Few TV shows arrive perfectly formed. They take time and a huge amount of work to engage an audience week to week, and many never achieve their potential. Others, however, are given time for the talent to shine – to become classics.
Today, we’re going to be looking at a few sitcom episodes we’ve determined were the turning point. Before these episodes the shows had been good, sometimes they were great, but after these half hours they were essential weekly watches.
There are, obviously, hundreds of sitcoms which could have appeared on this list. After reading this article, instead of complaining your favourite show isn’t present, let us know which episode of the show you consider to be the one where it became great.
The episodes below may not be the most emotional (except Scrubs of course – if the moment we pick below doesn’t send chills down you then there’s no hope for you), nor the most consequential, nor the funniest, nor the most moving. However each of the episodes on the list below are, to our mind, the moment when they collated all the good stuff that had gone before and turned it into something special.
These are usually the ones you talk about to friends you want to turn onto the shows. These are the ones when the acting, writing, editing, direction all came together. These are high points on a mountainous graph of quality. These are the episodes that made us fall in love with the shows.
Beware though, spoilers abound. So, if you’ve not seen any of these – tread lightly. And then go and watch them.
Modern Warfare (Season 1, Episode 23)
One of the greatest strengths of Dan Harmon’s college-set sitcom Community is that, at its heart, it is about acceptance. And paintball. The first season of the comedy show was an uneven affair. Yet, it was with this episode when the tone was set, the die was cast and Greendale Community College became a place where anything could happen.
A college-wide paintball game is ordered by the Dean (Jim Rash, in a joyful role), and our core group exercise their internal conflicts in dramatic fashion. The tension between study groupmates Britta (Gillian Jacobs) and Jeff (Joel McHale) propels the infighting and as the paintball game spins wildly out of control the entire campus are drawn into an over the top, and overtly cinematic battle.
Directed by Fast and Furious mainstay Justin Lin, this episode showed the scale and absurdity, as well as the cinematic nous of its ambitions. The Avengers directors Joe and Anthony Russo took the helm of many of the season’s standout episodes including the paintball-themed follow-ups, A Fistful of Paintballs and For a Few Paintballs More in Season 2.
Its focus on the oddballs and outcasts of society is something that it shares with more than one other sitcom on this list, and yet through watching them go through their journey of self-acceptance that we realise they are us, and we are them. That they found their dramatic and thematic footing in an action-movie inspired sitcom episode which was unlike any other was entirely typical of the show’s greatness from this episode on.
The Good Place
Michael’s Gambit (Season 1, Episode 13)
The Office’s Michael Schur (see also Parks & Recreation) gave us four seasons of heavenly comedy, lovingly mixed with some hellish metaphysical and philosophical dilemmas to work through. The first season of the show followed Kristen Bell’s dubious, slightly trashy Eleanor Shellstrop, who has died and mistakenly found herself in The Good Place. Attempting to escape detection is only half the fun of this show, it seemed. Eleanor’s relationship with some of the other inhabitants of Heaven, in particular her utterly unsuitable soulmate Chidi Anagonye (William Jackson Harper), gave us twelve half hours of manic, ethical shifting sands. It was chaos, until something happened in the season 1 finale to change everything.
Much is made of the show’s Big Twist, handled with such aplomb by its cast and crew (of the cast, only Ted Danson and Kristen Bell knew what was coming), and yet the realisation that everything we thought we knew about the show was changed with a beautifully devilish laugh from Ted Danson was a huge risk. But it made our attachment to the show even stronger.
The show stayed true to its surreal exhibition of the strangeness of existence, and never strayed from the dramatic and comedic discussion of what it means to be human. That it was a solid, funny show was evident from the first episode. However it was at this moment that we realised that we in for something very special.
Casino Night (Season 2, Episode 22)
One of the greatest pieces of advice US Office showrunner Greg Daniels received from UK Office man Stephen Merchant was that the relationship between Jim and Pam (John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer) should be at the heart of the show. It was advice well taken and well-realised. From the moment Pam fell asleep on Jim’s shoulder during a particularly boring meeting the audience knew why they continued to tune in each week.
Though there are many other episodes of The Office that better used heartstrings for bellropes, or found sinkhole-deep cringe-inducing moments, Casino Night, the Season 2 finale, is the episode when all the elements came together perfectly. That it was the first episode written by Steve Carell is testament to his comedic and emotional understanding. It also showed off his love of the show and its characters.
The episode centered around the titular Casino Night, when office regulars convened after hours in the Warehouse for a charity affair. Michael Scott’s unfortunate double date (he invited two women at the same time) is the stuff of pure farce. Dwight’s (Rainn Wilson) appallingly bad wingmanship was the perfect iteration of his hapless devotion to Michael, as well as his unwavering belief in his own abilities. And, like every good Office episode, each of the characters had their moment in the spotlight in this Supersized episode. If you’re in the mood for a gaming night of your own, make a bowl of Kevin’s Famous Chilli (served carefully) and check out nettikasinot online casino.
It was this moment towards the end of the episode, the moment of admission of Jim’s love for Pam, that set this show on a different road. For two seasons fans had watched the two individually fall in love with each other, despite Pam’s engagement to Warehouse worker Roy. Their friendship gave the show thus far its sweetest moments, and provided moments of relatable humanity in amongst the embarrassing enthusiasms of Michael Scott. This moment, when Jim tells Pam at the end of the night that he is in love with her, that gave the show its ultimate cliffhanger moment as Pam rejects Jim before he returns to the office to find her, and kiss her, and just maybe convince her to change her mind.
The show would have many more tear-inducing moments (weddings, break-ups, and of course – 9, 986,000 minutes) that would echo this stolen moment. But for a show to give the audience a moment they so desperately wanted so early in the run, and then for the show to take this is a beginning, rather than an end, was part of why The Office is so beloved.
My Screw Up (Season 3, Episode 14)
No, it didn’t take Scrubs this long to find its feet. Nor did it take very long to establish itself as a comedy show that was capable of making us cry as well as laugh. But it was with this rug-pull, gut-punch, heart-ripping episodes that we realised how close we had become to its characters. We also discovered that though it did, like any truly great sitcom, love its characters, it wasn’t afraid to drag them through the mud now and again.Death came to Sacred Heart from the very beginning. Bill Lawrence and his writing team were almost Whedonedque in their culling of beloved side characters. His main characters were Doctors and the show was always set up to be as realistic as possible. So, death was always stalking the corridors. It was part of the job, and never trivalised. Mostly though, the fact that is was everyday made this Season 3 episode all the more shocking.
The character of Ben, gamely played by Brendan Fraser was the goofball brother-in-law of Doctor Cox, John C. McGinley’s drill sergeant of a Chief Resident Doctor. He appeared in a number of episodes before My Screw Up, and always seemed at home in the ridiculous flights of fantasy the show thrived on. He never took himself too seriously, he was loved by the permanently angry Doctor Cox, he was safe.
It wasn’t so much the perfect execution of this revelation, nor the haunting soundtrack, nor the unusually serious show of emotion that made this a true turning point for the show. It was the reaction of Doctor Cox to his friend’s death that made it clear to the audience that the show was not afraid of bringing even the strongest of its characters to his knees. The path of vulnerability, open-hearted anguish, the black hole of self-loathing and, eventually and painfully, courage put the show in a new light. Fans of the show love it. You can move them to tears with the line “Where do you think we are?”. It’s not just because of their love for the show, but for that show’s refusal to play nice all the time. It showed human nature, fear and bravery, in all shades. And this episode is when we all felt that depth of emotion.