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20 Best TV Moments of 2014

From a ‘Broad City’ birthday to a clone dance party, these were the small-screen scenes that shocked us, shook us and cracked us up in a big way

Game of Thrones

©Courtesy HBO

Here's to an absurdly bountiful year for TV. 2014 had it all — bloody dramas, wasted comedies, bad detectives, stoner broads, sex doctors, purple weddings, transgender dads, clone wars, spies and politicians and jailbirds. Plus the occasional demented aerobics dancer. So here's a celebration of the year's greatest small-screen moments.

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9

‘Inside Amy Schumer’: War Games

A woman lounges on the couch, watching her boyfriend play a Call of Duty-style video combat game. Hey, that looks fun. Blam! Kaboom! So she takes a turn. Except she finds her experience as a female soldier is a little different. The sketch veers into extremely bleak places, and then just keeps getting bleaker. ("That's never happened to me — you must have pressed the wrong button.")  In a ludicrously abundant year for cable comedy, Schumer really dropped the bomb.

The Americans

'The Americans'

Courtesy: FX

8

‘The Americans’: Moving In for the Kill

The Cold War spy thriller tightened the screws, with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as married Soviet agents, living undercover in the D.C. suburbs of 1982. The phenomenal second season had a phenomenal finale—a chase scene scored to Golden Earring's faux-metal, faux-new-wave, faux-everything classic "Twilight Zone." Somehow all the rapid-fire emotional and political betrayals come together, as the song screams out the riddle these spies desperately need to solve: "Where am I to go now that I've gone too far?" When the bullet hits the bone, indeed.

Veep

'Veep'

Photo by Paul Schiraldi

7

‘Veep’: Hail to the Chief

Armando Iannucci's political satire gets faster, nastier and funnier every season, with a daring plot twist nobody saw coming — Julia Louis-Dreyfus' toxic-tongue Vice President stumbles toward the Oval Office, with her path finally clear to take over. Hopefully now she has the clout to pursue her domestic agenda: "God, I would love to fuck a fire-fighter."

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6

‘Masters of Sex’: Heartbreak Hotel

The episode "Fight" sums up everything that makes Masters of Sex so devastating. The 1950s sex researchers — played by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan — sneak off to a posh hotel, under fake names, for a little horizontal (and vertical) (plus diagonal) lab work. Strictly business, all in the name of science. But all the bedroom role-playing opens up the NSFW feelings they spend the rest of their lives ignoring. They expose the flesh under their bathrobes — as well as way too much of the pain under their flesh. An hour of erotic agony, from a drama that never plays it safe.

Orange is the New Black

'Orange is the New Black'

Photo by Jill Greenberg for Netflix

5

‘Orange Is the New Black’: How Morello Went Gangsta

All the incarcerated scarfaces at Litchfield Penitentiary have some dark shit in their past — that's how they got here. Even Yael Stone's Morello, who used to seem like a harmless little sap with a soft spot for wedding magazines, until we get a flashback to her hidden previous life as a psychotic stalker. The Morello episode is a profoundly sad, cruelly funny highlight from Orange Is the New Black the superb second act of Netflix's prison drama that everybody figured was a one-shot.

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4

‘Mad Men’: Bert Cooper’s Dancing Farewell

Ghost Bert needs to be a permanent Mad Men character from now on. Imagine him consoling Peggy with his soft-shoe "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," or cheering up Pete Campbell with the "Stairway to Paradise" number from An American In Paris. (I mean, we better get at least one tango with Joan to "C'est Magnifique.") I'll miss the hell out of Bert Cooper, one of the coolest TV characters ever. Sterling Cooper's crusty-ass patriarch was always the scariest guy in the room — behind that genial smile, that crooked old bastard knew Don Draper's guiltiest secrets, just like he seemed to know everybody else's. But what a goodbye! Ghost Bert gives Don Draper one last piece of advice, singing "The Best Things in Life Are Free." And Don utters the only three words that will ever truly get him hot: "Back to work."

Game of Thrones

'Game of Thrones'

Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO

3

‘Game of Thrones’: The Trial of Tyrion Lannister

This was the Led Zeppelin IV of Game of Thrones seasons, and just like that album, it peaked at the end of Side One. On trial for his life, with his despised father as the judge, Tyrion finally snaps and rails against his family: "I wish I had enough poison for the whole lot of you!" Only Peter Dinklage could pull it off, frothing in a Richard III rage. Every second in this scene stings — especially the way Shae repeats the word "whore," for twice the pain. (As we find out later in the season, saying "whore" a second time is the kind of thing that can get you killed.) Like the rest of this epic Thrones season, it was a true mind-blower. And not just in that "never let a guy nicknamed 'The Mountain' get his fingers around your skull" kind of way.

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2

‘Broad City’: Abbi and Ilana Hit the Town

How did the rest of us function before we met these two ladies? Abbi and Ilana were the comedy rookies of the year, two Jewesses trying to make a buck, stoner soul-mates with a private language nobody else gets. ("Never mind about that umbrella idea — I forgot there's raincoats.") The weekly wait for Wednesday night was agony. Nine out of 10 episodes were genius (I hated the Hurricane Sandy one) but they saved the best for Abbi's 26th birthday, raising hell in a fancy restaurant. Ilana scratches her cleavage with a fork, Abbi jumps on the table, they get the busboy baked. It all ends with them cuddling in a hospital bed at 3 A.M., eating leftover chocolate cake while listening to the old man in the next bed shuffle off this mortal coil. (Hey, at least he didn't die alone.) That bed scene is the most moving two minutes of television that 2014 had to offer, a shocker of a joke that's also full of weird sadness and horror and affection — and cake. Plus Ilana gets to cross "be held in Abbi's arms" off her bucket list. A perfect Broad City moment — brutal, tender, hilarious. More, please.

True Detective

'True Detective'

Photo by Lacey Terrell

1

‘True Detective’: Matthew McConaughey’s Psycho Eyes

Damn, just look at those eyes. The way he fiddles with a crushed Lone Star Beer can while musing, "Time is a flat circle." The way he gazes into the distance at dark birds only he can see, hearing a Thirteenth Floor Elevators guitar drone in his head. The way he sweet-talks a confession out of a murderer, then offers some twisted advice. Matthew McConaughey faces all the horror of True Detective with his vacant Joe Walsh-after-electroshock stare, which only makes it more chilling. Neither McConaughey nor Woody Harrelson have ever been stronger, and both performances stick with you all year long. The Southern Gothic noir is packed with strange details, right down to Harrelson's Pink Floyd Division Bell T-shirt — just what a downward-spiraling Louisiana cop would wear to a vice raid in 1995. True Detective gets new shivers out of the most ancient cop-show cliche — fighting monsters turns you into one. But the most terrifying monster in it? The one lurking in McConaughey's eyes.