With the new Fall season revving up and all my current shows returning, I find myself thinking back over previous seasons – and over shows I no longer watch but once loved like burning. Here, then, are five of my favorite episodes of television.
This isn’t a comprehensive list – it’s just the eps that sprang to mind first – and it’s in no particular order. It would be hard to choose a single favorite, since they’re all pretty different from each other. Some are representative of the show as a whole, and some are outliers; but all have stayed with me, in some cases for over a decade.
(Also, these aren’t necessarily what I consider the best episodes of a show – just the ones I enjoy the most.)
5 Favorite TV Episodes
1 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Once More With Feeling
When I first heard Joss Whedon was doing a musical episode of Buffy, I wanted to bash my head against a wall. Who would do such a ridiculous thing? (This was waaaaaay before Glee.) I fully expected to roll my eyes through the whole thing. And yes, it is ridiculous – but it also works. Whedon figured out a way to work in the singing within the show’s universe that explains why everyone is bursting into song, and the characters aren’t terribly happy about it.
Coming as it does in the middle of the incredibly depressing (but awesome, I don’t care what anyone says) sixth season, it provides a chance for a lot of plot elements to come together with a lot of welcome humor, as the whole purpose of the demon’s spell over Sunnydale is to force its victims to let out their secrets. If you really want to enjoy the ep on another level, be sure and watch it with Joss’s commentary.
2 – Supernatural – Lazarus Rising
Supernatural is one of those shows that is awesome until it just…isn’t anymore…but you can’t be 100% sure when the awesomeness stops. After I’d quit watching, looking back, I wonder how I managed to get through seven years of a show where the goddamned car gets more respect than any of the female characters; but we all have our problematic favorites.
Season 4, however, stands out to me – it was the introduction of the angelic mythology, which completely changed the entire dynamic of the show and further muddied the water where supposed “good” and “evil” swam. The best part, of course, is Castiel, the renegade (eventually) angel who saves Dean from Hell and then basically falls in love with him. In later seasons the show kind of neuters Cas – it’s that inhuman, weary countenance that had me rapt, and humanizing him to “humorous” effect killed a lot of it for me. But still, I can watch the season 4 opener over and over just for the magnificent scene that introduces Castiel but waits to reveal what exactly the hell he is until the last few minutes of the episode. After three years of demons and damnation, that one scene turns the whole world on its head, and it’s brilliant.
(And seriously, how badass would it be to introduce yourself as “the one who gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition”?)
3 – Doctor Who – Vincent and the Doctor
A large swath of Whovians would include this episode on their favorites list. The Doctor and his companion Amy travel back in time to meet Vincent VanGogh and help him defeat an alien only Vincent can see; it doesn’t sound like much until you meet Vincent himself and see how the show approaches both his madness and his genius. Nobody ever forgets the scene in which the Doctor takes Vincent to the modern world to show him that he’s not forgotten – that, in fact, he’s considered one of the greatest painters in history. Amy is sure that this intervention will change Vincent’s tragic fate, letting the episode touch on some of the more difficult ramifications of time travel (most of which the show skirts out of necessity).
But seeing the look on Vincent’s face staring at his own work in a museum makes me bawl like a baby every time, and the way the Starry Night is animated in the sky in Vincent’s artistic vision is nothing short of revelatory. Maybe it’s being a creative person myself, as well as bipolar (the best guess right now as to what VanGogh was dealing with), but there are moments in the episode that absolutely break my heart every time. Shit, I’m tearing up right now.
4 – Bones – Aliens in a Spaceship
Oh, Bones. Another show I gave up on three or four seasons ago – I just couldn’t take it anymore. In a lot of shows, it seems like after four or five seasons the characters become cartoons of themselves – the “quirks” that were endearing at first are emphasized so hard that the character becomes a walking tagline. (This is especially egregious in sitcoms like Friends.) Bones suffered mightily from the two leads finally hooking up – I was so looking forward to it, but it just felt so ham-fisted, and by then it also felt like the writers no longer knew what show they were working on.
This episode, however, came during the show’s fantastic second season, when the dynamics among the Squints, Booth, and Brennan were firing on all cylinders. Bones is a procedural, but it’s the characters who anchor it, as in any good drama. We see Drs. Brennan and Hodgins kidnapped and buried alive in a car, forcing them to try and think their way out of the trap, while aboveground the others have to brain their way through finding their friends without the help of two of their strongest minds. The ep captures the fear, frustration, and determination of the entire team, and has a satisfying yet believable ending – one of the few I’d seen at that point in which the bad guy wasn’t caught at the end of the hour.
(sorry, couldn’t find a clip of this one)
5 – The Vampire Diaries – Miss Mystic Falls
Of all the episodes in TVD’s first and second seasons (easily the best, although last season was damned impressive after the suckfest of season 5) , it might seem odd to pick the shipper favorite instead of the overall better episodes like Masquerade or The Return, or the mythology-annihilating Klaus; but this episode just has a happy little niche in my heart.
At this point in the show the whole idea of Downward Spiral Stefan was kind of new, so seeing the oh-so-wholesome-seeming fanged dreamboat turn into a blood hungry monster was a lot of fun. Evil Stefan is sooooooo much better than early season Hero Hair Stefan. (My overall preference is Mostly Self-Accepting, Good Relationship With His Brother, Not Dating Elena, Kinda Snarky Stefan that we get in latter seasons.) We also get to see more of the complicated relationship Elena has with her friends, especially Caroline; the source material paints Caroline as basically an enormous bitch, but even before the show turns her into the Awesomest Vampire Ever, this version of Caroline had a far more layered character. She wants to win, wants to be Queen Shit of Pointless High School Nonsense Mountain, but she also loves her friend.
Then of course there’s Damon, who up until this point has mostly been a selfish, obsessive dick; throughout the first season we see him evolve veeeeeery slowly into something like a good guy, but this episode is one of the first glimpses we get of him as a potential hero. When Elena finds herself stood up in front of the whole town because Stefan’s off chewing on cheerleaders, Damon steps in without even thinking, leading to one of the best moments of romantic chemistry the show ever offers. I never thought Elena and Stefan were very sexy (I vastly prefer him with Caroline, and really, “OMG who’s with Elena?” was never the reason I watched the show), but during the Big Sweeping Dance Number we get to see what Elena having chemistry with someone actually looks like. It’s especially fun given how horrified everyone is.
Favorite Episode Honorable Mentions:
- Sherlock – The Great Game
- The Big Bang Theory – The Adhesive Duck Deficiency
- Arrow – Seeing Red
- Castle – Kill Shot
- Doctor Who – Asylum of the Daleks
- House MD – Three Stories
- Friends – The One Where Ross Finds Out
- Firefly – Out of Gas