Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Episodes of 2011

10. Game of Thrones: Baelor/Justified: Brother's Keeper/Community- Remedial Chaos Theory
So I know what you're thinking.  What do these shows have in common and why are they so far down on this list?  Well, I'm ashamed to admit this but I haven't seen them.  At least not yet.  They are all on my list and I was hoping to have gotten to Baelor by now (remaining unspoiled to the major death in this episode is a NIGHTMARE) but alas.  However every single one of these episodes seems to show up time and time again on other people's lists, so it seemed wrong to ignore them.  So, um, here are those episodes.  I hear they were really great.

9. The Good Wife: In Sickness
In my last post I mentioned the scene from this episode where Alicia told Peter that she knew about his affair with Kalinda and kicked him to the curb.  But this was only one part of what was definitely the best episode the show produced this year.  We got "Hell Hath No Fury Alicia", who pumped up her son's IPOD and set herself free.  The scene where Alicia broke it to her kids convinced me that Juliana Margulies in fact does deserve all of her awards and accolades, as she played both parental strength and a woman in despair simultaneously with ease.  Even the show's case of the week, normally the weak part of the series for me, was above par with the return of Martha Plimpton's rival lawyer who is always a joy to watch.  This was the episode the series had been building up to and it didn't disappoint.

8. The Challenge, Rivals: The Storm Before The Storm
Yes, I know this seems like a bat shit CRAZY choice.  But hear me out for a sec.  The Challenge has been a  severely guilty pleasure show for me ever since it was called The Real World Road Rules Challenge.  That was back when Road Rules actually existed.  But in the past few years it has become an insufferable show where a pack of misogynistic bullies and their harem teach all the newbies that they have to kiss their ass and take what comes to them or be belittled into submission.  This episode served up some justice, not once but twice.  First the so called "Mafia" of the show was forced into turning on itself in the game and had to vote against one of their own.  It was great to watch them scramble  Then later, after Wes and Paula picked on poor Cara Maria, they finally were served a healthy does of their own medicine when CMs teammate Laurel went after them.  Hard.  And they cowered like the weaklings they truly are.  I loved that it was a strong woman who brought these people down and loved that someone finally took a stand.  Yes, watching these brats get theirs filled me with glee and I'd gladly watch this episode any time I need a little boost of joy.

7. Awkward: Over My Dead Body
Awkward does high school comedy in a way that is both emotionally resonant and really freakin weird.  And if you know me, you know that I love the strange.  This episode managed to do a good job of continuing the action of the series (The Matty/Jenna/Jake triangle) set against the craziness of Jenna having to be "Dead Stacey" in the school play.  That's right, every year the school puts on a play where a couple dies due to drinking and driving, and according to Jenna's mom, being Dead Stacey is the biggest honor there is.  The climactic moment of the episode, where we get to see the crazy altered version of the play in which Tamara gets her chance to (silently) act and Jake tells Jenna that he like likes her amidst all the fake blood is kind of fantastic.  This episode also turned Matty from a serious caricature to hard core character by revealing his issues with his brother and fleshing him out as an actual person, not just Jenna's dream boy.  This episode was both compelling and fun and would be a great starter for those who haven't given Awkward the chance it deserves.

6. Homeland: Pilot
I seriously considered putting The Weekend as my favorite Homeland episode as son many others have done, but in the end I think being a great pilot is a harder task than being a well written episode that storytelling dictates HAD to happen.  The pilot established a lot of back story without seeming annoyingly expositional, which is a crazy difficult task.  It introduced us to our cast of characters in an authentic way where I felt like I knew them already by the end of the episode.  And the general set up, including the mystery surrounding Brody and his true intentions, made this a show that you had to keep watching.  

5. Parks and Recreation: The Fight
I had a lot of trouble with how to begin talking about The Fight because I can't really think of a part of it that I didn't love.  Clearly the fight between (a very drunk) Leslie and Ann was the driving force of the episode, and it was both hard to watch(in the best way possible) and crazy funny.  The snake juice plot line let all of our characters get wasted an reveal the wackiest part of themselves, we got some adorable movement in the Leslie/Ben department, Ann finally got a government job and the April/Andy role playing game was the stuff that pop cultural references are made of.  This episode let all of out characters come out and play in their finest form, and proved why this is the best comedy on TV.

4. The Vampire Diaries As I Lay Dying
TVD did some really great work this year, but I keep coming back to the season two ender because it was that freaking good.  First, we had our bad boy vamp dealing with his werewolf bite, and sad tortured Damon is the best kind of Damon.  This lead to the unexpectedly sweet Elena/Damon kiss that fans had been waiting for since the series began.  Then we had crazy shenanigans like Sheriff Forbes shooting Jeremy, and his subsequent coming back to life and seeing his dead girlfriends' ghosts.  Finally, good vamp Stefan traded his freedom for a cure for his brother and gave up his future and his love to become The Ripper once again.  Seeing our normally milktoast and drained male protagonist go back to killing was a sight to behold.  The image of baddie Stefan, wide eyed and covered in blood, stayed with me the whole summer long.  This episode delivered the goods and brilliantly set up season three.

3. Breaking Bad: Salud
If I was putting more than one episode per show on this list, there is a good chance that Breaking Bad would take up half of it.  But when forced to pick a single hour that had me from start to finish, and I knew that Salud stood a hair above the rest.  Walt's storyline used the weakness that he had for the majority of the season to its advantage, having him tell Walter Jr. the story of his own father's death and how he never wanted his son to see him that worn down.  We also got a nice demonstration of his paternal love for Jesse, first with him crying when thinking of the fight the two had the night before and later with him calling his son his partner's name.  Then we have the Mexico storyline, which had my heart racing the entire time.  Jesse showing the chemists how it was done (and making Meth more pure than Gail's) was fun and the climactic scene where Gus poisons the entire cartel (and himself) was an epic moment of bad-assery.  And hey, Jesse got to save the day!  Salud showed why Breaking Bad may be the best show on TV.

2. American Horror Story: Smoldering Children
If you were a crazy American Horror Story conspiracy theorist, chances are you realized that Violet was dead way before this episode where we finally found out for sure.  And yet somehow the reveal was still awesome (and truly the most "horrifying" that this show ever got).  Following her throughout this episode, from her fear of Tate after he beat the snot out of Ben (yay), to her discovery of her own demise and her semi acceptance was a crazy fun roller coaster of a ride.  We also got some good DeadTravis, Constance at her snarky best and the backstory as to how Larry got his burns.  Watching the Langdon family dinner from hell followed by post-drugged up but pre-school shooting Tate set Larry on fire was a thrill to watch.  Minimal Ben and Viv (who both got waaayyy better post mortem) and more of everyone else made this brilliantly paced episode the best of the series, and the most re-watchable one of the year.

1.Friday Night Lights: Always
I'm really glad that I watched Always, the final episode of Friday Night Lights, alone.  Because I cried.  I ugly cried hardcore the whole time.  I told this to people who had yet to see the episode who feared that I was spoiling something by telling them this.  But I wasn't.  There were no deaths, no crazy character losses.  I simply loved this show and these characters and was heartbroken that this was the last time I would see them.  All of the moments in this episode were special, from Matt proposing to Julie to Eric's heartfelt speech to Vince.  The final montage, where we saw the Riggins boys on their land, our East Dillion players in Dillion blue, Jess assistant coaching and Becky seeing Luke off to the army brought me to sobs and the shot of Eric with his new Philly players was one of the most beautiful moments of television of television ever.  And the final moment of the Taylors walking off while the lights, those ones usually up on Friday night, turned off one final time?  It left me a mess.  Tension and twists are always fun, but if an episode of television can move you as deeply as this one did?  It deserves to be number one.  Congrats Friday Night Lights.  You couldn't lose.

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