The month of May, with sweeps and upfront presentations, marks the end of the traditional television season. As the networks look forward to the fall 2011 season, Warming Glow looks back on the best episodes of the 2010 season. On the pages that follow, editor Matt Ufford and frequent WG contributors Josh Kurp and Danger Guerrero pick their ten favorite TV episodes — plus a few honorable mentions — that aired between September 1st, 2010 and now (excluding shows with spring premieres).
Before you praise their impeccable taste (or lambaste their horrible decisions) in the comments, we ask that you pay attention to the restraints: critically adored shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones” fall outside the parameters here.
HONORABLE MENTION: “Community” — “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (December 9)
MATT: “Community” gets a lot of attention for its “event” episodes, but they’re not just stunts that showrunner Dan Harmon pulls to garner attention — they always advance ongoing story lines or delve into deeper characterization of Greendale’s students. “Abed’s Christmas” was a ballsy gamble that tapped into the sentiment of Rankin Christmas specials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” while taking a deeper look into what makes Abed (the incredible Danny Pudi) rely on pop culture to view the world. The episode’s final act walked a difficult tightrope: a climactic song typical of stop-motion specials that stayed within the framework of the characters’ inclinations. Some critics felt that the premise was stretched too thin, but those complaints felt like hifalutin nit-picking meant to punish inventive television.
HONORABLE MENTION: “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” — “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats” (November 18)
JOSH: “It’s Always Sunny” had an unspectacular sixth season—too often it felt like the show was trying to top itself, rather than telling an original plot. But “King of the Rats” focused on the show’s best character, Charlie, and its funniest joke, Charlie’s life. After having killed at least 200 rats, Charlie is tired, both physically and mentally, so the rest of the gang comes up with a solution to make him feel better: celebrate his birthday, which involves Cutty from “The Wire” and gifts from Charlie’s dream journal, including a denim chicken, a worm hat, and a bird with teeth. “King of the Rats” is “It’s Always Sunny” at its weirdest and finest.
HONORABLE MENTION: “Justified” — “Cottonmouth” (March 9)
MATT: The most-lauded episode of “Justified’s” brilliant second season was “Brother’s Keeper” (we’ll get to that), but my favorite episode of the season was “Cottonmouth,” in which Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins) finally gives up on living an honest life by pulling off a combination robbery/double-cross that displays his ingenuity for criminal activity. Of course, I’m biased: I really just like explosions, tasers to the balls, and mothers shattering their sons’ hands with ballpeen hammers.
HONORABLE MENTION: “Conan” — “Episode 1″ (November 8)
DANGER: It’s not that Conan’s debut on TBS was my favorite episode he’s ever done ever (not that I’d even know how to pick a single), but it was event television at a time when a frillion channels and high-speed Internet make that rare. I can’t remember being that excited for a TV show maybe ever, and seeing Conan walk through the curtain after months off the air was 12 kinds of awesome.
HONORABLE MENTION: “Community” — “Mixology Certification” (December 2)
DANGER: As a pop culture dork, I obviously love the meta, reference-heavy nature of “Community”. But what I love most is that the show is so nimble and malleable that it can give you a weird “ZOMG everyone’s a zombie!” episode one week, then turn around and out-genuine most others shows on television the next. This episode – centered around Troy’s 21st birthday — was funny, sad, and showed real emotional investment in the characters, more so than a lot of dramas.