The Atlantic’s editors and writers pick their favorite 2016 moments from Fleabag, You’re the Worst, High Maintenance, The Good Place, and more. (Just to be clear, spoilers abound.)
One of the best things to happen in the world of Peak TV has been shows going out of their way to emphasize the characters who are not the stars. “Value,” in a series in which every episode is a legitimate contender for “best,” stands out, in particular, in regards to that intentional empathy. The episode belongs to Van; here, the woman who had thus far been defined in relation to Earn—as his on-again, off-again girlfriend, patient and long-suffering, and also as the mother of his young daughter—gets her due. And, powerfully, as herself. Things start out simply: Van has an obnoxiously fancy dinner with an obnoxiously fancy friend; the friend talks her into some post-dinner weed; only afterward will Van find out that the school where she works has selected the following day for employee drug-testing. The remainder of “Value” finds Van trying, with equal parts desperation and entrepreneurialism, to pass the test. It’s an effort that affords “Value” not just impressively quiet comedy, but that also works as a metaphor—for the arbitrariness of rules, and for the difficulty of staying afloat in a world that can be so determined to weigh people down.
Bojack Horseman, “Fish Out of Water”
“Fish Out of Water” (better known as “the underwater episode”) is the rare Bojack installment that’s easy to appreciate as a standalone. It features a single arc: The equine protagonist must make his way to the premiere of his new film, a Secretariat biopic, at a prestigious undersea festival. The episode starts out fairly normally, but after around minute three there’s a dramatic, yet nearly imperceptible, shift: The dialogue disappears. What follows is a gentle, beautifully animated watercolor fantasia that channels Charlie Chaplin and Lost in Translation to explore the ways people try, and often miserably fail, to connect with one another. There are enough visual gags to make up for the lack of verbal ones, and the score does a muscular job of modulating the pace and mood. It’s a testament to the show’s creative team that, for a series that derives so much power from an obsession with language, the best episode doesn’t need many words at all.
Broad City, “Co-Op”
In “Co-op,” Abbi and Ilana, the best friends-and-odd couple-and-also-platonic life partners of Broad City, finally do the inevitable: They switch places. Ilana has to complete a shift at her Brooklyn co-op (it’s her final day to do so before, yep, the current moon cycle ends); she has a doctor’s appointment, though, that conflicts with the shift. Abbi agrees to fill in for her friend—but, the co-op rules being uncooperatively strident, she ends up having to fill in not just for Ilana, but as her. And Ilana, meanwhile, will end up impersonating Abbi. Abbi’s Ilana is better than Ilana’s Abbi—Abbi, as her friend, wears a mesh crop top and fondles produce and merrily yas queens her way around the co-op—but the quality of the impersonations doesn’t, in the end, much matter. The point of this particular Freaky Friday is the friendship it involves—one so fierce that it overcomes even the comically massive differences between the two women who make it what it is.
The Chris Gethard Show, “One Man’s Trash”
A green dumpster sits in the middle of The Chris Gethard Show’s stage. Inside it, Gethard tells us, is something special—and if viewers calling in can guess, he’ll open the dumpster and reveal what it is. For the first half of “One Man’s Trash,” guests Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas gleefully try to disrupt proceedings, cackling at Gethard’s obvious discomfort. Then, he lets them look inside the dumpster, and without hyperbole, the expression on their faces after peeking is one of the TV highlights of the year. “One Man’s Trash” shows off everything that’s special about Gethard’s anarchic talk show, now in its second season on Fusion: It turns a freewheeling late-night comedy hour into a thrilling race against time. What’s in the dumpster? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Documentary Now, “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken”
Each of Documentary Now’s spoof mini-movies is its own little masterpiece, but there was no half-hour of television as emotionally fulfilling, as perfectly plotted, and as simply told as “Juan Likes Rice and Chicken,” a spoof of the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Written by Seth Meyers, the episode lovingly mocks every food-porn trope while digging into the human drama of a son (Fred Armisen) desperately trying to live up to the example of his father (Hector Elias), an acclaimed, though very rustic, chef. It’s wry and funny throughout, but the episode’s final five minutes transcend parody; ridiculous as it sounds, Juan Likes Rice and Chicken is a genuinely powerful, moving little tale of fathers and sons.