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Unique TV Series Episodes That Inspire Creativity


Whatever creative field you are striving to excel in – whether it be graphic design, web development, blogging, or writing of another kind – inspiration can be gleaned from any creative field, even if that field is not directly related to what you personally do. As artists striving to stand out in our own niches, it is important that we notice and appreciate ground-breaking or otherwise imaginative work done in a broad range of artistic spectrums.

In this article you’ll get inspiration from the area of creative writing in popular television series episodes from the past 40+ years, and we’ll discuss how the creativity achieved in these particular episodes can motivate all of us, as artists, to always strive to prevent our creations from being too normal and predictable.

The artists who wrote or co-wrote the TV Series episodes that we’re featuring here were accustomed to producing work in a familiar environment, in harmony with the shows’ usual themes and settings. But in specific instances, those writers decided to create something unique that would long be remembered and appreciated. Some of the creativity was visual, other examples were more related to adjustments in theme, and others involved a little of both.

Let’s review how these particular episodes were different from what came before, and hopefully this will inspire artists today to become motivated to similarly push their work to a new level.

Star Trek “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967)

Season 1, Episode 28 Link

Show Synopsis: Star Trek is one of the most famous TV series in the history of television and portrays the adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise as commanded by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) and his First Officer and best friend, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). They lead a 5-year mission, representing the United Federation of Planets, to boldly go where no man has gone before.


Why This Episode Was Unique: Star Trek traditionally was heavily dependent on fictional technological elements for its plots. In this episode the writers allowed the characters to be removed from that familiar environment through a time portal that is accidentally discovered by members of the Starship Enterprise during a search for Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley). McCoy jumps into the time portal, initiating a series of events that causes Nazi Germany to conquer the world, which in turn prevents the U.S.S. Enterprise from ever existing. To correct the disaster, Kirk and Spock decide to enter the portal at a time period just before McCoy entered, ending up in New York City during the 1930s “Great Depression”.

This episode may be one of the greatest stories in television series history, not only because of its dramatic portrayal of the changing of world events, but because of the Star Trek producers’ innovative idea to remove their main characters from their all-too-familiar high-tech setting and propel them daringly into one of the darkest and simplest time periods in human history.

How It Inspires Creativity: Artists today tend to become dependent on a specific “brush size” or “canvas style”, incorporating the different elements of their creations into familiar and “safe” environments. By imitating the producers of this episode, artists can stray from old habits and work in fresh and original settings.

The X-Files“The Post-Modern Prometheus” (1997)

Season 5, Episode 5 Link

Show Synopsis: This series was based on the investigations of two FBI agents, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Their investigations center around attempting to solve marginalized, unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena. Mulder believes in aliens and the paranormal, while Scully, is skeptical and tries to debunk and control Mulder.


Why This Episode Was Unique: While The X-Files was often unique and creative, in this particular episode the writers combined a different visual with a distinct musical score and an interesting plotline. The episode’s storyline references the 1818 novel Frankenstein and seems to be influenced by the 1980 film The Elephant Man, using a “carnival music” score similar to that of the film’s opening and closing credits. Also, the entire episode was shot in black and white, creating an indelible visual to nicely complement the atypical theme, which includes an investigation into the evident existence of a modern-day Frankenstein-like monster.

How It Inspires Creativity: This episode of The X-Files can inspire artists to endeavor to be influenced by interesting and classic works from the past, incorporating visuals and sounds that highlight a particular theme or subject matter.

Seinfeld “The Betrayal” (1997)

Season 9, Episode 8 Link

Show Synopsis: This popular American situation comedy was based on the life and relationships of the comedian Jerry Seinfeld (played by himself), incorporating many of his and co-creator Larry David’s real-life experiences into often bizarre themes.


Why This Episode Was Unique: This episode, which was partly set in India, was unique for the simple reason that the entire episode, including credits and closing sequence, is shown in reverse-chronological order. It has been colloquialized as “The Backwards Episode”, and involves the use of captions to indicate the backwards nature of the plot. Each individual scene is shown in regular time, but the scenes themselves are organized in reverse order, providing a very interesting and memorable composition.

Some of the story’s particulars include details that would have been quite commonplace had the episode run normally. For example, the character Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) is shown in different scenes with an “all-day sucker” (a candy lollipop that is very large), and in each scene the sucker gets progressively larger, indicating that time is reversed.

How It Inspires Creativity: To this day, this episode stands out as something completely different from what its writers had produced prior. As artists, we too can strive to turn a theme “on its ear” (so to speak), creating something unique and different, as the writers of this episode did.

Moonlighting “Atomic Shakespeare” (1986)

Season 3, Episode 7 Link

Show Synopsis: Moonlighting was a comedy-drama series that starred the now-popular movie actor Bruce Willis, and featured characters David Addison (Willis) and Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) working as detectives in a big-city agency, attempting to solve various crimes.


Why This Episode Was Unique: This episode, which aired in the show’s third season, has stood out as one of the most unforgettable and creative in television series history. It begins with a young boy watching an episode of the very show he’s in (Moonlighting), then being reminded by his mother that he has to read the Shakespeare play The Taming of the Shrew for school. When the boy starts reading the play, the show enters his imagination; the remainder of the episode, aside from the closing scene that again involves the boy and his mother, is an abbreviated reenactment of The Taming of the Shrew by the Moonlighting cast in full Shakespearean garb. Mixed within the 16th century theme are humorous anachronisms and other references to the show’s own modern-day influence, including a scene where Bruce Willis’s character rides in on a horse with BMW logos on its saddle blanket.

Atomic Shakespeare was a stunning and original creation in a TV series that was already years ahead of its time. Moonlighting often furnished ground-breaking humour and dialogue that would influence many TV shows for years to come. This episode took the characters completely out of their element, and created an astonishing contrast with the modern city environment that the show normally portrayed.

How It Inspires Creativity: As creative professionals in our own fields, we too can strive to break from the norm by placing our own “characters” in unusual and contrasting settings, striving to break ground both thematically and visually.

Dawson’s Creek “The Longest Day” (2000)

Season 3, Episode 20 Link

Show Synopsis: Dawson’s Creek was a very well-written, semi-autobiographical show about the lives of four teenagers in the fictional town of Capeside, Massachusetts. The show was loosely based on the small-town childhood experiences of Kevin Williamson, the show’s creator.


Why This Episode Was Unique: This episode featured an important turn of events involving the show’s main character, Dawson (James Van Der Beek). Dawson finds out that his best friend Pacey (Joshua Jackson) has started a relationship with Dawson’s long-time childhood sweetheart Joey (Katie Holmes). For such an important episode the writers chose a unique way to tell the story, borrowing from a similar style presented in the movies Groundhog Day (1993), The Usual Suspects (1994), and Go (1999), the latter of which also coincidentally co-starred Katie Holmes.

The episode plays out the day’s events from 4 different perspectives, each time adding details to the story to help fit the puzzle pieces together. Each of the first 3 perspectives begins with Joey’s voice setting the tone both thematically and compositionally, when she says: “Ever have one of those days you wish you could live all over again?” And that’s exactly what the writers did with this episode, creating one of the most emotional, tension-building arrangements in recent television history.

How It Inspires Creativity: Although the style presented in this episode was done a number of times before, the writers used the idea to make an already tense and memorable episode even stronger. As artists, we can similarly add originality and singularity to our creations to make a powerful work even more forceful.

Family Ties “A, My Name is Alex” (1987)

Season 5, Episode 23 Link

Show Synopsis: Family Ties was an award-winning, family-oriented dramatic sitcom that helped propel the career of Canadian actor Michael J. Fox. The show focused around the Keaton family, and addressed a number of social and domestic issues in comedic ways.


Why This Episode Was Unique: This Emmy Award-winning 2-part episode featured Fox’s character Alex dealing with the death of a close friend who had died in an accident in an automobile that Alex himself was supposed to be in. Because Alex was too lazy to help his friend move a piano, Alex did not go, and so avoided dying in the car with his friend.

The episode still remains vivid in the minds of those who first saw it, as the majority of it consists of Alex speaking to a psychologist to help him deal with what has happened and help Alex find his place in the world. During the conversation, the background is completely black and numerous rudimentary, prop-filled, theatre-influenced vignettes take focus in the darkness behind Alex while his life and relationships are analyzed.

The writers and producers of Family Ties created a groundbreaking masterpiece that is still remembered as the best of all Family Ties episodes, and certainly one of the most unique presentations in the modern-day history of situation comedies. It was memorable not only because of a superb performance by Fox, but also because of its distinct and innovative setting.

How It Inspires Creativity: Similar to what the writers did here, artists in a variety of creative fields can incorporate dark, melancholy, and – where appropriate – simplistic elements into their creations to help propel their work into visually stunning masterpieces that will for years be remembered and appreciated.

Xena: Warrior Princess “The Bitter Suite” (1998)

Season 3, Episode 12 Link

Show Synopsis: Xena: Warrior Princess was a fantasy drama series set in ancient Greece that was heavily influenced by Greek mythology. It portrayed Xena (Lucy Lawless) fighting for good against evil in her quest for redemption of her past sins as a ruthless warlord.


Why This Episode Was Unique: This Emmy-nominated episode presented a huge change of style that would later be imitated by other television series including Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the comedy-drama Scrubs. Instead of having the characters do straight dialogue, the show was done as a musical and later inspired a 9-song soundtrack released by Universal Music.

It is quite daring for a show’s production team to attempt a musical episode because of the potential for negative response from fans and critics. But this didn’t stop the producers of Xena from creating a distinct episode that would inspire for years to come.

How It Inspires Creativity: All artists can give their creations a new voice through inventive sights and sounds, in the same way the writers of Xena did in this one-of-a-kind, often-imitated episode.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer “Hush” (1999)

Season 4, Episode 10 Link

Show Synopsis: Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a fantasy-drama with comedic elements that involved the main character Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) fighting as a vampire slayer against the forces of darkness.


Why This Episode Was Unique: In this episode, writer and show creator Joss Whedon fought back against repeated assertions from fans and critics that a crucial part of Buffy was its dialogue. He did this by producing an episode that was nearly completely lacking in dialogue. In the episode, the town of Sunnydale are put under a spell by creatures called “The Gentlemen”, leaving the characters unable to speak, or “hushed”, and in the process creating a memorable and truly original plot that later received an Emmy Award nomination.

How It Inspires Creativity: Whether you cringe at or are even offended by the demonic elements portrayed in Buffy, the creativity and originality of this episode cannot be denied. Artists today can use whitespace and other “silent” elements to give their work an inventive visual flair, or to create vivid contrasts – taking advantage of the fact that, in some circumstances, “less is more”.

Growing Pains “Meet The Seavers” (1991)

Season 6, Episode 21 Link

Show Synopsis: Growing Pains was a feel-good situation comedy that revolved around the suburban lives of the various members of the Seaver family.


Why This Episode Was Unique: Generally, Growing Pains episodes were quite ordinary, even in comparison to other shows, but this particular episode completely broke the show’s established mold and paid homage to the famous television series The Twilight Zone. In the episode, the Seavers’ younger son Ben (Jeremy Miller) wakes up one morning to find out he is a cast member on a show called “Meet the Seavers”, and his name is in fact Jeremy Miller.

The writers performed a very daring feat with this plot, essentially breaking through “the fourth wall” – which is a show business term used to describe the unseen invisible wall where the camera crew is stationed. Although Growing Pains was not a particularly creative series, this episode diverted from that pattern and is worthy of imitation.

How It Inspires Creativity: Today creative professionals can make their work exist “outside the box” on occasion, preventing their creations from becoming mundane endeavors that are soon forgotten.

Just Shoot Me!“A&E Biography: Nina Van Horn” (2000)

Season 4, Episode 23 Link

Show Synopsis: Just Shoot Me! was a situation comedy that followed the staff of a fictional big-city fashion magazine called “Blush”.


Why This Episode Was Unique: In this episode, the writers diverted completely from the show’s traditional format, instead creating a sort of mock documentary parodying the real biography shows done by the A&E Network. The exposé chronicled the life of one of the show’s supporting characters, Nina Van Horn (Wendie Malick), incorporating a number of key events in American cultural history. This was an out-of-the-ordinary episode that bore little resemblance to prior episode plots, and indicated that the show’s writers were not afraid to push the boundaries of what audiences expect in modern-day situational comedies.

How It Inspires Creativity: This episode required visuals and thematic elements that were very different from what the show’s audience was used to. Today, artists can avoid repetitive habits in design by incorporating elements in unusual and unexpected ways – even allowing secondary-type design elements to take focus where appropriate.

Conclusion Link

There were many episodes that were not included on this list that deserved to be here. I have attempted to include a list that is diverse and allowed for discussion of a number of specific creative and inspirational elements.

In each of the television series episodes discussed, it is undeniable that the writers crafted a masterpiece that can inspire artists from many different creative fields to rethink their own work – helping them to break out of normalcy by creating something unique and memorable.

Please feel free to comment and include your own favourite unique television series episode – something that inspired you to strive to present your own work in a distinct and memorable way.

Did you like this post? Link

This post was not something that you usually read on Smashing Magazine. Did you like it? Should we go beyond the “traditional” scope of web design in our future articles? It’s up to you – let us know!

Footnotes Link

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Louis Lazaris is a freelance web developer and author based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs about front-end code on Impressive Webs and curates Web Tools Weekly, a weekly newsletter for front-end developers.

  1. 1

    hmmm not sure what to make this. certainly wasn’t expected. like originality. well done. Look kids :)

    in the UK and original sitcom was Red Dwarf.. google it. Funny as.

  2. 2

    like it ! :)

  3. 3

    Mohamed Ben Dhaou

    August 13, 2009 3:41 pm

    That was not expected, but i like the post. You was right ;)

  4. 4

    Moonlighting was soooo nice!
    “including a scene where Bruce Willis’s character rides in on a horse with BMW logos on its saddle blanket”
    nice memories…

    great post, très original !

  5. 5

    like the idea but i’m not sure about the episodes…
    House MD. always inspires me

  6. 6

    Great read!

  7. 7

    This is crap. I hope this kind of article won’t repeat again. Disgusting.

  8. 8

    Buffy ftw!

  9. 9

    yup #likeit :P also I’m not sure I would pick the same episodes, but I like WHY you chose those!

  10. 10

    Nice collection. Good way to think out of the box

  11. 11

    Like it ;) Is good to see something different and creative. Keep going!

  12. 12

    aaw.. no MacGyver??


  13. 13

    @Arthur E.B.

    Believe it or not, I almost included the episode where MacGyver hits his head and ends up in medieval times! Like I said in the article, I wanted to discuss different creative elements, and I felt the MacGyver one wasn’t as unique among the group that I collected.

    Also, everyone should keep in mind that these are not “Unique TV series” they are “Unique Episodes” that were different from what each of those series had done before.

  14. 14

    I must admit I don’t usually drop a comment on posts but this certainly provoked a reaction, No offence to the great work that you do but this has got to be further a field. I appreciate the time and effort gone into this post and it makes sense however I couldn’t help but laugh whilst reading this post (in the least offensive way possible)

    Personally I wouldn’t be interested in regular posts like this, where would it end, examining the Simpsons for different shades of yellow and the effect it has on people, Using hellraiser as a tutorial method for grid layouts, Using the film puppet master as a way of describing minimalism (in reference to the guy with a tiny head), I suppose the ultimate reference to television media would be to use quotes from Arnold Schwarzenegger when dealing with awful clients on the telephone “Remember when I said I’d have your website up in two weeks….. I lied” Or the classic “I live to see you eat that contract. But I hope you leave enough room for my fist because I’m going to ram it into your stomach and break your goddamn spine!”

    Ha ha the more I get into those comparisons the more I begin to enjoy it!

    Great work guys in all seriousness I appreciate all your posts!

  15. 15

    August 13, 2009 4:58 pm

    Watching TV, for me, is one of the worst things I can do to promote creativity. Interesting how you were able to see creative themes in these shows. That is creativity in its self. Props, even though watching TV makes me dull.

  16. 16

    What an interesting post! While I agree with Craig that having all of one’s posts in this same style would be a little much, this was a really amusing and creative way to make a point. Well done!

  17. 17

    I see. Well, I can’t think of one MacGyver episodes that you could’ve put up there either ;)
    Great post. Shows how beginners like myself could widen our view to spot some inspiration.

  18. 18

    Bruno Henrique Stein

    August 13, 2009 5:39 pm

    It sounds like an Abduzeedo’s post for me. ;]

  19. 19

    where is the 24 and the prison break movie series, also The Laguna Beach series and The Hills.. hihi, yeah its nice and great even you would share beyond web articles here at least just to inform us and to entertain what are those nice movie..:D Nice article…

  20. 20

    I agree with Craig that I too, wouldn’t be interested in regular posts like this, but I like the fact that this ‘unique’ post is precisely showing SM practicing the topic covered.

    In an attempt to stay on topic, I remember an episode form The West Wing which is presented in a documentary style portraying a day of work as the White House Press Secretary featuring CJ Cregg.

  21. 21

    I can just see this “author” standing before an audience, describing Grand Canyon: “Imagine, if you will, a really huge, gigantic, monster hole in the ground with lots of really neat-o colors and a big river down at the bottom. It would really inspire you. It is so different and unique.”

    I welcome articles about inspiration, but don’t you think they should be inspiring?

  22. 22

    Twin Peaks
    The Outer Limits

  23. 23

    Where is Frasier? Twin Twins? I am sad now.

  24. 24

    Xena – yes, Dawson’s Creek – no. How about Dexter, SNL, …?

  25. 25

    Inspiration can be found in almost every aspect of our environment. Television is such an integral and pervasive part of our culture that it’s foolish to exclude it from consideration when considering possible sources for creativity.

    There’s no danger that SM will make this sort of post its standard fare, so the critics should lighten up a bit. It’s not like they wasted a lot of money reading it.

  26. 26

    quite unusual article, but i think it’s interesting. great work man. about all that tv series you’ve suggested, i’ll check them out when i have some spare time.

    oh, and i think i know how you come up with the idea of this article.

  27. 27

    Unexpected for sure. Not bad.

  28. 28

    There’s missing something. All episodes of scrubs. They’re true inspiration :-)

  29. 29

    Mostly good… I loved that Seinfeld episode, even though it was gimmicky.

    One other that deserves mention is the episode of Sealab 2021, where the power goes off in the sealab… almost the entire episode is just a picture of the outside of the sealab, while you can hear the people inside talking and trying to figure out what happened to the power.

    Brilliant. :)

  30. 30

    Guys, how can you forget, probably the most creative episode ever.
    Mash series, I don’t remember if was the seven or eight season. The episode is filmed as you being the victim. All the lovely characters in the movie come and talk with you separate, telling their problems in such way that in that moment you become a character yourself. In my opinion this is unique till today.

  31. 31

    And now you want me to go out and buy the specific seasons to compare the episodes with your post?
    If you would add some youtube links or something ok… but this way is totally useless.

  32. 32

    Same event, different viewpoints… see Kurosawa’s Rashoman which popularized the plot device. The idea has been used so many times and so many ways, from I Love Lucy to shows of the present and been done as comedy and tragedy, that it can hardly be called innovative.

    Many of the other “innovative” episodes owe their inspiration to even earlier shows, older movies, and even older plays going back centuries.

    Interesting idea for an article, but a writer with some sense of history needed to write it.

  33. 33

    I’m from the UK so a heap of this post is lost on me.

    Nowadays when a group of writers try to take an episode down a different route it tickles peoples gag reflex. Scrubs, with ones of its episodes being shot like a tarted up soap, OC in its final series with an episode long dream sequence. FAUGH!

    In the UK we have a show called Hollyoaks, a show thats on every night at 7 without fail. Every now and then the writers try to do something “interesting” like opening with a wildwest theme or a saturday night fever theme. They do an ok job when they don’t stray from the theme of the show, but it really shows an endemic lack of creativity in the writers stock. That or their producers aren’t willing to hand over creative freedom. But if thats the case, why do the let 30 seconds of bilge spill out at the begining of each show? They should be by the book all the way or creative all the way.

  34. 34

    A better X-Files example would have been the X-Cops episode. Far more creative to me than The Post-Modern Prometheus.

  35. 35

    Dont know what to make of this, didnt do much for me…If it helps at least one person then its fulfilledits purpose.

  36. 36

    DAWSONS CREEK! The only inspiration i got from watching this show was to turn it off.

  37. 37

    Good article, unique for this site, but the kind of things done elsewhere (disclaimer: I’ve written a couple semi-similar themed lists for’s entertainment section, which doesn’t do that kind of thing anymore, so I’m not being dismissive)

    Specific points: One of the few on the list I never saw was the Dawson’s Creek episode, but the way you described it was very “Rashomon”-like which is something that had been done a lot before.

    The Just Shoot Me aired at about the same time as a similarly formatted episode of The Simpsons (“Behind the Laughter”) which is more familiar for doing the faux-doc format. (And the lead time for the animated Simpsons meant that it was in production first, if not aired first)

    And there are so many “unique” episodes of X-Files you are doomed to get a lot of disagreement about the most creatively inspiring. My favorite is “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” which turned the show’s format AND premise on its head, with help from a surprising performance by Charles Nelson Reilly (of Weird Al song fame) as a famous author who provided a refreshingly different POV, plus some “Rashomon-ic” elements and a resolution that was totally non-canon. (and cameos by Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek, just for giggles)

    Still good first effort, I look forward to another…

  38. 38

    Erm.. This is all a bit “American” – suprised you didn’t have “Friends” up there!

    For inspirational creativity – check; The Mighty Boosh, Red Dwarf, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Young Ones.

  39. 39

    I don’t dislike this post and I don’t like it, but I don’t think it belongs on Smashing Magazine…

    I always found that the X-Files episodes were better when they were funny episodes like “Clive Bruckman’s Final Repose” (title from memory).

    Xena singing was good, and “The Hush” was a brilliant Buffy episode especially Giles’ drawing of Buffy in a skirt.

    I always liked the short lived “Boom Town” were you saw 1 incident from several different viewpoints. 24 was good in the first series but it was a bit over the top for events that happen in 24 hours.

  40. 40

    Step 1. Turn TV on…
    Step2. Feel Inspired…
    Step 3. Write patronising article on said inspiration.

    Go outside ffs

  41. 41

    Great post. Interesting all the way to the end!

  42. 42

    Great post!
    “Just shoot me” and “House” always inspire me :)

  43. 43

    hwo cud u forget 6 feet under!!!

  44. 44

    I noticed all the shows were American. I agree todays website designers need to create a masterpiece that can inspire artists from many different creative fields to rethink their own work – helping them to break out of normalcy by creating something unique and memorable. – Go for it (Providing the client let’s you!)

  45. 45

    Floris Fiedeldij Dop

    August 14, 2009 2:55 am

    This is obvious a ‘test’ by SM, this sort of post. It didn’t feel like it suited this web site. Sorry.
    Nice write out though, I had fun reading it, but .. there are other blogs for that.

  46. 46

    Pointless post, totally irrelevant to SM. Yes we can get inspiration from anything – I recently got inspiration from a tea cup, shall we discuss tea cups next?

  47. 47

    That was great! Congrats to the author!

    It sets a nice example that inspiration can be found just about everywhere. Would love to see some more “off topic” posts here.

  48. 48

    i miss king of queens.
    … epic fail

  49. 49

    I remember the buffy episode, it was really good, at the beginning I said my self, I’m gonna be sleeping in ten minutes but not, is not like the musical episode they made, that one was really awkward

  50. 50

    I guess this put the Smashing Comic Book in the #2 slot. :)

    But… “Don’t Stop Believing”


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