Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Best TV Episodes, May 2013

10. Game of Thrones, Season 3 Episode 8 – "Second Sons"

While I love Game of Thrones – and the sheer novelty of a high fantasy series on this scale on the small screen continues to delight – there's been some drag in Westeros this season, and several instances where I've found myself thinking, "Ok, feel free to step up the pacing any moment now." Thankfully, "Second Sons" did just that with a relatively tight focus on King's Landing, Dragonstone and Yunkai, capped off with a nice little Sam vs. White Walker tag. Tyrion and Sansa's wedding and especially its reception were great set pieces full of tension and humor alike, and as an added bonus this episode is the first in a long time that actually measures up to Game of Thrones' generally hyperbolic reputation for extreme nudity.

9. Arrested Development, Season 4 Episode 1 – "Flight of the Phoenix"

Despite initially claiming Michael's second spotlight episode, "The B. Team," to be my preferred of Arrested Development season 4's Michael episodes, I'm afraid I'll have to prove what a noncommittal coward I am by going back on that just a week later. On reexamination and a little rewatching, I've decided that the fourth season premiere is actually one of the season's better episodes, if only for the pleasure of initially catching up with everyone, seeing Sudden Valley fill in with houses (but not people), Gob force-feeding Michael a forget-me-now and of course Michael mistakenly being voted out of a four-person housing situation. It's a strong kickoff with a strong focus on Michael and George Michael's relationship, perhaps the series' bedrock.

8. Arrested Development, Season 4 Episode 9 – "Smashed"

I wasn't especially crazy about Tobias' first season 4 spotlight, which got way too bogged down in DeBrie and Fantastic Four spoofing, but those very same elements were turned into things going in favor of Tobias' second episode. We get a great Tobias/Michael scene, Tobias acting as a analrapist theralist onscreen at length for the first time ever, and the return of the sung "Mr. F!" stinger. By all means, read more thoughts here.

7. Hannibal, Season 1 Episode 8 – "Fromage"

Hannibal turned its sights on the musical arts in this episode about a killer who very much enjoys crafting the strings for violins and cellos from human entrails. The beheaded "Cello Man" was one of the series' more chilling instillation-artist-kills to date, we pushed Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter's twisted friendship along nicely, and this normally patient and methodical series even found time for an amazingly kick-ass fight scene at this episode's climax. As an added bonus, "Fromage" also featured Dr. Lecter preparing some truly delicious-looking bread pudding, which I venture is probably even safe for non-cannibals to enjoy.

6. The Office, Season 9 Episode 23 – "Finale"

The Office's very good series finale at the tail end of two seasons I cared very little about is like a sudden orgasm seventeen minutes after you've lost interest in the sex you're having: It'd have been better much earlier, but still, you're glad for it. I'll miss the show very much and at the same time I'm so fucking relieved it's finally over. "Finale" wasn't often laugh-out-loud hilarious – sitcom finales rarely aspire to be – but managed to leave the show's entire cast in emotionally satisfying places. It went out with the bittersweet tang I'd always imagined this show, which was once one of my favorites on television, would have and should have. And yes, a salt-and-pepper Michael Scott showed up for a cameo, extended enough to be emotionally affecting but quick enough not to steal the show from anyone else. Thumbs way up.

5. Arrow, Season 1 Episode 23 – "Sacrifice"

Keeping in mind that we haven't seen what Hannibal has up its sleeve yet, Arrow has hands-down the best season finale of any network show so far this spring. It almost had a Buffy's "The Gift"-esque hugeness in scale and sheer climactic feel to it as Starling City began literally crumbling under the influence of the season's big supervillain plot. And the show didn't just tell, but showed buildings collapsing and streets imploding and anarchy abound, and it was huge and scary and awesome. The episode had big action, big emotion, big reveals and a twist that floored me in its final minutes. This is exactly what pulpy action/adventure TV serial season finales should look like.

4. Arrested Development, Season 4 Episode 12 – "Señoritis"

As I mentioned in my review of "Señoritis," I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Maeby's sole season 4 spotlight, as she'd never really been one of my favorite main characters in the original series. But this messy yet extremely enjoyable episode smooshes together a whole lot of character development, misunderstandings, Hollywood satire, reveals about previous episodes and Maeby and George Michael into of one the season's most entertaining and fast-paced half-hours. It also, in its final moments with the return of "Hey, whatcha tryin' to say to me?", contains one of the season's best callbacks to the original series.

3. American Dad, Season 8 Episode 18 – "Lost in Space"

American Dad is a maddeningly inconsistent series which, in any given run of four episodes, usually averages about one mediocre-to-crappy episode, two moderately enjoyable outings and one that's among the best sitcom episodes of its month, animated or live action. Those in the lattermost category include last year's "Ricky Spanish" and "Adventures in Hayleysitting," and now "Lost in Space," which isn't just good but phenomenal and one of the best episodes of the entire series.

Detaching entirely from the titular American dad and the core Smith family, this episode follows alien prisoner Jeff Fischer back to a space station above Roger's home planet, where he tries to figure out how to escape captivity in a big, stylish intergalactic musical action-adventure comedy extravaganza that might just be the year's most purely ambitious comedy episode. It almost felt like a whole space opera compressed into 22 minutes with jokes added, complete with a lot of really impressive alien design and massive, complicated "sets" that showed a hell of a lot of visual imagination. It had emotional depth that you never really associate with Seth MacFarlane and a bittersweet, melancholy ending. If only they'd ended the season here instead of one far lesser episode later.

2. Hannibal, Season 1 Episode 7 – "Sorbet"

Aka the dinner party episode. I have a whole podcast where this episode and my thoughts on it are discussed at respectable length, but suffice to say I thought the whole thing was chilling, gorgeously rendered perfection. The show – and this food-centric episode in particular – is simply intoxicating in a way that I rarely associate with TV. Or really any fiction, for that matter. The atmosphere is so thick, the visuals so elegantly rendered with a care for framing and color and craftsmanship that puts most feature films to shame, and Mads Mikkelsen's performance so charismatic and frightening (Hugh Dancy is also great, of course, but "Sorbet" is clearly Dr. Lecter's hour) that the show simply demands respect. It's stellar fucking television.

1. Arrested Development, Season 4 Episode 7 – "Colony Collapse"

Will Arnett was put on this earth to play Gob Bluth and it's no surprise that I loved catching up with one of the greatest television characters of all time. It's a massively enjoyable episode, possibly the only installment of season 4 that I'd truly stack up against the show's original '03-'06 run. More thoughts here! And with that I'm announcing my retirement from writing about Arrested Development until late December when it comes time to do my yearend wrap-up, because I adore the show, but at a certain point, goddamn do you burn out typing about one show no matter what it is. But do check out my season 1-3 rankings if you haven't seen them yet.

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