Sunday, October 11, 2015

Series - This Week's TV MVPs: Week 16

Welcome to another week of our TV MVP Series! We celebrated the return of fall television a few weeks ago, while some of our other favorite shows are getting later starts. This week, television was great and the performances on the shows we love were outstanding. There were extremely intense and emotional moments, as well as more fun and lighthearted performances. Since we are in the business at Just About Write of celebrating all things wonderful and special (and varied), let's kick off our discussion of some of the best acting we saw this week! Joining me are:

  • Human ray of sunshine and the best person to live-tweet Ferris Bueller's Day Off with, Lizzie
  • The beautiful, amazing woman I'm always glad is in my corner, Mer
  • My soul sister, name-twin, ray of sunshine, and fearless mama bear, Jen
  • Our film buff and token male writer, Jon
  • The lovely writer who can bring the snark and film criticism, Melanie
  • The reigning queen of Rosewood and fellow One Direction-lover, Megan
  • My personal stylist, shipping twin, and delightful human Maddie
  • Sweet, lovely, and adorable Hope
Let's get this party started!


Jenn's MVP: Diego Klattenhoff as Agent Donald Ressler (The Blacklist)

Why he's the MVP: I wrote about him a bit in my review of this week's The Blacklist episode at Tell-Tale TV, but Diego Klattenhoff impressed me so much in "Marvin Gerard." When this series began, Ressler was that guy –– the stereotypical gruff jerk who didn't remotely like or trust Elizabeth Keen. All he cared about was following orders and structure. Ressler has, for the most part, always played by the book. And as his relationship with Liz grew and his involvement with Red increased, so did his tendency to throw out the rule book and go against orders. I've absolutely loved seeing the character evolve into one who is more well-rounded, more compassionate, and yet just as fierce and stoic. In last season's finale, Ressler told Liz that he would have to hunt her down –– that he would bring her in and bring her to justice for the murder of Tom Connolly. But the funny thing is that for all of Ressler's waxing poetic about valuing the law and upholding it, he's let Liz escape before. And, in fact, he let Liz escape again this week. Because for as much as he resists it, Donald Ressler actually cares about Elizabeth Keen, and in their line of work, that's dangerous.

Diego Klattenhoff perfectly depicted those two sides of Ressler this week –– the man who wants to uphold the law and who values justice; and the man who cares for Liz and wants to protect her. The scene outside of the Russian embassy was so tense and wonderful because of it. You could feel Ressler's frustration and anger over having to let Liz go (also, as a writer for the show pointed out, that line has a few layers of meaning to it), and Diego played the confrontation (with gun drawn) just beyond the convoy with the kind of contained anger necessary.

Then, during the convoy attack, Diego depicted a terrified Ressler –– one who nearly gets shot, point-blank, but is saved because of Liz. His frustration is palpable when she escapes, but so is something almost like relief. In the season premiere, Ressler didn't have much faith or trust in Liz. He referred to her in the past tense ("she was my partner"), but this episode was all about Ressler choosing to believe in Liz –– choosing to see her still as his partner to be protected. So when he confronts her outside of the diner and tells her that he knows who she is, that is so important. And Diego managed to expertly balance the stoic and yet also soft way the line was delivered to give Liz hope that she was still good and us hope that he still believed in her.

I've loved what Diego has done with this character –– peeling him back little by little to reveal the softer, more vulnerable parts of Ressler that are at war with his defensive, hardened side –– and cannot wait to see what the rest of the season holds for him.

Lizzie's MVP: Jesse L. Martin as Joe West (The Flash)

Why he's the MVP: I sort of wanted to pick someone else this week as my TV MVP. In fact, I was ready to pick someone else. And then I re-watched The Flash, like the total obsessive person that I am, and I fell once again into the Joe/Barry hole of feelings. And though Grant Gustin is an absolute puppy that I honestly love, this week, the part of that pairing that really nailed it this week for me was Joe.

For an episode that placed such a huge emphasis on Barry’s other, biological, dad, it was Joe who continued to show that he really and truly is Barry’s father in all the ways that count. From begrudgingly giving him space (without abandoning him), to pushing him when he thought that was the best course of action, to supporting him when he felt at his lowest, Joe has always been the reason Barry has been okay without Henry in his life over the years. And, as it stands, Joe will most likely continue to be that person for Barry for a long time to come.

Because Henry left. For no good reason whatsoever. In the most anticlimactic way possible. It was stupid. It was ridiculous. And it only served to underscore what a great man Joe West is. He stays. He always stays .Even when he doesn’t have to. He just does. That’s who he is.

Maybe this iteration of Joe West would have been just as likeable with another actor, but a little over a season in, I can’t imagine anyone other than Jesse L. Martin in this role. For me he is Joe, and Joe is him. And Joe, the way Jesse L. Martin plays him is a guy who wears his heart on his sleeve. A guy who loves deeply and is not afraid to show him. This Joe is Barry’s family, plain and simple.

And Barry and Joe are the reason I watch The Flash. Period.


Mer's MVP: Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak (Arrow)

Why she's the MVP: True story –– when it came time to choose our picks for this week’s MVP, our fearless leader Jenn had to send out a mass email telling the entire team we aren’t allowed to call dibs for the entire season. Because I totally tried to call dibs on the divine Emily Bett for the entire season. I mean. LOOK AT THAT FACE. Just look at her. That is all. I’m done. Nothing else needs to be written but I will continue because I could write pages about Emily and her pitch-perfect portrayal of Felicity Smoak.

Season after season, Rickards never misses a beat, and this premiere was no exception. The executive producers have spent the hiatus promising a return to the “old Felicity.” This is a version some fans want back –– the funny, quirky, babbling tech gal. Essentially, the producers want to give us Felicity that we fell in love with. But only speaking for this viewer, I love that Felicity has grown and has been layered into a fully-developed character with emotional depth. I had no problem with Felicity or Emily’s portrayal of her last season. She was brilliant at playing the varying levels of grief, hope, and love that Felicity felt throughout the season, carrying entire episodes on her shoulders. And, thanks to EBR, I felt everything that Felicity did.

With that being said, I am thrilled that we will get to see more of her fun side this season. Things are not always sunshine and roses though. Like Oliver, Felicity is still conflicted this year, trying to find the balance between domestic bliss and helping the team. She is desperately seeking to do meaningful work where she finds her purpose and –– per usual –– Emily hits every beat of that inner conflict.


From the loving, sweet, sexy moments, to the funny, deer-in-headlights, being ambushed by nosy neighbors scenes, to her obvious desire to get back to the action and help her friends, Emily shows a complexity within Felicity and does so all within the first 15 minutes. She is in love and is willing to go anywhere and do anything with Oliver, but she also does not want to –– and maybe cannot –– completely give up on their past life, thus creating a struggle for her. Oliver wants to go back to their suburban home, and she would do it for him... but something would always be missing for her. That internal conflict –– the struggle between what you want and what your partner wants –– is so easily read in Emily’s expressions, tone of voice, and body language. There is never any doubt as to what Felicity is thinking and feeling in the season premiere.

Emily knows her character so well. She plays Felicity in a way that draws the viewer in, makes you feel for and empathize with her. I have experienced every single emotion while watching EBR as Felicity –– many of them in this week’s episode alone.

Felicity loves Oliver and supports him, but she is also a strong woman with a desire to help people, and EBR has perfectly captured that balance in her characterization. She is just as affectionate, funny, and compassionate as she is willful, sarcastic and full of spark. Her voice, face, and body all work in tandem to showcase what Felicity is feeling and thinking. What results is perfection in human form. And of course, her chemistry with Stephen Amell is out of this world.

Suffice to say, I am thrilled to have Emily Bett Rickards and Felicity Smoak back on my TV every week, and –– even if I don’t write about her every week –– everyone should know that she is always and forever my TV MVP.


Hope's MVP: Grant Gustin as Barry Allen (The Flash)

Why he's the MVP: The Flash is a show with many things going for it. The writing is fantastic. The character dynamics are astounding, and the cast is full of terrific actors who take this show to the next level. And then there’s also Grant Gustin.

While watching the premiere, I realized what it is about Gustin’s acting that makes Barry Allen one of the most well-rounded lead characters on television right now (in my opinion): it’s his subtleness. It’s the way half a dozen expressions can play across his face in a single shot. That’s how Barry went through an emotional arc that could have very well lasted a whole season (if the show had wanted to drag it out) in ONE episode in a flawlessly natural way. Even if the storyline was jumping six months, Barry’s journey from refusing to work with a team again to having a party with everyone there was a huge one for a single episode. Add that to Barry’s acceptance that Ronnie’s death wasn’t his fault, his father being released from prison after fifteen years, to the flashbacks of the singularity... it was a lot. And it was completely believable thanks to Grant Gustin’s acting.

When Barry goes on stage to accept his key to the city, he looks simultaneously proud, uncomfortable, and in awe –– and that’s all with a mask on. Now, I’m not an actor –– I’m not even close, I’m actually a really terrible actor –– but I think it must be incredibly hard to convey (at least) three emotions at once with mostly your eyes. The only bad part about this scene was that it got interrupted.

And there were so many emotional scenes in this episode, like Barry's humility as he got caught repairing the city at night, the Joe and Barry heart-to-heart (the deep connection between these two characters never ceases to amaze me), Barry’s conversation with Caitlin about Ronnie... the anger, betrayal, impatience, and disgust as he begins to watch Wells’ video. The shock and elation when he sees Wells confess. When Barry was practically skipping like a little kid while Joe was on the phone with the District Attorney. The beautiful scene where Henry is released from prison and Barry picks him up, and the heartbreaking scene when Henry leaves as soon as he’s finally home. Not to mention a hundred other small moments. Happiness, devastation, determination, and, as always, continuous sincerity... so many emotions were covered in the span of a scene, let alone an act or an episode.

The show made up for jumping ahead six months by packing this episode full of action and emotion. It was a lot for one hour to handle, but that didn’t matter. The journey itself was large and important, but it wasn’t at all over-the-top. It was subtle. I’m continually amazed by the depth of the characters in The Flash, not because I don’t expect this level of quality from the show, but because you just don’t see such consistent quality from television  series in general.

And as the show’s lead –– the one character the show, by definition, simply cannot function without –– Grant Gustin has so much responsibility on his shoulders. This episode only backed up what season one had already proven: he is completely capable of all of this responsibility. I think I speak on behalf of a lot of us here at Just About Write (... we kind of fought over who got to write about him as MVP... ) when I say that. Barry Allen is so wonderfully complex, well-rounded, and completely likable because of everything Grant has brought –– and continues to bring.


Melanie's MVP: Lady Gaga as the Countess/Elizabeth (American Horror Story: Hotel)

Why she's the MVP: So, the consensus at this point about the season premiere of American Horror Story: Hotel is that Lady Gaga served as a shining standout in a mainly uneven episode. The season opener was both lauded for pushing past the absence of Jessica Lange and criticized for being a little too confusing –– and borderline lazy –– on the writing side of things. But early reviews Wednesday morning singled out Gaga’s performance, and after sampling the episode myself, I have to agree that she very much stole the spotlight in the premiere episode “Checking In.” Which is impressive, given her only previous acting credit is a brief role in Machete Kills.

She doesn’t appear until about a half hour into the episode, but immediately gets a ten-minute long intro in which –– despite only having two lines –– Lady Gaga manages to be completely captivating. And that’s part of what’s working here. This is a character who is custom fit to Gaga’s strength: enigma. In the first episode, she does a lot of power-walking and gazing, but it’s entirely believable that she could get veteran actress (and Unsinkable Molly Brown) Kathy Bates quaking in her presence, commanding Matt Bomer as her lover (slash sometimes servant), and haunting the halls of the hotel. It’s not as simple as “Gaga is playing herself” but more that Gaga believes the words that come out of her mouth and performs her blocking with serious purpose.

And even in dialogue-heavy scenes –– an easy place for her to slip and lose her presence –– Gaga nails it, making the character feel absolutely dangerous. Toward the end of the episode, she speaks briefly about her past with Will Drake’s son Lachlan (while clearly plotting his kidnapping for her army of creepy vampire children; there’s a Mother Monster joke in here somewhere), and manages to add quick but decisive flavor to Elizabeth while keeping up the same visage of the woman who, just hours previous, had lured a couple back to her penthouse and turned them into a bloodbath. So if nothing else about this season of American Horror Story lives up to its potential, I feel assured that Gaga at least will deliver some awesome moments.

Jon's MVP: John Wesley Shipp as Henry Allen (The Flash)

Why he's the MVP: While the theme for this week's TV MVP Series installment certainly seems to be Arrow and The Flash-based (I mean really, who can blame us? They’re great shows), I decided to showcase an actor on The Flash appearing for what could be the final time on the show (at least for a while): John Wesley Shipp as Henry Allen.

When Shipp was cast as Barry's father, it was a nice way of paying homage to the actor’s television legacy. Shipp, for those of you who do not know, originally played The Flash on CBS’ short-lived interpretation of that character.

Casting Shipp as Barry’s father was a great way to not only introduce a new dynamic to the series, but also –– as I noted –– pay homage to what came before. Whenever Shipp appeared on the show, he brought such a sense of wisdom and gravitas to the role of Henry, that you felt like Barry was getting mentored by the old guard. That mentoring seemingly came to an end in this past week’s season premiere.

After Henry is set free by Wells’ confession, we see a happy welcoming party for the man, which feels more than earned, especially if you’ve been following the show for the past year. However, that reunion was short-lived, as it was revealed that Henry is leaving Central City. Barry is obviously devastated, as is the audience (I have never felt a quicker mood swing in my entire life). But then, Henry lets Barry know it’s okay –– that it will be okay without him –– with this quote.
“When you need me, I will be here. But right now, Central City doesn't need you to be Henry Allen's son; it needs you to be The Flash”
To me, this performance felt like a passing of the baton. Not only did Henry accept that his son was now a superhero and did not need him as much as he used to, but it also felt like one Flash was passing down the mantle to the next, and that the old Flash is ready to move on. Shipp’s performance is excellent, as he quietly tells Barry why they are both going to be okay. It’s such a beautiful moment when you see a father accept the actions of his son and step back to watch him grow. Shipp’s powerful performance is no exception.

Maddie's MVP: Bindi Irwin as herself (Dancing With the Stars)

Why she's the MVP: So, there was no topping Arrow in scripted television this week, and I trust Jen and Mer to sufficiently wax poetic about the amazingness of that show's leads. However, as much as I am a ride-or-die Arrow fan, it was not the most emotionally moved I was watching television this week. Dancing With the Stars is its own weird and wonderful world of rhinestones, spray tans, and big personalities, but it also has moments of stunning creativity and genuine displays of humanity. For those of you who don’t know of her, Bindi Irwin is a wildlife conservationist, TV personality, and the daughter of the late Steve Irwin you probably knew as The Crocodile Hunter.

A little personal backstory here: I watched The Crocodile Hunter everyday after school from when the show started in 1997 until its end in 2004. Steve Irwin had a joyous charisma that enraptured audiences as he shared his passion for nature with the world. He had a zeal for life that was contagious and an absolute joy to watch. As many of you have experienced –– fictional or not ––when someone is on your TV screen for seven years, they become a part of the family too. I was thirteen years old when Steve Irwin passed away, and that was the first time I was truly saddened by the death of a public figure. Moreover, as I am blessed to have healthy family members, Irwin’s death was my first encounter with loss. I was devastated. He meant so much to me and so many other people. The world lost a light that day. And that’s why it has been such a joy to see that the light Steve had inside of him has carried on through Bindi.

The sweet little girl who accompanied her dad on adventures has blossomed into a beautiful and vibrant young woman who emanates charisma and joy in all that she does. Thus far in her journey on DWTS, we’ve just seen the infectiously happy side to her. But this week was something truly special. The theme of the week was "most memorable year," and Bindi and her partner Derek Hough danced a contemporary routine to “Every Breath You Take” to tell the story of Bindi’s journey in losing her father. Bindi expressed that even after nine years, she had never truly dwelled on how losing him felt and was ready to share her story. At this point, the way she was opening up already had me full-on ugly sobbing. Honestly, this routine was simply transcendent. This wasn’t just a dance in a reality competition TV show –– this was more. This was art: real human emotion, catharsis, and nothing short of genuine beauty.

Performing has a way of providing an outlet to channel the pain and the hardships that you have gone through and use them to create something beautiful. The emotional catharsis that comes from giving your all into a performance is like no other, and Bindi got to experience that last Monday night as we all watched in rapture. For someone who doesn’t come from a background of dance or performing, Bindi made the audience feel something in a way normally only seasoned pros can. She let us, as an audience, be a part of this experience. Moreover, the movements of the dance were done with such fluidity, musicality, and partner connectedness, which only heightened the emotion of the routine. Kudos to Derek Hough for such brilliant choreography that –– paired with Bindi’s performance ––encapsulated the sadness and joy that comes with loving and losing someone. It was a beautiful blend of artistry and heart that will remain historic in the history of great dances on television, and I only look forward to seeing Bindi’s light continue to shine as she grows in her journey on the show.

Megan's MVP: Megan Follows as Queen Catherine de Medici (Reign)

Why she's the MVP: Megan Follows has always been a favorite of mine for the past two seasons on The CW’s royal period piece about Mary, Queen of Scots and her marriage to the king of France. She’s conniving, manipulative, devious and altogether just a bad person. But that’s what makes her so good. She’s always entertaining to watch.

In the last season's finale, we saw Catherine on her way to banishment, but making a little detour and headed toward England to move to the side of Queen Elizabeth I, Mary’s cousin and enemy. When season three began on Friday, Catherine is doing everything possible to use her cunning skills and Elizabeth’s need for power over Mary in order to bring her down. We see Catherine effortlessly create plan after plan as backups should the previous plans fail. She plans and executes each with precision. It’s artful when you really think about it.

Megan Follows does this so effortlessly that it almost makes you wonder what she's like in real life. By the end of the episode, Mary and Francis have figured out that Catherine was not where she said she was, and rather that was a decoy and that it was she who was helping Elizabeth. Even in the face of Mary, Catherine remained hard and stoic. It wasn’t until she saw her son, Francis, that she realized the jig was totally up. Instantly, Catherine crumples and sees that she doesn’t have another get out of jail free card. Follows went from steel to liquid in seconds, and if that isn’t great acting, I don’t know what is. She knew the emotional range needed for that ten seconds between and she totally crushed it. I’m so excited to see how the rest of this season plays out for her.

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Jen's MVP: Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen (Arrow)

Why he's the MVP: Arrow has returned! Everyone probably knows by now, but where Stephen Amell goes, so goes my MVP nation. Arrow’s fourth season is underway. It is by no means an aging series, but it’s not the new kid on the block anymore either. We’re comfortable, which can be incredibly dangerous on a television series. Rather than rest on their laurels, Arrow found a way to up the stakes. There’s an exciting and seemingly unstoppable bad guy, a terrifying flash forward that puts every character in jeopardy, evolving relationships and... a new and improved Oliver Queen.

After three seasons with a character, the audience knows Oliver Queen. He’s dark and twisty with a hero’s heart of gold. However, everything changed when Oliver hung up the hood and embarked on a new life with his one true love Felicity Smoak in last year's season final. Stephen Amell didn’t have an easy task ahead of him. How does he retain the character the audience has grown to love and yet introduce a new version at the same time? In the hands of a lesser actor it would be a disaster.  Luckily for the Arrow audience, Stephen is anything but a lesser actor.

So much of Amell’s portrayal of Oliver Queen is based in his physicality: Oliver’s posture, voice and eyes reflect the varying stages in his life. Wig or no wig, one sound bite of Oliver’s voice will tell an audience member if he’s pre-island Ollie, Oliver Queen, The Arrow or simply the guy with Felicity Smoak. This season, Stephen uses his chameleon-like abilities to add another layer to present day Oliver –– Happy Oliver. Gone is the stiff posture of The Arrow and post-traumatic-stress-Oliver. In its stead is a man whose shoulders relax as he tastes his girlfriend’s disastrous attempt at an omelette.

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Gone is the deep, guttural voice of The Arrow and gone is the guilt-stricken tone of Oliver Queen. Now, there is a voice that is lighter and more airy. One, I might add, that is much closer to Amell’s natural speaking voice. It is sweet, gentle, kind and bordering on –– dare I say it –– hopeful. It is as if Amell combined his special “Felicity tone” and “Oliver Queen” voice into one blissful union.

In previous seasons, Oliver was much more emotionally closed-off and Amell had to rely on his eyes to convey the deeper emotional narrative. Now –– happy and in love –– Oliver smiles and laughs. Yes, that’s a smile on Oliver Queen. No need to adjust your television. He even jokes. No, the apocalypse is not nigh. He’s just in a very good mood.

Even when he’s upset with Felicity, he can barely contain his amusement at her adorable confessions. Known for his volatile temper, Oliver chooses instead to be playful despite his hurt and frustration. He’s even vulnerable. While Felicity misses their crime-fighting life in Starling City (I will not call it Star City), Oliver is upset a piece of Felicity was missing during their time away together. Perhaps, he worries, she isn’t as happy with Oliver as he is with her. Not only does Oliver feel it, he voices his concern. He engages in discussion about it and reaches a resolution with Felicity. It’s astoundingly adult and emotionally healthy.

And yet… Oliver Queen is still Oliver. He mopes. He broods. He kicks butt. Even when he jokes,
it’s his usual deadpan humor of a consummate straight man. He’s simply joking more frequently. Even though he’s happy with Felicity, it doesn’t erase his worry over Thea, his guilt over Diggle or his need to fight for Starling City. Yes, the guttural voice returns and the posture stiffens the moment the Arrow suit is on, but Amell conveys a subtle but important shift in Oliver’s persona –– he is fighting with a renewed purpose because Oliver Queen has something to fight for. He has someone to live for.

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And just in case the audience was feeling too “comfortable” with Happy Oliver, Amell delivers a gut-wrenching performance by a grave at the end of the premiere. A single tear rolls down Oliver’s face as he mourns an unknown loved one. And in this moment, Amell reminds the audience that no matter how happy Oliver is... pain is still not far behind. He is, afterall, a hero.

It is a rare and delightful gift when an actor can introduce new sides to a character you know so well. Amell moves deftly from scene to scene, so every side of Oliver –– both known and unknown –– feels equally fresh as it is familiar. Stephen Amell never ceases to delight and surprise his audience because he dares to take risks with Oliver Queen. His portrayal of the hero is like a crystal’s glimmering kaleidoscope of colors, each more brilliant than the next. After three years, we know Oliver Queen. However, Stephen Amell’s performance proves we will never know Oliver Queen as well as he does.

Those are who WE are loving this week! Who did you all love? Hit up our comments and let us know your TV MVPs too. :)

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