Here's the conclusion of yesterday's post about the year's best TV episodes, listed chronologically. And if you're wondering why I split them 9-and-11 rather than 10-and-10, check out what got aired within the same eleven-day period in mid-May.
PARKS AND RECREATION
Season 2, Episode 23 "The Master Plan"
Aired: May 13, 2010
I've already talked about how impossible it was to choose the best Parks and Rec episodes from Season 2. With my very favorites having aired in 2009, I'm landing on "The Master Plan," for its brilliant tweak to the ensemble, adding Rob Lowe and Adam Scott, as well as the glorious sight of Drunk Ann.
Season 4, Episode 21 "Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land"
Aired: May 13, 2010
I talked about this a bit on Twitter some months ago. Rewatching this episode really surprised me with quite how much gets packed into this one: Liz needs a date to Floyd's wedding, leading her to track down exes, leading to wonderful returns from hands-less Jon Hamm and Dennis the beeper creep. But most especially it leads Liz back to wonderfully irritating Wesley. At the wedding, by the by, Jack asks Liz to stall while she's reciting a Bible verse, leading to Liz flipping through the Bible and landing on all the least appropriate passages ("Come on, Bible! Help a lady out!"). That's all strong enough on its own. But it's the B-plot that mows the entire field down: Tracy is forced to remember his traumatic childhood in order to land a movie role. Among other things, a pack of wild dogs took over and successfully ran a Wendy's.
Season 3, Episode 9 "Kafkaesque"
Aired: May 16, 2010
I don't want to turn this blurb into a referendum on "Fly," the episode (directed by Rian Johnson, who directed my beloved film Brick and The Brothers Bloom) more universally considered to be the standout hour of Season 3. I never thought that episode fully broke free from its gimmicky conceit, that's all. This is also no slight against "One Minute" and its heart-racing final moments. What tips the scales to "Kafkaesque," as least for me, is that mind-blowing moment when Skyler spins her version of a more acceptable manner with which Walt has come into his ill-gotten gains. Just a master class of acting from Anna Gunn and Bryan Cranston there.
Season 1, Episode 19 "Dream On"
Aired: May 18, 2010
One of the benefits of my low-expectation, laissez-faire method of consuming Glee is that I get to really revel in the rare episode that gets it all right. So it was with "Dream On," directed by geek hero Joss Whedon and guest-starring the most inevitable Glee guest star ever, Neil Patrick Harris. This one hit all my Glee sweet spots, including great performances (NPH and Matthew Morrison teaming up on "Dream On"), imaginative staging of musical numbers (Artie's best moment ever, the "Safety Dance" flash mob), and treating the dramatic beats with the same kind of heightened quality that the comedy/performance beats get. I know a lot of people found the Rachel-and-her-mom storyline to be overwrought, but at least in this episode, that manifested itself in a peerless duet where Lea Michele and Idina Menzel nailed "I Dreamed a Dream" so hard they actually caused Susan Boyle to lose her voice from shame several months later. Glee doesn't do straight drama well (no pun intended, har har), but they shine when the dramatic beats are handled like this, like each character is writing his or her own high school musical. (This is why I actually enjoyed Kurt's foray into Gay Narnia at the private school -- that's Kurt's Valhalla and it should be depicted as such; if the show has a more consistent tone, that kind of heightened reality wouldn't be such a shock.) For one hour, Glee was exactly the show I wanted it to be.
Season 6, Episodes 23 and 24 "Sanctuary" / "Death and All His Friends"
Aired: May 20, 2010
With this two-part season finale full of gunfire and death and lives in peril, I completely re-boarded the Grey's ship. Listen: this is the advantage of being a mainstream hit show: you get to do big life-and-death drama like this without selling out your concept. And Shonda Rimes does this especially well.
Season 2, Episode 5 "Steve Gutenberg's Birthday"
Aired: May 21, 2010
I tried to pick a Party Down episode that was a smidge less obvious than this one, since it seemed something of a cheat to pick the one episode with the big self-aware guest star appearance. But honestly, while I would have been more than justified in throwing the funeral episode in here, "Gutenberg" offers killer stuff for Roman, Kyle, Henry, and Casey, and since those are my four favorite characters, I'm perfectly okay with including an episode that sidelines Ron in the kitchen with several AA sponsors. Kyle's attempts to seem smart are adorable as usual, and any episode that deals this directly with Roman's inability to write with any degree of humanity is welcome.
Season 6, Episodes 17 and 18 "The End"
Aired: May 23, 2010
Quite enough has been said about this episode, this season, this series. To reiterate what I've said several times: love the show, didn't love the season, was absolutely satisfied by "The End," bright lights and all.
Season 1, Episode 6 "Look to the Ant"
Aired: August 29, 2010
Like many people who latched onto Rubicon after a slow start, the character to made me realize that I was definitely hooked was Kale Ingram, played with guarded gusto by future unforgivable Emmy snubee Arliss Howard. This is a breakthrough Kale episode, in which his character comes out. As an ally of Will's, evolving from what seemed to be a shadowy villain figure. Oh, we find out he's gay too, but that's handled in an exceedingly casual and upfront manner, instantly making him one of my 2-3 favorite gay characters on TV. In non-Kale news (he also gets to strong-arm Maggie's rotten ex-husband), Miles gets a crush on a lady analyst. And Katherine finds another four-leaf clover!
Season 4, Episode 9 "The Beautiful Girls"
Aired: September 19, 2010
First off, this is nothing against "The Suitcase," the consensus choice for Mad Men episode of the year. I loved that episode. But in what may have been my favorite season of the show, I had to go with the sad death of Mrs. Blankenship. I love whenever Mad Men surrenders itself to straight comedy, and this one gave Peggy and Joan some great notes to play. Plus the whole deal with Sally Draper showing up in the office, and all that implied (and foreshadowed, in Megan's case) about the women at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Season 2, Episode 4 "Strangers on a Treadmill"
Aired: October 13, 2010
"Fizbo" aired in 2009, or else that would be here. As it is, though, "Strangers" offered a rare comedic showcase for Claire, plus some fine tweaking of Mitchell and Cam. But the episode's secret weapon is actually Haley and Alex, as Alex flirts with the cool group and Haley attempts to mentor her little sister in her own image. If you've seen it, you know how amazing it gets by the time both girls throw the phone to the floor.
Season 1, Episode 10 "Asunder"
Aired: November 10, 2010
Much has been written about this sole, lonely season of Terriers (I enthusiastically recommend heading here for much of it), and I'm not about to go against the consensus: this was one of my favorite -- if not THE favorite -- shows of the fall. And with so many strong episodes making up its short run, picking one is a challenge. Certainly, the finale went out on as high a note as I can remember a series going out on. In "Asunder," however, the final arc of the season comes together all at once, and at the same time, both Hank (skulking around the hotel during Gretchen's wedding) and Britt (finding out about Katie's affair) are going through these big personal crises points. Great detective work -- Hank trying to extricate reporter Laura from a dangerous interrogation -- combined with great character work were the hallmarks of "Terriers" all year.