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FEATURE: Best Episodes of 2010 (Honourable Mentions)

Even though they’re terribly difficult to write, I love putting together ‘best of’ lists.I love writing about things I love, and it feels good to reward pieces of art that might not get noticed by other reviewers. This year, I pored through Wikipedia listings to make sure I considered every episode of television I watched in 2010, so this list is about as comprehensive as it gets. If only to demonstrate how tight this race was, even with a pretty subpar crop this year, the Top 20 is accompanied by a handful of honourable mentions…

The picks below aren’t in any particular order. Some are just excellent episodes on their own, while some are representatives of shows that are consistently excellent but with no specific standouts. This is a rough sampling of a number of shows who I thought would earn spots on the Top 2o. Heck, many would have if I were one of those critics who believes in no doubles, but when it comes to the list itself, I believe its unfair to limit an episode’s potential because of the quality of its mates. I genuine;y enjoyed putting this list together, and I hope you enjoy reading…

Now, without further ado:

Community
1.14: Interpretive Dance (written by Lauren Pomerantz and directed by Justin Lin)
1.15: Romantic Expressionism (written by Andrew Guest and directed by Joe Russo)
1.16: Communication Studies
(written by Chris McKenna and directed by Adam Davidson)
1.21: Contemporary American Poultry
(written by Emily Cutler & Karey Dornetto and directed by Tristram Shapeero)
2.09: Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design (written by Chris McKenna and directed by Adam Davidson)
2.10: Mixology Certification (written by Andy Bobrow and directed by Jay Chandrasekhar)

Community is currently my favourite show, one of few to nail the Buffy model of nearly every episode being wonderful. Community episodes are notable not when they enter these two lists, but when they miss out, as they are generally so jam-packed with moments that make me happy. “Interpretive Dance” included some excellent work by Gillian Jacobs (Britta) and Donald Glover (Troy), and some fantastic one-liners; the scene in which the Dean outlined Jeff (Joel McHale) and Prof. Slater’s (Lauren Stamile) attractiveness is a favourite. “Romantic Expressionism” would earn a spot with just Jeff and Britta’s scheming to have Annie (Alison Brie) dump her hippie boyfriend, but it also included the silent scene in which the entire group scopes out their romantic prospects with each other. Many would expect “Contemporary American Poultry” to make the cut on the list proper, but although it is a brilliant exploration of Abed’s view on the world, it also doesn’t really service the group like some stronger episodes do. “Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design” might be considered an odd pick, but I adored Prof. Professorson/Woolley/Garrity and the final send-up of conspiracy thrillers. And it killed me to cut “Mixology Certification”, it really did, because although it isn’t full of laughs, it is the most accurate expression of bar drinking, to my experience, I’ve ever seen on TV. It hurt to watch. All of these excellent episodes just barely were cut from the list proper… which leaves you room to wonder which ones made it.

The Good Wife
1. 16: Fleas (written by Amanda Segel and directed by Rosemary Rodriguez)
1.17: Heart (written by Corinne Brinkerhoff and directed by Félix Alcalá)

Plenty of episodes from the back half of The Good Wife’s opening season could have made it onto this list, but I chose these two because they were particularly bold in my memory. “Fleas” featured a very strong Alicia/Will story, in which they are forced to examine their place on the moral scale. However, the key to this episode earning an honourable mention are two scenes in particular: one in which Peter’s political advisor Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) confronts Zach’s vicious girlfriend Becca (Dreama Walker), who has been attacking the family via Twitter as Upriser7; and a scene in which Alicia and Peter argue over a package of condoms Peter finds in their bedside table. “Heart” has one of the strongest standalone stories of the season, with the court battle centring around a mother fighting for her health insurance to cover a procedure that will save her unborn fetus’ life. Between a fantastic guest turn by Martha Plimpton as the opposing counsel and dynamite movement in the central love triangle (which, as I noted elsewhere, is a far cry from the awful love triangles of other shows) made this one to remember.

Glee
1.16: Home (written by Brad Falchuck and directed by Paris Barclay)
2.04: Duets (written by Ian Brennan and directed by Eric Stoltz)

Glee is a difficult show to love. I can count on one hand the episodes I can truly say were effective, as can any other fan of the show, and each will likely have a different list. “Home” definitely isn’t widely recognised as one of the show’s best, mostly due to an awkward repeat appearance from Kristin Chenoweth as boozehound songbird April Rhodes. However, the story with Kurt (Chris Colfer), Finn (Cory Monteith), and their parents (Mike O’Malley and Romy Rosemont) is truly fantastic, with each actor bringing some great work to the table. It was deeply moving, and the music was exquisite. “Duets”, meanwhile, didn’t blow anything out of the water, but was the platonic ideal of what this scatterbrained show should be every week. Each castmember was serviced in an enjoyable way, fleshing characters out in interesting ways and making up a totally enjoyable hour.

Doctor Who

5.04/5.05: The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone (written by Steven Moffat and directed by Adam Smith)

Doctor Who is a fantastic show, and the by-episode standard certainly has raised since Steven Moffat took the helm. But one of the crown jewels to his inaugural season as showrunner is this  Moffat-penned two-parter mixing in his new toys (Eleven and Amy, cracks in the universe) in with some from previous adventures (River Song, the Stone Angels), and it all works excellently. The dynamic between these three is brilliant, between Amy needling the Doctor about his unknown relationship with the unknowable River, River flirting constantly with the Doctor, etc. some very creepy stories here that comes to a rousing finish. Also, some secret timey-wimey-ness from the finale that Moffat cleverly hid here for those paying attention (or reading blogs by those paying attention).


The Big C
1.07: Two For the Road
(written by Jenny Bicks and directed by Michael Engler)

This episode was consistently funny all the way through, excepting maybe the frustrating detours back to Cathy’s family, and it contained one of the show’s best scenes: Cathy finally admitting her diagnosis to someone, the one person in her life barring Marlene who might be strong enough to handle it, and watching him break down. It was a really powerful moment in an episode full of them, and the episode which cemented Cathy and Sean’s sibling relationship as one of the best sibling relationships on TV. The episode also featured the key confrontation between Cathy and her bitter, disapproving father that put a lot of Cathy and Sean’s issues into perspective, finally.

Modern Family
1.17: Truth Be Told (written by Joe Lawson and directed by Jason Winer)

Judy Greer is brilliant, and watching her spar in amongst the Dunphy clan was one of the highlights of the season. Her turn as Phil’s ex-girlfriend in pursuit of a reconnection was well-written and hilarious, both on Greer‘s end and from Ty Burrell‘s. The entire Dunphy clan worked excellently in the plot, even the kids, with poor Luke being convinced that the ex was his returned mother. The B story between Manny and Jay was, while not nearly as memorable, also very enjoyable, and played on the dynamic between the two strongly.

Grey’s Anatomy
6×23-6×24: Sanctuary / Death and All His Friends (written by Shonda Rhimes and directed by Stephen Cragg/Rob Corn)

Even when its having an off year, Grey’s Anatomy usually brings its A game for the final stretch of the season. The killer two-parter closing last season was no exception, as the angry husband of a dead patient took the hospital hostage, putting every person in the hospital in jeopardy. The amount of mindblowing moments in this finale can’t even be recalled offhand, though having Cristina (Sandra Oh) and newbie Jackson (Jesse Williams) operate on Derek while his wife had a miscarriage in the next room does tend to stick with you, as do the brutal deaths of the two least-beloved newbies, Reed (Nora Zehetner) and Charles (Robert Baker). It was melodramatic, sure, but it was exactly as intense as it aimed to be.

Eureka
4.01: Founder’s Day (written by Jamie Paglia and directed by Matt Hastings)

I always expected Eureka to be a show I’d like, not love, and for the bulk of its life I was right. It would flirt with some dangerous arcs, such as bringing Carter back with years’ worth of memories from the future after season one, only to reset the status quo, like how it wipes away those memories inside of the season two premiere. They constantly flirted with the idea of bringing those memories back to the surface, but never pulled the trigger. I never expected them to rewrite history permanently. However, after a group of Eureka residents are shot back in time and have an adventure in Eureka circa 1947, it has ripples that deeply effect the present day. This leaves a handful of key players as the only ones with memories of the timeline we watched for four years, struggling to exist in a new life that’s slightly-similar to their old ones. This episode made Eureka not just good, but deeply impressive.

Scrubs
9.07: Our White Coats (written by Andy Schwartz and directed by John Putch )

Reboots are a difficult beast, and the one Scrubs went through in its ninth season was no exception. After somewhat redeeming their lead in the final year of the show, he returned to the frustrating manchild of seasons past once the ninth season turned up, blocking the shot for the show’s three newbies. That was a shame, because the three all showed definite promise – and the one that shone brightest of all was Michael Mosley, the older newbie with a long and complicated past that included a burnout in his first go round at medical school. “Our White Coats” was a showcase for him, giving him some great material and cementing the ninth season as well worth the effort to reboot the show. Sadly, the show didn’t go on into season ten, which was a shame. Hopefully Mosley can find another showcase, as he was brilliant. Not to denigrate the other two newbie leads, Dave Franco and Kerry Bishe, who were also very worthwhile to watch. Best of luck to all three.

Fringe
2.22/2.23: Over There, pts. 1 and 2 (written by Jeff Pinkner & J. H. Wyman & Akiva Goldsman and directed by Akiva Goldsman)

“Over There” was a brilliant finale, culminating a long tease about the other universe by finally giving us some extensive time there with our favourite characters. Peter spent some time with his red-verse mother, but decided that he still didn’t feel at home in the red ‘verse, and wanted to be with Olivia; Olivia got a showdown with Fauxlivia, who was awesome; and we got the alternate, Department of Defense-based Fringe team from the other side, Walternate, and the Fringe X-Men, plus Walternate. Also, a first kiss between Peter and Olivia, which I’m happy finally happened after dancing around it for two years. A really strong ending to a really strong season. 

Lost
6.07: Dr. Linus (written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz and directed by Mario van Peebles)

Some shows have great episodes, but are overall mediocre. And some, like Lost, are bad shows that really know how to make a great episode. “Dr. Linus” is a showcase for Michael Emerson and a love letter to his character, the devious Ben. By showing him in an alternate universe, the show gives him the opportunity to change his ways for love – to undo the mistake he made when Alex died. Pairing that with an on-island story in which Ben decides to be a good man was a very strong emotional story, and made it the season’s best, if not within the pantheon of the series’.

Weeds
6.02: Felling and Swamping
(written by Victoria Morrow and directed by Scott Ellis)

For more extensive thoughts on the episode in general, check out my full review of “Felling and Swamping”. In the grand scheme of things, this episode really was part two of the premiere, and it contained just as many amazing moments. The episode blew me away when it furst aired, treating its characters like they deserved more respect than many of them have been getting for years, particularly after season two. The moment with Silas and Nancy in the car, where she offers him the opportunity to leave, blew me away. One of the episodes that put Weeds back on the map for me.

Dollhouse
2.13: Epitaph Two: Return (written by Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon & Andrew Chambliss and directed by David Solomon)

Dollhouse was always a troubled show, from incetion to series finale, but in its second season it brought some really strong moments. Though I was really unhappy with how the ‘Boyd is evil!’ are came to a close, I really enjoyed the future-jumping series finale, which gave some nice closure for each character. Echo and Paul, never able to really figure each other out in the physical realm, live together inside of Echo’s mind; Adelle and Topher help save the world, and Priya and Tony (formerly Sierra and Victor) become a family with their son. Also, the apocalypse is averted! The show ended on a very strong note, and with a very worthy finale.

Treme
1.10: I’ll Fly Away (written by David Simon, directed by Agnieszka Holland )

It’s hard to quantify what divides an excellent episode of Treme from a substandard one, as the show is the only one that does what it does, but I remember some stories that struck me harder than others. The finale, though not the series’ strongest episode, was deeply memorable for a few reasons. First off, the reaction of Creighton’s family to his suicide, summed up by Toni’s rage at his request for a second line at his funeral; he commits suicide, leaving them a two-person family, and has the balls to ask that his death be celebrated. Meanwhile, Davis does his best to remind Janette why New Orleans is her home, but ultimately he can’t because she’s already had all of these arguments with herself.  Albert finally gets his Indian tribe to run. only for it to almost be dissembled by the police. It was a fantastic closer to the season, exploring both the glories and the disappointments of life in New Orleans, and the only main reason it didn’t make it to the Top 20 was the long flashback mid-episode that, for me, offered very little to the finale and took away some of its momentum. However great episode capping off a very good opening season, and I expect following seasons to get even better as David Simon gets more comfortable in telling this story. I reviewed the episode

Any thoughts?

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