Post published on Geeky Girl Guide on April 16, 2018
Greetings my new friends! I am excited to join the team here as a contributor and I hope to entertain each and every one of you with my shouting. There are so many books, movies, and television shows that I plan to talk about individually, but it was too difficult to choose only one to kick off my contributions here. So I didn’t! Instead I made a list of 35 television episodes that I think are worth talking about. This list is in no way comprehensive but it should definitely give you an idea of the things I will be writing about, and in what way I will be writing about them (for instance I am more than a wee bit sweary so apologies in advance if that is not your jam). I am saving discussion of the problematic elements of some of these shows for individual posts or this list would be a novel. In the future I will be ranting a-plenty, but I’ve decided to kick things off on a positive note. These are not necessarily my favorite episodes, but rather the first ones that popped into my brain when I thought about the show in question. I’ve listed them in no particular order really, but the last two are my favorite shows of all time so there’s that.
Let’s do this.
30 Rock: Sandwich Day
30 Rock is a great show, but it will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that the episode I relate to more than any other is the one that revolves around sandwiches. There are so many shows I watch where the protagonists never seem to eat, or if they do they are coolly disinterested in the entire process. They often have to be reminded to eat by concerned family and friends to illustrate how tortured they are. That might be someone’s experience but it sure as hell isn’t mine. Liz Lemon loves food. Food is her therapy, her friend, and her father confessor. Liz kept repeatedly taking her ex-boyfriend Dennis back because despite all of his douchebaggery, every time she came home exhausted from work he had food waiting for her. Liz eats cheese at night and sings about it. She doesn’t understand why men offer to buy her drinks in bars and not mozzarella sticks. And when faced with the choice between chasing the man she loves through an airport and enjoying the delicious, perfect sandwich she only gets once a year from a mystery location, she refuses to choose. Because food is important. Because goddamn it, we can have it all.
Honorable Mention: Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land because there’s only one Wesley Snipes in the world.
Sex and the City: The Post-It Always Sticks Twice
Sex and the City was not a particularly consistent show, and it wasn’t even a show that I loved. I liked it a lot. There were bits of it I disliked and bits of it I thought were absolutely brilliant. But this episode is classic. Things had been shaky between Carrie and her sullen writer boyfriend (played so wonderfully by Ron Livingston it was hard for me not to dislike his face forever afterwards), and he-of-the-fragile-masculinity finally decides to end it for good one morning. She wakes up after a night together to find him gone, and a post-it note on the table that says simply, “I’m sorry. I can’t. Don’t hate me”. Carrie is furious and decides that all four of the close friends are hitting the town and having an epic night because “This can’t be the day that I was broken up with by a post-it. This has to be the day that something else happened”. Hijinks ensue, obviously. The episode is clever and heartfelt and was for me, the funniest the show has ever been.
Honorable Mention: Coulda Woulda Shoulda because the end makes me cry every time.
Parks & Recreation: The Fight
Parks & Rec is everything a television comedy should be. Funny, poignant, smart, silly, and frequently inspiring. But I didn’t even have to think about this one because for me there will never be anything funnier than these characters when they are drunk and/or hungover. Here Tom talks all of them into coming out to his nightclub where he and the always hysterical Jean-Ralphio are promoting their new alcoholic beverage- Snake Juice- which is, as Donna points out, “basically rat poison”. Everyone who drinks it becomes wasted almost instantly. Leslie and Ann have their very first fight and it’s every bit as ridiculous as you could imagine. From nonsensical insults to angry dancing, it is a fight that only two of the nicest people on Earth could have. Meanwhile this episode also blesses us with April & Andy’s alter-egos (Janet Snakehole and FBI agent Burt Macklin) and Ron Swanson dancing around manically in a tiny hat. What more could I ask for.
Honorable Mention: Ron and Tammys because Paula Pell is a treasure and again- drunk Leslie.
Scrubs: My Way Home
I’ve worked in hospitals since 1997 so I can tell you that Scrubs is the most accurate medical show that has ever been on television. If you want to know what the life of a resident physician is like, look no further. J.D. has a single, precious day off, and the episode begins with him in a bubble bath listening to Toto (I’m sorry, how do YOU spend your days off??). Then he gets paged in to the hospital for something inane that could have been handled over the phone (real). Then while trying to leave he gets waylaid over and over by nurses, patients, and friends all needing his help (REAL). He just wants to leave but at the same time, he has no real personal life to get back to anymore. The hospital has become his home and his family, and he can’t desert anyone in it or say no. That’s why Scrubs can do something fantastical, like pattern an entire episode after The Wizard of Oz, and still be so realistic. Because that show understood the way your life gets absorbed into residency until there is literally nothing else left. There is a reason most doctors marry nurses, drug reps, or other doctors- because no one on the outside really understands what the life entails. It’s not a job, it’s an existence. And everything else will always, always come second. Even your own sanity.
Honorable Mention: My Fallen Idol because there is no physician alive with more of a conscience than Perry Cox, and this episode showed the tragic downside of that.
The Wire: Cleaning Up
The Wire is brilliant and everyone knows this. For me this episode choice is not about “favorite”, or even best, episodes or seasons. This is about my heart breaking in half hearing D’Angelo say “Where’s Wallace? Where’s Wallace, String?” That scene will follow me always. It hurts. The whole thing hurts. Instead of clear-cut villains, I hurt for Bodie right along with Wallace. That was the moment I sat up and went holy shit, this show is going to ruin me. And I was right.
Honorable Mention: -30- because everything comes full circle.
The 100: Spacewalker
The 100 is relentless. It is a chaotic mix of warfare, politics, and above all survival. I originally had no real feelings about Clarke in either direction. At first glance she seemed to be a standard-issue, spunky blonde white girl. I didn’t dislike her but I didn’t see anything special to get excited about. But as the second season came around she more than earned her leadership role, and this episode proved she was capable of making the most horrible, difficult decisions a leader has to make. Finn lost his shit and massacred almost twenty Grounders in a village as revenge for something he could not be sure they had done. Clarke had a choice- try to save him even though it would mean the end of the shaky treaty she had forged with the Grounders on behalf of the Sky People and possibly start a war, or let him be slowly tortured to death as punishment for his crimes by the tribe he had wronged. Instead of doing either she went to the Grounder Chieftess and requested to say goodbye to her friend- then she herself slid a knife into the pretty white boy the show had set up to be both a main character and her romantic interest. I was fully shocked, because this never happens. He deserved to face the consequences of his actions, but pretty white boys on the good side don’t ever face consequences- they get away with things! They are saved at the last moment! They are redeemed. Decades of television had taught me this. I had not yet realized that, with very few exceptions, this incredible show was going to center entirely around the female characters. Clarke gave him the gift of a swift death. She knew that some of her own people would be mutinous, but would eventually understand she had saved him from a worse fate. She also knew that although the Grounders would resent their prisoner being spared torture, they would ultimately respect the fact that she killed one of her own for his crimes against them. From that moment on, Clarke was my everything.
Honorable Mention: The Culling, because Jesus Fucking Christ.
Bob’s Burgers: Mother Daughter Laser Razor
Bob’s Burgers is the funniest, sweetest show. We need shows like this to balance out the awfulness in our world. This episode holds a special place in my heart because the kind of dad that Bob is makes me wish that I had a dad like that. I wish that everyone had a dad who would get his legs waxed just to support his awkward daughter. I loved Linda and Louise’s forced mother-daughter-date-turned-lazer-tag-battle, but in the end watching Bob quietly make sure that Tina knows that she is loved for who she is no matter what she decides to do with her body is what made this episode so goddamn special.
Honorable Mention: Boyz 4 Now because that first time you become hormonally obsessed with a boy… the struggle is real.
Roseanne: Halloween IV
There hasn’t been anything like Roseanne since it went off the air (we shall not speak of the heinous re-boot here). Seeing a working class, fat woman on TV with a loving husband and a family mirrored everything I saw in real life and absolutely nothing I saw on TV. The Halloween episodes were always special because as a kid I LOVED how much she loved Halloween. I was raised by people who thought Halloween was the Devil’s birthday, so I envied the Connors of their cool mom. I recognized myself in Darlene, and I recognized my life in the cheap linoleum, the yard sale furniture, and the non-trendy clothes. Watching Roseanne lose her Halloween spirit bummed me out- watching her get it back was epic. Yes the show took a complete nosedive in the end, but the first few seasons were important in so many ways that they still do not get credit for.
Honorable Mention: Crime and Punishment because Roseanne started talking about the reality of domestic violence way before we started listening.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Spanish Inquisition
What can I possibly say about Monty Python that hasn’t already been said by someone smarter and more British than I. They really were The Beatles of comedy. The show was ridiculous, absurd, surreal, and frequently brilliant. The Spanish Inquisition sketch was a simple concept but that didn’t stop it being hilarious.
Honorable Mention: Face the Press because the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch will never not kill me dead.
Archer: Lo Scandalo
No matter how many times I watch this episode, I laugh out loud all the way through it. Lo Scandalo is a masterpiece and it has everything I love about Archer. Malory’s sociopathy, the gang all working together, Kriegar being a sick weirdo, hilariously clever rapid-fire dialogue… the manipulation by Malory that takes place here is utterly bananas and as usual she is ten steps ahead of everyone. But for me, Sterling provides the funniest, most relatable content upon learning of his mother’s kinky (or in his words: “dildo-ey”) S&M sex with the Italian Prime Minister (“Doesn’t Italy use a king?”). Malory, “Look!” Sterling, “You, look! I bet I’ll never be able to have sex again without thinking about this! I bet I won’t even be able to eat spaghetti and meatballs. -Oh God!” Malory, “What!” Sterling, “…I could eat! I mean not necessarily spaghetti and meatballs… but, you know, not necessarily NOT spaghetti and meatballs… I mean I really like spaghetti and meatballs. Man, if I don’t get some spaghetti and meatballs I may literally die.”
Food is important.
Honorable Mention: The Limited, because fighting mounties on top of a train… and more importantly, BABOU.
Breaking Bad: Phoenix
I feel like this is along the same lines as my pick for The Wire. It’s not that it’s the best episode, or even my favorite episode. But again it’s the episode when I first realized that this was a show that was not fucking around. For me Walter White’s character development can be separated into two parts: before Phoenix and after Phoenix. When Walter watched Jane choke to death on her own vomit when he easily could have saved her, you knew a line had been crossed that couldn’t be un-crossed. He made an inhuman decision rooted in pure selfishness, and its only end was to better manipulate Jesse. That was the moment Heisenberg was born.
Honorable Mention: Felina because this show died as amazingly as it lived.
Psych: American Duos
Psych is so much fun. It’s one of those shows you can always watch. Overall it’s fairly hit and miss but watching the friendship between Shawn and Gus is like a soothing salve for your brain. Tim Curry pretty much steals this particular episode away from James and Dulé and the American Idol parody ep becomes a vehicle for his brilliance. But the boys shine in their hilarious dance sequence and it’s one of the funniest episodes they have ever done. Good luck getting through all 8 seasons and not picking up at least 5 of their catch-phrases. Come on, Son. You know that’s right.
Honorable Mention: Last Night Gus because it is nonstop fun and a large donut gets murdered.
X-Files: The Ghosts That Stole Christmas
How much more fun could this show possibly have?? A haunted house. A classic ghost story. Scully and Mulder in the role of a loving but murderous couple. This episode can’t be written off as purely fan service because it is too fucking clever. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are both massively comedically talented and neither one of them hardly ever gets to show it off- especially Gillian who seems to go from darkly brilliant, somber murder show to darkly brilliant, somber murder show. Anytime the X-Files let them cut loose and be funny I was all in. Hysterical and genuinely creepy in equal amounts, this episode is a classic and I watch it at every year at Christmas.
Honorable Mention: Quagmire because RIP Queequeg.
Cougar Town: Lost Children
Yes, you heard that right. Cougar Town. The show with a name so stupid it was doomed to be underestimated forever- which was a damn shame because it’s actually charming as hell. Courtney Cox dates a young guy in the first few episodes then the title never holds any relevance, ever again. Eventually the show leans into it and just starts relentlessly mocking its own name in the title credits, which never stops being hilarious. Jules’ life consists of wine, her hot (but age-appropriate) neighbor boyfriend, her hilarious circle of friends, her ex-husband, her son, and a LOT more wine. Did I mention wine? This show revolves around wine. This episode popped into my mind because it’s ridiculous and silly and I loved watching the crew run around the neighborhood playing sardines. It reminds me of when we were kids and we would just… go outside and play? When did we stop doing that? Adults should still do that. Saying that Cougar Town doesn’t ever challenge you sounds like an insult, but it really, really isn’t. I need shows like this. Some days instead of watching people lie, kill, and scheme, you just want to watch a show where you know the writers will never break up your favorite couples. They will never try too hard to be cool. They will instead make up awesome games like Penny Can and have the gang make ridiculous bets with each other, all while drinking buckets of wine. They create small issues here and there that are easily resolvable, usually in one episode. This show pats your bottom and tells you everything is going to be okay. It looks good and it feels good. It makes you want your very own cul-de-sac crew.
Honorable Mention: Little Girl Blues because I am all in favor of having actual funerals for your favorite wine glasses when they break. #RIPBigJoe
Star Trek TNG: Déjà Q
I love almost all of The Star Treks, but I grew up with TNG. The very first episode had featured Q and he was immediately my favorite. I recorded all of his episodes on VHS tapes. His god-like powers, his sass, and his flair for the dramatic made him the most fun the show ever had with a villain. No being in the universe got under Jean-Luc’s skin like Q. I loved the way he effortlessly exasperated Picard. I loved it when Guinan stabbed him with a fork. I loved the way he said “Mon Cap-it-an”. I. love. Q. This was my favorite Q episode because it was the first one that showed the cracks in his armor. This was Q’s “human” episode.
Honorable Mention: Elementary, Dear Data. I love every Data-centric episode and I’m obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, so this was inevitable.
Bojack Horseman: That’s Too Much, Man
The Bojack Horseman episode “Stupid Piece of Shit” has been heralded as a brilliant look into the depressed mind. It’s is a fairly normal Bojack ep, but with the addition of his inner monologue berating him mercilessly the entire time. It’s truly great, but so much has been written about it that I thought I’d choose another one that stuck with me. This episode finds Bojack painfully lonely at rock-bottom. He calls up Sarah Lynn, his one-time TV daughter turned drug-addicted pop star and frequent partner in crime (“That’s too much, man.” was Sarah Lynn’s catchphrase on the show ‘Horsin’ Around’ when she was a kid). She is in a sober phase at the moment but the second the chance for a bender presents itself she is all in. Sarah Lynn always represented Bojack’s failure to be a good person. At one time he could have chosen to make her childhood a little less terrible by being there for her, but he never did. He wasn’t cruel, just self-absorbed, and Sarah Lynn (now in her 30’s) has always paid the price for the adults around her being self-absorbed. Bojack tries to go on a therapeutic journey of making amends, but he keeps blacking out and forgetting the conversations he has when he visits the people he has wronged, so then he has to go back and do it again. It’s hilarious and awful. Both of them stoned and wasted, Sarah Lynn drives Bojack from place to place as he keeps fucking up even more with every stop… until the end when he finally notices she’s been asking to go to the planetarium all day and takes her there, realizing he is not the only person alive on the planet who matters. Sarah Lynn is obsessed with the planetarium simply because it is a dome. Sarah Lynn, who never got to choose what she wanted to be, quietly says “I want to be an architect.” Then she dies of a drug overdose with her head on Bojack’s shoulder. It’s one of the most brutal things I’ve ever seen a show do. But it was brilliant.
Honorable Mention: Time’s Arrow because it is definitely the most well-crafted episode of the whole show.
Veronica Mars: Pilot
Veronica Mars was ahead of its time and the first season was truly perfect. I chose the pilot because unlike most shows that take a while to hit their stride, Veronica Mars comes out swinging and shows you exactly what the show is going to be. It’s great from literally the very first frame. Even with The Good Place (which is phenomenal) this remains my favorite Kristen Bell role of all time. Veronica is constantly underestimated- this tiny blonde with a chip on her shoulder and more brains than is good for her. Armed only with her sharp mind, a Blackberry, a pit bull named Backup, and the best Dad in the entire history of television, she fights for people who can’t fight for themselves. One thing is absolutely certain- when shit goes down, you want Veronica in your corner.
Honorable Mention: Leave it to Beaver because it’s rare that a show sets up the amount of mystery and intrigue that S1 of VM did and then manages to pay everything off.
The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye
Over the past 8 seasons The Walking Dead has changed a lot, and not for the better. But for my money, there are also hardly any zombie shows or movies that can compete with the first season of that show. I am obsessed with zombies and I’ll watch any movie or tv show with zombies in it, no matter how awful. But from the first moment of Days Gone Bye to the last, you feel like you are watching a movie. A really good movie. The acting, the production value, even the music of the opening sequence. You are right there with Rick, experiencing his bewilderment and fear alongside him. It’s a shame it has dragged on for so long because TWD was really something special once.
Honorable Mention: Tell It to the Frogs because when Rick found his family everything changed, and Shane started down the dark path that would ultimately lead to violence, shirtless head-shaving (thank you for that), and utter tragedy.
Penny Dreadful: Possession
Penny Dreadful is a beautiful, violent, twisted fairy tale. The first two seasons are worlds better than the third, in my opinion. Vanessa Ives has a dark power, but she also has an honesty and a vulnerability about her that seems to draw everyone to her, and through the course of the first season you see Ethan Chandler, Victor Frankenstein, and even the mysterious Dorian Gray come to trust her and care for her deeply. But Sir Malcolm continues to blame Vanessa for the loss of his daughter and is pitiless in his regard for her. This episode is disturbing, terrifying, and heartbreaking. Eva Green is incredible here. When she becomes possessed and everyone rushes to her side without hesitation, you can finally see Sir Malcolm realizing that he might have lost a daughter, but he found one too.
Honorable Mention: Demimonde because Ethan and Dorian Gray. BLESS THIS SHOW FOREVER FOR THAT SCENE.
Jessica Jones: WWJD
I enjoy all of the Netflix Marvel shows, but the first season of Jessica Jones outshines them all. Instead of starting out in the usual way- person gets powers, person decides to use them for good, etc., JJ starts out in the middle of her story. She has already done the superhero thing. It didn’t work out. A mind-controlling sociopath used her powers for his own destructive purposes, and even though she broke free of his control she remains haunted by what she has done, and what was done to her. She is trying to do some small amount of good by being a private detective, while at the same time drinking away her PTSD and alienating herself from anyone who cares about her. Then the man who ruined her life shows back up- obsessed with Jessica now that he can no longer control her. David Tennant is brilliant here and if you had told me he had this performance in him before I saw it, I never would have believed you. Not because he isn’t good because he very much is, but because he is just too goddamn lovable. But he blew me away by legitimately creeping the entire fuck out of the place. This is the episode with his grand gesture- he BUYS HER CHILDHOOD HOME and restores it to exactly the way it was before she lost her parents and younger brother in a car accident and had to go away. Watching the psychological cat-and-mouse between these two characters under the same roof is thrilling and to be honest I didn’t want it to end.
Honorable Mention: Top Shelf Perverts because bringing a severed head into a police station is always a great plan.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: 100 Dollar Baby
Always Sunny is my favorite television comedy of all time and no matter how many times I watch my favorite episodes it never seems to be enough. It’s original, abrasive, addictive, and much smarter than it should be. It’s self-aware (unlike the characters) and the perfect amount of Wrong. These people are so awful but so goddamn fun to watch. It was difficult to pick one episode but 100 Dollar Baby might be the funniest Charlie Day and Kaitlin Olson have ever been. I love any time these two team up, whether they are ruling a virtual video game world (THIS GAYME HAS GOWNE ON LOUNG ENOUF), attempting def comedy, or beating the shit out of a random dude while hopped up on steroids. The “training” sequences with the three guys make me laugh out loud and the ending is fucked up in every way that makes Always Sunny awesome. This episode is also responsible for the greatest gif to ever come out of the show.
Honorable Mention: Sweet Dee Has a Heart Attack because THERE IS NO PEPE SILVIA.
Les Revenants (The Returned): Camille
The American version never happened. As long as you remember that, you will love The Returned. The acting, the writing and the tone in the French version is such that you wish they would give every other horror show lessons. The American attempt to copy it was hot garbage. Camille is the name of both the first episode and the name of a girl who calmly shows up at her family home 4 years after being killed in a bus crash, thinking it’s just a regular day. She is the first but eventually people all over the village start coming back from the dead. But they are not groaning, decomposing monsters. They are in fact completely themselves, having no memory of dying or the time that has passed since- in most cases, years. They return to their families on pure instinct, and the shock and joy felt by their friends and relatives slowly crumbles into horror as it becomes clear this isn’t as simple as it seems. It is an incredible show about love, family, grief, and retribution. Zombie show? Kind of. But so much more than that.
Honorable Mention: Simon, because I am a complete sucker for a good quality, doomed love story.
Space Ghost: Coast to Coast: Snatch
Space Ghost Coast to Coast seems like a show you have to be high to enjoy, and since I’ve never watched it high I have no excuse for how much I love it. It makes me laugh harder than any other animated show, ever. I’ve spent what is frankly an embarrassing number of hours watching it in my lifetime. I find it strangely soothing. It’s packed with in-jokes, bizarre storylines, minor celebrities, and weird rivalries. It contains long stretches of silence that are funny, then go on so long they stop being funny, then keep going until finally they are funny again. It’s fucking weird. Snatch is a body-snatching pod-aliens episode, which is enough of a reason for it to be my favorite. I can put on the DVDs of SGCTC and watch it continuously for like a day straight.
Honorable Mention: Banjo because why do we hurt the ones we love? WHY BANJO, WHY! BANJOOOOOOOOOOOOO
Sense8: All I Want Right Now Is One More Bullet
Sense8 is a brilliant antidote to the million-and-one boring-ass, heteronormative shows floating around out there. As far as representation goes it is the fresh air you never thought you would live long enough to breathe. It is beautiful, compelling, and sexy as all hell (Three words: Psychic. Bisexual. Orgies.). And if you can get through even half of the first season without longing to have a cluster of your own, then I can’t relate to you at all. The psychic connection between these characters is such a joy. Every single character is fully fleshed-out, fascinating, and given their own personal journey, relationships, and backstory- no one is neglected by the writers. But I chose this episode because every time they drop everything and come together to help one of their own it makes my heart soar. This show- every second of it- is better than we deserve.
Honorable Mention: What Is Human? because of two scenes- the one where Lito steps in to help Wolfgang by doing what he can’t (“Lying is easy. It’s what I do.”), and then Wolfgang returning the favor by showing up to beat the entire living shit out of the domestic abuser Lito is trying to save his friend from (“Fighting is easy. It’s what I do.”). Those two scenes together might be my favorite interaction between any of the Sense8s in all of season one.
Dexter: Surprise, Motherfucker
Most people who loved Dexter agree that the first 4 seasons are the only good ones and the rest was downhill. Aside from the god-awful series finale, I beg to differ. My choice of the season 7 finale would not be a popular one among Dexter fans but I am a sucker for pain and I will die on this hill. When Deborah discovers that her adopted brother is the Bay Harbor Butcher, she starts to crack. You can see her mental state deteriorating slowly through the course of the season as she continues doing her job as a detective while trying to grapple with the fact that she is unable to turn Dexter in. He has always been her foundation, her only family, and she loves him desperately in a way that confuses her. Her entire universe has been shattered. Dexter tries to help her cope, tries to help her come to terms with it. Not having much in the way of emotions himself, it gets to the point where he genuinely doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for her. Then it all falls apart in the season finale when a suspicious Maria LaGuerta finally discovers Dexter’s secret. Deborah is faced with a choice- and even as Dexter encourages her to choose LaGuerta’s side for her own sake- rather than lose the person she loves most in the world Deb shoots and kills her own Captain. You know in that moment that everything Deborah Morgan was before has been lost. The final part of the episode, with Dexter protectively leading his dazed sister through a celebrating crowd, is a perfect scene.
Honorable Mention: The Getaway, for the ending that shocked us all.
Sherlock: His Last Vow
It would be difficult for any villain to follow Moriarty. The consulting criminal with his hands in everything was Sherlock Holmes’ perfect counterpart and an utter delight to watch. Trying to compete with Andrew Scott’s strange charm would have been pointless, so instead they went in the complete opposite direction and gave us the most repellent villain of the entire show. Nothing about Charles Magnussen (played brilliantly by Lars Mikkelsen) is intriguing, charming, or fun. He is a smug, dead-eyed bastard who “collects” people by discovering their secrets. Unfortunately Mary Watson has a dark and extremely illegal past that she’s managed to keep even from Sherlock. Sherlock makes a promise to protect Mary and he keeps it- by blowing Magnussen’s head off in a shocking ending once it became clear that he couldn’t beat him any other way. This episode revolves around the thing I’ve always loved most about Sherlock as a show: loyalty. The show began with John Watson shooting someone in the head to protect Sherlock, who he had only just met, and with His Last Vow it all comes full circle.
Honorable Mention: The Reichenbach Fall because Honey, you should see me in a crown.
The Fall: What Is in Me Dark Illumine
The police finally have Paul Spector in custody, but he refuses to cooperate with anyone but Stella Gibson. The interrogation room scene between the two of them is one of the best scenes of television I’ve seen in my entire life. I’ve watched a million of these types of scenes- a criminal fixated on one particular cop, two people trying to get as personal as possible to get under the other’s skin, trying to get information out of a pure psychopath to save someone who is in danger. But somehow, using dialogue and acting that deserves every single award that exists, this show elevated an old trope to something else entirely. One of the most amazing things about The Fall is that every time you think you see what’s coming next, you don’t. If you want to see real, honest-to-goodness skill, these two actors volleying the ball back and forth is on another level.
Honorable Mention: Beauty Hath Strange Power, for being a masterclass in rape culture.
House is a good show, if pretty formulaic, but the character of Gregory House is certainly nothing new. In fact, the character and the show are both pretty obviously inspired by Sherlock Holmes. Here we have yet another funny, cynical genius/bastard who treats people around him like crap, yet everyone still seems to care about him and everything revolves around him, etc. etc. But even though there were plenty of great characters and interesting arcs throughout its eight seasons, the reason the show mattered to me from the beginning was the relationship between House and Wilson. Maybe less than a romance but definitely more than a bromance, this relationship was consistently the most devoted and interesting one of the show. Arguably the only person House truly loves (although an argument could certainly be made for Lisa Cuddy as well), James Wilson is generous, terrible at romantic relationships, and thrives on fixing people. But House is unfixable so it was inevitable Wilson would become just as addicted to him as House was to Vicodin. Birthmarks was a perfect encapsulation of their relationship and it was also sad, funny, and poignant. Wilson decides that House needs to attend his father’s funeral and House wants nothing to do with it. Wilson tries everything to try to talk House into going, until finally he gets Cuddy to help him literally DRUG AND KIDNAP HIM. House and Wilson have trouble with boundaries. Naturally it ends with House verbally ripping his father to shreds in front of the mourners and Wilson throwing a vase through the stained glass window of a funeral home. Their relationship is ridiculously unhealthy and co-dependent and yet it is the most fun relationship ever. The pranks, the adventures, the monster truck shows… House and Wilson, forever.
Honorable Mention: Last Temptation mostly because House and Wilson having a pointless bet to see who can keep a live chicken in the hospital the longest without security catching on is possibly the funniest fucking thing they have ever done.
Angel: Hole in the World
This is a perfect episode of television, from beginning to end. Joss Whedon can get predictable at times, so I feel like every once in a while he sets you up to think you know what kind of story you are about to get then purposely turns it on its head. At the start of the episode he subtly guides you into thinking you are going to be cheering the team on as they save the day, then he rips the rug out from under you in the most gut-wrenching and epic way imaginable. This episode is everything- hilarious and sweet at first, exciting, and then utterly heartbreaking. It sets up a huge shift in the direction of the season and if you thought Wesley Wyndam-Pryce couldn’t possibly catch any more bad breaks, you would be very wrong. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker knocked those final scenes so far out of the park. This episode took Fred from us, but it also brought Illyria into the show and our lives were all the better for it.
Honorable Mention: Not Fade Away might be my favorite Whedon finale of them all. If Buffy’s finale was about finding your strength, Angel’s was about those who keep fighting even after they have none left.
The Thick Of It: Season 3, Episode 3 (episodes are not titled)
British politics, bleakness, humor, and a whole, WHOLE lot of swearing. The Thick Of It often leaves American viewers confused because they are generally used to tidiness. If not a hero, an anti-hero. If not a happy ending, a meaningful or tragic one. If not a point, then artistry in pointlessness. The problem is that none of that exists in British politics. It’s a messy, frantic, never-ending clusterfuck. Power grabs, secrets, alliances… the tide can turn against you so fast that in under a day you can go from a Minister of the Crown to sludge on a tabloid reporter’s shoe. It’s brutal. If you count the two brilliant hour-long specials (“Rise of the Nutters” and “Spinners and Losers”) it gets too hard to pick because you can do much more with an hour than 30 minutes, so I chose my favorite of the regular episodes. This is easily the funniest one of the series and it also shows you exactly who Malcolm Tucker is. Up until that point he is portrayed as a bit of a bogeyman, but the truth is he that he simply does what needs to be done- granted in an extremely sweary and bullying way. In fact, people beg for his help in a panic every bit as often as they curse his name, because when shit hits the fan they know he is the one who will know exactly what to do. Malcolm is the one pulling the strings- right up until the second he isn’t. He has always understood the game they are all in and he spends his days waiting for everyone else to catch up. He frequently prods them there with strings of creative expletives that would make an 80 year-old sailor cry for his mother. But eventually even he is brought down by the poisonous system that has taken over his life and ruled his existence for decades. He sees it coming, tries to get in front of it, then goes down quietly, knowing better than anyone that this is it for him. The Thick Of It is one of those shows that is, at its heart, so bleak that you will never understand why you want to watch it over and over again. But you will. Because it is goddamn clever, and hilarious as all fuck.
Honorable Mention: Season 4, Episode 7 because it has Malcolm’s final speech- the one he gives to the young unscrupulous fuck who decided he wanted to be his protégé from almost day one. I can’t summarize it, so here it is.
“You know fuck all about me! I am totally beyond the realms of your fuckin tousle-haired fuckin dim-witted compre-fucking-hension. I don’t just take this fucking job home, you know. I take this job home, it fucking ties me to the bed, and it fuckin fucks me from arsehole to breakfast. Then it wakes me up in the morning with a cup full of piss slammed in my face, slaps me about the chops to make sure I’m awake enough so it can kick me in the fucking bollocks! This job has taken me in every hole in my fucking body. Malcolm is gone- you can’t know Malcolm because Malcolm is not here! Malcolm fucking left the building fucking years ago! This is a fucking husk, I am a fucking host for this fucking job. Do you want this job? Yes? You do fucking want this job? Then you’re gonna have to swallow this whole fucking life and let it grow inside you like a parasite, getting bigger and bigger and bigger until it fucking eats your insides alive and it stares out of your eyes and tells you what to do. I’m gonna leave the stage with my head held fucking high. What you’re gonna see is a master class in fucking dignity, son. The audience will be on their feet. “There he goes!”, they’ll say. No friends – no *real* friends. No children, no glory, no memoirs. Well, fuck them.”
Doctor Who: Midnight
Midnight is not a “representative” episode of Doctor Who but in my defense there aren’t many of those in existence. It is the very nature of this show that it can be a tragedy, a comedy, a drama, a sci-fi, a fantasy, an action-adventure, or a horror show depending on its mood. This episode shoots for creepy and it doesn’t miss. It’s reminiscent of The Twilight Zone as the horror is mainly psychological. Being trapped in space with strangers, all of whom slowly turn on each other as they realize they are not alone… that something alien has gotten in. Ten is at his most clever and most desperate here- clever as he tries to solve the mystery of what’s possessing them and desperate as he races to do so before any of the passengers hurt each other. There are many episodes of DW that restore the Doctor’s faith in human beings and many that make him think they might not be worth it after all. Midnight ends up being a combination of both.
As an aside, this is the only show that consistently breaks down my cynicism and leaves me optimistic and hopeful for the human race. No pressure, Doctor Who.
Honorable Mention: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances because it introduced us to our dashing pansexual hero Captain Jack Harkness, because it was the first genuinely creepy episode of Doctor Who, and because I love Nine so, so hard.
Supernatural: Swan Song
“So what does it all add up to? It’s hard to say. But me, I’d say this was a test… for Sam and Dean. And I think they did all right. Up against good, evil, angels, devils, destiny, and God himself, they made their own choice. They chose family. And, well, isn’t that kinda the whole point?”
Let’s be honest, Supernatural should have ended with Swan Song. No, I don’t begrudge my boys their now THIRTEEN seasons (just renewed for fourteen!) and yes, we would have missed out on incredible episodes like Death’s Door, The Man Who Would Be King (which is actually my 3rd favorite ep), and The French Mistake. We would never have met Kevin, Charlie, Soulless Sam or Demon Dean. It would be sad to not have all of the great things about the subsequent seasons (although we also would never have had to meet Amelia or suffer through the despicable way they killed off Charlie, sooooo…) but if they had gone out with Eric Kripke’s planned series finale, it would have been perfect storytelling. The story of the Winchester boys and the destiny that had been forced upon them came full-circle. Sam and Dean threw middle fingers up to every mystical force in the universe and refused to be used- not even by all of the hosts of Heaven. And honestly, where does a show even go after it manages to beat both God and the Devil? In its subsequent 8 seasons it has never come remotely close to matching this episode. Swan Song has everything that makes Supernatural special. It was a perfect episode and a perfect finale.
Honorable Mention: Lazarus Rising for having the most badass character entrance in the history of television.
Black Mirror: San Junipero
Almost every episode of Black Mirror has something to do with a disturbing dystopian future based on our over-reliance on technology. Not this one. It takes place in the future and technology certainly comes into it, but for once it isn’t bad or the cause of the downfall of society. It’s just part of the story. San Junipero is a love story and also a story about love. The sacrifices we make for those we love versus the choices we make for ourselves. It’s a beautifully crafted episode- the music, the wardrobe, the casting, everything is spot-on amazing and nothing is overdone. This is one of the only episodes of Black Mirror that bears repeated watchings, and the end never gets any less affecting. Also, if you’re going to watch this be prepared to cry every time Heaven Is A Place On Earth comes on the radio for the rest of your life.
Honorable Mention: The U.S.S. Callister because it’s creative, funny, and disturbing as fuck. For any respectable Star Trek fan there could be no other choice.
Hannibal: Wrath of the Lamb
There has never been a show quite like Hannibal. How this orgy of blood and gore was ever allowed to air on network television I will never know. Thomas Harris’s novels have always been favorites of mine, but Bryan Fuller has a knack of knowing exactly what to throw out and what to keep when it comes to material that is dated. When creating his version of Hannibal he kept the essence of the characters intact but added much-needed diversity to a cast that would have otherwise been painfully dull. Far from taking away from the story the changes he made added layers upon layers to the material. Hannibal is, in my opinion, the most visually beautiful television show ever made. I defy you to get through the entire thing without accidentally finding at least one of the cooking scenes appetizing, and considering Hannibal’s favorite ingredient that is no small feat. This show is over-the-top and the characters talk like nobody on Earth speaks in real life, but every word is carefully chosen and the scripts are practically poetry. It’s dramatic and bloody and wildly unrealistic- and definitely not for everybody. The series finale was everything I needed and considering the time constraints (the show was prematurely cancelled), nearly impossible to pull off this flawlessly. Instead of shrinking from the story it had created or pulling it back at the end, the show followed through on what it had been setting up since the very first episode: Will Graham becoming everything Hannibal wanted him to be.
Honorable Mention: Mizumono because a true friend doesn’t stab you in the back, he stabs you in the front.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Body
This is the most brilliant episode of my favorite show. Joss lost his own mother suddenly, which comes as no surprise because nobody could make an episode of television like this unless they themselves had experienced sudden loss. Death is everywhere on television in countless forms, yet this episode is singular. If you’ve ever experienced grief you will absolutely recognize your feelings or reactions in at least one of the characters. The Body captures the empty space around death- the silence, the boredom… in Joss’s own words, “the monotony of grief”. It’s such an accurate depiction of the hours that pass immediately following a sudden death that, having suffered horrifically through those hours myself, I can barely talk about it. I have watched every season of Buffy over and over throughout the years, but I only re-watch The Body when I feel the need to sob until I almost barf, which is usually once every year or so. It’s simultaneously the best and most painful episode of television I have ever seen.
Honorable Mention: Once More With Feeling because it reigns supreme over every other musical episode of television ever made. And because also, it’s important to remember that it could be bunnies.
Do you have any particular episodes or scenes of television that have stayed with you? Feel free to share your own in the comments!