Listmania 2012: Best TV Episodes of the Year (20-11)
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 begin ranking the best TV episodes of 2012. There was a lot of great TV last year and there are only three of us editors, so it's very likely we missed something. We tried to get every show that we like represented before putting any show on the list twice, which is why there aren't six Mad Men episodes on here. Whatever, who cares, it's a list on the internet. LETS TALK TV!
Having a vague sense of how the third season would go from having read the comics, I thought that giving Woodbury and The Governor an entire episode to themselves would be the most efficient way to introduce such a large new element to the show, but I was worried The Walking Dead couldn’t pull it off. In the third season’s third episode, they did. Focusing entirely on Andrea and Michonne being taken in by the Woodbury residents highlighted the differences between this community and our favorite prison-dwellers. It’s like an episode of a different show, where the zombies are less of a threat than a man who demands, and receives, absolute obedience from his followers. It’s a sign of where the show is headed, a terrific introduction to David Morrissey’s surprisingly nuanced take on The Governor, and a welcome vacation from the spartan lifestyle of the main group. (Jeremiah White)
Remember when it seemed like Last Resort could be the breakout serialized drama that’s been missing from the networks since Lost flitted up to heaven? I can actually pinpoint the exact moment that feeling occurred to me. It’s right when Andre Braugher’s rebellious nuclear submarine captain, toeing the line between chessmaster and despot as he would all season, delivers his bracing declaration of hostilities to the United States. The Last Resort pilot is balls-to-the-wall ambitious, like a pulpy spy comic come to life, with its sprawling cast of characters and daring dystopian future (which is sometimes uncomfortably real). It’s incredible this kind of show ever made it to air on network, and completely unsurprising that it was never allowed to meet its potential. (Jeff Hart)
Yes, we're largely ignoring this season’s surprising, emotionally wrenching and generally excellent cancer storyline. It’s been great, but it’s hard to encapsulate in a single episode. "Trouble in Candyland", on the other hand, nicely sums up Lauren Graham’s self-destructive streak when her ill-advised decision to ditch her lovable puppy dog fiancé Jason Ritter for the weekend to help her lovable misanthrope boss Ray Romano blows up in her face. The resultant break up is one of the most brutal examples yet of the messy, nasty arguments that Parenthood does so well. And just because this episode isn’t cancer-centric doesn’t mean it can't pad Monica Potter’s ample Emmy reel (as if). Kristina “doping it up” to alleviate her chemo sickness and receiving an unexpected visit from a Braverman is one of Parenthood’s all-time funniest scenes and more than makes up for this episode’s weak Pamela Adlon plot. (Jeremiah White)
It took a long while for Luck to really click. Right out of the gate, it was clear with David Milch’s latest that we were watching something important, something serious, a show bursting with talented actors doing wonderful work in extraordinarily inscrutable ways, and with the usual alley-cat Shakespearean Milch dialogue to boot. It finally happens in Episode Seven - the characters no longer feel at arm’s length, their flailing and tenuous emotional connections suddenly resonate. I’m not sure what does it; Ace’s visit to the horse retirement home, Jo and Escalante dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, or maybe Jerry finally getting lucky. It could be any of those things that caused Luck to finally click for me. Or maybe it’s just Mr. Israel getting his head bashed in. (Jeff Hart)
Way back in the pilot, Raylan’s ex-wife told him he was the angriest man she’s ever known. Over the course of three seasons, we’ve seen many examples of what she’s talking about, but the Season 3 finale may be the series’ most essential episode in understanding how he ended up like this. The relationship between Raylan and his father Arlo has always been acrimonious, and the scene where Raylan shrugs off Arlo’s apology for old injuries is a reminder of how little hope there is for any sort of reconciliation. Then, the episode ends with Arlo copping to a murder he didn’t commit, in order to free his current partner/adoptive son, and Raylan’s longtime adversary, and Raylan realizing that when Arlo shot a state trooper, he actually thought he was pulling the trigger on Raylan. "Slaughterhouse" wraps up many of the season’s plots in exciting, bloody fashion while keeping lots of players on the board for Season 4, but it’s the emotional punch of the still simmering feud between Raylan and his father that makes it so memorable. (Jeremiah White)
When the state of Ohio was called for President Obama on election night, numerous Democrats cheered, while a multitude of Republicans wept. Those reactions may seem a little extreme, but nothing can compare to what happened to Karl Rove. As FOX News was calling the election for Obama, Rove decided to wrap himself in a cloak of obstinate denial, and have a fully televised meltdown. We all know Rove had a dog in this fight (aww), but watching him experience the entire Kübler-Ross model on air was utterly mesmerizing. Oh, and Megyn Kelly is the worst. (Giovanny Caquias)
The first season of Veep really runs together for me, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering how consistently sharp every episode is, but does make it difficult to pick a “favorite.” I went with “Full Disclosure” because it lassos a bunch of the season’s plot threads: Selina’s relationship/pregnancy, the Dan/Amy rivalry, ‘smiling ape’ secret service agent, Dan’s shady dealings with a senator. All this leads to the best Selina blow-up of the season – how much JLD gets to curse and seethe is a major factor in choosing Veep episodes for me – where she threatens to fire her three main staffers, suicide pact or not. We also get a glimpse of Jonah’s roommate-filled apartment, which is presumably where he hides his ‘fetching dick-shaped hats.’ (Jeff Hart)
“Holy shit, Leslie. That was awesome,” says city council candidate Bobby Newport after Leslie absolutely crushes him with her closing statement which, sucker as I am for sincerely delivered anti-corporate power-to-the-people speeches, legitimately gives me chills every time I watch it. Besides being consistently funny (that’s almost par for the course with Parks), “The Debate” manages to pay off weeks of build-up with a nail-biting head-to-head showdown between Leslie and Newport. You actually care about the fate of this imaginary, backwards little town! And, if that’s not enough, it has Andy Dwyer reenacting Roadhouse and Rambo for a rapt crowd of big money donors. Awesome, indeed. (Jeff Hart)
It might not be a good sign for Girls that the first season’s best episode was a standalone affair that focused on Lena Dunham, took her out of the series’ normal setting and largely ignored the rest of the regular cast. "The Return" is like a 30-minute entry in the “a visit home” movie genre (of which I am very fond) and it handles the expectant swirl of alienation, familiarity, suffocation, freedom, confusion and comfort as well as most feature films three times its length. Out of it all, Hannah becomes someone worth rooting for, and it’s nice to see her actually have a good time for once (so much angst!). In the end, maybe it’s a great sign for Girls that Lena Dunham is capable (with a little help from Judd Apatow) of crafting such an excellent episode of television regardless of where she is and who she's with. (Jeremiah White)
When Mad Men does an episode about “getting away,” they don’t fuck around. Don forces Megan to play hooky with him and then leaves her stranded in a Howard Johnson’s parking lot (cold-blooded!). In Don’s absence, Peggy pitches the Heinz people solo, and ends up doing her best Don impression by berating them. Then she takes the Draper impersonation even further with a midday movie, a sexual escapade, and a healthy dose of liquor. Finally, in my personal favorite, Roger drops acid and decides to end his marriage in a surprisingly serene and beautiful scene. "Far Away Places" is stylistically adventurous, not just because all three stories take place in a single day and are told in a non-linear loop. But also for Roger’s LSD sequence featuring half-second cigarettes and John Slattery as Two-Face. And for Don’s palpable terror when he can’t find Megan, which had me seriously wondering if Mad Men was about to get really dark. Mad Men has spanned 7 years in just 5 seasons, but it’s still capable of making a single day a life-altering experience for its characters. (Jeremiah White)