It's time for our annual list of the 50 best episodes of the past year. (For previous lists check the bottom of this column.) We'll be counting down 10 episodes a day until we get to the best episode of 2004 on Friday. The episodes on this list are based on nominations by myself and regular visitors to the site 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. Anyway, on with the show...
40. "the west wing: liftoff"
(originally aired november 10, 2004)
After stumbling in the dark for what seems like ages, "The West Wing" found a new groove in this episode which layed the groundwork for the potential futures of its various characters. With the Barlett administration entering lame duck territory, the various staffers begin to align themselves for the post-Barlett years. What's interesting is that while it's fairly obvious who's going to win the election, how the deck chairs are finally arranged is a complete mystery. Sure it's not Aaron Sorkin's "The West Wing" anymore but damn if it hasn't become compelling stuff as of late.
39. "without a trace: doppelganger"
(originally aired april 1, 2004)
Guest star Tony Goldwyn stole the show in this episode as a pair of identical twins who may or may not have been responsible for the disappearance of one's live-in girlfriend. Procedural shows like this are at their best when they keep you guessing until the very end. In this case, it took a "sequel" episode to make everything clear.
38. "touching evil: mercy"
(originally aired: june 14, 2004)
Probably one of the best examples in recent memory of how to conclude a season when it's not entirely clear if there will be another one, this episode didn't quite wrap up all of the show's recurring plotlines but it did feel like an ending and a beginning, all at the same time. Even better were the show's concluding moments - in which Creegan and Branca share a surprisingly tender moment and she gets to do something she's been dying to do for a while - fix Creegan's trademark dishelved collar.
37. "veronica mars: pilot"
(originally aired september 22, 2004)
This series is probably one of the hardest to describe to a friend (and consequently a difficult sell to the TV audience) but once you start you watching, you can't help but become addicted. Part teen drama, part detective show, part comedy, part drama - you've heard all the adjectives - so just watch will you? It'll all make sense afterwards.
36. "entourage: busey and the beach"
(originally aired august 22, 2004)
Let's just say it: TV is a better place when there's Jeremy Piven on it. Even better is when he gets to rant and rave, and this episode - in which Piven's Ari Gold berates a fellow agent for trying to steal his client - might be one of the funniest, milk-through-the-nose scenes of 2004.
35. "n.y.p.d. blue: the vision thing"
(originally aired november 9, 2004)
Sure ABC spoiled it in the promos so it ruined the surprise, sure they've used the trick before with Andy's son and sure it felt kind of gratuitous but damn was it nice to see Jimmy Smits and Dennis Franz back together again. The entire closing sequence - in which Bobby Simone's "ghost" appears to help a distraught Andy - is downright touching.
34. "curb your enthusiasm: the survivor"
(originally aired march 7, 2004)
Jokes about 9/11 and the Holocaust. Only Larry David.
33. "south park: the passion of the jew"
(originally aired march 31, 2004)
Yes, they made Mel Gibson wipe his own feces on a door.
32. "chappelle's show: episode 204"
(originally aired february 11, 2004)
All you need to know: "Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories: Rick James."
31. "arrested development: public relations"
(originally aired january 25, 2004)
If the idea of "Rocky's" Carl Weathers playing himself as an penny-pinching acting coach doesn't make you laugh, well... dammit it should.