Monday, December 18, 2006

Best of 2006: Top 10 Episodes

With the year almost over, it's time to start the list making, I'll be putting a new list out every other day until the end of the year, and our first is the ten best TV episodes of 2006. This list is tough to do for a number of reasons, one is some shows are just better than others, so is a pretty good Sopranos episode better than a great Gilmore Girls episode? I tried to balance things here, but there's a good amount of repeat appearances here.

10. Arrested Development - 'Family Ties'

Watching the last four episodes of Arrested Development in one go, as they were broadcast, was a surreal experience, with the show going to more bizarre places than it had ever gone before, and this episode was one of the highlights. Michael hires Nellie, a prostitute he thinks is his sister, to work at his office and raise morale. There's hilarity in the show itself, and on a meta level, because Nellie's played by Justine Bateman. Wow, this show enjoys going to the incest place, and it's always funny. The capper is the revelation that Nellie's pimp is actually Gob's puppet Franklin.

9. 24 - 'Day 5: 7:00-8:00"

It's tough to distinguish standout episodes of the show, what with the really heavy continuity. However, this premiere still stands out nearly a year later. They teased that you shouldn't miss the first five minutes, usually a hollow promotion. Not here, killing three major characters in a period of ten minutes established again that this show has no limits, anyone is in danger, and that's what makes it work so well. You actually believe that anyone could die, so every episode is suspenseful. Maybe it's a bit gimmicky, but it's necessary to keep the show fresh and exciting.

8. Gilmore Girls - 'I Get a Sidekick Out of You'

Much like Buffy's sixth season, this was all about plunging the lead character into awful emotional trauma and repression. Lorelai's underlying concerns spill to the surface in the most painful scene of the series' entire run, her drunken ramble at Lane's wedding. It's tough to watch, and is the highlight of the episode. But, there's a lot of the quirky comedy stuff the show does so well in there too.

7. Friday Night Lights - 'Pilot'

Not that the show itself isn't great, but this Pilot was just unbelievable in setting up a completely unique world for the show to inhabit. The lengthy non-dialogue sequences were great, and by the end, I really cared about the result of the game, and the victory was a fantastic payoff. This was a great start to the best new show of the season.

6. Battlestar Galactica - 'Occupation/Precipice'

One of the best season openers of all time, this was an incredibly tense, emotionally wrenching two hours. The show again returns to the loaded political commentary of the miniseries, and also tracked our characters through the worst moments of their lives. And it's all capped by the powerful image of a cylon firing squad about to gun down Roslin and Zarek. I'd never seen a world like this on TV before.

5. Arrested Development - 'Development Arrested'

As I mentioned before, the show seemed to spin out of control as it reached this bizarre, fantastic conclusion. Lindsay's attempt to sleep with Michael was hilarious, completely messing with the fictional world the show had built over the past three seasons. George Michael's trip to second base was another highlight, though the biggest laugh for me was the return of Anyong. The show may have been cut down too soon, but with a finale this good, I can't be too mad about that.

4. The Sopranos - 'Mr. and Mrs. John Sacrimoni...'

The season definitely had some issues, but the first half was as consistently brilliant as any previous season. This episode, chronicling Tony's first public appearance after the shooting, was a fantastic exploration of masculinity in the mob world. Johnny's tearful breakdown as he was taken back to prison, Vito's continuing issues with his sexuality, and Tony's new outlook on life all caused problems. Tony's attack on his driver at the end was the perfect cap to the episode.

3. Battlestar Galactica - 'Downloaded'

The gem of the otherwise troubled second half of season two, this episode gave us our most intriuging look into the cylon world yet. I love Six and Boomer's uncertainty about their place in the cylon hierarchy, and the episode ending murder of D'Anna was shocking. Unfortunately, most of what this episode explored was abandoned to recast the cylons in a more obviously evil role in season three. But, this one still stands out as a masterpiece.

2. Battlestar Galactica - 'Exodus II'

The capper to the New Caprica arc, this is the best episode the show's ever done. The effects were dazzling, better than anything I saw in the cinema this year, but what really makes it powerful is how satisfying it is to see humanity get a victory after the oppression of the first three episodes. There's so many fantastic moments here, Tigh killing his wife, Baltar's confused flight, the Pegasus' destruction. This episode was so good, everything after has felt a bit lackluster.

1. The Sopranos - 'Join the Club'

In the real world, it's an emotionally raw exploration of familial grief and worry, as Tony lies in a coma. Edie Falco's monologue should have come with an Emmy, and the others get great material too. This has the same power as Six Feet Under's 'Ecotone.' But, that's not all we get. The allegorical storyline of Tony as Kevin Finnerty is one of the best things the show's ever done, intellectually challenging and extremely revealing of Tony's psyche. The layered complexity of this episode is something you'd only see on The Sopranos, and that's why, despite this season's problems, it's still on a whole different level from anything else on TV.

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