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The Top 10 TV Episodes of 2012: The Best and the Rest

Because no human can watch everything, this list is necessarily more incomplete, and therefore more fun, than my annual Best Shows list.

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My list of the Top 10 TV Episodes of 2012 is up at time.com. (See my post about my Top 10 TV Shows picks for some explanations and general philosophies of listmaking.) Below, my annual caveats/explanations, the quick-and-dirty version of the list, and some honorable mentions:

* My episode list is 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 also lets me recognize shows that have had fantastic individual episodes, but for whatever reason, as overall larger works, do not add up to make the Top 10 shows list.

* Time.com finalizes its lists early. Really early. Which means I pretty much had to cement my lists in November; thus, some late-airing episodes fall through the cracks. Sorry. Time, and TIME, can be harsh masters.

* This list also serves as kind of supplement to the best-shows list, so I probably gave a bump to episodes of shows I very nearly put on that list. Conversely, while there is some overlap with the best-shows list, I probably raised the bar a bit for shows that already made the other list.

* Even more so than my top-10 series list, this list is apples-and-oranges and the numbering is arbitrary. I gave it some thought, but I could not honestly give a thorough reason why my #2 is higher than #4. You think #4 is better? Sure, you’re probably right! Just print my list out, fetch some scissors and switch them.

* I observed a one-episode per series rule, without which a few of the series here may have placed more than once. You may argue that that means this is not truly a best episodes of 2012 list. You would be correct. But too bad. I prefer to have a list, imperfect as it is, that gives a little broader sense of what was great on TV this year.

* My list may be biased toward the first half of the year, partly because I keep 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.

* TV critics can’t physically watch everything, and there may have been a spectacular episode of Alphas that I never saw and never will. So this list is necessarily more idiosyncratic than the top 10 series list. I welcome you to post your own.

* In that spirit, I again invite you to complain and suggest your own nominations in the comments. But a challenge: for every episode you want added to the list, suggest one to take off!

* Finally, time.com had 55 of these lists to produce, so they may have made mistakes–and I almost certainly did. If you find any, note them and I’ll get them fixed. (Note: failing to pick your favorite is not a “mistake” except in the moral sense.)

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

10. Breaking Bad, “Fifty-One” (AMC)
9. Awake, pilot (NBC)
8. The Good Wife, “Another Ham Sandwich” (CBS)
7. Mad Men, “At the Codfish Ball” (AMC)
6. Parks and Recreation, “The Comeback Kid” (NBC)
5. Girls, “The Return” (HBO)
4. Homeland, “Q&A” (Showtime)
3. Game of Thrones, “Blackwater” (HBO)
2. Community, “Digital Estate Planning” (NBC)
1. Louie, “Daddy’s Girlfriend, Parts 1 and 2” (FX)

And finally, a very incomplete–pretty much off the top of my head–list of honorable mentions, in no particular order:

30 Rock, “Aunt Phatso vs. Jack Donaghy,” “Stride of Pride,” “Leap Day”
Last Resort, “Captain”
Parenthood, “There’s Something I Need To Tell You”
Parks and Recreation, “The Debate”
Mad Men, “Signal 30,” “Far Away Places”
New Girl, “Injured”
Girls, “Vagina Panic”
The Good Wife, “Gloves Come Off”
Bob’s Burgers, “Moody Foodie”
Community, “Introduction to Finality”
Louie, “New Year’s Eve,” “Late Show”
Last Resort, “Captain”
Glee, “Goodbye,” “The Break-Up,” “Dynamic Duets”
Breaking Bad, “Dead Freight”
American Horror Story: Asylum, “I Am Anne Frank, pts 1 and 2”
The Walking Dead, “Killer Within”
Boardwalk Empire, “Two Imposters”


I loved the pilot to awake. But those last 3 episodes are among the greatest TV episodes I have ever seen. Great Breaking Bad pick.

I am curious James, do you watch the series Justified. I have only seen the first 2 seasons (season 3 doesn't come out on DVD until December 31st) but it is really good. If you disagree, that is fine, to each their own, I'm just wondering if you have seen it. Because many of its writers/directors/producers/actors worked on a show called Boomtown, which is possibly the greatest tv series of all time!

btw, I really need to watch Homeland at some point.


Last Resort's "Captain" is twice on the honorable mention list - I guess you really liked it!


Uh, Louie is a horrible show what is it doing on that list?


It's a nice list.I just have a question: episodes like Two Imposters of Boardwalk Empire that appear in the honorable mentions list – and they just have aired days ago (December) - , ¿they don’t make the main list because of the timing the magazine works or because they just don’t make it?


Archer's "Drift Problem," which aired all the way back in February, is high on my best-episodes list. Just remembering the insane-with-joy way H. Jon Benjamin blurts, "THANKS, DODGE!" makes me giggle. 

jponiewozik moderator

@WillieWirisFilius In this case, I believe I saw "Two Imposters" (on an advance screener from HBO) before the list closed. But there have been cases where an episode I really loved came along too late for our deadline, like last year's "Consider Helen" episode of Enlightened, which I then put on the honorable mentions list with an explanation. Other times--like with FNL's "The Son," I grandfathered it into the next year's list. Unfortunately, given our production deadlines, there's just not a really good solution to this problem either way.