2011's Best Episodes: Michael Scott Signs Off, Community Gets Chaotic
Harry Shum Jr.
From Oprah's surprisingly low-key farewell to the year's most soul-crushing break-up on The Good Wife (Kalicia, no!), the year was packed with fantastic hours of television — pretty much all of which we watched. There were teary goodbyes (Friday Night Lights' Texas forever! Smallville's tights and flights!), tense face-offs (why can't all CIA interrogations take place on the front porch of a cabin, like on Homeland?) and of course we made room for a little Glee (because certain underdogs deserved it). Which made the list. Tune in all week for our top 25.
Here's the second batch in our weeklong countdown of 2011's best episodes (Catch up first with Episodes 25-21 and Episodes 20-16):
15. "Remedial Chaos Theory," Community
Never afraid of taking risks, this remarkable Season 3 episode of Community moves the action from Greendale's study room to game night at Troy and Abed's new apartment, where one decision — which character retrieves the pizza from the delivery guy — creates seven alternate timelines. While each timeline features recurring gags — Jeff hitting his head on the ceiling fan, Pierce bragging about hooking up with Eartha Kitt in an airplane bathroom, Britta singing "Roxanne" — it's the subtle differences in the characters' interactions from timeline to timeline that exquisitely display why this group of friends makes sense together. Most importantly, it emphasizes how important the group is to Jeff, even though he is no longer the sole person holding it together. Now if only we could see an entire episode that takes place with Evil Abed in the "darkest timeline"!
14. "Asian F," Glee
Say what you will about the current season of Glee — Why did Quinn go psycho? Where did Mr. Schue disappear to? Can Sue be saved? — there's no denying that "Asian F" deserves a standing O for being a brilliant showcase for the lesser-seen characters, all of whom were trying to overcome longstanding struggles. Mercedes channeled her inner J. Hud as she decided to step into her own spotlight, Mike unleashed his pent-up angst for his parents to West Side Story's perfect pressure-cooker number "Cool," and Emma suffered an OCD relapse when forced to deal with her own destructive, "ginger-supremacist" parents. If nothing else, the hour was a potent reminder that Glee is capable of delivering the heartbreaking goods.
13. "The Doctor's Wife," Doctor Who
It takes fantasy/horror/sci-fi author Neil Gaiman to pen an episode that is preposterous to describe, yet heartbreaking in that signature Doctor Who way. Through a series of convoluted and nefarious events, his time machine, aka the TARDIS, shuts down and its matrix disappears, only to be incarnated in a daffy lady named Idris. The Doctor always did call the TARDIS "old girl," right? He and the TARDIS-possessed woman reminisce, banter, flirt and even kiss, and by episode's end, we've bought into their longtime, intimate relationship. Too bad the TARDIS can't remain in that body or ever have a voice again, but the affection we feel for that big blue police box has doubled.
12. "Goodbye, Michael," The Office
"Hey, will you guys let me know if this ever airs?" And with that, Michael Scott took off his microphone, mouthed a final, silent "that's what she said" and left Scranton and Dunder Mifflin in his rearview mirror as he boarded a flight headed for Colorado and a lifetime of happiness with his "soupsnake" Holly. Much like the humor of The Office, the episode was understated and pitch-perfect. He played paintball with Dwight in the parking lot and shared an anti-goodbye goodbye with Jim. For die-hard fans, it's still hard to accept that "Prison Mike" is never coming back (except maybe for the series finale -- fingers crossed!), but at least he received a worthy send-off and a Best Boss award he didn't have to buy for himself.
11. "Episode One," Downton Abbey
The miniseries drops viewers among the surprisingly swiftly paced world of the Earl of Grantham, his American wife, their three daughters (note: no male heir!), his blustering, blistering mother and their equally complicated downstairs staff, an hour so artfully written, paced and performed that we've immediately taken sides: First up: We've already sent out a dinner invitation to the Dowager Countess (the treasure Maggie Smith), we want nothing but happiness for neglected younger sisters Edith and Sybil, and we empathize with cousin Matthew Crawley, whose entrance into this elegant world coincides with our own. On the other hand, Lady Grantham's sourpuss maid O'Brien better not interfere with Bates and Anna's budding romance, Lady Mary could use a little less entitlement, and Thomas is just pure evil. In an era of dwindling daytime soaps, Downton's first episode is instantly and thoroughly addictive, enough so that we wanted to make this costume drama part of our daily "stories."