This article is part of our 2021 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we explore the best TV scenes of 2021.
If you’re anything like me, your attention has been fractured for these last two years. Watching new TV shows is difficult when old favorites are right there, waiting to comfort you. Watching new shows is also difficult because the entire medium has been fractured into countless streaming sites and viewing options. We’ve reached a saturation point, yet there is no sign that the television industry is slowing down. Amidst all this, it can feel good to have someone just tell you what to watch.
That’s where I come in. I’ve sifted through 75 seasons of currently airing shows and found the scenes that I believe are most moving, striking, and entertaining from this year. Prescient social commentary, long-overdue representation, simple moments of joy — there was plenty on the small screen this year. Here are 15 of the best TV scenes of 2021.
15. Agatha All Along
Episode: “Breaking The Fourth Wall”
WandaVision started Marvel’s foray into Phase 4 television with a super-meta bang. The sitcom-trope-skewering series is surprisingly creative, and no moment presents that quite as well as the big twist in Episode 7. Kathryn Hahn’s girl next door reveals herself to be a powerful, manipulative witch via an extremely catchy tune by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Hahn smirks her way through a series of clips that expose Agatha Harkness’ behind-the-scenes machinations, getting campy for the camera before taking a seat in the director’s chair herself. “And I killed Sparky, too,” she confesses as the music cuts out before letting out a delighted, deranged cackle. Are there more emotionally rich scenes in WandaVision? Sure, but to my knowledge, none of those got trap remixes.
Show: The Other Two
Episode: “Pat Gets an Offer to Host Tic Tac Toe”
The Other Two Season 2 dives deep into the quirks of the semi-celebrity gay dating scene, with hilarious results. No moment is more surreal and pitch-perfect than the confrontation between Carey (Drew Tarver) and his maybe-boyfriend Dean Brennan (Michael Campayno). Throughout the episode, super-famous Dean has been appearing to date Carey in public while not sealing the deal in private. Eventually, Carey finds out Dean is “gay-baiting,” or keeping his sexuality ambiguous for the press attention despite being straight.
The scene plays out like the climax of a psychological thriller, with Carey confronting Dean after he finds out he secretly dated Jordana Brewster in 2010. Dean explains his master plan as Carey inches away in fear. “My life is just so much better now that people think I might, maybe, kind of be gay,” Dean insists. He’s on magazine covers now! People ship him! By the scene’s end, he’s strapping Carey into a glittery harness for an event, while threateningly whispering, “We do not. Comment. On our sexuality.” It’s a searing bit of social commentary delivered via homage to melodramatic domestic thrillers, the kind of thing only The Other Two could pull off.
13. The Store is Now Closed
Episode: “All Sales Final”
When Superstore ended last spring after six seasons, it only made sense to do so with Cloud 9’s lights going out forever. Garrett (Colton Dunn), who’s been in charge of store announcements for 20 years, initially signs off with a glib goodbye. It doesn’t feel right, though, and he returns to say something more heartfelt.
As the usually sarcastic character talks earnestly about his time at the store, we see flashbacks to some of the series’ most playful moments. “Most jobs suck 99% of the time,” he says. “You’ve got to really enjoy those moments that don’t.” Then we see what the near future holds for each character, including Amy (America Ferrera) and Jonah (Ben Feldman) starting a family.
Finally, we catch a glimpse of all of the former Cloud 9 employees united at a barbecue. The camera pans around the outdoor scene, relishing a simple joy that also felt like an unimaginable luxury during the COVID-set season: old friends gathering together. “Thank you for shopping at Cloud 9,” Garrett says as the lights of the store go out. “The store is now closed.”
Show: Squid Game
For its first five episodes, Squid Game is a bloody, sharp commentary on capitalism. In its sixth, the Netflix series momentarily becomes the most heartbreaking thing on television. The episode features remaining players paired off for games of marbles of their choosing. One involves guessing whether your opponent is holding an odd or even number of marbles. Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) is partnered with elderly player Oh Il-nam (O Yeong-su), and he becomes torn when he realizes he could easily take advantage of his adversary’s memory problems in order to win.
Meanwhile, Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon) teams up with Ji-yeong (Lee Yoo-mi), who tells her about killing her abusive pastor father after he killed her mother.
In the episode’s final moments, Ji-yeong and Oh Il-nam both sacrifice themselves. Ji-yeong tells Sae-byeok she deserves to keep living because she can imagine a life beyond the games. Oh Il-nam indicates that he was savvier than Gi-hun thought but let him win anyway. The two share a tearful hug, and Gi-hun walks away as we hear a gunshot ring out. We’ve seen a lot of death already by this point, but this is the game that hurts the most.
11. Emily, Sue, and ‘Ivy’
Episode: “Grief is a Mouse”
Alena Smith’s Dickinson spent three seasons bringing the great American poet Emily Dickinson to life. One of its finest achievements is its delicate central love story. Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) is enamored with her sister-in-law Sue (Ella Hunt), though the two are often kept apart by circumstance and disagreement. In the series’ penultimate episode, the pair fully reconcile when Sue has one of Emily’s poems published as a gift.
The final moment of the episode is a candle-lit love scene between the pair that has no audio aside from Steinfeld’s breathy recitation of one of Dickinson’s own poems, “All the letters I can write.” The scene is intimate and tender, all close-ups of kisses on arms and fingers tracing skin.
Much of the final season has revolved around Emily’s often misunderstood legacy, and this scene alone shatters our image of the poet as an unfulfilled loner. Then, at a moment of ecstasy, the shot cuts to the credits, and Taylor Swift’s song “Ivy” plays. Dickinson fans have long since thought the tune was written about the show, but its appearance within the series still comes as a perfect shock.
Continue reading our list of the best TV scenes of 2021 on the next page…
Related Topics: 2021 Rewind