Sunday, February 21, 2016

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 29

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Welcome back to another week in our TV MVP Series! Next week is the Oscars, and since we will be on hiatus (we'll be too busy drinking and snarking at our television sets, honestly) on Sunday, this is the last installment of the series until March. Can you believe it's almost MARCH?! This week in television, there were some pretty fantastic performances on comedies and dramas alike, as well as special musical performances at Monday night's Grammys.

Let's dive right in! Joining me this week to celebrate some of the most MVP-worthy television performances are:



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

Why they're the MVPs: Whether or not you ship Bellamy and Clarke together romantically or just see them as friends and partners, the fact remains that these two can only be their best selves — and the most whole and healthy — when they are together. The 100 has done an excellent job of proving this throughout the course of its third season (however, I am vehemently against whatever character regression the show seems intent on shoving onto Bellamy, but that's a whole other rant).

When Clarke walked away at the end of "Blood Must Have Blood," she walked straight into the darkest part of herself. She walked into the place where she believed she deserved to die for the lives she took at Mount Weather. Meanwhile, Bellamy's character has been on a similar trajectory this season. He has lost sight of who he is and has listened to the darkest parts of himself because he does not have Clarke beside him, affirming him. Without each other, Bellamy and Clarke are untethered. They listen to the voices around them or inside of their own heads that tell them lies of who they are and what they are worth.

And Bob Morley and Eliza Taylor convey these complicated emotions perfectly. In "Hakeldama," Bellamy and Clarke finally are face-to-face again for more than just a few brief moments. And you can tell that this is what they desperately need and have been lacking up until now. Bellamy needs Clarke beside him in order to govern the people. He needs her to constantly tell him that he is not the monster he's painted himself to be. And Clarke has been that person for him numerous times in the past. "This is not who you are," she tells him with her actions and gestures and faith in him as a leader. In "Day Trip," she tells him that SHE needs him. And I believe that totally and completely. Just like I believe Clarke needs Bellamy. She needs him to stand beside her and guide their people. While Clarke is pragmatic but compassionate, Bellamy is just and fair. Clarke tends to people while Bellamy helps direct them. Together, they function as one ruler — one partnership.

But without each other, Bellamy and Clarke have lost sight of who they are. Clarke has sought Lexa's counsel, while Bellamy has sought out Pike's. And while Lexa is trying to become a better person and make amends, Bellamy reminds Clarke of something really important really crucial — the way that he sees it, she left HIM. In the next breath, Bellamy switches to talking about how Clarke left her people. But that moment of vulnerability says all you need to know about how Bellamy thinks of Clarke: he relies on her. He needs her. And not just as a leader, either. He needs her as his person.

Bob Morley does a particularly wonderful job in this scene, from the look of pain and trepidation upon seeing Clarke, to the way  he softens and becomes emotional when talking about how he feels. We are used to seeing Bellamy as the stoic leader, but Morley did an amazing job portraying the most vulnerable, terrified, and bitter sides of Bellamy in this episode. It's especially worth noting the tenderness with which he approaches Clarke. In the next instant, he handcuffs her and traps her, but before that happens... he leans into her and takes her hand. He didn't have to do that. He could have cuffed her. He didn't need to stoop to her level and look her in the eyes. But this brief moment demonstrates just how much Morley gets Bellamy's pain and yet also his gentleness.

Eliza Taylor, meanwhile, gives an amazing performance when Clarke breaks down and apologizes to Bellamy for abandoning him. The confidence with which she talks about her faith in Bellamy is so beautiful, but what really got me was how she was unable to even finish her next thought. Clarke is so engulfed with guilt this season, and this is just one of the many things she feels responsible for. Taylor's gentle but powerful head bow says it all. (As does her gentle urging to Bellamy that together they can fix what is wrong with Arkadia.)

Morley and Taylor have proven throughout the course of three years that they are individually incredibly talented. But it was this scene in "Hakeldama" that made me tear up as I realized just how incredibly raw and beautiful these two actors (and characters) are whenever they're together.

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Jen W.'s MVP: Kendrick Lamar as himself (The Grammys)

Why he's the MVP: This past Monday was The Grammys and — like most of the people I know — I only tuned in to see Hamilton (even though I’ve already seen it four times on stage.) I was pleasantly, happily, amazingly surprised then to not only get to experience Hamilton, but to be blown away by the incredible performance of Kendrick Lamar.

He performed "The Blacker the Berry" and "Alright" from his album To Pimp A Butterfly. He proved to America that he wasn’t messing around, while also demonstrating that black America was of the utmost importance to him. Lamar came out on stage in chains, and was followed by a group of black men who were similarly bound. “You hate me, don’t you? You hate my people, your plan is to exterminate my culture,” he rapped from "The Blacker the Berry." No. Holds. Barred.

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It was amazing to see this not only on CBS, and on a program that is widely watched, but also on a show that affects record sales and how people hear about music. The Grammys are a platform, and my hat’s off to them for letting this performance reach the American public. It was billed a controversial performance. And for some, it was. But the truth of the matter is that it was important, whether or not you felt it was geared toward you. It was dark, but it was still hopeful. The refrain of "we gon’ be alright" rang out as a promise.

We’re going to make it through the trials that we face as a people. We gon’ be alright.

Marilyn’s MVP: Charlotte Ross as Donna Smoak (Arrow)

Why she's the MVP: I’m always ridiculously excited to see Mama Smoak in an episode of Arrow, ever since "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak" aired and we got our first good glimpse into Felicity’s life outside of the Arrow lair. Charlotte Ross burst onto the scene in a bright dress and high heels and stole our hearts as the eternally upbeat Donna Smoak. But there was more to her character than a ditzy cocktail waitress who seemingly had virtually nothing in common with her genius daughter.

We saw these layers in breathtaking technicolor in this last week’s episode of Arrow, “Code of Silence.” One of my favorite scenes had Charlotte Ross and Paul Blackthorne playing off each other (and, good lord, they have fantastic chemistry, don’t they?). Meeting up at Oliver’s campaign office, Donna Smoak went from flirty and sultry to concerned when she saw Quentin was banged up to steely and angry. And she did it all in the span of about sixty seconds.

Every now and then, Charlotte Ross gives us these glimpses of Donna’s more serious side and it always, always leaves me wanting more. Donna’s heartfelt discussion with Felicity at the loft, where she admitted to wanting a love like Felicity had with Oliver, brought tears to my eyes.

Charlotte Ross brings such a lovely energy to the show, to the rest of the cast, and it’s one of my deepest wishes that she is brought back as a regular for season five.

Jon’s MVP: John Travolta as Robert Shapiro (American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson)

Why he's the MVP: I was very young when the events preceding the O.J. Simpson trial and the trial itself began. The only aspect I truly remember is the White Bronco chase being shown on television, because it was the only thing that had to be on the television in my house at the time. Now that I am an adult, I’ve not only learned about the trial through research, but also thanks in major part to American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson.

This show has not only been consistently engaging due to its fascinating take by what went on behind the scenes, but also because of its excellent cast. There truly hasn’t been a weak link in any of the cast thus far. But out of everyone, John Travolta’s performance as Robert Shapiro fascinates me the most.

What is so engaging about Travolta’s performance is how he’s able to make Shapiro morally ambiguous. We know that he’s there to help O.J., but there’s also always some ulterior motive. While that motive is not clear, Shapiro’s motivations and reasoning behind helping O.J. is constantly in question, and continuously remains fascinating. One could argue that he’s only doing whatever it takes to win the case, thereby gaining fame. This could be seen as a cheap and dirty way to get the case to swing in O.J’s favor, but it’s the way that Shapiro presents the angles of the case that makes you believe him. He comes across as earnest and even a bit angry at the “injustice” of it all. Travolta nails this performance, depicting a nice and concerned demeanor on the outside, yet sleazy on the inside.

Travolta manages to expertly balance the two sides of the character, making the viewer simultaneously believe yet question Shapiro as well. For all of this and more, he is my TV MVP for the week.


Mer’s MVP: The cast of Hamilton as themselves (The Grammys)

Why they’re the MVPs: I don’t watch The Grammys. I’m not really super into current music, or current musical celebrities, or what have you. But I, like 99% of my Twitter feed, watched this year. Why? Because Hamilton! If you aren’t aware of Hamilton, it’s probably time to come out from whatever cave you’ve been living in for the past... well, at least six months. It’s the newest smash hit on Broadway, and it’s literally taken the world by storm. Everyone, and I mean everyone, loves Hamilton — whether they’ve seen it or not. The music is original and inspired, the story is phenomenal, and the entire production is out of this world.

The only problem with Hamilton is that it’s virtually impossible to see it. Getting tickets to it is probably more difficult than getting tickets to the Super Bowl. I was lucky that Jen W. scored tickets and decided I was worthy to accompany her, so I saw the show last month. But most people won’t have that opportunity for a long, long time.

Which brings us back to Hamilton at The Grammys. What an amazing opportunity, for so many reasons. First and foremost, to give the entire country a chance to see the magical opening number of the show. But secondly, and no less importantly, the inclusion of musical theatre at The Grammys validated and legitimated the genre in a way mainstream music has not really done before. It was a win-win-win, for everyone.

Now, onto the actual MVPs here: the cast of the show. The excitement in the cast was palpable, even through the television screen. They perform this number every day — sometimes twice — and yet performing in front of camera crews and live television audiences is an entirely different beast. But they didn’t miss a beat. The facial expressions, the intonation, the feeling and movement were all spot-on. Even Lin-Manuel Miranda’s necessary pause to allow for the uproarious applause seemed fitting. The performance was epic and amazing, as always, and the cast’s acceptance of their win for Best Musical Theater Album (shocking win, right there) was adorable and exuberant.

The importance of Hamilton in our society and to media today can not be oversold, and the inclusion of this performance on The Grammys solidifies that this production is unique and inspiring in a totally new way. Kudos to the cast for bringing their always stellar A-game to the TV screen, allowing the entire country to experience just a taste of what makes this show so special.

Megan’s MVP: Jake Johnson as Nick Miller (New Girl)

Why he’s the MVP: I love New Girl. I missed New Girl. I wondered if the show was ever going to come back. Then when it did, I was apprehensive. How exactly were the writers going to navigate the absence of Zooey Deschannel when she had her baby? Would it still even be funny? Would it lose what made it so special in the first place?

This kind of thought kept me from catching up on the newest episodes. Then, last week, I decided it was time. I quickly caught up and though I miss Zooey, the rest of the cast has really stepped it up in her absence. My personal favorite, of course, being Jake Johnson as Nick Miller. Granted, I’ve always loved him and thought he was just one of the best characters. But this week’s episode was really something else.

Generally speaking, Nick Miller is a total mess. That’s why we love him. In this week’s episode, new girl Reagan — played by Megan Fox — is living with the loft crew and it’s making it hard for Nick to be a normal human. He gets awkward when she’s around, he can’t eat in front of her, and he tends to just make weird sounds instead of using words. And these are all things that Jake Johnson does so well. He makes it seem like he’s genuinely uncomfortable around Megan Fox and does so hilariously.

But it’s not what Jake Johnson does normally on the show that makes Nick Miller so great. What makes Jake Johnson so fantastic is that he seems to have very little in the way of fear. He lacks any sort of embarrassment or shame in his game and that I can say is magnificent. When Cece and Schmidt are telling Nick that Regan wears a wig in an effort to get him to realize that she’s not perfect, they say that Beyonce wears a wig and he would trust Beyonce with his life. It then cuts to Nick Miller sitting alone on the couch drinking beer and singing “Drunk In Love.” Johnson clearly doesn’t care that he looks as ridiculous as the rest of us do when belting out Beyonce, and is willing to put this on national television. When it cuts back to the present, Nick thinks about what happened and says, with a face full of nachos: “We be all night. We be all night.”

If that isn’t something truly spectacular, then I don’t know what is. Thank you, Jake Johnson, for letting the world know that we all have a deep appreciation and love for Queen Bey. And for also being wildly unashamed.

Who was YOUR TV MVP this week? Hit up the comments and let us know!


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