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?