Over the summer, in anticipation of the Best of Decade list, we asked our readers in a comment diversion to name the best stand-alone episode of the decade, and after tabulating all the mentions, we have what you see below: A pretty great, solid, if not remarkable, top ten. Like any top ten list that encompasses an entire decade, many of your favorites will be left off — it’s the nature of lists. But this time, at least, you can only blame yourselves.
A couple of notes: We selected only one episode per program, otherwise there may have been multiple episodes from a few shows (“The Office” and “The West Wing,” to name two). Obviously, since we ran the diversion over the summer, no shows during the latter half of the year are included, though the only one that I believe might even warrant some consideration was the third season finale of “Mad Men.” I might also add, on a personal note, that although only four or five of you probably saw it, this week’s episode of “Friday Night Lights” (on DirectTV) definitely would’ve made my own top ten — it was the most heart-wrenching of an often heart-wrenching series (there were a few mentions of various “FNL,” “30 Rock,” “BSG,” and “Arrested Development” episodes among your choices, but not enough of a consensus around one to elevate it into the top ten). Look for “FNL” on NBC in the Spring.
With that out of the way, here are The Ten Best Stand-Alone TV Episodes of the Aughts: Readers’ Choice:
10. Doctor Who — “Blink.” The episode focuses on a young woman, Sally Sparrow, trying to solve the connection between 17 disparate DVD titles, and statues that move when no-one is looking at them. Meanwhile, The Doctor is lost in time and within the walls of an old, abandoned house, a mystery is afoot and the Weeping Angels await.
9. The Wire — “Final Grades.” Season Four finale. The police are overwhelmed by the vacant houses’ yield. Meanwhile, Bubbles takes a protégé’s fate hard, Colvin asks Wee-Bey for a big favor, Omar looks to rob Joe’s co-op once again, Marlo gives Michael his first assignment, McNulty mulls a return to his old unit, Bodie voices his displeasure with the current regime, and Carver runs out of time trying to help Randy.
8. How I Met Your Mother — “The Slap Bet.” The gang discovers that Robin’s been hiding a huge secret, but they have no idea what it is. Marshall thinks she is married, and Barney thinks she was a porn star.
7. Buffy the Vampire Slayer — “The Body.” Buffy is devastated when she arrives home and finds her mother dead. The rest of the gang try their best to pull themselves out of their own grief so that they can help Buffy and Dawn to deal with the worst day of their lives.
6. Veronica Mars — “An Echolls Family Christmas.” A holiday poker game at Logan’s house gets nasty when Weevil’s winnings disappear, leaving Veronica to determine the guilty party before Weevil finds his own way of getting the money back. Meanwhile, Keith helps Lynn Echolls find out who is sending threatening messages to her husband, Aaron, before their big Christmas party.
5. The Office — “Casino Night.” Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton office hosts a casino night, to which Michael inadvertently invites two dates. Meanwhile, Jim decides to transfer to Dunder Mifflin’s Stamford branch and reveals to Pam his feelings for her.
4. Scrubs — “My Screw Up.” Jordan’s brother and sister return, but Dr. Cox learns that his brother-in-law Ben hasn’t visited a doctor about his cancer in the two years he has been gone traveling the world.
3. The West Wing — “Two Cathedrals.” On the day of Mrs. Landingham’s funeral, the staff deals with a Haitian presidential crisis and the law suit against the big tobacco companies, and Bartlet must decide about running for reelection.
2. Futurama — “Jurassic Bark.” Fry reads in the newspaper that archaeologists have recreated an old pizzeria from the 20th Century. He and Bender go to see it and discover that it is in fact Panucci’s Pizza, the pizzeria Fry used to work at in 1999. Fry also discovers that the fossilized remains of his old dog Seymour are on display. Fry campaigns to get Seymour back and eventually does, and Farnsworth says he can use the cloning machine to bring Seymour back to life.
1. Lost — “The Constant.” The helicopter runs into some turbulence on the way to the freighter, somehow causing the mental phenomena Desmond has been experiencing to finally come to a head. Sayid eventually helps Desmond to talk to Daniel Faraday back on the island, who is very intrigued to learn of the experiences Desmond has been undergoing and attempts to help him.