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The Best Post-Super Bowl TV Episodes of the Last 35 Years

When the Big Game is over, these episodes took center stage.

Best Super Bowl TV Shows

Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock/Justin Lubin/NBC-TV/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock/ABC

7. “House”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Fox-TV/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5885662as) Hugh Laurie House, Md - 2004 Fox-TV USA Television Documentary House Md / House M.D.

Episode: Season 4, Episode 11, “Frozen”
Date/Game: February 3, 2008 – XLII

“House” was always at its best when Dr. Gregory House’s (Hugh Laurie) wild theories were matched by even more implausible actions, and in “Frozen,” House convinced a man to drink a woman’s urine in order to cure a broken toe. OK, OK. He didn’t know Dr. Cate Milton’s (Mira Sorvino) fractured toe, frozen numb by the cold of her arctic locale, was the reason she kept passing out, but it was one magnificent step in an elaborate diagnosis via web cam. Anyone who hadn’t stopped to take notice of Fox’s boundary-pushing medical procedural certainly didn’t forget their hour with good ol’ Gregory, and — other than the Oscar-winning guest star and remote evaluation — didn’t do anything too out of the ordinary. It offered up a solid example of what it’s got in store every week, and that’s more than enough when it comes to “House.”

6. “Homicide: Life on the Street”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by NBC TV/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5877971b)Yaphet Kotto, Reed DiamondHomicide - Life On The Street - 1993-1999NBC TVTelevision

Episode: Season 1, Episode 1, ”Gone for Goode”
Date/Game: January 31, 1993 – Super Bowl XXVII

Crazy but true: The show that helped prove that a journalistic approach to crime drama could lead to some of the best television ever made got a big post-Super Bowl push from NBC. The grim crime drama premiered in 1993 with an episode featuring no shortage of bleak murders and process-focused storytelling, but it was still enjoyed by 18.2 million households that night, and eventually went on to run for seven seasons and a movie. (Take that, “Community.”) Without “Homicide” forging the way, we’d never have “The Wire.” So thank you, Super Bowl fans — we owe you a lot.

5. “The Wonder Years”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock (2249163o) THE WONDER YEARS (1988-1993) (TV) Fred Savage ; Alley Mills, Olivia D'Abo, Dan Lauria, JASON HERVEY, WYRS 012 The Wonder Years - 1988

“The Wonder Years”

Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Episode: Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
Date/Game: January 31, 1988 – Super Bowl XXII

Perhaps one of the most successful scripted series premieres behind the Super Bowl, “The Wonder Years” was a sensation from the moment it launched, beginning with that theme song: “With a Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cocker. (It was also revolutionary for becoming a hit single-camera half-hour in an era when most all comedies were multi-camera.) Written and created by Neal Marlens and Carol Black, the show was the right nostalgia at the right time for Baby Boomers. Taking place in the tumultuous year of 1968, the premiere told the story of 12-year-old Kevin Arnold as he experienced his final summer before moving on to junior high. The episode introduced virtually every hallmark of the show, including Kevin’s nerdy best friend Paul (Josh Saviano), his first kiss — with neighborhood crush Winnie (Danica McKellar) — and his sibling rivalry with big brother Wayne (Jason Hervey). The premiere ended on a dramatic note, as Winnie’s brother had just been killed in Vietnam. “I guess it was really my last summer of pure adulterated childhood,” announces narrator Daniel Stern. But for “The Wonder Years,” it was only the beginning.

4. ‘Grey’s Anatomy”

Ellen Pompeo and Christina Ricci, "Grey's Anatomy"

Ellen Pompeo and Christina Ricci, “Grey’s Anatomy”

ABC

Episode: Season 2, Episode 16, “It’s the End of the World”
Date/Game: February 5, 2006 – Super Bowl XL

This cleverly crafted hour starts off with some titillation courtesy of a steamy shower dream sequence before segueing to the main event at Seattle Grace Hospital. There’s unexploded ammunition inside the chest cavity of a victim, and the only thing keeping it intact is the hand of newbie paramedic Hannah (guest star Christina Ricci). This sets the entire hospital into Code Black and plays out scenarios for how our different interns react under duress. Tense, hilarious, joyful, and heartbreaking, the episode effortlessly explores what it means to be human… with the added bonus of one young and very dashing Kyle Chandler in a significant guest role.

As befitting R.E.M’s stream-of-consciousness classic “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” the episode named after it takes you on a wild ride and doesn’t let up. While “Grey’s” is still going strong these days (even earning itself yet another spinoff), we can’t overemphasize how great it was in Season 2, well-deserving of its post-game spot. To this day it’s still the highest-rated episode of the series.

3. “The X-Files”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover UsageMandatory Credit: Photo by Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock (2207455c)Gillian Anderson, David DuchovnyThe X Files - 1998

Episode: Season 4, Episode 12, “Leonard Betts”
Date/Game: January 26, 1997 – Super Bowl XXXI

Season 4 of “The X-Files” was truly when the show hit its creative stride, and this sneaky game-changer of an episode embodied a lot of the series’ best elements. Presented initially as a typically bizarre casefile, “Leonard Betts” switches when Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) successfully hunt down the cancer-ridden Leonard Betts, their freak of the week, and out comes the brutal twist: Betts uses his ability to detect cancer in others to tell Scully that she “has something I need.” With that, the realization that Scully is also sick with cancer escalates the drama to a whole new level. Newcomers to the show got a taste of what made “The X-Files” such a unique series, while established fans had their minds blown.

2. “Friends”

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886065j) David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Matt Leblanc Friends - 1994-2003 Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro Television

Episode: Season 2, Episodes 12 and 13, “The One After the Superbowl: Parts 1 and 2”
Date/Game: January 28, 1996 – Super Bowl XXX

The decision to bring back Marcel the Monkey, let alone give him a plot line all to himself, is questionable at best. From a strategic standpoint, it’s kind of brilliant: Animals are cute, and cute things boost ratings. So sending Ross to San Diego to save his monkey is a pretty great idea to hook new viewers — and it worked! But more importantly, the first half of the “Friends” Super Bowl special is unquestionably buoyed by Phoebe’s truth-telling kids’ songs and Joey dating a stalker convinced he’s Dr. Drake Ramoray, his character on “Days of Our Lives.” And now we get into what makes the “Friends” Super Bowl special so great: They incorporated multiple celebrity cameos without sacrificing the cast’s charm or the series’ reliability. Chris Isaak, Brooke Shields, and Julia Roberts — yes, the Julia Roberts — played characters, rather than themselves, but the story allowed for Jean-Claude Van Damme to step in as JCVD, too. It’s fun, funny, and still fits in with the other episodes during Netflix binges. Other shows have tried similar tricks and failed miserably. “Friends” got it right.

1.”Alias”

Jennifer Garner, "Alias"

Jennifer Garner, “Alias”

ABC

Episode: Season 2, Episode 13, “Phase One”
Date/Game: January 26, 2003 – Super Bowl XXXVII

If there’s anything that would capture the attention of viewers post-game, it’s seeing Jennifer Garner in skimpy lingerie — twice, because of course the plot requires she try on the black and then the red ensemble back-to-back in the first few minutes. It’s all part of a completely bonkers opening where her super spy character Sydney Bristow seduces and then outmaneuvers a bad guy at 30,000 feet just before she blows out the airplane’s door but somehow survives when others don’t.

For anyone uninitiated to the world of “Alias,” this is an excellent entry point midstream because the rather ridiculous but thoroughly enjoyable high-octane episode has it all: sex appeal, elaborate fight scenes, disguises, secret identities, heartache, double-crosses, and one helluva surprise ending. Garner sells every delicious moment, and she’s surrounded by equally strong and colorful stars: Victor Garber, baby-faced David Anders and Bradley Cooper, Michael Vartan, Ron Rifkin, Merrin Dungey, Carl Lumbly, and Kevin Weisman.

It still holds up today, and reminds us when these Super Bowl lead-outs used to be big, bold, and boisterous.

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