I like my television. I’ve watched a lot of it over the years. Probably a bit too much as a matter of fact. But having watched all this TV, it’s exposed me to some rare moments of truly awesome telly – moments that suck you in, make you laugh, make you cry, make you angry. I thought now would be a good time to reflect upon some of my favourite bits of telly from over the last few decades.
Now these aren’t in order of preference or anything – they’re just great bits of telly that I think everyone should see.
And yes, OF COURSE this blog entry is going to be ridden with SPOILERS. So beware. Lots of old shows and old twists, but nonetheless – SPOILERS!
So onto the cut and thrust of this entry!
1) Red Dwarf VI – Out Of Time
The crew have met their future selves (who are stranded with a malfunctioning time machine), and are disgusted at the self-indulgent, immoral people they have turned into. Lister trains his bazookoid on the future crew, ordering them back to their own ship, refusing to help them. The future crew turn on their past selves, attacking them with their upgraded weaponry. As Lister, Cat, and then Kryten are killed, Rimmer must try and save the day. Running desperately through the crumbling ship, bazookoid in hand, he shoots the time machine – hoping to erase the future crew from existence. As he shoots the machine, a laser blast plows through Starbug, and the screen fades to black in a shower of sparks…
The final moments of Red Dwarf VI made my heart leap into my chest when I first watched it – an awesome cliffhanger stylistically very different from the norm of the show. The awesomeness of the cliffhanger was compounded by the fact that Dwarf fans had to wait over 3 years for the resolution, but seeing Rimmer take the initiative, conquer his fear and do something heroic more than made up for it – and neatly foreshadowed his leaving the show two episodes later as a true hero.
2) 24 – Day 1, 11pm-12pm
Jack Bauer has been through hell and back trying to save his kidnapped family and stop the assassination of Presidential Candidate Palmer. Finally confronted with crimelord Viktor Drazen, Bauer shoots him in cold blood, and Drazen plunges into a dock. Still fuelled by vengeance, Bauer unloads the remainder of his clip into Drazen’s dead body.
US Television had started getting darker in tone and content over the 90’s, but 24 took it to a whole new level. Watching the hero of the piece indulge himself (for want of a better word) in the cold blooded killing of the bad guy was a big shock back in 2002 – not because we wanted him to do it, but because he actually did it! A real slice of macabre satisfaction after 23 episodes of pain and betrayal!
3) Life On Mars – Series 2, Episode 8
Sam Tyler has woken up in 2006, finally recovering from a coma that placed him in 1973 in his own mind. In waking up he has effectively abandoned his dream-state colleagues and his DCI, Gene Hunt, to death. Disillusioned at life in the present day, and haunted by a promise he made to Annie in 1973, Sam climbs to the roof of Manchester CID, and to the stirring Bowie soundtrack, throws himself off the building to get back to 1973…
After 2 series of guesswork (Dead? Coma? Actually back in time?) Life On Mars ends on a nail-biting high, tying up loose ends and leaving just enough ambiguity about the world of Gene Hunt to fuel the fantastic follow up, Ashes To Ashes – but more on that later. The crazy thing about this ending is that for months we were willing Sam to get back to the present, and once he manages that we realise… we were wrong. Sam needed 1973. The whole experience is sweetened by the fact that even though Ashes To Ashes answers even more of the mystery of Sam’s dream-world, the ending is still utterly amazing.
4) Spaced – Series 2, Episode 5
Tim and Daisy are confronted by a gang of youths in a dark alley, about to be mugged. Daisy and Tim suddenly pull out imaginary firearms, and a playground style imaginary gunfight ensues. As the youths play dead, Tim and Daisy leg it.
One of many perfectly pitched scenes in this fantastic sit-com, this is just brilliant. There’s nothing funnier than watching a pretend gangster style gunfight, shot like a gangster film, in slow motion, with a haunting classical score. A crowning moment of comedy in the show!
5) Cracker – Brotherly Love
DC Beck raped colleague DC Penhaligan in the second series finale. He then spends the start of series three getting more and more guilt ridden, until eventually, hand-cuffed to a murder suspect, Beck breaks down, apologises to Penhaligan… and then jumps off a high-rise tower block, sending him and the murder suspect to their deaths.
Cracker was a slow burn, bringing tense storylines together slowly and surely, building to super-tense, dramatic conclusions, and Becks story was resolved amazingly in his powerful suicide. You felt sorry for him in the end, but you were still glad to see the back of the slimy bastard.
6) Quantum Leap – Series 5, Mirror Image
Sam gets the chance to go home after leaping around in time for over five years – but instead takes the chance to revisit a crucial point in his best friend Al’s past, and save Al’s marriage. As Sam leaps away a simple title card informs us that Sam never leapt home.
The finale to Quantum Leap was an absolute mind bender of an episode, capped with an ending that was touching, poignant, and utterly heartbreaking. Knowing that Sam never returns home is just soul destroying… and yet totally in character for Sam.
7) Grey’s Anatomy – Season 6 Finale
Earlier in the season, a patient refused to be resuscitated by DNR, and the hospital let her die, not wanting to break the law. Now, the patient’s grief stricken husband shows up at the hospital with a gun… and goes on a random killing spree as he heads toward the chief surgeon’s office…
Grey’s has always made memorable season enders, but this just blows them out of the water! From the first gun shot, where a new character this year is shot point blank in the head, you are left fearing for the lives of the entire cast. There’s a dread sense that no-one is safe, and the drama and tension just builds and builds… it’s awesome. I don’t care if you think it’s a namby pamby medical soap.
8) Doctor Who – The Eleventh Hour
So Matt Smith has stepped into Tennant’s shoes, and Who fans and the general audiences everywhere are wondering how he’s going to measure up. And it’s so wonderful to see that as soon he steps into the role, Matt Smith is completely and utterly, THE Doctor. Plus bow ties are cool.
9) Ashes To Ashes – Series 1, Episode 8
Little Alex’s dad has just tried to wipe out his own family in a car bomb. As the adult Alex watches her younger self escape the car, she sees her father turn into the clown of death that’s been haunting her all series.
Hidden under make-up all series, viewers had no clue who the clown was representing – so to see him be her own father was just an awesome revelation, and just like that… he’s gone.
10) Ashes To Ashes – Series 3, Episode 8
After 39 episodes of Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes we finally learn that Gene Hunt as an idealistic, naive young copper, killed before his time. So strong willed, he couldn’t move on, instead fashioning a limbo world where dead or dying police officers would go to resolve their issues before moving on. The final moments of the episode, as Gene bids farewell to his team as they all move on, is both sad and wonderful at the same time. Epic, epic television.
11) The Simpsons – And Maggie Makes Three
Homer tells Bart and Lisa why there are no pictures of Maggie anywhere at home – he has them where he needs them most. We see the plaque that Mr Burns has erected over Homer’s workstation – “Don’t Forget – You’re Here Forever” – but Homer has covered the words with pictures of Maggie so it now reads “Do It For Her”.
If this episode doesn’t warm your heart and bring a tear to your eye, then you must be dead. End of.
12) Futurama – Jurassic Bark
Fry has found the fossilised remains of his old dog, Seymour. Given the chance to resurrect it, he chooses not to – reasoning that Seymour lost him as a young dog, and would have forgotten Fry in the 12 years that followed. We then see Seymour in the past, after Fry has been frozen. Seymour dilligently waits outside Fry’s home for his master to come home, growing older over ther years, until he eventually closes his eyes for the last time.
I am not a dog lover at all – but even so, you cannot fail to be moved by the sheer heartbreak of the end of this episode. It’s a masterpiece of story and animation, and although in later years “Bender’s Big Score” would give a happier ending for Seymour, this is still incredibly powerful.
There’s loads more, of course… what do you think?