Someday I’ll probably run out of TV-related lists to write. Today is not that day, as I was just thinking about episodes of my favorite series that moved me from mere enjoyment to all out love. To pare down the list, I’m avoiding shows that commanded my undying affection within their first hour. That’d be the pilot of Lost, the Battlestar Galactica miniseries, and the first five minutes of The West Wing.
That being said, here are some thoughts on the episodes that convinced me I was watching something brilliant. Warning: As always, there are spoilers ahead.
Angel: Episode 1.8, “Hero”
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to determine whether I prefer Angel or Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the Great Whedonverse Race. That said, I think Angel’s dramatic high points are often more affecting than Buffy’s, and that’s true from an early point. The earliest instance occurs in “Hero,” in which one of the three central characters, Doyle (the late Glenn Quinn), passes his visionary power on to Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) with a wrenchingly sincere kiss before dying. Doyle, you see, is half-demon, something Cordelia does not know. The monsters of the week have created a Beacon that kills all half-breeds in a certain distance. To save those others like him, Doyle takes the fall, creating a truly dramatic moment and therefore solidifying Angel as one quality show.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Episode 1.7, “Angel”
Ah, the birth of Angel’s rich mythology. Viewers are clued in to so much about Angel in this single episode that it could’ve easily felt like an overly expositional info dump. But no, instead, it flows as seamlessly as the best episodes of Buffy. Bits and pieces of Angel’s past are revealed, Angel shows himself to be far from your run of the mill bloodthirsty vamp, and Angel and Buffy share their first kiss. The moment in which the cross around Buffy’s neck burns a temporary scar into Angel’s chest, though not so subtle, is a well executed narrative move forward–though their relationship has the potential to be beautiful, it’s not going to come without pain.
Avatar: The Last Airbender: Episode 1.12, “The Storm”
I love origin stories. And from the first episode, it seemed pretty clear to me that Avatar was on its way to a pretty good one with the character of Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen). “The Storm” delivers in a way few origin stories do; it gives Aang the kind of depth that normally goes unseen on an animated show (just further proof that Avatar is so much more than a children’s program). We learn that Aang is far from perfect, and that he’s still struggling with the flatly irresponsible moves he made in the past. And we learn that Katara (Mae Whitman) and Sokka (Jack DeSena) are willing to accept what he did in the past, knowing that going forward, he’ll be working to fix any grave mistake he made. The heart of Avatar is revealed, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Community: Episode 1.9, “Debate 109”
This episode gets at what’s unique about Community: its willingness to feel oddly surreal in a relatively normal setting. While the A plot–Jeff (Joel McHale) and Annie (Alison Brie) team up for a debate competition against the evil geniuses of City College–is great, even better is the absurdity of the B plot, in which Abed (Danny Pudi) begins making films about his study group that accurately depict their future actions. This culminates in some eerie coincidences, one of which involves a werewolf attack that closely follows a kiss between Jeff and Annie that Abed unbelievably predicted. It’s Community’s subversion of the typical half-hour comedy that makes it so original and consistently funny, and this was the first grand example of that idea at work.
The X-Files: Episode 1.11, “Eve”
Despite its complete nosedive somewhere around the time Cary Elwes shows up in the season 9 pilot, The X-Files was, for a time, everything good TV should be–dramatic, consistently interesting, full of heart, humorous, and completely worth watching. The first time the show truly struck every single chord on that list was with “Eve,” which explored the idea of human clothing in a thoroughly non-hokey way. The idea that human cloning could begin successfully and end with a throng of completely insane, intimidatingly smart, extra-chromosomed (that’s a word now!) women is a harrowing one–and perversely entertaining at that.