Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Best TV Episodes, April 2013

10. Supernatural, Season 8 Episode 20 – "Pac-Man Fever"

I've discussed a couple times now how, despite its season and series-spanning arcs growing stale over the years, Supernatural is still capable of busting out a thunderously entertaining case-of-the-week, and that stands true up to its eighth season's last standalone episode, "Pac-Man Fever." Marking the third appearance of Felicia Day's geek hacker chick Charlie Bradbury but the first that has told a primarily dramatic rather than comedic story about her (outside of an Inception–esque trip into a zombie shoot 'em up game in her mind, anyway), the episode's final scene between Charlie and her comatose mother made my heart hurt in a way that only TV at its best does so well these days.

9. Community, Season 4 Episode 11 – "Basic Human Anatomy"

Though I enjoyed bits and pieces of its documentary and puppet episodes (the balloon song from "Intro to Felt Surrogacy" has been stuck in my head for weeks), it is, of all things, its body swap episode (!!) that comes closest to capturing how insanely well Community executed its "gimmick" episodes under the reign of Harmon. It was emotional and tied deeply into characterization and character development, but was also quite funny (Exhibit A: The Dean's Jeff Winger impression), and Jeff flicking the lights on and off during the final "body swap" scene reminded of him picking up the imaginary hats in "Pillows and Blankets," one of the sweetest scenes of the entire series.

8. Bob's Burgers, Season 3 Episode 20 – "The Kids Run the Restaurant"

I don't know that Bob's Burgers is ever funnier than when Tina, Gene and Louise are all allowed to share a single storyline isolated from their parents, so when they teamed up to build an underground casino in the restaurant's basement – spearheaded by Louise – it was unsurprisingly funny as hell from beginning to end. Bob and Linda's story was hilarious too, with Bob's Burgers coming closer to "dark" humor than it usually gets in Bob's hand injury spraying blood all over Linda and everything else. As I've said before, this show is the sitcom to beat in 2013, and I doubt any show will.

7. Game of Thrones, Season 3 Episode 5 – "Kissed By Fire"

"Kissed By Fire" was, after the awesome and fiery opening sword fight with the Hound, one of Game of Thrones' lower-action episodes, but I loved it. I can't guess about or speak to how people who haven't read A Song of Ice and Fire might feel about it, but as a fan of Martin's books for years before the show came along this episode contained a shitload of scenes I've been waiting to see for a long time, from the Hound's fight to Robb dealing with the Karstark situation to Jon and Ygritte's cave tryst to the shocking, slightly hilarious wedding reveals of the final scene (and while leaving out this season's more redundant Bran and Theon stories). Nikolaj Coster-Waldau's monologue in the Jaime/Brienne bath scene was Emmy-worthy. The whole hour was a treat for book fans.

6. Justified, Season 4 Episode 13 – "Ghosts"

While I had my issues with Justified season 4's Drew Thompson story arc in its early going, once it revealed Thompson's true identity the season almost immediately buckled down and delivered a lot of solid entertainment. Its season finale was structured in an interesting, almost defiantly backwards way, kicking off nearly immediately with its most tense, thrilling and bloody sequence, then actually winding the action down through the hour to a contemplative ending that, while not sad or "bad guys win" or even necessarily dark, has been haunting me since in a way the quippy and fun Justified doesn't usually aim for. Looking forward to season 5 already.

5. Hannibal, Season 1 Episode 2 – "Amuse-Bouche"

I don't think I've seen five shows this decade kick off as immediately spectacularly as Bryan Fuller's Hannibal. It's my favorite horror show in years by an astronomical margin, one of my favorite shows of 2013 and (feel free to declare this blasphemy) has probably already trumped 1991's Silence of the Lambs as the definitive screen depiction of Hannibal Lecter for me. I really, really love it. Though I could have found room for several of its first five hours on this list, episode 2 gets the nod because its case-of-the-week, involving a killer who turns his victims into living mushroom fertilizer for months while they're kept alive via IV, has been swimming in my nightmares for weeks.

4. Community, Season 4 Episode 8 – "Herstory of Dance"

I already wrote a full review of Community season 4's crowning achievement, but I'll just quickly reiterate here that it was a massively warm, pleasant half-hour of television that just made me feel happy. If I could travel into the brightest timeline alternate dimension where Dan Harmon was never fired from Community's 22-episode fourth season, this episode and "Basic Human Anatomy" are the two I would want to take with me unchanged to air as part of that season (though I would also want to take the Greendale Babies cartoon from the premiere and the trout farmer from "Advanced Documentary Filmmaking").

3. Game of Thrones, Season 3 Episode 4 – "And Now His Watch Is Ended"

2. Spartacus, Season 3 Episode 9 – "The Dead and the Dying"

It was several years ago that I read about how the real historical Spartacus held his own gladiatorial games to honor one of his fallen brothers, using captured Roman soldiers as gladiators, and I've spent all of Spartacus: War of the Damned nervously eyeing the ticking-down episode count, wondering whether or not Steven DeKnight had just decided to skip this particularly juicy historical nugget. But it turns out, nope, he was just delaying our pleasure, saving one of the show's best episodes for its penultimate episode.

DeKnight tweaked history to bring our heroes into the action (rather than having the Romans fight each other, in the show they fight the former slave/gladiator main characters), and, to be blunt, it was deliriously fucking awesome. In a show that (despite what TV critics who hate thinking may claim) is normally one of most thoughtful and contemplative and consequence-heavy on television in its depiction of violence, it was a enormous fun to see an episode just kick back and let it rip with an hour of pure pump-your-fist-and-cheer-out-loud bloody spectacle for perhaps the first time since Gods of the Arena. Just awesome.

1. Spartacus, Season 3 Episode 10 – "Victory"

I've already written and talked about 2013's finest television achievement at arguably excessive length and have little more to add on the subject. But I'll emphasize one more time that Spartacus' finale really had its cake and ate it too, providing a rich emotional feast and the conclusions to years of thoughtful character work and tying a totally satisfying thematic bow on everything while also remembering to give us a final battle sequence that made Game of Thrones' "Blackwater" look like the skirmish at the end of a Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode. It's one of the best series finales and one of the best episodes of television I've ever seen.

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