Category Archives: Best of the Year

Best of 2017: Episodes that Didn’t Air This Year

Good television doesn’t stop being good after some time has past. While we are in the midst of Peak TV and there is more new scripted shows on television than anyone can keep up with, there is also a lot that aired in the past that I missed out on the first time. I always try to have at least a couple older shows that I’m slowly working through and this year, they were among some of the best things that I watched. This collection of posts is all about celebrating the things that brought me the most joy this year and these 10 episodes definitely qualified.

Libertus (Spartacus) The last 15 minutes of this episode are such a glorious spectacle that only Spartacus could pull off. Not that the rest of the episode isn’t fantastic but the arena battle has stayed on my mind for the past 9 months. Starting with the most human of the battles, the fight between Oenomaus and Gannicus had so much emotional history behind it. They were best friends, they were brothers in arms, and both slaves to the House of Batiatus. They were also in love with the same woman and Oenomaus’s wife died in Gannicus’s arms. There was pain and anger and betrayal that infused each blow and it was captivating to watch these men fight each other and Gannicus being unable to take that final killing blow. Oenomaus always represented the best parts of Gannicus, the parts that he lost when Melitta died, and it was only right that he gave up freedom to save his brother. Then there was the larger plan on Spartacus’s mind. He wasn’t just going to free his men, he was showing up to the arena that day to burn it all down. Just as far as plotting go, it’s a brilliant move that opens up a whole new future for the second half of the season. It was a blow to the heart of Rome at the hands of the slave rebellion. It also solidifies Glaber’s status as a legitimate villain and not just a bothersome antagonist. Killing his father-in-law and the chilling way he reminds his wife that there is no longer a way out of the marriage she came so close to leaving is really the first time we see him as the monster he is. It’s his personal uprising and he will use his newfound freedom to crush all those who sought to belittle and undermine him. But what made it truly remarkable to me is the deeper level on which this show works. Yes, there is a lot of over-the-top violence and nudity and delightfully campy dialogue in Spartacus, but at its heart, it is a story about oppression and freedom. And in this episode, the oppressed rose up and burned down the institution that was used to justify their enslavement. They sent the message that they would no longer be used for the gain of others. Their bodies would no longer further the wealth of others. It’s a powerful message, not just within the show but also for the viewers. In the spirit of resistance that has characterized much of 2017, I can’t imagine a more mood-appropriate episode to have seen for the first time.

The Queen’s Gambit Job (Leverage) Narrowing this down to one episode of Leverage was nearly impossible because there are so many that I love. There are three things about this episode that make it one of my favorites (four if you count Sophie’s especially fabulous outfits). First, Sterling is such a compelling antagonist and his relationship with Nate is fascinating. These two have an underlying respect for each other even if it is coupled with a lack of trust. There is no one else Sterling would have gone to in order to get his daughter back and no one who would have understood why he needed a con to do so better than Nate. Second, there are few things I love more than Eliot Spencer being a disaster when it comes to his feelings and never has that been more apparent than in this episode. Only he would unthinkingly hug Hardison and then immediately be annoyed that he did and try to pretend that Hardison initiated the hug. The lingering effects of the drugs lowered his inhibitions and walls and his instinctual response was to be as affectionate as Hardison would probably prefer. But he won’t let himself have that because he doesn’t think he deserves it and attachments are dangerous and whatever else he needs to tell himself to maintain that grumpy facade. Finally, Hardison is one of the best fictional boyfriends in the history of television and this episode is the reason why. He lets the hug thing slide and recognizes that Eliot would probably feel better if he beat some people up and finds some for him while they rescue Sophie, which is delightful on its own. But where he really comes through is with Parker. When we’re at our least confident, we revert back to old and familiar tendencies. So when faced with a heist that made her doubt her ability to get the job done, Parker lashed out and yelled at Hardison about things weighing her down (physically and metaphorically) and killing her. And he responds with understanding and kindness. That was true for much of Parker’s life and he’s never expected her to resolve her past issues immediately. He knows that trust doesn’t come easy for her. So he reassures her that she’s not alone any more, that’s he’s got her back and will be looking out for her. He calms her and refocuses her, not just in training but in the middle of the heist when she starts to doubt again. He plans ahead and makes sure he’s not leaving her without an escape route so he gives her a parachute and the opportunity to jump from one of the tallest buildings in a row. It’s the best gift he could have gotten her and one that comes out of the deepest understanding of who she is. They aren’t just words to him, he’s gonna back it up with his actions and do whatever it takes to help Parker feel safe and comfortable. I need more men like Hardison and more relationships like this one on TV because they are perfect.

Punchline (Take My Wife) I was really mad when I watched this for the first time because I didn’t watch it in time to include on my end of the year list for last year. This episode wasn’t the primary motivation for starting this new list but it was certainly on my mind as I did so. I love everything Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher wanted to do with this show and this episode in particular. In 22 minutes, they talked about the Bury Your Gays trend, the proliferation of rape jokes in comedy, and misgendering issues in bathrooms all while being funny and in love and Cameron meeting her fictional celebrity crush. In the midst of all of the greatness, there are two moments that stand out for me. The first is Cameron telling Rhea that she loves hosting their show with her and that she loves her. These two are wonderful together. They have so much love and admiration for each other and that naturally bleeds into the fictional versions of themselves and their relationship. It’s authentic and sincere and still not something we see very much of on television. The second is the Me Too moment that comes near the end of the show. I watched this episode a few months before the Harvey Weinstein article came out and raised the cultural awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. It wasn’t something that was being widely talked about at the time and was (and would continue to be if someone wanted to pick up the show and put the first season back online) a powerful and important moment to see on screen. As a whole, this is an episode I couldn’t get out of my head and a show I loved with all my heart. It was special and its voice will be missed.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Episodes that Didn’t Air This Year

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Best of 2017: Relationships

As much as I love individual characters, it’s the relationships those characters form that are the most interesting to me. Whether they are familial, platonic, romantic, or antagonistic, I need interesting characters interacting in interesting ways to truly be invested in a show. This year, I was all about the found families and groups of people taking on the world together. In a year where it seemed more important than ever to find your people to stand with you against whatever life and world may throw at you, it seems like no surprise that it was a dynamic I craved in my fiction.

1. Sensates + Allies (sense8) Yes, this is basically everyone on the show. I could have just picked the sensates on their own but excluding Amanita, Hernando, and Dani would have been disappointing, let alone everyone else like Bug and Detective Mun who I also adored. In any combination, this show does relationships well whether they are romantic, platonic, or somewhere in the middle. They would never have known each other without this bond between them, but now that they do, they couldn’t get away even if they wanted to. They are each other’s family and have each other’s backs no matter what. The core of the show will always be the connections these characters have with each other and it is better whenever it embraces that. It’s Amanita cancelling date night the second she hears Sun needs help, Wolfgang popping up to help Lito fight Joaquin, everyone showing up to support Capheus during his campaign speech, and everyone immediately dropping everything to save Wolfgang. Their love for each other is unbreakable and they are all better for it, as are we for having the chance to see them.

2. Emma and Maggie (Playing House) Look at what can happen when you let real life best friends write and star in a show where they get to play best friends. You get this beautiful friendship with all of its supportiveness and weirdness. These two are the kind of lifelong friends who can and have dropped everything in an instant when they other has needed them. The show started with Emma moving home for Maggie and ended with Maggie supporting Emma through breast cancer and recovery. They are sisters in all but blood and you can feel the love and history between them. It feels honest and real and there really is little else like it.

3. Ruth and Debbie (GLOW) To contrast the sweetness of Emma and Maggie, we have the infinitely more complicated friendship between Ruth and Debbie. Once again, there is a lot of history there. They were each other’s best friends but then Debbie got an acting job and husband and baby and Ruth had nothing. She got jealous and insecure and slept with Debbie’s husband. Naturally, Debbie found out and their resulting fight got them both a job where they would be forced to work together and be a team. Zoya and Liberty Belle are easy antagonists and it just makes it all the more apparent how much messier this actual relationship is. Despite the hurt, Debbie misses Ruth. It would be easier if she could just hate her and walk away but life doesn’t always work like that. Ruth is still the person who understands her the most and still the one she wants to talk to, which just makes her angrier that she can’t anymore. While they find a way to work together in the ring, repairing their personal relationship will take time and it’s the arc of the show I am most excited to return to next season.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Relationships

Best of 2017: Characters

This was an abnormally difficult category for me this year. While I watched about the same amount of television as I did last year and my overall enjoyment of them was higher (thanks to dropping some shows I wasn’t connecting with), there were fewer characters who really grabbed my heart. Part of this was almost certainly due to the fact that I watched Leverage for the first time this year and my love for those characters took up a lot of emotional space. I also seemed to be more drawn to found families even more than usual this year and connecting more with larger group dynamics than specific characters. But I truly don’t know how to watch TV without getting attached to characters and the emotional journeys they go through, so even in this harder year, there were still plenty of characters who inspired me and who I loved enough to want to recognize.

1. Sana Bakkoush (Skam) It’s been well-established by this point in time that I love characters who learn to let down their walls and find love and acceptance waiting for them on the other side. It is a story that will resonate with me every single time and this year, I got a particularly great one in Sana. She had already been my favorite going into the final season because of her loyalty, her fierce protectiveness of her friends, and her lack of interest in putting up with sexist or racist idiots. She seemed so confident in who she was and what she believed. This season, with her as the main character, we got to see how much of a front that confidence was and it only made me love her more. What we found underneath was a teenage girl who was torn between two worlds and two culture who couldn’t shake the idea that she was always coming up short and disappointing someone. She never felt like she could be enough of what people expected or needed her to be and so she stopped letting people see enough of her to truly know her. She gave so much and loved her friends fiercely but never gave them the chance to love her just as much. She was too ready to believe they would let her down and not accept the Muslim or Moroccan of her. It was hard to watch her continue to isolate herself as they seemed to validate every one of the fears she’d been holding on to, but a little communication goes a long way, and they showed her how important she was to their friend group. She came to realize that she was wrong and that her defenses were only holding her back and she decided to drop them. She showed them exactly who she was and revealed her vulnerabilities to them and they responded by loving her all the more. It’s often the characters we want to protect the most who reveal the most about ourselves and our own insecurities and who teach us the most and that was definitely true of Sana this year.

2. Nova Bordelon (Queen Sugar) I will never get enough of characters with soft, kind hearts who are also full of anger and drive to change their world and that perfectly describes Nova. She is so full of compassion and love for her family and friends and community and that shows in everything she does. It is the reason she gets up and fights every day and the reason she is the one they go to when they are looking for understanding and empathy. She is quick to celebrate the achievements of others and comfort them in times of sadness. She is a passionate activist who sees the wrongs that have been done to her city and her people and uses her voice as a journalist to speak out against those wrongs. She knows who she is and she knows why she fights and through it all, despite the things she has experienced, she has never let it make life hard or cruel. She doesn’t try to shut off her emotions when it all gets to be too much, she lets them push her forward and work harder. She can be stubborn and hard-headed which can be a problem when others disagree with her but it also makes her relatable to me. She is everything I want to be and a character I needed a lot this year.

3. Jacqueline Carlyle (The Bold Type) We’re all familiar with the horrible female boss stereotype. They’re successful but they are also cold and impossibly demanding, with little regard for anything resembling a work-life balance. They create an unpleasant environment for their (typically female) employees. The Bold Type chose to do something different. While Jacqueline is every bit as successful as the Miranda Priestlys of the fictional world, she doesn’t run Scarlet through fear. She’s a true mentor to Kat, Jane, and Sutton, pushing them and encouraging them to be the best they can be, both personally and professionally. She shows them how to find and own their voices. She has a supportive and loving husband, which is truly rare, and she’s unafraid to be vulnerable with her employees as the situation calls for. There is really no one else like her on television and I am so grateful that she exists.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Characters

Best of 2017: Actors

 

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s a time to celebrate the best the year had to offer and while much of the world seemed to bring about more anger and sadness, there were a lot of fictional things to love, both new and old. Over the rest of the month, I’ll be posting my lists of favorite things from this year. My normal categories of actors, characters, relationships, moments, episodes, and shows will be returning and I’ve added three new categories that I’m excited to share with you all. As always, this is a list that reflects more about who I am and what I enjoy in fiction than any attempt at an objective best. I find that I find a lot of thematic connections between the things that resonated with me in any given year and I hope that is true for many of you as well. It’s proved an excellent way to take a snapshot of the person I was when the list was written and I love being able to share myself with you all through these lists.

First up, it’s time to celebrate all of the wonderful performances we saw on television. Once again, it proved to be a stellar year for actresses with a wide variety of strong roles available to take on. In both comedies and dramas, it was often the women who stood out the most to me. The continued expansion of the types of roles we see women play excites me and I want to see it continue.

1. Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies) Hands down, this was the performance of the year. I was absolutely riveted every second Celeste was on screen. Kidman pulls off the combination of strength, fear, vulnerability, denial, and anger so well. We see the very careful facade she’s built for herself, especially during her therapy sessions with Dr. Reisman and we see the way her pain and fear shine through the cracks in the facade. We see her desire to free herself from the situation and her very real fear when Perry tells her he knows about her safe house. Above all, we feel everything because this performance is so transportative. It’s a deeply emotional role that I felt to my core and I can’t imagine anyone filling it as well as Kidman did.

2. Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) While this was a hard show and a hard role to watch at times, I can’t imagine a better casting choice. Moss is an incredibly expressive actress and the directing took full advantage of that fact in her many close-ups. In such a restrictive environment, small changes in facial expressions are all we have to know and understand Offred’s headspace in Gilead and how it changes as the season progresses. I’m not a big fan of enigmatic characters who can too often feel underdeveloped and I appreciated the fact that it was never the goal of the show to keep us guessing about June’s true feelings. We feel her anger, resentment, manipulation, and budding rebellion and would have even without the voiceovers. It takes a strong actress to convey so much with relatively little and Moss sold the performance, both on the show itself and as Offred to The Commander, every step of the way.

3. Matthew Rhys (The Americans) I’m not sure that there is anyone else on TV who can slowly fall apart quite as well as this man can. It’s happened over the course of the previous four seasons and it finally caught up to him. Philip was a man who was done with everything. He was done with the manipulation and sneaking around and the lies and it showed not just in Rhys’s expressions but his body language as well. Except for the wedding scene. It helps that he is acting alongside his actual wife, but it is the most at peace we saw Philip all season. This is why he keeps going in the morning, why he could never just walk away. There is a tenderness and love that is palpable between Rhys and Keri Russell that has always centered and informed Philip’s actions. We understand him through his love for his wife and his family and that is the part of the role that he has always played so exquisitely.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Actors

Best of 2016: Shows

There were 455 scripted TV shows that aired in 2016. No one could watch them all and no one save for critics could watch even a significant fraction of them. We have so many options now and a decent portion of them are really solid choices that are capable of exciting and enchanting us. This is always a hard list for me to make because I watch so much TV and I really love most of what I watch. So in addition to my top 10 that I’ve briefly talked about, I included an additional 10 honorable mentions that I would recommend just as enthusiastically as my actual top 10. Especially since when I finalize these lists, I always feel like I have more to say about my dramas so my comedy favorites get a little neglected.

1. Rectify (Sundance) What a beautiful, special show. Over the course of four seasons, this show has treated its characters with such empathy and grace. It has been a slow and thoughtful journey all leading up to the finale and an important realization. Mistakes of the past can’t always be rectified, but we can still grow and move past them. We can become better. We can heal. Daniel’s imprisonment and subsequent release are moments that will shape not only his life, but the lives of each member of his family and the people drawn into their world. But they do not have to define them any longer. There is room for hope and all the messy emotions that accompany it. There is a place for dreams that take you far outside your comfort zone. There is a place for family and love, for forgiveness and understanding. It is a time for rebirth. This show has been one of the most emotionally satisfying I have ever experienced and I will always be grateful that it existed and went out on its own terms.

2. The Americans (FX) This show just keeps getting better as the seasons go on. It’s in the act of maintaining the tension and the emotional release that I find the show most impressive and it did that better than ever this year. After years of service with little break, the Jennings finally got to step back from their duties and truly be a family. It was a peace that couldn’t last as they still have a job to do, but that small bit of relief made all the difference. This could be a dark and depressing show. It’s full of lies and secrets and pain, inflicted both intentionally and unintentionally. But just as Philip and Elizabeth’s break helped bring them back from their breaking point, this show finds ways to prevent itself from becoming unbearably bleak. It’s a show that loves and honors the connections these characters make, even if those connections ultimately end in heartbreak. It recognizes their value and the way Martha shaped Philip and Young Hee shaped Elizabeth. Just because they started as assets to be manipulated didn’t mean that was their full value. We were encouraged to love them and care for them just as much as the Jennings did even when we knew we shouldn’t. It’s remarkable storytelling and I could never recommend this show enough.

3. American Crime Story: People vs. OJ Simpson (FX) I can’t speak to the authenticity of this series but I do know what it has done to re-contextualize this trial and the people involved in it. The original was such a media spectacle that it seems a perfect fit for a television show like this, especially when combined with a talented cast such as this one. We got to see the role racism and sexism played, the way it became a media circus, and most importantly, we saw a show that never forgot the victims in this case. Yes, the trial was technically centered around OJ Simpson but it never felt like he was the star of the show. It was a battle of the lawyers and we saw how deeply the outcome of this case affected Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden. They wanted to win it for the Brown and Goldman families. They may not have won then and they have been mocked for it ever since, but I appreciate what this show has done to make people see how wrong they were to do so and for ending the show with Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, who somehow got lost amongst the madness of this trial.

4. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW) This show could have made the list for the music alone, which continues to be fantastic, but even beyond the clever songs, this is one of the most confidently made shows on TV. It always feels like it always knows where it wants to take these characters. It knows when to lean into expectations and when to run the other way from them. The second season has been especially smart in ditching the love triangle in a believable way while focusing on the real relationship of the show, the messy friendship between Rebecca and Paula. The supporting characters round out the cast in the most delightful ways and the show has become even better as more of them are able to be highlighted.

5. Person of Interest (CBS) I would have loved a longer final season but there were so many outstanding episodes in the one we got. This season gave us a look into Shaw’s mind and the depth of her love for Root. No matter what happened, in any scenario Samaritan could dream up, Root was her constant. Her touchstone. She is her safe place and the only thing on the planet she would die to protect. I think the writers would have loved to give these two more time, but maternity leave made that impossible, so we were given this beautiful gift and I’m grateful. We got some truly lovely moments of Team Machine coming together to protect The Machine and Finch. We saw to see the people the Machine had saved and later recruited to her cause come together to save the people who originally saved them. We saw this family come together to save each other and save the world. However unrealistic, I would have loved if they could have done it all without any losses. But I know that was never in the cards. John’s death was always coming and I’m sure he’s in the Machine listening to Root call him a big lug and having all those conversations with Joss they never got to have while she was alive. These characters will live on and the memory of this show will live on in the hearts of the fans and create new ones as people discover it through Netflix.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Shows

Best of 2016: Episodes

It’s been another outstanding year for television. With so many truly great and memorable episodes to choose from, I had to find some sort of logical way to whittle down this list to my top 10. This year it seems, I really loved episodes that wanted to be about something. I want my TV to take a hard look at topics that can be uncomfortable and shine a different light on them. I don’t want them to gloss over the uglier or more painful sides to humanity in service of a story. At the same time, I don’t want that ever be the whole focus. The best episodes are the ones that show a light ahead and connections being made between people even in the bleakest of times. The idea of connection and focus on relationships is so prevalent on this list, in both the top 10 and the honorable mentions. I love that this is the direction television seems to be going after the age of the solitary antihero and look forward to more fantastic episodes in 2017.

1. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia (American Crime Story: People v. OJ Simpson) This show tried to address a lot of things, many of which are found in this episode and all of which I find fascinating. But when I look at this episode in isolation and not part of the larger whole it is contained it, one thing stands out most in my mind. I remember Marcia Clark (as I should, given the episode title). I remember the sexism that surrounded her during this trial that manifested in ways large and small. While also prosecuting the biggest trial of her life, Clark was facing another battle. She was in the middle of custody and child support disputes. She wasn’t a good enough mother to her children because she wasn’t there enough. She wasn’t sufficiently attractive and well-dressed enough to win the public’s approval. And when she tried to change it, she didn’t do a good enough job there either. She dared to have her husband (at the time) take photographs of her naked on a beach, where they were presumably alone, and his decision to profit from their release became another flaw in her character. She failed to uphold traditional gender ideals and was punished for it. Yes, as a prosecutor, she and Chris Darden failed to convict OJ Simpson for a variety of reasons. But it would be foolish to act as though her gender didn’t hurt the way she was perceived in the years that follow. Sarah Paulson is simply incredible here in the way she portrays the toll things like this take on a person’s psyche. Her haircut made her feel confident. She was asked to care about it so she made a change and she felt beautiful. That confidence was quickly burst by the reactions of everyone in the courtroom, save for Darden. It was humiliating and hurt but she couldn’t show it because it would have made her weak. It would be yet another example of her failure to compose herself and be somehow unfit. So she blinked back those tears and pressed forward, knowing that the room and the world were now laughing at her. During all of this, she even had the pleasure of interacting with a store clerk who is so awful that I thought he was made up for the show. He wasn’t. Of almost everything she faces in this episode, all of which is gross and unfair, the period joke made by the cashier makes me the most mad. It is so intrusive and reiterates the idea that hormones and emotions make women unstable for a quarter of their lives from around the age of 13 until they hit menopause. The idea that you would make such a comment to a stranger as a joke is appalling to me, even more so because I know it’s not an isolated attitude. But even in the midst of all the awfulness, all is not dark. In the hardest times in our lives, sometimes we’re lucky enough to find someone who will hold us up when the burden in too much. In this episode, we see how much Darden was that person for Clark. He supports her, encourages her, and makes her laugh at a time she felt most alone. That connection is something special and beautiful and important and I love that it was highlighted here as well.

2. Twenty-Two (You’re the Worst) This episode is the best that You’re the Worst has and possibly will ever create. It’s episodes like this that make me love the show so fiercely, even when Gretchen and Jimmy are being nearly unbearably awful. In 25 minutes, Stephen Falk’s directing and Desmin Borges’s acting give us the most visceral example of PTSD that I can remember seeing on television. We not only see what Edgar is going through with the action onscreen, but we are put in his shoes with the ringing in his ears that never quite goes away and the lack of focus. We feel how broken down and exhausted he is by trying to survive day to day in a world where everything around him feels threatening and takes him back to his days in the military. Despite the heaviness of this episode, all hope isn’t lost. Just when Edgar is at his lowest point, he finds something that gives him a reason to hold on. It leads him back to his car, which is in the process of being towed, and he finally finds someone who is willing to listen to him and who can truly understand what he’s going through because he’s been there before. It’s a moment of pure connection that brought tears to my eyes. On a character level, I love that this moment made Edgar feel like he had the power to make changes for himself. It’s scary to know that you’re the one who is ultimately responsible for changing your life. But it’s scarier to believe that it’s entirely out of your hands. We can’t always fix the broken systems that surround us but we can do what we can to make a better life for ourselves despite their limitations. It was the message Edgar needed to hear. He was hoping that there would be a magical fix that could make him feel alive again because it’s exhausting to exist as he does. But letting go of that idea and committing to fixing yourself as best as possible is the only way to get the power back to truly start living. On a larger scale, I love the compassion that this episode has for veterans and the systems that may be well-intentioned but fail them anyway. It never loses sight of the twenty-two veterans who commit suicide daily and give this episode its name. It extends empathy for their struggles and shines a light on what they face after returning from war. It’s not always comfortable for civilians to think about and their struggles often get overlooked once they’re home. In an ideal world, it shouldn’t take episodes of television to make us care about real world issues like mental illness or police violence. But to deny the power of this medium to make abstract struggles personal and understandable to people without direct experiences with them would be a mistake and it is my hope that this episode made people think and feel and care just a little more than they did before.

3. The Threshold (Halt and Catch Fire) What a magnificent episode. As is not at all atypical for me, this one’s a tough one to watch and I love it. It hurts to see these characters implode. It hurts to see the relationships these characters have formed explode. I will admit to not being much of a Joe McMillan fan. I am aware that he has a story line in this episode but for me, it pales in comparison to what happens at Mutiny. No matter what combination you put them in, the actors were magnificent. We saw the entangled weave of personal and professional connections among the core four of Mutiny and how that became their undoing. We saw relationships solidify or come back together only to be destroyed in the end. In the hands of lesser actors or writing, it could have felt manipulative. For Halt and Catch Fire, it felt right. The characters all made the decisions that made the most sense for them and their development. Had it strictly been a business dispute or a personal fight, it would not have had nearly the same impact. No one exemplifies the lack of separation between business and personal than Cameron Howe. She was Mutiny. It was her. She had a vision of what the company could be and she poured her entire being into making that vision come to life. It didn’t always make business sense. She was terrible at delegating and there was no way to create what she wanted in the time frame she was given. So to reject that vision instead of a deal that seemed to make more business sense was to reject her and what she had given to the company. And when everyone voted against her, she felt that loss on a personal level. She lost a partner, a mentor, and a friend. All she had left was her husband, who she spontaneously married during a time of emotional distress. While the relationship wasn’t terrible, it lacked the foundation she had with Donna and Bos. Donna tried to keep things separate at first. She thought she could have Cameron’s friendship and also her own vision for the company, knowing it conflicted with Cameron’s. But when the disagreement about the business became heated, the attacks quickly became personal. The choices made in that room on that day broke what they once shared. When no compromise could be found, all that was left was destruction. It took out Cameron and Bos’s recently repaired relationship and what was becoming a sweet friendship between Cameron and Gordon with it, but at the end of the day, those severed bonds were only casualties of the rift between Cameron and Donna. It’s tense, painful and brilliantly constructed and acted.  

Continue reading Best of 2016: Episodes

Best of 2016: Moments

This is my fourth list of the year and the first one I’ve really had a difficult time ranking. Even more so than favorite characters or relationships, this list feels like a reflection of who I am and what I love about television. The specific moments and events that resonate with people are so individual and don’t always have the same effect out of context. Some stand on their own, but others are only pieces (often culminations) of a character’s journey over seasons or entire series. No matter how many of these moments you are familiar with, I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts about them and share some of your own favorites in the comments below.

1. Lorelai’s best memory of Richard (Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life) I’m not sure that Lauren Graham has ever been better than she was in this scene. Though time has passed since his death, Lorelai still hadn’t managed to fully process the realities of her father’s death. There was a loss in the general sense but the full force of her emotions had yet to hit her until she stood and looked at the wilderness. While Lorelai had a complicated relationship with her parents, she loved Richard. He was distant and not as involved as she might have needed, but he loved her and tried to show it as best he could. Teenage heartbreak is kind of the worst. Without any perspective, all you have is the fact that it hurts and is humiliating and makes you question everything. Richard knew where to find Lorelai and knew what would help ease the pain. He knew she wanted the pretzel and knew what kind of movie she would want to see. He knew she didn’t need a lecture, just some love and compassion. He knew she needed this to be a secret from Emily, who wouldn’t have understood either of their actions at the time. On that day, Richard gave Lorelai exactly what she needed. She needed to feel as though someone saw her and understood her just as she was. It wasn’t a feeling she got often in her childhood. Richard never intended to hurt his daughter or push her away. He loved her deeply even if he couldn’t always demonstrate it in a way Lorelai needed. But he left her with this memory, this secret between just the two of them. And by letting Emily in on the secret, by showing her that Lorelai was missing her father just as much as Emily was missing her husband, he helped repair the rift between them just enough to keep a relationship possible.

2. I’m gonna miss her (The Americans) For a scene with so few words, so much is said and expressed. For the first time in Elizabeth’s adult life, she had a friend. Though it started as an assignment and though Elizabeth could never be fully honest with her, she genuinely enjoyed Young Hee’s company. The laughter and friendship was real, even if it’s origins weren’t. I wish that there could have been another way, that Elizabeth could have kept this. The fact that she even tried speaks volumes about what this relationship meant to her. But there wasn’t, so after doing her duty for her country, she came home and let herself be vulnerable and comforted by her husband. She’s honest here, in a way she can only be with Philip. He’s the only one who gets to see this side of her, the fragile side. He can’t make it better but he can sit there with her so she doesn’t have to be any more alone than she already feels like she is.

3. It’ll always be yours (Game of Thrones) I stopped watching this show last season but this relationship is something that they are getting exactly right and that is all thanks to Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. They love these characters and their dynamic so much and it shines through in every scene they share. Every interaction is so layered and full of unspoken truths each are unable to give voice to. By allegiance, they are on opposing sides of this war. Jaime is loyal to his family and Brienne continues to honor her oath pledged to Catelyn and now Sansa Stark. That fact hangs heavy over their reunion. They recognize that there may come a day when they are asked to fight against each other and Jaime is doing is best not to think about that fact. Brienne tries to deal with it head on and essentially tells him that despite her love for him, her pledge comes first. It’s always the things that are unsaid that are most important with these two, especially when it comes to Oathkeeper. We know it symbolizes their relationship. It’s their unwavering faith in each other’s word and honor. They know it too and you see that in the scene where Brienne tries to return it. She’s terrified of what loving this man might mean and how she can reconcile that with her duties. She’s afraid to lose him but also afraid to have him. Jaime on the other hand, is more sure of his love, but not ready to face the consequences that love will bring. There is a tenderness in the way he says “it’ll always be yours” that leaves little doubt as to what he is actually talking about, a fact not missed by Brienne judging by her face. Every time Coster-Waldau and Christie share a scene together, I’m left in awe of their ability to convey so much in a look or change of tone. I may not care about much else on the show, but these two will always bring me back.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Moments

Best of 2016: Characters

On television as in life, it does not do to stagnate. We must continue to change and if we are to become the best versions of ourselves. We won’t always change in positive ways, sometimes we end up in places we later realize we don’t want to be. But we must always believe that growth is possible and above all else, that hope can be found. Hope for a better life. Hope for peace. Hope for the chance to be a part of something.

I have always been a person who is more drawn to the characters on a TV show than the plot itself. My engagement rests on the ability of a show to create compelling arcs and believable characters and motivations. Whether it has been a striking change over the course of a season or the retrospective observation of a character’s full journey, these stories were the ones that most grabbed my attention and my love.

1. Maya Hart (Girl Meets World) I started watching Girl Meets World this year and Maya quickly became one of my favorite characters of all time. This year was one of great uncertainty for her. She and her best friend were caught in a love triangle with their first crushes. She temporarily lost her way and had to rediscover who she is and who she wants to be. She finally had something good happen that she had hoped for and she was so scared that it was going to go away that she tried to push it away so it couldn’t hurt her in the future. Compared to her growth and slow embrace of hope in season two, she backslid a little and it only increased my feelings of protectiveness over her. She’s a young teenager, of course she doesn’t have it all figured out yet. But that urge to run, to avoid hoping for things because it hurts that much more when they disappear, that’s something that can resonate with people of all ages. She’d rather hurt herself than let someone else hurt her but she’s growing. She’s trying and learning that it is OK to have hope and that good things can happen to her. It’s not a linear process and sometimes she needs a reminder but it doesn’t make the journey any less valuable or compelling to watch.

2. Kelly Severide (Chicago Fire) Kelly’s been my favorite male on the show since episode one and I could not have asked for more from him this year. Since Shay’s death (and even before, but at least he had her to call him out on his nonsense), most of his stories have involved him impulsively sleeping with someone in an attempt to run away from any deeper examination of his feelings. He doesn’t believe that he’s capable of forming any real romantic connections and is so concerned with losing someone else important to him so for years he’s pretended that he isn’t interested. Some of the fault lies with the show for not giving him more to do until this year but that self-doubt has been a prominent feature in his character arc from the beginning. This year, he decided he could do more. He deepened his friendship with Casey back to what I imagine they were before they lost Andy. He’s become one of Gabby’s sounding board as well when she has doubts. He made connections with people that had nothing to do with sex. And finally, in the 100th episode, he decided to become a bone marrow donor and save the life of a young woman with leukemia. He wants to be a part of something bigger than himself and is craving those connections with others. He cares so much, whether he will admit it to himself or not. He’s often self-destructive, but he’s a good man and it’s time for him to recognize that and move forward.

3. Vanessa Ives (Penny Dreadful) No matter how strong a person is, they need people by their side to love them and hold them up when they need help remembering who they are. Vanessa started the season alone and depressed. Her love had turned himself in for the crimes he committed in his home country of America, her surrogate father went on a voyage to Africa to bury their friend, and the comfort she once found in God’s presence was gone. It had been broken by the events of the previous season and she thought there could be nothing left for her. But even without those things, she was determined to press on. She found new friends and allies and remembered someone who showed her incredible kindness in the face of the brutality of the asylum. She was once again hunted by the forces of evil, by the twin forces of Lucifer and Dracula. She managed to be seduced by one of them, convinced that darkness was her destiny and fighting would only lead to more suffering. It was heartbreaking to see her give in to the force she’d spent so long fighting against. It was equally heartbreaking to see her summon the strength to fight it one final time, in the form of her own sacrificial death to rid the world of the evil contained inside her. I wanted a life for her, with Ethan and the children she longed for. I still wish there had been another way to end the series. But she chose the faith that defined her in her last moments. She knew Ethan loved her deeply and that she was not lost to God. She was at peace for once in her adult life. It was a bittersweet ending for a character who has touched me so deeply but I wouldn’t have traded the time I spent with the character or the lessons she taught me for anything.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Characters

Best of 2016: Actors

This is my favorite time of year as a writer. It is the only one that I make sure to, even if my writing output for the rest of the year has been less than desirable. I love it for a couple of reasons. First, I love recommending television to people. The sheer amount of television available is overwhelming and if I can help someone find a TV show they would have otherwise never heard of or if I can sell a show in a different way that resonates with them, I’m happy. I want to share the things I love. Second, these lists are a chance for me to be introspective. They allow me to look at what I loved and why this year. I get to see whether the broad genres of comedy or dramas are more engaging to me. I get to think about where the shows I love have aired and be excited about the way their distribution affects the story they are telling. Most of all, I get to think about what resonated with me. Whose emotional journeys touched my heart the most? What kinds of stories did I want to see? How are those stories being told?

To start out this year’s celebration of the things I loved in television, I decided to try something new. I added a list this year to my traditional line-up of characters, relationships, moments, episodes, and shows. There is some incredible talent on TV right now and I wanted to be able to recognize some of it. In other changes this year, I am trying my hand at ranking my choices for further introspection on my part. I hope you all enjoy reading my picks as much as I enjoyed writing about them and share your own in the comments below. In the upcoming weeks, keep an eye on Nerdy Girl Notes and MGCircles Media for even more year-end fun!

1. Adan Young (Rectify) Any member of the Rectify cast could have been on this list as each one has been incredible in the final season. But this show would not exist in this form without Adan Young’s Daniel. His performance is achingly raw and honest, to an extent that is both beautiful and painful to watch. Young has put his soul into this performance for the past four years and created something extraordinary. I can’t think of anything else on television like it and I feel fortunate to have seen it.

2. Eva Green (Penny Dreadful) I’m incredibly sad that this is the last time Eva Green will be eligible for this list (at least for her performance as Vanessa Ives) because since Penny Dreadful came on the air, she has been one of the best performers on TV. Her performance is uninhibited and no matter what has been asked of her, she has imbued her acting with a physicality that few others can rival. She brought this character to life in a truly extraordinary way and I am so grateful to her for that.

3. Keri Russell (The Americans) Elizabeth has always been the less approachable of the two Jennings adults. Her devotion to Mother Russia was (mostly) unwavering and her emotional distance a necessity of the job asked of her. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel things deeply and Keri Russell has never let us forget that. We see the hurt and the heartbreak this job can cause, her fierce love for her children and her desire to share herself with them more fully. Then we see her put her spy mask back on and transform into someone who can’t be allowed those feelings because they interfere with her duty. It’s only when she’s back home again with Philip that she’s allowed to be vulnerable and we feel all of those nuances and shifts with Russell’s extraordinary performance.

4. Sarah Paulson (People vs. OJ Simpson)Her performance of Marcia Clark was nothing short of extraordinary. Since the trial, Clark has had so much ridicule and scorn directed her way and Sarah Paulson showed America just how wrong they were to do so. She gave some dignity and respect to a woman who fought so hard for justice for two families and who never lost sight of the victims in the media circus. The empathy and depth she brought to the role and the respect she had for the real Marcia Clark was so evident, both onscreen and off. In a cast full of incredible performances, she was one of the highlights.

5. Sterling K. Brown (People vs. OJ Simpson, This Is Us) This has been a stellar year for Sterling K. Brown. Not only did he give us a layered and complex portrayal of Chris Darden in but he’s also the best part of This Is Us. In both roles, he brings a quiet intensity to his performances that is absolutely riveting. You can’t help but believe in his sincerity and his emotions, whether the scene is sharing a sweet dance with a coworker or in the face of heartbreaking betrayal.

Continue reading Best of 2016: Actors

Best of 2015: Shows

Happy New Year, everyone! I was enjoying a much-needed vacation and now that I am back, it’s time to talk about my favorite shows of last year. My contenders for this list turned into a monster that grew entirely out of control. There was a lot of TV made in 2015, as was been noted, and there was a lot of it that was good. I love the transition to a greater quantity of TV that will appeal to a smaller number of people. Not every show can or should be Empire but all have the ability to resonate deeply with people and that is what this list is to me. These are the 10 shows that resonated with me the most in 2015 (and another 15 honorable mentions just because I love TV and want to see it celebrated).

For even more Best of 2015 fun, check out MGCircles and Nerdy Girl Notes if you haven’t already for their takes on the best TV had to offer last year.

Parks and Recreation All anyone really wants from a final season of a show is for it to honor the investment they have put into it. That means different things to different people and looks a little different for character-based vs. mythology-based shows, but it all boils down to us wanting the things we love to end strongly, if they have to end at all. I would have happily watched another several seasons of Parks and Recreation but since that wasn’t an option, I can’t have chosen a better final season. It was everything I could have asked for as it closed this chapter of the story for these characters while allowing me to see a future in which they are all still close. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and it gave me even more of Leslie Knope to be inspired by and that’s really the show in a nutshell. It was a show that made me feel good and believe that people can and want to do good for others and be rewarded for that goodness. It was a show about friendship and the joy that comes from watching your friends succeed. It was a show about believing in yourself and never giving up on your dreams. It was a special show and I’m glad it got the ending it deserved.

The Americans What a brilliantly crafted season. It was gripping and tense from start to finish all while allowing for some quiet moments of intimacy and grounding that prevented things from feeling oppressively bleak. This show isn’t a typical spy show, it’s a character study about faith and allegiances and family. This season highlighted the similarities between Paige and Elizabeth and the wholehearted way they embrace their beliefs and how those beliefs help to provide a structure to their lives. Elizabeth may not understand why Paige believes what she does but the underlying desire to be a part of something greater is the same for both of them. Philip, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same grounding faith as his wife and daughter and he was adrift for much of the season, caught between trying to be a loyal agent and the man he wants to believe himself to be. Seeing the growing divide between Philip and Elizabeth was painful to watch but Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell continue to be captivating screen partners and the work Holly Taylor and Alison Wright did as Paige and Martha was simply incredible. Taylor and Wright in particular took two characters who could have been stereotypes and far less fleshed out and made them into characters we want to root for and protect from the life the KGB thrust upon them.

Jane the Virgin This is one of the best crafted shows on the air right now. The writing is sharp, clever, and incredibly self-aware all while also being funny and emotional. The care that goes into crafting this show and balancing its numerous elements is evident in every scene and I will never think it gets enough credit for the wonderful job it is doing. It is easy for many to dismiss the quality of the show because it doesn’t doesn’t hit the various markers of “prestige TV” but those who do are doing themselves a disservice. Shows don’t have to be dark or constantly serious in order to be well-made. They can be full of warmth and love and joy and be every bit as good as anything else on the air if a person is willing to put down their preconceived notions of what the show is and instead embrace the amount of respect and love everyone associated with this show has for its telenovela roots and how they have played with its genre to create something wholly their own. I love these characters, so I’m already inclined to enjoy the show but at least once an episode, something will happen that makes me pause and marvel at how well-done the show is. Anyone who is a fan of high quality TV should check this show out and enjoy what this incredible cast and crew has to offer.

Continue reading Best of 2015: Shows