Noel Murray over at the AV Club has launched what promises to be a great new bi-weekly column, “A Very Special Episode.” He’ll be writing about various television episodes, from different eras and genres. As he explains, it’s not an attempt to pick the best TV episodes ever or even the best episodes of these shows, but to write about TV episodes that have some element that continues to be fascinating or to say something about our relationship to the TV medium.
The reason I like this idea is that it’s an attempt to do a TV column that’s similar in tone and focus to a lot of the better movie columns, where the writer picks a movie and identifies some theme in it that is particularly interesting and relevant. It’s different with TV, obviously, because an episode can’t be discussed in a complete vacuum (if you haven’t seen a bunch of episodes, and let the storytelling style of the show seep into your bloodstream as it were, you haven’t really watched that one episode either). But still, the episode is the essential unit of television — not the season, not the series, but the episode, that little mini-movie where the storytelling takes place — and a lot of online discussion of television episodes is inevitably less about the episode and more about where it fits into the series. How good a season is this? What’s going to happen next week, based on this episode? Is the character growing or regressing? If you’re discussing a current show, you can’t help but discuss episodes that way. I know I can’t.
So it’s good to see a more episode-specific discussion: what happens in this episode, what themes are conveyed — not, you will note, what themes the show may have intended to convey — and what we take away from this 25 or 50-minute viewing. It’s a way of giving the episode format the respect it deserves.
The first column is about one of the founding documents of television storytelling, The Honeymooners, and an episode that is to some extent about the medium of television itself.
Normally I would end this by saying what shows and episodes I would like to see Murray cover, but the whole comment section seems to be mostly about that, so I’ll back off.