The site ShowSkimmer is a new tool for finding the best episodes of a TV show. Search for a series, and ShowSkimmer will list the best 5, 10, 25 or 50 episodes, in chronological order. It’s a great way to watch a series while skipping all the forgettable episodes — which is especially good for long-running sitcoms with light plots and a lot of time to fill.
If you’re watching something short such as Atlanta or Fleabag, you should watch every episode. If you’re ploughing through 10 seasons of Friends, you can afford to skip some.
ShowSkimmer gives each episode a rating out of 100. According to its creator, these ratings are partly based on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings, but they’re partly derived by searching for series and episode titles and seeing which return the most results.
So an episode can get a high rating through good reviews or by being mentioned frequently. That probably gives a boost to pilots and finales, or other middling but “important” episodes of a show.
Our spot-checks show respectable, if ruthless, results. The best Community episodes are mostly in seasons two and three, and the list skips the Dan Harmon-less season four altogether.
The top 50 list for The Office starts a few episodes into season two, after the show’s rough start, and covers most of the middle seasons up to Michael Scott’s departure, skipping the weak late seasons and returning for the last three for closure.
Apart from ignoring too many early foundational episodes, this system really seems to know how to watch a long-running sitcom.
Parks and Recreation starts in season two as well, and spends most of its time in seasons four and five. (In practice, you probably need to watch a little more of seasons two and three to get used to the characters in their element, before the later seasons push them into new situations.)
If you’ve watched the show, you’ll recognise episode titles such as “Hunting Trip”, “Jerry’s Painting” and “Ron and Tammys”. And even if you didn’t care for the silly final season, you really do have to watch the two-part series finale, with its Six Feet Under-style flash forwards. Just as ShowSkimmer recommends.
The site is less useful for anything with an important plot. A list of 10 great Breaking Bad episodes doesn’t do you any good; those episodes lose all their heft when separated from the full story. Even Arrested Development, with its intricate web of callbacks, suffers too much from a skimming approach.
And if a show has under 35 episodes, ShowSkimmer doesn’t even bother to include it.
If you want to skim a TV series, you have other options. There’s a great trend of entertainment sites listing the best episodes of classic shows. The Ringer collected the best 100 Simpsons episodes; Rolling Stone collected the best 150.
Unfortunately, many of these lists are sorted by quality ranking, not by watch order. (An excellent exception is Cards Against Humanity founder Max Temkin’s guide to the best of Star Trek: The Next Generation.) Even if you’re only watching the 25 best episodes of Seinfeld, you’ll still enjoy them more if you watch them in order.
You can also crawl through IMDb yourself, watching every episode above a certain rating. (That’s how I’ve been approaching Frasier. I’ve determined that the true minimum rating for a good episode is 8.2.) You can do the same with ratings from Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, or from recap sites such as A.V. Club.
It’s a decent approach that lets you evaluate each episode before choosing to watch. But if you want a quick solution that doesn’t feel like homework, pull up a ShowSkimmer list and dive in.