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The Top 10 TV Episodes of 2011: The Best and the Rest

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Lewis Jacobs/NBC

My list of the Top 10 TV Episodes of 2011 is also up at time.com. (See my post about my Top 10 TV Shows picks for some explanations and general philosophies of listmaking.) After the jump, 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. For instance, Enlightened’s latest episode, “Consider Helen,” rightfully should be on the list, and maybe near the very top, but I saw it after the list had to be chiseled in stone. Sorry.

* 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 particularly arbitrary. I gave it 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 2011 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, and I don’t think we need to read why Louie is awesome 4 or 5 times in the same list.

* My list may be biased toward the first half of the year, 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.

* TV critics can’t physically watch everything, and there may have been a spectacular episode of The Big Bang Theory 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 did a bang-up job formatting the lists, but they had 50 of them 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 show 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):

Friday Night Lights, “Always”
The Office, “Goodbye, Michael”
Louie, “Duckling”
Breaking Bad, “Crawl Space”
Community, “Remedial Chaos Theory”
Parks and Recreation, “Fancy Party”
South Park, “You’re Getting Old”
Curb Your Enthusiasm, “Mister Softee”
Justified, “Bloody Harlan”
Game of Thrones, “Baelor”

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

No Reservations, “Haiti”
Parks and Recreation, “Media Blitz,” “Harvest Festival,” “Li’l Sebastian”
Sons of Anarchy, “Hands”
Friday Night Lights, “Don’t Go,” “Texas Whatever”
Big Love, “Certain Poor Shepherds”
30 Rock, “TGS Hates Women”
Bob’s Burgers, “Art Crawl”
Community, “Intermediate Documentary Filmmaking,” “Paradigms of Human Memory”
The Office, “Garage Sale”
Justified, “Reckoning,” “The Spoil”
Game of Thrones, “The Wolf and the Lion”
Louie, “Eddie,” “Country Drive,” “Subway/Pamela,” “Come On, God,” “Moving”–the bulk of the season, actually
Breaking Bad, “Box Cutter,” “Hermanos,” the entire last half of the season, pretty much
Modern Family, “See You Next Fall”
Fringe, “The Day We Died”
Jeopardy!’s Watson episodes
Homeland, “The Weekend”
Enlightened, “Consider Helen,” “Not Good Enough Mothers”