Sunday, March 19, 2017

Series: This Week’s TV MVPs -- Week 56

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Welcome back to yet another week of our TV MVP Series, friends! Whether this is your first time joining us or you've been around for all 56 weeks, we hope you enjoy celebrating good television — and television performers — just as much as we do around here. This week we're honoring some reality television stars, and some incredibly dramatic performances that tugged at our hearts and also made us feel. Joining me this week are:

Let's kick this off!


Jenn's MVP(s): Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore as Jack and Rebecca Pearson (This Is Us)

Why they're the MVPs: I've now had a lot of time to process the first season finale of This Is Us, and have to say that in spite of being initially thrown off by the insinuated promise of finding out how Jack died, the show wrapped up a near-perfect season with a near-perfect finale. I'm baffled, as I read many comments criticizing the show for dragging out how Jack died and not giving viewers that particular emotional suckerpunch/closure. But I was wrecked by the end of "Moonshadow" because of how painfully real the show made Jack and Rebecca. Unlike most episodes of the show, the finale flashed back to Jack and Rebecca, pre-relationship. It gave us the opportunity to learn exactly who these people were before they met. And the truth is that both of them were a little bit lost — Jack in trying to figure out how to be someone other than the son of his deadbeat father, and Rebecca in trying to figure out whether or not she should sacrifice her dreams for something more practical.

And man, did "Moonshadow" give Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore the chance to shine. Both have given incredible performances throughout This Is Us — emotional, gut-wrenching moments of heartache and joy. But the pair stepped it up even more in this final episode, and the reason they're together on this list is because of the one scene that broke all of us (or at least me): their fight.

In the past, Jack has returned to drinking. He showed up at Rebecca's show, already a bit tipsy, and ended up punching her bandmate (totally drunk). When they got home, Rebecca let him have it. Have you ever had a fight with someone that isn't really about the thing you were fighting about in the first place? One little thing can set off an avalanche of emotions. Ventimiglia initially remains pretty even-keeled as Jack during this scene while Mandy Moore gets the opportunity to unload Rebecca's emotions. But soon, the tables turn. Ventimiglia actually gets the chance to come more and more unhinged as Jack. And suddenly, the two are in a full-on shouting match. And that scene broke my heart because of how raw and realistic it was. No matter how perfect we think Jack and Rebecca are, and no matter whether you side with one or both or neither of them in this fight, the truth is that This Is Us — when it is at its best — highlights our humanity. And as humans, we fight. 

The culmination of the fight is a heartbreaking moment in which Rebecca demands that Jack tell her what he actually loves about her — not the her of the past, but the her of the present. Moore does an incredible job throughout the entire scene of conveying the depth of Rebecca's bitterness and anger, but also her pain and weariness. She's tired of fighting with Jack, but also tired of having a surface-level marriage. When Jack can't answer her, Rebecca goes to bed.

It's in the final scene that Ventimiglia really shines, and made me sob. Jack proceeds to tell Rebecca all of the things that he loves about her, in spite of the fact that Rebecca wants to take a break in their marriage. He's messed up in a lot of ways and isn't the perfect character we heralded for episodes. I think that "Moonshadow" was a lovely way of showing us that everyone is flawed and the way we handle our disagreements and our emotions really does matter. Jack tells Rebecca, "You're not just my great love story, Rebecca. You..." and as Ventimiglia-as-Jack pauses because he's choked up, I just absolutely lost it. It is in these simple moments that the actors on This Is Us really shine. They pick up on subtle nuances and emotions because they've connected deeply with their characters. Ventimiglia knows Jack, and Moore knows Rebecca. And we, in turn, then know these characters too.

It's one thing to act, but it's another to make us feel something so deeply that it's as if it's happening to us. That's what Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore do on a weekly basis in This Is Us -- they remind us that TV is supposed to make you feel. They're all-stars every week, but this week they're the truest MVPs.


Erin’s MVP: Freddie Highmore as Norman Bates (Bates Motel)

Why he’s the MVP: Freddie Highmore has been consistently fantastic as Norman Bates for the whole run of the series. In its last season, the show has had Norman’s madness escalating, and Highmore is matching it and then some. This is especially clear in the fourth episode, “Hidden.”

He is balancing the creepy Norman Bates we are familiar with from Psycho with the vulnerable, ill young man that we have gotten to know on the show. As he evolves into the lunatic we knew he would inevitably become, Highmore manages to retain a level of sympathy from the viewers. Watching him struggle with his grip on reality is heartbreaking. He argues with himself in the form of a manifestation of his mother over big things like having some control over his life, and over little things like cleaning out clutter. He’s losing his handle on dealing with the “Mother” he created, acting out in ways that even scare himself. After he attacks Norma, Highmore’s face expresses utter shock and remorse. He didn’t know he was capable of behaving that way towards her, and considering her history with assault, he knows just how reprehensible it was. Going to ask Chick for advice on getting rid of the car turns into a tearful cry for help. 

Highmore is frighteningly good with the waterworks. He has been making me cry since he was a kid! (That bench scene at the end of Finding Neverland? I mean, c’mon.) He has developed this skill to work well for him as an adult and he has me feeling bad for a straight-up psycho. He portrays emotion in a very real way even when the character feels too crazy to be real. He’s not all sadness and sorrow, either. Highmore is able to show his incredible range within the space of an episode and even within a scene. When him and Norma find the car, they have this charming little squabble using the flashlights right before he goes berserk. His interaction with Chick in the beginning of the episode is quite different than the emotional one in the trailer. He is perfectly awkward when he tells Chick that he doesn’t want him to move in. Then later he is able to swallow his pride and admit his insecurity. 

He uses Norman’s eccentricity — established by Highmore over the course of the series — to imbue his scenes with the quirky, campy quality that comes from being based on a Hitchcock cult classic. There are times where Highmore embodies Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates and it is always done prudently and with integrity. He can duplicate him with chilling accuracy. There is a scene in “Hidden” that reproduces shots from the film and Highmore absolutely nails it. Other times he uses the spirit of Perkins’ character to add to his performance. All the choices he makes are spot on. It makes watching Norman’s downward spiral engaging and enjoyable, and that’s why he is my MVP. 


Chelsea’s MVP: Rachel Lindsay as herself (The Bachelor: After the Final Rose)

Why she’s the MVP: Bachelor Nation has known for weeks now that our collective dream has come true with the casting of Rachel Lindsay as the next bachelorette for the franchise. Rachel is everything you could ever want and imagine in a lead. She is a smart lawyer that didn’t take any of Nick’s crap and was entertaining and lovable. She didn’t partake in the drama and had us rooting for her from day one for this title. She’s the real adult this franchise so desperately needed and is honestly too good for this show. 

While her season of The Bachelorette doesn’t premiere until this summer, viewers got a sneak peek at a few of the guys she will be dating on After the Final Rose, and the “surprised” Rachel was such a good sport about it all. The first guy she met was cute until it became cringeworthy. The second and third guys made me want to save her from this franchise. The last guy ended up being the only kind of cute, not creepy one. She put up with horrendous pick-up lines and having to be elegant and happy in the face of utter nonsense. Girl deserves an Oscar for that performance, and those producers better watch their backs. I’m hoping she has some better introductions this summer. 

Rachel is the first African-American in the lead for either The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. She’s a real adult that has to rise above and be twice as good as all the previous white nitwit leads because America is a garbage fire. I’m so glad she’s leading this charge of change, not only with making the show more inclusive but by giving us a lead we actually want to root for. By the end of Ben, JoJo, and Nick’s seasons, I wanted them all to end up alone for one reason or the other. I want this show to work for Rachel and I want her to have a Happily Ever After spin-off. She’s the kind of classy, fun woman I look up to and want on my television. For being herself and so much more, she is my MVP.

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Megan's MVP: Michelle Monoghan as Sarah Lane (The Path)

Why she's the MVP: Oh my God, you guys... I can't even describe first, how good this show is. If you're not viewing it, get yourself a Hulu account and start. You'll thank me. Second, the cast is incredible — especially Michelle Monoghan.

Monoghan's Sarah Lane has always been a beacon of light. She's steadfast in her beliefs and has always upheld the rules, literally to a fault. In the first season, she was innocent and caring. She was the personification of everything the Meyerist Movement stood for: she was light, she was love. But once her marriage crumbled, she didn't know which way was up. Everything was different, everything was confusing.

As season two has progressed, Sarah has gone from rule upholder to constant rule-breaker. She knows the dirty underbelly of what's truly going on in the movement and with its leader, Cal, and it's turning her ugly. She remains a vision of light to everyone else, but to those who know her, she's anything but. 

For Monoghan, it has to come across as true. She had to make us believe that SHE believed throughout all of season one and now that she's done a 180, we have to believe that she's capable of being the person who is willing to do anything she can to save what she believes is. Or does she believe?

What Michelle does so beautifully is show us how easy it is to be torn when it comes to our convictions once external factors come into play. We can do strange, unspeakable things when we want to salvage the most important things in our lives. Her portrayal of a woman torn between doing what's right and doing what's necessary is so strong and so believable. I absolutely love it.

I cannot recommend this show enough. The performances of Monoghan, Aaron Paul, and Hugh Dancy are truly incredible. Watch The Path!

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


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