Now that the TV season is over, awards season is about to begin. We’ve watched every minute of every episode of the finest shows from the past year to determine the most impressive scene from each series. It was a task as daunting as it was time-consuming (you try to pick just one “best” scene from Breaking Bad, or Game ofThrones),but we came away with our list, and we’re ready for you to disagree with the majority of it.
The clips, and our explanations, are below. Emmy voters, you’ll want to take notes.
50. Trophy Wife (ABC)
Ep. 7, “The Date”
SCENE: Diane (Marcia Gay Harden) plays beer pong to get an embarrassing photo removed from “Instant-Gram.”
WHY: Who knew deadpan Diane is a master of the party game? The vicious doctor is never funnier than when she’s trying to bridge a generational gap, and in a season of brilliant one-liners, this raucous sudsy showdown was brimming with some of the best. Although Trophy Wife won’t live to see a second season, Harden’s performance as Diane was one of the year’s best character creations. Whether slinging ping pong balls or zingers toward Kate (Malin Akerman), it’s hard not to love the hollow shell of terror that is Dr. Buckley. —Marc Snetiker
49. Sleepy Hollow (Fox)
Ep. 13, “Bad Blood”
SCENE: The epic nine-minute reveal at the end of the season 1 finale.
WHY: It could’ve felt like “just the biggest exposition dump in the history of TV,” to quote executive producer Alex Kurtzman. But being a part of producers’ plans from the start, the twist—increasingly affable Sin Eater Henry Parrish (John Noble) is actually the son of Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) and Katrina (Katia Winter), and the Second Horseman of the Apocalypse—will go down as one of the TV season’s biggest, most satisfying surprises. “We kept using as a touchstone The Usual Suspects,” Kurtzman tells EW. “You’re watching the movie having one experience, but by the end, you realize you’ve been set up so inevitably for the reveal that was in front of you the whole time.” —Mandi Bierly
SCENE: Homer realizes he’s stuck in a Lego world because he’s afraid of Lisa growing up—and outgrowing him.
WHY: Homer offers up some classic blunder-headed thinking (Marge: “Homey, ask yourself, Can you really live in a paradise if you know it’s just pretend?” Condescending Homer: “Marge, who would give up eating steak in the Matrix to go slurp goo in Zion?”), and his juvenile joy is effectively illustrated through consequence-free Lego magic: He kicks off his head in joy and takes down Chief Wiggum’s helicopter by throwing a parking meter at it, only to have the resulting mess tossed into a Tupperware container, to be rebuilt another day. Indestructible, like The Simpsons. —Dan Snierson
SCENE: Lana is visited by Archer as she feeds and bonds with her new baby.
WHY: The season ends with the mother—or should we say daddy?—of all cliffhangers when Lana says, “Sterling Archer, I’d like you to meet your daughter, Abbiejean.” —Lynette Rice
46. Bates Motel (A&E)
Ep. 10, “The Immutable Truth”
SCENE: A shrieking Norma (Vera Farmiga) stops Norman (Freddie Highmore) from committing suicide.
WHY: The premise of the Psycho prequel has largely built to this intensely acted moment between mother and son, culminating in one incestuous mouth-to-mouth kiss that, weirdly enough, was a pay-off for fans eager to see the TV relationship of Norma and Norman creep toward its movie counterpart. “That was Freddie’s idea,” EP Kerry Ehrin reveals to EW. “I have to be honest that it scared me at first, but I think the way Vera kissed him was so brilliant that they got away with it.” —Snetiker
SCENE: Red (James Spader) tells an injured Donald (Diego Klattenhoff) why it’s not their time to die.
WHY: What began as another TV procedural has blossomed into this year’s breakout hit, due entirely to the extraordinary talents of Spader as Red Reddington, a brainy baddo who’s trying to redeem himself by helping the FBI catch villains with even worse criminal records. Spader never fails to dazzle with his effortless magnetism and keen ability to make Red infinitely relatable, like in this moment when, holed up in a bulletproof cell, he tells an injured Donald why he chooses life. “Have you ever sailed across an ocean, Donald? On a sailboat surrounded by sea with no land in sight. The stand at the helm of your destiny? I want that one more time … that’s why I won’t allow that punk out there to get the best of me, let alone the last of me.” —Rice
44. Looking (HBO)
Ep. 5, “Looking for the Future”
SCENE: Patrick (Jonathan Groff) and Richie (Raúl Castillo) muse about life on a date at the planetarium.
WHY: Richie opens up about his past in a tenderly written, understated scene that captures the flirtation of a modern gay couple and realistically discusses sex with a comic lightness that never feels derisive. It’s a prime example of the show’s strikingly contemporary—and honest—tone, and it’s no surprise that this standout bottle episode was written by Andrew Haigh, the same scribe behind the equally authentic gay romance Weekend. —Snetiker
43. Parenthood (NBC)
Ep. 18, “The Offer”
SCENE: Adam (Peter Krause) and Kristina (Monica Potter) pick up Max (Max Burkholder) after his field trip is cut short.
WHY: We’ve watched for years now how raising a child with Asperger’s is both challenging and terribly upsetting for the Bravermans, but in this moment—when Max reveals his latest bout of bullying at the hands of classmates who don’t understand his affliction—Potter and Krause demonstrate what makes Parenthood one of the most woefully underappreciated dramas on TV: The only thing more agonizing than Max’s revelation about feeling like “a freak” and asking why the other kids hate him is the look on the faces of his parents, who sit helplessly in the front seat. —Rice
42. Portlandia (IFC)
Ep. 3, “Celery”
SCENE: Steve Buscemi stars as a struggling celery salesman desperate to make the vegetable seem hip.
WHY: Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s savvy the-way-we-live-now lampoon of the modern foodie’s fickle tastes—complete with nods to everything from Glengarry Glen Ross to Grisham paperbacks—sucker-punched us so hard, we nearly spit out our kale salads in amazement.
WHY: A week after Stephen Colbert’s mother passed away at the age of 92 the Comedy Central satirist put aside his blowhard character to pay heartfelt tribute to his beloved mom.
“She knew more than her share of tragedy, losing her brother, and her husband, and three of her sons,” said the comedian. “But her love for her family and her faith in God somehow gave her the strength not only to go on but to love life without bitterness and to instill in all of us a gratitude for every day we have together. And I know it may sound greedy to want more days with a person who lived so long, but the fact that my mother was 92 does not diminish, it only magnifies the enormity of the room whose door has now quietly shut.” —Clark Collis