The 25 Best TV Episodes I Saw This Year (#25-21)

In order to sustain some sort of vague balance to the list, I forced myself to include only one episode per program, to preclude this list becoming just a jumble of episodes from the shows you’ll see included at the top.

It’s nice, because it lets me mention some of my favorite underseen television episodes this year, including:

25. Bob’s Burgers – “Sacred Cow”

Fox has slotted a number of strange and offbeat shows into the Seth MacFarlane-ego trip that is their Sunday night animation block, but 'Bob’s Burgers' is the only one to really work. The season was an odd and spotty one, but with a few highlights, including the Lobsterfest episode, the one where Bob gets trapped in the crawl space and refuses to come out, and, of course, “Weekend At Mort’s”, where the family spends the weekend at a mortuary.

My personal favorite, though, was this bizarre creation, where a documentary filmmaker makes a statement by leaving a cow outside of Bob’s restaurant. Bob howls and complains, but ends up adopting the cow into the family and taking ridiculous steps to ensure the cow’s well-being. As always, the strange and timid Tina (Dan Mintz) and grade-school anarchist Louise (Kristen Schaal) are the MVPs here.

24. Jeopardy – “The IBM Challenge – Day 2”

It was impossible to read any coverage of this episode, featuring Watson, the IBM supercomputer, without someone mentioning the legend of John Henry, the steel-drivin’ man. While the comparison is understandable, it’s still not quite apt – whether Watson won or not, it is unlikely Jeopardy would ever switch to an all-computer-contestant format – but that didn’t stop the episode from being fascinating viewing.

Watching the episode, you found yourself helplessly rooting for Ken Jennings, a bit of a cold fish who suddenly seems like the last hope for mankind when matched against the blank black box of the IBM machine. Of course, he proves to be no match at all, and Watson defeats him handily, steadily grinding down the competition with calculations far too fast for the human mind to follow. It’s all impressive and a technological marvel, but it couldn’t feel less triumphant. When at last the competitors are defeated, and Jennings flashes up a last joke in place of his wager (“I for one welcome our new computer overlords”), it seems sad rather than entertaining. That somehow by creating this grand machine, we’ve lost our humanity.

Then I remind myself how many times I used Google just writing this entry alone, and agree that perhaps things are much better now. Though perhaps I better delete this post, before our new masters decide to teach me a lesson.  

23. Cougar Town – “Something Good Coming”

There was brief talk last summer of “Cougar Town” finally changing their name, but the only name they like (“Sunshine State”), seemed too close to ABC’s other comedy offering that spring, “Mr. Sunshine”, a dull mishmash of comedy stylings that tumbled out of the gate and lasted only a few episodes.

Instead, the show soldiers on, still saddled with the worst title on network television, still emphatically a show in no way related to its supposed central premise. I recall stumbling across the show about this time last year and realizing, “Oh! It’s ‘Scrubs’, but without a hospital.”

The season finished triumphantly with an hourlong trip to Hawaii to rescue a heartbroken Dan Byrd, and the change in location does nothing to stop the breezy, relaxed interplay between the cast. Especially good is the cameo of Sam Lloyd, recreating his ‘Scrubs’ sad-sack lawyer as a sad-sack, guitar strumming beach bum.

22. Suburgatory – “Thanksgiving”

After a surprisingly excellent pilot episode, I was perhaps too eager in my pronouncement that Suburgatory was “the best new show of the season” (there’s very little competition for that spot, it must be said. New Girl? Up All Night? Once Upon A Time? Even now, it’s not totally clear).

The show quickly devolved into a semi-interesting, overly-broad My-So-Called-Life-For-Dummies, and I gave up a few episodes in. However, when I was encouraged by Twitter to check out the Thanksgiving episode, I was not disappointed. Somewhere between Allie Grant’s decision to streak through the neighborhood and Parker Young’s description of "Ace Ventura in that super confusing Spotless Sunshine movie that had the 'Titanic' lady with the mid-sized naturals,” I was reminded of what exactly had turned me on to this show in the first place.

21. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – “Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games”

It’s Always Sunny has been spotty in recent years, and I tend to drop in and out, but this season was strong enough to pull me back in – particularly this episode, where we learn the lore of the gang’s invented board game, combining every element of every board game they enjoyed (plus lots of drinking, natch).

The show’s an acquired taste and always has been, but there’s never been a better introductory episode for the new viewer if you’re curious about checking out the show. More importantly, I have a new game that I absolutely must find a way to play. Who’s in?