Watching outside the box . . . unconventional episodes

Jamesspader_bostonlegal_s4_240 Last night's episode of Boston Legal was, as Alan (James Spader) summed up, eventful. The firm has gone bankrupt, Shirley and Carl are engaged and Alan put forth a convincing speech about the state of racism in America.

But it was missing one key ingredient --- there was no legal. There was no client to comfort, no witnesses to interrogate, opening statements to make or closing arguments to win the case. The show, which always pushes the TV envelope, totally stepped outside its comfort zone. And I think it kind of worked.

Then I started thinking about other shows that had unconventional episodes. Here are my favorites:

The Joss Whedon Triumvirate: Series creator Joss Whedon wrote and directed some killer episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I still think his legacy will likely be the three episodes that reinvented the hour-long format. "Hush" (December 14, 1999) featured 29 minutes without dialogue, "The Body" (February 27, 2001) focused on the absolute sorrow following the sudden death of Buffy's mom, and "Once More, With Feeling" (November 6, 2001) proved that a musical episode was not only possible, but could be perfect.

"My Musical" episode of Scrubs (January 18, 2007): Any episode that features a song entitled "Everything Comes Down to Poo" is okay by me. Funny, poignant and quite clever, it may not have been as great as "Once More, With Feeling," but it was pretty darn good nonetheless.

The live "The Debate" episode of The West Wing (November 6, 2005): It may no have been the best episode of the series, but I still applaud the show for taking a risk (I remember being nervous while watching) and for performing the episode twice (!!) once for the East Coast and once for the West Coast.

"A, My Name is Alex" episode of Family Ties (March 12, 1987): In this classic episode, Alex deals with the death of his friend Greg. Much of the episode was performed on a stark stage and Michael J. Fox won an Emmy for his heartbreaking and authentic performance.

Those are some of my favorite out-of-the-box (or in this case out-of-the-DVR) episodes, what are some of yours? Talk about it below.

Where Have I Seen Them Before?

Jordan Belfi was the missing person on Without a Trace. Belfi is Ari's rival Adam Davies on Entourage . Josh Coxx was his boss. Coxx was Peter on Strong Medicine and David on Babylon 5.

Lucy and Cindi were very exited to see Joshua Malina having such a busy Thursday night. He was the husband with the hypochondriac wife on Grey's Anatomy and the lawyer for Natalie on CSI. Malina was, of course, Karl on Big Shots, Will Bailey on The West Wing, and Jeremy on Sports Night. We'll be seeing a lot more of Malina. He joins the cast of Burn Notice next year.

Leslie Grossman was the hypochondriac wife on Grey's Anatomy. Grossman was Mary Cherry on Popular and Lauren on What I Like About You.

Shella recognized Ashley Johnson as the murderous daughter on The Mentalist. Johnson was Sharlee on Dirt and many many years ago was Chrissy Seaver on Growing Pains.

Loretta recognized Jean Louisa Kelly as the woman renewing her vows on Gary Unmarried. Kelly was Kim on Yes, Dear. Jessica Collins, Meredith on Tru Calling and Marla on Big Shots, was the divorced woman Gary wanted to sleep with. But she's not the Jessica Collins who played serial killer Natalie on CSI and Lizzie on The Nine. Confusing, right? Also totally unrelated but I'm kind of liking Gary Unmarried. It may fill the void that was left when The Class went off the air. Discuss.

Sarah Carter was the woman Letitia hit with her car on Dirty Sexy Money . Carter was Madeline on Shark, Alicia on Smallville, and Allie on Black Sash.

Gregg recognized Sarah Thompson, Rose on 7th Heaven and Eve on Angel, as the girl who threw up when she was ordered to open up a window on House.

Michelle recognized John Aniston, Victor Kiriakis on Days of Our Lives and, of course, Jennifer Aniston's dad, as the limo driver on Worst Week.

Alexandra Holden was one of the pregnant wives on Private Practice. Holden was Suzy on Friday Night Lights and Elizabeth Stevens, one of Ross' girlfriends (remember Bruce Willis was her dad), on Friends.

Chris Bruno was the brother of the woman whose house was set on fire on ER. Bruno was Sheriff Walt Bannerman on The Dead Zone.

We've seen Stephen Spinella this season on Desperate Housewives as the doctor treating Dave ( that is until Dave killed him). Spinella, who was also Miles on the fifth season of 24, was the child abuser on ER.

Terry caught Debra Mooney, Edna on Everwood and Judge Patrice Webb on Boston Legal, as the murderer on Cold Case. In that same episode Robin recognized Ron Masak as Gus Medica. Masak was Sheriff Mort Metzger on Murder, She Wrote.

Loren Dean was the man who had committed murder on CSI. He's Bones' brother Russ on Bones and I'll always remember him as Mumford in the movie Mumford.

Marshall Allman was JJ, the son who told Eli he wanted to be emancipated from his father on Eli Stone. Allman is LJ on Prison Break. Dennis recognized Steven Culp as his dad. Among his many TV roles, Culp was Rex Van De Camp on Desperate Housewives and Speaker of the House Jeff Haffley on The West Wing. Tonye Patano, Heylia on Weeds, was the judge. Taraji P. Henson was Patti's daughter Angela. Henson was Whitney on Boston Legal and Raina on The Division.

Quotes of the Week

"So we're really done then? Cancelled?" Edwin Poole to Shirley on Boston Legal.

"Unleash the Casey." The note Chuck sent to Sara on Chuck. Thanks Shella for this "quote."

"I'm asking us to go to Los Angeles." Jack to Sam on Without a Trace. How are we feeling now that we've seen the episode?

Exchange of the Week

"Have you considered that when your parents are getting to know Owen, Owen will be getting to know your parents?" Andrea to Sam on Samantha Who?

After a dramatic pause and look of dread

"No I had not considered that." Sam's response. Thanks to Rishi for the quote.

Ask TV Gal

I actually thought this last week's episode of Private Practice was really great. It was touching and got my eyes misty a couple of times (in a good way). It's nice to see the show have a good episode. I just hope Kevin's not killed off at the end of next week after that glimpse we got in the previews. Melody

I don't know if I'm totally on board with Private Practice yet Melody but I do think the series is making baby step improvements and I'll definitely be tuning in tonight (9 p.m. on ABC) to see Grant Show play Addison's brother. But I am so with you. If anything happened to Kevin that would not be good. I think it's been good for the show to have Addison in a relationship outside of work. Private Practice has new episodes until December 17 and then will move to Thursdays beginning January 8. It will air after Grey's Anatomy which definitely makes a lot of sense don't you think?

That's all for today. I won't have a column on Friday due to the Thanksgiving holiday. But I'll be back on Monday with a look at the new TNT series Leverage, thoughts on 30 Rock and much much more. Have a question? Seen a familiar face or want to nominate a topic for discussion? Write me at mailto:amytvgal@zap2it.com Wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving. Talk to you on Monday.

Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal