This year, more than any other, we needed to watch – and rewatch – shows that took us to our happy place. Here are the best moments from the TV series that did exactly that.
This year was dominated by screens. They lit up our faces first thing as we checked the bad news. We sat in front of them collectively for the 1pm updates. We bashed away at them furiously to join the fray on Twitter and Facebook. We turned them on ourselves for Instagram and TikTok. In lockdown, they were our lifeline. We got addicted. Of course we did. There was nothing else to do.
We used them so much The Spinoff dedicated an entire week to them.
Sometimes, we also used screens for entertainment. Taskmaster NZ made us laugh. It’s a Sin made us cry. Starstruck made us proud. Succession made us appalled. As the year draws to a close, we decided it would be worth remembering the TV moments that gave us the greatest pleasure. After all, it was a year that we definitely needed as many of those as possible.
Roman sends a dick pic to his dad
It had already been a stellar episode of Succession: Logan hovering silently over a Waystar Royco board meeting; Tension between Kendall and his dad mounting over mozzarella balls; Shiv chewing out her mum; Kendall lying haplessly on a pool float; all compounding as a wedding in Chiantishire — the episode’s location and name — loomed. It didn’t need Roman sending his dad an accidental dick pic to make this the most memorable episode of Succession’s excellent third season, but holy wow did it send it into the stratosphere. / Chris Schulz
Girls5Eva deliver a shocking slow jam
When girl group Girls5Eva mount their comeback, they do it with their own songs. To understand why you only have to hear the misogynist dreck they unthinkingly churned out in their starlet years – songs with titles like ‘Jailbait (Great at Sex but It’s Our First Time)’ written by men like Swedish superstar songwriter Alf Musik (Stephen Colbert) who admits that, “Typically, when I write songs for women I just take a Buzzfeed quiz on Disney princesses.” The nadir is slow jam ‘Dream Girlfriends’ with lyrics that will make you want to burn every copy of Lolita you can find: “Got big doe eyes that you can swim in / Love watching stand-up, but not by women / Runnin’ in pumps, never takin’ dumps / And my feet are a child size four.” / Catherine McGregor
Dan Flashes’ complicated shirts
No single sketch from the second season of Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave broke through in the way season one’s Focus Group did, but overall the series got even funnier this year. Corncob TV, Prank Show, Sloppy Steaks and every sketch starring Patti Harrison were among the highlights, but the performance I think about the most is Robinson’s portrayal of a businessman dying of hunger because he’s saving his per diems to spend on shirts at Dan Flashes, a highly competitive menswear store where the more complicated the pattern the higher the price tag (and rightfully so). / Calum Henderson
David Correos untangles shoelaces by himself
The second season of Taskmaster NZ ramped up surrealness and doubled down on comedy. One moment will never leave me: David Correos untangling an immense and seemingly never ending web of shoelaces strung around a room. What made it even funnier – and crueller – was the subsequent knowledge that no other contestant had been made to complete this task. Seeing Correos learn this in real time was both horrible and horribly funny – and my defining comedic moment from 2021. As I wrote in September, it, along with the whole of Taskmaster NZ, will be remembered long into the future as a stand-out in New Zealand comedy. / Stewart Sowman-Lund
Jennifer Coolidge farewells her mother
“Mother,” moans Jennifer Coolidge, clutching a plastic bag of grey ash. “Mother … mother … MOTHER.” From the moment Jennifer Coolidge arrives in The White Lotus, you know she’s about to deliver one of the most awkward performances of 2021. On a swaying boat, alongside nonplussed newlyweds, she delivers the emotional climax, a brutal tribute to a wayward mum. “She tried very hard to be a really good mother, even though she didn’t have any maternal instincts, or skills … she was a nymphomaniac … MOTHER.” OMG MAKE IT STOP. / CS
Rose Matafeo dances down the Thames
Could Rose Matafeo front her very own sitcom? Funded by the BBC, and airing internationally, Starstruck was a very big deal, a local comedian doing what Flight of the Conchords had done more than a decade prior. Any doubts — were there really any? — were put to rest by Matafeo twirling past tabletops and across bridges for a stunning piece of choreography set down the River Thames. Vulture dubbed it the year’s “most joyous 99 seconds” and they weren’t wrong: the fact that Starstruck was among the year’s best comedies was just the icing on the cake. Roll on season two, in 2022. / CS
Creamerie’s shocking reveal
What happened to all the men? For six thrilling episodes Perlina Lau and co teased out a post-pandemic mystery, a show that got rid of the dudes (that remains a great idea that we should think about IRL) and let women rule. Yes, that came with its own set of problems, but by episode six, the show was ready to reveal exactly what the men had been up to. Major spoilers follow: they were being milked, like cows, with penis pumps. I still want to ask Lau how she got that particularly exposing sequence onto a prime time TVNZ show, because it feels like a watershed. /CS
Oprah: ‘Were you silent or were you silenced?’
There’s a specific subset of camp that the writer Daniel Lavery labelled “heterosexual camp” – the kind of camp that is performed by people who are, in no uncertain terms, 100% straight. Examples of this are The Nanny, Samantha from Sex and the City and Criss Angel. I would put Oprah Winfrey’s “performance” in the Harry and Meghan interview in this category, and no moment sums it up better than the “silent or silenced” fingersnap. It is a hilarious moment that, while addressing the messed up English monarchy and how it traumatised Meghan Markle, brings the focus back to Winfrey herself as she bolds, italicises and underlines with one gesture. Deeply serious, deeply unironic, and deeply funny. / Sam Brooks
The vampires hit up Atlantic City
A tip of the witch-skin hat to the writer who came up with the idea of setting an entire WWDITS episode inside a casino, one of the few places in the world as free from dermis-sizzling daylight as the vampires’ own home. On a wild weekend in Atlantic City, the gang are partying hard until the loss of their precious ancestral-homeland soil turns their brains into, as Nadja puts it, “hot onion water”. So much more happens in this hilarious, action-packed episode – including Guillermo making a whistlestop tour of Europe and Nandor falling into an existential crisis after learning some basic cosmology – and it all culminates in a very bloody Ocean’s Eleven-style heist. Ring-a-ding-ding! /CM
Mare’s mother plays Fruit Ninja
It was a hell of a year for Jean Smart. In Hacks, she absolutely ruled as a fading standup attempting to bond with her new millenial writer (bring it to New Zealand screens quick!). And, in Mare of Easttown, she played the rugged mother of Kate Winslet’s small-town cop Helen. She was mostly there to deliver withering put downs and craggy insults, but, in one moment, all that changed as producers set her up with an iPad and got her playing Candy Crush’s poor cousin, Fruit Ninja. Crush that fruit, Jean. You got this! /CS
Chris Hipkins finds the right mood
Ahh, those 1pm press conferences that delivered crucial information to the nation about the latest updates on the spread of Covid-19. Sometimes, though, those fronting it had other advice. Like when minister Chris Hipkins encouraged New Zealanders to “get outside and spread their legs”. It was a quote that quickly went viral, found its way onto a coffee cup, and, just a week later, Hipkins was back at the podium and in on the joke, sipping from said cup. Was it still funny? Yeah, telling an entire country to “spread their legs” is still a good one. / CS
Pio Terei’s ice cream falls off the cone
Vaxathon united the country in October, and towards the end of the multi-channel, eight hour television extravaganza, we watched a truly tragi-comic moment take place. Presenter Pio Terei crossed live from inside a Papakura ice cream truck, where he was preparing to pour himself the finest real fruit ice cream Aotearoa has ever seen. He listened closely to the instructions, he did his very best, and his face beamed with pride as he held his perfectly formed berry ice cream aloft. Then tragedy struck. The ice cream suddenly and inexplicably fell off the cone, live on the telly, taking Terei’s hopes and dreams with it. It was a brutal swipe from fate’s cruel hand, just as the Terei had climbed his ice cream Everest. No more ice cream for you, Pio Terei. / Tara Ward