What TV episodes do I show the aliens first?
November 2, 2011 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Looking for the top episodes of any TV series. "Best", most ground-breaking, controversial, funniest, awesome guest stars... Series/Season endings are easier, it's the stuff leading up to that where I need help.

I'm starting a list of the most iconic episodes of many TV series. When I meet the aliens(most likely disguised as someone under 25 years of age), I want to show them some great moments in television. The problem is that it's so vast!* I may not have much time before they put me on the dissection table, so I need to know exactly which episodes to distract them with.

I'd like at least one memorable episode per series, while some, like Seinfeld, might have 5+. Pre-1995-2000-ish seems best as the current crop of aliens are probably overwhelmed by the modern media blitz of shows.

Lavern & Shirley, Three's Company, The Monkees, M.A.S.H., Hill Street Blues, Greatest American Hero, A-Team, etc, etc, et. al. Genre doesn't matter.

If it's not too much trouble, I'd like Season/Episode info also. These aliens usually have a pretty small attention span.

*Non-American shows OK too, that's just a starting point to refresh your memory. More lists at bottom of page.
posted by a_green_man to Media & Arts (67 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Star Trek - episode #65 - "Plato's Step-Children"
The first ever televised inter-racial kiss (between Kirk and Uhura).
The episode aired in 1968, in the middle of the civil rights movement, just a few months after MLK's assassination, and caused a national uproar.
posted by Flood at 3:51 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Vitameatavegamin! (Season 1, Ep. 30)
posted by contraption at 3:52 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

For The Sopranos, I would say College (season 1, ep. 5) is probably the episode that's hard to beat for the entire series. (The other ones that come immediately to mind are also great, but further along in the series and/or contain massive spoilers that you don't want anyone to see if they haven't watched the series consecutively, such as MAJOR SPOILERS IN LINK DO NOT BLAME ME IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN SEASON 5 OF THE SOPRANOS AND YOU CLICK ANYWAY Long-Term Parking.)
posted by scody at 3:52 PM on November 2, 2011

X-Files, though it probably wouldn't have the same punch if you didn't already watch the show.
posted by mazola at 3:53 PM on November 2, 2011

A lot of people seem to agree that Last Exit to Springfield is the best Simpsons ep. ever (I agree)
posted by mannequito at 3:55 PM on November 2, 2011

Star Trek Voyager: Year of Hell
Star Trek The Next Generation: The Inner Light
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More, With Feeling
Seinfeld: The Chinese Restaurant
posted by SMPA at 3:59 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Subway episode of Homicide.
posted by rabidsegue at 4:00 PM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

For MASH, surely the finale? It had the highest viewing numbers of anything on US television until the 2010 Super Bowl. (Wiki says it still has the highest ratings and population share.)

I'm honestly not sure there's another truly iconic episode of MASH, at least from my perspective, as someone who was born after it aired.
posted by hoyland at 4:01 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everyone's Waiting, Six Feet Under series finale.
posted by elle.jeezy at 4:04 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

oh and since you mentioned Seinfeld - I'll vote for these as my 2 favorite episodes:
The Contest
The Outing
(both are from the 4th season)
((not that there's anything wrong with that!))
posted by mannequito at 4:04 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

For MASH I liked OR quite a lot (episode 5 of the 3rd season.) There were a LOT of really excellent MASH episodes, though, and it's hard to pick just a couple of them.
posted by SMPA at 4:04 PM on November 2, 2011

I like the M*A*S*H* episode from Season 5, episode 3, Out of sight out of Mind. Hawkeye is blinded by a stove explosion and has to deal with that. It includes a lot of minor characters and has a nice revenge prank.
posted by zzazazz at 4:09 PM on November 2, 2011

Turkey Drop, WKRP in Cincinnati
posted by elle.jeezy at 4:10 PM on November 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: elle.jeezy - A mention of Turkey Drop is actually what prompted me to ask this :)
posted by a_green_man at 4:13 PM on November 2, 2011

Season finale of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Newhart.

(The Newhart final scene was voted best final scene of all time by TV Guide.)
posted by Room 641-A at 4:18 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Buffy the Vampie Slayer, "Hush" & "Once More With Feeling"
Barney Miller, "Quarantine"
Robotech, "Farewell Big Brother"

also, the Onion AV Club has a column about this very topic that might be a good reference.
posted by radiosilents at 4:18 PM on November 2, 2011

The pilot for Friday Night Lights is amazing. I think that the aliens would be captivated by it.
posted by JuliaKM at 4:21 PM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oops: MTM is s07e24, Newhart is s08, but I'm having a hard time pinning down the actual episode number.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:23 PM on November 2, 2011

I don't know if there is a consensus of "best" Arrested Development episodes, but if I had to pick just one from each series I'd go for "Pier Pressure", "Afternoon Delight" and "Family Ties".

Of course a lot of the jokes are in-jokes and running jokes, so maybe they don't stand up as one-offs.
posted by trialex at 4:25 PM on November 2, 2011

Star Trek - episode #65 - "Plato's Step-Children"

Oh, come on -- historically important, but third-season drivel. Best TOS Star Trek episodes are The City on the Edge of Forever, Mirror Mirror and The Doomsday Machine.
posted by Rash at 4:25 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Along with the aforementioned Buffy episodes, I think The Body and Tabula Rasa also deserve honorable mentions.

More recently, the two paintball episodes of Community are fucking fantastic.
posted by elizardbits at 4:26 PM on November 2, 2011

The Frasier episode "Three Valentines." In particular, this scene, featuring David Hyde Pierce, is absolute genius. I rank it right up there with the Turkey Drop episode of WKRP.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:26 PM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, I think that the fact that the scene is almost entirely without dialog is part of what makes it genius.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:28 PM on November 2, 2011

My vote for the best Seinfeld goes to The Library.

And I think this thread is chatfilter
posted by Rash at 4:28 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Objects in Space" Firefly
posted by yoink at 4:29 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been devouring Community the past two weeks but didn't know if it was too recent for this Q.

But I would say the Dungeons & Dragons episode beats the paintball ones - though just barely.
posted by mannequito at 4:30 PM on November 2, 2011

For The Wire, I'd say Season 4: Final Grades or Season 3: Middle Ground.
posted by JuliaKM at 4:34 PM on November 2, 2011

Blackadder, the final episode – when they go over the top. Seminal telly.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 4:40 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

The finale of Freaks and Geeks.
posted by Lorin at 4:42 PM on November 2, 2011

"Abyssinia Henry", the Mash Episode where Henry Blake dies.

Buffy Episode "Hush"

The Community Christmas episode where they are all in Claymation, as well as any of the paintball episodes.
posted by wwax at 5:28 PM on November 2, 2011

"Two Cathedrals" from The West Wing. It's the second season finale so it's a bit tricky out of context of the rest of the season, but it is one of the most amazing hours of television I watched live.
posted by GilvearSt at 5:38 PM on November 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

You might want to take a look over Extra Hot Great's canon. In some cases, they have several episodes for the same show but there are compelling reasons for each episode.
posted by hmo at 5:39 PM on November 2, 2011

Current (as opposed to "vintage") Doctor Who: Season 3, "Blink." You do not need to know or have followed the series or the character to appreciate it. In fact, the Doctor's barely in it.

Unnerving, scary, and captivating. Still one of my all-time personal favorites.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 5:51 PM on November 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

Friends, Season 5, Episode 14, "The One Where Everybody Finds Out." Hands down, the funniest episode of any sitcom I've ever seen. Season 4, Episode 12, "The One with the Embryos" is a close second.

My So-Called Life, Season 1 (the only season, sniff), Episode 5, "The Zit." One hour of television has never captured adolescence so perfectly.
posted by constellations at 5:54 PM on November 2, 2011

Criminal Minds: "Ride the Lightning"

The Waltons: "Day of Infamy"

Mad Men: "Kennedy v. Nixon," "The Wheel," "Sit Down, Have a Seat" and "The Suitcase".
posted by jgirl at 6:01 PM on November 2, 2011

"Love's Labor Lost" during the first season of ER.
posted by lakeroon at 6:28 PM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

For MASH, surely the finale? It had the highest viewing numbers of anything on US television until the 2010 Super Bowl.

Ah, but we're looking for good, not popular, and the last episode of M*A*S*H sucked pretty hard. "Abyssinia, Henry" was the best episode of M*A*S*H.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:35 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

The abortion episode of Maude. The Murphy Brown episode where the gang gets her pot for her cancer treatment side effects (while tame now, remember the Dan Quayle controversy, then add drugs and a healthy dose of heart and humor. Emmy winner.) I remember the pilot for CSI being kind of groundbreaking in that it killed off the character around whom you thought they were building the series. The My So-Called Life Christmas episode where Ricky ends up at the church shelter.
posted by buzzkillington at 6:57 PM on November 2, 2011

Friends, S01E08 "The One Where Nana Dies Twice" is the first appearance of "The Rachel."
posted by rhizome at 6:57 PM on November 2, 2011

For Seinfeld, my vote goes to The Pothole
posted by costanza at 7:02 PM on November 2, 2011

Strongly seconding "Love's Labor Lost" from ER. Absolutely heart-wrenching. From the same show, I'd also recommend "Night Shift" (third season) and "Be Still My Heart" (sixth season).
posted by yawper at 7:26 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Family Ties - A - My Name is Alex. Alex comes to terms with the death of his best friend following a car accident. Not sure of season/episode, but airdate was March 12, 1987.
posted by Telpethoron at 7:37 PM on November 2, 2011

Mad Men, Season 1, "Babylon," and the season 1 finale.
posted by sideofwry at 7:57 PM on November 2, 2011

In addition to Two Cathedrals from The West Wing (oh my God, Two Cathedrals!), I'm going to add Issac and Ishmael. Season opener in 2001, does not fit the storyline in any way (and intentionally), but written and filmed specifically as a response to 9/11. Great interactions between characters, and explores the topic in a different light compared tom everything else on TV. Loved it.
posted by MultiFaceted at 9:05 PM on November 2, 2011

Post-2000, but House, "Three Stories." The show's certainly gone down hill since then, but that episode was amazing.
posted by yasaman at 9:38 PM on November 2, 2011

Mary Tyler Moore Show - "Chuckles Bites the Dust"

The Odd Couple - "Password"

The Dick Van Dyke Show - "That's My Boy?"
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:12 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lost: "Through the Looking Glass" (season 3 finale)

Alternatively, for a more stand-alone, less plot-centric episode, "The Constant."
posted by lewedswiver at 12:23 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hill Street Blues "Trial by Fury."
posted by ambient2 at 1:21 AM on November 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks Oriole and ambient2(+ others above) for the older shows. I should have stressed that more. The newer shows are a lot easier to get consensus on.

Keep it up folks, I need a complete list before my friends' kids hit their teens!
posted by a_green_man at 1:46 AM on November 3, 2011

If you want older shows you can't go wrong with All in the Family. It's the sort of thing that, for all of our "edginess" now, would never get made today. "Sammy's Visit" is a great episode and basically encapsulates what the whole series was about.
posted by GilvearSt at 3:27 AM on November 3, 2011

The "Abyssinia, Henry" episode of M*A*S*H:

"Abyssinia, Henry" is the 72nd episode of the M*A*S*H television series, and the final episode of the series' third season. First aired on March 18, 1975, and written by Everett Greenbaum and Jim Fritzell, the highly rated episode was most notable for its shocking and unexpected ending. The plot of the episode centers on the honorable discharge and subsequent departure of the 4077th MASH's commander, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake (played by McLean Stevenson).

YouTube clip.

More on Snopes.
posted by humph at 3:56 AM on November 3, 2011

(Oh crap, just realised that kirkaracha had already suggested this.)
posted by humph at 4:00 AM on November 3, 2011

The "Edith's Christmas Story" episode of All in the Family.
In this episode, Edith Bunker discovers a lump in her breast.

In 1973, breast cancer was not talked about except in hushed confidentiality. It was a private secret. It was not the public cause it is now. For the most popular show in America in 1973 to deal with this issue was a groundbreaking event. One that a lot of people today probably can't understand the impact of.

I was 15 at the time. I can recall that, somehow, every woman surrounding me (mother, aunts, neighbors) knew about this upcoming episode and they all made it a point to watch this episode. It was a big turning point and helped bring breast cancer awareness into the light.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:10 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any discussion of All in the Family should include the two-parter Edith's 50th Birthday. Here's a clip of the most dramatic parts. Totally shocking, and not just for its time. (No matter how jaded a TV viewer you are, I dare you not to jump up and cheer when she manages to get away.)
posted by bookgirl18 at 6:47 AM on November 3, 2011

(Also, I always thought the best episode of the Dick van Dyke Show was the one with all those walnuts... Kind of an amazing Twilight Zone parody.)
posted by bookgirl18 at 6:53 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

The season four finale of Breaking Bad, without question. Includes one of the greatest death scenes ever filmed.

Also, another strong vote for the AitF episode that bookgirl18 mentions. And for M*A*S*H, you want the dreams episode.
posted by jbickers at 7:19 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

This list of TV Guide's 100 Best TV Episodes of All Time may be of interest. It has lots of older shows, and many of the suggestions here are on that list.
posted by yawper at 7:23 AM on November 3, 2011

Outnumbered (2007): Season 2, Episode 1 (The wedding)
Buffy the Vampie Slayer: "Hush"
Blackadder: "Bells"
Doctor Who (2005): "Blink"
Friends: "The One Where Everybody Finds Out"
South Park: "Scott Tenorman Must Die"
Star Trek TNG: "The Inner Light"
Futurama: "Jurassic Bark"
Invader Zim: "Bestest Friend"
posted by martinrebas at 7:36 AM on November 3, 2011

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Season 4, Episode 13 "The Nightman Cometh"
posted by craven_morhead at 8:38 AM on November 3, 2011

I'd nominate "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (S3E4) as the single finest stand-alone episode of the X-Files.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 8:47 AM on November 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not prime time or network, but the Sesame Street where they explained that Mr. Hooper died was pretty groundbreaking and amazing.
posted by Mchelly at 9:49 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing Futurama: Jurassic Bark

Breaking Bad: Sunset (S3 E06)

Better Off Ted: The Lawyer, The Lemur and the Little Listener (S2 E02)

Arrested Development: (IMO!) Forget Me Now (3x3)

Dexter: Season 2 finale (maybe season 4 finale, too)

The Office (UK): Training (1x4)

Extras: Christmas Special
posted by getawaysticks at 9:50 AM on November 3, 2011

Coming here to also say that the M*A*S*H dreams episode is the iconic one for me as jbickers says. When you've been watching an often-funny tv show regularly and then you see an episode without a laugh track... chilling.

Good Times
season five has Janet Jackson as Penny a little kid who is getting badly abused by her mother. This is another issue episode where this level of child abuse was something that you didn't really see or hear about on tv at the time.
posted by jessamyn at 10:07 AM on November 3, 2011

The X-files Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space' S3E20
posted by jefftang at 2:15 PM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

The South Park episode City Sushi has, without question, the best and most unexpected plot twist I've ever seen on a TV show.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:29 PM on November 3, 2011

Perhaps The Prisoner (original version, I haven't seen the new one) should be here in its entirety, but Once upon a time is exceptional.
posted by rjs at 12:28 PM on November 4, 2011

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