The best individual episodes of television that aired in 2012. Also check out previous lists from: 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.
#50 “Upper West Side Story,” White Collar
A perfectly charming example of why this show is so entertaining, Neal took a job as a substitute teacher at a private school for a case and played Cyrano for a young student in love.
#49 “I Fall to Pieces,” Hart of Dixie
The season 2 premiere showed why this quirky dramedy is the obvious heir-apparent to Gilmore Girls. A series of misfortunes and misunderstandings led the entire town to Zoe’s house where they assumed Lemon was inside holding Zoe hostage at knife-point for ruining her wedding. The zany hijinx of Bluebell have never been more entertaining.
#48 “The Gang Gets Analyzed,” It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
A clever bottle episode, Dee brought the entire gang to her therapist to settle an argument over who should do the dishes, and the result was a hilarious psychological examination of the severely disturbed minds of the show’s characters.
#47 “The Final Page,” How I Met Your Mother
In an extremely complicated scheme serving as the final page of his Playbook, Barney masterminded a plot to propose to Robin. His 16-step plan was ludicrous, but also romantic and kind of genius, resulting in the “Yes” we all knew was coming.
#46 “New York, I Love You XOXO,” Gossip Girl
The series finale was beautifully ridiculous, from Chuck and Blair’s rushed wedding to avoid prosecution for Bart’s death to the big reveal of Gossip Girl that makes total sense (until you actually start to think about it, so don’t). There were also cameos galore of former characters and some new ones, the best being Lisa Loeb as Rufus’ future girlfriend and Kristen Bell and Rachel Bilson as themselves running lines for a TV show based on Dan’s book.
#45 “Laying Pipe,” Sons of Anarchy
There was no scene more disturbing on all of television in 2012 than Opie sacrificing himself in prison and getting his head crushed by a lead pipe. Killing the show’s lone moral compass also helped propel Jax to a much darker place.
#44 “One Tree Hill,” One Tree Hill
The series finale was a heart-warming and sweet tribute to nine great seasons of basketball, music and romance. It was also wonderful that they finally used the U2 song for which the show is named.
#43 “The Angels Take Manhattan,” Doctor Who
A fitting farewell to Amy and Rory, this time-bending masterpiece saw present-day characters reading a book about themselves in the past, a paradox created by the sinister and terrifying Weeping Angels.
#42 “Once Upon a Blog,” Awkward
This fantastic MTV series faced the inevitable Jake vs. Matty dilemma with a fantasy episode that saw Jenna imagining different outcomes including a Twilight parody and a ridiculous ending where Matty and Jake were the ones who ended up together.
#41 “Party Guessed,” Teen Wolf
The person controlling the kanima was revealed in this tense and exhilarating episode set at Lydia’s party where everyone was drugged and faced tragic hallucinations. It ended with the beautifully tragic death of Allison’s mother to prevent herself from becoming a werewolf.
#40 “Jimmy’s Fake Girlfriend,” Raising Hope
If you want romance, look no further than the final scene of this episode where Jimmy wrote a play telling the story of his love for Sabrina, re-enacted by Burt, Virginia and their improve troupe. It was very touching and ended with Jimmy and Sabrina finally getting together, putting a much-needed end to the “Will They or Won’t They?” story.
#39 “Killer Within,” The Walking Dead
The prison became infested with zombies in this episode that saw T-Dog sacrifice himself to save Carol and, more shockingly, Lori dying during childbirth, only to have her own young son shoot her to prevent her from turning. Rick’s mental breakdown at the news was intense, as was the fact that this show dared to kill off two original characters in a single episode.
#38 “Daddy’s Girl,” Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23
The show found its identity very quickly as the second episode let us know what kind of character we were dealing with. Chloe set up her roommate June on a blind date and the two hit it off and hooked up. The next day Chloe revealed the man was actually her father. The following day it was revealed that Chloe’s dad was still married to her mom, who was in a wheelchair. Ending with Chloe pushing her dad into oncoming bike traffic, it became clear that she truly was an untrustworthy “b—-.”
#37 “But You Don’t Do That Anymore,” Damages
The series finale of this great drama featured two scenes worth mentioning. First was when Patty was at her dying father’s bedside. Second was the flash forward to see Patty, all alone, staring at Ellen, who had escaped her clutches. Both scenes relied on leaving the camera on Glenn Close for an impossibly long time and both scenes highlighted how great she is as an actress.
#36 “5/1,” The Newsroom
The death of Osama bin Laden was covered as the team desperately tried to gather the facts. It was emotional (Don telling the pilot about the news while stuck on a plane) and funny (Will was stoned the whole time). It also featured one of my favorite moments of the season as MacKenzie asked her staff to come up with outside-the-box ideas for what special announcement the president was going to make and Neal, completely seriously, suggested alien contact.
#35 “Dynamic Duets,” Glee
I like it when Glee is funny, and this ridiculous episode featuring the characters dressing up as superheroes had tons of jokes and just enough sweetness without being too much. The fact that it didn’t feature the New York storylines with Rachel and Kurt also proved to me that the McKinley High stories could and should get their own show without having to share time with the graduated seniors who are off in their own worlds.
#34 “Baby on Board,” Modern Family
The storylines in the season 3 finale all worked, but the most emotional was Cam and Mitchell thinking they were about to adopt a baby, only to be thwarted by a series of telenovela-style twists. It was broad and cartoony, but the aftermath of the two men lying in a field together, lamenting their loss, was the total opposite.
#33 “Q&A,” Homeland
Brody was finally brought in for questioning and, like the cabin scene from season 1, everything was laid on the line as he had no choice but to confess his terrorist plans.
#32 “Virtual Systems Analysis,” Community
Annie joined Abed in the Dreamatorium for this mind-bending episode where Abed and Annie took turns playing all the other characters in a fictional landscape that nearly broke Abed and opened up plenty of psychological revelations for the two. It was also fun seeing the entire cast playing Annie or Abed playing their own characters.
#31 “Cocktails and Dreams,” Happy Endings
Dave’s speakeasy-themed food truck became famous, which led to him befriending Colin Hanks and his friends having sex dreams about Dave due to the moonshine. This episode also marked the introduction of everybody’s favorite new catchphrase: “Bitch, it is 5:30!”
#30 “Pilot,” Arrow
One of the best new shows of 2012, Arrow immediately established itself as a more mature, darker comic book story than TV fans are used to. More Dark Knight than Smallville, the pilot nicely introduced the characters, the larger mythology and the real star of the show, Stephen Amell’s abs.
#29 “The Dream Team,” The Good Wife
This show has the best guest cast on TV and nowhere was that more evident than in the season 3 finale where Michael J. Fox’s Louis Canning and Emmy winner Martha Plimpton’s Patti Nyholm teamed up to take down Lockhart/Gardner.
#28 “The Suit on the Set,” Bones
This completely fun episode saw Booth and Brennan head to the set of a movie adaptation of one of her books, allowing us to see the film versions of all the characters we love.
#27 “Welcome to Westfield,” Fringe
This served as the perfect example of how Fringe could do stand-alone episodes mixed with mythology. Walter, Peter and Olivia were trapped in a town they could not escape that was slowly being wiped out of existence, and the story would’ve worked if it had nothing to do with the show’s complex mythology. The real shining moment, however, came as Olivia began to gain the memories of the Olivia from the original timeline of the series, thus reigniting the Olivia/Peter romance.
#26 “Mazel Tov, Dummies!,” 30 Rock
Liz Lemon finally got married in this silly episode that brought back one of the show’s greatest characters, Liz’s ex Dennis (Dean Winters).
#25 “Bitten,” Supernatural
Nearly the entire episode was shown via a student film about three friends dealing with a werewolf bite. For a show boasting only two cast members, letting three guest stars take center stage for the whole hour was risky, but worth it since they delivered some amazing performances.
#24 “Remember the Time,” Grey’s Anatomy
The immediate aftermath of the plane crash (and the eventual death of Mark Sloan) were revealed in this jarring episode that jumped around in time, leaving viewers as disoriented as the characters.
#23 “The Final Frontier,” Castle
For Firefly fans, there was nothing more geek-tastic than seeing an episode of Nathan Fillion’s new show set at a comic book convention featuring a cult classic TV series that was tragically short-lived. The nerdy in-jokes came fast and furious.
#22 “The Story of the 50,” New Girl
Schmidt’s birthday party was epic and insane, but the best part of this episode was his birthday song: “We built this Schmidty on Tootsie Rolls.”
#21 “The Other Woman,” Mad Men
Joan got the chance to shine in this episode where she was faced with a moral dilemma regarding sleeping with a potential client for a promotion. Don’s heartfelt plea for her not to do it (not knowing it was already done) was expertly revealed.
#20 “Sarah,” Haven
I’m a sucker for time travel episodes and this one was pretty crazy as Duke and Nathan were zapped back in time where Duke accidentally saved his grandfather’s life, causing dramatic changes in the present. The butterfly effects were brilliantly crafted and helped make this an incredibly fun episode.
#19 “iApril Fools” and “April Fool’s Blank,” iCarly and Victorious
For April 1 these two Nickelodeon shows mounted two truly insane episodes that existed outside any world of reality. iCarly did a clip show filled with faux clips from past episodes while Victorious offered an absurd and random half-hour where nothing made sense. It had homages to The Wizard of Oz and Match Game and, in my favorite moment, a PA came on screen at one point to tell one of the actor’s he was late for the next scene. These episodes didn’t just break the fourth wall, they broke the fifth and sixth walls too, and proved that they’re not just for kids.
#18 “Pillows and Blankets,” Community
Filmed in Ken Burns documentary style, this remarkable parody chronicled Abed and Troy’s feud over rival forts made out of pillows and blankets. The commitment to the style and earnest narration helped make it truly memorable.
#17 “The Departed,” The Vampire Diaries
Yup, the show killed off the main character, Elena Gilbert, at the end of season 3. The only thing more shocking was when she opened her eyes in the final shot and we learned she had turned into a vampire. That’s the kind of totally unexpected surprise that keeps fans glued to their TV’s every week.
#16 “The Debate,” Parks and Recreation
Leslie went toe-to-toe with her competition for city council in this episode, and the actual debate scenes, including the tremendous Paul Rudd, were priceless.
#15 “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” and “Danny Boy,” One Tree Hill
I’m lumping both of these episodes together as a two-part farewell to Dan Scott. In the first the villainous father in search of redemption mounted a daring rescue of his son, who was kidnapped by Eastern European gangsters (yes, it was as ludicrous and soap opera-y as it sounds). That ended with Dan literally taking a bullet for Nathan. The second hour was an emotionally draining farewell to the character as he sought redemption and absolution for his many crimes, eventually getting it through the surprise return of his brother Keith, who he killed, to take Dan into Heaven. It was a brilliant ending to the show’s finest character.
#14 “Inside Probe” and “I Want My Baby Back, Baby Back, Baby Back,” Raising Hope
The two-part season finale started with a great reality TV show parody hosted by Nancy Grace showing the Chance family’s ordeal with a serial killer and the second episode was a wonderfully ridiculous courtroom battle where, defying all logic, a convicted serial killer released on a technicality got custody of Hope. Luckily a tour bus driven by a blind man solved that problem.
#13 “She Knows,” Suits
Some of the smartest writing on TV, the season 2 premiere kicked off with Harvey and Jessica preparing for war with former partner Daniel Hardman and Jessica discovering Mike’s secret. The quick-witted dialogue and intelligent characters made it the start to a sophomore season that exceeded the first.
#12 “What to My Wondering Eyes,” Parenthood
Kristina, coping with her latest chemo treatment for breast cancer, was rushed to the hospital on Christmas Eve. All the other storylines were intense with heightened emotion, but it was Monica Potter’s performance in a heartfelt video message to her kids intended to be shown after her possible death that made this episode so great.
#11 “Basic Lupine Urology,” Community
Doing a parody of Law and Order is easy. Doing one that is pitch perfect is not. The Community team clearly did its homework because the writing, acting, directing, cinematography, editing, sound effects and everything else were spot-on. It’s also perhaps the most inspired episode title of all-time (“Lupine” means wolf-like and “Urology” is a medical field dealing with male genitalia, thus a reference to Law and Order creator Dick Wolf’s name).
#10 “Fit for an Evil Queen,” Top Chef: Texas
It’s extremely rare for me to include a reality show on this list, but I had to make an exception for this episode with guest judge Charlize Theron promoting Snow White and the Huntsman. The challenge was to craft a wicked dish using disturbing and unusual ingredients, and the result was perhaps the best meal the judges had ever eaten. The real star, however, was how sick and twisted the dishes were, the best being Grayson’s dismembered blackened chicken served with bloody beets and a quail egg that represented the chicken’s aborted fetus. Yum?
#9 “We Just Decided To,” The Newsroom
Aaron Sorkin knows how to write a pilot, and this was no exception. The show introduced all the characters and set a fun tone that balanced broad physical comedy with tense real-world drama. But it was Will McAvoy’s opening speech about how America isn’t the greatest country in the world that was truly epic.
#8 “Lost,” “The Real Thing” and “Force Quit,” Eureka
I consider the first three episodes of Eureka’s final season to be one long story arc as the crew of the Astraeus was trapped in a virtual reality set in the future where things were very different. The show balanced the virtual world with the real one where the residents were desperately trying to find their friends. It was funny, weird, dramatic sci-fi fun that included the heart-wrenching moment of Holly’s death.
#7 “If/Then,” Grey’s Anatomy
I’m a sucker for alternate universe episodes, and when Grey’s Anatomy envisioned a world where Meredith’s mom never got sick and died, it was just plain fun. From the silliness of Meredith and a dorky Alex being engaged to Cristina being an isolated bad-ass, it was just a whimsical bit of fun for long-time fans.
#6 “Always,” Castle
The fourth season finale had everything fans wanted, including tense life-or-death situations, the confrontation between Castle and Beckett over his “I love you” that she pretended not to remember when she was shot and, finally, the two of them hooking up. It was the kind of intense emotion only a great show and a great relationship can make viewers feel.
#5 “Win, Lose or Draw,” Parks and Recreation
Leslie’s campaign for city council was a fantastic storyline and it came to an end in this episode. It was a tour-de-force performance by Amy Poehler, from the scene where Leslie achieved one of her all-time happiest moments by voting for herself to her hysterical reaction to losing to her ultimate victory and stirring speech about the future. It was the perfect blend of humor and heart and it’s astonishing that Poehler has never won a single major award for her performance.
#4 “J’ai Obtenu Cette,” Sons of Anarchy
The fifth season was the show’s best yet, and every thread was tied together beautifully in the season finale. Jax got his revenge on his enemies by having Tig kill Damon Pope with Clay’s gun, thus framing Clay for the murder. Jax used every piece of information and every ounce of trust he had earned throughout the season to pull it off, and that success was perfectly balanced by the demise of his home life, with Tara being arrested.
#3 “Digital Estate Planning,” Community
Enough cannot be said or written about Community’s daring originality. This episode saw the study group venture into an 8-bit video game world that was magical and expertly crafted. As always, the show filled every inch of the screen with clever jokes, and Abed’s love connection with Hilda, a character in the game, was somehow beautiful.
#2 “Letters of Transit,” Fringe
Season 4 took a break from its story arc to leap into a dystopian future run by the Observers in this episode that served as a prequel for the final season. The episode centered on Henry Ian Cusick’s Simon Foster and the introduction of Georgina Haig as Etta, Peter and Olivia’s daughter, in the year 2036. The result felt like a stunning pilot for a brand new series, a masterpiece in science fiction storytelling that effortlessly established a brave new world for the series to venture into. The final season has proven to be Fringe’s best yet, and that has everything to do with this episode.
#1 “Blackwater,” Game of Thrones
The epic scope of Game of Thrones took a more focused turn in this episode all about Stannis Baratheon’s attack on King’s Landing. The visual effects alone for the battle were worthy of a climactic scene in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the real stars were the actors. Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister gave a rousing speech and proved himself to be a true warrior while Lena Headey’s Cersei got drunk, foreseeing her own demise and plotting to poison her own child to spare him the indignity of being invaded. From start to finish it was an astonishing mini-movie and one of the finest hours of television ever crafted.