The Rules To be eligible for this list, the episode must have aired between June 1, 2013, and May 31, 2014. In the interests of diversity, we limited ourselves to one scene or sketch per show. And in the interests of our sanity, we limited ourselves to 50 scenes total. We look forward to your angry letters, Supernatural fanatics, Newsroom junkies, and fans (fan?) of The Goldbergs.
1. Breaking Bad
[EP. 14 ”Ozymandias”], AMC
Scene Walt (Bryan Cranston) tries to get the family to run.
Why You could argue that the whole series was building to this moment. Since the first episode, Walt has claimed that he got into selling meth to protect his family. Hank has to die before everyone realizes the truth: The family needs to protect itself from Walt. It’s hard to pick the most devastating shot. Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) throwing a scrawny arm in front of his mom (Anna Gunn) to save her from his dad? Skyler, perfectly framed between a telephone and a set of knives, forced to choose whether to call the cops on her husband or kill him herself? Baby Holly crying as Walt kidnaps her while Skyler, broken, drops to her knees in the middle of the street? Maybe the worst thing about this gruesome scene is that it’s only happening because Skyler believes Walt killed Hank. After all the truly monstrous, evil things he’s lied about, the one thing she’s willing to kill him for is the one thing he didn’t do.
2. Game of Thrones
[EP. 6 ”The Laws of Gods and Men”], HBO
Scene Tyrion’s raging outburst while on trial for his life.
Why Having long endured callous abuse, unjustified mistrust, murderous plots, and cruel manipulations — and that’s just from his own family — Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) finally tells the King’s Landing court just what he thinks of them in an epic tirade that’s equal parts thrilling and self-destructive. ”Every scene with Tyrion, every interaction, was all leading up to this moment,” says writer Bryan Cogman. ”I keep coming back to how piercing his gaze is throughout that speech — he’s just stabbing daggers into every person he’s talking to.”
3. The Good Wife
[EP. 5 ”Hitting the Fan”], CBS
Scene Upon learning that Alicia (Julianna Margulies) is leaving to start her own firm, Will (Josh Charles) storms into her office and sweeps everything off her desk.
Why Fans were clinging to the notion that Will and Alicia belong together, but her act of betrayal was the final blow to their tenuous love affair. Alicia’s decision to make a clean break set into motion the most satisfying — and depressing — season yet of this Emmy-starved drama.
4. True Detective
[EP. 5 ”The Secret Fate of All Life”], HBO
Scene Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) tells interrogators, ”Time is a flat circle,” and that every action — including brutal murders — inevitably repeats.
Why It’s the most perfect (and most quoted) example of the show’s mad-scientist mash-up of character, philosophy, and crime, hauntingly delivered by McConaughey’s world-crushed Cohle.
[EP. 2 ”The Sign of Three”], PBS
Scene Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) gives his best-man speech for Watson (Martin Freeman).
Why When Sherlock toasts his friends, he makes the wedding guests (and Sherlock viewers) laugh and awww — and solves a few mind-bending mysteries in the process. Best men everywhere, the bar has officially been raised.
6. Orange Is the New Black
[EP. 11 ”Tall Men With Feelings”], NETFLIX
Scene Crazy Eyes’ poignant query.
Why Famous for peeing on the prison floor, Crazy Eyes (Uzo Aduba) has always been the comic relief — until she inquires about her nickname. The heartbreaking question made us wonder why we are laughing at all.
[EP. 3 ”So Did the Fat Lady”], FX
Scene Vanessa (Sarah Baker) sets Louie (Louis C.K.) straight on what dating is like for plus-size women.
Why Baker makes Vanessa pity-proof as she unleashes a truth-filled screed. The highlight: her scolding Louie for denying that she’s fat, as if fat is the worst thing he can call her.
8. Masters of Sex
[EP. 6 ”Brave New World”], SHOWTIME
Scene Margaret (Allison Janney) is interviewed to join Masters and Johnson’s sex study.
Why The quiet wife of a closeted college provost painfully realizes in being rejected from the study that she’s never had an orgasm. Janney explains how she connected with her character.
What were you told about the role when you first signed on?
Janney [EPs] Michelle Ashford and Sarah Timberman hadn’t written it yet, but they said this character is in this relationship with her husband and she slowly finds out through this sex study about all these things women experience with sex, and she’s realizing she doesn’t have any sex. Margaret feels so inadequate as a woman and determined to please her husband.
How does playing her compare with your previous television roles?
Janney The West Wing was pretty phenomenal, but this stuff — the story line, the emotional life, the journey — has been challenging and an honor and a joy. Doing the scenes when I don’t have to say anything and Margaret’s learning all this information at her mah-jongg games, that’s just so fun for me.
What do you love most about the show?
Janney I had no idea that our story line was going to resonate as much as it did. I fell in love with Margaret, and I love that other people did too.
[EP. 4 ”Clovis”], HBO
Scene Clovis CEO Craig (Tim Baltz) puts a smart watch — a.k.a. a Smarch — on VP Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
Why It is wicked fun to see a pretentiously casual tech CEO try to show off his next-level watch, only to have the moment descend into fruitless handshakes that resemble everything from tree sawing to cow milking.
10. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
[EP. 43 Jan. 8, 2014], COMEDY CENTRAL
Scene Jon Stewart calls out New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Why Leave it to Stewart to take something as pedestrian as Bridgegate and thoroughly undress it in a sly, righteous, mad-as-hell speech that says everything short of ”Argo f—yourself.”