The year in television: 45 indelible moments from 2009

The year in television: 45 indelible moments from 2009

When the regular TV Club crew started batting around ideas for how best to wrap up the year in television, we quickly nixed a list of the best series or the best episodes, since we’d already covered a lot of that territory with our Best Of The ’00s lists. So instead, here’s a look at some of the moments that stuck with us in 2009: some moving, some shocking, some thrilling, some embarrassing. Collectively, these make the case for why we turn on our TVs every night, ever-hopeful that we’ll get to see something unforgettable.

(Warning: There are spoilers below for some of the shows in question. If you plan to watch them someday, you may want to avert your eyes.)

The Amazing Race 15: The waterslide refusal
The 15th edition of The Amazing Race started out as one of the series’ best, with engaging contestants (Team Aspie! Team Poker!) and difficult challenges. The race sort of petered out once all the likeable teams were eliminated, but AR15 still packed in plenty of personality clashes and critical errors. The most memorable? The moment where petulant country singer Mika refused to go down a waterslide in Dubai, because she’s afraid of heights and water. Her partner Canaan dragged her, cajoled her, shamed her, and even tried to push her, but she wouldn’t budge. When Flight Time and Big Easy—Team Globetrotter!—showed up behind them, Flight Time pressed their advantage, telling Mika how scary waterslides can be. Eventually, Mika was required by the rules of the game to step aside and let the Globetrotters go, which they did—hilariously—without hesitation. 


American Dad
: A post-apocalyptic Christmas
American Dad has slowly evolved into the weirdest show on network television, as exemplified by this Christmas episode, in which Stan and Francine are left behind in the wake of The Rapture. Francine gets involved in a love triangle with Stan and the returned Jesus Christ, all of which leads—naturally—to Stan and Jesus teaming up to take down a Riddler-esque Antichrist. They dispatch a few demon thugs with the help of some Nativity-scene Wise Men, and then Stan sacrifices his life so Francine and Jesus may live on. Stan is ushered into his personal heaven, which is… exactly like the show as we know it, meaning that everything that happens on American Dad from here on out may be taking place after its main character has died.


American Idol
: Adam Lambert’s “Ring Of Fire”
Let’s be clear from the start: Adam Lambert’s rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” isn’t necessarily good—you might even call it a screechy defiling of Cash’s spare, evocative classic—but it was riveting television. With his black fingernail polish and guyliner, and a sensibility geared more toward Broadway and pop provocation than understated country twang, Lambert was never going to kill on “Grand Ole Opry Week,” but he could have easily survived by going conservative and leaning on his generous vocal range. Instead, he used the opportunity to do a sitar-tinged “Middle Eastern” version of “Ring Of Fire” that scared the hell out of guest mentor Randy Travis even before Lambert took the stage in a leather jacket and fingerless gloves, and started working that microphone stand. By answering Cash’s famous baritone with a wavering falsetto, Lambert gave one of the strangest, most discomfiting performances in American Idol history, and offered a preview of the bold, dude-smooching agitator to come. 


Battlestar Galactica
: The Cylon/human truce ends before it begins
In the pulse-pounding second hour of the three-hour Battlestar Galactica series finale, the humans and Cylons stopped fighting each other (and amongst themselves) long enough to forge a truce, predicated on the idea that the Cylons will cease hostilities once their own “Final Five” download the technology that allows the remaining Cylons to resume replicating and resurrecting. But the download requires that the Five look into each other’s minds, and doing that reveals secrets that set Cylon against Cylon, resulting in a frenzied bloodbath and—typical for the ever-bleak BSG—the end of hope. (At least until the episode’s divisive third hour, that is.)


Better Off Ted
: The Jabberwocky pitch
At its best, Better Off Ted plays the complicated emotional relationships of its heroes off the stressful, frequently bizarre nature of their work, and nowhere was this dynamic exploited to greater effect than in the Jabberwocky pitch from the show’s first season. After diverting company funds to provide a co-worker with her dream job, straight-arrow Ted has to create an imaginary project that immediately attracts too much attention, because anything that people don’t know about has to be important. The absurdity climaxes with Ted and his ice-queen boss Veronica giving a presentation about a concept that doesn’t actually exist. Their solution—empty, circular business-speak, exciting sound cues, and puffs of smoke—is a perfect example of the cheerfully biting satire that is Ted’s trademark, even though the show is still, at heart, about a guy who does stupid things for a girl.


The Big Bang Theory
: Sheldon reenacts his childhood
The Leonard and Penny pairing in The Big Bang Theory’s third season has earned the show mixed reviews, but it’s hard to argue with the comic effect the relationship has held on Sheldon, Leonard’s tightly wound, obsessively single-minded roommate. Sheldon’s inability to compromise for the sake of the social contract has been a source of Big Bang’s best jokes, and it yielded especially excellent results during Leonard and Penny’s first big fight as a couple. Unable to handle the tension between the two, Sheldon rapidly loses control, finally breaking down at a comic-book shop like a wounded 8-year-old. What follows is a 30-second re-enactment of a parental argument from Sheldon’s youth, as venomous as a scene from an Edward Albee play. For a moment, Sheldon’s dysfunctions seem entirely justified. And they’d be heartbreaking if they weren’t also hilarious.


Big Love
: Bill prays for guidance, and his daughter has a miscarriage 
The final setpiece of Big Love’s masterful episode “Come, Ye Saints” is a stunner on both a visual and story level. Feeling lost and set adrift from God after a nationwide road trip reveals the rifts in his family, Bill Henrickson kneels in a verdant, grassy park while everyone else is watching a pageant about Mormon church founder Joseph Smith. Bill prays fervently for something to happen to show him the way, and as his prayer reaches its crescendo, an angel from the nearby pageant ascends into the sky behind him. Just as audacious is what happens next. Bill’s prayer is answered indirectly when his family is brought together by tragedy involving his teenage daughter Sarah, who miscarries the baby no one knew she was carrying.


Breaking Bad
: Walt watches Jesse’s girlfriend die
Breaking Bad’s first season found meth-making, cancer-ridden chemistry teacher Walter White wondering how far he’d go to make the money his family would need after he dies. The genius of the show’s second season is how it deals with what happens when Walt becomes the big bad drug boss his season-one self tried not to be. The viewers come to believe that Walt will do whatever’s necessary, as we see near the end of the season in the episode “Phoenix.” Walt breaks into his partner Jesse’s apartment to retrieve the meth he’s stashed there, only to find Jesse and his neighbor/lover Jane in a heroin-induced slumber. Jane wakes up on her back, begins choking on her own vomit, and Walt just stands over her, watching her suffer. Walt knows Jesse’s been slacking because of her, and Walt’s refusal to help in even the smallest way—not to mention the way he stares directly at Jane as she dies—demonstrates the man has fallen far into the deep end.


Chuck
: Jeffster’s wedding performance
Against all odds, the pop-culture-embracing, creatively resurgent Chuck eked out a full second season (and even a deal for a third), and its season finale certainly justified NBC’s perseverance. Chuck’s sister is getting married, but goons from his spy life are creating complications. So Chuck’s best friend Morgan has Jeffster—a band composed of creepo Jeff and slimy Lester—distract the wedding audience with a flare-enhanced version of “Mr. Roboto.” Between Lester’s howling, overenthusiastic vocals, the crowd’s shock, and Jeff’s callback to Back To The Future with the line “Watch me for the changes,” Chuck fans could easily forget this show has had a rocky behind-the-scenes journey.


Community
: Jeff and Annie win a debate
The newest NBC sitcom has been ruling over on what may be the best two-hour comedy block in TV history, largely because Community’s writers have defined the show’s supporting cast so well. Case in point: Annie (nicely played by Alison Brie), a character who initially seemed like a one-note priss, but has become far more complicated in the process of revealing her troubled past and raft of insecurities. When Joel McHale’s shiftless ex-lawyer Jeff Winger applies his powers of persuasion to help Annie win a college debate, her deep sense of satisfaction is rewarding, even though the team ironically notches the victory by proving that humans are inherently evil. That tension between surface pleasures and deeper truths is what’s made Community such a consistent winner.


Curb Your Enthusiasm
: Larry does Jason doing George
Larry David exists in three usually parallel universes: 1. In the real world, where he’s Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm; 2. On Curb Your Enthusiasm, where he’s “Larry David,” co-creator of Seinfeld and all-around curmudgeon; and 3. On Seinfeld, where he’s “George Costanza,” a character aptly played by Jason Alexander. But for one glorious scene in season seven of Curb Your Enthusiasm, these three separate Larrys converged—and instead of the universes folding in on themselves, they created a hilarious piece of Larry David/“Larry David”/George Costanza origami. When Jason Alexander walks off the taping of the Seinfeld reunion episode that was the knotty, meta core of this Curb season, Larry offers to play the part of George in his stead. Over the (very reasonable) protestations of Jerry, Michael Richards, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Larry insists he can play George because he is George. And so, right on cue, Larry David playing “Larry David” playing George (as played by Jason Alexander) bursts through Jerry’s apartment door in glasses, sweater, and khakis. It’s a scene that’s hilarious—and mind-blowing—on so many levels. 


The Daily Show
: Jon Stewart bitchslaps CNBC
Some wondered how The Daily Show—which fed well off the missteps of the Bush administration—would maintain its edge with the Democrats in power. If anything, Jon Stewart and company have been more relevant than ever in ’09, whether they’ve been sniping at the right-wing media for hoping Obama will fail, or bitterly shaking their head at the Democrats for wasting a golden opportunity to transform the country. The Daily Show even made national headlines a few times this year, most notably when Jon Stewart presented a clip package that showed how the financial gurus on CNBC spent more time wailing about the financial apocalypse at the start of the year than they ever had engaging in the kind of journalistic rigor that might’ve exposed the potential meltdown before it happened. Cable news’ preference for pontification over reporting has provided The Daily Show with juicy meat for more than a decade, but with the nation in real crisis so often this year, the cablers’ uselessness has become all the more shameful.


Dexter
: Thanksgiving
John Lithgow has had plenty of experience playing villains in his long career, so it wasn’t surprising that his turn as Arthur “Trinity Killer” Mitchell in the fourth season of Dexter was so creepy and near-campy, or that it arguably helped make this the best season since the first. The scene of Trinity barely holding it together in front of his terrified yet doting family at the Thanksgiving table is the most memorable of the season for its frightening surrealism, its rapid disintegration into extravagant violence, and the way it introduced an unlikely catchphrase: “Shut up, cunt.”


Dollhouse
: Topher meets Bennett
“What’s interesting to me is you don’t call out to God.” Those are the first lines spoken by Summer Glau’s Bennett Halverson in “The Left Hand,” the sixth episode of Dollhouse’s second season, as she’s torturing the hell out of Eliza Dushku’s Echo. She says it quizzically, with the detachment of the brilliant, diabolical scientist she is, both fascinated by this human specimen in the chair and clearly pleased to be its torment. In light of this scene, it’s especially fascinating later to watch Bennett—the most powerful, fearsome tech in the Dollhouse system—meet Topher, her jittery über-nerd counterpart from the L.A. branch. Suddenly, the cool, scarily assured Bennett turns into a swooning schoolgirl, who greets him with an inviting smile and so badly fumbles her words that she compliments him by comparing his pink skin to a pig’s. Not to be outdone in the awkwardness department, Topher gushes over Bennett (“You merged jams with esams to create next-gen proteins!”), initiates a botched high five, and talks about his clammy hands. It’s all very sweet, until Topher brings up Bennett’s Dr. Strangelove arm, and she can no longer hide the dark side of her genius.


Family Guy
: The Disney universe
Family Guy has been running away from the fact that it’s only as good as its cutaway gags for a while now, by belatedly making attempts to build character and tell stories. But the episode “Road To The Multiverse” proves that those hilarious cutaway gags are still the show’s bread and butter. In the episode’s funniest moment, Stewie and Brian, wandering through a multitude of possible universes, land in a world where everyone is drawn with big, adorable eyes and an overload of cute. Concluding they’ve landed in a universe animated by Disney, the two return to their house, where everyone promptly begins a song about how it’s a “wonderful day for pie.” Quagmire’s a bird, Joe’s a coffee pot, and the whole sequence lands in the perfect intersection between crude and charming.

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Flight Of The Conchords: “Carol Brown” (“Unnatural Love,” Feb. 15)
For most fans, Flight Of The Conchords’ second season was marred by the uneven musical numbers, because the duo burned through much of their A-material in season one. But the season wasn’t completely devoid of highlights. We did get “Carol Brown,” a simultaneously funny, wistful song sung by Jemaine as he thinks back on why his ex-girlfriends left him (as footage of their leave-takings are projected on the wall behind him). Bret comes out to join Jemaine, and the girls make up a chorus that sings from their projected other lives. The song is amusing yet melancholy, thanks in part to guest director Michel Gondry.


Friday Night Lights
: Smash gets a tryout
The only problem with Friday Night Lights’ renewal for a third (and later fourth and fifth season): Some favorite characters began to get too old to keep hanging around high school. Season three featured two tearful farewells: Scott Porter’s paralyzed ex-quarterback Jason Street, and Brian “Smash” Williams, a running back played by Gaius Charles. Both moments tug at the heartstrings, but Smash’s story captures the spirit of the show. Having lost his scholarship after getting injured, Smash struggles to get back into fighting shape after staring down a life without football, or the college education his skills once insured him. To help him, Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) calls in every favor owed him, and begs a few new ones. Their hard work pays off, but only after the show has made clear the grim consequences of failure. These characters live where hard-won success is the only kind that counts.


Fringe
: Olivia materializes out of thin air (for better or worse)
It’s been an up-and-down second season for the science-fiction procedural Fringe, but few Fringe fans can fault how the season opened, with Agent Olivia Dunham returning from an alternate Earth in the most spectacular way imaginable. Her car is found smashed up in the street, but there’s no sign of Olivia… until her friend Walter fiddles with the radio and Olivia suddenly appears out of nowhere, hurtling through her front windshield. It’s a cool scene, yes, but also one that later proves thematically significant. As crackpot scientist William Bell explains to Olivia on Earth-2, “Momentum can be deferred, but it must always be paid back in full.” In other word, all the weird scientific experiments on Fringe with always have a cost—even if that cost is facial lacerations and a deep concussion.


Glee
: “Don’t Stop Believing”
Talk about a promising pilot. No one was sure what to make of Glee before it aired—show-choir dramedy?—but even the biggest skeptics had to hand it to the show for its stirring rendition of the Journey karaoke staple “Don’t Stop Believing” at the close of the first episode. Finn, the popular jock wooed over to the team, sings lead in a duet with musical-theater geek Rachel, as the rest of the misfits dance in the background and the rest of the school watches from the wings. And man, can these kids sing. Glee has gone on to unabashedly embrace its show-choir roots, and to rotate the spotlight to its many talented singers, but nothing may ever top that first epic number, which came as a total surprise.


Hell’s Kitchen
: “I ain’t no bitch”
The Ticking Time Bomb is a staple of reality-show casts—at least the trashier ones. Hell’s Kitchen isn’t terribly trashy, but it is on Fox, so it isn’t exactly classy, either. Season six of Gordon Ramsay Shouts At People doubled viewers’ pleasure with two Ticking Time Bombs: the living, breathing Texan stereotype Van, and the quietly seething ex-Marine Joseph. While Van eventually showed some humility and a genuine work ethic, Joseph only made it to the fourth episode before challenging Chef Ramsay to a fight. Tasked with the responsibility of nominating two people to be cut—but refusing to follow instructions—he burned through his short fuse when Ramsay quickly dressed him down for insubordination. Next thing you know, Joseph is up in Ramsay’s face, proclaiming “I ain’t no bitch!” Ramsay, ever unflappable, never flinched.


How I Met Your Mother
: Barney’s video résumé
Coming up with new things for Barney to be obnoxious about probably keeps the How I Met Your Mother writers up at night, but they hit the mark precisely with one bit of season-four grandiosity. Barney attempts to help Robin make a video résumé, and as an example he shows her his, which starts with shots of fighter jets and monster trucks, then grows ever more ridiculous, culminating in footage of a base jumper’s parachute opening to reveal the word “TRUSTWORTHY,” and the word “PUNCTUAL” writ by lightning. And that’s saying nothing of the accompanying song, which consists almost solely—and appropriately—of the word “Awesome.”


Hung
: Ray and Molly’s second date
The first season of Hung was never entirely sure what it wanted to be. It veered between whimsical dramedy and raunchy comedy often within individual scenes, all while layering on a thick helping of economic tragedy. But a tiny sequence at the end of the episode “The Pickle Jar” strikes exactly the right tone. Overweight, neglected Molly (played by wonderful character actress Margo Martindale) is pretty sure sex is done for her, so she hires male prostitute Ray (played by Thomas Jane) just to talk for a little while. He’s too sick for their first date, and she thinks he’s skipped out on her, but when he returns to make it up to her, the scene goes from funny to surprisingly life-affirming, as she realizes maybe she isn’t done with sex—or Ray—after all.


In Treatment
: April breaks down
In Treatment doesn’t have a lot of overt drama—its creators instead choose to explore smaller moments, in long monologues full of rueful memories. That may be why so many fans latched on to cancer-ridden April, a college student who refused to get treatment for reasons even she didn’t understand. Her fourth episode was proceeding as usual until April, overcome by her sickness, fainted, leaving therapist Paul to berate her for not going in for chemo. April launched into a bitter, vituperative monologue about how being responsible for the care of everyone else in her life had left her with no one else to turn to but him. He too, she said, would turn on her, sick of watching “that fucking girl” waste away. Wearily, Paul, all but forced to violate the doctor-patient relationship, put on his coat to take her to the hospital.


It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
: The intervention
The consistently funny fifth season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was something of a breakout season for Danny DeVito’s character Frank, who demonstrated early and often that with his days on earth dwindling, he planned to “get real weird with it.” Worried about Frank’s increasingly erratic behavior, the gang arranges an intervention, but because they each have selfish reasons for wanting Frank to control himself—and because they’re all drunk on the red wine they stowed in their Diet Coke cans—the intervention devolves into some kind of perverse surprise party, complete with reckless accusations and gun-waving.


The Late Show With David Letterman
: The confession 
When David Letterman looked into the camera and asked his audience if they were in the mood for a story, what happened next was stunning on multiple levels. First, the story itself was completely unexpected: a tale of infidelity and blackmail that no one saw coming. Second, Letterman told the story masterfully, weaving in comic asides and personal details in a way that few other late-night hosts could’ve. And lastly, the way the studio audience reacted—with laughter, applause, and general approval—was an object lesson in how a charismatic personality can turn one of the lowest points of his life into a triumph. Whether it should’ve been a triumph… well, that was a conversation that kept us all occupied for weeks afterward.


Lost
: Locke’s hanging
John Locke thought he was the chosen one. When Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on a mysterious island in the Pacific, fate seemed to be finally offering him the chance he’d long been denied. After years of rejection, humiliation, and failure, Locke became a wise man, a mystic, and the apparent focal point of the island’s myriad occult powers. But in season five, the wheels came off. Sent to retrieve the Oceanic 6, whose escape left the island’s inhabitants unstuck in time, Locke fails, and in his despair decides to hang himself. Ben Linus—Locke’s nemesis/equal—interrupts in the nick of time, and prevents Locke’s suicide… just long enough to get a few questions answered. Then Ben chokes Locke to death. The tragedy and waste of Locke’s life only became clear at the end of the season, when what initially looked like a temporary setback is revealed to be something far bleaker: After being lied to, manipulated, and used, a good man is disposed of without ever knowing why.


Mad Men
: Don Draper fails to give Conrad Hilton the moon
In its third season, Mad Men continued to balance never-seen-that-on-TV-before moments (as in: foot, meet lawnmower) with small, subtle moments fraught with unspoken significance. The climactic scene of the episode “Wee Small Hours” is one of the latter. Having convinced eccentric hotel-chain magnate Conrad Hilton that he’s a fellow traveler—another pulled-up-by-his-own-bootstraps iconoclast—Don Draper sets up what he’s sure will be a slam-dunk ad-pitch for Hilton’s foreign properties. When Draper finishes, Hilton admits that while the pitch was good, he’d asked Draper to imagine a Hilton hotel on the moon, and Don didn’t do that. It’s more than the lack of a lunar angle that’s bothering Hilton though; it’s that Don’s pitch aims to make the rest of the world palatable to Americans, while Hilton wanted a campaign that preached The Gospel Of America to the world. Not for the first time this season—and not for the last—Draper’s formerly keen awareness of what people want from him proves unexpectedly dull. 


Michael & Michael Have Issues
: The shirtless fight
Even though the premise of Michael & Michael Have Issues was heavily meta—Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter play themselves writing a sketch show starring themselves—this short Comedy Central summer series was the duo’s most accessibly funny work to date, mining humor from the guys’ bickering personas. In the first episode, the show’s intern wants to interview Michael and Michael, who each try to paint the other in a negative light. It culminates in a fight on Black’s lawn, where the two comically yell at one another, remove their shirts for some reason, and have at it with wussy pushing while their wives/girlfriends have a mundane talk in the background. The marriage of plot to supremely silly, often surreal action is a Showalter/Black staple, and it was great to see the boys finally find a proper vehicle for their humor.


The Michael Jackson memorial service: Stevie Wonder sings
Michael Jackson’s death quickly went from a source of genuine shock and sorrow to a source of consternation, as cable news became MJ Central for weeks on end. But the Jackson memorial service—while overlong and full of awkward and/or head-scratching moments—provided a few real emotional highlights, in particular Stevie Wonder’s teary performance of “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer.” In the wake of Jackson’s death, a lot of people swooped in and used the occasion to make a buck or pitch themselves. But Wonder reminded us what this story was really about: losing a friend, unexpectedly, and struggling to process the ache left behind.


Modern Family
: Fizbo flees
The beauty of Modern Family is that its three focus families find themselves together at the end of each episode, their exploits painting a larger, unified picture of family life. “Fizbo,” one of the freshman show’s finest episodes, gets everyone together right from the start: Luke Dunphy’s birthday has been overlooked every year, so the family decides to throw him the wildest bash he’s ever seen, complete with dangerous reptiles, an inflatable Moon Bounce, Fizbo the clown, and a comb-sheath stand (“Combining two things kids love the most: combs and sheaths”). Turns out, the collapse of the party at the end is a family affair too. Cameron, dressed as Fizbo, runs from a scorpion into the comb-sheath table, knocking Phil into Jay, whose crossbow deflates the Moon Bounce; Luke slips on the stray comb-sheath beads and hurts his arm. The chaos on Modern Family is impossible to turn away from, and like the show itself, it’s a hell of a lot more fun when it’s a family affair.

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The MTV Video Music Awards: Kanye interrupts Taylor Swift
Although no one wants to encourage Kanye West’s continued public jackassery, we also wouldn’t want to live in a world where someone didn’t take it upon himself or herself to do something moronic on an awards show. Can anyone remember a single moment from this year’s MTV Video Awards that provided more enduring entertainment value than West blurting, “I’ma let you finish…?”


Nurse Jackie
: Jackie breaks her ring finger
Lots of TV shows are built around characters who juggle different lies they tell different people, but Edie Falco made it seem fresh in the Nurse Jackie episode “Ring Finger.” Jackie can’t get her wedding ring off, and she needs to maintain the fiction that she’s unmarried for her co-workers (especially the one with whom she’s having an affair), which means she needs to cut the ring off. But how’s she going to explain that to her husband, who has no idea her co-workers don’t know she’s married? She’s going to have to fake an injury, and that means smashing her own finger with a hammer. It’s a dark, dark moment, expertly played by Falco.


The Office
: Wedding dance/Niagara Falls
Has there ever been a “TV event” that’s paid off as brilliantly as Jim and Pam’s wedding on The Office? It took five full seasons for the sweet, moony-eyed couple to finally tie the knot, and the hour-long “Niagara” episode had all the potential for a hype-filled letdown. Instead, their union was full of surprise and laughter and genuine emotion, thanks to a montage that intercut two weddings—the public one, where friends and family conspired to enhance (or, more accurately, ruin) the occasion by imitating the ubiquitous YouTube dance to Chris Brown’s “Forever,” and the private one, where the couple steals off to be married on The Maid Of The Mist. It’s the best of both worlds: The officemates each get to celebrate with an exuberant shimmy down the aisle, while Jim and Pam have an indelible, spontaneous romantic moment they can call their own. If it doesn’t make your eyes well up, you might be a robot. 


Parks And Recreation
; “The Pit”
Even an eyesore pit and a double-leg-breaking tumble into it can be transformed into great art. For example, a great American like Parks And Recreation slacker Andy Dwyer could wrote a song about the experience, and his band Scarecrow Boat (previously known as Mouse Rat, Punch Face Champion, Flame For Flames, Department Of Homeland Obscurity, Fourskin, Fiveskin, Threeskin, and Nothing Rhymes With Blorange) could perform it. The song is a powerful reminder of how we’re all connected, and how the pit is a metaphor for something or other: “I fell in it, the pit / You fell in it, the pit / We all fell in it, the pih-ih-it…” It also couldn’t be more simple—just variations on that line, repeated over and over. The song practically dares you to extract it from your brain. (The mp3 is here: http://www.scarecrowboat.com/downloads/The_Pit.mp3)


Party Down
: Roman reads Ricky Sargulesh’s screenplay
Why are the members of the Party Down Catering Company at a party celebrating Ricky Sargulesh? They have no idea until one of them realizes that Sargulesh (played by an inspired Steven Weber) is a Russian mobster, celebrating beating a murder charge. As the other mobsters gradually recognize the Party Down employees from bit parts in various movies and TV shows, the workers play along out of fear—and appreciation of being recognized. Then Ricky asks aspiring screenwriter Roman to read his screenplay and offer notes. Roman reads it out loud to coworker Kyle, critiquing grammar and violations of screenplay format in a monotone, when he suddenly realizes that the whole thing is actually a murder confession… in poorly constructed screenplay fashion.


Rescue Me
: Tommy attends to a dead boy’s body
One of the things that makes Tommy Gavin such a great firefighter is that he’s been through so much pain that he’s numb to it. “Torch” is an episode-long exploration of just how much that pain has warped and benefited him. It opens with the fire crew arriving at the site of a horrific car accident and finding the body of a young boy thrown from a car into a ditch and mangled beyond recognition. The episode never shows the boy’s body, choosing instead to focus on the crew’s reactions to it (shot from the point of view of the body), before Tommy realizes he’s the only one strong enough to do anything about the situation. Which he does by crouching beside the boy and slowly wrapping him (and the camera) in a blanket.


Saturday Night Live
: “Frickin’” becomes “fuckin’”
To be fair to new SNL cast member Jenny Slate, it was a really bad idea to write a sketch in which two biker chicks drop the word “frickin’” between nearly every word. The sketch was lame anyway, and the fake profanity was more a distraction than an asset. Still, it’s going to take time before viewers can watch Slate on SNL without tensing up a little, waiting for her to slip again.


So You Think You Can Dance
: The “necklace” routine

Travis Wall isn’t the first former So You Think You Can Dance contestant to return to the show in a behind-the-scenes capacity, but the second-season finalist’s debut as a choreographer in season five showed that Wall has even more to offer offstage than he did on. His first routine for the show was a stunner, featuring unusual lifts and transitions, and the surprisingly not-cheesy employment of a heart necklace prop. It helps that dancers Jason Glover and eventual winner Jeanine Mason were both dancing in their personal style (contemporary), allowing Wall to incorporate movements that a hip-hopper or Latin ballroom dancer might not pull off so ably. Wall has since become one of SYTYCD’s most exciting new choreographers, regularly turning in innovative, youthful, memorable routines that provide a nice reminder of the increasingly flashy show’s scrappy early seasons.


Sons Of Anarchy
: Jax leads a vote against retaliation
The excellent second season of Sons Of Anarchy was all about the power struggle between iron-fisted gang leader Clay and his self-righteous stepson Jax. By the end of the season, creator Kurt Sutter had skillfully shown how emotion clouds judgment and bad associations can wreck the well-laid plans of boys trying to be good. Season two’s fifth episode, “Smite,” in some ways sets up everything that happens the rest of the way. While Clay is trying to get his underlings pumped to hit back at the local white supremacists for jumping one of their incarcerated brothers, Jax appeals to the Sons’ sense of reason. When it’s time to put retaliation up for a vote, Jax’s vision for the club carries the day. A brighter future for SAMCRO seem imminent… until a car bomb planted by The League Of American Nationalists nearly kills one of the Sons, and makes well-meaning democracy seem irrelevant. Who says Sons Of Anarchy is just pulp, with nothing to say about the world in which we live?


The Super Bowl XLIII halftime show: Bruce slides too far
Bruce Springsteen had an up-and-down 2009, starting with the release of the mediocre Working On A Dream and ending with a string of triumphant arena shows in which he and The E Street Band played some of their classic LPs in full. The highs and lows of the year were encapsulated in Springsteen’s Super Bowl halftime performance, in which The Boss slid across the stage and ran into a camera, then got up and finished his set in style. Hey, he’s a rocker, baby, he’s a rocker.


Supernatural
: Sam and Dean discover “Wincest”
Supernatural is the rare show that gets better with each new season, and its willingness to poke fun at its own tropes is a big reason for this. In the fourth-season episode “The Monster At The End Of This Book,” the discovery of a modern-day prophet who records the adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester in a series of cult novels leads to a high-watermark moment of self-aware absurdity. Just like in the real world, the Winchester saga has attracted a committed, deeply loyal fan base, and, again as in real life, that fan base isn’t satisfied with just watching (or reading) the adventure of their favorite brothers. While trying to figure out how a stranger could predict their lives so accurately, Sam and Dean stumble across slash fiction—and make a horrifying discovery about the darker side of cult fame.


Survivor: Samoa
: Russell plays his second immunity idol
Irascible Texas oilman Russell Hantz executed one of the most stunning moves in the history of Survivor when he kicked off the season by hunting for—and finding—an immunity idol at his tribe’s camp, right under his fellow castaways’ noses, and without the aid of a clue. After the tribes merged, Russell played his idol when he didn’t need to, but the next day searched his new camp and found another idol—again without a clue. At the next tribal council, Russell surprised everyone by playing that idol, and this time it changed the outcome, turning a 7-4 vote against Russell to a 4-0 victory for his former tribe. Russell went on to find a third idol (this time with a clue), but by that time, his fellow contestants had finally caught on to his craftiness.


30 Rock
: “Dealbreakers Main Titles Take 510”
If television has taught us anything, it’s that achieving your dream ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Liz Lemon has her own talk show, based on a hit advice-for-the-lovelorn TGS sketch and the bestselling book that followed. But filming an Ellen DeGeneres-style show-opener is completely beyond her capabilities. Transmogrified into Performer-Liz, complete with crippling anxiety and an easily bruised ego, she tries to follow Pete’s directions to “wave like a human being” and “blow a kiss… no, with your hand!,” but it’s no use. She’s lost her chance to be a swarthy, big-hipped Kelly Ripa.


Top Chef Masters
: The finale challenge
The Top Chef spin-off Top Chef Masters had its share of problems: Six weeks of grindingly repetitive “Round Robin” match-ups, a group of contestants whose genial professionalism sometimes robbed the show of drama and fire, and judges who understandably pulled punches in the face of established chefs playing for charity dollars. But the final challenge was essentially Big Night as reality television, as the three remaining contenders (Hubert Keller, Michael Chiarello, and Rick Bayless) were asked to summarize their career in four courses. The first course: their first food memory. The second: what made them decide to become a chef. The third: opening their first restaurant. The fourth: The future. What followed was food porn at its most inspired and delectable. 


The Venture Bros.
: Dr. Venture and Dr. Girlfriend share a moment
The success of The Venture Bros. is twofold: First, it exploits the absurd, geek-friendly humor inherent in a group of pathetically normal people trying and failing to cope with super-normal lives. Second, it finds an emotional center by showing how being normal is about being decent just as much as it is about being flawed. In a quiet, human moment in the episode “Return To Malice,” Dr. Venture—out searching for his sons, who have gotten into another inexplicable pickle—sits down on the steps of the local observatory with Dr. Girlfriend, his archenemy’s levelheaded wife, and the two of them show an almost touching awareness of the show’s central joke: that these are people whose parents wouldn’t exactly be proud of what they’ve become.

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