Sunday, January 31, 2016

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 26

You never know when television is going to be really good. We all expect it, of course, during sweeps week and season premieres. But sometimes a week of television will really surprise you and pull out all of the acting stops. This week in television was pretty astounding, and I'm surprised that we were able to narrow down our choices to one actor per show. Between heartbreaking comedies, emotionally-wrought dramas, and magicians, our MVPs this week rose above all other performers in television to deliver us with some great performances.

(Bonus: Almost all of our MVPs this week are amazing women!)

And as much as I love discussing television, I can't do it justice if I talk about it by myself! Joining me for the series this week are:

Let's begin!

Jenn's MVP: Stella Maeve as Julia Wicker (The Magicians)

Why she's the MVP: A Saturday morning a few weeks ago, I decided that I would curl up with a cup of coffee and see what was available to watch On Demand. I paused when I came across The Magicians, and decided that I would give the show a chance since I had heard buzz about it recently. By the end of the hour, I knew I had to add the series to my "must-watch" list. Captivating, creative, and full of potential, The Magicians is a series (based off of Lev Grossman's novels) about Quentin Coldwater's discovery of a magical academy and his place in it as a Magician. In the television series, Stella Maeve plays Julia Wicker, Quentin's childhood best friend. While Quentin gets accepted into Brakebills, Julia does not and is forced to have her memory wiped. But Julia does something — cuts a large gash in her arm — to ensure that she will remember. And she does. Driven mad by the idea of magic in the face of normalcy, Julia seeks out magic elsewhere and is recruited by a secret society and officially initated by the end of the second episode, "The Source of Magic."

I absolutely love Julia as a character and that is thanks to Stella Maeve's portrayal of her. Julia is a perfectionist and she's also defiant and resilient. Knowing that magic exists and that she wasn't good enough to get into Brakebills drives Julia crazy (pretty literally and she's close to spiraling into "addict" territory, which I look forward to watching). And all of those emotions are depicted so perfectly in Maeve's performance. Her Julia is resourceful in "The Source of Magic," and angry, too. That anger and frustration that bubbles just below Julia's surface is so palpable in the way that Maeve plays her that you're almost a bit scared of her and what she is capable of, as a character. And yet there is something so vulnerable in Maeve's portrayal too that makes you want to lean in and hug her. Julia is an incredibly fierce young woman who will not let anything stop her from achieving what she wants. And Stella Maeve does an amazing job in only the first two episodes of portraying this young woman so used to getting everything she wants and being great at all she does. There are moments where you can see Julia's confident exterior falter slightly (when she gets her first tattoo, for instance), and Stella Maeve deserves to be the MVP this week from me because of the way she subtly and yet beautifully portrays every emotion.


Lizzie’s MVP: Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully (The X-Files)

Why she’s the MVP: Playing the same character for many years can get challenging, but coming back to a character after a long time away is just as complicated. Because characters change and evolve with time, just as people do. Getting into the headspace of a decidedly middle-aged Scully is not the same as playing the young, fresh and innocent Scully of 1993, or even the much more cynical but still gung-ho version of 2001. It’s not even the same as playing the "stop with this aliens nonsense" 2008 version of Scully. And yet Gillian Anderson does a great job of not only embodying the same character we know and love, but of showing us that time has passed. This is a woman who has changed.

The chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson has always been what made The X-Files work. It wasn’t about the aliens, and it certainly wasn’t about the conspiracies. It was about two people learning to survive in a complicated world, and learning to do it together. That hasn’t changed. And that’s why over 20 million people tuned in for the first episode of the revival. That’s why, 23 years later, this show still has a place on TV today.

Gillian Anderson does an amazing job of playing a woman who is in love, and yet fed up. Scully loves Mulder. She always has. It might be fair to say she always will. But that doesn’t mean Scully is willing to sit by and watch him self-destruct. And though the whole idea of Mulder and Scully breaking up might be ludicrous, and the writing of it might be suspect, we believe it because the actors sell it. Because Mulder is bitter and slightly combative; because Scully is fond but firm. And that is why Gillian Anderson deserves the title of MVP this week.

Marilyn’s MVP: Caity Lotz as Sara Lance/White Canary (Legends of Tomorrow)

Why she's the MVP: So Legends of Tomorrow is in that new show phase of still trying to figure itself out. Some people find it messy and ridiculous and I am finding it... amusing. Its kind of entertaining to watch the writers throw all kinds of things at the walls to see what sticks. You know what’s sticking very well? Caity Lotz’s Sara Lance/White Canary.

Lotz is mesmerizing and I am going to need her to feature heavily in any and all upcoming episodes of Legends of Tomorrow. Whether she’s just walking through the scene in go-go boots or flirting with a younger Martin Stein or kicking all kinds of epic butt in multiple fight scenes, I’m riveted by Sara Lance. I think it’s because Caity Lotz makes it look so easy — a seductive smile, a clever line of dialogue... she pulls it off and makes me think it’s not Caity Lotz portraying Sara Lance but rather Sara Lance herself. She helps me immerse in the character and, thus, in the situation on the show.

That’s not even talking about her fighting style. My husband can tell you that I pointed out to him several times in this week’s episode how beautiful and fluid Caity Lotz’s fighting style is. She’s a natural in these scenes and I believe that not only could she kick my butt, but everyone else’s butt around her as well. Caity Lotz makes Sara lethal and beautiful and seductive and vulnerable all at the same time and it’s a captivating combination.

Tuning into Legends of Tomorrow is worth it, if just to watch Caity Lotz bring magic to the screen.

Alisa’s MVP: America Ferrera as Amy (Superstore)

Why she's the MVP: America Ferrera, oh how I’ve missed you. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies put America Ferrera on the map and Ugly Betty made her a household name. I loved tuning in week after week to watch America’s sensitive, funny, and quirky portrayal of Betty, and even though the show waxed and waned over the years, America really came into her own as an actress and proved her talent again and again. Ever since Ugly Betty ended, I’ve been missing the effortless and effervescent quality that America brought to television week after week. (Yes, yes, I realize she played a character on The Good Wife for a few years too, but I’ve never seen that show.)

When it was announced that America Ferrera would be headlining the new half-hour comedy, Superstore, I was super excited at the prospect. And America has not failed me. She is just as dynamic and engaging as I knew she would be. In Superstore, America plays Amy, a complicated and complex woman who works as a floor manager at the Walmart-esque store called Cloud 9.

Superstore is fast becoming one of my favorite new comedies of the season, and I love how a bit more of Amy’s backstory unfolds with each episode. We already knew she had a daughter when she was 19: a little girl who’s now the spitting image of her in personality and jadedness. We knew Amy has a husband, and this week we got to meet him and find out their relationship is, well, complicated. Amy also admits to Jonah this week that she’s been taking college courses and dedicating herself to getting a degree. On top of all that, Amy and Jonah’s friendship continues to grow which I think will prove complicated in the near future.

America brings a depth to Amy that other actors would struggle to do. Amy is sometimes warm, sometimes aloof, both likable and unlikable in turn. To put it simply, she is real. This is one of America’s greatest strengths as an actress — taking characters that could quite easily be flat in their affability, and infusing them with intricate complexity. I love seeing America back where she belongs: at the helm of a brilliant new comedy, making audiences laugh, and bringing characters to life.


Deb’s MVP: Candice Patton as Iris West (The Flash)

Why she’s MVP: I've specifically highlighted the excellent, emotional work of Candice Patton in two of my The Flash reviews but have yet to formally choose her as one of the weekly MVPs. Since she was most certainly the best part of the most recent episode, in my opinion, I thought that it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t make it all official this week.

The fact that Candice Patton managed to completely steal the show this week says a lot when you consider that her plot actually had nothing to do with the main plot of the episode. She had no role in the heroics or the time travel and very little to do with the main character, even in terms of pep talks and exposition. Iris had her own story, her own problems, and her own tragedies this week and her narrative was, to me, just as interesting as the convoluted time travel, paradoxes, and supervillain-driven comic book plot that the episode revolved around. Her scenes are the stand-outs. If I were to rank the best moments of the episode, hers would be at the top. Individually. As in, the first three of four slots of the “Best Moments” list would be taken up by Candice Patton having feelings.

I made a tweet during the episode about how Candice Patton manages to always deliver the emotion in the times she’s on screen and needs to deliver emotion. It doesn’t matter if she’s bringing in understandable anger — like the last episode in which Iris dealt with her estranged mother — or heartbreakingly sad speeches of forgiveness and chastisement, like the scenes in which she dealt with her mother this week. Even though she’s unfortunately underutilized on The Flash, she still manages to fill the role of the “heart” in episodes — like this week — which are lacking that emotional connection. Add on the little, subtle moments (such as the proud smile she gives her brother Wally when he decides to talk to their mother) and it’s really no wonder why I praise Candice Patton so often in my reviews and why she’s finally, officially my MVP.


Jen’s MVP: David Harewood as Hank Henshaw/J'onn J'onzz on Supergirl

Why he's the MVP: Every week, I watch Supergirl with my eight-year old daughter. She absolutely loves it. However, I grew concerned this week because the themes Supergirl was dealing with slanted towards the heavier range. This week, the show addressed Hank Henshaw’s backstory as The Green Martian. Honestly, I am not familiar with the comics or Green Martian’s origin story, but what Supergirl presented as Henshaw’s backstory was essentially a reference to the Holocaust.

Immediately, I grew concerned about my daughter's reaction. And, sure enough, she was crying. When I asked her if she was okay, she answered, “Yes, mommy. Sometimes stories just make me sad.” I responded, “Well, that’s why we read stories. It’s why we watch them. They are suppose to make us feel something, even if that something is sadness.”

My daughter is incredibly sensitive to any violence. I believe the only reason she wasn’t frightened by the horror of  The Green Martian’s family being burned alive was because of the powerful performance by David Harewood. Typically, Harewood presents Henshaw as a no-nonsense, tough and emotionally reserved soldier. However, Harewood stripped past those layers and revealed the deep sorrow and survivor’s guilt Green Martian carries. His emotional breakdown as he recounts what happened to his family was gut-wrenching.

And yet, his performance was so driven by the emotion and humanity of Hank Henshaw that it acted like a cocoon around the frightening tale. My daughter was able to simply focus on Harewood’s tears, his grief, and his loss. She was able to see the humanity despite the horror and that’s why the scene was so exceptional. Harewood simultaneously touched my little girl’s heart and protected it.

I’m always a fan of television when it inspires a lesson and my daughter is learning how powerful storytelling can be. So, thank you David Harewood for handling such an adult storyline so elegantly. Let’s face it, if the power of your performance makes a little girl cry, you deserve an MVP.


Meredith’s MVP: Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity Smoak (Arrow)

Why she’s the MVP: Is there anything Emily Bett Rickards can’t do? It’s abundantly clear after this week’s episode of Arrow that the answer to that question is a resounding “No!” She’s made us laugh, cry, cheer, and yell at the TV, but this week Rickards pulled off a feat that I have only seen accomplished so perfectly by the lovely Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black. Emily made us believe she was two different people. At the same time.

This week’s episode focused, among other things, on Felicity’s struggle to accept her paralysis, and what her diagnosis will mean for her life, work, and relationship. To help her along, she was visited by a not-so-friendly ghost of Felicity past — Goth Felicity. But this version of Goth Felicity was less hacker rebel with a heart of gold, and more mean girl spilling truth tea. She was just what Felicity needed, though, to realize that who she is hasn’t changed just because she’s in a wheelchair. Emily showcased Felicity’s self-doubt, her struggle to figure out how she fits into all the roles she previously occupied now that she’s had this life-changing event, with respect and care. A quick Twitter search brought up tweet after tweet from Arrow viewers with disabilities who felt that their experiences had been honored by the way Emily portrayed Felicity’s emotional journey in this episode.

If you watch Arrow and somehow haven’t been blown away by Rickards’ previous performances, then this was the episode for you. The two versions of her character that she played this week were so different from one another, so at odds and so opposite, that as the viewer I actually forgot that it was the same actress playing both. Additionally, Rickards had to film each scene opposite a double, twice, as both versions of herself, which is an exceptional challenge in and of itself. Her reactions to her other self are even more impressive in this context, as she wasn’t seeing the character that we saw onscreen, and yet not for one second is that apparent when watching the episode. Two Felicitys, and two Emilys, are always better than one, and the scene where Oliver is talking to Felicity, while Goth Felicity gleefully talks over him showcases this. It is nothing short of brilliant on the part of all involved.

While Felicity vs. Goth Felicity is an example of stellar acting, and easily takes the spot of her most impressive work of the episode, these scenes weren’t Rickards’ only strengths. The quiet moments between Oliver and Felicity, as well as the entirely too short exchange between Diggle and Felicity, remind the viewer that Rickards’ range as an actress is simply phenomenal. Per usual, she made us laugh, pulled at our heartstrings, and demonstrated to us why — as Oliver has said — she’s “the strongest of them all.” Her delivery of the “great speech” to Stephen Amell’s Oliver toward the end of the episode reminded her, Oliver, and us that she’s still the same Felicity we know and love, and a new challenge isn’t going to change that. Rickards hit each note perfectly, and though the resolution of her intense emotions in the span of one episode could have seemed rushed, in her expert hands the emotional journey was more than believable. It made sense, and it felt right.

Emily Bett Rickards always shines when she’s on screen. But when she’s given something new, something different and challenging, when the spotlight is on her and she’s provided the opportunity to flex her acting chops, there is only one thing to say (as Felicity did when Oliver finally bestowed a code name on her):


And for that, she is my TV MVP.

Laura’s MVP: Karen David as Isabella (Galavant)

Why she’s the MVP: Each week, the two episodes of Galavant that we’re treated to somehow manage to keep getting better. Between musical numbers, comedy, and of course brilliant performances by a stellar cast, this show can essentially do no wrong. While there were many great performances in last week’s episodes, one actress that stood out was Karen David. Throughout the season, she’s had to portray quite a few different sides of Isabella and each one, Karen has handled perfectly. From the star-crossed lover to the over-the-top excited bride (being controlled through mind-power) to now the leader of an army, she’s done it all this season. In this past Sunday’s episodes, she outdid herself in the amazing rap battle between Isabella and Madelena.

The two women absolutely destroyed it in one of the best songs of the season, listing all the reasons they don’t like each other. Both have had some kind of relationship with Galavant in the past and because of this cannot stand each other, causing the cliche "cat fight" that this show pulled off so well. Continuously trying to one-up each other, these characters ripped each other apart in the most entertaining of ways. It couldn’t have been done without the amazing performance by Karen David (and her counterpart Mallory Jansen).

But it was the sass and determination that Karen brought to the epic rap battle that gave her the upper hand, leading me to declare her my MVP for this week.

Jen W.'s MVP: Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)

Why she's the MVP: Every subsequent week I am floored by Gina's performance. She's utterly realistic as a new mom trying to manage ALL THE THINGS and this week had the added bonus of academia!Jane. Gina plays the part so well, with the right measure of heart and vulnerability. She's compelling and exceedingly watchable. I love watching her be Jane.

Megan’s MVP: Hannah James as Emma Green (Mercy Street)

Why she’s the MVP: I’m a major sucker for period pieces, especially miniseries. So, color me excited when I saw PBS was doing a new miniseries set this time in Civil War America. Mercy Street follows the lives of two volunteer nurses Mary Phinney and Emma Green. Only they’re in Washington and one’s an abolitionist. And, well, Emma Green is a Confederate supporter. Her family is the only rebel family left in town and she can’t stand how her family’s livelihood has been destroyed.

Emma is played by Hannah James. As a Confederate supporter, she’s sickened by the Union soldiers infiltrating her town and taking over her family’s hotel, currently being used as a hospital. Her family’s wealth and prosperity is being threatened and she can convey her anger just in the way she sits in a chair.

When Emma takes herself through town, her eyes always watching for someone to say or do something to her, to the hospital in the hopes of finding her true love. When she enters and sees that the Confederate soldiers are being treated poorly, it ignites a fire in her that she did not know existed, and volunteers to tend to them. As an outsider, Hannah needs her portrayal to be both timid and strong at the same time. She has the air of a southern belle but the strength of an army general. If James doesn’t strike that balance, it isn’t believable. You can tell just by the glare in her eyes or the twitch of her lips how she’s feeling, and it’s amazing.

Emma is full of contradiction. She’s meant to be a future housewife but goes against that to be a volunteer nurse. She’s prim and proper but willing to be covered in blood and dirt. She’s against her father even working alongside Union supporters but is willing to learn all she can from an abolitionist. If not done right, she would come off as a total fraud. However, Hannah James strikes that delicate balance that keeps her grounded in humanity and that is why she’s my MVP.

Who made YOUR TV MVP list this week? Hit up the comments and let us know!


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