Every year, a few TV moments stand out. Here are some of my favorites of 2019, so far. I’ve purposely avoided politics here, since — with the town halls, debates, and congressional testimony — those moments would dominate the list.
There was no sentimentalizing in the last episode of HBO’s “Veep.” Selina Meyer was as bad as we thought until the very end — worse, perhaps. The most painful scene in the episode — and perhaps in the entire series — saw her letting her loyal assistant, the codependent man who picked food out of her teeth, her personal doormat, take the fall for her illegal dealings. As she boasted about sacrifice to her supporters, we could see FBI agents dragging Gary away. It was brutal, and perfect.
In Hulu’s “Shrill,” Aidy Bryant is a woman who accepts her body as it is, despite the fact that others constantly want her to lose weight. One of the best episodes in the series, called “Pool,” revolves around a “Fat Babe Pool Party.” At first, Bryant’s Annie is reticent, and she hides behind her journalist persona when she’s there; she is used to desperately avoiding the chance to show her body in public. But gradually, as she falls in with the happy spirit of the day, she takes off her inappropriately heavy clothing and swims, freely enjoying the pool in her bathing suit without a hint of self-consciousness. Watching her in the water, rebelling against the cultural expectations she has internalized, is to watch liberation in action.
MEET CUTE AND DIE
I adored Netflix’s “Russian Doll” in its entirety. But the show went next-level once Natasha Lyonne’s Nadia met Charlie Barnett’s Alan in an elevator tumbling to the ground. “Didn’t you get the news?” Nadia says to him, noticing that he’s not freaking out. “We’re about to die.” He replies, “It doesn’t matter, I die all the time,” and a relationship is born.
LESS IS MORE
In Netflix’s “When They See Us,” Ava DuVernay brings a strong emotional reality to the story of five innocent boys of color who get caught in a racist justice system in the 1980s. Rather than lean on the Donald Trump angle, since the president once took out ads in New York newspapers calling for the boys’ deaths, DuVernay wisely underplays the connection with an ironic aside. Hearing Trump argue for the death of her son on CNN, one of the mothers says to her friend, “They need to keep that bigot off TV is what they need to do.” Her friend’s response: “Don’t worry about it, his 15 minutes are almost up.”
ODE TO PALS
Toward the end of Comedy Central’s “Broad City” finale (yup, spoilers), we see Abbi and Ilana schlepping a $10,000 smart toilet across the Brooklyn Bridge, an image that somehow encapsulates the entire series. What got to me, though, was the closing scene, as the friendship love story between Abbi and Ilana winds down since Abbi is moving to Colorado. As Ilana goes down the subway stairs, the camera gives us two other friends emerging from the subway, and then two more, and then, as it pulls back further, an entire park filled with pairs of friends talking. It’s a lovely last gesture, a nod to a city filled with the kind of intimate, important friendship that made “Broad City” such a pleasure.
SHA LA LOW
This is the only hate-watch entry on this list, but I can’t ignore the fact that I viewed the Oscars duet between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga far too many times on YouTube. It was just such a spectacle of heightened drama, like almost everything Gaga does. Once the piano was mysteriously wheeled onto the stage, the pair climbed from their front-row seats to the stage holding hands, like a king and queen ascending to their thrones. As the camera swirled around them, they sang to each other with Romeo and Juliet eyes, Cooper finally moving over beside Gaga on the piano bench because of the power of his magical attraction to her. Oh the pain of love! Oh the beauty!
BACK TO LIFE
There were so many memorable moments in season two of Amazon’s “Fleabag,” not least of all the wedding speech by the “sexy priest” (played by Andrew Scott) that began, “Love is awful.” But the moment that got to me the most was a lot smaller and more intimate. It comes at the very end (so: spoiler) after Fleabag realizes that she can indeed love and be loved. She sits crying on a bus stop bench, looks at us, and gently shakes her head. No, she won’t make a snarky, self-conscious aside to us. And as she walks away from us, the camera staying in place, she waves goodbye. It’s a lovely farewell to alienation and regret, and a hello to living life.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.