Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at email@example.com.
This week’s question: What’s your favorite TV moment of the year so far?
This is probably going to end up as the most common answer, but I don’t care. I have to go with the vows from Leslie and Ben’s lovely wedding on Parks And Recreation. I start to tear up the second Ron opens the door to the group’s office, and the second that whole “I love you and I like you” phrase comes into play, I’m an absolute goner. The whole thing is sweet, romantic, and so personal. It feels like I’m watching my very good friends have the very best wedding of all time, and since I’m guessing that’s what the showrunners and writers were going for, I declare it a resounding success. Now pass the tissues.
I had been following the Chicago Blackhawks all season long as they cruised into the playoffs. It was a bumpy road from there, but one filled with incredible games, and some close calls (getting down 3-1 to the Detroit Red Wings really did look like the end). The entire Stanley Cup Championship series against the Boston Bruins was great, but the best thing I’ve watched all year were the pivotal 17 seconds at the end of Game 6, where, unbelievably, the Hawks managed to score twice on one of the best goalies in the league. It was exhilarating, as most people in Chicago can attest, but also incredibly surreal. In less than half a minute, I went from assurance the game was lost to joy at a tying goal from Bryan Bickell to jumping out of my seat screaming after Dave Bolland’s winning shot. The last few minutes of the game were some of the tensest TV I’ve ever watched, and those 17 seconds will probably be the only moment from 2013 that I remember years from now.
I think of Veep more as a show that’s made up of great moments than one that luxuriates in the long form. The second season was just a rapid-fire filthy treat. To pick my favorite moment from a season full of moments, I’ll go with when Vice President Julia Louis-Dreyfus confronts Finnish First Gentleman Dave Foley the day after he gropes her breast at a formal diplomatic function (where, inexplicably, she has been presented with an Angry Birds clock). Away from the mics and dropping her false smile, Louis-Dreyfus lays into him: “Where I come from, we kill people for looking at us funny. We waterboard folks who haven’t even done anything. And you raped my tit. Yeah, you did. So, I’m coming for you. ‘Cause I’m an angry bird right now. And you’re a pig.” Louis-Dreyfus’ character is typically more of an egotistical doofus than someone who seems especially effective as any type of diplomat, but in this case her fierce brand of anger gelled well with her role as wronged woman and pissed-off American. I felt like that speech was on behalf of all women who’ve had their tits raped by grinning dickheads. Give that woman a cigarette.
Wilfred doesn’t get the love and attention that a scrappy little pup deserves. The show is funny and strange in just the right measures, but it might be too subtle for any sort of major crossover. I find myself laughing out loud at least once per episode, though, and more often than not at some little aside from the titular dog, played by Jason Gann. In a recent episode, Wilfred was forced to go to obedience class so that his best friend—played by Elijah Wood with crazy-eyed confusion—could get close to an old crush. After they got home and smoked some pot, Wilfred expressed his dismay with a crayon drawing that echoed a popular grunge-era anthem. Sure, it’s kind of an easy reference joke, but Wilfred delivers those sparingly and from the perfect angle.
In an age where you can’t turn on the TV or radio without hearing some conspiracy idiot or bloated, whining tax protestor claim to be bravely taking a stand against the forces of tyranny, the HBO documentary on the activist Russian art group Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer provided a rare chance to see what the real thing looks like. In the most memorable scene, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, two of the Pussy Riot members on trial in their native Russia for “hooliganism,” sit in their glass cage in the kangaroo courtroom, distracting themselves from their grim situation by talking amused shit about the reporters and photographers who have nothing better to do than bug them, and taking what comfort they can in the knowledge that Madonna thinks they’re awesome. The outcome of the trial proves that charisma and the right attitude aren’t enough to topple a corrupt government, but the electricity these few minutes of TV time generate can make you feel that they just might lead to something.
As The A.V. Club’s own Todd VanDerWerff has observed, Mad Men traditionally uses its seventh or eighth episode to experiment with the show’s format. Season six’s chaotic, divisive “The Crash,”—which VanDerWerff reviewed with the immortal words “What the ever-loving merciful fuck?”—involved a doctor of questionable medical ethics giving the staff of the post-merger ad agency a booster shot that was almost definitely speed. Having the hopped-up regulars pinball around the office, talking in double-time and letting their craziest ideas run wild, manages to put the characters in a new, unsettling light, while still getting at their cores, as Mad Men does best. The episode contains so many highlights, including Don Draper (Jon Hamm)’s uplifting, inspiring, and completely nonsensical speech to his underlings. But the best single moment is a bravura performance from Aaron Staton, whose put-upon salesman Ken Cosgrove regales Don with a rapid-fire lament about the hoops he has to jump through to please his biggest client, all while tap-dancing a mile a minute, on what was only a few minutes earlier a bum leg. Does the mystery drug have incredible healing power? Is Ken so far gone he can’t feel pain? Is this all happening in Don’s head? The show never tips its hand, and ultimately it doesn’t matter. The scene strips down the eager-to-please Ken, then finishes on a priceless reaction shot from Jon Hamm.
I was pretty dubious about the debut of Under The Dome, and I still am. It’s too early for a verdict to be reached—especially considering that the series is a Stephen King adaptation, which means it’s liable to wind up either sublimely awesome or eminently meh. But in Under The Dome’s pilot, writer Brian K. Vaughan sheds the shaggy complexity of his work on the similarly themed Lost to craft a lean, straight-for-the-jugular narrative viscerally illustrated when the titular, mysterious dome drops on top of the small town of Chester’s Mill, cutting a cow in half in a spasm of goriness. The camera dwells on the cow’s innards, to the point where the horror becomes curiously beautiful. Not only does it symbolically foreshadow the social schism to come, it’s a cute nod to artist Damien Hirst. And in the midst of all of Under The Dome’s shamelessly repurposed King motifs (including an object of obsession getting chained to a bed… please), it’s a potent, glistening, indelible image.
New Girl was the most consistently funny comedy on network TV this year, taking a massive quality leap from its inconsistent but promising first season. Creator/writer/producer Elizabeth Meriwether and company excelled at taking the will-they/won’t-they saga of Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) and turning it on its head a bit. It’s not that the pair didn’t know that they liked and wanted each other; they were afraid of what might happen to their friendship and the delicate emotional balance of the loft in general if they were to hook up. So when Jess and Nick finally did the deed, at the end of the hilarious flashback episode “Virgins,” they looked at each other in the afterglow like they had just opened up a Pandora’s box as big as their bed, and they start to laugh. But my favorite part of that scene was hearing Jess say, “Ruh roh!” just before the episode went to black, over the production vanity cards. It was a great moment of self-awareness for two characters who know that what they just did had to happen, and it will likely happen again, but oh boy, the ride that they’ve started can’t be stopped… and it’s going to be a bumpy one.
While I essentially agree with everything Joel said, I have to disagree on the exact moment when New Girl leapt from being a funny show I watched each week to mandatory viewing. While “Cooler” may not be the absolute best episode of the show’s second season, it does have the most visceral, volcanically hot moment on network television so far in 2013: Nick and Jess’ first kiss, a moment so passionate and jaw-dropping that it shall be known henceforth as simply “The Kiss.” The look on Zooey Deschanel’s face after Jake Johnson mutters, “I meant something like that,” and turns to go into his room says everything: not just surprising, but engrossing and arresting, with two actors giving everything over to one carnal moment. There are episodes of television this year I think work better and loved more, but no single moment is burned into my retinas—in a fantastic way—quite like The Kiss.
Well, I guess we all watched a lot of New Girl this spring, but we all seem to have obsessed over different scenes. I’d love to say that I picked this scene because Kevin and Joel filched my favorites already—but no, my favorite moment so far in television this year is hands-down the fighting/kissing scene between Jess and Nick in “Quick Hardening Caulk.” The scene uses both the extraordinary editorial timing that Todd VanDerWerff discusses here—and the chemistry between Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson, who manage to artfully blend comedy and emotional wankery to make absolutely riveting television. As Erik Adams said when he reviewed the episode: “The last five minutes of New Girl are my new favorite TV show.” The electricity of the scene leaps off the screen: I was holding my breath during the entire first viewing, and I rewound and rewatched it like 50 times, because let’s be real, of course I did. What’s better, the hilarious cavalcade of insults they hurl at each other while making out—or the look on Nick’s face as he’s trying to decide whether or not this person enrages him or attracts him—or Jess trying to take off her blazer and getting half-stuck in it while shouting at the man she’s trying to sleep with? I don’t know. I’m going to watch it again now, though.
It’s been a great year for the dramas I like, with three of having arguably their best moments. Game Of Thrones absolutely nailed its Dany-freeing-the-Unsullied moment, and I’m only not picking it because I fully expect someone else to. And a resurgent Vampire Diaries managed to cram four years of character history into one delightful Bon Jovi-triggered scene. But I’m going to have to let my brain settle my gut’s tiebreaker and pick my favorite scene from my favorite episode of the year so far, Justified’s “Outlaw.” Around two-thirds of the way through the episode, hero Raylan Givens swings by his friend/rival Boyd Crowder’s place for a chat, just as Boyd is getting arrested by an assassin disguised as a local cop. Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) is immediately suspicious as his police instincts kick in, but the scene then veers in a totally different direction. Raylan's ex-girlfriend Ava (Joelle Carter) waves her engagement ring in his face and Walton Goggins’ Boyd—while handcuffed!—genially invites Raylan to the wedding. A short, sharp moment of violence just as quickly halts the comic tone; as Raylan mutters, “Jesus, I hope I got that right” in the aftermath, the music kicks in as if to say, “Yeah, that was a moment of ultimate badassery. Celebrate it.”
My moment of the year comes from my current show of the year, HBO’s Enlightened. The fifth episode of its second and final season does not focus on the show’s protagonist Amy Jellicoe (played by Laura Dern). Instead, the show turns its attention to creator Mike White’s character Tyler, who serves as the titular character in “The Ghost Is Seen.” For many viewers, the poetic monologues that bookended each episode of the series were among the many off-putting elements. For me, they not only served a narrative purpose, they pushed the program into the realm of the transcendent. I don’t fancy myself a religious person, but Enlightened woke up my spiritual side something fierce. Sometimes it did so by confronting elements beyond human understanding. Sometimes, like in the closing moments of this episode, it did so by placing the act of opening oneself up to life as the bravest thing anyone can do. My heart broke for Tyler, and then filled up as he saw possibilities of real connection in his life in the form of Molly Shannon’s co-worker. Being a ghost is easy, this episode says. Revealing oneself to the gaze of others can be terrifying, but also fundamental to existence itself. Television rarely gets so heady, so joyous, and so affirmative all at once. Enlightened did this on a frequent basis, but never quite so perfectly as the closing moments of this episode.
In its final seasons, The Office seemed to be punishing viewers for still watching it. But the show’s tender sendoff almost made up for those dry years, belatedly giving characters it had long since exhausted the endings they deserved. I’m a sucker for shameless fan service, so I enjoyed the whole thing, but no scene moved me more than Stanley’s Office reunion with Phyllis. In an uncharacteristic display of warmth, the retired Stanley confides to his former coworker that he’s missed her, setting up my favorite talking-head shot the show has ever done. “Lots of people think that Stanley Hudson’s a mean old grump, but would a grump make this?” Phyllis says, revealing the bizarre, half-bird, half-Phyllis bobblehead that he carved for her. “It’s me,” she laughs through tears, “it’s me.” The scene was a sweet denouement for two peripheral characters who realized only in hindsight that their relationship consisted of more than merely sharing the same workspace, and it mirrored my own feelings toward The Office. During those long final years, watching the show felt like a formality, but now that it’s gone, I miss it.
Since New Girl has been so thoroughly covered—and don’t think for a second I’m not wallowing in smug self-satisfaction every time another writer or viewer cites the show’s spectacular second season as a 2013-so-far highlight—my pick comes from another show that cracked me up and broke my heart in equal measure this year. It’s also a show that breaks more hearts with every day that passes without a renewal notice: ABC Family’s Bunheads. Following a winsome showing in the summer of 2012, the Amy Sherman-Palladino–created series returned for eight more episodes this winter, responding to the change in seasons by digging into some raw, poignant material, like Sutton and Hunter Foster’s ukulele-fueled duet from “The Astronaut And The Ballerina.” Capping off an episode loaded with emotional fireworks—the loudest of which are lit by the real-life brother and sister playing the siblings at the hour’s core—the song is a wonderfully affecting comedown, the measured coda to one of Bunheads’ most frantic installments. Aside from New Girl, no series has been better at ending its episodes in 2013: I just hope we haven’t seen the end of Bunheads itself.
You know what’s more shocking than the “Red Wedding” on Games Of Thrones? Nothing! Nothing at all is more shocking! But what’s nearly as shocking is that I’m the first person here to cite that instantly infamous scene, which might as well have been the only television moment I watched all year, given the extent to which it still haunts my thoughts. Maybe it’s perverse to describe such an upsetting sequence, culled from the third season’s penultimate episode, as a “favorite” anything. But isn’t savage unpredictability—the sense that just about anything could happen and no character is safe—the reason we watch Games Of Thrones? Besides the sheer shock value of it, the scene is also a miniature masterpiece of staging, with director David Nutter building a sense of foreboding menace through little details—a peak of chain mail beneath a sleeve, the rise of a familiar melody—before the horrors commence. Weeks later, it still gives me the shudders; that’s a lasting power I can’t ignore.
It’s going to take a hall-of-fame finale from Breaking Bad and then some for the back half of 2013 to live up to the front. Liz Lemon met her children, and George-Michael Bluth got to know his father. I sat slack-jawed through the credits after final-scene violence on Game Of Thrones—twice—and time stopped during sleight-of-hand death scenes on both Top Of The Lake and Mad Men. Enlightened moved me most of all, every other sequence an awe-inspiring sea turtle. I’d like to stick up for Amy Jellicoe’s Twitter seduction, an inspired, uncomfortable masterpiece in a season of more obvious emotional highs. But there’s just no denying the power of Enlightened’s final montage, one scene of hope after another, a whole season on Amy’s face as she walks away from the flattering article about her. It’s a rewarding ending; it’s just too bad it’s the ending. Enlightened lives in what happens after.
While I’m tempted to just reel off a list of my all my favorite Daniel Bryan matches on Monday Night Raw this year, I’m going to instead veer in the opposite direction and also choose Enlightened. The entire second season was something of a beautiful dream. I agree about the final montage, but it was Enlightened’s boardroom scene earlier in “Agent Of Change” that really stood out. There is an uncomfortable and unfortunate familiarity in watching a woman immediately get labeled as a “hysteric” or a “psychotic” simply for just caring about something. But there is also triumph and adoration in the way Amy Jellicoe didn’t flinch or back down. The kicker is her “I’m just a woman who’s over it” declaration, which is, if we’re being honest, something that I often find myself muttering under my breath.
No show produced as many of my favorite moments this year than Archer. If I’m forced to pick just one, I’ll have to go with the snake-venom-generated dream sequences from “Once Bitten.” Archer gets bitten by a Caspian cobra in Turkmenistan; while he clings to life, embarks on an extended hallucinogenic journey through his psyche, as interpreted through the lens of sports movies. In particular, the Heaven Can Wait sequence was amazing, since I treasured that movie as a kid for reasons that are entirely unclear to me today. I also loved any time in the series where Pam called someone “dicknuts.” Probably because I am still 12 years old in my heart of hearts.
Five, all from new shows, hopefully shadowed a bit to prevent spoilers:
- Elizabeth speaks her mother tongue on The Americans.
- The opening scenes of the fifth episode of Rectify.
- Sarah learns what the designs on the clones are on Orphan Black (which gutted me).
- The cut from Sophia past to Sophia present on Orange Is The New Black.
- Every swing of the pendulum on Hannibal.
Also, this sketch from the wonderfully loopy Nathan For You. Okay, and “Electric Love” from Bob’s Burgers, which is always playing in some corner of my head.
My family’s devotion to The Middle matches my own, so my pick was always going to be something involving the Hecks. Even with Dave Foley’s appearances as Brick’s guidance counselor and all of Axl’s storylines involving his girlfriend and his graduation, there’s not really any competition on this front: Sue Heck wins. Specifically, she wins for the Wrestlerettes’ efforts in the impromptu “cheer-off” that takes place in “The Friend.” Eden Sher turns in a fearless performance week after week on the show, but the way Sue and her team took to the floor to the strains of Irene Cara’s “Fame” and won over the entire school with sheer enthusiasm was a moment that, well, made you want to stand up and cheer.