Sunday, December 11, 2016

Series: This Week's TV MVPs -- Week 49

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It's beginning to look a lot like... mid-season finale time! And you know what that means: your favorite shows are leaving you on cliffhangers for the foreseeable future. As shows prepare to depart for the holidays (or for their seasons), performances are getting more and more impressive. There are so many incredibly emotional moments on television this week, a lot of action-packed ones, and even a few lighthearted comedic moments.

So without further ado, joining me this week are:

Let's celebrate some actors and actresses!

Jenn's MVPs: Matt Lanter and Abigail Spencer (Timeless)

Why they're the MVPs: Timeless has become one of my favorite new television shows. Admittedly, I wasn't expecting to love it as much as I did, but I'm so glad I gave it a chance. The show does a really good job of balancing humor with character development and serialized drama. And while this show is definitely an ensemble and couldn't work without Lucy, Wyatt, and Rufus together, this week focused a lot more on the former two characters who met up with Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930s. I absolutely loved "Last Ride of Bonnie & Clyde," because it gave viewers the chance to dig deeper into the emotional cores of Wyatt and Lucy — as well as explore chemistry between the two that has been simmering for a while now.

The credit for the success of the episode falls to the writers, but also truly to Matt Lanter and Abigail Spencer, equally. I love the chemistry that the two have — they play off one another's lines and scenes effortlessly, and it was even more crucial that they make this episode click. Because what the two actors did was really sell the depth of feelings (confusing feelings, to boot) that Wyatt and Lucy have for one another. While chasing Bonnie and Clyde around to retrieve an item belonging to Rittenhouse, Wyatt and Lucy masquerade as a criminal couple in love, just like the notorious duo. In the process, Lucy learns more about Bonnie (and softens toward her as a person), and Wyatt and Lucy grow closer together.

After Wyatt tells the story of how he and Lucy got engaged (the heartbreaking reality being that the story was actually how Wyatt proposed to his late wife), he sells their relationship with a kiss that takes both him and Lucy by surprise. Lanter and Spencer are incredible in this moment. Everything hinges on subtlety, and the actors deliver on that in spades. There are all kinds of emotions swirling around the two and it's just such a beautiful moment. These are two people who have been incredibly vulnerable with one another in an incredibly short amount of time, and Lanter and Spencer have been able to convey the believable transition in the Wyatt/Lucy relationship from friends to partners to confidantes to something more.

Not only do the two nail the emotional beats of the episode (just look at that GIF above for proof of how exceptionally well they conveyed those post-kiss feelings), but also the awkwardness that ensued. Wyatt and Lucy care about one another, but are also extremely guarded individuals because of the lives they lead and the hurts they've experienced in the past. Watching Lanter and Spencer break down those walls and then promptly build them back up again slightly in the final scene was so great and satisfying.

These two incredible actors bring us believable, flawed, and ultimately very lovable (and shippable) characters each week on Timeless. For that, they are both my MVPs.

Bonus MVP: Alia Shawkat as Dory (Search Party)

I binge-watched the first half of Search Party last week, and finished the second half within the last 48 hours. It's an incredibly interesting comedy — a blend of mystery, drama, romance, and lightheartedness that you don't really find on television these days. The story centers around a young woman named Chantal who goes missing. Dory — played by Alia Shawkat — was a classmate of Chantal's in college and suddenly decides that she'll find Chantal and bring her back. Dory is a really complex young woman, and I think what I love so much about Search Party was that she's left changed by what happens and yet there's no easy answer: no neat bow to tie around her and prove that she's learned anything or grown.

Shawkat expertly conveys the layers Dory has, as well as her issues. It's a tough feat to play a character who is guarded and whose motives are never explicitly stated. Characters imply reasons throughout the series as to why Dory becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Chantal. But Dory herself never really confirms or denies any of those assumptions. Instead, we are left to draw our own conclusions of her based on her interactions with others and on Shawkat's performance. There are so many great things about her performance, but the range is perhaps the best. In any given episode, Shawkat will transition Dory from curious friend to hysterical woman to terrified sleuth and do so without missing a beat.

Dory is awkward, uncertain, and while she retains some of the qualities in the pilot in the final episode (I can't spoil it for you because it's a great and intense end to the show), she also grows. We can see that her experiences have left her changed, and we're not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. All we know is what Alia Shawkat conveys, and it's a beautiful mix of so many different characteristics, all drawing us closer to Dory — to root for her, sometimes to root against her, and mostly just to understand her.

If you haven't yet watched Search Party, I recommend it! If you're in the market for a quirky comedy that doubles as a mystery, you're in for a treat. And I can guarantee that you'll find Alia Shawkat's performance just as captivating as I did.

Erin’s MVP: Sarah Jessica Parker as Frances DuFresne (Divorce)

Why she’s the MVP: I knew Sarah Jessica Parker was my choice of MVP in the first five minutes of the episode. She played the character so perfectly. At first, I thought that one scene alone was why she was my MVP, but as I thought back on the episode more, I realized her performance was steady and strong throughout. The episode begins with Robert’s lawyer making Frances out to be an absentee mother because she doesn’t take the kids to doctor’s and dentist’s appointments or pick them up from school. Frances has a job and is the breadwinner for the family. “Usually those questions are a slam dunk for the mother,” her lawyer says, dumbfounded. The mother is expected to do all of that even if she is the breadwinner, too. Fathers are praised when they do the job of a glorified babysitter; mothers are criticized when they don’t do everything. Women being held to a higher standard than men is nothing new, but when sexism strikes, it still takes its toll, emotionally. Parker shows the weight of it on Frances’ shoulders. Nevertheless, she squares those shoulders and tries her best to “be more visibly involved” even when she “really just wants to cry.” This struggle is so very real and Parker does it justice.

The episode is fraught with awkward moments where Frances must continually defend her worth as a mother and combat judgment from everyone around her. Parker expresses awkwardness so well that I kind of die of secondhand embarrassment. So well, in fact, that I experience palpable mortification while sitting in front of my television at home, alone. All of the emotions that happen when going through that kind of embarrassment show on her face, but so subtly. You can see that she is uncomfortable, but she tries to feign confidence. When it’s received poorly she continues to force pleasantries, just compounding the awkwardness. Frances is painfully aware of this the whole time and you can’t help but feel bad for her. Despite being knocked down over and over this way, she gets back up and faces the next situation.

Frances confronts these embarrassing and awkward moments throughout the episode, but it is punctuated by a humiliating scene where Robert is served the divorce papers publically at their daughter’s basketball game. Frances has spent the whole season trying to be as civil as possible, even when her husband has not been. Her new lawyer decides for her that enough is enough. Frances is trusting and doesn’t realize that it means she will fight ugly on her behalf. She is devastated that the divorce ends up being filed in this manner. You sympathize with Robert because he didn’t deserve that, but you also feel for Frances because you know she didn’t intend for it to go down like that. Parker can play the awkwardness comically, but also tragically. She handles both variations with equal aplomb.

There is a scene in the middle of the episode where Frances is by herself, outside, at a party. It seems like a bit of a throwaway scene or filler, at first. She stands by the fire pit and watches the party going on inside. The whole episode she has been tamping down her feelings in order to appear easygoing and friendly. In this simple scene, she is just herself. And she’s not angry or bitter or sad. She shows concern for her friend; she smiles watching her kids dance with their dad; she enjoys the calm of the brief solitude. There is only one line of dialogue where Frances says “cheers” into the void. It’s a quiet, understated scene, but it speaks volumes and Parker’s performance gives it that weight, that significance. She is my MVP because she repeatedly surprised me with nuances like this that stuck with me well after viewing the episode.

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

Why he's the MVP: From the very beginning, Jeremy Allen White's Lip has been my favorite character on Shameless. He's insanely brilliant, resourceful, full of potential and has a kind of appeal that you just can't explain. The writers always give him great one-liners and comebacks and it's a joy to watch how effortlessly Allen White delivers them.

However, what they writers done to Lip has made me sad. They've put him down a really rough path over the last two seasons, culminating over the last half of the current season. They're taking everything that's great about Lip and turning those qualities on their heads. He's always been a somewhat destructive character, but he's always landed on his feet. Not this time.

To make that believable, Allen White has to really commit to what's been written for him. Instead of a charmingly rough Lip, Allen White has to be a stumbling, moody, half-drunk and half-already-hungover tornado. He snaps on Fiona at every turn, he attacks Sierra's baby daddy because he can't just stay out of things. It's the wrong kind of loyalty.

While he's always played his character beautifully, Jeremy Allen White has truly shone this season; even if it's in all the wrong ways. There's definitely an element of beauty in his portrayal of destruction. He's an underrated element of the show and he steals each scene he's in. Lip's story may not end well this season, but it's been fascinating to watch because of Jeremy Allen White.

Who was YOUR TV MVP this week? Sound off in the comments below!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Jenn, for the Matt and Abigail love. Timeless is such a great show. I hope more people find it and watch not only the Bonnie and Clyde episode but all the others, too!