You know what? I was excited when I talked about 2012 in movies and games. It’s harder to act excited about TV. 30 Rock is ending, Community is getting screwed over, Cartoon Network threw DC Nation up in the air so fast that episodes got shown on iTunes before they aired on TV. And some great new shows got cancelled. Nevertheless, I can easily find 10 great episodes that aired.
10 (tie). The finales of MasterChef Season 3 and Amazing Race Season 21: Reality shows are a guilty pleasure of mine, but when I like the contestants and the challenges enough, they do become genuinely good, and sometimes surprisingly inspiring. In MasterChef, Christine had the disability of being blind, but still managed to come out on top. And Amazing Race had a season full of backstabbing and stupid alliances, but the Beekmans came from being at the back of the pack several times to winning it, and they had fun the entire time.
9. Modern Family, “Bringing Up Baby”: This is one of those odd cases where I want to praise the 4th season of Modern Family, but there’s no great episode I can pinpoint for it. Its season premiere, though, easily set up some of the big changes for the show, with Gloria pregnant again and Haley going have to college. The unique set-up of actually starting at the end of the 3rd season and only time-skipping ahead at the end of the episode was also a nice touch, and a solid start to a hilarious season.
8. Gravity Falls, “Double Dipper”: Disney’s animated programming has long been head and shoulders above its live action, and Gravity Falls is the latest in shows that appeal to kids of all ages. This episode provides both a nice example of the sci-fi/fantasy that drives the show, with Dipper cloning himself using a magic copier with results that go wrong as it gets lampshaded all the way. And there’s also Mabel meeting her rival, only Mabel is completely oblivious to that fact. Using the standard animated plot set-ups while also playing with them is what makes Gravity Falls so fun.
7. Arrow, “Lone Gunmen”: Leave it to DC to constantly just twiddle their thumbs in the movie division, and then deliver some awesome TV shows. Arrow’s take on Green Arrow balances being a show of millionaire playboys and the standard drama that entails with plenty of heroic action. Lone Gunmen introduces a nice take on Deadshot, has some great action sequences, and it answers the question of “When is his bodyguard going to learn his identity?” with “RIGHT NOW” when some shows would’ve dragged that out for a full season. This is a show that moves and keeps you excited.
6. Community, “Virtual Systems Analysis”: Curses to NBC. Season 4 of Community still hasn’t started yet, and most of my favorite Season 3 episodes were back in 2011. It would be a shame to leave it off this list, though, and while its parodies of video games, heist films, and Ken Burns documentaries are all tempting, Analysis is what makes the list for me. Abed and Annie go inside the Dreamtorium and constantly switch between acting out as the various cast members, but it’s the scene of Abed in the locker that reminds me why this show is great: for all its cartoonish comedy, it suddenly turns around and hits you with an emotional moment. It’s a silly show that still makes you feel for the characters.
5. Once Upon a Time, “Skin Deep”: Speaking of making you feel for the characters, OUAT is a show that makes you feel for the villains. Just when you think a character is truly evil, it suddenly dives into their backstory and changes everything. Skin Deep goes back to Rumpelstiltskin in the fairy tale world and shows a twist on the tale when Belle is captured in his castle and forced to work for him. The tale as old as time is still happens, and ends up not only adds new twists to the show, but also gives the quirky, giggling trickster another level of depth.
4. Last Resort, “Eight Bells”: I was not surprised at all when Last Resort was cancelled. Disappointed, yes, but did anybody really think an intelligent, politically charged thriller was going to last? And while the dense plotlines are what gets this show its praise, Eight Bells is a great example of its thrills, as the submarine crew have to pull off a dangerous mission in order to save their captured members. It’s tense and doesn’t have the perfect happy ending, which makes it all the better.
3. Bob’s Burgers, “Tina-rannosaurus Wrecks”: In a block controlled by Simpsons and Seth MacFarlane, Bob’s Burgers ends up being the choice cut. Its sometimes realistic, sometimes absurd plots come together here when a driving lesson for awkward daughter Tina ends with her hitting the only other car in an empty parking lot. From there, the family gets roped into an insurance fraud scheme, they completely fail at faking the kids’ deaths, and the show proves that nothing is too ridiculous for them, while still feeling strangely grounded next to its contemporaries.
2. Bunheads, “Movie Truck”: At first I assumed Bunheads was the kind of show my mom would watch on her own. By the third episode I was watching thanks to it just being purely hilarious. Its hour-long comedy format lets it set up scenes and just have them run until they are damn sure every joke has been done. When thinking of the episode to put on this list, I wanted to chop them up and put together the scenes of Michelle in the coffee shop and the awful play Blank Up It’s Time and everything. But I had to keep going back to Movie Truck. It features some great moments like the girls trying to get the perfect seating arrangement in the movie truck and Michelle and her friends passing around a bottle of alcohol, only to reveal that one of them has just been spitting back in it. Three words get it on this list, though: Mountain of Arms. It’s the B-movie fan in me that reveled in the characters’ descriptions of this movie where a killer cuts off people’s arms to make a mountain of arms, with the final ironic twist that he has to chop off his own arms to finish the mountain. Perfect.
1. Awake, “Turtles All the Way Down”: Awake tried its best to balance its fairly normal cop show premise of solving crimes each week, with its high concept that the main character keeps switching between two alternate universes depending on whether his son or his wife died in a car crash. Apparently this was too much for audiences, since the show didn’t even get a full season. Each episode is excellent, building up new twists to the conspiracy that caused the main character’s crash while also adding rules for how the worlds work. Series finale Turtles is the masterpiece. The conspiracy goes into high gear, characters die, and the two worlds fall apart completely. Everything the show said about how things work was apparently done just to create moment after moment of “Wait, what?!” It’s trippy. It’s unique. It’s perfect.