Sunday, February 11, 2018

Series: This Week’s TV MVPs -- Week 67

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Welcome back to another week in our TV MVP Series! This week, we're choosing to celebrate some incredibly versatile actors and actresses — those people who can assimilate seamlessly to any and every character they're given. Celebrating some great performers with me are:


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

Why she’s the MVP: If you’ve managed to make it through this far watching This Is Us and haven’t cried, you’re probably a robot. If you’re like me — who cries at the drop of a hat — you’re probably close to sending NBC an invoice for your Kleenex. It’s often hard to explain exactly what it is about the series that affects us all so much. Is it the rawness? The realness? The tangible emotions? Is it all three and more? To me, what makes this show so special is that it always manages to tap into what makes us all human. It explores what it looks like to love, to lose, how it feels to be an outsider in your own family. It tackles the tough stuff that everyday people face — addiction, grief, worry, pain — and allows us to see the human experience from the outside in. Everyone in the cast of This Is Us does stellar work: from the little kids, teenage actors, and adults. But this week belongs to Mandy Moore, plain and simple. With not one but two heartbreaking episodes of This Is Us that aired this week, we got the chance to watch her shine and pour her heart and soul into Rebecca Pearson’s grief.

Moore has, in my opinion, been the most consistently underrated actor on the series. I absolutely love Sterling K. Brown and believe he deserves every accolade he’s received. But Moore’s character is filled with complexities and issues of her own which were on full display during that group therapy scene a few episodes ago. “Super Bowl Sunday” saw an Emmy-worthy performance by the actress though for the single scene where she discovers that Jack is dead. But I actually want to talk more about “The Car” because this is where Moore really proved why she deserves to be handed accolade upon accolade. In a series of flashbacks, the Pearson family recalls the memories they’ve had in their car. The “present-day” story (which is still a flashback) is of Jack’s memorial service. Mandy Moore’s ability to navigate the complexities of Rebecca’s grief is not to be ignored. This is a woman who feels a tremendous amount of responsibility to be the perfect parent now, because Jack — in her opinion — was near-perfect. She’s not only grieving the loss of her partner and best friend, but is looking to the future with doubt and uncertainty. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to be the kind of parent he was, and there’s fear there in addition to grief.

In my belief, Moore’s strongest scene is when she and the teenage children visit “Jack’s tree” — the tree where everything is okay. She gives parenting advice to her children, assuring Kate that the accident was not her fault and reminding her boys that they don’t have to be the men of the house; it’s their job to just be kids and live their lives. Prior to his death, Jack bought the family tickets to Bruce Springsteen and the family decides they’re going to attend the concert and honor him, just like he would have wanted. But before they leave, Rebecca requests a moment alone at the tree:

This beautiful, simple little moment proves why Moore is a force to be reckoned with. She understands the crushing weight of grief on Rebecca, but also that at the core of the matriarch is hope and optimism. It’s hard to see beyond our pain when we’re grieving. It’s okay, frankly, to sit in that pain for a while in order to absorb all of the emotions we’re feeling. But then Rebecca looks at the tree with the optimism and resolve that only she can muster up and proves that she’s stronger than she believes. She tells Jack that she’s going to be okay; they’re all going to be okay. Because he’s helped shape them into stronger, better people.

If Mandy Moore doesn’t get any awards this season, I’ll be sorely disappointed. But at the very least, she’s my MVP this week and that counts for something.

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Jenna’s MVP: Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan (American Crime Story: Versace)

Why he’s the MVP: When we first saw Darren Criss on Glee years ago, who could have predicted his versatility as an actor? In American Crime Story: Versace, he plays Andrew Cunanan, the serial killer who went on a murder spree in the late 1990s, killing designer Gianni Versace among others. Taking on characters based on real people is always tricky, but Criss certainly delivers. Besides the fact that he looks eerily similar to the real Cunanan, he also takes on a persona unlike any of his other previous roles. Criss strikes an effective balance between portraying Cunanan as the public saw him, and making his own creative decisions for the role.

In this week’s episode, “House by the Lake,” we follow Cunanan as he commits a murder in the opening act, forcing him on the run with his former lover and roommate, David. The episode heavily plays upon Cunanan’s affinity for escaping reality and living in a fantasy world, which Criss portrays brilliantly. In particular, his line delivery — with the rises and falls of his voice, making everything, even murder, sound like a game to Cunanan — really drives home just how delusional Cunanan is.

Cunanan is desperate to make a life with David, despite the horror he’s forced David to experience. Criss plays on Cunanan’s highly charged emotions toward David by having Cunanan toss him intense, wide-eyed stares and using very particular body language (touching David’s back here, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him there). All this adds to the viewer’s extreme discomfort and concern for David throughout their time on the run.

But Cunanan certainly isn’t a stable individual, and Criss effortlessly slips from sing-song contentedness into sheer mania by the end of the episode. One of the very last shots of the episode features Cunanan curled up holding David’s dead body (after Cunanan shot him in the head). Criss’ subtle changes of expression from sadness to apathy, even in such a small moment, are truly chilling.

There’s truly no way to escape Criss’ magnetism throughout the episode and the show in general. He’s taken a complex man and made him an even more complex character, and I can’t wait to see him shine in the rest of the season.

Megan's MVP: Jimmy Smits as Dr. Isaac Roa (How to Get Away With Murder)

Why he's the MVP: Okay, first of all, I about lost my mind when I discovered that Jimmy Smits would be on How To Get Away With Murder this season. He was in one of my all time favorite movies, The Jane Austen Book Club, and on my favorite show of all time Sons of Anarchy. So, color me excited that he's now engaging weekly with Viola Davis.

This season, he has been Annalise's court-ordered therapist who has been working with her to figure out the root of her issues and her dependency on substances. Only he's so much more than he seems. He has a past — a dark past — that has only been coming to light in the back half of the season.

On this week's episode, his lies are revealed when he relapses and begins taking a narcotic that Annalise discovers is what his daughter took when she died. This leads to unraveling all of his secrets and how he's not the "sober of 23 years" doctor he claims to be.

While this character could be played by anyone, Smits plays him beautifully. He's had us believing in him this season so that when it was revealed that he was lying, we were shocked. When the show revealed what had really happened to his daughter Stella, it was a testament to Smits' acting that we couldn't believe he was capable of such things. We, the audience, believed him sincere when he was high. And when he was high? Oh my God, it was so realistic.

Smits really is one of the finest actors on television right now and it's truly a gift to watch him week after week bringing this twisted character to life.

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

1 comment:

  1. Darren Criss definately deserves praise for his role as Cunanan on ACS. Amazing acting and he has a magnetic screen presence that just draws you in. One of my favorite people!