Best 100 TV episodes of the century … sort of

I got one-third of the way through The Ringer’s list of the top 100 TV episodes of the century and figured I should do a post on it.

So as I start this, I have no idea what’s to come beyond No. 67. I’m assuming the top five will be some conglomeration of Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad, because I’m apparently the only person in America who doesn’t get HBO.

The bottom third is waaaaay too heavy on reality shows. How anyone could list anything the Kardashians have ever done in the top 100 of anything is beyond me.

But for this list, I’m going to hone in on the episodes I’ve seen, the episodes I’d like to see, and a few I have no interest in seeing whatsoever.

SEEN 

No. 87 – Futurama, “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings.” Brilliant episode full of hilarity and sweetness, along with some outstanding musical numbers. And I’m glad they didn’t go with “Jurassic Bark,” which I simply cannot watch.

No. 73 – Community, “Remedial Chaos Theory.” I might have gone with the first paintball episode, but this one is a great testament to the show’s reality-bending magic.

No. 72 – ER, “On the Beach.” Death became cliche on this show, but the arc of Mark Greene’s farewell was expertly done and ultimately life-affirming in how it showed the impact he had in his too-brief life.

No. 64 – Arrested Development, “Top Banana.” Tough competition for the top episode from this show, but this one establishes a lot of the character quirks and the notion that we should never take the most obvious interpretation of a statement for granted.

No. 59 – The Americans, “The Colonel.” On the whole, this show was just too intense for me to watch. And I know how the real-life Irregulars ended up, which always made me queasy. (Basically, imagine the separation of families at the border, just with a much bigger surprise factor.) I’m also glad I didn’t invest too much time in it because, after reading the recaps, I’m bitterly disappointed in the series finale. But it certainly had its moments, and this was a good one.

No. 41 – Parks and Recreation, series finale. Probably not my choice for the top episode, but I’d have to go back and invest some thought into it, and this was pretty good as far as series finales go.

No. 39 – The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the one after 9/11. Yeah, pivotal moment, but I’d rather remember Stewart’s terrific run for the righteous and well-researched rants about the insanity of American politics.

No. 35 – South Park, “Good Times With Weapons.” I need to watch more South Park, because the ones I’ve seen in recent years have been every bit as good as the first few seasons. I can’t argue with this pick, either, for the sheer slapstick of combining video-game reality with “oh, crap, those things really hurt when you use them” reality.

No. 33 – Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. There was really a study showing Fey’s Palin dissuaded people from voting for McCain/Palin? Good to know. And it’s why comedy is our most important art form. But I’d probably pick a few other SNLs, maybe one with a memorable Andy Samberg/Lonely Island video.

No. 18 – Friday Night Lights, “Pilot.” I got chills seeing the clip from this. I remember watching this for the first time — I didn’t expect to be all that interested, and I wound up on a three-year journey with this deeply affecting study of identity. And the humor in it was underrated — even in this episode that sees Jason Street paralyzed, we meet some overbearing boosters and watch the players laugh at their own hype.

No. 16 – The Office, “Dinner Party.” Nailed it. Three years of character development led to this masterpiece. So many great moments in this — Jim’s confessional that he thinks Michael and Jan are playing their own game of who can make everyone the most uncomfortable (“And they’re both winning”), Pam’s stunned realization that Michael has been telling people they used to date (Angela provides hilarious input on that one), Michael’s partially improvised monologue about having multiple vasectomies and vasectomy reversals (“Snip snip! Snip snip!”) and, of course, let’s all sing together — “That one NIGHT, one NI-IGHT …”

No. 12 – The West Wing, “Two Cathedrals.” This show probably would be better remembered if it hadn’t gone on a couple of seasons too long and tried to up the dramatic ante over and over (“Hey, guess who gets wounded by terrorists THIS week!” — a sidebar discussion in this piece tackles the issue), but this was a brilliant take on grief and theology that ought to demonstrate once and for all that God doesn’t have a plan for all of us, at least not on this planet. Sometimes, shit just happens. And it sucks. And Martin Sheen’s monologue in the cathedral is devastating.

No. 5 – Chappelle’s Show, one with Rick James. I actually preferred the one with Wayne Brady taking “playing against type” to the extreme, but I can see why this one’s on the list.

LIKE TO SEE 

No. 97 – The Crown, “Smoke and Mirrors.” This series looked intriguing, and I just haven’t gotten around to watching it.

No. 94 – The Price is Right, the one in which a statistically improbable series of wheel spins takes place.

No. 76 – Eastbound and Down, “Chapter 1.” Yeah, I could get behind seeing an egomaniac baseball player being forced to grow up.

No. 71 – House, “House’s Head.” I’m not sure why I never watched this show. It didn’t seem to require the time investment of Lost or some other hopelessly complicated serial, and I just love the whole notion of seeing goofy British comic actor Hugh Laurie playing a grumpy American.

No. 69 – Curb Your Enthusiasm, “The Freak Book.” Not sure you can go wrong with a conversation between Larry David and John McEnroe.

No. 66 – Louie, “Oh Louie / Tickets.” Or is it too jarring to watch given Louis C.K.’s downfall?

No. 22 – Veep, “Kissing Your Sister.” I’ve only seen one episode of this (on a plane). Will HBO ever let us normals watch their shows?

No. 15 – Atlanta, “B.A.N.” Certainly seems worth checking out.

No. 8 – The Sopranos, “Pine Barrens.” I generally find mob dramas overrated (to quote Peter Griffin: “I did not care for The Godfather”), but what I’ve seen of this show is riveting.

NO — JUST … NO 

Anything in which a kid dies. Including The Walking Dead.

Every reality show. OK, the House Hunters International episode looks amusing, just because those shows offer the vicarious experience of seeing people’s unrealistic entitlement mentalities get smashed to dust.

Dawson’s Freaking Creek.

Dexter. What is it about Millennials that makes them want to see a crying baby in a pool of blood?

Grey’s Anatomy. Piss off. And I’m convinced all the people who’ve left Snow Patrol over the years weren’t kicked out — they just fell asleep on stage listening to that boring-ass guitar and whiny singer.

WHAT THEY FORGOT (mostly comedies, of course, because Millennials have no sense of humor other than “Derp, look at the bad thing that happened to that dude.”)

Glow. Come on, folks — Alison Brie reciting Cat on a Hot Tin Roof while throwing a chair in a wrestling ring is one of the funniest moments in TV history.

The Blacklist. Yeah, it’s gone on a couple of seasons too long, but we can’t forget the brilliance of James Spader’s character. I’d probably pick the two-parter in which the Post Office is besieged, Red is captured by a former protege, and we meet Alan Alda’s brilliantly (and reluctantly, it seems) villainous character.

Family Guy. Not hip enough? Too un-woke? In the words of a previous generation, whatever. “Mr. Saturday Knight,” in which Peter is bitterly disappointed upon meeting his Renaissance Fair hero (Will Ferrell) is a good pick, as is Brian and Stewie’s romp through the multiverse.

The Simpsons. Yeah, we get it. Like Saturday Night Live, people are always going to say it was better in the old days. (I was in college during the Dana Carvey/Jan Hooks/Phil Hartman days, and I remember a bunch of ignorant bros scoffing that it wasn’t any good since Belushi left.) Pick any of the five episodes I rounded up in 2014 or the 2016 episode in which The Simpsons go to Boston.

Phineas and Ferb. Really? You do Spongebob Squarepants and not this? I’d nominate the one split between the caveman scenes and Perry the Platypus as a mystical warrior monk atop a mountain.

 

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Two posts this month, each one a reaction to an Ultimate Classic Rock post. Maybe I need to diversify my reading?

This one is on backwards-masking. Remember that? Remember when millions of kids played Led Zeppelin backwards and grew up to worship Satan?

The post includes several amusing videos, including one of a very earnest mulleted and mustached man speaking with a televangelist and basically hypnotizing the audience into thinking Stairway to Heaven is one extended backwards love letter to the devil. It also includes Weird Al’s absolutely intentional “Satan eats Cheez Whiz” message.

This, of course, made me think of the classic B-52s moment in which they urge people not to play their records backwards:

That’s included on a roundup of the funniest backwards messages in music, featuring Bloodhound Gang, L7, Pink Floyd, Soundgarden and, again, Weird Al.

To be fair, sometimes I can hear the supposed backwards messages. Sort of. In this funny video examining a few songs, I can actually hear a few snippets of what we’re supposed to be hearing. But I’m being primed to hear it because the alleged messages are on screen. (I probably should’ve listened without watching the video.)

The funny thing, though, is that some of these might mention Satan (or “Snn” or “Saaaaayna” or whatever we actually hear), but even if you believe all of the alleged lyrics, you wouldn’t conclude that the message is pro-Satan. If you think merely mentioning an entity is supporting it, try going to your local fundamentalist church and playing Dear God. Or God Save the Queen, which would probably be funnier.

Just goes to show you — human capacity for self-delusion in the name of a cult is boundless.

Wikipedia has an extensive list of supposed backmasked songs, but we really can’t let this go without hearing from The Rutles (at 1:46 mark).

 

Reviewing the “Every Rush song ranked” article

I thought I took on a massive task when I reviewed every Rush album through 2008 (see most of the “rush” category here). I didn’t realize until today that I’d forgotten to review Clockwork Angels, so I’ll do so here: It’s good. Really good. A couple of dud songs, but overall, their best album since the Permanent Waves through Signals heyday.

Then Ultimate Classic Rock’s Ryan Reed, who is not one of the UCR staffers I know from Popdose, took it upon himself to rank every Rush song.

So let’s put off work a little longer and take a look. I won’t replicate the whole list (take a look), but I’ll highlight a few worth emphasizing or disputing.

Starting with the bottom …

167 (last) – In the Mood. A little harsh. Their debut album was basically three teenagers distilling Led Zeppelin and other influences into a blues-rock album from which the only real standouts were the blazing Finding My Way and the rock-radio anthem Working Man. Yeah, In the Mood is a little immature, and its inclusion in latter-day setlists was probably ironic, with the happily married Geddy Lee singing about picking up the hot woman at the party. It’s all quite silly, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and the guitar riff is pretty good.

(No argument with the next two)

164 – Roll the Bones. Some people hate the rap segment here with the heat of a bunch of prog-rock fans being forced to listen to Taylor Swift and Vanilla Ice. But again, Rush owned the silliness here, and this was always a crowd-pleaser in concerts.

162 – Peaceable Kingdom. Wow, really? This was one of my favorites on Vapor Trails, though like much of that album, it wasn’t recorded particularly well. Even the remixed version of that album, which removed much of the sludge that made the album a difficult listen, didn’t do this song many favors. But I love Neil Peart’s lyrics here, and Geddy Lee weaves some wonderful melodic bass lines throughout.

159 – Lock and Key. The keyboards are a bit overboard here — it’s late-80s Rush, after all — but this doesn’t seem worth dumping at the bottom here along with the remainders from their immature debut or the synth-rockers from Roll the Bones that didn’t age well.

154 – Mission. Love it. Sure, it might be worth a remake without quite so many layers of keyboards, but the tribute to heroes is inspiring.

152 – Resist. Come on, man. Gotta love the hammer dulcimer.

148 – Time and Motion. Yeah, Test for Echo doesn’t fare well on this list, and I can’t disagree with that. Peart’s lyrics were dealing with abstract stuff in no real meaningful way, and the performances were getting a little repetitive. And this album could easily have been their swan song after Peart’s family tragedies. I don’t know what inspired Peart to come back to make two more half-decent albums and one great one, along with several terrific tours that allowed the band to revel in their surprising late-career popularity, but I’m grateful.

144 – Tai Shan. Kind of funny that it’s ranked higher than many others from Hold Your Fire (including a couple that I personally loved) when even Geddy Lee doesn’t like it. I never hated it, but it doesn’t make me race back to listen again.

139 – BU2B. I liked the original single better than the album version. Lyrically, it’s fascinating — it fits well with the Clockwork Angels narrative but also as a critique of those theological strains in which God is micromanaging things.

137 – Emotion Detector. Yeah, it’s not a highlight of Power Windows. It has glimmers of being a good one, but at some point, we have to accept that Peart simply wasn’t, to cite Sara Bareilles, going to write you a love song.

129 – Before and After. I have absolutely no memory of this track from the debut, which means it probably deserves ranking below some of the synth-driven songs the author have already mentioned.

125 – Nobody’s Hero. The best-written critique so far: “It’s easy to root for this poignant power ballad” about tolerance and untimely deaths, but it just doesn’t follow through.

124 – Dreamline. This is weird. He says it’s easily the best song on Roll the Bones, but he ranks it one step below Bravado. I liked both of those and Cut to the Chase (#122), in which Peart pokes fun at his own tendency to get lost in the philosophical weeds.

120 – You Can’t Fight It. I didn’t know this song existed. Wow.

117 – Countdown. This tribute to a space shuttle launch is a highlight of Signals for me, and I know I’m not alone.

113 – Workin’ Them Angels. Why is this one so high?

112 – Territories. This is my biggest complaint so far. I quote this song all the time. Imagine if someone tried to refer to the flag as “a colorful rag” today in a popular song. The right-wing media would slaughter them. And Peart’s electro-African drums are a nice touch, as are Alex Lifeson’s quirky guitar riffs.

110 – The Weapon. Again — maybe people have major issues with Rush’s synth phase, but this song speaks to me.

105 – Available Light. This one inspired me at a particular point in my life. It was the middle of college for me, after all. I still think at times that I’d love to freeze the world in place and run around to take a look, like Fry and Leela in that Futurama episode. I’m not sure if should be any higher than this, but we’re getting into stiff competition, no longer just sifting through the experiments that didn’t quite work.

104 – Tears. Nowhere near this high.

101 – Halo Effect. Another clunky look at romance. Shouldn’t be this high.

98 – Something for Nothing. I didn’t care much for Side 2 of 2112, but this was a fun one to play on guitar.

95 – One Little Victory. It’s hard to judge this one out of context. We thought for a couple of years we might never hear from Rush again, and when they came back, we had no idea what kind of shape Peart would be in. He answered that question with authority, opening up their comeback album with a blazing double-bass drum extravaganza underpinning some exuberant lyrics and some soaring Lee/Lifeson riffs. As with much of Vapor Trails, the production could’ve been much better. But this needs to be much higher.

94 – The Body Electric. Good eye for some standout bass work.

92 – Ceiling Unlimited. I’ll sound like a broken record on the Vapor Trails material because Vapor Trails is indeed a broken record. The production muddied some nice melodic hooks and lyrics throughout the album, and this is another example.

90 – Not Fade Away. Another single I hadn’t heard before. It’s a cover of a tune Buddy Holly made famous, and it barely sounds like Rush. Will this list also include the recordings from the Feedback album of covers they tossed out late in their career?

89 – The Anarchist. Their concert opener in some of their last shows, and with good reason — it’s a propulsive start, with drums, guitar and bass joining the mix in that order, all building to a powerful sequence and a promising verse. It fizzles a bit in the chorus, though, and the lyrics are more or less exposition to the Clockwork Angels narrative.

88 – The Main Monkey Business. The band had three instrumentals on Snakes and Arrows, and they were really the most memorable songs. The drums in this are more restrained than the typical Peart performance but creative and compelling.

87 – Driven. Take a powerful riff and develop it. Sounds obvious, but it was too rare on Test for Echo. This was a nice exception.

82 – Malignant Narcissism. Another Snakes and Arrows instrumental, and another good one. I wish they’d played it more live. One of the shortest songs in the Rush discography, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

81 – The Fountain of Lamneth. We’re finally getting to the stuff from Rush’s worst album, Caress of Steel? There’s no way this is better than the singles from the synth era.

79 – Afterimage. We get it, man, you don’t like the synth-driven Rush. But this was a powerful tribute to a friend who had passed away, and it did indeed take on new meaning when Peart lost his family.

76 – Animate. The opener on the underrated Counterparts could be a little higher.

75 – Red Lenses. Probably about right. I initially hated it but grew to appreciate it.

73 – Red Sector A. The analysis here is right, too. This is basically a sequencer-driven song with Lifeson and Peart adding some fills while Lee sings a heartfelt paean to prisoners — it sounds futuristic but was inspired in part by Lee’s mother’s memories of surviving a Holocaust concentration camp.

72 – 2112. “An adorably campy baby step” is about right. The overture and “The Temples of Syrinx” are terrific, and the menacing “We have assumed control” closer is unforgettable. The 10 minutes or so in between are quite forgettable.

70 – The Necromancer. It’s 13 minutes of stoner crap not worth a repeat listen, and it should be in the bottom 10.

68 – We Hold On. One of the best non-instrumentals on Snakes and Arrows. 

65 – Clockwork Angels. I’d nudge the title track of their startlingly excellent final album a bit higher.

64 – The Trees. I’m glad Peart outgrew his Ayn Rand phase, but this parable of the forest is still a clever allegory against Communist “we’ll make you equal by crushing everyone” philosophy. (Granted, we’ve overcorrected really far in the other direction these days.)

62 – Earthshine. A good one that actually fits the “wall of sludge” production on Vapor Trails, which makes me wonder why it ranks behind a couple of lesser tracks from that album and Snakes and Arrows. 

57 – Between Sun and Moon. Good spotlight for a highlight from Counterparts.

54 – Madrigal. Never performed live? Interesting. An easily forgotten one from A Farewell to Kings but certainly a pleasant listen.

49 – Hope. The last of the Snakes and Arrows instrumentals and the only Rush song I can think of that featured only one member — Alex Lifeson on a 12-string acoustic. It’s a short, lovely piece that makes me want to hear more solo acoustic work from the oft-overlooked guitarist.

48 – Headlong Flight. Have I mentioned how great an album Clockwork Angels is? This is indeed one of the high points of a masterpiece, with the band chugging along through a couple of verses from the defiant protagonist and an entertaining extended bridge that builds up and then releases into the final verse. No idea why it’s ranked behind the forgettable The Wreckers from the same album.

46 – Mystic Rhythms. Good call here. One of the best mixes of Peart’s electronic drums, Lee’s synths and Lifeson’s creative arpeggiated riffs.

44 – Anthem. The Peart era (which would end up as roughly 95% of their recorded output) kicks off here with an Ayn Rand tribute whose lyrics haven’t aged well. But it’s tough to deny the power of those riffs and Peart’s full-bore polyrhythmic drum attack.

41 – The Garden. Certainly an atypical song to wrap up the Rush catalog — I remember being surprised to see Lifeson playing keyboards when they did this live — but it’s beautiful and heartwarming. It’s especially appropriate for these troubled times. We can’t save the world, but we can tend our gardens and revel in our families’ love. (Not literally on the former. My yard is a disaster area.)

38 – Far Cry. I wasn’t happy at first with the math-rock “hey, look how many weird time signatures we can toss in” opener here, but a great song and killer chorus emerge.

37 – The Big Money. Certainly a Power Windows highlight. Yeah, Lifeson doesn’t have much to do while Lee is getting funky on bass and stepping on some synth pedals, but that’s a minor complaint. And the “eat the rich” theme is a bit removed from Ayn Rand, ain’t it?

35 – Beneath, Between and Behind. I’m not sure I ever heard them play this early highlight live, and I’m not sure why. Great riff, soaring melody … certainly one of the best from their pre-2112 days.

30 – Lakeside Park. Another stupid one from Caress of Steel, inexplicably included in the upper echelon along with some other dubious choices. (Rivendell??) 

26 – Show Don’t Tell. One of their most rhythmically interesting tunes, popping up just as they were starting to scale back the synthesizers.

25 – Time Stand Still. Aimee Mann FTW.

24 – The Pass. Probably the most moving song in the Rush catalog — a plea to bring a despondent friend back from the brink of suicide. It could be a sappy mess, but it’s brilliant.

23 – Digital Man. Awww, yeah. Bring in those reggae rhythms.

22 – YYZ. They have 21 songs better than this, probably the most memorable instrumental in the last 40 years of rock? Wow. I haven’t gotten to La Villa Strangiato yet, which I also love but shouldn’t be higher than this.

20 – The Analog Kid. I may be biased because I was in high school for this, and dreaming of the future was all I did. But it certainly stands up.

16 – A Passage to Bangkok. Look, if we’re going to dump all over the young Rush’s couple of songs about women, can we also dump on their most explicitly stoner-oriented song?

14 – Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres. I thought I was the only Rush fan who would rank this above the other side-length epic, 2112, but I guess not. It’s a little dull at times, but it’s a good story with some memorable moments. He ranks this just behind the original Cygnus X-1, which is indeed a pretty good one but not what I would call a top-20 Rush song, especially after Lee hits (sort of) that ridiculously high note at the end.

Also, it’s a wall calendar …

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12 – The Spirit of Radio. An obvious choice, and I’m furious that it’s mistakenly called “The Spirit of the Radio” here.

11 – Fly By Night. Another early one that strangely disappeared from their live shows despite a killer guitar hook and fine vocal melody.

10 – New World Man. A “hit,” strangely enough, and a pretty worthy one. Another one they didn’t play much in the shows I saw.

9 – Subdivisions. An ode to the outcast, and let’s speak up on Alex Lifeson’s behalf here. I remember reading a review that said he took a “creative nosedive” on Signals, and this song alone should prove otherwise. Listen to those pretty harmonics in the guitar solo, all swirled together with the whammy bar.

6 – Closer to the Heart. It’s a standard, yes, but I’ve grown a bit weary of it, and I think the band did, too. That raises a question of how to gauge a song that is good by any standard but simply played to death.

5 – Xanadu. I’d never really stopped to think which of Rush’s epics was the best, but yeah, this is probably it.

3 – Red Barchetta. A classic, any way you look at it. Funny how it’s set in a dystopian future but is so upbeat and energizing. I would’ve ranked it ahead of Limelight.

The top pick is obvious, with good reason.