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Television’s 25 best episodes of the 2000s

In an era when the medium reached new artistic heights, these are ones that rose to the very top

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BYRyan Huddle

Before 2000, the dawn of prestige TV, the bulk of American TV shows were knocking out some 22 episodes per season, factory-like. Now, in the manner of the Brits, TV producers — particularly on cable and streaming — take a boutique approach, putting out only six or maybe a whopping 12 episodes of a series per year. That enables them to craft each one carefully and lovingly. I suspect that if David Chase & Co. had to grind out 22 hours of “The Sopranos” every year, the show would be more like processed baloney than gourmet gabagool.

That’s why it’s possible to research a list of the best episodes since 2000 and come up with an embarrassment of riches. For many TV creators, each half-hour or hour is a self-contained composition as much as it’s a portion of an ongoing story line. Some of the entries on this list are close to perfect pieces of TV — written with depth, shot to accentuate the meanings, performed with an intensity and commitment formerly reserved for the big screen. Taken together, all these episodes reflect two decades in the artistic ascent of a medium.

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Naturally, my countdown of the best TV episodes since 2000 is wholly, inescapably, and proudly subjective. It comprises my personal favorites, those chapters from shows that have stuck with me across the years, and it contains no obligatory entries. There were certain moments in my selection process when I felt I needed to include, say, “Two Cathedrals” from “The West Wing,” or “Pine Barrens” from “The Sopranos,” because they’re at the top of countless other lists. They’re considered legendary. But I resisted, and kept on with those I was personally more inspired by.

I made a few rules. I decided I could only include one episode per series, which was restrictive but essential. Otherwise, the list would likely be deluged by episodes of “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “Black Mirror,” and other high fliers, with room for little else. I also decided I could relax about those series I didn’t watch; it’s unreasonable to think I could consider absolutely everything that has been released since 2000, even as a TV critic. Peak TV has overwhelmed even those of us who get paid to watch and write. I saw what I saw, and these are the ones I loved.

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And finally, I decided to stick with scripted series, excluding the likes of “Survivor” and “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.” In the years since 1999, when “The Sopranos” broke through and started a quality revolution, scripted TV has provided me with my greatest viewing time.

By the way, I compiled this list after inviting Globe readers to participate by sending suggestions. Their many recommendations were extremely helpful. In fact, my No. 1 pick was the one they mentioned the most, the one that entertained, provoked, moved, and expanded the potential of TV storytelling.


25 “This Is Not for Tears” / “Succession”

| HBO, Oct. 13, 2019 |

The second season of “Succession” was a brilliant blend of soap opera, “King Lear,” black comedy, and “Survivor,” and it peaked with this episode, the finale. The entire series had been building up to the last scenes, when Kendall finally gets his moment and takes it with a vengeance. He calls his father a “malignant presence” to the press on live TV, tasting a bit of the power he has been hungering for since the start of the series. The tyrannical Logan, in that moment, smirks, able to feel some admiration for his son’s sudden empowerment. It’s the father-son twistedness at the core of the drama. The rest of the episode is razor-sharp, too, with cousin Greg bumbling through his Senate questioning, a debate about who to sacrifice, and the family on a tense yacht outing in the Mediterranean, looking, like viewers, to find a glimpse of morality on the horizon.

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24 “Eulogy” / “Better Things”

| FX, Oct. 19, 2017 |

Among many things, “Better Things” is a paean to motherhood, and single working motherhood in particular, in all its thanklessness. This episode encapsulates that theme, with an artfulness and conceptual tightness that make it stand out from the show’s many other fine half-hours. Pamela Adlon’s Sam is tired of her three daughters’ ingratitude for her sacrifices, and their disinterest in her professional life as an actress, and she bitterly suggests they eulogize her: “I don’t want to have to wait until I’m dead for my kids to appreciate me,” she says. Later, she comes home and the girls, along with two of her friends, stage a mock funeral that is touching but not maudlin, honest but not forced. It’s a gem.


23 “Thanksgiving” / “Master of None”

| Netflix, May 12, 2017 |

Aziz Ansari’s outstanding series is loaded with strong individual episodes, two of which — this one (co-written by Lena Waithe) and the fabulous “New York, I Love You” — are primarily about side characters. “Thanksgiving” brings us into the world of Waithe’s Denise, a longtime friend of Ansari’s Dev, and a series of Thanksgivings in her life. It’s a beautifully honest look at coming out as a lesbian in a Black family, the roots of true friendship, and time. When Denise tells her mother she’s gay, her mother, played by Angela Bassett, says to her, “It’s hard enough being a Black woman in this world, and now you want to go and add something else to that.” Slowly but surely, love prevails.

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In the running: “New York, I Love You,” “Parents,” “First Date”



22 “Slap Bet” / “How I Met Your Mother”

| CBS, Nov. 20, 2006 |

Forget about whether or not you like the finale of “How I Met Your Mother,” and remember the good times, in particular this happy episode, whose jokes played out for the rest of the series. The sitcom ensemble was among TV’s best, and this half-hour is a strong reminder of that. The gang wonders why Robin won’t go to malls, and they agree to a slap bet that ultimately leaves the winner (Marshall) with the power to deliver five random slaps at the loser (Barney). But the peak of the episode is the mock 1980s video of “Let’s Go to the Mall,” once Robin’s secret past as a Canadian bubblegum singer comes to light: “Come on Jessica, come on Tori/Let’s go to the mall, you won’t be sorry.” Don’t worry, it rhymes in Canada.


21 “Years of Service” / “Nurse Jackie”

| Showtime, June 7, 2010 |

How far will Edie Falco’s Jackie go to hide her addiction and her affair from her family? Not as far as she goes to hide them from herself. In this episode, the event-filled second season finale, that sad truth is driven home for us in a big way. All of Jackie’s lies, about drugs and her affair, are finally exposed, and her husband and her best friend sit her down for an intervention-ish talk. After, in the bathroom, picturing herself admitting she’s an addict, she looks at herself in the mirror, laughs caustically, and says, “Blow me.” It’s a stunningly honest moment in a stunningly honest series about drug addiction.

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20 “Middle Ground” / “The Wire”

| HBO, Dec. 12, 2004 |

Choosing an episode from a series like “The Wire” feels silly; the show’s greatness comes from the cumulative effect of the intricate microcosm it built over time. That said, this episode gives us the show firing on all cylinders. It builds to the death of the coolly ruthless Stringer Bell, played by Idris Elba, along with the death of his big ideas about turning the drug trade into a business. He was one of the show’s more unusual bad guys, one who used his mind instead of brute power to get his way. He tried to upgrade and legitimize the system in a street world that rejects change — none of the systems on the show could change, which was the point — so his death was inevitable. But when it came, in this episode, after Omar and Brother Mouzone corner him, it was a shocker. George Pelecanos, who wrote the episode, called it “the best thing I’ll ever have my name on.”


19 “Teddy Perkins” / “Atlanta”

| FX, April 5, 2018 |

The show regularly dabbles in the surreal, but not like this. In the disquieting, thought-provoking episode, LaKeith Stanfield’s Darius goes to pick up a free piano, but he walks into a horror movie (and a collection of horror-movie allusions). In heavy makeup evoking a bleached face and a mousey voice not unlike those of Michael Jackson, Donald Glover plays the creepy Teddy, who has a repulsive taste for soft-boiled ostrich eggs. The 34-minute nightmare raises enough questions about fathers and sons, racism, Black fame, and child abuse, to keep you spellbound. It’s a 34-minute mind bash.

In the running: “B.A.N.”


18 “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” / “Inside Amy Schumer”

| Comedy Central, May 5, 2015 |

Amy Schumer’s love of sending up misogyny — brutally, candidly, and amusingly — had a peak in this episode-long spoof of the 1957 Sidney Lumet film “12 Angry Men.” Shot in black and white, it follows a jury debating the question, “Is Amy Schumer hot enough to be on TV?” The tone of the men, played by Paul Giamatti, Jeff Goldblum, Kumail Nanjiani, Vincent Kartheiser, and others, is dead serious, each of them undergoing moral crises as they make their arguments about whether they’d pleasure themselves to images of Schumer. It’s absurd — and, tragically, it isn’t at all.


17 “Offred” / “The Handmaid’s Tale”

| Hulu, April 26, 2017 |

The series, which recently finished its fourth season, is overextended at this point. But it started off as a beautifully crafted vision of hell, a descent into a misogynist, totalitarian state that’s both completely alien and sadly familiar. This first episode was perfect from top to bottom: visually stunning, witty, and richly performed (especially by Elisabeth Moss, whose every thought travels across her face). It does justice to everything in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, and then some, with the first images of Aunt Lydia and her cattle prod and June being raped by Fred in the “Ceremony.” At one point, June and Alexis Bledel’s Emily see bodies hung on The Wall, heads covered by bags depicting their “crimes.” There’s a priest, a doctor, and a gay man, inspiring June to muse to herself, “I think I heard that joke once. This wasn’t the punch line.” Gallows humor indeed.


16 “The Beach” / “The Night Of”

| HBO, July 10, 2016 |

This miniseries, written by Richard Price, is a broad and critical vision of the American criminal justice system, as we watch the rickety wheels of the law and the police ruining lives. It’s also the particular story of a quiet 22-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim student — Nasir “Naz” Khan, played by the amazing Riz Ahmed — who’s accused of killing a white woman in her Upper West Side townhouse. It all unfolds as an astute crime procedural — like the darkest, most elaborate episode of “Law & Order” ever — as it follows Naz through a system inclined to throw him away. The first episode is critical to the power of what comes after it, as we see the titular night unfold, doom hanging over every decision Naz makes as he meets a troubled woman who winds up dead. In this episode, we immediately begin to feel like the jury, as each interaction on the night of, each glance, registers clearly and memorably.


15 “David Bowie” / “Extras”

| HBO, Sept. 21, 2006 |

“Extras” is one of my under-recognized favorites, as Ricky Gervais does his cringe version of backstage comedies such as “The Larry Sanders Show,” with stars such as Kate Winslet and Daniel Radcliffe playing versions of themselves. In season two, the show found a strong plotline when Gervais’s Andy finds himself cast in a broad, catchphrase-heavy sitcom that’s popular but contemptible. In a celebrity bar, he tries to talk to David Bowie about commerce versus art. But Bowie, as elegant as ever, sits at a piano and makes up a song on the spot ridiculing Andy. It starts “Little fat man who sold his soul” and only gets better. The patrons, including Andy’s best friend, all join in, and you will, too.


14 “The Body” / “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

| The WB, Feb. 27, 2001 |

There were many deaths in this series, but this one, the death of Buffy’s mother, is profound. The Scooby Gang join together to help Buffy, and they all have individualized reactions to mortality. Without the distractions of music and special effects, the intimate episode captures the disorientation and denial that come with the loss of a parent, as Buffy imagines her coming back to life. It also nails the awkwardness and discomfort of the loved ones who try to be supportive. Buffy is a great fighter when it comes to supernatural adversaries, but the most natural adversary, human death, leaves her lost.

In the running: “Once More With Feeling”


13 “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” / “The West Wing”

| NBC, April 26, 2000 |

There are so many outstanding hours of this classic series, most from the Aaron Sorkin years and, yes, some from the John Wells years, when Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits took over. I know, many fans would prefer to see “Two Cathedrals” on this list, but I find it excessive and self-aggrandizing in definitively Sorkin ways. “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” is a more ordinary episode, no shootings or deaths or raging against the night, but it’s beautifully done, with a message for politicians and for everyone else, too. It’s the one the first season seemed to be building toward. The public is unhappy with the administration’s ineffectiveness, prompting Leo to confront his boss about being less cautious and politic, making him repeat, about standing by his beliefs, “This is more important than reelection. I want to speak now.” Be yourself; it’s the only way to fly.

In the running: “”The Supremes,” “The Debate”


12 “Dead Dogs and Gym Teachers” / “Freaks and Geeks”

| Fox Family, Oct. 10, 2000 |

Here’s another series whose every episode is special. But this hour is a classic, revolving around Bill’s despondency, a Who concert, and the death of Millie’s dog. It captures the essence of the show’s trademark understanding of the role of pop culture in forming identity. I’ve watched a few of these scenes — including Jason Segel’s Nick singing “Lady L” — a hundred times over, but none so much as the one with Bill at the TV. Played unforgettably by Martin Starr, we see Bill struggle after learning that his mother is dating the gym teacher. We see his loneliness as he gets home from school, makes snacks, and sits at a folding tray in front of the TV set, and we see his joy — the miracle of TV and comedy — in watching Gary Shandling make jokes. He laughs with food in his mouth, consoled. Like his tears after the gym teacher ruins his Go-Cart City ride and tells Bill he loves his mother, it’s as affecting as anything I’ve seen in a teen series.


11 “The Happiness of All Mankind” / “Chernobyl”

| HBO, May 27, 2019 |

The whole five-episode miniseries is devastating, but this episode did me in. Soldiers make their way through evacuated neighborhoods to kill and bury the radioactive pets left in Chernobyl. The scenes drive home the fact that the injury caused by the worst nuclear power accident in history was inflicted not just on the human inhabitants of the area, but also on the natural world. We’re not the only victims of our hubris, self-interest, and sloppiness. It’s super grim, and I mean that as a great compliment to creator, writer, and executive producer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck. There’s nothing here that’s been dulled by the decades that have passed since the crisis, and no compromises to make it more watchable.


10 “Training” / “The Office” (U.K.)

| BBC America, Feb. 13, 2003 |

It wasn’t until the fourth episode of Ricky Gervais’s original “The Office” that I truly saw its brilliance. The awkward silences, the terminally drab office décor, Gervais’s unedited blather as boss David Brent, the twisted Radar-Colonel Blake rapport between David and Gareth, the unwillingness to compensate for the rampant irony with sincerity, they all fell into place in “Training.” The tone was fully established, and the show went on to influence at least two decades of comedy that came after it. The office is having a twice-annual training day, and David is driven to one-up the instructor, as is his wont. The role-playing exercise goes off the rails, the confessional team-building becomes absurd, and David gets his guitar — he used to be in a band — for a few songs (“Freelove Freeway”?!). It’s all definitive, brilliant cringe comedy, a reminder that TV humor does not only need to be consumed as one-liners.


9 “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” / “The Americans”

| FX, March 25, 2015 |

Keri Russell owned the role of the steely Elizabeth Jennings, and this was among her best hours. It’s the one in which Elizabeth has to kill a maternal older lady named Betty (played movingly by Lois Smith), after Betty catches Elizabeth and Philip installing a bug in the FBI mail robot in a repair shop. Russell brings deep undercurrents to the murder scenes, since Elizabeth’s own mother is dying in Russia.

While Betty is taking pill after pill as Elizabeth waits, the two have an intimate conversation in which Elizabeth talks openly about her family. For a spy, the best confessor is one who is about to die. Elizabeth says she kills people in service of making the world a better place. “That’s what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things” are Betty’s final words, articulating a theme that runs through the entire series.

Elizabeth is stirred by the encounter, and embarrassed by that. Yes, she is human. By the way, the episode falls in the middle of the Martha plot, which was one of the great highlights of “The Americans.” At this point, Martha knows Philip isn’t who he says he is — but denial is a powerful drug, and she is still in his corner. She is blinded by her need, like so many of the Jenningses’ victims.

In the running: “START”


8 “Episode 6, Season 2” / “Fleabag”

| Amazon, May 17, 2019 |

It was like a miracle when the second season of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s series turned out to be even better than the first.

We finally got to see into the heart of our tragicomic heroine, a woman forever trying to buck up despite her grief, depression, guilt, and loneliness. Fleabag fell for a priest, a man who is not available, but who, by virtue of his unavailability, had something to show her about faith, about what makes the aches of love worthwhile.

Every episode of the second season was packed with wit and emotion, but none more than the season — and series — finale. It’s perfect. Set on Fleabag’s father’s wedding day, it’s not exactly a happy ending; that would be anathema to everything about “Fleabag.” But it’s a natural finish, filled with symbolism (the fox, the statue) and momentous dialogue, most notably Fleabag’s father’s observation about her: “I think you know how to love better than any of us. That’s why you find it all so painful.”

The final moments continue to haunt me. Fleabag no longer needs to joke with us, the audience in her head; she has found her way back to life, and, with a nod, she says farewell.


7 “Baelor” / “Game of Thrones”

| HBO, June 12, 2011 |

Yes, the blockbuster series based on George R.R. Martin’s novels certainly had a few spectacular battle episodes. They were long and dense with special effects, especially those featuring Daenerys Targaryen’s beloved dragons and/or the White Walkers.

“Baelor,” on the other hand, is more human-scaled and human-themed, a reminder that all the high-tech fireworks in the world wouldn’t have mattered if the series hadn’t been grounded in the hearts and souls of its characters. Also, it’s a groundbreaking episode in terms of TV storytelling, one that, toward the end of the first season, made it clear that anyone — even a central character whose face was featured in the promotion — could be killed off. When Sean Bean’s noble Ned Stark loses his head, fans lost their minds in a good way, aware that “Game of Thrones” was a different kind of show with life-and-death stakes.

Joffrey Baratheon, the Brat King, orders the death of Ned, even after Ned has decided to falsely confess to treason to save himself. It’s shocking, and so is the fact that Ned’s daughters are in attendance, Sansa screaming and Arya watching a flock of birds after the sword comes down. The other story lines are potent, too, most notably Robb Stark promising that he and Arya will marry into the Freys, setting up the massacre of the Red Wedding. The death of Ned — the shock and emotion of it, as well as its plot implications — left a mark on the viewer and on the rest of the show’s story line.

In the running: “The Rains of Castamere,” “Blackwater”


6 “Employee of the Month” / “The Sopranos”

| HBO, March 18, 2001 |

I chose this emotionally trying episode, among the many, many stellar episodes of “The Sopranos” (TV’s best show ever) that ran after 2000, because it felt like an hourlong miniature of the entire series. It’s the one in which Dr. Melfi, our surrogate in the thuggy mob world that David Chase created, is raped in a parking garage. The perpetrator is caught — but then the cops have to let him go on a technicality. Later, as salt in the wound, Melfi sees her assailant’s picture at a sub shop where he’s been recognized as “Employee of the Month.”

Should Melfi have her patient wreak the revenge that she — and we — so badly want? Tony Soprano is prepared to do her bidding. The entire series was a challenge to our moral bearings, and most concisely so in this episode. She wants to have her assailant killed, we want to have him killed, but . . . Ultimately, despite great temptation, she rights herself, and says no. It’s an offer she knows she has to refuse. Did you want Tony to do the job?

Show creator David Chase was wont to toy with viewers in this way, to challenge them and their investment in his characters — most notably, perhaps, in the series finale, where we are invited to choose whether Tony was punished or not for his deeds. “Employee of the Month” delivers a classic Chase Choice.

In the running: “Made in America,” “Whitecaps,” “Pine Barrens”


5 “Pilot” / “Lost”

| ABC, Sept. 22 and Sept. 29, 2004 |

Yup, a network show in the top 10.

I can still remember the thrill of watching this cinematically filmed two-parter for the first time. Directed by J.J. Abrams, it was an invitation to a world that promised to be both a sci-fi-tinged mystery and a psychological group portrait of random strangers with complex histories. It introduced a new kind of TV series, a puzzle that would take years to finish, filled with clues and world-building, and always undergirded with philosophical queries. From the get-go, viewers were expected to play along, to become obsessed with the details that the writers chose to reveal — that was part of the fun, the interactivity.

OK, so the end of the game was not, to put it delicately so as not to once again offend the defenders of the 2010 series finale, satisfying.

The start — the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, the roars in the jungle, Charlie snorting heroin, the strange radio transmission in French — was a full-on gas, one that inspired and influenced many, many shows that followed it. I tried to avoid putting pilot episodes on this list — and, by the way, the title of the episode, “Pilot,” isn’t a failure of imagination, since there was a pilot who, you know, got eaten by a monster — but in this case I could not resist. “Lost” was, as the cliché goes, a game-changer, and it started here, with awe-inspiring, boundless potential.

In the running: “The Constant”


4 “Nosedive” / “Black Mirror”

| Netflix, Oct. 21, 2016 |

One of the biggest challenges in coming up with this list: Choosing a best from among the many stellar episodes of “Black Mirror.” So many stories in this near-future dystopian anthology push our current technological and ethical realities a tad over the line into nightmare, all to great effect. They invite us to think about our lives, our ethics, and our future, as they give us plausible horrors. If its extraordinary progenitor, Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone,” was a ticking clock, “Black Mirror” is a flashing, pinging iPhone.

But the episode I keep going back to is the satirical “Nosedive,” which takes on the smiling brutality of social media — a topic that has been done many times before on TV, but not with the same kind of focus and depth. Written by Rashida Jones and Michael Schur and directed by Joe Wright, the hour is set in a world where people rate one another from one to five stars for every interaction — ratings that ultimately determine their socioeconomic and health care status. It’s a digital caste system.

Bryce Dallas Howard stars as Lacie, who hopes to up her rating from 4.2 to 4.5 by giving a speech at the wedding of an influencer friend and taking lots of “My life is so perfect”-style photographs. Things, of course, go very wrong.

Watching the characters smile no matter what, suppressing all negative feelings in order to be liked and “liked,” buying into conformity at the expense of their emotions, is haunting — and hauntingly familiar. The palette for the episode is pastel, to match Lacie’s sickly sweet online persona, but that doesn’t hide the fact that they’re living in a colorless hell.

In the running: “The National Anthem,” “USS Callister,” “White Christmas”


3 “Ozymandias” / “Breaking Bad”

| AMC, Sept. 15, 2013 |

This may be the most renowned modern episode of dramatic TV, alongside the finale of “The Sopranos.” It’s an example of prestige TV at its most prestigiest, a model of how to make everything — the script, the acting, the cinematography — work in concert. Our antihero is left begging for mercy, desperate, his empire — and the manhood he so hungers for — in shreds.

Most episodes of “Breaking Bad” were very good, and some were great, but “Ozymandias” was a classic, the hour that Vince Gilligan’s series seemed to have been slowly building toward for years. The 14th episode of the final season, directed by Rian Johnson, gave us Walt amid his Shakespearean downfall, all the glory and money just out of his reach. His greed, his rage, and his ego, so puffed up and prickly, were all coming down to nothing — empty wind in the desert, oblivion.

The scenes just kept coming, including Walt’s snidely pleased confession to Jesse that he’d allowed Jane to die. Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn were, as usual, stunning, most of all during the phone call in which, aware that the police are listening in, Walt makes it clear that his family was not complicit in his crimes. It would be his only moment of grace as he stood in his colossal wreck, doomed and alone.

In the running: “Fly,” “Grilled”


2 “The Suitcase” / “Mad Men”

| AMC, Sept. 5, 2010 |

Suppressed emotion was a hallmark of “Mad Men,” as it chronicled the slow death of 1950s-bred repression. So when emotions flared, as they did in this intimate episode, it was something to behold. In the middle of our Golden Era of TV, the one that started with “The Sopranos,” there was this jewel of an hour, faceted and crystalline.

A showpiece for the drama’s parallel leads, sublimely written by Matthew Weiner, “The Suitcase” gives Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss a chance to dig deep as Don and Peggy work to come up with a campaign for Samsonite luggage. Yes, the metaphor is baggage, psychological and otherwise; the message is, as E.M. Forster put it, “Only connect.” For a moment, the sexist power imbalance between the two, who are work spouses of sorts, dissipates and basic humanity prevails.

The hour is heartbreaking, as the Don Draper we’d been waiting to see, the man underneath all of his Madonna-whore and mother issues, the man behind his fake identity and his alcoholism, finally emerges. The only person he truly loved has died, the one who knows his secret and embraced him anyway, and he is devastated. At last we see: He is human.

His grief is a thing of sad beauty, providing Hamm with his most powerful acting moments in the series.

In the running: “Person to Person,” “In Care Of”


1 “Everyone’s Waiting” / “Six Feet Under”

| HBO, Aug. 21, 2005 |

When I polled readers for their favorite TV episode since 2000, this was the one I heard about most. I couldn’t agree more. It’s an unforgettable, pitch-perfect, breathtaking 72-minute series finale to a drama that took on death with a rare directness. Just thinking about the extended epilogue makes me well up with emotion.

Generally, the formula of “Six Feet Under” was to begin with a death, the body eventually winding up in the Fisher family’s funeral home. But the finale began instead with a birth (of Nate and Brenda’s daughter) and it ended with the deaths of each of the characters we’d followed for five seasons. It was a note of finality the likes of which we’d not seen on series TV before, flashing forward into the late 2000s to reveal everyone’s final moment — all to the impossibly poignant strains of Sia’s “Breathe Me.” Finales are famously hard to pull off properly, but here was a farewell for the ages, one for all other series to aspire to, the heartbreaker of all heartbreakers. When I hear “Breathe Me” in other contexts, it feels blasphemous.

The everyone-dies sequence was a bold move by creator Alan Ball, but it felt organic, not gimmicky in the least. It was the only honest way to finish a story about mortality — or, more accurately, about living in the face of mortality. “Everyone’s Waiting” was uplifting, tragic, and a reminder of what is, and isn’t, permanent.


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Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.