Movies love gimmicks, whether it’s watching with 3D glasses or singing along to a bouncing ball. Television has been hard-pressed to come up with things it could do to compete with the novelty, but it has managed to give us some of the best (and worst) ways to add a little extra something to regular storytelling. Here are the 10 best gimmick episodes ever seen on TV.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer – The Silent Episode and the Musical Episode
Buffy had not one but two tremendously successful and critically acclaimed gimmick episodes. One was “Hush,” a fourth season episode in which demons steals the voices of the main characters — leading to the gimmick that most of the show was completely silent. The other, and complete opposite, was the sixth season’s “Once More With Feeling,” in which a demon compels people to sporadically break into song and dance. While this gimmick had already been tried (poorly) in the 1990 series Cop Rock, Buffy was a tour de force and inspired other series to do musical episodes, including Scrubs, Community, and How I Met Your Mother.
Seinfeld – The Backwards Episode
Not the first show to do a backwards episode gimmick, but Seinfeld’s version, broadcast during its ninth and final season, is among the best. The episode starts at the end where it looks like the characters have just gotten out of a bar fight and ends at a point much earlier in time before the show even started, when Jerry first meets Kramer, thus setting off the whole messy series of events that includes a wedding, a trip to India, a pair of boots, and a plot involving FDR (not the president, the other one) wanting to kill Kramer. The episode’s title, “The Betrayal,” references a Harold Pinter play with the same backwards-narrative conceit. The forward version has never been broadcast, but is available on the Season 9 DVD. It’s a long, strange trip of an episode.