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The 15 Best TV Scenes of 2021

If you’re still trying to process the fact that 2021 is coming to a close, you’re not alone. Watch some great TV while you think about it, with our list of the year’s best scenes.
Best Tv Scenes
By  · Published on December 29th, 2021

10. Ted and Rebecca Talk About Their Fathers

Show: Ted Lasso
Episode: “No Weddings and a Funeral”

Best Scenes Ted Lasso
Apple TV+

Ted Lasso’s second season took viewers to a lot of unexpected places, including Rebecca’s father’s funeral. You may remember this as the episode featuring a tearful Rick Roll, but the waterworks actually get underway before Rebecca’s eulogy. In therapy, Ted (Jason Sudeikis) finally opens up to Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles). He talks about the day he found out his dad killed himself, and the scene intertwines with another story that Rebecca is sharing with her mother.

For a show that is known for its good cheer, it’s hard to believe Ted Lasso’s best Season 2 moment involves admitting hatred for a dead parent, but somehow, it does. Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) discusses how it felt to find out her father was cheating on her mother, and the dual moments of painful vulnerability fuse together thanks to some nimble editing. Both Waddingham and Sudeikis put in their best work of the season during this scene, which connects the two characters emotionally despite there not being a dialogue between them.

9. The Deer Lady

Show: Reservation Dogs
Episode: “Come and Get Your Love”

Best Scenes Reservation Dogs

Reservation Dogs is one of the most unique new shows of the year. It seamlessly blends sacred Indigenous wisdom with childlike imagination to tell impressionistic stories through the eyes of its cast of teen characters. One of the show’s standout sequences tells an origin story, not of one of the titular Rez Dogs, but of Officer Big (Zahn McClarnon).

In 1984, Big is a kid in Oklahoma who finds himself in a run-down general store bathroom when an armed robbery is taking place. Luckily, he’s not alone. The Deer Lady (Kaniehtiio Horn) happens to be there, too. She is a powerful spirit in Indigenous traditions, one who can present as a woman with deer for feet. In this case, she is played with intimidating cool by Horn. She passes Big a roll of toilet paper, leaves the robbers in a pool of their own blood, and stops by one more time a bit later to remind Big to grow up to be good.

Colonialist gatekeeping has kept Native American perspectives out of the filmmaking world for too long, so there’s something spectacular and long-overdue in Sterlin Harjo’s striking vision of the mythical Deer Lady.

8. Spa Weekend

Show: Hacks
Episode: “New Eyes”

Best Scenes Hacks

About halfway through Hacks’ first season, it evolves from a pretty good comedy to a downright excellent one. The change begins as Ava (Hannah Einbinder) begins to see the many shades of Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) that exist beyond her towering public persona. Their relationship deepens beautifully during the episode “New Eyes,” which sees Ava accompany Deborah to a spa weekend that turns out to be a plastic surgery recovery.

The two get stoned together, prank their nurse, order McDonald’s, and end up baring their souls more than they expected. Ava talks about her ill-fated one-night-stand, and Deborah reveals that she didn’t actually burn down her ex-husband’s house.

Einbinder and Smart are both firing on all cylinders here, and their chemistry is palpable. This is the point when the series finally leans into the fact that the two mean-spirited women have more in common than not, and it’s a joy to watch the two actresses take on the challenge.

7. Ritchie Has Some News

Show: It’s A Sin
Episode: “Episode 4”

Best Scenes It S A Sin

Russell T. Davies’ It’s a Sin takes on the AIDS epidemic through the eyes of a group of young Londoners. The beautifully crafted story has a half-dozen high points, many of them involving Olly Alexander’s character, Ritchie. Like so many men of his time, he just found community and romantic freedom when the epidemic hit, and he’s not ready to give it up yet.

Finally, after several of his friends die, Ritchie decides to get tested. Upon seeing the results that he’s HIV-positive, he leaves town, but he comes back just in time to leap on the back of a police officer who is assaulting one of his friends during a protest. The group is tossed into the back of a paddy wagon, where Ritchie’s friends try to help clean his bloody nose. They realize he’s positive the moment he insists they shouldn’t touch him.

Ritchie is vivacious, complicated, and loveable, the type of TV character who comes around rarely and never stays long enough. Alexander’s performance gives the layers of tragedy and vibrancy equal weight as Ritchie makes a powerful, insistent declaration to his friends: “I’ve got some news for you all. I wanted you to be the first to know: I’m going to live!”

6. The Sun Rises

Show: Midnight Mass
Episode: “Book V: Gospel”

Best Scenes Midnight Mass

Mike Flanagan’s contemplative religious horror series Midnight Mass is overflowing with memorable scenes. In one, former alcoholic Riley (Zach Gilford) sits with his childhood love, Erin (Kate Siegel) and the two imagine what might happen when they die. She paints a picture of heaven, while he describes, with equal beauty, a peaceful and complete end to the memories that haunt him.

By the very next episode, Riley has been made into a monster. He takes Erin out on a boat in the dark of night. She’s clearly anxious but offers to help him without judgment with whatever he needs. This alone is a beautiful gesture for the man who has been stifled by guilt since the series-opening fatal car accident.

Riley doesn’t need help, he just needs to be with her. “I love you, Erin Greene,” he says. “I’ve loved you my whole life, one way or another.” He says he did his best, then says it again, as if to himself. The sun rises, and we see it reflected in his eyes. Then their portraits of the afterlife are inverted. He sees endless peace, in the form of the woman he killed (Ebony Booth) taking his hand and leading him beyond. She sees his body in flames, reduced almost instantly to ashes by the touch of the sun. The credits close over Erin’s screams. It’s a gorgeous, terrifying, unforgettable moment that no conversation about death could ever prepare one for.

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Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, TV-lover, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association's television and documentary branches. Twitter: @aandeandval (She/her)