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Best of 2017: Shows

This was easily the hardest list to make and the one that changed the most as I was making the list and writing. There was so much I loved that I once again couldn’t narrow it down to just ten, and the honorable mentions are as solid as my actual list. It was a year where I wanted comedies and stories about women finding understanding and joy with each other. They made me laugh, they made me cry, and they warmed my heart.

If you are looking for some more end of the year reading, head over to MGCircles to check out their Best Of lists and Nerdy Girl Notes for her thoughts on hope and new ways to be a hero in The Last Jedi.

1. One Day at a Time Since watching this show in January, it has been my pick for the best show of the year. This is how you reboot a show and make it feel fresh and relevant. Norman Lear’s style of socially conscious comedies is one that already appealed to me (though I will admit I’ve never seen any of his original shows, just those who have been inspired by his work) and I loved Mike Royce’s previous comedy Enlisted so I went into the show ready to love it. It exceeded my already high expectations. I mind multi-cam comedies far less than most people but this is an example of the form at its best. The writing is clever and hilarious and took full advantage of this cast’s considerable talents. Justina Machado and Rita Moreno were terrific casting choices and they play so well off of each other. They are both so well-rounded as actors and this show understands how to use that. They both made me laugh a lot but they were also responsible for many of the moments that made me cry and tugged at my heartstrings. I love this family full of strong women who support each other through anything life throws at them. I love that they gave both Elena and Penelope female friends who were there for each other when they needed it most. I love that they made me love Schneider and Leslie so much because it felt like they tried. They wanted to do better when they messed up and owned their lack of knowledge and unintentional blind spots. Everyone on this show cares so much and that warmth comes through in every moment. Each episode had something smart to say about a current issue, whether it was mansplaining and sexism, immigration, a lack of support for returning veterans, or coming out and telling the world who you are. This show was everything I love about television and what I can be all wrapped up in an entertaining package and I need everyone to watch it before it returns at the end of January.

2. Playing House Sometimes the simplest concept can lead to the greatest results. Playing House has never tried to be anything other than what it is, which is a beautiful tribute to two lifelong best friends and the unbreakable bond they share. It’s not high concept or serialized and it’s a relatively small cast with simple sets but it is intimate and honest and genuine. This season was the most ambitious with the overarching plot about Emma’s cancer diagnosis, surgery, and recovery. It was telling a real story and I loved that we got so many episodes to explore the healing process and how that looked for both Emma and Maggie. As good as all of that was, it’s always been the relationships and the small moments that make this show so special. It’s Maggie leaving Emma a “congrats on the sex” cheese plate and then attacking her as she eats it. It’s Emma being Tina’s biggest cheerleader and helping her find something she’s passionate about. It’s Mark’s coworkers showing amicable exes and co-parents who love and support each other and the new relationships they’ve found themselves in. They’re one big, weird family kept together by actual affection for each other and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wish that we were getting more seasons with this show but it went out on a high note.

3. Big Little Lies Until recently, “prestige” dramas have been all about the antihero. They were very masculinely focused and often involved isolation from those around them. We’re slowly moving away from that concept but there was still a bit of a battle for Big Little Lies to be taken seriously because it focused on the lives of women. It could be fun and frothy and Madeline had some endlessly quotable lines while also addressing domestic violence, the way we shield our truths from our loved ones and ourselves, and our expectations of women and the roles they inhabit. Celeste is kept at home out of Perry’s need for control, Renata is happy to be CEO but feels judged by the stay at home moms, Madeline is desperate for something to give her the fulfillment she’s not getting at home even though she feels like it should, Jane is a financially struggling single mother in a town full of wealthy two-parent households, and Bonnie is one of the few women of color in this very white town. No one feels like they are meeting all the expectations placed upon them. But other the course of the season, they find each other. It’s easy for Celeste, Madeline, and Jane. This is in large part to Madeline’s forceful personality and need to take Jane under her wing but these ladies develop a true friendship. With Perry’s death, Renata and Bonnie are drawn into the fold as now it is up to each one of them to stay silent and protect the group. They find their strength when they stand together and it made for a refreshing change. We were encouraged to take these women and their struggles seriously. We were supposed to find the power in their combined forces. And it was rewarded with critical acclaim and a lot of award nominations. I hope it is the start of more “prestige” dramas about different types of women finding their strength in each other and joining together in different ways to overcome different struggles. I’m never confident that networks take away the right reasonings for a show’s success and I’m not sure we needed a second season of this show, but at the end of the day, I know I will always be ready for a show about women supporting and encouraging other women.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Shows

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Best of 2017: Episodes

Unsurprisingly, many of my favorite episodes this year dealt with the idea of connection in some way (or the lack of it). There’s our connection with ourselves and our desires, connection with our friends and family, and connection with our cultures. They are about seeing ourselves as part of a larger whole and the confidence and power that brings. No one does anything alone, we need each other to create a better and functional world. That will always be my favorite kind of fiction and it was a good year to see that reflected on TV in a variety of ways.

If you want more year end fun, be sure to check out all of MGCircles’s lists as well!

1. You Wanna Roll With This (Playing House) This episode is perfect. In 21 minutes, there is not a single misstep. This show is always full of warmth and laughter with just the right amount of weirdness but this episode goes above and beyond. This cannot have been an easy experience for Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham to relive and fictionalize but the fact that they had just been through this together makes all the emotion that much more real. It’s a serious episode and a serious arc but the show never gets too bogged down in worry and unnecessary drama. It’s always treated as something Emma will survive, even when characters give into their natural concerns. The guest casting in this episode is flawless. Laurie Metcalf makes an appearance as Emma’s oncologist and Michaela Watkins as her plastic surgeon, both of whom are the sort of doctors anyone would want on their team. They are the best at their job and their bedside manner is the right amount of comforting but firm (especially on the “no Googling” rule) and I can’t imagine anyone else more fitting for the roles. I’ve already talked about Emma and Maggie but this episode really shows that these two are the best. They are on each other’s team forever and it’s consistently beautiful to watch. Similarly, Emma and Mark are so easy and free together. It’s the natural extension of where they’ve been headed since Emma moved back and the history between them just makes this second chance even sweeter. They know each other and have seen each other at their worst and weirdest and they still love and chose each other. No one ever compared to the other and all those years apart didn’t chance that. They tease each other with the ease of people who have known each other for a long time. It’s completely without venom and so full of affection that you can’t help but smile watching them. And those are just the main relationships! Even in the minor characters like the rest of the police squad and Dr. Ericson, there is so much love and kindness toward Maggie and Emma that makes me cry every time. I cannot say enough good things about this episode, it truly is the best of an incredible show.

2. You Get What You Need (Big Little Lies) Everything about this episode is stressful as the lies and secrets that these women are keeping from the world come tumbling out. While Madeline’s breakdown during the fundraiser is important as she confesses her infidelity to a supportive Jane and it gets everyone in one place for the extraordinary conclusion to this episode and season. But the star of this episode is Nicole Kidman and everything she puts into her role as Celeste with a strong but terrifying supporting role from Alexander Skarsgård. From the opening scene, the tension builds as Celeste comes to the realization that she has to leave. She can’t pretend things will get better any more, not after it’s clearly starting to have a negative impact on the man Max is growing up to be. By the time Perry calmly tells her that she missed a call from her property manager about her apartment while calmly checking Max’s loose tooth, the tension became nearly unbearable and stayed that way until the end. Things were reaching their boiling point and there was no going back. We got momentary bouts of relief as other characters pulled the focus away but it isn’t fully released until the beach scene. It is masterfully done. As Celeste stands her ground, Jane recognizes the face of the man who raped her. The horrified look on her face clues in Madeline who gets Celeste’s attention and it is the three of them against the world, with Renata joining their union. Seeing these women stand together is an emotional experience. No matter what has happened in the past, they are united in their attempt to stop Perry. Bonnie is finally the one to get rid of him and their group expands once more. And by stopping this man together, they find unity, peace, and freedom. They found they are stronger together and its together that they will build a better future for their children, without the petty rivalries of the past. Watching these women support and care for each other was beautiful to watch and I am so glad it got the recognition that it did. We don’t see enough of it but it’s a start.

3. Late (The Handmaid’s Tale) This was a fantastic episode of television that I never want to watch again. This episode was designed to be chilling and horrifying and it accomplishes that goal well. Alexis Bledel is the best she has ever been as Ofglen is forced to watch her girlfriend hang before forcibly undergoing female genital mutilation surgery. It was intentionally one of the most upsetting moments on TV this year and both Bledel and director Reed Morano deserve the praise they received for creating it. Regardless of anything else, that portion of the episode was always going to be hard to watch. But there was a world where the rest of the episode would still have been powerful but had a less visceral impact. The nature of this book and similar dystopias is that something in them will always feel relevant. They are a critique of one or more aspects of our current society and those often change pretty slowly. This book felt resonant when it came out in the 80s, it felt resonant when I read it in 2012, and it still feels resonant today. However, seeing the way the US turned into Gilead may have felt less timely if we didn’t have a Speaker of the House who belongs to a party who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade who says we need to get our birth rates up or a Vice President who won’t be alone in the room with a woman who isn’t his wife. Nothing changes instantaneously but more and more freedoms are stripped away until we realize we no longer live in the world we thought we did. Seeing that change and hearing all the things that the citizens of what was now Gilead let slide was a stark reminder of how easily we can be led down a dangerous path as long as a nice justification is given to us. I wouldn’t have minded this portion of the episode feeling a little more theoretical but that’s not the world we ended up in. It was also a stellar episode for Yvonne Strahovski, who gave us a nice look at life as one of the privileged women in Gilead. She has more perceived freedom and actual power over the Handmaids and she will use every bit of that when she isn’t given her way, but even when it isn’t her body, she’s still defined by her ability to bring children into the household. The change in her attitude when she learns that Offred isn’t pregnant is scary, but unsurprising. There is no solidarity between them, Offred exists only as a means to get what Serena Joy desperately wants. That kindness she displayed wasn’t genuine and was easily ripped away. We can feel her longing for a child and have sympathy for her while also being disgusted at her attitude and Strahovski finds that balance well in her acting. The acting, writing, and directing are all extraordinary in this episode which only served to make it more difficult to watch.

Continue reading Best of 2017: Episodes

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 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 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

Fall TV, We Need to Talk

At the beginning of every September, I get very excited about the upcoming television season. I want to try out new shows and welcome back old favorites. This year, however, while the excitement was there, the payoff has been lacking. While there are some new shows that I enjoy, I’ve failed to find one that I really love. And though many of my shows are having phenomenal second seasons, many that are older have fallen flat.

With many of my favorite cable shows airing in the spring, my falls are primarily driven by broadcast networks. While often derided in favor of their more niche cable counterparts, I tend to genuinely enjoy many of the shows they have to offer. Until this year. Whether it is an inexplicable writing choice in the hands of new showrunners, a lack of momentum and cohesion, or the choice to make every single character on your show miserable, several of my network shows have lost the things that made me love them.

Even though I have many options when it comes to things to watch, it makes me sad to drop a show I used to love. In some of these cases, I would have counted them among my favorite things to watch. It’s been wearing on me a little as the season has progressed, even if I’m not watching them. I know the medium and these shows are capable of great things. I’ve seen some really good work on all of them. And actually good work, not good for a network show or good for a procedural or whatever other qualification others may want to add. I know they can do more and all I ask is that they remember and believe that too.

So, since I’ve been disappointed in many shows this season and I know I’m not alone in that, I’d like to provide some alternative shows that I am very happy with in case you need to fill a recently developed hole in your viewing schedule.

Sundays

Once Upon A Time I love what the Dark Swan arc is bringing out in this core cast. Jennifer Morrison in particular has been absolutely fantastic bringing out all sides of her descent into ultimate darkness. While this season has been heavy on Emma and Hook’s connection, if you’re not interested in that, there is still plenty more to love with the best versions of Snow and Charming (individually and together) that we’ve seen in quite some time and some wonderful moments for Regina.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine I will love Mike Schur and the things he creates until the end of time. He writes such wonderful characters and ensembles and never fails to make me smile. This season has gotten off to a great start with Jake and Amy entering into a solid relationship that remains one aspect of their characters, rather than the entire focus. With Holt and Gina back at the precinct, I have no doubt this show will continue to do even more and be one of the bright spots in my week.

Continue reading Fall TV, We Need to Talk

TV Thoughts: 2/8-2/14

What a week of TV! This is the kind of week that is so incredibly satisfying as a fan of good TV. There were so many great episodes this week and so many tiny character moments that filled me with pure joy (and sometimes the best kind of heartbreak). What did you love about the past week in television?

Sunday

  • Looking: I can’t say that I’m disappointed to see Kevin go. Seeing Richie and Patrick talking and hanging out again reminded me that I like them together so much better, even if it’s just as friends. Patrick needs someone to call him out when he’s being an idiot, like when he’s having an affair with his already-taken boss and getting too emotionally invested in a future that wasn’t going to happen with Kevin. I’m glad it made him realize that he needed to stand up for himself and ask for what he needed out of the relationship, then leave when Kevin wasn’t capable of giving it to him. In other breakup news, I’m also proud of Dom for leaving Lynn. I liked Lynn a lot last season but he’s an awful boyfriend. Like Kevin, he wasn’t capable of giving Dom what he needed because he is still emotionally in a relationship with Brian. It’s understandable but unfair and Dom deserves better. I’m so happy that he has Doris who is so supportive and has his back 100% of the time. We all need a friend who will look into ways to Kickstarter our restaurant and help us make our dreams come true for no other reason than it is important to us. Finally, to round out the group, I cannot tell you how happy I am with the changes and growth in Augustin between s1 and s2. Eddie has been such a good influence on him and I am excited to see how he adapts to working at the shelter.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: This wasn’t a brilliant or groundbreaking episode of this show by any means, but it was so much fun to watch. I loved the more action-oriented scenes as the team took over the training and took down all the other agents. It’s easy to forget that this is a show about cops and this was a nice way to bring their jobs into focus a little more while retaining all of the great character moments I love about the show. Amy’s failure to start the Nine-Nine chant (and her subsequent excitement when it worked) was adorable and so Amy. Terry’s description of the team as “boss ass penguins” may be my favorite Terry line in a while, and Rosa opening up and explaining why she needed Saturday off was perfect. Back at the precinct, I loved Captain Holt’s apology most of all. While I’m not sure that I necessarily agree that they should have ended up with the same personality classification, it’s nice when a leader can recognize that part of leading is encouraging and accepting the strengths of those who work for you. It takes a lot to admit your failings to an employee and it made me respect Captain Holt as a character even more.

Monday

  • Jane the Virgin: I fall a little more in love with this show every week. I am all-in on Jane and Rafael’s relationship (even though he is acting awfully shady at the moment) and thought their mutual concern for the health of their unborn child was so well done. I’m glad that Rafael went with his gut and planned the graduation celebration for Jane even if it was cheesy because it led to the best moment of the episode. It’s just become a fact of this show that any scene featuring the three generations of Villanueva women will be outstanding. Xo’s speech to Jane was beautiful all on it’s own but the shot of the three women sitting on Jane’s bed as she asks for the secret to being a good mother is one that will happily stay with me. No matter what is happening with Jane and the men in her life (Rogelio included), her relationship with her mother and grandmother is always stable and always a source of comfort, love, and acceptance.
  • Castle: Oh how I love the 3XK arc. It never fails to be wonderfully chilling and it brings out such good things in Nathan Fillion’s performance. Both Castle and Ryan carry so much guilt over Jerry Tyson and the murders he committed that both feel responsibility for and you could feel that guilt this week. When they found Tyson, I was not alone in thinking that maybe there was a chance they found someone who really had surgically altered their face to look like a serial killer and I loved that doubt. It wasn’t until that brilliant final interrogation scene that I felt sure they had caught Tyson only to have things go so terribly wrong when the precinct realized it was all a part of Tyson and Nieman’s plan to kidnap Beckett. That interrogation is some of the best work Nathan Fillion has done on this show. He found the story and my jaw dropped when he pulled out the pictures of Tyson’s mom and compared them to the recent victims. I have been anxiously awaiting part two of the episode and I’m so glad that tomorrow is Monday.
  • The Fosters: So many things happened in this episode, it’s almost overwhelming. The most-talked about this week was the Jude and Connor scene at the movies. However this unfolds, I am in no way prepared. I feel so incredibly protective of Jude and his happiness and I just want everything to work out for him. Regardless of what direction his relationship with Connor goes from here, it’s obvious that these two deeply care about each other. They are young and figuring out who they are and unfortunately, only one of them has the space to do so. If Connor decides he might like to move forward with a future relationship with Jude, his dad isn’t going to be supportive and it’ll just make this time that much more confusing for him. I trust this show to handle it all well but I guarantee it will make my emotions a mess. Just the small scene of them touching (and eventually hooking) pinkies tells me that there are so many good and heartbreaking things to come for them. It was full of innocence and excitement and uncertainty and everything that a first crush should be.
  • In other brief thoughts of the week, I love most of what they are doing with Mariana’s character. I love that she is enjoying STEM Club as well as her dance team. She’s one of the more unapologetically feminine characters on the show and it’s nice to see her continue to maintain that identity while excelling at a traditionally male-dominated field. I’m less excited about her wanting to go on tour with the band and would rather see her work through some of her abandonment issues, but I sometimes forget that she’s still a teenager and sometimes they don’t make the best choices. Along similar lines, Jesus could also stand to work through his own issues regarding his mother and how that’s affected him and I will look forward to seeing that happen so he will stop making such stupid decisions. Finally, Robert and Callie. I want these two to have an actual relationship that doesn’t just have Callie calling him when he’s in trouble. I think they have a lot they could offer each other and I want to see that develop. In order for that to happen though, Robert needs to realize that he can be Callie’s dad without being her guardian. As a parent, you have to think of what’s best for your child and I just don’t see how taking Callie away from the family she’s chosen for herself and her brother is going to help her, especially not at 16 when she may not have that many years left at home.

Continue reading TV Thoughts: 2/8-2/14

Galentine’s Day 2015

Happy Galentine’s Day everyone! It’s time to celebrate all of the amazing women in our lives and that includes the fictional ladies of TV. I had so much fun writing my Galentine’s Day post a couple years ago that I couldn’t resist bringing it back this year. This list is made up of just a few of the incredible female characters currently on the air right now and I know you all have plenty more that also deserve some love. So head over to the comments and lets talk about our favorite women!

Jane/Xo/Alba Villanueva (Jane the Virgin) This whole show is one that celebrates women. The showrunner is a woman, as are many of the directors and writers. If today is all about celebrating women and what they can do for each other, the cast and crew of Jane the Virgin deserve a shoutout. These three women, on their own or in any combination, are among my favorite on TV right now. I can admire Jane’s optimism and desire to work hard, Xo’s persistence in following her dreams and selflessness when it comes to Jane, and Alba’s unwavering dedication and support of her family. Jane may be the character I relate to the most, but she wouldn’t be who she is without the influence of her mom and abuela. These women support each other, no matter what, and it’s been beautiful to watch.

Bow Johnson (Black-ish) It’s never easy to be the fictional character in a relationship with another character who has a big personality. If not played or written right, this sort of character could easily fade into the background but I’m so glad that Bow hasn’t. Yes, she may end up reacting a lot to something Dre is doing (though that can often work to the show’s advantage, like her attempted prank on Dre with the kids) but occasionally she’ll get her own rant that will just crack me up and remind me of how much I adore her. She’s talented in her own right and is proud of her successes as a doctor. She’s not afraid to say, that yes, she is in fact pretty great if no one else is going to step up and recognize her and that’s a trait I really admire.

Amy Santiago/Rosa Diaz/Gina Linetti (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) I’ve spent the past few days trying to choose just one of these wonderful ladies for this list but I haven’t succeeded so I’m picking them all. Each has found their place in the world and they are very comfortable in it. Amy has found security in rules and organization. They help her make sense of things and she’s very relatable to me in that aspect. Rosa finds security in her tough exterior. It’s partly emotional protection for her and partly her innate tendency to tell it like it is and she can have trouble when others don’t do the same. Like so many of the other women who present a prickly exterior to the world, she does care and she’ll always have your back. She’s not going to pretend she likes you when she doesn’t but if she likes you, she’ll be a loyal friend for life. Gina just exists on her own plane of existence. Like Rosa, she’ll tell you exactly what she’s thinking (which is something about herself more often than not). She’s self-absorbed and a bit intense for a lot of people, but there is something so amazing about the fact that she’s as likeable as she is. What makes these three women great is that they exist simultaneously on the same show. It’s not a show with a token woman with the same basic strengths and weaknesses as the characters on other shows. All are different and all are celebrated for who they are. They are never pitted against each other and are allowed to simply be.

Linda Belcher (Bob’s Burgers) I know that Tina and Louise are internet favorites but Linda has always been my favorite of the Belcher women. She may get stuck on crazy ideas and take them too far (like every other member of the family) but when it comes down to it, she’s an enthusiastic and passionate woman who loves her husband and children. She’ll fight for them and be their champion when others doubt them because she accepts them just as they are.

Continue reading Galentine’s Day 2015

Best of 2014: Actors

In my second to last installment of the Best of 2014, I want to take a moment to celebrate the brilliant work that so many actors did on TV this year. It was a year full of talent and it could be found everywhere you looked, across all networks and platforms.

Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent) I’m sure that Jeffrey Tambor has been in a great number of things but until this year, I only knew him as George Bluth, Sr. Within just a few minutes of meeting Maura Pfefferman, all images of George Bluth were erased in my mind. Jeffrey Tambor has been rightly praised for his work in Transparent. He captures the vulnerability, the strength, the fear and the relief that comes with being the person you always knew you were supposed to be. There is a gentleness to his portrayal of Maura, a sense of trying to relearn everything you thought you knew about the world while holding onto sometimes (like family) you don’t want to leave behind.

Allison Tolman (Fargo) The casting department found gold in Allison Tolman. Without the warmth and dedication she brought to her role as Molly Solverson, Fargo would have been far less memorable to me. Whether it was her relationship with her father, her growing relationship with Gus and his daugher, or her pursuit of Lorne and Lester, there was an emotional and moral base to all she did. I sincerely hope this becomes a breakout role for her and we see much more of her in the future.

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (The Americans) I’m cheating and picking two people for this spot. Each of them are fantastic on their own and definitely shine in their individual scenes but it’s the combination of Russell and Rhys that makes the acting on The Americans so compelling. The Jennings are complicated characters, torn between their loyalties to their mother country and their children who are still unaware of who their parents really are, and every bit of that conflict and complication comes through in these two performances. Whether it is a quieter moment, like Elizabeth reaching out to Emmett and Leanne’s son and deciding to not tell him the truth about his parents or a louder moment like Philip’s meeting with Paige’s pastor, you don’t want to take your eyes away from them.

Continue reading Best of 2014: Actors