Thursday, 2 June 2011

The 15 Best Episodes Of Television in the 10/11 Season

Only one episode per show to make it interesting. Let's do this.

15) Wildfire, The Walking Dead

While there was certainly some awful in amongst it there, I did very much like this episode of The Walking Dead. It seemed like it came from a stronger, more thoughtful show that I would watch every week without having to make allowances. Yet again I want a strongly written show about survivor psychology, and I'm pretty sure everyone else is fine with a dumb show about pawning zombies with crossbows. Why can't it be for both of us?

14) You Don't Know How It Feels, Cougar Town

A show whose title makes it nigh on impossible to advocate let alone admit to liking (I mostly socialize with film studenty types, and you know I have an image to uphold) But the anonymity of the internet is perhaps the perfect setting to say that this has in fact become a pretty good show, not world-bending necessarily, but a fun place to be for 20 minutes a week. And this episode, utilizing a terrific guest performance from Scrubs' Ken Jenkins, is the closest its got to balancing that sense of fun with actually being about something.

13) Pilot, The Killing

Its well known that The Killing didn't progress exactly as we would have all hoped, after a promising start it became very clear that this show didn't know how to be a serialized TV show, and instead frustratingly bided time for its entire run. To the point where I imagine you could just watch the first episode and its approaching last and see all the story the show has to tell. It's a shame, because I really did like the first episode. It told a familiar story sure, but it was bleak and pretty dark and featured some great performances and a very strong ending.

12) A Golden Crown, Game Of Thrones

Look, I don't hate this show. It's a good show by any definition, but measured against the best of the best, it falls flat. And I'm tired of people saying its the natural successor to The Wire and its the best show on television and that kind of thing. Because its not, its way too stupid for that. But what I liked about this episode is that it made a transition from stuttering drama series to confident action series. The show is way too expositional to do character in any interesting way, but a Golden Crown showed it could just stop trying to be great and be AWESOME instead and that would be fine. It contained a terrific spin on the usual fantasy duel trope, and had many grim moments of violence, including one that will stay with me for a while. Good shit.

11) Chicken N' Corn, United States Of Tara

Now me and the rest of the world had problems with Tara when it began. It was a painfully smug affair, albeit one where there was a terrific central performance from Toni Collette. But its another show that grew into something much more interesting once people had grown tired with it and this third season in particular has been great, becoming almost a horror series in principle, seeing Collette develop a new personality whose coming after the older ones. And this engaging, dark turn is punctuated nicely by the presence of Eddie Izzard as Collette's therapist, delivering one of my favorite performance of the year, and Izzard and Colette's Psycho-alter came to a head in this episode. By any measurement a great show these days, regardless of you're Diablo Cody feelings.

10) Subway Wars, How I Met Your Mother

Now this season of How I Met Your Mother has taken a lot of stick, and while it did have a pretty awful finale, there were many single one-off episodes that worked this year. My favorite of which was this, an episode that reminded me of younger days of the show. It was pretty high-concept, who could get to a restaurant first, but it was a fun, baggage free hour that I enjoyed immensely.

9) Sins Of The Past, Terriers

This Tim Minear scripted episode, which for my money was the best of this show's criminally short run, did some great filling in the blanks and showed why this show worked so well, the terrific performances by Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James.

8) The Outsider, Rubicon

Of the many cable shows that have aired this year, you get the impression that Rubicon is going to be the quickest forgotten. Every other show has its fans, yet I've still never met another living sole who watched this show. Again, perhaps because it started badly and became awesome later. Anyways this episode probably remained my favorite, mostly for an awesome scene where Michael Cristofer explains the reasons intelligence agencies have to exist via complimenting someone's tie.

7) Boardwalk Empire, Paris Green

Perhaps because Boardwalk didn't follow any kind of episodic structure, people really did hate on this show, in spite of the incredible stuff that was in it week to week. It had the best cast in television history, and in particular Michael Shannon, whose performance absolutely deserves an Emmy, and in this episode which saw him melt down of sorts. Well holy shit. Any problems I have with its structure don't take away from what it was capable of doing.

6) God, Louie

Louie, airing all the way back to last summer, is probably going to get no awards recognition of any kind. In spite of being the most innovative and fearless comedy series television has seen in quite some time. To the point where its comfortable having an episode that isn't a comedy at all. God, instead is a pretty horrific example of what enforced religious guilt does to young children. And its pretty harrowing. It also contains a pretty legendary cameo from Tom Noonan, who gives a performance so good its ridiculous.

5) Critical Film Studies, Community

Community gets the term experimental shouted at it a lot, but this episode really earned its name. Essentially an episode about a conversation, as is its influence My Dinner With Andre, it is hypnotic and engaging and strangely dramatic in a way Community has rarely achieved. The performances by Joel McHale and Danny Pudi are fantastic and it remains one of the most singular episodes of a sitcom I have ever seen, or ever will see.

4) Placebo Effect, Archer

Because seriously, What is Cancer? This episode was an insane high point for Archer, a fringe show before this season, now a pretty unanimous critical success. Even if nobody watches it. Well they fucking should, because this was the funniest episode of anything in the entire TV season bar none. Ridiculously good.

3) Andy and April's Fancy Party, Parks And Recreation

On the whole I think Community and Archer are stronger, more interesting shows then Parks and Rec, but there's no doubting the brilliance of this episode. It may not have been as straight out funny as Placebo Effect, but it had a weird poignancy that you can't really explain, except its about watching people you love make a mistake and knowing you have to let them do it. Pretty incredible episode to be honest.

2) Brother's Keeper, Justified

This season of Justified was just a ridiculous upgrade in quality from the first season, to the point that outside of Mad Men I think I'd call Justified the best drama on TV. Its been that good. Much of the season's drama has revolved around Margo Martindale and her family of miscreants, and her performance has just been so good its not even funny. This episode was probably the season high point, because it both featured Martindale's best scene and a dark southern gothic story that had far too much emotional impact then this show has any right to have, and featuring fantastic performances by Kaitlyn Dever and Brad William Henke. Its just fucking great TV.

1) The Suitcase, Mad Men

But it couldn't be anything else but this, a masterpiece of the form and quite possibly is the best episode of TV ever made by anyone. Even if you don't like Mad Men, and while I think its mostly an mamzing show I do have my problems with it, there's no way you can argue anything against the majesty of this episode, which focuses on the creative relationship of Don and Peggy over one night. And it's spellbinding. Just watch the damn thing.

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