Sunday, October 18, 2015

Series - This Week's TV MVPs: Week 17

I'm so glad that the TV MVP Series is back. This was one of those series I had always hoped would be a part of the site and now that we have twenty different contributors, I'm thankful it has become a reality for us to do. The truth is that there is just so much good television out there, it's impossible to watch it all in a week. Even if you devoted your entire day to watching television, you still wouldn't be able to catch up. It's the one frustrating part of being a television critic — you know you'll never get the chance to see it all, even though you desperately want to. I really am happy that we get the chance (however small) to celebrate some of the finest performances on television each week.

And boy, were there some great ones this week. Between returning favorites, outstanding new episodes, and brand-spankin' new talent, there was a lot to celebrate and write about. Joining me this week are:
  • The queso to my tortilla chips, Lizzie
  • The butter to my movie theater popcorn (and Lizzie's twin sister), Lynnie
  • The frosting and sprinkles to my cake, Mer!
  • The cheese to my pizza, Connie
  • The peanut butter to my jelly, Jen
  • The hot fudge to my ice cream sundae, Megan
  • The salt to my soft pretzel, Laura

Jenn's MVP: Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)

Why she's the MVP: Anne is the person I have to thank for getting me into Jane the Virgin. When the series debuted last year, she tweeted me and asked if I had gotten a chance to watch the pilot. I — admittedly — wrinkled my nose and judged the show based on the title. It didn't seem like something that would be of interest, let alone stick around for an entire season. But with Anne's persistence, I caved and watched the first two episodes On Demand. I fell in love almost immediately. Between the witty and humorous narration, the array of interesting characters, and the shock-and-awe drama, this was a series that I knew would be captivating and hoped would engage many more viewers, too.

Jane the Virgin's second season premiere ("Chapter Twenty-Three") did not disappoint, as it returned us firmly to the foundation of the show — its relationships. The most foundational of all, of course, being the one between Xiomara, Alba, and Jane. And this is the part where I get the chance to gush about Gina Rodriguez. As a person, she seems to be utterly delightful, fun, and humble. As Jane, she brings her inherent likability and manages to add layers of emotion to a character that occasionally needs those layers to remain relatable. The premiere is a perfect example of Rodriguez's stunning work. As we all know from the season finale, Mateo was abducted. And the show wastes no time in jumping right back into the action in the second season opener. As Jane, Rodriguez is frantic but determined, and ultimately still level-headed. It's every performance post-Mateo arriving safely that really stands out to me. Jane is a worrier and she can be a bit of a nag and is definitely a perfectionist. Those are qualities that could lend the character to become grating. But not with Gina Rodriguez in control.

No, there is a depth of emotion and a weight that she brings to everything Jane does. And finally, toward the end of the episode, Jane Villanueva has a breakdown and admits to feeling like she will never be a perfect mother because she didn't know that the nurse who took Mateo was about to abduct him. We see Jane cry sometimes. We see her break down less often. But when she does? Oh, when she does, Gina Rodriguez shines in causing us to lean into her pain, to feel it ourselves and feel it hard. We ache for Jane. We want her to know that she is a good mother and a good person. We want to wrap our arms around her and tell her that it'll be okay. And we know that a part of her won't believe us, because that's who she is, but we want to anyway.

That is what Gina Rodriguez has done with Jane — she has taken a good character and made her great. She has taken an already strong character and made her stronger. And for all of those reasons (and more), she deserves the title of MVP this week for me.

Lizzie’s MVP: Shantel VanSanten as Patty Spivot (The Flash)

Why she's the MVP: Last week, after picking Jesse L. Martin as my TV MVP, I told myself: "Lizzie, you are not picking anyone from The Flash next week again. People are going to think you don’t watch any other television shows." (And trust me, I do). And I tried, I really tried. But despite my best intentions, when it came time to write this, I could only pick Shantel VanSanten as my TV MVP for this week.

When I first heard the character description for Patty Spivot, I thought that I was probaly not going to like her. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, after all — the writers can’t force me to like another character who is a Felicity Smoak wannabe. (I sound like a petulant child, I realize, complete with the feet stomping and everything.) Later, when we got our first glimpse of Patty on screen, I realized that the writers went somewhere else with the character, and in a different direction than Felicity. It was then that I decided I could probably give her a shot. But this week, when we were finally introduced to Patty Spivot? Well, I fell in love and it was all because of Shantel's portrayal of this character.

Gutsy, nerdy, smart and a breath of fresh air, Patty Spivot is the one thing I didn’t realize The Flash was missing. Be it as a possible love interest for Barry, a partner for Joe, or just another asset in the CCDP, Patty succeeded in all arenas. She even played a much better damsel in distress trope than usually would be seen. Her interactions with Joe were particularly funny. That she clicked with Barry was not surprising — she was supposed to, after all — but that she clicked with Joe makes her much more than a potential, forgettable girlfriend for Barry. It makes her part of the fabric of the show. I’m actually very curious about a possible interaction not only between Paty and the other girls in the group, but with Cisco too. Nerds getting along, right?

If you’d asked me before the episode aired, I would have told you we didn’t need a replacement for Eddie. Apparently, we do. Barry and Joe spend so much time running down the meta-humans under the guise of working for the CCPD that giving Joe a partner is probably a good idea. In that same line of thinking, how long do we think it’ll take for Patty to figure out Barry’s real identity? If she’s as smart as we think she is, it won’t be long.

Either way, I am excited for more Patty Spivot and much more of Shantel VanSanten on my screen each week. Very, very excited.

Lynnie’s MVP: Rose McIver as Liv Moore (iZombie)

Why she’s the MVP: Rose McIver has three different characters to play at once on any given episode. She has the personality of the brains she’s eaten, (not a sentence I thought I would ever type), the version of herself that she has to present to the world, and she has the Liv, the person only a select few get the opportunity to see and know. That is the one that is still in progress. It’s a challenging task to pull off, playing three different versions of essentially one character, and McIver manages to do it with eloquence and graceful attention to detail.

This talent of layering her character is seen in earnest during "Zombie Bro." A bro-dude is murdered right when Liv has to deal with her ex-fiancĂ© Major not talking to her because of the whole turning him into a zombie, then back again, and then using him to murder other zombies... thing. The hurt and pain Liv feels is a complex layer behind the more obvious layer of the free-loving brain of a bro-dude without a care in the world. Her hurt over Major is balanced perfectly with the ridiculous antics and inappropriateness that comes out of her mouth during the investigation. It’s sad, heartbreaking, and deviously fun. Plus, McIver is seriously funny. Can I have all the scenes with her and Rahul Kahli played on a loop forever? Please?

Meredith’s MVP: Tate Ellington as Simon Asher (Quantico)

Why he’s the MVP: Of all the secretive, shady, suspect characters on Quantico, Simon is arguably the shadiest. In "Cover," we learn that he was kicked out of training at some point, for unknown reasons, but that he has secretly been helping the FBI director with the terrorist search. So while Booth sends Alex to Simon for help, in the end it appears he’s actually double-crossing her. Or triple-crossing? The entire thing is unclear, and Simon just looks super, super shady.

Ellington plays this all to perfection. The series started with him appearing to be the quirky, nerdy, cute gay guy who was sweet and helpful (and also comic relief on a drama-heavy new series). In essence, he was a bit one-dimensional, but still likeable. His initial introduction — where he takes a selfie kissing a guy he has seemingly never met — was adorable, if a tad odd, but Ellington played it well, earning him a spot on my early favorites list.

But as the show has progressed, Simon has become more and more secretive and suspect, earning the interest of Elias (the amazing Rick Cosnett) in more ways than one. It seems like everything we learn about Simon is later revealed as a lie, and the viewer is constantly left with more questions about his true identity and his motives. Ellington transitions between cute/quirky and suspicious/dangerous in the blink of an eye, and he carried "Cover" really well.

On a show with a large, dynamic, appealing cast full of interesting characters, Ellington has made Simon stand out as the one I want to know the most about. While at first presented as a bit of a stereotypical caricature of the nerdy Jewish gay guy, Ellington’s performance has added richness and realism to the layers and secrets that make up Simon Asher. He has chemistry with every single one of his co-stars, most notably with Cosnett. I would totally not be against an Elias/Simon relationship. What would their ship name be, do you think?


When watching Quantico, the viewer is lucky to have a full cast of characters to enjoy. But, as it happens, some stand out more than others. Tate Ellington has turned Simon Asher into one of those characters, and for that he’s my MVP this week.

Connie’s MVP: Echo Kellum as Curtis Holt (Arrow)

Why he’s the MVP: I think what I've enjoyed most about my choice of MVP this week is that he's my MVP for both character and actor. Echo Kellum debuted Curtis Holt on Arrow in "The Candidate," and both Curtis and Echo made an impression on me. Echo himself just proved to be really personable and funny on Twitter. He live-tweeted the episode with the fans and favorited tweets and seemed really engaged and excited to be in the Arrow-verse. I like that in an actor. He seems like he's one of us — a fan who gets to be in the show.

And then there is Curtis. Sweet, smart, capable, looks good in a suit or dressed down, Curtis who didn't want to fire anybody. Who is both respectful to Felicity but also challenges her in a way that allows her to figure things out and move forward. #TerrificSmoak is about to become so AWESOME. I like the time we spend away from Green Arrow-ing when Curtis is involved (I liked it much less when Ray was involved). I'm sure we'll get to see how Terrific he truly is soon (he TOWERS over Oliver), but for now, I'm excited to see how he and Felicity OWN those annoying board members. Two geniuses walk into Palmer Tech and nothing was ever the same.

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Jen’s MVP: Harry Ford as Angus Leighton (Code Black)

Why he's the MVP: My bitterness over Grey’s Anatomy (no, I still have not forgiven Shonda Rhimes for killing McDreamy) left the television schedule wide open for a medical drama this season. I landed on Code Black. It reminds me of the early days of ER, when George Clooney and Noah Wyle were relative unknowns and when the pulse of that series was centered on medical procedures and lightning-paced action. Remember those days? Oh man... please tell me someone else remembers the early days of ER. I can’t be that old.

Code Black references when an emergency room has more patients than resources. And even though it’s not generating the same buzz as shows like Blindspot or Quantico, it is an excellent show supported by a strong cast. It’s lead by Marcia Gay Harden, who can honestly make reading the phone book sound like a Shakespearean play. However, it’s the supporting cast of relative unknowns that’s the real surprise, and actors like Harry Ford.

Ford plays Angus Leighton, a resident training to be an ER doctor. Angus is sweet and timid, which is causing him a fair amount of problems. He’s extremely intelligent and knows as much, if not more, than his classmates, but he doesn’t trust his gut — he second-guesses himself or is bullied into procedures he doesn’t believe are necessary. In the course of three episodes, this has landed him into significant hot water. And this week, he unnecessarily cracked a chest wide open.

Angus, as a character, is a difficult line to walk. Too much hesitation and his medical knowledge isn’t believable. Too much confidence and his self-doubt isn’t believable. Ford straddles those lines perfectly. What’s more, he has the rare quality of likeability. When Angus is bulldozed, you feel bad for him; but when he stands up for himself, you cheer. Ford makes you root for the character. It’s a Noah Wyle-esque characteristic, really.

Dr. Hudson muses that residents are like locks and their teachers have to find the right combination. It was in reference to another doctor, but by the end of the episode, it is Angus who discovers his combination. In the madness and bustle of a trauma, he gets completely overwhelmed. Who can blame him? So while performing a procedure, Angus begins to sing. It calms him down and lets him focus. In the hands of a lesser actor, this would have been ridiculous. But Ford’s perfected Angus-meld of timid and strong sells that moment.

Angus is unlocked and we — the audience — are like the safe-cracker, basking in the victory. I can easily see ten years down the road, Marcia Gay Harden’s Dr. Rorish telling Harry Ford’s Angus: “you set the tone.”

Megan’s MVP: Ethan Embry as Carter (The Walking Dead)

Why he’s the MVP: I have been a massive fan of Ethan Embry for a long time. (Empire Records is easily one of my favorite movies of all time.), so imagine my excitement when he showed up recently on AMC’s The Walking Dead.

His character of Carter was — much like the rest of the residents of Alexandria — weary of Rick and the rest of his group coming to stay at first. He was vocal about not wanting them to stay, even though he could see how they could help. In the season opener last Sunday, Carter began to rethink their methods and decided to talk to the others about overthrowing Rick and the suicidal idea to move walkers from a quarry to a place about 20 miles away. Unfortunately, Carter was overheard by Rick and a few others as they walked in.

Carter went from talking a big game to begging for his life within seconds. Much like my MVP last week, Ethan Embry had to have the capability to go from one extreme to the other in a matter of seconds, and he did it beautifully. When the dress rehearsal of the walker removal turned into the real thing, he quickly became terrified and wanted to run. Carter slowly starts to accept Rick’s plan and, as they’re walking through the woods, a walker comes out of nowhere ends up ripping his face off. So... that was short-lived.

Embry did an incredible job of jumping across the emotional spectrum with his character, though. He was terrified and strong, accepting and resistant, helpful and stubborn. Although his time was short on The Walking Dead, his was a full character who was trying to avoid the reality outside their well-built walls while realizing he wasn’t equipped to survive, should those walls collapse. I thought Embry did a fantastic job and I was disappointed that Rick did what was necessary. But such is the break of a minor character on a show that is pretty much willing to kill anybody and everybody off.

Laura’s MVP: Brett Dier as Michael Cordero (Jane the Virgin)

Why he’s the MVP: Jane the Virgin has one of the best and most diverse casts on TV, in that they can literally do anything. Whether it’s comedy, drama, or even straight-up telenovela absurdity, they manage to make us cry, laugh, and stare at our TVs in shock during each and every episode. In the season two premiere, all of this was accomplished and more, as the incredible cast returned to continue telling Jane’s story. While everyone came back strong in this episode — each character shining and proving why we fell in love with this show in the first season — it was Brett Dier’s portrayal of Michael that really stood out.

Like any good telenovela, Jane the Virgin has its fair share of romantic entanglements and drama. Over the course of last season, Jane went back and forth between Michael and Rafael, unsure which man was best for her. As Jane struggled with this decision, we — the audience — did as well, some firmly declaring themselves #TeamMichael or #TeamRafael. Or, if you were like me, you couldn’t make up your mind, simply declaring yourself #TeamJane and knowing that she would make the best decision for herself. And really, she can’t go wrong with either of them, both men having something great to offer with their kindness and clear love for her.

At the start of this season, we’re seeing this love triangle juggle something that they’ve never had to before: a baby. While Rafael has struggled with this new-found parenthood, unsure how to deal with making his voice heard among Jane’s family, Michael has stepped up in a big way, proving that perhaps he really does know Jane best. Brett’s stellar performance in this episode showed Michael going out of his way multiple times to help Jane, and even Rafael, as they struggled first with Mateo’s kidnapping and then with the real pressures of being new parents.

Through it all, Michael stood by Jane’s side as he has done so often, knowing that even if he can’t be with her romantically, he still cares very much for her and wants to help in any way he can. Why can’t all men be that perfect? The sincerity and honesty with which Brett plays Michael shines through in every episode, and was back in full force in the season premiere. Between his fantastically hilarious scenes with Rogelio to the honest moments with Rafael, where he decided to be the better man and give Rafael advice to help with Jane’s family, Brett hit every mark he needed to and made us fall even more in love with Michael. In the end, watching his character stand to the side, observing the seemingly happy family together is truly heart-breaking. I’ve never been able to firmly declare myself #TeamMichael or #TeamRafael but after this week’s episode, that may have just changed.

Well, folks, there you have it! These are all of our TV MVPs this week! Let us know if we missed any or if you have any comments about the ones we've included. Until then! :)

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