What exactly makes an individual episode excellent in a season full of 13 or 22 episodes? Exemplary writing or acting or directing or editing? It's a combination of those four components. Every episode I will celebrate during the week contains a great writing, acting, directing and editing. Beyond those four general elements, the episodes have to come from character and story rather than plot. The story has to be natural, moving as well as the characters. Force-fed emotion and story does not work. In other words, a series has to earn the episode, the story and the character growth. The best shows treat their seasons like chapters in a novel. But, by all means, I will include stand-alone episodes in shows. I just want to celebrate the best that television has to offer. Keep in mind that I do not watch Breaking Bad because, once upon a time, I was a college student. I only watched LOST and few other shows.
For the next five days, I will list 5 of 2010's greatest episodes. Without further ado, let the great episodes of 2010 celebration begin:
SHERLOCK--"A STUDY IN PINK"--Written By Steven Moffat--Directed By Paul McGuigan
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Sherlock Holmes received a modern adaptation from the good people at the BBC. Sherlock and John Watson are 21st century folk who used cell phones and wrote blogs. "A Study in Pink" launched the 21st century adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous tales of the brilliant man who excelled at deduction. "A Study in Pink" introduces Sherlock and Watson relatively quickly.The duo meet through a mutual friend because Watson has no place to live since returning from war, and needs a place. Almost instantly, Sherlock deduces that Watson's post-traumatic nightmares aren't nightmares at all but, rather, a longing to return to battle and that his limp is merely psychosomatic. Impressed, Watson decides to move into Sherlock's flat on Baker Street. assist Sherlock investigate a series of apparent suicides.
The apparent suicides are actually homicides. The homicides, and the evidence left behind, leads Sherlock to a cab driver. The cab driver has, indeed, been playing a game of his own with his victims--a game of chance. The episode establishes the essential Sherlock Holmes--his partnership with Watson, his brilliance, his brother and a villain who works on almost the same intellectual level as Sherlock (but not nearly as well as Moriarty). Sherlock finds himself in a game of Russian roulette with two pill bottles--one filled with poisonous pills, the other bottle completely harmless. The cabbie decided to play such a game following a fatal diagnosis, and a chat with a certain DM. The cabbie and Sherlock engage in a battle of wits and, fittingly enough, Watson saves Sherlock at episode's end though Sherlock claims he had the cabbie exactly where he wanted him. It's essential that the series establish the fact that Sherlock's a fallible because Sherlock finds himself in tough situations in the following two episodes of the short season.
My favorite moments of the episode involve John Watson and his attempt to converse with the woman who works for Sherlock's brother. Martin Freeman's terrific in these scenes, and throughout the entire series as is Benedict Cumberbatch.
LUTHER--"EPISODE 1"--Written By Neil Cross--Directed By Brian Kirk
I felt torn between "Episode 1" and "Episode 5" of Luther because "Episode 5" takes the series to a new place but the first episode of the series focuses entirely on John Luther and Alice Morgan, and really, those two are what make the series so great. Luther's a man who returns to the force after a month of suspension due an incident with a suspect. His colleagues don't trust him. He's known as a loose cannon. But he's back on the force, looking to redeem his reputation and win back the love of his life Zoey. When he comes upon the murder scene of a double murder, they bring in the surviving daughter. After brief questioning, Luther is convinced Alice Morgan killed her parents and the dog because she didn't yawn. The yawn itself isn't as important as the implication that Alice's behavior doesn't resemble any sane human behavior. Simply, Luther explains, one yawns when another yawns. Alice doesn't. Throughout the episode, Luther tries to convict the girl for the murder, tries to gain any substantial evidence because he needs to prove to himself, his colleagues and Zoey that he's back.
Of course, Luther illegally breaks into and enters Alice's flat. He threatens her. He breaks other code of ethics a police officer should abide by. Alice, more or less, confesses to the crime but knows Luther can't trace the murders back to her because she's brilliantly evil--a true sociopath. Soon, Luther gives up trying to convict Alice. More importantly, the episode establishes the unique relationship between Luther and Alice. She feels protective of the big lug while he can, really, only truly relate to Alice (Luther has a few issues). Most importantly, the episode establishes Luther and his world--quite crucial considering how his vices will play large part later in the series.
IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA--"Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats"--Written By Scott Marder & Rob Rosell--Directed By Matt Shakman
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Six seasons in and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia produces a top 10 episode. Any Sunny episode is great when Charlie's the central focus. The series has produced its fair share of Charlie centric episodes but this is the first with a lot of heart for Charlie by the end of the episode. Charlie walks in the bar, depressed, at the beginning because he realizes how many rats he's killed. After he leaves, Frank suggests that he, Dennis, Dee and Mac plan a party for Charlie's birthday. Of course, this is Always Sunny and Frank's selfishly motivated to celebrate his own birthday (it's not even Charlie's). After a bizarre day in which we learn that Charlie has no idea what 3D means, that he's ignorant of spa treatments (are you trying to say spaghetti?) the gang (minus) Frank surprises him with three gifts that they made using pictures of his dream book (or dram bok). And it's a moving scene that shows, despite the gang's self-involvement, they DO care about one another. Also, Duncan from the bridge and his gang's introduction is fantastic.
COMMUNITY--"PHYSICAL EDUCATION"--Written By Jesse Miller--Directed By Anthony Russo
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Community's the best show on TV currently. The first season got better and better each and every week. 2 months before the infamous paint ball episode, Dan Harmon and his writers unleashed "Physical Education" onto the world. In the episode, Jeff refuses to participate in P.E. because he dresses too well and refuses to change into gym clothes, no doubt unwilling to risk damage to his expensive, fashionable clothes. The teacher, portrayed by Blake Clark, requires everyone to actively engage in P.E. To make a long story short, Jeff and the teacher find themselves playing an intense game of Billiards in their underpants. The episode is equal parts surreal, silly and a nice message about appearance, free choice, etc. What a show.
MAD MEN--"HANDS AND KNEES"--Written By Jonathan Abrahams and Matthew Weiner--Directed By Lynn Shelton
Mad Men's "Hands and Knees" isn't the best episode of the fourth season but it's pretty damn great. Don Draper's identity swipe nearly demolishes his life and career. Lee Garner tells Roger that Lucky Strike and SCDP are through. Joan discovers she's pregnant with Roger's baby, and Lane's father visits to give his son a pointed lesson about place and commitment. The episode is one of many season four episodes Jon Hamm could submit for an Emmy nomination. The scene when he fears the FBI has shown up at his apartment might be the greatest scene of 2010 (who am I kidding? LOST has the greatest scene of 2010). The episode sets up a few things for the conclusion of the season but, like "The Suitcase," the series has been building towards the Draper/identity swipe, the Joan/Roger/pregnancy, the Lane/family issues and the Lucky Strike account. And each character makes decisions that only temporarily solve their respective problems. Fantastic episode.
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