Category Archives: Best of the Year

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

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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

Best of 2015: Episodes

Choosing the best episodes of the year is always tough because it can be tricky to compare against many different types of shows. Ultimately, as always, I opted to discuss the ones that touched me the most. Whether it was for a standout moment, a departure from the ordinary, the relationships showcased or saying goodbye to a show, these are the episodes I could watch again and again. They were executed well and made me feel and there isn’t a better qualification, in my opinion.

One Last Ride (Parks and Recreation) To close out seven seasons of the show, Parks and Recreation chose to spend their final episode by reflecting on these characters and how they have been changed by knowing Leslie Knope. For a character whose dreams always included the happiness of her friends, I can think of no better ending. The unique structure allowed us to peek into the future and know that these characters had bright lives ahead of them. We got to say goodbye to each of them individually before we got to celebrate one final moment of them working together to make a difference in a small, rather unappreciated way. We got one more chance to celebrate the friendship between this intense, occasional steamroller of a woman and her beautiful tropical fish (and cry many tears at their reunion). We got one more look at the unconditional support and belief that Ben Wyatt has in his wife and got to see Leslie accomplish everything she had ever wanted. We even had time for one last library joke. Nobody does anything alone. Leslie taught us that has she achieved all of her goals with the people of the Parks and Recreation department of Pawnee, Indiana by her side. It is a beautiful message and the only real way to say goodbye to this beautiful show.

Stingers (The Americans) A single scene and its fallout elevate this episode into one of the best of the year and the best thing The Americans did in an incredible season. This scene wasn’t loud or splashy, but instead was quiet and almost painfully tense. For the first time in her life, Paige’s parents decided to be honest about who they were. It was a question she had every right to ask because no one can pretend that their life is perfectly normal. It was also a question whose answer she was in no way prepared for. Her parents were similarly unprepared to tell her the truth though I’m glad they did. They understood what they were asking of Paige even if I think they overestimated what a teenage girl could reasonably be expected to bear. And so they told her with as much compassion and love as they could muster because despite their history and everything they have been asked to fake, they’ve never needed to fake their love for their children. This scene was so affecting because you could feel Philip and Elizabeth’s need for Paige to understand and accept what they were saying just as much as we felt how overwhelming all of this information was to Paige in this moment and for the rest of the episode. Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, and Holly Taylor are all so talented and made this a scene and an episode I won’t forget.

Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television (Community) There was no other way for Community to end. The final episode needed Jeff to come to terms with himself and be wonderfully meta about the role television plays in our lives. This episode was Dan Harmon’s thank you letter to his fans. It was an acknowledgement of the show’s ups and downs and a statement of his vision and everything he put into creating such a weird little show that never found mass success but inspired a dedicated following. It was his frustration of the way the show was received by fans and an admission that it’s hard to create a TV show that is everything each viewer needs and wants it to be. Saying goodbye is hard, whether it’s to a show you love or to your best friends as they go off and start new chapters in their lives. But things can’t stay the same, in television or in life. Change is needed. People need to move on and grow so they don’t end up in a permanent stasis that isn’t true to who they are. This episode was about welcoming that change and by making it as much about TV and the viewers as it did about the characters, Community gave us a fitting end so we would be ready for whatever the future held for the show.

The Devil’s Mark (Outlander) In this episode, Claire found out that that she wasn’t the only time-traveler in Scotland and Jaime found that that Claire was from the future. These two events changed Outlander and solidified the bond between Claire and Jaime. From now on, these two are full partners, with the knowledge that they have chosen each other and their life together. When a character is keeping a secret as big as Claire’s, we know as viewers that it can’t last forever. Eventually, someone one has to find out. Often times, it gets revealed for an easy source of drama, but Outlander chose to go a different route. Jaime may not understand how all of this was possible but he listens and he chooses to trust his wife and let her decide how she wanted to move forward. Their separation at the stones was painful because you could see the effect it was having on both. They got married out of necessity but the love between them is real. Catriona Balfe and Sam Heughan have incredible chemistry with each other and they sell the epic love story that is Jaime and Claire. Their reunion at the end and the tender kiss they share says what words couldn’t at the moment. Claire no longer wanted to go home. Or rather, she didn’t want to go back to her own time. She did choose to go home but that home was now wherever she and Jaime could be together.

Continue reading Best of 2015: Episodes

Best of 2015: Moments

If you haven’t already, take a look at my choices for Best Shows I Didn’t See, Best Characters, and Best Relationships and share your own choices for these categories. For even more end of the year TV fun, check out Nerdy Girl Note’s best performances of 2015 and MGCircles Media’s best shows of the year

In a year of great television, there will always be moments that stand out to you and that resonate with you just a little more. It is these moments that you will carry with you as you continue to watch more television and it will be these moments that you remember from their respective series. These moments all made me feel deeply and it was truly a pleasure to experience them this year.

Connor and Jude hold pinkies (The Fosters)  I don’t watch very many shows with younger characters so I don’t often get to experience a character’s first love. The Fosters had been slowly moving toward a relationship between Connor and Jude and the process of watching them figure out their feelings toward each other has been incredible. I love this moment for two reasons. First, it perfectly captures the early stages of a crush that could maybe turn into something more. The hesitation, the fear, and the exhilaration were all there on both Connor and Jude’s faces and actions. It feels right and takes me back to those days in my own life. Second, while it has a lot of older fans, The Fosters is geared toward a younger audience. I love Stef and Lena’s relationship and think it’s one that is so important to see on TV but they are older and more sure of who they are. They have already gotten past the early stages in their relationship when they are trying to figure things out. Jude is just now getting to go through that and for younger gay or questioning teens, this is a moment they haven’t gotten to see on TV the way their straight peers have. It is the sort of moment I want to see more of on TV as we allow for stories to be told about a greater variety of people.

Elizabeth kills Betty (The Americans) What a moment of television. The work that Keri Russell and Lois Smith did for this entire episode was brilliant but it was in the moments just prior to Betty’s death that Elizabeth was forced to take a hard look at what she was doing with her life. Betty knew that there was no getting out of the situation. She was going to die that night and nothing she said would change that fact. But she left Elizabeth with a lingering thought. Would killing her, an old woman who happened to be in the building at the wrong time, make the world a better place? Elizabeth has rarely shied away from the difficult aspects of her work as a spy. The cause is a part of her and the things she does are in service to that cause. Even with all she has seen, this price was higher than usual. She gave Betty as gentle of a death as she could but having to do so rattled her more than an ordinary assignment. Betty brought out a moment of vulnerability in Elizabeth as she told the story of her life and her relationship with her husband and for a moment, Elizabeth allowed herself to feel (and us to see) the weight of her actions upon her. She may believe in the cause and she may be a very talented and committed spy, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel the collateral damage her line of work brings.

Clarke leaves Camp Jaha (The 100) This scene hurts. From the haunted look in Clarke’s eyes to the pleading look in Bellamy’s, you can’t help but feel for these characters and everything they’ve been through. These two just made a choice that led to the death of hundreds of people, some of them innocent of the crimes committed against the Sky People. It was the last straw in a series of hard choices that left Clarke broken and questioning who she was. She needed to heal and find herself again but she is also punishing herself by depriving herself of the comfort that people like Bellamy, Monty, and Abby could provide her. She needs to walk away because she doesn’t believe she deserves the forgiveness Bellamy is offering her, the forgiveness she once offered him for his crimes. The callback to Clarke asking Bellamy to stay because she needed him and her own inability to do the same for him is heartbreaking. These two are separating at the time both of them need the comfort of the other and the reminder that they share this burden and can overcome it together. You see it in the way Clarke pulls Bellamy close and the way he holds on like he doesn’t want to let go. And you see it in the way she pulls away and the haunted yet determined look on his face as she does. In their final words, the “may we meet again” isn’t just what Sky People say to each other to say goodbye, it’s a promise that they will see each other again, this isn’t the end of their journey. One way or another, these two will find their way back to each other.

Lily rises (Penny Dreadful) Accent slip aside, Billie Piper is phenomenal in this scene. In life, Brona was a prostitute, an object for men to use and discard. In death, Lily is still an object, dressed up and posed for Victor and Caliban to fight over and possess. She is something they are owed because they find her beautiful and it is because of them she has been brought back from death. For all the lip service Victor gives to Lily being her own person, she could never be anything more than his toy. After remembering what her life had been like and comparing that to her life post-death, in this moment, Lily has had enough. She has had enough of being used. She’d fed up with the lack of agency afforded to her in life or death. She is done with the idea that women in Victorian England exist only for the enjoyment of the men around them. And so she rises, not as Brona the prostitute or Lily the reanimated corpse, but as a villain, furious and terrifying. No longer will she bow and cater to the whims of men. From now on, they will cower in front of her as she takes back all the power she’s never had in life and channels it into a roaring flame within. Piper gave this scene everything she had and it was powerful to see.

Continue reading Best of 2015: Moments

Best of 2015: Relationships

Now that I’ve shared some of my favorite individual characters of 2015, it’s time to move on to some of my favorite relationships. Some people watch TV for the plot of a show. I watch for the relationships. Whether that relationship is romantic, platonic, familial or even antagonistic, it’s these relationships that get me invested and keep me coming back for more.

Bellamy and Clarke (The 100) Over the course of two seasons, the relationship between Bellamy and Clarke has grown from enemies to co-leaders to friends. While much of their development happened prior to this year and their time on-screen together was limited, the strength of their bond shone through the distance. We saw the unshakable belief that they would save their people and that the other could do the impossible. We saw the trust they have in each other. We saw Clarke’s concern for Bellamy. We saw that Bellamy would do anything to protect Clarke. We saw them make an awful decision to save their people. We saw them say goodbye. It was basically a year of pain for these two but until the end, they had each other. It has been each of them doing what was best for their people, confident in the knowledge that the other would do the same. Their goodbye may have been sad but in it, you see exactly what these two are to each other. You see the security and the teamwork and the history and the love. That love may not be romantic yet (or ever) but that doesn’t diminish its strength. Bellamy is Clarke’s home and she is his.

Abbi and Ilana (Broad City) I can never get enough of female friendships on TV and while they may not be the most conventional of people, the love they have for each other resonates deeply with me. Thanks in part to Ilana Glazer’s and Abbi Jacobson’s off-screen friendship, the easy dynamic of their on-screen counterparts suggests a long history together. These two accept each other exactly as they are. They have clearly seen each other at their best and worst and at the end of the day, there really isn’t anyone they’d rather spend time with. Ilana is clearly the less inhibited of the two and while that could scare some people away, Abbi appreciates that about her. Sometimes you just need to call your best friend when the guy you’ve been crushing on forever wants you to peg him and sometimes the best response that friend can give is to literally dance in excitement for you. Ilana wants Abbi to experience as much of life as she possibly can and she knows Abbi wants that to but isn’t always brave enough to go for it. She pushes her just far enough outside her comfort zone to try new things all while offering someone supportive to fall back on in case it doesn’t work out. They can be crazy and ridiculous but but they love each other and support each other and that’s what lifelong friends do.

Joe and Barry (The Flash) Of the many wonderful relationships shown on the show, this one continues to be so much of its emotional core. While they aren’t biologically related to each other, these two are father and son. Joe has never tried to diminish Barry’s relationship with his biological father but it’s been clear since episode one that they consider each other family. As his adoptive father, Joe wants what is best for Barry. This was never more clear than their discussion in the season one finale “Fast Enough”. Joe loved Barry enough to give him a chance to grow up with his biological parents, even if it meant losing all the memories and love these two had built. Barry may have missed his parents growing up but all it took was the torn expression on his face to make it clear that this wasn’t an easy decision. It was Joe who got through to Barry as a child to tell him it was OK to grieve and it’s been Joe supporting and loving Barry through his experiences as a superhero. Joe now knows that he does have a biological son but the watch he gave Barry is a reminder that he’s also his son, even if it’s not by blood.

Will and Hannibal (Hannibal) I want to send all of the awards to Bryan Fuller, Mads Mikkelsen, and Hugh Dancy for bringing this beautiful, destructive, and deeply intimate relationship to life. This friendship gave both Hannibal and Will something they had longed for – recognition of who they were. They saw everything about each other and accepted it all. None of the harm they did to each other ultimately mattered because their intersection forever altered their lives. Since their introduction, their worlds have slowly merged as they’ve rotated around each other until there was little space left between them. Where one is, the other is as well. Drawn together by an inescapable force, these two will never be free of the other. They understand each other in a way that no one else in their lives is capable of and while it was not what you would call a healthy relationship, the power they held over each other was strong. It was strong enough for Will to admit that even after everything Hannibal did to him in season two, he would have run off with him. It was strong enough that even after Will betrayed him (in Hannibal’s mind at least) he made it so that Will would come find him. Hannibal was smart enough to live the rest of his life without being caught but then he would have been without Will and he wasn’t able to live with that. Their relationship is intoxicating to them both and absolutely compelling for the viewers.

Continue reading Best of 2015: Relationships

Best of 2015: Characters

Now that I’ve discussed the shows I didn’t get to see, it’s time to start talking about all the things I’ve loved about television this year. I watch TV for the emotional engagement more than any other element of a show and that’s what this list and the other four I will be releasing represent. They represent the characters, relationships, moments, episodes, and shows I have been drawn to the most over the course of this year. Each list has gone through several iterations until I landed on one that felt the most right and authentic to my engagement over the year and I would like to think that in years to come, I will be able to look back on this list and see who I was in 2015 and how that related to the media I connected with. That, even more than recommending new shows to people, is why I enjoy these lists. They are a record for me of what I loved and how I loved them, as I believe they are for everyone else who makes similar lists.

There were a lot of characters that caught my attention this year. Some for their personality, some for the struggles they went though, and some for what they represent and their importance to the larger pop culture landscape. These are the ten that resonated with me the most.

Mariana Foster (The Fosters) This year, Mariana coded a routine for her dance team’s competition and lost her virginity to her sister’s ex-boyfriend. She did amazing things and she made huge mistakes. While that level of complexity from a teenage girl (who isn’t even the main character on her show) shouldn’t be remarkable, it still is in today’s TV environment. She has wholeheartedly embraced the power of “and” by refusing to fit into a convenient mold. She loves both dance and STEM, looking pretty and being valued for her intelligence. She wants it all because she’s been taught she can be both and she will challenge anyone who thinks otherwise. And that is a remarkable thing in any character, let alone one who is only 15. But despite that, she’s not perfect. She’s not immune from society’s messaging. She slept with Wyatt because she was hurt and because she felt like everyone else was having sex so she should be able to as well. She messed up and did something she regretted and caused herself and people around her pain but it never made her less of character. There were consequences but she wasn’t demonized for her choice even though she knew it was the wrong one.

Ilana Wexler (Broad City) This was a fabulous year for messy, flawed women in comedy and Ilana Wexler is their queen. As Lindsay Jillian (You’re the Worst) would say, Ilana “wears her stains on the outside” except Ilana doesn’t even think of them as stains, just another aspect of herself that makes her fabulous. She’s self-absorbed and a terrible employee and is kind of awful to most people she interacts with but you still can’t help admiring her confidence in herself. Ilana has no front, she is exactly who she is at all times. She is entirely controlled by her impulses and makes messes that Abbi ends up cleaning up, but at the end of the day, Abbi doesn’t care because she knows Ilana would do anything for her. Ilana loves Abbi so entirely and it grounds her character. She’s always going to be someone most of us envy at least a little for her ability to do whatever she wants with seemingly few severe consequences but it’s in her love for Abbi that she becomes a full person and not just a chaotic, impulse-driven plot device.

Clarke Griffin (The 100) If anyone needs a hug on TV right now, it’s Clarke. She went through more in 7 episodes than many characters do in an entire season. She has been in so many situations where there is no clear answer and she’s done her best to make the right choice but the weight, pressure, and consequences of those choices have been their toll. Clarke is a good leader because of her love for her people. It’s what drives her to keep them safe and risk everything to get them back. But she knows that alone won’t save them. She needs to be smart and strategic as well. She needs to be pragmatic. She believes herself to be a good person (and I think she’s right about that) but when that belief, her love for her people and her strategy and pragmatism come into competition, how is anyone supposed to hold on to who they are? Especially in the face of a strong leader who is telling her that the love that partly defines her is weakness. The choices she has made have been strategic and worked toward her goal of rescuing her people. But they weren’t without a heavy cost. She was responsible for a lot of pain and death this year and now that the battles have been won, she must learn to face herself and the person she’s become.

Vanessa Ives (Penny Dreadful) Where season one Vanessa was haunted and more reserved, season two gave us a new side to Vanessa. She’s still haunted, as one could expect of someone being courted by the devil, but she’s no longer alone. She has gathered a group of people around her who care for her and wish to protect her, not out of obligation or to use her for their own ends, but because of who she is. Her rift with Malcolm repaired, her friendships with Ethan and Victor strengthened, and the loyalty of Sembene affirmed, Vanessa is free to experience moments of happiness and something akin to peace. And in those moments, we see the kind soul she possesses underneath the evil power she is capable of wielding. Vanessa can be both the person who saw and loved the poet in a monster and the person who essentially told the devil to go to hell in his own language. She longs for a normal life but knows that as long as she still suffers, it’s not a life she can allow herself to have. She longs for a lasting peace, one in which her thoughts, dreams, and prayers are safe. And as we see her goodness and the care she shows to those who are otherwise outsiders (not a pleasant place to be in Victorian England), we want her to find that peace. We want the struggle to be over so she can live the life in her dream. She couldn’t grasp that vision this season, but you can bet I’ll be tuned into the next one to see her continue to battle her demons.

Continue reading Best of 2015: Characters