Best Episodes of the 21st Century: The Best of the Rest

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Community “Remedial Chaos Theory” (Season 3, Episode 4)
Seven characters, seven alternate timelines and one seriously genius approach to comedy. The roll of a Yahtzee die determines who meets the pizza guy downstairs, and with each iteration, we see new sides of these community college pals (including Joel McHale, Donald Glover and Alison Brie) as well as the show we came to love for its daring, boundary-pushing storytelling. — John Hogan

ABC/Eric McCandless

Black-ish “Hope” (Season 2, Episode 16)
A spoonful of sugar helps the medicinego down—and never has that been more apparent than on this pivotal episode about police brutality. Tackling such a hot-button issue could’ve easily turned divisive or preachy. Instead, the sitcom approached it with candor and humor as the various members of the Johnson family articulate their clashing viewpoints, reaching across racial, generational and political boundaries in the process. Family matters, indeed. — Ingela Ratledge

THE SHIELD - Michael Chiklis, Walton Goggins
Prashant Gupta/FX

The Shield “Postpartum” (Season 5, Episode 11)
Setting in motion the inevitable collapse of the corrupt Strike Team with tragic power and a literal bang, a panicked Shane (Walton Goggins) fears his partner, Lem (Kenneth Johnson), will flip. His solution: Drop a grenade in Lem’s lap. Boss Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) vows to find Lem’s killer, never imagining it’s his trusted deputy. — Matt Roush

The Crown - Claire Foy

The Crown “Act of God” (Season 1, Episode 4)
Many episodes of Netflix’s royal tale feel like a movie, but this mesmerizing hour set amid the suffocating “Great Smog” tragedy of 1952 is especially evocative. The environmental crisis enveloping London also precipitates an early battle of wills between the young, untested monarch (Claire Foy) and her aging but undaunted prime minister, Winston Churchill (Emmy winner John Lithgow). — Matt Roush

House M.D.

House “House’s Head” (Season 4, Episode 15)
The medical drama broke from its disease-of-the-week format to travel inside the mind of misanthropic Dr. House (Hugh Laurie). Trying to access memories of a bus crash that fractured his skull, he subjects himself to hypnosis, drugs and more. As he relives the accident, we go on each trippy, dreamlike journey. — Kate Hahn

Byron Cohen/FXX

You’re the Worst “The Heart Is a Dumb Dumb” (Season 2, Episode 13)
The ribald rom-com hits a high point when Gretchen (Aya Cash) agrees to seek help for her depression after she exchanges I-love-yous with boyfriend Jimmy (Chris Geere). The sweet final moments of the episode realize this show’s unspoken promise: that, while fumbling toward connection with each other, seemingly rotten people can get better. — John Russell

30 Rock - Peewee Herman, Jane Krakowski

30 Rock “Black Tie” (Season 1, Episode 12)
If Paul Reubens’s screamingly twisted guest spot as a sickly, doll-handed royal with stick-on eyebrows and a fatal champagne allergy isn’t enough, there’s also a Real Housewives–caliber catfight between Liz (Tina Fey) and boss Jack’s ex-wife (Isabella Rossellini) and a “Yo mama” joke so dirty, it’s been cut out of syndicated reruns. — Damian Holbrook

The Leftovers - Justin Theroux
Van Redin/HBO

The Leftovers “International Assassin” (Season 2, Episode 8)
In the drama about those left behind after 2 percent of the Earth’s population inexplicably vanishes, former police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux) wakes up in an alternate reality. His mission: Kill cult leader Patti Levin (Ann Dowd), who in this world is a presidential candidate. We still don’t get it, but we’re happy to watch over and over until we do. —Kate Hahn

Law & Order: SVU - Mariska Hargitay
Michael Parmelee/NBC

Law & Order: SVU “Surrender Benson” (Season 15, Episode 1)
Season 14 ended with a major cliffhanger: Would Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) die at the hands of killer rapist William Lewis (a frightening Pablo Schreiber)? Worried fans even started a #SaveBenson campaign. The show returned with the detective still thankfully alive, though in a desperate fight for survival. Her eventual brutal and justified takedown of the villain is beyond cathartic and leads the way for the brave cop’s rebuilding of her life. — Ileane Rudolph

The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis” (Season 2, Episode 11)
The comedy’s first holiday episode introduces one of Sheldon’s (Jim Parsons, right) many pet peeves: the obligation involved in gift-giving. After learning that neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco) has a present for him, he grudgingly buys several gift baskets of varied prices to match the unknown value of what she has for him. But it turns out Penny’s present is priceless—a used napkin signed by Sheldon’s hero Leonard Nimoy that she picked up while waitressing. Sheldon is so moved, the usually affection-phobic scientist can’t help but give Penny a hug. It’s a Christmas miracle! — Jim Halterman

GIRLS - Lena Dunham, Matthew Rhys

Girls “American Bitch” (Season 6, Episode 3)
Creator-star Lena Dunham used her character Hannah’s encounter with an author (Matthew Rhys) accused of sexual misconduct to expose the ways in which powerful men exploit the often blurry lines of consent. Sure, the series always courted controversy, but this stand-alone episode is even timelier now than it was when it first aired in early 2017, and should be required viewing for anyone wanting to understand the current #MeToo moment. —John Russell

Arrested Development - Jason Bateman

Arrested Development “The Immaculate Election” (Season 2, Episode 14)
Never have the Bluths crammed so many “huge mistakes” into one half hour. Michael (Jason Bateman) pressures dorky son George Michael (Michael Cera) to run for class office. His platform: chastity. His opponent? Popular Steve Holt (Justin Grant Wade), Uncle Gob’s (Will Arnett) son from a previous huge mistake. Plus: Buster (Tony Hale) sexes up a Roomba, Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) gasses her dad (Jeffrey Tambor) and her hubby, Tobias (David Cross), pretends to be a British maid to sneak back in the house à la Mrs. Doubtfire. — Aubry D’Arminio

Shameless - William H. Macy, Emmy Rossum,Cameron Monaghan, Emma Kenney, Brandon/Brenden Sims, Jeremy Allen White, Ethan Cutkosky

Shameless “Iron City” (Season 4, Episode 6)
Fiona (Emmy Rossum) is arrested for negligence after brother Liam accidentally ingests cocaine at her birthday party. Who do the unruly Gallaghers turn to? Boozy dad Frank (William H. Macy), whose liver is failing but is the only adult who can keep little Liam from foster care. The episode reminds them (and us) that this dysfunctional family always comes together when it counts. — Jim Halterman

Kim Simmsl/WGN/Courtesy of Sony

Underground “Minty”(Season 2, Episode 6)
The revelatory series about the perilous escape from slavery via the Underground Railroad ran for only two seasons. Among its standout offerings was this extraordinary hour dedicated to an impassioned monologue about the fight for freedom delivered by formerly enslaved abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Aisha Hinds’s mesmerizing tour-de-force performance was an inspiration. — Ileane Rudolph

GILMORE GIRLS - Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel
Mitchell Haddad/The WB

Gilmore Girls “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” (Season 3, Episode 7)
Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel, below right, with Graham) vow to win Stars Hollow’s 24-hour dance marathon and end quirky Kirk’s (Sean Gunn) reign. But after Rory’s boyfriend publicly dumps her, the half-hilarious and half-heartbreaking hour ends with winner Kirk doing a Rocky-style victory lap around Lorelai holding a tearful Rory in her arms. — Emily Aslanian

Inside Amy Schumer
Comedy Central

Inside Amy Schumer “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” (Season 3, Episode 3)
Our first clue that this episode wasn’t going to be a standard-issue comedy sketch: It was shot in black-and-white. Schumer put herself on trial and our superficial society on blast with this extended vignette—inspired by the 1957 courtroom classic—about an all-male jury engaging in a heated debate over whether she’s hot enough to be on TV. The verdict? So on-the-nose, it’s almost no laughing matter. — Ingela Ratledge

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Larry David
Ron Batzdorff/HBO

Curb Your Enthusium “The Doll” (Season 2, Episode 7)
Larry David (left) gives a TV exec’s daughter’s favorite toy a haircut. But what’s truly funny is how this plotline and the episode’s other little absurdities—Cheryl (Cheryl Hines) accidentally exposing herself to another man, Larry’s doctor-mandated need to carry a water bottle—tie together at the end…and get him pegged a pedophile. — Aubry D’Arminio

Supernatural - Jensen Ackles
Diyah Pera /The CW

Supernatural “Baby” (Season 11, Episode 4)
Friends and lovers rarely stick around on this monster-hunting fan favorite, but Supernatural’s heroic Winchester brothers, Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles), have one steadfast ally: their 1967 Impala. “Baby” enjoyed a well-deserved—and brilliantly conceived—tribute in this rule-bending episode, shot entirely from the Chevy’s POV. And, oh, that killer back-seat brawl! — Ileane Rudolph

ATLANTA - Brian Tyree Henry
Guy D'Alema/FX

Atlanta “B.A.N.” (Season 1, Episode 7)
In this stand-alone half hour, a controversial tweet about Caitlyn Jenner lands rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) an appearance on the (fictitious) Black American Network. Creator Donald Glover (who also cowrote and directed) took that plotline and ran with it, unspooling a full talk show, complete with faux commercials. He also lampooned a litany of lightning-rod topics, cementing his reputation as a fearless innovator. — John Russell

How I Met Your Mother - Colbie Smulders
Ron P. Jaffe/FOX

How I Met Your Mother “Slap Bet” (Season 2, Episode 9)
Introducing Robin Sparkles, perhaps sitcomdom’s most awesomely cheesy teen sensation. Uptight news anchor Robin (Cobie Smulders, left) is outed as a Canadian pop star (her “Let’s Go to the Mall” video = bliss), but that’s not the only big first for this crack ensemble. Smarmy Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) loses a bet, allowing buddy Marshall (Jason Segel) to slap him five separate times without warning—a running gag that delivered for seven more seasons. — Kate Hahn

The Office

The Office “Diversity Day” (Season 1, Episode 2)
See the photo. Need we say more?

Twin Peaks - Kyle MacLachlan
Suzanne Tenner/SHOWTIME

Twin Peaks “Gotta Light?” (Season 3, Episode 8)
Of all the out-there outings in the revival of David Lynch’s surreal soap, this is by far its Twin Peaks–iest. Full of artful, nearly silent black-and-white stretches built around the Manhattan Project and soot-covered ghosts, the time-jumping, convention-busting Part 8 is the closest we’ve come to understanding the origins of purely evil Bob (the late Frank Silva). We think. It’s all so beautifully confounding. — Damian Holbrook

Parks and Recreation - Amy Poehler

Parks and Recreation “Flu Season” (Season 3, Episode 2)
That dreaded virus creates mayhem for the Pawnee parks crew—and merriment for viewers. As the workplace comedy’s straight-faced humor devolves into delirium, diarrhea and vomiting, chipper Leslie (Amy Poehler) overmedicates while health-savvy colleague Chris (Rob Lowe) takes the biggest hit. (No, it’s really funny.) Still, the writers find a way to advance personal relationships amid snowballing laughs. All better now! — Diane Snyder

Outlander - Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heugan

Outlander “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” (Season 1, Episode 16)
It’s hard to imagine a more wrenching portrait of physical and psychological pain. Highland warrior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), plagued by PTSD, relives his prison torture and rape by Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). But hope exists in wife Claire (Caitriona Balfe, above, with Heughan). As she tends to all his wounds, the sensual drama lays bare a different side of love: pure devotion. — Kate Hahn

Veep - Julia Louis-Dreyfuss

Veep “Mother” (Season 5, Episode 4)
Origin stories usually aren’t this cringe-worthy—or side-splitting. In a benchmark installment of the Emmy-winning political satire, Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, below) deals with buffoonish D.C. bureaucrats during the presidential election recount and the impending death of her mother. Her ambivalence toward her mom gives fascinating insight into how Selina became an insult-spouting, self-absorbed politician who doesn’t let feelings get in the way of ambition. — Chris Wallenberg

Black Mirror

Black Mirror “San Junipero” (Season 3, Episode 4)
The acclaimed sci-fi anthology is almost always pessimistic about the ways in which technology, taken to its extremes, can affect human life. But this love story about two women (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis) who meet in a virtual-reality paradise is a rare instance of optimism. The episode allows fans to imagine a future that might not be all that bleak after all. — John Russell

Malcolm in the Middle

Malcolm in the Middle “Bowling” (Season 2, Episode 20)
The low-income-family sitcom goes high-concept, comparing how teen bowling night would turn out for Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) and Reese (Justin Berfield) if they went with their overbearing mom (Jane Kaczmarek) or their doofy dad (Bryan Cranston). The laughs are a sweet strike. — Aubry D’Arminio

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Not all of the Best Episodes of the 21st Century fall into the categories of pilots and finales. And sometimes they didn’t have those shocking deaths or surprising twists.

Click through the gallery above for the rest of our 65 best episodes of the past 18 years. And check back with TV Insider daily as we countdown the Top 10, including picks from favorites like The Sopranos, Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more.

It’s all leading up to the top pick reveal on Tuesday, April 10. Stay tuned, and sound off on our choices in the comments below!

The Best Episodes of the 21st Century With the Most Shocking DeathsSee Also

The Best Episodes of the 21st Century With the Most Shocking Deaths

Stay tuned to TV Insider daily as we count down The Best Episodes of the 21st Century.