There are plenty of great television shows out there, but only a handful of episodes that are truly remarkable. These specific episodes stand out as some of the best the medium has ever seen.
1. “911” – Law & Order: SVU
“911” was a showcase for all that makes Olivia Benson great — the warmth, compassion, insight and instincts that make her both emotionally accessible and abnormally good at her job. Here, she gets a 911 call from a girl who is unaware of where she's being hidden. And as far as some of Benson's co-workers are concerned, the little girl might not even exist. But, using her sense of belief and hard-earned insight, Benson knows what's up, and her race to rescue the little girl makes this episode as compelling as any SVU offering to date.
2. “Felina” – Breaking Bad
The final episode of Breaking Bad sees Walter White maximize his genius for one last stand, and it was one that tied loose ends while exacting a truly complete vengeance. The final scene is, like Breaking Bad itself, a spectacle for the ages.
3. “Job Switching”- I Love Lucy
Many television fans believe I Love Lucy is the greatest comedy ever made. I will heartily agree as someone who considers this classic sitcom their all-time favorite. Although many think “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” to be the show's finest, that honor truly goes to “Job Switching.”
The episode features all of the show's trademarks: hilarious dialogue, physical comedy, and the ever-present conflict between the spouses. Between Ricky and Fred's kitchen disaster and Lucy and Ethel's iconic candy conveyor belt scene, viewers are treated to comedy at its very best.
4. “The Constant”- Lost
The groundbreaking supernatural drama defines what we call “event television.” Many episodes are incredible, but “The Constant” is spectacular in every way. As Desmond's consciousness keeps shifting from the present day on the island to his past, he must find the one person who can keep in steady and in one place- his true love Penny.
“The Constant” is an episode that bends the mind and abandons all sense of logic. But at the same time, Desmond's journey feels natural, and the emotions felt are powerful. Although “Through the Looking Glass” is just as remarkable, “The Constant” reigns supreme with its central heartbeat where love is the saving grace.
5. “All in The Family”- ER
Fans of ER would no doubt describe the series as intense and emotional. The large cast and style of jumping from character to character is an incredible way of reflecting the hectic nature of what ER doctors face every day. “All in the Family” is a pristine example of what the show did so well because it not only exemplifies that frantic tone but adds an unexpected element.
After doctors Lucy Knight and John Carter are stabbed, the pressure is on to find the troubled culprit and save the lives of their colleagues. This episode is like a punch to the gut and rarely allows the viewer to breathe. But that is the brilliance of this installment. “All in the Family” is chilling and heart-shattering and will stay with you long after the credits roll.
6. “That's My Boy”- The D Van Dyke Show
One of the best-written and performed sitcoms ever gave us a groundbreaking episode with “That's My Boy.” In the episode, we see a hilarious flashback to Rob and Laura Petrie bringing their son Richie home. Because there were so many mix-ups at the hospital between Laura and another woman, Mrs. Peters, Rob fears they've brought home the wrong baby.
It is only after Mr. and Mrs. Peters arrive at the Petrie home that Rob knows he is wrong. And it's because the couple is black. It's a hilarious moment that needs no dialogue to convey the message while also being a positive step forward in representation.
7. “Abyssinia, Henry”- Mash
The series that seamlessly blends timeless comedy with poignant drama reached history-making heights with “Abyssinia, Henry.” While one could argue for the finale's equally brilliant quality, few episodes have as lasting and profound an impact as this season three installment.
The goodbyes everyone gives to Henry Blake, who is finally being discharged from the Army, are emotional themselves. But the ending when they hear of his untimely demise will destroy anyone with a pulse. As one person says, this episode demonstrates how “Mash is not merely a sitcom. It's a war show.” And “Abyssinia, Henry” is a testament to the show's impactful nature. Only the finest episodes can carve out a permanent place in our collective hearts and minds.
8. “The One With The Embryos”- Friends
The silly comedy, likable and relatable characters, boundless energy, and sweet nature of Friends make this series one of the most successful ever. These elements are abundant in many episodes. But “The One With the Embryos” is arguably the funniest and best representation of what the show embodies.
While Phoebe prepares to be a surrogate, Ross comes up with a trivia game to prove who knows who best. Do you remember how many towel categories Monica has? The correct answer is 11. And that competition between Monica and Rachel versus Chandler and Joey goes down in history as one of the funniest and most iconic in TV history.
9. “Two Cathedrals”- The West Wing
Aaron Sorkin's White House drama is at its most riveting and emotional during this season two finale. As everyone is reeling from the exposure of the President's muscular dystrophy diagnosis and the tragic death of Mrs. Landingham, the President is contemplating whether he will run for a second term.
The narrative flashes back and forth between the present day and Bartlet as a teenager when he first knew Mrs. Landingham. One viewer describes the episode as “Absolutely breathtaking,” calling Bartlet “the best President we never had. “And that chill-inducing final frame solidifies “Two Cathedrals” as one of the undeniable greats.
10.”Christmas at Downton Abbey”- Downton Abbey
The absorbing and gorgeous British period drama has no shortage of breathtaking episodes. But the happiest and most emotionally satisfying episode is season two's touching finale. Tensions are high, and spirits are low. But the holiday works magic and brings our characters the happiness they deserve.
Mr. Bates is exonerated and returns home to Anna. At the same time, Mary breaks free from the cold and calculating Carlyle and finally comes together with her true love, Matthew. The radiant episode is filled with both a sense of triumph and peace, with the moment of Matthew proposing to Mary becoming the loveliest of the series.
11.”Ham Radio”- Frasier
Frasier is a brilliantly written show with an equally superb cast. The talent of writers and actors is fully displayed in “Ham Radio.” As Frasier gathers his family and colleagues to put on an old-fashioned mystery show radio broadcast, we are treated to one riotous moment after another. Many users share an appreciation for the comedic gold this episode delivers. For me, it's an episode that remains one of my most quoted ever.
12. “Stress Relief”- The Office
The absurdist office comedy reaches peak comedic greatness with the two-part “Stress Relief.”
Indeed, the first moments alone are perfect depictions of every character's defining characteristics, on top of being side-splitting hilarious. But then there's also the scene with CPR training. Between Dwight's over-the-top behavior and Kelly dancing while Michael and Andy break out in a rendition of “Stayin' Alive,” the episode is genius.
13. “Pie-lette”- Pushing Daisies
There has never been a creative, colorful, and whimsical show all at once, quite like Pushing Daisies. With the fast-paced, witty dialogue, unique premise, and unabashedly wholesome and romantic heart, the entire series of Pushing Daisies could be included on this list.
But for all intents and purposes, I'm going with the first episode, “Pie-lette.” It beautifully establishes the setting, the characters, and their unique qualities, feelings, and motivations. I defy anyone to watch this show and not fall instantly in love- or at least long for love as pure as the pie-maker Ned and lonely tourist Charlotte Charles.
14. “House's Head” and “Wilson's Heart”- House
The riveting medical drama that centers on the sardonic genius Dr. Gregory House delivers its most exceptional episode with the two-part finale of season four. The distinct plot has House employing different methods to unlock memories of before and after a bus crash. The realization that Wilson's girlfriend Amber is not long for this world is, one fan describes, “uniquely gut-wrenching.”
15. “Blue Bird”- The Mentalist
There are several worthwhile episodes of The Mentalist that could garner a spot on this list, especially the engrossing Red John storyline episodes. But the one that shines the brightest is the relationship between Patrick Jane and Teresa Lisbon at the center. Jane devises a rouse involving a cold murder case to win over Lisbon.
Of course, it goes awry, even though Jane does bring out the culprit. But that wasn't what he cared about. In the end, what touches her heart is when Jane is completely honest with her. And Jane telling Lisbon how much he loves her is done dramatically with a rush to the airport, tears, and utter honesty. It's an emotional culmination for his character that is raw, vulnerable, and superbly performed.
16. “The Fight”- Parks and Recreation
The distinctive and quirky characters from the Parks and Recreation Department of Pawnee, Indiana, are at their most hilariously open and vulnerable in “The Fight.” The cornerstone of the episode is the tension between Leslie and her best friend Ann, which explodes into their first fight thanks to a hefty dose of drinking.
Indeed, every character lets out their inner craziness thanks to “Snake Juice,” a drink with an extreme amount of alcohol. Straight-as-an-arrow Ron Swanson whose drunk dancing will someday be his TV history books. “The Fight” is platinum status.
17. “Mr. Yin Presents”- Psych
The brilliance of Psych cannot be understated. What makes “Mr. Yin Presents” earn that praise is its clever use of Alfred Hitchcock references, the frantic tension that builds through the episode, and the genuine emotion felt throughout. As the characters race to discover Mr. Yin's identity, they find themselves pawns in his twisted game.
Although “Last Night Gus” is equally worthy, “Mr. Yin Presents” is not only Psych's but also one of television's most exemplary for one crucial reason. For a series that is primarily a comedy, this episode proves that they are capable of more than the goofy antics, entertaining as they are. It's an episode that is a fast-paced and twisty thriller with chilling and heart-wrenching moments.
18. “The Luck of the Fryish”- Futurama
There's something so emotional about “The Luck of the Fryish” and the episode even won an Annie Award for its writing. The episode follows Fry and his friends as he sets off to find his lucky seven-leaf clover from his childhood. He's convinced his brother took his identity after he was frozen and achieved all this grand stuff using his identity.
This episode explores family, isolation, and loneliness in really funny but complex ways. A lot of fans believe this is the best episode of Futurama ever made.
19. “Charlie Work”- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Not only is “Charlie Work” a hilarious episode, it's a feat in filming and acting on Charlie Day's part. Charlie Kelly is the only one at the bar worried about an upcoming health inspection that he's preparing for as the rest of the gang is developing a scheme that includes expensive steaks. Charlie is forced to juggle dealing with the gang's antics and passing the health inspection, which leads to an amazing scene that's filmed without any cuts. It's one of the most intense, hilarious scenes in the entire show.
20. “Whenever You're Ready”- The Good Place
Without spoiling the show that relies so much on plot twists, the final episode of The Good Place is a wonderful way to close a show that is so deep in philosophy. For a show about dead people, “Whenever You're Ready” does a great job of talking about death and acceptance.
If you're a fan of The Good Place, prepare for this episode to make you cry your eyes out.
21. “Hush”- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
There's a lot to say about “Hush,” but the episode is the perfect mix of spooky, all while being a feat for the show. The episode is about a fairytale group of monsters called “The Gentlemen” who steal everyone's voices, leaving much of this episode without spoken dialogue. Out of the entire 44 minutes of this episode, there's only about 17 minutes worth of dialogue. Fans still talk about how “The Gentlemen” are some of the most terrifying villains to ever be apart of the show.
22. “Blink”- Doctor Who
“Blink” is an episode that Doctor Who fans will talk about, even years after they have seen it. The episode introduces audiences to one of the most terrifying, yet iconic monsters of the show, The Weeping Angels. If you blink for a second, you're dead.
This episode is full of great writing, acting, and of course jump scares by the angels. It's known as one of the best episodes ever in the show's long run.
Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature from San Diego State University. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture and geek related, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency, Christianity Today, and The La Jolla Light. She writes on her own website TheGirlyNerd.com, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video. She resides in San Diego, California.