Updated: Jan 5, 2021
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EACH TV SERIES LISTED
Everybody has a series that they’ve tried to pass along to friends and family. But sometimes selling that show to another person is harder than it may appear. Have you ever thought about the specific reasons why you are obsessed with that TV series? How do you distill the magic of a particular show down to a digestible bite? Truthfully, these questions vary from one show to another. A truly great TV series has its own style or “secret sauce” if you will, that sets it apart from the crowd. Sometimes it’s the type of comedy, the unique characters, the impeccable dialogue or the ability to convey certain themes oh so effectively. Nonetheless, every show has something different to offer with individual quirks that keep you coming back for more.
That being said, trying to explain everything that makes a show great can prove to be a difficult task. However, most shows have an episode or two that completely embody everything that makes the show great. In other words, if you presented this episode to a newcomer, they could experience just exactly what makes the show tick; and if you presented it to a long time fan, they would likely agree that it’s one of the best episodes in the series. With that in mind, here are our picks for eight episodes from beloved TV series that epitomize the style of their respective series.
How I Met Your Mother
S7E15 The Burning Beekeeper
Aside from building one of the most impressive catalogues of running jokes, How I Met Your Mother really set itself apart from other sitcoms with its method of storytelling. Although the show’s concept isn’t terribly groundbreaking, the writers really ran with it. Just as if your own dad was telling you an excruciatingly long story, How I Met Your Mother always found ways to add in storytelling quirks such as: forgetting the details, censoring explicits for kids, telling the story out of order, or even going back and forth to correct the story. Regardless of how each episode progressed, the show would seamlessly shift tones according to the personality of each character. Combining this trademark style with relatable themes in the lives of young bachelors, How I Met Your Mother turned the familiar into something unique. Season 7 Episode 15: The Burning Beekeeper is a perfect example of this. The episode sets out to showcase the common stress of planning a party, and the accompanying anxiety that everything will go horribly wrong. This entire episode recounts a mere 5 minutes of Marshall and Lily’s party and goes over the events room by room. As you first watch what happens in the Living Room, certain things might not make sense. But as Ted retells the events from each subsequent room, the picture gets brighter and brighter until we see how a simple house party can unravel within 5 small minutes. Although How I Met Your Mother employed similar storytelling quirks throughout its 9 season run, this room by room puzzle piece acts as one of the best testaments to how clever the show really was.
Rick and Morty
S2E4 Total Rickall
Anybody who has seen an episode of Rick and Morty would agree that it’s almost like a playground for the most meta, existentialist, and chaotic ideas the writers could think to fit into a sci-fi adventure series. One thing that this show tends to do particularly well though is taking heavyweight sci-fi concepts and really making you think about how you would react if you were in Rick or Morty’s situation. The recurring elements of absurdist humor and silly puns certainly add some extra flair; but the show’s real genius lies in getting the audience to connect to these complex ideas that are more relatable than they seem. Total Rickall does this exceptionally well by posing the question: if someone planted memories of themselves in your head to make you believe you had known them your whole life, how would you distinguish the fakers from the real people? Season 2 Episode 4 Total Rickall sees the Smith family bombarded with wacky new characters that implant themselves in their memories like Sleepy Gary, Cousin Nicky, Pencilvester, Amish Cyborg and of course Mr. Poopy Butthole. From here it becomes an all out “Who Dunnit?” action thriller as the family struggles to deduce who is real and who is fake, leading even the Smith family themselves to question each other’s authenticity. Then just when the episode leads you to believe there’s nothing left to question, they find a way to flip the concept right back on its head (RIP Mr. Poopy Butthole (temporarily)).
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
S8E10 Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense
If there’s a reason that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the longest running sitcom in the history of television, it’s episodes like Season 8 Episode 10. Creator and writer Rob McElhenney, who plays Mac on the show, has stated that his inspiration for Always Sunny was to make “the opposite of Friends”. In other words, what would it be like if there was a show about a group of friends who were horrible people and were never there for each other? The infamous gang consisting of Dennis, Mac, Dee, Charlie and Frank portrays this hilarious group toxicity perfectly by constantly blowing minuscule events out of proportion and screwing each other over. Reynolds vs. Reynolds: The Cereal Defense hilariously sees the gang conduct a full blown court case in the middle of their bar. Why, you may ask? To settle interior damages to Dennis’ car since he was eating cereal while driving when Frank crashed into him. Not only is the concept itself absolutely ridiculous, but each characters’ borderline institutional personalities are displayed perfectly throughout this insane kangaroo court setting. The last reason why this episode encapsulates the spirit of It’s Always Sunny so perfectly is how it represents the show’s ability to spiral the plot out into tangents that satirically debate touchy real world subjects. The gang has taken on topics like gun control, social media and even the “Times Up” movement. In this episode’s case, what starts as a debate regarding cereal and a car accident ends up debating the validity of evolution...enough said.
Game of Thrones
S3E9 The Rains of Castamere
A fair argument could be made that Game of Thrones is the biggest TV series of our generation. Loved by critics, fantasy nerds and the mainstream audience (not you Season 8) GOT was clearly touching on something fresh and intriguing. In a nutshell, the show knew how to juggle much more than the normal amount of storylines at once while still making it all evenly paced, compelling, thrilling and unpredictable. The convoluted politics and incessant scheming keeps your mind on the edge of its seat as it tries to make sense of everything; and just as you begin to understand what’s going on, the people you thought were the main characters are brutally slaughtered. While this description definitely applies to the entire series, Season 3 Episode 9: The Rains of Castamere is undoubtedly the best representation of this tumultuous rollercoaster that fans loved to put themselves through. This episode manages to push the story forward for multiple different storylines and still find a way to top it by concluding with the infamous “Red Wedding”. As the sounds of the enemy’s theme song slowly get louder, this single scene proceeds to kill off all of the protagonists from an entire storyline. Meanwhile, they manage to connect a completely separate storyline in perfect synchronization so that you essentially experience the grief two times from different perspectives. It’s hands down one of the most traumatic cinematic experiences you’ll ever endure; but hey….that’s Game of Thrones.
S2E4 Good Grief
Arrested Development is the type of show where you either “get it” or you don’t; there is no in between. Rewatching the series, you’ll find that so many jokes and puns are deeply woven into the dialogue and music that it’s impossible to catch everything the first time around. Granted, many of these gags lean on the silly side of the spectrum (such as plays on words or mispronunciations); but nonetheless, they are still incredibly entertaining to rediscover. Like most other sitcoms, Arrested Development also has its own spread of running jokes that span the entire series. Long time fans of the show are all familiar with jokes such as: Tobias being in the closet, Gob’s embarrassing illusions, Buster’s man-child mannerisms and of course: “Her?”. However, Arrested Development arguably trademarked the unique short form running joke. Rather than starting a joke that would then spread out across seasons, sometimes the show would create a new running joke that they would harp on for a couple episodes at a time with little to no explanation, only for it to disappear after that. Season 2 Episode 4 “Good Grief” not only contains a slew of word plays, a hilarious Gob illusion, a subplot dedicated to George Michael’s bland girlfriend Anne, and some Tobias jokes, but it marks the start of one of the best examples of a short form Arrested Development joke: the sad walk. Four times throughout this episode we see various characters express their grief by walking slowly with their heads down as the tune of “Christmastime is Here” from A Charlie Brown Christmas plays in the background. Again, it’s a rather silly joke to praise, but with the amount of cleverness they layer into this episode you can’t help but laugh every time.
S3E11 Pine Barrens
The Sopranos is undoubtedly a legendary TV series. James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano is not only hailed as one of the best castings of all time, but the character itself is arguably one of the best Italian mob bosses ever put to screen. Unlike the many other Hollywood stories about the mafia, The Sopranos delved into the nitty gritty of a mobster’s life. This ranged from therapy, to marriage struggles, to raising kids, to other generally smaller stories that are undoubtedly thrilling and important for character development, but would never be featured in a mob movie because there isn’t enough time to break off on such tangents. This is the beauty of Season 3 Episode 11 as it perfectly showcases multiple struggles in the life of Tony Soprano all at once, while highlighting a suspenseful and hilarious side story for two members of his crew.
From the opening scenes of the series we understand that Tony is a much more complex guy than he lets on. An uneasy childhood left him developing panic attacks, an explosive temper, a tendency to go back on his word, and enough stressful obligations to drive someone insane. It sounds anxiety inducing to say the least, but every single time he gets himself into more trouble you truly can’t take your eyes off the screen. Case in point, Season 3 Episode 11 sees Tony’s relationship with his new psychopathic “goomar” (girlfriend) take a turn for the worse as his family obligations cause her to lash out. Granted, she’s even more screwed up in the head than he is but it’s exhilarating to watch her provoke the one man in New Jersey you don’t want to see angry. Simultaneously, Tony’s daughter’s relationship with former mob bosses son Jackie Jr. goes sour as well, leaving us hanging and wondering what Tony will do once he finds out. Again, this episode circles back to the things that make The Sopranos so enjoyable: never knowing how a mobster will react one moment to the next, and breaking down those tough guy bravados by revealing everything and anything that could go wrong in the mafia. A perfect example: the most enjoyable part of the episode comes from fan favorite characters Christopher and Paulie collecting money for one of their fellow paisans. What should have been a simple collect and run job becomes an aggressive nightmare leading Paulie and Chris stranded freezing to death in the middle of the Pine Barrens woods. If the suspense of making it out alive isn’t enough to hook you, just wait until you see these two tough guys cryin’ for their boss as they eat ketchup packets so they don’t starve to death. It’s downright hilarious and the repercussions are nail biting.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
S2E4 We’re Going to the Catskills!
There are a lot of period piece TV series out there, but none are quite as special as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Set in the 1950’s, this show is bursting with visual spectacle, musical charisma, and a hefty dash of witty Jewish charm. For those who have not binged this series yet, (you are doing yourself a disservice) it revolves around Miriam (Midge) Maisel quite literally stumbling upon her talent for stand up comedy in 1950’s New York City after she splits with her husband. The series then follows Midge and her grumpy manager Susie as they try to make her a star unbeknownst to her eccentric Jewish family. Aside from lots of fun outfits and great music, Mrs. Maisel does a great job of highlighting unique and powerful female centric stories in a time period where most women’s stories in cinema were used to support a male protagonist. Not only is that refreshing, but it’s incredibly fun to pull back the curtain on one of the less popular industries featured in a TV series (stand up comedy).
The real icing on the cake though comes from the authenticity that went into portraying what life was like for an affluent Jewish family at the time (not to mention a divorced one). This is honestly what makes you fall in love with the show and is the reason why Season 2 Episode 4 is such a standout episode of this colorful series. To some, the Catskills might just seem like a random choice for a summer-long getaway. But for a Jewish family in the 1950’s, this was THE getaway to look forward to. Everything you love about Midge’s family dynamic is dialed up to 11 in this episode as they scramble to switch into vacation mode as a newly divorced family. Granted, there are no stand up scenes in this episode, however, it is in no way devoid of humor. With every character thrown into a new setting than what we are accustomed to, their very particular quirks and isms shine through to keep you laughing. Plus, it perfectly highlights Midge’s struggle to balance her new life of comedy with her simple family life as she informs her manager the day before that she’ll be pausing her new career for two months in favor of the Catskills. Overall, the pure amount of Jewish culture and quirky personalities seeping out of this episode is enough to make you crave a tomato juice and pastrami sandwich as you clamor to rebinge the entire series.
S1E23 Modern Warfare
Given that they come from the same creator (Dan Harmon), Community is a show that draws a lot of parallels to Rick and Morty. Albeit, with a lot less emphasis on the science fiction genre, Community’s episodic themes were often very meta, self commentative, filled with pop culture references and to be honest, pretty absurd plots. However, to say that Community is simply an eccentric sitcom in a community college setting is a vast understatement. Harmon’s ability to use the setting of Greendale college to not only parody but authentically recreate the style of different types of film is unmatched. Probably the best example of this absurd tongue-in-cheek style is Season 1 Episode 23, or what’s better known as: the paintball episode. The metaphor comparing class registration to a war-zone is a smart enough comparison to stand on its own. However, turning an entire campus into ground zero for a paintball war with Priority Registration as first prize is no doubt the type of secret sauce that makes Community a must watch. Plus, a tonal shift to classic 80’s action movies with some intense and well choreographed battle scenes definitely set the standard for future parodies on the show. Fans loved this episode so much that it even became a recurring event spawning sequels on the series. With a clear eye for action like that in a spoof-filled sitcom, it’s no wonder this run of paintball episodes sealed the deal for Marvel Studios to hire directors Joe and Anthony Russo to direct Captain America the Winter Soldier.
Written by Jake Zall
Edited by Nick Mandala