Sometimes I go through stretches when my actual life is boring me to tears and I feel the need to write about fictional characters instead. This is one of those times.
This post started as a September Songs entry with some of my favorite musical moments on television; then I read this article and started considering my favorite television episodes. And then I kept writing, and here I find myself weeks later with a monster of a post.
Listen, I love TV, but I’ll never profess to seeing every show ever produced. I’m notoriously loyal to my favorites and see most of them through to the bitter end, but I’ve still never sat down and watched The Wire or The Sopranos. (I will, someday, I promise.) I had Friday Night Lights on a mental “ok, this off-season I’ll finally watch and catch up for next season” list that lasted for five seasons until I finally queued it up once it was all over. But I’m not one of those people who could willingly give up cable – I tried for a few months this summer, it was awful. I want to watch television. Good television, that is. If there is a hell, mine would be watching Two and a Half Men for all of eternity.
So, for no good reason other than I love writing about pop culture and have nothing else to talk about, here is a list of my favorite shows and my favorite episodes of each. Not necessarily the best episode, but my favorite – usually the one that stands out most in my mind, that I want to watch more than once. These are in no particular order.
Minor spoilers ahead. Though I tried really, really hard to keep most of these spoiler-free or at least spoiler-light. For God’s sake, I picked the one episode of Breaking Bad where literally nothing happens.
The X-Files – Jose Chung’s From Outer Space
“That’s a bleepin’ dead alien body if I ever bleepin’ saw one.”
To start, my favorite episode of my favorite show. The X-Files, at its best, was simultaneously terrifying and hilarious, and this episode is the perfect example of that. Both a satire of the show and an actual X-File, it becomes at times so absolutely absurd that you’re not sure whether you should take it seriously anymore, while at the same time it purports the same ideas the show theorized for years – you can’t always believe what you think you can believe, and we don’t really know what our government is up to.
Plus, Mulder screams like a girl.
Runners up: Pusher, Anasazi/The Blessing Way/Paper Clip, Post-Modern Prometheus
The Office – Booze Cruise
“It’s a fake wheel, dummy.”
The Injury is funnier, start to finish, but I prefer the sentimentality of Booze Cruise, because no TV relationship has ever affected me more than Jim and Pam, and this was a serious Jam shipper episode. Everything about this episode feels so familiar and comforting when I watch it these days, from Jim’s (accurate) prediction that Michael will yell “I’m the king of the world!” upon boarding the boat to Meredith emerging topless, except for a life vest. Steve Carrell in general steals this episode, with two of my favorite moments from his character: first being the boss of dancing…
…and later telling Jim to never give up.
Runners up: The Injury, Casino Night, Basketball
Friends – The One With the Embryos
“What is the name of Chandler’s father’s all male burlesque review?”
First of all, I always loved the episode naming convention that the Friends creative team came up with. How brilliant to just call your episodes what everyone else will call them anyway? That said, no one remembers this episode as the one with the embryos. Everyone remembers this episode as the one with the trivia game, Ms. Chanandler Bong, Big Fat Goalie, 11 different types of towels, and a transponster. I could probably recite the entire episode to you right now, and yet it will never get old.
Runners up: The One Where No One’s Ready (“Could I BE wearing anymore clothes?”), The One Where Everybody Finds Out (“They don’t know that we know they know!”)
Lost – The Constant
“I won’t call… for eight years. December 24, 2004. Christmas Eve. I promise. Please, Pen.”
There have been endless debates on what Lost was really about – the island or the people on it – and this episode lands firmly on the side of the people. Basically, Desmond needs to talk to his long lost love, Penny, or he will die. Of course, this being television and Desmond being a series regular, he succeeds, but the race toward that phone call is no less thrilling for knowing that, and the phone call at the climax of the episode is no less tear-jerking. Desmond and Penny pulled at the heartstrings of every Lost viewer, regardless of what side of the argument they were on, and this gorgeously written and acted scene is a key reason why.
Runners up: Through the Looking Glass, Pilot, The Shape of Things to Come
Breaking Bad – Fly
“Oh, if I had just lived right up to that moment… and not one second more. That would have been perfect.”
An entire hour consisting of two grown men in a lab, trying to kill a fly. That’s it, in a nutshell, but it’s so much more. It’s dark, comedic, sad, and frustrating, often all in the same scene, anchored the by incredible performances of its two lead actors. There were more insane (“Hola DEA”) and thrilling (all of Ozymandias), more shocking and heartbreaking (the one-two punch of Half Measures / Full Measure) moments. Aaron Paul had better monologues (like this one). Bryan Cranston had crazier scenes. The episode didn’t advance the plot at all. But if you were to ask me what episode I want to go back and re-watch, my second answer (after all of them) would be this one. And not only because it has one of my favorite Jesse Pinkman-isms of the entire series.
Because it was the most riveting hour of television I’ve ever watched in my entire life.
Runners up: Ozymandias, Face Off, Full Measure
HIMYM – Drumroll, Please
“Ted, how do I explain this to you. Last night, I ate the best cake of my life. Do you think I’m gonna let that cake out of my life? Hell, no. I’m gonna find out what bakery made that cake and I’m gonna get some more cake.”
Listen, I just love this episode. I know it’s as saccharine as one of Victoria’s cupcakes, but that’s what makes it wonderful. That was vintage Ted, who would go along with a boneheaded plan to spend only one evening with a woman so as to not ruin the romantic moment with what comes next. (Though in retrospect, maybe Ted should have listened to her.) HIMYM has an emotional kick to the gut that most sitcoms don’t, and knowing the journey Ted goes on in the following seven years, this one gets me teary when I watch it now. And that’s a good thing.
Runners up: Slap Bet, The Bracket
Friday Night Lights: Mud Bowl
Tami: Where would people park?
Coach Taylor: I don’t know.
Tami: And how would you put lights in here?
Coach Taylor: I don’t know that either.
Tami: Where would people pee?
Coach Taylor: Well, I don’t know, they can use cups for all I care.
Something about a train crash and toxic fumes, or something, but basically, the football game can’t be played in the stadium where it’s supposed to be played. So Coach Taylor decides, let’s build a football field in a cow pasture and play there instead… then it starts pouring, and the field turns into a giant mud pit. Meanwhile, Tyra is assaulted and Lyla gets out some aggression by shooting things. FNL produced a lot of powerful hours of television. This one definitely has its powerful moments (see: Tyra), but football in the rain in also just a hell of a lot of fun.
Runners up: Pilot, Tomorrow Blues
New Girl – Katie
“I’m off the grid! I’m so far off the grid that everybody’s like … ‘she’s off the grid!’”
This episode aired right after I lost my job, and that line became my mantra. There were funnier episodes last year – Cooler and Parking Space immediately come to mind – but Katie remains my favorite. And that’s not to say it’s not funny. We meet Bear Claw. We learn about “the night of the three Shoshannas” and every time Nick rides a jet ski. Nick is a leaper. And Jess falling just standing there will never not make me laugh. It’s happening!
Runners up: Eggs (“Zombie zoo, zombie zoo…”), Cooler (“I meant something like that”), Jess and Julia (“My checks have baby farm animals on them, bitch!”)
Gossip Girl: Victor, Victrola
“I think we just broke up. I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to escape. That’s what this place is for, right?”
I have a lot of favorite moments in the GG universe – Crazy Agnes burning Little J’s dresses, the Thanksgiving when everyone started spilling everyone else’s secrets, Blair (wearing that ahhhhmazing Oscar de la Renta gown) and Chuck meeting in the train station in Paris, basically anything involving Georgina and Jack Bass – but for me, it all starts here, with this episode. Nate had just accidentally kissed Jenny, thinking it was Serena, because all blonds at a costume ball are apparently interchangeable, and then Nate and Blair break up and she runs immediately to Chuck. This being the most ridiculous high school universe ever created, there’s a burlesque club, a strip tease, and the back of a limo, Blair looks gorgeous, Chuck is wearing a bow tie, and the entire thing is GG perfection.
Runners up: Blair Waldorf Must Pie, Dare Devil
So there you have it, readers. How about you? Any I’ve missed?