The 50 Best TV Scenes of the Past Year

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30. Broad City (Comedy Central)
Ep. 10, “The Last Supper”
SCENE: Abbi and Ilana’s fancy birthday dinner ends with a shellfish disaster.
WHY: Very few shows are able to capture what a best friend really is: the person who, even though it’s her birthday, physically carries your allergy-ravaged body out of an upscale restaurant to a cozy hospital bed. Or, for that matter, the person who eats shellfish at your birthday dinner to make the occasion more special, even though you know it could very well kill you. “We hired a stunt double just in case, because I didn’t know if I’d be able to carry Ilana,” says Abbi Jacobson. “And guess what? Didn’t need the stunt double! It’s one of my proudest parts of the show!” —Rahman
29. Orphan Black (BBC America)
Ep. 3, “Mingling Its Own Nature With It”
SCENE: Cosima watches her clone Jennifer waste away in a video journal.
WHY: Jennifer Fitzsimmons’ death may have stretched over months, but actress Tatiana Maslany was able to draw a full portrait of her in less than two minutes with a briskly stitched tapestry of confessional recordings. —Lanford Beard
28. Girls (HBO)
Ep. 7, “Beach House”
SCENE: The big fight.
WHY: College friendships don’t last forever, and this brawl between Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams), Jessa (Jemima Kirke), and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) underscores the reason why: storing up years of resentment, only to let it all out in one night, can only lead to cruelty—and total hilarity. (Shoshanna gets one of the best lines: “Seriously, that duck tasted like a used condom and I want to forget about it.”) Watching Shoshanna finally stand up for herself is great fun, but the whole scene is also a near-universal fantasy: haven’t we all wanted to tell our friends what we really think about them? As Shoshanna says, “Being honest is fun.” —Maerz
27. Justified (FX)
Ep. 10, “Weight”
SCENE: Danny Crowe (AJ Buckley) tests the 21-Foot Rule on Raylan (Timothy Olyphant).
WHY: Finally, we were going to see if a knife-wielding nut job really wins a duel with a gunslinger if he charges him from a distance of 21 feet or less. But in a twist as abrupt as Indiana Jones pulling out a pistol, Danny took a few steps, fell headfirst into the grave dug for his beloved dog Chelsea, and stabbed himself through the chin. Exec producer Graham Yost will always remember the moment he and Olyphant, who’d pitched the death at the start of the season, first saw director John Dahl’s storyboards. “There was a giddiness,” Yost told EW. “The way Dahl shot it with those feet sticking up, you know, that’s Elmore [Leonard]—it’s funny and it’s horrifying.” And quintessentially Justified. —Bierly
MORE ON THE MOMENT: View Dahl’s storyboards.
26. The Americans (FX)
Ep. 9, “Martial Eagle”
SCENE: Philip (Matthew Rhys) rages at his daughter after she donates her savings to charity.
WHY: Only Rhys could make you sympathize with the Russians over the Americans they’re bent on destroying. He delivers a furious, must-watch performance as an underground spy who attacks his daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), for giving money to that opiate of the people: the church. The subtext is rich—he has killed innocents for a cause she can’t possibly understand—and the dialogue is sharp. Rhys delivers what might be the best claim to martyrdom ever delivered by somebody’s parents: “You respect Jesus but not us?” —Maerz
25. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)
Ep. 2, “I’m So Bad”
SCENE: Amy’s video-gaming experience takes a disturbing turn.
WHY: Writing about rape might be the hardest thing in comedy. If you’re too funny, you’re making light of sexual violence. If you’re too serious, you can’t take a joke. It’s a good thing that Schumer braved it anyway. In this sketch, she’s playing a Call of Duty-style game when her female soldier avatar gets raped, unlocking Level 24, which is “just a lot of paperwork.” Her boyfriend doesn’t believe it really happened, claiming that she must have “done something wrong” in playing the game. Later, she’s informed that her attacker was found guilty, but his commanding officer exercised his right to put the rapist back on duty. Schumer says the writers were inspired by The Invisible War, a doc about sexual assault in the military. “I loved the idea of using a Call of Duty-type game to highlight that,” Schumer tells EW. “Those games are dark anyway but how about we show something that really happens.” Funny? Unfunny? Like all important comedy, it’s both.  —Maerz
24. The Killing (AMC)
Ep. 10, “Six Minutes”
SCENE: Ray (Peter Sarsgaard) walks toward his execution.
WHY: If you make it through this once, you’ll never watch it again. Prison guards are dragging death-row inmate Ray Seward toward his execution when he glimpses his son through the window. There’s no dialogue. Just looking at Sarsgaard’s face, you can pinpoint the exact moment when Ray’s fear of death turns into a much worse fear: his son will keep living a terrible life without him. It’s unbearable to watch, and even worse to listen to, with Sarsgaard quietly whimpering. “The words didn’t matter,” Sarsgaard explained to EW. “I was saying, ‘I’m still me up here. They haven’t taken my humanity.'” —Maerz
23. Sons of Anarchy (FX)
Ep. 13, “A Mother’s Work”
SCENE: When a chillingly impenetrable Jax (Charlie Hunnam) confronts his ratting wife Tara (Maggie Siff) in the park, she’s convinced he’s decided to kill her and asks him not to hurt her in front of their young boys.
WHY: It’s all on Siff’s tear-soaked face as she grounds Sons‘ operatic dialogue: the fear, the conviction, and the honesty of a woman finally admitting aloud that she believes her husband has turned into a monster. “The way I thought about it, it wasn’t about being cruel to Jax or impressing something upon him—it was just the truth,” Siff tells EW. “And this is the last chance she thinks she has to tell him the truth.” Jax ultimately telling Tara he wanted her to save their boys made the episode’s end all the more tragic: “It’s Romeo and Juliet meets Hamlet, like [Sutter] intended,” she says.  —Bierly
22. Silicon Valley (HBO)
Ep. 3, “Articles of Incorporation”
SCENE: Tech billionaire Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) ignores pleas for emergency funds from start-up execs while studying every item on the Burger King menu … and then explains how cicada cycles will affect sesame seed futures and get them the money they need.
WHY: It’s a quirky, uneasy scene that ends in comic relief as Gregory schools everyone with his Jedi-like logic. It’s also one of the last that Welch would shoot; he died of lung cancer in December. —Snierson
21. Key and Peele (Comedy Central)
Ep. 8, “High on Potenuse”
SCENE: Othello ‘Tis My Shite.
WHY: In this Shakespearean send-up, Elizabethan buddies Lashawnio (Keegan-Michael Key) and Martinzion (Jordan Peele) find themselves verily in love with Othello at the intermission of the show—but when we catch up with them afterward, their disposition has changed dramatically. The duo’s effortlessly portable wit is on full display when they plop their “Liam Neesons”-loving fanboy personas into Shakespearean Times, whereupon the guys quickly get their doublets in a twist over “triflin’-ass Iago”—all of which confirms our suspicion that Jordan and Keegan are the modern bards of sketch-comedy. —Rahman



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