We've been living in a much-lauded "golden age" of great TV for what, about a decade now? There's a wealth of formidable options in essentially every genre, which is wonderful, of course. But at the same time, you can't possibly watch every single show that you've "heard good things about" without ending up like the "Sloth" victim in Se7en, strapped to your own bed with slowly decaying muscles as a punishment for your sedentary lifestyle. So, rather than run down every Emmy-nominated episode of every show you've already been guilted into DVR-ing or whatever, instead, let's take an arbitrary look back at the 10 best televised moments of the year, as chosen by a person who may or may not actually own a TV.
Call me a young, liberal arts-educated white woman living in Brooklyn, but I really, really loved the first season of Girls. The show was far more self aware about its characters' cocoon of privilege than many a screaming blogger gave it credit for, and the relationships at the core of the show were nuanced and realistic, often painfully so. To me, nothing was funnier or more true to each of its characters' natures than the episode when Jessa skipped her own abortion appointment to hook up with a stranger in a bar, while Marnie complained about her bad manners and Shoshana... brought candy.
Mad Men - Pete and Lane's fistfight
This entire fifth season of Mad Men was full of standout moments (Roger's acid trip, "Zou Bisou Bisou," fat Betty, to name a few), but nothing topped Lane and Pete's impromptu, preppy in-office fistfight. Those old-school fisticuffs techniques! "Grimy little pimp!" And also, a chance for Lane to have at least some kind of decisive victory before his character arc took such a terrible turn for the worse.
The Mindy Project - Every Scene With Ike Barinholtz
Forcing a character to rely mostly on wacky schticks without much real backstory is a dangerous game (see: all of the ways in which Parks and Recreation has gone precipitously downhill over the past two seasons), but some hard-to-pinpoint combination of Barinholtz's delivery and the total unpredictability of whatever will come out of his mouth next totally clicks, making him the highlight of an already great show. Even as background comic relief in the Thanksgiving episode (above), he ends up providing some of the episode's best moments.
SNL - Louis C.K. as Lincoln
Could anything be more incongruous and strangely dark than a sketch conflating Louis C.K.'s "sad comedy loner" thing with the life of Abraham Lincoln? I can't believe it occurred to anyone to do this, but I'm so glad that it did.
Heartwarming, obviously, but also a turning point when the show fully committed to soap operatic levels of emotional manipulation, and Dr. Clarkson was once again proven to be a totally useless medical professional. Downton at its finest.
Breaking Amish — Reunion Special
I may be alone in my principals, but as a person who has essentially stopped watching reality TV, something about Breaking Amish was still mesmerizing to me. Sure, a lot of the show was fake, but the cast's rare combination of innocence (well, also shocking ignorance) and total hedonism rang pretty true, and served as a fascinating, if stark, look into what exactly happens when you raise children outside of society with nothing more than a seventh grade education. For instance, the episode where Kate accuses Sabrina of witchcraft. The reunion episode was particularly notable for its host, who, as you can see, has long since stopped giving a fuck about the insane situation in which she's found herself. The moment around the 2 minute mark where she deadpans "I don't know what love is" in response to a cast member is... quite something.
30 Rock - Liz Lemon Gets Married
Speaking of things I've long since stopped watching, I think it's pretty widely accepted at this point that 30 Rock has been a shell of its former self for at least a couple of seasons. Still, Liz Lemon breaking away from her "sad comedy loner" thing for a slapped-together city hall wedding to Criss Cross? Completely satisfying.
A lot of the year's TV highlights came courtesy of the election (the Republican primaries, Joe Biden's gleefully belligerent debate performance), and election night ended up as exactly the denouement it should have been on every level, from Karl Rove and the Fox News team's on-air meltdown to Obama's eventual acceptance speech, the first truly rousing one he's given in recent memory.
Breaking Bad — Gus Fring's Death
What more is there to even say about this? Jesus.
Liz and Dick — Liz Faints
All the snarking around Liz and Dick actually felt like a little much. Do we really need to collectively go for the jugular of a person who's very publicly on record as having substance abuse problems (and the worst parents imaginable) for making a bad movie on a network that exclusively makes bad movies when no one else will hire her? It's all a little too dark. That said, the movie really is a total camp masterpiece. If any of you have ever seen a better bad fake-faint than the one above (or a better clip to watch alongside the one of Gus Fring), I would very much like to see it. I would also very much like to see Lindsay take her rightful throne as John Waters' next muse, but that's a conversation for another day.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.