You don't need to watch the whole series to appreciate these. But you do need to watch them.
  1. Doctor Who — "Blink"
    I don't really care about "Doctor Who." (Although I do like David Tennant.) But "Blink," starring a young Carey Mulligan, has almost nothing to do with the rest of the series, and is PERFECT. It is amazing. Brilliant. Truly.
  2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer — "Hush"
    The two best episodes of "Buffy," this one and "Once More With Feeling," both do crazy things with sound. "Once More" is widely considered the better of the two, and I don't disagree, but it relies heavily on knowledge of the series, whereas this one stands alone.
  3. Bojack Horseman — "Fish Out of Water"
    Like "Hush," this one is mostly silent. And if it's less exciting and intricately plotted than "Hush," it makes up for it with stunning visuals and powerful insights into self-loathing and isolation. In an era when most smart series eschew episodicity in favor of serialization, this is a great example of how to tell a unified story in 30 minutes.
  4. The Good Wife — "Executive Order 13224"
    "The Good Wife" backed away from standalone episodes in its last three seasons, but this gem from season 3 shows why that was a big loss. It features some of the better political commentary the show ever did, along with Elsbeth Tascioni's cleverest legal maneuvering.
  5. The X-Files — "Ice"
    There are so many great standalone episodes of "The X-Files" that it's hard to pick just one. But for non-watchers, "Ice" has the benefit of being the 9th episode of the entire series — because that means there's virtually no mythology needed to understand everything that's going on. It's also one of the scariest episodes of TV around.
  6. Person of Interest — "If-Then-Else"
    "Person of Interest" was, in my opinion, one of the most underrated TV shows of all time. Its best episodes (which are terrific indeed) generally deal with the series' continuing plot, and this is no exception. But you don't need to know everything about the broader story to appreciate the brilliant structure of this episode.
  7. Firefly — "Out of Gas"
    Is it boring or lazy to include two Joss Whedon shows in such a short list? Probably. But this one, which delves deeply into Mal's psyche as he pilots Serenity alone, is worth it.
  8. Louie — "Daddy's Girlfriend Part 2"
    The "Part 2" in the title is sort of a red herring; although Louie does meet Liz in the preceding episode, he doesn't really interact with her in a serious way until this one. And when he does: Wow! What a human bundle of contradictions and whims and insights. This feels like the part Parker Posey was born to play.
  9. The Sopranos — "Pine Barrens"
    Honestly you should just watch all of "The Sopranos," right? Because it is the greatest TV show of all time. But if, for whatever reason, you aren't down for that, at least watch this marvelous episode, which shows it at its funniest and most existentially profound. And "College."