Aug 30 2013
In the second part of our two-part series, we’ll look at my top 5 choices for rewatchable episodes. Based on the comments in my original article, I had to revise my list a bit. I had some great suggestions. These are the cream of the crop, the best of the best. I would watch these 5 episodes anytime, anywhere. If I ever go into a coma, I’m going to have it written down somewhere that a TV should be strapped to my face and these 5 episodes should play for eternity.
OK, I think they’ve been sufficiently hyped. Let’s get down to it, shall we?
First of all, let’s remind ourselves of the criteria:
1. One size fits all: A rewatchable episode has to be something you don’t need to be in a specific mood to enjoy. It has to be extremely compelling on its own terms.
2. Don’t skimp on the payoff: A rewatchable episode has to have an arc unto itself; there has to be some kind of emotional payoff during the later acts.
3. Buy the premise, buy the joke: A rewatchable episode should have an interesting and unique premise. It should be self-contained in a certain way. Of course it fits into the show’s general narrative, but there should be something special that this episode does or sets up that just belongs to that episode.
4. That’s so him: A rewatchable episode should be one that exemplifies certain characters. The good and the bad, the highs and lows, the whole package. You watch these episodes to remind yourself how amazing certain characters were.
5. The X-Factor: If you’re going to claim that you could watch an episode “over and over,” it should have that little something extra. A moment, a scene that just endears itself to you. Something to fight the accumulated dullness and apathy that multiple viewings can engender. This “something extra” is tough to nail down precisely, but like pornography, you know it when you see it.
Let’s get straight to it:
#5 – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Doppelgangland” (thanks to Pepper for the episode suggestion)
There are quite a few rewatchable Buffy episodes, but this is the one for me. Perhaps it’s my love all things meta, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than an actor, playing a character, who’s playing another character. In this episode, a vampire version of Willow from an alternate dimension (not the Nothing But Shrimp world) gets transported to Sunnydale as a result of Anya trying to restore her demon powers. Um, this is actually a really good show, I promise. Even if the premise does sound ridiculous out loud.
Anyway. So you have two versions of Willow running around. Normal Willow, and Vampire Willow. Of course, hijinks ensue. Including lots of mix-ups. Vampire Willow takes a bunch of people hostage, and regular Willow has to pretend to be Vamp Willow to save them. So you have Alyson Hannigan playing Willow, who is playing Vampire Willow. Meta. Meta meta meta. I wish I could link to some of the episode’s best lines, but IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND BUFFY VIDEOS online. If you want to find a video of badly-edited footage of two random Buffy characters staring into each other’s eyes as shitty music plays in the background, don’t worry, there are literally thousands of those. But noooooooo, if you just want a CLIP FROM THE ACTUAL SHOW, you’re S.O.L. Anyway. You’ll have to settle for some amazing quotes:
Anya – “For a thousand years I wielded the powers of the wish. I brought ruin to the heads of unfaithful men. I brought forth destruction and chaos for the pleasure of the lower beings. I was feared and worshiped across the mortal globe and now I’m stuck at Sunnydale High! A mortal. A child. And I’m flunking math.”
|Willow – “Okay, that’s a little blacker than I like my arts.”|
|Anya – “Oh, don’t be such a wimp.”|
|Willow – “That, that-that wasn’t just some temporal fold, that was some weird Hell place. I-I don’t think you’re telling me everything.”|
|Anya – “I swear, I am just trying to find my necklace.”|
|Willow – “Well, did you try looking inside the sofa in Hell?”|
|Willow – “It’s really nice that you guys missed me. Say, you all didn’t happen to do a bunch of drugs, did ya?”|
|Xander – “Will, we saw you at The Bronze. A vampire.”|
|Willow – “I’m not a vampire.”|
|Buffy – “You are. I-I mean you-you were. Giles, planning on jumping in with an explanation any time soon?”|
|Giles – “Well, uh … something … something, um, very strange is happening.”|
|Xander – “Can you believe the Watcher’s Council let this guy go?”|
|Buffy – “It was exactly you, Will, every detail. E-except for your not being a dominatrix … as far as we know.”|
|Willow – “Oh, right. Me and Oz play “Mistress of Pain” every night.”|
|Xander – “Did anyone else just go to a scary visual place?”|
|Buffy – “Oh yeah.”|
|Willow – “That’s horrible! That’s me as a vampire? I’m so evil and … skanky. And I think I’m kinda gay.”|
|Buffy – “Willow, just remember, a vampire’s personality has nothing to do with the person it was.”|
|Angel – “Well, actually …” [gets a look from Buffy] “That’s a good point.”|
#4 – The X-Files, “Bad Blood”
Yep, this is happening. I love episodes that play with the concept of perception. The Unreliable Narrator is a well-torn trope in literature, but it’s still something underutilized in modern television. I think, fundamentally, we’re uncomfortable with the idea of what we see and hear being false or distorted in a way that we’re not when we read something. We understand that reading is always an account, a perspective, and not the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth. Whereas when we see something on screen (without trippy lighting effects to make it clear a character is hallucinating or something) we like to think that that thing actually happened, in just the way it’s shown.
Anyway. So, The X-Files. The fundamental thing about this episode is, Mulder and Scully go to some small town and something strange and supernatural happens, like it always does. But this episode isn’t about the thing that happened, it’s about the two of them remembering what happened and how they remember things differently, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes not-so-subtle. (Luke Wilson’s buck teeth LOL). But it’s not that they’re under some government mind-control, or caught in a time loop – rather, they are having normal disagreements about an event in the same way we all do. No one remembers things the same way. So what really happened? Tough to say. But I could watch this episode once a month and never get bored of it. The little differences between their accounts, the wry humor between two amazing characters, the subtle jokes, the very self-aware way the show plays with well-worn tropes like vampires… it’s just endlessly fascinating.
#3 – 30 Rock, “Rosemary’s Baby” (Thanks to Solid Muldoon for this recommendation)
This is one I hadn’t considered at all, as I mostly consider 30 Rock to be good, not great. But then Unreality reader Solid Muldoon reminded me of this episode. He was so persuasive in his comment that I’ll just let him do the talking:
I nominate an episode of 30 Rock: Rosemary’s Baby. Three plotlines, each of them gold. Liz hires her idol, played by Carrie Fischer, who turns out to be a whack-job; Jenna and Kenneth get involved in a “page-off” with guest Paul Scheer; and Jack tells Tracy he can do anything he wants except dogfighting, which of course makes Tracy want to get into dogfighting. This leads to the funniest, most outrageous scene in the show’s entire run: Jack and Tracy role-playing as father and son. More I won’t say, in case anyone hasn’t seen it. But it is jaw-droppingly funny. I know I’ve watched this episode at least a dozen times.”
100% agreed. Jack is probably at his all-time best in this episode. “Never go with a hippie to a second location,” is just such a Jack thing to say. Carrie Fischer is amazing as well. I thought the “page-off” was kind of forgettable, but it does feature a delightfully creepy Paul Scheer, so that’s a bonus. And the scene Muldoon is talking about between Jack and Tracy – well, it’s comedy gold. Remember when Baldwin used to nail impressions on SNL? Well, let’s just remind ourselves how good a comedic actor he can be:
#2 – New Girl, “Cooler” (thanks to alex for the suggestion)
I almost forgot about this one. It’s less than a year old, and I tend to think of episodes that have been around for a while when I’m thinking about things I want to watch over and over. Thankfully, Unreality reader Alex reminded me of this game-changing episode of New Girl. Not only did it have a stellar, fireworks-level ending, it also featured the return of the True American drinking game, basically TV’s version of Calvinball, in that it’s something that would be amazing to play, in theory, but part of its appeal is based on your NON-knowledge of the rules.
This episode flows really, really well. It seems like it’s almost over before it begins. Like a good comedy, every thread comes together. Nick’s coat, Winston’s non-ability to talk to girls, Jess being afraid of being in the loft alone – they all combine in a raucous game of True American that sets the stage for Nick and Jess to push the limits of their strange, back-and-forth relationship.
It’s not all about the kiss, of course, but to have the episode end in something like that is just a huge emotional payoff. Rooting for people to get together is an inseparable part of the TV experience, and it can be fun and frustrating. Nick and Jess are a fun couple to root for, and they couldn’t have had something happen in a better way. I think the kiss they share at the end of the episode is the most, I don’t know – organic? Natural? Passionate yet realistically imperfect? – kiss I’ve seen on screen, ever. I’m not sure I can put my finger on it, but there’s a quantifiable difference between this kiss and 99% of TV/movie kisses. You’ll just have to watch it for yourself and see if you agree with me.
#1 – Firefly, “Our Mrs. Reynolds” (thanks to Timeconsumer15 and Chris for the Firefly suggestion, although I went with a different episode)
So there had a to be a Firefly episode on here. I mean, every single episode is rewatchable. (Well, “Safe” and “Bushwhacked” have long stretches I’ll fast-forward through on a rewatch. No one needs to see that insane guy mutilate his face more than once.) The reason I chose “Our Mrs. Reynolds” is that it’s basically a treatise on how to balance comedy and drama. On the one hand, you’ve got a tense, tightly-wound thriller where The Damsel in Distress is actually a con artist, maneuvering the crew into a literal life-and-death situation with a Ticking Clock. On the other hand, you’ve got some of the most quotable bits in the series and several scenes that are straight comedy. The episode is peppered with some of the show’s most oft-quoted lines:
Book: If you take sexual advantage of her, you’re going to burn in a very special level of Hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.
[walking away, pauses and looks at Mal] …the… special… hell.
Wash:Every planet has its own weird customs. About a year before we met, I spent six weeks on a moon where the principal form of recreation was juggling geese. My hand to God. Baby geese. Goslings. They were juggled.
Mal: Jayne, go play with your rainstick.
Zoe: If she can fly this thing, why just take the shuttle?
Wash: Maybe she likes shuttles.
[Everyone stares at him.]
Wash: Some people juggle geese!
[Mal is somewhat relieved to hear Inara describe Saffron as Companion Academy-trained. He points at a disapproving Book.]
Mal: You woulda kissed her too.
Zoe: Wash didn’t.
Mal: But she was naked! And all… articulate!
Wash: Okay! Everybody not talking about sex, in here. Everybody else, elsewhere.
This episode is so good, that when I started looking up pictures and quotes for this entry, I threw up my hands and just watched the whole thing on Netflix for the 50th time. I mean, srsly, guys. This episode has everything. Christina Hendricks, geese, Jayne’s gun Vera, the special hell, the goodnight kiss (“That’s why I never kiss ‘em on the lips,” says Jayne), and the wacky, Western-style comedy of errors that is Mal and Inara’s relationship. Seriously, it’s like a 50′s screwball comedy. You know what? This episode is #1 with a bullet.
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