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5 Best Genre-Hopping TV Episodes

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Mar 09, 2014 | 3:45pm EDT

Pretty Little Liars, Black and White EpisodeABC Family

It is no rare practice for television shows, mostly comedies, to take on a new genre for an episode or two. Community does it on a pretty regular basis. Scrubs has been known to dabble. How I Met Your Mother tried it (unsuccessfully – #HowIMetYour Racism much?). And Pretty Little Liars was the most recent show to pick up the fan-pleasing gauntlet of genre-hopping.  So, who's done it best? Let's see:

5. Pretty Little Liars - "Shadow Play"

Ah, Pretty Little Liars: the manna of the pre-teen generation (and surreptitious guilty pleasure for everyone else). They turned out a noir-homage episode that managed to marry the black and white glamour and dry wit of noir with their own brands of popular fashion and one-liners (a union which, awesomely enough, produced Mona in a gold lamé dress saying, "That was the last carrot stick").

4. Community - "Epidemiology"

"Epidemiology" is one of my all-time favorite episodes of Community – in fact, all of the Halloween episodes are great for the costumes alone. Britta's T-Rex outfit is iconic (and Troy and Abed's heavily constructed Aliens cosplay ain't half bad either). This zombie homage is just the right mix of hilarious (Zombie Jeff pretending to be cool) and absurd (the zombie disease stems from food bought at a steep discount from an army surplus store), with just enough suspense to make it genuinely scary.

3. Scrubs - "My Musical"

Come on, this is the episode that brought us the pure, unfiltered joy that is "Guy Love" (Zach Braff and Donald Faison's more recent collaboration, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was a nice call back for fans). I'd love it even if only for the unforgettable lyric, "We can figure out what's wrong with you/By looking at your poo."

2. Community, again - The Paintball Trilogy

The three paintball episodes of Community have it all – "Modern Warfare" riffs on action movie tropes like jumping on/and or away from grenades, "A Fistful of Paintballs" gives us the Sergio Leone tribute we never knew we needed, complete with a kick-ass opening titles, and "For a Few Paintballs More" got Star Wars  to a T, right down to an Abed-as-Han and Annie-as-Leia kiss. The show has a lot of great tribute episodes, but the paintball trio might just be the most fun.

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - "Once More, with Feeling"

Buffy may win in terms of set up: it's no Adderall-induced fantasy (PLL), nor is it a brain tumor (Scrubs), or even government experiment food (Community) – nope, it's a good old demon who makes people spontaneously combust through song and dance! The musical numbers (all in different styles – rockabilly, ballad, pop, Fred and Ginger – even Disney princess!) are delightful, but it's not all fluff: the songs also act as something of a truth serum, and it's in "Once More, with Feeling" that the Scooby gang finally finds out that Buffy was resurrected from heaven. It's a huge emotional turning point in the season, and it's revealed through song and dance. TV at its best, people.

So what are your favorite genre-benders? Share in the comments!

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