[01/06/10 - 10:40 AM]
The 50 Best Episodes of 2009: #30-21
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

It's time once again for our annual list of the 50 best episodes of the past year.

As usual we'll be counting down 10 episodes a day until we get to the best episode of 2009 on Friday. The episodes on this list are based on nominations by myself, the staff and you the readers as to what we think the standout moments of the year were.

This year actually marks our 10th anniversary of the doing this so be sure to revisit some of our previous picks using the links to the right.

Obviously our final list will differ from the ones you sent in - but that's half the fun! So sit back, relax and enjoy the countdown!

30. "the unit: hill 60" (cbs)
(originally aired: march 15, 2009)

"The Unit" at its damn-are-we-going-to-miss-it best as the team has to stop a poison gas attack in their own neighborhood. Between the inherent creepiness of said event (bodies randomly litter parking lots and such) to its surprising life-or-death urgency (they need to expose themselves to retrieve some nearby scuba gear), "The Unit" was/is action and adventure in every sense of the words.

29. "community: pilot" (nbc)
(originally aired: september 17, 2009)

It's been a while since a comedy pilot established such a unique story engine, in this case when the "remedial teens, twentysomething drop-outs, middle-aged divorcees and old people keeping their minds active as they circle the drain of eternity" of the world attend community college. It also proved to be the perfect showcase for Joel McHale, a star making vehicle for its supporting cast (Danny Pudi doing "The Breakfast Club" is still pretty indelible) and a reason to say that Chevy Chase is funny again.

28. "supernatural: the end" (the cw)
(originally aired: october 1, 2009)

Earlier this year, creator Eric Kripke joked that they'd be doing the Wal-Mart version of the apocalypse. Well if this is the Wal-Mart version of the apocalypse, one can only imagine what the non-big box store version is. Said episode, in which Dean is transported to 2014 by Zachariah to teach him a lesson about what's ahead if he continues down his current path, proved to be a frightening vision of the future in which a virus has zombified most of the populace and the ensuing struggle has turned him into a heartless killer.

27. "united states of tara" (showtime)
(originally aired: january 18, 2009)

Diablo Cody's foray into television took what easily could be written off as a cheap gimmick and turned it into a stunningly multi-layered story with an unexpectedly deep mythology. Equally as impressive is Toni Collette's fearlessness in her pursuits of each character with John Corbett's sweetly supportive Max as her true north. Expertly nuanced and textured, "Tara" was one of 2009's most earnest surprises.

26. "lie to me: pilot" (fox)
(originally aired: january 21, 2009)

The introduction of "deception detection" not only provided a fascinating new wrinkle to the usual mechanics of the crime procedural but it also began our weekly education in how human beings reveal themselves through the smallest of reactions. It also gave us our headmaster in such pursuits, the-more-than-welcome-to-TV Tim Roth, as well as one of the most beautiful closing sequences to an hour of television in recent memory.

25. "law & order: dignity" (nbc)
(originally aired: october 23, 2009)

Television rarely tackles abortion so color us stunned that "Law & Order" not only took it on, but expertly looked at both sides of the issue - creating a wow-I-can't-believe-they-are-actually-doing-this wedge between its characters, most notably Cutter and Rubirosa. Said event leads to the latter wanting to transfer to the white collar crime division however McCoy will have none of it - Cutter and Rubirosa are going to have to work out their issues. When was the last time a crime procedural did that?

24. "30 rock: dealbreakers talk show no. 001" (nbc)
(originally aired: december 3, 2009)

A 22-minute celebration of the random silliness and distinct characterization that makes "30 Rock" so great as Liz films the pilot to her "Dealbreakers" talk show. Whether it be its digs at NBC ("To Catch a Predator", the XFL), its sixth grade jokes (Jonathan: "Sir, a Mr. Adouche is on the phone? I. M. Adouche.") or its bizarre twists on reality (Liz, Jack and Kenneth under an HD lens), the voice of "30 Rock" is about as distinct as you can get.

23. "the big bang theory: the maternal capacitance" (cbs)
(originally aired: february 9, 2009)

The introduction of Christine Baranski as Leonard's mother was nothing short of a revelation. From her observations about Howard and Raj ("You know, both selective mutism and an inability to separate from one's mother can stem from a pathological fear of women. It might explain why the two of you have created an ersatz homosexual marriage to satisfy your need for intimacy.") to her advice to Leonard about Penny (find out what kind of cologne her father wears) to Sheldon's unabashed fondness of her (Sheldon: "What are the odds that two individuals as unique as ourselves would be connected by someone as comparatively workaday as your son?" Beverly: "Is that a rhetorical point, or would you like to do the math?" Sheldon: "I'd like to do the math."), Beverly upset the apple cart in multiple more than welcome ways.

22. "battlestar galactica: the oath" (syfy)
(originally aired: january 30, 2009)

While Zarek and Gaeta's attempt to take control of the Galactica would ultimately fail, boy if at the time it didn't look like anything could happen. Most impressive was just how effective the coup was as Zarek and Gaeta tap into the until-now underplayed resentment of a human/Cylon alliance. It was a welcome look at the opposite side of the Adama coin, one which in usual "Galactica" fashion highlighted the fact our heroes may not be in the right after all. The final episodes of "Galactica" definitely had their issues, but darn if "The Oath" wasn't among the show's best.

21. "friday night lights: tomorrow blues" (directv)
(originally aired: january 14, 2009)

The coda to the show's third season posited the impossible - Joe McCoy gets Eric pushed out as head coach, leaving his only option the fledgling East Dillion High. (Say it with me: "Whaaaa????") That, coupled with the latest round of senior departures, literally seemed to blow up the show. And while the subsequent season has proved all is still right in the world of "Friday Night Lights," boy at the time the finale scared us you-know-what-less, but more importantly impressed us with its boldness.

  [january 2010]  


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