“The Leftovers” – “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”*
Season 3, Episode 5
Directed by Nicole Kassell
Written by Damon Lindelof & Lila Byock
When Damon Lindelof said “The Leftovers” had “more dongs than ‘Game of Thrones,'” oh boy did he ever mean it. Even before the massive, 11-hour, seaward orgy began, “It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World” kicked off with a buck naked French sailor running full speed down the narrow corridors of his ship, his penis bouncing between his legs in slow-motion. Rarely has the male body been celebrated so thoroughly on television, and we applaud the feminist spirit of Lindelof and director Nicole Kassell, who made sure that for every bare-breasted woman with only a lion’s tail covering her backside, there was a man whose front-side tail was given the same unflinching attention.
But even more than the equality, we remain impressed — perhaps more so than ever — with how well “The Leftovers” blends absurdity with substance. Among the people in headdresses and people getting eating by lions (OK, one person was eaten by one lion, but still), Matt Jamison came to terms with the cost of his extreme faith. Lindelof and Lyla Byock managed to find a pure moment of clarity among the continued madness, as Matt was given an opportunity to ask the questions that have been driving his faith all his life.
Not many hour-long narratives can start with a hairy dude running naked down a hallway, scored to Charles Aznavour’s “Je Ne Peux Pas Rentrer Chez Moi,” and end with Sarah Vaughan’s “Frasier (The Sensuous Lion)” played over credits as the crowd tries to control their weeping.
“The Leftovers” – “Certified”*
Season 3, Episode 6
Directed by Carl Franklin
Written by Patrick Somerville & Carly Wray
A divisive episode in its ending, but an unquestionably masterful study of inconsolable grief, Laurie’s solo show is the most heartbreaking episode of “The Leftovers” oft-painful final season. Whether you believe the end is the end is almost irrelevant considering how far Amy Brenneman’s therapist gets pushed in the episode. A flashback to how Laurie began her own quest for answers (in the Guilty Remnant) serves to set up how she can arrive at a similar conclusion seven years later. Her present mission, to find Kevin in Australia, means she crosses paths with characters trying to cope with loss beyond Laurie’s consolation, and the unknown for someone who’s expected to have all the answers proves an imposing concept. We feel that, thoroughly, as the episode reveals itself, while Brenneman captures the manic glee of Laurie’s calculated plans as well as her deep sorrow buried under a sheen of support. It’s a riveting emotive experience — something “The Leftovers” does better than any other show.
“Master of None” – “Thanksgiving”
Season 2, Episode 8
Directed by Melina Matsoukas
Written by Aziz Ansari & Lena Waithe
As we discussed when ranking the best moments from “Master of None” Season 2, Lena Waithe’s episode is the best of the new entries because of so many more reasons than its best scene: It’s the combination of stories, told over the course of 22 years (between 1995 and 2017), that chronicles a complicated relationship between a young woman coming to terms with her sexuality and her mother (Angela Bassett) who refuses to acknowledge the development. Denise knew she was gay since 1999, but she also knew about the complex perspective the black community has toward homosexuality: “Being gay isn’t something black people are allowed to talk about,” Denise told Dev. “It’s more intense for us [than other cultures]. Kids are like trophies. Me being gay tarnishes the trophy.”
Seven years later, she told her mom the truth, but even nine years after that, Denise’s mother hasn’t come to terms with it. And that brings us to the best scenes of the episode, which you can read about right here.
“Twin Peaks” – “Part 3”
Season 3, Episode 3
Directed by David Lynch
Written by Mark Frost & David Lynch
Just when you thought you had a grip on the new “Twin Peaks,” David Lynch tosses Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) into an iron box floating in space with a woman whose eyes are covered with skin flaps; a third version of Cooper arises, this one a clone of Doppelgänger Cooper meant to prevent the evil imposter from being drawn back to the Black Lodge; and chocolate bunnies are teased as the solution to everything.
It’s a glorious mind-fuck perfectly timed to knock viewers off kilter and remind them of what “Twin Peaks” is all about — or, more accurately, what it isn’t about. Lynch is a filmmaker fascinated with surrealism; who wants to make moving paintings; who wants to provoke viewers with feelings more than narrative twists and turns. We’re not trying to solve a puzzle here. We’re just along for the ride, and “Part 3” reminded us to stop thinking so hard and enjoy the experience.
“Veep” – “Chicklet”
Season 6, Episode 5
Directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller
Written by Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden
Listen, there are a lot of good reasons why “Chicklet” is the best episode of “Veep” to air in May. Jonah (Timothy Simons) inexplicably finds a girlfriend. Dan (Reid Scott) continues to mercifully mock morning television’s inauthenticity. Mike (Matt Walsh) and Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) get drunk and trash her father’s barn (which leads to one of the all-time great improvised lines). But the crowning moment of the episode comes (phrasing — boom) when Richard admits he’s never masturbated before. So innocent is “Veep’s” only kind character that he’s never “shaken the devil’s hand” and has a lot of questions about how it’s done. Such hilarious but believable insight into the depths of their characters is what helps “Veep” keep cruising at top speed in its sixth season, and this scene will not soon be forgotten.