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.
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.