TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time: #10-1

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TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time: #10-1

From I Love Lucy to Lost and everything in between, we're
counting down TV's finest. Check out the top ten episodes that made our
list. Where does your favorite rank?

10. 24
"Season 1: 11PM-12AM" 5/21/2002

The actors were appalled, the network fought to stop it, but as the clock ticked toward midnight that first season on 24, everyone knew. “We had
to kill off Teri Bauer,” says cocreator Joel Surnow. Fans had spent all
season watching Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) sweat to save his wife,
Teri, their daughter and the future president. “Usually on TV, goodness
prevails and tragedy is averted as our hero wraps things up, but we
took away the predictable,” Surnow says. Producers spent weeks arguing
with Fox suits and convincing the cast that offing a major character
made sense. The episode, says Surnow, “cast 24 as a show where anything could happen and anyone could die. It was like, “Oh, my God! What did I just see? I want to see more.”

"Cousin Maude's Visit" 12/11/1971

wanted to bring in a heavyweight who could belt Carroll O’Connor’s
Archie as he deserved,” says creator Norman Lear, “and no one could be
a cousin with a grudge like Bea Arthur.” The sparring began when
Edith’s liberal cousin Maude arrived to bring relief to the
flu-stricken Bunker household. “We knew two days into rehearsals that
there was a show in Maude,” Lear recalls. The night the episode aired,
network chief Fred Silverman called with an order: “That woman! That’s
a series!”

"Nixon Vs. Kennedy" 10/11/2007

The penultimate episode of Mad Men’s
first season was undoubtedly its climax: Adman Don Draper, aka Dick
Whitman (Jon Hamm), is forced to confront the revelation of his false
identity by nasty little blackmailer Pete Campbell (Vincent
Kartheiser). The action unfolds on Election Day 1960, a notable date in
creator Matthew Weiner’s metaphor-rich mind. “It was a great way to
tell how Don was more like Nixon than Kennedy—an outsider and a
self-made man,” he explains, while Pete and JFK shared youth and Ivy
League cachet. The episode had two stunning set pieces: a poll-watching
office party that gets out of hand and a battlefield flashback that
explains Don’s macabre reinvention. Says Weiner, “Nixon lost and Don
won, but it doesn’t feel like it. He’s just this poor, haunted guy.”

"Better Living Through TV" 11/12/1955

the template for generations of working-stiff big mouths brought low by
their own bluster. Jackie Gleason’s self-deluding Ralph Kramden comes
up with a surefire plan to make easy money—a gadget called the Handy
Housewife Helper. (“It cores apples, it scales fish, it sharpens
scissors, and there’s a little thing here that takes corns off your
feet.”) Despite the advice of wife Alice (Audrey Meadows), he and
true-blue sidekick Ed Norton (Art Carney) stage a hilariously
disastrous commercial. “The genius of Gleason’s Kramden,” says ’Til Death
star Brad Garrett, who played Gleason in a 2002 CBS biopic, “was that
his schemes and frustrations were always a by-product of his desire to
make a better life for him and Alice.” Garrett’s exactly right. “You
can’t put your arms around a memory,” Ralph says to Alice, threatening
to walk out if she doesn’t go along with his latest bad idea. She just
gives him that look and says, “I can’t even put my arms around you.”
But she does—every time. In other words, baby, they were the greatest.

6. ER
"Love's Labor Lost"

heart-pounding race to save the life of a pregnant woman and her
soon-to-be-born baby also offered a profoundly moving study in the
moral growth of cocky young teaching doc Mark Greene (an outstanding
Anthony Edwards). “I was on set watching the scene in the trauma room
where the chaos escalated,” recalls executive producer Christopher
Chulack. “There was a real high-intensity emotion in being there three
feet away, and what came over the air was just as emotional. That’s a
rare thing.”

"Pilot" 9/22/2004 & 9/29/2004

exactly, were they thinking? The writers, the directors, the cast—did
they really think there was a network series in this bizarre pilot
about a downed airplane and the mystical mayhem it unleashes? Maybe
not, and viewers are all the better for it. Damon Lindelof says he and
cocreator J.J. Abrams found it “incredibly liberating” to craft a pilot
that no one seriously expected to work as a weekly series. “It freed us
up to do things that normally would’ve scared the hell out of us.” Not
that the weight of their endeavor completely escaped them. One line in
the pilot particularly resonated with foreboding for Lindelof. “I’ll
never forget the day we were shooting Dominic Monaghan [Charlie] as he looked around and said, ‘Guys, where are
we?’” It was that moment, Lindelof says, when he realized, “Wow. We
might actually have to answer that question one of these days.”

"Lucy Does a TV Commercial" 5/5/1952

by drunken sip, Lucy Ricardo made a TV commercial and Lucille Ball made
TV history. “It was one of her favorites,” says daughter Lucie Arnaz of
the famous Vitameatavegamin episode. “The night it happened, she
realized she’d hit the jackpot.” The show’s writers had to concoct a
way of getting Lucy drunk without the character knowingly imbibing.
“They never allowed her to get drunk on purpose,” says Arnaz. “She
never wanted anything that would be a bad influence.” So what was in
those bottles? Apple pectin. “The prop man, Herb Browar, searched and
searched for something gruesome enough to help her make that face,”
says Arnaz, who recently ordered up the product for “An Evening With
Lucille Ball,” a stage production she’s directing. “I finally got to
taste it—and now I know why Mom made that face. It’s like biting into a
lemon. Or drinking that stuff they give you the night before you go in
for your colonoscopy.”

"Chuckles Bites the Dust" 10/25/1975

one unlucky peanut-clad clown, a rogue elephant, an irreverent
newsroom, an Emmy-winning script and a virtuoso performance by one of
TV’s greatest comedians, and you get one of the biggest laugh-out-loud
sitcom episodes ever. When kiddie-show host Chuckles the Clown has his
tragic culinary misadventure, it’s catnip to the WJM-TV crew—except for
a disapproving Mary Richards. The comic payoff comes with Mary’s
unsuccessful attempts to stifle her snickers during a eulogy
celebrating Chuckles’ alter egos Mr. Fee-Fi-Fo and Auntie Yoo-Hoo. The
pièce de genius: When the minister gives Mary permission to laugh, she
begins to bawl. Amazingly, not everyone was on board, recalls star Mary
Tyler Moore. The series’ usual director opted out of the episode
“because he thought it was not in good taste,” says Moore. CBS also had
misgivings about the show’s tone, she says, “but we knew it was
something special. It’s not just about laughing at the funeral, but
also the tensions and talking about it in the newsroom. It really is a
uniquely funny episode.”

"College" 2/7/1999

Tony Soprano. Loving dad, waste-management executive, murderer.
“College,” which finds James Gandolfini’s capo di tutti capi
accompanying his daughter, Meadow, on a bucolic campus tour, was
inspired by a similar road trip that creator David Chase had recently
taken with his own daughter. “Then you start thinking,” recalls Chase,
“what could happen there that would be dramatic? Well, what if some guy
was living in witness protection in some little town in New England and
Tony saw him…” He adds with a chuckle, “I guess that’s what they call
‘high-concept.’” And high drama, as Tony proceeded to stalk the “rat”
and strangle him with an electrical cord. When HBO execs fretted that
showing the star of their new series in such a savage light would
alienate viewers, Chase had a two-pronged defense. “In Tony’s terms,
that guy deserved it, and if the audience was at all identifying with
him, they’d feel the same way,” he says. “Also, if Tony knows the
informer is there and he doesn’t [kill him], the audience will lose
even more respect for him.” Viewers found themselves both shocked and
enthralled. A hit was made.

"The Contest" 11/18/1992

The most celebrated episode of a show that claimed to be about nothing
is an episode obsessed with something. Genius: It never actually said
what that something was. Not that it could have been anything else. As
soon as Jason Alexander’s George related being “caught” doing, um, “you
know...” by his traumatized mom, we knew the topic at hand. Thus began
a glorious half hour of pop-culture history in the making. “It gave
people this sudden sense that there was a different kind of show on
TV,” says Jerry Seinfeld, calling “The Contest” a “pivot point” in the
series. He thinks the script’s success hinged on its coyness: “There’s
nothing easier than being shocking. The sexuality wasn’t what made the
show so memorable, but the way that we did it.” Yes, it was based on a
real-life battle of wills in which cocreator Larry David once engaged.
No, we don’t know if he won, but this episode unquestionably won our contest.

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