Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

Listmania 2012: 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. We just like to wait until the entire year is over before we post anything, in case something cool happens around the holidays (also, we're lazy). Welcome to Listmania, where Culture Blues ranks our favorite shit in a handful categories.

Today we finish ranking the best TV episodes of 2012. Catch up with #20-11 here. Remember, there are only three of us editors, so it's very likely we missed something. And we tried to get every show that we like represented before putting any show on the list twice. Nobody wants to read a list that only consists of four shows.

(10) “Blackwater” – Game of Thrones

Who were you rooting for during the Battle of Blackwater? Was it Stannis, with his crazy religion, freaky redhead, superior numbers, and clear claim to the Iron Throne? Or perhaps Joffrey, with his arrogant petulance, heartless mother, and the “good people” of King’s Landing? The correct answer is neither: you should’ve been rooting for Tyrion, the battle’s true hero. In the penultimate episode of the second season of HBO’s hottest drama, we the fans were treated to a phenomenal battle sequence, more twists and turns than a mountain road and, in my opinion, the finest hour of television of the entire year. (Giovanny Caquias)

(9) “Maya Rudolph/Sleigh Bells” – SNL

Every year on Facebook and Twitter and probably Google+ or whatever it’s the same thing: “SNL sucks” “Was SNL ever funny?” “Why is SNL still on the air?” Haters abound for the greatest, most successful comedy institution ever to exist. Philistines, all of them, and that’s why it’s so important that we honor Maya Rudolph’s consistently awesome appearance last February. Part of the episode’s success is owed to the cache of talent Rudolph brings with her – how much better is Weekend Update with Amy Poehler sitting opposite Seth Myers? But the special guests shouldn’t overshadow Rudolph’s ability to carry a dog like Bronx Beat, or her amazing Maya Angelou prank show. It’s the kind of top-to-bottom funny that anyone that doesn’t get SNL should be forced to watch. It was an act of whimsy. (Jeff Hart)

(8) “Mazel Tov, Dummies!” – 30 Rock

After languishing Office-style for a few years, 30 Rock shakily returned to form during its sixth season and is now firing on all cylinders in its seventh and final. The visible finish line has allowed Tina Fey and the rest of the writers to start tying up the emotional arcs of the manic TGS crew. There’s no better example than “Mazel Tov, Dummies!” where independent woman Liz Lemon finally has an independent woman wedding. As Liz comes to terms with her feelings about weddings, so do 30 Rock’s writers come to terms with all the best (er, worst?) sitcom wedding tropes, creating an episode that is both true to Liz’s character and to the show’s post-modern roots. Oh, and Black Dennis. Nothing is better than Black Dennis.  (Jeff Hart)

(7) "New Car Smell" - Homeland

The Homeland producers and writers are thoroughly committed to making things happen before the audience expects them to. It’s a risky strategy, but this is an example of it working perfectly. The episode is bookended by surprising scenes that irreversibly alter the landscape of the show. The ending is incredibly tense and possibly the show’s best WTF?? moment yet. And it’s a badass showcase for Claire Danes. In between these game-changers there are two great Carrie/Brody scenes (including their first of the season) that explore a multitude of dynamics between the two, and a nice change of pace storyline involving the budding romance between Dana and Finn. The interrogation episode that follows this one has received a lot of attention, and rightfully so, but it arranges all the pieces in an orderly new alignment. “New Car Smell,” on the other hand, simply tosses them up in the air, which is a lot more fun.  (Jeremiah White)

(6) “New Year’s Eve” – Louie

It’s not uncommon for a season finale to feature the death of a character, but I think it’s safe to say no one’s ever done it like Louie. The chance meeting with Liz, followed by her collapse and death moments later is such an unsettling, shocking sequence that it was honestly hard to believe what I’d just seen. How could that happen? Could that happen? These startling scenes are the turning point of a dense episode that takes Louie from Christmas frustration (the doll scene is hilarious) to the depths of the holiday/life blues (relatable!) to finding some sense of community and happiness in a Chinese village. I loved the 3-part Late Show arc that preceded this episode, but it often felt like Louie riffing on familiar narratives. It was nice to see him go off the rails again and do something completely different. On any given night Louie can be funny, uncomfortable, surreal, really fucking depressing and maybe even just a tiny bit hopeful. In this case, it was all those things in a single episode.  (Jeremiah White)

(5) “Digital Estate Planning” – Community

Why did Dan Harmon get fired from Community? Probably because he dedicated an entire episode to a loving tribute of 8-bit video games. Oh, and not just any 8-bit video games, but primarily 8-bit role-playing games. That should really bring in those casual viewers and their advertising dollars! Preaching to a very small choir (me, other nerds), this is Community at its finest. I’ve watched this episode, I don’t know, 10 times? And Troy’s avatar randomly jumping around the screen never fails to crack me up. Every viewing I pick up new details and references, like the chicken leg platforms floating through the Black Cave. This kind of niche choice might’ve gotten Harmon the boot, but it’s kind of worth it. (Jeff Hart)

(4) “Dead Freight” – Breaking Bad

I watched every single phenomenal episode of Breaking Bad for the first time in 2012. Many of them left impressions on me, and none more so than "Dead Freight." As the series comes to a dramatic close, Jesse has gotten smarter, the set-pieces have gotten bigger, and, in typical Breaking Bad fashion, everything continues to go horribly wrong.  After a preposterously tense yet ultimately successful and lucrative train robbery, you’d think Walter and company would have nothing but clear sailing ahead. Unfortunately, a young, dirt-biking, tarantula-enthusiast complicated matters, and the celebrations were cut short because Todd ruined everything. (Giovanny Caquias)

(3) “Two Impostors” – Boardwalk Empire

If you polled people who stopped watching Boardwalk in season one, I bet the #1 reason why would be something like “not enough action.” Fast forward to late 2012 and the third season’s penultimate episode opens with a full-on Prohibition-era shootout, which only ranks as the season’s third best gunfight (behind the finale’s brothel siege and the attempted Tabor Heights hit in “You’d Be Surprised” – there was much ownage this year). The jolt of violence sends Nucky on the run, cutting him off from his powerful network (much like “The Milkmaid’s Lot” robbed him of one of his other major strengths – his way with words). A desperate Nucky soon realizes how disconnected he is even from those he’s still in touch with (Eddie, Chalky). “Two Impostors” is the most intense episode yet of a show that typically features backroom deals over bang bang because it takes Nucky so far out of his comfort zone and forces him to scramble for a lifeline. We know he’s going to make it out, but we have no idea how. That’s pretty much the perfect setup for a season finale.  (Jeremiah White)

(2) “Win Lose or Draw” – Parks and Recreation

Stretching one story over an entire 22-episode network TV season, spanning over 7 months of real-world time, seems insane. But it’s hard to argue with the results when Ben Wyatt tells Leslie he never wrote a concession speech for her. I mean, come on. I almost cried. Every time I’ve seen it. Series co-creator Michael Schur’s script and direction packs the episode with energy, humor, and capitalizes on the long road to the election. Leslie’s Knope’s City Council campaign dominated the fourth season, sometimes to the detriment of other storylines and characters, but it was never just Leslie’s story. Everyone got pulled into its orbit. In a sense, none of the other storylines matter. Schur approached this episode like a possible series finale because they were still in renewal limbo during production (and when it aired). It’s hard to imagine a better note for the show to go out on. Especially since the last scene gives the cast yet another chance to play drunk, something they are really, really good at.  (Jeremiah White)

(1) “The Other Woman” – Mad Men

Easily the most controversial episode of television in 2012, “The Other Woman” caused a deluge of critical writing, primarily about whether or not Joan Harris would truly trade her body for a partnership. Some found Joan’s actions out of character (I didn’t) and Matthew Weiner’s presentation exploitative (also disagree – although the way the Jaguar dealer’s sausage fingers are photographed, the attention paid to his gruesome touch, should make anyone’s skin crawl). Putting aside the Joan storyline and Don’s brilliant pitch to Jaguar, which is all great and engrossing television, “The Other Woman” features 2012’s most beautiful scene. Peggy quitting SCDP, the way Don at first lashes out and then holds her hand, and Peggy’s throaty “don’t be a stranger”… yeesh, I’m catching feelings just writing about it. Often overlooked thanks to the Joan controversy, Peggy giving notice is a huge moment in one of television’s most complicated and unique relationships, and a major shake-up for the Mad Men status quo. Don’t be a stranger, Pegs. (Jeff Hart)

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