Sunday, October 16, 2016

Series: This Week's TV MVPs -- Week 44

Welcome back, friends, to another week of the TV MVP Series! I've been watching television critically for about five years now, and I can honestly say that I don't think there's been a season quite like this one during that time. There are so many incredible shows on television right now that it's hard for someone as television obsessed as me to keep up. Thank goodness for a reliable cable provider who has new network and cable television episodes available for free the next day. Whew.

As this television season continues to find its groove, we'll continue to celebrate some of the greatest performers each week! Melanie joins me this week to discuss some fantastic actors and actresses on the small screen. Enjoy!

Jenn's MVP: Abigail Spencer as Lucy Preston (Timeless)

Why she's the MVP: I'll be the first to admit when I'm wrong about a television show. And I was wrong about Timeless. Perhaps it was the promos, that looked a little bit cheesy. Or maybe it was just the fact that I'm beginning to get burnt out on shows about time travel, since every network on television this year has decided that they need to have one (it's the new fad, kids; vampires and zombies are out. Time travel is in!). So I delayed watching the pilot of the series until Hurricane Matthew hit a few weeks ago. And when I watched, I was more than just pleasantly surprised; I was excited. With so many shows about time travel, it's important that Timeless set itself apart from the others. What I know right away — and even more so after this week's episode — is that this NBC series will focus heavily on characters and their emotions.

Already, Abigail Spencer is killing it as Lucy Preston, a history professor who is recruited to travel through time with a ragtag team and stop a madman intent on changing history. No one knows and loves history more than Lucy, so while she is hesitant at first, she eventually agrees. In this week's episode, Spencer proved that she's going to be an incredible emotional force to be reckoned with. When the team travels back to the night of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, Lucy tries her hardest to detach her emotional reality to history. She tells Wyatt and Rufus that they cannot change or mess with timelines — they have no idea the ripple effect it could have. And even though they all want desperately to make the world better, Lucy reminds them that sometimes that doesn't mean changing the past so much as it means making their present better.

But when Lincoln is assassinated in front of Lucy, she cannot help but be affected. She cannot help but realize that history is made up of real, human, hurting people. When she meets Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and makes a connection with him, it makes the fact that his father is killed all the more painful. Lucy thought she could talk about people in history like they were obscure figures and concepts. She's studied them like that — we all have. We all hear the stories and read the facts with some level of emotional detachment. But when Lucy watched history happen in front of her eyes, she couldn't help but be incredibly affected by it.

Spencer's performance in that moment was stunning. Lucy was vulnerable and relatable; someone whose reality was beginning to slowly dwell on her but also on us, the audience. I absolutely loved her performance and found myself tearing up as I watched her cry on the ship back home. It was a beautiful, raw moment and Abigail Spencer completely nailed it. I'm so excited to see her more as Lucy as the series unfolds.

Bonus MVP: Joshua Sasse as Xavier (No Tomorrow)

Guys, I loved Galavant. I really did. I wrote about it all last season, and I was crushed when it was cancelled. So when I saw that Joshua Sasse would be in a new show on The CW this season, I thought I would check it out. It looked like a really quirky comedy, and has liven up to that quirky potential. No Tomorrow is a show that focuses on the funny and the insane, but it also focuses on what makes each of us human. It examines our fears, our hopes, aspirations, and what we might do if we were finally "free." Sasse plays a character who is a far cry from his Galavant alter-ego, but in the best way possible. Xavier believes the world is going to end in a little over eight months. And since he believes that, he's choosing to live every day as if it was his last — because soon, it will be.

On this week's episode though, we got to see a bit of an emotional side to Xavier while his cousin stays with him ("stays" is a loose term, since Xavier kind of broke his cousin out of prison and aforementioned cousin is now on the run. Whoops). The two discover an old tape containing a message from Xavier's mom. His mom, we learned, passed away and had recorded a message for him years ago. Throughout most of the episode, Xavier cannot bear to watch the entire thing, too overcome with emotion. But he eventually does, and Joshua Sasse plays the moment (and those that follow) with such a perfect mixture of poignant grief and also a little bit of joy. Because seeing his mom's face and hearing her voice again DOES bring him joy. It reminds him of the woman who wanted him to dive off cliffs into open waters. He never had the courage to do it though, when he was little — when he could have done it with her.

What makes Xavier such an interesting character is that there is a reason behind everything he does. Sasse makes this man instantly charming, but also extremely deep. A man who believes the apocalypse is nigh could easily be portrayed as insane and unbelievable. But given what Xavier has experienced, perhaps he is not so crazy after all to believe in a world where he should live each day with purpose and reckless abandon. I love Joshua Sasse's portrayal of this character, and this week was such a treat in seeing the range that he can bring to Xavier.


Mel’s MVP: Annie M. Briggs as the Dean/Lola Perry (Carmilla)

Why she's the MVP: I’m going to start this blurb by bending the rules ever so slightly (sorry Jenn) and give a bit of a shout out to the entire cast of Carmilla for their killer performances in the last batch of episodes that aired over this past week. Elise Bauman has consistently been a tour de force of stage presence in front of the camera for 36 episodes a season, Natasha Negovanlis has taken season ones’s closed-off loner into some serious scenes of vulnerability by the end of season three, and Kaitlyn Alexander has played expertly with Laf’s multiple facets as both Xander-esque comic asides and the stern voice of realism.

But they said I had to pick one for my MVP this week and I had to go with Annie M. Briggs and her stunning performance as (several iterations) of Perry and — most recently — Lilita Morgan. And when I say stunning, I don’t mean glittery and pretty to look at; I mean truly arresting. Any scene Briggs walked into as the dean instantly grabbed your attention. It was even more fascinating to watch in comparison to the hyped up energy Lola Perry often showcases with frazzled cleaning frenzies (or her brief time as a Neo-Pagan hippie in season zero). This character, inhabiting the same body, was the picture of predatory stillness and gazes that hinted at pools of danger beneath the surface. It was enough to truly be unnerving.

For the first two seasons of the show, the dean hovered in the background somewhat as an archetypical villain with some cackling and dastardly plans but no real amount of bite. Through Jordan Hall’s writing, she became not only a tangible menace waiting to strike but a tragic person dealing, like anyone, with some bad choices. And while, as a writer myself, my first kudos for superb works of entertainment generally go to the writer, this character could have teetered under all that new weight without Briggs’ choices at a menacing performance that turned downright gutwrenching by the end.

Briggs’ final scene in the pit was shocking in how much it actually made me care for the desires of this character. In fact, I was actually kind of rooting for her there for a little bit (though I will say no man is worth 6,000 years and opening the gates of hell; just grab a whiskey instead). In the span of mini-monologue, Briggs’ went from hysterical to utterly jaded and spent. It was intense to watch and, first and foremost, crazy entertaining.

While many of the characters have gone through some loops and roller coasters, I don’t think anyone was handed quite as complicated a plate as Briggs. And she not only handled it, she knocked it out of the park. So my MVP shout out this week is to Annie M. Briggs for making me feel things I didn’t expect to stealing the show with some downright honesty.

Who are YOUR TV MVPs this week? Sound off in the comments below!


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