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Best TV Episodes of 2016: Part One

  • The Crown, Season 1 Episode 7 ‘Scientia Potentia Est’

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Elizabeth’s sudden accession to the throne is detailed in the first series, her lack of preparation and confidence in her role as Queen being wonderfully played by Claire Foy, who perfectly illustrates how restrictive and damaging the crown is on her personal life and her own character. ‘Scientia Potentia Est’ is Elizabeth’s shining moment in the whole series though, where she takes a stand against those in government for damaging the relationship between the crown and the government. Elizabeth’s education is the focus of this episode, and it’s brilliant. When up against men like Winston Churchill, and other highly intelligent politicians , Elizabeth feels she is intellectually inferior, her lack of confidence meaning she has to change the conversation to ‘dogs and horses’. Elizabeth’s lack of detailed education in subjects like Maths, or History is not something I ever considered would have been an issue for a member of the royal family. What I love about this episode isn’t Elizabeth’s frustration, but rather what she does with it. Elizabeth hires a tutor in a wish to educate herself and further her knowledge,  and while she’s trying to improve herself, government lets her down.

Churchill suffers a stroke, and deputy prime minister  Eden is stuck in America having an operation, leaving the country without a  leader. Despite this emergency, no one thinks it right to tell Elizabeth and instead let her believe her into thinking Churchill only has a bad cold. It is patronizing to her and her position, done only so she won’t ask Churchill to stand down as Prime Minister. When she finds out about this concealment, though it’s clear where her strengths and intelligence lie. The show makes it very clear that Elizabeth is not uneducated, as if Elizabeth knows anything, it’s the constitution that was drilled in her when she was a child. This is a subject she has the upper hand on, one where she can make them feel inferior for not even following the basics, the trust between parliament in the Crown. It’s glorious to watch, and probably my favorite scene of the show, these two politicians being summoned to Buckingham Palace and nervously waiting for their audience. To Salisbury she is cold and magnificent, “It is not my job to govern, but it is my job to ensure proper governance” he doesn’t even get a word in before she rings the bell for him to leave. Elizabeth shows Winston far more respect, and rather than being angry she is just disappointed. Even bringing out her school work book to underline the trust the has been broken between the Crown and Government. It’s the best moment for her character, and her confidence and collected manner are beautifully summed up in the final part of her lecture to Churchill, “I would ask you to consider your response in light of the respect that my rank and my office deserve not that which my age and gender might suggest.”

(A small detail I enjoyed- when the professor tells her of a horse he backed in a race, she is quick to share her knowledge of the race and admiration for the trainer, only to learn he backed the horse only because he”just liked the name”. What Elizabeth does know she knows very well).

  • Crazy Ex Girlfriend Season 2 Episode 4 “When Will Josh and His Friend Leave Me Alone?”

First things first, if you’re not watching this show, DO IT NOW. It was more difficult than I expected to pick my favorite episode of this show this year, with an incredible first season  being continued in its equally stellar second season. “When Will Josh and His Friend Leave Me Alone?” is not necessarily the best episode of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, but it is the bravest and boldest one. The departure of Greg is a sad one, and as one of my favorite characters I was worried about how good the show would remain without him after all the great work they put into his alcoholism storyline this season. But the show is breaking away from their love triangle, and sending Greg off to law school is the right choice for the character, as much as the audience has hated seeing him leave. The show is far, far more than who Rebecca should end up with, and with this exit they’re simultaneously  sending Greg into a better place in his life, and drawing the focus back to the show’s protagonist. Many shows exhaust their love triangles, so it’s refreshing to see that neither Josh or Greg is right for Rebecca. This episode also features some of the best songs this season, with ‘It was a Shitshow’ summing up Greg and Rebecca’s relationship perfectly, while making the most of Santino Fontana before his exit. ‘We Tapped That Ass’ is just hilarious, filled with great tap dancing and puns, with imaginary Josh and Greg  haunting Rebecca just as she decides to try and move on from them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-tAiOVMYFY

It’s Paula’s storyline in this episode that is arguably the best part though. After getting into law school and then finding out she’s pregnant, Paula decides she has to give up her dream of law school, her life being too hectic to juggle three kids as well as law school. Though Rebecca’s fixation on her makeover leads to Paula taking over one of her cases, despite not being a lawyer.  Paula succeeding in the case and receiving high praise even though she’s caught out at not being an attorney,  gives Paula the final encouragement to make her choice. It’s only later, when we see her in bed and her son answers the door because “she just had an abortion” that we find out about her decision. It’s not heavily focused on, and it’s clear that it is the right decision for Paula, with her husband and family being incredibly supportive. It’s not something I’ve seen on TV before, a middle -aged woman already married with children making that choice, and it’s a credit to the writers for handling the storyline so well. There’s not a massive fuss, no guilt, it’s not heavily focused on. It’s just a woman making a choice that is best for her. Credit to the writers for handling the storyline in a such a simple, yet extremely effective manner. Seriously, this is one of the smartest and funniest shows on TV right now, and it is worth watching.

Small detail I liked-  The introduction of Heather’s parents highlighting how self obsessed Rebecca is, even though she’s apparently met them several times the audience is only is introduced to the when she has to stay with them after accidentally causing a fire in her own home. Also the fact she didn’t even remember Heather lived with her parents, forgetting Heather’s surname and therefore referring to her parents as ‘Mr and Mrs Heather’. I love this show.

  • Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 10 ‘The Winds of Winter’

It was a difficult decision in the end to pick between this episode and ‘Battle of the Bastards’, despite my criticisms of how the story played out during this season’s big battle episode. I’ve already talked about both of these episodes in an earlier overview of Season 6, and though nothing on TV could match the heart-stopping battle sequences and the brutal presentation of  war in Episode 9, ‘The Winds of Winter’ still reigns triumphant. I don’t want to repeat myself too much by talking about this episode, Miguel Saponick’s beautiful direction  creating what is arguably one of the best episodes of the entire show.  From the breathtaking trial sequence with the masterful score, to Cersei’s coronation and the numerous deaths throughout this episode, it set the pieces for the final two seasons. Game of Thrones was far from perfect this year, but after the mess that was season 5, they managed to partly redeem themselves with an episode like this. (Lena Headey was robbed of the Emmy this year, Golden Globes, please finally give her the award she deserves this week)

  • To Walk Invisible

“Our work is clever, it’s truthful, it’s new, it’s fresh, it’s vivid and subtle and forthright!”

I’m incredibly biased in including this one here, especially as it’s a one- off drama rather than an episode of a TV show, but I couldn’t not include it in this list. I have a great deal of respect and love for the Bronte sisters, with Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall being some of my all time favourite books. It’s about time there was a realistic, detailed look at their own lives and Sally Wainwright exceeded my expectations by writing a realistic and remarkable two hour drama looking into three crucial years in the Bronte sisters lives as they try to publish their work while dealing with living with their alcoholic brother, Branwell.

Even if you haven’t read any of the Bronte sisters work, I’d still recommend watching this to see a story of three courageous and talented sisters tackling their problems and each writing different and groundbreaking novels. The equal focus that Anne was given with Charlotte and Emily is what pleased me most, as my favorite Bronte and as a criminally underrated writer who wrote the most shocking and incredible work that is just as good, if not better, than her sisters. Despite being the ‘quiet’ sister, Anne is portrayed as the mediator between the fiery Emily and passionate Charlotte, accurately portrayed in showing her desire to write about truth and the real world. Sally Wainwright put a lot of detail into the relationships between the siblings, Charlotte being in awe of Emily’s work, yet describing Anne’s as “not without charm” which pretty much sums up their relationship. Anne and Emily’s close relationship was such a treat to watch, making up some of the best moments.

 But it’s their brother Branwell that really drives the story, Adam Nagaitis doing a truly impressive performance with a character that would be easy to hate, yet makes the audience feel pity for him as he struggles with alcoholism and a failed affair with his employer’s wife. Everyone had high hopes for Branwell as a painter and a writer, and you have to feel pity for him as he slides further and further into despair.

The attention they gave Emily’s poetry was excellent, and not something I expected. Charlotte’s rummaging in Emily’s room to find her notebook mixed with Emily walking among the moors started off a beautiful sequence with an extract from Emily’s poem ‘The Prisoner’. The raw and superb poetry  mixed with beautiful piano music as the camera focused on the Moors was simply stunning.  Like Charlotte, the audience is transfixed by Emily’s poetry.  A scene later on with Emily and Anne sitting on the Moors, as Emily recites ‘No Coward Soul is Mine’ (Arguably her best poem) was also a favorite.

Jonathan Pryce is perfect as their father Patrick, there’s no one else I could imagine playing that role. Chloe Pirrie is the standout as the fiery and brilliant Emily, with lines such as “If he hits me, I’ll hit him back. Harder”. Finn Atkins is just how I imagined Charlotte, and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect Anne, played by Charlie Murphy.

The parallels between Branwell and the sisters are made clear, while Branwell’s pain and misery leads him to addiction, Charlotte, Emily and Anne channel all their experiences into their writing, creating wonderful novels in the process. Even when Charlotte’s first novel gets rejected, she persists and doesn’t give up, leading to the publication of Jane Eyre which as we know and see in the show, is incredibly successful.

There’s a truly magnificent scene with Charlotte revealing that she has published Jane Eyre to her father, and that all the sisters have published work under pseudonyms. The shock and disbelief Patrick goes though is a joy to watch, as well as his pride in his daughter’s work.

 This post ended up being a lot longer than I expected, so the second half will hopefully be up in a week or so!

I want to talk a lot more about TV and books this year, and try to regularly update!

Until next time,

Sarah