Great television combines top-notch writing, acting, directing, and so much more. In this era of peak TV, there are countless examples of storytelling firing on all cylinders. We here at Backstage have pinpointed those precise moments where the stars aligned on our small screens. The unforgettable moments on the scripted series below, all of which are nominated at the upcoming 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, are worthy of attention from Television Academy voters. We could watch them over and over again.
“Fleabag”: The Hot Priest finds out we’ve been watching, too
By the third episode of “Fleabag” Season 2, things are obviously heating up between Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and the Hot Priest (Andrew Scott). They’re no longer tiptoeing around their attraction to each other and it’s getting harder and harder not to address the fox in the room. After questioning him on Bible specifics—while somehow managing to be flirtatious in the process—Fleabag stops trying to convince him the inevitable somehow won’t come to pass. “We’ll last a week,” she tells us, referring to their well-meaning commitment to a sexless friendship. Revealing her innermost thoughts via a direct-to-camera aside is what Fleabag has done a hundred times in front of everyone we’ve ever met on this show, but for the first time ever, someone is paying enough attention to catch her in the act. With a single question—“Where did you just go?”—the priest exposes our secret affair. I gasped so hard I hurt my throat. By seeing her see us, the priest has both validated our existence beyond imaginary friends and walked in on one of Fleabag’s most sacred rituals: disengaging with the people around her in favor of silent watchers whose thoughts and opinions she never has to hear. Those three minutes, filled with longing, faith, and pure genius, reaffirmed Waller-Bridge’s mastery of storytelling devices and deployed them with such stunning effect, leaving us feeling stripped bare even behind the safety of a screen. In this company, what more could you want? —Briana Rodriguez
“The Good Place”: The judge waggles her shoulders
One minute and 40 seconds into a scene she’s sharing with Ted Danson’s goodhearted demon Michael, Adam Scott’s dastardly demon Trevor, and D’Arcy Carden’s Janet, Maya Rudolph’s Judge…waggles her shoulders. Not quite wiggles—waggles. Her hands splayed, she bounces her elbows up and down, causing the admonition she’s exasperatedly giving—“Well, maybe you should have thought of that!”—to waggle vocally, too. The gesture looks goofy, but somehow it doesn’t feel out of place on this show or from this character, a testament to Rudolph’s comedic genius. I can’t remember the last time a line delivery tickled my funny bone this precisely, but to be honest, it was probably also her. —Jack Smart
“Pose”: Pray Tell’s cabaret
It was so thrilling when Tony winner, Grammy winner, and now Emmy nominee Billy Porter was given the chance to flex his triple-threat powers on Episode 6 of Ryan Murphy, Steven Canals, and Brad Falchuk’s FX drama “Pose.” “Love Is the Message” is one of the last year’s finest hours of television, but it’s Porter’s rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “For All We Know” delivered in a hospital ward that was its pitch-perfect cherry on top. Heartbreaking and raw while maintaining Pray Tell’s anger and grit, it marks a turning point for the HIV-positive ballroom emcee—and it signaled the arrival of Porter as not just a theater star, but a prime-time diva for the ages. —Benjamin Lindsay
“Schitt’s Creek”: The baseball game
Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek” is truly the gift that keeps giving. Week after week, it’s a pure delight—which also makes it near-impossible to pick just one standout moment from Season 5. (Moira Rose would never play favorites with her wigs—why should we have to?) But let’s revisit the baseball game storyline of Episode 9. We get David and Johnny Rose, real-life father-son duo Dan and Eugene Levy, paired for the bulk of the episode—in baseball uniforms! We get writing gems like a Hebrew school baseball team called the Flying Latkes and the fact that David once held the record for “most times hit by a ball.” And we get one of the purest, most joyful TV scenes of all time, when Johnny is so proud of his son for actually hitting the ball that he forgets to field it, leading to a victory for David’s team. The thrilled “That’s my boy!” that Johnny shouts from the outfield is perfection. —Allie White
“Sharp Objects”: Adora never loved her
One of the most radioactive revelations of HBO’s psycho-tinkering miniseries “Sharp Objects” obscures itself within one of its most quiet moments. On an oppressive summer evening, matriarch Adora (a deliciously serpentine Patricia Clarkson) invites her home-again daughter Camille (Amy Adams in a career-best role) to join her on the veranda for a drink. The warm gesture and sugary-sweetness of the glowing orange beverage provide a whiplash-like counter to what mother then says to child: Reminiscing on Camille’s estranged father, Adora muses aloud, “And it’s why, I think, I never loved you.” She imbues the thought with undetectable significance. For a show disguised as a whodunit but which is, in fact, an investigation into the lacerated psyches of three generations of women, it’s fitting that these words—so seemingly benign—are, ultimately, a grenade thrown one hushed night through Wind Gap, Missouri. —Casey Mink
“When They See Us”: Korey Wise’s violently disrupted visit from his mother
It’s hard to pick a highlight moment of Ava DuVernay’s heart-wrenching Netflix miniseries “When They See Us,” but its fourth and final installment is packed with contenders. The 80-minute episode follows Korey Wise (Emmy nominee Jharrel Jerome), the only member of the Central Park Five teens charged as an adult after their wrongful conviction. In one scene, during an emotional visit with his mother Delores (fellow nominee Niecy Nash), they clasp hands, breaking the prison’s no-contact rule. Korey is violently pulled from his mother’s grasp by prison guards while the pain of their situation, past and present, is visible on both of their faces. It’s a tragic moment, made all the more agonizing by the pair’s astonishing performances. —Elyse Roth
This story originally appeared in the August 22 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.
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