It’s the most wonderful time of the year: listicle season! Listing is the most non-denominational fun you can have this time of year, the cheapest and, somehow most emotionally-charged way of organizing what in the last 12 months rattled, inspired, or amazed you. There’s no season like early-to-mid-December for power-ranking every song, every show, every movie, every celebrity feud, every hashtag, every Instagram, every last crumb and morsel of cultural deliciousness until the plate of 2014 is licked clean and we can start the new year with a blank space.
Our ThinkProgress listing has already begun — you can check out our list of 2014’s most thought-provoking pop culture here — and today’s mission is a zoom-in take on the Golden-Age-iest medium of our time: TV. What were the best and worst moments on television this year? Read on for our (moderately scientific, highly subjective, fight about ’em in the comments) choices.
“A Very Realistic Military Game” on Inside Amy Schumer
It was difficult to choose the best sketch from Inside Amy Schumer, which has been firing on all the smart-funny cylinders this year. Schumer knows where the devil is; she pays attention to details. Her series has so much voice, confidence and insight. She’s also managed to craft a show that is, more often than not, about the inner lives of women and the ways women relate to each other when men aren’t around. (This shouldn’t be such a rarity, but here we are.) Schumer’s sketches are packed with keen, hilarious-because-they’re-heightened-but-true observations. The usually three-minute scenes are imminently rewatchable; they are brash and sharp and surprising and fantastic. I loved, in no particular order, “The Foodroom,” “A Chick Who Can Hang,” “Calling the Cable Company,” and her interview with a 106-year-old woman.
But “A Very Realistic Military Game” takes the top prize. Schumer tackles one of the trickiest comedic tropes of all: the rape joke. The scene is expertly constructed, from the harmless-seeming setup to the meta moment when her boyfriend doesn’t believe what happened to her video game character. (“No, that’s never happened to me. You must have pressed the wrong button. That’s not part of the game.”) Schumer never loses track of who the targets of the joke are: namely, the military and the doubt and hardship rape victims face when they report. And, like everything else on Inside Amy Schumer, it is very, very funny.
Zoe Barnes Takes the Metro
Much of House of Cards this year was a boring, convoluted tale of middle-aged white guys talking about the midterms. But this season premiere shocker made me gasp out loud at my laptop screen, and I know I’m not the only one. Steer clear of that Cathedral Heights metro station, kids.
Lupita Nyong’o Wins Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars
Beautiful performance, beautiful dress, beautiful person, beautiful speech.
Abbi at the Dentist on Broad City
How good is Broad City? Broad City is the best. This Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer creation, which stars the two real-life buddies as stoner-go-lucky New Yorkers trying to manage all the injustices of everyday life, like constricting work dress codes, menial labor at entry-level jobs, and going to Penn Station. Every second of these ten episodes is can’t miss stuff, but this scene below of Abbi stoned at the dentist, trying to inconspicuously roll out of the waiting room, might be the top moment from the sesaon.
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The Mindy Project Wants to Go to There.
Beyoncé Declares Herself a Feminist at the MTV VMAs
The stance that launched a thousand thinkpieces! I think there’s a case to be made for the MTV Video Music Awards as the single most influential awards show in this country. For all its patent ridiculousness and seeming purposelessness, for all the grumbling about how MTV is basically a reality show network that has no business giving out awards for music videos, in the past five, maybe ten years, the VMAs have sparked more interesting, complicated and important conversations about real issues than any of its more prestigious brethren have even attempted to ignite. Miley Cryus and Robin Thicke inspiring so much smart writing about race, re-appropriation, gender and slut-shaming; Kanye West’s “Imma let you finish” interruption, thereby casting himself and Taylor Swift in archetypes neither one seems to have fully transcended (in Swift’s case, being labeled as a wronged underdog even when she is winning an award has only helped her image); and, this year, Beyoncé performing for a solid 16 minutes before taking home the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award.
The photo that made the rounds the next day, as surely the imagery-obsessed artist intended, was of Queen B, her hands in fists, ramrod posture in front of the hot-pink all-caps FEMINIST, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words played in the background. Was this just a calculated, empty gesture? She’s 100 percent pop star packaging; Destiny’s Child incorporated feminist ideas into their music (“The car I’m driving / I bought it / Because I depend on me”) not at the behest of Bey, but on the advice of her dad, Matthew Knowles. His strategy, as he described it to Texas Monthly way back in 2004: “When you sell a product, you first have to design and build it, but also you have to figure out the needs of the customer. When we put the group together, we had a plan. We figured out our demographic, our customers, our imaging, what type of songs we’re going to sing. It’s not by accident that we write songs like ‘Independent Women’ and ‘Survivor’ — female-based empowerment songs. That’s our customer base.” (As Michael Hall, who wrote that story, noted elsewhere in the piece, “She writes songs of female empowerment because, basically, her father told her to.”) But what difference does the origin make, if the impact is felt all the same? If the end result is one of the most admired, obsessed-over, emulated and respected women in pop culture contributing to the notion that “feminism” is a good and powerful word, maybe no difference at all. Power is power, and this is one of the most powerful images from TV this year.
The Revelation at the End of “Echo,” the Season Finale of The Americans
No spoilers here, but what a way to build on a sophomore season that was even more outstanding than the first. Also, cast Margo Martindale in everything! The Americans is the best drama on television. Watch it, watch it, watch it.
Jon Stewart Has No Jokes For Eric Garner
It’s rare for Stewart to ditch the comedy on The Daily Show to just realtalk at the audience about how he’s really grappling with the news, even when the news is horrifying. And he does get a few cracks in during this four-minute introduction to his December 4 show. “Brought to you by Arbys: And you thought pain and grief were hard to digest.”
That’s the last real joke in the segment. Once he got through the announcement that there would be no indictment in the death of Eric Garner, there were no bits, no silly graphics, no nothing. Just Stewart, saying: “I just, I, I don’t know what to say. If comedy is tragedy plus time, I need more fucking time.”
The Parks and Recreation “Three Years Later” Time Jump
I love the urgency. I love the return of Jon Hamm, “the most incompetent person” Leslie’s ever worked with. I love that Larry’s name is now Terry. I love Leslie’s power bangs. I can’t wait to get back to Pawnee in January.
With “13 Hours In Islamabad,” Homeland Gets Back To Greatness
It’s not the show we fell in love with, friends. We thought we were getting some highbrow, prestige drama. For a while, we were. But now we are getting a brilliantly executed, relatively thoughtful action movie, and it stars Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin, and it is amazing. Reset those DVRs, quitters.
Amy Poehler and Tina Fey Deliver the Best George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio Jokes Ever Told
“Gravity is the story of how George Clooney would rather float away into space and die than spend one more minute with a woman his own age.”
“And now, like a supermodel’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio.”
Sofia Vergara Poses on a Rotating Table at the EmmysAs we lamented on ThinkProgress at the time, the Emmys thought it would be super funny and not at all tone deaf or offensive to pop Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara atop a rotating platform as part of a bit too pointless and cringe-inducing to remember.
Don Lemon’s Interview WIth Joan Tarshis
The man who noticed that “obviously, there’s a smell of marijuana in the air” in Ferguson and who asked whether it would be “preposterous” to think Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared into a black hole really outdid himself with his worst moment of all: his November interview with Joan Tarshis, one of the many women alleging that Bill Cosby raped her.
Tarshis alleges that, in 1969, Cosby raped her twice. In a particularly appalling conversation, Lemon asked Tarshis why she didn’t think of “the using of the teeth… as a weapon… biting” when Cosby forced Tarshis to perform oral sex on him. As I wrote at the time, Lemon, ever the helpful Monday morning rape-prevention quarterback, wanted to clue Tarshis in on a trade secret: “You know, there are ways not to perform oral sex if you don’t want to do it.”
The Last Twist in How I Met Your Mother
An almost universally hated plot twist soured what could have been a perfectly sweet series finale. (Spoiler alert, duh): After going to all the trouble to introduce the Mother, played by Cristin Milioti, and ingratiating her to the audience and the world of the show, HIMYM has her killed off at the last minute, the entire story reframed to be about how Ted was explaining to his children the reason he was ready to start dating their Aunt Robin again, because their actual mother is dead. Though a scene that was supposed to act as a buffer between Mrs. Mosby’s death and Ted running into Robin’s arms was said to be cut for time, it’s hard to imagine any sort of connective tissue would have salvaged such a cheap resolution.
Fortunately, kind souls on the internet rushed to make this far more satisfying and appropriate alternate ending, which we can all just pretend is how the show officially bowed out:
The Newsroom Airs the Worst Episode (at the Worst Time)
Brought to you by Aaron Sorkin and in spite of the reservations of staff writer Alena Smith, the most recent episode of The Newsroom was a hot mess of a victim-blaming horror show, a completely misguided, ill-informed and sloppily executed attempt to have a take on campus rape. Eloquent rage on this subject is already out there for the reading; may I direct you here, here, here, here, and here.
Stephen A. Smith’s Advice To Women: “Don’t Do Anything to Provoke Men” Into Beating You
In light of the Ray Rice suspension, Stephen Smith just wants all the women out there to “make sure you do your part” to “address elements of provocation.” See, domestic violence would totally be over by now if women just stopped enraging men!
John Travolta Butchers Idina Menzel’s Name at the Oscars
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Game of Thrones Airs a Rape Scene, Refuses to Acknowledge it Was a Rape SceneGoT is regularly violent and packed with sexually explicit content. But usually the creative team seems to understand what they’re up to: they don’t pretend the violence is bloodless, or that the sex wasn’t really sex. That is, until Jaime Lannister rapes his sister, Cersei, next to the dead body of their son. Episode director Alex Graves claimed the sex “becomes consensual by the end because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” Consensual by the end is not consensual. Sex has to be consensual the entire time. There is a name for non-consensual sex. The name for that thing is rape.
In the scene, Jaime forces himself on Cersei next to their son’s dead body. They had been kissing, but she pulls away from him, apparently still repulsed by the fact that he’s missing a hand — and Jaime becomes enraged with her rejection, hissing, “You’re a hateful woman. Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?” He pushes her to the ground, holds her down, and thrusts into her despite her continued protests. After she repeatedly begs him to stop and tells him it’s not right, he responds, “I don’t care.”
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Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime, described the encounter as “fucked up” and said “It doesn’t get any darker than that, does it?” But when asked directly if Jaime raped Cersei, he hedged: “Yes and no. There are moments where she gives in, and moments where she pushes him away. But it’s not pretty.”