It's time for our annual list of the 50 best episodes of the past year. (For previous lists check the bottom of this column.) We'll be counting down 10 episodes a day until we get to the best episode of 2003 on Friday. 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. Anyway, on with the show...
20. "the dead zone: zion" (usa)
originally aired: april 6, 2003
It takes a lot to surprise us and this episode, which fleshed out John L. Adams's character certainly came out of nowhere. One of Johnny's "visions" accidentially sends Bruce (Adams) into an alternate reality where he stayed in his home town to become a pastor like his father. It's also where we find out just how important Bruce is not only to Johnny's life but everyone else around him.
19. "the shield: dominoes falling" (fx)
originally aired: april 1, 2003
The final shot of season two might be the best yet of the series as the Strike Team finally rips off the "money train." God knows where this series is going, but damn if we all won't be there to find out.
18. "lucky: something for everyone" (fx)
originally aired: may 13, 2003
A funny and touching episode which focused on Lucky's (John Corbett) grief over his wife's suicide. It's here we get to see Lucky's final moments with her as he promises to be home by 1:00 only to return too late in order to save her. It's now a year later he opts to spend the anniversary of her death by live out her gift giving mantra: "something for myself, something for my friends, something for a stranger, something for my love." The result is easily one of the most engaging half-hours of 2003.
17. "nip/tuck: adelle coffin" (fx)
originally aired: september 30, 2003
Suicide is also featured in this episode in which Sean's (Dylan Walsh) affair with a cancer patient (Julie Warner) comes to a head. I don't know about you folks but there wasn't a more heart-breaking, creepy and downright painful moment than when Warner's character says "I think I'm going to put the bag over my head now."
16. "the wire: port in a storm" (hbo)
originally aired: august 24, 2003
"The Wire" once again reminded us happy endings are all too rare in the "real" world with its second season finale. Plus who couldn't help but get psyched about the impending showdown between Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) and Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) next season?
15. "alias: the telling" (abc)
originally aired: may 4, 2003
We cursed and screamed at our TV screens for hours after this episode, "Alias'" second season finale. Sydney (Jennifer Garner) awakens to hear a now married Vaughn tell her two years have passed since her fight with Allison Doren (Merrin Dungey). Sometimes three months between seasons just doesn't seem fair.
14. "everwood: the last of summer" (wb)
originally aired: september 15, 2003
Talk about a change in the status quo: Colin Hart (Mike Erwin) dies and the town blames Dr. Brown (Treat Williams) for it. Who saw that coming? "Everwood" has always done an amazing job of finding ways to change the deck chairs in the relationships between its characters and this was definitely a fine showcase of that fact.
13. "monk: mr. monk goes to the circus" (usa)
originally aired: july 18, 2003
Monk. Circus. What more needs to be said? (Okay maybe mimes.)
12. "nip/tuck: escobar gallardo" (fx)
originally aired: october 21, 2003
Almost an entire series' worth of plot threads came into play in this episode and all of them tied together in a beautiful swan song for the show's first season. Sure "Nip/Tuck" can be over the top, but damn if it isn't a compelling show to watch.
11. "smallville: perry" (wb)
originally aired: october 29, 2003
About as perfect as "Smallville" has ever been, especially in terms of acknowledging the big white elephant in the series: Clark (Tom Welling) will one day be a reporter for the Daily Planet, wear tights and be Superman. It continues to amaze me that Warner Bros. is trying to get a Superman movie off the ground when this generation's Superman is already out there. Do us all a favor: let the show run its course and hand the movie franchise over to Alfred Gough and Miles Millar.