Best Episode of the Season: Glee Season 3

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Season Analysis: In Season 3, Glee became the worst possible version of itself that its biggest critics think it always has been.  (But the last few episodes were pretty good, so maybe not all hope is lost.)

“Props”

When the “Here’s what you missed on Glee” portion of “Props” focused on consistently neglected Tina, it was clear that Glee was finally responding to its critics, and then some.  Personally, I was so busy criticizing the show’s treatment of the characters that actually were still getting screen time that I did not even realize how underutilized Tina had been – basically, I had barely noticed her at all.  Glee took a bit of a risk by essentially admitting, “We’re even worse than you thought,” but it was the right call creatively.  As soon as Tina hit her head and entered into the body-swap fantasy world, it was clear that the show had turned a corner.  Finally, Glee was willing to try out an unusual idea – the strategy that had made it interesting in the first place.  This sequence allowed the show to address the annoying aspects of its characters in a way that did not break the fourth wall too much for a show like Glee, and everyone in the cast seemed to be having the most fun they’d had in a while.  Jane Lynch and Matthew Morrison particularly seemed to be enjoying themselves, with Morrison more amusing as Sue Sylvester than he’s ever been as Will Schuester.  It was enough to save a show that I was thisclose to giving up on.

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Best Episode of the Season: Family Guy Season 10

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Season Analysis: In some corners of the Internet, latter-day Family Guy really gets knocked around.  But I remain an apologist of the present version of the show, although, for the most part, Season 10 did not offer the best representation of what the show still has to offer.

“Back to the Pilot”

A lot of TV shows look very different when compared to their pilot episodes, animated shows more so than most.  But not too many shows have utilized a time-travel plot to have their characters travel back to the time of the pilot.  Some shows have revisited their pilots from new angles, but none (that I am aware) have used the strategy employed by Family Guy in which the characters notice and comment on the cruder animation, continuity gaps, and other gaffes.  FG’s main hook is its trove of cultural references, and in later years, those references have become self-referential, and those fourth-wall breaking gags, while occasionally funny, have usually been a little too knowing and a little too winking.  But by actually placing its characters in a situation in which it would be logical (relatively speaking) for them to make such references, FG demonstrated exactly the sort of self-awareness that a show should have ten seasons into its run.  Also, the sequence of the dozens of Brian’s and Stewie’s attempting to stop their previous selves from doing whatever it was they were about to do was just a really awesome set piece.

Best Cutaway Gag of the Season: “The end of a depressing 1970’s sci-fi movie starring a guy in a turtleneck” (from “Stewie Goes for a Drive”)

Taking its visual cues mainly from Logan’s Run, this dystopian vision was an original creepy and thought-provoking vision all on its own.

Best Episode of the Season: Bob’s Burgers Season 2

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Season Analysis: Nine episodes were not enough for Bob’s Burgers to have developed much beyond its idiosyncratic beginning, but it’s not like that’s a bad thing.  The bad thing is just that there weren’t more episodes!

“Bad Tina”

After two short seasons of Bob’s Burgers, Tina Belcher has already become one of the best characters on the FOX network, and her devoted, prolific interest in erotic fan fiction and erotic friend fiction is a significant part of what makes her such an interesting character.  But as great a character as she is, it was a good idea to introduce a foil for her in the form of new girl Tammy (voiced by Jenny Slate) for the sake of mixing up Tina’s world.  Tammy made Tina even more anxious than usual, but also loosened her up a bit, leading her to expand her vocabulary with such phrases as “boob punch,” “crap attack,” and “snoregasm” and also indirectly leading her to read aloud her erotic friend fiction to the whole school, leading to mass butt touching and one of the best – and certainly most unique – parodies of Apple’s “1984” ad ever.  The B-plot of the Stomp knockoff Cake (based on “Patty Cake”) was funny and appropriately small-scale, because there are not too many laughs to wring out of such a concept other than the fact that such a show exists and that Bob, oddly, becomes obsessed with it.

Best Episode of the Season: The Simpsons Season 23

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Season Analysis: It’s a post-post-post-Simpsons world, and the show’s best moments sneak in when nobody is paying attention.

“The Book Job”

Parodies of heist movies (as well as heist movies themselves) have been done plenty of times, satires of the publishing industry – not so much.  That’s probably because satirizing the book world doesn’t sound like that much fun, whereas heists are all about fun.  But, fun or no, there is plenty worth targeting in the literary realm, so the idea of combining a publishing industry satire with a heist parody was an ingenious move by The Simpsons writing team.  The relentlessness of the double crosses in the last act as well as the flashback reveals that the heist had actually worked when it seemed otherwise is the sort of thing that would ruin most heist movies or heist parodies, but it worked because all these elements also served as a satirical knife cutting into the teen fantasy literary genre: the book executives want to replace the trolls in the story with more easily marketable vampires, Lisa just wants her name on a best-seller, ghost written or not, and Neil Gaiman ultimately heists his way to the best-seller list “once again.”  Also, the book titles revealed in the establishing shot at Bookaccino’s were a boon to freeze-frame inclined TV viewers (highlights included Percy Sledge and the Olympians, Are you there Glycon? It’s Me Alan Moore, Chat Roulette with the Vampire, The Girl with the ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ Tattoo, Cocktail Party Make-You-Thinks by Malcolm Gladwell, and of course, Death to Freezeframers).

Best Episode of the Season: The Cleveland Show Season 3

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Season Analysis: Has there ever been a show more satisfied with being slightly better than mediocre than The Cleveland Show?

“There Goes El Neighborhood”

There weren’t really any episodes of The Cleveland Show this season that would really qualify as particularly great examples of the television medium.  Thus, my criterion for picking “El Neighborhood” as this year’s best was more or less that I remembered laughing at it more than any other episode this year.  It did show some ambition, in that it continued the storyline from the previous episode (Cleveland, Jr. marrying a Latina girl to get her a green card) on a show that otherwise lacks serialization.  But if forced to pinpoint what really made this episode work, I would have to say, “I doñ’t know,” i.e., when Cleveland is confronted by his new Latina neighbor Choni (voiced by the intensely Latina Rosie Perez) regarding his insensitivity to Latino culture, he starts pronouncing all his n’s as if they had tildes over them, and overcorrection regarding pronunciation is always funny.

Best Episode of the Season: Saturday Night Live Season 37

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Season Analysis: My full SNL Season 37 recap is coming soon.

“716 – Zooey Deschanel/Karmin”

I love Zooey Deschanel, and … well, I’ve already talked about that in my New Girl coverage.  When I heard that Zooey was going to be hosting SNL, naturally I was excited.  And when she ended up being her naturally adorable self over the course of the night, naturally I loved the episode and wanted to give her a hug.  But I contend that even for those who do not like Zooey, there were some things – a lot, actually – to love about this episode.  First off, even though Zooey was a great host, there were plenty of great moments that did not feature her.  Nicolas Cage showed up to square off against Andy Samberg as Nicolas Cage in quite possibly the best example in SNL history of a cast member meeting the object of his impressionism (and in this guest star-heavy season, Jean Dujardin also stopped by for a round of the delightfully light and absurd “Les Jeunes de Paris”).  Then there were Bill Hader’s triumphant appearances as Clint Eastwood in a flipping mad parody of his Chrysler Super Bowl commercial.  Honestly, there were maybe two sketches that traded in on Zooey’s sort-of controversial persona, and one of those – the “Bein’ Quirky with Zooey Deschanel” talk show – was a knowing wink at the excesses of her eccentricities.  In summation, the Zooey Deschanel episode of SNL was for everyone, Zooey lovers and haters alike.

Best Episode of the Season: Community Season 3

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(Thanks to fishsticktheatre for the “Regional Holiday Music,” “Virtual Systems Analysis,” and “Pillows & Blankets” screencaps.)

Season Analysis: It has gotten to the point that the “special” episodes of Community are so frequent and so consistently satisfactory that I do not realize just how special they are until several days after viewing.

“Remedial Chaos Theory”

People who have not been won over by Community generally seem to be put off, or scared, or confused by the show’s decided eccentricity.  But perhaps these people would give the best show on television another chance if they knew that the eccentric side of an episode like “Remedial Chaos Theory” is not just eccentric for eccentricity’s sake and that it actually has a purpose, and a profound one at that.  That is not to say that the other “special” or “theme” episodes of Community do not also have a purpose (most – if not all – of them do), but the purpose of the multiple timeline format of “Chaos” is worth giving unique weight to because of how fundamentally it relates to the makeup of the series: the purpose, to spell it out, is to ask the question, “What insight does the multiple timeline conceit give us into what role each character plays in the study group?”  Anyone who has ever had any circle of friends can relate, because, for most – if not all – of us, there have been moments when our entire group has been together, moments when only half the group has been there, moments when one person has been missing, etc.  But we never experience the same moments more than once with a different group makeup each time – maybe we experience something similar, maybe the same type of event, but not the exact same moment.  And so, the metaphysically inclined are left to wonder, “How would this situation have been different if I went downstairs to grab the pizza instead of you, or him, or her?”  This is the sort of question that typically belongs in the domain of science fiction, and the geekiest variety at that.  But Community makes it more universally relatable by utilizing it in the most mundane fashion imaginable and still manages to turn it into one of the most satisfyingly ambitious half hours of television ever.

You didn’t think I was going to just honor one episode of Community this season, did you?  For a show that airs episodes worthy of being most shows’ best of the season on a regular basis, it is practically mandatory to include some Runners-Up:

“Regional Holiday Music”
How appropriate that in the same year that Glee aired one of the worst Christmas episodes in television history, Community made one of the best Christmas episodes out of a Glee parody.  Also, my reaction to Annie’s “Teach Me How to Understand Christmas” routine: “Did that really just happen?!”

“Documentary Filmmaking: Redux”
An Apocalypse Now/Hearts of Darkness homage turns into a bizarre love letter to the equally bizarre Greendale (with a Luis Guzman cameo to boot).

“Virtual Systems Analysis”
An episode that amazed with its ability to spin several plates at once – with some plates spinning on top of other plates – without any of them breaking:  Everybody plays their usual  characters, and … Danny Pudi plays Abed playing Annie, Jeff, Britta, Troy, Pierce, Shirley, and Annie playing Abed; Alison Brie plays Abed playing Annie; Joel McHale plays Abed playing Jeff; Gillian Jacobs plays Abed playing Britta; Donald Glover plays Abed playing Troy; Chevy Chase plays Abed playing Pierce; and Yvette Nicole Brown plays Abed playing Shirley.  Is your brain still working?  Good, then you’ll be happy to watch even more Community.

“Pillows and Blankets”
I was so amused just by the idea that Community would model an episode after a Ken Burns documentary that I was laughing non-stop all the way until the first commercial break.

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