10 TV Episodes that are Endlessly Rewatchable (Part 1)

There are great episodes of television, but not all great episodes of television are something you’d want to see more than once.  Breaking Bad‘s “Box Cutter,” The West Wing’s “Posse Comitatus,” Mad Men’s “Far Away Places,” The Wire‘s “Middle Ground” – these are some of the best, most gripping episodes in modern television.  But I’m not sure I’d want to see them a second time.  There’s some heavy, dark, nuanced emotion happening in great episodes of TV, and it’s not something to enter into lightly.

On the other hand, some episodes seem perfect for any situation.  Some shows have a certain quality that makes them eminently rewatchable.  Below, I’ll explain my criteria for what exactly that quality is, and give you 10 episodes that fit them perfectly.  And to make it just a little more challenging, I’ll make it 5 comedies and 5 dramas. (It could easily be 10 comedies, because there’s an inherent lightness and levity to comedic shows that gives them a rewatchable edge)  So, without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of what I mean by “rewatchable:”

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.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to the meat and potatoes:

Note: Due to length, this will be Part 1 of a 2-part series.  This article covers spots 10-6.  Expect spots 5-1 next week.  I have the episodes in mind now, but if someone comes up with a better one in the comments, I’ll write it up!


#10 –  Sherlock, “A Scandal in Belgravia”

What’s remarkable about this episode, and what makes it so rewatchable, is how effortlessly it manages to hold the tension and juggle multiple plot points over 90 minutes.  The relationship between Sherlock and Watson really hits its stride in this episode, too.  They’ve evolved a bit from Season 1, with Watson no longer completely playing The Watson.  While he maintains this role to a certain extent, he also has a great buddy dynamic with Sherlock, and though their relationship will never be completely equal, it definitely blossoms into something that works really, really well in this episode.

Plus, this episode is just chock full of scenes that are fun.  You start off resolving an incredibly tense standoff with Moriarty.  You get a hilarious montage of stupid cases Sherlock solves/passes over and/or insults the client.  Then there’s the iconic scene where Sherlock puts on the deerstalker cap and starts to get Internet Famous.  Then there’s the backfiring car / dead guy, which transitions into the “Sherlock in a sheet at Buckingham Palace,” which sets up the whole Irene Adler main plot.  This episode just does not have a dull moment.

Number of times I’ve watched it: 4 or 5


# 9 – The Office, “Dinner Party”

For me, this is a perfect episode of The Office.  It takes something they’ve always hinted at (Michael and Jan’s twisted, dysfunctional relationship) but only shown glimpses of, and brings it to the foreground in a way that does not disappoint.  Michael had made some oblique references to his crazy-train thing with Jan before, such as:

“Jan made me breakfast this morning. Well, she bought the milk.”

“What do you think of roleplay?  Jan has this schoolgirl fantasy…I just… I feel uncomfortable wearing the dress.”

“Jan says anything that doesn’t scare us is not worth doing.  I don’t know, maybe we’re different people.  I like cuddling and spooning, and she likes videotaping us during sex.  And then watching it back right afterward to improve my form.”  Karen: “That is not healthy behavior.”  Michael: “No, it’s not that bad.  The worst part is that she shows it to her therapist and they discuss it.”

So when you finally get to see the two of them in a domestic environment, with a helpless Jim and Pam looking on, completely trapped, it’s a train wreck, of course.  This is what The Office did so well; moments that are so awkward you want to look away, but you can’t because you’re laughing.

As Jim says, to the documentary crew: “Michael and Jan seem to be playing their own separate game. And it’s called, ‘Let’s see how uncomfortable we can make our guests.’ And they’re both winning.”

This episode is chock-full of great character moments.  You’ve got just the right amount of Dwight, you’ve got Michael’s insanity, and you’ve got some special Jim/Pam moments as they commiserate over the horror and plot their escape.

Number of times I’ve watched it: At least 5, probably closer to 10.


#8 – The West Wing, “Hartsfield’s Landing”



Really, about 90% of the The West Wing is endlessly rewatchable.  This is Aaron Sorkin in his prime, and whatever you want to say about the man, his knack for smart, superb dialogue is second to none.  This episode has two things going for it that make it a classic.  First, chess.  It’s part of my somewhat nerdy personality, but anytime they break out the chessboard in a movie or TV show, I’m automatically giving that scene my full attention.  Part of the reason I got hooked on The Wire was that scene early in Season 1 when D’Angelo uses chess to explain the intricacies and hierarchy of the Barksdale criminal organization to his flunkies.  Chess is such a powerful metaphor, and you can do a lot with it.

Number two: character moments.  This episode encapsulates and exemplifies perfectly some of the crucial interactions and dynamics between this excellent cast.  You have President Bartlett being equal parts tormented, soul-searching and fearsome in his chess game with Toby, and then you have him being soft, inspirational, and awesomely intelligent in his chess game with Sam.  You have Bartlett setting up Sam as his natural successor, and Sam – idealistic, brilliant, a little naive, always reaching for the stars – for Sam, getting that validation from a man he admires so much is huge.

You have CJ and Charlie with their prank war, adding an element of levity, including some of the best lines of the series:

C.J. Cregg:  The anal retentive side of you is not going to help you get girls.
Charlie Young:  I do OK.
[later, as CJ and Charlie are discussing a copy of the President’s private schedule – which she has hidden in retaliation for him making her sign a copy out earlier – before walking into the office outside the Oval Office]
Charlie: Look, CJ…
C.J. Cregg: You’ll find it in your filing cabinet, under “A” for “anal.”
[they both EXIT]
Larry: I don’t really wanna know what he’s going to find in his filing cabinet, do you?
Ed: No.

 You also have some priceless Donna/Josh interactions, as they try to convince a single family to vote for the President in the upcoming election.  This episode balances light and heavy perfectly.  For every wacky moment when Josh is arguing with Donna about salmon preservation, there’s a dramatic moment that perfectly shows the relationship between two layered, complex characters:

Bartlett:  [playing chess with Toby] Let me tell you, you’re really showing some something tonight.  A lot of spunk, a lot of pluck.  This game isn’t all about size, you know.  There’s a little thing called heart and you’ve got it, my friend
Toby: You know what, old man?  The very minute they swear in the next guy you and I are going round and round.
Bartlett: Check.

 Number of times I’ve watched it: At least 5


# 7 – Community, “Cooperative Calligraphy”



Community is another show that has many, many rewatchable episodes.  But this one definitely takes the cake.  By its very nature, it completely fits one of my rules (number 3), in that it’s completely self-contained.  As a self-described “bottle episode,” this one takes place entirely in one location.  The premise is that Annie is missing a pen, and someone stole it, so they have to find it before anyone leaves, because otherwise they’ll never know which one of them is a “complete monster.”

What seems like an innocent mistake and an easily-solved problem quickly escalates into the kind of insanity that Community does so well.  Annie ends up accusing everyone, no one will admit to the deed, and having torn the room apart looking for it, they all strip to their underwear (YAY fanservice) before finally admitting defeat.  Between and betwixt, you have the kind of moments that make this an amazing show.

It’s a bottle episode.  No gimmicks (except for the fact that they lean on the fourth wall pretty hard by acknowledging the fact that it’s a bottle episode).  So the cast is left entirely to their own devices, and the question is, can they carry a show based on their interactions and relationships alone?  Yes.  Yes.  Definitely yes.  This is so self-contained, so rewatchable that I’d watch this episode anytime, anyplace.  Every thirty seconds there’s a quotable line, and it ends on a great note.

Number of times I’ve watched it: More than 10


#6 – Star Trek: TNG, “Schisms”

This episode is one of the “mystery” episodes of TNG, by which I mean the main plot arc is “something strange is happening on the Enterprise and they have to figure out what it is before everyone dies.”  This is also an episode that gave me nightmares as a child.  Why would you want to rewatch it if it’s made of Nightmare Fuel?  Because it’s totally creepy in the best way, and because of one specific scene.

I wish I could find a video link to the holodeck scene, but I can’t.  Doesn’t exist.  You’ll have to watch the episode itself, and in a way, it’s better, because it’s the buildup to the holodeck scene that gives it its power.  Just go watch it, damn it.  Hulu Plus, Netflix, whatever, TNG episodes aren’t exactly hard to find these days.  Here, here’s a bit of fun from that episode:

But you guys, YOU GUYS – the holodeck scene.  It’s a tour-de-force of how to build tension.  When all you’ve got is a black box and four people trying to figure out why they’re having strange sensations, prying at the line between awake and asleep, between dreams and nightmares… as they slowly, painstakingly recreate the memory of something they’ve been compelled to forget…  DAMN.  It starts so innocently, with a wooden table.  And it gets creepier and creepier.  You can see the recognition on their faces as each detail is added.  And when they add the SOUND… oh my god, those clicking sounds coming from the darkness.  “Faster,” orders Riker, to the holodeck.  “Louder.  More of them.”  The unnamed civilian woman slowly covers her face in abject terror.  “I’ve been in this room before,” says LaForge.  “We’ve all been in this room before,” says a grim-faced Riker.  Hooooooooooly hell, that’s how you nail a tense scene.

I know I’m being a bit vague, but for those of you who know what I’m talking about, you get it, right?  And for those of you that don’t, please, go watch the episode up to this point, at least, and get in on the fun.  Seriously.  Those clicks from the darkness… my skin still crawls when I watch that scene, 10 years after I saw it for the first time.  You don’t need stunning visual effects or cheap “made you jump” moments to create real, creeping terror in your audience.  All you need is a blank room, a cloud of doubt, and a sense of something awful.

Number of times I’ve watched it:  The full episode, 3 or 4.  Minutes 20 to 28, probably 15 times, at least.


OK, that’s it for part I!  Sound off below.  We’ll look at the top 5 spots next week.  As I said above, if anyone trumps one of the 5 I have in mind, I’ll write it up for next week’s article.

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  1. I totally agree with Sherlock… minus the praise for Irene Adler. She just another femme fatale who needs to be rescued, nothing new. I rolled my eyes when she walks out naked to throw off Sherlock. You’re an adult, wear clothes, and use your intelligence to confuse Sherlock versus you’re body.
    I much prefer Elementary’s version of Irene Adler (spoiler for episodes that aired months ago) who is revealed to be Mortiaty. It gives Adler something to do beyond quips and being rescued/helped. When she discovers Sherlock is ruining her plans, she creates the Irene Adler character, and begins a relationships with him to learn what makes him tick. Then she fakes her death to fuck with him and shows up later to further mess with him for the hell of it. *Way* more interesting then Adler sitting naked, but, covering herself while giving Sherlock her bitch face.

    *I thought that picture from Star Trek was from Community, but, apparently the imagitorium tape design was a nerd references I missed.

  2. Out of Gas- Firefly, sure the whole series but that episode is so awesome, the flashbacks to how the crew came to be and how much they have changed since being on Serenity is just hilarious/awesome/ such a good episode…and the ending “you guys ganna be here when i wake up” is really heartfelt and really shows how much Mal loves the crew and the ship and how afraid he really was to lose them

  3. @JuanSolo: I guess the key is that Michael Scott isn’t a character I root for, so seeing him in those incredibly awkward situations doesn’t factor into the equation for me. Plus, that whole “this is really uncomfortable, but funny” vibe was pretty much the bread and butter of that show.

    @LucLuc: I didn’t think Irene Adler was a terribly interesting character, but she was a GREAT foil for Sherlock, and let’s be honest, it’s not like we’re watching that show for the supporting cast. Sherlock IS the show. I didn’t have a problem with her whole “skin clothes” routine; it definitely fit the theme and tone of that episode (remember Sherlock going to Buckingham Palace dressed in a sheet?) I haven’t gotten to the “Elementary” version of Irene Adler, so I can’t comment there, but I’m really looking forward to getting that far in the series.

    @Timeconsumer15: I do have a “Firefly” episode on the list for Part II, but it’s not “Out of Gas.” (Although that is a great episode). All the time Mal spends painstakingly fumbling through the ship while asphyxiating/bleeding definitely adds to the tension, but drags a bit on repetition. I do agree that it’s a great episode, and that you’d be hard-pressed to find a “Firefly” episode that isn’t.

  4. I agree with you on all counts except the office. The dinner party is probably my least favorite episode ever.

    The problem with that episode is that they did too good a job of making the viewer feel like they were actually guests at the dinner party. You stated “This is what The Office did so well; moments that are so awkward you want to look away, but you can’t because you’re laughing.” I wasn’t laughing. Which just left me wanting to look away, far far away.

  5. Good list; LOVED that Sherlock episode. I offer another ST:TNG ep: The Best of Both Worlds Part 1. I watched it broadcast live and remember screaming at the “to be continued” graphics. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched that episode.

    Also just to hear Worf whine “he IS a Borg!”

  6. “Once More with Feeling” from Buffy is an episode I could watch everyday for the rest of my life and never get tired of it. Same for “Cooler” from this most recent season of New Girl.

  7. @Justin – I will admit perhaps that episode isn’t for everybody. God knows The Office had its low points. But how do you not laugh at lines like this?


    @SurlyB – I LOVE that episode. I had a similar experience watching it live. It would definitely be tops on my list of TV’s Best Cliffhangers. However, Part II would also be on my list of Biggest Letdowns, because after all that, the weapon does NOTHING.

    @alex – Definitely considering a Buffy episode, and “Once More with Feeling” is a classic. I don’t know, might be too easy. Plus, it might not fit my rules – I’ve definitely had times where I wouldn’t be in the mood for a musical episode.

    Ooooh, “Cooler,” is a great choice though! You get a stripping version of True American and then possibly the best on-screen kiss I’ve ever seen at the end. That’s a fantastic episode. Might have to put that one in part II of the article…

  8. That scene in The West Wing between Bartlet and Sam is all the reason why they should do a sequel where Sam is President. Rob Lowe gets to headline a series again, they can bring back some of the other cast, put in new ones… While I like The Newsroom, Sorkin should dump it and do TWW:TNG. 🙂

  9. I imagine it’s a given that there’ll be a Firefly episode in the top five.

    Out of Gas, for mine, although The Train Job and Objects in Space are decent shouts.

  10. Sorry I can’t get behind you on Schisms. I do get what you’re saying about the holodeck scene, it’s very effective. But that whole plot was lame even for TNG – OMG Alien abductions aah! It didn’t seem at all in character with a seasoned crew on an elite flagship that’s seen just about everything. It would have fit in better on XFiles or something.

    My best-of episodes would include “Blood Money” from Angel and “Out of Their Minds” from Farscape. Blood Money is a good standalone episode that explores the depths of Angel’s vendetta against Wolfram and Hart and how he uses innocent pawns to try to get to them. It’s a powerful exploration of the grey areas of morality with a great payoff. Out of Their Minds really explores the fun dynamics between all the major characters in that unique and trippy style that Farscape is known for.

  11. “The Zeppo” in Buffy is fantastic, and “Doppelgangland” is fun – two different Willow/Alysons for the price of one, and both feature hilarity and character development.

    “Puppet Show” from the BtVS spin-off, Angel, is also terrific fun.

    “LARP and the real Girl”, “Hunteri Heroici” as well as “Changing Channels” on Supernatural are also very enjoyable and rewatchable.

  12. @Jeremy – I’d definitely watch a TWW:TNG show 🙂 Hey, Rob Lowe is leaving Parks and Rec, this is the perfect time! I’d hate to see The Newsroom get dumped, though. I really enjoy that show even if others don’t. Sorkin’s ear for dialogue makes me forgive a lot of things, and Oliva Munn is just AMAZING in that show.

    @Chris – You are correct, there will definitely be a “Firefly” episode in the top 5. The question is which one… that’s two votes for “Out of Gas,” but from my own subjective view that falls more under the “Great episode, but I don’t need to see it more than a few times” heading. “Objects in Space” as well; plus I covered it in last week’s “Brilliant Series Finales” article. Honestly, it might have to be a wild card… “The Train Job” is possible.

    @Tristan – I’ll agree that “Schisms” doesn’t have a great payoff. When it’s all speculation about what’s happening to the crew, it’s more powerful – your mind comes up with WAY more creepy stuff than what actually happened, which is why the holodeck scene is so good. The last 10 minutes are pretty ‘bleh’.

    I will say that TNG did pretty consistently, at least a few times a season, go into a more X-Files type episode that had them dealing with some creepy, creepy stuff. “Phantasms,” “Dark Page,” “Conspiracy,” “Night Terrors,” – these episodes are all at least thrillers and partially horror.

    “Blood Money” is a good call. There are a few Angel episodes I’m considering but I’m not sure one will make the cut.

    @Pepper – definitely considering a Buffy episode. Ooooh, I’d forgotten about “Doppelgangland.” That might have to go on there. The Willow/Vamp Willow dynamic is worth the price of admission alone.

    From Angel, I think the episode you’re talking about is “Smile Time,” and that one might have to go on there as well just for its wackyness.

  13. 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.

  14. I’d nominate the ‘Slapsgiving’ episode of How I Met Your Mother. That one episode is so hilarious, and yet encapsulated to the point that you need not understand anything going on in the series in order to enjoy it.

    It definitely fits all of the criteria.

    Very rewatchable.

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