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!
10. "lone star: pilot" (fox)
(originally aired: september 20, 2010)
Our favorite pilot of 2010 swung for the fences like no other opener in recent memory. Marc Webb's stunning direction, Kyle Killen's expertly paced script and James Wolk's wonderfully layered performance combined to do what sounds like the impossible: take a con man with two wives, a guy who swindles money behind a smile and a handshake, and make us not only like him, but actually rationalize his actions in a way that makes perfect sense. Bravo to all involved.
9. "fringe: peter" (fox)
(originally aired: april 1, 2010)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bad Robot is the Henry Ford of the imagination business. Case in point with this episode, which finally assembled all the pieces to Peter's backstory. The resulting mosaic was both the story of a scientist who inadvertently broke the world(s) and that of a father trying to save another from experiencing the same trauma of losing a son. It was the kind of series defining episode that not only rationalized what appeared to be the unforgiveable but also raised the stakes on everything we had come to expect from the show thus far.
8. "friday night lights: kingdom" (directv)
(originally aired: december 1, 2010)
The image of Vince Howard, Luke Cafferty, Hastings Ruckle and Buddy Garrity, Jr., all drunk as skunks, howling at the moon about the their epicness of their friendship - all while getting brands to commemorate the occasion - was a revelation, not just as a snapshot of the wonderfulness of youthful pride, but also of the fact none of these people were on the show when it started, and we cared just as much as we did when it was Jason Street, Matt Saracen, Tim Riggins and Smash Williams.
7. "lost: the end" (abc)
(originally aired: may 23, 2010)
As frustrating of a finale as this was, you'd be hard pressed to find a more indelible image of this past year - or a more beautifully fitting sentiment - than that of Jack's eye closing in the episode's final moments, just as it was with his eye opening in the show's pilot in 2004.
6. "breaking bad: full measure" (amc)
(originally aired: june 13, 2010)
No show has played with the expectations of we've come to expect from television more than "Breaking Bad." In three seasons we've watched Walter White gradually free himself of society's rules and find himself all the more empowered because of it. But this installment brought that transition to a soul crushing precipice - fresh off murdering two men in cold blood to save Jesse, his surrogate son, he now expects him to do the same. A cherry on top of an already breathless season.
5. "the good wife: running" (cbs)
(originally aired: may 25, 2010)
Our favorite cliffhanger of 2010 didn't involve an alien invasion or someone getting shot, rather it simply concerned a phone call. After a season's worth of office flirtations and plans to talk, Will finally put it out there that he has feelings for Alicia. But as this isn't a high school drama or a soap opera, Alicia's reaction was refreshingly pragmatic and adult. So he has feelings - what's the plan then? She leaves her husband? What about her kids? Her husband's campaign? It was a response that exposed both the potential foolishness of such flights of fancy and the daunting reality of what that path would entail. They each hang up, the potential bomb defused. I've never liked Julianna Margulies's Alicia more than in that moment. And a few beats after that, when most mere mortals would have retreated in the face of such daunting prospects, Will called back anyway. And I've never liked Josh Charles's Will more than in that moment. Or this show.
4/3. "community: modern warfare/contemporary american poultry" (nbc)
(originally aired: may 6/april 22, 2010)
2010 featured two truly epic pieces of comedy and, in a Herculean feat, they both came from the same show. The former, a skewering of action/war movies, and the latter, an elaborate "Goodfellas" parody, could easily have stayed within those boxes and be written off as another fun outing by that comedy that isn't "30 Rock" or "The Office" on Thursday night. (And they may have even still made this list.) But somewhere along the way the characters just leaned back and trust fall-ed into the hyperstylized reality being established in the episode (a paintball ravaged wasteland and a crime syndicate based on chicken fingers, respectively), embracing the overall ridiculousness of what was going on and rolling with it, making it so much more. In "Warfare," it allowed Britta and Jeff to consummate their relationship without making it a series defining event. In "Poultry," it gave Abed a chance to supplant Jeff as the leader of the group, giving us a unique window into what's spinning around in that head of his. Comedy is hard. These were impossibly good.
2. "mad men: the suitcase" (amc)
(originally aired: september 5, 2010)
The amazing thing about "Mad Men" is that there isn't a formula to the show. There are no cases to solve or bodies to examine. If anything each week is a meditation on something. Who is this character? What's going to make them happy? What are they running from? Or running toward? Such a loose structure allows the show to stare at things and think about things rather than get caught up in the nuts and bolts of why X leads to Y and affects Z. The subject for this episode's meditation: Peggy Olsen and Don Draper. Both have gone about constructing themselves an elaborate reality that they believe will make them happy. Peggy's boyfriend doesn't know about her having a child. He doesn't know about her sexual proclivities. He's simply a character in her movie, one that a lifetime of nagging from her mother has made her believe is the only way she'll be happy. Don likewise has reinvented himself - following his disparate origins - and assumed society's mantle of what success is and the happiness that should come with it. And yet when the threads begin to pull on their realities - for Peggy, the stress of cracking a particularly tough pitch; for Don, the news his one true friend is probably dead or on death's door - we realize just how flimsy those disguises are and how far they still have to go to find their true inner peace. Amazing doesn't even do it justice.
1. "terriers: change partners" (fx)
(originally aired: september 22, 2010)
One could make the case for virtually any of these last 10 episodes as being the best episode of 2010. And yet the one that haunts us, the one that we keep coming back to, the one we can't shake - is this episode. It starts off simple enough: our shaggy hero Hank - in the hopes of getting into the good graces of Armand Foster (Shawn Doyle), a bank manager who can approve his home loan - agrees to follow the man's wife Miriam (Olivia Williams) whom he believes is cheating. He does and finds nothing, a development the man surprisingly isn't happy about. As we drill down over the course of the hour we learn things are far more complicated than Hank - or we the audience - could ever imagine. It all comes to a head in a truly shocking moment, not only because of what happens but the resulting moral dilemma it gives Hank, one which he forces himself to plow through. And just when you think the dust has settled, when all the tension of the past hour can be released with a few strums from Hank's guitar - a shadowy figure decides to appear out of nowhere and climb into his attic. Holy fucking shit. Seriously, there are no other words to describe it.