''Big Love,'' ''Mad Men,'' and ''The Office'' had some of the year's best TV episodes

By Michael Ausiello
Updated December 18, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

1. Big Love
”Come, Ye Saints” (Feb. 22, HBO)
The ”trapped together” format of Big Love‘s road-trip episode ”Come, Ye Saints” plunged deeper into relationships than ever before, creating a genuine work of art. It was so sublime, I even forgot I was watching a drama about a polygamist family. For that one hour, they were just a family.

2. Mad Men
”Shut the Door. Have a Seat” (Nov. 8, AMC)
The superb season 3 finale found Don Draper (Jon Hamm) teetering between the thrill of creating a new ad agency and the sorrow of his wife (January Jones) finally leaving him. Part madcap caper, part weighty drama, it was a fitting conclusion to a season built around change. — Missy Schwartz

3. The Office
”Niagara” (Oct. 8, NBC)
All parties won during the much-anticipated nuptials of Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer). The lovebirds enjoyed an intimate Niagara Falls-side ceremony, while their insane co-workers ruined the ”real” wedding by ingeniously re-creating YouTube’s heinous, faux-fun procession to Chris Brown’s ”Forever.” It was the perfect marriage…of sweet and crazy. — Tanner Stransky

4. Lost
”The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” (Feb. 25, ABC)
In retrospect, this epic, globe-trotting episode — in which Locke (Terry O’Quinn) left the Island via magic ”donkey wheel” in a doomed attempt to persuade his castaway friends to come back — is even more chilling and devastating now that we know Locke’s seemingly miraculous resurrection was a brutal lie, hatched by a ”man in black.” We never got to say a proper goodbye to Lost‘s tragic man of faith. A moment of silence, please. — Jeff Jensen

5. The Celebrity Apprentice
”Episode 9” (April 26, NBC)
The minute I saw country superstar Clint Black insinuating that he had used detergent as a lubricant to help masturbate, I knew that this was a truly extraordinary season of The Celebrity Apprentice. But the reality TV meltdown of the year belonged to the women Rivers: daughter Melissa lashing out at Annie Duke and Brande Roderick as ”whore pit vipers” and mother Joan hitting Duke with the worst insult she could imagine — ”You’re a poker playah. A poker playah!” Deal me in. — Dalton Ross

6. Battlestar Galactica ”Blood on the Scales” (Feb. 6, SyFy)
After so much sci-fi kookiness and human/Cylon ennui, it was the bloody mutiny orchestrated by the peg-legged, tragic Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani) that finally snapped BSG back into shape. The second half of this two-episode arc teemed with mind-frakkingly great moments, sending the series on its final voyage with a haunting, heart-stirring bang. — Adam B. Vary

7. Saturday Night Live
”Justin Timberlake” (May 9, NBC)
This edition of SNL served as yet another example of the singer’s skill as a sketch comedian. But ”Mother-lover,” his Digital Short reunion with Andy Samberg, was what turned the episode into a classic, as the pair created another brilliant video that was both incredibly tasteless and undeniably hilarious. — Tim Stack

8. Breaking Bad
”Grilled” (March 15, AMC)
Teacher-turned-meth maker Walt (Bryan Cranston) and his wasteoid cohort Jesse (Aaron Paul) spent this gripping hour as prisoners of drug kingpin Tuco in a desert shack with his ailing, mute uncle. While Walt and Jesse plotted to take out Tuco, the uncle tried to tip off his nephew using a service bell. The most claustrophobic, tension-packed hour of TV this year? Ding! — Dan Snierson

9. 30 Rock
”Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001” (Dec. 3, NBC)
It’s all about the high-def camera depicting Liz (Tina Fey) as a unibrowed hag, Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) as a Muppet, and Jack as a young Alec Baldwin. The sight gags reached such high levels that you could watch them with no sound and still laugh until you cried — or until water shot out of your face, like it did whenever Liz teared up post-discount LASIK surgery. — Jennifer Armstrong

10. South Park
”Fishsticks” (April 8, Comedy Central)
In this Kanye-skewering episode, the rapper was painted as a self-aggrandizing dolt who becomes enraged when he doesn’t understand Jimmy’s joke: ”Do you like fishsticks? Well, what are you? A gay fish?” Cut to an Auto-Tuney Kanye-esque ditty, ”Gay Fish.” The best part about the episode? The fact that it was written months before his VMAs outburst. — Kate Ward