50 Greatest Episodes of The 21st Century, Part 2
45. Curb Your Enthusiasm — ‘Opening Night’ — Episode 4.10
I’ll be honest, I’ve never had much use for the work of Larry David. I found Seinfeld only sporadically funny, and have had only a mixed opinion of his ongoing improvised magnum opus. But I can’t deny that the fourth season, which mainly dealt with Larry getting cast to play Max Bialystock in The Producers tickled my funny bone on more than one occasion. And the climax of that season, the debut of him and David Schwimmer in the lead roles is extremely well performed, particularly when we learn that Mel Brook cast Larry for the sole purpose of closing his hit series down. (And really, if we’d known that this would be the last time we’d ever see Anne Bancroft work, seeing that she could do a mean Gene Wilder impression was a good way to go out.) Incidentally, David and Schwimmer were actually pretty good as singers and dancers. Maybe for a 2020 revival we could get the real thing?
44. South Park — ‘The Passion of the Jew’ — 8.3
Similarly, I’ve had my issues with South Park as well. Much of my problems with the series can be held with The Simpsons — it’s gone on for far too long, its been mostly hit and miss, and it seems to be lagging behind the Zeitgeist it once held captive. But I can’t deny that its had some truly remarkable episodes. And while there are more than a few good options for this list, my personal favorite remains this dead on satire of Mel Gibson, his controversial Passion of the Christ, and the groups collective reaction to the movie. Kyle’s demand for his eighteen dollars back, Stan’s feeling an immense amount of guilt, Cartman’s natural anti-Semitism taking hold in its most extreme form — its superb. There have been other more hysterical episodes of the series, but few that actually remain true to the character. Also, Kenny lives.
43. Grey’s Anatomy — ‘It’s The End of the World/As We Know It’
I think that it’s the understatement of this century that I am far from Shonda Rhimes’ biggest booster. And frankly, I’ve come to consider that the longer Grey’s Anatomy has been on the air, the more it turns into a glorified snuff film. (To quote a relevant John Oliver quote: “How can so many of your staff die? You’re a hospital, for Christ’s sake.) It doesn’t, however, change the fact that, particularly in the first three seasons of the show, there were moments of greatness. And its hard to look at this two-parter, which debuted after the Super Bowl, and not consider it the series finest hour. Bailey trying to hold back delivery of her child, while her husband is being operated on by Dr. Shephard, Christina Ricci performing life support on a patient with a bomb in his stomach, Kyle Chandler trying to talk first her, then Meredith down, only to be a literally explosive end — this is the kind of things Grey’s could do well. There’ve been other crises in the future, but they mostly seemed like excuses to kill regulars — and they make this simple story look utterly simple by comparison. It’s probably the most viewed episode in the series long history, and definitely the best.
42. Faking It — ‘Pilot’ — 1.1
This is probably my biggest wild card of the entire group, but this criminally underwatched MTV series was always among my personal favorites in the world of TV. Set in Austin, it told the story of two teenage friends in Austin, going to a high school I really wish existed, where the outsiders ruled. Karma and Amy are mistaken identified as lesbians, and having existed on the periphery all their lives decide to pretend being gay in order to become more popular. Being cornered in a high school gym, Amy lays a big kiss on Karma — and realizes she may not be faking it, after all. A funny, endearing, and ultimately hopeful comedy series, its one of the series of the past decade I really think was canceled too soon. MTV needs more shows like this. Still does.
41. Damages — ‘Because I Know Patty’ — 1.13
But when it comes to series from the Golden Age that may never have gotten the respect they deserve, its hard to think of any but this brilliant FX/DirectTV drama. A legal drama that almost never set foot in a courtroom, the series focused on one an anti-heroine before anyone knew how to coin the term. Patty Hewes, stunningly played by Glenn Close in a role that won her two Emmys, was a litigator whose take-no-prisoner approached against some of the most ruthless of villains hardly justified the carnage that would follow. In the climax to the first, and by far the best season, a series of stunning revelations unfurled that would play out throughout the remainder of the series. Even now, its hard to consider what was the most shocking, billionaire industrialist Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson, in one of his finest roles) being shot and left for dead by an aide he’d left behind, Patty being revealed as being behind the murder of Ellen’s fiancee, or Ellen’s decision to try and bring the women who she’d spent the first season idealizing down. This is a series that deserves to be considered with Mad Men and Breaking Bad in the pantheon of great dramas. Find it on Netflix. Now.