Continuing with Top Five Week, today’s list will be my “Top five favorite TV episodes of all-time.”
In my almost 40 years on this planet, I’ve watched a lot of television. Most of those shows and their episodes barely made an impact and were forgotten as soon as they were over. For one reason or another, these five episodes made a lasting impact on me.
5. The Cosby Show – Happy Anniversary
I know we’re probably not supposed to talk about the work of Bill Cosby in glowing terms anymore, but it’s tough to deny that The Cosby Show was one of the greatest sitcoms of all time. I’m curious: When Cosby dies, are we going to give him the Michael Jackson treatment, in which we sort of ignore all the shady stuff, and just reflect on his brilliant work as an entertainer?
This episode featured the Huxtable clan trying to wish Cliff’s parents a happy anniversary. The episode was just okay until the end when the family did an elaborate lip sync routine to Ray Charles’ “The Night Time is the Right Time.”
4. The Simpsons – Last Exit to Springfield
Season four of the Simpsons may be the best season of a TV series ever. Just about every episode is a classic, and “Last Exit” is probably the best of the bunch.
It’s hard to remember, considering he turned into somewhat of an irredeemable jerk in later seasons, but early Homer was an overall good guy. He was still an oaf, and still uncouth, but he seemed to mean well. He often ended up doing to right thing, if only by accident. This episode probably sums up that version of Homer.
Despite being horribly outmatched, Homer becomes head of the labor union, and somehow ends up winning the standoff with Mr. Burns. There are so many good moments in this one, including the classic Lisa at the dentist/Joker scene.
3. Family Matters – Laura’s First Date
Family Matters began as a spinoff of Perfect Strangers. At first, it was a generic sitcom about the life of the Winslow family. And then came this episode, in which Laura Winslow needed a date to the dance, and one potential suitor was her nerdy classmate Steve Urkel.
I re-watched the episode recently, and sadly, it hasn’t held up that well. But I assure you that at the time, I have never laughed as hard at a TV show as I did when watching this.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Urkel – intended to be a one-off character – was soon brought back, and eventually made the main character of the show. Sadly, this soon led to overexposure, and Urkel eventually became one of the most annoying characters ever. But his debut? That was comedy gold.
2. The Ben Stiller Show – Pilot
The Ben Stiller show was before its time. Had the show debuted in the You Tube age, it might have had a chance to build up a following via viral sharing of clips. Unfortunately, in 1993, a sketch comedy show on Fox didn’t have much of a chance to build a huge following.
I remember seeing the pilot episode and being blown away by just how clever it was. First, they had a great mash-up of Cape Fear and the Munsters:
Next came a “Rockumentary” that combined U2 and The Patridge Family. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does:
And this might be the best non-Yankovic song parody ever made:
The rest of the show’s one season run was good, but honestly, I always felt a bit disappointed after watching it. The pilot episode was so good that they set a standard that was almost impossible to match.
1. Transformers – Heavy Metal War
The Transformers were my absolute favorite toy/pop culture phenomenon (and is there really a difference?) growing up. I thought season one of the tie-in cartoon was the pinnacle of entertainment. And then, in the final episode of the season, they somehow managed to raise the bar even higher.
The episode introduced a new group of bad guys: The Constructicons. Normally, I’d say there was nothing special about robots changing into construction vehicles. After all, we already had robots who changed into planes and guns. But toward the end of the episode, they did something unexpected, and it just about blew my mind.
The Constructicons were fighting the Dinobots (And don’t think I wasn’t already pretty pumped about seeing robots who changed into dinosaurs) when they combined into a giant robot named Devastator. My seven-year old brain just about overloaded. I was watching robot dinosaurs fight a super-robot, and it was the awesomest thing ever. And that is why it remains my favorite episode of all time.