One of the benefits of television is it’s familiarity. It’s a comfy blanket of pop culture. It’s rarely too daring and most of our favourite shows have very set in stone formulae. This is part of the appeal, knowing what you are getting in a way that films and any print media rarely have the need to. You put on an episode of a Law and Order show, you know you are getting a by the numbers procedural that will be very one and done. You watch something like Hannibal, you know that it’ll be tense, a bit macabre and simply a chapter in a larger tale. Both of those things are good things and both have their place. Every now and again, there’ll be an episode of a show that’ll try and do something a little bit different.
The Obvious Choice – Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once more with Feeling
Season 6: Episode 11, first airing Nov 6 2001.
From the less than spectacular 6th season, this was the musical episode. The plot, such as it was, revolved around and demon bringing a dancing madness to Sunnydale, characters would burst into song, fully aware of how unreal and staged it seems. Most of the cast were given songs that revealed plot points and secrets and despite the idea of a musical episode being both bizarre and out of place, the episode fits rather nicely both as part of the overall arc of Buffy learning to cope after being brough back from paradise as well as standing alone enough to be watched as a singular episode.
Bones: The 200th in the 10th
Season 10: Episode 10, first airing Dec 14 2014
From a season where the show was firing on all cylinders in their usual mode of forensic-led murder mysteries, the 200th episode took a different tactic, putting the episode out as if it was a 1950’s film noir, with detectives, romantic jewel thieves and heavy sexism. The screwball comedy pairing of Boreanaz and Deschanel was well honed by this point and could move their dynamic to different jobs and eras. There was nothing ground breaking about this, but there was a sense of fun to it. It felt very much like a movie from that era, but with dialogue and production values of a more modern time. Like the last choice, this could be watched as either part of the 10th season as a welcome break, or just as a nice one off.
Season 6: Episode 20, first airing May 3 2007
Unlike the first 2 on this list, this was only partly the out of format episode and very much part of the larger season’s arc, but this was very much it’s own thing. Less the romantic cat and mouse of Bones’ noirish story, this was a lot more Raymond Chandler, it had femme fatales, plucky sidekicks, rat-at-at dialogue and something of a downbeat ending, but this felt like a noir story, jammed into the heart of the modern day retelling of Superman’s origin. Everyone was recast in new roles, but with the same names, with Jimmy Olsen a reporter with his ear to the street, Lex Luthor as a mob-boss, Lois was a lounge singer, Chloe the secretary who longed for Jimmy and urged him to succeed. Even Clark Kent was now a hard boiled detective, working undercover as the newspaper’s least imposing staff member. This was 25 mins out of a 40 minute show, but was very watchable and was a highpoint in what was quickly becoming a less than great season.
Doctor Who: Blink
Season 3, episode 10, first airing June 7 2007
I will freely admit this is a bit of a cheat. This episode didn’t shift genres or anything so bold and exciting, but it was a change in that the central character, the Doctor, didn’t actually feature as the main character, nor did the companion who was often the point of view character. The main character here was somone called Sally Sparrow, who just sort of fell into inexplicible and dangerous events involving creatures known as the Weeping Angels. This was tense and atmospheric and without the familiarity of the Doctor, you genuinely didn’t know who was going to make it out of this. Sally was the hero of this story and also the person who in a time-travel paradox sort of war set the story up. The Angels become over-used after this, but their first outing was an excellent example of what the show could be, now given the production values and budget that it had always yearned for. It is an episode that you could show to anyone who was on the fence with Doctor Who and at that point was David Tennant’s most bizarre performance as the Time Lord.
Farscape: Scratch n’Sniff
Season 3: Episode 13 first airing July 20 2001
It was hard to choose between this episode and the episode 16’s Revenging Angel and there were many bizarre shifts in that season. But they all seemed to have a linear coherence to them, it was just everything else that was bizarre. This episode was one that seemed to bounce from scene to scene with little to no sense. The episode was writting and filmed in a more traditional way, but found it’s bizarre form in the editing suite. The story is that D’Argo and John have been arguing more and more and so are sent off the ship to a nearby resort planet. Things go wrong on a number of levels and the pair try to convice the ship’s pilot to let them back on board. Being unreliable narrators, the pair fail to convince, but with cross-dressing, drugs, thieves and random weirdness being part of their lives generally, there’s not reason to believe that this wasn’t exactly what happened. It was played more for laughs than usual, one scene showing D’Argo and John waking up in a shop window wearing stockings and suspenders, but no actual trousers. This was also this season’s appearance of lead actor Ben Browder’s real life wife Francesca Bueller who showed up as the suprising cockney for an alien Raxil.
TV is often comforting in it’s familiarity, but every now and again it’s nice to see something a little bit different in there too.
Ttfn internet people.