Tag Archives: rectify

Best of 2016: Shows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Best of 2016: Shows

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Best of 2016: Episodes

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Best of 2016: Episodes

Best of 2016: Moments

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Best of 2016: Moments

Best of 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: Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading Best of 2015: Characters

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

Best of 2014: Episodes

Welcome to my second Best of 2014 list! Today we are taking a look at some of the best episodes of the year. This is always a tough list to make, as evidenced by the fact that my honorable mention list is nearly as long as my actual list. It was truly a great year in TV with so many episodes that made me laugh, cry and think. In no particular order, here are the episodes that stuck with me most this year. As always, feel free to make your own list in the comments below and for even more Best Of fun, head over the Nerdy Girl Notes for Katie’s favorites of the year.

Outlander – The Wedding It’s a crazy situation when two characters need to get married after knowing each other a short time in order to protect one of them from an angry English soldier. It’s even crazier when you consider that one of them recently traveled back in time 200 years and left a husband behind in the present. Yet Outlander makes these unusual situations work and that is largely due to the strength of the chemistry between Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan. It is believable that Claire would be drawn to Jamie in this strange world and the 6 episodes preceding “The Wedding” shows that progression. Claire may be terrified and conflicted but there is no denying that she wants Jamie. Jaime would have married Claire just to protect her because it was the right thing to do, but it’s also undeniable that he deeply cares for her. And this episode shows just that – two strangers who are drawn to the other and navigating their feelings under a speedier timeline than usual. The sex, while required to make it official, isn’t an event of dreams. Jamie started out a bit confused about which direction each of them was supposed to face and then quickly finished as he was told women wouldn’t enjoy it much. And here is where the episode (and the book series it is based on, does something remarkable). It allows Claire to tell Jamie how much she did enjoy it and to teach him how to please her. Claire is a woman who knows what she wants and rarely has a show focused so much on her desires and pleasure. The episode gave us a moment solely from Claire’s perspective as she enjoys and examines her new husbands nude body before turning and allowing him to do the same for her. We get a female perspective of the sex and that is something that has been sorely lacking for too long.

The Good Wife – Dramatics Your Honor While not my favorite episode in the season (that would be The Last Call, the episode following it), this episode pulled off an impressive feat. It killed off a main character with absolutely no buildup. There were no spoilers that a character’s life hung in the balance, nothing about an actor leaving, nothing in previews for the episode. It was abrupt and it was startling. It allowed us (or at least the East Coast viewers who happened to be watching live) to be hit with the full emotional impact of the death. Even for those of us who were spoiled thanks to a combination of a different timezone, the internet, and more than a little bit of impatient curiosity, those final few moments were still breathless viewing. It was the second time in one season that The Good Wife took what we thought we knew about the show and threw it all away. It sent the show in a new direction and was one of those episodes of TV I was happy to experience with everyone else online.

Rectify – Donald the Normal Sometimes the only possible reaction one can after watching a particularly powerful episode of TV is to sit there in stunned silence and just experience the moment. That’s what this episode of Rectify did for me. Just the scenes with Kerwin’s family would have been enough to make this episode emotionally powerful. But what really made me love this episode was Daniel’s attempt to live life for a day free of his history and the suspicions of the residents of Paulie only to realize that you can’t outrun your past. It’s heartbreaking to see Daniel’s joy at getting to interact with other people without any baggage clouding their view of him. He gets to be the person he might have been without the murder charge and years in prison hanging over his head. Then he runs into a couple who recognizes him and any chance he thinks he has of a normal life vanishes. It is a beautifully acted episode from Aden Young and takes wonderful advantage of the slow and contemplative tone of the show. It was emotionally intense for me to watch but I loved how resonant and full it felt.

True Detective – The Secret Fate of All Life The editing and acting in this episode are fantastic. I loved listening to Rust and Marty tell the story of what happened to the Ledoux cousins back in 1995 while we saw the actual events unfold on the screen. It was a fascinating look at how we construct stories about our past to suit our needs (in Rust and Cohle’s case, to cover up the killing of the Ledoux cousins) and while Rust’s philosophizing has gotten a lot of the attention on the show, I enjoyed the emphasis on the psychology behind these two men getting from who they were when we first see them in 1995 to their present state, especially Rust. We saw their journey and that was never more clear than it was in this episode.

Continue reading Best of 2014: Episodes

My Top 5 Currently Airing or Recently Ended Under-watched Shows

In a world with so many different shows to watch, both old and new, shows inevitably get lost in the shuffle and never get talked about (whether it’s with your friends or critics) as much as you wish they would. So for day 2 of the Month of Love, I thought I would give some love to 5 shows that I adore that I wish more people were watching. Many of these get a lot of positive attention from critics, but aren’t necessarily being watched by a large audience. Most are niche shows that may never have a huge appeal but I have connected with them all and hope that through sharing them, one of them can connect with someone new.

Rectify  This show is beautifully melancholic with just enough hope and goodness to keep it from being overwhelmingly sad. In every moment, you feel the weight of Daniel’s previous sentence and the crime he may or may not have committed and the way it affects his life and the lives of those around him. But in so many of those moments, there’s also a sense of wonder, goodness, and the hope of redemption. It can be exhausting to watch because it makes you feel deeply but it’s also incredibly emotionally rewarding. The writing and direction of the show is only enhanced by the talent of the cast. Aden Young, Abigail Spencer, and Adelaide Clemmons in particular have all delivered truly stunning performances in this slow and contemplative drama.

Looking   This is a little gem of an HBO comedy. It feels very grounded and natural so even if it doesn’t necessarily make me laugh, I can still enjoy it. Jonathan Groff is charming as always but the real highlights of the show for me are Raúl Castillo as Richie and Murray Bartlett as Dom. Raúl Castillo and Jonathan Groff have a very easy chemistry with each other which makes episodes like “Looking for the Future” really shine because of it’s intense focus on their characters getting to know one another. Having watched “Queer as Folk” and “Noah’s Arc” in the past 5 years, one of the things that feels most remarkable to me is the fact that none of these characters are made to fit into a stereotypical box. They are all complex and can stand on their own.

Continue reading My Top 5 Currently Airing or Recently Ended Under-watched Shows