Monday, March 10, 2014

That One With the Naming Conventions From Popular TV Shows

In a spectacular fit of procrastination two years ago, I started a Google Doc on which I listed all the shows I could think of whose episodes are named according to a certain pattern or formula. It seemed important at the time — like, “Finally, if I just laid all this out, everything would go my way!” I’d intended to post it, but every now and then I’d come across another one, and the list never felt finished. However, I’m thinking now makes as good a time as any to post it and see what additions come my way. That’s what this blog is for, as near as I can tell: posting not-easily-solved questions and letting the answers come to me.

While the idea of naming TV episodes according to a certain convention probably existed before my time, I only noticed it in the age of Must See TV, starting with Seinfeld, which stuck to its rule with the exception of just one episode title.

the awkward and awkwardly-titled “male unbonding”
I think everyone thought it was cool because at the time NBC ruled television. And ha ha — to recall a time when NBC seemed untouchable is like MySpace Betamax pet rocks DuMont Network.

But that’s where we start.
  • Seinfeld: “The X,” as in “The Chinese Restaurant,” “The Parking Space” and “The Smelly Car,” even if the fourth episode is titled “Male Unbonding” because someone along the line apparently didn’t get the memo
  • Friends: “The One With X” or “The One Where X,” as in “The One Where Nana Dies Twice,” “The One With the Lesbian Wedding” and “The One With the Jellyfish”
  • Caroline in the City: “Caroline and the X,” as in “Caroline in the Gay Art Show”
  • 3rd Rock From the Sun: All the titles had the name “Dick” in them (ha), after John Lithgow’s character’s name, as in “Post-Nasal Dick,” “Assault With a Deadly Dick” and “Gobble, Gobble, Dick, Dick”
  • Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place: For the first two seasons, each episode is titled “Two Guys, a Girl and a X,” but this trend vanishes in seasons three and four (as did the titular pizza place), though it’s perhaps more notable to consider that this show lasted for four years
  • Scrubs: “My X,” as in “My First Day” and “My Finale,” though this changes during the final season when narration is shared by a new character and the episode title format is “Our X”
  • Wonderfalls: Each episode is named after the object that magically speaks to Jaye (“Wax Lion,” “Muffin Buffalo,” “Cocktail Bunny”), though in many cases that word combination is also a metaphorical description of a character in the episode
  • Monk: “Mr. Monk X,” with “X” being a description of the episode plot, as in “Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico”
  • Nip/Tuck: Every episode is named for a patient who undergoes surgery in that episode
  • Bones: With some exceptions, every episode title describes the corpse of the week, as in “The Man in the SUV,” “The Crank in the Shaft” and “The Nazi on the Honeymoon”
  • The Good Wife: In the first season, episodes titles consist of one word and in the second season, two; this continues up until the fifth season, when episode titles once again revert to having three words for no reason I can yet identify
  • Cougar Town: Every episode is named after a Top Petty song, as in “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Here Comes My Girl”
  • Community: With a few exceptions (“Repilot,” “A Fistful of Paintballs”), they’re all named in the stye of college class titles, as in “Aerodynamics of Gender,” “Basic Urine Lupology” and “Herstory of Dance”
  • The L Word: In a stroke of unmatched genius, the episode titles are all words that begin with the letter “L,” as in “Lobster,” which is the only episode of the show that I ever saw before I realized I had better things to do
  • Chuck: “Chuck vs. the X,” as in “Chuck vs. the Wookiee,” “Chuck vs. the First Date” and “Chuck vs. the Cliffhanger”
  • Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23: For no apparent reason that I can figure, each one ends in an ellipsis
  • Two Broke Girls: “And the X,” as in “And the Break-up Scene”
  • Hannibal: In the first season, all the episodes are titled after French food or food service (with the exception of “Ceuf,” which is problematic), while in the second season, they’re titled after Japanese food or food service
  • Looking: Every episode title begins with the word “Looking,” as in “Looking for Now,” “Looking for Uncut” and “Looking Glass”
So what did I miss? Surely I missed the most obvious ones.

Notes: For the purposes of this list, we’re ignoring the first episode, which is usually just called “Pilot” because no one’s thinking naming conventions at this point. And yes, I’m considering Caroline in the City a popular show. Hey, people watched it back in the day. I can’t explain why. I was twelve at the time. What’s your excuse, the rest of America?


  1. Anonymous9:36 AM

    That 70s Show didn't have a pattern persay, but they did have streaks of song titles from entire Led Zeppelin albums and other classic rock albums.

    1. The entire season 8 (minus the finale) wasnamed after a song by queen. bohemian rhapsody, killer queen, sheer heart attack, etc.

  2. Anonymous9:38 AM

    "Extras" episodes (with the exception of the finale) is the name of that week's guest star.

  3. All of the episodes of Comedy Bang Bang are named after what the celebrity guest wore. The best one so far is Gillian Jacobs Wears A Red Dress With Sail Boats.

  4. Anonymous4:00 PM

    Big Bang Theory has science stuff in titles.

    Freaks and Geeks had a lot of rhymes, and then it kinda got lazy and just used a lot of ampersands. The Garage Door is a notable exception.

    It's Always Sunny

  5. I don't know how long the show will last, but it looks like the new NBC show "About a Boy" has episodes named "About a/an X."

  6. True Blood names all their episodes after song titles. I'm not sure if the songs get worse in later seasons but that show sure did.

  7. Respect Caroline in the City. Lea Thompson continues to kill it on Switched At Birth, which names every episode after a famous work of art.

    And although I've never seen one Desperate Housewives episodes get their names from Sondheim lyrics.

    1. Lea Thompson is cool. Thats how, however, is no good. National insanity is the only explanation I can think of.

  8. Thank you for this excellent public service. I am fascinated by naming conventions! Here's mine: Six Feet Under, every episode is named after the person they're undertaking that week. America's Next Top Model; every episode is named "The Girl Who..." or "The Girl With..." Everybody Hates Chris; every episode starts with "Everybody Hates

  9. Supernatural has some brilliant episode titles. Not a common theme, though pop-culture references are frequent.

  10. I've been watching Get a Life on DVD, and I've noticed that quite a few of the titles end with "2000," albeit not enough to establish a consistent pattern.

  11. The Mentalist has some sort of 'red' in almost all it's titles. Up until they caught the Red John killer, afterwards they switched to other colours.

  12. Family Guy attempted this sort of thing, by using a title that sounds like a thriller or horror film title (e.g. 'Death Has A Shadow', which I think was the first episode shown). After about four episodes they gave up.

    Also, for certain episodes of M*A*S*H there were naming conventions, most memorably to me the episodes where a character writes a letter home, talking about what's going on in camp; these were usually titled 'Dear X' or similar.

    1. I knew (but had forgotten) that about Family Guy. I wonder if they'd run out of noir-ish titles had they kept that game up.

  13. Grey's Anatomy is another one with probably all of their episodes named after songs; most are obvious/well-known, and I haven't bothered to look up the ones that didn't seem to fit.

    1. Noted, though I still like to pretend that Grey's Anatomy doesn't exist.

  14. Thanks for comment