Friday, December 21, 2012

Top 10 Episodes of 2012 - Part 1

One of the reasons why I like television so much is that it feels more communal than any other form of entertainment. Usually walking out of a movie, my friends don’t like to talk about it as much but if they finished a season of a show they need someone to talk to NOW. So once again, I have recruited 20 of my friends to talk about their favorite episodes of 2012. Below you will see a wide range of opinions and writing styles which makes it all the more fun.
If you see their name has a hyperlink, I strongly recommend you look into more places where you can see and read about these fun and intelligent TV enthusiasts.
Small warning, there is occasional foul language and in one circumstance a lot of foul language. Most of the time, the author is vague about what happens in the episode or season, but in cases where that is not true, a spoiler warning is attached.
At the very end of this very long article, check out what episodes occurred the most Top 10 lists as I formulated the results of everyone’s picks.

Archer – “The Man From Jupiter” (Season Three, Episode 4)
By Ryan Lugar

Burt and Ernie.  Buzz and Woody.  Cheech and Chong.  These are some of the most dynamic duos over the course of history, but they all fall second to one last duo.  A duo that can do no wrong, in all the wrong ways.  I am of course referring to Sterling Archer and Burt Reynolds.  The combination of Archer’s black turtleneck and Burt Reynolds’ amazing moustache cannot fail.  

Archer does it again with it’s fourth episode of Season Three: “The Man From Jupiter”.  Archer’s wide range of emotions bounces around after he realizes his childhood hero, Burt Reynolds, is dating his mother.  So, Archer does the only reasonable thing and kidnaps Burt Reynolds and leaves a fake note saying Burt left Archer’s mother for a younger woman.  I don’t want to describe the episode in any more depth to avoid spoilers, but I will say the episode involves a Cuban hit squad.  
Also, this episode starts the beginning of the best 5-second joke ever, Archer’s elaborate voicemail hoaxes.  These season-long jokes are the funniest thing to happen to the show since Archer’s three greatest fears are revealed.  This episode sets the bar very high (which it exceeds) for Season Three and leaves nothing off limits since BURT REYNOLDS leads a car chase!
With Archer being the man of all men and Burt Reynolds being the man Archer has always dreamed to be, it is hard to not call ‘The Man From Jupiter” the best episode of the season and all of television. 

Ryan’s Top 10 Episodes of 2012
1. Archer – “The Man From Jupiter” (Season Three, Episode 4)
2. Game of Thrones – “Valar Morghulis” (Season Two, Episode 10)
3. The Newsroom – “We Just Decided To” (Season One, Episode 1)
4. Game of Thrones – “A Man Without Honor” (Season Two, Episode 7)
5. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Recycles Their Trash” (Season Eight, Episode 2)
6. The Life and Times of Tim – “Action-Packed Heist/Fall Foliage” (Season Three, Episode 8)
7. Game of Thrones – “Garden of Bones” (Season Two, Episode 4)
8. Archer – “Space Race: Part 1” (Season Three, Episode 12)
9. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – “The Gang Gets Analyzed” (Season Eight, Episode 5)
10. Community – “Pillows and Blankets” (Season Three, Episode 14)

Breaking Bad – “Dead Freight” (Season Five, Episode 5)
By Beau Thompson

[There are plot spoils for what happens in this episode of Breaking Bad.]
And I always thought spiders would be the scariest thing to find in the desert. It is with surprise that in the middle of the darkest season yet of Breaking Bad comes the heist episode "Dead Freight." In an attempt to continue their meth business, Walt (Bryn Cranston), Jesse (Aaron Paul), and Mike (Jonathan Banks) plan to rob a train full of methylamine... Wait for it... Without hijacking it, or being discovered by the train engineers. Now that's more like it, Mr. White.

In only 47 minutes time, we are shown the planning of the heist, the preparation, the execution, and the execution. (More on that in a bit.) It is to the show's credit that these scenes do not feel rushed. Instead of getting us immediately to the heist, we see scenes of Walt, Jesse, and Mike discussing their options. We see them digging a big hole underneath a train track in the middle of the desert. We see them bring in Todd (Jesse Plemons) to help in the heist and bang it into his head that no one can ever know about it.

For a show known for it's dark humor, Breaking Bad outdoes itself. From the trio discussing whether they should kill a business partner that they think betrayed them while this partner is in the same room in ear shot, to Saul Goodman's hired gun Kuby (Bill Burr) attempting to stall the train engineers when he gets his truck to "shut down" in the middle of the train tracks, allowing Jesse and Todd to climb aboard the train and begin the heist that, of course, doesn't go according to plan, and the show does a great job of balancing the tension with the humor. Can we not watch this scene and not recall the misadventure of the early seasons when Walt and Jesse were trying to cook meth in their RV?

However, the humor is only a set-up for what is to come. After successfully robbing the train of it's methylamine, the group notice that a young boy-not yet a teenager-has witnessed the whole heist. Todd takes out his gun and kills him.
This is the catalyst for the rest of the season. Walt and Jesse had their share of problems in dealing with external factors, like drug distributors, but the episodes when they were on their own, just making their product, it seemed so harmless, like they could do no harm. This episode takes our nostalgia of those episodes and uses it to show us the harsh reality that nothing will ever be that simple again. Walt and Jesse's actions have left a boy dead in the desert. Look how far they have come.

Beau’s Top 10 Episodes of 2012
1. Breaking Bad – “Dead Freight” (Season Five, Episode 5)
2. Sherlock – “A Scandal in Belgravia” (Season Two, Episode 1)
3. Mad Men – “Signal 30” (Season Five, Episode 5)
4. Game of Thrones – “A Man Without Honor” (Season Two, Episode 7)
5. Spartacus: Vengeance – “Libertus” (Season Two, Episode 5)
6. Sherlock – “The Reichenbach Fall” (Season Two, Episode 3)
7. Breaking Bad – “Fifty-One” (Season Five, Episode 4)
8. Parks and Recreation – “The Comeback Kid” (Season Four, Episode 11)
9. Spartacus: Vengance – “Wrath of the Gods” (Season Two, Episode 10)
10. Game of Thrones – “Blackwater” (Season Two, Episode 9)

Call the Midwife – “We Are Family” (Season One, Episode 5)

I was prepared not like Call the Midwife, but I have some British friends who assured me I’d like it.  Out of respect for them, I took a look.  By the end of the first episode, I was hooked because of the great writing, unforgettable stories, and the willingness to look at difficult subjects squarely in the eye, with a stark dose of honesty that’s rare for something shown on American TV, during primetime. 
The series concerns a newly-qualified midwife, Jenny Lee, who comes to a religious order’s house of nuns, when she had been expecting to be placed in a hospital.  It’s 1957, but there are still signs of the war in the working-class section of the East End.  Jenny is naïve, not without her own set of troubles, and is wholly unprepared for the poverty, and unfolding dramas, that she faces in her new capacity.
I like episodic television, and I’m not opposed to a soap-opera feel if it’s handled correctly, which in Call the Midwife, it is.  The writers peel back the story like an onion, layer by layer, exposing Jenny and her fellow midwives and nuns as fully developed characters, who have loved and lost, or are in the process of losing their innocence, in one way or another, always with solid emotional direction that makes perfect sense.  The writing is really top-notch. 
By the time Episode 5 rolled around, I was fully involved in the Jenny’s life, why she was spurning a nice enough beau, Jimmy, and curious at what her lingering secret was.  But it was Peggy’s secret that was the heart of this, my favorite, episode. Peggy was a cleaner at the house, and when her brother, Frank, fell ill she turned to the nuns and Jenny Lee for help. Peggy and Frank had been raised in a work-house (think Dickens), and Frank had no use for anything institutional, so a hospital visit was out of the question for him.  As it turned out, Frank had pancreatic cancer, so there really wasn’t much they could do for him, but keep him comfortable.  Jenny and one of the nuns, Sister Julienne, took to doctoring Frank, and it was then that Jenny learned that there was only one bedroom in the house that Peggy and Frank shared.  Peggy and Frank lived as man and wife, sharing the one bed.  Incest is a rare subject for television, and it was handled maturely and without judgment by Sister Julienne, but not by Jenny—at first. All the while, Fred the handyman was set on making some extra money by raising pigs at the convent, which provided an nice offset of comedy relief to such a deep, and difficult subject. 
“Dogs look up to us, cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals,” Sister Monica Joan said in one of the many memorable scenes of Episode 5…
By the time the end of the season rolled around, I was cheering for Chummy and her on-again, off-again romance with Peter Noakes, and thoroughly concerned for the welfare of Sister Monica Joan as she slowly declined into dementia.  As well as Jenny Lee’s continued journey toward maturity and honesty. To put it simply: The characters of this show had become like family to me.  I cared about what happened to them long after the television was turned off.  It doesn’t get any better than that, as far as I’m concerned.

Larry’s Top 10 Episodes of 2012
1. Call the Midwife – “We Are Family” (Season One, Episode 5)
2. Game of Thrones – “Blackwater” (Season Two, Episode 9)
3. Justified – “The Gunfighter” (Season Three, Episode 1)
4. Justified – “Thick as Mud” (Season Three, Episode 5)
5. Call the Midwife – “Baby Snatcher” (Season One, Episode 4)
6. Game of Thrones – “A Man Without Honor” (Season Two, Episode 7)
7. Wilfred – “Progress” (Season Two, Episode 1)
8. Top Gear – “Series 18, Episode 1” (Season Eighteen, Episode 1)
9. Call the Midwife – “The Adventures of Noakes and Browne” (Season One, Episode 6)
10. Justified – “Slaughterhouse” (Season Three, Episode 13)

Community – “Pillows and Blankets” (Season Three, Episode 14)

Community has been off the air so long that I keep forgetting it’s coming back for a fourth season. The fact it’s even returning (sans showrunner Dan Harmon) is astounding, considering the tone of much of Season Three. Despite starting by saying, “we’re gonna have more fun and be less weird”--promising to appeal to the masses--there was always the unspoken through line of “we’re going to go all-out, masses be damned”. And as the second part of the season progressed and things started to break apart, tumbling toward the series’ (assumed) end, an unprecedented amount of heart prevailed.

Of course, Community is renowned for its “stunt” episodes, and Season Three had plenty of great ones. One such episode was “Pillows and Blankets”, the second in a two-parter that pit best friends Troy and Abed against each other for school-wide linen superiority. All of this was presented as a Ken Burns documentary, because why not? Through an array of media (some of which contributed by Britta’s, uh, talents) the show portrays this epic battle without a hint of insincerity. In the end, it comes to a heartwarming conclusion, in its own silly yet grounded way. It speaks a lot of how Community is as a whole: wacky, yet able to reflect on reality in a poignant honesty.

Keith’s Top 10 Episodes of 2012
1. Sherlock – “The Reichenbach Fall” (Season Two, Episode 3)
2. Breaking Bad – “Dead Freight” (Season Five, Episode 5)
3. Community – “Pillows and Blankets” (Season Three, Episode 14)
4. Community – “Basic Lupine Urology” (Season Three, Episode 17)
5. Parks and Recreation – “The Debate” (Season Four, Episode 20)
6. Parks and Recreation – “Halloween Surprise” (Season Five, Episode 5)
7. Parks and Recreation – “Ron and Diane” (Season Five, Episode 9)
8. Doctor Who – “The Angels Take Manhattan” (Season Seven, Episode 5)
9. New Girl – “Fluffer” (Season Two, Episode 3)
10. 30 Rock – “Stride of Pride” (Season Seven, Episode 3)

Doctor Who – “A Town Called Mercy” (Season Seven, Episode 3)

Can good deeds done in the present make up for terrible deeds done in the past? This is the issue the Doctor and Ponds must face in “A Town Called Mercy.” Hidden in a small western town is an alien doctor (Jex, not our Doctor) who is guilty of war crimes but has since helped save the town. A remnant of Jex’s crimes is out to bring justice, no matter what cost.
The opening narration describes a man who has lived forever, heavy with all that he had seen, and had fallen from the stars. This description can fit multiple people in this episode and is a beautiful way to start out the episode. This episode features some excellent acting from our regulars and guest cast along with a horse named Susan, a stunning western setting, and some excellent cinematography. It is truly a well-shot episode.

My favorite part of any Doctor Who episode is seeing how the Doctor reacts to the tragic moments around him and this episode truly pushes the Doctor to the limits of his ability to forgive. I loved seeing the Doctor and Ponds on different side of the arguments and what makes them change their minds.

Robbie’s Top 10 Episodes of 2012

1. Doctor Who – “A Town Called Mercy” (Season Seven, Episode 3)
2. Game of Thrones – “Blackwater” (Season Two, Episode 9)
3. Breaking Bad – “Dead Freight” (Season Five, Episode 5)
4. Doctor Who – “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” (Season Seven, Episode 2)
5. Downton Abbey – “Episode 5” (Season Three, Episode 5)
6. Doctor Who – “Asylum of the Daleks” (Season Seven, Episode 1)
7. Breaking Bad – “Gliding Over All” (Season Five, Episode 8)
8. Game of Thrones – “Valar Morghulis” (Season Two, Episode 10)
9. 60 Minutes – “The Death and Life of Asheboro, Stealing History, The Face of the Franchise” (Season Forty-Five, Episode 5)
10. 60 Minutes – “The False Confession Capital, The Race to Save the Tortoise, Hugh Jackman” (Season Forty-Five, Episode 11)

Downton Abbey – “Episode 5” (Season Three, Episode 5)

[There are no spoils in this episode, but keep in mind this is a season of Downton Abbey that has not aired in America yet. How has Leigh and others seen it? Magic.]
I’m not one to cry at movies or books or television shows. Most of the time, I just don’t see the point. The amount of caring that I have about the characters lasts for that half hour or hour-long program and then I move on with my life. I rarely yearn for the next episode or don’t think twice about hitting “next” on Netflix. All of that changed with Downton Abbey.
There is an effort with this show that isn’t seen with your weekly sitcom or your carbon copy crime drama. It has actors and writers and directors who care about the characters they create and as such makes the viewer care about them as well. I don’t really care if Gloria has a boy or a girl this season or if Alex and Dave stay together or if Watson and Holmes sleep together (okay, no I do care about that but I needed to make a point).  Downton Abbey changed that.
I am trying my best to stay spoiler free but it is hard to talk about the most emotional episode of television this year without spoiling a bit.
I sobbed. Outright, chest rattling, gasping, snot all over, ugly face sobs. Sobs that I hadn’t experienced since I read Dumbledore’s funeral. The last 15 minutes of this episode are edited in such a way that once I thought I had control over myself again, something else was said and it started all over. It wasn’t a happy cry like I experienced when Anna and Mr. Bates were married or when Mathew and Mary finally kissed or a sad cry like when William died. No, I cried as if someone in my own family had died.
My brother came to visit the next weekend after that episode premiered and I made him watch it with me. Never mind he hadn’t seen the rest of the season or that I had already seen it, I made him watch it. And we sobbed together.  
The most believable and gut-wrenching moment was from Dame Maggie Smith. It might be because I had compared her to my grandmother before that her momentary pause made me sob all over again but I think that that short moment, that stop she had in the hallway that was so brief, showed the audience so much emotion and character that many others wouldn’t be able to convey.  This is a show that is driven by small glances and sideways looks, but this small glimpse at a single character’s emotions because of a stumble in her stride could sum up this entire show for me.  Everyone argues with me about what the best show on television right now, and I even argue with myself, but Downton Abbey is always in the top two. This episode is why.

Leigh’s Top 10 Episodes of 2012
1. Downton Abbey – “Episode 5” (Season Three, Episode 5)
2. Sherlock – “The Reichenbach Fall” (Season Two, Episode 3)
3. 30 Rock – “Murphy Brown Lied to Us” (Season Six, Episode 18)
4. Parks and Recreation – “Win, Lose or Draw” (Season Four, Episode 22)
5. Call the Midwife – “We Are Family” (Season 1, Episode 5)
6. Raising Hope – “I Want My Baby Back, Baby Back, Baby Back” (Season Two, Episode 22)
7. Modern Family – “Baby on Board” (Season Three, Episode 24)
8. 30 Rock – “Stride of Pride” (Season Seven, Episode 3)
9. Parks and Recreation – “The Debate” (Season Four, Episode 20)
10. Sherlock – “A Scandal in Belgravia” (Season Two, Episode 1)

Fringe – “Letters of Transit” (Season Four, Episode 19)

 [Plot spoils for what happens in this episode of Fringe that is dramatically different than anything else that has happened in the series before.]
A marijuana-induced musical laced with steampunk and film noir. A hallucinogenic, animated rescue mission inside the mind carried out by two tripping-balls characters. An acid-conjured homage to absinthe’s green fairy and Terry Gilliam’s herky-jerky, bulbous Monty Python animations of omnisciently squashing feet.
The viewership and budget of Fringe has dwindled since its first-season finale. However, in Episode 19 of each subsequent season — or Episode 9 in the current, shortened fifth (and final) season — writers have been given carte blanche for creative concoctions inspired by Walter Bishop’s (John Noble) recreational drug use.
But “Letters of Transit” was the only Episode 19 Experiment during which even the deepest “Fringe” devotees must have felt they’d been dosed with a potent blotter. Without a hint of foreshadowing or, more worrisomely, a fifth-season renewal, “Transit” hurtled us away from a present-day, multiverse-collapsing plot into 2036.
An epigram informed viewers that the Observers — bald, business-suited and heretofore docile humans from the future able to see, and travel, through time — traveled back from a poisoned, 27th century Earth to assume control of our world. Those they didn’t kill either comply in a bleak totalitarian state under their thumb or fight in a resistance intent on stopping them and saving the world.
No Olivia. No Peter. No Walter. No Astrid. Just Etta and Simon (flaxen-haired Georgina Haig and LOST vet Henry Ian Cusick), freedom fighters that eventually extracted Walter from amber in which he encased himself after the Observers’ invasion. A plan to defeat the Observers, hidden in a long-ago extracted portion of Walter’s brain, was ultimately retrieved, along with Astrid and Peter, and we learned Etta is actually Peter and Olivia’s grown daughter.
It was a powerful, unexpectedly emotional conclusion to a bold episode slyly stuffed with references to The Prisoner, Casablanca, Star Wars and Blade Runner. But at what cost to finality or closure for a show that seemed certain to have just three episodes left?
Yes, Fringe returned, miraculously, for a final season set in this dystopian future. So far, it has beguilingly and surprisingly tied back to Season One while thoughtfully, and sometimes painfully, developing Walter, Peter and Olivia’s suspicions, habits, fears and doubts as equally formidable to the Observers. Will it stick the landing? Only January will tell.
But even if “Fringe” hadn’t come back, “Letters” would remain emblematic of everything at which the show always excelled — sly in-jokes, solid action pacing, terrific acting and staunch rejection of de rigeur sci-fi nihilism.
By Noble’s count, “Letters” offered the ninth version of Walter he’d portrayed. And it gave this criminally overlooked performer a chance to display Walter’s darkness and doddering in the same time and space — playfully hopping a curb with joy to be alive in one act and later coldly killing enemies and sawing off hands. It set the table for how the weight of mental omniscience is tearing Walter apart in his future fight.
And so what if we hadn’t learned how our heroes would fight the Observers? Neither they, nor the show, has given us reason to doubt, as Olivia has called it, their “love’s invulnerability to space and time.” As listed in the fifth season’s opening credits, “imagination” is now an anomaly to be investigated. Thankfully, imagination has never been an anomaly in what’s likely to be the last serialized network sci-fi show of its ilk.

Nick’s Top 10 Episodes of 2012 (Aside from “Letters of Transit”)
1. Sherlock – “A Scandal in Belgravia” (Season Two, Episode 1)
2. Breaking Bad – “Fifty-One” (Season Five, Episode 4)
3. Louie – “Late Show” (Season Three, Episodes 10-12)
4. Parks and Recreation – “The Comeback Kid” (Season Four, Episode 11)
5. Homeland – “Q&A” (Season Two, Episode 5)
6. Mad Men – “The Other Woman” (Season Five, Episode 11)
7. Justified – “Slaughterhouse” (Season Three, Episode 13)
8. 30 Rock – “Leap Day” (Season Six, Episode 9)
9. Game of Thrones – “Valar Morghulis” (Season Two, Episode 10)
10. Chuck – “Chuck vs. Sarah” & “Chuck vs. the Goodbye” (Season Five, Episodes 12-13)

This article is crazy long so continue on to part 2 to read about one of the most impressive achievements in TV production, a crackcident, a memorable interrogation and a very emotional finale of a show you're not watching.

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