Hey, I wasn’t kidding when I said I love year-end lists. Thus, I shall leave no stone unturned in my attempt to quantify the year in pop culture. Unlike my Top 10 TV Shows of 2006 list, this list only judges episodes that aired in the calendar year, January-December. So some might be from current seasons, while others will be from previous seasons.
To put the list together, I went through episode listings and summaries from the shows I watch on various web sites like TV.com, IMDb, Wikipedia, and Television Without Pity, picking out episodes that stand out in my memory. Then I worked from that list to make my ten. I didn’t do anything crazy like re-watch every episode or anything, cause if an episode wasn’t memorable enough for me to decide on it now, then it wouldn’t be top ten, now would it? As a result, this list is heavy with event programming, be it season finales or sweeps week episodes that send the show into hiatus. But, hey, they usually save their best stuff for then anyway, so I’m sure this list is solid.
NOTE: Since I’ll be talking about specific episodes, the write-ups will be necessarily spoilerish. For people who want to skim but remain unspoiled, the pictures are fairly unspoilery.
10. “I am God”, Veronica Mars – Season Two, Episode 18, Airdate: April 11
For a few episodes before this, the season was drifting too far away from the central mystery of the bus crash, with Veronica seemingly disinterested in a crash that she previously assumed to have been designed to kill her. This was very vexing, even if the episodes were still pretty strong individually (particularly “The Rapes of Graff”). But with “I am God”, they kicked the bus crash storyline into high gear, thrusting it back into the forefront, sending us barreling into the finale. More than that, Veronica’s dream sequences were really artfully done, stuffed full of clues and red herrings. All very exciting, and all very cool.
9. “Pittsburgh”, Weeds – Season Two, Episode 12, Airdate: October 30
I’m still not entirely sure if I like the direction this episode set the series into, but damned if it wasn’t exciting. A much better cliffhanger heading into season three than season one did heading into season two (well, okay, that one wasn’t really a cliffhanger). What’s going to happen to Silas with the police? Or Shane and Kat? And, of course, will Nancy and Conrad survive? Cause it don’t look like they will.
8. “Flight”, Prison Break – Season One, Episode 22, Airdate: April 11
They did it! Oh my god, a show actually delivered on its premise! I guess the one good thing about how the show drew itself out is that I started to worry that the inmates would never actually break out of prison, so it was fairly exciting when they managed. Even better is what happened next: they ditch Tweener and Haywire, then cut of T-Bag’s fucking hand! How does that not rule? And why does everyone have G.I. Joe codenames?
7. “Why Would You Trust Me?”, Survivor: Cook Islands – Season Thirteen, Episode 10, Airdate: November 23
What I love most about watching Survivor is playing along at home, trying to figure out what would be the best play for certain people to move themselves along in the game. It’s a fun mental exercise, especially when trying to figure out what an underdog could do to improve their situation. Of course, things rarely work out the way I imagine cause players are either A) not as clever as I am in the comfort of my own living room, or B) too emotionally invested in the experience to see the show as the game it is, and thus make irrational choices. Well for one shining episode, rationality won out when eventual winner Yul Kwon made a play to get Jonathan Penner to switch back to Yul’s alliance after Jonathan had abandoned them in a mutiny switch a couple episodes prior. Both men were rational game players, and thus Yul’s reasoned arguments, played out calmly in a series of conversations throughout the episode, were able to draw Jonathan in. In the end, Yul was able to use the power of his hidden immunity and Jonathan’s distaste for his alliance to change the makeup of the game, leading to the victory of the nice people over the jerks. It was intellectually and emotionally satisfying. That almost never happens.
6. “Homecoming”, Heroes – Season One, Episode Nine, Airdate: November 20
While the show has been routinely awesome, I suppose that Heroes had also been somewhat plodding in its plot development. I was too wrapped up in the characters and mood to be too concerned with it, but if they had put off the “Save the Cheerleader” thing too far, I might’ve started to worry that it’d be like pushing in numbers into a computer for a full season. So it great that they delivered on that part, and did so awesomely. It actually made me hold Peter in much higher esteem, making him one of my favourite characters instead of just an annoying emo boy.
5. “Election Night” Parts I & II, The West Wing – Season Seven, Episodes 16 and 17, Airdates: April 2 and 9
Technically, this is two episodes, but a two-parter. I do this again later, being unable to separate the narrative of one episode from the other, so I suppose this is sorta a top 12 (but it isn’t). “Election Night” capped off a two season long storyline, with the very much in doubt outcome of the election for President Bartlett’s successor. Would it be Democrat and first-time Congressman Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits), whose campaign was the focus of the season helmed by Josh Lyman? Or would the series pull off an upset since they were ending their run anyway and have the favoured Senator Arnie Vinick (Alan Alda) win? Both were main cast members, and a Smits loss could simply refocus the show on the Bartlett administration for the final few episodes. Along with all this drama, the episode featured the somber and tragic passing of Leo McGarrity, necessitated by the tragic passing of actor John Spencer. The scenes where the cast deal with Leo’s death are some of the most stark and moving scenes in the history of television, and a fine memorial to the actor.
4. “Slap Bet”, How I Met Your Mother – Season Two, Episode Nine, Airdate: November 20
From the most somber to the most silly episode on this list, kind of a jarring shift. Oh my god was this episode funny. The slap bet between Barney and Marshall alone could place it on this list. Physical humour at it’s finest, providing wake-up-the-neighbours belly laughs. Then, they finished it off with the sublime “Let’s Go To The Mall” video of Robin’s when she was a Canadian pop star, complete with hilarious jokes about Canada, and it became easily one of the best episodes of the year.
3. “Spit and Eggs”, Veronica Mars – Season Three, Episode Nine, Airdate: November 28
The only show to get two entries on the list (besides two-parters), Veronica Mars sent viewers into the break by wrapping up the first arc of the season and solving the Hearst College rapist mystery. The pay off was really well done, satisfying and intense. Moreover, the episode was really well done, drawing us in with a tense opener set over an ominous techno beat, then bringing us back in time to see the Logan/Veronica break up, more of Mac (yay!), some hilarious dancing by Piz, and finally the eureka moment when Veronica figures it out (right before putting herself in danger, again). After Veronica escapes her fate, the show sets us up by showing that Logan hasn’t been completely declawed when he goes after Veronica’s attackers, then kills the Dean to set up the next mystery. Good show, show.
2. “It’s the End of the World”, “(As We Know It)”, Grey’s Anatomy – Season Two, Episodes 16 and 17, Airdates: February 7 and 12
The second two-parter on the list, the first episode was the post-Super Bowl show, where Grey’s Anatomy decided to show potential new viewers what the show was about, dialed up to 10. It had all the drama and melodrama and hot, young doctors having sex and all that, special guest star Christina Ricci, then decided it was time to drop the bomb. Or, more specifically, put a bomb in a patient. That’ll get your attention. It’s all vary tense as Burke tries to get the bomb out without it going off, then Christina Ricci bails out and… OMG! Meredith grabbed the bomb! How will the next episode get more exciting? I know! Blow Kyle Chandler up. That’s some exciting TV right there.
1. “Casino Night”, The Office – Season Two, Episode 22, Airdate: May 11
Full disclosure: I only saw every other episode on this list once, when they aired. But I’ve watched “Casino Night” five or six times now, so I guess it has an unfair advantage. Not that it would matter. The first time I saw it, I was all “I should do a best episode list for the year, so I can rank this number one”. This episode had everything: laugh out loud comedy, brilliant dialogue, heart-wrenching moments, and the single best moment on TV all year. Yes, the BIG moment put this episode over the top, but even before it you had awesome bits like Jim’s telekinesis, Michael’s “I hate so much about the things you chose to be” line to Toby, Scrantonocity, Toby cleaning out Michael at No Limit, Darrell’s inventing “negro” speak with Michael. So many great moments. Then… Jim confessed his love to Pam, and your heart just drops. What a moment. THEN… he comes back and kisses her… and she kisses back! Best. Moment. Ever.