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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.

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Fall TV Premiere Week Round 3

And so it continues and ends (for now…I’m still waiting for a few new shows to pop up). A lot of comedy in this block! Except for Whitney. Who knows what that was supposed to be.Whitney

I had heard that this show really wasn’t worth the time. The advertising campaign didn’t do much to win me over either. But, at the end of a long night of TV watching my husband and I decided to see just how terrible it was. In the end, we agree with Hulu’s The Morning After in how they rank NBC’s Thursday comedy block in terms of which episodes this week were the best. “Whitney” falls squarely at the bottom.Part of the problem is that it is filmed in front of a live audience. This prevents the show from doing anything creative with its storytelling. It’s all linear, no cutaways, nothing unique. For example, when Whitney goes to go find something sexy to go put on for her boyfriend instead of a cut to seeing her coming out of the bathroom in another outfit or something we have to watch and listen to her paw through her terrible underwear drawer. I felt like I was watching a terrible sitcom from the 80s or 90s.

The other problem is that the jokes all fall flat. Seriously, nothing is funny in this show. The characters aren’t funny, and the actors aren’t making me laugh. The writing is just atrocious. I kept hearing, prior to the show’s premier, that Whitney is known for being such a cutting edge comic; she’s so real and dirty. She makes jokes about vaginas and doesn’t hold back. I know this is network TV, but there wasn’t even a hint of that! Even if some of that was brought to the show I don’t think it would help.

There are all sorts of issues with this show, but the one that caused me to have a real pained expression on my face came when the topic of marriage came up at the end of the episode. Here are two characters who pretty much say that they really love each other and are definitely committed to each other. They don’t want to be with anyone else and don’t foresee wanting to be with anyone else. Whitney has an epiphany that she loves her boyfriend so much after he has an accident that puts him in the hospital that she really does want to spend the rest of her life with him. Yet they won’t get married because Whitney is “scared” of marriage! Look, I get it’s a personal choice for everyone and that a lot of couples are choosing these days not to do it. But in this show Whitney is prevented from going in to see her boyfriend in the hospital. She has seen firsthand one of the many benefits to being married. They admit that they love each other and are committed enough to be married. Yet marriage is too “scary.” WTF. I do not understand.

But then again I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who is 4 months into marriage. I chose it because yes, it is scary, but also wonderful.

Prediction: Cancelled by mid-season. No one is liking this show and I see why. I don’t think this show can be saved unless they change up the style and I’m pretty sure it’s too late to do that. Unless I’m in the mood to lambaste something I doubt I’ll give this show a second chance.

Community
Last season Pierce was pretty much a d-bag most of the time. And then he redeemed himself at the end of the paintball match (game? war?). Or at least the show has presented Pierce as being redeemed. I don’t have the warm and fuzzies for him yet. I think that he was too much of a jerk to be forgiven so easily. But the group seems to have welcomed him back more easily than I have.Musical number! Just go watch it. Because it’s pretty funny. And it sets the theme for this episode: trying to be normal.

Biology 101 is the new class everyone is taking. Well, until Jeff got himself kicked out for some shenanigans with his phone (oh Jeff and his phone). He winds up creating a feud between himself and the professor (who is pretty intimidating). Jeff also freaks out and has a mild psychotic break in the study room. But who hasn’t by this point? Abed has yet another little mental thing go on during this episode as well. He found out “Cougar Town” was a mid-season replacement so Britta tries to find other shows for him to like. She finds a British show similar to “Cougar Town” called “Cougartown Abbey” (I guess it’s similar? I know nothing about that show) but because the Brits are so good at closure it ends after 6 episodes. Cue Abed retreating back into his semi-comatose state.

And then comes “INSPECTOR SPACETIME”

It looks suspiciously like “Doctor Who.” I loved it. LOVED IT!

And Abed loved it. This parody was the best thing about this episode for me. I want to say that the fact that Abed falling in love with the pseudo-”Doctor Who” makes him normal because DW has become so mainstream now. Or maybe becoming a fanboy is the opposite of normal which is par for the course for this group.

Also, we got to see a bit of John Goodman. We’ll be seeing more of him. He’s a good foil to the Dean which is great. It saves us from the same Dean/study group interactions over and over again.

I’ll also mention that Hulu+/NBC sucks because I pay for a Hulu+ subscription and this show isn’t included! I then pay extra to Amazon to be able to keep up with this show. Ridiculous!Prediction: Things are getting mixed up a bit this season. I feel a little shaken up and not quite settled yet when it comes to “Community.” I don’t know if it’s because a lot of other shows did 1 hour premiers or if I’m just not sure yet where we’re going this season. But I really love this show and I have faith in the creators.

Parks and Recreation
I don’t think I can adequately sum up this episode and fully express how funny it really is. They did a fine job picking up literally seconds from where last season left off. Leslie Knope is going to run for City Council. Her dream of running for office is going to come true! Sadly that means her relationship with Ben (which still had to stay under wraps) really needs to end now. The episode traces her avoiding telling Ben this news and ends with him knowing all along. He presents her with a present of a personalized Knope 2012 campaign button – awwwww! So sweet. But he breaks it off by making himself the bad guy- again awwww.Ron is in hiding from Tammy 1, but when he comes back (after Leslie tracks him down for some advice) he announces her big news to the department and says she’s going to get a new assistant. April then volunteers Andy for the job. This saves him from having to work for Tom whose company Entertainment 720 has done jack all so far except make lame swag (that they don’t even make themselves).

There was another subplot involving Anne and Chris and penises, but it really doesn’t need explaining; it was hardly the best part of the episode. Unless this leads them getting back together?

Prediction: Not the strongest or funniest of Parks and Rec eps I’ve seen, but it set up for where this season is going. We’ll follow Leslie on the campaign trail. I’m glad we’re going someplace new! Not that the show was getting stale, but mixing it up is always good. I’m thinking it’ll be a solid season.

The Office
Michael Scott, you are missed. Let’s not forget the large Michael sized hole that he left in that show. But, you know what? The season premiere was so awesome that I actually forgot about it pretty easily. The ensemble cast works so well together (as they should by now) that everything flowed and clicked. James Spader made an (as predicted) excellent addition to the cast.Just like it was mentioned over the summer, his character is actually now CEO. The big surprise is that Andy is the branch manager! Good for him! Of course his biggest challenge will be finding the strength to standing up to the crowd when it’s needed. We’ve already seen this happen in this first episode.

Robert California has branded half the office as “winners” and half as “losers.” I surmised that it’s all a mind game; something to get them all to work harder. And I was right. When he left his notebook behind “on accident” and was confronted about the list he was pretty honest. He said that the winners need to prove that they are winners and the losers need to become winners. I’d hate to be in that office, but it’s kind of genius. And it worked on Andy. Something about Robert got Andy all fired up and angry and ballsy enough to charge in and tell him just how much everyone in the office was a winner (except Gabe – he’s still a loser). Oh, and they get to leave at 3 the Friday before Columbus day.

There was some seriously good writing in this episode. Great jokes and great execution of those jokes. The planking was taken a bit far. It was funny for a minute or two and then I was bored.

Prediction: They seem to be making Andy into a mini-Michael in a way. So I’m not expecting drastic changes which can be good and bad. Good because “The Office” is a good show. Bad because I don’t want to be bored. We may get an uneven episode here and there, but that’s kind of how it’s been the past couple of years. I’ve been excited about James Spader joining the cast since it was only a possibility. I think he’s got chemistry with the ensemble will only continue to grow.

Modern Family
“Dude Ranch” and “When Kids Go Bad” are the two episodes that “Modern Family” opened the season with this past week. Both were pretty good. The first made great use of the entire cast as they visited a dude ranch. Phil, once again, tried to prove himself to his father-in-law. But Jay was too busy keeping his eyes on Hank (their host) who had eyes for Gloria. Mostly everybody got a hilarious cowboy nickname: Manny is Hollywood, Jay is Old-Timer, and Claire is Bossy. Phil waits almost all episode to get his moniker Buffalo Phil. “Worth the wait.”Mitchell is hung up on whether he can do guy stuff or not because he and Cam are going to try and adopt a boy. In the end he blows up a bird house with his nephew and figures he’ll learn along the way.

In the second episode we hear more of the suddenly older Lily speak. Unfortunately she’s saying stuff like “I hate the baby” and “I wanna make the baby dead.” Mitchell and Cam figure this stems from the way Cam coddles her – flash to a montage of ridiculous scenes of Cam taking Lily places you normally wouldn’t have a toddler….like holding her hand while she waits for you outside the shower. Turns out it may be Mitchell’s fault. But that’s discovered later in the episode.

In the meantime we have other story lines going on, like Manny stealing a locket and Gloria helps him cover up his crime, and Phil pushing Clare into a pile of cans at the supermarket (which Phil denies). Clare is so determined she’s right she just can’t let it go just like Jay can’t let go proving that Gloria helped Manny cover up his crime. Ultimately the point of this episode was that we get our bad habits from our family members. This episode works because 1. that statement is so true and 2. we know these characters so well now that their bad habits are funny to us.

Prediction: The second season was a really great one. I’m so afraid that, with multiple Emmy wins under their belts, things are going to get stale. I hope I’m proven wrong. I don’t want to see the “30 Rock” effect where things are great until a few Emmy wins makes everything go south. I’d love another consistent and great season like before. But, you know, leave room in the Emmy categories for some other shows this time ok?

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.

New Boss

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The Office has a new player. James Spader has been hired to replace Steve Carell. You may remember him appearing as Robert California in his interview at the end of last season.

The Hollywood Reporter gives us 5 things to know about the new “Office” CEO.

I’m super excited about this casting news! For me it was a tie between Spader and Catherine Tate as to who I wanted to see around The Office. I loved Spader’s creepy sexual vibe (because, let’s admit it, he’s best when he’s being creepy).

I’ll definitely miss Steve Carell (I already did for the last few episodes), but I’m excited to see what this new character brings. I love The Office but I do think it’s time something shook it up a bit.

Watch on Hulu.