Well, it's taken me nearly three months to get here, but I finally made it ---- the top ten TV episodes that, in my mind, are the high points of television in the past twenty years.. I don't know if I'll take the same kind of heat that TV Guide does (unlikely, even I'm not egocentric enough to think I've that big) I am just a humble scribe who has watched a LOT of TV in his life. I welcome any other opinions, or really justa response or too.
OK. I've stalled long enough. Here goes.
Mad Men ---- The Grown Ups
The minute I learned that Season 3 was going to take place in 1963 (and that Roger Sterling's daughter was going to get married in November) I knew they were going to interesect with the Kennedy assassination. It's one thing to know it; it's another to see it. Watching these characters (most of whom are rock ribbed Republicans) deal with perhaps the seminal event of the 20th Century was stunning. Seeing them crowd around the TV's, watching Sterling's wedding going on with only half the usual attendance--- it was mesmerizing. One of the key moments came when Pete's wife said: "I don't care what you're politics are --- you don't kill the President"--- we know how people can say something like this, because tragedy causes us to say things we know sound idiotic. This was a realism I hadn't expected, even from this show. And watching the Draper's marriage (which had been hanging by a thread all season) finally implode gave us a chance to see Jon Hamm and the criminally undervalued January Jones do some of their finest work in a year which had already demonstrated Emmy caliber work. Other episodes have gotten more publicity, but this one shown t he brightest
The Simpsons --- 22 Short Films About Springfield
It's been on the air at least five or six years too long, but it has produced some of the most endearing image in TV comedy. And no other episode demonstrate the true depth of the shows depth then this little gem. Taken as a riff on all of the background characters that the Simpsons has, they try to do a lot of little vignettes on how Springfield really operates. From Apu's five minute party to Mr. Burns 'helping' Smithers practically kill himself, Moe finally collecting some of Barney's 14 billion dollar bar tab only to immediately be robbed by Snake, the Tarentino like bit in the Krusty Burgers, Wiggums ineptitude even in getting runover by a hoodlum--- this demonstrates how versatile the Simpsons cast really is, even with the first family getting little more than walkons. There may have been other Simpsos that had more hysterical moments, but this one better than anything else demonstrates the quintessential Simpsons
The X-Files --- One Breath
Darin Morgan's episodes were landmarks in TV history, and rightfully so, but some of the best scripts in the shows early years were written by his brother Glen and collaborator James Wong. Few demonstrated better how clearly the X-Files would work, which is odd, because there really isn't much supenatural that's in it. Rather, it's a character piece as Scully, missing for three months is finally returned to a DC hospital, just clinging to life. The episode focuses on Mulder's desperate efforts to find out who did this, and spends almost the entire episode considering giving into his dark side. Most of the quasi-regulars on this show--- the Lone Gunmen, the Cigarette Smoking Man, Skinner, X (my favorite of all of Mulder's informants) and Maggie Scully give some of their finest performances in this episode. In the end, Mulder is left with a choice between dark and light--- he can kill the men who abducted Scully, or he can spend what might be her last night by her bed. He chooses the latter. We never know what helped Scully come back from the jaws of death, and for once, we don't need to know. And for those people who believed David Duchovny's face is unexpressionless, his look of pure joy when he hears Scully is alive speaks volumes. In that moment, I knew--- all evidence to the contrary--- Mulder was in love with Scully. Why'd it take them six more years to realize it? THat's another blog
The West Wing --- In Excelsius Deo
The Thanksgiving episodes are required viewing at my house, but the Christmas episodes of this series would lead to some of the finest moments in TV history. The majority of them would focus on the relationship between chief of staff Leo and his deputy Josh. Knowing a scandal is coming involving Leo, Josh tries to run a counterstrike by going to a friend of Sam's who's is also a call girl. Leo tells him not to, Sam tells him not to, Josh does it anyway, the girl chews him out royally, and later Leo does the same. But when Josh asks if this was supposed to mean something, Leo said: "It did." These are two people who will go to the ends of the earth for each other. Of course the meat of this episode occurs when Toby gets a call from the DC polcie and learns a homeless man has died wearing a coat he gave to Goodwill. The normally stoic Toby goes into this, learns he was a Korean war vet, and uses his power to give him a military burial. The final sequence, intercutting that funeral with Little Drummer Boy, may have been the finest the show ever did, and still raises a lump in my throat every time I watch it. Plus CJ learns her Secret Service names is Flamingo, Donna tries to get Josh to go Christmas shopping for her, and the President visits a rare book store. Really you couldn't ask for more from this series, and Aaron Sorkin did his damnedest to give it to us.
Frasier ---- An Affair to Forget
I'll probaby get derided by this til the day I die, but I've always held that this show--- not Seinfeld, not Friends, not Everybody Loves Raymond--- was the funniest show of the 90s. It hat a slightly higher intellectual tone that other shows didn't, while constantly putting its characters through situations that could only be described as pure farce. No episode demonstrated this better than this one where Frasier comes to believe that Niles' never-to-be-seen wife Maris is having an affair with a Bavarian fencing instructor. Frasier goes to extremes to keep this from Niles, but their maids trouble with pronouns and a sensory deprivation tank leads to the truth coming out. Urged on by Martin, Niles tries to engage in a fight with him--- only to learn he speaks no English. This leaders to the maid translating the instructors German into Spanish, which Frasier ends up translating into English. The two engage in a duel after Niles insults him to the following brilliant exchange--- Niles: En garde! Frasier: Oh yes, that's all we needed: a fourth language! There have been brilliant comic moments on almost every season of this spinoff, but none matched the pure comedy gold of this episode. David Hyde-Pierce, please come back to TV
Tomorrow, the final five. ALmost there now.