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The brilliant TV episodes we can’t stop coming back to, from The West Wing to Game of Thrones

 (ES)
(ES)

Last week, One Day – Molly Manners’ TV update of David Nicholls’s 2009 best-seller – landed on Netflix, quickly rising to the top of the streamer’s most-watched charts – it’s currently the UK’s number one TV show.

The highly-anticipated 14-part series, which follows a 20-year relationship between university friends Emma (Ambika Mod) and Dexter (Leo Woodall), has predictably lit up the internet, with new and old fans being blown away by its penultimate episode in particular.

Now, after devouring the rom-com, our writers reveal which other episodes – from all sorts of other shows – also really wowed, shocked or surprised them.

Band of Brothers: The Breaking Point (season 1, episode 7)

 (Sky)
(Sky)

Each episode of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s award-winning World War Two miniseries focuses on a pivotal moment in the American paratroopers’ advance through Europe. In episode seven, following their sub-zero stay in Bastogne, Easy Company must attack Belgium town Foy, but their leader for the push is the dithering Lieutenant Dike and he leaves his men as sitting ducks. It’s immediately clear he’s not up to the job, so the enigmatic Ronald Speirs takes over and successfully reorganises. With no phone and half the company now on the other side of the town, Speirs runs through it – alone, with German snipers and soldiers shooting at him – to relay the new plan. Thrillingly, mind-bogglingly, he then runs all the way back. A legendary moment on screen.

Elizabeth Gregory

Doctor Who: Blink (series 3, episode 10)

Eek: a Weeping Angel (BBC Studios/James Pardon)
Eek: a Weeping Angel (BBC Studios/James Pardon)

Blink is the episode that launched a thousand memes, and that’s because so many elements gel perfectly. It’s a horror for the ages: Carey Mulligan is sublime as the low-key Sad Girl, Sally Sparrow, while the Weeping Angels (now a Who staple) gradually evolve from something vaguely creepy to a source of genuine, knee-knocking fear. And David Tennant popping up as the Doctor to deliver messages via an obscure video loop that only makes sense at the end: chef’s kiss. If all Doctor Who episodes were like this, it would be on the GCSE syllabus alongside Romeo and Juliet. Blink is an oldie – it came out all the way back in 2007 – but it stands the test of time. Flick it on and relive the terror.

Vicky Jessop

Friday Night Lights: State (season 1, episode 22)

There are so many episodes that could be chosen in this extraordinary, and often overlooked show but I often go back to one of the most feel-good. As rumours of Coach Taylor’s departure swirl, the Dillon Panthers face the biggest game of their lives at the State Championships. This series, which was adapted from real-life reportage by the journalist H.G. Bissinger of a small Texas town in the Eighties, and how it put all its hopes and dreams on high schoolers playing American football, took the spirit of the book and made it its own. As the coach’s motto goes, “Clear eyes, full hearts... can’t lose.”

Nick Clark

Game of Thrones: The Winds of Winter (season 6, episode 10)

 (Sky)
(Sky)

This episode has one of the most compelling opening sequences ever made – the first 15 minutes alone demand multiple rewatching. What was supposed to be Cersei and Loras’ trial descends into a mass exodus of all of her enemies, in one of the most dominant power displays committed to prestige TV drama. From the ghostly music, to the huge explosion and Cersei’s sinister sip when the deed was done, this is Game of Thrones at its finest.

Jonathan Kanengoni

New Girl: Prince (season 3, episode 14)

 (Sky)
(Sky)

This is one of my all-time favourite episodes of TV. All the characters have great storylines, and it even features an original song written for that specific episode sung by both Prince and Zooey Deschanel. You can tell that the actors had the best time filming this. Oh, and it’s one of the few shows in which Prince, himself, appears. “I’m Prince... so what seems to be the problem?” he asks, before adding, “Oh how rude of me, I haven’t given you enough time to freak out yet. You may do so now”... Amazing.

Charlotta Billstrom

Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights: Brian gets everyone back together (series 2, episode 1)

Peter Kay as Brian in Phoenix Nights (Handout)
Peter Kay as Brian in Phoenix Nights (Handout)

I’m glad this series came out at a time (2001-2) when the only options I had for televisual entertainment were five channels and a DVD collection, because I really, really, really got to know it. Stuck in the Lake District in that post-school, pre-uni lull, my brother and I would watch it endlessly. This episode takes place after the Phoenix Nights club has burnt down. The scene which still gives me an earworm every time I take out the rubbish, takes place as Brian (played by Peter Kay) stumbles across Jerry St Clair (Jerr-eh) in his new job as a singer in Asda. It’s a pathetic scene, the former club entertainer reduced to supermarket singer, but the lyrics are so ludicrous (even if some haven’t aged well) so brilliantly delivered, the scene so ridiculous, that it’s impossible not to laugh. Some 15 years later, I still head to these scenes for comfort and a guaranteed laugh – I no longer have a DVD player and Phoenix Nights isn’t available on any (legal) streaming platforms, but thank goodness, I can still turn to the Asda scene on YouTube.

Harriet Addison

Schitt’s Creek: Open Mic (season 4, episode 6)

 (Handout)
(Handout)

Footfall is low at David and Patrick’s Rose Apothecary boutique so Patrick says the three most loathsome words in the English language: open mic night. The idea is to make the store feel more inclusive. David is naturally alarmed but eventually relents. The evening arrives and Patrick gets up on stage with his acoustic guitar to dedicate a song to “someone special in my life, David Rose”. The mood is tense. Then, he sings the sweetest, most angelic version of Tina Turner’s Simply the Best. I cry every time I watch it. I’m not alone, Catherine O’Hara (Moira Rose) cried throughout the entire take too. It’s three minutes and 33 seconds of pure love.

Suzannah Ramsdale

The Sopranos: Long Term Parking (season 5, episode 12)

 (Sky)
(Sky)

This is the penultimate episode of the penultimate series of the show, where Adriana La Cerva finally comes clean to her boyfriend Christopher Moltisanti that she’s an FBI informant, and subsequently meets her demise. Drea de Matteo, who played the character and (quite rightly) won a Primetime Emmy for the role, once described Adriana as the show’s “sacrificial lamb” which I think sums it up. I cried buckets when I watched the episode and it continued to haunt me for days after. I’m planning on doing a rewatch of the entire series soon, and will sort of dread it when Long Term Parking approaches. But this disquieting effect on the viewer is precisely what makes it such powerful television.

Hannah Tindle

The West Wing: Celestial Navigation (season 1, episode 15)

Martin Sheen as president Josiah Bartlett in the West Wing
Martin Sheen as president Josiah Bartlett in the West Wing

The West Wing’s relentless optimism and witticisms have perhaps aged poorly, but it’s hard to deny writer Aaron Sorkin’s skill when the show burst onto TV screens. Celestial Navigation is the episode I return to the most because Sorkin was not afraid to ratchet up the comedy (and lose some of the earnestness), instead having buckets of fun with the well-established characters and giving the 40-minute episode a perfect flashback structure. The cynic in me still finds it hard to resist.

Tom Davidson

Queer Eye: Jones Bar-B-Q (season 3, episode 3)

 (Christopher Smith/Netflix)
(Christopher Smith/Netflix)

I rarely return to TV drama or comedy (the guilt that I’m not watching whatever the latest Important Prestige Drama is is just too strong) but as far as I’m concerned, Queer Eye is medicine. There are few more reliable methods of warming the heart in a low moment than watching the Fab Five – Tan, Bobby, Jonathan, Karamo and Antoni – turn some struggling, selfless individual’s life around in a week with a haircut, a house makeover and a whizz down a zipwire. Season 3, episode 3 is my absolute favourite of the lot. The Jones sisters, Deborah (‘Little’) and Mary (‘Shorty’) slave away day in, day out at the Kansas barbecue joint founded by their father, bumping into each other in the tiny kitchen to serve an insanely long queue of hungry customers, and to put Little’s daughter through college. Inevitably, they end the episode with a new, expanded restaurant, a new line in professionally bottled secret bbq sauce and (spoiler alert) one of them even gets a new set of front teeth, putting an end to what must be five decades of hiding her smile. It’s a full-tissue-box event.

Nancy Durrant

Vice Principals: A Trusty Steed (season 1, episode 2)

 (2016 Home Box Office)
(2016 Home Box Office)

This is a rare example of one episode transcending an entire series. Quite honestly, you could just watch this one episode and have an amazing time without any further interest in the show (it’s actually a lost modern classic but that’s beside the point). In this episode, the two rival vice principal teachers, Gamby (Danny McBride) and Russell (Walter Goggins), visit the home of the principal, Dr Brown (Kimberley Hebert Gregory) to “gather intel”. What actually happens is that the devilish Russell eggs Gamby on to start smashing a few things in the house... which quickly gets out of control. Truly, the childlike joy of destruction has never been as funny as this. Seek it out.

Martin Robinson