Watching a truly great episode of television for the first time is particularly awesome because so often it catches you off-guard. Whereas with every movie I've ever seen I've gone in with prior expectation, but with television you get to experience the unique treat of slowly realizing that something special is happening in front of you, and that is a process I think that is the most awesome of the viewing processes. So part one of the greatest episodes of television of the decade, with the next lot to either appear in the very near future depending on how much of a lazy fuck I am in the immediate future. To keep things on their figurative toes, only one episode from any show is allowed, so there won't just be 17 episodes of Arrested Development here, although I would be quite content to write that list as well.
20) Born Free, Dexter
Dexter is a show that should have been so much better then it turned out to be. While it turned out to be good serviceable show; it fell far below the bar it should have been at. The second year is probably its strongest overall, but for me the best the show ever got was the season one finale. Before it all got so formulaic and predictable of course. Michael C Hall is at his most brilliant here, but he is matched by Christian Camargo, the first season's antagonist, who created a much more vivid, human monster then the bigger names that followed (Jimmy Smits and Jaime Murray in particular) and his scenes with Hall are the most electrifying the show ever got. And it came together for one blindingly thrilling episodes ever witnessed, and one that promised so much more darkness and nuance that the show was eventually incapable of.
19) Rosemary's Baby, 30 Rock
30 Rock is another show I have mixed feelings for. Its erratic and very inconsistent, but when it all comes together its pretty awesome. Nowhere near Arrested Development kind of awesome but very good nonetheless. Anyway, this episode is the best it ever got, in part because of the Carrie Fisher A storyline works very well, but mostly because it features this scene. Which is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.
18) The Jerk, House
Episode to episode House isn't mind blowingly amazing, but every now and again the show sets itself apart by embracing its protagonists bitterness and being a much more cynical show. And when it does this, its less falsely life-affirming and about a thousand times less obnoxious. The Jerk is perhaps the most blatant example of this, and combined with the week to week tour de force that is Hugh Laurie makes for a refreshingly hopeless hour of television.
17) Smile Time, Angel
Whoever thought that turning your dark hero of the night into a Jim Henson Puppet would make for the best show that you ever would do? Angel never really broke from the shadow of its parent Buffy, but in its later seasons Angel, in its own way became a very, very enjoyable show whereas Buffy perhaps went the other way. Its a show that you have reservations about actually mentioning in this kind of environment, because of its pulpy nature. But the fact of it is that Smile Time is just pure fun. The kind of episode that leaves you beaming from ear to ear at the general awesomeness of it all. And doing that well deserves as much plaudits as getting the more intense stuff right too.
16) New Canaan, CA, Carnivale
Carnivale is in many ways becoming the forgotten great HBO show, in that it never gets mentioned in the same breath as a Six Feet Under or The Sopranos, perhaps solely because it dealt with the Supernatural, and thus as a point it can't be as good as show's that deal with real life. I hate this train of thought, but it seems mightily persistent in both film and television. This series finale is as epic, as shocking and as effective as they come. Plus a shout-out to how awesome Clancy Brown is as Brother Justin Crowe. He missed my actors list by a very, very small margin.
15) Back in The Hole, The Shield
I think the Shield Season 5 seems to be perceived as the best now, but season 4 remains my favorite, and I think the best shows were done in this season too. Perhaps it was the addition of Glenn Close, who added a huge amount of welcome moral authority to the show. But for me I think it was Anthony Anderson as the season's villain, yes he of Kangaroo Jack fame, who created such a loathsome yet well formed character that in this episode his face-offs with Chiklis and Close were electrifying television. This being the Shield there were about 6 things going on at the same time, but the show was at its best when it relaxed the plot and let its monsters be just that.
14) The Booze Cruise, The Office
As a Brit, preferring the American office to the English original is pretty much an act of treason. So its something I try to avoid bringing up too often. But I guess the relative anonymity of blogging is a good a place as any. I think the fact the the US office manages to incorporate warmth every now and again is a good thing for the show, and this particular episode manages the double trick of being one of the funniest whilst, you know, having a soul beyond the entertainment via embarrassment.
13) The Test Dream, The Sopranos
The Sopranos I think, whilst being profound and intelligent and all that jazz, alienated its more impatient audiences, who followed the train of thought to 'well its great Tony's had a psychological break through, but when is someone going to get whacked already'. I am not exclusively in this club, but I have my moments of frustration with this impeccably acted but sometimes languid show. Its a great irony then, that my favorite episode is actually the most pretentious the show ever got, an hour long dream sequence that worked so well because of this show's already well established fascination with psychology, which was paid off in spades in this episode.
12) Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Mad Men
Mad Men needs no introduction, as it already is in the homes of the awaredly cultured middle-class, filling their minds with images of beautifully designed alienation. And its a very good show, and its first episode is so sublimely put together, on both a character and design level. Its at its best playing up the enigma of Don Draper, and it worked never more wonderfully then in this its pilot episode.
11) Out Of Gas, Firefly
Yet another genre entry, this one coming from Firefly; the best show that never was, for all intents and purposes. A relatively simple idea, what if a spaceship ran out of gas, comes together with flashbacks to be a fascinating, powerful hour of television and a testament to what would have no doubt been Joss Whedon's finest hour - which it still might be - if hadn't been so brutally cut short.