All apologies for not getting this post out sooner. There was some dimensional backup after visiting a man named Pemberton yesterday.
Before I start talking about my very favorite of television this year, I have to mention that The Extraordinary Contraptions have met their Kickstarter goal! They’re currently at 104% with 4 days left to donate. If you haven’t done so yet, now is your chance! Also, there will be a Kickstarter Victory Show in Atlanta on January 5th at the 5 Spot. More information on that show can be found here.
Anyway, this year was a pretty good year for Television, but what did I personally enjoy? I have to admit, this was one of the easier lists to put together. Lots of comedy, lots of drama, and a surprising amount of animation (and spoilers)…
6.) TIE: ‘The Categories of Life’ (Torchwood: Miracle Day) and ‘You’re Getting Old’ (South Park)
I’m at a bit of disadvantage including these two episodes on the list due to the fact I haven’t seen all the episodes in their respective seasons. At the time writing this, I’ve only gotten halfway through Miracle Day and I haven’t watched South Park regularly for a while now. However, these two episodes were definite standouts from what I’ve seen and practically define the phrase ‘turning points’. For ‘Categories’, it was the Torchwood team realizing not only who the true villains of the story are and how humans can be even worse than the aliens threatening their existence. The last few minutes of the episode are absolutely chilling and bring back memories of Gwen Cooper’s speech about the Doctor from Children of Earth. It’s a beautiful confluence between the actors giving amazing performances (especially Bill Pullman as Oswald Danes and Marc Vann as Colin Maloney) and Jane Espenson’s pitch perfect writing.
For ‘Old’, it’s a stark reminder that while the boys of South Park, Colorado get into off the wall satirical adventures about life, universe, and everything, they are still nine year old boys who have to grow up sometime. The episode carries on in usual South Park fashion for most of the episode, with plenty of jokes about fecal matter, terrible movies, and Randy Marsh’s constantly changing interests. However, in the last few minutes, Trey Parker and Matt Stone get honest with the viewer through their characters. They’re getting older too, and these adventures are making them cynical too. By the end of the episode, things have changed drastically for the characters and their fate is left unsure. While things have been reset and the two have signed up to produce episodes until 2016, it was still an unprecedented moment in South Park history.
Defining Moment(s): The Death of Dr. Vera Juarez and the Landslide montage.
5.) ‘Heart of Archness’ (Archer)
Archer was one of my favorite television shows from 2011, if my constant quoting it on tour with Corbin Welch was any indicator. It reminded me so much of Arrested Development while still having it’s own distinct voice as a spy comedy. ‘Heart of Archness’ was a three part episode that serves as a bridge between the end of season 2 and the upcoming season 3, where ISIS stages a rescue mission for the missing Sterling Archer (voiced by H. John Benjamin), who has gone off the grid after the death of his bride Katya Kasanova. In true Archer fashion, what seems like it should be a simple mission spirals downwards into insanity before you can even blink. For this 3 parter episode, it’s Archer becoming a pirate king, the pirates staging a mutiny, and Cyril Figgis (Chris Parnell) getting blackout drunk and transferring all the money ISIS has to an offshore account. The episode is already hilarious enough, but two guest spots from Patrick Warburton and David Cross take this three parter over the top and remind us why Archer is the best at what it does.
Defining Moment: Archer making fun of Rip Riley’s 1930s-ness.
4.) ‘A Dog and Pony Show’ (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)
Friendship is Magic was probably the most surprising show of the year. Based on a traditionally gendered franchise from the 1980, Lauren Faust ended up creating a bright and funny show that doesn’t conform to the traditions and stereotypes of most shows aimed at girls. This is especially evident in ‘A Dog and Pony Show’, which happened to be the first episode I ever saw of the series. In the episode, the very fashionable and dainty Rarity is kidnapped by the gem obsessed Diamond Dogs while looking to fill an order. When her friends set out to rescue her, they believe that she is crumbling under her conditions. However, we see that it’s quite the contrary. Rarity is not only holding her own, but bending the Diamond Dogs to her will. In most girls series, Rarity probably would have been the wilting flower that needed to be rescued by her bolder friends. It’s wonderful for a series to show that those into fashion and prefer to be neater and dainty can be just as strong as any other girl.
Defining Moment: “I am not whining! I am complaining!”
3.) ‘The Fight’ (Parks and Recreation)
The hardest thing about picking an episode of Parks and Recreation to go on this list was the fact that 26 of the 45 episodes I watched in December were broadcast in 2011. 26 great episodes that were hard to choose one from. Do I pick April and Andy getting married, Leslie and Ben finally getting together (or back together), or the episode with my very favorite line from the series (which is “Make me, stag! I am Diaphena!”).
At the end of the day, I have to go with ‘The Fight’, which is not only an advancement for the character of Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones), but it also sets up a character path for both Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) confronting her flaws and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari) moving out of government. However, the real humor of this episode comes most of the cast’s drunk acting as they continue drinking Tom’s invention of Snake Juice. It’s not only a hilarious episode, but the moments surrounding the drunken climax remind us why we love and root for these characters.
Defining moments: “Everybody’s wasted.”
2.) ‘Fionna and Cake/What Was Missing’ (Adventure Time)
Perhaps it is cheating to list two episodes, but they’re in the same episode block. I think it counts. While Adventure Time at its core a show about a young boy going on adventures with his dog, there is still a very strong female presence in this show. None more so than ‘Fionna and Cake’ and ‘What Was Missing’. ‘Fionna and Cake’ started as a series of comics from character designer Natasha Allegri that eventually evolved into a rule 63 fanfiction by the Ice King. However, the characters aren’t just genderswapped versions of their characters. They’re their own people. Fionna isn’t just an adventurer with a crush on Prince Gumball (played by Neil Patrick Harris). She’s a strong young woman who stands up for those she loves and isn’t just waiting for some boy to sweep her off her feet. The episode is a lot of fun, has a lot of great voice work, and makes me wish that we had more of Fionna the Human Girl and her sassy stretchy cat Cake.
On the second half of the block, we have ‘What Was Missing’. The episode starts off with Finn revealing that he still haves a piece of Princess Bubblegum’s hair. When it’s stolen from him from The Door Lord, he goes chasing after him through Bubblegum’s castle and Marceline’s place, who have also had things stolen from them. In order to get them back, Finn and his three best friends have to form “a genuine band.” This leads to several musical numbers, but the highlight is Olivia Olson as Marceline singing what sounds like a very bitter love song to Princess Bubblegum. Many fans will tell you that this episode is about the secret love affair between the Princess and the Vampire Queen, and it certainly feels like it sometimes. If they were together or not, this episode does stand out for having a great message about friendship and showing that your friends can be very different from you, but still be your very best friends in the world.
Defining Moment(s): ‘Oh Fionna’ by Neil Patrick Harris and ‘I’m Just Your Problem’ by Olivia Olson
1.) ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ (Doctor Who)
While some of this list had some tough choices, my top episode for this year was no contest. There were plenty of great episodes in this season of Doctor Who, but the true winner for this season was the Neil Gaiman written episode ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. Something of a one off adventure, it reminds the audience of one essential thing about Doctor Who. No matter where the Doctor goes, what he looks like, or who he travels with, the series is really about a madman and his big blue box.
This is the episode where we finally hear from the big blue box.
Played wonderfully by Suranne Jones, the TARDIS finally gets to have a voice for an episode. The episode provides great comedy from Matt Smith’s Doctor and his TARDIS as they run to save Rory and Amy, some great suspense as the Ponds are chased by a disembodied Michael Sheen, and a terribly sad climax as the TARDIS burns up her human form. It’s may be a standalone adventure, but it reminds us of the magic of Doctor Who. That anything is possible with him and that his heart really does lie with the lady who may not always take him where he wants to go, but always takes him to where he needs to be.
Defining Moment: “Hello Doctor. It was so very nice to meet you.”
In a few hours, I’ll be posting my top movies of the year. Hang tight!