Sunday, January 22, 2017

Series: This Week's TV MVPs -- Week 50

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Welcome to 2017, y'all! Can you believe that we're already in a new year? For many of us, 2016 was rough and we were eagerly anticipating a new slate with new possibilities. And, of course, escapism with some awesome television shows! Naturally. Over the past week or so, shows have been slowly returning from their winter slumbers and will continue to do so in the weeks to come. As those shows come back — with some new ones premiering this spring, too — we'll be celebrating some of the best performers on television each week. Ready? Let's talk about some TV MVPs! Joining me this week are:



Jenn's MVP: Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock)

Why he's the MVP: *Spoilers for "The Final Problem" ahead!* The appearance of Sherlock on my television screen happens with as much frequency as a comet (or at least it seems to). So when those three episodes air, I treasure them and enjoy them as much as possible. The show has always worked best when it focuses on Sherlock and John Watson solving crime together — when Watson is being cheeky and Sherlock reconstructs crime scenes with a breakneck-paced monologue. This season of Sherlock was a bit different. For starters, it was a lot darker than previous seasons have been, in my opinion. There was less of an emphasis on solving crimes — those were secondary — and more on exploring the relationships that Sherlock and Watson have with each other and with people around them. Life had been reduced to a game before, but this season it wasn't a game anymore: it was a test. And Sherlock was put through the wringer.

In the season finale, "The Final Problem," Sherlock is the central focus. You might think it odd, as I did, that the titular character was as prevalent as he was in the finale. Because like I said above, Sherlock tends to be a show that focuses on the main character but heavily emphasizes cases and other key players. But the finale was all Sherlock-focused — every riddle, every scheme, and every reveal gave us deeper insight into his character. And I can say with utter certainty that Benedict Cumberbatch knocked it out of the park. I'm used to seeing him as the gruff, dry, sarcastic genius whose flippant regard for human emotion tends to get him into hot water often. But this season, Sherlock was more humanized and humbled than ever, thanks to a series of really dark and momentous events.

One of the events was being forced to play a life-or-death stakes game with his sister, Euros, whom he never knew existed. Cumberbatch is the subject of this episode — Sherlock is the one that Euros really cares about, and as such, our titular character has to navigate repressed memories and emotions in order to keep himself, Watson, and Mycroft alive. There's no doubt about it that Cumberbatch is stellar — he's an excellent emoter, so the subtleties in each scene were palpable. He had to watch a man kill himself, try to calm a little girl in a crashing plane down, break Molly's heart, and remember the things that were suppressed in his memory. Each scene, we see a different form of Sherlock: frightened, emotional, calm, angry, etc. 

Benedict Cumberbatch makes playing this infinitely complex person look so easy. He is so connected to Sherlock as a character that he feels and understands his emotions and is able to then convey them to us. "The Final Problem" was an amazing culmination of all of the emotional growth that Sherlock has done this season, and Cumberbatch really was a rockstar this season. For all of the work he has done with this character, he deserves to be the MVP.

(Bonus shout-out to Mark Gatiss for giving us an especially-humanized Myrcroft in the finale, too. He was brilliant.)

Julia’s MVP: Chris Pratt as Nick (Mom)

Why he’s the MVP: I’m sure I’m not the only one who has missed seeing Chris Pratt grace my TV screen on a weekly basis. His quirkiness and charm as Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation has left a void in the TV world that has yet to be filled — that is until he guest starred on Mom this week! Pratt brought all of the best parts of his comedy to a simple-minded character, and the casting couldn’t have been any more brilliant. Mom is the perfect show for Pratt to guest star on because the show and Pratt’s comedy are similar. Also, seeing him act with his wife, Anna Faris, was too good to be true.

Pratt is generally pretty amazing in just about any role, so what made him stand out this time? For starters, Pratt plays the guy-next-door role with ease. His performance makes you believe that he’s just a normal guy. Second, his delivery of corny lines added comedy to lifeless jokes. Pratt has a way of making just about anything funny with the right phrasing, and he definitely displayed his acting chops in that way. Some of the dialogue would have been stale if any other actor had said the lines, but he adds something extra.

Lastly, Nick falls head-over-heels in love with Christy (Faris) pretty quickly. Pratt’s genuine love for his wife definitely came through and helped bolster the scenes they had together. He made every scene feel effortless and real, whereas a lot of the other scenes in the show felt forced. There’s nothing to dislike about Pratt’s guest appearance on Mom, which is why he is my MVP this week. 


Ilene’s MVP: Lauren German as Chloe Decker (Lucifer

Why she’s the MVP: Holy crap, how could she not be this week’s MVP? Lauren German as Detective Chloe Decker has literally been the grounding force of Fox’s Lucifer — and what a brilliant grounding force she has been. This week is one of her strongest performances yet, on a show that keeps getting better and better with every episode. I am sure next week she’ll be even better. But why, you ask, am I highlighting her marvelous acting skills this week? 

Well, Lauren brought out the subtle stops — her inner conflict with feelings for Lucifer. Her outright denial of all of Lucifer’s advances, while still portraying the turmoil she was going through. Just through German’s body actions and expressions it was obvious what Chloe was truly struggling with — letting go and letting someone else in, and this vibe carried throughout the entire episode. Chloe’s fear of committing to Lucifer is so palpable and understandable. German just knocked it out of the park. She is the heart of the show, while Lucifer is the fluffy brain. 

Chloe not only makes the show believable, but brings out the best in Lucifer for better or worse. She may not know why she’s special, but we sure do, and German allowed Chloe to shine this episode. The result was brilliance. From the moment we saw the decision to kiss Lucifer to cross her face, we got to witness the subtle nature of her pure acting talent. 

So thank you for not only bringing my ship to life, but bringing a depth, realness, and humanness to this supernatural show!


Erin’s MVP: Jude Law as Lenny Belardo, Pope Pius the XIII (The Young Pope)

Why he’s the MVP: On “First Episode,” The Pope refers to himself as a contradiction. I thought it was cocky and pretentious. By the end of that episode, although befuddled, I was pretty sure this Pope was not a good dude. The “Second Episode” completely has me floundering as to who Lenny/Pope Pius XIII is and what his intentions are. Instead of being exasperated by this, I find myself reveling in it. “Second Episode” was jam-packed with scenes with which to further confound me, but I loved every second of it. Jude Law is given so much work in this episode and he delivers. The way he breaks down these contradicting traits while exaggerating them is impressive. 

The invisible Pope monologue is so well written and in less capable hands could’ve come off as silly. Law nails it. It’s an intelligent response to the commercialization of the papacy with wonderful condescending beats. As a matter of course, it’s contradictory hearing the words Banksy, Daft Punk, and electronic music come out of the mouth of the Vatican’s Head of State. It could’ve been laughable in a ridiculous way, but Law’s display is discerning and shrewd. He commands the scene even when the camera cuts away from him during the speech. 

That also holds true when he finally gives his address to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. Under his order, he is lit only from behind. The people and the media are unable to see his face. He is a dark silhouette as he admonishes the world for not having enough faith. He just spent the whole episode making me change my mind that he does not have insidious intentions and is, in fact, godly, and then he turns that idea on its head. It keeps me delightfully confused instead of infuriating me and I credit that to Law’s talent and command over his character. 

There is one moment in this episode that I rewound many times because of Law’s flawless delivery. Wanting to end a meeting with the Prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy, The Pope activates a button under his desk. This prompts an assistant to provide him with an excuse to relieve him of duty. This sweet nun enters the room and tells The Pope that it is time for his snack. Law’s response is full of nuance. If it were up to me I would give him an award for his performance in this scene, alone. He subtly expresses so many reactions in such a short amount of time. He is caught off guard, sarcastic, pained, disgusted, helpless, and pissed off. The combination and progression of these expressions is perfect and hilarious. I honestly laughed until I had tears. I brought up the scene later in the week when I needed a good chuckle (*cough* the inauguration *cough*). It has provided me a great inside joke that I will use forever. “Time for your snack, Holy Father.”  

Jude Law as Lenny, The Pope was everything I want in a character in this episode. He had complexity, sincerity, and precision. He made me think, he made me laugh, and all of it was so entertaining.   

Jon’s MVP: Ted Danson as Michael (The Good Place)


In the age of “spoiler culture,” it’s almost impossible to keep anything a secret these days. Images and leaked plot information concerning a major film/TV show get leaked on a daily basis, to the point where nothing really seems to surprise anyone anymore. That’s why it’s so refreshing when a show like The Good Place comes along and completely shocks you with a twist nobody could see coming.

For the entirety of its first season, The Good Place (which, if you haven’t started watching, PLEASE rectify that immediately) was built on the premise that we are viewing what is essentially this show’s version of Heaven, and that the humor of the show comes from the idea that someone who wasn’t the best person is accidentally put here, thereby forcing her to slowly become good.

As it turns out, this was all just the prelude for what might be the best TV twist in recent memory. After having an epiphany, Eleanor calls over Michael and reveals her epiphany: this is not the good place; they are all in the bad place and have been the whole time.

What follows is, hands down, the best performance in a TV show so far this year, as Michael pauses, then grins and laughs almost manically, saying, “How did you figure it out?”

Ted Danson alone deserves every award made for television for that moment alone. The fact that Danson was able to portray a sweet, nice-natured guy, only to completely turn that around at the drop of a hat is a testament to his acting ability. The idea that Michael has always been evil, yet completely masks that fact, is astounding, and possibly one of the most ingenious ideas put on a TV show. Danson does an excellent job at going through Michael’s different emotions, such as grinning evilly, to slumping in defeat, to just casually breaking a vase. Danson’s performance is a stand-out in an already perfect episode.

And through flashbacks, Danson does an excellent job at first conveying Michael’s hopefulness at wanting to be an Architect, and does such a good job at conveying that hopeful naivete, sowe feel even more love toward this character — that is, until the big reveal. Once the big reveal happens, we see Michael isn’t just ambitious; he’s sociopathic. His idea to put four people together in a perfect realm, but torture them with their own insecurities, is downright diabolical.

Because of this, everything about the show has changed. The entire premise has been flipped on its head, and nothing will be the same. This raises quite a bit of questions in regards to what happens next: how will the Core Four react now that Michael erased their memories? Will he do everything in his power to stop them from coming together? And is Adam Scott's character DEFINITELY evil?

If you haven’t seen this show yet, please do so. This show desperately needs a season two so we can see what happens next.

Chelsea’s MVP: Eliza Bennett as Jules Thomas (Sweet/Vicious)

Why she’s the MVP: This winter brought us possibly the best new television show of the year with Sweet/Vicious, a show that follows two Batman-esque vigilantes seeking justice for victims of campus rape. This serious yet wacky premise is held together by Eliza Bennett's Jules, a survivor herself.

Bennett doesn't portray Jules as a one-dimensional character, nor does she make her just a victim. The nuance she gives a survivor who is channeling her anger into helping others is pretty unprecedented on television. We also see Jules trying to move on and find love with a new man and new friends, as well as her struggle with trying to trust these new people.

Jules is a tricky character to balance because Bennett has to depict the honest micro feelings of a survivor who is constantly tortured, and has to be respectful of real life survivors. Not only does she nail this, but she gives those people hope. This week we saw her continuing to deal with the fallout of telling her best friend Kennedy that Kennedy's boyfriend, Nate, raped her (Nate tells Kennedy it was consensual). It's a messy mixture of emotions that Bennett has to navigate, and the viewers are with her every step.

What makes Jules even better is her friendship with Ophelia, her partner in crime and confidant. The two women together show how friendship and a great support system can make life better. They find the comedy in the dark moments and are friendship goals. If I could have a second MVP, it would be Taylor Dearden's Ophelia, who does not get enough credit as Jules' rock and the only person that knows her secret. Jules not only gives a voice and courage to survivors every week but gives them hope for new and better days. For all this and more, she is my MVP.

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Megan's MVP: Kaitlin Olsen as Mickey and Dee (The Mick and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia)

Why She's the MVP: I love Kaitlin Olsen. I've loved her for every season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. So color me thrilled when I found out that we would be getting a double dose of her every week on Fox and FXX.

I had a hard time choosing this week between her two shows. They're both so hysterical that I wasn't sure what to do. So, I'm going to choose both.

On The Mick on Fox, Olsen plays Mickey, a woman who is tasked to take care of her sister's spoiled children after she and her husband flee the country because of their white collar crime. Mickey doesn't care about the consequences of her actions. She's the definition of a wild card. She does something and doesn't care about the end result. And I love that. I think it's refreshing to see a female character like that on television.

... Especially when Dee is just the opposite. The only female in an all male cast, Olsen brings total nitwit Dee to life in such a beautiful way. Whereas Mickey knows exactly what kind of choice she's making, Dee is just unaware of the ripple effects of her actions. She acts on impulse without thinking about anything. In this week's episode, she wanted to be the funny neighbor in the sitcom of Mac and Charlie's mom's life together and got herself totally stuck in the banister on the stairs in an attempt to be funny. Dee acts without thinking and Mickey thinks without caring.

Either way, Kaitlin Olsen holds her own both as the star of a show and the only female in a long-standing ensemble. She's hilarious and accessible and one of the funniest women in comedy these days. I absolutely adore her and am so grateful to get a double dose of her every week.

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


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