We’ve reached the end of 2017, and yes, we’re still here. Donald Trump didn’t pull a Nixon and, whilst incapacitated, order a nuclear strike on North Korea in the dead of night.
Thankfully, there were many things in the realm of popular culture to distract us from the president’s anxiety-inducing infantile neediness, including an assortment of excellent films and television shows. And it was on the small-screen, really, where the distractions were most welcomed—the ability to flip the channel from frantic coverage of the latest Trump look at me! moment to something soothing, perhaps even offering the warm familiarity of laughter.
When evaluating the standout TV moments of the year, I chose to exclude those in the arena of news punditry—e.g. Robin Roberts’ magnificent “Bye, Felicia” Omarosa send-off or Anderson Cooper’s Kellyanne Conway eyeroll—because the public conflates politics with entertainment too often these days as is. Still, there were so many exceptional moments on television this year, from Melissa McCarthy’s debut as Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live to the thorniest Game of Thrones valediction yet.
“Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.” — Game of Thrones
So, you thought the most delicious monologue in this, the penultimate season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, would go to Cersei, did you? My money was on her too. But alas, that honor went to Dame Diana Rigg’s Lady Olenna Tyrell, who lived up to her “Queen of Thorns” sobriquet with one of the most cutting farewells in TV history: describing to poor Jaime Lannister how she poisoned his wretched son Joffrey to death. Game, set and match, Lady O.
“This is not a joke: Moonlight has won Best Picture…” — 89th Academy Awards
We’d never seen the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences publicly embarrass a septuagenarian acting legend on their biggest night—until now. What was supposed to be a cute onstage reunion—Bonnie and Clyde stars Warren Beatty, 79, and Faye Dunaway, 76, together again to commemorate the film’s 50th anniversary—turned into a nightmare when the duo was handed the wrong card and announced La La Land as the Best Picture winner. When the real winner—Moonlight—was revealed, chaos ensued. Meryl gasped, Gosling giggled, and Hollywood committed one of the most colossal TV fuckups of all time.
“I knew you was gonna fuck up sooner or later…” — Real Time with Bill Maher
Look, I’m hard on Bill Maher’s Real Time program because I do enjoy watching it, and believe it offers occasional flashes of bipartisan dialogue that are in terribly short supply these days. But boy, did he put his foot in it when he dropped the N-word on his program. Fortunately for us, a hero came along in the form of rapper Ice Cube, who gave the smug-persona’d late-night host his on-air comeuppance, calling him out for the N-word gaffe, charging that Maher felt he could cross the line because he’d had “a black girlfriend or two who made them some Kool-Aid every now and then.” The stunned expression on Maher’s face was priceless.
“Settle down! Settle down!!” — SNL
Melissa McCarthy is a force of nature, and her surprise debut as former White House press secretary Sean Spicer was the comedy equivalent of the Kool-Aid man bursting through your TV set. It couldn’t have come at a better time, with morale across the country incredibly low following the recent inauguration of President Donald J. Trump and the unforgiving February weather. But there her “Spicey” was, yelling at the press and drenching them with a Super Soaker. The incredible impression somehow made things feel a little bit better.
“Who did the dicks?” — American Vandal
With all due respect to The Crown, the most binge-worthy—and best—show on Netflix this year was American Vandal. A first-rate satire, the series nailed the absurdity of high school, America’s true crime obsession, and the state of modern-day entertainment with its deft plotting and furiously committed performances. And those moments when the “crime” first comes to light will have you in stiches.
“I won.” — The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Remember last July, when it was rumored that CBS execs were contemplating swapping James Corden and Stephen Colbert’s timeslots due to the latter’s lagging ratings? Well, the election of Donald J. Trump really seemed to light a fire under the former Colbert Report host’s ass, with monologue after monologue excoriating Trump and his chaotic administration. Before long, Colbert had leapfrogged The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon to take the No. 1 spot in late-night. And the biggest highlight this year came when, after making a crude joke at The Donald’s expense, one that prompted calls for his firing from the alt-right and complaints from Trump himself, Colbert refused to back down, instead taking a victory lap for rattling the commander-in-chief.
“I AM the FBI.” — Twin Peaks
For all the brilliance of Episode 8’s cosmic origin story, Twin Peaks: The Return was really about FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s long-awaited return to a world he’d left behind. And what a brilliant journey it was getting there, as we soaked up 15 hilarious, horrifying hour-long episodes of television by a certified master until, with four words, he announces what many have waited over 25 years to hear. Twin Peaks: The Return was far and away the best series on TV this year, and a testament to what happens when you give a genius like David Lynch full creative control.
“If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make…” — Jimmy Kimmel Live!
While Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Seth Meyers and Trevor Noah delivered a plethora of searing monologues aimed at the Trump administration, it was Jimmy Kimmel whose tear-filled plea actually helped change hearts and minds. The typically apolitical late-night host picked his spot and knocked it out of the park with a heartrending monologue about his baby boy Billy, who’d just been born with a rare congenital heart disease—tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary artresia—which required emergency surgery at just three days old. The host then, with tears streaming down his face, made an appeal for Obamacare—a timely issue given that the Republicans were pushing forth a health care bill that could strip those with preexisting conditions like Billy’s from coverage. The bill ultimately didn’t pass, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Kimmel.
“I love my grudges. I tend to them like little pets.” — Big Little Lies
There were so many wonderful moments on Big Little Lies, HBO’s must-see miniseries. Virtually every frightening confrontation between Nicole Kidman and her hubby-abuser, Alexander Skarsgard, could make the list. But my favorite thing about BLL was Reese Witherspoon, who is at her best when she summons the crazy (see: Freeway, Election), and here, was a barb-throwing tornado; as if Tracy Flick had grown up, moved out to Monterey, and joined the PTA. And her essence is truly distilled in this early sequence, where her Madeline, fuming, charges into a coffee date with girlfriends Celeste (Kidman) and Jane (Shailene Woodley), before explaining her raison d'être.
“I bet when she watches Titanic she thinks she’s Rose. Sorry girl, you’re Billy Zane.” — SNL
Though Saturday Night Live has really gone off the deep-end of late, one of its most inspired sketches—on a par with Melania’s version of Lemonade—was this mock perfume commercial for a scent called “Complicit” featuring Ivanka Trump, played to smoldering perfection by fellow New Yorker Scarlett Johansson. The parody ad brilliantly captured everything that her critics loathe about Ivanka, from her performative feminism, to her feigned ignorance, to her uncanny ability to use so many words to say absolutely nothing at all.
“Gasolina…” — Nathan for You
American Vandal was the best TV comedy of the year and Twin Peaks: The Return the best series, but the finest two hours of television in 2017 came courtesy of the hilarious Nathan Fielder and his superb Comedy Central series Nathan for You. Its two-hour Season 4 finale, “Finding Frances,” contained two divergent storylines: Bill Heath, a purported Bill Gates impersonator, searching for his long-lost love, Frances; and Fielder falling in love with an escort named Maci. What sounds preposterous on paper approaches the profound, as Fielder, armed with deadpan one-liners, poses fascinating questions about love, memory and the ravages of time. Oh, and the moment where Fielder tries to seduce Maci by doing a striptease to Daddy Yankee’s reggaeton anthem “Gasolina” is so goddamn funny.