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...
10. "jack & bobby: pilot"
(originally aired september 12, 2004)
Much like Greg Berlanti's previous effort "Everwood," "Jack & Bobby" debuted with the same flare for introducing characters and their relationships in surprising, but ultimately satisfying ways. I'm also not quite sure how the WB keeps on finding talented young actors year after year for their new shows, but Matthew Long and Logan Lerman were by far and way at the top of the list of this year's fresh new faces.
9. "the wire: middle ground"
(originally aired december 12, 2004)
"The Wire" hasn't been shy about offing significant characters, but who wasn't shocked by the death of Stringer Bell? As soon as Omar and Brother Mouzone entered the room, you could actually feel the clock start ticking on Stringer's life. Making matters all the more heart-wrenching is that the moment comes just as the cops finally catch him on the wire and think they've just sealed their case.
8. "deadwood: sold under sin"
(originally aired june 13, 2004)
"I'll be the f***ing sheriff," might be the best line of dialogue in a series last year. Even better is that it perfectly encapsulates the tone and general feeling that goes with the show and makes it so enjoyable. March 6 can't get here soon enough.
7. "the sopranos: long term parking"
(originally aired may 23, 2004)
I don't know anyone whose heart didn't drop at the sound of Silvio opening the car door upon arriving at what would ultimately be Adriana's final destination. Said installment, much like fellow HBO series "The Wire," led us to believe a happy ending was in store for Drea de Matteo's character only to have the rug ripped out from under us.
6. "six feet under: that's my dog"
(originally aired july 18, 2004)
Each season it seems like "Six Feet Under" reaches an eye-rolling breaking point of "why am I still watching this show" and each season it answers with a sucker punch that reminds me how fantastic it can be. This episode without a doubt is reason enough to stay with the series to its bitter end as David picks up a friendly hitchhiker only to quickly learn it may be the biggest mistake of his life. It's rare that TV lets characters feel like they are genuinely in danger, and this episode fit the bill.
5. "lost: pilot, parts 1 & 2"
(originally aired september 22-29, 2004)
The premiere of "Lost" without a doubt raised the bar in terms of what scripted television can do, or more to the point, should be. From its riveting, white-knuckle opening to its tapestry like structure to its welcome abundance of interesting characters, it's no surprise that it inspired the unabashed fanaticism of 16 million viewers a week.
4. "angel: not fade away"
(originally aired may 19, 2004)
The series finale of "Angel" was filled with tons of great "holy shit" moments - Illyria's reaction to Wesley's death alone should be required watching for everyone - but the closing moments cut right to the heart of what the show has always been about: the good fight (and the quest for redemption itself) is always a constant struggle.
3. "the shield: strays"
(originally aired may 18, 2004)
David Mamet directed this shocking installment which focused on Dutch's interrogation of the "cuddler" serial rapist, the result of which hits way too close to home for the detective. "The Shield" is no stranger to nausea-inducing moments (Vic's use of a hot stove on a suspect and the rape of Aceveda come to mind) and Dutch's reaction to being disturbed by a stray cat can be added to the list.
2. "the wire: mission accomplished"
(originally aired december 19, 2004)
Every year, "The Wire" builds up to a boiling point where you think the good guys will win and the bad guys will lose - and damn if every year "The Wire" doesn't find a new way to show that real life never works quite like that. From the demolition of its psuedo-"Amsterdam" to McNulty's realization of "who the hell have I been chasing," season three once again proved why this series is an American classic.
1. "lost: walkabout"
(originally aired october 13, 2004)
Just a flat out flawless piece of writing, directing and acting as the backstory of the mysterious Locke (a wonderful Terry O'Quinn) is revealed. I don't know anyone who saw the closing twist coming and - wow - what a fantastic twist it was. Nothing is more exciting as a TV viewer than being genuinely surprised and "Lost" does that (and more) on a regular basis.