Here comes round no. 3 of favorite episodes. My esteemed colleagues Rick and Hanh have picked their favorites and they each took considerable time preparing their list. I laughed at that — until I sat down to do mine and it became a four-days-long project.
Here were my personal parameters for the list: 1. Each show could only have one episode on the list. 2. I would not repeat my colleagues’ choices, which was particularly hard with “Buffy” and “Veronica Mars,” as my top picks have been spoken for. 3. A two-parter counts as one slot on my list. My list, my rules. 4. There was a limit of 10.
Why a limit? Because my initial list had 22 entries and I realized I was basically just listing my favorite shows and then picking good episodes. I had to be more disciplined! The 12 I took off (for a variety of reasons) became “honorable mentions” of a sort. Also, bear in mind this list comes from someone who has not seen “Deadwood,” “The Shield,” “The Sopranos” or “The Wire.” I know! (Don’t email me!) I own at least one season of each on DVD and I will get to them eventually. There are only so many hours in the day and on my DVR, gang. Without further ado, here are my favorite episodes of the aughts.
“Day 1: 11 am to 12 pm” (“24”)
“24” has had its share of surprises over the years, but none moreso than the season one finale. Just when you think Jack has saved the day and wrapped everything up, Nina murders his wife Teri. Twists and shocks are almost cliche for “24” now (which is nicely ironic) but the first season blew me away, the ending in particular.
Other considerations: “Day 3: 6 am to 7 am” (Jack shoots Ryan Chappelle), “Day 5: 7 am to 8 am” (Michelle Dessler and President Palmer are killed).
“Once More, With Feeling” (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”)
Hanh choosing “The Body” left me free to choose the musical episode, which I think is just as good but in very different ways. The reason “OMWF” is so amazing (more than, say, the musical episode of “Scrubs”) is because the fun singing is actually putting forth all these truths and secrets. The double meaning/use of “I’m Under Your Spell” is brilliant and heartbreaking, as is Buffy’s confession that her friends ripped her out of heaven. The entire episode is phenomenal and is the highlight of an underrated season of “Buffy.”
Other considerations: “Who Are You?,” “Fool for Love,” “Restless,” “The Body,” “The Gift”
“All in the Family” (“ER”)
There’s a reason this episode is no. 4 on the Most-Watched Episodes of the Decades list. It is a stunning hour of television in which Carter (Noah Wyle) and Lucy (Kellie Martin) have been stabbed by a schizophrenic patient. I was on the verge of panic waiting for someone to find them. When Lucy couldn’t be saved, Dr. Romano’s anger and grief was so touching (because his character had always been such a jerk). It also launched the Carter-painkiller storyline that gave us what I thought was Noah Wyle and Eriq LaSalle’s best work on “ER.”
Other considerations: “May Day,” “Rampage,” “It’s All in Your Head,” “Secrets and Lies,” “The Letter/On the Beach,” “Lockdown/Chaos Theory”
“The One with the Proposal, parts I and II” (“Friends”)
I will absolutely concede that the majority of great “Friends” episodes aired prior to 2000. However, I think “Proposal” stacks up against any of the greats from the 1990s. It had humor, of course, but it also had an amazing pathos with Chandler’s neuroses and Monica’s proposing to him. Plus Tom Selleck! It was probably the last really great “Friends” episode before the finale.
Other considerations: “The One with the Nap Partners,” “The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs,” “The Last One”
“They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” (“Gilmore Girls”)
This one was particularly hard because by sheer volume of episodes I love, “Gilmore Girls” ranked near the top of my list. That it never won an Emmy for writing or for Lauren Graham is criminal. “They Shoot” brings all the wonderfulness of Stars Hollow out in the form of a dance marathon, while giving us plenty of great Luke-Lorelai and Dean-Jess-Rory interaction and finally ends with Rory crying in her mother’s arms on the dance floor. Oh and for the record: Team Jess all the way here.
Other considerations: “Forgiveness and Stuff,” “Emily in Wonderland,” “I Can’t Get Started,” “Luke Can See Her Face,” “Last Week Fights, This Week Tights,” “Raincoats and Recipes”
“House’s Head” (“House”)
This was an instance of show overlap where I actually disagreed with my colleague’s choice. Rick picked “Three Stories,” an excellent “House” episode. But I prefer “House’s Head.” It’s an incredibly tight mystery and the final realization that Amber was the person dying made me feel sick (in a totally good way, the way good TV does sometimes). It was hard not to tie “Wilson’s Heart” together with this one but since they have different titles and aren’t two parts of the same episode, I felt that would be cheating. So I went with the one that had the mystery over the one that had the tears. The final tipping point? Cuddy as schoolgirl stripper.
Other considerations: “Three Stories,” “No Reason,” “Wilson’s Heart”
“The Constant” (“Lost”)
What is it about Penny and Desmond? I don’t think a show has ever made me cry quite as hard as I was when they reached each other on the freighter telephone (except later that season when they reunited in per
son). “The Constant” is just a fantastic hour of TV that manages not to get bogged down by the jumping around in time, something that happens to “Lost” on occasion.
Other considerations: “Pilot,” “Exodus, parts I and II,” “Through the Looking Glass,” “There’s No Place Like Home”
“The Dundies” (“The Office”)
It was hard not to pick “Casino Night,” but ultimately I did not give into commenter peer-pressure and I went with my gut on “The Dundies.” They bookend the best season of “The Office” but “The Dundies” edges out “Casino Night” because it’s not trying to be a big episode the way “Casino Night” was with the Pam-Jim confession and kiss. Its greatness is really quiet, if that makes any sense. I love the Pam-Jim stuff in “The Dundies” but what I really love is the Michael stuff.
The first season of “The Office” was trying to be too much like the British original and gave us no peek into why Michael Scott even has a job or anyone likes him at all. “The Dundies” rehabbed that in 20 minutes by showing how hard Michael tries, how much he loves his job and co-workers and how protective they are of him. Sure, they all rolled their eyes at his Dundies antics but they rallied around him the minute an outsider was mean to him. It was also the first time we really got to know a lot of the supporting cast. I think if one episode can encapsulate the entire series, it’s “The Dundies.” PS: We named our law school bowling team “The Dundies” one year and each person’s shirt had an award on it in place of the name. I was the only person brave enough to be “Bushiest Beaver.”
Other considerations: “Casino Night,” “Beach Games,” “Dinner Party”
“My Motherboard, My Self” (“Sex and the City”)
Would I pick “Sex and the City” as one of the best series of the decade? No. But if “The Body” is the best portrayal of younger grief I’ve seen on TV, “My Motherboard, My Self” is the best portrayal of middle-aged grief when Miranda loses her mom (with whom she was no longer close). Cynthia Nixon is brilliant in this episode and the other women’s storylines are weaved in incredibly well.
Other considerations: “The Real Me,” “The Ick Factor,” “An American Girl in Paris: Part Deux”
“The Supremes” (“The West Wing”)
This was the hardest choice for me. “The West Wing” is my favorite TV show. Ever. If I hadn’t made the one-episode-per-show rule, half my list would’ve been “West Wing” episodes. The reason I went with “The Supremes” instead of one of the many excellent season finales or season premieres or Christmas episodes was because those are “event” episodes. They’re designed to be flashy and big. “The Supremes” is another quiet display of excellence and often gets forgotten because it is mired in season five (admittedly, “The West Wing” took awhile to find its footing after Sorkin left, but I don’t think season five is as abhorrent as everyone else does).
I think “The West Wing” was at its best when it was intelligently discussing ideas from different points of view. Josh Lyman’s quest (the idea was inadvertently from Donna, of course) to put one very liberal and one very conservative justice on the Supreme Court is an amazing example of the discourse. It also has the added bonus of fantastic guest-starring turns by Glenn Close and William Fichtner.
Other considerations: “What Kind of Day Has it Been?”, “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen I and II”, “Noel,” “Two Cathedrals,” “The Stackhouse Filibuster,” “Game On”
These are the shows that originally populated my list and were removed for one reason or another. I’ve given them each their own superlative.
Episodes That Juuuuust Missed Out: These episodes aired in November or December of 1999. “I Will Remember You” from “Angel,” “Hush” from “Buffy” and “The Short List” and “In Excelsis Deo” from “The West Wing.”
Best Series Finale: “Not Fade Away” from “Angel.” What a way to go out. I also considered for the list the trio of “Over the Rainbow/Through the Looking Glass/There’s No Place like Plrtz Glrb” and “Smile Time” because… PUPPET ANGEL.
Consistently Good, No One Episode Stuck Out for Me: “Battlestar Galactica,” “Dexter,” “Friday Night Lights,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Pushing Daisies”
Best Overarching Storylines: “CSI.” I couldn’t very well list a series of three or four episodes as a favorite “episode,” but the Paul Millander, Blue Paint Killer, Grave Danger, and Miniature Killer storylines all got some consideration for this list, as did “A Night at the Movies,” “Committed,” “Bloodlines” and “The Unusual Suspect.”
Too New to Pick But I Almost Did: “Glee” and “Modern Family.” I considered “Pilot,” “Wheels” and “Mattress” from “Glee” and “The Bicycle Thief,” “The Incident” and “Fizbo” from “Modern Family.” I think both of these shows are off to amazing starts.
Stand-out Episode on a Middling Show: Even in its first season, “Heroes” wasn’t that good. But “Company Man” was an excellent offering. Jack Coleman is the best thing about “Heroes,” hands down.
Show I Couldn’t Pick Because It Felt Like Cheating: “Scrubs.” I came to “Scrubs” really late and got caught up via reruns and DVDs. I wanted this list to be shows I’d watched as they were airing. I considered “My Screw Up,” “My Lunch/My Fallen Idol,” “My Musical,” and “My Long Goodbye”
Best Season: Season one of “Veronica Mars.” I think this season is damn-near perfect and I almost wish the show had been canceled after it aired so that my memories wouldn’t be marred from seasons two and three. Sure, those seasons had some gems here and there. But season one is phenomenal. I keep showing it to people who’ve never seen it so I have, at last count, seen the first season in its entirety 11 times. Episodes that I considered for this list are “An Echolls Family Christmas,” “A Trip to the Dentist,” “No One Puts Baby In a Corner” and “Ain’t No Magic Mountain High Enough.”
So there’s my list. Thanks for reading, those of you still with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Photo credit: The WB, NBC