The best individual episodes of television that aired in 2010.
#50 “The Maggots in the Meathead,” Bones
When Booth and Bones went to the Jersey shore, Temperance’s anthropological interest and knowledge in guido culture provided plenty of laughs and, if only for a moment, made the popularity of Jersey Shore worthwhile.
#49 “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” One Tree Hill
A hurricane rocked the town as Brooke and Jamie’s lives were in danger and the psychotic Katie returned to kill Quinn. It was the kind of heightened tension and over-the-top insanity that this show does so well.
#48 “Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King?,” Private Practice
The immediate aftermath of Charlotte’s brutal attack and rape were painstakingly clinical and felt brutally honest as she and everyone around her were confronted with the truth. This episode wasn’t about the healing, it was about the immediate pain.
#47 “I’ll Fly Away,” Treme
The HBO drama said goodbye to its freshman season with an episode that featured chilling flashbacks to the events of Hurricane Katrina as the characters struggled to survive.
#46 “Devil You Know,” Burn Notice
Things heated up to a new level as Michael and the man whose identity was used to burn him were thrust together in a climactic battle that saw the return of Management and Michael get taken away to a mysterious room. The action and answers combined to bring this cable hit to new heights.
#45 “Sins of the Past,” Terriers
Flashbacks showed how Hank lost his job and his marriage, but also how he met Britt in this episode that filled in the missing pieces of the show’ backstory.
#44 “Dream Hoarders,” Raising Hope
By the third episode this new show had us with funny yet endearing characters and a brilliant scene of Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman) using her Jenga skills to get Hope out of a shed filled with things Virginia had hoarded away.
#43 “If…,” Desperate Housewives
This show is at its best when it does a stand-alone episode with a series of vignettes, each focusing on a different housewife. In the aftermath of the plane crash, each woman dreamed about what life might be like had things worked out differently, and while some were funny, it was Lynette that made this episode truly great. Dreaming of a world where she raises a disabled child, the flashes of her emotional struggle required three boxes of tissues.
#42 “Baggage,” House
Playing with format and structure, House told his therapist the tale of a patient, interweaving present and future, storyteller and story, and proving that the show is at its best when it plays with its standard format.
#41 “Lose Yourself,” Entourage
Vincent Chase’s downward spiral reached completion in this episode where we got into a fight with Eminem and was caught by the cops with a bag full of cocaine.
#40 “Sucker Punch,” Castle
A murdered Irish gang member led Beckett to the hit man who murdered her mother, and the result was tense drama and a fantastic performance by Stana Katic.
#39 “Hitting the Ground,” True Blood
The show got a magical dose of excitement in this episode that introduced Sookie’s fairy roots and also saw the deaths of Lorena and the Magister. It was revelatory and thrilling.
#38 “Happily Ever After,” Lost
The Desmond-centric episodes were always the best, and this one was no exception as he traveled around the alternate universe (later revealed to be the afterlife), slowly learning the truth about where he was.
#37 “Public Relations,” Mad Men
The fourth season got off to a great start as Don Draper tried to figure out who he was as we were introduced to the new offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
#36 “One Minute,” Breaking Bad
Three memorably great scenes made this episode work. The first was Hank beating Jesse to a pulp for making Hank think his wife had died. The second was a battered Jesse in the hospital vowing to destroy Hank. The third was the climactic final scene in which Hank fought off the attack of two Mexican assassins in a brutal parking lot brawl.
#35 “Epitaph 2: Return,” Dollhouse
In the series finale, the refugees returned to the Dollhouse in 2019, Paul Ballard died, Alpha was a good guy and Topher gave his life to undo all the damage that had happened. It was a perfect ending that proved just how creative and brilliant Joss Whedon can be.
#34 “The Master Plan,” Parks and Recreation
Rob Lowe and Adam Scott were perfect entering Pawnee to temporarily shut down the government to fix it. The look of pure glee on Ron Swanson’s face upon hearing the news of the shutdown was priceless.
#33 “Part Eight,” The Pacific
The HBO miniseries had a lot of harrowing action sequences, but this stand-alone installment best captured the human drama and melancholy of World War II. The chapter tells the story of John Basilone, who was sent back to America to become the celebrity face of the soldiers but whose journey included finding true love and going back to the war only to die at Iwo Jima.
#32 “Rubber Room,” Law and Order
The series finale of this long-running procedural wasn’t just another case. It featured a possible school shooting that ended with a tense and gritty attempt to stop the gunman loose in a school. It also neatly wrapped up Lt. Van Buren’s cancer story and gave a positive outlook on the future.
#31 “I Can’t,” Friday Night Lights
The football drama took on the subject of abortion in a heartbreaking episode as Tami Taylor struggled to do the right thing when a pregnant teenage girl came to her for advice.
#30 “Founder’s Day,” The Vampire Diaries
The first season finale had major deaths (Mayor Lockwood), major cliffhangers (Jeremy’s suicide attempt and Tyler’s car crash) and a huge revelation (the arrival of Elena’s doppelganger Katherine). Basically, it summed up everything that’s great about this show.
#29 “Founder’s Day,” Eureka
In the fourth season premiere, five characters went back to 1947 and returned having changed history, altering all of their lives in major ways and daring to change the history of the show itself. It was a bold and exciting move that also added Battlestar Galactica’s James Callis to the cast as Einstein’s lab partner who came back to the future with the others.
#28 “201,” South Park
The episode may be remembered for its jokes about depicting Mohammed and the subsequent death threats on the creators, but I’ll always love it for bringing back Scott Tenorman to exact his revenge on Cartman for making him eat his parents.
#27 “Constance Carmell Wedding,” Party Down
Jane Lynch may have found success on Glee, but when she returned for the series finale of Party Down, she reminded us that she’s more than a track suit and a scowl.
#26 “The Final Episode,” The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien
When NBC and Conan parted ways, it was after plenty of frustrating negotiations, but for his final week of shows, Conan had a simple mission statement: “Let’s have fun on television.” The finale did just that. It was funny, sincere, emotional, and ended with Will Ferrell belting “Freebird” while hitting a cowbell with Conan rocking out on his guitar. He went out the same way he dominated late night for nearly 20 years: by having fun on television.
#25 “Pilot,” Life Unexpected
Ever since Everwood and Gilmore Girls left the air, there’s been a drought of heartwarming family dramas. That all changed with Life Unexpected, a show so sincere it could melt the heart of even the coldest cynic, like myself.
#24 “Weekend at Bobby’s,” Supernatural
Jim Beaver is the show’s secret weapon, and this episode dedicated to his character’s adventures without Sam and Dean was full of great comedy, drama, action and everything fans love about Supernatural.
#23 “My Bad,” Dexter
Dexter didn’t know how to respond to Rita’s death, and the season 5 premiere gave Michael C. Hall a chance to show how remarkable he is as an actor by portraying the serial killer’s attempts to be human.
#22 “Dr. Ben/Nick,” Louie
Louie C.K. is incredibly funny, but what made his episode extra great was guest star Ricky Gervais as the world’s most inappropriate and offensive doctor.
#21 “The Next One’s Gonna Go in Your Throat,” Damages
Every year Damages ends with a perfect episode that wraps up all the storylines and reveals the big picture of what happened. Season 3 was no different, with shocking murders and suicides around every corner.
#20 “The Pants Alternative,” The Big Bang Theory
If you want to know why Jim Parsons won an Emmy, simply watch this hilarious episode where Sheldon had to give a speech and the addition of alcohol made everything so much worse.
#19 “Half Measures,” Breaking Bad
The penultimate episode was as tense as season 3 got thanks to Mike’s harrowing monologue to Walt about how taking half measures leads to tragedy, and how he needed to dedicate himself completely to his goal. That led to the brutal final scene as Walt protected Jesse by running over a drug dealer and shooting him in the street, gangland style, before telling Jesse to “Run.”
#18 “Betty White/Jay-Z,” Saturday Night Live
After all the buzz around the Facebook campaign to get Betty White to host, the most shocking part may be that the episode actually delivered, providing comedy from start to finish and proving that SNL still has a few tricks up its sleeves.
#17 “Chapter 12,” Eastbound and Down
Kenny Powers ended his Mexican adventure by saying his goodbyes the only way he could, by insulting everyone and blowing a few things up before going off to follow his dream with the help of a pro scout played by Matthew McConaughey.
#16 “Dual Spires,” Psych
This flawless Twin Peaks homage wasn’t just a reunion of most of the cast, it had nonstop references, big and small, to the iconic series, from silent window runners to the dead girl’s name being an anagram for Laura Palmer. It proved that no show does obscure pop culture references better than Psych.
#15 “Chuck vs. the Beard,” Chuck
The Ring infiltrated Castle and as a result, Morgan learned all about the secret CIA base. With no choice, Chuck told his best friend everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) in a game-changing episode that also included a Jeffster performance and Chuck flashing on “Duck Hunt.”
#14 “Airport 2010,” Modern Family
The pitch-perfect writing and acting was on full display in this episode as everyone tried to make it to the airport for a vacation to Hawaii, but the real travel nightmare came in racing to and from their homes.
#13 “The Parts in the Sum of the Whole,” Bones
For the 100th episode Bones flashed back to Booth and Bones’ first case together. The origin story was quirky, but the real joy came when Booth confessed his love for Temperance, only to get shot down.
#12 “Grilled Cheesus,” Glee
Glee is at its best when it focuses on Kurt’s dad, and this episode saw him suffer a heart attack and led to one of the most open and honest discussions of religion I’ve ever seen on TV.
#11 “Girls vs. Suits,” How I Met Your Mother
The 100th episode got us closer to the Mother than ever as Ted dated her roommate and learned all about her. But the real star of this episode was the legendary musical sequence at the end where Barney sang an ode to his suits. The song is still stuck in my head nearly a year later.
#10 “Epidemiology,” Community
What other show on TV could pull off a zombie episode that still managed to stay within the reality of the series? The answer is none, which is why this Halloween episode with an Abba soundtrack was so damn funny.
#9 “A Shoe for a Shoe,” Weeds
This episode was undisputed proof that Mary-Louise Parker needs to win an Emmy. After Esteban’s men kidnapped Shane, she picked up all her strength to go and get him back. Her voicemail message to Esteban explaining why she needed to take their son was both empowering and heartbreaking.
#8 “Day 8: 7AM-8AM,” 24
The final season took a huge risk with this episode where Jack Bauer tracked down President Hassan, who had been kidnapped, only to find the foreign leader dead, his throat slit by the terrorists. For a man who always saves the day, seeing Jack lose a major battle was a great twist.
#7 “Peter,” Fringe
For proof that John Noble is delivering one of the best performances on TV, check out this episode which told the story of Walter as a younger scientist who crossed over into the alternate universe to steal back the other version of his dead son. Not only was it a tour-de-force performance by Noble, but it opened the door to the show’s brilliant use of the alternate universe.
#6 “NS,” Sons of Anarchy
The third season ended on a high note as Jax pulled a reversal on Agent Stahl, proving his loyalty to the Sons by orchestrating her death as well as the murder of Jimmy O’Phelan to get into the good graces of the IRA. It was shocking, brutal and the perfect ending to the uneven season.
#5 “Pilot,” The Big C
The premiere of Showtime’s new series did the impossible: It made cancer funny. Laura Linney is perfect as a wife and mother who kept her cancer a secret and the show balanced genuine emotion with uproarious comedy in just the right way.
#4 “Glitter,” How I Met Your Mother
There were many great moments (Barney’s list of reality TV elimination catchphrases chief among them), but it’s all about the third appearance of Robin Sparkles, with so many sexual innuendos in her kids show that it was impossible not to laugh.
#3 “Fly,” Breaking Bad
The show’s third season was phenomenal and a big reason was this episode which took place almost entirely inside the meth lab as Walter locked himself and Jesse in to catch a loose fly. The growing madness, psychological damage and huge revelations provided a scintillating two-man play.
#2 “Modern Warfare,” Community
The episode that took Community from good to great, a paintball war erupted into pure anarchy with great parodies, fierce action and a creatively-inspired story.
#1 “Sanctuary”/”Death and All His Friends,” Grey’s Anatomy
The most exhilarating and heart-pounding two hours of TV from 2010 came in the Grey’s Anatomy season finale that found a crazed gunman loose in the hospital. Doctors died, Derek was shot, Meredith miscarried and I was on the edge of my seat for every minute of it.