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May 16, 2012 8:25 AM   Subscribe

What are the best examples of experimental television episodes?

I'm looking to compile a list of single television episodes that were experimental or unusual in some way. Some examples:

* The M*A*S*H episode about dreams, or the one with the countdown clock in the corner
* The numerical countdown episode of How I Met Your Mother
* The two-parter "Sylvia" on Little House

I'm not so much looking for entire series that were/are experimental by their very nature (Twin Peaks, Community), nor "very special" episodes, but rather instances where the tone of the show dramatically changed for one episode in an interesting or unusual "event" sort of way.

(Part of the impetus for this is, I'm curious whether this is happening more or less than in the past.) Thanks!
posted by jbickers to Media & Arts (89 answers total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Buffy - Hush
posted by michaelh at 8:26 AM on May 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

A lot of pre-taped shows did a one time live episode as a gimmick, TV Tropes has a list of them.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:30 AM on May 16, 2012

There was another episode of M*A*S*H where the whole episode was shown from the point of view of a wounded soldier. There are probably several other examples from that show.

Might count as a VSE but there was an episode of Family Ties where Alex's friend died and the entire episode (if I remember correctly) was just him in a dark room talking to his conscious. Or maybe it was a therapist, I really don't remember.
posted by bondcliff at 8:30 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Conscience, not conscious.
posted by bondcliff at 8:32 AM on May 16, 2012

michaelh reminded me of
Buffy - Once More, with Feeling (aka the "musical episode")
posted by sugarbomb at 8:34 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Supernatural did a black and white episode.
Clerks: The Animated Series did a clip show for its second episode.
Seinfeld had "The Betrayal", its famous backwards episode, modeled after Pinter's backwards play The Betrayal.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:37 AM on May 16, 2012

Other Buffy episodes: Restless is all dream sequences, and The Body is just like whoa.

The Family Ties ep bondcliff mentions above is called A My Name Is Alex.

There was also a two-part episode of Friends where they show what the gang would have been like in an alternate reality.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:39 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

There were a few episodes of "Monty Python's Flying Circus," I think from the last season, where all the sketches segued into each other in realtime, to very strange effect. I mean, Monty Python is always kind of weird, but these were really weird.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:40 AM on May 16, 2012

Buffy also had an episode that suggested that the entire show might be the dreams of a mental patient.

Community has had a number of episodes that experiment heavily with the tropes of other forms of cinema and television (action movies, westerns, space movies, gangster movies, &c). It would probably be easier to identify the ones that don't do this.

Spaced was also heavily into the special episode, to the point where Shaun of the Dead kind of just an outgrowth of what they were already doing on the show.
posted by gauche at 8:40 AM on May 16, 2012

The X-Files: Triangle features a time-travel plot with a split-screen and minimal cutting so you could follow both time-lines "live".

30 Rock's live episodes try to re-create the show's editing style and cut-a-aways by using doubles and lookalikes.
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Northern Exposure had the "Russian Flu" episode and thirtysomething had one where they were all in period costume in the style of The Lucy Show or maybe The Honeymooners. Although, both those shows are semi-experimental on and off through the whole series.
posted by BibiRose at 8:42 AM on May 16, 2012

The 30 Rock live show, which was particularly weird because they did it twice, with slight differences?
posted by miyabo at 8:43 AM on May 16, 2012

Newsradio, although they did it at twice so maybe it doesn't fit the bill. S03E24 "Space" takes place in outer space, S04E22 "Sinking Ship" on the Titanic. Partial credit for the extended dream sequence in the Sopranos' "Test Dream" and the Simpsons' "Behind the Laughter." I have a feeling the Simpsons would fall into the experimental by nature category, but that episode took it further than canonical episodes or theme episodes like Treehouse of Horror.
posted by Lorin at 8:43 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Death of Mr. Hooper episode on Sesame Street?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:45 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tales From The Crypt did an animated episode with Bobcat Goldthwait.
The Outer Limits had an episode, called "Judgment Day", which was constructed as a self-contained fake reality show.
The Dick van Dyke Show had an excellent episode called "It May Look Like a Walnut," which was rife with science fiction and horror tropes.

Not single episode, but a plot arc: 'Til Death had a bizarre subplot about one of the characters hearing the laugh track and realizing that his wife had been recast.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:45 AM on May 16, 2012

Here's a Pregnant Pause from the terrific (and underrated) Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, where Molly stops being pregnant for an episode and explains a lot about what's going on in her life directly to the audience.
posted by xingcat at 8:46 AM on May 16, 2012

The ER live episode, Ambush, was pretty interesting, and was done twice.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:46 AM on May 16, 2012

Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise all did an episode in the "mirror universe."
posted by General Malaise at 8:48 AM on May 16, 2012

Does the West Wing episode about terrorism, "Isaac and Ishmael" count?
posted by LouMac at 8:48 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

More recently; Community "Advanced Chaos Theory"
posted by teamnap at 8:48 AM on May 16, 2012

Scrubs did a musical or two. West Wing had that live debate in one of its later seasons.
posted by Gyan at 8:48 AM on May 16, 2012

Oh, and while The X-Files was usually kind of out there, a few episodes were even more so than usual: Triangle was filmed in real time and as close to being a single-take as possible, Post-Modern Prometheus was all in black and white and had a sort of metafiction moment at the end, and Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man was entirely about and from the perspective of Cigarette Smoking Man (and has the single best parody of the "Life is a box of chocolates" speech I've ever heard).

Another Northern Exposure ep that was notable/weird was "Cicely," where the whole ep is a flashback to the founding of the town in 1908. And its ep "Dinner At 7:30" has Joel getting this weird hallucination of what life would be like if he and everyone else in town were all living in Manhattan.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

The ER live episode, Ambush, was pretty interesting, and was done twice.

One of the neatest things about that episode was they were watching a game on TV throughout the episode (probably the Cubs or White Sox) and the game itself was going on live.

The Simpsons, although probably experimental by nature as Lorin suggested, also did the Treehouse of Horror episodes, the "33 short films about Springfield" episode, and the spinoff spectacular episode, among other things.
posted by bondcliff at 8:50 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Supernatural did a black and white episode.

And the Changing Channels one which took place in a series of sitcom parody universes.

Possibly Mystery Spot with the Groundhog Day-esque repetition as well?
posted by elizardbits at 8:50 AM on May 16, 2012

Eureka's most recent holiday special also did a bunch of different animation styles across the episode.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:51 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fringe did a musical epsiode in the 2nd season and an animated episode in the 3rd season.
posted by aloysius on the mixing boards at 8:52 AM on May 16, 2012

"There are too many Sesame Street specials to count, and most of them have climactic revelations along the lines of, 'Oscar learns that not everyone likes a grouch' or 'Elmo learns the real value of sharing.' Yet once, just once, a bunch of writers at the Children's Television Workshop actually decided to run with 'Big Bird overpowers the will of gods and demons in a quest for celestial justice.'"
posted by onlyconnect at 8:52 AM on May 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:56 AM on May 16, 2012

Many examples above may include Breaking The Fourth Wall
posted by artdrectr at 8:57 AM on May 16, 2012

Buffy did Hush (no talking), The Body (no background music), and Once More, with Feeling (musical episode before every show in the world did musical episodes); Angel did that puppet episode; one of the Law and Orders did an episode with two endings that you got to vote on. ER, as mentioned above, did the live episode.
posted by jeather at 8:59 AM on May 16, 2012

The episodes of The X-Files and Millennium written by Darin Morgan are events unto themselves.

"The War of the Coprophages" (from The X-Files) was about rampant roaches, but the episode reached new heights when (SPOILER!) a roach scrambled across your TV screen.

"Jose Chung's From Outer Space" (from The X-Files) and "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense" (from Millennium) were interrelated episodes featuring Charles Nelson Reilly. They're both funny, high-minded, and metatextual.

"Somehow Satan Got Behind Me" (from Millennium) is about devils swapping stories at a bar.

Darin Morgan also wrote "The M Word," an unproduced script for the short-lived Kolchak reboot. It was a great script.


This is more a sidenote than anything else, but horror genius Thomas Ligotti wrote a spec script for The X-Files. It's called "Crampton," and it's great.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:59 AM on May 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

While I realize Wonder Showzen was an experimental show by nature, Episode 207: Mathematics not only completely dispensed with the characters and general structure of the show by showing a full episode of a fake Hee-Haw parody called Horse Apples, but also spurred the hipster beard craze that still plagues our young people today.

... and while the usually-animated Space Ghost: Coast to Coast was also experimental by nature, Table Read instead showed the voice talent performing a table read of one of the scripts.

The Moonlighting 3-D episode was the most hyped experimental TV episode ever... but regrettably didn't happen.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 9:01 AM on May 16, 2012

There was an episode of Growing Pains in which the kid who played Ben (the younger brother) actually thought that he was "Ben Seaver" once the filming stopped. He freaked out when his "dad" acted as if he were not actually his father, but some other guy named Alan Thicke. He saw "mom" kissing another man (her real-life husband), and there were all these WEIRD TELEVISION PEOPLE in his house...which wasn't really a house, but a set.

I remember being really confused by the whole thing.


There was that episode of the Simpsons (a Treehouse of Horror, I think) in which Homer goes through a hole in the wall behind the tv and winds up...in the THIRD DIMENSION. "Did you ever see that movie...Tron?" Then he somehow winds up outside in the "real world" for a minute or so before the credits.
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:02 AM on May 16, 2012

Back in 1980, NBC televised a live NFL game with no announcers. Just the sound of the play and the fans.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:02 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

X-Files had a lot of these it seems : Bad Blood tells the story of accident during a mission from two different point of views and the details change based on who is telling the story.
posted by The Whelk at 9:03 AM on May 16, 2012

Sealab 2021 had the episode "Waking Quinn," in which one of the characters continually faded in and out of consciousness. It was pretty bizarre even by exactingly high Sealab standards.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:04 AM on May 16, 2012

The episodes of The X-Files and Millennium written by Darin Morgan are events unto themselves.

Seconding this - my friends and I actually had our own little phone tree set up so that if one of us found out that an upcoming episode of [foo] was written by Darin Morgan, we had to call the others and let them know so no one would miss it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:04 AM on May 16, 2012

Oh, and then there was that whole two-parter for the Star Trek series Enterprise that was all about "what the future's like if the Nazis won in World War II".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:06 AM on May 16, 2012

It was pretty bizarre even by exactingly high Sealab standards.

There was also the episode called Fusebox, where the power goes out and all but the last few minutes are pretty much audio-only (there is a static exterior shot of Sealab shown for most of the episode). It was also apparently based on a fan script that was sent in.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:10 AM on May 16, 2012

The episode of Scrubs featuring Dr. Cox's brother's death sticks out to me this way.
posted by maryr at 9:11 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

South Park has had several episodes that could be considered "experimental." Mr. Hankey, replacing Issac Hayes with pre-recorded bits, the depiction of Muhammad, Trapped in the Closet, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:15 AM on May 16, 2012

Children's Hospital did an episode that was filmed like an Our Town style stage play.
posted by Chenko at 9:18 AM on May 16, 2012

Also, the Buffy episode "Conversations With Dead People" stands out to me tonally, but less so in format.
posted by maryr at 9:19 AM on May 16, 2012

Bowling was a Malcolm in the Middle episode that showed the events of a bowling night if the Mom took them or if the Dad took them. Parts of the episode were shown split screen.
posted by Gary at 9:22 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Supernatural did a black and white episode.

Supernatural does a "theme" episode every season. That episode is called "Monster Movie." There's also the episode "Ghostfacers," which is done in the style of a ghosthunting reality-TV show. "Changing Channels" is TV-show themed (in that they're in a bunch of different sorts of TV shows throughout the episode.) I can't recall any more off the top of my head.

Newsradio, although they did it at twice so maybe it doesn't fit the bill.

Newsradio also had "Heat Wave" has people's fantasies/nightmares coming to life.
posted by griphus at 9:37 AM on May 16, 2012

"Spooks," S9E2 was the same set of events shown 3 times from 3 separate viewpoints a la "Rashomon," I suppose. Some of the effects were quite shocking.
posted by Infinity_8 at 9:39 AM on May 16, 2012

Super Dimensional Fortress Macross - Robotech to the English-speaking world, although I'm not sure if this was translated accurately - had a clip episode called "Phantasm" where the framing device was that the main character was in a coma and re-living the events of the series up to this point, but because it's a dream even though the footage is re-used clips, they jump between events crazily, creating an entirely different timeline for the show, and all the dialog is redone and often at odds with what you remember from the first time you saw the footage.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:41 AM on May 16, 2012

There's that Seinfeld episode that's told backwards.

Although this is common now, Roc, a Fox show from the early nineties did a live episode..

Pretty much anything Ernie Kovaks ever did, but the smoking underwater one, that was great.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:42 AM on May 16, 2012

The cartoon Adventure Time has a gender-swapped episode.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:42 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, so many shows have had Rashomon episodes. Here's a list.
posted by griphus at 9:42 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Two episodes from the David Tennant Dr. Who (so, 2006-2009? 10?) come to mind. Both episodes began and ran with people who encountered the Dr. but were not affiliated with him. One was the exceptionally good (and nightmare-fueling) "Blink" in which regular people are tasked with the mission to save Dr. Who from the past, and "Love and Monsters" (same 2006 season) showed glimpses of the doctor as seen from a small club of nerds who are obsessed with the clues to the Dr's existence, much in the manner of a UFO club.

Star Trek: The Next Generation had a 7th season episode called "Lower Decks" featuring a group of very junior officers, 2 of whom known from previous episodes (a one-off episode set at the Academy, and Nurse Ogawa, a low-frequency returning character). They are carrying out their duties on orders from above, but unable to talk to each other due to the secrecy and tension related to Enterprise's current mission along the Neutral Zone (if you're unfamiliar with the show, it's a DMZ between the friendly Federation and the enemy Romulans). At the same time, their curiosity (and the fact that the audience, too, is kept in the dark) urges them to try to understand what the senior offices (e.g. the regular cast) are up to. Notably, the 7th Season was known to be TNG's last season and it opened the door to some more interesting episodes, as well as piles of fanservice eps.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:42 AM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

On the technical side, but still special episodes:

"Perry Mason" with Raymond Burr filmed exactly one episode (out of 271) in color, shown in 1966. It's hard to imagine now what that involved - different cameras/lenses and film, lighting, makeup, plus filming and producing all new opening title and end title sequences used only for that color episode.

In 1957, the very first episode of the follow-on from "I Love Lucy", "The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show", was filmed and edited to be shown as 1 hour and 15 minutes instead of its intended one hour slot. (Was it a stunt? They claimed the story needed the time.) Desi Arnaz had to personally intervene with CBS and U.S. Steel to show it at that length on the network, and only once. Unheard of for its time. The episode was cut down for a 1 hour slot for repeats.

"Friends" had "several" (according to wikipedia) special 40-minute episodes on NBC as a stunt, then edited for a 30 minute slot for repeats.

"Late Night With" I forget Letterman or O'Brien did the "rotating picture" show, where during the whole hour the video was rotated around 360º during the hour.

"Late Night With" again I forget who did an episode taped normally in the studio at 5pm, but as shown on the network at 12:36am, all the visual had been quickly recreated with mannequins.
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:47 AM on May 16, 2012

Coupling did an episode that was half in English, half in Hebrew. A character that could speak only Hebrew was shown speaking Hebrew in the first half. In the second half, we see the same action, only everyone speaking English was now speaking Hebrew, while the lone Hebrew-speaker was speaking English and we could finally hear what she was really saying.

In the attached clip, we learn that Jeff has mistaken the Hebrew word for "breasts" as the woman's name, only she doesn't understand he's made a mistake and thinks he just really loves breasts. Which he does, but still.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:50 AM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of Seinfeld episodes like this -- much more than just the backwards episode. In fact, you could almost say Seinfeld is so experimental as to be disqualified:

Seinfeld - The Chinese Restaurant (takes place entirely while waiting at a restaurant -- this led to other episodes that take place mostly outside the usual sets)

Seinfeld - The Limo

Seinfeld - most of season 4 (the sitcom within a sitcom)

Seinfeld - The Bizarro Jerry

The Office (U.S.) - Threat Level Midnight

Some of the last episodes of the last season of Arrested Development had self-referential gimmicks, like switching to a fake "live" camera while the actors seemed to go out of character to get ready for the next time zone's live feed.
posted by John Cohen at 9:51 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Moonlighting's "Atomic Shakespeare" episode was entirely in iambic pentameter.
posted by yoink at 9:52 AM on May 16, 2012

Ernie Kovacs' "Eugene" special
posted by timsteil at 9:53 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Speaking of Moonlighting, they also did a black-and-white flashback episode. And the last episode took the fourth wall, smashed it to bits, and stomped on the pieces.

As for M*A*S*H, there are a couple of documentary episodes filmed and narrated as if the cast is in a newsreel or TV series--changes things up a bit and you see some good character moments.

Farscape had one episode that was about half animation, though it was of fairly bad quality and I remember it being fairly polarizing between people who liked it and those who could not get over how bad the animation was.

I can't even remember what show it was, but there was some episode of a show that involved a numeric counter in the corner, and it's not until about half-way through that you even realize what it's for. Sadly, I can't even remember what it was. :(
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:20 AM on May 16, 2012

Season 1, episode 14 "Gambit" of La Femme Nikita has a plot where nothing is as it seems: an opening torture scene is staged, the criminal is a master of disguise, the finale involves a double cross and rubber masks, etc. There's also a sort of Easter Egg that I like:

The mission takes place in Toronto - where the show is actually filmed. Instead of the usual efforts to make Toronto look like other parts of the world, famous landmarks, (blurred) logos for Canadian brands, TTC subway signs, etc are clearly visible, and the dialog contains lines like "He's in Toronto - better get the plane ready" that seem slightly out of character.
posted by ceribus peribus at 10:25 AM on May 16, 2012

The fly episode of Breaking Bad.
posted by evisceratordeath at 10:25 AM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Main TVTropes article: Something Completely Different and its linked subtropes.

Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise all did an episode in the "mirror universe."

Among these, I'd like to single out the Enterprise two-parter as particularly notable. While the TOS and DS9 mirror universe episodes all had main-universe characters crossing over into the mirror universe, or vice versa, the Enterprise episodes were set entirely within the mirror universe, with no main-universe characters appearing at all.

DS9's Trials and Tribble-ations had some of the DS9 cast inserted into footage from the TOS episode The Trouble with Tribbles. Similarly, Voyager's Flashback had Janeway and Tuvok inserted into some of the Excelsior (Sulu's ship) scenes from Star Trek VI.

Babylon 5's The Deconstruction of Falling Stars was set after the main events of the series; perhaps not too unusual in itself, but each act was set further into the future: 100, 500, 1000, and 1 million(!) years after the rest of the series, respectively.

Conversely, Lost's antepenultimate episode was set many hundreds, perhaps thousands of years before the main events of the series; none of the "Losties" appear in the episode except for one brief scene re-used from a previous episode.

The 2000s-era Battlestar Galactica had an episode (don't remember the details, maybe someone else can fill it in) set completely among the Cylons.

Mad About You's "The Conversation" was filmed as a single shot, except for brief beginning and ending scenes.

Codename: Kids Next Door did an episode where each segment was animated in a different style.

Futurama has also done this.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:27 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

The anime Kare Kano (His and Her Circumstances was animated by GAINAX, a notoriously experimental and budget-blowing studio. By the end of the series they'd apparently run out of money: episode 19 is animated almost entirely by filmed video of paper cutouts attached to sticks. It's actually kinda awesome.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:29 AM on May 16, 2012

Also, Boston Legal episode #62, "Son of the Defender."
"Fifty years after Denny and his father successfully defended a man accused of murder, the son of the victim seeks revenge by holding the law firm hostage and forcing them to "retry" the case; flashbacks of Denny and his father are taken from "The Defender", a 1957 episode of the series Studio One in Hollywood, in which William Shatner's character, Kenneth Preston, sparred with his lawyer father, Walter (Ralph Bellamy), who is convinced of their client's guilt.
posted by timsteil at 10:33 AM on May 16, 2012

The final episode of TV anime Excel Saga, "Going Too Far," was deliberately made too violent, sexual, and one minute too long to be broadcast on its TV network. The episode didn't air and appeared for the first time on the DVDs.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:40 AM on May 16, 2012

Farscape did an episode where the main characters all switch bodies. It was fun to see each actor try and be another character from the show.

The 'puppet episode' of Angel referenced above involved the main character getting turned into a puppet for most of the episode.

Star Trek had many interesting episodes. I remember one where the ship was caught in a time loop that kept repeating, and each time loop ended just before the commercial with the ship exploding. Then they would repeat the time loop but pick up some vital clue for the next round.
posted by JoannaC at 10:49 AM on May 16, 2012

Late with David Letterman once aired a rerun, but with all the voices dubbed. AP News archive link.

YouTube Clip with Sandra Bernhard.
posted by The Deej at 10:59 AM on May 16, 2012

Jeopardy and Wheel Of Fortune traded hosts on April Fools day, 1997.
posted by ceribus peribus at 11:15 AM on May 16, 2012

This season's Mad Men (season 5, episode 6, "Far Away Places" -- spoilers in the link) features nonlinear editing to replay the same day three different times from the POV of three different characters (including one who goes on an acid trip).
posted by scody at 11:22 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

A first-season episode of House, Three Stories, is told in non-linear flashbacks by a deviously unreliable narrator.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:40 AM on May 16, 2012

...And is a fairly important episode in developing both characters and story lines.
posted by maryr at 11:43 AM on May 16, 2012

The Venture Bros. episode "Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel" is told in jumping-around chronological order, and different storylines are labeled as the stories contained in Marvel Comics #1. That comic book itself is a plot point, and the decreasing dollar amounts throughout the episode are the comic's relative value as it's read, stomped on, ripped up, and destroyed by the characters. You don't know what the dollar amounts mean until the end of the episode, either.
posted by zoetrope at 12:01 PM on May 16, 2012

The fourth episode of Psychoville (two-season black comedy by Reece and Steve from The League of Gentlemen), is shot in a continuous long take as an homage to Hitchcock's Rope.
posted by hot soup girl at 1:09 PM on May 16, 2012

The Battlestar Galactica episode that Devil's Advocate mentions is called Downloaded; it focuses on two Cylons who've had extensive interactions with BSG's human cast, and how they do or don't fit in among the Cylon world.

It's a great episode, but the tone shifts and parallels that make it so awesome won't make a lot of sense unless you've seen most of the previous episodes.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:05 PM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

There was an episode of China Beach where Ricki Lake's character got pregnant (Holly's Choice, season 3). The whole thing was told backwards, time's arrow-style.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 2:07 PM on May 16, 2012

oh, whoops, I just realized my Mad Men link goes to my favorite bit from Breaking Away! Correct link (with spoilers) here.
posted by scody at 3:14 PM on May 16, 2012

Castle had a 1940s episode, where the present-day cast played different characters in the past, as did Leverage.
posted by PussKillian at 3:21 PM on May 16, 2012

The West Wing episode Access is framed as a documentary about CJ. I'm sure I've seen this on another show, too, but I can't recall what it was (maybe ER?)

Not sure if this qualifies, but it definitely breaks the series formula--the House episode 5 to 9 is from Cuddy's perspective (also, day-in-the-life, but I'm sure this wasn't experimental when it aired). There are a lot of variant formats in the latter half of 7th season House.
posted by snorkmaiden at 3:25 PM on May 16, 2012

Futurama did have a "counter in the corner" episode, in which Earth President Nixon bribed the taxpayers with $300 dollars (a single note with his picture on it, natch), and each of the main characters had a different intention for the money. Fry, arguably the protagonist of the series, decided that 100 cups of $3/cup coffee were for him, and the counter advanced with each cup. He hits 100 at the climax of the episode and gains a natural-to-expect superpower which allows him to rescue the other characters from their respective $300 follies (including, IIRC, Nixon's).
posted by Sunburnt at 3:27 PM on May 16, 2012

There was the episode of Hercules: the Legendary Journeys where the stars of the show became the writer's room for the show... "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Hercules." Featuring Chimpules: The Legendary Monkey, which still makes me laugh to this day. I think Herc/Xena had a couple of ones like that, but I don't remember.
posted by whitneyarner at 3:38 PM on May 16, 2012

Last year a "How I Met Your Mother" episode had a countdown clock - at the end, Marshall's father died.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:54 PM on May 16, 2012

Andy Kaufman's Funhouse had fake television static — very "experimental"!
posted by Tom-B at 4:19 PM on May 16, 2012

House also did an episode sixth season ("Wilson") entirely from Wilson's point of view -- all you saw of the medical mystery was in flashes, and it was a bright point as the series started going downhill.
posted by freshwater at 4:52 PM on May 16, 2012

Xena: Warrior Princess had some fun weird episodes. They had groundhog day, and a musical episode. But what was really interesting was an episode tying in with their online "xena scrolls", which used the conceit that xena was real and Gabrielle's scrolls of their adventures had been found and translated in the modern day. Highjinks ensued.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:36 PM on May 16, 2012

Another X-Files episode: The one that was filmed as an episode of COPS.
posted by puritycontrol at 7:45 PM on May 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Almost every episode of Medium, the Patricia Arquette series. I was just talking to my husband about the parallels between Medium and The Good Wife, but that Medium frequently used the conceit of her psychic abilities to reframe the show and try experimental narratives. They had an episode told mostly through animation, episodes where she was someone else, where events happened out of time or -- just about every other episode did something different. I can't pick one because there were dozens.

Community fools around a lot with the structure and meta-ness of a sitcom.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:14 AM on May 17, 2012

Drew Goddard wrote an episode of CSI which was framed by corpses talking to one another about how they had died.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:34 AM on May 17, 2012

This thread nudged me to watch the X-Files episode "Triangle" again, since it's on netflix streaming. Now I am having nostalgia for Scully at her most grumpily efficiently badassed. *swoon*

IIRC, in the series finale of M*A*S*H, Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen, Hawkeye keeps stepping through his bus experience, with the details changing as he remembers the actual traumatic events. More an experimental section than an experimental episode, but I think that it was a fairly uncommon narrative device for TV at the time.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:18 AM on May 19, 2012

Darkwing Duck had an episode about an art thief where the animation was in the style of the artist's work being stolen.
posted by yerfatma at 9:35 AM on May 30, 2012

That reminds me, Tiny Toons had an episode that was all music videos - I remember TMBG's Istanbul/Not Constanstinople and Particle Man, though I think there was a third I've forgotten.
posted by maryr at 2:01 PM on May 30, 2012

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