95) A House Divided (Dallas 1978 Series)

Okay, this is a tough episode to judge. I like Dallas, but, objectively, the show was not art. It is fun, and that’s all it ever needed to be. Cue some angry PMs.


The main focus of the show was the Ewing family. They’re an oil money family based in, you guessed it, Dallas. The one in Texas, not the one in Georgia. The loving matriarch of the family was Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes), wife of Jock Ewing (Jim Davis), a very driven businessman who built up an oil business from nothing. They had 3 children: Bobby (Patrick Duffy), the altruistic, favorite, youngest child; Gary (Ted Shacklelford), who spent most of his time on the spin-off Knots Landing; and J.R. (Larry Hagman), the ruthless oil baron who bribed, blackmailed, or broke anyone who got in his way. J.R. is married to Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), an alcoholic who he bullies constantly and cheats on with her sister, Kristin (Mary Cosby). While the plot of the series usually relies on the rivalry between the Ewing family and the Barnes family, the build up to this episode came from all sides.


Kids, this used to be imposing

For several seasons, J.R. has mistreated almost everyone he has come in contact with, and somehow managed to get away mostly unscathed. In fact, he was originally only supposed to be a supporting role, but, because America loves a scoundrel, he not only got progressively worse, but became the breakout star of the show. Still, watching him get away with everything short of outright murder made anyone with a shred of decency want to put a bullet in his smug, smiling face. Sadly, he only got shot in the gut.

DallasWhoShotJRYes, this is the famous “Who shot J.R.?” episode. After escalating his behavior for several years, someone finally decides to remove J.R. from the Earth… but the show didn’t tell you which of the 5 likely candidates it was going to be. Well, I should say which of the 5 people who had established that they either wanted or intended to kill him. By this point, almost anyone in the cast would have been completely justified in wanting him dead, if only on principle.

Why is this episode on here? Well, partially because even within the episode, J.R. getting shot was a shock. It’s literally the last scene of the season, J.R. hears a noise, steps out into the corridor, and is shot twice. That’s it. The episode closes on him groaning. We don’t know who shot him, we don’t know if he’s dead, we just know that no one was going to tell us until the next season.



Over the Summer of 1980, people lost their damned minds on this. “Who Shot J.R.?” and “I Shot J.R.” shirts were popping up everywhere, both in the US and beyond. One of the shirts even showed up in the pilot for “Father Ted,” an Irish sitcom, years later. After President Jimmy Carter remarked that he would have no trouble financing his campaign if he knew who shot J.R., the Republican Party started manufacturing pins that said “A Democrat Shot J.R.” (This would later prove false). People were making bets on it around the world. There were official international odds (the favorite was Dusty Farlow, J.R.’s Wife’s lover, at 6 to 4). The Queen of England, Elizabeth herself, went on record of saying she was greatly intrigued by the mystery, which is the closest she gets to being Honey Boo-boo’s Mama June.

I Googled “Queen Elizabeth Mama June”

And it’s not like it was easy to figure out. In addition to the number of people shown wanting to kill J.R. in the episodes leading up to it, the writers locked the script in a vault and refused to tell anyone. They filmed multiple fake versions of the scene with every actor on the betting list, plus a few more, killing J.R., and told no one which version was real. Hell, it wasn’t sure if J.R. was going to survive, not just because of the ambiguity, but because Larry Hagman was holding out for more money. He flat-out refused to show up to film the next season until they renegotiated his contract. He ended up getting 3 times his previous salary and a percentage of the merchandising, because it’s not like they could write around it at this point. Apparently, Hagman was method.

DallasPeopleCover.pngThe conclusion to this episode, which was called “Who Done It” had a 76% share of the market. To put that in perspective, more people watched the episode than voted in the presidential election that year. Restaurants brought in televisions and advertised that people could eat and not miss the show. Heck, the Turkish Parliament shut down to watch the broadcast. Part of the hype was that a writers’ strike had delayed the debut by an additional two months. Much like Hagman, the writers knew they had the upper hand, with the fans clamoring for the reveal. Even still, the reveal wasn’t given in the first episode of the next season, it was held until the fourth.

It wasn’t Homer

It was so successful, other shows started doing more drastic cliffhanger season finales. Whether that’s a good thing or not is another matter, but this is what really began the trend, and, like most such things that can be abused as gimmicks, the first one was the best one. Years later, the Simpsons would parody this with “Who Shot Mr. Burns,” and that too, was successful (although, according to the producers, no one guessed the right answer to theirs, unlike Dallas). This episode was original, it was intense, it was surprising, and, since there wasn’t as much in the way of film and tv news back then, there really wasn’t a way to be sure who shot J.R., or even if J.R. would return. At the very least, this episode managed to hold the world in suspense for 8 months, and I have to respect that with a spot on this list.

PREVIOUS – 96: Frasier

NEXT – 94: Bonanza

If you want to check out some more by the Joker, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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The Scene of Who Shot JR Here:

96) Rooms with a View (Frasier)

FrasierCast.jpgAlright, because this list is biased, Frasier is on here 3 times, however, that is because Frasier put on three completely different kinds of episodes that all count as great moments in television. If you haven’t seen the show, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) is a radio celebrity psychiatrist who lives with his father, Martin (John Mahoney), and most often interacts with his brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce), his father’s physical therapist and later his sister-in-law Daphne (Jane Leeves), and his promiscuous producer Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin). In general, the show is known for its witty dialogue, insane comical coincidences, and the amazing acting ability of its leads. Of all three episodes, this one most utilized the latter.


The hospital remembers Niles coming into the world.

Despite the show normally being grounded in reality, this episode has a simple yet surreal premise: Hospitals have memories. We are born in them. We go to them in some of our most trying times. We go to them in some of our happiest times. All of those moments are held within the hospital. Since the show features two psychologists in the lead, it often at least name-dropped psychological theories, so the writers likely knew about the concept of “cued recall,” where an object with which we have a history can evoke an emotional response. This turns that on its head: An inanimate object can recall our emotional moments as a memory. Each of the memories shown in this episode is tied to an intense emotion, from joy to despair.

FrasierNilesHospital.jpgThe episode starts when Niles is going into surgery for a heart problem, one that is apparently extremely urgent. Niles had almost no symptoms, and only went to the doctor on a strange hunch. He is only 43, and of a thin build, so this isn’t something that he would have thought of as being a possibility. It’s also right after he finally got married to Daphne, the woman he’s been chasing after for the duration of the show. The set-up is especially brutal to the viewer’s emotions, because it reminds us that at any point we can suddenly, and randomly, lose everything, even right after we get what we wanted. Throughout the episode, the hospital sees each of the main characters and recalls a memory while the characters cope, shown by a room being filled with the characters in their pasts. For Niles, going into surgery uncertain of living, we are shown flashes of his entire life, from Daphne telling him lovingly that she’ll be there for him, to his times there with his last wife who was emotionally abusive, and even images of his father bringing him an Archie comic when he was hurt as a child.

FrasierWaitingRoomWhile Niles is on the table, each member of the family is trying to cope with the stress of the situation in their own way. Frasier tries to break everything about the surgery down clinically to distance himself from the emotional burden of the situation. To him, Niles is just a machine that’s being fixed, not a loved one who might be in trouble. He evokes memories of the first time he met his newborn brother and of the time that he bribed his brother to keep silent about breaking his leg. Martin, as a father, denies recognizing any possibility that he’s losing his son, but we are shown the hospital remembering the last time he was in the hospital, when the doctor telling was him that his wife had terminal cancer.


Roz, Daphne’s best friend and Niles’s jovial verbal sparring partner, is struggling to be as calm and supportive as possible to her friends. However, we are shown a memory of her running into the hospital with her baby, panicking over what turns out to be nothing. Daphne, who hasn’t been in the hospital before now, is trying to just keep herself from breaking down into an emotional wreck. Unfortunately, the situation eventually overcomes her, causing her to finally break down and, sobbing, yell that there is nothing else in the world for her until Niles is safe. After Niles gets out, we are finally shown an image of Daphne’s memory. It’s of her and Niles welcoming their second child, a daughter, into the world. A memory of things that have yet to come.


Because any fan of the show knew they would never kill off the character, the episode instead focused on the emotions of all of the other characters around the situation. In real life, every person deals with the possibility of losing a loved one in their own way. Some will try to hide their worry to keep the person strong. Some will try to keep themselves distracted. Some will break down because they’re facing a future they never imagined. All of these will happen, and this episode portrayed them all beautifully. Even if you have never had a person you love in the hospital, this episode will make you feel for the characters. If you have had the misfortune to have someone you love be in a dire situation, this episode will make you cry.

Update: I have realized that in the show’s series finale, Daphne and Niles have a son. So, the two children at the end, who are both girls, must be at least their 2nd and 3rd children. From some interviews, it appears they were supposed to have a daughter, but, after the script was written but before it was filmed, series creator David Angell was killed in 9/11. The son, named David, was a tribute to him.

PREVIOUS – 97: Maverick

NEXT – 95: Dallas

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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As a bonus, somebody clipped together two of the better sequences into this video:


97) Shady Deal at Sunny Acres (Maverick)

MaverickGarnerIf you don’t know what Maverick is, or only know the movie with Mel Gibson, it was originally a show starring James Garner. If you don’t know who James Garner is, please knock yourself in the head and get on Google. Now, Maverick wasn’t exactly a traditional western at the time, mostly because of James Garner’s portrayal of the professional gambler, which is what made it worth watching. Bret Maverick was kind of a hustler, a drifter, and his code of honor was mainly shaped by his “pappy-isms,” little platitudes he picked up from his father. One of the better ones is “As my old pappy used to say, ‘You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, and those are very good odds.’”  His role as the honorable rogue made him distinct and kept the audience from getting too bored by a white knight, until other shows started to steal the idea.

The Wisdom of our Forebears

This episode is the perfect episode of Maverick, and served as the basis for the movie “The Sting.” After getting swindled by a crooked banker, Bret recruits his brother and his other friends (I think every recurring character is in the episode) to perform an elaborate sting operation to get his money back. To be a little harsh on Bret, it might be the easiest swindle in history: Bret won $15,000 at a series of poker games (how he does that in the 1880s is anyone’s guess), then asks to deposit it with the bank after-hours. The banker, Mr. Bates (John Dehner), counts it, gives Bret a receipt for the deposit. The next day, Bret returns for his money, and the banker flat-out denies knowing him. The banker’s partner even attests that the deposit receipt is clearly forged. Bret takes a seat outside of the hotel across from the Bank, and tells everyone that he’ll be leaving the town in two weeks with his $15,000.

MaverickShadyThe other characters he recruits constantly think that they’re at least somewhat acting on their own, but at the end of the episode you can’t be sure whether they did most of it on their own and Bret is just taking too much credit, or whether he actually knew what was going to happen from the start. Plus, they have some of the best names in television: Dandy Jim Buckley, Gentleman Jack Darby, Big Mike McComb, Cindy Lou Brown, Samantha Crawford, and Bret’s brother Bart (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Richard Long, Leo Gordon, Arlene Howell, Diane Brewster, and Jack Kelly).

Maverick Cast
The B-Team

The townsfolk come up repeatedly and ask Bret, mockingly, if he has his money yet, and he just says “I’m working on it” as pleasantly as possible. As the episode goes on, Bret’s unwavering smile starts to wear on the banker, which makes the hilarious end of the episode all the more impressive. The Banker, having just realized he’d been conned into handing the money back, just walks outside and says “He did it.” It even has the accompanying “whomp whomp whomp” horns. In the end, Maverick even manages to set the banker up for embezzlement charges with the very money he steals back.

The best part of the episode is that, until the end, all Bret Maverick has to do to seem intimidating, is smile, rock on a chair across from the Banker’s office, and whittle while saying “I’m working on it.” Because few things are as frightening as a man you’ve crossed telling you that he’s coming for you while confidently smiling.

Look upon unstoppable vengeance

PREVIOUS – 98: The Muppet Show

NEXT – 96: Frasier

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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One of the best scenes in the episode here:


98) Steve Martin (The Muppet Show)

The truth is, I could have put almost any episode of the Muppet Show here and felt justified, because the Muppets deserve their recognition and should not have fallen to the wayside to the extent they did after the death of their creator. And here’s a loving tribute to that man:

I’m hoping that I don’t have to tell any of you what the Muppets are, but, in case you did not have a happy life, allow me to give you a quick run-down. The Muppets were created by Jim Henson, who decided that puppets, while good for entertaining children, could still be used for more mature audiences as well. After helping start Sesame Street, and giving it a run with “The Land of Gorch” on SNL, Henson finally found the balance of adult and child humor that he was looking for with “The Muppet Show.” The main characters are all puppets, and they interact with regular people, usually their “special guest.” It was a variety sketch show, and often managed to grab some famous actors at the time. Many of these guests provided memorable performances or character moments, however, I chose this episode for a reason.

All that hot Scooter action?
Steve Martin
Pictured: Comedy Genius

Steve Martin is everything: A comedian, singer, banjo player, magician, dancer, and brilliant writer. The Muppets are the Muppets, which is the most awesome tautology ever. These two elements just put together on screen should be excellent, but it is their other synergistic element that made them really work: Both Steve Martin and the Muppets excel at performances that seem entertaining to children but contain enough subtle adult elements to allow parents to laugh alongside their spawn. They both portray an innocence that masks their absolute debauched nature, and seem to be genuinely having the time of their lives doing it, which always makes for better TV. Even the cold open is Scooter telling Martin that, after seeing his routine, he’s going to fit right in on the show. Since one of the sketches is him doing balloon animals from balloons he stole from “balloon farms” without inflating them, resulting in him being attacked by the “parent balloons,” it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

The “plot” of the episode is that the show is being cancelled, so all of the sketches are supposedly being performed for almost no one, which helps sell the idea that Martin is just an entertainer, who is here for the fun of it and not for the money. Martin also interacts with the Muppets as if they are no less real than his usual human co-stars, which helps the audience to become more engaged in the episode. As the episode progresses, this creates an atmosphere in the episode that everyone really is enjoying the performance, which always helps with a comedy show. Throughout the sketches, you can actually hear the puppeteers laughing themselves silly, because they were having such a good time.

If you ever just want to feel like a kid and an adult at the same time, watch this episode. If you just want a sample, enjoy Martin being his own musical act.

PREVIOUS – 99: Quantum Leap

NEXT – 97: Maverick

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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99) Mirror Image (Quantum Leap)

Quantum Leap is not just a cult show. Quantum Leap is Scott Bakula’s cult show. Sam Beckett (Bakula), a scientist, gets caught up in his experimental time machine and keeps leaping throughout time and space, occupying the body of a person at a pivotal moment in history, allowing him to change the past to make a better present. He is helped by a hologram of his best friend Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell), who usually informs Beckett about the current time period with the help of the supercomputer Ziggy (Deborah Pratt), and what he likely had to do to move history onto the right path, which would allow him to “leap” to another time period. Each time, he hoped, that the next leap would finally take him home.

One time, it took him to a better show.

Throughout the entire show, this premise had a few flaws. 1) How did he always end up in the body of someone who needed help if he was jumping at random? 2) If he invented the machine, wouldn’t someone in the further future be able to jump back as well? 3) How come he never jumped back to the Inquisition or something, as those would be times where more significant change could be leveraged? 4) If he built the machine to go back in time and “set right what once went wrong,” why does he even want to go home?

Rather than just tell the audience that “it doesn’t matter, just enjoy the show,” the writers of Quantum Leap decided to use the last episode of the show to answer pretty much all of the questions in the craziest way they could think of:

Okay, maybe the second craziest


No, really. God is directing the jumps through time of not just Sam Beckett, but all the people who will be jumpers in the future, and the reason he hasn’t jumped to an even harder time is because the entire series is just Sam’s “warm up.” And the craziest thing of all is, it kind of makes sense, and it lets the audience nod in assent and say “well, at least now I know.” The structure of the episode, just having Sam outside of what is actually considered “time,” which resembles a bar, is so different from the other episodes of the series, that it also makes the audience feel more unfamiliar, making way for the big reveal. You have to at least respect the sheer chutzpah it takes to drop that on screen as a farewell.

Previous – 100: Family Ties

Next- 98: The Muppet Show

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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100) The Real Thing (Family Ties)

Family Ties was about how family values are cyclical. Sometimes it was hard to tell what opinions the creators held about the conservative movements of the 1980s, but they definitely embraced the generation gap that arose from it as a source of conflict. The Keatons (Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter) were hippies. Find a liberal cause, they probably fought for it. Name a social revolutionary, they probably smoked pot with them.

Revolutionaries… right…

However, much as the baby boomers were largely people rejecting the behavior and values of their “conservative” families, the Keaton children represented the counter-rebellion to the ’60s upheaval. Rather than taking after his generous, bleeding heart father, Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) was a greedy, ambitious, get-rich-quick scheming go-go ’80s guy in training. His sister, Mallory (Justine Batemen), was a fashion conscious and materialistic “girly girl” that constantly argued with her feminist mother. The youngest Keaton, Jennifer (Tina Yothers), was a tomboy, which gave her more in common with her parents than her siblings, but that’s also how families are sometimes. Basically, the Keaton children were an example of the values that led America to have coke parties in business suits that cost more than a small African nation.

And listen to Huey Lewis and the News, apparently.

In “The Real Thing” (a two-parter), Alex decides to find “Ms. Right,” the conservative, gorgeous, upstanding woman of his dreams. After posing as a member of the sophomore committee, he succeeds in finding Tricia (Suzanne Snyder), a rich, WASP girl from a good family. However, he soon realizes that she’s boring, due to their similarities. As someone who identifies family love as including conflict and exchange of views, Tricia doesn’t stimulate him intellectually… and not enough physically to compensate. Soon, he meets her roommate Ellen (Tracy Pollan, Michael J. Fox’s future wife), a feminist, activist, art student, and general leftist that sizes him up immediately. After a few bouts of repartee and general flirting, Alex can’t handle himself and kisses Ellen, only to find out that she’s engaged, and about to leave to be with her fiancé.

The episode shows how a person’s image of the perfect match for them can be completely inaccurate, and how much of what we look for in a partner is shaped by our family, for better or for worse. And the chemistry between the two leads… well, they’re married now, what do you think?

Also, without Alex P. Keaton to jump-start his career, Michael J. Fox would not be Marty McFly. The world owes Family Ties.

NEXT – 99: Quantum Leap

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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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