My Very Favourite Standalone TV Episodes
Sometimes, I just don’t feel like jumping into a whole series, you know? It just feels like too much of a commitment to sit down and stick to six or eight or twenty-four episodes, when I could be spending my time brewing elaborate teas and smelling my cats head.
Which is where the anthology show comes in: I’ve talked about my great love of various anthology TV shows (well, mostly horror, let’s be real) a lot, but, sometimes, I feel like it’s useful to have a few reccomendations of where to jump in to get a feel for the show as a whole. Which is just what this list is! A few of my favourite one-off, standalone TV episodes, for when you’re looking for a hit of great storytelling, but don’t want to commit to forty hours of TV to get there. To the list!
- A Traveller – The Twilight Zone
Now, I actually think there are a few excellent episodes in the first season of The Twilight Zone reboot, but it’s this one, A Traveller, that just imprinted itself on me as soon as I saw it. Set in a police station in the remote, windswept Iglaak, Alaska, A Traveller is a simple premise: at an office Christmas party, tensions come to a head when a mysterious traveller (played by Steven Yeun, who has just had the best post-Walking-Dead career so far. I mean, have you seen Sorry to Bother You? Ugh) arrives asking for a pardon from the sheriff (a sleazily well-cast Greg Kinnear).
It’s a strange episode, creeping dread and discomfort, a slow inching towards an inevitable but unknowable climax. Hinged on a brilliant, icy-cold Steven Yeun performance, A Traveller is deliciously unique in tone and execution, and the standout of a solid first season of the reboot.
2. Imprint – Masters of Horror
I’m not just a fan of Takashi Miike because he adapted one of my favourite authors ever, trust me. No, a big part of it is because he produced the very best episode of the (patchy, but totally watchable) Masters of Horror.
Masters of Horror was concieved as a showcase to show off the talents of various horror icons – John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Joe Dante, and the like – and, like any anthology, it’s seriously patchy. But when it’s on, it’s a formidably fluid and open place for brilliant directors to play – and the best is Miike’s chilling and unforgettable Imprint. Following an American journalist with a dark past as he tries to find a previous Japanese lover (there was no way for to phrase that which didn’t make it sound as though the lover was previously Japanese, but you get my point), it’s fucking brutal, incredibly inventive, and shows off all of Miike’s wildly creative and totally twisted skills.
3. Banana – Episode Two
Now, just to prove that I do watch things other than horror: some gay! This was the very first thing I ever saw the brilliant Letitia Wright in, and it’s always stood out to me as one of my favourite short pieces of LGBT fiction I’ve ever seen. Russel T Davies, a personal favourite of mine, helmed this excellent anthology series about British people on the LGBTQ spectrum, and it’s the second episode that has stuck with me ever since. Filled with the dizzying hope of falling in love when you never thought you could, with all the softness and hard edges of being gay and loving women and trying to find that love for yourself along the way, it’s an awesome showcase for the brilliant Wright, as well as a reminder of just how much more funding British television needs to give Russel T Davies to tell these kind of stories.
(header image via Hollywood Reporter)