With so many television shows on the air these days, it's almost impossible to keep track of what you watched let alone specific episodes. Yet, every once in a while, a show will deliver an installment that cuts through the noise and sticks with long after the credits roll. Sometimes it's an exceptional finale that brings all of the season's threads together, and others it's a mid-run chapter that breaks away from the formula to try something new. And when that happens, we should celebrate it. Below, EW shares our 30 best episodes of the year listed alphabetically by show.

Best TV Episodes
Credit: Shane Brown/FX; Marvel Studios; Michele K. Short/HBO; Macall Polay/HBO; Apple TV +; Elizabeth Fisher/Paramount+
“You Don’t Deserve My Blood,” Castlevania season 4 episode 6
Credit: Netflix

"You Don't Deserve My Blood" — Castlevania (Netflix)

(Written by Warren Ellis, directed by Sam Deats) 

This astounding episode only marks the midpoint of Castlevania's final season, but it's where viewers said goodbye to the show's two most compelling characters: Isaac (Adetokumboh M'Cormack), the former servant of Dracula who has since built his own revolutionary demon army; and Carmilla (Jaime Murray), the scheming vampire who wants to take over the world because she knows the old men in charge don't deserve it. 
Their climactic confrontation takes up most of the episode's runtime, and it's thrilling to watch director Sam Deats swing his metaphorical camera around Carmilla's castle like it's the ballroom dance from Beauty and the Beast, except drenched in blood and filled with monster corpses carved up by Carmilla's sword. But the best part might just be Isaac's speech about the importance of working to build a future instead of just languishing in an endless night. Surrounded by death and blood, he declares, "I am going to live." —Christian Holub

Credit: Scott Patrick Green/TBS

"Lakehouse" — Chad (TBS)

(Written by Lindsay Golder, directed by LP)

No show in 2021 did cringe comedy better than Chad, the coming of age sitcom from Nasim Pedrad that stars the 40-year-old actress as an awkward 14-year-old boy who wants nothing more than to fit in. And he thinks he's finally done it when his friend crush Reid (Thomas Barbusca) invites him to "Camp Swag at Jizzwater Lake" for a boys weekend. Chad only makes the cut to avoid a lawsuit over a scooter incident, but, hey, whatever it takes. No one is happier to hear the news than human teddy bear Hamid (Paul Chahidi), who, upon dropping his nephew Chad and innocent sweetheart Peter (Jake Ryan) off, shares one piece of advice: "Remember, just say no… to nothing! Do everything!" What ensues is a weekend of dead grandpas, ping pong, Puff Daddy nightmares, and Peter proving why he's the best friend an unfriendable person could have. Clearly the Chad team took Uncle Hamid's advice. —Derek Lawrence

Credit: Juan Cruz Rabaglia PARAMOUNT+/MTV

"Legends Never Die" — The Challenge: All Stars (Paramount+)

When The Challenge "Godfather" Mark Long first began his "We Want OGs" social media campaign, it sounded fun. But even the most optimistic Challenge fans couldn't have predicted what it would become just a short year later. The Challenge: All Stars series premiere, "Legends Never Die," was everything ultimate, longtime fans wanted — and so much more. It was pure nostalgic-yet-fresh magic onscreen. It had all the production value of new seasons of The Challenge combined with the legendary faces that started the iconic franchise. And most shockingly, it was downright hilarious. Producers threw these aged-up reality TV vets into crazy challenges and a Real World-style, hard-partying setting, let the cameras roll, and then went in and edited the s--- out of it to play up the comedy of seeing these older fan-favorites trying to accomplish what their bodies used to be able to do in a game that's evolved past their wildest dreams (er, make that nightmares). And not only did they all come to play, they also came to have the time of their lives set to the soundtrack of glorious throwback jams. As the flagship series continues to become increasingly intense and extreme, All Stars was the breath of fresh air we all needed. —Sydney Bucksbaum


"Feel the Night" — Cobra Kai (Netflix)

(Story by : Josh Heald & Jon Hurwitz & Hayden Schlossberg & Michael Jonathan Smith; Teleplay by : Michael Jonathan Smith; directed by Josh Heald)

Bringing back Elisabeth Shue's Karate Kid character, Ali Mills, to revisit her love triangle with Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) in season 3's penultimate episode could have been nothing more than fan service. And sure, Ali's reunion with Johnny served up plenty of sweet '80s vibes, including a Golf-N-Stuff rematch and a near-kiss that nearly stopped our hearts. But the episode was also critical to setting up Cobra Kai's future. Only Ali Mills could help the one-time Karate Kid bully be honest about where his life went wrong — which, in turn, makes it easier for him to reconcile with the equally prideful Daniel LaRusso in the finale. "Feel the Night" was nostalgia done right. —Kristen Baldwin

Colin in Black & White
Credit: Netflix

"Road Trip" — Colin in Black and White (Netflix)

(Teleplay byTeri Schaffer and Reynelle Swilling, story by  Natasha R. Trotter, directed by Robert Townsend)

The concept of microaggressions and white privilege aren't always easy to explain — sometimes, you just have to live them to understand. In the stunning third episode of Colin in Black & White, director Robert Townsend helps viewers experience both vicariously through young Colin Kaepernick (Jaden Michael). Over the course of five increasingly demoralizing weekends on the road with his (mostly white) baseball team and (very white) parents (Nick Offerman and Mary-Louise Parker), Colin is racially profiled by hotel employees who assume he doesn't belong there, pulled over by a suspicious cop while driving with his parents in the family minivan, and even told he must be "one of the good ones." This episode may not be easy to watch, but it's even harder to forget. —K.B.

Credit: Byron Cohen/FX

"Dave" — Dave (FXX)

(Written by Dave Burd, directed by Alma Har'el)

For anyone who only saw the season 1 billboards or the opening scene of the pilot, you might rightfully assume that the comedy from Lil Dicky, a.k.a. Dave Burd, is just one big dick joke. Now, let me be clear, there are plenty of dick jokes, but Dave also sized up in season 2, delivering a season-ending run of five episodes that were equally different, brilliant, hilarious, and visually-striking. And it was capped off by "Dave," which brought the titular rapper's sidekick and hype man GaTa to center stage, literally. While watching the finale, it would have been hard to think the pure Lil Dicky VMAs rehearsal would be topped, and then the same could be said of the raw and brutal argument between Dave and GaTa, who many worried was experiencing a manic episode. And then later, as all of the main characters prepared to watch the most important performance of Dave's career, GaTa wipes away his tears, puts on his sunglasses, and unexpectedly walks out on stage, earning rapturous applause from his family and this writer. Borrowing from their crowd-pleasing collaboration, I say to "Dave", "You good, bro." —D.L. 

Credit: Apple TV+

"Split the Lark" — Dickinson (Apple TV+)

(Written by Alena Smith, Directed by Silas Howard) 

 This episode, which follows Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) and the entire Dickinson family to the opera, does what Dickinson does best, scrutinizes fame, creativity, and what gives our life —and art — meaning and purpose. When Emily is chastised by publisher (and crush) Sam Bowles (Finn Jones) for her affections, he helps her see the greatest love affair is between her and her writing. But it's an encounter with opera singer Adelaide May (Kelli Barrett) that changes Emily's life, exposing the ways that fame and over-exposure rob art of its private, underlying emotion. It's a breathtaking 30-minute aria dedicated to probing the greatest challenge any artist faces — navigating what they share of themselves and what intimacies they hold back. —Maureen Lee Lenker

Credit: Elizabeth Fisher/CBS

"S Is for Silence" — Evil (Paramount+)

(Written by Robert and Michelle King, directed by Robert King)

In the paranormal drama's eerie midseason premiere, the show's core trio investigated a potential miracle at a silent monastery, resulting in an impressive, near-dialogue-free installment that balanced horror and suspense with titillating introspection and boozy humor. With the contents of a mysterious locked box that reportedly contained a demon and would open if anyone said a word looming over the proceedings, Katja Herbers got to show off her physical comedy chops as Kristen Bouchard befriended a nun and got progressively drunk on the monastery's homemade wine. Meanwhile, David's (Mike Colter) attempts to quiet his mind and pray failed because he kept getting distracted by various un-priestly thoughts. Of course, the aforementioned box eventually opens and what emerges was both surprising and frightening. —Chancellor Agard

For All Mankind
Credit: Apple TV +

"The Grey" — For All Mankind (Apple TV+)

(Written by Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi, directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan)

The personal and global intertwined in the alternate-history drama's season 2 closer, bringing every story line to a head and pushing the U.S. and Soviet Union to the brink of war — on earth, in space, and on the moon. Add heartbreaking, heroic deaths and a thrilling season 3 tease, and you have the Platonic ideal of a finale. —C.A.

Credit: Anne Marie Fox/HBO Max

"New Eyes" — Hacks (HBO Max)

(Written by Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, and Jen Statsky, directed by Aniello)

Having a story beat where an employee opens their famous boss' phone by using their Madame Tussauds' wax figure to get past the facial recognition is already genius, but then for star Jean Smart to push to play said wax figure of her character is the stuff that inevitably earned her the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The sixth episode of the HBO Max series, about Las Vegas-headlining comedian Deborah Vance (Smart) reinvigorating her career after hiring young firebrand Ava Daniels (Hannah Einbinder) to write for her, is both brilliantly madcap and surprisingly emotional in how it brings the two stars closer together. —Marcus Jones

Impeachment: American Crime Story
Credit: Tina Thorpe/FX

"Man Handled" — Impeachment: American Crime Story (FX)

(Written by Sarah Burgess, directed by Ryan Murphy)

Impeachment: American Crime Story, about the Bill Clinton sex scandal of 1998 that rocked his presidency, re-examines how history wasn't exactly the most reliable narrator. And "Man Handled," the season's sixth episode was a brutal, at times hard to watch example. This was the hour in which a then-24-year-old Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) was forcefully taken to a hotel room filled with a group of men operating on behalf of the office of lawyer Ken Starr, where she was interrogated, threatened, and manipulated over a span of hours. It's a moment referred to some of the characters as "prom night," which makes what transpired even more cringeworthy. But that was the job writer Sarah Burgess set out to perform with this hour of television. An impressive Feldstein, playing into Monica's debilitating anxiety spiral throughout this sequence, reminds us of the life that was so easily destroyed by men in suits who were cheered for their "pursuit of justice." —Nick Romano 

Legends of Tomorrow
Credit: The CW

"Bored on Board Onboard" — DC's Legends of Tomorrow (The CW)

(Written by Keto Shimizu and Leah Poulliot, directed by Harry Jierjian) 

Legends of Tomorrow is essentially the Community of superhero shows — a pop culture devouring series about a band of misfits trying to work through their own baggage. And like that beloved cult NBC comedy, the CW dramedy knows how to pull off one helluva a bottle episode, as it does with the stylish and dark "Bored on Board Onboard." While embarking on a three week trip through space back to Earth, the Legends are forced to limit screen time to preserve power. So, they decide to play a Mafia-meets-Clue-like game to pass the time. To make things more fun, Constantine transports them into the world of the game. Setting the action in Constantine's mansion is clever because it (likely) allows the show to save money by using a pre-existing set and, more importantly, that's where everyone dreams of playing a murder mystery game. Unfortunately, the silly fun turns rather serious when the Legends start being murdered one by one in brutal fashion. As the terror builds, Constantine, Zari (Tala Ashe), and Behrad (Shayan Sobhian) are forced to confront some uncomfortable truths, eliciting great performances from all three. —C.A. 

Credit: Marvel Studios

"Journey into Mystery" — Loki (Disney+)

(Written by Tom Kauffman, directed by Kate Herron)

Loki hit the ground running with a very heady premise: The God of Mischief has been recruited to help maintain the integrity of the time-space continuum. But after several episodes of Tom Hiddleston untangling time-space bureaucracy and charming his way through Doctor Who-style time travel romps, Loki's penultimate episode finally delivered on the full potential of that initial premise by pitting its protagonist against a bevy of alternate selves. Go ahead and tag yourself: Do you prefer the retro charm of Richard E. Grant's old-school Loki, or the surly Teen Loki, or the politically ambitious President Loki? Longtime Marvel comic readers know all about the history of Frog Thor — but who needs that thunderous amphibian when you can have Alligator Loki? —C.H. 

Mare of Easttown
Credit: Michele K. Short/HBO

"Illusions" — Mare of Easttown (HBO)

(Written by Brad Ingelsby, directed by Craig Zobel)

Mare of Easttown was a murder mystery, yes. It was also a story about small-town dynamics and what it's like to live in a place like Easttown. It was also about grief and what it can do to a person. And in its fifth episode, "Illusions," many of those things came to a head when a suspended Mare (Kate Winslet) pushed Detective Zabel (Evan Peters) to follow a lead. What started out as a seemingly harmless trip turned deadly in an instant when it became apparent that they'd found the person responsible for kidnapping young girls in their town. And in what might go down as one of the fastest deaths in history, Zabel is shot in the head and dead within minutes of their arrival, a twist no one saw coming. —Samantha Highfill


"Book V: Gospels" — Midnight Mass (Netflix)

(Written by Mike Flanagan and James Flanagan; directed by Mike Flanagan)

For the start of its season, much of Midnight Mass was about mystery. What had killed all those cats? And who exactly was Father Paul (Hamish Linklater)? And as compelling as that mystery was, the show really came into its own when it revealed its secret, and that's where "Book V: Gospels" comes in. With Riley (Zach Gilford) having learned the truth about Father Paul's — A.K.A. Father Pruitt's — plan, he begins his own, um, transformation. But rather than join Pruitt on his path, Riley decides to tell Erin (Kate Siegel) everything and then sacrifice himself to the daylight, an image fans won't soon forget, and a moment that changes the show for the better. —Samantha Highfill

Mythic Quest
Credit: Apple TV +

"Backstory!" — Mythic Quest (Apple TV+)

(Written by Charlie Day, Megan Ganz, and Craig Mazin; directed by Rob McElhenney)
The year is 1972, and a young C.W. Longbottom (now just Carl) is a junior copy editor at the esteemed fantasy magazine Amazing Tales. He's also an aspiring author — a pompous, delusional one who refuses to accept that he churns out nonsensical dreck. Sourly dismissing the critiques of his colleague friends, fellow would-be scribes Peter (Michael Cassidy) and A.E. (Shelley Hennig), Carl (Josh Brener) embarks on a crazed mission to pen the Next Great Sci-Fi Masterpiece and prove them wrong. Mythic Quest's season 2 flashback episode is the roller-coaster tale of how C.W. (played in the modern day by the delightful F. Murray Abraham) went from dubiously winning his vaunted Nebula Award to drunkenly peddling rotisserie chicken at a Renaissance fair to landing his current gig as a (still drunk) video game writer. But tackling unrequited love, sexism, the pleasures and pangs of artistry, morality, fame, failure, loneliness, and one man's misjudged yet prescient vision of the future, "Backstory!" feels much bigger than that — more like a movie, or a novel, or an entire life unspooled in 37 tragicomic minutes. —Jason Lamphier

Only Murders in the Building
Credit: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

"The Boy From 6B"— Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)

(Written by Stephen Markley and Ben Philippe; directed by Cherien Dabis)

While the concept of a silent episode isn't quite new, they usually are not so critical to driving a season-long arc forward. Here though, through spotlighting deaf character Theo Dimas (James Caverly), Hulu's comedy crime caper starring Steve Martin, Selena Gomez, and Martin Short ups the ante by enrapturing viewers with unexpected answers about central mysteries on the show. As Theo's tragic backstory unravels, the show plays well with the audience's empathy towards him, and the silent stretches of Gomez and Short's characters Mabel and Oliver stumbling through surveilling him juxtaposed with Martin's character Charles hitting his stride with new girlfriend Jan (Amy Ryan) provide for great physical comedy. —M.J. 

The Other Two
Credit: Greg Endries /HBO Max

"Chase & Pat Are Killing it" — The Other Two (HBO Max)

(Written by Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider; directed by Kim Nguyen)

The Other Two understands fame on a cellular level — its mercuriality, its randomness, its absurdity – and season 2's penultimate episode put the big dumb ride of celebrity under its cunning microscope. In a rare burst of confidence, Cary (Drew Tarver) contorted his body in all sorts of directions in an airplane bathroom so he could take a pic of his BH (that'd be his butthole) for a Grindr suitor. Alas, Cary didn't understand the ramifications of taking a photo in "live" mode, which wound up revealing the hole's owner, and the whole mess went viral by the time his flight landed in Los Angeles. Cary's journey was just beginning, as the CEO of Skypoint Airlines condemned him for the way he used the lavatory (bad), but celebrities such as Busy Phillips and Julianne Moore soon rushed to his defense and called out Skypoint for being homophobic: "I stand with you and your hole." (Good?) The end result: His first movie, Night Nurse, is revived from the scrap pile, a victory that overshadows all of that hole-miliation. Throw in a cameo from Alessia Cara in which she bemoans her lack of empire ("All I do is sing. It's embarrassing"), a killer Aaron Shock reference, and a cold open that reinforces that the real heathens are in first class, and you've got a masterclass in fame circa 2021. Two bare toes up. —Dan Snierson

“Highway to Vail,” Real Housewives of Salt Lake City
Credit: Bravo

"Highway to Vail" —The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City (Bravo)

It's a testament to the brilliance of our friends the Bravo editors that the episode chronicling the fallout of Jen Shah's already-much-publicized arrest was so thoroughly riveting. Marked with timestamps throughout, it opens in the Beauty Lab parking lot, with the ladies wondering why they've been ambushed by the feds. Over the course of the long bus ride to Vail, Whitney speculates on Jen's shady business practices, Lisa calls all six of her attorneys, and Jennie digs into Jen's abandoned bag of snacks, all while Heather provides comedic commentary. Meanwhile, at the mansion they're headed to, Mary arrives early to find hostess Meredith in the bathtub, luxuriating equally in both fragrant bubbles and the triumph of having been right all along about their allegedly felonious castmate. Top it all off with some vaguely damning anecdotes at dinner and you've got a Housewives hour for the ages. —Mary Sollosi

Credit: Shane Brown/FX

"California Dreamin"— Reservation Dogs (FX)

(Written and directed by Tazbah Rose Chavez)

When it comes to EW's No. 1 show of 2021, you couldn't go wrong with picking any of the eight perfect installments, especially when each of the titular Dogs got their own memorable spotlight episode. So why "California Dreamin'"? Not only does the half-hour shed further light on Elora (the wonderful Devery Jacobs), but flashbacks finally turn Daniel (Dalton Cramer) into an actual character, rather than just a framed photo and a sad memory. And those handful of scenes between Elora and Daniel is what makes the reveal of his suicide — which had been hinted at but not confirmed — hit as hard as it does, as we see and hear Elora's reaction, but only ever are shown Daniel's legs, which Elora holds onto as tight as can be. Yes, Ansel (Matty Cardarople), we are crying! Oh, and we somehow haven't even mentioned that Bill Burr randomly shows up as Elora's old basketball coach-turned-current driving instructor who learns his longtime nickname is actually "Toilet," not "Great White Warrior." It's a credit to Reservation Dogs' greatness and confidence that they could simultaneously pull off those two stories in only their seventh-ever episode. —D.L.

RuPaul's Drag Race season 13 episode 12
Credit: VH1

"Nice Queens Roast" — RuPaul's Drag Race (VH1)

You haven't really lived until you've received a lovable "f--- you" from RuPaul, and season 13 queen Utica got her life two times over on the most unhinged episode Drag Race has aired in years. Though the weekly challenge was all about playing nice during a sassy roast of the franchise's returning Miss Congeniality winners, Utica — who, up to this point, tried to remain comically averse from problematic behavior — channeled all of her nervous energy into a stand-up set that was equally bonkers and insensitive. While the 90-minute episode isn't necessarily good because of her "talents," Utica provided the basis for excellence to thrive. From Oscar-worthy line readings (guest judge Loni Love's response to Utica's jab about her comedy career? Meryl Streep could never) to Mama Ru flipping Utica the bird — twice — after she asked the Emmy winner to stand up from behind the panel (Mother reportedly wears cozy bottoms to long shoots) the whole thing was a royal clash of high camp, cringe, and gut-busting laughs that only Drag Race can deliver. In the words of Kandy Muse: Bitch, [we] died. —Joey Nolfi

The Sex Lives of College Girls
Credit: HBO Max

"Parents Weekend" — The Sex Lives of College Girls (HBO Max)

(Written by Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble, directed by Meredith Dawson)

In an otherwise stellar first season, one episode of Mindy Kaling's The Sex Lives of College Girls stood out among the rest. And specifically, one scene stood out among the rest. In "Parents Weekend," all four roommates — Bela (Amrit Kaur), Leighton (Reneé Rapp), Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), and Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) — invite their families to dinner. The result is a chaotic, hilarious dinner scene involving complicated family dynamics, at least one inappropriate mom, a little French, and just the right amount of politics. It's hard to go wrong when you've got comedy legends like Rob Heubel and Sherri Shepherd going head-to-head. —S.H.

Credit: Macall B. Polay/HBO

"Too Much Birthday" — Succession (HBO)

(Written by Georgia Pritchett and Tony Roche, directed by Lorene Scafaria)

This episode of the media empire dramedy began in explosive fashion as Matthew Macfadyen's Tom Wambsgans celebrated the news that he wouldn't be going to jail by violently upturning the desk of his corporate underling, Nicholas Braun's Cousin Greg. But that proved to be just the pre-game to the main event: Kendall Roy's 40th birthday party. This designed-to-be-epic but utterly absurd shindig in midtown Manhattan was as hilarious for viewers as it was ultimately tragic for Jeremy Strong's character. Neither the presence of an entrance corridor representing his mother's vagina nor the prospect of a performance by a Wu-Tang Clan cover band made up of children was able to prevent Kendall from falling into soul-crushing despair. —Clark Collis

A Brief Reminiscence In-Between Cataclysmic Events- Superman & Lois
Credit: The CW

"A Brief Reminiscence In-Between Cataclysmic Events" — Superman & Lois (The CW)

(Written by Brent Fletcher, directed by Gregory Smith)

We've seen Clark Kent and Lois Lane fall in love many times on-screen at this point, and yet Superman & Lois still managed to make its take on their love story feel fresh and compelling. Picking up in the aftermath of a rather busy episode, "A Brief Reminiscence" jumps back in time to reveal what happened after Clark left Smallville when he was 16 and his eventual arrival in Metropolis, where he debuted as Superman and met his future wife at the Daily Planet. The show treats Clark and Lois' first meeting (which was teased in the premiere), investigative reporting dynamic, and courtship with so much care that you can't help but fall in love with them falling in love, especially because of Hoechlin and Tulloch's winning chemistry. The episode is filled with so many great moments, from the return of the retro Superman suit, to Lois' thoughtful take on the downside of Superman coverage and their first interview. There's a big tonal shift in the back half of the episode that could easily feel rather jarring with the sweet romcom that came before, but somehow it all works because the show's concern with family ties it all together. —C.A.

Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

"All Sales Final"— Superstore (NBC)

(Teleplay by Jonathan Green & Gabe Miller, story by Justin Spitzer, directed by Ruben Fleischer)

A hilarious comedy about regular people suffering at the hands of uncaring corporate overlords, Superstore predictably had to wrap things up fast when NBC decided to end the show midway through season 6. Sometimes surprise finales bring out the best in a show, though, and "All Sales Final" makes for a funny and heartfelt conclusion. Amy (America Ferrera) and Jonah (Ben Feldman) reunite for one last day of work, while everyone tries to figure out their lives after Cloud 9. It's a fond farewell to one of TV's all-time-great ensembles, with surprising grace notes provided by terse Dina (Lauren Ash) and cynical Garett (Colton Dunn). And can you name one other sitcom that successfully resolved a years-long mystery about severed feet? —Darren Franich

Ted Lasso
Credit: Colin Hutton/Apple TV+

"Rainbow" — Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

(Written by Bill Wrubel, directed by Erica Dunton) 
Roy Kent! Roy Kent! The foul-mouthed MVP of Ted Lasso anchors the divisive second season's finest half-hour, an inspired riff on romantic comedies that sees Roy (Brett Goldstein) wrestle with the temptation to return to AFC Richmond as a coach. In the end, of course, he can't resist, leading to a delirious climax as Roy dashes through the streets of London to rejoin his team, to the tune of the Rolling Stones' "She's a Rainbow." Ted Lasso, you had us at "coach," too. —Tyler Aquilina

Credit: Marvel Studios

"Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience" — WandaVision (Disney+)

(Written by Jac Schaeffer, Directed by Matt Shakman)

It was a twist of pandemic fate that made WandaVision the first Disney+/Marvel show to hit our screens, but what's good TV without a twist or two? The heady ambitions of that series premiere — so different from any of the MCU projects that came before it, in both style and scope — placed Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany's super-couple in a classic TV sitcom of Wanda's magical design, shot in front of a studio audience and filmed in vintage black-and-white. Fans didn't know yet how deeply WandaVision's visions of TV escapism and meditations on grief would resonate during lockdown — or that Kathryn Hahn's Agnes would become her own witchy scene-stealer — but even from those opening moments it was clear the show was taking the Marvel universe into a bigger, bolder new direction. —Jessica Derschowitz

Credit: Russ Martin/FX

"The Wellness Center" — What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

(Written by Stefani Robinson, directed by Yana Gorskaya)

What if Nandor (Kayvan Novak) went to the vampire equivalent of Tranquillum, but instead of Nicole Kidman repurposing her old movie wigs, we see Cree Summer doing her best Rose Byrne Physical impression? That's the basic gist of "The Wellness Center," one of the best episodes of What We Do in the Shadows to date. It would've been worth it just to see Nandor sport perky '80s bob while rapidly singing Barenaked Ladies, but then there's Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) sharing his love of bellydancing with the world. Summer, too, just threw herself into this mockumentary world as the absurdist cult leader pretending to transform vampires back into humans while discreetly throwing up the apple she pretended to eat into a nearby trashcan. Iconic is the only word for it. —N.R.

The White Lotus
Credit: Mario Perez/HBO

"Mysterious Monkeys" — The White Lotus (HBO)

(Written and directed by Mike White)

Mark (Steve Zahn) is processing some earth-shattering news: His father was gay and died, not from cancer, as he had always been told, but from AIDS. During a scuba diving lesson with his son Quinn (Fred Herchinger), Mark theorizes that "gay, straight, whatever, we're all just monkeys." But Mark's father "hid the monkey" from him and that screwed Mark up. On the other hand, Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge)'s mother may have exposed too much of her monkey but the result is the same. Tanya's all screwed up, too. Throughout The White Lotus, Coolidge walks a fine line between the tragic and the comic but she is at her most deft when delivering Tanya's mother's eulogy. Innumerable glasses of champagne down, she falls apart in spectacular fashion, wailing hysterically in front of a small, very reluctant audience of fellow hotel guests. The monkey is officially out of the bag. —Lester Fabian Brathwaite

Credit: Michael Courtney/NBC/Lionsgate

"Zoey's Extraordinary Goodbye" — Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist (NBC)

 (Written by Austin Winsberg, Directed by John Terlesky) 

 In what would sadly become the show's untimely goodbye (at least, on NBC), Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist wrapped up the will they-won't they of its two-season love triangle with a brain-melting twist. After breaking things off with Simon (John Clarence Stewart) and learning the truth behind how she got her job, Zoey (Jane Levy) realizes her feelings for Max (Skylar Astin) and makes a mad dash to the airport — only to see what she thinks is him singing "When a Man Loves a Woman" to Rose (Katie Findlay). But when Max "gets off the plane" (or never gets on it, rather), he reveals his heart song was for Zoey — who he then hears sing her own song, "I Melt With You." This episode showcased what made Zoey great — inventive musical numbers, heartfelt romance, and the core foundation of Zoey's connection with her father. The only thing we don't like about it is how that brilliant twist left us with so many questions that would potentially never be answered (thank the Roku gods for a Christmas special). —M.L.L

A version of this story appears in Entertainment Weekly's January issue, on newsstands Friday and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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