Red John’s power doesn’t lie in his savage nature. It lies in his ability to turn Jane into a reactionary character, one of those loose canons the consultant spends most of his time apathetically hunting. The bloody face on the wall doesn’t just signal carnage, it signals a role reversal, a cat and mouse game in which Jane is the one more often being toyed with. It’s in these episodes that The Mentalist, both the show and character, are at their best
BSG is some of the finest fictional programming about war ever created, and "The Oath" is the apex of BSG's war episodes. It's impossible to watch it and not feel for all perspectives, and wonder, in the same situation, on which side you'd fall.
I like to think that, if done right, a series will make a promise to its viewers in the pilot episode. It offers a hint of its potential with the assurance that, if the viewer keeps watching, they will be rewarded with a satisfying conclusion. Many shows fail to live up to that, while some aim but miss the mark, and others lose their way entirely. “Leave it to Beaver” hit the target perfectly, laying to rest the ghost of Lily Kane and offering various other pieces of resolution as a reward to faithful viewers.
Bones has always been great about mixing its season up, splitting the episodes between lighthearted, playful plot lines and more serious drama. This intermixing combined with the show’s forensic anthropologist outlook allows Bones to have a tone unlike any other crime drama on television—a little odd, a little good-humored, a little dramatic and above all, extremely investing. Despite loving the laughs and the relationship-oriented side plots, the most gripping episodes of Bones have always been the more harrowing ones.
It’s extremely rare for the best of a series to fall within the first few seasons since shows almost always have a pubescent stage, struggling through an initial awkward voice until everything hopefully falls into place. However, those so-called growing pains were nonexistent for Curb Your Enthusiasm, partly because we were already well versed in its style, tone and characterization thanks to Larry David’s influence on Seinfeld.
In addition to having the best, funniest, most surprising ending that the series has ever had, “Slap Bet” rises to the top of the heap thanks to hilarious, intelligent writing, a wonderful impact on the show at large and one of the best TV-created pop songs of all time.
And this brings us...to "17 People," The West Wing's best episode. It was hard to rate it ahead of the fantastic sniper drama and multiple plate-spinning plot of "What Kind of Day Has It Been" (fun fact: every Sorkin show's first season finale is titled this) and the death-and-rebirth, "will he or won't he run again?" high-wire act of "Two Cathedrals." But I had to give it up to Season 2, Episode 18, "17 People," penned by Sorkin himself and directed by Alex Graves. It hits all the right marks that became The West Wing's trademark.
The best episode should be a start-to-finish gem of great writing and acting that encapsulates the greatness of the series and demonstrates everything that made Angel stand out, not merely as a solid spin-off, but also fantastic drama series. “A Hole in the World” does that beautifully, while at the same time, using the series’ own formula against us, creating what may very well be the most effective, gut-wrenching death scene in the series, if not the entire Whedonverse.
HBO’s Six Feet Under followed the lives of the Fisher family from 2001-2005. In that time, the Fishers became a great TV family: a family that audiences could invest in, could practically dwell within its greatest ups and sinking downs, its births and deaths, its most distorted mentalities and its freest moments. Unlike most great television families, however, the Fishers did not prescribe to a reality that is wholly genuine - they saw the ghosts of loved ones and extrapolated out relationships in dreamscapes.
Its sad and painful look at mafia life makes “Long Term Parking” The Sopranos’ best episode; its greatest achievement. The episode is, at times, laugh out loud hilarious, unapologetically devastating, brilliantly acted, flawlessly scripted and a perfect embodiment of the series as a whole. It is television at its very best.
As the years have passed, Parker and Stone have matured, keeping the show funny, but also commenting on the awful, odd, stupid things that happen in our world. Unlike most long-running shows that keep the same formula year after year and eventually get stale, South Park has grown as its youngest audience has. And no episode in the show’s 15-year run shows that off better than “You’re Getting Old.”
Entitled “Yesterday”, Grey’s Anatomy’s greatest episode aired partway through the second season. It didn’t feature bomb scares or main character deaths or exam failures. It simply turned three of the biggest I-wonder-why’s into three incredible remember-when’s and still found time to offer three fascinating medical cases perfectly reminiscent of the Grey’s formula we’ve all come to love.
Kate Winslet’s guest spot on Extras may have been the first or the third episode of the program you ever encountered, depending on whether you saw the show’s original release or caught it for the first time on a North American DVD. The relative shamelessness in which distributors have tinkered with the lineup says a lot about the flow of Extras, a show that only loosely relies on overarching plot.
Firefly was one of television’s finest examples of an ensemble of characters driving a story one memorable moment at a time. Each second was packed with the love, loyalty, hilarity, and pain that one would assume is the life of a crew eking out a questionably honest living in space. This was all done in the show-don’t-tell style that is sorely missing from most stories littering the airwaves today.
Scrubs, at its finest, had the ability to turn its audience on a dime. Yet creator Bill Lawrence and his fantastic cast of seasoned comedians earned every guffaw with a barrage of inspired sight gags, and registered every tug at their audience’s heartstrings because we cared about the characters braving the day at screwball Sacred Heart Hospital, and we wanted to see them pull through their assorted problems.