Sunday, November 22, 2015

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 22

Welcome back to yet another week in our now-famous TV MVP Series! We've switched things up a bit this week, as rules have changed slightly for the series. In order to ensure that we are distributing our love for television as equally as possible, you'll now only see one actor per show (per article)! I love that everyone on this staff is so passionate about their television shows and I hope that you all love them for the same reason. (And for other reasons too, of course.) As Thanksgiving approaches this week, I couldn't be more grateful to be surrounded by a community of writers who genuinely make me laugh and cry and sometimes laugh so hard that I cry. They're much more than writers to me, though. They are friends. And I'm thankful that they're here.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, we will be taking a break from the TV MVP Series next week, November 29th! Instead, we will be spending time with our families and... let's be real here, we'll actually all probably be watching television in some capacity. We hope you enjoy your holiday and we will resume the series the following week on December 6th — DECEMBER, YOU GUYS.

But for now, let's continue with another week in discussing some of the best performances on television. This week, my cohorts are:

  • The lovely and witty Megan
  • The absolutely delightful Lizzie
  • The precious and talented Lynnie
  • The sassy (and stellar) Chelsea
  • The calm in our chaos, Jon

Let's get to it then!

Jenn's MVP: Santino Fontana as Greg Serrano (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

Why he's the MVP: This week, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did something a little bit risky that paid off in spades, and that was to isolate its characters into three separate locations. Though Paula was technically a part of Rebecca's storyline, she was not at the Chan household for Thanksgiving, like Rebecca, Josh, and Valencia were. Paula was relegated to her own household's celebration. And that left Greg with his own storyline this week, too, which fixated on how desperately he wanted to get out of West Covina and make something of himself. I think that we have all felt that way at some point in our lives — a desperation to be "un-stuck" from the routine and the familiar and the place where we have grown up. But what was really daring of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was to trust that Greg could carry his own story and not just carry it, but deliver the emotional weight that it deserved.

Santino Fontana absolutely carried Greg's story this episode, and I have no doubt that he will carry many stories to come. From the absolutely lovely and comedic piano-laden "What'll It Be" to the emotional decision Greg makes to stay with his ailing father and use his savings to pay his medical bills, to the final few sweet minutes between Rebecca and Greg, what Fontana does best with Greg is make him sympathetic without the dialogue explicitly asking us to make him so. What's so admirable about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is that it doesn't portray one character's quirks or insecurities as more significant than anyone else's. Greg is just as broken as Rebecca and Josh is just as messed up as the both of them, just not in as many easily-recognizable ways. Fontana is able to translate that brokenness so perfectly to screen and this episode was no exception. We got to see every side of Greg, and because of Santino Fontana's performance, he's absolutely endearing and relatable. The decision for Greg to take care of his father wasn't seen as a punchline or a joke, but it also wasn't dwelt on for too long, either. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is still a comedy, after all, and the show allowed us to feel Greg's emotions and understand his decision to stay in West Covina (and living with his father) without making us feel like we were in an after-school special, overwrought with emotion.

Santino Fontana has been able to — already, in the course of only a few episodes — exhume various layers that Greg has. He's not just the "nice guy" trope. He's also kind of self-loathing. He's not a bartender — he's someone with dreams and a vision, but whose compassion and love is unshakable. He will alter his dreams or put them on hold for the sake of his loved ones. And he's not just a straight man to Rebecca's "crazy": he's the one who imagines himself playing a piano and singing a ballad in the middle of the bar. Greg is also sweet and playful, serious when necessary, and dry in his humor and wit. Santino Fontana can communicate all of those emotions with just the raise of an eyebrow or a smile. I love that this show has given him the chance to explore all of those emotions and I look forward to more and more of Fontana's amazing performances (singing and otherwise). 

Megan’s MVP: Candice Accola as Caroline Forbes (The Vampire Diaries)
Why she’s the MVP: Listen, when this show started airing many moons ago in 2009, I really hated the character of Caroline Forbes. She was annoying and, in my mind, hardly furthered the plot. But when she was turned into a vampire upon the return of Katherine Pierce to Mystic Falls, she suddenly became more bearable. This is in large part to the wonderful actress who brings her to life: Candice Accola.
Accola’s Caroline has been a star throughout the series and often plays the moral compass for the band of supernatural misfits (minus Matt, who still remains human). However, it’s towards the end of last season and so far in the current season that both the character and the actress have truly shone.
Last week’s episode ended with Valerie telling Caroline that the — when Jo died — the Gemini coven had hidden Alaric’s twins inside of Caroline. I know, total doozy. This week’s episode, "Mommie Dearest," had Caroline facing the idea that stranger things have happened, and that she could be pregnant because of some crazy, mystical coven spell. And what if she is? This could be the chance she’s always dreamed of to have a family. But then where does that leave her with Stefan?
The character of Caroline has always been pretty type-A — she always had a plan and loved to be in control as often as she could. What Accola does in this episode is display the duality of that power that Caroline possesses in being very plan and control-oriented, while also struggling to maintain that very semblance of control... in despite the growing signs that her pregnancy is likely true. Instead of just accepting something as it is, Caroline will fight hard and find reason and truth elsewhere. That can’t happen, however, when at the end of the episode, she discovers the truth of her pregnancy. Accola, as Caroline, had to display a range of so many different emotions in this episode: scared, confused, strong, sympathetic, vulnerable, and frustrated.
And every one of those emotions came across entirely genuine, which is incredible. She made me think about everything that was possibly  going through the character's head, and made me an even bigger cheerleader for Caroline than I already was. And that’s saying something. Even with Accola's facial expressions, you can see her soften and harden in a matter of seconds. It’s such great acting that you can’t help but admire Accola. In a show that is still sometimes questionable in terms of plot, Accola makes everything the writers give Caroline believable. She fills the show with such heart and still remains the strongest character and the moral compass. I love her and can’t wait to see what she’s going to do with this latest revelation.


Lizzie’s MVP: Fred Savage as Stewart Sanderson (The Grinder)

Why he’s the MVP: This show was supposed to be all about Rob Lowe. I started watching it because of Rob Lowe. And yes, Rob Lowe is superb as Dean Sanderson, the actor-turned-small-town-“lawyer,” but if this show is more than just another forgettable comedy it’s not because of its known quantity (Lowe), but because of the wonderful Fred Savage.

Comedy is hard. Often, it’s way harder than drama. Because drama can be full-on in terms of intensity and action, while comedy needs nuances. It needs actors who understand when to laugh and when to pause — who know that they’re not supposed to be in on the joke. If they’re laughing, most often than not, we aren’t. And in this show, that person is Fred Savage.

Look, at a viewer, Stewart is an easier character to sympathize with than Dean. Stewart is, after all, often saying what we’re thinking, often pointing out how ridiculous Dean is. But while Lowe does oblivious to perfection, Savage does self-aware times a hundred just as well. You can only make a great comedy with the right amount of chemistry, good writing and great actors, and The Grinder is a show that has it all. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one watching — the only one laughing, the only one grinding, and that’s a shame. Everyone should be watching this new FOX comedy. This is not just the best new comedy of the year, but one of the best to come out of TV in recent history. 


Lynnie’s MVP: David Ramsey as John Diggle (Arrow)

Why he's the MVP: Arrow is no stranger to bringing people back from the dead (so much so that Felicity Smoak vocalizes this very fact during this week's episode), but never has the moment been charged with such confliction, honesty, and raw talent as the moment Diggle discovers that his dead brother is a zombie brother. David Ramey is the king of deadpan humor and subtle reactions, but this week’s episode gave him the chance to dig into the very essence of who John Diggle is.

A man defined in his service to others, Ramsey gives Diggle steely resolve, heartbreak, and dawning hope that transcends the writing. His greatest scenes are opposite Stephen Amell, where he not only lays truth bombs at Oliver Queen’s feet, but explores his grief, explosive anger, certainty that Andy is the very enemy he has spent the past four years fighting, and the new brotherhood that gives him hope. Ramsey manages to balance the layers of emotion with seasoned skill, incredible talent, and unerring accuracy that lets viewers know that he has a handle on Diggle and the past that has formed him to the present. Kudos to David Ramsey for taking a difficult, emotional ride throughout the episode with such grace and emotional honesty. I can’t wait to see where the Andy storyline goes next.


Chelsea’s MVP: Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)

Why she's the MVP: Gina Rodriguez is no stranger to praise around here when it comes to her perfect portrayal as Jane Gloriana Villanueva. Even with the wonderful ensemble cast around her, she carries the show on her back and Jane the Virgin wouldn’t be nearly as successful if we didn’t have her Jane to root for. She is mature and wise beyond her years, but she also has so much to figure out in life and some growing up to do herself.

This week saw our lovely heroine plan Mateo’s future with Rafael and what having a rich child would entail, while also trying to balance graduate school and worrying if she is neglecting her aforementioned child. Rodriguez is at her best when she has to balance Jane's needs as a person with her duties as a mother. In the episode, Jane is stubborn and makes mistakes, causing her to hurt Rafael in the process. (The scene where she is sick and mean to Rafael is comedic gold though, with her family warning him about “sick Jane.”) It’s only when she starts opening up to Rafael and her classmates that she is able to alleviate some of this stress and make clear decisions.

Rodriguez also shines any time she’s opposite Yael Grobglas. As great as they are when they are scheming and at each other’s throats, the silent moments when they are supporting one another are my favorite. #LadiesSupportingLadies. I do hope for a friendship to develop between the two, as Petra continues her journey to motherhood. The beautiful moment at Thanksgiving where Jane brushes away the family’s worried faces when she says Petra is coming over shows a growth in the character and warmth that only Rodriguez could bring to the table. Not only is she growing up and moving on in life, but she is becoming more comfortable with her role as a mother. Rodriguez wins MVP for all this and more. 

Jon’s MVP: Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Gotham)

Why he's the MVP: I had my doubts about Gotham in the beginning. While I was initially excited about the show’s premise, the first season was a dull, lifeless mess. While the acting was particularly enjoyable, the stories that were given in the first season were a mix of standard cop stories-of-the-week mixed with “HEY LOOK BATMAN REFERENCES!”

However, the current season has undergone a complete makeover, foregoing the compartmentalized stories with a more linear storyline. The writers have done a great job in setting up future DC villains without shoving that set-up (or them) into your face. And while we’ve seen some great performances this season from many of the actors on the villain side of things, one particular actor has been an absolute joy to watch: Cory Michael Smith as Edward Nygma, who is also known as “The Riddler.”
The mental transformation from Nygma into Riddler is something we’ve been promised since the show began last year. Over the last few weeks, we’ve finally seen Nygma begin the steps towards that path. This past week finally saw Nygma take a major step forward, as he nursed The Penguin to health while also asking him for advice on the criminal life. (An interesting contrast to note in this episode is the personalities of the two. Nygma is this wide-eyed, fresh faced killer in training while Penguin is this world weary, numb figure. It’s fascinating to witness, and feels very reminiscent of the film Misery.)

What’s so great about Smith’s performance is how he has gone from nebbish and socially awkward to scene-stealing malice. Smith is having an absolute ball in this episode, especially in his scenes with Penguin. Smith and Taylor have excellent chemistry together, and in these scenes, we see a different side of Nygma — that of a budding fanboy. In merging both sides of his personality into one, we get the opportunity to witness the truth that Nygma holds a certain respect for Penguin’s actions. Smith does a great job at coming across as having an almost Annie Wilkes-type obsession with him.

The highlight of Smith’s entire performance is when Penguin bemoans that, with his mother gone, he has nothing left. Riddler chastises him, saying: “A man with nothing that he loves is a man that cannot be bargained. A man that cannot be betrayed. A man who answers to no one but himself. And that is the man that I see before me. A free man.”

Not only is Nygma trying to encourage someone who he considers to be an idol, but it’s also wishful thinking. He wishes that he could be like Penguin — to become free from the constraints of what society wants him to be, and to embrace his dark side. Smith conveys so much anger, passion, and even sadness into that one small monologue. In this one scene, he proved why he’s the perfect choice to play The Riddler, and why he deserves my MVP for the week.

Those were our picks for TV MVPs this week! What did you all think? Hit up the comments below and let us know who your choices are. And happy Thanksgiving! :)


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