“So you like ’30 Rock’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and ‘Lost’,” you might be saying. “Big deal. Join the frakking club, sheep!”
Fair enough, but would a sheep dare to post on the internets a comprehensive list of the best episodes in the history of television? The answer is yes, if he were an exceptionally nerdy sheep.
Best Episodes in the History of Television
1. Lost: “Pilot”
Say what you will about the declining quality of the series, the pilot is the best two hours of television ever produced. The numbers station, the first night on the beach, Jack’s story about counting to five, and a guy gets sucked into a jet engine. I tried watching it twice, when it first aired and when it was repeated, and had to stop because it was too intense for me. When I finally watched it on DVD, I was hooked.
2. The X-Files: “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space“
This is the episode where Charles Nelson Reilly’s character is writing a book about Mulder & Scully, and there are guest appearances by Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek as Men In Black. Plus the line: “You don’t play Dungeons and Dragons for as long as I have without learning a little something about courage.” All of Darrin Morgan’s episodes were brilliant, but this one realized the real potential of “The X-Files” better than any other episode. Not only did it give a better account of UFO sightings than any other episode, but it made fun of itself, the series, the FOX network (with the alien autopsy video), the producers, and its stars, without ever crossing the line of being too post-modern. And it’s funny, creepy, and philosophical in equal doses. If you had to pick one episode of any TV series to prove to people that TV is capable of intelligence, this is the one you’d show.
3. Arrested Development: “For British Eyes Only”
Michael visits Wee Britain for the first time, meets Rita, is struck by something from his childhood, and is threatened by a foul-mouthed British guy. And the Bluth family joins together in a mass chicken dance. Plus, Lupe’s reaction to Tobias’ hairplugs: “Mr Gay! He is bleeding!” The only thing that could’ve made me like this better is if this had been the one with “Mister F.”
4. Alias: “The Telling”
The one where Sidney and her roommate finally come to blows. “Alias” may have been all over the map quality-wise, but it always had the best season finales. And this was the best of the best. I was more shocked by Francie’s death a few episodes earlier, but the fight scene in this one is just epic. And the twist at the end was so good, it kind of makes you wish the series had ended there, considering how they “resolved” it.
5. Lost: “Orientation”
The only reason “Lost” is still on my list of best currently-running TV series is because, season 3 or no, it still has two of the best episodes of any TV series ever. Actually, the first episode from season 2, “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” is a contender for best episode, just because of the opening sequence and the reveal of the bunker. But overall, this is the one that turned me from a casual fan of the series into an obsessive. And just because of the orientation movie. From the film grain, to the title cards, to the soundtrack, to the missing bits of film, to the pacing of the episode up to the movie, and the fact that Locke said “we’re going to have to watch that again” right at the moment I started to hit rewind on my remote: this was the bit that convinced me that this series was trying things I’d never seen before, and that these guys really knew what they were doing. Even now, after realizing that they didn’t know what they were doing, I can’t forget that that was one of the coolest bits of TV I’ve ever seen.
6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Superstar”
The nerdy kid from high school casts a spell to create an alternate reality where he’s a superhero. Lots of sci-fi shows have done alternate realities, and “Buffy” even did it a few times. This one wins because they really made it an alternate reality: they changed the opening credits, and the main plot of the episode continued from the last as if nothing had happened. The shot of Buffy walking mopily down the street, with a wall plastered with posters of Jonathan behind her, was just genius.
7. Cowboy Bebop: “Speak Like a Child”
The crew has to fly back to the ruins of Earth to find an ancient VCR to watch a mysterious tape left for Faye Valentine. The entire episode plays like a comedy until the last five minutes, which hit you like a punch to the gut.
8. Police Squad!: “Rendezvous at Big Gulch”
There wasn’t a bad episode of this series, and whoever cancelled it has reserved his own spiky chair in hell. But this is the episode that has my favorite gag: “Who are you and how did you get in here?” “I’m a locksmith, and I’m a locksmith.”
9. Doctor Who: “The Unquiet Dead”
Charles Dickens fights zombies. If that doesn’t spell awesome to you, then you’re a big dumb gay communist.
10. Mr. Show with Bob and David: “Oh, You Men”
This is the one where they film their “lost episode,” the Druggachusettes sketch, the bit with the lie detector, and the east coast/west coast ventriloquism wars. There are episodes with funnier sketches, but this one has my favorite gag in the entire series: the “who wants a banana?” line in the opening monologue, where you have to wait an hour for the payoff.
I didn’t include “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” because it’s in a league of its own; if I’d listed one, I’d have to list ten. But my favorite is “Godzilla vs Megalon,” if only for the Jet Jaguar Fight Song. But then, “Mitchell” was great too. And “Master Ninja I,” as well as “Master Ninja II”. And “Fire Maidens from Outer Space.” And “Werewolf.”
I also didn’t include “NewsRadio,” only because it’s been a while since I’ve watched any of it, and the episodes run together in my memory. “Super Karate Monkey Death Car” has the best title of any television series ever, of course, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it all the way through.
I invite, nay, encourage readers to give their own favorites in the comments.