“The Conscience of the King.” “Who Mourns for Adonais? ” “The Omega Glory.” “Bread and Circuses.” “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” Are these Led Zeppelin songs? Chapter headings for a Russian war epic? One-act plays your high school drama teacher loved? Nope: they’re just a few of the incredible episode titles from the original run of Star Trek. Earlier this month, Mack Elder, a Trek megafan with a Trek villain name, set a world record by naming all 79 titles of the original series, in order, in just under 100 seconds. The video of his feat is fun to watch. (Much like the series itself, he begins to stumble right around season 3.) And it got me thinking about the curious art of naming TV episodes.
Until the advent of the internet, I imagine most viewers probably weren’t even aware that episodes had titles. As a result, there’s a long tradition of episode titles that are little more than explicit plot descriptions. This is especially true of Friends, which made a joke out of titling every episode with the purely functional identifier, “The One with…” (sometimes amended to, “The One where…”, as in, “The One Where No One’s Ready.”)
If I had to arbitrarily point to the tipping point when everything changed and episode titles entered the cultural lexicon, it would have to be with “The Constant,” the Desmond-centric fourth season episode of Lost. Everyone I knew loved that episode, but I always remember the particular way they expressed that love: not saying, “Man, that last episode of Lost was awesome!” but rather “Man, ‘The Constant’ was awesome!” The rise of iTunes and Hulu helped spread the titles to enter the cultural mainstream, and now, following Lost‘s example, lots of shows even release the title early as a tease for fans.
It has to be said that, even now, most episode titles are pretty lame (my personal pet peeve is the pun titles based on character names: Can I interest you in Lost‘s “House of the Rising Sun,” Battlestar Galactica‘s “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down,” or Deadwood‘s “Jewel’s Boot Is made For Walking”?) But as Star Trek shows, an episode title can be a beautiful haiku, even if the episode it’s attached to isn’t worth the download. “The City on the Edge of Forever” is a good name and a great episode, but “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” is an incredible name, even if the episode is unwatchable.
So I’d like to ask you, PopWatchers: what are your favorite TV episode titles? It doesn’t necessarily have to be attached to a good episode, or be from a good TV series. It could be a phrase that somehow encapsulates the the action of the episode, or the series, or even an entire state of mind; then again, it could just be a memorable play on words. To get you started, here are my top 10 picks:
1. “He’s Our You,” Lost
2. “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky,” Star Trek
3. “The Whores Can Come,” Deadwood
4. “Three Ducks of the Condor,” DuckTales
5. “Motherboy XXX,” Arrested Development
6. “Scott Tenorman Must Die,” South Park
7. “Islanded in a Stream of Stars,” Battlestar Galactica
8. “The Best Chrismukkah Ever,” The O.C.
9. “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield,” The Simpsons
10. “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” Mad Men
Agree? Disagree? Think all 10 of these slots could have been filled up by The Simpsons? Sound off below!