Sunday, October 9, 2016

Series: This Week's TV MVPs -- Week 43

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Not even Hurricane Matthew can stop this week's TV MVP Series from happening! This week, as our friends and neighbors clean up tree branches, restore power to their homes, and help put communities back together, we celebrate some of the best and most important performers on television. Alisa joins me and together we discuss some actors and actresses who went above and beyond in their portrayals of characters. Join us and read on!

Jenn's MVP: Riley Smith as Frank Sullivan (Frequency)

Why he's the MVP: When I saw Frequency at Preview Night during this year's Comic-Con, I wasn't sure what to expect, apart from the little I had seen in the trailers. I had never seen the movie and hoped that it would be like last year's Limitless, attracting new viewers by being broad enough while also providing plenty to love for those who had seen the film (it was). And while Peyton List's portrayal of Raimy Sullivan in the pilot episode was incredible — deeply heartfelt, emotional, and not over-acted — the cast member who really caught my attention was Riley Smith as Frank Sullivan, Raimy's father.

Smith has a difficult job in the pilot episode. He's given very little time to establish Frank's character and motives. We're given a not-too-pleasant set-up by Raimy: she, in being pried to discuss her father does not want to. She shuts down, and does so with a closely-held bitterness. Immediately, the audience realizes that this relationship was estranged and rocky, and that Frank Sullivan is a man we should probably not like either. But when we meet the man in 1995, he seems jovial and warm, inviting jokes and conversations. Slowly, pieces are unraveled — Frank went deep undercover for his job on the force and was betrayed, leading to his eventual death. And throughout all of this, Riley Smith has an immensely complex job of playing a layered character who we don't know very well.

But Smith excels, incredibly, and delivers an MVP-worthy performance. Because not only do we see Frank Sullivan as a cop, but also a father to both adult and child versions of Raimy. The thing about Frank that we know already through Smith's performance is that he loves his daughter, immensely. Just watch the pain on his face as he has to leave her for his job, or the moment of pure joy and also immense sadness when he cannot be there for her birthday but sends her a present in a coffee can. It's in these subtleties and nuances that Smith truly exceeds, delivering us a fully-developed character within the course of 40 minutes. We trust him, empathize with him, and root for him to succeed. Smith's portrayal left me feeling an extremely close connection to Frank Sullivan — a character who is still broken and messy, but relatable.

I can't wait to see what else Riley Smith can do with this character as the series goes on, especially in regards to Frank and Raimy's relationship. I know I will be along for every emotional twist and turn.

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Bonus MVP: Lin-Manuel Miranda as himself (Saturday Night Live)

There's no way that I could possibly mention a TV MVP this week without mentioning the incredible Saturday Night Live host and Hamilton creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. I'm going to be totally honest here: I stopped watching SNL a few seasons ago. This was made extremely apparent to me when I watched the opening credits and didn't know 80% of the cast. But when I heard that Lin would be hosting the show, I knew I had to check it out. I became obsessed with Hamilton this year after some very intense recommendations from friends (Connie, Jaime, Jen W., etc., I love you guys for it), and have proudly gotten others obsessed as well. It would be one thing for Lin to be a musical genius (which he is), or a brilliant rapper (which he is), or an exquisite writer (which he is), but the thing that has always impressed me about Lin is his genuine spirit. I can normally sense those things in people, and having never met Lin, I can still sense that he's honest and kind and will never use his talents or experience or knowledge to demean other people.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is passionate — about stories, about history, about empowering people — and that passion was totally evident in his SNL performances this week, beginning with what will go down in history as one of the most incredible (if not most incredible) opening monologues ever. I could wax poetic about Lin's talents all day, but what I really want to talk about and why he's the MVP is the fact that watching SNL this week was special because I was watching someone fulfill their dream. I was watching a person who has spent seven years working his butt off to tell an important story and provide the best piece of art he possibly could get a happy break. You could tell in every sketch that Lin was just having FUN. He was enjoying being on stage like a child enjoys walking through the gates of Disney World. For all of the ways Lin has worked tirelessly to oversee his projects, foster positivity, and devote time to his family, he deserved this night. He deserved the applause and he deserved the love.

Because the truth is that Lin-Manuel Miranda deserves every good thing that comes his way. And I know that this is just the beginning of many, many more good things for him.

Alisa's MVP: A.J. Cook as J.J. (Criminal Minds)

Why she's the MVP: Remember on the first day of school how the teacher would always ask, “What did you do over summer break?” Well, this summer I spent my evenings binge-watching Criminal Minds. I’d never seen it before, but I watched all eleven seasons, and by the time I was done, I couldn’t wait for the twelfth to start up this fall. I was immediately captivated by the character Jennifer Jareau (J.J.), played expertly by A.J. Cook. The writers of the series have thrown a lot at J.J. over the years, and A.J. has infused her character with nuance, grace, and grit.

This week’s episode — episode two of season twelve — was no exception. The episode centers on J.J., which is rare, and follows her as she recounts to her husband the case she just finished. Two children were kidnapped, which was especially difficult for J.J. who has two young sons. She details the events of the case with heartbreaking exactitude, including an impossible decision she was forced to make. We watch her break down several times during the retelling, steeling herself again and again so she can continue.

It was a rollercoaster of emotion for the viewers, and such a powerful performance by A.J. Cook. Part of me was furious at the writers for throwing even more pain at this beloved character, but the other part of me was mesmerized by the authenticity A.J. brings to the role week after week. I can’t wait to see how A.J. continues to tackle the new challenges the writers throw at her this season. One thing’s for sure — whatever they have in store, she won’t disappoint.

Who was YOUR TV MVP this week? Sound off in the comments below!


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