If you've ever laughed out loud at a one-liner or audibly gasped at an unexpected plot twist, it's because of great writing. If you've been stunned by a poignant turn of phrase or felt seen by a certain storyline, it's because a writer took care to make it so. And if you've found yourself thinking about a show or felt compelled to re-watch it long after the final cut to black, chances are, it's because a team of writers were given the time and resources they needed to produce something special.
To put it plainly, the current era of captivating, diverse television wouldn't be what it is without the contributions of talented writers. Writing happens in every phase of the production process, and yet, Hollywood studios continue to devalue these artists and the profession as a whole. At midnight on May 2, after failing to reach an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the Writers Guild of America called for a strike. The WGA aims to negotiate a new contract that guarantees fair compensation and a livable wage for writers, but their reasonable proposals were routinely rejected by the studios — including Netflix, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Paramount — in the weeks leading up to the strike.
In support of the WGA, we're rounding up our favorite lines of TV dialogue of the year so far. These moments demonstrate just how important the writing is to a show's success, and what we stand to lose if the studios continue to underestimate writers and their work.
"I've been rich." —Charlie Cale
"Yeah, how was it?" —Sterling Frost Jr.
"Easier than being broke, harder than doing just fine." — Charlie Cale
Episode: "Dead Man’s Hand” (Season 1, Episode 1)
Release Date: January 26, 2023
Written by Rian Johnson
Directed by Rian Johnson
Rian Johnson’s dialogue is perfectly suited to Natasha Lyonne. Her cadence sells his modernized detective dialogue, ensuring that even moments of exposition are cleverly delivered. In the Poker Face pilot, there’s a lot we need to learn about Charlie Cale (Lyonne) while also keeping track of all the details surrounding the series’s first murder. It’s up to Sterling Frost Jr. (Adrien Brody) to deliver most of her backstory. But it’s this dialogue exchange that tells us so much about not only Charlie’s past but how she sees the world. Her experience is vast; she’s been on both ends of the wealth spectrum and everywhere in between. If anyone she encounters is too satisfied with their extreme wealth, she knows not to trust them, and she’s more than happy to help those who are broke get to “just fine.” — Brianna Wellen
"Thank you for encouraging people who were already at the movie theater to go to the movie theater." — Jimmy Kimmel
Air Date: March 12, 2023
Written by Jamie Abrahams, Tony Barbieri, Jonathan Bines, Dave Boone, Joelle Boucai, Bryan Cook, Blair Erskine, Devin Field, Gary Greenberg, Josh Halloway, Eric Immerman, Jesse Joyce, Jimmy Kimmel, Gregory Martin, Jesse McLaren, Molly McNearney, Agathe (Augie) Panaretos, Keaton Patti, Danny Ricker, Nefetari Spencer, Louis Virtel, and Troy Walker
Directed by Glenn Weiss
It was almost mandatory for Jimmy Kimmel to mention Nicole Kidman’s AMC commercial during his opening monologue at this year’s Oscars. For most of 2022, the kitschy spot drove people into cinemas so they could simultaneously mock and salute it, and honestly, that’s the kind of buzzy movie magic the Academy needs to celebrate. Kimmel’s joke was perfect because it noted that the ad’s entire premise was ludicrous from the start, which is something that got lost in the analysis of Kidman’s sparkly pantsuit. It takes a team of great writers to deliver a punchline like that, both speaking to a major trend and finding something fresh to say about it. — Mark Blankenship
"Eat my butt." — Quinta Brunson
Host/Sketch: Quinta Brunson, "Traffic Altercation" (Season 48, Episode 16)
Air Date: April 1, 2023
Written by Mikey Day, Streeter Seidell, and Vannessa Jackson
Directed by Liz Patrick
The writers on Saturday Night Live are some of the most impressive working today. They have an infamously rigorous schedule, creating 90 minutes of brand new material to put on live television in just a matter of days. Rewrites sometimes happen in the hours between dress rehearsal and the live show to make sure every joke is just right and gets the laughs it deserves. That means that by the time a line as seemingly simple as “Eat my butt!” makes it to air, it’s been polished to perfection, as proven by Quinta Brunson during her hosting gig. It’s a hilarious line because it’s simple — a potent reminder that editing is a huge part of the writing process as well. And it’s a line that became the centerpiece of one of the best SNL sketches of what’s likely to be a truncated season. — Brianna Wellen
"Um... I also am... racist?" — Noah Price
Episode: "Voir Dire" (Season 1, Episode 1)
Release Date: April 7, 2023
Written by Tanner Bean & Katrina Mathewson
Directed by Jake Szymanski
Amazon Freevee’s Jury Duty isn’t “written” in the traditional sense. It’s a largely improvised, hidden-camera comedy that follows Ronald Gladden, an everyday guy who doesn’t realize the jury he’s serving on is fake. But as that façade gets erected around him, the actors playing the judge, the bailiff, the lawyers, and the other jurors work from scripted scenarios. These outlines shape the chaos, and they set up jokes with fantastic pay-offs.
One of the best comes in the first episode, when juror Noah Price (Mekki Leeper) tries everything he can think of to be excused from service. Early in the episode, Ronald jokes about people pretending to be racist in order to get sent home, and he unwittingly creates an opportunity for Noah to try out the same tactic. The moment is hilarious because it’s rooted in Ronald’s real-life conversation, then shaped by writers who are watching from behind the scenes. That kind of on-the-fly writing takes confidence and guts, andJury Duty proves the rewards are worth the risks. — Mark Blankenship
"He once made Joe Fazio eat a frog during recess! Bad cop is the only way to break him!" — Misty Quigley
Episode: "Digestif" (Season 2, Episode 3)
Air Date: April 7, 2023 Written by Sarah L. Thompson & Ameni Rozsa
Directed by Jeffrey W. Byrd
Over the course of Season 2, Yellowjackets has revealed new sides of Christina Ricci's Misty Quigley, but no line of dialogue gets at the heart of her character quite like this decades-old, incredibly specific memory about elementary school bully Randy Walsh (Jeff Holman). In one of the season's most delightful moments, Misty and fellow citizen detective Walter (Elijah Wood) play Good Cop-Bad Cop in an attempt to glean information from Randy about Natalie's (Juliette Lewis) mysterious disappearance.
Walter wants to play nice, but Misty, who's exactly the type to hold a grudge for 30-plus years, determined Randy stopped being worthy of kindness long ago. As with so much of the great writing in this show, Misty's remark is more than just a one-off line: It illustrates just how little her worldview has changed as she's transitioned from childhood into adulthood, despite the massively traumatic event situated between these periods in her life. — Claire Spellberg Lustig
"We're calling Kerry a taxi to the subway so that she can go home to her little apartment." — Marcia Roy
Episode: "Honeymoon States" (Season 4, Episode 4)
Air Date: April 16, 2023
Written by Jesse Armstrong & Lucy Prebble
Directed by Lorene Scafaria
Marcia's (Hiam Abbas) savage dismissal of Kerry (Zoë Winters) isn't just one of the best lines of dialogue of the year — it's one of Succession's best put-downs, period. After spending the first few episodes of Season 4 "shopping" in Milan, Marcia makes a triumphant return in the aftermath of Logan Roy's (Brian Cox) death, and she immediately moves to assume control over her late husband's assets, his sexual relationship with his assistant Kerry included.
Kerry was once an insider, but without Logan’s support, she's nothing: She's not even worth a ride home in the back of a Town Car. Every part of this line twists the knife a bit more, but "her little apartment" ends Kerry, once and for all. Marcia's cruelty serves as a reminder — for the aspiring ATN host, for the "old guard" jockeying for position, and for viewers — that no matter how close the hangers-on get to the locus of power, they will always be of an inferior status to the Roys. And if you forget your place along the food chain, the Roys won't hesitate to remind you. — Claire Spellberg Lustig
"I take all your recommendations seriously, I wanna know why you like stuff." — Gregory Eddie
Episode: "Franklin Institute" (Season 2, Episode 22)
Air Date: April 18, 2023
Written by Brittani Nichols
Directed by Randall Einhorn
There’s something so unexpectedly romantic about this piece of dialogue from Abbott Elementary’s Season 2 finale. In the episode, the teachers get ready for a sleepover trip to the Franklin Institute, where Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory’s (Tyler James William) classes will be paired together. While they’re preparing to leave, Gregory makes a reference to Night at the Museum, pleasantly surprising Janine. For Gregory to so casually mention that he not only listens, but cares about Janine’s suggestions shows just how much he pays attention to her. It’s such a small moment shared between the duo, yet still manages to capture so much about what makes their will-they/won’t-they dynamic so frustratingly delicious. — Dianna Shen
"Don't give it a name! No one calls Facebook 'Doug!'" — JQ
Episode: "Zwei Sie Piel mit Seitung Sie Wirtschaftung" (Season 1, Episode 2)
Air Date: April 20, 2023
Written by Tara Hernandez & Jason Lew
Directed by Owen Harris
Much fuss is made in Mrs. Davis about how to refer to the artificial-intelligence-turned-deity from which the show takes its title. Sister Simone (Betty Gilpin) adamantly corrects anyone who calls Mrs. Davis a "she," insisting "she" is an "it" — an algorithm. Personification is the first step to subjugation or something!
But at every turn, the Mrs. Davis writers are quick to cut the tension and remind the audience that as high as the stakes seem, these aren't superhuman heroes we're watching. And sometimes it's very easy to break one's own rules. So when Simone is getting the lowdown on the resistance's plans from the ultra-aggro JQ (Chris Diamantopoulos), she accidentally calls Mrs. Davis by "her" name… and gets an earful from JQ. It's true that no one calls Facebook "Doug," which is a reminder that it's weird we call Alexa "Alexa." The line is also a reminder that even among the resistance, Simone isn't quite as psychotically dialed in as some. But she probably won't make that mistake again with JQ any time soon. — Joe Reid
"I could go as you." — Elliot Mantle
"A better me?" — Beverly Mantle
"I'm a better everyone." — Elliot Mantle
Episode: "Three" (Season 1, Episode 3)
Air Date: April 21, 2023
Written by Rachel De-Lahay
Directed by Karena Evans
The intertwined relationship of twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle (Rachel Weisz) provides fertile (no pun intended… okay, pun intended) ground for the twisted narrative of Prime Video's Dead Ringers. While they share an intimidating ambition for what their medical practice can become, Beverly presents as meek and socially awkward, while Elliot is brash and confrontational. When advantageous, Elliot often steps in for Beverly, either with a patient or a prospective romantic partner. When faced with a social obligation that's giving her a lot of anxiety in the show's third episode, Elliot offers to go as her sister, and Beverly's response is telling.
In many ways, Elliot is the more dynamic and thrilling twin, even as she's also the more outwardly problematic. Elliot's reply is even more telling: She can live Beverly's life better than Beverly can. And she knows nobody on Earth is her equal. The line doubles as cheeky self-regard and terrifying narcissism, summing up Elliot perfectly. — Joe Reid
"Oh yeah Tom, Tom of Siobhan." — Oskar
Episode: "Kill List" (Season 3, Episode 5)
Air Date: April 23, 2023
Written by Jon Brown & Ted Cohen
Directed by Andrij Parekh
When every episode of Succession is jam-packed with creative insults, it can be hard to keep track of which ones are the most biting. In Season 4, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) has become a vessel for an onslaught of verbal abuse. With Logan gone, Tom has zero clout left. Nobody — not even his wife — takes him seriously, yet he continues to latch himself onto every moving being in a desperate effort to save himself. Oskar’s (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) poke at Tom’s position is so simple yet so effective. It's a reminder that the smallest jabs can be the most painful, especially when they hit at the heart of Tom's insecurities. His entire sense of self-worth is tied up in his job and status, and Oskar's comment exposes how little respect he commands from those around him. The sheer force of “Tom of Siobhan” cuts deep, making it stand out as a devastating piece of verbal ammunition. — Dianna Shen
TOPICS: TV Writers' Strike, Abbott Elementary, Dead Ringers, Jury Duty, Mrs. Davis, Poker Face, Saturday Night Live, Succession, Yellowjackets, Oscars, Writers' Guild