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Listmania 2011: Best TV Episodes of the Year 10-1

As pop culture aficionados, your friends at Culture Blues are not immune to the end-of-year lists currently overwhelming the internet. Welcome to Listmania, where Culture Blues ranks their favorite shit in a handful categories. Today, we offer our 10 favorite television episodes of 2011. If you missed 20-11, catch up here.

(10) The Walking Dead - Save the Last One

There's a lot going on in Save the Last One great: Rick and Lori debating the value of life in a world overrun by zombies, Daryl and Andrea sharing an entertaining zombie encounter, and the audience witnessing the beginning of the Glenn and Maggie relationship, which will quickly become one of the show’s highlights. But what makes it really stand out is Shane shooting Otis in the leg and leaving him as zombie chow. It's a decision meant to ensure that a dying boy gets the medicine he needs, and to save Shane's skin. It’s a reprehensible, unforgivable act, and the kind of survival instinct that keeps people alive in a wasteland. The best zombie fiction is based on just these sorts of quandaries. The Walking Dead comic uses them as well as anyone, and in its second season the TV series has become worthy of its source material. (Jeremiah White)

(9) Parks and Recreation – Li'l Sebastian

Li'l Sebastian’s memorial service felt like an event. That is practically magical considering it was a funeral planned in the span of a single episode for a miniature horse that the audience has seen once before. The planning and preparation was exciting and the execution was cathartic as the town said goodbye to a friend, the audience said “see you later” to one of television’s finest comedies and all of the main characters were left struggling with their past or pondering their future. And if all that misty eyed crap weren’t enough, this episode also gave us our first peek at the inner working of Entertainment 720. Also, this. All. Day. (Jeremiah White)

(8) Louie – Oh Louie/Tickets

I can’t remember exactly which episode it was, but a few shows before Oh Louie/Tickets there is an off-hand reference made to Dane Cook. At the time, I hoped Louie would address the infamous joke-stealing controversy further, but I never dreamed that mention would foreshadow an awkward dressing room confrontation between the grinning face of stadium comedy and our dogged hero of cult comedy. For comedy nerds to see CK and Cook seated across from each other, hashing out their bad feelings in a surreal mix of reality and fiction – it’s a stunning TV moment. The Cook confrontation is paired with Louie attempting to make a hack sitcom work, making this entire episode a brilliant meditation on selling out. (Jeff Hart)

(7) South Park – You’re Getting Old

South Park stopped being appointment viewing for me about five years ago. It’s not that I don’t have a huge amount of respect and appreciation for what Trey Parker and Matt Stone do, and it’s not that I wouldn’t seek out the occasional buzzed-about episode, but I’d generally grown bored with the blunt-force satire and crude misadventures. Apparently, so have Stone and Parker. You’re Getting Old is the South Park writers coming to terms with their own show, how the long-running hit has become something of an albatross, and how they’ve grown to be as bitter and disenchanted as Stan Marsh. Somehow, the episode breathes new life into the series, just as it seemed to be suffocating under creative duress. (Jeff Hart)

(6) Community – Regional Holiday Music

You know that thing where animals know they are on the way out and go find a peaceful place to die? Really smart network comedies have that too, but instead of going quietly into the night, they just start throwing haymakers at anyone that gets too close. Much like its spiritual ancestor Arrested Development, which spent its third season taking shots at desperate ratings grabs, and Sports Night, which wove a meta-story about the show’s future into its final episodes, Community spent its last episode before an unplanned hiatus eviscerating Glee, and surely setting a TV record for most uses of the word “glee” in a single episode of anything ever. But it’s not just a parody of a show with higher ratings, it’s also another brilliant genre episode (Body Snatchers style horror movie), a musical episode (with original music written by the show’s own writing staff), a commentary on the cultish popularity of “phenomenons,” and an honest-to-baby-Jesus Christmas episode. It’s mind boggling how much Dan Harmon and staff packed into one episode, especially in regards to the jokes, which come so quickly that it’s probably impossible to catch them all in one sitting. (Jeremiah White)

(5) Game of Thrones – Baelor

Unlike some of my friends who were watching HBO’s original series Game of Thrones, I had not read any of the books. It seemed obvious to me that Ned Stark was going to be the main character for much of the story. He was the kind of flawed but honorable man that most fantasy tales center around. When Joffrey orders his beheading, Ned takes the news with what appears to be peace, but on a second viewing I’m not sure if that is it exactly. It seems more like shame. Imagine living your entire existence by a set of principles only to abandon them in the last few seconds of your life, and then learn that it was for nothing. It is one of the most powerful and emotionally devastating moments of television I’ve ever seen. I’d also be pretty bummed if I didn’t get to live long enough to see the freakin' dragons! (Ben Van Iten)

(4) Louie – Eddie

In a show that I often find beautifully depressing, Eddie might be the most soul-punching episode of Louie yet. Anchored by a visceral performance from guest star Doug Stanhope as the titular Eddie, a comic that Louie came up with but whose career has traveled a much different trajectory, Eddie is an examination of the choices we make in life and the odd bonds formed between people. Louie and Eddie sharing a bottle of vodka on a quiet block in Brooklyn, their discussion ranging from Louie’s NY bonafides to a debate on Eddie’s imminent suicide, is one of the best scenes aired on television this year. (Jeff Hart)

(3) Boardwalk Empire – Under God’s Power She Flourishes

“There’s nothing wrong with any of it,” moans Gillian Darmody. Shudder! Under God’s Power deviates from Boardwalk Empire’s traditional narrative structure, focusing heavily on flashbacks detailing Jimmy Darmody’s last days at Princeton. Here we see why a promising young student would volunteer to fight Germans and return the moody husk we’ve grown to love. Capitalizing on the incestuous innuendo that’s made viewers uneasy since Boardwalk’s first episode, Darmody’s backstory is gripping and harrowing. When we return to the present, it’s no surprise that there’s an explosion of Oedipal violence. The events of this episode are all the more poignant and saddening in light of the shocking final scene of Boardwalk’s season finale. (Jeff Hart)

(2) Breaking Bad – Crawl Space

So far, Vince Gilligan’s Mr. Chips to Scarface concept for Breaking Bad has played out more like a deterioration than an ascension. In order to become a proper villain, Walter White has had to shed everything that made him human – every ounce of empathy, any ability to sacrifice for the sake of others, all sense of decorum. In that journey, Crawl Space represents a major turning point. When Walter White emerges from that hole in his floor, he is more criminal mastermind than teacher, husband or father. Whether he goes full Heisenberg in Season 5 remains to be seen, but one thing is certain – Mr. White will never be the same. But the episode’s significance to the series as a whole isn’t the only reason Crawl Space is on this list. The late tonal shift to full on horror movie was a big risk, and director Scott Winant handles it perfectly. Not only is Breaking Bad one of the most engrossing shows on television, its technical excellence consistently blends seamlessly with daring artistic verve. (Jeremiah White)

(1) The Office – Goodbye, Michael

Steve Carell always walked a line with Michael Scott where he could be incredibly vapid, ignorant, and even heartless on occasion but we could never hate him because he was just an awkward guy who tried so hard to be respected and loved.  In this episode we see the culmination of those efforts as he says goodbye in a unique way to all the show’s major characters, including a paintball fight with Dwight, a pretend (and emotional) lunch plan with Jim, and the final airport scene with Pam.  He removes his microphone before she rushes out to see him, leaving their final exchange up to the audience’s imagination.  Whether you agree with most people that the Office has gotten substantially worse or not, you’d be hard pressed to disagree that this was a moment that had real emotional weight, a rare thing for a network comedy.  One of the last things Michael said on the show was to the “documentary crew”; he wanted to know when they were going to air all of this.  Thanks to one of the most iconic comedy characters of recent memory, you'll be seeing it in syndication for a long time to come. (Ben Van Iten)

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3 Responses »

  1. Great list. I was happy that the writers for The Office were able to nail that episode. It was everything that it needed to be, and it really needed to be great to give proper credit to the importance of Michael leaving (which really could have/should have been the end of the show).

    And as far as GOT, first of all... that screencap really captures everything. I especially love the look on Joffrey's face. What a punk!

    Another key aspect of that moment was the foreshadowing from the first episode when Ned talks about why it's important that the man delivering the sentence should be the one to levy the punishment... something that Joffrey clearly wants no part of and just reinforces his bitchassness. April can't come soon enough.

  2. Joffrey is the boss of bosses.

  3. Amazing that a show that sucks so bad is capable of putting on your best episode of the year. fart