Sunday, February 7, 2016

Series: This Week's TV MVPs - Week 27

For most people, today is a special Sunday because it's the day two teams face off in the Super Bowl. For some, it's a special day because it's the evening in which half-time shows and advertisements reign. But for others, Sunday means the return of the TV MVP Series! (Okay, maybe it's just us who gets excited about this, but still!)

Normally every week — by around Wednesday or Thursday — I've got one person who deserves the title of MVP. Every other actor or actress fades into the background, and I fixate on that one astounding performance. Even though we're not nearing sweeps quite yet, this week I found it impossible to narrow down my decision to just ONE MVP. It was extremely difficult because nearly every show I watched this week had a stunning, MVP-worthy performance. And between heartfelt comedies, intense dramas, and fun musicals, the staff has gathered together to select their most loved performances of the week, too. Joining me for this installment are:

Let's get to it!

Jenn's MVP: Sarah Rafferty as Donna Paulsen (Suits)

Why she's the MVP: This week's Suits was all about Donna Paulsen. Technically, it wasn't an episode that focused exclusively on her, but we got more glimpses into Donna's childhood and relationship with her father than we have the entire series. In the episode, Donna's father is being detained and held essentially as leverage by Anita Gibbs — if Donna turns her back on Pearson Specter and, specifically, on Harvey, Anita will reward her by releasing her father. If she doesn't turn, her father will experience consequences for a real estate deal he made seven years earlier. Donna, throughout the episode, is panicked but focuses her efforts on having faith in Harvey and his ability to save her father. He's saved her, after all, and knows that he would do anything to rescue those closest and most important to her, too.

Donna is arguably one of the best things about Suits and that's thanks to Sarah Rafferty's portrayal of her. Fun, sassy, and strong, Donna is Harvey's equal in every sense of the word. She matches wit for wit and will always go out of her way to protect him and the people she loves. But more than just that, Donna is fiercely loyal, and Rafferty portrayed that quality in spades in this episode. She nailed every single emotional beat — from worry to resignation to anger to fear and frustration, Rafferty was at the top of her game. In a particularly tense and emotional moment with Rachel Zane (played by Meghan Markle), Rafferty's Donna conveys both contempt and disgust for Rachel presuming Donna would consider turning on Harvey to sheer pain and emotion. Nothing about Donna ever feels over-the-top (unless she's meaning to be) and her nuances would be difficult to navigate if anyone other than Rafferty was portraying her. And that's not even mentioning the fact that Sarah Rafferty was playing both a present AND flashback version of her character this episode.

"Live to Fight..." was a tour de force for Sarah Rafferty, and everything she did only further endeared Donna Paulsen to me (and I didn't even think that was possible).

Bonus MVP: Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)

It's no surprise that I've been loving Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It's an immensely smart, hilarious, well-written and well-acted comedy. Discovering this show is like finding a $20 in a pair of jeans that you didn't realize was there. Lately, this show has been stepping up its game in terms of emotionally resonant content. Last week's heartbreaking moment on the party bus was topped only by this week's heartbreaking Rebecca Bunch breakdown at camp. Now finally able to say that she is in love with Josh, Rebecca heads back to the camp where their romance began in hopes to rekindle the memories and feeling. But Josh rebuffs her unintentionally, laughing at a love letter Rebecca wrote to him years ago at camp. Tired of feeling unwanted and unloved, Rebecca breaks down in front of her female campers... and it reminds me exactly of why Rachel Bloom has awards for this show and character.

Rebecca's breakdown is dramatically played for laughs, but it's the raw kernels of truth in it that made Bloom's performance so heartbreaking and real. We've all had people who don't love us and struggle to understand why. Being a feminist and a fully-empowered woman doesn't mean we are invincible. We can't help but crave attention and affection — it's how we were made. So when Rebecca begins to collapse into sobs, longing for Josh to like her back, I felt all of the emotions Bloom conveyed. It was a powerful moment in an episode full of hilarious lines of dialogue and fun antics and Rachel Bloom played that scene to perfection, deserving a nod as my bonus MVP this week.


Lizzie’s MVP: Caity Lotz as Sara Lance (Legends of Tomorrow)

Why she’s the MVP: I’ve always enjoyed Sara Lance, ever since she first appeared on Arrow. She wasn’t always an easy character to like, but Caity Lotz always played her with an undercurrent of vulnerability that was easy to relate to. Sara was a beautiful kick-butt female character, but she was also lost and afraid. I was upset when we lost her, excited when she returned, and looked forward to getting to see her weekly in Legends of Tomorrow. At least, until Legends gave me a pod-version of her in the pilot. The Sara from the Legends pilot was a beautiful kick-butt woman. But the fragility was gone, and the doubts were hidden. She was still “fun,” but she wasn’t transcendental.

At least, not until episode three.

Caity Lotz has always been more than capable at slaying the action sequences, and maybe that’s why she doesn’t get half the recognition she deserves for her actual acting. I’m not sure anyone else could get us to care about the girl who got onto a boat with her sister’s boyfriend, was supposedly killed but instead became an assassin and returned home to sleep with the guy we were hoping would get together with someone else. But Caity Lotz did get us to care about Sara then. And she’s still doing it now.

“I’m a monster,” Sara says to Rip Hunter. And despite the fact that she says it after taking down a whole room full of people, we don’t agree. We never will. We know the light that’s inside Sara Lance. Caity Lotz has been showing us for years.

Alisa’s MVP: Mehcad Brooks as James Olsen (Supergirl)

Why he's the MVP: I’ve been a fan of Mehcad Brooks since his short stint on Boston Public (does anyone else remember that show?!), and his lengthier role on Desperate Housewives. When the powers that be announced that he’d be playing James Olsen on Supergirl, my heart skipped a beat. Or five. I may have actually had a minor heart attack. I love that the Supergirl creators decided to revamp the role of James/Jimmy Olsen. In the past, Jimmy has been written as either a bumbling buffoon or arrogant womanizer, but Mehcad Brooks’ version is neither of these. He is kind and charming, intelligent and genuine. And I can’t think of anyone better to bring this take on James to life than Mehcad Brooks.

I will admit that I have NOT been shipping the whole James/Kara love connection. I wasn’t buying it. I didn’t feel a spark and the whole thing felt forced and awkward. That is, I hadn’t been shipping these two until this week’s episode. And Mehcad deserves all the credit for changing my mind.

Mehcad plays James as very stoic and loyal, which is great overall, but has been super frustrating when it comes to the love triangle that is Kara-James-Lucy. Kara pining away week-after-week and James’ inability to admit to himself that he’s in love with Kara just made me want to throw things at my TV.

But watching James’ slow realization this week about his true feelings made me finally buy in. Mehcad handled the scene with Jeremy Jordan so subtly and flawlessly that I felt like I was realizing his feelings right alongside him (even though obviously me and the rest of the universe already knew). Then when he’s kidnapped by Bizarro, and finally admits out loud that he’s in love with Kara, I felt all the feels. ALL OF THEM.

In a show that still has some serious flaws to work out, Mehcad Brooks is who keeps me tuning in each week with his impeccable performance and megawatt smile. I know whatever storylines and drama the writers give James, Mehcad will handle it like the pro he is. And I’ll be right there, watching every second of it. (That sounded creepier than I meant it...)

Marilyn’s MVP: Colton Haynes as Roy Harper (Arrow)

Why he’s the MVP: When I first met Roy Harper on Arrow, I called him “Eyebrow Boy.” It was a fond nickname that I continued to use long after I learned the character name. Let it be known that Colton Haynes has some very striking looks. But that’s not even remotely all he is about. There is a vulnerability to him that he brings to the character of Roy Harper. I was very upset when Colton left Arrow last season. I’d grown to love Roy Harper as a member of Team Arrow and I felt the loss of Colton’s lovely “behind the scenes” Instagram posts. My hurt was only soothed by the fact that Roy was not dead and that Colton could return in the future.

Fast forward to this last week’s Arrow and the return of Roy Harper! We don’t get to keep him, but for one hour of television, I enjoyed watching him on my screen. His iconic parkour flips were back. His boyish grin was back. His phenomenal jawline was back. The banter with Team Arrow was back. Colton and Roy slipped right in as though he’d never been gone and everyone else’s pleasure at having him back felt 100% genuine. And the audience felt it too.

Colton’s most amazing scene, not surprisingly, was the emotional goodbye with Thea. It was tearful and heartfelt, and my heart went out to both the actors and the characters. The yearning both Roy and Thea felt at wanting to have a normal life together translated electrically and I felt it viscerally — my heart breaking alongside theirs. Colton portrayed Roy in this moment with a vulnerability that most actors should envy. It makes his character sympathetic and relatable. In that moment, we were all Roy Harper.

Colton is more than parkour flips and boyish grins — he has some serious dramatic chops.  I’m sad to say goodbye yet again but I look forward to Roy Harper’s next return so that I can enjoy his lovely eyebrows (and acting) on my screen.

Jon's MVP: Richard Dreyfuss as Bernie Madoff (Madoff)

Why he's the MVP: When an actor with such magnitude as Richard Drefyuss takes a role in a miniseries on ABC, it’s worth taking note. Especially when the character Dreyfuss plays happens to be one of the most notorious con men in the past decade — Bernie Madoff. Dreyfuss was definitely an interesting choice to play Madoff, and I was wondering whether he would be able to pull it off. He does it with absolute ease, as Dreyfuss is able to not only portray Madoff’s ruthlessness, but also make him almost sympathetic... almost.

Dreyfuss wastes no time in displaying Madoff’s slimy side. From the unnaturally sweet tone he uses on folks, to his inner monologue (which is a highlight of the miniseries), Dreyfuss manages to channel this sleaziness to great effect, showing Madoff as a cunning snake hiding behind a false kindness. That inner monologue of his is sleaziness personified, as we hear the true Madoff through the words. A perfect example of this is when the SEC informs Madoff that he’s completely off the hook. While Madoff outwardly looks to be composed, internally, we hear him gloating, calling out the SEC on their mistake.

Yet somehow Dreyfuss manages to make Madoff feel ALMOST sympathetic at times. The miniseries focuses strongly on the idea of family, and how Bernie seems to care very much for them. Madoff’s son, for example, keeps hoping to have his name beside his father's at the firm. Madoff vehemently refuses, but it’s not out of greed — it’s to keep his son out of the eventual fallout of the Ponzi scheme and not keep him from prison.

But Dreyfuss portrays that sympathy and devotion to family as morally ambiguous. While at times, Madoff may come off as sympathetic, he uses that family ties to his own advantage, such as when he keeps his brother quiet by buying him lavish gifts. In this, Dreyfuss makes Madoff appear hollow. We don’t know whether to hate or feel for this man... even though we know the true outcome of Madoff’s actions.

Hope’s MVP: Hugh Bonneville as Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Downton Abbey)

Why he’s the MVP: We’ve all watched those scenes where a character begins to feel really, really ill. The periphery fades and the sounds are made to seem like they’re coming from far away. We’re brought into the character’s perspective, and it’s our cue that something’s very, very wrong.

Downton didn’t do that this week, when Lord Grantham had a medical emergency at the dining table. Everyone else continued to talk loudly (and angrily), but in between those conversations we got shots of Robert, who slowly and subtly looked worse and worse. He draws the viewer’s attention to himself, rather than allow post-production to do it for him. The others’ conversations fade from our attention not because we can no longer hear them, but because of his portrayal of Robert’s increasing discomfort. Bonneville was completely convincing in this scene, and in the entire episode. And no argument can be made against his blood-spewing skills, either, because that was terrifying and shocking (try searching for a non-dinner-related GIF of him from this episode. It’s like looking for a needle in a horrifying haystack).

But that isn’t the only reason I picked him for MVP this week. His portrayal of Downton’s patriarch has been consistently complex and layered. Lord Grantham has a temper — every once in a while he can shout like no one else on the show — but he is also such a lovable character who is warm and kind. Rather than turn these two sides into a rather mercurial character, Bonneville melds them wonderfully into one. Robert loves his family and his home more than anything in the world, and when something threatens them and their normal order, he acts accordingly. Everything his does is done out of love. When does lose his temper, he is heartbreaking, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it on television. The rest of the time, he’s a loving son, husband, lord, father, and grandfather with a kind heart and always good intentions. One of my favorite scenes in this episode was the one where he and Cora played with the children. He’s just so animated, while his lines are balanced with subtle little expressions like the “hmm” when Cora points out that his mother is rather like a Sphinx and “full of secrets.” He’s funny without being overly so and breaking the tone of a scene (much like Maggie Smith’s Violet, minus the darker side).

Bonneville’s portrayal of Lord Grantham over the years has made him one of the best characters on Downton. And coupled with his convincing and painful-to-watch performance in THAT dinner scene, this episode was one of the most emotionally distressing of the entire series. And... that’s a good thing. I know, I’m not making it sound like a good thing, but it makes for powerful television. Powerful television is propelled by many things, and this episode certainly shined the spotlight on Bonneville, who rose to the occasion.


Rae’s MVP: Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story)

Why he’s the MVP: The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story manages to tell a story in which most of us already know the ending to, and still manages to make it enthralling. Much of the credit goes to the actors adding new depths to familiar characters, and Courtney B. Vance, playing Johnnie Cochran, dominated every scene he was in.

I knew already about Cochran’s courtroom prowess, but his warmth, charm, intelligence, and depth are on full display in Vance’s capable hands. In the first episode of American Crime Story, Cochran isn’t yet working with O.J. and is still on the outside of the case. But even though his story is on the fringe, his scenes are part of the emotional center of the show. His presence is electric, and I was left with chills as I watched him take Chris Darden to task for not doing enough to protect and defend black men and women who suffered police brutality. “Choose a side,” he yelled to the taken-aback Darden. (I was just as stunned.) Simpson’s case is about much more than two murders, and Vance portrays the gravity of the case with his eyes, words, and voice. Every time he is on screen, I am paying close attention, and I am learning more about not only Johnnie Cochran, but also about American culture and how deep our scars run.

Maddie’s MVP: Vanessa Hudgens as Betty Rizzo (Grease: Live!)

Why she’s the MVP: Performing live and — in front of an audience — is a completely different ballgame than scripted acting on film or television. Likewise, watching a live performance has a vastly different energy to it as well. Sometimes live television can feel a lot like witnessing a trainwreck. But there are those rare occasions when magic happens. A week ago today, those who tuned in for Grease: Live! were able to witness a history-making performance.

Of all the characters in Grease, Rizzo is arguably the most interesting, complex character and requires the most nuance and acting talent from a performer. Thus, the heaviest burden fell on Vanessa Hudgens’ shoulders last Sunday. Vanessa delivered in spades as she played Betty Rizzo with all the joie de vivre, flirtatiousness, grit, and vulnerability the character possesses. She lit up and commanded the screen with every single scene she was in, even against a seasoned performer like Aaron Tveit. Her performance in “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” is an absolute delight and was so much fun to watch, as was her dialogue banter with other characters. However, the true star-making turn for Ms. Hudgens was “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.”

In of itself, Vanessa nailed it. It was a brilliant vocal performance filled with such nuance and depth. However, as we all know, Vanessa was performing in the immediate wake of experiencing that profound grief of losing a parent. Through art, performers are able to work through their pain and bring it to a performance. And that is exactly what Vanessa did. The shades of vulnerability and tenderness that are through the song were both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring to witness. In short, Vanessa Hudgens was resplendent in Grease: Live! and I can’t wait to see what comes next for her because of this performance.

Jen W.’s MVP: Justin Baldoni as Rafael Solano (Jane The Virgin)

Why  he's the MVP: This week on Jane the Virgin, Justin Baldoni did a really excellent job of being a true heartbreaker. Not in the sense that he’s going around intentionally breaking them, but that his truthful performance of a man who desperately wants a second chance with the woman he loves. Watching Justin try to deal with where Rafael and Jane are at in their very complicated relationship was truly touching and real. And when Rafael struggled with sending that text to Jane — not wanting her to feel uncomfortable, but tired of holding back? That was truly moving and heartbreaking. I adore Jane The Virgin, and I love that these actors, week after week, dig into the truth and the heart of their characters. A+ acting on Justin’s part this week. I’m definitely #TeamRafael.


Megan’s MVP: Jeremy Allen White as Lip Gallagher (Shameless)

Why he’s the MVP: Over the last six seasons, Jeremy Allen White has proved what an asset he is to Showtime’s Shameless. He’s the smart one — the family member that is voted Most Likely to Get Out of the Hood. While everything has been going wrong on the South Side, Lip has been living it up across town in college and sleeping with his very-married professor. He’s an R.A., a teaching assistant, and a robotics major. Lip has everything going for him.

What Jeremy Allen White does so beautifully is blend the two very different versions of Lip together. On the one hand, he wants to be there for his family and help them in any way that he can. On the other, he wants to excel in school and make a far better life for himself beyond the confines of where he comes from. He’s torn between the two but understands that one needs to take precedence over the other.

If an didn’t play this dichotomy properly, it would come off as trite. Lip has slowly gone from hoodrat to future wealthy man over the seasons and it’s ever obvious in the newest season. What Jeremy Allen White has also done has made Lip lovable in a way we didn’t expect. As he is always so hard, it’s sweet to see him in vulnerable positions. We’ve seen it before with Karen and then Mandy, but it would seem that falling in love with his professor has opened up a softer side of Lip — a side that makes him endearing. So endearing, in fact, that he’s why a portion of the show’s fans stick with the series.

If you aren’t watching Shameless and love a humorous, complicated look at a Chicago family just trying to figure life out, you should add it to your list. If not for the writing, then for Jeremy Allen White as he puts on a fantastic performance every single episode.

Who were YOUR TV MVPs this week? Hit up the comments and let us know, or tweet us!


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