It's time once again for our annual list of the 50 best episodes of the past year. We're actually doing this one week later than usual to time with the site's 15th anniversary (yup, only one more year and we can drive). Stay tuned for some other fun celebratory features in the coming weeks.
As for the list, we'll be counting down 10 episodes a day until we get to the best episode of 2011 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!
50. "caprica: apotheosis" (syfy)
(originally aired: january 4, 2011)
The "Battlestar Galactica" prequel closed with an unexpected coda that tied up its various threads and put a final bow on its connections to the parent series, collectively elevating the show in the process. It's just a shame it couldn't have gotten there sooner.
49. "stargate universe: gauntlet" (syfy)
(originally aired: may 9, 2011)
For all of its frustrating elements, "Stargate Universe" was an unabashedly science fiction show in an era when science fiction is considered a dirty word. Such was the case for its de facto swan song, which tasked Eli (David Blue) with figuring out a way to keep everyone alive in stasis during a continuous three-year FTL jump. Said events unfolded in a way that gave everyone a chance to say goodbye but also hold onto the hope that potentially there will be a tomorrow.
48. "chaos: pilot" (cbs)
(originally aired: april 1, 2011)
While the show that followed never quite lived up to its potential, the opening hour of this short-lived gem was filled with delightfully madcap shenanigans and enjoyably snappy characters. Creator Tom Spezialy and company gave us a decidedly unique take on the CIA, one which was hamstrung by technological shortcomings and choked by its own dog-eat-dog bureaucracy.
47. "suits: play the man" (usa)
(originally aired: august 4, 2011)
A mock trial with unexpectedly high stakes signaled this show's leap to must-watch status. Between Harvey's (Gabriel Macht) and Mike (Patrick J. Adams) continually gratifying mentor-mentee relationship, Donna's (Sarah Rafferty) blossoming comedic skills and the show's life-is-unfair-so-deal-with-it attitude, "Suits" is starting to fire on all cylinders.
46. "white collar: on guard" (usa)
(originally aired: june 7, 2011)
The show's third season opened with a legitimate "how do they get out of this one?" but more importantly it ripped the rug out from under the relationship of Neal and Peter. The former's narrow-eyed "prove it" declaration after Peter reminded him about stealing again was flat out heart-breaking.
45. "greek: all about beav" (abc family)
(originally aired: january 24, 2011)
Worth a spot on this list for its opening theme remix alone ("Greek, greek, greek, greek, greek, greek..."), said installment put Aaron Hill's The Beaver center stage, giving a new perspective on the show's usual foibles in the process. "Greek" was one of the few shows to truly encapsulate the college experience, making the aforementioned detour all the more sweeter.
44. "southland: graduation day" (tnt)
(originally aired: march 8, 2011)
Various long-running plots came to a head in this installment, most notably Cooper's (Michael Cudlitz) drug abuse leaving his partner Sherman (Ben McKenzie) in a dangerous situation. It ultimately pushes both of them into better places - Sherman finally emerges from his mentor's shadow and Cooper gets the long overdue wake up call about his addiction, journeys which began way back in the pilot.
43. "the simpsons: holidays of future passed" (fox)
(originally aired: december 11, 2011)
A visit to 30 years in the future provided not only some amusing gags (Homer's Law! Benny Hilton! Montgomery Burns Institute For Soul Extraction!) but also some unexpected tugs on the heartstrings as Bart and Lisa wrestle with parenthood in a way that mirrors their own parents. Having these perpetual 10 and eight-year-olds behave like actual adults was truly revelatory and an affirmation there's still plenty of life left in this show.
42. "a gifted man: pilot" (cbs)
(originally aired: september 23, 2011)
A flat out beautifully written, directed and acted piece of television, the pilot to "A Gifted Man" was surprisingly intimate and personal in a way rarely seen on television. Patrick Wilson's Michael Holt doesn't need visits from the Ghost of Christmas to re-evaluate his life, just a nudge from his late ex-wife, Anna (Jennifer Ehle), the one person who his feelings about are entirely pure, giving him an ever-present pebble in his shoe.
41. "person of interest: pilot" (cbs)
(originally aired: september 22, 2011)
Most pilots just offer up a new iteration of stalwart crusaders ready take on evil however "Person of Interest" went one step further - it posited a new way to tell stories. Said wrinkle - they don't know if their POI is a good person needed protecting or a bad person who must be stopped - gave a new flavor to usual procedural mechanizations and sparked promises of interesting new storytelling roads to travel.