Why the Greatest Television Episodes of All Time?

Five years ago, I thought I was going to die. I wanted to write something profound to leave behind that would perhaps serve as a legacy, even if only a small one. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the talent to do that, especially given the mental toll that comes from chemotherapy. So, instead, I watched television in the hospital bed. But, after watching enough television, I started to realize that sometimes instead of just being the “idiot box,” television can tell stories that can enrich lives and bring joy. So, I decided to start compiling a list of the greatest television episodes of all time.

There were over 500 nominated episodes by the time I was done listing. Some series had basically every episode on the list. The Twilight Zone alone had a few dozen. Then, I decided to start watching, and rating, to see what really struck me. My original plan was to do the top 25. Then the top 50. Unfortunately for you, dear readers, there were still some episodes I absolutely wanted people to know about, so I settled on 100, much like TV Guide.

I managed to write the first 40 or so while dealing with chemotherapy. Unfortunately, it turns out that being on drugs isn’t exactly great for producing quality writing, despite what Hunter S. Thompson promised me. Eventually, I lost interest, and, despite multiple attempts to finish it, I never had the willpower to try again. Then, I turned 30, and decided that this would be a good way to close out the last chapter of my life. As such, this is timed so that the last post will be on the day before my 31st Birthday.

For those interested in this kind of thing, here’s the metric I used:

Originality – How much have I seen this kind of thing before? This takes a little bit of research, because some things that were original back in 1950 might now be completely cliché. So, points to being the first to do something.

Writing – This is the backbone of television. Is the dialogue natural? Does it have a distinct style? Is it pulling me in?

Directing – In addition to directing, this includes things like cinematography, lighting, score, sound editing, and all those other things they have Oscars for that no one ever remembers.

Acting – Am I watching a person on screen playing a character, or am I just watching the character? How much has the performance reduced the distance? For animated series, I have to ask how effectively the emotions are conveyed by the voice actors.

Cultural Impact – This one had to be toned down a little bit in some ways, because it overwhelmingly favored old shows. That’s not to say that it wasn’t fair, of course. The older episodes are only remembered because they stood out as being better, which made this a useful category for narrowing down episodes. The more episodes that ripped off this one, the better the original scores.

Emotional Impact – Part of watching television, at least good television, is that it has to touch you. You need it to make you feel something. Happy, sad, uncomfortable. Anything counts, but the stronger it moves you, the higher it went on the list.

Message – I wanted episodes that had something to teach. I didn’t just want to feel like I had a good time, though sometimes that was enough for this list, I wanted to believe that I ended up a better person when I was done with the episode than when I started. That doesn’t mean it had to have a preachy moralizing moment, in fact that usually counted against the episode, but when I went back I wanted to be able to figure out what I learned from watching it.

Fit within the Show – I didn’t want episodes that were just part of a good series. I wanted episodes that, even within the series, managed to stand out on their own.

Miscellaneous – Was there a good song? Was there a line that stands out enough that I just can’t stop laughing at it days later? Is there a background image that brought the show a little closer to home? Did the episode end with me wanting to go and find out something outside of the show? These are the bonus points that can put something over the top.

Starting with number 100 -> Family Ties

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I'm not giving my information to a machine. Nice try, Zuckerberg.

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