as god is my witness


On the plane to Vegas, Salem and I started talking about great TV episodes, and so I grabbed the barf bag and wrote down some of our favorites. I called the list Accidentally Great Episodes of TV That Appeared in Culture At Just the Right Time and the rules were as follows:

• no episodes that are clichéd “jump the shark” moments. The episode had to be a show that was firing on all cylinders before and after.

• no season finales. No trumped-up “Who Shot J.R.” stuff inserted into the season-ender to make sure we came back in the fall.

• no series finales, which means, sadly, that the last M*A*S*H or Newhart don’t count.

Love to hear yours, but in no particular order, here’s what’s written on our Spirit Airlines motion sickness bag:

1. E.R. – Hell and High Water… I remember watching this with Scotty at the Pink House in late 1995, and it was the episode where Doug Ross (George Clooney) saved the kid in the storm drain. It was in the middle of the second season, and it was so goddamn heroic and fucking awesome that Scotty and I just had to laugh at each other when it was over. Although it took him a while to find his footing, I always felt like Clooney was a real star from this day forward.

2. The Simpsons – The Crepes of Wrath… By this point in April 1990, The Simpsons were absolutely taking over everyone in college who owned a television. It wasn’t just required watching, it became instant canon. This episode featured Bart being shipped off to France as an exchange student after putting a cherry bomb in the school toilet – where he not only has to drink anti-freeze-laced wine, he blows our minds by bicycling through the paintings Bassin aux nymphéas by Monet and Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows. These days such inventiveness and absurdity has ruled Adult Swim for years, but back then, it was nothing short of a cultural revelation.

3. Good Times – The Big Move, Part 2… This was the second episode in the fourth season. The father and patriarch, John Amos, has died – and Florida (Esther Rolle) has simply carried on, refusing to believe it. At the end of the episode, she is doing busywork in the kitchen, and out of nowhere, breaks down… well, you just have to see it:

4. Glee – Preggers… I’ll always have to cop to disclaimers with “Glee”, but this episode showed it could do more than treacle and lip-sync their way through the pop catalog, culminating with Kurt (Chris Colfer) coming out to his football-lovin’, car mechanic dad. Kurt’s return to school this season, featuring an entire act break that was nothing but his “As If We Never Said Goodbye” fever dream, was probably better, but fans of the show know how wonderful this early coming-out moment was.

5. The Sopranos – Whoever Did This… Ralphie’s (Joe Pantoliano) head in a bowling bag. I am pretty much instantly sickened by any sort of dismemberment, but this episode in the middle of Season 4 was just horrifically incredible.

6. Battlestar Galactica – Exodus, Part II… Hard to believe this was the fourth episode in the third season. Even explaining it sounds insane to those who haven’t immersed themselves in the short, mind-blowing run of BSG, but it’s the one where the Galactica and Pegasus ships make a suicide run to save all the people stuck on the gray, murderous New Caprica planet. As intense, edge-of-seat crazy as scenes from “Aliens” and “Blade Runner”.

7. What’s Happening!! – Doobie or Not Doobie… It’s impossible to explain to any kidfolk these days how goddamn HUGE the show “What’s Happening!!” and fat boy Rerun was for about two years in the late ’70s. But this episode featured the Doobie Brothers (also kicking major bell-bottomed ass at the time) and remains enshrined in our brains forever. Plus, it taught us all a valuable lesson in illegal bootlegging (although I think the whole two-part episode was just an excuse for Rerun to sidle up to Michael McDonald to ask “Which Doobie you be?”)

Others we thought of: the “Turkeys Away” episode of WKRP; Very Special Episodes about Drugs on “Family Ties” and “Facts of Life”; the Hindenberg crashes in front of John-Boy on “The Waltons”; some juicy “West Wing” episodes while Bush II destroyed America in real-life; Angela/Jordan on “My So-Called Life”; and certain picks from Season 2 of “24”, “Alias” and “Welcome Back Kotter”.

But the flight to Vegas was short – y’all got any more?


32 thoughts on “as god is my witness

  1. ken

    West Wing: Two Cathedrals- Probably the single best WW ever, Kathryn Joosten will ALWAYS be Mrs. Landingham to me.
    Seinfeld: The Contest- Such great writing. They managed to do an episode about masturbation without ever mentioning that word. Brilliant
    30 Rock: Kidney Now- The moment when all the crazy, manic energy of 30 Rock gelled.
    The Shield: Postpartum- The one where Lem died. Such a shocking death for a beloved character. It made me hate Goggins.
    thirtysomething: Second Look- “The One Where Gary Dies”, it took everyone by surprise. Such a great episode of a great show.
    Those are a few that immediately came to my mind.

  2. CM

    Warning: I don’t watch that much anymore, so a lot of the ones below are from my early 80s youth:
    Sex and the City – Episode when Mr. Big tells Carrie that he’s moving to California. She goes to his empty apt. afterwards and finds plane tickets he’s left her in case she ever gets lonely. “Moon River” is playing. At the end, there’s a dedication to the city of NY. It was the first episode to air after 9/11. The whole ending gives me chills. (Runners up: The Turtle and the Hare, and the one where Berger breaks up w/Carrie via Post-It Note)
    General Hospital (sorry, non fans!) – The episode where Luke tricked Micos Cassadine into letting him into the freeze room, thus helping Luke save the world for the second summer in a row. Circa 1981-82.
    It’s Your Move (with Justin Bateman) – The Dregs of Humanity. A suspenseful two-parter in which the second part was pre-empted by a Ronald Reagan speech and we kids didn’t get to see the second part until the summer!!
    I Married Dora – Last one where the cast suddenly turns to the camera and announces the show has been canceled. Bizarre.
    Greatest American Hero – “Scenario.”
    Moonlighting – The one where Bruce Willis’ ex ensnared them in a murder plot. Plus many others.
    Brady Bunch – One where they caught Alice and Sam in the meat freezer playing with his salami.
    Why is my baby up playing at 4:30 a.m. – Currently going on in my life right now. I want to go to sleep but instead I’m playing Barney videos on one side of my Mac and reading this blog on the other until he passes out.

  3. Megan

    #2 Simpsons episode was responsible for ushering in the tradition of naked Simpsons viewing in the hippie house I hung out in in college. Talk about event television.

  4. Bozoette Mary

    Friday Night Lights: The Son, where Matt Saracen had to deal with the death of his father. A brilliant episode from a brilliant show.
    Sanford and Son: the episode where a visitor claims to be Lamont’s real father. Right after the guy says that he climbed into Elizabeth’s bedroom window and got it on with her, Aunt Esther stands up and says, “WHAT DID YOU SAY, NIGGAH?” Probably the first instance of the n-word being said on TV. My Pop nearly fell out of his chair.

  5. Kelly in NC

    Not sure this captured a Moment in American Culture but…
    Six Feet Under – The episode where David is hijacked by the crack addict. I think the whole episode is just the two of them in the van. Very uncomfortable to watch but it totally captured the horror of being at the mercy of a crazy addict.
    It doesn’t count because it was a finale, but I really liked the last episode of Six Feet Under, too.

  6. CM

    Three more really good/memorable episodes of shows, but not always culturally significant:
    1. Lost, I think it was the first ep of the second season, where the guy was down in the secret chamber below the earth. It started with him playing that Mamas and Papas record. The whole thing was so intriguing and suspenseful that you couldn’t look away for a moment.
    2. Anything But Love – the one where Richard Lewis finally told Jamie Lee Curtis that he was in love with her.
    3. Cheers – First episode, where Diane’s been dumped by her fiance.
    Bozette Mary – wow, Aunt Esther really said that? I wonder if that’s on YouTube.

  7. LFMD

    I don’t watch scripted television. May I add my highlights from the wealth of reality TV I have watched?
    1. Real Housewives of NJ: The brawl at the christening party at The Manor. Absolutely spell-binding!
    2. Real Housewives of NJ: Season finale in which The Book is presented during the dinner party. Prostitution whore! Table flipping ensues. NJ emotions at their peak!
    3. Real World: San Francisco. Adorable Pedro Zamora educates his housemates about living with AIDS. Ultimately dies. Absolute tear-jerker.
    4. Real Housewives of NY: the ladies travel to Scary Island. Satchels of gold!
    5. Bethenny Ever After: Bethenny’s little idea of SkinnyGirl margarita earns her a multi-million dollar deal with a alcohol conglomerate. All her dreams come true: the husband, the baby, the success. Hugs, Bethenny!
    6. Real Housewives of Beverly Hills: Camille’s husband leaves her for an airline stewardess. During her visit to NYC for the Tony Awards, the doorman refuses to believe that she, Camille Grammar, is THE Mrs. Grammar. Schadenfreude mixed with sympathy for Camille. Oh, the heartache!

  8. Greg T.

    Great list.
    HBO has had too many great episodes to count on The Wire, Deadwood, Carnivale, and now Game of Thrones.
    On the reality TV front, The Voice from a couple of weeks ago when Blake Shelton said “That’s what she said” on a live show and left the other judges speechless. I’m generally not a country music fan, but Blake Shelton has sold some albums in our household on the force of his personality alone.

  9. GFWD

    1. The West Wing: In The Shadow Of Gunmen. This was a two-part episode whose story arc tied in the previous season finale’s cliffhanger of the president getting shot, with flashbacks of how the staff all came together and how the president got elected. Brilliant.
    2. Scrubs: When Brendan Frasier returns with the leukemia and takes pictures of everyone and Dr. Cox keeps talking to him and they’re wise-cracking with each other and then they go to a funeral and Dr. Cox realizes that Brendan Frasier is dead. Had kind of a Sixth Sense feel because you didn’t realize no one was interacting with Frasier’s character until the end. Lump in throat episode.
    And now, I would like to time travel back to whenever Megan and friends were watching The Simpsons. Sounds like Must See TV.
    Megan is a woman, right?

  10. Tammy O.

    Two Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes to add to the list:
    Conversations with Dead People: Such great writing. Watching the characters wrestle with their demons without the rest of the Scoobies as we find out more and more about the Big Bad… so awesome and moving.
    The Wish (Season 2): Cordelia gets her wish for a Buffy-free Sunnydale – a super striking dystopian vision that takes that old “Mirror, Mirror” episode of Star Trek to its logical and awesome conclusion. Also, it gives us Anya-as-human, which is unsurpassed TV comedy. This bit of dialogue between Buffy and Giles about trying to change the world back always rattles me because it’s the dialogue I have in my head all the time…
    Giles: I have to believe in a better world.
    Buffy: Go ahead. I have to live in this one.
    Like, whoah.

  11. John H

    I immediately thought of “The Son,” in Friday Night Lights season four. Stunning.
    There are a couple great West Wing episodes mentioned in the thread that apply too, but I’d have to go with “Two Cathedrals” as tops.
    And of course the recent episode of Tosh.0 that featured a cameo by James van der Beek. (kidding)

  12. Salem's Little Sister

    Little House on the Prairie- The Lord is My Shepard-
    Laura refuses to pray for the good health of her new baby brother because she is jealous of him and he dies! Laura feels horrible and thinks it’s her fault so she runs away. She thinks her father would rather have his son than her, she asks God (on a mountain top no less) to take her to Heaven and take the baby’s place so he can come back to her father. She meets a stranger on the mountain who has his own demons and he sets her straight about God and love and he carves her a cross with her name on it which she wears around her neck. Her dad Charles finds it floating down a stream as he searches for her.
    Her desperate plea to switch places with the baby was so sad and I remember crying my eyes out and feeling like I loved my dad that much too. Then, when he finds her and scoops her up so tight, it’s just heart breaking. I was probably 10 when I saw this and I was a devoted LHOTP fan ever after. Don’t even get me started on the episode where Bunny gets caught in the barbed wire fence!

  13. noj

    i have to add ‘Scott Tenorman Must Die’ and ‘Cripple Fight’ for South Park. To get back at Scott Tenorman for embarrassing him, Cartman has Tenorman’s parents murdered and then processed into chili which Cartman then tricks him into eating…well, that’s some fine TV folks.
    also, Sopranos ‘Funhouse’ when Big Pussy gets whacked on the boat with all of his best friends doing the whacking. everyone was obviously so distraught about what had to be done – very sad, very uncomfortable, very realistic.

  14. noj

    @ T.J.
    Totally agree on the ‘God’ episode of Louie, the finest dramedy going right now. Tom Noonan – what a fine freak of a great character actor. Wow. Everyone go watch this now.

  15. caveman

    1. Happy Days/L&S “Crossovers” – not sure the season or the episode but it was one where Fonzie pops a locker with his fist and out pops a twirling, singing Carmine Raguso to help him in a knife fight
    2. The Wild, Wild West “The Night of the Surreal McCoy” – actually any of the Wild Wild West episodes with Dr. Migulito Loveless could qualify. These were always part Twilight Zone part Gunsmoke and they always blew my after- school syndicated series mind.

  16. emma

    The first one that came to my mind was the All in the Family where Edith was attacked. I was watching reruns with my kids the other night of All in the Family – they alughed pretty hard. But when I first saw the rape episode (it came out fall of 1977 – just looked it up), I can remember my parents making me leave the room (I was 8). That is probably why I remember it.
    If you have to leave out series finales, you then must go to “Abysinnia, Henry” for M*A*S*H.
    The list you made and everyone else has added to is so good. There were many episodes of the Practice that I loved.
    Also, when I started renting HBO and Showtimes series from Netflix, I really messed up by starting with Six Feet Under, because no series that I have rented has been as good as that one yet.

  17. Karyn

    Hi, Ian!
    Totally love that you included the Good Times episode on your list. I also agree completely with the previous posters about LOST, Season 2, Episode 1 (Desmond in the hatch) and Seinfeld: The Contest.
    Here are a few more from the recesses of my memory:
    – Cheers: the episode where Sam and Diane get into a heated argument in his office and finally he says, “Are you as turned on as I am?”
    – Sports Night: the episode about the poker game
    – Nip/Tuck: the episode where Alec Baldwin reveals that “Ava… is a MAN.” (this might have been a season finale, though).
    – not an episode, but a short: SNL with Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg, “D&%# in a Box.”

  18. noj

    i guess i don’t understand the guidelines…”appeared in culture at just the right time”. is this list supposed to only have zeitgeist-reflecting TV episodes? cuz i was thinking “best episodes in general” of a series.

  19. Ian

    noj- we were just trying to think of episodes that just freaked us out at the time because they were awesome at the time of the show’s “hotness” to us culturally, but admittedly, there’s a fine line between that and “best episode ever”. The “Scott Tenorman Must Die” South Park is perfect, good god.
    Karyn, isn’t it bizarre how little TV we watched together? Our high school was too hard.
    Also love “Two Cathedrals”, but it was a season finale…
    excellent examples from everybody…
    ken – the thirtysomething example is brilliant. I knew when the camera held on Gary bicycling away for a second too long, he was DAID.

  20. craighill

    love these…
    lost – seasons 2 and 3 finales:
    “through the looking glass” – double episode finale of season 3 when charlie writes “not penny’s boat”…
    “live together die alone” -cheesy pick but so good.
    “postmodern prometheus” – b&w episode that carter directed w/ the great mutato.
    “home” – episode w/ inbred family, two of whom end up in the trunk of an old cadillac. mulder has visions of previous life as civil war soldier.
    friday night lights
    “the son” -season 4 – matt’s dad’s funeral episode. superb.
    “kingdom” – season 5 – opens with coach cooking bacon in his office which may be one of the funniest opening scenes in history. some great football scenes too.
    love boat – any episode w/ charo

  21. wottop

    Cheers: The wedding of Woody and Kelly [Season 5?]. All takes place in the kitchen at the mansion. Sam almost gets run through by a jealous husband. Rebecca ices the cake after pushing the groom figure into it while sneering about Robin. Woody and Kelly taking trips upstairs because its OK to do it on their wedding day even if the wedding hasn’t happened yet.
    Seinfeld: Chinese Restaurant [Season 1]. It made the show stick on TV. [Seinfeld?!! 4?!!]

  22. Tammy O.

    Oh, one more!
    X-Files: Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. Peter Boyle as a man who can tell your future — but only when and how you’re going to die. (He becomes an insurance salesman.) I loved “Postmodern Prometheus,” but the concept + execution on the Clyde Bruckman episode was awesomeriffic.
    Also, this violates the rules ’cause it’s a season finale, but I’m adding it to the list anyway: “A Many Splendored Thing” episode of Homicide: Life on the Street.

  23. jersey

    I think Craighill hit it with LOST Season 3 finale. Through The Looking Glass was the best. “We have to go back!”
    Also loved the Monorail episode of The Simpsons.
    The entire seasons of West Wing Seasons 2 and 3 were great.
    And of course who could forget the “What’s Going On?” episode of “That’s My Momma!” Joe the Policeman was amazing.

  24. Jason Savage

    Simpsons,” Two Cars in Every Garage, Three Eyes on Every Fish”. That, for me, is the moment where the show turned the corner and started on its way to being the best show ever. Other genius episodes are the Duff Gardens one, the Cape Fear spoof and Bobo the bear.

  25. Scott

    Many, many good suggestions so far. My humble addition, Third Watch – episode about the car crash that took the lives of four teenagers – “After Hours.” Same vein as the Scrubs episode, but better done and not a comedy.

  26. ally

    The halloween episode of Freaks and Geeks. Not just Bill dressed up as Jamie Summers.
    I get a little choked up over the In Exelcis Deo episode of West Wing every time I see it.

  27. jje

    This took me all day because I’m a reality show addict like LFMD. But one just came to me – an episode of Party of Five that dealt with Julia’s unplanned pregnancy and her agonizing decision on whether or not to have an abortion. Ultimately, she miscarried. I still remember the final scene featuring Julia being comforted by her older brother Charlie in her bedroom, the camera slowing pulling back and Pachelbel’s Cannon in D eventually muting their conversation. I think it hit home to me as someone just out of college, with my then-boyfriend-now-husband finishing up his second year at The School Which Shall Not Be Named, and in that grey area of are we in this for keeps or not, and what the hell would we do if I got pregnant? (I can laugh about this now, given my two IVF babies.)
    As an aside, call me crazy, but Party of Five was an awesome show. It jumped the shark at the end a little, but for the most part there were a lot of powerful episodes (which is code for “bringing on an Oprah-style Ugly Cry”). I need to put it on my Netflix queue.
    I will second GFWD on the Scrubs episode (2. Scrubs: When Brendan Frasier returns with the leukemia and takes pictures of everyone and Dr. Cox keeps talking to him and they’re wise-cracking with each other and then they go to a funeral and Dr. Cox realizes that Brendan Frasier is dead. Had kind of a Sixth Sense feel because you didn’t realize no one was interacting with Frasier’s character until the end. Lump in throat episode.) Ugly Cry at the end for sure.

  28. Chip

    I could pick about ten mad men’s but I’ll try and restrict it to one from each season
    SEason 1 …the Finale
    Season 2 … The jet set
    Season 3 ….guy walks into an advertising agency
    Season 4 …can’t remember the title but the one where don And Peggy hang out all night believe it might be the Suitcase
    I know it’s not as culturally significant as some others but I thought the arc in Big Love where the family goes to New York to see the Hill Cumorrah was stunning. Both bill prostrate on his knees in supplication to the God who has foraksen him and Sarah losing her baby.
    Glad to see someone mentioned the Burns runs for governor Simpsons episode.

  29. Caitlin

    The Wire, season 1, episode 12 “Cleaning Up” when Wallace is murdered by his two oldest friends, Bodie and Poot, on orders from Stringer.

  30. Neva

    Yes, Caitlin – that Wire episode was something.. as was the one when Stringer is killed.
    I miss that show.

  31. grib

    Andy Griffith Show-“Opie the Birdman” (1963): Opie kills a mother bird with his slingshot; Andy makes him raise the baby birds to teach him a lesson about responsibility; Barney Fife hilariously tries to demonstrate his knowledge of bird communication techniques.
    The Sopranos-“Bust Out” (2000): Nice moment at the end of the episode as Tony finally starts to connect with A.J. by letting him take the wheel of the boat to the tune of “Wheel in the Sky” by Journey.
    South Park-“Chickenlover” (1998): Cartman as a deputy sheriff on a big wheel brings me to tears every time (“You will respect my authoritah!!!”).
    M*A*S*H*-“A War for All Seasons” (1980): One of the best episodes of televison you’ll ever see; chronicles an entire year of the seemingly endless war; comic relief provided by Hawkeye, B.J., Klinger and Radar conning Winchester into betting on the Dodgers against the Giants in the 1951 National League pennant race; Colonel Potter bookends the episode by dressing as Father Time to ring in 1951 and 1952 on two New Year’s Eves.

  32. susan

    NewsRadio has to get a mention here. I’d be hard pressed to pick a single favorite episode though.

  33. CM

    Sorry to comment thrice, but this is one of my favorite entries. It occurred to me a few days later that Ellen coming out of the closet should be mentioned. (“The PUppy episode:
    Also, I mentioned Moonlighting above. I guess the episode where they finally had sex is a key one. Everyone was talking about it, with some people annoyed that it was so cheesy.
    I really love how something as seemingly insignificant as one episode of a TV show can be remembered so vividly by people of different backgrounds, and it’s especially interesting that some of these episodes aired more than 30 years ago. Several people above mentioned the same shows even if the episodes weren’t particularly famous episodes. Sometimes a really well-written show makes a big impact.


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