Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Best TV Episodes, March 2013

10. Community, Season 4 Episode 6 – "Advanced Documentary Filmmaking"

While neither me or anyone else (certainly not anyone else, since according to most of the rest of the TV blogosphere we're now supposed to hate Community unreservedly) would argue Community's fourth documentary episode measures up to "Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking," "Documentary Filmmaking: Redux," or "Pillows and Blankets," it was a fun, energetic little episode with Donald Glover delivering comedic gold once again via Troy's quest to disagree with Annie on everything. I especially loved the show bringing back Chang's wife, last seen in "Environmental Science" two and a half years and 67 episodes ago. They may lack Harmon, but someone on Community's writing staff clearly knows their Greendale history.

9. Game of Thrones, Season 3 Episode 1 – "Valar Dohaeris"

No one will mistake Game of Thrones' setup-centric third season premiere as being among the show's finest hours, but I just love this world and these characters and, frankly, having a fantasy series on television operating at this level so much that I richly enjoyed it all the same. The final reveal of Barristan Selmy just oozed cool.

8. Spartacus, Season 3 Episode 7 – "Mors Indecepta"

Spartacus: War of the Damned's second-weakest episode (after episode 3, "Men of Honor," the season's only hour I would describe as merely good instead of explosively fantastic) was still a huge, action-packed spectacle with an ending that had me literally cheering out loud on my couch like a fucking crazy person. That War of the Damned's relative low points make almost all of the rest of TV look so fucking boring in comparison speaks to the searing power of what this season is in the midst of accomplishing.

7. Bob's Burgers, Season 3 Episode 17 – "Two for Tina"

I've reiterated multiple times that (despite H. Jon Benjamin's vocal greatness) Bob's Burgers' title character and his wife Linda are but supplementary to the show's true comedic superstars: Tina, Gene and Louise Belcher. And even amongst that trio – currently, if anyone's keeping track, the greatest sitcom characters on television – Tina stands alone, with "Bad Tina" and "Tina-Rannosaurus Wrecks" being two of my favorite sitcom episodes last year, and now "Two for Tina," which contains a dance contest that may just put Silver Linings Playbook to shame. I also love that this episode continued Tina's character arc from last month's also-hysterical "Lindapendent Woman," again establishing Bob's Burgers as having a continuity leg up on almost all other animated sitcoms.

6. Justified, Season 4 Episode 11 – "Decoy"

Justified is so much sheer goddamned fun that I'm honestly kind of shocked that it's accepted as a "great" show by the "serious TV drama must be grim and bleak and relentlessly unpleasant"-pushing voices of the TV blogosphere. But it's somehow slipped through the cracks, and a show capable of putting out an episode this insanely high-energy, complete with shootouts, standoffs, torture, a blood-pumping fight where I really wasn't sure who was gonna live, a psychotic evil henchman named "YOLO" and a literal goddamned exploding car can not only exist but also be critically lauded. Justified is just cool as hell, baby.

5. Spartacus, Season 3 Episode 5 – "Blood Brothers"

A mere three episodes after launching his plan to sack and take over a Roman city (itself an epic set piece 99% of other TV dramas would have saved for their season finale, which Spartacus casually tossed out as episode 2 like it weren't no thang), Spartacus' dominion of Sinuessa en Valle goes up in literal, spectacular flames in yet another insane midseason hour that, again, virtually any other show would have considered season finale material. Have I mentioned lately how Spartacus makes basically every other action show ever made look like dogshit?

4. Bob's Burgers, Season 3 Episode 16 – "Topsy"

3. Switched at Birth, Season 2 Episode 9 – "Uprising"

I mostly just think of ABC Family's Switched at Birth as a teen drama – a well above-average one, but just a teen drama regardless – so it was a pleasant shock to see them produce this formally and emotionally ambitious hour. The students of Carlton School for the Deaf rise up in an occupation protest when the city moves to shut their school down, which is, except for a few spoken lines at the episode's beginning and one more at its end, depicted entirely in silence with nothing but subtitled sign language to better reflect the viewpoint of the deaf characters. It was unique and ballsy, but more importantly than having a great gimmick, it had a great gimmick rooted entirely in character, thematically relevant and tied to a strong emotional throughline.

2. Spartacus, Season 3 Episode 8 – "Separate Paths"

Though I doubt anyone would describe Spartacus: War of the Damned episodes 4 through 7 as slow-paced, they nevertheless kicked it up another notch with this sweeping, tragic and epic antepenultimate episode, whose show-shattering climactic events made it clear that we're now locked firmly into endgame mode. It wasn't even technically a "final battle" (which will presumably be coming in the actual series finale airing April 12th), but it nonetheless delivered a massive and spectacular final battle set piece that effortlessly kicks the ass of most other TV battles I've seen. It was certainly, without hyperbole, hundreds of times bigger and more exciting than The Walking Dead's finale. And though I know I sound a broken record at this point, it was yet another midseason episode any other drama on television would have saved for season finale time.

1. Spartacus, Season 3 Episode 6 – "Spoils of War"

I've already done a full review for Spartacus: War of the Damned's endlessly clever, simultaneously thoughtful and thunderously exciting sixth episode, so I won't go too in depth here. But it's my favorite episode of what is my favorite TV season of the year so far, which may just make it my favorite TV episode of 2013 (give or take a Fringe series finale, perhaps). It was smaller in scope and more intimate than other episodes, but, as a hardcore Spartacus fan going way back, I found its self-reflective nature thrilling and even moving. A fun tour back through four years of an amazing series.

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