Top 10 TV Episodes of 2010
December 30, 2010 by Marisa Roffman
Before I start my list, let’s get this out of the way: I’m behind on FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and BREAKING BAD. And I’ve never seen MAD MEN. I completely understand that they are all amazing shows and have had some phenomenal episodes this past season, but I haven’t seen them. I promise to try and catch up soon.
With that being said, television has really given us some gems this year, hasn’t it? Several shows gave us their best episodes yet, whether they were unconventional, game-changing, just starting off or ending their journeys.
Everyone has different definitions of what makes an episode great, so this is my admittedly biased list of the 10 best episodes of 2010, listed in alphabetical order by series…
BONES, “The Parts in the Sum of the Whole”:
In 2010, BONES showcased three of their finest episodes to date: “The Proof in the Pudding” was one of their best cases yet, as the team worked to discover the cause of death on the remains that may have belonged to the late JFK — all while trapped inside the Jeffersonian. “The Parts in the Sum of the Whole,” the milestone 100th hour flashed back to the tumultuous first case Booth and Brennan worked together — a meeting that started off promising, but ended so badly that it took a year before they reconnected — and Booth told Brennan he wanted to give their a relationship a chance, an offer she turned down. “The Doctor in the Photo,” an episode that delved deeply into the mind of Brennan as she over-identified with a victim, prompting her admit to a no-longer-single Booth that turning him down was a mistake. Needless to say, it was a little difficult to pick just one to put on this list, but in the end, it had to be “The Parts in the Sum of the Whole.”
The episode was framed around Booth and Brennan correcting the assumptions Sweets made about their first case in his book about their partnership. That allowed the audience to finally see Booth and Brennan’s first meeting, and yep, the chemistry was there from the start. The BONES pilot had Booth calling Brennan “Bones,” much to her annoyance, and the flashbacks showed the origins of that, plus how she pushed him to find ways to express his personality, via outlandish socks and wacky ties — a trend that continues to this day.
An often overlooked essential part of what makes BONES work is its supporting cast, and they also had a chance to shine in the hour. Original series costar Eric Millegan (Zack) returned, allowing for some much missed, awkward, not-understandable-to-mere-mortals Brennan and Zack conversations. We learned that Angela took the job at the Jeffersonian during the investigation of this case in order to save up money for a trip to Paris and Hodgins had an anger issue, which caused friction with the Jeffersonian team, especially Zack. Even Cam had a minor role in the flashback as the person who first encouraged Booth to seek out Brennan’s expertise.
The final moments of the episode had Booth — whom Sweets had encouraged earlier to break the relationship stalemate Booth was in with his partner — telling Brennan that he knew she was the one from the start and he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. She told him she couldn’t. It was heartbreaking. But it was also gutsy, because the show had been coasting along fine with what they were doing. The quasi-unacknowledged feelings were there, but hidden. The second Booth begged Brennan to give them a chance, he blew up any pretense the duo had of pretending the feelings didn’t exist on his end. He didn’t get the result he desired, but there’s no denying the show is forever changed because he asked for that chance.
COMMUNITY, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”:
For a show that has never been shy about pushing the envelope about, well, anything, COMMUNITY’s stop-motion Christmas adventure was incredibly daring. As meta as the series has been, completely changing up the format of an established series for an entire episode is a risk. The show gets my respect for shaking things up, but even more importantly, it was genuinely good.
The episode worked because despite how ridiculous it could have seemed on paper, there was no doubt this was a COMMUNITY episode. The characters were true to life, even if they were little clay people on our screens. Of course Abed’s mind would view his friends as stop-motion claymation characters when his mother’s desertion was too hard to face. And because it’s a holiday episode, of course they broke into random song. As far out there as it seemed, it worked.
But what I loved most about this episode was that despite the fact that only Abed could see that everyone was in claymation, his friends went along with it. Some were unwilling at first, some made cracks, some wanted to leave the fantasy journey so they could go get laid, and most were ejected from the journey, but the study group all came together in the end to help Abed realize he wasn’t alone. His mother may have blown him off in a Christmas card so she could spend the holiday with her new family, but he still had his friends. The episode instantly became a Christmas classic.
COUGAR TOWN, “You Don’t Know How it Feels”:
Despite the show’s title, COUGAR TOWN is really about family. As much as we know about what makes Jules so quirky, her family — outside of her son, Travis, and her ex-husband, Bobby — was a fairly blank slate. But the second her dad, Chick, showed up, Jules started talking Southern, a nervous habit she got whenever he was around and the information snowballed from there.
According to Jules, Chick (played fantastically by former SCRUBS star Ken Jenkins) was “Captain Super-Fun” when he was with a group of people, but “Mr. Emotionally Distant” when they were alone together. Jules was convinced her father would hate Grayson and she hoped that the men spending an afternoon together would inspire Chick to spend one-on-one time with her. The men bond, she and her father fight and she kicks him out of her house. However, Chick couldn’t leave and attended the gang’s Halloween party in a costume. Jules was upset her father actually went away, so she left the party early, not knowing that he followed her outside.
The scene Jules and Chick shared on the bench where he admitted it was difficult for him that she reminded him so much of her deceased mother was one of the most raw and honest scenes we’ve seen on the show. Jules admitted her biggest fear was being alone. Not a huge shock to anyone who watched the show, but watching her bond with her father and having them open up to each other was incredibly mature and moving.
Another show where multiple episodes could have filled this spot. FRINGE continues to consistently deliver some of the best hours on television, so narrowing it down to only one episode for this list was a little difficult. “Jacksonville,” “Peter” “Over There” and pretty much anything from the stellar third season could justifiably be included, but “Entrada” took everything that makes this show spectacular and amped it up.
I’ve raved about this episode in the past, but it’s worth repeating: “Entrada” was brilliant. Whenever a show temporarily changes its format in a major way, inevitably you need to figure out when things go back to “normal.” Run too long and you risk alienating your fans, but if it’s too brief, you risk fans feeling frustrated that there was no purpose for the change.
For all of season three, FRINGE switched between our universe and the alt-universe (where our Olivia was trapped) every other episode. In “Entrada,” we swapped back and forth between both locations multiple times throughout the hour as Fauxlivia’s cover was blown over here and Olivia’s journey to get home reached it’s final stages over there. Not a second was wasted in the hour as every storyline, every character, heck, every actor was firing on all cylinders, proving once again why this is one of the most underrated television shows.
Unlike other mythology shows, the FRINGE writers haven’t been shy about answering questions and tying up storylines whenever they feel the time is right. “Entrada” delivered closure to first part of season three in a major way and set up conflict that will play out the rest of the season.
GLEE, “Grilled Cheesus”:
There is probably no show on television as wildly uneven as GLEE. The series excels at mindless, fun episodes where plot is an afterthought (“Britney/Brittany” and “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”), but when it tries to tackle serious subject matters, that’s where the trouble can start.
But “Grilled Cheesus” got things right. Yes, the idea of Finn seeing Jesus in his grilled cheese sandwich is crazy, but many other people claim to have similar visions all the time. Plus, this is also the same kid who believed that George W. Bush was his father and that being in a hot tub speeds along conception, even if there is no sex involved.
However, what made the episode so fantastic was Kurt. The writers have the tendency to overly rely on his character to make their points about society, but Chris Colfer always steps up. When his father had a heart attack, Kurt’s lack of religious faith became a point of contention in New Directions. His friends stepped in to pray for Burt against Kurt’s wishes. Burt woke up and was okay by the end of the episode, but props to the GLEE writers for not forcing Kurt to “see the light” and completely change his mind about his lack of faith. While viewers and his fellow glee club members might be a little uncomfortable with that, it seemed true to his character.
An extra bonus was Colfer’s rendition of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” It remains one of the most emotional and gorgeous songs the series has ever done.
GREY’S ANATOMY, “Sanctuary”/”Death and All His Friends”:
Also known as the episode that got me back into GREY’S ANATOMY. The show has suffered from bouts of mediocrity in recent years and just when I thought I was ready to give it up, series creator (and writer of the two-hour finale) Shonda Rhimes roped me back in.
No, GREY’S ANATOMY isn’t the first show to do a “shooting in the workplace” episode. Heck, it’s not even the first show to use violence in the workplace to do away with recurring characters. But it was totally plausible that Mr. Clark, a man whose wife died at Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital would snap and take it out on the doctors who pulled the plug on the only person left in his life. He begged them not to do it earlier in the season, but their hands were forced by a document stating she didn’t want machines to keep her alive. From the first shocking gunshot to the bloody end, the two hours was filled with drama as the gunman struck fan-favorites and not-as-enjoyable characters alike.
Meredith has always been a dark and twisty character, so the moments where she’s truly happy are few and far between. Her joy in the beginning of the episode over her newly discovered pregnancy was touching, but before she could even tell Derek — who was shot by Clark — she lost the baby. Ellen Pompeo, Sandra Oh, Chandra Wilson and the rest of the cast knocked it out of the park as they went through their various traumas.
GREY’S has never simply brushed away any of the tragedies the characters have faced, but the ripple from the finale is still playing out this season. And thankfully, the tragedy seems to have revitalized the show.
HOUSE, “Help Me”:
HOUSE’s sixth season was rocky at times, with the abrupt exit of original cast member Jennifer Morrison (Cameron), Cuddy’s new relationship with Lucas, and House struggling with his sobriety. But everyone brought their A-game for the season finale, which found everyone’s favorite cranky doctor out in the field with a patient who was pinned under rubble.
For a show that depends on the “patient of the week” formula, it can take a lot to make a case or patient stand out, especially in its sixth year. But Hanna did. With the proper equipment to free her from the rubble hours away, the best option was to amputate her leg, something she and House agreed was not an option. As the situation got more serious House finally relented that amputation was best and convinced Hanna of the same. However, an unforeseen complication from the amputation led to her passing away before she could reach the hospital.
House rarely loses patients and even more rarely opens himself up to any of his patients, so when she died, it was just one defeat too many. It’s rare to see House so vulnerable. Hugh Laurie portrayal of House’s downward spiral was mesmerizing as he fell apart and prepared to relapse on drugs, until Cuddy came to his home to tell him she loved him.
Major kudos to the HOUSE writers for having the guts to pair House and Cuddy together. Will the relationship last forever? Knowing House, it’s doubtful. But the writers were aware enough to realize it didn’t really make sense to keep them apart any longer.
LIFE UNEXPECTED, “Pilot”:
When LIFE UNEXPECTED premiered in January, it represented something that had been largely missing from The CW: a heartfelt family drama. Don’t get me wrong, The CW does fun escapism shows well and there are a few underrated dramas on the network, too. But nothing felt as old-school WB-esque as the LIFE UNEXPECTED pilot did.
It wasn’t hard to immediately fall in love with the show and the world these characters lived in. The cast seemed to gel from the start and Britt Robertson (Lux) possessed the ability to be completely vulnerable, yet wise beyond her years, qualities that were essential in having a believable Lux. She was a foster kid, searching for her biological family — not to find out her origins, but merely needing their signatures so she could emancipate herself and get out of the system. Watching Lux’s first moments with her birth parents, Cate and Baze, seeing the semi-reluctant new family try to bond once the judge declared that they should have custody of her, was just so lovable. These were absolutely all flawed characters struggling to find their way in this new world, but there was something that was utterly comfortable about the first hour of the series.
LIFE UNEXPECTED never got the audience it deserved, and the series wraps up next month. But it’s hard not to view the pilot and wish that the series had more time to live and more time to be what they set out to be.
LOST, “The End”:
So many people had problems with this episode, and I understand some of the complaints. I fell in love with LOST the first time I saw the pilot episode, and proceeded to spend hours reading theories, rewinding what could be pivotal scenes, participating in the official ABC games — yes, I’m a nerd –and rewatched the series every year before the new season began. For a show that put so much emphasis on questions and intrigue, many questions we thought were important ended up either being meaningless or left unanswered when the show came to a close. I understand the frustration there.
But as far as I’m concerned, “The End” was perfect. Is it occasionally bittersweet to realize there will be questions I have about the show that will never be answered? Of course. However, as much as I adored the mythology, I fell in love with these characters. When the show debuted, yes, there was the paranormal element of the smoke monster, but it was about these survivors and their struggle to stay alive. I’d choose closure about them over mythology answers any day.
After all, who didn’t shed a tear — or ten — when the soul mates reunited and “woke up” in their shared universe? Jack and Kate, Sun and Jin, Charlie and Claire, Sawyer and Juliet, and okay, fine, Sayid and Shannon, too…their reunions were all beautiful. Death wasn’t the end of those love stories. Plus, that epic Jack vs. Smoke-Monster-as-Locke fight, which in many ways had been brewing since the very first hours of the show, is still one of the best battles I’ve seen on television in years.
And because it bears repeating again, no, they didn’t all die during the initial plane crash. Can we please stop using that as an excuse to hate this episode?
MODERN FAMILY, “Unplugged”:
Part of the beauty of MODERN FAMILY is that while there can be some of the traditional comedic “Oh my God, how did that scene just happen?!” moments, they are all rooted in some sort of genuine reality. “Unplugged” demonstrated some of the best examples of that and it was also an episode where all three storylines were equally strong.
When Phil and Claire realized their family was too reliant on electronics, they challenged everyone to go without their devices for an entire week in exchange for a prize of their choosing. Everyone struggled, as you’d expect them to, but Hayley outlasting her parents by carving a fake cell phone out of a bar of soap in her attempt to win a car was brilliant. She hadn’t always been the sharpest tool in the shed, but clearly the potential of winning a car caused her to think outside of the box. She didn’t get her car, but it certainly made me view her in a new light.
Cam and Mitchell’s quest to get Lily into the right preschool led to the duo blowing an interview with the “Harvard of preschools.” They were incredibly inappropriate when they realized a lesbian couple with a black baby was also applying, but instead of being offended by their comments, it was just incredibly…them. They love Lily and want the best for her, even if it means they’re out of line at times, just like real family can be.
Jay and Manny freaking out over whether Gloria killed their neighbor’s dog to prove a point was fantastic because as a viewer, I wasn’t even sure if she did it. Gloria loves her family, but she can be over the top, loud and a little crazy, which can make her a bit of a wild card. She didn’t kill the dog, but she did give him away to her cousin on a farm, which Jay informed her is something that is unacceptable in America. Just like real families, people have the same fights, over and over and over again. And anytime Jay and Manny bond, it’s a good thing. They are underrated as a team and have produced some of the show’s best moments so far.
So those are my top 10 episodes.
Did I leave something great off the list?
Why not share your personal 10 episodes below?
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