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!
40. "30 rock: 100" (nbc)
(originally aired: april 21, 2011)
A series of gas leaks provided the fodder for this clip-fest, which somehow managed to cross the rubicon of meta, look around for a while and come back unscathed. Michael Keaton as a maintenance man, Tom Hanks humming to the theme of "Bosom Buddies" and, of course, the various incarnations of Jack offering up sex with each other, it was a smorgasbord of silly and I wouldn't have it any other way.
39. "house: two stories" (fox)
(originally aired: february 21, 2011)
A thematic follow up to one of the show's - and television's - finest hours (see #1 of 2005), "Two Stories" featured our favorite misanthrope using an elementary school class as the sounding board for his latest foibles. While obviously not as revelatory as its namesake, "House's" willingness to play with how it spins tales remains an annual highlight.
38. "it's always sunny in philadelphia: how mac got fat" (fx)
(originally aired: november 17, 2011)
The origin of Mac's (Rob McElhenney) 50 pound weight gain didn't disappoint as flashbacks detail - in pure "Sunny" fashion - how a plan to replace themselves with avatars after Paddy's took off ultimately hung Mac's own vanity out to dry. Ambitious in its planning - the bulk of said installment was shot as the fourth episode of last season - and its execution - McElhenney's literally put on those lbs., "How Mac Got Fat" was definitely one of the show's touchstones.
37. "archer: stage two" (fx)
(originally aired: march 17, 2011)
Sterling Archer's narcissism reached epic heights in this memorable installment, which saw him wrestle with breast cancer. Between getting matching tattoos with his infant son (a development I'm thrilled to see pops up again on occasion) to begrudgingly trying to do what he thinks is right things by his friends, said events managed to both affirm and send up the "very special episodes" of TV series.
36. "the middle: bad choices" (abc)
(originally aired: october 19, 2011)
The nagging question of "why don't they just walk away from the disaster zone that is their house?" was finally answered in this episode as Frankie is smitten by the idea of apartment living. The end result was an surprisingly sweet reminder of the unique charms of their home and neighborhood, not to mention the show itself. Plus it had Brick (the always great Atticus Shaffer) quoting Shakespeare for a half an hour.
35. "cougar town: lonesome showdown" (abc)
(originally aired: may 4, 2011)
The continuous sugar rush of silliness that makes this show so great got a chaser of sweet in this episode as Travis's (Dan Byrd) decision to propose to Kirsten backfires, leaving his mother and the cul de sac crew to help pick up the pieces. That and of course the wonderfully random Lou Diamond Phillips cameo.
34. "modern family: treehouse" (abc)
(originally aired: november 2, 2011)
A quartet of amusing plots unfolded in this episode, including Phil's unappreciated efforts to build a treehouse for Luke. The end result was unexpectedly poignant as Phil, feeling the loss of friendship that comes with adulthood, makes a new friend.
33. "south park: you're getting old" (comedy central)
(originally aired: june 8, 2011)
When an episode actually makes you think you may be watching a surprise series finale, it deserves a spot on this list.
32. "raising hope: don't vote for this episode" (fox)
(originally aired: may 17, 2011)
A wonderful tour of the world it created in the past year, "Raising Hope" capped its freshman run with a flashback to Jimmy's (Lucas Neff) 18th birthday, giving us an amusing perspective on how much he - and the amusing tapestry of characters around him - have grown and changed since Hope's arrival.
31. "fringe: the day we died" (fox)
(originally aired: may 6, 2011)
Peter Bishop's (Joshua Jackson) choice between "over here" and "over there" loomed over "Fringe" for the bulk of the show's third season. Ultimately "The Day We Died" opened the door for a third option: a world without Peter entirely. The joy of "Fringe" remains its ability to reinvent itself with each passing season - without losing sight of the characters - and this was about as big a leap as ever.