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!
30. community: basic lupine urology
(originally aired: april 26, 2012)
Filed under the "because they can" category, this episode gave us a surprisingly reverential take on the "Law & Order" franchise as Abed and Troy investigate the "murder" of their biology project. Said endeavor casts everyone in the expected tropes - Shirley (police chief), Annie (assistant DA) and Jeff (the DA) among them - and displays an almost freakish ability to ape the original from its most obvious to its lovingly subtle aspects.
29. parenthood: what to my wondering eyes
(originally aired: december 11, 2012)
You've got to be made of stone to make it through this show unscathed, don't you? Between Kristina's "farewell" video, Adam breaking down and hugging his dad, Amber making the surprisingly adult choice to break up with Ryan rather than repeat the mistakes of her mother, Crosby and Jasmine deciding to have another baby and hell, even Zeek's recounting to the youngest Bravermans the time he saw Santa Claus, this episode ran its hands down the buttons of an emotional elevator and made sure we stopped at every floor. Sure it's all shamelessly manipulative at times, but darn if we didn't get swept away.
28. the good wife: the dream team
(originally aired: april 29, 2012)
The mechanizations to keep Lockhart/Gardner afloat remained as compelling of a high wire act as ever in this episode as the return of Canning and Nyholm (the always welcome Michael J. Fox and Martha Plimpton) threatens to derail all of the recent progress made by our heroes. The real highlights however were on the personal front: a rare face-to-face encounter between Will and Peter; Jackie's latest attempt to put a wedge between her son and Alicia; and of course, the haunting image of a nervous Kalinda, gun in hand, facing a unseen figure pounding at her door. (Sure we know the Pandora's Box that followed, but darn if it wasn't badass in the moment.)
27. southland: thursday
(originally aired: march 20, 2012)
The bookend to the show's stellar fourth season once again deftly navigated murky waters, whether it was Ben going full vigilante despite the pleas of Sammy from his hospital bed, Lydia finally coming to the realization she's been putting her unborn baby in danger or Cooper finally confronting Tang about her botched shooting. The latter in particular perfectly encapsulated the world of "Southland" (and perhaps our own as well): that no matter how high we think our moral ground is, the reality is far different.
26. justified: slaughterhouse
(originally aired: april 10, 2012)
To say Raylan Givens has daddy issues is an understatement. The perpetual thorn in his side since returning to Harlan, father Arlo delivers a crushing blow to his son in the third season finale, first by murdering the kindly Trooper Tom and secondly - and most devastatingly - taking the fall for another to protective his quasi-adoptive son Boyd.
25. modern family: bringing up baby
(originally aired: september 26, 2012)
Worth a spot on this list for its wonderful closing moments as Gloria's anxiety over telling Jay about her pregnancy is quickly sated by his overwhelming joy of having the Pritchett clan expand by one more. The resulting time jump to a now very pregnant Gloria - alongside everyone else's sped-up foibles - was just plain delightful.
24. big bang theory: the vacation solution
(originally aired: february 9, 2012)
Sheldon and Amy's relationship remains one of television's comedic gold mines, a fact made all the more evident by this episode in which Sheldon is forced to take a vacation. His destination of choice: Amy's workplace, where he's tasked as her assistant. The resulting journey - from being emasculated by his girlfriend, to drowning his sorrows in piña coladas to eventually doing the adult thing and apologizing - was not only a stellar showcase of Jim Parsons's talents but also a reminder of how big a part Mayim Bialik has played in bringing it out of him.
23. mad men: far away places
(originally aired: april 22, 2012)
"Mad Men" continues to thumb its nose at expectations, opting for vignettes about existential subjects rather than plodding forward as your typical serial. Case in point: this fable in which
Peggy, Roger and Don attempt to maintain control of their lives, a haunting reminder that our vision of the world and ourselves is fleeting, always on the cusp of being replaced by something else, no matter how hard we try to ignore it.
22. 30 rock: mazel tov, dummies!
(originally aired: november 29, 2012)
Liz Lemon's wedding was everything we hoped it would be and more. Sure there's the expected silliness (Top Gun-esque windmill high fives, dressing up as Princess Leia, anything involving Dennis Duffy, etc.) but it's the perfect amount of sweetness - beau Criss cleverly sabotages their city hall wedding so she can have the one she hadn't yet admitted to herself - that set it apart.
21. how i met your mother: no pressure
(originally aired: february 20, 2012)
I love that even some eight years in, the romantic pangs of the pilot - in which the blistering chemistry between Robin and Ted is crushingly undercut by the news that she is in fact not the mother - still hang over in the series. Such was the case here as Ted once again offers his heart to her, to similarly devastating results. The ensuing fallout: Marshall tells Robin she needs to move out in order to give Ted space to heal was equally bittersweet, another example of the emotional honesty that makes this show so great.