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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 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

Just One Episode: A Different Type of Recommendation

I am a big advocate of taking show recommendations from friends, largely because they are recommendations made out of love. But sometimes the shows they recommend are long and daunting. Or they start out terribly and you wonder why your friend likes them so much. Sometimes the beginning just isn’t the best place to start because the show basically reinvents itself at this point. But if you’re going to judge a show by one episode, it would be better if it was a pretty great episode. Not necessarily the best in the series, but one that exemplifies the best the show has to offer. So that’s what I’ve compiled for a selection of shows I love. If you’re interested, give them a shot. Then head to the comments to tell me what you think and recommend a show based on an episode for me to try. If you’re particularly sensitive to spoilers before you watch an episode, then skip my explanations and just make note of the episodes.

Battlestar Galactica – 33 (1×01)

I love the miniseries but honestly, what amounts to a 3 hour movie to kick off a series can be a hard sell for someone looking to start the show. The first twenty seconds of this video are all you really need to know going into the first official episode.

“33” is a rare example of a fantastic (pseudo) pilot. The entire episode is viscerally tense. The writing and acting and great but Bear McCreary’s incredible talent as a composer and the makeup artist’s work to make the entire cast look 100% exhausted made this an episode that makes you tired in the best possible way as a viewer. It transports you into the show for 45 minutes.

It gives you the best of what this show has to offer. It is upfront about the fact that this show will push its characters into uncomfortable places. It asks “how far it is acceptable to go when the fate of the human race is on the line?”. But it is not all bleak. Hope is not lost. We see compassion and affection in moments like Colonel Tigh prolonging his watch in order to give Captain Adama a chance to rest. We feel the history between Kara and Lee as he tries to be in charge and they dissolve into sleep-deprived giggles. We watch the possibility of a future flash across Roslin’s face as she is able to add a number to her count of humanity. It is a brilliant episode and one I think everyone should watch, regardless of their interest in continuing with the show (though I think you should do that too and come talk to me about it).

The 100 – Day Trip (1×08)

I haven’t made it a secret that I love this show but really don’t like the pilot. The tone is off and the music cue when the delinquents land feels all kinds of wrong to me. It finds it’s footing relatively quickly in my opinion and while they are good episodes before this one, “Day Trip” is a big episode in the series. It redefines key characters and relationships as well as sets things in motion for the future.

The most significant moment is the emergence of Bellamy and Clarke as true co-leaders of the remaining kids. Full disclosure, I do ship them and hope to see them together romantically at some point in the future, but romance aside this is one of the core relationships of the show. It’s amusing to watch them bicker and develop a tentative working relationship in earlier episodes but the scene at the tree reveals that they are scared and don’t know what they are doing on their own but they might be able to lead together. They have messed up and there is so much pressure but there is comfort in not being alone. And to me, that is what this show is about at its core, at least in the first two seasons. It is about finding connection and the hope that comes from believing in other people and how that is what makes the toughest situations survivable.

This episode also manages to be slightly lighter in tone than some of the other episodes, despite a lot of darkness and murderous plots, and it is largely due to Monty Green. Monty is already a lovable character but he is adorable when he is high on hallucinogenic nuts. With such a dark show, you need someone to provide some lightness. While it isn’t always as a comedic relief (though in this episode it is), Monty is here to provide some balance. He is a sweet and kind and good individual and the series wouldn’t be the same without him.

Continue reading Just One Episode: A Different Type of Recommendation

Why You Should Watch Playing House

It’s time for another show recommendation at TVexamined. With many shows returning within the next few weeks, perhaps now is not the time to give you all something new to watch. However, this show could easily be watched in its entirety before most things come back so I encourage you to give it a try.

The second season of Playing House nearly didn’t happen. It was renewed by USA on the last possible day and with a slightly unusual (though helpful to me) arrangement. With the exception of the first and last episodes of the season, each episode was made available via OnDemand platforms a week before it aired on USA. That may explain why ratings were down in the second season but hopefully VOD numbers and the extra income from the Toyota placement made up for it because I need a season 3.

So why should you watch this underwatched show when there are so many options available to you? Before I get to my personal reasons, you should know that it’s been compared to either Parks and Recreation or Gilmore Girls in so many reviews this season and since those are two of my favorite shows of all time, in my opinion, there is no better compliment or endorsement. Those comparisons are entirely accurate and earned. It’s a good-hearted show and will make you cry, just like Parks and Rec often did. Pinebrook is filled with some very weird people, including the main characters, just like Stars Hollow and Pawnee. And just like Parks and Rec and Gilmore Girls, you will fall in love with it and never want it to go away.

The first thing you should know about this show is that it will make you laugh. That shouldn’t need to be said with a comedy, but it does. You will laugh at least once and probably multiple times in an episode. Whether it’s physical/sight comedy, a terribly timed comment by Emma, Maggie’s entire Bosephus act, or one of these wonderful characters doing something completely absurd, it’s a funny show.

In addition to the writing on this show being very funny, this cast is fantastic. Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham are best friends and frequent collaborators and that shines through in their chemistry and timing on screen. Keegan-Michael Key has nailed everything about his performance on both a comedic and dramatic level. There is a reason there has been a small but loud outcry for him to be cast in a romcom and that reason is that he is gorgeous and plays romance really well. The supporting actors, including Silicon Valley’s Zach Woods, are similarly incredible and make Pinebrook feel like a real and weird place.

Finally, this show is a beautiful tribute to the love between friends. Emma and Maggie have been friends for forever and with that, there is a natural ease and intimacy that comes from a lifetime of shared experiences. There are inside jokes and personality quirks that need no explaining, they are just part of what makes the other wonderful. Emma left Pinebrook and Maggie by extension when her career took her elsewhere. But there was never a doubt that Maggie would always be a priority and one of the loves of her life. She dropped everything and came home for her best friend and while many of us aren’t in positions where that would be feasible, it’s the same sentiment that underlies so many lifelong friendships that are separated by physical distance. It’s a friendship that will make you laugh, smile, and cry at its beauty and authenticity.

It is an incredibly special show and whether you come for the laughs, tears, or the cast of weirdos that occupy this story, I strongly encourage you to check it out. I can already guarantee it’ll be one of my favorite shows of 2015 and hope it will be one of yours as well.