This list of scripted television’s best scenes in 2018 could have easily been twice as long. The past 365 days have given us a lot of inventive, memorable, and brilliantly executed TV moments, but these ten scenes are the ones that stand out above all else. (Note: Spoilers ahead.)
10. Big Mouth: The Bachelorette Parody, ‘The Planned Parenthood Show’
“Is there some kind of sketch that we could watch that would be both entertaining and informative but also not too preachy?” That’s the question that Coach Steve poses early on in this episode, followed by a brilliant series of sketches that qualify as hilarious comedy and legitimately useful sex education. I love every segment in this episode, but the most clever is The Bachelorette send-up “Miss Conception,” in which Leah (Kat Dennings) is introduced to various contraceptive options and must choose between them. The characterizations of each pill or device are hysterical — the diaphragm is an old woman who’s “just here for the buffet” — and Leah’s ultimate decision is a funny bit that lands with a sobering cautionary note: She falls for the sloppy young sex-idiot charms of the pull-out method.
9. Sharp Objects: The Dollhouse Ending, ‘Milk’
Practically every sequence in Sharp Objects invaded my subconscious over the summer, so trying to pick one “best” one is quite a challenge. But I settled on the ending, when Camille (Amy Adams) replaces a bedspread in Amma’s ever-present dollhouse and slowly realizes, as the sound of Led Zeppelin’s “In the Evening” invades the soundtrack yet again, that the floors of that house are tiled with teeth from the young women recently murdered. This is another one of those “this scene is the whole show” moments: It solves the final dangling mystery of the series, but also confirms, in chilling fashion, the degree to which abuse and damage are passed on from one generation of women to another.
8. Who Is America?: The Kinder-guardians Commercial, ‘Episode 1’
Sacha Baron Cohen’s return to cable TV was not a complete success. By the end of the first season of Who Is America?, it started to feel like Cohen was repeating the same jokes. But when he did hit the satirical nail on the head, he hit it hard. And he never hit it harder than he did in the first episode, when he exposed gun advocates for the ethically bereft souls that they are, so devoid of boundaries that they’ll even willingly train preschoolers how to fire weapons disguised as fuzzy animals.
7. Better Call Saul: Kim Confronts Howard, ‘Breathe’
Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) may be the primary anti-hero of Better Call Saul. But Kim Wexler (played by the great, perfect-ponytailed Rhea Seehorn) is the show’s hero, full stop. She isn’t just Jimmy’s better half as his romantic partner, she’s the better version of Jimmy: a person who clearly gets a charge out of pulling off a con job — she’s good at it, too — but has ethical boundaries she’s unwilling to cross. She’s also so loyal to Jimmy that his resentment is her resentment, a fact that comes through loud and clear in this scene from “Breathe,” when she goes off on Howard (Patrick Fabian) for the way that he and Jimmy’s late brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), treated Jimmy over the years. This moment not only provides further proof that Kim is the show’s true hero — she has the courage to say the things Jimmy wants to say, but won’t — but exemplifies what makes Better Call Saul such a great Breaking Bad prequel: It’s as much about the character that shapes pre-Saul Jimmy as it is about Jimmy himself.
6. Barry: The Macbeth Appearance, ‘Loud, Fast and Keep Going’
Up until this point, Barry, the hit man/acting student played by Bill Hader, has successfully kept a lid on his real emotions. But that lid blows off in this stunner of a scene, which requires Barry to deliver a single line in a scene from Macbeth: “The queen is dead.” Having recently killed his friend and fellow veteran earlier that day, Barry basically has a breakdown, turning this one line into a cathartic moment for the repressed Barry — and to those watching him onstage, a tremendous piece of acting. On Hader’s part, it actually is a tremendous piece of acting, and he has the Emmy to prove it.
5. Killing Eve: The Dinner Scene, ‘I Have a Thing About Bathrooms’
Throughout Killing Eve, we’re never sure whether the titular Eve (Sandra Oh) will get seduced by the slippery Villanelle (Jodie Comer) or murdered by her. That contradictory tension hits its first high point when Villanelle breaks into Eve’s flat and forces her to sit down over a meal of leftover pot pie, which eventually leads to Eve being pinned to her kitchen wall while Villanelle hold a sharp knife right to her clavicle. Just when it seems like she plans to use that domestic tool to penetrate Eve — an image that’s both masculine and feminine in nature — Villanelle leans in and detects the scent of perfume on her nemesis’s skin. This is a high-stakes dance, and it’s a distillation of the dance that this show is constantly doing, between aggressive violence and feminine mystique.
4. Atlanta: The Museum Tour, ‘Teddy Perkins’
There are some remarkably odd moments throughout “Teddy Perkins,” one of the most bizarre and memorable TV episodes of 2018. But one of the best, and the one that perfectly melds the sense of comedy and tragedy that runs throughout the episode, is the tour of the museum that Teddy (Donald Glover) provides for his guest, Darius (Lakeith Stanfield). The centerpiece of this museum is a mannequin who represents the father of Teddy and his musical prodigy brother, Benny — a father who Teddy sees as a high-minded abuser whose harsh behavior molded his sons into proper men. Teddy invokes the names of other “great” dads that he wants to feature in the museum — Joe Jackson, Marvin Gaye Sr., the fathers of Tiger Woods and Serena Williams — and in the process, highlights a history of African-American parenting in which extreme toughness is often equated with love. But then, just to remind us that Atlanta is still a comedy, Glover adds another name to that list, one that made me spit up with laughter: “The father that drops off Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club.”
3. BoJack Horseman: BoJack’s Eulogy, ‘Free Churro’
This is a bit of a cheat because the entire episode is one long scene: BoJack, standing at the front of a church, delivers an emotional roller coaster of a eulogy for his mother, Beatrice. BoJack Horseman has proven on numerous occasions that it’s capable of profundity as well as laugh-out-loud Hollywood satire, but this may be the show’s most profound scene yet. When BoJack’s tribute to his mother takes a weird left turn into a discussion of the sitcom Becker, it sounds ridiculous at first: “When it got canceled, I was really bummed out. Not because I liked the show, but because I knew it could be so much better and now it never would be.” Then it turns into the most accurate expression of what it feels like to lose a mother or father that I have ever heard on a television show: “That’s what losing a parent is like. It’s like Becker. Suddenly you realize you’ll never have the good relationship you wanted, and as long as they were alive, even though you’d never admit it, the stupidest goddamn part of yourself was still holding on to that chance. And you didn’t even realize it until that chance was gone.” That the whole monologue ends with a hilarious kicker allows the viewer to bust up laughing, even though the tears on her cheeks haven’t dried yet.
2. Brooklyn Nine-Nine: The Backstreet Boys Cold Open, ‘DFW’
I’m not saying this brilliant Brooklyn Nine-Nine cold open is what convinced NBC to save the show after it was canceled by Fox. But I’m also not ruling out the possibility that these 68 seconds of comic genius — in which Andy Samberg’s Jake helps a witness identify her brother’s murderer by having suspects in a lineup sing “I Want It That Way” — may have played a role in keeping this series alive. This scene not only circulated heavily on social media, it also prompted one YouTube commenter named Moonstar Butterfly to declare: “Because of this clip I watched this show for the first time and I’m not [sic] dissapointed.” Amen, Moonstar Butterfly. Amen.
1. The Americans: The Parking Garage Confrontation, ‘START’
There are a few scenes on this list that effectively capture the entire ethos of the shows in which they appeared. That’s 100 percent true of the six-seasons-in-the-making parking-garage confrontation between FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and undercover Russian spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) in which Stan finally calls out his neighbors and best friends, along with their spy-in-training daughter Paige (Holly Taylor), for who they are. It’s one of those moments where you go, “This is the whole show, right here.” All of the actors, as well as director Chris Long and showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, who also wrote this final episode, nail this “gotcha” moment, letting it unfold tensely, sadly, and, like this series always did, in a way that subverts one’s expectations of the spy-thriller genre. Movies have taught us that when the FBI agent unmasks the spies, he wins. All the President’s Men taught us that when key intel is confirmed in a parking garage, a whole house of cards comes crashing down. The Americans showed us something that felt much closer to heartbreaking real life.