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[01/06/11 - 09:31 PM]
The 50 Best Episodes of 2010: #20-11
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

It's time once again for our annual list of the 50 best episodes of the past year.

As usual we'll be counting down 10 episodes a day until we get to the best episode of 2010 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!

20. "30 rock: live show" (nbc)
(originally aired: october 14, 2010)

The show's single-camera rhythms translated surprisingly well in its live debut, whether it was using Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Liz's stand in for cutaway gags, having Jon Hamm and Matt Damon pop up for random silliness (the former in a faux commercial, the latter to ask Liz to TiVo "Bones" for him in case he didn't survive a rocky trip) or embracing the meta-ness of it all ("Everything looks like a Mexican soap opera," Jack notes). We look forward to round two hopefully sometime soon.

19. "the big bang theory: the zazzy substitution" (cbs)
(originally aired: october 7, 2010)

As if Jim Parsons needs another showcase for his talents, here comes along this episode in which Sheldon attempts to avoid dealing with his "breakup" with Amy Farrah Fowler by... adopting a truckload of cats. It's a decidedly silly development that somehow manages to walk the line between betraying Sheldon's asexual identity and acknowledging he has emotions like everyone else. And one of the cats was named Zazzles, folks. Zazzles.

18. "the big c: pilot" (showtime)
(originally aired: august 16, 2010)

Just a flat out wonderful look at mortality through the eyes of a desperate housewife as performed by the insert-can't-do-it-justice-flattering-adjective-here Laura Linney. Improbably funny and sad, unexpectedly poignant and silly, "The Big C" was by far our favorite new comedy of the year.

17. "24: 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m." (fox)
(originally aired: may 3, 2010)

Dark isn't exactly a new territory for "24" - just Google Jack Bauer and hacksaw - but the show's waters reached some new depths in this episode, which saw Jack anoint himself judge, jury and executioner of Dana Walsh over Renee's death. Her usefulness in finding her co-conspirators exhausted, Jack - rather than turn her over to CTU - simply opts to murder her in cold blood. Wow.

16. "sons of anarchy: bainne" (fx)
(originally aired: november 16, 2010)

Jax Teller spent an entire season trying to get his son Abel back and yet, when he's within in his grasp, the reality of how much better a life he could have without him overwhelms our hero and he lets him go. "Sons of Anarchy" however doesn't do pat endings as Abel's adoptive parents wind up being murdered as a result, thrusting the boy back into the life his father thought would be behind him. Just knockout stuff all around.

15/14. "the good wife: vip treatment/nine hours" (cbs)
(originally aired: october 26/december 14, 2010)

"The Good Wife" discovered a new wheelhouse this season - the ticking clock episode, as was the case in these two installments. In the former, a surprisingly calm woman approaches Stern, Lockhart & Gardner saying a beloved Nobel Peace Prize winner sexually assaulted her, a headline making case they only have hours to verify the merits of or she'll walk across the street to another firm; while in the latter, a clerk's cryptic message opens the window for a stay of execution of a death row inmate, who's slated to die in mere hours. Both scenarios gave steroids to the show's already fine-tuned plot machine, raising the stakes all around. Even more striking though was how deftly each managed to incorporate its overarching story as "VIP Treatment" occurs moments after Peter is blindsided by a new campaign opponent and "Nine Hours" happens just as Will and Alicia's magnets start to turn back toward each other. They've been crushing it lately over on "The Good Wife" - big time.

13. "treme: i'll fly away" (hbo)
(originally aired: june 20, 2010)

"Treme's" freshman season ended with a solemn swan song that finally took us back to life in New Orleans on the eve of the Katrina disaster. There a laundry list of innocuous moments - from Daymo's traffic stop to Cray's ironic proclamation about the city's levees - put the final creases in the show's methodically worn portrait of the Crescent City.

12. "friday night lights: thanksgiving" (directv)
(originally aired: february 10, 2010)

A kaleidoscope of heart tugging moments - Tim Riggins taking the fall for his brother's legal transgressions; Matt Saracen heading off to college, sans Julie; Tami Taylor paying the price for doing the right thing - closed out the show's fourth season but darn if the lone upbeat one - Landry, still mourning being dumped by Jess, kicking the game winning field goal! - didn't leave us smiling for days to come.

11. "justified: fire in the hole" (fx)
(originally aired: march 16, 2010)

"Justified" emerged out of the gate with a swagger rarely seen in television. From Timothy Olyphant's cool confidence to Graham Yost's punchy script, the pilot didn't just spring from the Elmore Leonard short story upon which it was based, it leaped out, guns blazing.

YESTERDAY: #30-21

TOMORROW: #10-1





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