Sunday, May 1, 2016

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 37

It's another week in one of my favorite things that we do at our site. We began the TV MVP Series to celebrate the most outstanding performers on television each week. And every week, I absolutely love writing about some of the stunning performances I see and I love reading about them from the other writers, too. It's such a joy to set aside time every week to honor the people who work hard to perfect their craft. That said, as we approach sweeps and season finales, the performances are even better than ever. Whether hysterical comedies, intense dramas, or even some swan songs for performers, this week saw some of the best performances from cable and network television shows.

Joining me to honor these performances are:
Let's get started!


Jenn's MVP: Zooey Deschanel as Jessica Day (New Girl)

Why she's the MVP: It's no surprise to anyone that New Girl is my favorite show on television right now. Because the truth is that even a "meh" episode of this show is still better than 98% of what is on television. And though over the years, the FOX comedy has become a true ensemble, the second episode in this week's double-header proved that Zooey Deschanel can still command an episode as the hilarious Jessica Day. An episode where Deschenel spends the entirety of the episode being inebriated could have easily worn out its comedic juice very quickly. If actors don't commit or understand how their characters would act whilst under the influence, the performance can become irritating at best and cringeworthy at worst. But what Deschanel did so well in "A Chill Day In" is remind us of the Jess we know and love, even though she was high. 

So much of Jess as a character (and both her comedy and emotional resonance) is wrapped up in the way that she sees the world. And so it stands to reason then that a high!Jess would need to make sense and correlate with everything we knew to be true of her character. Honestly? Deschanel absolutely and totally sold it. I never found Jess to be irritating in this episode. The delivery of lines by Deschanel was spot-on — a combination of careful, slow processing that only happens when inebriated and really high-concept themes that only Jess would consider (honestly, the baby meteorologist or the realization that she'll have to deliver lines at her mother's funeral were both reflective of what we already know to be true of Jess). Jess was silly, but not over-the-top. She was profound, but about things that only she would find to be interesting. She was loud, but only when necessary. And Deschanel fully committed to everything she did in the episode. (Perhaps one of my favorite moments in the entire series is Jess waving her hand over the breadmaker to make it sing.)

Deschanel has done some really incredible work with Jess over the years, turning her from this one-note "manic pixie dream girl"-esque archetype into a fully-realized, fully-empathetic character. This week's episode proved that she doesn't just hit the emotional beats perfectly, but also the comedic ones and I can't emphasize enough how incredible the entire performance was in terms of both consistency and hilarity. Deschanel deserves all the credit for "A Chill Day In," and I'll gladly wait another ten years for the return of high!Jess.

Bonus MVP: Paul Blackthorne as Quentin Lance (Arrow)

Oh, to be quite frank, my heart utterly broke this week on Arrow. And it wasn't because Laurel's funeral happened — not directly, really. What truly drove me to tears was the extremely emotional and incredible performance of Paul Blackthorne as Quentin Lance. We've watched Blackthorne play the grieving father before (a few times, actually) that it almost seems like by the time Grief Scene #3 happened, we would be weary of seeing Quentin break down, But what I truly appreciate and admire about this performance was how different it was from Blackthorne's portrayal of Sara's death(s). When Sara died, Quentin lost a baby. When Laurel died, Quentin lost his rock — his world, and his support.

I think that every emotional beat Blackthorne played in "Canary Cry" was not just intentional but well-executed. From the intense denial that Quentin spent most of the episode in, to the utterly heartbreaking tears at the funeral, Blackthorne conveyed the sheer depth of grief a father has over losing his daughter. But it was Blackthorne's scene with Stephen Amell that had me reaching for a pile of tissues. It was then that every emotion — denial, rage, grief, disbelief — converged into one utterly moving performance. And when Quentin corrected himself, using "was" instead of "is" in reference to Laurel? Well, I felt a sob bubble up in my throat.

Paul Blackthorne masterfully took something that was fairly stale to Arrow viewers (characters grieving on this show is right up there in frequency with Felicity making Freudian slips), and made it not just poignant and powerful, but fresh.


Mer’s MVP: Tatiana Maslany as Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Helena, and Rachel (Orphan Black)

Why she’s the MVP: I’m going to make a bold claim here. Tatiana Maslany is the best actress on TV right now. Nobody else does what she does. Every single episode, Maslany makes the viewer forget that more than half the cast of characters on Orphan Black is played by her! She literally carries the show on her shoulders. There is rarely a scene that doesn’t feature her as one of the clones. Everyone says this, but the viewer constantly forgets they are watching one actress play multiple people. Maslany has nailed the nuances of each clone: the tone and accent of their voice, their facial expressions, body language, personal style, etc. Each woman is so unique and individualized that even when watching two clones together you never have a moment where you think anything is amiss.

This week had a little bit from pretty much every clone, save for the newly-introduced MK, and as such, Maslany really got to shine. She is an unstoppable, undeniable force of charisma and chemistry - it’s impossible to take your eyes off of her no matter which sister she is portraying. Whether it’s the bold and brave Sarah, the understated and trying-to-be-courageous in the face of illness Cosima, the Stepford Wife with a dark side Alison, the hilarious assassin turned nanny Helena, or any of the other clones we see sporadically, Maslany captures the audience like nobody else can. And even better than watching her perfected performances as each sister is watching her play one clone acting as another. This is always fun, and often hilarious.

This week we were rewarded with two such occurrences: Sarah being mistaken for and quickly having to adjust to playing Beth in order to gain information, without much context at all; and Helena (in a bathrobe and with a towel on her head) playing wife Alison opposite Donnie. Helena pretending to be anyone other than Helena is always entertaining, in a very overt way because these scenes are meant to be comical. But watching the other clones act as one of their sisters is equally as engaging, because the viewer gets to see just how truly astonishing Maslany is, when she tackles the individualization of each character as one pretends to be another.

I’m unsure why Tatiana Maslany has not won all the awards yet, but I’m certain that her time is coming. She most definitely could and should be an MVP every single week, but for me this week’s episode especially, because it was somewhat light on actual plot, allowed Maslany to actually shine. In addition to her portrayal of the clones pretending to be other clones, plot-light episodes allow the characterization of each sestra, and their relationships with each other as well as the other people in their lives, to come to the forefront. Overall, Orphan Black is a plot-heavy show — but I particularly enjoy the episodes that focus on the characters, like this week, because one can see why Maslany is — simply put — brilliant.

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Jen’s MVP: Alison Wright as Martha Hanson (The Americans)

Why she’s the MVP: The Americans is one of television’s most glorious examples of a slow burn. It stands as example of what a story can become if it is given the time to develop. Alison Wright’s performance as Martha Hanson is the proof. Martha is the secretary to a high ranking FBI supervisor, Frank Gaad. She’s single, on the cusp of forty, and deeply lonely. She’s a perfect mark for KGB secret agent Phillip Jennings. For four years, we’ve watched Phillip romance, manipulate, and lie to Martha. She fell in love with him, married him, and broke the law for him. Martha has copied confidential reports and — worst of all — planted a bug in Frank Gaad’s office.

Layer by excruciating layer, The Americans has built the relationship between Phillip and Martha. Phillip has relied more on honesty lately to keep his hold on Martha. She’s seen his real face, sans disguise, knows he is KGB and yet... Martha stays with him. Now the FBI knows Martha has been working with the KGB. The FBI is after her, and the KGB must get her out of the country. Martha is looking two potential lives square in the face: life in prison or life in Russia.

Alison Wright has constructed an exceptional character. Martha exudes kindness, love, and trust, so we understand why she has become a safe haven for Philip. As insane as this sounds, when Philip is with Martha, he doesn’t have to be a KGB agent. He gets to be Clark Westerfeld. It’s a far more peaceful and simple life than the one he has with real wife and KGB partner, Elizabeth.

However, as “Clark” and Martha had built their life together, Alison Wright never forgot to hold onto what drives Martha: loneliness. Wright’s biting questions and piercing stare tell us Martha isn’t a fool. But she allows desperation to simmer underneath with every hesitating breath and anxious question. Truth is important to Martha, but not losing “Clark” is more important.

“Travel Agents” is like watching a ticking time bomb. Martha is the bomb and the clock has been ticking down for four years. Phillip has manipulated Martha, but he’s also given her so much power. She alone can identify him. Once the FBI finds Philip, they find Elizabeth and so on. The Americans is a domino set, with winding twist and turns, and it’s Martha — the lonely secretary — who has the power to knock it all down.

Frustrated, scared and angry that “Clark” left her in the safe house alone with his handler, she takes off. Wright finds Martha’s defiance by capturing a steely anger as Martha threatens Gabriel that she’ll tell the world he’s KGB. It is a moment of triumph as Martha takes back some control. I simultaneously cheered for Martha and feared for her. If Martha doesn’t cooperate, the KGB will kill her. Not even Phillip can protect her. What results is a race between the FBI and the KGB; whoever finds Martha first wins. I couldn’t breathe, it was so tense. Will the KGB kill her? Will the FBI arrest her? Or... will Martha kill herself?

Wright moves through each scene with a frenetic fear that is exhausting just to watch. I can’t imagine how difficult it was performing. Wright grabs the audience’s hand and pulls us right into Martha’s nightmare. There’s no reprieve from her panic and fear. There’s no way out for Martha, and Wright makes sure there’s no way out for the audience.

Then Martha called her parents in what sounded like a goodbye. Wright keeps a forced lightness to her voice until her father gets on the phone. This is the man who always kept her safe and never lied to her. Wright crumbles, and it’s heartbreaking. Martha walks along a bridge and I was absolutely sure this was the end of her character.

Then Martha calls what I’ve nicknamed the “KGB Hotline.” Typically a woman answers and lets Phillip know Martha is trying to contact him. This time, it’s Phillip who answers. Unable to find Martha, he hoped she’d call and knew he had to answer if she did. Watching Wright portray the bundle of emotions Martha is feeling was amazing. She moves so rapidly and deftly through anger, fear. desperation, and need. It’s almost like watching her four year relationship with Philip portrayed in a single phone call. Incredibly, The Americans has connected me to Phillip and Elizabeth enough that I hope these two characters get away with all they've done. ... Except when it comes to Martha. Of all their victims, Martha breaks my heart the most. I am screaming at Martha to call the FBI while she talks to Philip, but I know she won’t. I know because of how Wright has built this character. As an actress, holds onto Martha’s core with every look and every word. Phillip begs Martha for her location and Martha tells him. Of course she does. Martha doesn’t want to be alone.

Unable to lie to Martha anymore, Philip tells her she’s going to Russia and he will not follow. She will never see him again. Wright portrays her character as numb. She’s completely shell-shocked. Defeated, Wright softly whispers, “I’ll be alone — just the way it was before I met you.” There’s a flat, hollow sound to her voice and a deadness in her eyes. Wright steps into the void of Martha’s despair. Every law she broke to hold onto Clark, to free herself from her crushing isolation, has only led to to a life sentence. Even though Martha’s fate isn’t revealed at the end of the episode, Wright’s performance makes it clear: whether she gets on the plane to Russia, is arrested by the FBI or commits suicide... Clark Westerfeld has killed Martha Hanson. All of Alison Wright’s hard work paid off in this devastating performance.

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Jen’s (other) MVP: Leah Pipes as Camille O’Connell (The Originals)

Why she’s the MVP: I was completely unprepared for what took place on The Originals this Friday night. Of course, the promos had Cami battling a sure-to-be-fatal bite from Lucien, but honestly I wasn’t worried. It’s The Originals. Someone is always “almost dying” nearly every episode, and then it all works out. Just a few episodes ago, Cami was dying and then she transitioned into a vampire. There would surely be a mystical spell or blood to save Cami. "It's Cami," I reasoned. No worries! I was confidently chill.

Now, I’m a sobbing mess listening to “Terrible Love” by Birdy on constant repeat as I mourn the loss of my beloved Cami. My grief is tempered slightly by the absolutely stunning performance Leah Pipes gave in her final episode. The Originals is built upon a supernatural world and it’s very easy to lose the core of the show inside all the twist and turns. The core is humanity. The point of this journey is for Klaus to find his humanity and for Elijah not to lose his. No character on The Originals captures that core more perfectly than Camille O’Connell, and it’s the reason her loss is so heartbreaking.

Pipes handled every moment with grace, bravery, compassion, and a deep and abiding love, not for a thousand year old vampire, but for the man deep inside. Cami was always able to see past the rage, the violence, and the fear inside Klaus Mikaelson. She was more than his therapist. Cami was Klaus’ life coach. She taught him that “it’s okay to care. It’s okay to want something.” Cami just thought she had more time, like we all do. In fact, as a vampire, Cami thought she had all the time in the world to do all the things she wanted to do and be all the things she wanted to be.

Since she technically died a couple weeks ago, Cami decided to skip anger and denial in her stages of grief. This time, she was going to handle it all differently. Pipes gives Cami a serenity about dying — a serenity that allows her to enjoy the perfect day Klaus conjures in her mind.

Cami uses her final moments for one last therapy session with Klaus as well. She offers him beautiful and sound advice — “If you love something, you must accept the good with the bad” — and talks about all the human impulses she’s seen in this man. Pipes uses a rapid-fire delivery as the words come tumbling out of Cami. She’s trying to say everything she’s always wanted to say to Klaus, but thought she had all the time in the world to say it.


Pipes makes a full stop when she says, “do you know that, Klaus? You are loved. By Elijah, Rebecca, Freya... Because love will make you strong. It will make you the man I know you want to be. You have to run with it because I won’t be here to remind you.” Leah Pipes so perfectly captures the sincerity of Cami’s words along with her desperation. She needs Klaus to understand he’s loved because she won’t be around to love him.

As heart-wrenching as that scene is, Leah Pipes was far from done in her exceptional performance. Once Klaus finally confesses that he loves Cami, the realization that she is truly dying hits her. What Pipes portrays is so beautifully human. Cami is no longer able to be brave and strong. She’s terrified because she doesn’t want to die. Watching her come to terms with her mortality is like watching Pipes unravel a spool of emotions, each more crushing than the next. She spins wildly into her fear, almost on the brink of hysteria, until Klaus says: “I’m here.” He comforts Cami, tells her how much she means to him, how much she taught him and how he will never forget her.

The tables are turned. Now Klaus is Cami’s emotional support. He gives all of Cami’s unconditional and selfless love back to her. In this moment, Klaus is everything Cami ever wanted him to be: a good man. It is why she can tearfully whisper “I guess that makes me immortal,” because she knows, truly and without doubt, that Klaus Mikaelson is her life’s work.

(Sorry, I can’t actually see the keyboard right now. I’m crying as I write this. That’s how good Leah Pipes was.) Pipes then slows Cami’s breathing, her sentences come out in breathy staccato beats, as she reminds Klaus of the Bible verse on her beloved uncle’s grave: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Leah finishes Cami’s death with a tour de force speech that redefines the entire series:
“I was never naive enough to think that I was your light. There is a light in you. All that hanger, the cycle of abuse that Mikael began, you can end it. You have to, so you can be the light for your little girl. For hope.”
Leah Pipes conveys all the love and deep understanding that Cami has for Klaus in this speech. And then she just rests her head on Joseph Morgan’s chest and goes to sleep. Klaus tells her it’s okay to go. There will be no more pain or heartbreak — only peace. And someday... he’ll join her.

Losing Cami from The Originals is a tragedy, as is losing a talent like Leah Pipes. But Pipes helped me say goodbye to this character I love by capturing the light inside Cami so perfectly. I can say goodbye because I know Cami is okay. The darkness did not defeat her. The Originals delivering their best episode ever also feels like a goodbye worthy of Pipes. It’s not often a character’s death changes the trajectory of the show. Klaus’ journey is no longer about finding his humanity for me. It’s now about whether or not he honors Camille O’Connell.

Who were YOUR TV MVPs this week? Hit up the comments below and let us know!

1 comment:

  1. The review on The Originals is absolute perfection, thank you so much Jen. It helps me feel a lot better about losing my favourite character on the show.