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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.

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TV Thoughts: 2/1-2/7

It must be sweeps because so many of my shows had big episodes this week. We learned the identity of Sin Rostro, Katrina took her first steps toward being evil, Mindy found out that she is pregnant, Donna got married, Fresh Off the Boat premiered and Nashville returned just as crazy as the last 10 minutes of the midseason finale suggested it would. I really enjoyed many of the episodes this week and I hope you all did too.

Monday

  • Jane the Virgin: This week was great for me and Jane the Virgin for two reasons. First, how great was that episode? I love the Sin Rostro reveal and once again, the post-production work on this show has been stellar with the drop of blood falling out of Sin Rostro’s name in the narration. It also featured Jaime Camil’s best work of the season. That death scene was perfect and it led to Jane calling him “Dad” for the first time, which completely warmed my heart. These two have come so incredibly far in a short amount of time and I have really enjoyed watching their relationship grow and continue to deepen. Finally, this episode also was the perfect example of why Jane means so much to me. Her conversation with Rafael about choosing to see the best in people was everything I want more of in television. I want more genuinely good people who want to see the good in others. I want to see people believe in others and support them even if others think they are foolish. I want more people who will sit down and listen to a woman who has caused nothing but problems for them and offer support. I am so grateful that that is the philosophy this show chooses to promote.
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  • This show also meant a lot to be this week because I was able to visit the set of the show, thanks to a very generous friend. We got a tour of the various sets, meet a few of the cast members, and watch a scene film from an upcoming episode. My lips are sealed about future occurrences on the show but what I do want to say about this incredible experience is that the people involved with this show on every level are so kind and enthusiastic about what this show sets out to do. They genuinely love it and the people they work with. It was an honor to meet the cast, who is in fact as lovely as they appear to be, and a true pleasure to have this opportunity. If you like watching good things happen to good characters on TV, then please tune in and support this show. Not only is it a great show on it’s own merits but I want these incredible people to get to work on this show for a long time to come.
  • Sleepy Hollow: I am all for an evil Katrina. It adds something to her character that has been lacking and even if it’s a disaster, at least it’s something for her to do. It’s also a way to reintroduce Henry to the group as a whole as an antagonist. Henry’s clearly there but Team Witness is crippled so long as Katrina continues to fight for him. Now if she’s fighting with him, not only would it make that mother-son relationship more interesting but it will also provide the catalyst needed for Katina and Ichabod to officially realize that their marriage isn’t going to work in the modern world. No matter what they were like it in the past, they haven’t been on the same page since they brought Katrina from Purgatory and they need to recognize that and put them and the audience out of their misery.
  • The Fosters: Now that Parenthood has ended, I appreciate The Fosters even more. I need my weekly dose of family drama full of characters I love. It’s the little moments with this family that make episodes worth it to me. It’s scenes like Stef enthusiastically embracing twerking once Lena demonstrated what it was. It’s scenes like the ending and everyone having fun as a family together in the lake. The plots of the episode are not the interesting parts to me (though I’m not sorry to see Haylee go), it’s these characters and the love they have for each other.

Continue reading TV Thoughts: 2/1-2/7

Best of 2014: Characters

When I look back at this year in television, what I most want to remember is how it affected me. I want to know what I loved or what impressed me and why and that’s exactly what this list and the ones that will be coming out over the next couple weeks set out to document. There is no formula for choosing what went on the list. Nothing here is objective, nor would I want it to be even it were somehow possible to objectively quantify an opinion. It will not look like anyone else’s list, though there will undoubtedly be similarities, and that’s a good thing. So enjoy my picks for my favorite/the best in television of 2014 according to me and please share yours in the comments below.

In any given year, there are a lot of characters I love. I admittedly have a tendency to love the emotionally guarded woman who is learning how to open herself up to love and happiness and this is the year many of those women did that in amazing ways. It was great year for so many of my favorites and the actors who brought them to life. There may have been better, more interesting, or more original characters on TV (if one can quantify characters in that way) but these are the 10 who touched my heart the most.

Kelly Severide (Chicago Fire) Kelly has always been one of my favorite characters but this year (this fall, in particular) has made me love him even more. Thanks to my years of TV watching, I had a horrible suspicion that both Severide and Shay wouldn’t make it out of the events of the s2 finale alive. Their friendship has been one of my favorite things about the show since it started and I was devastated to learn that my suspicions were correct. I watched him grieve for his best friend and turn into kind of a disaster for a few weeks only to wind up marrying a girl in Vegas who he barely knew and managing to turn it into something positive. He’s hurt and grown and has come out stronger. He and Casey have finally gotten their friendship back to where it should be and I have a feeling he’ll continue to be Casey’s support system through his problems with Dawson. If I can’t have his friendship was Shay on the show, I’ll take his friendship with Casey as a backup.

Abbie Mills (Sleepy Hollow) Sleepy Hollow may have fallen apart a bit in season 2 but Abbie Mills is still the best part of the show. She remains fiercely dedicated to her role as Witness, whatever that may entail. Need someone to stay behind in Purgatory so Katrina can do the magic needed to stop an Apocalypse? Abbie volunteers. Katrina needs a second person to help her do magic? Abbie steps up. Sheriff Corbin’s son needs saving? Abbie never gives up on him. She is loyal and true and a fighter and that’s why I love her. The episode where she and Jenny were briefly reunited with their mother and able to learn more about their family’s history was easily the best of the season because the focus was where it should be – on this incredible character and her role in fighting this war.

Emma Swan (Once Upon a Time) What a year it has been for her as a character and all of us as fans. We got more backstory about her heartbreaking past, we saw her be afraid and fall back on her instinct to run away and survive on her own, we saw her open herself up and find not only a home with her son and parents, but a dashing pirate who loves her, and a new friend who understands her. She’s growing and trying to be her best self and letting people help her along the way. It has been so incredibly rewarding to watch her allow herself to be vulnerable, especially as someone who struggles with that herself, and I can’t wait to see her continued growth and relationships with everyone in her life in 2015.

Continue reading Best of 2014: Characters