Monday, February 27, 2017

Series: This Week’s TV MVPs -- Week 54

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If you're not still reeling from the Oscars, you should be reading this week's installment of our TV MVP Series! This week, we celebrate some powerful dramatic performances across the board, and even honor a writer/director.

Joining me are:

  • New guest contributor, Jessenika!
  • Erin
  • Julia
Let's kick this off!

Jenn's MVP: Bob Morley as Bellamy Blake (The 100)

Why he's the MVP: It's no surprise that I've found The 100 to be really hit-or-miss in the last year. (With pretty much all "miss" and very few "hits.") When the character of Bellamy Blake made the conscious decision to align himself with Pike and kill tons of innocent people, I began to really start to dislike him (she says, as the understatement of the century). The writers assassinated his character for no real reason at all, but still expected us to feel sympathy toward him. I, of course, felt none. And I've been trying to understand and forgive Bellamy ever since. With this week's episode and Bob Morley's performance, I might be headed in that direction. War is declared on Trikru and Skaikru, and Roan's men and women begin taking out them as quickly as possible. Octavia manages to get out of the Capitol to head back to Arkadia and warn the others that war is coming their way. But before she's able to get there, she has to face off with Echo. In an intense duel, Echo stabs Octavia in the side, and the young woman falls off a cliff to her death. When Roan and Echo reveal their plan to overtake Arkadia, Bellamy scoffs at the notion. Octavia will warn everyone.

In a really interesting moment, Roan and Echo seem to feel guilt for what they initiated and hesitate telling Bellamy what happened. In the end though, it's Echo who delivers the news — Octavia is dead, by Echo's hands. The 100 began as a show about teenagers trying to survive, but Octavia and Bellamy's story has always been one of love. It's intense love for Octavia that drives Bellamy to do mostly everything he does. If it was a choice, he would die in her place without any hesitation. Even though he was kind of the worst last season in a lot of ways and the relationship with Octavia was fractured as a result, Bellamy will never stop loving her or wanting to protect her. It's his baby sister, after all.

So Bob Morley delivers the most gut-wrenching performance as Bellamy processes the news of his sister's death. Kane is in shock, but Bellamy is distraught. His wails and screams and sobs broke my heart. Morley often gets the chance to depict a subtle range of emotions on the show. Bellamy is an emotional character, after all, but the emotions are usually quite nuanced. You'll see his eyes fill with tears, watch his lips tremble, or hear the rage in his booming voice. But never has Morley given a more intense performance than he did in this week's episode. It was absolutely stunning and short, but left such an impression on me that he had to be named my TV MVP this week.


Bonus MVP: Ron Cephas Jones as William (This Is Us)

I cheated by including This Is Us for a second week in a row, but this one deserves it. Ron Cephas Jones has been absolutely amazing on this show. He consistently makes me cry, and ache — feeling emotions that I've always experienced but never knew how to describe. The fact that William is a poet connected me even further to the character. What a beautiful, poignant story William's was, right? A man who loved so deeply and lost so tragically and was forced to make difficult choices in order to give Randall his best chance at life. The performance that Cephas Jones gave throughout the season was just impeccable, but this week's episode destroyed all of my emotions.

There's such an earnestness to how he played William — the subtle ways in which he would inject pauses or facial nuances — that endeared you to him right away. I honestly don't think there are enough words to describe Cephas Jones' performance in this episode, except that it should earn him a lot of awards. It was heartbreaking, raw, and incredibly visceral. The episode perfectly depicted William's life from beginning to end, and Ron Cephas Jones is — and will continue to be — a tour de force in everything he does.

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Erin’s MVP: Reese Witherspoon as Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Big Little Lies)

Why she’s the MVP: It is so impressive when an actor can take a character full of personality traits that I dislike and still make me like the character. By all accounts, I should not like Madeline. She’s egocentric, pushy, and self-serving. I didn’t read the book, so all I have to go on is Reese Witherspoon’s portrayal. I was groaning when she appointed herself Jane’s one-woman welcoming committee and cringed at the spectacle she created with the teenagers in the car and then the twisted ankle. As the episode went on, though, I started to enjoy her in the scenes she was in, but still loathed her behavior.

It’s as mystifying as the plot. I can’t even begin to speculate who was murdered and whodunnit. And I can’t explain how Witherspoon can take this character that would make me turn and run if I saw her coming and make her something I look forward to seeing on screen. I was a little skeptical that she would become so instantly chummy with Jane, but by the end of the episode, I found myself rationalizing: “Oh, that’s just how Madeline is,” like she was someone I knew. Already I am defending her and I thought I didn’t even like her.

Madeline out in the wild amongst the Monterey elite is not much different than the Madeline at home, and I like how Witherspoon manages this. It shows us that Madeline is exactly who she appears to be and not a face she puts on for others. Her abrasive attitude might not make her the most liked person, but she’s not fake. I find this refreshing.

The scenes between her and her oldest daughter at home felt really natural and real. These could be conversations between any mother and teenage daughter. Witherspoon subtly shows the struggle of dealing with your kids growing up. It was just the right amount of maternal turmoil where you empathize with her rather than dismiss it as rich lady problems. I haven’t had to deal with parenting a teenager yet, let alone a teenage girl, but I imagine it is a lot like this. Witherspoon’s performance is filled with nuance. You can see her mind working on how to best deal with an angsty teen. She is trying to be a friend and a mother and realizes that’s an impossible balance to achieve, but darned if she isn’t going to try anyways.

Witherspoon as Madeline is the comic relief with her overbearing antics, but also brings an emotional depth that anchors the show. It’s interesting to watch and is a big reason why I will continue to tune in.    

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Julia’s MVP: Jed Whedon as himself (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Why he’s the MVP: There has been a lot of good television lately, thanks to some wonderful acting performances. However, this week was highlighted for me by the best writing and directing performance of the year. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been hit-or-miss since it started four years ago, but I have stuck with it since I am a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tuesday, February 21st was one of the nights that I was extremely thrilled to have stayed with S.H.I.E.L.D. because the best episode of the series was wonderfully crafted by co-showrunner Jed Whedon, whose brother Joss (Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D.) usually gets all the credit

“Self Control” was the first episode of the series that Whedon directed, and he did a mighty fine job. He has written some of the best episodes of the series, so it was no surprise that this week was the shocking peak. The episode was incredibly suspenseful, playful, clever, and full of twists right up until the credits rolled. For all of you who might not be completely caught up with S.H.I.E.L.D., the LMD (Life Model Decoy) story arc climaxed with four main characters being replaced by Radcliffe’s LMDs, unbeknownst to the agency. Just like every great robot plot, the LMDs are programmed to overtake S.H.I.E.L.D. by any means necessary. The race is on to figure out who is, and isn’t, human and to not become robot food.

Whedon’s direction and writing is showcased in a few great scenes where the LMDs within S.H.I.E.L.D. meet up to discuss their game plan. Each LMD has slightly different quirks than their human counterpart, which meant that the actors had to play slightly altered roles. It was clear that Whedon made sure each actor knew the differences between their normal character and LMD character because everyone was perfect. I also really enjoyed how some of the LMDs had completely different personas than the humans they were imitating, which led to some really thought-provoking scenes. This played out very well through showcasing the upgraded programming on each version of the LMD. For instance, the May LMD displays feelings, since she wasn’t programmed to know she was a robot, while the new LMDs are stone-cold and practical, as they know their true nature.

The episode didn’t have any dull moments, which was a huge relief. Whedon ended his big debut behind the camera by throwing a massive twist ending that involves the eerie Framework. With reality turning upside down inside the Framework, anything can happen when the show returns from its winter hiatus at the beginning of April. I loved that Whedon scripted the perfect “Why are you doing this to me and going on break?!” moment at the end of the episode. It was clear that Whedon was committed to brilliant storytelling, writing, and directing throughout the episode, which is why he deserves some recognition as a TV MVP.


Jessenika’s MVP: Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)

Why she’s the MVP: From the beginning, Agent Jemma Simmons has been one of my favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. characters because of her exceptional brilliance, snarky comments, and overall adorableness. With each season, I grew to love her even more due to everything she’s overcome (which turned her into the kick-butt woman she is today). This woman went from shy scientist to surviving being thrown out of a plane into the ocean by Grant Ward, an undercover Hydra operation, being stranded on another planet for six months, and now Radcliffe’s LMDs. While Elizabeth has shone in every single one of those moments, she really outdid herself in this week’s episode.

After discovering that Coulson and the team had been replaced by Radcliffe’s LMDs, Simmons and Fitz desperately tried to figure out their next move, leading to a heartbreaking conclusion: the man Simmons thought was her Fitz was actually an LMD who tried to “download” her brain and ultimately replace her. Its plan was foiled, however, when Jemma stabbed its neck until the circuits temporarily shut down. That look of despair when she realized Fitz had been replaced was so devastating; it seems both Simmons and Elizabeth were displaying multiple emotions simultaneously, making the scene that much more intense and powerful.

The hug between Daisy and Jemma sold Elizabeth’s performance even more. When she hugged Daisy, I swear I heard her voice tremble a bit as she was saying “Oh, thank God.” It was so empathetic, I could almost feel my own lip quiver. Later, I realized I completely missed the shot of Jemma’s tombstone in the Framework (the alternate reality world created by Radcliffe) because I was too busy freaking out and processing that Ward and Brett Dalton would return in the next episode (OMG YESSSS), begging the question: Why do the showrunners put Jemma in near-death situations continuously?

While we may not know the answer to that question now (or ever), let’s hope she and the team survive this scary LMD situation. And that there will at least be a Daisy/Ward make-out scene.

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


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