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Jan. 5th, 2007

So, I've been thinking a lot about television lately, more specifically about great episodes of television and what makes them so great. In the course of searching online for the script for "The Body" (which I never found--if anyone knows where I can read the actual Joss-penned teleplay, not just a transcript, I'd be your BFF) I found Creative Screenwriting's list of the seven best dramatic television episodes on DVD and I was surprised by how much their list overlapped with mine.

Their List:
1. Star Trek - "The Cage" by Gene Roddenberry
2. Twin Peaks - Pilot by Mark Frost & David Lynch
3. The X-Files - "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" by Darin Morgan
4. ER - "Love's Labor Lost" by Lance Gentile
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "The Body" by Joss Whedon
6. The West Wing - "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" by Aaron Sorkin
7. The Sopranos - "Employee of the Month" by Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess
Runners-up:
* Star Trek - "The City on the Edge of Forever" by Harlan Ellison
* Wiseguy - "No One Gets Out of Here Alive" by David J. Burke
* Quantum Leap - "M.I.A." by Donald P. Bellisario
* Alias - "Truth Be Told" by J.J. Abrams
* The Shield - Pilot by Shawn Ryan

My List:
1. M*A*S*H - "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" by Alan Alda, Burt Metcalfe, John Rappaport, Thad Mumford, Dan Wilcox, David Pollock, Elias Davis, Karen Hall
2. Lost - Pilot by J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof
3. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "The Body" by Joss Whedon
4. The West Wing - "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" by Aaron Sorkin
5. ER - "Love's Labor Lost" by Lance Gentile
6. Veronica Mars - Pilot by Rob Thomas
7. Firefly - "Out of Gas" by Tim Minear
Runners-up:
* House - "Three Stories" by David Shore
* Northern Exposure - "Cicely" by Andrew Schneider, Diane Frolov
* The X-Files - "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" by Darin Morgan
* Twin Peaks - Pilot by Mark Frost, David Lynch

The DVD restriction really helps narrow it down, because it excludes some truly great television, like Hill Street Blues, China Beach, thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, the amazing Law & Order season six episode, "Aftershock," (the one ending with Claire's death where they completely broke out of the show's formula), and all of David E. Kelly's best work.

So I'm dying to know what's on ya'lls lists? Which singular episodes (dramas only) stand out over the course of your television viewing lifetime? What am I criminally leaving off my list? Discuss.

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Comments

mikijean
Jan. 8th, 2007 09:44 pm (UTC)
I'm both astonished and thrilled that this exercise suggests I haven't seen enough TV in my life. Ahem.

I'm intrigued that a lot of stuff on our lists seems to boil down to two categories (with a few notable exceptions): pilots and episodes that completely blow up the show's typical format (I know the vamp at the end of "The Body" is controversial, but I'd argue he's kind of neat both in underscoring that the ep has had a distinct lack of monsters and in introducing the question of whether death, tragic though it is, is not the worst that can happen to a person). Say what you will about Aaron Sorkin (and I've said a lot about him), but those attempts at fracturing the narrative (shifting the timeline, writing letters to deaf people, having Big Block of Cheese days, etc.) came up all the time on TWW. That's...pretty amazing, now that I think about it. And I really, really miss Darin Morgan.

Along those lines, as much as I love "The Body" (and I do--possibly their best use of Anya outside of "Selfless"), I'd suggest "Hush" as the bigger derivation from Buffy's typical narrative. How on earth do you manage to snark without any dialogue? They did it, and knocked the heck out of the theme at the same time. Although it's less flashy, Homicide's "Three Men and Adena" breaks their typical narrative structure (such as it was five episodes in) by locking three characters in the box--it's their version of a submarine episode.

I'd also rank the pilots of both Veronica Mars and Dead Like Me above stuff like Lost and Alias, because while the latter were absolutely mind-blowing, they set up premises so hefty that the their shows buckled under the weight within the first ten eps. In that way, the pilots were actually bad for the shows.

I'm intrigued, though, by the fact that we give so little credit to the workaday ep, the one that doesn't go outside the typical narrative but is just a perfectly written movement forward of the show's normal plot and characters. Whither "In Excelsis Deo" or "Colony/End Game" from X-Files or "Resurrection Ship" from BSG? So interesting.

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