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Saturday, December 28, 2013

YEAR IN REVIEW: The Top 20 Episodes of 2013

My regular Weekend Rewind looking at past CBS seasons will return next week but this week is my third annual Top 20 episodes of the year post. (Check out my past Top 20 episodes lists from 2012 and 2011).

I will provide my regular disclaimer that there are certain shows like Parenthood and How I Met Your Mother that I am behind on and have not watched new episodes in 2013. There are also many cable shows I do not watch even though I'm sure I'd love them. So this is my Top 20 episodes of the shows I watch, enjoy!

20. Nashville #21 "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive" (May 22, 2013)
There probably aren't any Nashville episodes that deserve to be on this list. In fact, this episode almost worked its way off this list thanks to the ridiculous daytime soap opera-like ending of a car crash. But it made the list for two reasons. One was a dynamic performance by Charles Esten as his character, Deacon, fell off the wagon with his battle with alcoholism. But the bigger reason was the performance of the year by Hayden Panettiere and her heartbreaking song "Nothing in this World Will Ever Break My Heart Again." With Juliet having gone through ups and downs throughout the season culminating in her mother's death, Panettiere delivered a powerful moment that was not only the best scene of this mediocre show but quite possibly the most moving moment I watched on TV in 2013.

19. Go On #22 "Urn-ed Run" (April 11, 2013)
Go On was an underrated gem from the 2012-13 TV season. It wasn't always on point but when it was working, it was a nice mix of comedy and drama as it wasn't afraid to deeply explore a topic most sitcoms confine to one or two episodes in their run: death. Matthew Perry's Ryan King spent the entire season either avoiding his grief over his lost wife or in denial about it. But when time came to let go and spread her ashes, he needed help from the support group he made fun of for most of the season. In the end, they were there for him when he needed it most. While I wish this show had gotten a second season, it was a satisfying end to a show that I kept watching for its entire run.

18. New Girl #52 "Double Date" (October 1, 2013)
After a brilliant second season, season three of New Girl has been up and down. But one episode that stands out so far was a hilariously madcap episode that involved a race to a restaurant where Schmidt (Max Greenfield) tried to avoid two women find out he was dating both of them. It was a throwback to a silly feel of slapstick comedies from years past. Another highlight in the episode were Winston's (Lamorne Morris) attempts to keep the table at the swanky restaurant while everyone was delayed in their arrival. Finally the episode ended on quite possibly the best moment in the Nick and Jess (Jake Johnson and Zooey Deschanel) relationship so far as they tried to preemptively keep Schmidt from breaking them up by discussing their differences (Nick thinks the moon landing was a fake) and their similarities (they both think horses are from outer space).

17. Smash #27 "Opening Night" (April 20, 2013)
Smash was the biggest tease of any show I've watched since starting this blog. It had a brilliant pilot followed by many laughably bad scenes, characters, and episodes. Then it revamped for season two and showed some progress only to continuously be slowed by bad writing and shallow character development. For one episode in season two, however, it all came together and delivered its best episode since the pilot. Centered on opening night of the musical Bombshell, the episode featured great musical performances (highlighted by a fantastic duet of "That's Life" by Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty) and promising directions for storylines such as a potential split between Tom and Julia (Christian Borle and Debra Messing). Of course by the time this episode aired, the writing was on the wall for Smash, but this episode showed all the show could be. It was a little sad that it could never get to that level on a regular basis but it also made for a very entertaining episode.

16. The Middle #105 "The Christmas Tree" (December 11, 2013)
The best Christmas episode of the year belonged to a show that remains the sweetest family sitcom on the air even as this fall brought tons of new family sitcoms. As usual, the holidays appeared to be a disaster for the Hecks with Sue (Eden Sher) discovering she's allergic to live Christmas trees, Axl (Charlie McDermott) wanting to spend more time with his friends than at home, Brick (Atticus Shaffer) running a mini Ponzi scheme, and Frankie (Patricia Heaton) forcing the family to watch a foreign version of White Christmas. But a sentimental discussion with Dad (Neil Flynn) using the song "Cats in the Cradle" kept Axl at home and the Hecks ended their Christmas sweetly sitting on their porch while an equally sweet tag scene had Axl explaining the song "Cats in the Cradle" to younger brother Brick. This show works because its so relatable and it's not afraid to tug at the heart strings in a way that doesn't come across as flashy or ironic.

15. Modern Family #96 "Goodnight Gracie" (May 22, 2013)
After episodes in the Top 10 the last two years, this is the only Modern Family to make my list this year as I think it hasn't been quite as sharp as it has in years past. But the season finale in May delivered every signature feature of Modern Family to make it a classic. In an episode that centered on the family traveling to Florida for Phil's mom's funeral, it had layered storylines that were loosely connected at first and more connected as the episode went on. The subplots were top notch including Cam (Eric Stonestreet) playing bridge and gossiping with a group of catty old ladies and Mitch (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) defending every small issue in a sweltering Florida courtroom. It also had a series of misunderstandings as many great Family episodes do. And finally it had a touch of sentimentality at the end. It's too bad there weren't more Modern Family episodes this year that could pull everything together the way they did with ease in the first several seasons. 

14. Chicago Fire #31 "No Regrets" (November 19, 2013)
Chicago Fire has quietly emerged as one of the most consistently strong dramas on TV right now but it's not getting nearly the attention it deserves. There has been a great storyline this season surrounding a near forced departure of Chief Boden (Eamonn Walker). It came to a head in an action packed episode that featured a horrific crash between a tanker and commuter train. When Chicago Fire premiered, I worried that it would run out of ways to tell stories about fighting fires but here we are halfway through season two and life or death situations like the accident in this episode are just as riveting. As the hardworking gang of Firehouse 51 worked without much help, Boden was preparing to say goodbye to his men and women. This episode captured everything that works so well about the show.

13. The Middle #100 "The 100th" (October 23, 2013)
As I already discussed in #16, one thing that makes The Middle so great is its dysfunctional but heartwarming family. The other great thing about this show is the setting, smack dab in the midwest with the small town of Orson, Indiana and its little abnormalities. The 100th episode of this show celebrated the 100th anniversary of Orson and its colorful cast of characters. As Frankie and Mike reminisced about how they ended up in Orson, it was a great commentary on small town life. This show's setting is a modern day Mayberry as it celebrated the little things like its anniversary. In many ways, this is the larger theme of the show - celebrating the little things - and a 100th episode is quite a milestone for the little show that could.

12. Brooklyn Nine-Nine #1 "Pilot" (September 17, 2013)
This fall brought 14 new comedies to the networks, the most in a very long time. Without a doubt, the freshest and funniest new sitcom is Brooklyn Nine-Nine from the creators of Parks and Recreation. Comedies almost always have a tough time in the early part of their run. Even all time classics like I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Friends, and The Office took awhile to hit their stride. But Brooklyn came out firing in a way that few sitcoms are able to. Aside from the necessary exposition, it felt like a show that was well into its run because the characters were so well-defined and the writing was sharp and well suited to the actors, particularly the odd couple pairing of Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher. The best news of all is that most of the episodes that have followed so far have been equally as strong. I hope Brooklyn is around for a long time.

11. Criminal Minds #180 "Restoration" (April 3, 2013)
Like Modern Family, I don't feel as though this was the best year for Criminal Minds. But one episode stood above the pack thanks to a strong performance from Shemar Moore as Derek Morgan. When the BAU travels to Morgan's old stomping grounds in Chicago, a case is connected to a man who molested Morgan. When he's at it again, Morgan has to come to grips with what happened to him while advising the young men who are now the victims to come forward against this threat. In the age of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, it was a strong episode in general but Morgan battling his inner demons made it an especially memorable one.

10. Scandal #38 "YOLO" (December 5, 2013)
Scandal has delivered thrills all year long and it's not slowing down at all halfway through the third season. In this episode, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) discovered her mother was alive and well and spent the entire episode trying to safely send her out of the country while avoiding her father's attempts to thwart the plan. Meanwhile, Cyrus (Jeff Perry) wrestles with inner demons after setting up his partner to catch the overly ambitious vice president's gay husband in the act. These storylines seemed solid and intense for most of the episode then, in true Scandal fashion, everything was turned upside down at the end of the episode. Olivia realized it was her mother, not her father, who was the monster. And in an even more shocking twist, the vice president Sally Langston (Kate Burton) murdered her cheating husband and called Cyrus in a panic as she declared "I have committed a sin." Scandal never fails to deliver shocking moments just when you think the episode is coming to a close.

9. The Blacklist #1 "Pilot" (September 23, 2013)
The best new drama of the year is easily The Blacklist. It's a great mix of procedural with a villain of the week and an engaging overarching plot as it slowly pieces together the details surrounding the criminal at the center, Red Reddington (James Spader) and his connection to young FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone). While every episode has been exciting, the best one so far remains the pilot as it set up the story very well while still catching a criminal for the week. Spader's performance as Reddington may be the best of the year and the episode set up lots of potential plot lines which are still being explored ten episodes in. With tons of thrilling moments and strong performances, this show did what a drama pilot needs to do: hook the audience. I hope this show continues to go Person of Interest style with its nice mix of procedural and serial drama. Of the many drama pilots this year, no show seemed as sure of what it plans to be than The Blacklist and it's important it sticks to that plan.

8. Chicago Fire #19 "A Coffin That Small" (March 27, 2013)
I had watched Chicago Fire all of its first season but I think this is the episode where I finally got hooked. Most episodes have the gang of Firehouse 51 playing the heroes but occasionally things don't work out and this episode explored that with the tragic death of a little boy who was stuck in a garbage chute. There were other interesting storylines in this episode including a stolen ambulance and a touching storyline involving Hermann (David Eigenberg) and his dad but it's really all about the main storyline involving the young boy. When the boy's mother tells Chief Boden that the boy wanted to be a firefighter, Boden organizes a fire truck salute. As the funeral procession goes by, the entire firehouse is there in the snow saluting the boy in a very moving moment.

7. Brooklyn Nine-Nine #6 "Halloween" (October 22, 2013)
As I already said, I think Brooklyn Nine-Nine is off to a stellar first season. The best episode of its run so far though has to be the Halloween episode because it dealt with the best dynamics in the show: the relationship between Detective Peralta and Captain Holt (Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher). In this episode, Peralta bets Holt he'll be able to steal his Medal of Valor, locked in a safe in Holt's office, before midnight. Peralta spends the entire episode dressed in ridiculous costumes and creating red herrings. This episode was pure madcap comedy and no show is doing better physical and silly comedy this season than Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It's not coming across as stupid because the show is well-written but this is definitely a show that's not taking itself too seriously and that's refreshing.

6. Parks and Recreation #82 "Leslie and Ben" (February 21, 2013)
Leslie Knope's (Amy Poehler) happy ending with Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) came in this episode but, as expected, it was never easy. They decide to get married at a gala instead of two months later like they planned but Knope's arch enemy, Councilman Jamm (Jon Glaser) nearly spoiled the whole thing. But the best episodes of Parks and Recreation throughout its entire run have been the episodes where the whole gang needs to work together under a deadline and this was the perfect example of that: Ron (Nick Offerman) makes rings, Jerry (Jim O'Heir) is an ordained minister, and Ann (Rashida Jones) makes a dress out of Leslie's accomplishments (yes, a wedding dress made out of paper). When they finally said their vows, the viewers were treated to a montage of past Parks moments which was a bit cheesy but mostly sentimental. TV's eternal optimist (Leslie) ended the episode by saying "I love my husband, I love my job, and I love my friends."

5. Scandal #29 "White Hat's Back On" (May 16, 2013)
Scandal is famous for its breakneck pace of storylines. Plots that would last half a season on other shows last half an episode on Scandal. Every once in a while they tie up some long standing plots though only to turn in another direction like a whiplash and that certainly happened in the season finale. As always, tons of things happened in this episode: Olivia Pope's crew figured out who the mole was, Cyrus had a heart attack, etc. It seemed like things were leveling off for the season when all of the sudden it was revealed to the media that Olivia was the mistress to President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn). That seemed like it was the final twist for the season but oh no, not on Scandal. Just when Olivia was ready to face the hounding media, she was whisked away to a car and a simple line by Olivia - "Dad?" - revealed that the mysterious and powerful head of B613 (Joe Morton) was Olivia's father. So much has happened since then this season that it's hard to remember what a big moment that was - but it was quite the final twist in a season that was full of them.

4. The Office #200 "Finale" (May 16, 2013)
It's been awhile since The Office was a really good show - several years actually. And it really went downhill after Steve Carell left in 2011. So I was more than ready for the show to be done when it was announced that 2012-13 would be the final season. I just hoped it would go out on a strong note and it did in a way that paid tribute to its longtime fans. Everything that made the show one of the funniest and best written sitcoms in its early years was back for the finale: sentimentality with a touch of irony and sarcasm. Best of all the episode brought back the brilliant Carell as Michael Scott. Though he only had two lines in the entire episode, they were arguably the two funniest moments of the episode. In the final scene, the Dunder Mifflin gang gathered back in the office for a final goodbye and they talked about how their work family was like a real family - just as Mary Tyler Moore famously did in her iconic show's finale. I wasn't too sad The Office was over but I'm glad it went out on a high note.

3. New Girl #36 "Cabin" (January 8, 2013)
The single episode that made me laugh harder than any other this year was actually one of the first as it aired way back in January. It was two excellent plots that made this episode so hilarious. First up was the trip Nick and Jess took to a cabin with their significant others at the time. The cabin trip led to the hilarious moment of Jess shooting a gun very poorly and then the gang getting into absinthe. Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson nailed the comedy as they were drunk off the absinthe (particularly Johnson at the dinner table). It also was a great next step in the slow building Nick and Jess relationship. A nearly equally funny subplot involved Schmidt trying to help Winston connect to his "inner blackness" which led to a very funny attempt at buying crack cocaine. New Girl had so many top notch episodes in season two but above all, a comedy should make people laugh. And as I said, nothing made me laugh harder than this episode.

2. The Following #1 "Pilot" (January 21, 2013)
My favorite pilot of the year belonged to The Following. This show was up and down as the season went on and I'm skeptical about what season two will look like when it returns this January. But no show had a better or creepier start than this one which I remember watching on a chilly January night. Everything was eerie and unsettling as notorious serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) escaped and retired FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) was brought back in the fold. In the first episode, it was impossible to know who to trust and the show was so creepy and violent, it looked like something network TV hadn't seen before. I did enjoy this show all season but I also recognized that it never quite lived up to the pilot. But that doesn't take away from what a well-constructed and chilling show it originally set out to be.

1. Person of Interest #54 "The Crossing" (November 19, 2013)
Person of Interest has been one of my favorite shows since it premiered over two years ago. But it has never been a "must see TV" type of show like Scandal where I just had to watch it as soon as I can so I didn't miss out on any twists or turns. But this year, Person of Interest gave a twist that most network shows are too afraid to try. Detective Carter (Taraji P. Henson) had spent the last several episodes trying to take down the infamous HR group who murdered her boyfriend. She had finally captured the elusive leader of HR and worked with John Reese (Jim Caviezel) to bring him in. As this was happening, it looked like Detective Fusco (Kevin Chapman) was in serious danger as he was being tortured. But Fusco escaped and Carter and Reese successfully completed their mission. It looked like a new day was dawning without HR when in the final seconds of the episode, Detective Carter was shot and killed by another member of HR. In one swoop, this show went from being a good procedural with interesting overarching plotlines to a show that was not afraid to take chances by killing off a major character. It got the show tons of buzz that it usually doesn't get and it earned respect from me in a way that others haven't (like The Following, which didn't actually kill off James Purefoy's character). It was so shocking and so sudden, but it was good TV. Person of Interest took their game to the next level with this episode and it deserves episode of the year honors for that reason.

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