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The 20 Best TV Moments in 2018

From death to lies to sex, this was a year of glorious insanity.

coco mac liz

“Dear White People,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and “The Americans”

Netflix/FX/AMC

IndieWire Best of 2018

More often than not, it’s the heart-pounding, jaw-dropping, or heartbreaking moments which define our memories of great television. Which is why each year, IndieWire chooses to recognize those scenes and twists which keep us enraptured in TV’s variety of narratives.

The picks below celebrate on-screen seconds which are the best sort of gut-punches and serve as examples of how this medium can have a genuine impact on how people see the world. From the far-off future to the Biblical past, it was an incredible year for TV, and these moments will be remembered for a long time.

[Editor’s Note: The following article contains light spoilers for the featured series.]

“911”

Bounce House Time! 

9-1-1: L-R: Aisha Hinds, Peter Krause, Oliver Stark and Kenneth Choi in the "Under Pressure" Season Premiere, Pt. 1 episode of 9-1-1 airing Sunday, Sept. 23 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Michael Becker/FOX.

“9-1-1” is a show built on sheer audacity. What other show would begin with a woman getting slowly constricted to death by a giant snake (and not have that be the craziest thing that happened in the episode)? Showing that no one was truly safe from the whims of Los Angeles-area disasters, this bounce house misadventure was one of the show’s first and wildest examples that there is literally no height that its characters can’t reach. Of course, it’s also an example of how one crisis isn’t good enough. Not only does this inflatable party piece detach from the ground on a windy afternoon, it has to fly over an entire valley canyon. Luckily no one died, so we can all kind of laugh about it now. – SG

“The Americans “

The Train Escape

THE AMERICANS -- "Start" -- Season 6, Episode 10 -- (Airs Wednesday, May 30, 10:00 pm/ep) Pictured: Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings. CR: FX

Keri Russell in “The Americans.”

FX

A sleight of hand trick that’s anything but slight. Watching three-fourths of the Jennings family cross the American border to freedom was packed with tension, long before its heartbreaking twist ending. This is a family that doesn’t want to say goodbye to their adopted country. Even Elizabeth (Keri Russell) had come around a bit to the U.S. way of life, while Philip (Matthew Rhys) is giving up line dancing forever. Both are saying goodbye to their son, Henry (Keidrich Sellati), a sacrifice that proves to be too much for Paige (Holly Taylor). As the haunting U2 melody of “With or Without You” plays over border guards carefully expecting each passport, the flood of relief when the train starts moving is almost immediately replaced with horror as Elizabeth sees her daughter waving goodbye from the platform. Whether it was leaving Henry or leaving America altogether, Paige’s choice shatters her parents, making their trip home to Mother Russia colder than ever. (But oh what a sequence it is.) – BT

“Atlanta”

Beware Florida Man

There are plenty of choice moments to savor throughout “Atlanta’s sophomore “Robbin’ Season,” from the sauntering alligator and naked fraternity hazing to every second in the pocket horror masterpiece “Teddy Perkins.” But it’s a joke in the very first episode that clues viewers in that Season 2 will be something special: Florida Man. Darius (Lakeith Stanfield) refers to Florida Man as a figure of American legend, “an alt-right Johnny Appleseed” who is responsible for bizarre incidents in the Sunshine State. As he recites various headlines, all crediting Florida Man with a number of abnormal and often violent events, a tragicomic montage illustrates his words. It’s a brilliant bit of wordplay that ties into the series’ absurdist atmosphere and omnipresent danger, delivered with Stanfield’s chill humor. When guest star Katt Williams makes an unexpected callback to Florida Man later in the episode, the ludicrous lore is now complete. – HN

Barry

“My Lord, the Queen is dead.”

Barry Season 1 Episode 7 Bill Hader

BIll Hader in “Barry”

John P. Johnson/HBO

Barry (Bill Hader) just has to give one line. The scene isn’t about him, as Sally (Sarah Goldberg) has made perfectly clear: She’s taking on the difficult monologue from “Macbeth,” she’s the one who invited an agent to watch the performance, she’s the one feeling the pressure to put on a show or lose out on paid shows for the rest of her professional career. But Barry has just gone through something awful. Forced to kill one of his best friends to save himself, he shows up to Shakespeare night in raw form, confronting the painful memory of mere moments prior and imagining the dead man’s wife and son finding out he’s gone forever. Still, he walks on stage — sans wardrobe, makeup, or any sense of himself — and delivers his one line: “My Lord, the Queen is dead.” Barry’s tears, sniffling, and uncompromised emotion connects not only with the audience but Sally, too, who turns her performance around and wows the crowd. The scene is a testament to acting as a give and take, as well as Hader and Goldberg’s talents. But what’s amazing about it so long after it aired is the pressure Hader put on himself to deliver: If that moment, as written, doesn’t resonate with the audience at home as deeply as it’s meant to with the characters in the room, the whole episode falls apart. Hader and his team find the magic, though, telling a tale of sound and fury, signifying everything that makes “Barry” great. – BT

“Better Call Saul”

Pinata

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 4, Episode 7 - Photo Credit: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Better Call Saul.”

Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Character reversals are a tricky sell, but when done well, they’re unforgettable. So when Jimmy McGill (as we still should call him at this point) threatens the punk kids who mugged him — while they dangle upside down inside a piñata factory — he shifts from a flawed but likable con artist to someone genuinely frightening. The scene is a real turning point for the fourth season of the “Breaking Bad” prequel. Prior to this point, “Better Call Saul” focused on Jimmy trying to be his best within limited parameters. Here, though, Jimmy goes off the leash, everyone can tell, and no one will forget it. – LSM

“Big Mouth”

Groove Is In the Heart

It’s a shrewd act of storytelling to tell years’ worth of a story in a handful of (mostly dialogue-free) minutes. For a show that can get as outrageous as “Big Mouth” often does, this montage of Andrew’s conception and his parents meeting for the first time takes a lot of the show’s singular energy and personality and puts them towards something surprisingly touching. Done with just the right period detail (there are few better instant early ‘90s signifiers than Deee-Lite), it’s another example of how the show doesn’t mind taking an unconventional approach when something unexpectedly profound can be found at the end of the trip. – SG

“Bodyguard”

Dangers on a Train

Bodyguard

Richard Madden in “Bodyguard”

Sophie Mutevelian/World Producti

Jed Mercurio’s new British thriller should come with a warning… or maybe a masseuse to alleviate the white-knuckled tension that will plague viewers throughout the series. Within the first 10 minutes, Sgt. David Budd (Richard Madden) becomes embroiled in a crisis situation on a train when he comes upon a terrorist bomber in the loo. The moment when he and the distressed woman “embrace” in an attempt to avoid getting her shot is one of the most stressful pas de deux ever seen on screen. The entire sequence never lets up, switching from the action outside as soldiers are prepared to storm the train to the claustrophobic action inside as Budd pleads with the bomber. By the time viewers are granted relief 10 excruciating minutes later, they’re hooked, having bonded with Budd after surviving that harrowing experience. While the rest of the season ups the tension with many more scenes, it’s hard to shake this initial introduction to Mercurio’s ruthless storytelling. – HN

“Dear White People”

Coco’s Choice

Dear White People

Antoinette Robertson in “Dear White People”

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

In “Chapter IV,” “Dear White People” delivers a devastating fake-out — a fantasy sequence in which Coco (Antoinette Robertson) imagines what might have happened in a timeline where she gives birth to a baby girl mistakenly conceived with Troy (Brandon P. Bell). This alternate vision of the future proves all the more moving when her true choice is revealed: Coco walks forward into the abortion clinic, certain in her decision. Directed by Kimberly Pierce and written by Njeri Brown, framing the scene in Coco’s choice emphasizes the importance of her right to choose, without sacrificing the struggle within her decision. The way “Dear White People” reminds us of that, as just one facet of its amazing second season, is why the series is worth celebrating again and again. – LSM

“The First”

Sharing the Aurora

The First -- "Collisions" - Episode 106 - Laz attempts to sway an influential reporter who is critical of the Mars program. Aiko and Eitan test a solution to the MAV problem. An incident with Denise forces Tom to reconsider his priorities. Tom Hagerty (Sean Penn), shown. (Photo by: Paul Schiraldi/Hulu)

Sean Penn in “The First”

Paul Schiraldi/Hulu

The most affecting scene in this eight-part sojourn into space has nothing to do with a rocket or a hefty space suit. It’s a moment that taps into the feeling of wonder and destiny that powers all of the great narratives about why we choose to explore. With the Aurora Borealis rendered in colors so vivid and in a hue of green that, like Tom Hagerty says, you’ve never really seen before, there’s an instant understanding of what this profession means to everyone who takes to the skies. Delivered with the delicacy of the show’s subtle futuristic technology and underscored by Colin Stetson‘s unbelievably gorgeous piano theme, it’s a sequence that ties together every soul-stirring element that made “The First” one of the year’s most under-appreciated gems. – SG

“GLOW”

Home on the Range

GLOW

GLOW

Erica Parise/Netflix

“The Good Twin” show-within-a-show episode is one of the most joyful things that Netflix put out all year, but that half hour only works if the proper groundwork has been set ahead of time. For Season 2, a major part of that was Debbie’s journey to discover who she really wants to be. In the midst of her decision to strike out on her own and raise her child the way that she wants to, a single solitary rendition of “Home on the Range” is as simple, poignant, and illuminating as it is royalty-free. Paired with the episode-ending cut of Aretha Franklin’s “You’re All I Need to Get  By,” it’s a set of musical bookends that express the relationship between a new mother and her daughter in one of the sweetest, simplest ways possible. – SG

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