We've been counting down the 50 best episodes of 2002 all week and we conclude today with our top 10. The episodes on this list are based on nominations by myself and the staff as to what we think the standout moments of the year were. In some cases while we were fans of certain series we couldn't pin down a particular episode we thought was of special merit so don't be stunned to see a few of our regular favorites missing from the list.
10. "c.s.i.: abra cadaver" (cbs)
originally aired october 31, 2002
It took a while for the Vegas centered series to finally explore the city's panache for magical acts and boy was this one a dozy. Tom Noonan (literally) stole the show as The Amazing Zephyr, a magician who ended up murdering his own child to cover for his own disappearance. The best and creepiest moment though came as Noonan's character is being driven away by the police. Just as the executive producer credit is about to appear, his mouth opens and we see the faint glimmer of a key. Boo.
9. "smallville: red" (wb)
originally aired october 15, 2002
Somehow "Smallville" seems to get better and better with each passing week and this episode in which Clark (Tom Welling) is infected by a red version of the meteor rocks has been the pinnacle thus far. In what could have been a throwaway stand-alone episode (Clark turns evil, we fix him, all is good), this entry actually turned out to have devastating affects on the entire series. From Clark coming forward with his affections for Lana to Jonathan Kent having to take up arms against his own son, this episode had repercussions that couldn't be fixed with the usual "that's just Smallville spookiness" many episodes wrote its supernatural events off with.
8. "the shield: pilot" (fx)
originally aired march 12, 2002
Let's just say that I didn't think this show had the balls to be what it advertised. In general the TV definition of "rogue cop" translates into the typical cop who happens to beat up a suspect here and there, doesn't deal well with authority and curses like a sailor. Well for the first 50 minutes or so it was the typical "rogue cop" status quo for Detective Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis). That was until he picked up a downed suspect's gun and murdered a fellow cop (Reed Diamond) in the closing minutes of the pilot. They had the balls folks.
7. "boomtown: pilot" (nbc)
originally aired september 29, 2002
"Boomtown" is one of those series whose concept is better explained through execution than description. Advertised as "a single crime... from every point of view" the series is harder to pin down than that. From its title cards to how the events in each episode overlap in unexpected ways, "Boomtoown's" pilot provided a much-needed spin on the typical procedural drama. Just as interesting is its fine cast, with our early favorite being Mykelti Williamson as Detective Bobby "Fearless" Smith whose introduction (leaving a hotel after spending the night with a call girl, one of the 100 things he wants to do before he dies) is about as original as they come.
6. "once & again: gardenia" (abc)
originally aired january 11, 2002
How anyone can watch this episode and not have an Emmy overnighted to Susanna Thompson's residence is beyond me. After a debilitating car accident, Karen (Thompson) has to literally rebuild her life. Through the series' trademark black and white interview segments we really get to see what an intriguing (not to mention downright gorgeous) woman her character is as she battles with learning to walk again and where she fits into the world.
5. "the wire: cleaning up" (hbo)
originally aired september 1, 2002
"This is me, yo, right here," says a sobbing Wallace (Michael B. Jordan) as his two life long friends (Tray Chaney, J.D. Williams) hold a gun to him on orders from above to get rid of him. You'd be hard pressed to find a harder to watch sequence than this one in 2002 as Poot and Bodie have to step up and get rid of the gentle and kind-hearted Wallace. I get the shivers just thinking about it.
4. "six feet under: the last time" (hbo)
originally aired june 2, 2002
After a season that dared us to hate virtually every character on the show (I mean how many scenes did we need of Brenda shagging yet another guy behind Nate's back?), "Six Feet Under" rebounded with a stellar finale that harkened back to the series' best moments. Nate (the always fantastic Peter Krause) stole the show in this one: from a gut-wrenching scene in which a friend literally dies in front of his eyes to the haunting image of himself, head shaven, being wheeled into the operating room, the show went out with all the promise and pathos it started with last year.
3. "24: 11:00 p.m.-12:00 midnight" (fox)
originally aired may 21, 2002
While it certainly was fun seeing Jack go "Die Hard" on Dennis Hopper and company, the final moments of the episode were absolutely heartbreaking. As the seconds tick away toward midnight, Jack holds his dying wife just a scant few minutes after being shot by his traitorous ex-lover. No happy ending. No celebration. Just tick, tick, tick... black. Wow.
2. "the sopranos: whoever did this" (hbo)
originally aired november 10, 2002
For all the backhanded criticism "The Sopranos" took this year, one can't deny that the grisly death of Ralph Cifaretto was among the series' highlights. But what was memorable about the episode was not so much its gore or shock value, but its surprising insight into the character of Tony Soprano. Crucial to Tony's journey has been his lack of the ability to control his carnal instincts and this episode let loose the monster within. Upset over the torching of his beloved racehorse, Tony loses all piece of mind with Ralph (whom himself is recovering from the mauling of his son by an arrow) and the ensuing battle is difficult to watch. No punching and kicking here, just two men overcome by animalistic rage, the result of which felt truly sickening.
1. "the wire: sentencing" (hbo)
originally aired september 8, 2002
Without question "The Wire's" season finale was one of those episodes where afterward you shut the television off and sit there for a few minutes stunned by what you just watched. By far and away the best new series of 2002, David Simon's drama literally reinvented how a cop series could be done in the same way Stephen Bocho did a decade ago with "N.Y.P.D. Blue." Cynical, raw and without the rampant showboating for Emmys many series out there pull, "The Wire" really felt like you were watching actual people, not just characters. And whose spine didn't chill a little when McNulty is asked "So, where don't you want to go?" or had their stomach drop when McNulty himself declares in the final sequence, "Jesus, what the hell have I done?" About as good as television can possibly get.