Best Episode of the Season: Glee

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Glee is serial in its format, and therefore the episodes tend to bleed into each other.  Barring a few exceptions (the Madonna and Lady Gaga editions), they do not conspicuously stand out from the other episodes immediately before or after.  Thus, my criterion for picking the best Glee episode of the year was based on which one featured the best Sue Sylvester moment of the year.  The scene in Principal Figgins’ office in which Mr. Schuester took Sue to task over the issue of many of her Cheerios failing Spanish (“Oh, Will, we all know about your devotion to that dying language”) was enough to make “Throwdown” an instant classic in the span of two minutes.

Best Episode of the Season: The Big Bang Theory

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“The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary”

Family Guy has James Woods, and now The Big Bang Theory has Wil Wheaton; to paraphrase Bobby Wheat, what is the deal with actors playing evil versions of themselves in sitcoms?  This is essentially a matter of, “Why not?”  Sitcoms are best when they embrace the fact that they are in the business of silly make-em-up’s.  The make-em-ups do not have to make sense when they are first proposed; the masterfulness will come as long as they are put into action in an entertaining way.  Giving your main character the personal enemy of Ensign Wesley Crusher is going to work if your main character is played by Jim Parsons in the role of a lifetime.  Of course, Sheldon is great on every single episode of BBT, so what pushed “The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary” into best episode of the season territory was the Leonard-Penny storyline, in which Penny set up Howard with Bernadette, a co-worker of hers from the Cheesecake Factory.  The horror stories that Howard and Bernadette shared about their meddling mothers was beautiful television.  Unsurprisingly, though, the one moment most worth mentioning came from Dr. Cooper: flipping through the back issue bin at the comic store, he went through his usual refrain of, “Got it.  Got it…”, and then burst forth a prodigious note of disgust, prompted by his discovery of an issue of Betty and Veronica.

An honorable mention goes to “The Pirate Solution,” in which Raj worked with (or for) Sheldon to avoid deportation.  Their contemplation of a particularly difficult equation was set to the tune of the most hilarious parodic use of “Eye of the Tiger” ever.

Next (and last) up: Glee

Best Episode of the Season: How I Met Your Mother

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“The Playbook”

They are known as static characters.  They are not the main characters (or at least, they should not be).  They do not change over the course of the story, but they do not have to.  Change is only demanded of the protagonist (and maybe of the antagonist).  It would be too much to keep up with if all the supporting characters changed as much as the leads.  Barney Stinson is a static character.  He is a 21st century lothario, and it is expected that he will remain that way for the entire run of How I Met Your Mother.  Even if he does settle into a steady relationship for good, he ought to never give up his “Playbook.”  Following his breakup with Robin, Barney went full force back into the Playbook.  Eventually, he broke down and admitted that relying on the Playbook was his way of coping with the breakup, which he was truly hurt by.  It was interesting to see a version of Barney on the verge of reforming his ways, but it simply did not feel right that that version should last.  Ultimately, the breakdown turned out to be a part of Barney’s most elaborate con ever, and all was right.  Barney was still what we loved him to be.  But somehow in maintaining the status quo, we were given a glimpse behind the master’s work and a peek at a what-if scenario.  And it was all intriguing enough to suggest that maybe it was not all part of the con.

Next up: The Big Bang Theory

Best Episode of the Season: Lost

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“Happily Ever After”

Desmond-centric episodes have a knack for being game changers for Lost and putting the entire series in a new context.  “Flashes Before Your Eyes” introduced the issue of temporal paradoxes and confronted the matter of fate vs. free will head-on.  “The Constant” dealt with time-traveling and consciousness-jumping and foreshadowed the island’s own unstuck in time journeys.  If the middle of Lost’s sixth season needed anything, it was a Desmond episode.  With many fans fretting over the purpose of the Sideways World, it should have been obvious that Desmond would be the vessel to make the connection between the Island and the Sideways realities.  Before “Happily Ever After,” it still seemed possible that the producers had made the insane decision to mess around with the fans with a pointless plot device.  Afterwards, it still was not yet clear what the Sideways world was, but it was now clear that it was something.  The post-car crash moments were essential in this matter.  When Charlie put his hand on the window, I knew that Desmond was going to have a “Not Penny’s Boat” flash, and then it happened, and I still threw my hands back in shock (and hit one of them pretty hard on the couch).  The scene with Desmond and Penny in the stadium at the end could have come off as serial killer confronts jogger-style creepy, but we accepted it, because Henry Ian Cusick and Sonya Walger have had the most chemistry of any of the Lost couples.

Next up: How I Met Your Mother

Best Episode of the Season: Family Guy

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“Brian Griffin’s House of Payne”

Stewie discovers an old TV pilot screenplay in the basement written by Brian.  Brian tells Lois that she should read it, eventually she does, and – shock of all shocks – she likes it!  It turns out that Brian is capable of writing something other than pretentious drivel.  Then CBS is all set to pick up “What I Learned on Jefferson Street,” and Brian could not be happier, until everything is ruined, ruined in a way that could only happen on Family Guy: James Woods is cast in the lead role.  The show is revamped as a comedy and renamed “Class Holes,” and James Woods is granted a chimpanzee costar.  The take on TV executives’ and the pilot process’s knack for twisting shows into something that they are not was spot-on (signature quote: “Well, we thought it would be a lot funnier if it was a sitcom”), or if it was not spot-on, it was at least perfectly hilarious.
But the real treat of this episode was that other storyline.  Meg and Chris knock Stewie down the stairs, resulting in a gnarly head wound, rendering him unconscious.  A piece of skull is broken, and some brain is visible.  They hide the injury from Peter and Lois by dressing him in various goofy hats and dragging him around like a ventriloquist dummy.  This is exactly what I want from Family Guy: as much outrageousness as possible.  And just when you think they have gone as far as they can, they go even further:  When Peter finds out, he hides the truth from Lois … by tricking her into believing that she caused the injury.  He throws (the still unconscious) Stewie into the driveway as Lois is pulling out, causing her to drive over Stewie’s head.  And Lois, like everyone else, wants to hide the truth.  To which Peter responds, “I love you so much right now.”  And this is why we love the Griffin family.

Next up: Lost

Best Episode of the Season: The Cleveland Show

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“Brotherly Love”

Someone should’ve told you not to f*** wid me”
And thus Cleveland, Jr. threw down the gauntlet in his rap battle with Kenny West.
Kanye West’s ego plays a big part in why he is so entertaining.  Ironically enough, when he is able to put that ego aside, he is refreshingly entertaining … even though he is already entertaining in the first place.  I guess the difference is just that he is refreshing, and that is good enough.  I am still not entirely sure that Kanye did in fact put his ego aside for his guest appearance on The Cleveland Show as Kenny West, but he was convincing enough.  It is generally a bad idea to rely on guest stars, but Cleveland has been at its best when employing them.  The spitting melee between Kenny and Cleveland, Jr. was the moment I was convinced that The Cleveland Show, which had been flailing about in search of an identity in the beginning of its run, did indeed have some promise.  The breakout character has been Cleveland, Jr. (he is appropriately described by his father, who is still not sure whether his son is an idiot or a genius) and Cleveland will rise or fall according to the strength of his storylines in the near future.

Next up: Family Guy

Best Episode of the Season: The Simpsons

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“To Surveil with Love”

In response to fears of terrorism, Springfield hires a British security consultant to install security cameras around town.  Marge and Ned Flanders become the resident Big Brothers when they are put in charge of surveillance of the security cameras.  Ned proceeds to nag the whole town for the most minor of infractions, but then Bart discovers a blind spot in the Simpson backyard.  Then all the Springfield residents head to the Simpsons’ to partake in debauchery for the sake of debauchery.  Meanwhile, Lisa has to deal with the dumb blonde stereotype; it is a joke as old as time, but one that never gets old.  Simply put, the gags were on, particularly the gay bar that Maggie was watching on a security camera because it looked like Sesame Street.  Putting everything in satisfying context was the twist ending, which revealed that the Springfield security camera footage was being aired as a British reality show entitled American Oafs.  And the true highlight of the episode was the opening, set to the tune of “Tik Tok,” Ke$ha’s hit for all ages.

Though it did not appear in the season’s best episode, the best scene of the year needs to be mentioned.  It appeared in “Love Me Tender,” in which Moe was hired as a judge on American Idol after showing off his judging skills in various local competitions.  Here is his encounter with a talent agent:
“So, what kind of reality shows are we talkin’ about here?”
“Well, to name just a few: America’s Ripest Bananas, So You Think You Can Judge, Who Wants to Be a Welder?, Poodle Vs. Elephant, Leg Swap, Old People Try to Figure Out Computers, American Idol, Dancing with Cars of the Stars, America’s Drunkest Nobody, Let’s Make a Veal…”
“Love that show.”
Somali Pirate Apprentice…”
“Right, yeah, with those guys.”
Fix Andy Dick…”
“It’s about time.”
Bottom Chef, My Life on Kathy Griffin, Pimp My Crypt, Are You Fatter than a Fifth Grader?, and Grave Robbers of Orange County.”
“Geez, that’s, uh, quite a list.”
“Hang on.  I’m getting a text.  Ooh, those were all just cancelled, except for American Idol.”
“Did you just say Armenian Idol?  Cause that’s my favorite show!”
“No, no, no, no, no, American Idol!”
“Oh, yeah.  Who’s their Igor Glumov?”
“Randy Jackson.”
“Ah, good enough.”

Next up: The Cleveland Show

Best Episode of the Season: Saturday Night Live

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“671 – Jon Hamm/Michael Bublé”

Some of the greatest episodes of Saturday Night Live are those in which you get a sense that ANYTHING can happen.  The formula for an SNL episode has changed over the years, but it remains consistent over the course of a single season.  When that formula is broken, it is usually a good sign.  The Jon Hamm-hosted ep from January 30 broke the formula a bit by having three sketches in a row before the next commercial break after Weekend Update.  But the really notable instance of “anything can happen” came when SNL employed a technique that I do not believe has been employed for about ten years: a character from one sketch appearing in a subsequent, very different sketch.  First, we were treated to the relentlessly funny Closest Organizer commercial parody, and then in a scene in a bar, Will Forte played a guy who walked in and was recognized by Jon Hamm’s character.  How did he recognize him?  Why, he was Tarkey Fensington – the Closet Organizer guy!  That moment of revelation was not the funniest moment of the season, but it was far and away among the most satisfying.  It is moments like those when you know that the writers and cast of SNL are running loose and free, doing whatever they want to do, safety be damned.

Next up: The Simpsons

Best Episode of the Season: Fringe

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For anyone who wants to know how to make a great flashback episode, “Peter” can serve as the template.  It provided a backstory that we knew needed to be provided: how and why did Walter take Peter from the alternate reality?  John Noble turned in his best performance as Dr. Walter Bishop yet.  There was no question that this was the Dr. Bishop of 25 years ago.  The portrayal of every character was consistent with their 2010 counterparts; no hokey techniques were necessary to make clear that consistency.  Gimmicky jokes that scream “We are in the past!” were mostly avoided, except for a few moments (Eric Stoltz on a marquee for Back to the Future in the alterna-world, the ’80s-style opening credits) that did not get in the way and were satisfying because they stood out.  “Peter” worked because it was treated as any other Fringe episode – one that just happened to take place in 1985.

Next up: Saturday Night Live

Best Episode of the Season: 30 Rock

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“Don Geiss, America and Hope”

When Comcast bought NBC in real life, we wondered if this development would turn into a 30 Rock storyline.  In “Don Geiss, America and Hope,” we met Kabletown (with a “K”).  And we learned the secret of their absurdly successful company. (It has something to do with Fresh Ass Based on the Novel ‘Tush’ by Ass Fire.)  We also learned the big secret of Tracy Jordan, via a tell-all memoir that could only happen on a show like 30 Rock: Tracy’s former nanny revealed that Tracy has never cheated on his wife.  Life as charade has never been more gonzo.  We were also treated to the debut of the delightful Michael Sheen as Wesley Snipes.

Next up: Fringe

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