Well here it is, folks: the top six episodes of television this year. Enjoy.
6. Breaking Bad — “Shotgun”
I’m sure a lot of people (besides whoever runs the Golden Globes, apparently) would rank either the penultimate or final episode of Breaking Bad as the season’s best. I don’t necessarily disagree (well, I guess I do), but I appreciate episodes of Breaking Bad where you can see the subtle buildup to the inevitable breakdown of everything Walter White has worked for. “Shotgun” was an episode built on the pretense of inactivity, as Jesse rides around in a car with Mike picking up stashes and biding their time. Rather than using explosive drama (apart from the botched holdup), Breaking Bad showed Walter slowly coming to grips with his powerlessness in Gus’s business, while Jesse is drawn closer into the fold. The final scene clinches it, as Walter nearly drunkenly gives himself up to Hank, as he pridefully calls Gale a “copycat criminal.” It was gripping in a way gunfights and botched drug deals could never emulate.
5. Curb Your Enthusiasm — “Palestinian Chicken”
While many have given up on Curb Your Enthusiasm as it trundles along in its 8th season, Larry David is without question one of the comedic geniuses of our (or any) generation. Though we’ve become accustomed to his brilliant storytelling and unparalleled ability to weave multiple plot threads into one gratifying conclusion, “Palestinian Chicken” transcends the show by giving us an honest look at David’s psyche, and his discomfort with his status as the prototypical Jewish comedian. His love of a Palestinian chicken place grows into his love of the gorgeous anti-semitic owner. Guys always want what they can’t have, he reasons, so why not pursue a woman who denies your sovereign right to exist as a people? On top of that, the B story is a thinly veiled 9/11 Mosque send-up, as Larry’s liberal Jewish friends are up in arms over the Palestinian restaurant’s plans to open a location next to Goldblatt’s deli. “Couldn’t they open it a few blocks away?” is hardly a subtle parody, but is hilariously biting nonetheless. When Larry is forced to choose between sacrilegious sex and his wife and friends, his choice is unsurprising, but nonetheless entertaining.
4. South Park — “You’re Getting Old”
In one of the final scenes of “You’re Getting Old,” Sharon and Randy Marsh are going through the final fight leading to their divorce: “You keep getting obsessed with the latest fad, and blow it way out of proportion,” Sharon says, “I feel like it’s just the same repetitive crap year after year.” Indeed, part of South Park’s appeal is it very rarely adresses character issues that comprise the backbone of most sitcoms. Instead, the boys go through some harrowing (and culturally relevant) adventure, only to have Stan and/or Kyle explain the lesson they learned, before hitting the reset button and doing it all again next week. But if “You’re Getting Old” and the more ambitious multi-part episodes are any indication, South Park auteurs Trey Parker and Matt Stone are growing weary of the formula themselves. They turn Stan into a cynic, unable to enjoy the things the other boys do because he sees everything as reheated, processed, literal shit. Yes, it wouldn’t be an episode of South Park without its trademark potty humor, but in this case, it’s shit with substance.
3. Parks and Recreation — “April and Andy’s Fancy Party”
Television romance is supposed to work in one way: A meets B; A woos B over the course of a season or two (or five); A tells B he/she loves him/her in a pivotal sweeps episode; and near the conclusion of the series, A marries B in a 90-minute television special with returning guest stars, cheesy musical numbers, and at least one drunken relative. Parks & Recreation did the exact opposite, throwing Andy and April together in the blink of an eye. Sure there was courtship, but the fact that showrunners Greg Daniels and Michael Schur also oversaw the most overwrought TV marriage in recent memory with Jim and Pam on The Office is mind-boggling. Instead of a choreographed dancing entrance with the whole cast, there was Mouse Rat. Instead of a secret Niagara Falls ceremony, there was April and Andy’s decrepit apartment. Instead of a beautiful dress and a dapper tuxedo, there was a plain white number and a Reggie Wayne jersey. April’s vows are a quote for the ages: “I guess I kind of hate most things, but I never seem to really hate you. So I want to spend the rest of my life with you, is that cool?” Yes, Parks & Recreation, you can spend the rest of your life with us. In fact, please do.
2. Louie — “Come on God / Eddie”
It’s almost unfair having to pick a single episode of Louie to represent “the best” episode. Nearly every episode of season two was top-notch, no doubt due to Louis CK’s relentless perfectionism. But if I had to pick one (and I really wish I didn’t have to), I’d pick the two-part episode “Come on God / Eddie.” The first half of the episode pits Louie against a gorgeous, perfectly cast Liz Holtan (who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting — yes, I’ll be available for autographs later) as Ellen, an evangelical Christian arguing against not only premarital sex, but masturbation to boot. Though lesser shows might have let Louie run circles around Ellen before exposing her hypocrisy and bedding her with his acerbic, atheist wit, “Come on God” instead explores the characters more deeply, before Louie unsuccessfully tries to come on to her.
While “Come on God” is full of belly laughs, “Eddie” is one of the numerous episodes of Louie that features very few comic moments, even as it follows two comedians from nightclub to nightclub. Both Louie and the suicidal Eddie (Doug Stanhope) tell jokes, but despite the material being inherently funny, the knowledge that Eddie is one show away from killing himself stuns the viewer into silence. Louie struggling to explain to Eddie why life is worth living while simultaneously expressing his anger at Eddie for reappearing after a 15-year absence only to tell Louie he’s going to die is heartbreaking, but unmissable television.
1. Community — “Paradigms of Human Memory”
For those of you who have followed this Tumblr from the beginning (we love all 25 of you very very much), you know how much I love Community. Unlike Louie, whose every episode reaches almost unparalleled quality, Community can range from very good to legendary, depending on the week. Writer Chris McKenna, best known for his work on American Dad, has only written six of the show’s 59 episodes, but two of them — “Paradigms of Human Memory” and Todd’s favorite episode “Remedial Chaos Theory” — are probably the show’s two best episodes. Not only are they narratively complex, but they each function as expositions into the psyche of the protagonists while lampooning overused sitcom tropes. I can still remember watching “Paradigms of Human Memory” and confusedly wondering when I had missed an episode where the gang went to a frontier town. The moment I realized that Community was doing a sendup of a clip show episode using entirely new clips, I did not stop laughing through the whole episode (and even a few minutes after, if I recall correctly). From the slo-mo black and white Sarah McLachlan-esque montages to the absurd character settings (a St. Patrick’s Day raft race, a botched drug deal, a mental hospital, an episode based solely on the failed NBC show The Cape), “Paradigms of Human Memory” remains the funniest episode of Community to date.