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 2010 on Friday. The episodes on this list are based on nominations by myself, our merry band of freelancers and you the readers as to what we think the standout moments of the year were. And as always, be sure to revisit some of our previous picks in the archives.
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!
40. "party down: steve guttenberg's birthday" (starz)
(originally aired: may 21, 2010)
The man himself, Steve Guttenberg, was the driving force in this episode as he holds an impromptu workshop of Roman's latest sci-fi opus. It's a development that leads to a handful of realizations from our lovable band of misfits, whether it's Henry learning he shouldn't give up on his acting dream or Roman's eyes being opened to the fact someone else may have ideas that could make his script better. Man do we miss this show.
39. "the walking dead: days gone bye" (amc)
(originally aired: october 31, 2010)
Even with all its artistic self-indulgence, "Walking Dead" definitely left an impression right out of the gate. Whether it's David Tattersall's gritty cinematography, Greg Nicotero's feature-esque makeup work or Bear McCreary's solemn score, everything infused the show with an ethereal consciousness that was both beautiful and unsettling at the same time.
38. "parenthood: happy thanksgiving" (nbc)
(originally aired: november 23, 2010)
Virtually every subplot of the show's second season came to head in this episode as, among other things, Gordon steamrolls both Adam and Sarah with the news he's sold his company and plans to skip town, Zeek gives Drew's father a stern reminder he needs to work on his relationship with his son, Haddie skips out on the family's annual football game to spend time with her new beau, and Joel and Crosby bicker about their duties on their kids' school play. Combined they crystallized into a portrait of a family that despite their flaws, remains unflinchingly connected.
37. "men of a certain age: the bad guy" (tnt)
(originally aired: december 27, 2010)
There's an undercurrent of resigned happiness to this show that feels almost a little too real at times. The battles in "Men of a Certain Age" are small ones, such as in this episode in which Joe feels slighted by the wording of his divorce agreement. (She's the "plaintiff," he's the "defendant.") It's a wound that opens even further after discovering his teenage daughter is having sex and deepens with the news that she's already confided said development to her mother instead of him. Ultimately there's no victory for Joe here, rather just a somber realization that for better or worse, this is the new status quo.
36. "brothers & sisters: time after time" (abc)
(originally aired: april 11, 2010)
It's been a while since "Brothers & Sisters" unearthed a family secret that didn't involve the lineage of the Walker clan so color us floored by this episode, in which flashbacks recounted a life-changing night for a then teenaged Kevin. After a friend makes a pass at him, the still closeted Kevin lashes out and knocks him off the platform they were standing - an incident that paralyzes the boy, one which Nora kept from him all these years.
35. "it's always sunny in philadelphia: dee reynolds: shaping america's youth" (fx)
(originally aired: november 11, 2010)
Three words: Lethal Weapon 5. That is all.
34. "modern family: earthquake" (abc)
(originally aired: october 6, 2010)
An earthquake inadvertently creates wonderful microcosms of the show's various relationships in this episode, whether it's Phil trying to cover up his latest oversight from a trapped Claire, Manny having an existential crisis in front of Jay or Mitchell and Cam trying to get out of going to another of Pepper Salzman's elaborate costume parties. Plus it features probably my favorite couplet of the year: Pepper: "I feel like a joke." Cam: "You're not a joke. You're Pepper Salzman!"
33. "the middle: a birthday story" (abc)
(originally aired: november 3, 2010)
"The Middle" is probably one of the most consistently funny shows on television and none more so than this installment, which featured the Hecks feebly trying to hide from Brick the fact that, following his birth, they took home the wrong baby without realizing it... for a whole month.
32. "the good guys: pilot" (fox)
(originally aired: may 19, 2010)
This episode welcomed us to the awesomely colorful and ridiculous world of Jack Bailey and Dan Stark. Between the bad guys staying in budget hotels to save their boss a few bucks, the double gun shootouts and, of course, Stark's moustache, hardly a minute passed without a smile or a chuckle.
31. "spartacus: blood & sand - party favors" (starz)
(originally aired: march 26, 2010)
In a series ripe with decapitations and severed limbs, the death of Varro proved to be the show's most disturbing to date. Following a friendly exercise with Spartacus at Numerius's birthday, the boy horrifyingly asks for Varro's life as the price for his defeat. It was hardly the series' bloodiest death, but the image of Varro forcing Spartacus to finish him is hard to shake off.