The 50 greatest individual episodes of television from 2009.
#50 “Lost Girls,” The Vampire Diaries
The new show established itself as something truly great in this episode. Flashbacks showed how Stefan and Damon first became feuding vampires while the present featured Vicki turning into a vampire.
#49 “Preggers,” Glee
Kurt coming out to his dad was sweet, but it’s the football players’ version of “Single Ladies” that we’ll never be able to get out of our heads.
#48 “Jughead,” Lost
Desmond-centric episodes are typically great, but the real shock came from the reveal that Charles Widmore used to live on the Island, thus changing everything we thought we knew about the series.
#47 “House Divided,” House
After the deaths of Amber, his father and Kutner, House went a little nuts and started hallucinating, but at least he had fun with it, having meaningful conversations with his subconscious and unintentionally trying to kill Chase.
#46 “Coal Digger,” Modern Family
Gloria and Claire got into a hilarious feud after it’s revealed that Claire used to call her young step-mom a gold digger, wrongly interrupted as “coal digger” by her kids.
#45 “Mayhem on the Cross,” Bones
We love Dr. Sweets, and John Francis Daley got a chance to shine in this episode that exposed his character’s true passion for death metal.
#44 “Better Call Saul,” Breaking Bad
Bob Odenkirk isn’t a guy you associate with great dramas, but he helped make the show work as Walter’s sleazy lawyer helping the cancer-ridden teacher to launder his money like normal drug kingpin.
#43 “The Camel,” Parks and Recreation
When Leslie asked each member of her Parks team to create an idea for a mural, what ensued was arguably the funniest scene of the series to date, as each employee’s attempt displayed their bizarre psyches pitch-perfectly. “The Camel” is as endearing a character study episode as you could imagine, so packed full of hilarious lines that it merits a double viewing.
#42 “Blood on the Scales,” Battlestar Galactica
The mutiny against Admiral Adama was a great story arc, and the ending was a bittersweet note as the masterminds, Tom Zarek and Felix Gaeta, were airlocked.
#41 “All That Glitters,” Make It or Break It
At the competition to qualify for the Olympics, one girl ended her career with a horrific fall while a surprising winner emerged, resulting in one of the most emotional episodes of the year.
#40 “The Gang Gives Frank an Intervention,” It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Mary Lynn Rajskub guest-starred as Gail the Snail, the “garbage pail cousin,” in this grosser-than-usual romp through the Sunny world as Frank tried to “bang” his dead wife’s sister and the rest of the gang staged an intervention for him while sipping wine in soda cans. The drunken, salt-throwing chaos, plus some stellar Charlie-isms (a game of “Nightcrawlers,” anyone?), made this an unforgettable day in the life of our favorite terrible people.
#39 “Right Place, Right Time,” How I Met Your Mother
The HIMYM crew excels at breaking the sitcom ceiling when it comes to imaginative storytelling, and “Right Place, Right Time” is a tightly written and rewarding episode full of twisted timelines, suspense about the mysterious “mother,” and hilarious sub-plots about the chart-addicted Marshall and manwhore-milestone-seeking Barney.
#38 “Albification,” Sons of Anarchy
Season 2 started strong and never let up, turning this formerly good series into a great one. The final scene of Gemma being kidnapped, beaten and raped by the white supremacists was gruesome and powerful.
#37 “Chapter 1,” Eastbound and Down
The first episode of Eastbound and Down introduced us to the man, the arm, the legend: Kenny Powers, and our lives were never the same. One of the most unsung, most hilarious series on TV this year got its footing in this laugh-every-ten-seconds pilot, and Danny McBride’s Powers instantly became the most quotable clueless megalomaniac since Tracy Jordan.
#36 “Racial Sensitivity,” Better Off Ted
The motion sensors at Veridian Dynamics couldn’t identify black people, so the company hired white people to follow all the black employees around at all times. The result was a hilarious piece of social commentary on racial sensitivity.
#35 “My ABCs,” Scrubs
Season 8 really took off with this episode that put the spotlight on the new group of interns as each of the show’s residents tried to teach them some valuable lessons with the help of Sesame Street characters.
#34 “The Incident,” Modern Family
The matriarch of the family returned to cause trouble, but what sealed the deal on this episode’s greatness was Dylan’s performance of his catchy but wildly inappropriate song “In the Moonlight.”
#33 “The Case of the Beautiful Blackmailer,” Bored to Death
The show finally found the right formula when Ted Danson’s character joined the detective team on a case, resulting in hilarious, stoner hijinx.
#32 “Man on the Street,” Dollhouse
Dollhouse finally found its footing with this season 1 episode that saw the truth about the Dollhouse revealed as Agent Ballard and Echo had their first run-in which led to an awesome fight scene and a shocking revelation.
#31 “The Grown-Ups,” Mad Men
Seeing the characters react to the events surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination was great, but the ultimate moment came when Betty finally confronted Don about his double life.
#30 “East of Dillon,” Friday Night Lights
Season 4 began with an ugly sight as Coach Taylor was no longer a Panther, but an East Dillon Lion. Things went from bad to worse when he forfeited their first game during halftime, a depressing start to a new year.
#29 “The Apartment,” Californication
Set up like a one-act play, Hank struggles one morning to keep the three women he’s slept with away from one another while also trying to keep the secret from his ex-wife and daughter. The result was classic comedy.
#28 “Mr. Monk and the Dog,” Monk
Mr. Monk might not be able to relate to humans, and you’d think a dog would disgust him to no end, but when he was forced to take in a pooch, Monk’s heart grew and he quickly fell in love with the dog, even going as far as to pet the dog with his bare hands with a wipe.
#27 “Fizbo,” Modern Family
A perfect ensemble piece had the family gather for a disastrous birthday party that featured a clown, a crossbow, a scorpion, a bouncy castle, a zip line and beads.
#26 “Changing Channels,” Supernatural
The show took on some rival TV shows in a number of spot-on parodies, particularly one in which the brothers visited a hospital eerily similar to Grey’s Anatomy’s Seattle Grace. But don’t let all the comedy fool you, because the actual emotional heart of the story put the entire series’ mythology into clear focus.
#25 “Double Trouble in the Panhandle,” Bones
The wit and heart of Bones was on full display in this delightful episode as Booth and Bones join the circus and a Boris and Natasha and their Russian Knives of Death. Their act was hilarious, tense and sweet all at the same time.
#24 “Niagara,” The Office
It wasn’t an easy task for the Office writers to pen a wedding special that was both hilarious and moving, that gave us great gags without ruining the most important day of Jim and Pam’s lives, and which lived up to the pent-up expectations of fans who have invested six all-too-real years waiting for this day. It wasn’t easy, but they did it all, creating a goofy, joyful, and special day for Jim and Pam that brought tears to our eyes.
#23 “316,” Lost
The opening scene of Hurley, Kate and Jack on the Island was a brilliant start to a great story that showed how the Oceanic 6 made it back.
#22 “Sometimes a Great Notion,” Battlestar Galactica
Getting to Earth was supposed to be a good thing, but this great notion turned into a depressing hellscape, leading to a shocking and sudden suicide and the revelation of the final Cylon.
#21 “Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception,” Party Down
Party Down always had a lot of Veronica Mars alums behind the camera and in front of it, but not until the season finale did they get Kristen Bell, and the result was comedy gold.
#20 “Hungry Man,” Dexter
Thanksgiving gave Dexter the chance to see just how sick and twisted Arthur Mitchell really was while Deb finally made a break in the case of who killed Lundy. But what made this episode truly great was the final scene in which Quinn’s girlfriend, the reporter who Deb suspects shot her, answered the door for Arthur and said “Hi, Dad.”
#19 “Pilot,” Glee
When FOX aired the pilot in May, it seemed like an unusual scheduling decision. But over the summer, more and more people watched and discovered the series and, before the official start of the season, it had a huge fan base thanks to the winning story and brilliant rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing.”
#18 “Trust Me,” Damages
Another season ended with all of the pieces falling into place as we finally learned the truth about Ellen and Patty’s ultimate showdown full of revelations, lies, secrets and one very painful knife wound.
#17 “The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary,” The Big Bang Theory
Two simple words: Wil Wheaton. Sheldon’s feud with the former Star Trek: The Next Generation star provided some of the funniest moments of the year.
#16 “Underdogs,” Friday Night Lights
The Panthers went back to State, only this time, unlike season 1, they lost. Clear eyes and full hearts didn’t win, and the result was sad but still uplifting. It’s not about whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game, and the Dillon Panthers played beautifully.
#15 “The Monster at the End of This Book,” Supernatural
Things got weird in this episode, one of the best pieces of meta-fiction ever. Sam and Dean discover a sereis of books called Supernatural about a pair of brothers who fight demons. Bleieve it or not, it just got weirder from there.
#14 “Epitaph One,” Dollhouse
Technically this episode never aired, but it was released on the season 1 DVD. A challenging and very outside-the-box episode, it tells the story of a dystopian future and various flashbacks fill in the gaps to show how the Dollhouse led to an apocalyptic wasteland.
#13 “Day 7: 7pm-8pm,” 24
Every season 24 was at least one huge event, and in season 7, that came when the terrorists invaded the White House and took the president hostage. It was wildly entertaining and tense as only 24 can be.
#12 “Iceman,” Rescue Me
The majority of this episode consists of Tommy Gavin in his bar, alone with the ghosts of his dead relatives. It was as psychologically compelling and fascinating as you could hope for.
#11 “Three Days of Snow,” How I Met Your Mother
HIMYM is great at playing with the concept of storytelling, and in this episode three stories are told simultaneously, though we later learn they occur over three different days. The ending with Marshall meeting Lily at the airport was enough to make anyone cry.
#10 “Goliath,” Kings
An epic in every sense of the word, Kings began with a visually stunning and expertly written pilot that introduced us to a brand new world.
#9 “Wheels,” Glee
Everything we love about Glee worked perfectly in this episode that centered on Artie. There was comedy, great singing, and a surprisingly emotional Sue Sylvester storyline that brought us to tears.
#8 “The Table Read,” Curb Your Enthusiasm
The cast of Seinfeld reunited and in this episode they read through the script. Watching Michael Richards yelling at a black man while people took videos with their cell phones was genius, but the real comedy came from Larry. For reasons to complex to explain, let’s just say the episode ends with Larry telling a doctor he got a rash from a 9-year-old girl’s vagina.
#7 The 11/3 Project, The Daily Show
On his November 5 show, Jon Stewart analyzed Glenn Beck’s sudden appendicitis in an eight-and-a-half minute tour-de-force performance imitating Beck’s style and tone. The result was the single best comedic performance of the year.
#6 “The Variable,” Lost
Daniel Faraday returned to the Island, and the result was a complex, mind-blowing 100th episode that revealed his true parentage and ended with Faraday being shot by his own mom before he was born.
#5 “Shut the Door, Have a Seat,” Mad Men
The season finale had more happen than the rest of the series combined as Don, Roger and Bert left the company and started their own ad agency, bringing a lot of the staff and quite a few office supplies with them. While the new agency was forming, Don’s marriage officially fell apart.
#4 “The Getaway,” Dexter
Dexter’s best season yet came to a tense end as the anti-hero dodged a number of close calls to finally catch the Trinity Killer. But the real twist came in the horrifyingly tragic final scene that will haunt Dexter Morgan and fans forever. It was shocking, memorable, symbolic, and, in a way that only Dexter can do, beautiful.
#3 “Na Triobbloidi,” Sons of Anarchy
This was everything a season finale should be. Jax and Gemma got their revenge, but Zoebelle got to go free because something bigger came up: Jax’s son was kidnapped. The series of events, lies and secrets leading up to that event were masterful and jaw-dropping.
#2 “The Son,” Friday Night Lights
Matt Saracen buries his father, and the result is the most emotionally powerful episode of the year. Zach Gilfrod’s brilliant performance made us cry from start to finish.
#1 “Locked In,” House
This episode was told almost entirely through the PoV of the patient, a man locked in his own mind, unable to communicate with the outside world. The result was a visually stunning and daring episode in the now classic House tradition of finding new ways of telling a procedural story.