What are good representative episodes of popular television shows?
July 24, 2013 1:09 AM   Subscribe

If you wanted to explain to someone what a certain popular television show was (or is) like, which episodes would you recommend as examples?

I'm not necessarily looking for the best episodes, but just a very representative episode or two. If I download and watch the episodes you recommend (assuming you tell me the season and episode number), I'll know everything I need to know about whether I want to download and watch all the rest of the episodes in the series. If I don't download the rest, I'll at least have a good idea of what people are talking about when they start talking about a certain series. I'll see the main characters doing the sorts of things they typically do to entertain the people in your country.

And it would be especially nice to hear from some non-Americans. I'm happy to hear from Americans (I've never seen Seinfeld, Six Feet Under, CSI, Breaking Bad, or pretty much anything else since about 1993), but I hope I'll also learn about some shows from the UK or Germany or Japan or Botswana or Peru or wherever. And please give season and episode numbers if you can, so I can really try to find and download them.
posted by pracowity to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Series 1, Episode 4 of UK Shameless, 'Abduction'. A hilarious pantomime plot that pokes fun at the demonisation of British teenage boys and is carried by the performance of a 12 year old girl. If you don't like it, you won't like the show. If you love it, you will love the show (or at least the first 2 series, it's become a different kind of show since).
posted by dumdidumdum at 1:30 AM on July 24, 2013

Black Books, Series 1 Episode 3, "Grapes of Wrath".

"When the sheer filth of the bookshop overwhelms him, Manny calls a creepy cleaner, and Bernard reluctantly agrees to house-sit for a friend. Unfortunately, the two manage to drink a very expensive bottle of wine that was due to be presented to the Pope, and have to figure out a way to replace it. Meanwhile, Fran goes on a date with a very nice man which is nothing short of disastrous. She ends up dating the cleaner.
Guest star: Kevin Eldon as the cleaner. "
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:23 AM on July 24, 2013 [9 favorites]

As a non-American, I will make the claim that the 28th episode of Seinfeld, "The Alternate Side" is the platonic ideal of that series. I am also sure I will be fought on this.

"These pretzels are making me thirsty!"
posted by arha at 2:37 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

To get a couple of canonical nerd TV shows out of the way:

Arguably season 2 ep. 9 and 10 of Buffy, it's got vampires, special vampires, romance, high school stuff, and some long-term plot.

Avatar: The Last Airbender's first and second episodes actually make a good introduction; they get all the important elements, including Uncle Iroh. Keep in mind that the actual show just keeps improving in quality, and the characters mature a lot.

Season 5, Episode 5 of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia ("The Waitress is Getting Married") justifies the existence of the whole show as far as I'm concerned. All you really need to know going in is that Charlie (the bearded dude with a sort of high voice) has an obsessive stalker crush on "the Waitress", who is blonde, and also, all the main characters are awful people.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:38 AM on July 24, 2013

I'm not very good at remembering which episodes stand out in a certain series (I tend to just pick a show and try it from the beginning for a couple of eps and then.... usually I watch the whole thing. I'm not that picky). But Slate has been a running series lately on gateway episodes that you might find useful.
posted by hungrybruno at 5:06 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and three+ seasons in, I think my favorite meat-and-potatoes episode so far is Civil Defense, season 3 episode 7. Every major character has something fun to do, my two favorite recurring characters show up, it establishes the setting and history of the show a bit without being overwhelming, and it's just an entertaining twisty romp. If I was trying to introduce someone to the show, I'd go with that one.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:56 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Season 2, Episode 19 of The Good Wife. Almost any episode of Breaking Bad.
posted by Dolley at 6:01 AM on July 24, 2013

The Venture Brothers Season 1, Episode 6 "Ghosts of the Sargasso". Gives you all the overview you need of Rusty's relationship to his father. The eponymous Venture Brothers both get their own little story arcs, and Brock gets to do what he does best.
posted by Eddie Mars at 6:50 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think "Tracy Does Conan" is the exemplary episode of 30 Rock, despite the fact that it occurs so early in the show's run (season 1, episode 7). It showcases some central themes in the series: Jenna's jealousy over Tracy's fame, Liz's devotion to the show at her own personal expense, Tracy's general craziness, Pete's personal insecurities, Jack's personality, Kenneth's willingness to do whatever it takes for the stars of TGS, Dennis being a moron.... Plus, it features some of the funniest jokes of the series (blood cookie; what am I, a farmer; rural juror; mind grapes), which is quite a feat.
posted by k8lin at 6:51 AM on July 24, 2013

Battlestar Galactica, Season 2, episode 2: "Valley of Darkness" pretty much embodies everything that made the show great, while explaining a lot of backstory. You will need to go back to the beginning to follow the rest of the show, though. The same is true of my second choice: season 1, Episode 1: "33". You will need to see the pre-season-1 miniseries after watching it, but you'll want to.

There is no "gateway episode" for Game of Thrones: start from the start or be totally lost. The same is true of "The Returned" (French, aired in the UK with subtitles) - start from the start.
posted by Wylla at 7:13 AM on July 24, 2013

Previously and Previously
posted by backwards guitar at 7:19 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Breaking Bad, you want to watch the pilot.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:23 AM on July 24, 2013

Slate has a regular feature called Gateway Episodes which discusses this. Some earlier entries discussed Bunheads and South Park.
posted by DanSachs at 7:37 AM on July 24, 2013

Mad Men, The Suitcase. It's the exact middle of the planned run of the show.
posted by migurski at 9:08 AM on July 24, 2013

Carnivàle, Season 1, Episode 8: "Lonnigan, Texas". Clancy Brown is just awesome in this episode.
posted by Quonab at 11:14 AM on July 24, 2013

Season 3, Episode 5 of Louie.
posted by togdon at 12:44 PM on July 24, 2013

For recent American serialized drama, usually somewhere around the third episode of the first season is where things start getting "representative" of the overall tone of the show, but before you're in too deep and a new viewer wouldn't understand who the characters are and what's going on.

I also feel like the first few episodes of Season 2, if the show is a long-running one, are a good place to start. Especially if it's a non-serial show (so, for example, Bones, or Castle, or almost any sitcom). And super especially if it's more than about a decade old, when networks expected new viewers to be able to jump in anywhere and understand the show.

I find that most shows really hit their stride betweens seasons 2 and 5, and if you don't know whether you'll like a show, or you want to see what the "hype" is about, there's really no reason to force yourself to slog through an entire season to get to the good stuff. You can totally start watching How I Met Your Mother in Season 2. The world is not going to explode.
posted by Sara C. at 1:40 PM on July 24, 2013

Forgot to add, Dollhouse famously hit its stride in season 1, Episode 6, "Man on the Street". Unfortunately, this was too late to save the show, which only lasted 2 seasons (but had ample warning of cancellation and so tied off the plot loose ends). Man on the Street is like a re-start, and makes the first 5 eps (which are good, but not great) worth watching. Note that the series makes much less sense without Epitaph One, season 1 episode 13, which never aired in the US!
posted by Wylla at 4:11 PM on July 24, 2013

The AV Club has 10 (rather than one) representative episodes of covered shows. They annotate, so you may be able to decide on one or two episodes from the list, but I've found them to be right on for the shows I've seen, and informative for the shows I haven't.
posted by Margalo Epps at 5:37 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

You specifically mention CSI, and I haven't followed it faithfully in a very long time, if ever, but some memorable episodes that have stuck with me as the most, er, fun: Table Stakes (S1E15), Felonious Monk (S2E17), and King Baby (S5E15).

I've been rewatching Gavin & Stacey recently and think the pilot does a wonderful job of giving you an idea what the show's like, but if I had to pick a non-pilot episode, it'd be S2E5 for Gwen's birthday party planning.
posted by knile at 7:28 AM on August 10, 2013

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