Sunday, May 3, 2015

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 11

It's finally May, which means we are full-speed ahead in terms of television sweeps. It also means that, unfortunately, most primetime series are drawing to a close for the year, making way for all of the summer shows (or, in my case, Netflix binges) to move in. Since we're so close to season finales, the acting on our favorite television shows has never been better. And that makes it the perfect time of the week to celebrate some more TV MVPs! This week, my compadres are:

  • Newest Just About Write contributor, Alice Walker!
  • Lover of literature, compelling characters, and tweeting about television: Constance Gibbs
Let's celebrate some great television performances, shall we?

Jenn's MVP: Damon Wayans Jr. as Coach (New Girl)

Why he's the MVP: I love New Girl because it's an ensemble series. It's a show that constantly focuses on the importance of characters forming relationships with each other and repairing those relationships that are damaged. On ensemble series, more often than not, cast members stay for a while and then depart. It happened on Community. It happened on The Office. And it's happening on New Girl again, too. When Happy Endings was picked up for another season, Damon Wayans Jr. had already shot the pilot of New Girl. Those at the helm decided to keep him in the pilot but then integrate another cast member (Lamorne Morris) in the second episode. When Happy Endings was cancelled, Damon returned to the series as his original character, Coach. And Coach was... well, he was a guy who seemed to care more about partying and bonding with the guys in the loft than anything else. Coach was always the tough character -- the one who called out everyone else on their nonsense, who rolled his eyes at the others' stupidity.

But then, thanks to Damon Wayans Jr.'s portrayal of the character, we began to see different layers to Coach. We saw how much he cared about and was willing to protect his friends. We understood why he tried to hard to rebuff everyone (because his heart had been broken). We understood that he kept distant from others because he was so used to moving around as a kid and not having friends that he never really knew how to make the place he lived a home and forge real, lasting friendships. Coach became this amazing character who grew from a one-dimensional stereotypical "tough guy" to the man who is willing to move across the country for love. In "Panty Gate," Damon shines both comedically and emotionally with his performance. The humor that he brings to this series (this big, wild, fun energy and delivery of lines) will be missed as this episode saw the man decides to follow his girlfriend to New York.

Even though Damon excels at comedy, it's the simple and touching moments throughout this episode that really land him on the MVP list this week. Damon knows exactly how to make Coach sentimental without making him out-of-character or sappy. When Coach admits that he loves May, it's a very simple and yet extremely profound moment not played for laughs but filled with the kind of startling genuineness that Damon brought to Coach. The final scene of the episode had me in tears, though, as Coach looks around at Jess, Winston, Nick, and Schmidt arguing. Jess catches him staring and she wonders what, exactly, he's staring at. Coach shrugs it off as nothing but it's an extremely sentimental -- and extremely earned -- moment for the audience and for the character as we realize that Coach found his home with those four goons. And as much as he teases them and begrudges their presence, he'll genuinely miss them.

Damon Wayans Jr. did such a fantastic job in "Panty Gate" with this character, as he was the only actor on television this week to make me both laugh and cry in the same episode. So bravo. And I never thought I would say this but I'm going to really and truly miss Coach.

Alice's MVP: Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson (Mad Men)

Why she's the MVP: What makes Mad Men such an interesting, and sometimes frustrating show is that the characters grow and change, but always at their core are the very same people they were at the very beginning. Like anyone striving to try something new, trying to be better, you often take two steps forward, only to slide back three. We're constantly told you can leave your past behind, be someone else, start fresh: but you never escape the echos of what you run from. Don Draper has never really run beyond Dick Whitman, Pete Campbell has never really surpassed his own crippling insecurities, and Peggy Olsen won't ever forget or stop wondering about the baby she gave up for adoption so many years ago.

The memory of her child showed clearly on Moss' face any time Peggy was around children. A mix of anxiety, distrust and sadness, her conflicted emotions were on full display this week as she auditioned child actors for a commercial. Competent and together Peggy was at complete loose ends around the kids and her bewilderment was layered with something just lurking under the surface. Elisabeth Moss was outstanding all episode, looking like she wanted to disappear when the child was hugging her, shifting to worry when the child hurt herself and then quickly rage which never felt that far from the surface of her character. Rage at the negligent mother who left her kid behind. Rage at herself for doing the same thing so many years ago. Rage in the face of the bitter lingering question of whether or not she would have been a good mother if she had done it all differently. Would she have been happy?

Her quiet exchange with Stan was one of the best moments on the show, and Moss brought so much pathos and depth to Peggy's feelings of injustice. It's interesting, because Peggy has constantly been put down and set back because of her gender, both personally and professionally. Yet this double standard, this unfairness, is what breaks her. Her feminist speech about women not being allowed to leave their pasts behind is powerful, tragic and Moss makes Peggy so painfully strong and vulnerable it breaks your heart to watch her.

Peggy might not ever be able to leave the past behind her, but she is trying again and again to make it count for something. Watching her hope, joy and frustration play out on Moss' face is what keeps me hooked, hoping against hope that she succeeds.

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

Why she's the MVP: My MVP for this week was decided on Monday when I saw Jane the Virgin. Gina Rodriguez always knocks it out of the park, but this week she gave an utterly exceptional performance. Gina constantly balances both comedy and drama, often shifting from one to the other in a matter of scenes, but this week her strength was in the drama. Jane's anger level: 95th percentile.
We already know that Jane's first priority (after God) is her family. When Abuela tells her about Magda's involvement in her fall, coupled with Rafael's devastating break up, Jane is pushed into heightened emotional territory. But this intense anger is also displacing her fear. With Rafael acting like a FOOL (ahem, excuse me), Jane is doing all she can to protect her family. And it doesn't feel like it's working. Magda now works at the hotel, Rafael isn't reading the baby books. Rogelio and Xo are on the rocks. And Jane is left to figure out how to turn the baby from being breech all by herself.

The stress ignites (narrator voice: pun completely intended) when Jane falls asleep with a candle and nearly sets her house on fire. How do you know Jane is stressed? Because sane Jane would have never put a candle near her blanket like that, much less fallen asleep. She definitely knows better and isn't quite so careless. But watch Jane the moment she settles down with the candle. She has such a look of accomplishment. She's getting justice for her grandmother, she got her parents in the same room, and she's got another great thing to try to turn the baby. She thinks she's done it. Jane thinking she had it all figured out is probably why she fell asleep. She felt able to relax for a moment. But then the fire starts and the weight of forcing herself to be okay without a true partner in her life falls heavily on her. And this is where Gina Rodriguez shows why she's a Golden Globe winner and certainly a worthy Emmy contender.

"There are some things I need to do on my own! As a single mother! Because that's what I am!"

Gina is extraordinarily talented in many ways, and her power over her voice is one. The way her voice on the surface portrays confidence but underneath it begins to crack and waver exactly parallels Jane's inner emotions. The moment that she finally breaks down in her Abuela's arms is where your heart breaks for Jane. Because it feels as though throughout these entire three weeks without Rafael, she hasn't really realized she's alone... until now. I think she understood it on some level. I think she even understood that it could happen before Rafael broke up with her. But the true depth of his absence didn't hit her until just then.

"I didn't see it coming, Abuela. [...] I'm trying to get my bearings."

Jane is such a good planner. She has a vision of how things should work out because of her research and her feelings, but when she can't control all of the factors, it takes her a long time to adjust. Hopefully this adjustment period doesn't stress her out and cause problems for the baby. After her scare, Jane is all the more resolved to do things on her own. She's ready for it now, more prepared. She has a plan of action in place and it involves cutting the Marbella out of her life. Jane is now on the offensive. Jane is so strong, but Gina brings the nuance of a young woman who wants to have everything together but isn't good at adjusting to the unexpected. And isn't that so many of us? Especially those near Jane's age? Jane and her story are what we relate to --like we would any fictional character -- but Gina makes Jane feel real, feel like one of us, like one of our friends. Jane Villanueva deserves a hug, but since she's fictional and this is the Internet, Gina Rodriguez gets my MVP.

There you go, my friends! Here are some of our favorite TV performances this week. Who made your list? Hit up the comments below and let us know your thoughts. Until then. :)


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