession Season 4 Episode 3 (“Connor’s Wedding”)
An hour in which every minute is being watched and lived. A ceremony that is attended more by the audience than its guests. “Connor’s Wedding,” gift-wrapped by the lack of importance Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) was condemned to for all his life, secretly became the best Trojan horse of this T.V. season.
Logan’s (Brian Cox) death was always lying at the core of Succession‘s etymology, postponed indefinitely but lurking, ever-present in the shared consciousness. “When will Logan die?” caused a swarm of bonkers theories. But when the fateful time comes, it doesn’t. Not for the audience.
There is no dramatic Nicholas Britell score, no hasty heart attack followed by a black screen. “That’s so 2010s”, the writers seemed to have thought. As we worried about the psychological complexities of Connor’s wedding cake (I think his relationship with cake is, unironically, complex), the heaviest presence in the show left, unbeknownst, through the backdoor.
A reminder of Logan’s human fallibility, the fatal event is treated nonchalantly. Cox hops on a plane, never to speak again. The writing doesn’t feed from the dramatic impact of a slow death. A sense of sassy indifference instead nurtures it: It purposefully denies us the visuals in a visual medium. After four seasons of wondering, Logan’s death was not televised. It’s no easy move, but it’s made with trust in what they offer. It’s also the beauty of this episode: His death isn’t the main act; the reaction to it is. It is grief that commands the set for the last 45 minutes left. And no one on television has ever made grieving this entertaining before.
Hell breaks loose in this roller-coaster ride. Roman (Kieran Culkin) is on the floor, wallowing in guilt. Kendall (Jeremy Strong) and Shiv (Sarah Snook) cry, subconsciously always competing for control. Connor is the last to know. We know these characters. We understand each of their actions. Every writing and acting note hits naturally, as the chaos is shared with the audience. Like watching breaking news, you wanted to grab your phone and tell someone what was happening.
In many ways, “Connor’s Wedding” remains a valuable insight into the backbone of what Succession was: Stoically taking in significant life events but dramatically zooming in on its side effects.
Soon, the most annoying (and coolest) television aficionados you know will tell you that you had to be there. It’s true. You had to be there. (Ana de Castro)
Magnum P.I. Season 5 Episode 7 (“Birthright”)
Magnum P.I. is one of the most romantic network television shows that’s airing right now. I am being completely serious about this. Peter M. Lenkov and Eric Guggenheim’s reboot of a beloved classic sheds everything to do with the past; gone are the days when Thomas Magnum steals the crime-solving limelight, and in its place is an avowed focus on Magnum’s partner, who is rewritten as a woman named Juliet Higgins (Perdita Weeks of Penny Dreadful fame). The message conveyed by Higgins’ character arc is brilliant in its aching simplicity — opening yourself up to love and vulnerability can hurt, but the cost is worth it.
While Thomas Magnum (Jay Hernandez, most charming man ever) is the titular star of this reboot, Magnum P. I. sneakily revolves around Juliet and her struggle to let herself be loved. With each passing year, Juliet opens herself up a little more to both Magnum and his friends and, in the process, learns to heal from a violent bereavement that she had experienced before meeting Magnum. It all sounds extremely corny in the era of super-serious prestige television. But Magnum P.I. revels in its sappiness and uses it to emphasize the importance of vulnerability and simply letting the people you care about help you. Contrary to popular belief that romantic relationships can only cheapen the writing of female characters, Magnum P. I.’s portrayal of Juliet Higgins reconciles love with strength. For instance, Magnum repeatedly encourages Juliet to date (other people) again after the death of her fiance and tells her: “I am willing to give love a shot. I’m sure you are afraid of getting hurt again. But closing yourself off and denying yourself a chance at love is not the way to go through life.”
Season 5 of Magnum P. I. begins the day after Magnum and Juliet finally confess their feelings for each other, and the season charts their attempt to keep their relationship secret from their friends (at Juliet’s request). As expected, Juliet fears this newfound vulnerability accompanying a romantic relationship while Magnum, bless his heart, is dying to tell the world that he’s in love. “Birthright” presents a beautiful turning point in Juliet’s character development, as the case they are working on brings up long-suppressed memories of her late mother, who died from Alzheimer’s. In this episode, Juliet learns that her client gave up everything to care for her sick father, which evokes her deep-seated guilt for placing her mother in a nursing home to continue her career as an MI6 agent. This guilt tears her up, and as expected from a crime procedural, Juliet’s feelings over her mother affect her judgment on the case. Magnum gently disagrees with her reading of their client’s innocence but backs her up in front of Detective Katsumoto (Tim Kang of The Mentalist Kimball Cho fame). He’s a #real boyfriend.
Anyways, Magnum’s loyalty surprises Juliet. Somehow, she is still surprised at his devotion to her. In a rare moment of intimacy, Juliet eventually decides to tell Magnum about her regret over not doing more for her mother. The early seasons of Magnum P.I. briefly alluded to Juliet’s deadbeat father — her tough childhood also partly accounts for her hardened self and fear of potential abandonment. We can see why Juliet placed herself in therapy for the entirety of Season 4 once she realized that she had feelings for Magnum (this show is the best when employing romantic tropes). Juliet’s childhood, in particular, is an aspect of her life that she’s reluctant to share with anyone. But toward the end of the episode, Juliet lets herself be comforted by Magnum, who reassures her that someone as level-headed and compassionate as she probably made the best decision she could for her mother. It is sweet. It is romantic. It is everything to me. And to the resounding cheers of Magnum P. I. fans worldwide, “Birthright” concludes with a tight and warm embrace between Magnum and Juliet. It may be cheesy. But the sincerity in the writing of Magnum P. I. is precisely what we need in television right now. (Shar Tan)
The Great Season 3 Episode 7 (“Fun”)
Justice for Elle Fanning! I’m so sad The Great was canceled before we got to see the more considerable fallout from (spoiler alert) Peter’s (Nicholas Hoult) death now that Catherine (Elle Fanning) is entirely on her own. It’s another reason I wish Fanning and the rest of the cast had gotten more attention for their work this season, but I’m here to rectify that.
“Fun” opens after Peter’s untimely death. He’s let Hugo (Freddie Fox) convince him to invade Sweden, and when Catherine and Grigor (Gwilym Lee) come to stop him, he refuses to return home, and as he and his horse go back across the ice, they fall in. Rather than break down, Catherine is in a state of denial that what she just watched happened. She returns to court and pretends everything is fine, though we see her deteriorate throughout the episode.
Pugachev (Nicholas Hoult), Peter’s former double, travels throughout Russia, spreading dissent and slandering Catherine’s name to the peasants. Catherine is aware that her people hate her, and as a distraction from her own feelings, she decides to put on a fun day at court that she calls “the Festival of Truth, Jokes, and Mesmerizing Ideas.” She’s aided in this endeavor by Georgina (Charity Wakefield), Grigor’s wife. For much of the season, everyone questions George’s motives, seeing as she famously hates Catherine because she too was in love with Peter, and Catherine’s arrival changed their status quo. In this episode, her plan becomes a bit clearer, as it seems she’s trying to aid in Catherine’s downfall. Grigor immediately breaks down and tells George of Peter’s death, so she already knows that Catherine is keeping something from her. She’s simply waiting for her to crack.
There’s a lot of chaos in this episode during Catherine’s festival of fun, including a treasonous satirical play about Catherine herself written by Katya (Jane Mahady), the schoolteacher. As Catherine watches the entire court laugh as Katya makes a mockery of her rule, the first cracks of her facade show through. After fainting at the play, Catherine later delivers one of the most poignant lines of the episode when she says, “Something is rushing up at me, and it will kill me if it gets here.” All of this distraction for her is a means to keep going, to push through something tragic that she never expected so soon. If she admits that it’s real, she’s not sure she can keep going and still has a lot on her plate regarding the ruling. It’s a significant contrast to Grigor’s more outward grief throughout the episode, as he deals with the guilt of being unable to save Peter and wondering who he is without him since he’s been defined by him his entire life.
For much of the episode, George keeps him locked in his room. He’s only let out when Marial (Phoebe Fox) returns from a quest to kill Pugachev, which is not as successful as her younger cousin/husband (this would take too long to explain if you haven’t seen it; just let it happen) Maxim (Henry Meredith) believes. Watching both Grigor and Catherine so differently deal with this feeling of losing someone close to them, someone they loved, even when he treated them poorly, and grappling with these feelings is so compelling to watch. The moments of humor played throughout the episode invite us to laugh, but through much of it, we’re on edge, waiting for the moment when Catherine eventually breaks down and admits that Peter is gone.
That moment eventually comes when Catherine addresses the court after George lets rumors spread about Peter’s death and how Catherine keeps it secret from them. She declares that Peter is not dead, but Pugachev (due to Maxim’s timely declaration) and that Peter is still on his way to Sweden. The chef then brings in the new dessert he’d been working on with Peter, a salted caramel mousse. Some of Peter’s last words to Catherine were that he and the chef had been experimenting by adding salt to desserts, and this serves as the reminder that what Catherine fears most actually happened and was not just in her imagination. It’s finally too much for her to bear. This portrait of grief and an attempt to keep going even in the face of heartbreak is one of my favorite things I’ve watched this year, so I’m sad to see The Great go, but I’m grateful for the three seasons we had. (Kara Powell)
Succession Season 4 Episode 4 (“Honeymoon States”)
Although “Honeymoon States” is not what usually comes to mind when people discuss the best episode of season four of Succession, I think it is one of the most underrated episodes in terms of execution and exposition.
In the wake (ha!) of Connor’s Wedding, the siblings huddle together as a united front in grief ahead of the Waystar board meeting that will vote on an interim CEO to finalize the GoJo deal. The old guard tries to get in on the discussions as Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) attempts to suck up to the family. Kendall (Jeremy Strong) finds his name on a piece of paper written by Logan (Brian Cox) at an unspecified date, and he gets that gleam in his eyes, previously lost, and tries to rally shareholders to back him up as the CEO. Shiv (Sarah Snook) is quite literally getting hit from all directions, burdened by the concept of life and death, as she gets the all-clear on her Amniocentesis test (and to the audience, this is the first time we know she’s pregnant) while her brothers are shutting her out, AND she tripped and fell in front of everyone; misogyny won that day. But all is well because at least the sorely missed Marcia (Hiam Abbas) is finally back at the Roy mansion and ready to secure her place in the family as she deserves.
The successor to the “Connor’s Wedding” events could’ve been a hit or miss. A unique equilibrium was achieved by making it less intense than its predecessor but still jam-packed in its own way while also portraying the gaping hole left by the loss of one of the keystones of the show.
One of the most poignant moments of the episode, and I would even say of the whole show, is the scene with Kendall and Stewy (Arian Moayed) where they talk about Logan, and it is like they’re kids again. “We can’t live in a haunted house,” Kendall says before he runs after the same things that keep him locked in that cage, and Stewy immediately clocks that Kendall doesn’t like the GoJo deal. It is a bittersweet display of vulnerability that Kendall often denies himself except to very few characters.
Shiv also has a similar vulnerable scene with Tom by the staircase as he tries to “offer her some kindness” by reminding her of their relationship’s sweet, early days. It’s a fascinating look into their complicated dynamic and reminds the audience why she fell for him in the first place and, at some point, she “liked it all.”
In retrospect, I realized the camera pans to Tom when Shiv says, “It’s Coronation Demolition Derby.” Oops. (Farah Sadek)
What We Do in the Shadows Season 5 Episode 10 (“Exit Interview”)
What We Do in the Shadows has always been a feel-good show despite the content it produces. Throughout five seasons, we’ve gotten to know the characters pretty well. We know big things, like Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) is close with his mother or that Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) longs for a more prominent family of her own. Still, we also know the little things that have made the vampire family what it is today. The most significant instance is in Season 5, Episode 10, “Exit Interview.”
One by one, each vampire in the house shows Guillermo a different way they’ve accepted him into their home, their lives, and their family. This is a far cry from the first few seasons, where Nadja and Laszlo (Matt Berry) practically begged Nandor (Kayvan Novak) to dump Guillermo — especially when he started expressing emotions instead of being an excellent little housemaid.
Not only do the vampires express concern and upset at Guillermo possibly being taken from them, but when he realizes he doesn’t want to be a vampire, they (begrudgingly) assist Nandor in removing Guillermo’s abilities. Even Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) joins them.
The episode is easily one of the best of the show, forcing Nandor to come to terms with his ever-growing relationship with Guillermo and the other vampires, establishing clearly and succinctly how they see Guillermo.
What We Do in the Shadows has exceeded the expectations of both critics and viewers and with the vampires +1 familiar being more solid than ever, it can only go up from here. (Laura Wanberg)