10. Boardwalk Empire, Season 3 Episode 10 – "A Man, a Plan..."
Because sometimes all it takes is a sufficiently shocking ending (WARNING: SPOILERIFIC IMAGE BEYOND LINK!) to make sure a TV episode spends the next week rolling around in your head.
9. Supernatural, Season 8 Episode 8 – "Hunteri Heroici"
Supernatural's season-spanning story arcs have undeniably deteriorated since they ran out the clock on their initial five-year blueprint, but it remains a show worth watching because of its willingness to be weird, creative, and experimental on a week-to-week basis. Season 8's first departure was in episode 4, "Bitten," a found footage werewolf flick, but I prefer "Hunteri Heroici," wherein a psychic stuck in front of a TV blaring classic cartoons inadvertently uses his powers to blanket his town in cartoon physics. Weird and funny in all the right ways, with a dollop of classic Supernatural blood and gore, it's a damn fun episode.
8. Parks and Recreation, Season 5 Episode 8 – "Pawnee Commons"
I gather from the internet that thinking anything is better than last month's episode "Halloween Surprise" makes me history's worst monster, but "Pawnee Commons" is the first Parks this season that has worked for me front-to-back; its first season 3-level outing. Pawnee and Eagleton (partially) bury the hatchet via cooperation on park development, Andy and April feud with and romance each other under the alter egos of Bert Macklin and Judy Hitler, and Tom's Rent-A-Swag subplot moves forward nicely (and far less stupidly than last season's Entertainment 720 subplot). Good laughs, good character work all around.
7. Fringe, Season 5 Episode 5 – "An Origin Story"
At its best, Fringe involves well-meaning people doing bad things for the right reasons (see: "White Tulip," "And Those We've Left Behind"), and the show's fifth and final season, until this point an enjoyable if fundamentally a bit frivolous sci-fi adventure story, at last took shape as Peter Bishop made an awful, thrilling decision in his quest for justice, setting the stage for the series' final arc.
6. Parenthood, Season 4 Episode 7 – "Together"
Parenthood is maybe the single TV show which my love for snuck up on me the most slowly – I used to think it of it as being just ok back in early season 1, which evolved into me liking it a little (late season 1/early season 2), then liking it a lot (mid-to-late season 2), then really adoring it (season 3), and now, in its emotionally rich, often achingly beautiful fourth season, it being the currently in-season show I most look forward to every week. "Together" was just another damn good episode advancing this season's arcs, most notably Kristina's battle with breast cancer, with rare grace.
5. Bob's Burgers, Season 3 Episode 6 – "The Deepening"
With Community on hiatus, no sitcom is currently operating on a level comparable to Bob's Burgers, and this Jaws parody/homage was the show at its absurdist best. Second strongest effort of the season so far, just behind the Halloween episode, "Full Bars."
4. The Walking Dead, Season 3 Episode 4 – "Killer Within"
I struggle to name many shows that have ever aired that I'm more hot and cold on than The Walking Dead. I loved the pilot, enjoyed most of the rest of the first season except for the finale, which was middling, then I thought its 2011 run was, without hyperbole, one of the worst shows of the year. Seriously. That farm arc was some awful fucking television. And now, bouncing erratically about the quality spectrum like a rubber ball, the show has found a new lease on un-life with the prison and Woodbury, and, in "Killer Within," put out the single best episode they've done since the series premiere. Yes, a lot of its greatness came down to the shocking deaths, but maintaining this level of tension and excitement for an hour deserves plaudits even sans major casualties. (And, to prove how hot and cold I am with this damn show, the very next week saw me struggling to stay awake.)
3. Fringe, Season 5 Episode 7 – "Five-Twenty-Ten"
Partially because it kicked ass all the way around and advanced Peter Bishop's journey into increasingly dark and fascinating territory, but, to be totally honest, mostly because a hypnotic episode-ending montage set to some kick-ass tunes (in this case David Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World") remains one of the strongest TV tricks in the book.
2. Boardwalk Empire, Season 3 Episode 11 – "Two Imposters"
Arguably the strongest episode of an already very strong season, "Two Imposters" represents the greatest strength of quality serialized storytelling: That awesome moment when the seemingly disparate threads that have been methodically laid out all season come together and you at last see the big picture. All the better when said big picture involves an incredible episode-long chase sequence, punctuated with gunfire, exploding with excitement and laced with dread, as it does here as the final battle between Nucky Thompson and Gyp Rosetti, ten episodes in the making, begins. Just awesome.
1. Parenthood, Season 4 Episode 8 – "One More Weekend With You"
There was remarkably raw, humane work being done at every corner of this exceptional (even by Parenthood standards) episode, but, so as not to turn this space into a full-on review, I'll focus in on the storylines of Amber and Kristina.
Despite Mae Whitman's insanely great performance – one that should have been nominated for Emmys by now – the character of Amber has often been a touch underserved by the show's major arcs, especially in the first half of season 3. But by bringing her into the orbit of Matt Lauria's Ryan York, a veteran somewhat painfully trying to reintegrate himself into normal life, her character has been revitalized and become one of the absolute best on television. Late of Jason Katims' last show Friday Night Lights, Lauria is a pitch-perfect addition to the Parenthood universe, and even if the military funeral that anchored the Amber/Ryan story this episode did feel a touch reminiscent of the FNL episode "The Son," lightning struck twice, because it worked its magic on my heart yet again.
Meanwhile, the Kristina breast cancer arc took a pretty interesting detour into an exploration of medicinal marijuana, and this story, while not losing sight of a touch of humor here and there, was handled with a tenderness that I found fascinating. Even as someone who hasn't smoked pot in going on half a decade, I found the "climactic" scene of this story where Kristina smokes away her nausea to be one of the most beautiful TV scenes of the year. I honestly didn't even know you could show someone full on inhaling from a joint and exhaling pot smoke on network television – let alone multiple times and thoroughly enjoying it with no negative consequences of any kind – and I'm really curious if Katims had to plead with NBC upper brass to make it happen, but kudos to him for risking outrage from moral crybabies and sticking to his artistic guns.