I know making a list like this is kind of ridiculous. I mean, the ten best of the past 20 years? And that’s the only criteria (other than the same TV show cannot be listed twice)? How can you possibly properly narrow it down? To these questions and any others I say, “Yes!” And if you disagree, you can drop a comment, but you’ll be wrong. Because I’m always right.
10. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person” (2007). The one with Night Man and Day Man, and the apparently retarded rapper, that inspired a live musical performance. This is politically incorrect TV at its best-the only show that comes close to being this wonderfully offensive was Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job.
9. Larry Sanders, “Off Camera” (1993). In this episode, Warren Zevon visits the set and pleads with Larry not to make him perform Werewolf. So he’s allowed to play (my absolute favorite Zevon song) The French Inhaler instead. When he’s done, Larry is so thrilled with the performance that he requests an encore. Werewolves, naturally.
8. Battlestar Galactica, “33″ (2004). The BSG miniseries was good, but not greatly good, but this, the first episode of the ongoing series, was edge-of-your seat excitement all through. The ship must “jump” every 33 minutes or be destroyed by the Cylons. Some of the greatest TV and Movie drama is based on chase-scenes, and this entire show was one long chase. This episode set the tone.
7. King Of The Hill, “Bobby Goes Nuts” (2001). “That’s my purse! I don’t know you!” ‘Nuff said!
6. The Office (UK), “Downsize” (2001). The one where Brent pretend-fires Dawn for stealing Post-its. To quote the master himself: “Brilliant!”
5. The Sopranos, “Pilot” (1999). The first episode of the Most Important TV Show Ever introduced each character indelibly. It also evoked the family side of the show while, in a single scene, exposed the horror and violence that would come. Of course, I’m talking about the scene where Tony beats the crap out of the poor slob who owes him money, after running him down with his car.
4. The Simpsons, “Bart the Daredevil” (1990). From season two, this episode is inexplicably censored on the DVD release. What made it so magnificently Simpsonic was the part where Homer tries to jump the gorge, fails, and is airlifted out. His head slams the sides of the gorge on the way up, he’s put into the ambulance, the ambulance crashes, his stretcher rolls out and, of course, he falls back down the gorge. Then the stretcher falls after him and hits him in the head. This scene is cut off of the DVD, and I can’t even find it on youtube. Fox are bitches. Anyone know why they did that?
3. Homicide: Life on the Street, “Subway” (1997). The team is called to a subway station where a guy is pinned between the platform and the train. If the train moves, he will instantly be cut in half and die. If it doesn’t move, he may die anyway. The thing that made this episode so brilliant is Vincent D’Onofrio’s portrayal of the victim as a compete and total a-hole. You want to sympathize for him, but his character is so mean to the detectives that one immediately stops asking why this happened to him. He kinda deserves it. But on the other hand, does anyone really deserve that? The ep won all kinds of Emmys and a Peabody, too.
2. The Shield, “Pilot” (2002). The Shield has the unique distinction, in my view, of being the only TV series to last a long time that never had a single bad episode. But the first was classic. Or, I should say, the last five minutes of the first episode. If you haven’t seen it, I won’t ruin it, but suffice to say it was the standard-bearer for the series: Unpredictable, brutal violence.
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Once More With Feeling” (2001). If you only watch two hours of TV in your life, watch this episode and “Hush.” The latter is a silent episode and the former, well, it is simply the greatest single hour of television ever created. Buffy and the gang are in the throes of a demon who forces them to sing and dance, until they die. The episode has everything that makes this show great: Brilliant one-liners, creative wordplay, humor, powerful moments that will break your heart, and acting that’s so good you believe that the devil will make you sing. I’ve seen this episode about a dozen times, and each time it’s better than before. Even the album is great.
Survivor: Borneo, “Season Finale” (2000). Because a naked, drug-dealing tax evader winning a million bucks epitomizes everything that is wrong (and right) with reality TV.
Lost, “Pilot” (2004). That opening plane crash and the horror that followed stayed with me for days. We had ever seen anything like it before on network T.V. The show gradually lost its footing and its way when it became clear that the writers knew how to start a story, but it had no middle or end.