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!
20. "men of a certain age: a league of their owen" (tnt)
(originally aired: june 15, 2011)
A softball game with rival dealership Scarpulla served as the backdrop for this standout episode as the Thoreau Chevrolet employees improbably rally around Owen. I dare you not the cheer at the end of this one!
19. "family guy: back to the pilot" (fox)
(originally aired: november 13, 2011)
Whether it was taking shots at the shaggy animation from its early days, providing a window into what happens during those cutaway gags or applying "Back to the Future II" logic to 9/11 of all things, this episode - in which Stewie and Brian time travel back to the events of the pilot - made "Family Guy" feel as bold as ever.
18. "treme: do watcha wanna" (hbo)
(originally aired: july 3, 2011)
Louis Armstrong's "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" never sounded so beautiful.
17. "supernatural: the french mistake" (the cw)
(originally aired: february 25, 2011)
Just when you think "Supernatural" has run out of ways to clear its already high bar of meta, along comes this installment in which Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) find themselves in a parallel universe where they're mistaken for Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, the actors who play Sam and Dean in a TV show.
16. "breaking bad: hermanos" (amc)
(originally aired: september 4, 2011)
The origin of Los Pollos Hermanos didn't disappoint as we finally got to see behind the curtain of Gustavo "Gus" Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), not to mention bear witness to his revenge. I'll just come out and say it: Gus is one of television's best villains. Ever.
15. "the good wife: executive order 13224" (cbs)
(originally aired: november 6, 2011)
There's a laundry list of things "The Good Wife" does well and this installment checked off each one: tell procedural stories in a compelling way (the redacted "reenactments" were priceless), teach you about the subject at hand (Executive Order 13224 is a very real thing), showcase some fine character work (can Carrie Preston stick around all season?) and spin them together in a way that feels like a grand meal.
14. "friday night lights: don't go" (directv)
(originally aired: january 19, 2011)
The team's testimonial dinner to try and get Coach Taylor (the unforgettable Kyle Chandler) to stay in Dillon was just plain moving, not to mention a beautiful reminder that somehow, someway Jason Katims and company brought in an entirely new class of kids and made us care about them just as much as the old one.
13. "the chicago code: pilot" (fox)
(originally aired: february 7, 2011)
Our favorite pilot of 2011 was everything a television series should be: a toy box of well-rounded characters put in a distinct landscape with stories and attitudes that can be anything from funny to terrifying to heart-breaking, never knowing which is coming next.
12. "sons of anarchy: hands" (fx)
(originally aired: november 8, 2011)
Four seasons of conflict boiled over in this episode as Gemma finally confronts Clay over his misdeeds and the ensuing fight is as brutal and as ugly as the series has ever been. And of course who could forget those closing moments as Gemma tells her longtime confidante Unser: "He's not goin' down by law. He's gonna die by the hand of a Son."
11. "homeland: the vest" (showtime)
(originally aired: december 11, 2011)
It's almost trite to say this should be Claire Danes's Emmy reel and yet that's exactly what this episode is. We knew from the beginning that Carrie Mathison was bipolar and yet, once you see Danes's performance, it feels like a revelation.