Sunday, April 24, 2016

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 36

It's another week of TV MVPs, you guys! And as Penny Hartz so accurately says, "TV rules!" And this week it's all about a mix between the silly, delightful comedy and intense drama as we celebrate some of the best performers. Joining me in this endeavor are:

Let's begin!

Jenn's MVP: Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

Why she's the MVP: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's finale aired this past week, and apart from being absolutely stellar and re-inventive in the way it presented a love triangle, it proved — once again — that Rachel Bloom deserves to win every award possible for her portrayal of Rebecca Bunch. Since dating Greg, Rebecca, on the surface, appears to have... how shall I say it? "Hide her crazy." She's not stalking Greg, not sending Paula to his home to bug it or strategizing ways to not-so-casually run into him. Rebecca is happy with where she is, but there's something still swirling around her heart: the idea of a fairytale happy ending. Throughout a vast majority of the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, audiences were meant to see Rebecca's antics as what they were — misplaced. We knew that moving across the country for Josh was impulsive, but that lying was detrimental and a glaringly obvious unhealthy pattern of behavior. By the time Rebecca took ownership of her lies and the way that her actions were destructive not just to herself but to other innocent people, it seemed like that obsessive pattern of behavior was behind her. She and Greg have their own sets of problems, but it appeared that loosening her grip on this unattainable ideal in Josh Chan would finally be the thing to set Rebecca on a path to recovery.

But what I really love about this show and about Rebecca as a character is that the more time we spend with her, the more we realize that her delusions aren't that absurd — not really. Rebecca's desire in the season finale is to have a fairytale moment. And really, she's been conditioned, just like we all have, to believe that romance should sweep us off our feet, and that love means saying all of the cliched right things under the right mood lighting, whilst wearing a beautiful gown. And when the music swells and the moment arises, that is how you know everything is perfect. What Rachel Bloom does so exceptionally well is convey these nuances in Rebecca's character. In the hands of a lesser actress, this show would have been a flop. Rebecca would have been unrealistic and grating. No one would have wanted to like her. No one would have related to her.

Bloom uses the finale to showcase every facet of her talent — from the horror and raw emotion of Rebecca being on the receiving end of Paula's rage, to Rebecca's hilarious attempt to be casual around Greg, and to her final vulnerable moments with Josh — and it's glorious to watch. Not only is Bloom an extremely talented writer and showrunner, but also an incredible actress who intimitely understands what drives her character. Bloom's ability to toe the line in every scene, allowing Rebecca the room to breathe and be a little zany but then rein in those antics and pack meaningful, powerful emotional punches is astounding. It's why I fell in love with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend this year, and it's why I am excited for the next.


Bonus MVP: Santino Fontana as Greg Serrano (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

I'm cheating a little bit here (but it's my site, so that's a perk I get to pull every once in a while) in including Santino Fontana as my bonus MVP, since he's also from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. But man, I absolutely have to express how I love what Santino has done with the character of Greg Serrano this season. He began as a sorta-archetype — the emotionally-distant, snarky bartender is not necessarily an archetype, but it also doesn't really sound original. But that's part of the reason why I love this show's writers and its actors — Santino and the writers took Greg and made him so much more than just a character in the background there to provide witty retorts, or serve as a corner in a love triangle. By the time the season finale rolls around, Greg is a fully-realized characters whose faults are glaring but stem from a place we can all empathize with. Greg is scared, and with good reason — he's played second fiddle to Josh for so long that he really believes himself to be a pit stop in a love story, not the endgame. While it's easy to grow frustrated with his actions, the point is that they're realistic and true with everything we know of Greg's self-sabotaging habits.

But sometimes I think we forget the humanity behind Greg, and that's where Santino Fontana comes in. Whether it's a subtle glance, or an unspoken sentiment, Santino is an expert at conveying depth without overselling or over-exaggerating. The scene at the end where he admits to being in love with Rebecca is powerful and sad, as we're reminded that he's so afraid of losing a woman he loves that he pushes her away to protect himself. Greg spends so much time protecting others and taking care of them (chief among those, his father) that he's very quick to put guards up whenever he feels threatened. Santino perfects Greg's ever-shifting emotions in the finale — from feigning indifference to the inability to contain his happiness upon seeing Rebecca, to that painfully self-sabotaging conversation.

What makes Greg Serrano so great is the fact that Santino understands him deeply and treats his issues with every bit of tact and delicacy that Rachel Bloom treats Rebecca's.


Marilyn’s MVP: Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt (The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

Why she's the MVP: The first time I really noticed Ellie Kemper was when she played newlywed “Becca” in Bridesmaids. It was hard not to notice her, actually. She shone in her scenes like she was made of actual, physical sunlight. When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt debuted on Netflix last year, I was pleased to see she was headlining the show. I was even more pleased after watched an episode. And then another. And then another.

Ellie does an amazing job of encapsulating girl-next-door authenticity, innocence and charm while also being deviously hilarious. That’s a hard line to toe. She could easily overcompensate and come off crass, or undercompensate and come off bland. But she never does. And season two of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt only further proves her chops.

If anything, this new season serves to display more of Ellie’s range, and that of the rest of the cast as well. Never fear though, this is still ultimately a comedy and even when the touching and emotional moments are served, a belly laugh isn’t far behind. Shoot, I don’t have to get too far past the the opening credits to break out in a smile. Let’s hope that we have Ellie on our Netflix screens and beyond for a long time to come.

Megan’s MVP: Tom Hiddleston as Jonathan Pine (The Night Manager)

Why he’s the MVP: Let’s start this off with the most important thing: I love Tom Hiddleston. I think he’s one of the most versatile actors in the industry right now. He’s played everything from a Norse villain to a centuries old vampire to one of Shakespeare’s most famous leading men and so much in between. Imagine my excitement when I heard that he would be coming back to television (he was previously in one of my favorite British miniseries Return to Cranford) in AMC’s The Night Manager.

Hiddleston plays the manager of a hotel in Cairo during the political uprising in 2011. Amidst heavy protests in the streets for the resignation of the president, he is one night approached by a very high profile guest, the mistress of a powerful businessman, to copy some documents for her. The documents uncover that businessman as a dangerous arms dealer. He then gives the papers to the British embassy and tries to help the woman get away once the businessman has discovered her betrayal, but he can’t. By the end of the episode, it’s four years later and that same businessman has come to stay in the Swiss hotel he’s now working in. The chase is on.

As you can tell from the description of just episode one, Hiddleston had a heap of emotions to portray. He had to be smart, strong, and fearful. He is playing a character who wants to protect the city he lives in without endangering himself. He has to outsmart a very intelligent businessman and his goons to not only prevent their future endeavors but also to get Sophie out of their reach. He’s both a former soldier and now a normal citizen. He has to be sweet to Sophie, but conflicted about not being able to protect her in the way he wants to.

He has to be so many things. And when Tom Hiddleston does it, he does it with grace and an effortlessness that is riveting to watch. You believe everything that comes out of his mouth as if it’s a documentary rather than a scripted drama. It’s astounding to see his talent unfold in the episode and I am thrilled to know that there are five more heading my way.  

Who were YOUR TV MVPs this week? Let us know in the comments below!

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