When TV show creators boast that their season is “really a 10-hour movie,” odds are they’re either relatively new to the medium, or are trying to impress bosses who are. Television isn’t “movies, only longer,” and even intensely serialized shows like Breaking Bad or The Americans understand the value of making each installment its own memorable experience within the larger story.
This year was something of a mixed bag for passionate defenders of the episode like me. On the one hand, we got more new dramas than ever (particularly on the streaming networks) blindly following the 10-hour-movie model, and struggling to maintain interest over the long haul as a result. On the other, the year still had an awful lot of great individual episodes, particularly from shows willing to radically shift their perspective, setting and/or tone for a bit.
Below are 10 of my favorite episodes of television from 2018. Some are standout segments of shows that made my overall top 20 list — and could have easily just included episodes from those shows, including The Americans‘ finale and “Something Stupid” from Better Call Saul, both of which I omitted for the sake of variety — while others are examples of uneven series temporarily achieving their full potential. Some exist very much within their respective shows’ usual continuity and style, while others illustrate just how elastic a fictional universe can be. All are worth revisiting, even in an era crowded with programs fighting for your attention. To the victors go the streams.