It's time for our annual list of the 50 best episodes of the past year. (For last year's list check the bottom of this column.) We'll be counting down 10 episodes a day until we get to the best episode of 2002 on Friday. The episodes on this list are based on nominations by myself and the staff as to what we think the standout moments of the year were. In some cases while we were fans of certain series we couldn't pin down a particular episode we thought was of special merit so don't be stunned to see a few of our regular favorites missing from the list. As always I'm sure we'll differ from your favorites so we'll give you a chance to submit your own later this week. Anyway, without further ado...
30. "c.s.i.: the hunger artist" (cbs)
originally aired may 16, 2002
Much like "Law & Order," "C.S.I." almost prides itself on not having any subplots. While that makes for easy viewing week in and week out, sometimes we crave a little bit more. Thankfully every so often "C.S.I." does connect a few dots between episodes and this one delivered a dozy. Not outright revealed until the closing scene, Gil Grissom's (a great William Peterson) degenerative hearing condition comes to the forefront in this episode as he struggles to solve the murder of a woman disfigured and stuffed into a shopping cart. While the resolution to mystery is status quo "C.S.I.," what's not is the closing sequence in which Grissom is told the news. How it will affect his future as a C.S.I. remained to be seen (which has since been touched on here and there) but one thing was for sure: the status quo changed a little for the Vegas team. It's always nice as a viewer to have small scenes in previous episodes (such as when we learn Grissom's mother was deaf and he knows how to sign) resonate with present events.
29. "gilmore girls: i can't get started" (wb)
originally aired may 21, 2002
The love lives of the Gilmore women took center stage in this episode as estranged lovers Lorelai (the delightful Lauren Graham) and Christopher (David Sutcliffe) and parents to Rory (Alexis Bledel) neared reconciliation. Of course the wrench this time isn't being sixteen, it's the last minute news that Christopher's girlfriend is pregnant and his resolution to be there this time for his child. Meanwhile, Rory throws a wrench of her own into her near-perfect relationship with Dean. She kisses Jess, leaving not one, but two reasons the three month wait between seasons was far too long.
28. "john doe: pilot" (fox)
originally aired september 20, 2002
While it has since squandered most of its potential, "John Doe" started out on a surprisingly high note. Waking up on an isolated island without any memory about how he got there or who he is, John Doe's (the welcome newcomer Dominic Purcell) journey to try and rebuild his life was one of the more engaging starts to a new series in 2002. From his gambling foibles to the startling discovery of how deep his knowledge goes, you couldn't help but root for this guy. Sure the rules of how his "knowing everything" works seem scattershot at best (he knows there are 152 Chevy Impalas in Seattle but needs to call each motel in the city - using the phone book no less - to figure out what kind of washing machine tokens they use) but like a certain "defective detective" on the USA network, the fun is in watching him use his talents while struggling with the limitations of them - in Doe's case not knowing the things he desperately wants to know: who he is or where he comes from. Well shot and cut together by feature helmer Mimi Leder, you'd be hard pressed to find a better example of a series that established who the characters are and what the status quo will be this season. Sadly the series has fallen victim to its own goofy conspiracy back story (an organization can re-create Doe's supposed childhood home but forget to bake the homemade muffins?), but we will look fondly on its start.
27. "scrubs: my last day" (nbc)
originally aired may 21, 2002
In just one season, "Scrubs" managed to build a surprisingly large web of relationships: Elliott was still secretly in love with J.D., J.D. happened to have slept with Dr. Cox's ex-wife, Dr. Cox was secretly in love with Turk's girlfriend Carla, Turk knew about Dr. Cox's crush but didn't do anything about it and a few others I'm forgetting off hand. So it was fall out of your chair hilarious to see in the closing sequence of the first season Dr. Cox's ex-wife (Christa Miller) walk in and completely rip the lid off everyone's secrets to those involved. The jaw-dropped reaction of the cast was priceless making its "cliffhanger" aspect all the more enjoyable. "Scrubs" could have easily milked each of these subplots for seasons on end, so it was nice (not to mention surprising) to see them all get snuffed out at once.
26. "the dead zone: wheel of fortune" (usa)
originally aired june 16, 2002
I think if I was ever a showrunner on a new series, one of the first calls I would make would be to ask if Rob Lieberman could direct the pilot. I was reminded by such a thought when I checked out the DVD release of "The Dead Zone's" pilot episode recently. Lieberman raised the bar on what could easily have been a typical cable/netlet opener: Johnny Smith awakens from a five-year coma to find out he has the ability to see into the past, present and future of people by simply coming into contact with them or something they've touched. Even without the Stephen King book/movie, we've all seen the show about the guy or girl who can see something at a crime scene others can't. The "Dead Zone" sets itself apart by not only adding a distinct visual flair (the P.O.V. foreground/background shots in the pilot are amazing) but also making time for quiet moments they could have easily glossed over. From Johnny and Sarah's "new taste" to Dr. Tran's finding his long lost mother, there was just a - for lack of a better word or pun considering the premise - "touch" to this series from both the cast and crew that made it special.
25. "the invisible man: enemy of my enemy" (sci fi)
originally aired january 25, 2002
"I-Man" was fun and engaging right up through its final hours and this episode - in which the Keeper (Shannon Kenny) finds the cure for Darien's condition - is no exception. Despite its often playful tone there was always a threatening undercurrent to the series, especially concerning Darien's employment at the Agency. Those undercurrents came to the forefront here as the Keeper is told not to use the cure for "quicksilver madness" on Darien or the Offical will have him killed. After all without his need to come back week after week, Darien would fly the coup. Such a frightening quandary showed how many levels this series worked on. And plus this episode had one of Darien's better "oh crap" moments. Man I miss this show.
24. "odyssey 5: trouble with harry" (showtime)
originally aired september 6, 2002
Well let's come right out and say it: Ted Raimi made this episode work. He played Harry Mudd, the manifestation of one of the few non-threatening Synthetics the crew traveled back in time to prevent from destroying the Earth. One of the more intriguing and compelling aspects of the series was the fact the crew really had no idea how the Earth gets destroyed or really even who did it or how. They get a few hints in this episode about how it could be done (made all the more fun by Peter Weller's dry sense of humor: "We are now talking to a string of computer code that's got the blues cause she read too many French books?") and while I'm no physicist, it certainly scared the crap out of me as being frighteningly possible. But aside from those welcome hints, Harry's newfound experience with being "human" made this episode a real standout. From him playing with Sarah's son to his first experience with sex, his goofy and enthusiastic attitude rubs off on the rest of the cast, inspiring them to enjoy life a little as well.
23. "firefly: ariel" (fox)
originally aired november 15, 2002
It took a while for Joss Whedon and company to get all of their ducks in a row on this series and when they did: wow. "Ariel" had the perfect balance of the elements that made its previous outings less than stellar: the goofy mix of the western and science fiction genres, not to mention a lack of the strong overlapping narrative present in Whedon's other shows. Realizing there's only one thing that can help his ill sister, Simon (FOX failure regular Sean Maher) hires the Firefly crew to break into an Alliance medical facility with the promise of supplies to loot while they wait for him to use its advanced technology to diagnose her. One of Whedon's less talked about talents is his ability to separate a large cast into distinct characters (I mean $20 if you can tell me the difference between the two dark haired guys on "C.S.I.: Miami" outside of their ethnicity) and this episode gave almost everyone a lot to do without feeling cluttered. What really made the episode stand out however was the terrifying confrontation between Jayne (the underrated Adam Baldwin) and Mal (a likable Nathan Fillon) that closed the episode. Whedon's shows have a history of not limiting death's grip to anyone and such was the case here as Mal threatens to space Jayne after finding out he sold out Simon and River to the Alliance. We had no idea if he was going to survive and that presence of uncertainty is rare in television.
22. "24: 8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m." (fox)
originally aired october 29, 2002
How in the world were they going to follow last season? When we last saw Jack (the irreplaceable Kiefer Sutherland) he was cradling his dead wife. Fast forward almost a year and we find Jack a bearded recluse, estranged from his daughter. By the episode's end Jack is freshly shaved, chopping off a felon's head and trying to stop a nuclear attack. As they said in season one, episode one: "Sit back, things are just getting started." This year that's an understatement.
21. "c.s.i.: stalker" (cbs)
originally aired april 4, 2002
You won't get much creepier than Nick's (George Eads) showdown with a serial killer that literally lived on the rooftops and stalked his victims. After a woman is murdered in an seemingly untouched house, the C.S.I. crew slowly tracks down the man responsible - her cable installer, Nigel Crane (Doug Hutchison). The man used his access as an installer to allow him free reign on his victims. He could see what they were doing by watching from the attic and would torture them as if he was God looking down on them. More disturbing however is when the man turns his attention to Nick, who after returning home from an injury, finds Nigel in his home holding a gun. Thrown into the mix is a psychic (Leland Orser), whose visions tell him of his own impending death from above. The ending leaves lasting repercussions for Nick, a character that continues to deviate from what you'd expect from the fresh faced actor. Definitely an episode that had you checking under the bed before you went to sleep.