Sunday, March 15, 2015

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 4

It's still spring hiatus, which means a lot of our favorite shows are taking deserved breaks and probably cleaning their houses and changing their wardrobes from sweaters and scarves to sundresses and shorts. (It's... just go with the imagery.) But that doesn't negate all of the amazing new television there was this week! And boy, there were some fantastic performances, both comedically and dramatically that deserve recognition.

So let's hop to it, then! Joining me this week are some of my favorite people:

  • Just About Write's weekly reviewer of Supernatural, expert live-tweeter, and adorable human being Deena Edwards
  • Fantastic friend, reviewer, and lover of cuddly animals, Laura Schinner
  • The Leslie Knope to my Ann Perkins, and the soprano to my alto: Jaime Poland
  • Super talented New Yorker and expert bow-wearer, Constance Gibbs

Jenn's MVP(s): Bob Morley as Bellamy Blake & Eliza Taylor as Clarke Griffin (The 100)

Why they are my MVPs: I cheated this week. I'm sorry. I had every intention of not doing so (of choosing someone from a TV comedy earlier in the week as my MVP), but when The 100 aired their finale, I was absolutely blown away by the amazingly layered, emotional work that Bob Morley and Eliza Taylor did as Bellamy and Clarke, respectively, that I just had to name both as my TV MVPs. I used to think that The CW didn't have quality shows -- that they housed soap opera dramas and cheesy comedies -- and I fully admit that I was wrong (given how many of my favorite shows are now on this network, I'd say they're doing better than most others on TV in terms of quality). Bob and Eliza have always amazed me at the way they've played Bellamy and Clarke. So let me discuss them individually, for a moment, and then together.

(Additionally, if you're a fan of Bellamy/Clarke, check out my post where I ranked their top 10 moments as a pairing this week.)

Bellamy Blake has grown so much since the pilot of this show. When I first marathoned, I couldn't fathom why so many of my friends loved Bellamy. I hated him. He was a bully. He was arrogant. He was self-serving. And then, actually coming to grips with death seemed to change him. It softened him. It HUMBLED him. And it made him into the kind of leader worth following. The way that Bob Morley has portrayed that evolution of character is nothing short of stunning, as we've seen Bellamy grapple with moral dilemmas and his own burdens of guilt. In "Blood Must Have Blood, Part 2" this week, Bob was at the top of his game as Bellamy struggled with the best way to save his people. In the end, he chooses (more on this in a moment) to share the burden of guilt with Clarke as they wipe out the Mountain Men in order to save the Sky People. But the most amazing performance came at the end of the episode, when Bellamy tells Clarke she's forgiven (a lovely, nearly word-for-word callback to "Day Trip" where Clarke tells Bellamy the same thing). You can see in every etch on his face that his heart is with Clarke -- that he's aching for her to feel him beside her, to know she's not alone. That's why Bellamy placed his hand on that lever with her; he CHOSE to suffer so that she would not have to do it by herself. And that final scene is evidence of how much Bellamy has grown. You can see him soften, plead with her to not leave, and try and comfort her. The Bellamy Blake of the pilot would have never done that. And that's what makes Bob Morley's performance in that moment so heartbreaking and so real.

And then there's Eliza Taylor who astounds me every week as the compassionate but ruthless, when necessary, Clarke Griffin. Clarke made the decision (with Bellamy) to eradicate the Mountain Men to save her own people. And that's a decision that she realizes she can never come back from. Ever. Everything this season in The 100 has led to Clarke walking away from her home, from the people she saved: because you can see, so clearly, that Clarke is grateful she saved them all. But it was at the cost of her soul. And now she has to be alone. I love how Eliza plays Clarke -- how she expertly combines this fearlessness and this aching desire to feel whole and to love and to serve and to save in this character. And all of those traits came to a head in this week's episode when Clarke made a decision that massacred many innocent people and many guilty ones in order to save her own. The final scene with Bellamy is just absolutely stunning because you can almost feel Clarke shackled under the weight of her own guilt and though she wants it lifted and she knows Bellamy is there for her -- that he doesn't want her to be alone -- Clarke is still so damaged and so scarred that she can't imagine anyone wanting to share anything with her because she doesn't want to be around herself anymore.

Which is what makes the final scene for both Bob Morley and Eliza Taylor so stellar: these are two characters who loathed each other at the beginning of The 100. And now? Now, they are bound together in a way that no two characters (apart from maybe Kane and Abby are, which is a nice parallel) are on this show. They are equals and partners and Bellamy did what he did -- chose what he chose -- so that Clarke would never feel alone. So that she would always have him; that they would always have each other. And even so, Clarke couldn't bear herself and I think she knew in her own heart that she COULD stay and that Bellamy would be right beside her whenever she needed him... but that it was too much. It was all too much and she never wanted any of it: any killing or sacrificing or life-altering decisions. Bob Morley and Eliza Taylor acted that final scene so beautifully and so painfully (including that moment where they say goodbye and she walks away) that there was no way anyone else could make my TV MVP list this week besides them.

Deena's MVP: Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut (Better Caul Saul)

Why he's the MVP: Mike was one of my favorite minor characters in Breaking Bad, though he had so little screen time that we didn't really get to know him all that well. Other than his love for his granddaughter and his willingness to do whatever is necessary in a clearheaded and efficient manner, we knew very little about him; we never really got to see true emotion beyond his tough guy exterior. 

When I realized this most recent episode of Better Call Saul would be mostly centered on him, I was so excited. There was so much character development for him, which Jonathan was able to capture beautifully--- not to mention tearfully, as he broke down about his dead son. I wanted to reach through the screen and hug him; it turned Mike from this really distant character we knew almost nothing about to someone I really sympathize for. All this time he's seemed uncaring (except where his granddaughter is concerned) and calculating, but he showed a different side of him in this episode. 

If Banks doesn't get some kind of recognition for his Emmy-worthy acting in this episode, I'll be really surprised. I'm really hoping that these recent developments for him means that Mike will somehow play a really important part this season and we'll get to see more of him than we did in Breaking Bad.

Laura's MVP: Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)

Why she's the MVP: Gina Rodriguez was unknown to many before she got her role on Jane the Virgin, but she’s quickly made a name for herself, deservedly taking home a Golden Globe award for her work in the freshman season of the show. Each week she continues to wow everyone with her ability to evoke emotion and it’s in large part because of this that the show is such a success. Jane is a genuinely good person and watching Gina portray her struggle to do the right thing, for both herself and those around her, has been a delight to watch. 

This week Jane was faced with deciding whether or not it was the right time to marry Rafael. She had grown up her whole life reading romance novels and imagining that she too would someday have a relationship like those in the books. When faced with the reality of a proposal though, it isn’t everything she imagined it would be. Gina’s conflicted portrayal of Jane throughout the season has made us care a lot about the character; it's made us just as uncertain as she is whether or not she should keep the baby, stay with Michael, or now, marry Rafael. Because she cares so deeply and is such a good person, it’s only natural for us as an audience to sympathize with Jane. Add to that Gina’s superb acting and it’s nearly impossible not to cry when you see Jane cry. Not many actors can capture an audience the way Gina does and that’s why she is my MVP for this week. 

Jaime's MVP: Stephen Colbert as Father Michael (The Mindy Project)

Why he's the MVP: Stephen Colbert returned to the airwaves this week with an appearance on The Mindy Project as Father Michael O’Donnell, the new priest at Danny’s church.  Actually, Danny and Michael knew each other growing up – and Danny was well aware of Michael’s past as a boozing, drugged up ladies’ man.  But, as his newfound career path would suggest, Father O’Donnell has cleaned up his image, and in fact, has become pretty open-minded and progressive in his role as a priest.  But, of course, everyone has to draw the line somewhere, and for him, the two most unforgivable sins are cohabitating before marriage and dating outside the Catholic faith.  So.  You know.  Danny and Mindy are totally in the clear.

It goes without saying that Colbert is a gifted comedic actor, but watching Father O’Donnell interact with Mindy and Danny over dinner as the two try to hide Mindy’s religion and pregnancy was just so great.  The best stakes are created when one character in a scene holds immense power over another character, and the most dramatic tension is built in a character trying to keep a secret.  With both at play, and Colbert clearly relishing the power his character held over Mindy and Danny, it led to some brilliant moments and impeccable comedic timing.

But of course, it all came down to the one-liners.  It’s been almost a week since the episode aired and I’m still quoting his line about Danny’s apartment being “a lair for Lucifer”.  But my favorite line?  His shocked and broken, “Mindy McPherson?  My new friend?” after learning that Mindy isn’t the good Catholic girl he thought she was.  

Mindy has become pretty well-known for its never-ending supply of celebrity guest stars, and the guest stars are always used with purpose and consideration for the actor’s skills.  It doesn’t just shoehorn in famous people for the sake of getting famous people on the show; it lets truly funny actors jump in for an episode (or more, if the audience is lucky) and join Mindy Lahiri’s ridiculous, slightly larger-than-life world.  And I think Stephen Colbert’s appearance might be one of the better uses of a celebrity on the show: his role had serious narrative meaning to the season’s overall arc between Mindy and Danny, his character had a strong backstory and strong motivations, and, most importantly, he was hilarious.  Father Michael O’Donnell is definitely going to be remembered as one of the show’s best one-off characters for two huge reasons.  For one thing, clearly the writers of the show were thrilled to have Colbert on the show, and wrote him a great part that would allow him to dive in and go crazy; second, Colbert clearly was having a ball.  There’s just something so light in his performance – you feel like he’s moving around on his tiptoes, moving from joke to joke.  He brought in this amazing energy that livened up every scene he was in, and made this storyline (which, when you boil it down to its basic structure, is something we see often on this show) seem completely fresh.

Why he's the MVP: Scandal is a show well known for its monologues. Every character has several memorable monologues or scenes where they speak fast, emotionally, and in Shonda Rhimes' now well known repetitious style. Prior to this episode, Guillermo Diaz's most well known scene as Huck was the "Seven Fifty-Two" episode. (First I must say that, wow! We finally know Huck's real name: Diego Muñoz!) His distress, his clear emotional despair, are all laid out on the table for a character who usually has to keep his emotions tightly controlled as a trained secret government organization assassin suffering from intense PTSD. But this episode gave him even more emotion and expression of just what he'd been through as a member of the super-secret B6-13 organization who tortured their own agents when they didn't like what they were doing.

We know his character was kept in a hole for months in order to punish him for... I forget (with a show like Scandal, it's best to move with the waves than get lost in the details). But his time in the hole scarred him, kept him away from his family, and broke his soul. For the first time, we hear about what he did in those months. How much pain he endured, his "routines" (measuring the whole every day, eating lunch the same time every day even when he didn't have food to eat), his "walks" through different cities, and how he wrote letters to his wife and son. Huck's impromptu spilling of the beans—he wasn't supposed to admit to B6-13 existing—causes tears in his wife (who is trying to reconnect with him but only if he admits to being a victim of the organization) and David Rosen, who knows Huck is lying about not remembering, who breaks down his willingness to go along with the plan as well when he hears Huck"s "testimony." Just like the 752 scene will be well remembered among fans of the show and Guillermo Diaz for seasons to come. 

Connie's other MVP: Ian Chen as Evan Huang (Fresh Off the Boat)

Why he's the MVP: ABC's new comedies this season have really surprised me with the utter talent of the kid casts. Both black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat have amazingly talented kids who carry the comedy while being SUPER CUTE. This week's kid MVP (because Jenn said we could do two!) is Ian Chen, who plays Evan Huang on Fresh Off the Boat. In this gif'd scene, Evan's father wants to use him as practice for firing an employee, but he looks too cute to fire. So Evan toughens his face up, but that's even cuter! I love the kids on this show, they're so smart and precocious and adorable. I can't wait for more amazingly funny performances by these kids.

So there you have it, friends! Another week of amazing television has passed and we've recognized some of our favorite talent. Who makes your TV MVP list this week? Hit up the comments below and let us know your thoughts. Until then! :)


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