5. “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” The X-Files Season 3, Episode 4 – October 13, 1995
This episode was written by Darin Morgan’s magic pen. Fans of the show will recognize him as the writer of several of the greatest, and most critically acclaimed episodes of the show including “Humbug,” “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” and “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” all of which could essentially tie for number five on this list, except that this one, more than the others, really encapsulates what The X-Files is. Scully skepticism peaks in this episode, wherein she and Mulder are searching for a serial killer of fortune tellers when they come across Clyde Bruckman, who Mulder believes is a genuine psychic. There is humor, both smart and silly, paranormal activity that feels absolutely believable, and a self-awareness that few science fiction series are able to pull off as well as The X-Files. The episode also has a genuinely tragic element that allows the audience to sympathize, and emote for a character they just met. The episode won an Emmy for best writing in a drama series and Peter Boyle won an Emmy for playing Clyde Bruckman. As a fan of the “monster-of-the-week” episodes more than the mythology ones, this episode certainly stands out as one of my favorite television episodes of all time. I think this episode could easily convince anti-X-Filers to give the show a chance.
4. “The Suitcase” Mad Men Season 4, Episode 7 – September 5, 2010
I wasn’t sure at first, if this episode complied with this week’s rules. The episode is without a doubt great, possibly the best in the series, but I couldn’t decide if it sufficiently captured what the show is all about so I rewatched it, and am pleased to report that it does. Don and Peggy’s relationship is the crux of the series. While never romantic, their relationship is one of mutual respect, primarily due to both of them carrying heavy burdens from their past, but moving past them because they know what they want. Neither of them are particularly sensitive people, but this episode puts them both at their most vulnerable, and then they pair up and work. This episode honestly feels like a miniature version of the entire series. You get a taste of Roger at his most Roger, one Joan line that hints at her personality and several scenes with supporting cast that perfectly capture the essence of the office. It is also the episode where Don tries to punch Duck. . . moments after he attempts to take a shit on Roger’s chair.
3. “The Little Sister” Roseanne Season 2, Episode 2 – September 19, 1989
All I have to do is think about this episode and I laugh out loud. Laurie Metcalf is hysterically funny in the series, and in the episode—as the title suggests—focuses more on her than a typical episode might. However, it does so in a way that allows us to delve deeper into the familial relationships that make the show so terrific. In this episode, Jackie wants to join the police force and Roseanne is trying to talk her out of it. In the meantime, Becky and Darlene also are clashing so Darlene ends up at Jackie’s apartment, and Jackie ends up super drunk, which is one of the funniest scenes in sitcom history. The scene that takes place the following morning, which includes the line, “have another shot of pancake, Roseanne!” as well as a physical fight between Barr and Metcalf, make this episode one of greats.
2. “The Fight” Parks and Recreation Season 3, Episode 13 – May 12, 2011
I have used this episode on multiple occasions to lure people into Parks fandom. I might actually like this episode more than my number one pick, but that might only be because I have watched it no less than two dozen times. Last week I included a Chris Pratt clip from this episode, which although it makes me laugh the kind of laugh where I need to pause and rewind, it is probably the third funniest scene in this episode. Tom invites the whole gang to try his latest money making scheme, Snake Juice, at the Snakehole Lounge. Everyone sans Donna and Chris get absolutely blasted af and Leslie and Ann fight with each other over whether or not Ann should take a job at City Hall and boys. Not only are the drunk parts funny, but so are the hangovers. There are also some plot advancing scenes between Leslie and Ben. This is seriously this show at its very peak because although it is a workplace comedy, it is funny that they all hang out outside of work, even in compromising situations. “JEAN-RALPHIO! Dance up on me!”
1. “The Pothole” Seinfeld Season 8, Episode 16 – February 20, 1997
This really might be the greatest half hour of television ever created. It is actually perfect. Never has a show so wonderfully married the A plot, B plot, and in this ambitious comedy, the C plot. Every character’s actions cause unfortunate reactions for other characters. George drops his keys in a pot hole; Jerry drops his girlfriend’s toothbrush in the toilet; Elaine can’t get flounder delivered to her apartment; and Kramer adopts a highway. Doesn’t that sound hilarious? No. It doesn’t. And that is the absolute genius of it. Take four characters, make them engage in ludicrous behavior for minor personal gains that may or may not negatively affect friends and foes alike and you have an incredible episode of Seinfeld, but more importantly, a model of excellence against which all television shows can be measured.