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Best Episodes from the shows I’ve watched this year

Salon is putting up their best episodes of 2011 so that got me to thinking about what the best TV I’ve watched this year has been. I’ll do my own top 15 list! I’m only counting shows that were new to me (sorry, Buffy). I am going to exclude reality shows because as I looked at each I would think “yeah, I like that show, but nothing really stands out to me as a fantastic episode that made great TV” (sorry “Jersey Shore”). Oh, and for the sake of simplicity, I’m only going to count shows where I watched at least a full season.

Here’s what I’ll be choosing from (and not everything will make the list):

Skins: Season 3
Damages: Season 1
Survivors: Season 2
Life after People: Season 1
Pulling: Season 2
Downton Abbey
Life on Mars (the US version)
10 Things I Hate About You
Sherlock
The Pillars of the Earth
Star Trek: the next generation:  Seasons 1-3 (and part of 4)
Ghost Whisperer: Seasons 1
Home Movies Seasons: 2-4
Portlandia Season: 1
Fringe: Season 1
Being Human (UK): Season 3
Leverage: Season 2-current
Community: Season 2-current
Parenthood: Season 1-current
Modern Family: Season 1-current
30 Rock: Season 4
Bones: Season 6-current
Family Guy: Season 9-current
Glee: Season 2-3
Grey’s Anatomy: Season 7-current
Parks and Recreation: Season 3-current
Terra Nova: Season 1
Revenge: Season 1(current)
Grimm: Season 1(current)
How I Met Your Mother: Season 6-current
The Walking Dead: Season 2
Doctor Who: Season 6
The Office:

Combine that with reality tv programming and shows started but not finished…yeah, I’d say I watch a lot of TV. What was the best?

15. Fringe: “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”
I seriously need to see more of this show because it is just smart SciFi. Not every story is gripping, but it’s always based on some sort of reality. I chose this episode as a favorite because we meet a reoccurring villain. It’s also a tense and exciting episode that highlights what this show does best. Not a watch instantly, but you can catch up via disk through Netflix and watch more recent stuff on Hulu.

14. Leverage: “The Rashomon Job”
This is one of those before they all met episodes crossed with a they’ve crossed paths before story. But in pure “Leverage” fashion it’s funny, interesting, and fun to watch. This episode really won’t hold with anyone that doesn’t know the characters because, really, this show is about them as people and how they interact with each other. It reinforces why each person plays the role they do in the group (or, you know, you could watch the intro credits to see who does what…but this is a more interesting way). I was recently very thrilled to discover that Amazon has recent eps online, so I pay per episode for this show.

13. Home Movies: “Renaissance”
Go watch this show right now. It will make your day. Especially if you’re a nerd and you get to the episode “Renaissance.” SciFi nerds and Fantasy nerds face off. It’s hilarious. It may be my most favorite animated show of all time.  Watch on Netflix!

12. Downton Abbey: “Episode 6”
I can’t wait to watch Season 2 of this show, and it’s hard to pick just one favorite episode. But what is it about penultimate episodes in British series? “Episode 6” was probably my favorite of the series. Political events of the times come to a head as well as two characters finally admitting their love. There’s all sorts of good drama in this episode of a fantastic show. Watch it on Netflix!

11. Sherlock: “The Great Game”
Ok, I don’t mean to litter this list with all British shows, but this is another great one. And again, I can’t wait for season 2. The first season is only 3 episodes long, but my favorite was the third, “The Great Game.” We learn more about both Sherlock and Watson and about their arch rival. It ends in a cliffhanger too! Available to watch instantly on netflix.

10. Community “Paradigms of Human Memory”
If ever there was a hard show to pick a favorite from it would be “Community.” I couldn’t fill this entire list with their episodes so I narrowed it down to two. The first is this one. Or maybe I should have picked “Critical Film Studies”? ARGH too hard! Human Memory is so great because it’s made up of a ton of flashbacks that never actually happened. That’s the genius of this show. And in the end the group comes together-which is what I like best. Hulu it now (yes, I just turned Hulu into a verb).

9. Grey’s Anatomy “Song Beneath the Song”
Aka the musical episode. Not every song is a hit, but Sara Ramirez’s rendition of “The Song” by Brandi Carlile moved me so much I asked my husband if we could include it as a reading at our wedding. We did. Any episode that can touch me personally is a good one in my book. This episode in particular is haunting and moving like the best Grey’s episodes are. I believe this is on Netflix, but it’s also a Hulu show.

8. Modern Family “Dude Ranch”
This is one of those shows where I say that I like it, but it’s hard to point to any one episode that really does it for me. Yet, there is “Dude Ranch” which opens up the 4th season. It’s kind of like the epitome of a “Modern Family” ep. Cameron is a drama queen, Mitchell is awkward, Phil just wants recognition from Jay, and Clare is a control freak. Yet they all come together as a family at the end…after an episode full of pithy one liners and tons of wit! Older seasons are available through disk via Netflix, but new stuff is on Hulu.

7. Parks and Recreation “Citizen Knope”
I’m not sure if I picked this episode because it is the freshest in my memory or not, but it’s still a great one. It’s the latest episode to have aired and in perfect Christmas spirit it’s incredibly sweet and shows all the Parks and Rec crew coming together to honor Leslie. It, of course, displays the same brand of humour the show always brings. I watch it on Hulu.

6. How I Met Your Mother: “Disaster Averted”
I think that this episode does what HIMYM does best. It utilizes the flashbacks in a smart way and also recalls past actions by the characters (2 slaps in this ep!). Kevin seems like a natural addition to the show which helps, and we get to see how Baby Eriksen came to be. Like I’ve mentioned before, I have to pay per episode on Amazon for this show.

5. Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife”
Penned by Niel Gaiman, it’s a sun in a season full of stars. I can’t think of an ep that I hated this season, but this one is definitely one of the best. The TARDIS takes human shape! How cool is that? It was a weird and wacky episode with the Doctor being very Doctor like. Amy and Rory are there which is cool too. In fact their scenes are really kind of creepy. Such a good example of what this show does best! I get my in-laws to DVR this for me, but now I own the 6th season on DVD and will definitely give it a re-watch!!

4. The Office: “Goodbye Michael”
Ok, I cried during this episode; the one where Steve Carell leaves the show. How touching was it to see everyone sing for him? And his farewell with Pam when he says (although we can’t hear  it because his mic has been given back) “that’s what she said.” The previous couple of seasons leading up to this weren’t exactly stellar, but it’s like I had a history with these people and the emotional impact of Michael Scott leaving was pretty great. You can catch up on Netflix or watch via Hulu. Your choice!

3. Doctor Who: “The Wedding of River Song”
I love getting the answers to questions that a show has set up all season long, and this episode answers a lot of them (not all, because that wouldn’t be fun). I also love how they bring back a lot of familiar faces. I can’t go into too much detail of the plot because that would take a ton of space, but I do like how everyone comes together in the end and things seem to work out.

2. Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Best of Both Worlds Parts I and II”
Oh man, what can I say about the season 3 cliffhanger and season 4 opener? I’m sure this episode tops a lot of lists for best TNG eps. I knew Picard’s transformation was coming, I just didn’t know how it would go down. There have been other episodes that feature the fine acting by Patrick Stewart, but this one really does a great job at highlighting his skills. Aside from the acting (which, really, was great all around) the story was pretty intense, smart, and compelling. It’s everything I look for not only in good SciFi, but in good television. All of Star Trek (classic to current) is on Netflix watch instantly.

1. Community “Regional Holiday Musical”
From Troy and Abed rapping to Annie subtly (?) mocking sexy Santa songs the last episode to air (for a long time) not so subtly pokes fun at “Glee.” It’s really a great example of their usual storytelling. It combines aspects from Human Memory by planting fake flashbacks and really shows how these characters all have an effect on each other. Also, completely hilarious! I think this episode really got me to laugh the most during this season. Go watch it right now on Hulu!

This was wicked hard to do! I had more than 15 but couldn’t quite make it to 20 so I had to pare it down. But I want to give an honorable mention to “Portlandia” for that song in the first episode. I also cut “Survivors” but that deserves a mention too.

Robbed

Steve Carell, you were robbed! It sucks, but Jim Parsons from the “Big Bang Theory” won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

UGH! I do not understand the fascination with that show. I really don’t. I guess a lot of people can say the same thing for “The Office” and a lot of it comes down to personal preference, but out of the handful of episodes I’ve watched of BBT I just don’t get it. And I don’t understand why Jim Parsons deserves an Emmy. His character seems to never change.

You may think that Carell played Michael Scott over the top, but there were so many moments on “The Office” that were nuanced, soft, and really emotional. A lot of those moments were in this past season. Steve Carell really brought out a different side of Michael along with the zaney comedian that we love.

Robbed I say! Especially compared to the rest of the competition in the same category! Alec Baldwin! Louis C.K.!

I did mention how unbalanced the Emmys were this year when it came to “Modern Family” in an earlier post.  Both Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen won from that show. I think Julie was definitely my pick for her category, but maybe I would have gone with Eric Stonestreet in his. I just find him funnier. Anyway, I still think looking to award shows like the Emmys as some sort of benchmark might be a mistake. What do awards like these tell us anyway? That “Modern Family” is a great comedy and “Downton Abbey” is a worthwhile miniseries? Already known! What about the shows that aren’t nominated is that like saying they aren’t award worthy? That “Community” isn’t an outstanding comedy? Because I really disagree. It has far better writing than “30 Rock” especially when compared to last season.

I know I’m far from the first person to say this, and I won’t be the last. So, I’ll leave you with Jane Lynch’s funny opening from last night’s awards. It’s the only bit of the ceremony that I’ve watched. No cable means I don’t watch shows like this. I thought I would miss the awards show season, but once we cut the cord I found out that all I really cared about was finding out who the statues go to…and then giving in to my righteous anger about who inevitably was snubbed.

Upstairs Downstairs vs. Downton Abbey

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Upstairs Downstairs vs. Downton AbbeyJust to be clear I am referring to the newly revived Upstairs Downstairs that aired in England in December 2010. Both shows are Masterpiece Classic shows on PBS. Upstairs Downstairs aired on BBC and Downton Abbey aired on ITV. They also both happen to deal with a well to do titled family residing in the “upstairs” and the people that wait on them living in the “downstairs.” I really enjoyed both shows and am excited to see each one continue on.

Upstairs Downstairs

This show has a long history to draw from, and it’s a history that I really can’t draw from as I’ve never seen the show before. I recognize that anyone who watched the former incarnation of the show will feel nostalgia for 165 Eaton Place and for the former parlour maid Rose Buck. I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I’m not excited to see the currently in ruins home turned into something fabulous.

Set in 1936, there are definite world issues concerning just about everyone in the show. Royalty plays a large issue in this series. We become familiar with Ms. Simpson and the Duke of Kent (played by Blake Ritson who I recognized from the recent TV remake of Emma). After having seen “The King’s Speech”I was really rather annoyed at the inaccuracies surrounding the Duke. He didn’t even stutter once. But I guess you couldn’t really have such a young (inaccuracy #1) and good looking actor like that slow down the plot like that. The show wasn’t about him.
The show was about the upstairs family and the downstairs family. Each had their own dramas. For only three episodes I would say a lot was crammed in. At times it felt like a lot. I’m glad the next season will give the writers time to stretch things out a bit so that we, as an audience, can catch our breaths. With so much material to work with I think the cast handled the material very well. The acting is pretty good and I don’t have any complaints.
Again, the only thing I can say is that there is too much packed into three episodes. The final episode feels like overload as well. Everything is resolved as well as throwing us a few revelations about the Hollands. The final Christmas scene is a bit sappy as well. Again, it’s meant to invoke a nostalgia I just don’t feel.

Downton Abbey

One of the key differences between this show and Upstairs Downstairs is that Downton Abbey focuses more on the drama within the family – which extends to the staff. Sure there are world events that effect the family, but it ends up being more atmospheric. Like U/D we see how “modern” conveniences influence the people of the day. Electricity is the big one in this series. I really enjoy the set of Downton Abbey a lot more than I do U/D. Highclere Castle served as the location for the household so, to me, it felt much more real. Production value felt much higher on this series.

Character back stories of the staff play a large role of the season. I think the writers do an excellent job in taking care of each of their characters. The rest of the time concerns itself with what Lady Mary calls “the Great Matter” aka. the Endowment. After Earl Grantham’s heirs perished in the sinking of the Titanic, his title and endowment is determined that it will go to a distant relative. Because of the workings of his father, the dowry of Cora, the Earl’s wife, is wrapped up so tightly in the endowment that it cannot be broken and passed on to their daughter. And because she is also a woman, neither can the title. Stupid laws.

I love the plot lines in this series. No episode is boring to me. The acting is really top-notch. Yes, it has Dame Maggie Smith as a draw, but even if it didn’t it would still be able to stand on its own.

If you must pick one of these shows, pick Downton Abbey. But, really, they’re both great if you’re into turn of the century peerage and the people in service.

Downton Abbey is available as a watch instantly on Netflix (but it looks soooo awesome on Blu ray as well).