Monday, April 13, 2015

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 8

As we head toward the summer, television series are trying their hardest to pull out all the stops -- all the explosions, big reveals, pregnancies, weddings, break-ups, and hook-ups. They do this because they want us to keep talking about their show over the summer. They want us to discuss with our friends, to gain new viewers for next season. So as we head into the final stretch of most television shows, the performances are becoming more and more impressive. This week, we're focusing on some amazing women and men whose performances were worth calling out. Joining me this week is my name twin, soul sister, and queen of the Arrow fandom: Jen!

Let's get to it, then!

Jenn's TV MVP(s): Gina Rodriguez, Andrea Navedo, and Ivonne Coll as Jane, Xiomara, and Alba Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)

Why they're my MVPs: This week, it was impossible after watching "Chapter Seventeen" of Jane the Virgin to name just one woman from this show as my TV MVP. The scene between these women proved exactly why they're all so talented and why they're so deserving of all kinds of praise. In this week's Jane the Virgin, the topic of motherhood was heavily discussed and featured, as Jane became overwhelmed with all that was needed to prepare for her impending little one. When Xo tried to offer reassuring advice (how she didn't have mommy blogs or doulas and Jane turned out okay), Jane snaps at her mother, wanting none of her attempts at reassurance. Meanwhile, Alba and Xo are still fighting, as Xo has moved in with Rogelio to the disagreement of Alba. We get to see, in a flashback, the moment where Xo told her Alba that how she raised Jane wasn't up to her anymore. Xo was Jane's mother and it didn't matter what Alba thought. You can tell in this episode that Alba is still affected by those words and she plays her sadness and distance with Xo so beautifully. Similarly, Andrea Navedo plays Xo's realization that the very thing Jane is doing to her is what she did to Alba when she was sixteen years old. The moment of reconciliation between them on the porch was so beautiful because Ivonne and Andrea always play Alba and Xo with such honesty and raw emotion. It doesn't matter if they're arguing or if they're crying -- these two actresses inherently understand how deep their characters are bonded, how deeply they also clash, and -- most importantly -- how deeply they love one another.

Then Gina Rodriguez enters the scene and there's this beautiful moment exemplified in the GIFs above where the three women from three different generations, all with three very different ideas of how to raise a child, join hands and support each other. It's an extremely touching and extremely emotional moment because Gina, Andrea, and Ivonne clearly understand why each of these women is afraid -- why their characters are scared and vulnerable. And there's just such a heavy sense of intimacy and love and support in this scene because all three characters are so unguarded. It was one of the most beautiful and simple moments on this show, watching the walls between these women come down and seeing the unbridled support unfold. All three actresses are deserving of praise for the way they portrayed their characters in this episode, but especially in this scene. It was beautifully done.

Jenn's (other) MVP: Lamorne Morris as Winston Bishop (New Girl)

Why he's the MVP: I absolutely love Winston Bishop. If you know me at all or have been around this website for any length of time, you know that (especially if you read my review of "Par 5"). Winston is such an underrated and unappreciated character on New Girl. What I love about this show though is that it's an ensemble series. It's a series that focuses on relationships -- the relationships between these six unlikely friends in spite of their differences and their quirks. In this week's episode of New Girl, entitled "Par 5," we get to see Winston Bishop at his finest, which is thanks in large part to the episode being penned by Lamorne Morris. Everything about "Par 5" was on point: there were moments where Winston had the opportunity to display his quirks and his awkwardness around women ("SHAWTY, WHAT THAT THANG DO") but what really impressed me about Lamorne's performance this week was how genuine and sympathetic he made Winston Bishop.

A great episode of television will take a character you've known for years and make you see them in a different light, or make you see the show in a different light. The moment that Winston and Nick seriously discuss KC's aversion to and anger over the police is that moment for me. I've always known that everyone in the loft is different and that they all have different life experiences. But this was the first time I really thought about how even though these characters love each other so much, they can never completely relate to one another. Nick will never understand why Winston understands KC. Nick will never have to fear the police, really. And what was so impressive to me in this episode was that Lamorne was able to interject that emotional component into the episode and the character without it feeling out-of-place or too gimmicky. It wasn't a moment that was played for laughs -- it was a genuine moment that allowed me to understand Winston better as a character and connect more to him.

(Also, Lamorne was hilarious in this episode, so he automatically makes my MVP for his flirtation Tourette's alone.)

Jen's MVP: Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)

Why she's the MVP: The Americans is about a married couple and their two children running a travel agency in the early 1980s. Oh... and they are Soviet trained super spies. When I initially began the series, I fully anticipated disliking the main characters, but the show is so unbelievably good that the writers and actors nearly have you cheering, "Go Soviet Union! Save Mother Russia!" every episode. At the very least, they've created an intense desire for Phillip and Elizabeth not to get caught.

In an interesting twist on the typical trope, Elizabeth is the emotionally unavailable, cold and calculating spouse. Her loyalties to her country, what she's willing to do and what she's willing to sacrifice know no limits. Whereas her husband, Phillip, is the softer of the two. Don't get me wrong, he's equally as skilled and lethal, but Phillip often struggles with their orders, the requirements of "The Center" and is more comfortable in their American lives than Elizabeth.

However, the tide between the two shifted when "The Center" demanded their daughter Paige not only be informed of Philip and Elizabeth's side gig, but to be trained formally as a spy herself. Something the Soviet Union calls "The Second Generation." Gulp. Ever the good soldier, Elizabeth is immediately willing to tell Paige. Phillip is adamantly against it, desperate to protect his daughter from the life they live. However, Paige starts putting two and two together and Mom and Dad spill the beans.

The real standout in the dramatic fall out is Keri Russell. Slowly, but surely, over the course of the series, Keri has pealed back the intricacies of Elizabeth and the layers of compartmentalization she's painstakingly created. With news of her mother dying in the Soviet Union and her daughter finally knowing the truth, Elizabeth's walls begin to crumble. Keri's performance is layered and nuanced. Russell's emotion is raw, as if it's simply on the edge of Elizabeth's every thought and action. That rawness is intermixed with equal uneasiness because Elizabeth is unable to keep her emotions in check as easily as she once did. The final layer is quiet desperation. The desire to connect to her daughter, in a way she never has before, is palpable. She's still a cautious spy, but if Paige gives her an inch... Elizabeth immediately capitalizes on the moment. Paige asks for her mother's real name and Keri's voice breaks just a little bit as she reveals it for the first time. When Paige tells her mother not to call her honey, the heartbreak on Elizabeth's face is devastating. Elizabeth finds Paige sitting alone in a car, joins her, recounts a story of her childhood and proudly tells Paige she has her grandmother's "spirit". Again, she's met with Paige's understandable distrust and rejection. After each rejection, Russell recoils like a scolded child, revealing the cracks under the tough facade.

It's not until after a mission, after Elizabeth sleeps with a man to gain intel, something she's done countless times before, that she breaks down. Elizabeth sits in the very same car she shared with Paige only hours before. Keri plays Elizabeth's unraveling to perfection. The tears are slow and controlled at first, but when the lights of the garage switch off and darkness surrounds her, Russell's sobs are the only sound.

It is only because Keri Russell can shift effortlessly from a tough, fearless, steel willed Soviet spy to a mother aching for a connection to her daughter, that Elizabeth's unraveling is believable. The spy who was always certain of her duty; is now ashamed of what is required of her. The spy who was always tough; is now breaking down. The spy who was always cold; is now desperately reaching out to her husband for solace. Keri simultaneously reveals to the audience the same truth Elizabeth is discovering. She is not simply the "good solider" her mother raised her to be, but a mother who loves her child desperately and wants nothing more to know her and to be known by her. Elizabeth is realizing that, at her core, she is not a weapon. She is a human being.

There you have it, folks! Our TV MVPs this week knocked it out of the park. Who were YOUR television MVPs? Hit up the comments below and let us know your thoughts. Until then. :)

1 comment:

  1. A million standing ovations for this column and showcasing some of the best and strongest female characters on tv right now. They are polar opposites but strong in their own ways. I can't say enough how much I love this column. (and that's not even me mentioning how fantastic this week's New Girl was! ) So thank you for this weekly column. it is so wonderful to see different ladies and their choices especially when they are from different shows than the usual ones!