When we posted our first ten moments of the year at the end of last week, one of our favorite commenters (you know who you are) said that she expected to see the How I Met Your Mother finale on the second half of the list. “Absolutely not,” I countered. Sure, the HIMYM finale has made a lot of other end-of-the-year lists, but for us, memorable does NOT equal best. The HIMYM finale is memorable for all the wrong reasons. It’s memorable for the rage it unleashes (I can’t begin to count the number of extremely heated debates I’ve had about that episode this year) and that rage does not have a place on our year-end countdown. Am I still sad about the major death on The Good Wife? Obviously. Do I still talk about that death in all sorts of passionate “THAT WAS AMAZING TELEVISION” kind of terms? YES.
That right there is the Head Over Feels definition of “Top Moment”, folks.
Looking at our 20 picks, I’m extremely proud at the breadth of television we’ve covered this year and our choices for the best of the best. We’ve got comedies, dramas (both soapy and Comic Booky), reality shows, awards shows, and “news/talk” shows represented. We MAY have a television problem. It’s a problem we love to have.
11) “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?” – How To Get Away With Murder
Must See TV is but a distant, childhood memory. (Maybe because NBC doesn’t know how to treasure its comedies anymore, hmmm?) Thursday nights now belong to Shondaland.
One of the buzziest new series of the season, How to Get Away with Murder has a showrunner in Peter Nowalk and is overseen by drama queen Shonda Rhimes. Not a carbon copy of Grey’s or Scandal, HTGAWM quickly established itself as its own thing: a gothic mash-up of ’90s procedurals, primetime soaps and dark comedy, with the incomparable Viola Davis leading a cast of young unknowns.
Annalise Keating is fascinating. We’re a full half-season into the life of the show and still no closer to figuring out the law professor’s motivations than we were in the first minutes of the pilot. Viola plays Keating’s deep vulnerability to perfection, but any show of emotion is eventually revealed as another tool of manipulation. Does she feel anything? Or is she smart enough to know not to?
The focus of this pilot season has been the apparent murder of Keating’s husband Sam. Ever the doting spouse at university cocktail parties, Sam – like Annalise – isn’t what he seems. He was mixed up with a student, whose body ended up bloated and floating in a water tower. Already revealed as a cheater, could Sam be a murderer too? I honestly doubt that Annalise didn’t a) already know her husband was messing around, or b) cared one bit that he did. When would she have time? Between desk sex sessions with her giant cop boyfriend? No. This is a shakedown, my friends. Annalise always gets her man.
It’s the most striking scene in a show designed to fuel water cooler conversation. Annalise sits at her vanity and peels away the day. She wipes off all vestiges of the beauty standards imposed on women – on black women – and it’s not a dainty business. She uses pressure, rubbing the make-up away like she’s angry at herself for putting it on in the first place. She’s taking turpentine to a masterpiece she just finished painting. But when she confronts her suspect – a man she’s shared a bed with for years – she’s not going to do it as star defense attorney Annalise or molder of young minds Annalise. She’s going to do it as the bare canvas onto which she paints those identities.
And that LINE. Funny, shocking, emasculating. This is HTGAWM in nine simple words. And may the series bring us several more moments as indelible as this.
12) Don and Peggy have a dance – Mad Men
Reminder to all the awards bodies out there: Mad Men did indeed air episodes in 2014 and they were EXQUISITE so SHAME ON YOU for completely ignoring them in awards season. Did the division of the 14 episode season into 2 “mini seasons” probably mess with the notorious slow-burn pace of a typical Mad Men season? Absolutely. Just when it felt like it was getting started the “season” was over! Does that mean that the episodes are any less in quality? Absolutely not. “The Strategy” will surely stand in the pantheon of fantastic Mad Men episodes alongside “The Suitcase” and “The Other Woman”. It was a beautiful episode, from Joanie turning down Bob Benson’s marriage of convenience (“I want love. And I’d rather die hoping that happens than make some arrangement.”) to the way Pete longs for the family that he so carelessly threw away to the way Peggy and Don are at each other’s throats over the pitch to Burger Chef. What transitions the episode from good to GREAT is the scene with Peggy and Don in her office as Peggy finally cracks the pitch. Just like Don knew she would.
Peggy: Does this family exist anymore? Are there people who eat dinner and smile at each other instead of watching TV? Did you ever do that with your family?
Don: I don’t remember.
Peggy: What the hell do I know about being a mom? I just turned 30, Don.
Don: Shit. When?
Peggy: A couple of weeks ago.
Don: It doesn’t matter.
Peggy: I kept it a secret as long as I could. Now I’m one of those women lying about her age. I hate them.
Don: I worry about a lot of things, but I don’t worry about you.
Peggy: What do you have to worry about?
Don: That I never did anything, and that I don’t have anyone.
Peggy: I was in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania. I looked in the window of so many station wagons. What did I do wrong?
Don: You’re doing great.
PEGGY OLSON. I have always loved her but I related to her SO much in this moment. It was a rough season for Peggy. She is still a woman trying to make her way in a man’s world (remember Pete thinks saying “She’s as good as any woman in the field” is a compliment) and she’s a woman wrestling with the life choices she’s made that have led her down an “untraditional” path. Should she have gone another way? Would she have been happy going the married and kids route? She knows that she would not have…but she also knows that she is alone and that’s a daily struggle for her.
The Don and Peggy relationship has always been the core of Mad Men. They are so alike, those two. It’s why Don is so hard on her. He sees her potential for greatness and her potential to surpass him, which both excites and terrifies him. It’s often WHY he struggles to praise her because she’s making the same choices he has made (identity theft aside) and he knows how it’s turned out for him. He wants more for his Peggy. He sees her self-doubt and he offers her comfort in the only way he knows how…with a smile of pride and a dance.
And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and ev’ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way…
The song choice may have been a bit on the nose, but in reality, there is no better song for these two lost souls to share a fleeting moment of connection and comfort over. The next day will be back to business as usual. Another pitch. Another meeting. They’ll probably be back at each other’s throats soon enough. But for that moment…in that dance…they know that they can do it their own way and not have to be alone. It’s beautiful.
13) Amy Poehler wins The Pudding
The worst part of being nominated for any award is that despite your best efforts, you start to want the pudding. You spend weeks thinking about how it doesn’t matter and it’s all just an honor and then seconds before the name of the winner is announced everything inside you screams…”GIMME THAT PUDDING!!”
In Yes Please, Amy P. details the backstage machinations of all the plans she and her fellow nominees have concocted to get their minds off what she calls “the pudding.” And they’re all wonderful – the faux beauty pageant, Dog President, play-swapping speeches with JLD. But in 2014, the pudding finally went where it had needed to go for a long, long time. Amy Poehler won the Golden Globe.
It’s not special because anyone should give a shit about awards or that anyone is under the illusion that they always go to the right people. What was special about Amy’s win is that is that it was FOR Parks. I don’t mean that the nomination was for her work on Parks, I mean that this was an award for the entire show. One of the finest comedic ensembles on television in this decade or any other has been snubbed left and right for reasons that I can’t begin to understand. Amy, often the show’s sole nomination, has gone home empty-handed year after year. (Even the announcer sounds bewildered when he points out that this is her “first win.”)
So. When Amy’s name was FINALLY called and the Parks crew went ballistic, anyone could see that she was taking this one for the team. They stood and applauded and pointed at their girl. “Whoaaaa, Parks!” she shouted out to them, as I cried like a child. “The best cast in comedy and drama, as far as I’m concerned.” And the pudding was spread around, as it should be.
14) Cristina and Meredith dance it out one last time – Grey’s Anatomy
Cristina: Wait, we’ll call each other at least twice a month and we’ll text each other all the time.
Meredith: I hate texting.
Cristina: TEXT ME! Don’t let Owen get all dark and twisty. Take care of him. And Alex, take care of Alex. He needs to be mocked at least once a day or he’ll be insufferable. Don’t get on any tiny little planes that can crash or stick your hand in a body cavity that has a bomb in it or offer your life to a gunman. Don’t do that. Don’t be a hero. You’re my person. I need you alive. You make me brave. Okay, now we dance it out.
There was really no other way for Sandra Oh’s Cristina Yang to leave Grey’s Anatomy. I sat through a good portion of the season ten finale, “Fear (of the unknown)” waiting for something absolutely horrible to happen to my beloved Cristina. Shonda Rhimes DOES love to kill her characters, after all, especially on Grey’s Anatomy. Thankfully, she had other plans for Cristina Yang. Cristina Yang was going to ride off into the sunset…erm…Switzerland. She was going to take her favorite student Smash Williams (honestly, I never learned his ACTUAL character name) to Switzerland with her so she could continue to teach him and extend her legacy. She was going to change the face of cardiothoracic surgery and win all the awards now that she was free from GSMH. She was going to do all of that…after dancing it out with her person one last time.
Cue me sobbing, especially since Cristina and Meredith danced to Tegan and Sara’s “Where Does the Good Go?” which was used prominently in the fourth episode of the series. Grey’s has ALWAYS been good with the musical callbacks and the Twisted Sisters’ jubilant dancing was a perfect way to reflect on EVERYTHING they had been through together. Ectopic Pregnancies and Dirty Mistressing. Bombs in body cavities. Near drownings. Mass shoot-outs. Plane crashes. Marriages. Divorces. Births. Career jealousy and competition. Meredith and Cristina have been through it all together, and while their bond has been TESTED, it’s never been broken. When someone is your person, they are your person for life. OTP of the show.
Cristina’s absence has left a gaping hole on Grey’s Anatomy this season and I miss her terribly. Yet, her influence is still felt in Meredith’s life, as every single action she’s taken this season goes back to this truth bomb her best friend dropped right before she left.
Cristina: I gotta go. You stay here. You are a gifted surgeon with an extraordinary mind. Don’t let what he wants eclipse what you need. He’s very dreamy, but he’s not the sun. You are.
You can’t GET more OTP than that. (And if Sandra Oh doesn’t come back for the eventual series finale, I will cry SO MUCH.)
15) John Oliver Breaks the FCC – Last Week Tonight
We were predisposed to love Last Week Tonight, because John Oliver brought us such joy as a Daily Show correspondent, and also because he’s “got a real big penis and drinks lots of tea.”
But we couldn’t have predicted the impact the show would have, pretty much from the moment it hit HBO. With Colbert on his way out, surely there’d be room for more comedy news on our TVs. But what could have weekly report have over a daily one?
Simply this: because LWT doesn’t have the responsibility to recap a full day (or seven days) of the news cycle, it’s expertly developed its signature, long-form style. John and the writers hit on a piece of information, usually something that they can’t believe no one has forced us to fully understand before, and they report the daylights out of it. The result is sharp, hilarious, fully fleshed-out segments that have been known to end in a call to action. And John’s fans are ready to go to work.
The cable companies have figured out the great truth of America: If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.
The first time we saw the true power of LWT‘s ready-for-viral reports was when they shined a light on the proposed de-democratization of the interwebs. Net Neutrality is a terrifying prospect – essentially making the internet a pay-to-play situation and enabling hateful cable providers to hold companies seeking hosting hostage. No one seemed sufficiently freaked out by this, possibly because the language used to describe it was drier than an English sense of humor. LWT spend ten minutes laying it all out for us (we have an attention span when there are Taco Bell jokes), and then dropped the challenge. The FCC had opened its site for feedback on the proposition. Knowing that this was the job web trolls didn’t realize they had been training for all along, John called on the underworld network of internet commentors to rise up and fight. (“Good evening, monsters.”)
And fight they did. Viewers were driven to the site and responded in such a massive way that FCC.gov actually crashed. And Last Week Tonight moved on to further crusade for truth, justice, and sex-crazed space geckos everywhere.
16) Eliza and Henry do karaoke – Selfie
SELFIE, you guys. As Sage has pointed out before, this show is just too beautiful to live. Shame on you, ABC, for not having the confidence in this show (never forget Selfie was a BRAND NEW SHOW stranded on a Tuesday night with no lead-in whatsoever. And they are surprised it couldn’t find an audience?) and taking it off the air before it could become fully realized. All hail Hulu for blessing us with the unaired episodes, because without them we never would have seen the perfection that is “Imperfect Harmony”.
The best comedies, no matter how light their premise, are not afraid to go dark. “Imperfect Harmony” will rank amongst How I Met Your Mother‘s (spit on its grave) “Bad News” and Community‘s “Mixology Certification” as sitcom episodes that made me want to jump off my fire escape in the best way possible. What’s been the most impressive about Selfie is the amount of character growth in both Henry and (ESPECIALLY) Eliza in the span of 11 episodes. In a lesser actress’ hands, Eliza Dooley would have been a one note caricature but in Karen Gillan’s capable hands, she’s a fully fleshed out character with a real capacity to love and a real capacity to have her heart broken. Eliza is used to getting everything she wants…and when she wants Henry and he rejects her, she’s understandably devastated. But the devastation is deeper than just being turned down by a boy that she likes. Henry’s rejection cuts deep because of all the work that she’s been doing to better herself. She’s a “better” person and yet Henry is still afraid to be with her because she isn’t the safe choice. Which really…that says more about him as a person than it does about her.
(Have you ever been there? Have you put yourself through the wringer to change your life in some capacity only to find that it still leads to the same result? It fucking sucks. Eliza, I feel you, gurl.)
Reeling from Henry’s rejection/inaction, Eliza has to do her mandatory karaoke song (Can I work at this office please?) and she chooses Sia’s “Chandelier”. It’s so fitting it hurts.
Party girls don’t get hurt.
Can’t feel anything, when will I learn?
I push it down, push it down.
I’m the one “for a good time call”
Phone’s blowin’ up, ringin’ my doorbell
I feel the love, feel the love.
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink
Throw ’em back ’til I lose count. I’m gonna swing from the chandelier.
What KILLS me about “Chandelier” is the way Eliza sings it. At first she is holding back tears, but as the song progresses, you see her eyes go dead. You SEE the wheels in her head start clicking as she says “Screw ALL of this” and she backslides into the girl we met in the pilot. She was fun right? She sure as hell didn’t ever let a guy like Henry hurt her. In a brilliant stroke of writing and direction, Eliza slides off the stage as the original track takes over and we SEE her be the girl that everyone has always expected her to be…binge drinking, carelessly stumbling about, and going home for some casual sex with her ex. It’s devastating.
Remember this is a sitcom.
As for John Cho mournfully singing “Wild World” a capella at the end of the episode as he realizes he’s lost both his safe relationship and his exciting one? I’m just going to transcribe the text conversation Sage and I had right before she started watching the episode:
Sage: My body is ready.
Kim: Not for the suit he’s wearing, it’s not.
17) The final minutes of “Mizumono” – Hannibal
The last twenty minutes of “Mizumono” were a series reboot and a bloodbath, containing a few possible major character deaths, plus two jaw-dropping reveals. It makes our 2013 pick for Hannibal – Will Graham drawing a clock – seem downright cute.
Let’s recap: Jack confronts Hannibal in a bloody kitchen brawl, which ends with Jack possibly bleeding out in his pantry. Alana walks in on her lover being (Surprise!) a FUCKING SERIAL KILLER and Hannibal gives her the chance to walk away. (“Be blind, Alana. Don’t be brave.”) She locks herself in another room, shooting at Hannibal through the door until (Holy shit!) ABIGAIL HOBBS, PRESUMED DEAD FOR AN ENTIRE SEASON, steps out of the shadows and pushes her out of the window just in time for an arriving Will Graham to happen upon her broken body. Will and Hannibal share one last sexually charged moment (Surpr-! Actually, that’s pretty standard.) before Hannibal stabs him in the stomach. (“I let you know me. See me. I gave you a rare gift. But you didn’t want it.”) He makes sure he’s not dead yet though – not before Will watches him slit Abigail’s throat. Will and Abigail hold each other on the floor, drenched in blood, while Hannibal walks outside into a cleansing rain. Even Swiggity Swag the Nightmare Stag doesn’t escape unharmed. And, CREDITS.
BUT HOLD THE FUCK UP. Unconcerned which of his victims survived his little exit strategy, Hannibal relaxes thousands of feet above them. First class, natch. And who’s sitting next to him but his therapist, our Bedelia, who we were certain was on our side. They’re off to Europe to dress fabulously and, we assume, kill a lot of people.
This is first class horror. On TV. Just as psychologically unsettling as it is outwardly gory. And in season three, Hannibal will continue showing filmmakers how it’s done.
18) “You are all IDIOTS.” – The Normal Heart
Much like when Julia Roberts was cast as Barbara in August: Osage County, I had a LOT of trepidation when it was announced that Julia Roberts would be playing the role of Dr. Emma Brookner in Ryan Murphy’s movie of The Normal Heart. After all, Ellen Barkin (who is in the Ryan Murphy “Family”, having starred in failed sitcom The New Normal) had recently won a Tony Award for that very role, so why in the hell wouldn’t you cast her? Would Julia Roberts be able to bring the same gravitas and furor that Barkin did? (I saw that revival of The Normal Heart and it remains one of the greatest theatrical experiences of my life). And would notoriously heavy-handed Ryan Murphy REALLY be able to bring a work like The Normal Heart to the screen and not cross into the beating us over the head with it kind of territory.
Well, like she did with August: Osage County, Julia Roberts took all my fears and doubts about her and tossed them out the window from the very first moment she appeared on-screen. She is really doing the best work in her career right now, you guys. Her Emma is fierce, yet compassionate. She’s brusque and has a low tolerance for bullshit but she is also DEEPLY passionate about her patients and raising awareness about this disease that is wiping out a generation. Emma Brookner’s shining moment comes about halfway through the film (if my memory serves correctly, this monologue opens Act 2 in the play) where she makes a presentation asking for government funding for her AIDS research, only to find out her request is being denied. It is a blistering tirade against the ineptitude of the government and the blind eye that was turned towards these men for so long. The scary thing is that the monologue feels just as fresh in today’s environment as it does in the 1980’s. Roberts’ rage is palpable and the performance is all the more impressive as she’s confined to the wheelchair and can only use her voice, face, and arms to communicate her deep well of anger. I love how she’s so angry she almost can’t BREATHE for it.
The Normal Heart was an EXCEPTIONAL movie (who’d have thought that Ryan Murphy had it in him?) and it’s an IMPORTANT movie. The cast was uniformly amazing from the Ruffalo to Jim Parsons (proving that The Big Bang Theory is smothering his talent) to Taylor Kitsch (Hey Tim Riggins) and we could have easily picked other moments from the film. But we settled on this one because it taught me that I should just shut the fuck up when it comes to Julia Roberts being cast in things.
19) “Do you understand?” – Arrow
Usually this, the love confession in ambiguous context? It’s pretty lame. It’s a fairly unoriginal way to stretch out a ship that has no business being stretched out any further. Not here, y’all. NOT. HERE.
Oliver knows that Slade is watching the Queen family home, so this conversation is meant to position Felicity inside his operation so she and Team Arrow can take him down. The thing is, everything that Oliver says to her also happens to be true. And the show doesn’t need us to think otherwise. These idiots have been obvious since Jump Street. Just ask John Diggle. He’s exhausted.
Oliver: Slade took Laurel because he wants to kill the woman I love.
Felicity: I know. So –
Oliver: So he took the wrong woman.
Oliver: I love you. Do you understand?
Watch it a few times. (I know I have.) Oliver is saying what he needs to in the name of ~the plan~, but he’s also willing Felicity to read between the lines. Or to read the lines exactly, as it were. He smiles so slightly, right before he delivers the kicker: “Do you understand?”
“Please understand,” he might as well be saying. Because he already knows he’s going to back off from it later. But maybe, just for now, he can risk his life and love Felicity, and she can know.
20) Maks and Meryl’s Freestyle – Dancing with the Stars
A) Honestly, we try really hard not to ship people in real life. (HA! Lies.) But really…sometimes a couple makes it harder NOT to ship them, so you should just give in to the sweet sweet torment.
B) I had no idea so many of my friends watched Dancing With The Stars (I’ve been living with my love in secret for so long!) until this past spring, when my Twitter timeline had a meltdown every Monday night as we watched Maksim Chmerkovsky and Meryl Davis fall in love.
C) YOU CAN NOT TELL ME THEY ARE NOT IN LOVE.
On paper, it was the perfect partnership. Meryl Davis was the newly minted gold medalist in Ice Dancing (and her partner Charlie White was also competing) and a living breathing actual Disney Princess. Maks was the bad boy of the ballroom, long known for his surly attitude, sass, and temper (and for constantly making the finals but never WINNING the mirrorball). From the start, Maks knew he had the ringer of the group of stars. Meryl had the skills and the polish and the fanbase to win the whole thing and he knew it. They had incredible chemistry and they established themselves as frontrunners from Week One. But then as the competition progressed, it became VERY obvious that it was about more than winning with Maks and Meryl. Meryl Davis made big mean Maks an emotional Russian Teddy Bear. They gushed about each other and were incredibly affectionate during their rehearsal packages. They were head over heels for each other. Everybody, including the judges, shipped it. Could they have been playing it for the cameras? Sure. Everyone knows a good showmance can win votes. But if it was ALL fake, hand these two fools Academy Awards.
The Maksyl of it all culminated in their freestyle dance in the finale. The freestyle is exactly that…the dancers can dance however they want. It’s usually silly or hip-hop influenced. Maks and Meryl instead did a breathtaking and passionate contemporary routine to Sam Smith’s “Latch” that set the journey of their relationship to dance. I cried and yelled at the TV when they didn’t kiss at the end (THE WAY THEY SMILE AT EACH OTHER THOUGH). All of Twitter cried and yelled at the TV when they didn’t kiss at the end (THE WAY SHE PLAYS WITH THE HAIR AT THE NAPE OF HIS NECK THOUGH).
Just when we thought it couldn’t get worse (and by worse, I mean MORE AWESOME), it did. In the results show the next day, Maks, when asked by an off camera producer when he was going to propose to Meryl, replied “Tomorrow. I want to ravage her and have ice-skating, big mean Russian babies and call them Boris and Oleg. Their nickname would be Bear. Both of them.”
Maks and Meryl won, obviously. We’re still waiting on that proposal though, Maksim.
And those are our 20 favorite moments of 2014. NOW you can feel free to yell at us for what we left out in the comments…though we’re pretty damn proud of this list. Here’s to many more moments like these in 2015!