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Top 10 Episodes of 2009: The Best, and the Rest

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My list of the top 10 TV episodes of 2009 is also up here at time.com. See my post about the best 10 shows of the year for my general thoughts about listmaking. After the jump, some particular comments about the episode list, the quick-and-dirty version of the list, and my honorable mentions:

* My episode list was more fun to make, and I think more interesting, than my TV shows list, because there are more candidates and fewer absolute no-brainers. It’s easier for a list of individual episodes to give a broader sense of what’s on TV, and to recognize shows that are sometimes brilliant but not top-10 overall (to me, for instance, Dollhouse).

* This list also serves as kind of supplement to the best-shows list, and therefore, I probably gave a bump to episodes of shows I very nearly put on that list (e.g., Party Down).

* Speaking of Party Down, there were probably three or four episodes I might have picked instead of “Taylor Stiltskin.” Ditto for several series on this list.

* Conversely, while there is some overlap with the best-shows list, I raised the bar a bit for shows that already made the other list. (Lost, for instance, had a pretty good season, but no individual episodes that wowed me the way “The Constant” had. BSG’s “The Oath” & “Blood on the Scales” might have made it, but I thought that BSG’s accomplishment was more for its overall finale arc than for individual episodes.

* On the other hand, I decided to include episodes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad because they particularly captured aspects of those shows’ greatness; Glee’s pilot because it blew me away; and The Office’s “Stress Relief” because it was great, with the added challenge of being double-length and post-Super Bowl, both of which are often hallmarks of mediocrity.

* This list, I realized after finishing, leans heavily toward the first half of the year. That may, I admit, be partly because I’ve kept a running list, which may just make it harder for a fall episode to unseat one that aired in the spring. And it may be tougher for a new fall show to place on this list, because it’s harder to tell yet which episodes best capture the overall strengths of the show, since they’re still developing.

* Unlike the top-10 series list, I recognize that here, there may well be deserving episodes I just never watched. TV critics can’t watch everything, and I concede there may have been a spectacular episode of Monk or Cold Case that I never saw and never will. So this list is necessarily more idiosyncratic. I welcome you to post your own.

* Finally, while the time.com staff did an absolutely killer job, the top 10 lists are such a massive job that there are bound to be glitches—if you see any post, and I’ll see to it they get fixed.

Now, the short version of the list (but please read the full version for my explanations and praise):

1.The Office, “Stress Relief”
2. Glee, pilot
3. Big Love, “Come, Ye Saints”
4. Dollhouse: “Briar Rose”
5. Nurse Jackie, “Tiny Bubbles”
6. 30 Rock, “Apollo, Apollo”
7. Mad Men, “My Old Kentucky Home”
8. Party Down, “Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen”
9. Breaking Bad, “Phoenix”
10. Curb Your Enthusiasm, “The Table Read”

And in no particular order, a *very* incomplete list of honorable mentions:

Virtuality, Pilot
House, “Broken”
Flight of the Conchords, “Unnatural Love”
Friday Night Lights, “The Son”
Sons of Anarchy, “Balm”
Modern Family, “Pilot”
Mad Men, “The Gypsy and the Hobo”
BSG, “The Oath / Blood on the Scales”
Lost, “LaFleur”
Breaking Bad, “Peekaboo”
Torchwood: COE, Night 3
It’s Always Sunny, “The Gang Exploits the Mortgage Crisis”

There are many more; I just got tired of typing. Please nominate your own in the comments, and happy reading.

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