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 2004 on Friday. The episodes on this list are based on nominations by myself and regular visitors to the site 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 sopranos: all due respect"
(originally aired june 6, 2004)
The tug-of-war between Tony Soprano and Johnny Sack comes to a conclusion in this episode, although not in the bloodfest viewers long expected. Just as the two finally make peace, the F.B.I. busts Sack and his New York crew while Tony is forced to scurry away like a wounded dog. Now there's that whole "waiting 20 months" betweens seasons thing to chew on.
19. "joan of arcadia: only connect"
(originally aired september 24, 2004)
It's kind of amazing how this show seems to find new ways to make the Girardi's bad times get even worse. In this case during the show's season season opener Will learns that the kid who was in the accident that paralyzed Kevin is suing them despite literally walking away unscathed. The closing moments in which Will tells his wife the news is absolutely crushing and a stellar piece of acting by both Joe Mantegna and Mary Steenburgen.
18. "deadwood: suffer the little children"
(originally aired may 9, 2004)
It's here that "Deadwood" evolved from great to never-miss-a-f**ing-episode great as two con-artists are caught and pay a hefty price for their crimes. Especially notable is Kristen Bell's character (the future "Veronica Mars"), who managed to get under quite a few people's skin in horrifying ways.
17. "sex and the city: an american girl in paris, parts une & deux"
(originally aired february 15-22, 2004)
About as fun and as perfect one could expect this series to end, as each of the show's quartet finds their respective happiness. In Carrie's case it's the inevitable coupling with Big whom thanks to a nice closing sequence, we can finally call "John."
16. "scrubs: my screw up"
(originally aired february 24, 2004)
"Scrubs" might be one of the funniest shows on TV, but in many cases it's also one of TV's most touching. This episode is particular, in which Dr. Cox takes over the narrating duties, really packs quite a punch. When Dr. Cox's best friend comes to visit (an always fun Brendan Fraser), he learns that he hasn't sought treatment for the past two years for his cancer. It all leads to a "Sixth Sense"-esque twist that only this show could pull off and not look ridiculous.
15. "the wire: moral midgetry"
(originally aired november 14, 2004)
It was the showdown we all knew had to happen as Stringer surprisingly confesses to Avon his ordering the death of his nephew after being chided over his lack of toughness: "You know the difference between me and you? I'm bleedin' red and you bleedin' green. I look at you these days, String, you know what I see? I see a man without a country. Not hard enough for this right here and maybe, just maybe, not smart enough for them out there..." What follows is absolutely, jaw dropping riveting as Idris Elba and Wood Harris prove themselves to be some of TV's most talented actors.
14. "24: day 3: 12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m."
(originally aired may 25, 2004)
After two seasons of cliffhangers, the producers of "24" opt to go a different direction in the third-season closer as Kiefer Sutherland does what any normal person would do after saving the world from a potential terrorist attack: lock himself in his car and let it all out.
13. "the shield: on tilt"
(originally aired june 15, 2004)
After finishing season two on the top of the world, the Strike Team wraps season three at the bottom of the barrel. Friendships are destroyed and the money train is lost as the Armenian mob closes in on their trail.
12. "everwood: the day is done"
(originally aired may 10, 2004)
It just amazes me how this series continues to shuffle the deck chairs without seeming like a stunt or breaking character. The season two finale was just another example of this as Dr. Brown (the give-him-an-Emmy-nomination-already Treat Williams) tells a pregnant Madison to leave town so his son can have a normal childhood. On any other show it would seem absolutely ridiculous or campy, but here it fells like exactly what the Dr. Brown we all know and love would actually do.
11. "nip/tuck: joan rivers"
(originally aired october 5, 2004)
The show's second season closer brought its trademark "holy crapness" to a whole new level as Ava (Famke Janssen) is revealed to be - wait for it - a transsexual and - oh yes, wait for it - Adrian really isn't her son. Even more shocking is the final seconds as the "Carver" serial killer avoids the trap set by Sean only to find another victim instead - Dr. Christian Troy.