It's time once again for our annual list of the 50 best episodes of the past year. Always, we'll be counting down 10 episodes a day until we get to the best episode of 2012 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!
40/39. archer: space race: parts I & II"
(originally aired: march 15 & 22, 2012)
A two-part smorgasbord of all the things that make this show great, beginning with the fact they literally are in space and not just space, a fever dream of "Moonraker" meets 2013 space. Throw in everything from Bryan Cranston as a crazed astronaut to shameless vomit jokes and nudity, not to mention the return of evil cyborg Barry - all presented as visually beautiful as this series has ever been.
38. community: digital estate planning
(originally aired: may 17, 2012)
As a child of the 1980s, how could I not fall in love with an episode told almost entirely as a 1980s video game? What's really great about this installment is that much like last year's "Dungeons & Dragons"-themed episode, there's a love and affection for what's going on you can't fake. Whether it's having to restart after "dying" or the excitement of figuring out how to "jump," it's a clever romp that manages to transport the usual Greendale foibles and personalities into 8-bit form.
37. southland: wednesday
(originally aired: january 17, 2012)
The show's fourth season distilled what was already a strong mix into a well-oiled machine: just two detectives and four regular patrol officers. What was truly surprising is that two of those were new additions - Lucy Liu's Jessica Tang and Dorian Missick's Ruben Robinson - and the show didn't skip a beat.
36. parks & recreation: win, lose or draw
(originally aired: may 10, 2012)
Leave it to "Parks & Recreation" of all shows to rip the rug out from under its already loaded drama. With the fate of Leslie Knope's campaign still very much up in the air, another bombshell hits: her beau/campaign manager Ben has been offered the chance to run a real congressional campaign. So win or lose, her boyfriend is potentially missing in action for six months. The end result of both scenarios - she wins, he goes - felt unexpectedly real as much like in life, new challenges premptively take the wind out of overcoming old ones. Well that Ron Swanson saying things like "I've had the same haircut since 1978" or "I have one bowl" in succession.
35. the middle: year of the hecks
(originally aired: january 4, 2012)
It's amazing how much mileage this show gets out of the simplest of premises: Frankie foists Brick's new year's resolutions on everyone. And while they all are essentially excuses for silliness - Axl to clean his room, Brick to stop reading all the time, Mike to smile and Frankie to spend more time with Brick - the end result is actually quite sweet and revealing of a family that despite their daily exasperations and frustrations, genuinely loves each other.
34. modern family: election day
(originally aired: april 11, 2012)
Claire's run for City Council provided a hilarious cross-section of events as Phil tries to bus in his crotchety neighbor to vote; Alex, Manny, Gloria and Luke run the phone bank; Jay and Haley conspire to cover up embarrassing secrets; Claire is forced to give an important radio interview after breaking a tooth; and most delightfully, Mitch and Cameron, who outfit their car with a speaker system to get out the vote - only to find themselves using it as their overly personal soapbox.
33. the big bang theory: the parking spot escalation
(originally aired: november 29, 2012)
Let's be honest, as great as "The Big Bang Theory" was before Amy (Mayim Bialik) and Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) came onto the scene, they've since raised the bar exponentionally. Such is the case in this episode as Wolowitz and Sheldon's battle over the latter's vacant parking spot manages to pull their ladies into the fray (Bernadette: "Amy, I'm sensing a little hostility, is it maybe because, like Sheldon's work, your sex life is also theoretical?" Amy: "Well at least when we do make love, Sheldon won't be thinking about his mother."), raising the stakes on what's already a ridiculous showdown.
32. parenthood: road trip
(originally aired: january 3, 2012)
A road trip - or in this case, considering the size of the Braverman clan, a caravan - to see Zeek's mother uproots the show's usual mechanizations and gives us a wonderful showcase as a result: from Adam and Hattie's last time alone before she heads off to college, to Drew's mortification over catching his mother having sex, to Max shockingly calling his mother a bitch, to Crosby's valiant attempts to keep his eye on a chair (a gift from Zeek to his mom) and finally the slow burn reveal of Zeek's own challenges over the course of his life.
31. white collar: wanted
(originally aired: july 10, 2012)
"What if Neal really ran?" is a question that has been hanging over the series since its start. Here we finally get the answer, one that not only provides a nice break from the usual New York-based adventures but affirms how much the character of Neal Caffrey has grown and how deep his friendship with Peter Burke runs.