Deconstructing the decade from 'Buffy' and beyond: Zap2it Hanh's favorite episodes
Let me preface my list with a shout out to my colleague Rick, who kicked off the series with numerous excellent examples, ranging from "The Wire" to "Freaks and Geeks." I actually agreed with quite a number of his selections, but since this is a very personal endeavor, full of unfounded opinions, naturally I must include some episodes I feel he overlooked or at least didn't value as much as I.
Case in point: Joss Whedon. Really, Rick? How could an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" not even make your main list and only warrant an "also" mention? Hmph.
"The Body" ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer")
Although "Hush" and its creepy Gentlemen freaked me out (and earned "Buffy" its only writing Emmy nom), it aired in December 1999, just a few weeks short of the aughts. Regardless, I still feel that "The Body" is the episode of the decade, hands down. Just ... wow. Amidst all the fantasy creatures and saving-the-world scenarios, this purely human story brought everything to a halt and made me pay attention. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) finds her mother Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) dead, and the subsequent feelings of denial, surreality and numbing grief play out in the most realistic way I've ever seen in any medium. Having lost a family member recently, I was reminded of this episode and its uncanny accuracy.
"Pigeon" ("Pushing Daisies")
Sometimes, it's only a moment that will make a good episode great. In "Pigeon," the usual madcap adventure dealing cartoonishly with death or injury visits pie maker Ned (Lee Pace) and friend Olive (the always entertaining Kristin Chenoweth), who brings a wounded pigeon to Chuck's (Anna Friel) aunts for help. Somehow, the conversation devolves into lyrics from They Might Be Giants' "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and later Chenoweth and Ellen Greene sing a duet of the song in the car. It's a totally random yet perfectly suited moment, not only for the vibrant tone of the show, but also for the quirky-loving viewers.
"Born Free" ("Dexter")
You have to embrace fantasy vigilantism and have a strong suspension of disbelief to enjoy "Dexter," and the first season finale was the culmination of all those suppressed moral and ethical urges. Dexter (Michael C. Hall) devises a way to murder the Ice Truck Killer (Christian Carmago) despite a deep connection with him. It's twisted. It's cold-hearted. It's what we hope for, but are horrified to advocate. There's a lot of sick bloodshed in the Showtime series, and the most powerful episodes work when they hit close to (Dexter's) home. This one hit hard.
"A Deep-fried Korean Thanksgiving" ("Gilmore Girls")
I'm the first to admit that I got annoyed with "Gilmore Girls" -- a lot. They were just too glib. Mother and daughter, fine, but does everyone have to speak that way? Anyway, I kept watching throughout the years, and this episode exemplifies all the reasons why I was hooked: The ultimate mother-daughter relationship meets four Thanksgiving dinners. For that alone, they're my heroes. But add to that a face-off between Rory's (Alexis Bledel) two suitors -- I was Team Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) all the way -- a tofurkey and Lane (Keiko Agena) getting a smooch from perfect match Dave (pre-"O.C." Adam Brody), and that's just pure entertainment, romance, wackiness and nostalgia wrapped in sentiment. What's not to love?
Bordering on melodrama, loosely based on the Biblical story of King David, and so earnest it would make Bambi cry, this shouldn't have appealed to me in the slightest, but "Kings" had a bold feel and tone like nothing else on TV. In the two-hour season premiere, I became a fearful fan of the charismatic/bombastic/fantastic King Silas (Ian McShane) who alternately supported and suspected lowly soldier David (Chris Egan). So when Silas, who had recounted the story of being divinely selected to reign by a swarm of butterflies crowning him sees the same happen to David, I couldn't help but cringe at the backstabbing to come for the God-chosen successor. It made me believe, even though NBC did not. RIP "Kings."
"Timmy 2000" ("South Park")
From Biblical and earnest to banal and un-PC. I had initially wanted to highlight "Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo," but that was a '90s product. In this episode, however, Trey Parker and Matt Stone introduce handicapped Timmy, who can basically only utter his own name but then becomes the lead singer of the Lords of the Underworld. It's a good look at how we accept people with disabilities and makes a commentary about the diagnosis of ADD. With the addition of a faux Phil Collins, this is pure, classic "South Park." TIMMY!
"Ariel" and "War Stories" presage the sacrifices, betrayal and loss we'll see in the big-screen "Serenity," but "Jaynestown" is the perfect example of how Joss Whedon can effortlessly blend story-based humor into the action when Jayne (Adam Baldwin) discovers a botched heist he perpetrated on a planet years ago has made him an inadvertent hero, complete with local ballad and a statue erected in his likeness. And yet, despite the silliness and Jayne's inclinations to take advantage of the adoration, he ultimately shows he has some sense of morality and humility.
"Doomsday" ("Doctor Who")
Unfulfilled love never met two soulmates parted by species, mortality AND ultimately, alternate universes before. The Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) fight off a slew of Cybermen and Daleks to help save the world, but at the cost of their relationship. It would never work out anyway since the last of the Timelords is destined to be the loneliest person ever and the series would end if he found someone, but dammit, I always watch this scene (below) hoping it'd end differently. And no, despite the alternate-Who resolution, I'm not buying it ( no matter what Tennant says).
My honorable mentions:
- Episodes from consistently fun series: "It's the End of the World/(As We Know It)" ("Grey's Anatomy") for the bomb/pink mist; "Born Under a Bad Sign" ("Supernatural") for bad Sam; "Aliens in a Spaceship" ("Bones") when two members of the team become victims of the Grave Digger; "A Benihana Christmas" ("The Office") because of how Michael (Steve Carell) can't tell the Asians apart; "Slap Bet" ("How I Met Your Mother") because it's awesome
- Episodes from fairly new shows: "Wheels" ("Glee") for the male-female diva-off; "Chuck vs. The Ring" ("Chuck") because it's a wedding + spies + Jeffster
- Episodes from short-lived series: "Belonging" ("Dollhouse") for its revelation of Sierra's (Dichen Lachman) twisted past and her most ardent client; "The Cut Man Cometh" ("Sports Night") for the balance of banter, humor and soapy relationship stuff; "Sick in the Head" ("Undeclared") for the fairly accurate yet hilarious portrayal of college dorm life
What are your favorites?
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Photo credit: The WB