Beyond the top 30: Our favorite episodes of shows that didn’t make the cut, part two

Beyond the top 30: Our favorite episodes of shows that didn’t make the cut, part two



There’s so much good TV on right now that it’s impossible to confine to one list of 30 shows. As always, we’ve come up with a supplemental list of our favorite episodes of many other series that contended for our main list, but just fell short. After catching up on the top 30, follow up with these to figure out the whole story of TV in 2012. Part two covers the second half of 2012.

Burning Love, “Episode 13” (July 12, Yahoo! Screen): Yahoo!’s razor-sharp spoof of The Bachelor was a comedy-nerd’s dream: It starred Ken Marino (Childrens Hospital, Party Down) as the empty-headed bachelor, Michael Ian Black as the host, and a bounty of ringers among the bachelorettes (Janet Varney, Natasha Leggero, June Diane Raphael, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, and even Jennifer Aniston). The high production value made Burning Love—which was produced by Ben Stiller—look just like the series it mocked, and the cast played it perfectly. The extra-long finale played to Burning Love’s strengths, with Marino at his dumbest (his long take miming sex with his fingers is a highlight), Varney stealing the show as a lesbian who somehow made it to the end, and Abigail Spencer as a typically loopy Bachelor contestant. Burning Love mightily undercuts the usual dating-show pomp and circumstance with sharp satire, big laughs, and an unsurprisingly bizarre ending.

Suits, “Discovery” (July 12, USA): The second season of Suits pushed past the implausibility of the series’ premise—which sees super-lawyer Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) passing off brilliant grifter Mike Ross (Patrick Adams) as his protégé—and delves more into the politics of a high-powered law firm. “Discovery” kicks the season’s main plot into gear, as Harvey and his sharp-tongued assistant Donna (Sarah Rafferty) get into deep trouble over an old case, while Mike partners up with Harvey’s chief nemesis Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) and discovers that they work together better than he would’ve expected. The importance of posturing and personal relationships to the world of the wealthy is one the central themes of Suits, and with the discoveries of “Discovery,” the audience’s own relationships to these characters gets twisted. 

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Gravity Falls, “The Inconveniencing” (July 13, Disney Channel): No new series shot to widespread favor and Internet fandom in 2012 like Gravity Falls, and the animated supernatural comedy’s quick ascent had as much to do with its keen perceptiveness as its multitude of Tumblr-ready punchlines. The series’ fifth episode, “The Inconveniencing,” tidily distills the adolescent impulse to put away childish things in a fun, Nightmare On Elm Street-riffing haunted house story, where young Dipper Pines (Jason Ritter) must play it extremely uncool in order to save his newfound teenaged friends. The episode largely ignores Gravity Falls’ other core strength—the genuine, loving-yet-antagonistic relationship between Dipper and twin sister Mabel (Kristen Schaal)—but Schaal receives her due in a series of sugar-coma-induced hallucinations that were converted into GIFs faster than viewers could say “Onward, Aoshima!” 

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Workaholics, “Real Time” (July 17, Comedy Central): Due to its increasingly cartoonish nature, Workaholics had an inconsistent third season, but “Real Time” is the episode that best showcases the show’s ability to balance the mundane with the ridiculous. It takes simple but relatable concepts—job dissatisfaction, a regretful drunk dial, the struggle to stave off an impending hangover—and combines them with a silly, fast-paced, sitcom action flick chockfull of Speed references. As our slacker heroes race against the clock to save their jobs, all while trying to keep their BAC high enough to prevent that debilitating headache, the episode itself shows no signs of slowing down. With comically high stakes and nonstop jokes, “Real Time” is a perfect example of when the inherent strangeness of Workaholics truly works in its favor.

Wilfred, “Truth” (August 9, FX): A show about a young man who sees a talking animal where everyone else simply sees a dog sounds a little bit like Calvin And Hobbes. In “Truth,” Wilfred pays homage to the classic comic by having its characters play a string of vaguely connected imaginary games—Calvinball. But this isn’t a Calvinball filled with childlike glee; it’s one aimed directly at its protagonists’ pathos and the show’s core premise, with new revelations regarding both. The show’s two best guest stars, Allison Mack and Dwight Yoakam, both show up, while Elijah Wood and Jason Gann are as strong as ever in the central roles. Funny, dark, and weird, this is Wilfred at its absolute best. 

Alphas, “When Push Comes To Shove” (August 13, Syfy): The superhero drama had a barn-burner of a second season, building steadily in pitch until the fate of the world itself was at stake, and the show’s heroes were all but powerless to stop it. Yet the season’s finest hour came early on, as it did its level best to transform Nina, a character fans hadn’t much liked in season one, into a sympathetic figure, first by putting her at odds with the team, then by showing the roots of her own self-hatred. Nina’s superpower involved being able to “push” anyone around her to do whatever she wanted, and it manifested as a kind of devastating narcissism. But as the episode looped around and around, digging closer and closer to the roots of her psychological trauma, it became at once harrowing and psychologically astute, particularly in a massively successful final act. 

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Futurama, “Near-Death Wish” (August 15, Comedy Central): The past couple years have seen Futurama settling into a comfortable, predictable rut. Each new batch of episodes strives for, and generally hits, a baseline quality that isn’t great, or terrible, but stays decent enough to please fans. But the writers are still capable hitting one out of the park every now and again, and this summer’s “Near-Death Wish” was a solid home run. The entry has Fry bring Professor Farnworth’s parents out of stasis, allowing the professor to reconnect with the family he’d long tried to forget. The show has always done well at mixing biting cynicism with almost shockingly effective moments of sentiment, and this episode hits the blend perfectly, finding time for jokes about mad science, mental health, and the stupidity of The Matrix, but ending with an unguarded sweetness that takes one’s breath away. 

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Rev., “Series Two, Episode Five” (August 19, Hulu): Hulu imported British series Rev. this summer, and found the program mostly ignored by astute TV viewers and the critical community. This was too bad, because Rev. could have stood with any of the other beloved British comedies that have found thriving cults on this side of the pond. Perhaps the series’ premise—an inner-city minister tends to his life and his flock—turned some who assumed the series would rely on obscure questions of theology off. Yet the show was a hilariously funny examination of what it means to have faith in a world that proves that faith wrong at every opportunity. It all builds to this gut-punch of an episode, in which the minister tries to have charity and compassion for a homeless man in his neighborhood… and finds he just can’t. The last five minutes are as good as any TV has ever produced. 

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Awkward, “Pick Me, Choose Me, Love Me” (August 30, MTV): MTV’s charming teen dramedy Awkward picked up steam in its second season, with Ashley Rickards’ Jenna Hamilton vacillating between Beau Mirchoff’s Matty McKibben (the sexy jerk) and Brett Davern’s Jake Rosati (the pristine nice guy). She’s also fighting with her mom, Lacey, and watching her parents go through relationship drama, so it’s been a heck of a year for Jenna. In “Pick Me, Choose Me, Love Me,” though, it all comes to a head. Jenna makes her blog public and has the whole school fighting over whether they’re Team Jake or Team Matty, while Lacey is shunned by the parental community for a nasty anonymous letter she sent to Jenna the season before. Lacey and Jenna have a heartfelt, tearful reconciliation, one that makes viewers realize that, as foreign as parents might seem sometimes, they’re still people. 

Get More: Awkward., Full Episodes

Doctor Who, “Asylum Of The Daleks” (September 1, BBC America): While the slow departure of companions Amy and Rory sometimes stalled the narrative momentum of Doctor Who’s 2012 episodes, the season première gets a jolt of energy from the surprise early appearance of new series regular Jenna-Louise Coleman, albeit as a different character from the one she will play in upcoming episodes. Coleman is immensely fun as Oswin Oswald, whose unfathomable survival on a planet filled with insane Daleks provides showrunner Steven Moffat with the chance to offer his unique spin on the Doctor and the Daleks’ twisted relationship, complete with a shocking, heartbreaking twist. The episode also finally confronts the hitherto ignored emotional fallout of Amy and Rory’s season-six ordeals. “Asylum” both looks back fondly on decades of Dalek adventures past and looks ahead to the promise of 2013, when Coleman joins the show full-time. 

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Husbands, “A Better Movie Of What We’re Like” (September 12, YouTube): In a just world, Husbands would have gotten a deal with a major network that would allow the series a full season of episodes to explore the relationship of Cheeks and Brady, the gay couple at its center that got drunkenly married one night, then decided to stay together to prove it could be done, both to society at large and, increasingly, themselves. Instead, Brad Bell and Jane Espenson’s creation has gotten two seasons, both about the length of a standard TV sitcom episode cumulatively, and those seasons have had to suggest the sorts of storylines a proper series might have explored. Yet this episode—with a hefty number of big-name guest stars, including Joss Whedon and Jon Cryer—ably shows how Espenson and Bell have carved out the political-stories-with-personal-stakes territory Norman Lear used to program toward on the Internet. 

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The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, “Chaos On Bullshit Mountain” (September 19, Comedy Central): Election years are always kind to The Daily Show, but the combination of Mitt Romney’s seeming obliviousness to all but the richest of Americans and Barack Obama seeming to run a campaign against an incumbent, instead of as an incumbent, gave the comedian and his writers ample targets at which to take aim. The best moment of the year came in the immediate wake of the release of the “47-percent tape,” in which Romney seemed to write off nearly half the American population. A gleeful Stewart laid into Romney, sure, but he also watched as the edifice of GOP propaganda that is Fox News came tumbling down in double-talk, misstatements, and attempts to prop up the nominee. It was great fun, and the clip the show found to illustrate the end of the segment became emblematic of a certain mindset.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Chaos on Bulls**t Mountain
www.thedailyshow.com

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Last Resort
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“Captain” (September 27, ABC): The Last Resort pilot explodes with potential. At its center is the exciting story of Captain Marcus Chaplin, the commander of a nuclear submarine who has the temerity to request confirmation on his back-channel orders to bomb Pakistan and winds up a traitor for his diligence. But this is no mere pulp fiction. Creators Karl Gajdusek and Shawn Ryan follow a renegade sub, a local warlord, and a homeland intimidation campaign to philosophical ends, whittling global politics into gangs and guns. The naval game theory harkens back to Star Trek’s classic “Balance Of Terror,” and director Martin Campbell turns a high-tech command center into a primal crucible with his tense, claustrophobic visuals. But the secret weapon is Chaplin himself, played by the formidable Andre Braugher. His disciplined performance resists easy lionizing, and his final-act line in the sand is one of the year’s highlights. 

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Dexter, “Are You…?” (September 30, Showtime): It seemed all but impossible, but Dexter briefly resurrected itself again this year, before frittering away whatever good will it had earned from revealing the serial killer’s true identity to his sister in a series of final episodes that were full of dumb choices by smart characters and bland storytelling. However, this season première was good enough to make it seem like the whole series had been revitalized. After Deb finds her brother killing the previous season’s Big Bad, she quickly picks her way through his thicket of lies, only to arrive at the episode’s harrowing final moment, when she asks the question set up in the episode’s title, only attaching the three words every fan of the show had been waiting to hear her say. The writing was sharp, the direction was pointed, and the performances, from Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter, had rarely been better. 

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Glee, “The Break Up” (October 4, Fox): While few were paying attention, Glee righted itself from a truly spotty third season and began putting together some solid storylines as its fourth season began. Spreading the original cast out to the winds resulted in some boring stories and found the show struggling to make its Lima, Ohio, base of operations as interesting as it once had been, but it also created the highly successful story of Rachel (Lea Michele) and Kurt (Chris Colfer) struggling to hang on in New York City. Glee has always worked best as a kind of emotional collage made out of bits and pieces of other pop culture, and in this episode, it aims to do nothing less than create the definitive break-up episode, nesting four relationship destructions inside of each other. Does all of it work? Nah. But the stuff that does is harrowing and unexpectedly beautiful. 

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Person Of Interest, “Bad Code” (October 4, CBS): This paranoid action show bucks the Dirty Harry stereotype of the lawless urban hero who has to resort to vigilante tactics because civil libertarians have rigged the system to protect the bad guys. Its heroes have to work off the grid because the powerful and corrupt post-9/11 security apparatus is so fixated on the big picture that it accepts the idea that a few little people have to end up as collateral damage. The show has gotten better and more dramatically complex as leads Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson have started letting the cracks show in their characters’ icy facades, and it’s at its very best when the two contend with villains who might be their own scary mirror image, as in this episode, featuring Amy Acker as a sociopathic tech genius who wants Emerson’s character to see that he’s been wasting his compassion on people less brilliant than he.

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Nashville, “Pilot” (October 10, ABC): Nashville’s debut season has run aground, weighed down by insignificant plotlines and bland characters. While the show figures itself out, it’s good to go back to the episode that encapsulated all the promise of what the show could be, in 42 short minutes. The pilot has the show’s best country number to date, “If I Didn’t Know Better,” a brokenhearted duet that caps an episode full of lost love, dreams deferred, and lonely, scheming stars. It’s an episode that sparks wonderment, both at the richly drawn characters involved and the city Nashville itself, a city where country music is a religion that flows through the hearts of the people who live there. 

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Elementary, “Child Predator” (October 18, CBS): Although this American spin on the Sherlock Holmes mythos has continued to evolve over its first season, becoming one of the most promising procedurals in recent years, this battle between Sherlock and a re-emerged serial killer called “The Balloon Man” was an early sign of the series’ narrative sophistication. While the case may be ripped from Criminal Minds, the methods for solving it continually shift, “revealing” the killer to Sherlock early on in an effective twist and allowing the episode to transition into a compelling duel between two sociopaths: the criminal on one side, and the hero on the other.

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Mockingbird Lane (October 26, NBC): Passed-on pilots no longer get the sorts of primetime showcases they did in past decades, when summer audiences would be treated to quick runs through all of the shows the network hadn’t picked up under labels like “Summertime Theater” or the like. It was all the weirder, then, that NBC didn’t just put the pilot for Bryan Fuller’s Munsters reimagining on the air but also seemingly tried to get viewers excited about it. The show boasted stellar work from an ensemble cast that included Portia de Rossi and Eddie Izzard, as well as the sort of darkly comic sensibility that Fuller brings to everything he touches. A delight to look at and frequently very funny, the show was nevertheless mostly ignored by the audience and retreated back into the Earth from whence it came. 

The Thick Of It, “Series 4, Episode 7” (October 28, Hulu): The acidic British political satire The Thick Of It wrapped its final season this year, deftly zig-zagging between a bickering coalition government and incompetent opposition before bringing all its characters together for a suitably farcical, cynical conclusion. Armando Iannucci’s greatest TV creation has just begun to get more eyeballs in the U.S. because of a broadcast deal with Hulu, and it wrapped the many arcs of its brutal/ridiculously incompetent political operators—Ollie, Glenn, Peter, and most importantly Malcolm Tucker—in its inimitably caustic, profane style. A slow pan out of an office filled with screaming, petty politicians was the best and only way to finish things. 

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The Venture Bros., “A Very Venture Halloween” (October 28, Adult Swim): It’s been two years since the last new episode of The Venture Bros. aired, so any new material is welcome, especially if it’s as delightful as “A Very Venture Halloween.” A plot summary doesn’t do the half-hour justice, but crazy stuff happens at the Venture Compound, Doctor Orpheus has a party, and Dean learns the truth about his and Hank’s past. Despite lasers, sorcerers, and a host of ravenous zombies, the stakes are never that high, which is typical. The adventure is largely an excuse for nerdy riffs, character beats, and a pervasive acceptance for all the screw-ups of the world. The special proves that Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer still have The Venture Bros.’ unique tone well in hand. Next year should bring the debut of a new season, but this entry ably fills the voice until then. 

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You’re Whole, “Smoothies, Pumpkins & Cookies” (November 5, Adult Swim): Adult Swim has been stealthily building its own mirror TV universe for the better part of 11 years; this year, it greenlit a three-part infomercial parody to air opposite legitimate paid advertisements for questionable weight-loss systems and sham get-rich-quick programs. Channeling the smarmy, unyielding enthusiasm of his best sketch-comedy characters, Michael Ian Black gives other infomercial hosts a run for their ill-gotten money as Randall Tyree Mandersohn, a double-entendre spewing, “golden pumkie yummers”-devouring TV guru with a life-changing 27-DVD series and absolutely zero eyesight. Written by Black and directed by his longtime collaborator Michael Showalter, the first part of You’re Whole, “Smoothies, Pumpkins & Cookies,” functions as a hysterical comedy oddity that’s also a dead-on send-up of the infomercial genre. Randall’s pumpkin-based diet plan is only slightly less credible—and infinitely more entertaining—than the average Zumba ad. 

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Fox News’ election-night coverage (November 6, Fox News): It was some of the most riveting television all year: Republican strategist Karl Rove, confronted with the Fox News network’s call of the presidential race for Democratic candidate Barack Obama, refused to accept it, based on his own understanding of the math and things he was hearing from the camp of Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee. What played out involved the others on the network’s election-night desk trying to talk Rove down and mostly failing, then attempting to appease him by sending reporter Megyn Kelly to talk to the network’s “Decision Desk,” a room full of statisticians who weren’t expecting to be on TV. It played as unintentional comedy in some places and as a riveting dissolution of a highly respected man on live television in others, like Curb Your Enthusiasm crossed with a political Breaking Bad. There was nothing else quite like it. 

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Misfits, “Series Four, Episode Three” (November 12, Hulu): It would have been easy to give up on Misfits at the end of its third season. Three more main characters left, leaving just one remaining from the original cast. But instead of surrendering, Misfits embraced the chaos, producing an ambitious and surprising fourth season with a primarily new cast. In perhaps its most dazzling episode, the show's unchained id of a character, Rudy, who has the power to make his conscience manifest, has a third, evil version of himself appear and fixate on new character Jess. What ensues is a marvelous showcase for actors Joe Gilgun and Karla Crome, a thrilling and hilarious episode, a brilliant examination of young masculinity, and the most inspired use of “The Macarena” ever. 

Oliver Stone’s Untold History Of The United States, “World War II” (November 12, Showtime): In the works for years, Oliver Stone’s documentary miniseries about the “secret” history of his country finally debuted this year, and it was exactly as kooky as any Stone fan would want it to be. Though historians quibbled with its conclusions and the critical response was variable at best, for viewers who could get on the miniseries’ wavelength and appreciate it for the sheer flood of ideas Stone spewed, it was wonderful. The content onscreen is standard History Channel docuseries stuff, but the words Stone says over it aim to undercut every American sacred cow he can think of. Does it always make sense? Not really, but it’s still lots of fun to see it attempted. Those curious would do well to start with this first episode; it only gets goofier from there. 

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American Horror Story, “I Am Anne Frank (Part 2)” (November 14, FX): The most “Ryan Murphy” of the Glee auteur’s three ongoing series (rightfully) inspired plenty of eye rolls when a patient of its Asylum claimed to be the author of The Diary Of Anne Frank, all grown-up. Unfortunate for those rolling eyes, they missed out on the visual feast of “I Am Anne Frank (Part 2),” an episode that synthesizes American Horror Story’s worst compulsions to shock, confound, and remix into frighteningly entertaining television. Never mind that the script, credited to co-showrunner Brad Falchuk, brings Asylum’s major storylines to a climax midway through the season—the real draw here is Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s direction, which puts patient, cinematic camerawork next to surveillance-footage-style interludes, yet makes it all work in the end. It’s a brilliantly bat-shit mash-up that subtly comments on a woman’s role in American society where other Falchuk-Murphy productions would’ve deployed a thudding car-crash sequence. 

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The Dust Bowl (November 18-19, PBS): Documentarian Ken Burns has been an institution for so long now—the man has an effect named after him in iMovie, for God’s sake—that it’s easy to forget that he can make a tremendous film when he puts his mind to it. While his output in recent years has been spotty at best, The Dust Bowl was his best documentary since 1994’s Baseball, offering up a firsthand account of the continent’s worst man-made ecological catastrophe. Burns carefully lays out all of the bad decisions that led to turning the middle of the United States into prime location for a massive ecological disaster, then shows how nature unleashed hell. What makes the film, though, are the recollections of those who lived through it as children, now aged but still carrying with them memories seared onto their brains. It’s dark, fascinating, and essential. 

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Witness, “Rio” (November 26, HBO): This great-looking documentary miniseries about photojournalists working in international trouble spots has the adrenaline rush viewers have come to expect from executive producer Michael Mann, joined to a serious, eye-opening look at the work of people who put themselves in harm’s way to capture history in images. The most affecting episode was the concluding one, in which the charismatic Eric Hoagland talks to the camera about his fears that he’s essentially exploiting desperate people, whose lives won’t benefit from his work in any way. The show itself establishes the importance of what he does, but the moral intelligence that fuels his self-doubt shows why he’s the right person to be doing it.

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Hunted, “Khyber” (November 30, Cinemax): Cinemax’s commitment to original action series deepened in 2012, with its second entry into the genre, the BBC co-production Hunted. While the series occasionally seemed like an excuse to watch lots of lush and lovely visions of foreign lands, to say nothing of the unexpectedly compelling central performance from Melissa George, creator Frank Spotnitz and his writers slowly strung together a fascinating spy narrative that was often told entirely through visuals, leaving less attentive viewers (and some who paid perfect attention) completely lost. It culminated in this penultimate episode, in which George and her colleagues learn the secret the bad guys want covered up. That it’s as prosaic as it is might seem disappointing, until viewers realize there’s no way something this awful should seem prosaic. That’s just the world these characters live in. 

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Regular Show, “The Christmas Special” (December 3, Cartoon Network): Regular Show excels at taking seemingly silly subject matter and approaching it with such conviction that it loops right back around to being awesome. The double-length “Christmas Special” brings slacker protagonists Mordecai (a blue jay) and Rigby (a raccoon) face to face with a heavily muscled, badass version of Santa, voiced with irascible verve by Ed Asner. Santa sends the entire gang on a Lord Of The Rings-influenced quest to destroy an evil Christmas present before a deranged elf gets his hands on it. Like any good Regular Show episode, the proceedings are gleefully absurd, with the gang’s survival dependent on bridge-building pinball machines and wrestling matches with magical bears. But for all the craziness, the episode also finds humor and surprising heart in the gang’s camaraderie. Throw in kickass music and some epic fight sequences, and “The Christmas Special” offers the perfect encapsulation of Regular Show’s resolutely offbeat charms. 

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Shark Tank, “Episode 409” (December 4, ABC): The personalities of Shark Tank’s five wealthy investors range from the friendly skepticism of Canadian tech entrepreneur Robert Herjavec to iconoclastic Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. But they all play off Kevin O’Leary, the self-described “Mr. Wonderful,” for whom the almighty dollar rules all. In this episode, the Sharks’ contrasting philosophies come to the fore as two college students try to secure $100,000 for their fledgling handbag enterprise. O’Leary sneers at the valuation, while Cuban insists that it’s unfair to apply O’Leary’s balance-sheet approach to a pre-revenue company. O’Leary wins the day—Cuban ultimately admits the kids don’t have their act together—but not before Shark Tank once again demonstrates its penchant for exploring the complexities of capitalism in an entertaining format. 

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Sons Of Anarchy, “J’ai Obtenu Cette” (December 4, FX): Sons Of Anarchy’s fifth season started as messily as ever, with half a dozen plots swirling around Jax and the rest of SAMCRO. There were shocking twists, horrible violence, and weird fetishes, but too often, great scenes abutted mediocre ones. The show seemed desperately in need of focus. But in the final episodes, the writers started pulling everything together, culminating in a finale that demonstrated what the season was all about: Jax Teller, turning to the dark side. (It’s probably no coincidence that the penultimate episode was called “Darthy.”) In “J’ai Obtenu Cette,” Jax sacrificed his principles to win, following the Michael Corleone path to success. It’s brutal, bold, and well-planned, putting the series on good footing for next year. 

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The Simpsons, “The Day The Earth Stood Cool” (December 9, Fox): Hey, did you know we were on The Simpsons?! 

The Colbert Report, “12/13/12” (December 13, Comedy Central): The year 2012 was a banner one for Stephen Colbert. He started a SuperPAC and stumbled upon some amazing loopholes that the government didn’t even realize existed. He toyed with a run for the presidency, and then a run for the Senate in South Carolina. And playing a Fox-type pundit during the latest election cycle, he had plenty of opportunities to have his pooch screwed for comic effect. This final episode of the year perfectly sums up everything that’s been great about The Colbert Report. It has a Downton Abbey/Breaking Bad crossover for lots of shits and giggles, a fitting end to the SuperPAC storyline and the fate of its leader Ham Rove, and a sweet closing rendition of “So This Is Christmas.” It’s a celebratory episode, and this was Colbert’s season to celebrate. 

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How I Met Your Mother, “The Final Page” (December 17, CBS): Many wrote the long-running sitcom off when it seemed to run out of plot momentum somewhere in its fifth, sixth, or seventh seasons—opinions differ—but the listless first half of the eighth season got a boost of energy in this holiday two-parter that found a way to bring fans to a place they always knew they were going while still making the journey there enjoyable. The final moments of these episodes—both aired over one hour on the same night—are as enjoyable and moving as the show has ever been, and they nicely set Ted Mosby and pals up for their endgame, whenever that arrives. 

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The Hour, “Episode Four” (December 19, BBC America): Yet another scintillating import from the U.K., The Hour is set in 1957 London, where its main characters are journalists working for a news program. Showrunner Abi Morgan proved herself capable of constructing a Cold War spy thriller in season one; in the second season, she’s exploring London’s underworld, complete with war profiteering and sex trafficking. “Episode Four” is a fever pitch of activity, an episode that unveils an awful truth—the death of an innocent woman at the hands of a crime organization the program’s journalists are investigating— in slow, sickening clarity. Morgan excels at bringing the brunt of the political stories of the day home to the characters investigating them, displaying the tragic lives and romances of the reporters while allowing them to do the work that they truly believe in. 

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