Greatest Episodes of the 21st Century, Part 3
40. Scrubs — ‘My Life In Four Cameras’ — 4.17
The most criminally undervalued comedy series in the 21st century, it was the most consistent performer on the air until its final season. Set in a hospital, it may be the closest thing my generation will ever get to MASH. And yet, paradoxically, the most perfect episode it ever did was among its most atypical. Having to diagnose a TV producer with cancer leads the series hero JD (Zach Braff) to have a fantasy where the second half of the series plays like a ‘typical’ comedy from the Must-See Lineup. Ironically, even going to cliches the series is still much funnier than 90 percent of the shows on the air. The jokes are solid, and the laughtrack seems to fit. Which make the final moments — when reality sets back in, and all the problems our characters were dealing with earlier ending painfully — such a kick in the teeth. When JD goes back home, his voiceover says: “After days like this, you just want watch one of your favorite shows.” That more people didn’t rank Scrubs among them is a tragedy.
39. Big Love — ‘Come, Ye Saints’ — 3.6
This polygamous set drama was that rarest of things — an underrated and underwatched HBO series. Without question, the highpoint for the series came as the Henrickson reached their personal low point — the breakup of the marriage to the fourth wife in the clan. The journey to bury a family time capsule in the shrine of Joseph Smith comes as a personal disaster, as all the skeletons that have been buried for two seasons come to the surface. The late Bill Paxton gives one of his greatest performances as his faith is truly tested, but the episode climaxes with arguably the most painful moment — when Sarah, the soul of the family, who has been dealing with her own conflicts, suffers a miscarriage mere hours after a total breakdown. Amanda Seyfried demonstrated why she was the breakout star of this series. I wish I could say things got better from there for the Henricksons. Maybe they did.
38. The X-Files — Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster — 10.3
Darin Morgan was a true visionary. When he wrote the handful of scripts that he would produce for X-Files (and Millennium), he foresaw the use of irony and self-parody that so many series in the new golden age have adapted. When the series completed its original run, ‘Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose’, frequently made the lists of greatest episodes ever written. Now, in the series revival, he more than demonstrated that he hadn’t lost his touch more than twenty years later. As a cynical Mulder finds that he is losing his taste for the paranormal, he finds himself drawn back into the world of the supernatural by the arrival of a monster. All the satire and in-jokes Morgan was famous for come into play, but a new twist was involved. Mulder comes face to face with — and has a long conversation with — the monster of the week, a were-lizard who was bitten hy a human. It’s funny, painful, and has a memorable dig at the cell phones we all use. This episode single-handedly justified the X-Files return.
37. Better Things — ‘The Eulogy’ — 2.6
I’m slowly being won over by this low-rated, well put together showcase for the phenomenal hyphenate Pamela Adlon (Louis C/K. associations aside). There were a lot of good episodes, but by far the most impressive involved Sam dealing with being unappreciated by her own family, and insisting (mainly to gall her teenage daughter) that her friends and family give her an eulogy while she’s still alive. Both achingly painful and hysterically funny, there were some genuine tears and real fun delivered in this outing. When the show comes up for Emmys, this is the one I think they should submit.
36. Arrow — ‘The Scientist’ — 2.8
The first and by far the most outstanding series in what can only be considered ‘the Berlanti-verse.’ , this episode would be significant for taking what was still at the time a risky, dark series involving a fringe character from the DC-Universe, and turning it into the foundation for what is now the backbone of the CW. Never did the writers shift tones more effectively with the introduction of CSI Barry Allen, the forensic scientist who had managed to deduce that Oliver Queen was the Arrow. Introducing some real humor into a series that is as dark as many basic cable series, the episode also set up the foundation for Allen’s ultimate transformation (in the next episode) into the Flash. Berlanti is always at his best when he is willing to shift from world to world, and he rarely did so with more surety than he did here.