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Check out the episodes that stood out this year

Shaun Harrison
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1 of 25

"Uprising," Switched at Birth

Every episode of the ABC Family drama features American Sign Language, since one of the show's two leads, Daphne, is deaf, but "Uprising" represents the first episode in TV history filmed entirely in ASL. With the Carlton School for the Deaf facing closure, Daphne mobilizes her friends to stage a protest to keep its doors open. The story evokes the real-life Gallaudet Uprising, in which students at a deaf university protested until the school hired a deaf president. Despite lacking sound, the episode was the loudest of the season.
2 of 25

"An Enemy of Fate," Fringe

The oft-bittersweet sci-fi drama proves with its series finale that all happy endings come with a price. In order to reboot time and rid the earth of its Observer invaders, our beloved Walter takes the anomaly Michael to the future to live out their days, essentially sacrificing himself. (He suddenly disappears in 2015 without explanation.) With Walter gone from their timeline, Peter, Olivia and Etta are able to live out their days in peace.
3 of 25

"Let's Be Mad Together," Parenthood

Parenthood always shines brightest when it juggles several smaller conflicts simultaneously. In this jam-packed hour, there are several all-stars, including: Erika Christensen, whose Julia comes to terms with being a stay-at-home mom; Max Burkholder, whose character finds intergenerational common ground with Hank (Ray Romano); and Matt Lauria and Mae Whitman, who have us hanging on every curve of the roller coaster that is Ryan and Amber's fledgling relationship.
4 of 25

"Colony Collapse," Arrested Development

Resembling the old Arrested we know and love, this Gob-centric episode follows the eldest Bluth sibling whose life blows up when the resurrection of Jesus illusion he had planned for his wedding to Ann goes awry, and he falls in with the wrong Hollywood entourage led by baby-faced pop star Mark Cherry (Daniel Amerman) after Ann leaves him. The episode also gives us some of the Netflix reboot's best new gags, namely the Stefon-worthy club And Jeremy Piven that Gob frequents, Mark Cherry's infectious hit "Getaway" and an incredible use of "The Sound of Silence" during Gob's forlorn moments of introspection that rivals earlier uses of the Charlie Brown theme. Until we hit "Colony Collapse," we were about to write off Season 4, but this episode renewed our faith, even though Gob fails at his attempt to be more popular than Jesus.
5 of 25

"Matt Damon," Jimmy Kimmel Live!

After being bumped "1,205 times," Matt Damon finally exacts his revenge on Jimmy Kimmel when the actor hijacks his show. The hilarious episode kicks off with Damon dragging a bound-and-gagged Kimmel out onto the stage and redubbing the show Jimmy Kimmel Sucks. Damon also brings out a slew of special guests, including his BFF (and Jimmy's "lover") Ben Affleck, Robin Williams, Demi Moore, Nicole Kidman, Amy Adams, Reese Witherspoon and, yes, Sarah Silverman to bad-mouth the host (well, Affleck tries to). The elaborate stunt, coming two weeks after Kimmel moved to 11:30 p.m., adds a much-needed jolt to the usual late-night happenings and confirms that Jimmy is here to stay — and play.
6 of 25

"Graduation," The Vampire Diaries

Full of shockers, romance and intrigue, The Vampire Diaries' season finale delivers its most game-changing closer yet. We get two swoon-worthy declarations of love: A New Orleans-bound (for The Originals) Klaus tells Caroline that he plans to be her last love, and Elena movingly tells Damon that even in death, he made her feel alive. Following a confrontation with Katherine, Elena force-feeds the cure, which reverses immortality, to her doppelganger, making Katherine human. But the episode's biggest twist comes in its final scene, when we learn that Stefan is the doppelganger of powerful villain Silas, who locks Stefan in a safe and chucks it into a lake, laying the groundwork for a compelling Season 5.
7 of 25

"The Day of the Doctor," Doctor Who

The only thing cooler than bowties is watching the three Doctors interact on the 50th anniversary episode, especially the amazing double act of Matt Smith and David Tennant as they do their best to impress the War Doctor (Timey-wimey? "I have no idea where he picks that stuff up," Ten lies). But underneath the novelty of having three Time Lord incarnations together and the countless Easter eggs, "The Day of the Doctor" poses a dark question at its core: Was the War Doctor right to commit genocide to end the Time War? While executive producer Steven Moffat gift-wraps the answer a little too neatly, the episode is such a fun celebration of Doctor Who's past and sets the course for a very different future that we can't wait to see.
8 of 25

"Entrée," Hannibal

An homage to The Silence of the Lambs, this episode features Eddie Izzard doing his best Anthony Hopkins impression as Dr. Abel Gideon, a committed psychopath at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. When he kills a nurse and claims to be the Chesapeake Ripper, Jack Crawford sends in his protégée (and Clarice Starling stand-in) Miriam (Anna Chlumsky) to investigate the Ripper case. While all the familiar details are nice, this episode stands out mostly because it finally shows Hannibal getting his hands dirty. Although prior to this episode the show had winked at Hannibal's dark side through his culinary treats, this hour climaxes with Hannibal killing Miriam when she deduces that he, not Dr. Gideon, is the Chesapeake Ripper. Paying tribute to the source material while also reinventing it is a tricky proposition, but "Entrée" pulls it off flawlessly.
9 of 25

"All Together Now," Masters of Sex

Showtime's freshman drama hits its emotional stride in an episode that explores the confusion and anguish of sex. University provost Barton Scully (Beau Bridges) is tormented trying to reconcile his homosexuality with his love for his wife (the always-amazing Allison Janney). But it's when sex researchers Masters and Johnson (the simmering Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan) discover that they can't quite untangle their feelings from their "lab work," after they give each other simultaneous orgasms, that it becomes evident that sex is more than just mechanics. Their various struggles are alternately funny and heartbreaking, but mostly all-too familiar.
10 of 25

"The Love Spell Potential," The Big Bang Theory

Big Bang manages to exceed fans' expectations with its long-awaited Dungeons & Dragons episode when the role-playing game takes an unexpected turn. In between the riotous fun and games — featuring Dungeon Master Wolowitz's impeccable Nicolas Cage impression — the show finds a creative, organic and hilarious way to address Sheldon and Amy's lack of intimacy and slowly advance their quirky relationship after Penny jokes about their D&D characters having sex since it "won't happen any time soon" in real life. "Before I met you, I never had any interest in being intimate with anyone," Sheldon says. "[And now] I have not ruled it out. ... For me, what we have is extremely intimate." When Amy asks her socially awkward beau for "more," he gets intimate in the only way he knows how and can right now: simulating sex via their D&D characters. Nerdy has never looked so sexy.
11 of 25

"Decoy," Justified

After a bumpy start thanks to the convoluted, season-long Drew Thompson mystery, this episode kicks Season 4 of the FX drama into another gear entirely. With Drew's identity finally revealed (Shelby was under their noses the whole time!), the task becomes getting him out of Harlan before one of a number interested parties kills him. Although the hour is chock-full of amazing scenes (the sniper stand-off between war vets Tim and Colt, Constable Bob's hilarious refusal to give up Drew's location despite being beaten senseless), it's perhaps most effective because it once again puts hero Raylan Givens at odds with Boyd Crowder. Their mental chess match is made all the more powerful because of their forever-entwined history, but it also reminds us that, when the show is operating at its best, we're not sure which of the two men we really want to see win.
12 of 25

"Variations Under Domestication," Orphan Black

We take a break from Orphan Black's intense melange of bioethics, murder and identity for treachery of another sort: the suburbs. When the clone Alison suspects that her husband Donnie has betrayed her, she clocks him with a golf club, ties him up and interrogates him with a hot glue gun. Oh, and no big deal, but the monthly potluck is going on upstairs. This episode is the first time we were rooting for all the clones, not just Sarah.
13 of 25

"Surrender Benson," Law & Order: SVU

If you've seen SVU's Season 15 premiere, there was no doubt Mariska Hargitay deserves to be on our Best Performances list. The first half of the two-parter is unnerving, as Pablo Schreiber's The Beast tortures Detective Benson for four days, beating, burning and drugging her, and forcing her to drink vodka, while the rest of the precinct is rendered helpless in their search for the leader of their squad. Although the episode includes more than a few cringe-worthy moments that will make you watch through your fingers, it proves that even in its 15th season, this procedural has some juice left in it.
14 of 25

"Two Parties," Parks and Recreation

For two people so dedicated to caring for others, it makes sense that Ben's and Leslie's respective bachelor/ette parties would transform into a celebration for others. Ben's night turns into mini-parties dedicated to each of the guys whom he befriended in Pawnee and Leslie's becomes a quest to save her park project for the city and foil her enemy Councilman Jamm. Even though Ben and Leslie don't really share the spotlight in the episode, their relationship resonates throughout, providing a great balance of comedy and heart.
15 of 25

"The Quarterback," Glee

When Cory Monteith overdosed on drugs in July, it presented Fox's musical drama with a nearly impossible feat: How would the show say goodbye to Monteith's character Finn? In the end, the story is practically irrelevant (the show never specifies how Finn died). Instead, standout performances by Monteith’s TV mom Romy Rosemont, Mark Salling, Chris Colfer and Monteith's real-life and on-screen girlfriend Lea Michele are chilling, in that it's difficult to tell if what we're watching is acting at all. The hour manages to take a celebrity's highly publicized death and turn it into something intimate and profound.
16 of 25

"Nobody Likes Babies," Scandal

Oh, this nutty show — it's like The West Wing on a coke-fueled bender. In this episode, the president learns that he won the White House because of the top-secret Illuminati's assistance. Supreme Court justice Verna Thornton tries to assassinate him to rectify things. In a jaw-dropping turnaround, Fitz — aka the president of the United States — instead kills Justice Thornton before she can reveal the secret. It's like John Grisham joined the writing staff!
17 of 25

"In Care Of," Mad Men

Mad Men's sixth season finale raises the idea that a broken Don Draper has finally learned his lesson. After delivering a winning pitch to Hershey executives about his childhood love of candy bars, he then shockingly reveals that it's all a lie. For the first time ever, he tells the truth about his troubled, whorehouse upbringing. By the episode's end, he even takes his children to see said whorehouse. Don may have made many mistakes, but at least he seems to no longer be running from them.
18 of 25

"Chapter 1," House of Cards

The David Fincher-helmed pilot of the Netflix drama introduces viewers to TV's most manipulative political couple, Congressman Frank Underwood and his wife Claire (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright), as well as to the technique, maintained throughout the series, of having smooth-talking Southerner Frank break the fourth wall and directly address the audience. Buoyed by strong supporting performances from Kate Mara as a hungry reporter and Corey Stoll as a politically ambitious alcoholic, the pilot puts all the pieces in place for the season's Shakespearean tragedy of an ending.
19 of 25

"You've Got Sext," The Mindy Project

While we're used to seeing Mindy immersed in rom-com homages, it's a true delight to see Morgan and Peter get in on the action, playing matchmaker for Dr. L and Cliff (Glenn Howerton). In a nod to You've Got Mail, the boys flirt with Cliff on Mindy's behalf via texts, growing exceedingly — and adorably — proud of their ability seduce another man. Who knew a breast cancer awareness pin could be so hot? Meanwhile, Mindy and Danny are forced to play house, giving us a much-wanted glimpse of what their lives will be like when they eventually get together (because they are going to get together, right?!) Having to pick between these two dueling story lines is like a sitcom Sophie's Choice. And for a show that has struggled so much with focus, it's great to see all the plotlines working in tandem.
20 of 25

"Finale," The Office

The Office bows out after nine seasons with a finale that is equal parts humor and heart, punctuated by the return of original star Steve Carell. Picking up a year after the penultimate episode and tied to the premiere of the documentary that formed the basis of the show's narrative, the finale neatly and heartwarmingly wraps up the story lines of its most beloved characters (Dwight and Angela's wedding! Andy's viral video! Erin meets her birth parents!) and also provides ample opportunity for reflection for the stars and fans alike. It's incredibly challenging to put together an ideal series-ender (cough, Dexter), but to Dunder Mifflin's send-off, we say: "Thanks for having us!" (That's what she said. Wait, what?)
21 of 25

"Lesbian Request Denied," Orange Is the New Black

Yo, Litchfield inmates, I'm really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Sophia had one of the best backstories of all time! Seeing her tender, strained romance with her wife juxtaposed against her defiance in the face of losing her hormones has helped turn Sophia, a transgender woman, into the fan favorite she remains. And though Sophia, much like Piper, thought of herself as a victim of circumstance, this episode shatters that notion, highlighting the bad choices that landed both women in lockup. Watching Sophia and Piper react to these truths in their own ways is fascinating and often times heartbreaking, Luckily, we also have Crazy Eyes to keep things light with her rom-com-worthy grand gesture.
22 of 25

"Hogcock / Last Lunch," 30 Rock

"That's our show. Not a lot of people watched it, but the joke's on you, because we got paid anyway." So says Tracy Jordan on TGS' final episode. Tina Fey's surreal brainchild signs off with its usual witty, self-referential jokes and sight gags, as Liz scrambles to put on one last TGS and Jack attempts to find his bliss (not "beautiful ladies in short-shorts"), which turns out to be the idea for clear dishwashers. But more notably, the comedy bids adieu with a pitch-perfect level of sentiment that doesn't betray its kooky core. In two warm, affecting heart-to-hearts, Liz gives Tracy the "hardcore truth" on "honest goodbyes" that sums up their relationship, and she cuts off Jack's earnest overture on his boat with a (platonic) "I love you too," as they finally acknowledge what they mean to each other. And since this is 30 Rock, it's all scored by Jenna's tongue-twisting, hilariously moving rendition of The Rural Juror's title song. The past seven years were the best days of our flerm.
23 of 25

"Hitting the Fan," The Good Wife

This aptly titled episode, in which Alicia and Cary are formally fired and thrown out of Lockhart/Gardner after the partners learn of their plan to start their own firm, blows up the show. Flawlessly shot, the opening 15 minutes is an edge-of-your-seat suspense ride, as a confused, angry Will (brilliantly portrayed by Josh Charles) won't be stopped until his former lover is removed from the premises, while Alicia and her fellow defectors amusingly hustle to poach Lockhart/Gardner's client list — right up to the second she is escorted out and tells Will that it "wasn't personal." "I don't give a damn," he coldly snaps. One needs to look no further than this hour for proof that CBS' critical darling can run with the best of cable giants like Breaking Bad and Mad Men when firing on all cylinders.
24 of 25

"The Rains of Castamere," Game of Thrones

We are still haunted by what is better known as the Red Wedding episode, in which three of the Stark family (and their allies) are betrayed and slain by the duplicitous Walder Frey. And even though it's known that the penultimate episode of each season is pivotal, and fans of the books on which Thrones is based knew what to expect, all viewers still held on to the desperate hope that at least one of our heroes would get out alive. The timing, sets, lighting and direction all contribute to the tension, and much like matriarch Catelyn Stark (a stunning, heartbreaking performance by Michelle Fairley), we could only helplessly watch with the knowledge that we underestimated the mastermind behind the inexorable slaughter.
25 of 25

"Ozymandias," Breaking Bad

Vince Gilligan does not lie: "Ozymandias" is the series' best episode ever. All of Walter White's toxic scheming and ballooning hubris crescendo to this relentlessly intense, devastatingly harrowing hour that opens with Hank's tragic, inevitable murder in the desert and a spiteful Walt, having lost nearly all his millions to Jack's Nazi crew, telling Jesse that he had watched Jane die. Like the ruined statue of a fallen, boastful king in the Shelley poem from which the episode takes its name, Walt's empire and life crumble, as Walt Jr. learns the truth and a knife fight with Skyler ends with Walt temporarily kidnapping baby Holly. But the episode's crowning moment comes from that riveting phone call. Having always been eager to play the hero, Walt does so as the antihero to exonerate his wife, going full Heisenberg on Skyler, railing against her with such venom and tears — yet another astonishing performance from Bryan Cranston — that expertly blurs the line between his two personas. We will all look on this work and despair.