March 29, 2023

Television as a medium is perfect for creatives to tell extended stories, often stretching storylines out across episodes and even seasons. While films are forced to wrap things up within a couple of hours, TV shows can take their time to really develop their characters. This leads to fans becoming engrossed in their favorite shows, often feeling like they are saying goodbye to some of their closest friends when the show eventually ends.

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While each episode usually works to move the narrative further, sometimes a series may make a diversion and tell a standalone story removed from the show’s central plot. These may feature regular cast members or even brand-new characters as they tell a self-contained story that wraps everything up in one episode. Often these episodes are perfect introductions for new viewers to understand the core concepts of a show.


10 ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ – “Appa’s Lost Days” (2006)

Image via Nickelodeon

One of the most popular cartoons of the 21st century, Avatar: The Last Airbender is beloved by fans both young and old, making it the perfect animated show for parents and kids to enjoy. The series follows Aang, who has been chosen to protect the land as the prophesied Avatar. Thus, Aang and his friends travel around learning new skills while making new allies and enemies.

One of Aang’s closest friends is Appa, his loyal flying bison. Appa is kidnaped by animal traders during the show’s second season, and this episode catches up with him and shows the journey he goes on to escape captivity and reunite with his best friend. “Appa’s Lost Days” was praised for how it handles the subject of animal cruelty in a children’s show, and remains one of Avatar‘s most memorable episodes.

Watch on Netflix

9 ‘The X-Files’ – “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” (1995)

David Duchovny and Peter Boyle in The X-Files - Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose
Image via Fox

One of the best takes on the police procedural format, The X-Files follows skeptic Scully (Gillian Anderson) and believer Mulder (David Duchovny) as they investigate extraterrestrial occurrences. Episodes often shift between ones that build the show’s greater mythology and “monster of the week” standalone stories.

One of these best standalone episodes is “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” which sees Mulder and Scully join forces with psychic Bruckman (Peter Boyle) as they hunt a serial killer who removes his victim’s eyes. The episode captures everything that is great about the show: deadpan humor and bizarre mysteries.

Watch on Hulu

8 ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ – “Heart of Ice” (1992)

Mr. Freeze staring sadly at a snow globe in Batman The Animated Series
Image via Fox

Often hailed as the best adaptation of the Caped Crusader, Batman: The Animated Series retains its hero’s signature dark atmosphere despite its animated format. The show follows Batman in his crusade against the criminal underbelly of Gotham.

“Heart of Ice” is considered the show’s best episode, and follows Batman’s first encounter with Mr. Freeze. This episode is credited with creating Freeze’s now iconic backstory, as it reveals he turned to a life of crime to save his beloved wife, who has been frozen to stop the disease that is killing her.

Watch on HBO Max

7 ‘The Last of Us’ – “Long, Long Time” (2023)

Murray Bartlett as Frank playing the piano while Nick Offerman as Bill watches in The Last of Us Episode 3
Image via HBO 

The hottest show on television right now, the internet is filled with chatter after each new episode airs. Based on the popular video game, The Last of Us follows Joel (Pedro Pascal) and Ellie (Bella Ramsey) as they navigate constant threats in search of a safe haven in a world that has been taken over by a zombie virus.

The third episode moves away from Joel and Ellie to focus on Bill (Nick Offerman), a doomsday prepper who falls in love with Frank (Murray Bartlett), a survivor who wanders into his walled-off town. The episode showcases every stage of their romance and has been hailed as the best episode of TLoU so far.

Watch on HBO Max

6 ‘Futurama’ – “The Sting” (2003)

The main cast of Futurama sitting on a couch together
Image via Fox

Since its debut, Futurama has grown out of the shadow of its sister series The Simpsons to become a beloved classic in its own right. The show follows the exploits of Fry after he is accidentally frozen and sent 1,000 years into the future. There he begins working for a delivery service called Planet Express and goes on countless wacky adventures with his co-workers.

Futurama has several classic episodes, but one of its best is “The Sting.” After a mission to collect space honey results in the death of Fry, his love interest Leela is wracked with guilt. The episode follows her struggle with this feeling, exploring deeper themes than are typically present in half-hour animated comedies.

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5 ‘Lost’ – “Ab Aeterno” (2010)

Mark Pellegrino and Nestor Carbonell drinking on a beach in Lost
Image via ABC

Before Game of Thrones and The Last of Us, Lost was the most talked about series on television, as viewers shared their predictions about the nature of the island after each new episode. It made for event television, as the writers would often throw a new curveball into the mix every few episodes to keep fans guessing.

Richard (Nestor Carbonell) was always one of the most mysterious members of the show’s stacked cast, and “Ab Aeterno” finally provided some answers about the island’s immortal resident. Beginning as a devoted husband in 1867, the acclaimed episode shows how he reached the island and gained his abilities.

Watch on Hulu

4 ‘Mythic Quest’ – “A Dark Quiet Death” (2020)

Jake Johnson and Cristin Milotti in Mythic Quest
Image via Apple TV+

A workplace comedy show that centers around the gaming industry, Mythic Quest is set in the offices of a studio working on the titular MMORPG. The show follows various employees in the company from egotistical creator Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney) to tester Rachel (Ashley Burch) who pines for her co-worker.

Episode 5 moves away from this studio to focus on a husband and wife team as they try to make their own game. As it releases and becomes successful they try to navigate this newfound success without sacrificing the heart of their creation. It makes for a surprisingly thoughtful narrative hidden within such a wacky comedy.

Watch on Apple TV+

Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow in Doctor Who episode 'Blink'
Image via BBC

The James Bond of television, Doctor Who routinely swaps lead actors as its protagonist goes on all manner of madcap journeys through time and space. While the series follows the Doctor and friends on their journeys, one of Doctor Who‘s best episodes, “Blink,” hardly features them at all.

Instead, this episode stars Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow, a woman living in 2007 who begins to receive mysterious messages from the Doctor in the past. This leads her to face the Weeping Angels, unnerving creatures who sneak up on victims whenever they are not being watched. It makes for some of the show’s tensest moments as even a single blink can give the monsters an opening.

Watch on HBO Max

The study group around a table in Community episode
Image via NBC

One of the most beloved comedies to debut this century, Community revolves around a small study group at a community college. Made up of characters from all ages and walks of life, the show elicits laughs by following both their personal lives and adventures around the college.

“Remedial Chaos Theory” is one of Community‘s best episodes and explores six different timelines, pondering what will happen when each of the group members leaves to collect pizza during a housewarming party. The results range from someone getting engaged to the pizza guy to the house being set on fire, creating a wide variety of hilarious scenarios.

Watch on Netflix

1 ‘BoJack Horseman’ – “Fish Out of Water” (2016)

BoJack Horseman underwater in the episode 'Fish Out of Water'
Image via Netflix

One of the most acclaimed animated shows of the past decade, BoJack Horseman envisions a world where humans and humanoid animals co-exist. The series follows BoJack (Will Arnet), a horse and former television star who grapples with substance abuse and other self-destructive tendencies as he attempts to stage a comeback.

After starring in the hit movie Secretariat, BoJack is instructed to attend an underwater film festival as part of his Oscar campaign. Unable to speak underwater, ‘Fish Out of Water’ sees BoJack wrapped up in several mishaps as he tries to attend his film’s premiere, with the episode able to impressively convey the show’s core themes of loneliness and guilt with almost no dialogue.

Watch on Netflix

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