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[01/11/12 - 08:35 PM]
The 50 Best Episodes of 2011: #30-21
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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!

30. "the big c: crossing the line" (showtime)
(originally aired: september 26, 2011)

First Marlene, then Lee and now - potentially, shockingly, say-it-ain't-so - Paul. As if dealing with cancer wasn't hard enough, Cathy's (Laura Linney) path continues to be ripe with death's pitfalls.

29. "united states of tara: the good parts" (showtime)
(originally aired: june 20, 2011)

The show's de facto finale serve as a sweet reminder of why, for better or worse, the Gregsons stand by Tara. For such a high-concept show, it was capable of some providing moments that were not only real and honest but also remarkably unique.

28. "the big bang theory: the russian rocket reaction" (cbs)
(originally aired: october 13, 2011)

Wil Wheaton's annual visit provided an amusing insight into Sheldon's enemy list (started at age nine and stored on a floppy disk) not to mention some truly hilarious turns from Melissa Rauch (as Bernadette, wrestling with Howard's proposed space trip) and Mayim Bialik (as Amy, detailing the formula behind what makes Penny great). The show's efforts to embrace the girls into the overall ensemble continues to pay comic dividends.

27. "how i met your mother: the ducky tie" (cbs)
(originally aired: september 27, 2011)

An amusing battle of wills between Marshall and Barney over Lily's pregnancy boobs, coupled with Ted's unexpected reunion with ex Victoria, showcased "How I Met Your Mother's" wonderful storytelling bravado as well as any episode of the series to date. That and the thought of the gang taunting Ted with "bang, bang, bangity-bang" still makes me giggle.

26. "the walking dead: pretty much dead already" (amc)
(originally aired: november 27, 2011)

The season-long search for Sophia finally came to a head in this episode as what's left of her emerges from Hershel's barn - under their noses this whole time - and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), finally pushed out of the confines of his morality, is the only one able to do what needs to be done. It's about as haunting of an image as any in 2011.

25. "parenthood: nora" (nbc)
(originally aired: october 11, 2011)

With over a dozen cast members, it's always nice to see "Parenthood" experiment with some new pairings. Such was the case in this episode as Crosby is tasked with being the only person in the delivery room with Kristina while Amber valiantly tries to teach Max about being sorry. The end result, when the Bravermans gather around to greet their newest member, makes the tapestry of their family all the more full and brighter.

24. "louie: oh louie / tickets" (fx)
(originally aired: august 4, 2011)

The improbable appearance of Dane Cook provided a "is this is really happening?" vibe to the proceedings, one that scripted their real-life "feud" in a way that didn't blink.

23/22. "parks & recreation: ron & tammys/ron & tammy: part two" (nbc)
(originally aired: september 29/february 10, 2011)

The myth of Ron Swanson got all the more rich in these two installments as the Tammys - Zero (Paula Pell), One (Patricia Clarkson) and Two (Megan Mulally) - put him through Dante's nine circles of hell, a torture only Leslie Knope and company ultimately can save him from. Between the quote of the year ("It rubbed off... from friction," Ron says about gap in his moustache) and the moonshine drink-off to end all moonshine drink-offs, you'd be hard pressed to find two funnier half-hours in 2011.

21. "justified: bloody harlan" (fx)
(originally aired: may 4, 2011)

The Bennetts arc came to a crushing close in this episode as Mags (Margo Martindale, proving exactly why she won the Emmy) chooses to sample her own "apple pie" rather than face the consequences of her actions over the past season, most notably the murder of Loretta's (Kaitlyn Dever, equally as awesome) father. While we're used to seeing "Justified" end with a hail of gunfire, this felt even bigger.

TOMORROW: #20-11





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