Show With the Best Titles?

Here’s a not-very-significant question: which current show do you think has the best episode titles?

The elaborateness (is that a word?) of episode titles seems to fluctuate a lot. A lot of shows used to have very elaborate titles for two reasons: a) Most dramas actually showed the title at the beginning, requiring the writers to come up with a cool title that summed up the episode, and b) Comedies, which didn’t usually show the title, would have punny in-joke titles based on the writers’ belief that nobody would ever see them. That’s how you got episode titles like “Dwarf in a Helium Hat” (my personal favourite, from The Rockford Files), and “Warning: Live Blueberries” (from the soon-to-be-released first season of Mannix) and another of my all-time favourites, “Bob Has to Have His Tonsils Out, So He Spends Christmas Eve in the Hospital” (The Bob Newhart Show — if the title had been shown onscreen, we wouldn’t have had to watch the episode).

There were always some shows that had simpler titles, like Dragnet, which called every episode “The Big _____” and later just “The ______.” But more shows started moving towards simpler titles as producers realized that writers were spending too much time coming up with titles that no one would ever see (especially once dramas stopped putting the title at the beginning). That’s why Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, influenced by Dragnet, decreed that all Seinfeld episodes would just be “The _____,” because they said they didn’t want the writers wasting time on writing awesome titles. (If you look at the titles from the first season of Law and Order, they had crazy titles like “By Hooker, By Crook,” which they mostly dropped after the first season in favour of one or two-word titles.)

But then in the mid-’90s, with the rise of the internet, it became apparent that many if not most fans would, in fact, see the title and they’d want something interesting or funny. That’s how Dawson’s Creek gave us titles like “First Encounters of the Close Kind” or King of the Hill came up with “Little Horrors of Shop” (rule of thumb: taking a famous movie title and reversing it — title gold). The Sopranos, which started in the late ’90s, had some insane titles (“The Telltale Moozadell”).

And lately we’ve been moving back to simple titles, especially for comedies; most of today’s hit comedies, instead of having big titles, have simple titles that either echo something that was said in the episode (“The Chain of Screaming” from HIMYM, “Goodbye Toby” from tonight’s Office). Some shows like 24 don’t even bother to use individual episode titles. There are a few shows with well-known title gimmicks, like Desperate Housewives and its gimmick of naming all the episodes after Stephen Sondheim songs, but most shows just name the episodes after lines from the episode (Two and a Half Men) or after the case that’s being investigated (Bones) or use titles that are kind of generic (recent House episodes have been called “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Living the Dream”). Corner Gas has had some good title puns, though (“Bed and Brake Fast”).

So what are your choices for the shows today with the best episode titles? And do you prefer a funny/elaborate episode title or a simple one?

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.