25 Excellent TV Road Trip Episodes

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25 Excellent TV Road Trip Episodes

There’s a special point in practically every TV show’s life, when it’s time for cast members to hit the road. A change of scenery is often a quick and easy way to create the illusion that something different is happening on the show, but every once in a while the TV road trip episode actually does show us a new side to characters we thought we knew. And the best ones don’t just work for the show, but they reach us on a personal level—so by the end of it, we feel like we left our own world behind and hit the road to hang out with some fellow vets during a midlife crisis; or we finally went to visit Harvard; or we waited for our dad outside of the admissions building of a prospective college, while he committed murder with his bare hands. Hell yeah.

Here are our picks for 25 excellent TV road trip episodes.

1. The X-Files, “Drive”

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The premise of this sixth-season episode of The X-Files episode is straight out of Speed: Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) finds himself forced at gunpoint to act as a chauffeur for Patrick Crump (Bryan Cranston), a Nevada man with an inner-ear affliction that could kill him if Mulder can’t continue driving west while staying above 70 mph. But while much suspense is wrung out of Mulder’s attempts to keep Crump alive on the road while partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) rushes to discover the cause and hopefully an antidote, it’s the tension-filled dynamic between Crump and Mulder that becomes the heart of the episode. Far from a sympathetic figure, Crump is prickly, paranoid, and anti-Semitic (his distaste for Jews is palpable upon him assuming “Mulder” is a Jewish name); no surprise that Mulder can’t help but call him a “peanut-picking bastard” at one point. Eventually, though, they find a connection in their shared distrust of the government, which Crump believes—justifiably so, as Scully discovers—is behind the illness that killed his wife and threatens him now. It’s a full credit to Cranston’s imaginative genius as an actor that he’s able to empathize with this unpleasant character and, working from Vince Gilligan’s script, summon up an affecting portrait of an ordinary man undeservedly hit by extraordinary circumstances. No wonder Gilligan would later call on Cranston to headline his TV show Breaking Bad, which allowed him to play a similarly challenging antihero on a grander scale.—Kenji Fujishima

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2. The Sopranos, “College”

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Only the fifth episode in the show’s inaugural season, “College” arrived at a time when viewers were still discovering the sheer genius of the Emmy winning drama. Tony (James Gandolfini) takes his eldest daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) on a tour of colleges in Maine. While on the road, Tony spots Febby Petrulio, former Mafia man turned FBI informant who is now in the Witness Protection Program. The only solution, in Tony’s mind, is to kill Febby… which he does… with his bare hands. The juxtaposition of the innocuousness of a college tour against the viciousness of Tony’s business was stunning. It was the first time Tony killed anyone, thus cementing the fact that, despite being the lead and a sympathetic character, Tony Soprano was not a nice guy. Although the series ran for six seasons, “College” is still remembered as one of the show’s best, and one of the best television episodes of all time.—Amy Amatangelo

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3. Family Guy, “Road to Rhode Island”

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A riff on the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope road movies of yesteryear, “Road to Rhode Island” serves as an ideal illustration of peak Family Guy, and an excellent showcase for the absurdist highs the program was capable of churning out. At its core, the episode serves as an excuse to give Brian and Stewie—the series’ most ludicrous creations—the space to bounce off each other for an extended period. Their adventure begins after a drunken Brian loses the two’s plane tickets and they must explore alternate ways of getting home. Shenanigans inevitably ensue, including a final musical number that still stands as one of the show’s most memorable achievements. The “Road…” formula was so successfully employed that the creative team would return to this well several times throughout the next (as of now) 14 seasons, including jaunts across Europe, The North Pole and different dimensions. Still, as inventive as subsequent outings would get, you have to give props to the original.—Mark Rozeman

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4. Monty Python, “The Cycling Tour”

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Concocted primarily by regular writing partners Michael Palin and Terry Jones, this was the first episode of this groundbreaking comedy series to follow a single story through its entire half-hour length. That still allows them for plenty of small sketch-like scenes, all of them involving the perpetually chipper Mr. Pither as he embarks on a treacherous and hilarious bicycle trip that begins in Cornwall and ends in Moscow. As with most episodes of Python, attempts to sum it up are futile. Just know that you’ll walk away with a newfound appreciation for cheese sandwiches, the music of Clodagh Rodgers, and the geopolitical landscape of Europe ca. 1972.—Robert Ham

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5. Louie, “Country Drive”

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The actual road trip portion of “Country Drive” clocks in at less than 10 minutes. In these brief moments, however, lies some of Louis C.K.’s hilarious, most universal material. As with every parent with rambunctious children, Louie must face a myriad of obstacles, including out-of-nowhere sibling fights, failed car games and a near consistent refrain of “I AM BORED!” “’I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say,” he eventually retorts. “You live in a great big vast world that you’ve seen none percent of and even the inside of your own mind is endless—it goes on forever, inwardly. The fact that you’re alive is amazing. So you don’t get to be bored.” Of course, a highlight of the episode—and the series as a whole—comes about when The Who’s “Who Are You?” begins blaring from the radio and an excited Louie starts singing along, much to the chagrin/quasi-delight/indifference of his daughters. Here, Louie breaks out all the embarrassing hallmarks of car karaoke—awkwardly miming drumming and guitar noodling, fumbling with few key lyrics and—most importantly—bellowing it all from the top of his lungs. The entire car sequence plays like some kind of Raymond Carver-esque slice of humanity. Only, you know, funnier.—Mark Rozeman

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6. Futurama, “Bendin’ in the Wind”

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Let’s say you are a robot, and a can opener rips open your body and paralyzes you. What do you do? If you’re Bender, you become a washboard player in Beck’s band and tour the country. Now, let’s say you buy an old Volkswagon bus, and then you accidentally wash all your money and ruin it. What then? Well, if you are Fry, Leela, Amy, and Zoidberg, you drive around in said bus, following Bender on tour, living like the filthy hippies of days gone by. “Bendin’ in the Wind” isn’t one of the best episodes of Futurama, but it’s such a great show, that this road trip adventure stands out among TV’s finest. It’s almost important to note that Beck is wonderful in his guest appearance.—Chris Morgan

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7. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, “You Bet Your Life”

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Fresh Prince was a show filled with endless, ridiculous moments and this episode has plenty of them. Will dancing in the car to “Not Gonna Be Able to Do It,” by Double XX Posse, Jazz hiding in the trunk and the unfolding of Carlton’s gambling addiction at the Vegas casino (never mind that the whole trip was supposed to be a college visit for Will)—just to name a few. But the iconic series was often at its best when the intimate relationships of these hilarious characters was on full display. As much as Will made a career out of teasing his obscenely preppy cousin, there were always those occasional episodes that highlighted the depths of their bond. When Will steps to Heavyweight boxing champ Riddick Bowe and gets his lights knocked out, all in an attempt to protect Carlton, it’s one of the most heartwarming beatdowns the entertainment world has ever known.—Shannon M. Houston

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8. Community, “Basic RV Repair and Palmistry”

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The quickest way to recognize when a TV trope has become a tad well-worn is when this trope in question ends up brutally subverted and parodied. In its final, Yahoo-hosted season, showrunner Dan Harmon and Co. did just that with the concept of the “road trip” episode—placing the Greendale crew in a run-down Winnebago on a botched road adventure to re-sell a nine-foot, fiberglass hand that Dean Pelton had spontaneously purchased. The plot, admittedly, is paper thin and, in typical Community meta fashion, a good chunk of the half-hour involves the show’s characters blatantly poking holes in the transparent premise as well as actively commenting on the episode’s story structure, with Abed continuously demanding a “Three Weeks Earlier” flashback to establish the details of their current predicament. As is the case with the best Community installments, however, this entry manages to transcend its naval-gazing gimmick and deliver a fun, even heartfelt, meditation on the study group and their relationships.—Mark Rozeman

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9. Parenthood, “Road Trip”

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In a welcome departure from the traditional format of two or three major plotlines with minimal overlap, “Road Trip” employs its titular structure to wrangle the Braverman clan (save for Kristina and Max, whose relationship is explored in their own subplot) together in one place as a family—albeit, confined to their respective cars with walkie-talkies as they caravan to visit Zeke’s elderly mother for her birthday. The set-up results in four distinctive vignettes that perfectly illuminate character dynamics in very different ways, whether it’s through the prism of bonding-through-conflict (Adam attempting to converse with his distracted teenage daughter), or milking a horrifically awkward situation (Drew processing the fact that he walked in on his mother having sex earlier that morning). Most heartbreaking, however, is seeing grand-patriarch Zeke regress to that of an abrasive worrywart when faced with confronting his cold, emotionally distant mother. The end result is a series highlight and a masterful exercise in tear-inducing dramedy that would define Parenthood’s modus operandi.—Mark Rozeman

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10. Frasier, “Travels with Martin”

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Frasier is the preeminent television farce of its era, and that’s certainly on display in “Travels with Martin,” an episode from late in the first season. It’s not the greatest comedy of errors ever achieved by the sitcom, but it’s a clever and funny episode. The whole gang decides to pack into Martin’s Winnebago for a road trip, and accidentally end up in Canada. This is a major issue, since Daphne, who doesn’t have her green card, is not allowed to leave the United States. The stakes are higher than usual, as such, but the comedy of the ordeal is as strong as ever, which is saying a lot for one of the finest sitcoms of all time.—Chris Morgan

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11. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “The Gang Hits the Road”

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The Gang from It’s Always Sunny should absolutely never leave their city limits. There’s just nothing for them out there. In fact, they should probably just stay at Paddy’s Pub, indefinitely, just to be safe. When Frank decides he wants to see the Grand Canyon before he dies, The Gang hits the road. But, Charlie is afraid to ever leave Philly. And we also know that whenever The Gang sets their mind to accomplish something, that thing almost never happens. So it’s no surprise that they never even leave Pennsylvania. But that’s not before everyone gets drunk, Charlie and Dennis start a bonfire in the back of a trailer and Mac gets a mouth full of Dee’s piss in his mouth—as can be expected from any It’s Always Sunny road trip.—Ross Bonaime

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12. Girls, “Truth or Dare”

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The characters on Girls are usually a balance between endearing, and headache-inducing monsters. This becomes especially apparent when Adam has to drive Shoshanna and Hannah to pick up Jessa from rehab because she claims “she’s ready.” Adam’s disgust at this group of friends and the various character dynamics makes “Truth or Dare” one of the funnier episodes of Girls. At one point, Adam punches the stereo so as to quit listening to Maroon 5, and to make a proclamation about the stupidity of their entire trip. When Hannah tells Adam he doesn’t understand female friendship, he replies, “You’re right, I don’t and I don’t want to if it involves ignoring all logic and being totally hysterical.” After the romantic gesture that ended Season Two—with Adam running to Hannah—Season Three begins embracing all of the awfulness and poor decision-making that defines this set of friends, all seen through the hilarious eyes of the trapped Adam Sackler.—Ross Bonaime

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13. Parks and Recreation, “Road Trip”

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After months of romantic buildup, “Road Trip” took Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt to Indianapolis for a work trip, and finally allowed the two of them to come clean about their feelings towards each other. They try their best to keep things professional, but in the end they’re unable to keep those emotions hidden anymore and they can’t help but kiss. Of course it could never be that easy, as Chris ends up joining them on the way back to be an insane third wheel, making sure they don’t get too close to each other (an issue that will last for quite some time). “Road Trip” is the beautiful start to the show’s greatest romance; it’s all incredibly heart-warming and the episode makes it very clear that—no matter how much these two try to pull away from each other—Ben and Leslie will always come back together.—Ross Bonaime

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14. Mad Men, “The Milk and Honey Route”

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For Mad Men’s penultimate episode, we all get to see Don Draper run away for one last time. He goes on the road, with seemingly no destination in mind, content to occupy spaces where nobody knows who he is and he can be anyone (an ideal situation for a man whose name is even a lie). This road trip forces Don to face his past, all while he’s trying to erase himself in some way. He spends a few days in Kansas, getting a taste of a life without the family, job and responsibilities that plague him day to day, discussing his true self for once with vets at a local Legion night. Don is surrounded by people that have embraced their past and celebrate him, but in the end, he’s cast out by them, left alone on a park bench with nothing but his clothes and some cash. It’s an integral aspect to the final evolution of Don Draper, as he now seems ready to finally be nothing at all.—Ross Bonaime

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15. Gilmore Girls, “The Road Trip to Harvard”

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After running away from the altar, Lorelai takes Rory on the road trip that they’ve long-discussed in “The Road Trip to Harvard.” Gilmore Girls was often at its best when it dealt with the dynamic mother and daughter duo—who are also best friends—being pulled apart. At this juncture, Lorelai is contemplating Rory’s life going forward and seeing, in her daughter, the opportunities that she could’ve also had. Rory has always wanted to go to Harvard, so their impromptu trip naturally ends with them at the prestigious college. This setting gives us the best of both of these characters—with Rory scared and hopeful that this could be the next step in her life, while Lorelai is imagining how completely different her life could have been, had she gone to the college years ago. While this road trip is about Lorelai running away from her engagement and what that entails, it also allows Rory to run towards her goals and hopes towards what her future might bring.—Ross Bonaime

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16. Black Books, “A Nice Change”

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The dark-hearted and often silly Britcom Black Books rarely departed from the dingy bookstore that gives the show its name. But when it did, it allowed for even more uneasy comedy and poor behavior by shop owner Bernard, his put-upon employee Manny, and their equally fucked up pal Fran. A fantastic example is this Season Two episode when the trio decide to take a holiday together. True to form, nothing goes according to plan, as their vacation goes pear-shaped and they spend much of their “relaxing” time getting shuttled from airport to airport, losing every last shred of dignity and patience on the way. If you’ve subjected yourself to international travel, you’ll easily recognize the hollow-eyed stares and body exhaustion that they all exhibit each step of the way.—Robert Ham

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17. Boy Meets World, “Road Trip”

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When Shawn Hunter’s father dies, he brings Cory along for a very special road trip. Shawn tells Cory that they don’t have any destination in mind, but of course that isn’t the truth. They come across a truck stop with patrons who knew Shawn’s father, as they celebrate the life of Chet Hunter. Eventually, Shawn comes clean to his best friend, saying he needs to run away for a while, to find himself. It’s an interesting dynamic, because, while Cory always goes home to find himself, Shawn (like his father, who ran off to try to find Shawn’s mother) has to go out into the world to truly discover what he needs in life. When Shawn takes off without Cory, there’s a great moment when we see that Shawn’s memory of Chet is of him sitting on the passenger side, where he’s always been in Shawn’s life, helping him along the way, but never taking the wheel from his son.—Ross Bonaime

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18. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “The Road Trip”

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While it’s never been the most intriguing part of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “The Road Trip” excels in it exploration of the romantic relationship between Jake and Amy. The two of them are gearing up for a prison transfer, and Jake invites his then-girlfriend Sophia… and he also invites Amy’s then-boyfriend Teddy. Unfortunately, Amy was getting ready to break up with Teddy, and now she has to force the relationship a little longer during a romantic trip with Jake—whom she also likes. For once, “The Road Trip” shows us how Amy still has feelings for Jake and suggests that her decision to break up with Teddy might even be because of him. But Jake decides to just be a friend, helping Amy in any way he can. Of course the relationship between Jamy was always bound to come together eventually, but watching them naturally and awkwardly spend time together in “The Road Trip” is a big part of why we couldn’t help but root for their relationship to take the next step.—Ross Bonaime

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19. How I Met Your Mother, “Dual Citizenship”

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One of Ted’s major problems throughout How I Met Your Mother was his inability to allow things to change and grow. (Just look at his very questionable determination to be with Robin until the end.) But what “Dual Citizenship” shows us is that, even though minor things may change, the important things stay the same. Ted and Marshall used to drive all night to a crappy pizzeria, not sleeping, listening to the Proclaimers and drinking over-caffeinated, barely legal drinks. But when Marshall invites Lily, the tradition is broken by the couple. Ted’s self-centered desire to keep this tradition going makes him angry at both Marshall and Lily. But on the way back, Ted realizes that it’s not the garbage pizza, the unhealthy drinks or the trip itself that matters—it’s the friendship he has with Marshall that, in spite of everything, has kept going strong all these years.—Ross Bonaime

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20. The Simpsons, “Bart on the Road”

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What’s the best way to spend spring break? If you’re Lisa Simpson, you go hang out with your father at the Nuclear Power Plant. If you’re Bart Simpson, though, and you’ve just procured a fake ID after spending the day at the DMV, you and three of your fourth form chums, Milhouse, Nelson, and Martin, hit the open road. This is perhaps the quintessential road trip episode of The Simpsons, owing mostly to the quartet’s disastrous trip to Knoxville, Tennessee in hopes of seeing the Sunsphere (which is now the Wigsphere). The Simpsons family had many-a-vacation/road trip episode, but there’s just something delightfully different about four kids on a road trip. It’s probably the whole bit with the 10-year-old doing all of the driving.—Chris Morgan

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21. The Adventures of Pete & Pete, “King of the Road”

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After five specials, Pete & Pete kicked off its first season with an episode about a family road trip, to the appropriately dull destination of the Hoover Dam. Only Don Wrigley can get excited about hydroelectricity. Throughout the episode, the family suffers through all manner of things, which those of us who have actually gone on family road trips can relate to. And of course, since it’s Pete & Pete, all sort of odd things happen as well, including Don’s ongoing battle to become the true “King of the Road.”—Chris Morgan

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22. Flight of the Conchords, “What Goes on Tour”

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Within the world of their show, the band Flight of the Conchords is not successful. However, when they get a gig in Central Park, their manager Murray decides to go on a warmup tour. Murray is worried that Bret and Jemaine will engage in traditional rock star antics, and indeed, the duo end up meeting all of Murray’s fears—though it’s all by accident. Of course, in the end the three all make peace with each other, and yes, it turns out that the gig is really at a Central Park in Newark, New Jersey. But it’s great fun watching them ultimately succeed on the tour, even if Murray missed work for an entire week, without saying anything.—Chris Morgan

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23. The Office, “Lecture Circuit”

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During the fifth season of The Office (when Michael was still around and the show was still going strong) Michael and Pam head off on a tour of Dunder-Mifflin branches, so that Michael can give a speech about how to be successful at paper-selling. The first part is much stronger, with Michael and Pam running into Karen, and with Dwight and Jim trying to throw a birthday party for Kelly. The second half takes on Michael’s strained relationship with Holly, and isn’t quite as adventurous. But the concept ultimately works, do in large part to the fact that Michael and Pam are an unforgettable team when they’re out on the road.—Chris Morgan

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24. Louie, “Travel Day/South”

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Throughout the five season of Louie that have been produced to date, Louis C.K. has taken pains to show the sometimes ugly side of being a working standup, from a horrifying gig opening for Jerry Seinfeld at a charity event to being roped into hosting a woeful open mic night. But no episode drew out the often strange world of being on the road than this first season episode that finds him working a club in the South where things go from rough (the indignities of air travel) to just plain surreal (a weird run-in with a fan and an intervention from a policeman that ends with the two men locking lips for a brief moment). You want to believe that it’s an embellishment – and it very likely is – but if you ask any comic that’s done out of town shows, they’re sure to have stories as bizarre or worse.—Robert Ham

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25. Bob’s Burgers, “Christmas In The Car”

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In an episode that will surely enter the canon of great holiday-themed moments from modern TV, we follow the Belcher family on a fraught attempt to get a Christmas tree at the last minute. This takes them on a road trip that allows for plenty of tart repartee between the three kids and, in a particularly wonderful turn, a showdown with a frustrated truck driver that becomes an homage to Steven Spielberg’s brilliantly creepy road movie Duel. Being the true heir to The Simpsons throne, the writers stick a wonderfully heartfelt landing that glows with the holiday spirit.—Robert Ham

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