Sunday, February 12, 2017

Series: This Week’s TV MVPs -- Week 52

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We're back again, folks! I wish I had a wittier introduction, but all I can say is that with the world as crazy as it is these days (it seems like every time I open my Twitter, there's something insane trending having to do with the current political climate), it's nice to retreat to television for some comfort and fun. And that's why we're about to honor a few actors, actresses, and performers who have made our week better.

Joining me this week are:

Let's get to it!


Jenn's MVP: Jake Johnson as Nick Miller (New Girl)

Why he's the MVP: I've always loved Nick Miller. He was my favorite turtle-faced, lazy bartender for a very long time. But kudos to the writers of New Girl for making Nick not only more well-rounded over the years, but more mature. In this week's episode, however, we got the chance to see a panicked version of Nick Miller (as well as a high version), and nothing thrills me more than when Jake Johnson gets the chance to act all twitchy as his character. When Nick's book gets rejected by a publisher, he begins to act weird. And by "weird," I mean act the way normal people do — he washes his hoodie, goes for a run, and doesn't engage people in much conversation. Few things in life, however, are funnier than Jake Johnson playing a version of his character who goes a little off the rails. Johnson gets to hop over furniture in a hurried attempt to run out of the door and away from an awkward conversation and it's one of the funniest physical bits of comedy to happen on this show in a while.

Johnson plays Nick so well — clueless one moment, goofy the next, and confident in the final act. Really, "Glue" gave Johnson the opportunity to explore the breadth of his comedic range. Nick goes from panicked to even MORE panicked when he's asked to read a section of his book at a bookstore in front of a (really tiny) crowd. The babbling that he does is so on point, as is his terrified exit. As I noted above, Johnson's physical comedy in the episode is perfect. Whether he's leaping over furniture or making a mangled prototype of his book, Johnson always manages to make Nick hilarious and also endearing. That's what makes him such a perfect actor. Anyone can play Nick as a silly, aloof bartender. But Johnson brings more than just comedy to this role — he brings depth and range. Everything about Nick in this episode was flawless, and that's credit to Jake Johnson for bringing such a lovable, endearing, and hysterical character to life.

Bonus MVP: Olivia Dudley as Alice Quinn (The Magicians)

First of all, here's the deal: if you're not watching The Magicians, you really need to be. Megan is going to be talking about that a bit below but seriously, we cannot stress this enough. It's about as dark as (I assume) some episodes of Game of Thrones. But it's hilarious and witty and has intense twists that will leave you literally gasping, "WHAT HAPPENS NOW?!" This week's episode was one such episode, where Alice's strength thanks to battle magic is heightened. At one point, a character notes that she's basically gone full "Harry Potter, part seven/eight" on the show's villain. And generally, Alice is much like Hermione: bookish, careful, and a leader. But this week, Dudley really got the chance to shine as Alice. The young woman became unhinged with magical power, decimating a villain and stalking around the area like a predator on the hunt for her prey. Alice is usually so put-together and cautious that it was amazing to see her really let loose. It was actually astonishing, because you realized the sheer power she possesses.

But more than just that, there was a scene between Quentin and Alice in a carriage in which Alice tried to distract herself from her impending battle by discussing ice cream sundaes. It was a beautiful scene between Jason Ralph and Dudley where we really got the chance to watch Alice break down, emotionally. I found myself wanting to desperately comfort this burdened character who doesn't really know what "normal" looks like anymore, or even if she can have it. Alice Quinn is an incredible character, and the gravitas that Olivia Dudley brought to her this week is unmatched.

Megan's MVP: Arjun Gupta as Penny Adiyodi (The Magicians)

Why he's the MVP: First and foremost, if you're not watching The Magicians, you are truly missing out. If you love sci-fi and fantasy and adventure, this is a show that's right up your alley. Catch up with season one on Netflix now.

But back to this week: this was one of the wildest hours of television that I've seen in awhile. It was just me screaming, "WHAT IS GOING ON?!" every five minutes, and then for at least five minutes after as I freaked out to my friend, asking how I'm just supposed to WAIT for a week until the next episode.

While the episode itself was insane, Arjun Gupta's Penny was the one suffering the most. When the four kings and queens find themselves cursed, it's up to Penny to figure out how to get rid of the curse before everyone kills each other. But he's at a disadvantage, since his hands are still cursed and filled with rogue magic. While everyone is losing their minds, he somehow has to keep his cool, keep everyone safe, rid them of the curse, and do all of it without his own problems interfering. Talk about a lot on his plate, right?

And that's what was so great about Arjun's performance this week. He takes his characters sort of every-man-for-himself, arrogant attitude and flips it on its head. Sure, if something bad happens, it totally affects not only his magic, but magic as a whole. But he's the only one who is keeping the group together at that point and he plays it so well. He takes what's inherent in the character and steps it up without going against what Penny is all about. I think it's great.

He was funny, serious, worried, quick thinking, demanding and ultimately terrified in the last few minutes. I thought it was all done really, really well. I used to not be the biggest fan of Penny, but he's definitely growing on me this season. I'm thrilled to see where his character goes next.

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Mel's MVP: Lady Gaga as herself (Super Bowl LI Halftime Show)

Why she's the MVP: Okay. I’ve had Lady Gaga as my MVP in the past, but why ever stop, right? She’s recently been the talk of the town thanks to some excellent Oscar’s performances where she showed off her pipes and the ability to create an emotional reaction with music. She wowed everyone at the 50th Super Bowl when she sang the national anthem to glorious perfection. This year she did it all over again with some incredible talent.

The Super Bowl halftime show is only about 15 minutes, but is one of the largest stages a musician can achieve. This is a television event that, this year, was watched by 172 million viewers in the U.S. alone — not to mention the fact that you’re performing live in a sold-out football stadium. There’s no place for stagefright here or timidness, which makes it the perfect stage for Lady Gaga to work her stuff with her usual fearlessness. And she took that courage to, literal, new heights when she began her show atop the NRG Stadium to a mosaic of red, white, and blue drones behind her before leaping off and repelling down to her stage on wires.

Apart from the spectacle of it all, she made her point very beautifully and very obviously — with a mash-up of “This Land is Your Land” and “God Bless America,” punctuated by the Pledge of Allegiance — in the first few seconds of her performance: America is a land for all and unification in this knowledge is far better than division. And with that in mind, she began a show that was all about entertainment and raw energy as she busted across the stage, supported by an army of back-up dancers and her own vocals.

That’s another thing: she had no supporting acts. Over the years, several artists have taken the stage together for halftime shows: Madonna brought on Nicki Minaj, Beyonce was winged by Coldplay and Bruno Mars. Gaga performed the entire show solo. And I couldn’t have been happier. Would it have been fun to see Beyonce pop out for her verse in “Telephone”? Sure, but Gaga held her own to the point where bringing out Beyonce might have, dare I say it, ruined the magic of the moment. She busted through an odyssey of her own hits from “Just Dance” all the way to “A Million Reasons,” a break-up song which she cleverly re-purposed as a plea to America.

OG fans founds some nostalgic Easter eggs in this as well, both the disco stick and her keytar, staples of her Fame Ball and Monster Ball made reappearances and the now-iconic monster paw choreography of “Bad Romance” brought us all back to 2009 highs. But we were reminded of several messages: from the unashamed bridge of “Born This Way,” claiming freedom of expression for queer people of all ethnicities (right in the face of VP Mike Pence), to the heart-wrenching chorus of “A Million Reasons” trying to reconcile a love with a country in turmoil, to the pure mindless fun of “Just Dance.” She not only ran the gamut of her music, but she ran the gamut of every message she’s ever tried to share through her work as an artist: acceptance, tolerance, love, and unfiltered fun. And that made the show incredibly as a spectacle, incredible as an emotional ride, and incredible as an audience member watching an artist do what they were born to do.

She’s famous for “reinventing” herself from her days as an avant-garde performance artist singing pop tracks, to her love affair with jazz music on Tony Bennet albums, now to her experimentation with country sounds. It’s clear her artistry has very little to do with the ever looming need to “stay relevant” and more to do with her having fun in her own music. She has the audience, she has the funds, and she has the freedom to experiment however she wants with her art. And she proved that in her halftime show.

So, as always, she is the MVP of my heart.


Chelsea’s MVP: Mandy Moore as Rebecca Pearson (This Is Us)

Why she’s the MVP: This week, I caught up on the last four episodes of This Is Us since the fall finale, and with each passing installment I’ve become more and more convinced that Mandy Moore is the unsung hero holding this show together. Sure, she’s the only regular actor performing in both timelines of the show, but it’s her solo moments in the past timeline that make the present moments with her children so much more impactful. You see that while she is happy as a wife and mother, she is also a flawed human being trying to keep it all together, and doing so much of it by herself — the one character you can point at on screen and say, “I know that person” or “My mother was Rebecca.”

This week, we got a glimpse at Rebecca and Jack’s wedding, as well as a flashback to Miguel and Shelley announcing their divorce. We watched how our new favorite TV parents dealt with that news and what it meant to them as a couple — how that break-up inspired Jack to keep making Rebecca happy, renting their old apartment for a night so she could have a break, and encouraging her to go on tour. While Milo is always amazing as Jack (and definitely husband goals), it was great to see Rebecca’s strength while standing up for Jack to her bandmate Ben, who tries to disparage Jack so she can go on tour.

Moore shines in those "mama bear" moments, when she’s defending her husband or when she has to bottle and compartmentalize her feelings because she doesn’t want to bring those negative emotions home. I look forward to learning more about Rebecca in the present timeline and eagerly await what Moore does with the material. For being the glue of this show and more, that’s why she’s my MVP.

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


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