Last week we presented our 10 favorite TV shows of 2014. But when people talk about their favorite shows, they don’t talk about season long arc and character development. They mention their favorite episodes and moments that hooked them on the show. So while we’ve already discussed which shows you should’ve watched in the past year, here are the 25 episodes that made the most impact in 2014.
(SPOILER ALERT, DUH!)
25. “Geothermal Escapism,” Community
Season 5 saw Dan Harmon return to the helm of NBC’s cult hit comedy, and while the show never really hit the heights of the past, this episode remains a series highlight. Greendale plays a campus-wide version of “The Floor is Lava,” which gets completely out-of-hand (obviously). It’s revealed the game’s really Abed’s attempt to keep Troy from leaving, which leads to an emotional sendoff for departing cast member Donald Glover.
24. “The Wedding,” Modern Family
It’s a pretty bold move for a network TV show to take on a subject like gay marriage, and Modern Family handled it with the grace and humor that has become expected of the show. Finally seeing Cameron and Mitchell tie the knot certainly led to a few tears from viewers.
23. “Yankee,” The Bridge
Viewers lost interest in FX’s The Bridge in Season 2 even though it was exponentially better than the first one. The premiere featured a grieving Marco raiding drug cartels, the guy who played Shaggy in the Scooby Doo movie searching for a missing girl, Sonya hooking up with her sister’s murderer’s brother and Franka Potente cutting people’s throats for no reason. Seriously, how did this show get cancelled?
22. “Lazarus,” Shameless
Despite being nominated in the 2014 Emmys as a Comedy Series, Shamless is never all that funny. After nearly dying from his alcoholism, Frank Gallagher finally receives his much needed. And instead of turning over a new leaf, he ends the season taking a swig of a whiskey bottle, proving this show’s road will only lead to tragedy.
21. “The Price of Free and Fair Elections,” Scandal
Scandal’s a show that doesn’t concern itself with realism or plausibility. It’s about high-octane drama from moment-to-moment. The Season 3 finale featured a presidential election, multiple murders, a paternity revelation and all the sex the audience has come to expect from the show.
20. “New Car,” The Americans
As FX’s tale of two Soviet spies infiltrating American life proceeded through its second season, it grew into one of TV’s best series around. It’s a family drama, Cold War history and serialized espionage thriller expertly combined in one tight package. In “New Car,” each element is on display. The episode starts with Phillip Jennings, a Soviet spy posing as an all-American dad, buying a Camaro with his elated son, to the chagrin of his wife Elizabeth, a Soviet purist. She sees the flashy car as symbol of the capitalist system they’ve come to the States to undermine. And in this episode, not only are their values being undermined, but perhaps their work. They learn that one of their key pieces of intel they gleaned earlier in the season led to the death of 160 Soviet naval officers. Were the spies duped into stealing plans the Americans knew were faulty or was this pure Soviet incompetence, exposing their crumbling infrastructure?
19. “Fight,” Masters of Sex
Masters of Sex is at its best when William and Virginia delve into their complex relationship, and “Fight” best reflects this. Viewers learn why Bill is such an emotional mess, and Virginia reveals her own heartbreak. While she says she’s trying to keep her heart out of their sexual relationship, “Fight” shows that is clearly not the case between these two.
18. “Hole,” Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories
Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim opened their latest Adult Swim series with a Twilight Zone-worthy short about an overly attached neighborhood patriarch who constantly torments the cul-de-sac’s timid newb. It’s an unsettling look at the modern Stepford suburbs, but through the off-kilter comedic eyes of T&E.
17. “Episode 6,” Peaky Blinders
Season two brought us six more episodes of the British gangster period piece that documents fictitious Birmingham gypsy Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) and his hooligan family — the Peaky Blinders — who continue their conquering of the U.K. crime world. In the episode’s epic season finale, Tommy orchestrates the Shelby gang’s ass-kicking takeover of rival Italian crime boss Darby Sabini’s horse track, carries out an assassination debt owed to the crooked Inspector Chester Campbell (Sam Neill), and leaves two smoke-show babes hanging… like a total boss.
16. “Dumb Starbucks,” Nathan for You
Nathan for You is a show about a comedian who sees how far he can push mild-mannered business people before they’ll break. It also exposes the most ridiculous aspects of Los Angeles culture. This was most apparent in the “Dumb Starbucks” episode where Nathan Fielder opened a parody version of the popular coffee chain. Oh, and everyone believed it was a real thing until Comedy Central admitted it was a gag. Yeah, Los Angelinos are pretty stupid.
15. “Moving Up,” Parks and Recreation
The Season 6 finale of Parks and Rec hit all the emotional notes of a series finale. The Parks Department pulls off the Unity concert. Tom’s restaurant opening goes well. Then Leslie finds a way to keep her dream job and stay in Pawnee. All’s well that ends…Oh wait! It’s three years later and everyone looks different and Jon Hamm’s their co-worker! Next season looks awesome!
14. “December 3rd, 2014,” The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
If anyone needed proof as to why The Daily Show remains one of the most important shows on TV, check out the December 3rd episode in which Stewart reacts to the decision not to indict the police officer that choked Eric Garner, proving why he’s the closest thing we have to a modern Walter Cronkite.
13. “His Last Vow,” Sherlock
Although Season 3 (or Series 3, or whatever the Brits want to call it) of Sherlock wasn’t the show’s strongest, the final episode featured Holmes facing his greatest threat yet and making the ultimate sacrifice to protect John Watson. And the cliffhanger at the end sets up what should be a great Season 4. Also, Benedict Cumberbatch is in it. Enough said.
12. “Morton’s Folk,” Fargo
There was skepticism about how well Fargo would do as a TV series. Turns out Noah Hawley did a superb job adapting the Coen Brothers classic into a brilliant 10-episode season, capped off with “Morton’s Folk,” which perfectly captured the dark comedy of the original film.
11. “Pilot,” The Affair
Every pilot needs to accomplish one thing: Keep people watching. The Affair’s pilot does that extremely well. It shows that our two main characters are both unreliable narrators and they’re clearly getting ready to bone. And it foreshadows that these two are going to end up in a police interrogation. Yeah, we’ll keep watching.
10. “Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency,” Silicon Valley
While attending a big tech competition, the Pied Piper team is depressed after watching its rival present its own product only, you know, cooler. So they retreat to their hotel room, get drunk and create a mathematical model for efficiently giving hand jobs to every male in the audience, a model that includes the all-important “dick-to-floor ratio” or D2F. The earnest mentions of masturbation, ratio and reductions flips a switch in protagonist Richard’s brain, and he conjures a stroke of genius, so to speak.
9. “Get a Rope,” The Knick
Steven Soderbergh’s Cinemax show — about life in the Knickerbocker Hospital in turn-of-the-century New York City — managed to be both absolutely period and startlingly contemporary, especially in how it dealt with sex, class and race. And the seventh episode of the series (each episode of which was directed by Soderbergh) saw it all come to a boil, when a race riot breaks out in New York when an Irish police officer dies at the end of a black man. Haunting, scaring, heartbreaking, all at once.
8. “There’s Something Else Going On,” Homeland
Season 4 of Homeland helped redeem the show from its horrendous Season 3. The highlight being this episode that saw Carrie trying to ensure the prisoner exchange for Saul goes off without a hitch. The whole time the viewer’s expecting things to go south, until it doesn’t. Everything seems fine until the final minutes when everything goes to Hell in a handbasket.
7. “Chapter 14,” House of Cards
Season 1 of House of Cards focused on the friendship/romance/rivalry between Congressman Frank Underwood and reporter Zoe Barnes. Everyone assumed Season 2 would follow the same pattern, but then Underwood pushed her in front of a train. How do you like that scoop? Of all the WTF moments on TV in 2014, this one takes the cake.
6. “No Sanctuary,” The Walking Dead
The season 5 premiere of The Walking Dead saw Rick and the gang moments away from getting their throats slit by a couple of cannibals. They then shoot their way out of “Terminus,” killing zombie and human eaters along the way. Subtle? No, but it showed The Walking Dead’s perfected the art of action-horror on TV.
Don’t forget an old nemesis reappearing at the end.
5. “Thirsty Bird,” Orange is the New Black
Piper awakens after beating the shit out of Doggett in the Season 1 finale, and finds out she’s being asked to testify against a drug boss she once worked with. Alex tries to convince her to lie to prevent the boss from retaliating. Piper wrestles with her choices and decides to lie and perjure herself, only for Alex to backstab her and tell the truth, putting Piper in even more trouble. She’s really not learning anything about being in jail.
4. “In the Woods,” Louie
Season 4 of Louie saw the standup try several multi-part episodes, the best being the two-part “In the Woods” about a young Louis C.K. smoking pot and getting in trouble with a drug dealer, played by Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner. It’s also the episode where the audience realizes, “Oh wait, maybe this show isn’t actually a comedy,” and is completely okay with that.
3. “Waterloo,” Mad Men
Between Seasons 1 and 6, Mad Men went from a show about a badass ad man to one about an alcoholic ad man. The first half of the show’s final season saw Don Draper trying to win back his job, and “Waterloo” saw the Don of old finally make his comeback, setting up what should be an epic finish to one of the greatest shows of all-time.
Oh yeah, and they finally landed on the moon.
2. “The Mountain and the Viper,” Game of Thrones
Yes, “The Watchers on the Wall” featured an epic battle between the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch. But come on, this episode was way better. On a show where “Holy Shit!” moments are in abundance, this one takes the cake. How many other shows can show a guy get his face smashed in?
1. “Who Goes There,” True Detective
Rust Cohle goes undercover with a Texas biker gang to find information on a suspect. He goes along with their raid on some rival drug dealers and it goes south. The entire scene of Rust trying to escape bikers, gang bangers and the police in a rundown neighbor is filmed in one take, and represents the most phenomenal thing on TV in 2014.
Marc Bernardin, Joe Donatelli, Jeremy Repanich and Matt Howard also contributed to this list.