Like everybody else, I have my favorite TV series; but within each favorite series of mine there are the standout episodes. These are the episodes that I tend to think of whenever I think back fondly on a show. Here are some of those individual episodes that confirmed my love of these particular series. First we'll just get the obvious Star Trek stuff out of the way:
:: "The City on the Edge of Forever", from Star Trek. Might as well get this out of the way -- it's the high point of Trek's remarkable first season, and when I watched it on a VHS tape I got from the library a year ago, the ending was as gut-wrenching as ever.
:: "Yesterday's Enterprise", from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Wow, what an episode. If only any of the TNG movies had been as good as the forty-six minutes of this particular episode (although First Contact came pretty damn close). What was it about time travel that brought out the best in Trek writers?
:: "Tribbles and Tribulations", from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This episode just made me grin like a fanboy idiot from the first shot to the last.
(To this day, I still haven't seen the DS9 episode "The Visitor", which I've heard is brilliant. Gotta track that one down....)
OK, here are standout episodes from other series I've loved. I'm only naming one episode from each series, which makes things tough -- if I did this list again tomorrow using the exact same list of shows, I'd probably list a bunch of different episodes.
:: "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen", from The West Wing. See the post about my favorite TWW episodes, linked over there in the sidebar, for more on this one. Aaron Sorkin often came close afterward, but he never quite reached the high level of writing he achieved with this one again.
:: "Daphne Returns", from Frasier. This episode exists because of some pure chance: Jane Leeves, who played Daphne, happened to get pregnant at the exact time the writers finally decided to move Niles's love for Daphne into the open. So, rather than "work around" the pregnancy by always having Daphne standing behind stuff or shooting her in closeup, the writers wrote her weight gain into the storyline, making it a defense mechanism of hers in response to her fears about not being able to live up to Niles's near worship of her. When it came time for Leeves to give birth, the writers sent Daphne off to a fitness clinic for therapy, and when she returned, she was trim again -- but Niles was still wildly conflicted about the fact that he was finally in a relationship with the woman he'd always worshipped as some kind of Platonic ideal. In this episode, it fell to Frasier to prod Niles into realizing that he wasn't so much in love with Daphne as with a romantic ideal of her, and the show used the dreaded "clip show" trick with surprising effectiveness to get the point across.
:: "Hell and High Water", from ER. This second-season episode featured Doug Ross rescuing a kid who'd been trapped in a drainage culvert. It's one of the most riveting hours of television I've ever seen, and probably the most riveting hour of television I've seen that didn't involve Keifer Sutherland. And speaking of Keifer Sutherland:
:: "Day 3: 6:00 am to 7:00 am", from 24. Well, I guess that's how one differentiates episodes of 24. The ending of this one astonished me; I couldn't believe the writers had the guts to put Jack Bauer in that situation and follow through with it. (I'm leaving it vague, because even three years later, it's a pretty big spoiler for that particular season.)
:: "Movie", from Barney Miller. Here's a show you never hear about anymore, even though I always thought it was as funny as any of the "great" sitcoms of yesteryear. It was a great ensemble show, and this episode stands out in my memory -- for some kind of sting operation against pornographers, Detective Harris (Ron Glass, more recently seen on Firefly as the preacher) is asked to make his own movie. Fancying himself the filmmaker, Harris ends up making a serious movie instead (screening it, Captain Miller keeps asking, "Harris, where's the sex?"). I used to watch this on reruns every day after school. (By the way, as of this writing, Abe Vigoda is still alive.)
:: "The Lord is my Shepherd", from Little House on the Prairie. OK, OK, OK -- it's pure sap, and this is probably the sappiest episode of the sappiest show in television history. I mean, you could make a passingly decent condiment for pancakes from the sap that exudes from this show. But I'm a total sucker for this episode, because little Laura runs away from home (after wishing for the death of her newborn brother, a wish that comes true -- come to think of it, I could do without that particular bit of subtext), climbs a mountain, and meets an angel who's played by Ernest Borgnine. You just can't beat that. (And lest anyone think I'm making fun of Ernest Borgnine, perish the thought! I love the guy, and man, he's got some range as an actor. Here he's an angel, but a couple decades before, he'd done From Here to Eternity and played one of the worst guys I've ever seen in a movie.)
:: "So-Called Angels", from My So-Called Life. Damn the ABC execs for cancelling this brilliant show after just one nineteen-episode season. But if the show went on, would the same producers have gone on to do Once and Again? But damn the ABC execs for cancelling Once after three seasons -- but had it been renewed, would the same producers have ended up as the team now developing Guy Gavriel Kay's novel The Lions of Al-Rassan for the silver screen? Ach, who knows. Anyway, this show was just one brilliant episode after another, but this particular episode dealt with a particularly dark underside of Christmas and the holiday season.
:: "The Post-Modern Prometheus", from The X-Files. A strange episode (weren't they all?), shot in black and white. And not involved with the show's mytharc. So why am I picking it? Because...well, I don't know. I just loved this episode. (More of my favorite TXF's here.)
:: "There Be Dragons", from Once and Again. I just watched this episode again the other day. It's an absolutely extraordinary depiction of the effect of divorce on a young girl. The final scene, a conversation between Jessie and Rick Sammler, in which Rick has to finally come out and tell Jessie that their old family life can never exist again, is as good a bit of dialogue as I've ever seen executed.
:: "My Screw Up", from Scrubs. I can't say enough about this episode, except that its twenty-two minutes are more powerful than many two-hour movies. Plot-wise, I shouldn't say more than that.
And as long as this post has become, I could list episodes from twenty more TV shows. Do I watch too much TV? Hmmmm....