50 Greatest Episodes of the 21st Century, Part 8

Episodes 15–11

15. Parks & Recreation — ‘Leslie & Ben’ — 5.14

Trying to choose the best episode of Parks & Rec is incredibly difficult — it’s one of the rare comedy series that actually got better with each successive season. But its funniest moments were also included in its most sweet, when Leslie and Ben finally decided, on the spur of the moment to get married. The comic gold — Ron making wedding rings out of household objects — was mixed with unusual bittersweetness — when Chris told Ben about how happy he was that they’d found a home in Pawnee. And of course, the most wonderful moment came at the end when, after it seemed their plans had been Jammed, their friends did what they always did and brought them together. Their wedding vows are really their finest hour. Considering how busy everyone on the series is, I’d be shocked if they got back together. But I can hope.

14. Fargo — The Castle — 2.9

Trying to choose the best moment from this incredible anthology series is always going to be difficult — there have been so many great heroes and villains throughout the series run that to choose one season out of the other seems unfair. In the end, I must go back to the past — Season 2. The long struggle between the Gerhardt family, the Kansas City mob, and Ed and Peggy, finally climaxed in the key moment in the series mythology — the Sioux Fall Massacre. And unlike so many series where the great moments are anticlimactic, this one surely wasn’t. As the Gerhardt family was betrayed by one of their most loyal soldiers, who climaxed his fighting by slaying family matriarch Floyd, the series erupted in one of the bloodiest massacres this side of Sam Peckinpah. (Though as far as I know, Peckinpah never used a literal deux ex machina to save anyone). It’s more bloody and real than anything you see on Game of Thrones, mainly because the buildup has been leading to this, and even though we know Lou will survive, we sure are terrified while its going on. One never knows just how Noah Hawley will top himself. Season 4 can’t come fast enough.

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13. Mad Men — ‘Shut The Door, Have A Seat’ — 3.13

Though I feel that this AMC series was often overrated, that certainly wasn’t true in the first four seasons. There were a lot of incredible moments throughout the series, and it is tempting to consider ‘The Suitcase’ their finest hour. But I’m equally fond of the third season finale. When it seems like Sterling Cooper is about to be swallowed whole by a bigger agency, Don and Roger reunite after a season of disagreements to do the equivalent of a heist. Many of Jon Hamm’s finest moments are in this episode — when he finally admits that Pete has a better handle on the voice of the country than he does, when he persuades Joan to come aboard, and in his finest moment, when he tells Peggy that he can’t imagine working without her. It’s a brilliant moment, particularly considering simultaneously his marriage finally collapses and two seasons of trying to hold it up. Most of the ensemble does their best work in collaboration. The fact that the series basically ended with them throwing it all away doesn’t do anything to diminish it.

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12. Battlestar Galactica — Crossroads — 3.20

It’s always difficult trying to figure out which of these episodes is the greatest. TV Guide flip-flopped, going with ‘Blood on the Scales’ in their last list, and ‘33’ in this one. Last time out, I remember I chose Kobol’s Last Gleaming. All of them are remarkable episodes, but in the end, I think the series finest hour is one of the few that the Emmys actually recognized with nominations. There’s so much going on — Apollo deciding to state quite clearly the hypocrisy of Baltar’s prosecution, the verdict that nearly tears the fleet apart (with Adama casting the deciding vote), and the reappearance of Starbuck in the final moments. But by far, the greatest moment was one of the biggest shocks of all time: when we learned who four of the Final Five were. The fact that the characters were just as appalled (including, understandably, Saul Tigh) as the audience was, wasn’t nearly as shocking as how they were turned on — the lyrics to ‘All Along the Watchtower’. Its still one of the biggest stunners in the history of TV. The fact that the series ultimately couldn’t quite measure up to in its final moments doesn’t change the fact as to how brilliant a moment it was.

11. The West Wing — ‘Shibboleth’ — 2.8

Technically, this one may not fit on the calendar here as, technically speaking, it aired in November of 2000. In this case, however, to quote Mulder in a similar context, “Nobody likes a math geek’. Besides, this is still one of the most incredible moments in the history of television. It features the series high point in comedy (and considering how brilliant The West Wing was in the Sorkin years, that’s saying a lot) as Allison Janney is forced to decide between two turkeys to receive the traditional pardon. Watching her dealing with it hysterical, watching her react when the other is about to be sent pack is comedy gold. But amidst all the comedy gold, there are truly great moments as the Bartlet White House tries to deal with the issue of Chinese stowaways claiming to be Christians, and how to figure out to grant them asylum, and the wonderful business as the Bartlet forcing Charlie to get him a new carving knife, which seems to be more comic business, until it leads to one of the most moving moments in the series history. This episode is required viewing in my family’s household every Thanksgiving. It should be for everybody. All year.

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