Best Episode of the Season: The Office

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“The Meeting”

The Office was decidedly different this season.  Some said it went downhill.  I say it became darker and purposefully ambivalent and definitely more interesting.  This turn resulted in a style in which the episodes ran together, and few particularly stood out, as they did in seasons past.  Those that did were typified by a consistent comedy style that is more or less the show’s traditional style.  “The Meeting” fit this model with Dwight getting involved in a crazy scheme (and teaming up with Toby, of all people) and Michael causing more harm than he can imagine with his meddling shenanigans.  The laugh-out-loud, belly laugh, and chuckle moments were in steady supply, including the cheese-cart sneak entrance, Michael feeling “partially responsible” for Jim not getting the promotion, Darrell’s sister, Michael texting David Wallace while he and Jim were on the phone with him, and Toby depressed by paperwork.  While I am fascinated by the recession-inspired storylines, I like to know that the traditional laughs of The Office can still be pulled off.

Next up: The Office

Best Episode of the Season: Parks and Recreation

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“Practice Date”

“What if he shows up with another woman? What if one of my sleeves catches on fire and it spreads rapidly. What if instead of tic tacs I accidentally pop a couple of Ambien and I have to keep punching my leg to stay awake?”
“Those are all insane hypotheticals and I promise you they won’t happen.”
“They have happened. All of these have happened to me.”

Less awkward and more endearing than Michael Scott and Liz Lemon, but just as hilarious, Leslie Knope has suddenly become the most likable lead character on NBC Thursday nights.  She is so upfront about her strangeness that you will either laugh or gasp nonstop, whichever one happens first.  “Practice Date” was an opportunity for Amy Poehler to run completely free and crazy with her performance.  It was one of those episodes whose hilarity is best explained by listing quotes, so here are some more:

Do you have like a first-date outfit I could borrow? Like, I don’t know, a pair of cargo pants?
Yeah I wouldn’t go with the cargo pant.”
“What about like a sexy hat?”
“I don’t even know what that is.”
“Helping already.”

“What if I get drunk and talk about Darfur too much? Or not enough? What if I don’t bring up Darfur enough?”

Another time I went to a really boring movie with a guy and while I was asleep he tried to pull out one of my teeth. I literally woke up with his hand in my mouth. We went out a couple times after that but then he got weird.”

“Let’s begin our conversation.”
“What’s on the note cards?”
“They’re possible topics of conversation.”
“Whales. Parades. Electricity. And the rest are blank.”
“Yeah, well I couldn’t think of anything else.”

“Is she practice laughing?”

“You’re 20 minutes late. I almost left.”
“Well, I was, dropping my niece off.”
“What’s your niece’s name?”
“Torple. What? I don’t know. That’s not a name. I don’t have a niece. My niece’s name is Stephanie?”

Next up: The Office

Best Episode of the Season: Community

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“The Science of Illusion”

The brilliance of Community is its uncanny ability to weave in every possible cliché pop culture reference and then build the entire show around those references.  The characters of Community, exemplified primarily by Danny Pudi’s Abed, are so steeped in these references that they are essentially reality for them.  This is the ultimate sitcom about sitcoms.  It was no surprise then in terms of what happened during Annie and Shirley’s stints as campus security guards.  As egged on by Abed, neither one of them would allow the other to be the badass in the classic buddy cop scenario.  Thus “The Science of Illusion” reached the pinnacle of the idea of life as clichéd storytelling, particularly when Abed asked someone to hold his spot when he took a bathroom break during Annie and Shirley’s show.  A moment of comic triumph worthy of Jack Donaghy’s therapy session with Tracy on 30 Rock occurred with Abed’s performance as a southern-fried police chief (“Agitating my sciatica”).  Let’s not forget that Chevy Chase is also on this show, and his ridiculousness is suitably hilarious without necessarily having anything to do with all the pop culture references, except perhaps in the sense that Pierce is aware of all the references, but not in any way in which he can keep it straight.  “The Science of Illusion” included the best Pierce-centric storyline of the season, when he donned a wizard suit after reaching a new level in his “Buddhist” church.  If you already watch Community, then you know I don’t need to say anymore.  If you don’t watch Community, then I don’t know how that description couldn’t be enough to convince you to start watching it.

Next up: Parks and Recreation

Best Episode of the Season: Modern Family

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“Moon Landing”

Jay and Cameron play racquetball at the gym and experience the titular occurrence; meanwhile, Mitchell spends the day with Gloria and Manny to help Gloria with a driving-related legal matter.  These storylines were perfectly hilarious and both had their moments, but this episode rose to unforgettable status with the convergence of all the goings-on of the Dunphy family.  Claire has been spending the day with Valerie, an old friend from work (Minnie Driver, in a whatever guest appearance).  Claire takes careerist Valerie to her house to make her jealous of family life, only to find the following: Phil, wearing a fake mustache, stuck in a port-a-potty (a plumber working at the neighbor’s house had to shut off the pipes, Dylan parked right in front of the potty while Phil was using it, and as for the mustache, he was ostensibly trying to up his swagger while selling homes, but really he had it on for no reason at all); Haley throwing things out her window while fighting with Dylan, only to be passionately making out with him a few minutes later; Luke shirtless and smelling of alcohol, and Alex swatting at a rat with a broom (Luke and Alex were recycling the alcohol containers from their neighbors’ party from last night and Luke had spilled some from a not quite empty bottle onto himself, and as for the rat, well, there just happened to be a rat in the house that day).  “Moon Landing” demonstrated that Modern Family is in the hands of sitcom veterans who simply know how to make television comedy work.

Next up: Community

Best Episode of the Season: V

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“Hearts and Minds”

The beginning of “Hearts and Minds” confused me.  It made me feel like I had missed an episode or two, when I knew that I had not.  It turned out that it was one of those episodes that starts in media res and then flashes back to show how we got to this point of disequilibrium.  Gimmicky?  Sure, but it is a gimmick that often works.  After a boring middle of the season, V finally started realizing its potential with this episode.  Plot-wise, things were finally moving forward: the Visitors and the Fifth Column were both making serious strikes at each other.  Acting-wise, the cast was given more conflicts to chew on, as characters were becoming privy to more information.  Laura Vandervoort especially demonstrated development as Lisa, as she became more in touch with her human side and had to deal with a mother who would break her own daughter’s legs to get what she wants.  Tension built as the promise of a tête-à-tête of Erica versus Anna (the constantly smirking Elizabeth Mitchell and the always chilling Morena Baccarin) was unfolding.

Next up: Modern Family

Best Episode of the Season: Gossip Girl

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“Last Tango, Then Paris”

Just like so many shows before it, Gossip Girl struggled once most of its main characters headed to college.  The problem was not so much that the writers could not figure out college-centric storylines but that the fact of going to different schools made it so that the Constance Billard grads were necessarily apart too often.  The truth is that some of these Upper East Siders do not go well together, and a great deal of the fun of GG comes from the offbeat groupings.  The main reasons for watching GG are Leighton Meester and Ed Westwick – anyone who disagrees is watching for the wrong reasons – but I must say I have really started to appreciate Penn Badgley, mainly thanks to the several odd couple moments between Dan and Blair this season.  In the finale, everyone imploded into one another.  Dan punched Chuck in a scene that Blair also appeared in, and while I generally prefer the awkwardly funny, yet sweet Dan-Blair moments, I was happy to see Dan take action.  The Chuck-Jenny hookup left me in shock, and I am still too much in shock to say whether or not I liked it, but at least it brought the crazy.  I was happy to see GG go for broke in a season that otherwise featured too much Vanessa.  And, of course, any episode is automatically improved by appearances from Margaret Colin and Wallace Shawn as Eleanor and Cyrus.

Next up: V

Best Episode of the Season: Dollhouse

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“The Left Hand”

By the time that “The Left Hand” aired, it had already been announced that the second season of Dollhouse would be the show’s last.  The development of the Sen. Daniel Perrin storyline made it seem like the Dollhouse Corporation was on the cusp of being exposed and that the show was in fact ready to end.  But then all the twists and turns and cross-twists and turns of this episode suggested that Dollhouse was actually prepared to last for a while if it had the chance, thus proving Joss Whedon’s mastery at hedging his bets.  His past TV experiences certainly conditioned him to be thus adept, having created one show that was cancelled and picked up by another network (Buffy) and another that lasted only one season and then became a movie (Firefly).
After the fast and furious revelations of the previous hour (Perrin is a doll, his wife is his handler), the highlights of “The Left Hand” were the Topher-centric moments.  Imprinting Viktor as Topher to give Topher support from himself was a stroke of genius and when he discovered that fellow Dollhouse scientist Bennett Halverson was actually a woman, I was thrilled that our beloved Topher had found a love interest.  As for guest star Summer Glau as Halverson, my hopes were not high.  I had seen her on The Sarah Connor Chronicles and thought that she was fascinatingly cute but pretty boring as an actress.  But her scenes with Fran Kranz as Topher were nothing short of delightful.

Next up: Gossip Girl

Best Episode of the Season: American Dad!

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“Rapture’s Delight”

Stan and Francine have sex in the church closet during Christmas Day Mass, causing them to be left behind during the Rapture.  When Francine realizes that Stan cares more about ascending into heaven than being with her, she leaves him for Jesus, who has appeared for his second coming.  Fast-forward seven years to the real meat of this episode – the post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-esque future brought on by the war between Jesus and the Antichrist.
While watching this episode, it was one of those times in which I was getting some work done while watching TV, so for a good portion, I was not paying complete attention.  But about halfway through the post-apocalyptic part, I said to myself, “What the hell is going on right now on American Dad!, the wackiest and most unbridled show on television?”  At that moment, I surrendered and put down my work.  Where had this portrayal of the Anti-Christ (as voiced by Andy Samberg) sprung from?  The ways in which he is the opposite of Jesus are conveyed via shtick (“Condemn them, Mother, for they know exactly what they do!”)  An elaborate and absurd battle provides the climax, highlighted by a trap built by the Anti-Christ falling apart (“You were a carpenter!  I’m not handy at all!”).  Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, the most immortally memorable moment comes from Roger, when he drops his meatball in the pool.

Next up: Dollhouse

Best Episode of the Season: Desperate Housewives

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“I Guess This is Goodbye”

In a season rife with a pair of mysteries we were not sure we wanted (the Fairview Strangler and the Bolens on the run), we were happy to at least have satisfying resolutions to them, making the season finale Desperate’s most thrilling and most explosive hour of the year, as per usual.  The Fairview Strangler ended with Eddie delivering Lynette’s baby and Lynette in turn convincing Eddie to turn himself in to the police.  Josh Zuckerman put Eddie’s internal struggle all over his face, and Felicity Huffman had one of her best mom moments of the series.  Scott Wolf-lookalike John Barrowman was impressive as Patrick Logan, and watching Angie blow him up was the funnest moment of the season, and one of the few times when Drea De Matteo was given something interesting to do.  And though it was sad to know that he was on his way out, Kyle MacLachlan finally had the opportunity to remind us why we have loved him as Orson Hodge so much, with his speech to Bree in which he explained why he loved her and why he cannot love her anymore.

Next up: American Dad!

Best Episode of the Season: Smallville

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The major criticism of Smallville during its first season was its “Freak-of-the-Week” structure.  Clark would face a new meteor rock-infected villain each episode, and they would amount to little more than one-off’s.  Things could not be more different nine seasons in.  Smallville has gotten so deep into its Kryptonian and Kandorian mythology (a mythology that I am pretty sure differs notably from the comics mythology).  So now it is actually nice when we have a one-off tale such as “Warrior,” in which a boy discovers an enchanted comic book that turns him into “Warrior Angel,” a superhero destined to turn evil.  Highlights of the episode include Chloe lightening up for the day and playing Microsoft’s Wii-like Project Natal with the boy, Lois dressed as Wonder Woman at a comic book convention, and the return of the charming Serinda Swan as Zatanna.  There was nary a geek-out moment to be found, but still plenty of fun.

Next up: Desperate Housewives

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