overthinking the idiot box

April 24, 2006

Crap Show/Great Episode

by the SMRT-TV Staff

This feature was pitched by staffer Luke Geddes, who posited the notion that some of the absolute worst shows on TV miraculously have at least one genuinely good episode. Everyone's idea of good and bad is slightly different, but below find some of the episodes that kept the staff from totally regretting the decision to keep watching.

Desperate Housewives, "Pilot"
Before the narration became nothing but white noise, before the women devolved into caricatures of their already-flimsy selves, and before we found out that the most interesting character had committed suicide in the showÕs opening minutes, Desperate Housewives had some real promise. An interesting mystery was set up in the showÕs pilot, an endearing mˇlange of histrionics, gallows humor, slapstick, romance, and true drama. All of this would later be wasted on a show with no sense of character or direction, but for that one hour on October 3, 2004, Desperate Housewives gave suburbia its biggest shot of adrenaline since American Beauty.

-Michael Adams

Full House, "Secret Admirer"
In this season 4 classic, prankster Rusty (the son of Danny's girlfriend — that week) writes a phony love note to D.J. but neglects to sign it. What follows is a series of mistaken identities that increasingly undermines the suspended disbelief of the average 10-year-old viewer. The note is passed around the house and each member of the extended family misinterprets it in his or her own zany way. Jesse, overcome with jealous rage, believes it to be a missive from Danny to his wife Becky. Joey assumes that Becky is moving in on him, and a suspicious Danny wonders if Joey is hitting on his new girlfriend. Best of all, Kimmy thinks it's from Jesse — as if there weren't already enough sexual tension between those two!

The characters have even less depth than usual in this episode, but it only exaggerates the comic effect. The web of lies in "Secret Admirer" forms a mobius strip of surprising hilarity that unravels in final act's explosive denouement. And, really: who can forget the infamous Pickle Town exchange?

Yes, it is just Full House, but admit it. The premise, tottering over the verge of complete stupidity, is so convoluted and ridiculous that Arrested Development could have done it.
Yes, it is just Full House, but admit it. The premise, tottering over the verge of complete stupidity, is so convoluted and ridiculous that Arrested Development could have done it.

Of course it's not particularly clever, but as far as empty-calorie family sitcoms go, it doesn't get any better. It's not even Full House doing what it does best; this may be the only episode whose conclusion does not include a moralizing monologue from Danny.

Yes, what I mean to say is that "Secret Admirer" is Full House at its most nihilistic.

-Luke Geddes

Commander in Chief, "Pilot"
Rod Lurie reached back into the same world he'd drawn for the feature film The Contender and brought forth an intriguing character, a strong woman with political savvy and real power in the modern world. Mackenzie Allen was smart, she was savvy, she was stylish — and she was utterly doomed. What Aaron Sorkin had done with The American President and The West Wing, Lurie just couldn't match. (As we all know, Lurie got kicked off his own show, and Steven Bochco was brought in to hasten the show's demise.) But the first episode of Commander in Chief? It projected the kind of political fantasy that made for a brilliant hour of television. It was the kind of great television that was too good to last, and the fact it would jump the shark in the second episode (it managed to rip off The West Wing in both its A and B plots!) couldn't keep star Geena Davis from winning a Golden Globe.

-D. Roberts Keenan

Dawson's Creek, "Clean and Sober"
Although Dawson's Creek rarely rose much above WB Tween Show mediocrity, even long-time fans have to admit that the last season was particularly bad. The powers that be had already committed the certain-death, shark-jumping sin of sending the kids to college the season before and seemed determined to kill the show in the most gruesome way possible. I mean... Pacey as a stockbroker? Really? But then, towards the end, a gem emerged, an episode that can be summed up in two words: Drunk Joey. A wild party at Pacey and Jack's place involves a broken TV, a green-card marriage, a game of spin the bottle, and Jen having sex with a hot guy on top of everyone else's coats — so, ew, but also, can we pack any more sitcom cliches into this episode? — but somehow all is redeemed because Joey gets drunk. And regardless of how you feel about Sober Joey (I found her insufferable) you have to admit that Drunk Joey is awesome: she's blunt, she's mean, she makes a hilarious joke about Jen killing Abby Morgan — proving the writers maybe were aware of continuity, contrary to other evidence — and she tries to make out with Pacey, just like in the show's glory days. (The series finale was kind of awesome, too, if only because we find out that Deputy Doug was gay after all.)

-Erin O'Brien

Ren and Stimpy, "Log"
I watched a LOT of Nickelodeon as a kid and I pretty much felt that everything my eyes beheld on the channel was the purest of gold (The Tomorrow People, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Salute Your Shorts, the list goes on and on). But there was one show on the network I just could not tolerate...and that show was Ren and Stimpy. I just didn't understand a show that stared a cat and a dog that weren't cute and fluffy and adorable and just seemed to fart a lot. However, I would periodically catch an episode here and there and one bit in the show would always put me in hysterics...and that was Log. A children's toy consisting of dressing up a block of wood with an incredibly catchy little theme song: "It's Log, it's Log. It's big, it's heavy it's wood. It's Log, it's Log. It's better than bad: it's good!"

-Jenni Powell

Lost, "Walkabout"
Okay, okay, there are a handful of episodes of Lost that are successful, but none are nearly as impressive as "Walkabout." Before he became a self-righteous blowhard, John Locke was Lost's most intriguing character: a combination of canny survival skills and silent resolve. "Walkabout" remains the best example of Lost's flashback-laden premise, opening with the amusing revelation that the tough-as-nails Locke was a mild-manned box salesman in his pre-island life, and ending with the series' best twist. When Locke regained the use of his legs after the crash, the series seemed to promise that further wonders were imminent. Then the show became a hit, got picked up for the full season, and the writers decided that peering down a hole served as a suitable season-ending cliffhanger. But what a great beginning!

-Jeff Stone

Just Shoot Me, "Slow Donnie"
David Cross guest-starred in a hilarious episode of Just Shoot Me entitled "Slow Donnie." (He also appeared in the not-so-hilarious subsequent episodes, "Donnie Returns" and "Donnie Redeemed.") Cross plays Elliott's brother, who faked brain damage for over a decade — because staying with his mom and not having to get a job was such a sweet deal. The "chicken pot, chicken pot, chicken pot piiiieee" song will stay with you for a lifetime. In a good way. Also not to be missed are the episode's stupid-but-still-funny subplots involving a pneumatic message system and some evil parakeets. Hey, I'm not alone in this; the episode got an Emmy nomination for best writing.

-Jill Weinberger

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