Saturday, January 29, 2005

Top 10 TV Moments

So, here's my top ten TV moments of all time. What is a moment, I'm defining it as roughly one scene, so some moments are bigger than others. Obviously, there's spoilers if you haven't seen the show, so be cautious. I'm sure I forget some good stuff, and I did try to spread the wealth a bit, there could have been a couple more Buffy on here, but this is pretty representative. Enjoy.

Show: Six Feet Under
Episode: Perfect Circles
Moment: This isn't so much a moment as the whole opening ten minutes of the episode, in which Nate wanders through various versions of what his life could be, as he drifts in a dimension between life and death. The show has never been reluctant to go into bizarre stuff, but this is the most challenging sequence in the show's entire run, as Nate wanders through a variety of really interesting parallel universes, seeing himself with Brenda, Lisa and even as an overweight white trash fellow. The reality where he's mentally handicapped after the surgery, and has to learn to read again is harrowing, while the Southern one is just funny. It's a brilliant idea, perfectly executed.

Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: Restless
Moment: Xander drives the ice cream truck, talks with Anya, sees Willow and Tara as vampy lesbians, then winds up back in his basement. This is my favorite episode of the series, and it has a wealth of great moments to choose from, but I think this is the best. The transition from Xander on the playground looking at another version of himself serving ice cream, to the other version of himself, picking up the scene is ingenious, and perfectly captures the feeling of a dream. The cheesy matte behind Anya lends more surrealism, and I'm still wondering what she was talking about with the hand gestures. The Willow and Tara stuff is both hilarious, and perfectly in character for Xander, and not bad for the viewer eiither. The ice cream truck itself is a great continuity tie in, and probably the most important thing is the fact that when he leaves the truck he winds up back in the basement. That sums up Xander at that time better than anything else, and it leads into the brilliant chase through many rooms.

Show: The X-Files
Episode: The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati
Moment: A dying Mulder is lying in bed, when the Cigarette Smoking Man pulls back the curtains of his room to reveal a future where aliens have invaded, and destroyed the Earth. Amor Fati is by far the best episode of the latter chunk of The X-Files, and possibly of the entire series. Much like the sequence in Six Feet Under I mentioned earlier, this episode concerns Mulder's vision of an alternate world in which he didn't choose to pursue aliens. This moment gives you what we never see in the main continuity of the series, an Earth where aliens actually invade, and the effects work is phenomenal. The Smoking Man standing in the window looking at the world in ruins sums up Mulder's worst fears.

Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: The Body
Moment: Anya wonders why Joyce had to die. This whole episode is really intense and harrowing, the best depiction of what it's like to deal with death in any piece of fiction ever. It's very real, but Whedon doesn't back away from using what his show has to offer to add to the commentary. Anya's lack of familiarity with human customs is usually played for laughs, but here it's tragic. She can't understand why Joyce had to die, and even as the other characters are saying it's not appropriate it for her to question these things, they're wondering the very same thing. As they will do again with the trio and with Lorne at the end of Angel, using a generally comic character in a dramatic moment can make it incredibly shocking, and therefore much more sad. This is a huge turning point for Anya, and it's a painful, but truthful moment for the audience.

Show: Twin Peaks
Episode: 2.7 (aka The Killer is revealed)
Moment: Leland is revealed as Bob, Laura's killer, and subsequently murders Maddie, while the people at the Roadhouse suffer a profound sadness. That may sound like a big moment, and it's a testament to Lynch that he can work it in all in a virtually wordless sequence. The reveal of the killer is obviously huge, it's what the series had been building to over its entire run, but the real brilliance here is the brutal murder scene, and the subsequent catharsis at the roadhouse. Julee Cruise's music is beautiful, and sets the perfect tone for how everyone at the Roadhouse is feeling, after somehow sensing that another murder has happened, or in Cooper's case, being told by the Giant. Lynch would go over similar territory in the Club Silencio sequence in Mullholland Drive, but this sequence may be the most emiotionally real moment in his entire body of work.

Show: Angel
Episode: Not Fade Away
Moment: Angel, Spike, Illyria and Gunn meet in an alley, and decide to keep fighting until they die. While Angel as a series is uneven, great at times, not so great at other times, the ending is unquestionably brilliant, the best TV ending since Twin Peaks. It works because it captures the essence of the character, he's someone who will never find redemption for all the bad things he did in the past, no matter how long he keeps going. There is no "ending" for Angel now that he has signed away the Shanshu, like there was for Buffy, and his show doesn't get an ending either. Cancelled during its best season, Angel himself also finds an apocalypse that has come on too early. He doesn't have a chance of winning, but he's not going to retreat, he'll go out fighting, and even though they'll all probably die, maybe they can help some people along the way. It's not a cliffhanger, because as is, this ending ties into what Angel realized in season two, and is the perfect capper to the character's story.

Show: Cowboy Bebop
Episode: The Real Folk Blues Part II
Moment: Faye begs Spike not to go after Vicious. This is the moment the entire series has been building to. The characters have kept their emotions strictly guarded up to this point, but after rediscovering her memories, and coming to terms with her past, Faye is ready to open herself to Spike emotionally. She says that Spike has a new family, and no need to go after his past, but for Spike, the past is the only place he can be alive, and he needs to go back there. It's Spike's past versus his present and future, and his central character conflict expressed in one moment. The eyes are such a potent metaphor, and the center of a harrowing speech he gives Faye. Faye herself cries here, and we can tell how much she's changed over the course of the series. She has found her home, and only wants Spike to have the same thing, but he can't stay. She cries because she knows he's going to die, he has to go because it's the only way he can live. In this moment, we see the end of the Bebop as we knew it, and it's only a matter of time until the inevitable sets in. What makes this moment so striking is it's the first time we ever see the characters ever open up emotionally, and after 25 episodes of guarded emotions, the torrent here is both cathartic and frustrating, because like Faye, we don't want Spike to go.

Show: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: Once More With Feeling
Moment: Giles and Tara sing a duet about how they must leave Buffy and Willow respectively. This is an episode where practically every moment could be on this list, but my favorite part is the Giles and Tara, for a number of reasons. One, both of them are great singers, and I love the way Joss combines the two songs they hand sung previously. Also, it's a great example of musical form, because Joss uses the music as a way to express pure emotion. It may not have as much deep subtext, but it pays off character arcs, and is just a brilliant moment in and of itself.

Show: The Office
Episode: The Christmas Special (Part II)
Moment: Tim and Dawn kiss. Every one of the shows listed above is at least partially a sci-fi or fantasy show, so how did a British situation comedy end up this high on the list? Maybe because it's a brilliantly written one, and has character arcs just as complex as those of a great novel. This moment is the end of the series long development of the relationship between Tim and Dawn. These two were both people who were not happy with their status in the office, and dreamt of bigger and better things. The only thing they had keeping them happy was each other, and in the second season finale, when Dawn rejects Tim's advances again, you can tell that it's incredibly painful for both. Over the course of the special, we see the way that Lee has worn down Dawn's dream of being an artist, and replaced her idealistic notions with a strict pragmatism that has her depressed. Tim has found peace in his job, but he's still not who he wants to be. Dawn leaves to go back to Florida, but in the car, she opens Tim's secret santa gift, and it's a box of paints. This sends her back to the party, where we see Tim standing with Brent and Gareth. In the background, Dawn walks in, goes to Tim and kisses him, bringing closure to the arc in a beautiful moment. It's not sappy at all, it's completely earned, and to see the two of them finally together and happy is what so many romantic comedy movies go for, but fail to achieve. The Office earns it. This scene not only fulfills the character's romantic arc, it shows Dawn re-embracing her dreams, and Tim finding new hope in his job. Throw in Yazoo's 'Only You' playing in the background, and you've got a complete perfect moment.

Show: Twin Peaks
Episode: 2.22 (Finale)
Moment: Cooper wanders the red room in search of Annie, and his soul is taken. This is sort of a vague moment, but it's essentially one scene, Cooper's travel through the red room in the last episode. This is Lynch at his most abstract, but with the backing of the events of the series, so he can get as surreal as he wants, and the viewer still understands roughly what's going on. Jimmy Scott at the opening of this scene sets the tone perfectly, and the run in with the Man from Another Place both clears up and muddies some questions from earlier in the series. Laura screaming at the camera still freaks me out, and the dopplegangers are frightening, particularly the Cooper one. This is pure abstraction and it works. Some other episodes I mentioned before here have attempted to go bizarre, but no one has matched this, not even Lynch himself. It's a completely alien dimension, and Lynch is just unhinged. What an episode. It's the best TV episode ever, and it's the best thing Lynch has ever done, and it's got the best moment in TV history.

Related Posts
Ten Works that Changed My Life: Part I (10-6) (4/30/2005)
Ten Works that Changed My Life: Part II (5-1) (5/2/2005)


Keith G said...

When I did my top *20* TV moments I restricted it to one *episode* per TV series - because there are too many shows I love and it's much easier to pick favourite episodes than moments/scenes.

I had ep 2007 of "Twin Peaks" on my list, as well as "The Body" for BTVS.

For XF I had "One Breath", for Angel "You're Welcome" and for Six Feet Under the season two finale "The Last Time". (I love the opening of "Perfect Circles," though but sadly the alternate universe thing was kinda dropped - although I tend to think the whole series is Alternate Universe beyond that point anyway)

I kept my favourite sitcom moments separate as well - I just couldn't compare apples with oranges. said...

Thank you for your article, really effective piece of writing.