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!
10. "futurama: reincarnation" (comedy central)
(originally aired: september 8, 2011)
Three loosely connected tales - each told in their own distinct animated style (Fleischer-esque black and white, 8-bit video game and anime) - showcased what "Futurama" does best: revel in its unabashed love of pop culture, have fun with the cosmic questions of our existence and sneak in some heart when you least expect it.
9/8/7. "community: advanced dungeons & dragons/remedial chaos theory/paradigms of human memory" (nbc)
(originally aired: february 3/october 13/april 21, 2011)
The fact that a show can continue to be this ambitious is just plain staggering. An episode spent playing Dungeons & Dragons, another comprised of flashbacks to episodes that never aired and yet another consumed by revisiting the variations of a seemingly innocuous event. The fact that it's in the name of laughs: unthinkable. And yet, here these three episodes are.
6. "the good wife: closing arguments" (cbs)
(originally aired: may 17, 2011)
Will and Alicia finally gave into their long-simmering attraction in the show's second season finale, but that's not why it's on this list. It's on it because it happened in pure "The Good Wife" fashion: not as some cliffhanger or an artificial sweeps stunt, but because it made sense in the moment. Will isn't a knight in shining armor nor is Alicia a damsel in distress. They're both adults who make an adult decision, fully realizing there's consequences for their actions and little chance of a happy ending. But, at least they'll have that moment together. Damn I love this show.
5. "curb your enthusiasm: palestinian chicken" (hbo)
(originally aired: july 24, 2011)
And here we were thinking Larry David's narcissism couldn't reach new heights and along comes this episode in which Larry's forced to choose between the best sex of his life with a Palestinian restaurateur, who's not too shy about her anti-semitism, and his friends, who are protesting said woman opening a new location next to a famed Jewish deli. The closing beat of Larry literally trapped between the two fractions is absolutely priceless.
4. "the office: goodbye, michael" (nbc)
(originally aired: april 28, 2011)
Michael Scott's final, inaudible "that's what she said" after he removes his microphone for the last time - and subsequent silent goodbye to Pam - were just plain killer.
3. "breaking bad: face off" (amc)
(originally aired: october 9, 2011)
The epic three-dimensional chess match between Walter and Gus reached its conclusion in this episode as our favorite drug kingpin took Walt's elaborately structured bait and - in one of the more gruesome sequences to ever hit the small screen - gets half his head blown off as a result. But that's just the beginning: Gus wasn't the only one Walt was playing as Jesse too unknowingly found himself on the hook... after Walt apparently poisoned his girlfriend's six-year-old son.
2. "game of thrones: baelor" (hbo)
(originally aired: june 12, 2011)
After a season's worth of watching his station taken away with every honorable choice he makes, Ned Stark (Sean Bean) finally does the selfish thing in this installment - confess to something he didn't do to spare the lives of his family - and he gets his head cut off for his troubles. Say it with me: holy fucking shit.
1. "friday night lights: always" (directv)
(originally aired: february 9, 2011)
A joyous celebration of years past and a shining ray of hope towards the future we'll never get to see, "Always" marked the end of the television road for "Friday Night Lights." The best swan songs remind you why you fell in love with the show in the first place, give you a chance to say a proper goodbye and remind you that, even though the story is over from our perspective, that world is going to keep on spinning. "Always" did that and more, with the kind of unfettered emotion and immeasurable pureness of heart rarely captured on film - all in their solemn post-rock glory. In other words: the new gold standard for series finales.