Sunday, May 7, 2017

Series: This Week’s TV MVPs -- Week 60

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Welcome back to another week of our TV MVP Series, friends! If this is your first time, check out all of our previous MVPs. If this is your sixtieth time... welcome again, reader! As summer approaches, we'll transition into our Summer Lovin' Series soon enough. But for now, television shows continue to bring their A-game as sweeps week draws ever closer. Joining me this week to celebrate some incredible performers are:


Jenn's MVP(s): The cast of One Day At A Time

Why they're the MVPs: It was thanks to Chelsea's MVP blurb last week that I decided to start watching Netflix's One Day At A Time. And by "start" I mean "start and finish over the course of a few days." Because, folks: this show is just that good and fun and will make you cry every single episode. I should have known that when I saw Mike Royce's name in the producing credits because of the fact that he also worked on Enlisted — arguably one of the best, most emotional and hilarious 13-episode shows (that was tragically cancelled after one season). One Day At A Time tells the story of the Alvarez family — matriarch Penelope served in the military and is struggling through her experiences while overseas and also an impending divorce. Penelope's mother, Lydia, also lives with Penelope and Penelope's two children: Elena and Alex. Elena is an outspoken teenage feminist, while Alex is trying to fit in with his friends. The Alvarez family's antics are often accompanied by the antics of their landlord and neighbor, Schneider — who is super wealthy, and definitely not Cuban.

What makes One Day At A Time so great is a combination of the stellar writing and the stellar cast. The stories that are told on this show are a doozy — Penelope deals with PTSD and the decision to attend therapy, as well as take antidepressants. Elena spends the season figuring out who she is — both as a young woman and in terms of her sexuality. Lydia learns how to become more vulnerable and open up to her daughter and her grandchildren. Alex slowly matures and learns how to be a support to his family. And even Schneider grows, becoming closer to the Alvarez clan while also learning how to be a better person.

The cast has a lot of heavy emotional lifting. Chelsea's blurb said that I would cry every episode, but I didn't (foolishly) believe that was accurate. Spoiler alert: it is. Every single episode, I shed a tear. Justina Machado, who plays Penelope, is incredible. She absolutely nails comedic beats in the series and her physical comedy — which is a lot harder for actors to make believable and funny than spoken dialogue — is fantastic. There are scenes that will literally have you laughing out loud at Penelope one moment (her screams behind the curtain; the entirety of "Hold, Please," etc.), and bursting into tears the next. Machado understands the vulnerabilities within Penelope: a woman trying to hold it all together for her family but slowly breaking. Penelope is an incredibly strong woman but this show proves that the strongest women are those who are unafraid to reach out for help when they need it.

Chelsea talked last week about Rita Moreno, and I can't say enough about her performance. "Viva Cuba" has a scene in which I sobbed — like, full-on ugly crying — because of an incredibly powerful monologue that Moreno delivers with such delicacy and emotion. Isabella Gomez is astounding as Elena. She, out of all of the characters (minus, perhaps, Lydia) made me laugh the hardest. Elena has this incredibly dry humor and wit that anchors the show's comedic tone. But Gomez also gets the chance to really shine in scenes with Justina Machado, especially when we get the chance to see how scared Elena is of the way she feels. Watching her become the woman she's wanted to be but was too afraid to completely embrace was one of the highlights of the season for me. And we can't forget about Marcel Ruiz and Todd Grinnell, each who completely own the silly situations their characters are sometimes forced into and embrace them. Schneider and Alex are such fun characters to watch interact, and I'm grateful we got storylines with them this season.

I can't stress it enough: drop whatever show you're re-watching for the hundredth time on Netflix and start watching One Day At A Time. This cast is incredible and the stories are so well-written. Then come back here and let us know all of the scenes that made you cry. 

Bonus MVP: Elisabeth Moss as Offred (The Handmaid's Tale)

At the beginning of 2017, friends and I decided that we were going to have our own feminist book club. We would read literature celebrating women and their complexities. Our first pick? The Handmaid's Tale. None of us had read it and — as you can imagine — in January 2017, just like in May 2017, the book is an eerily timely read. I'm only two episodes into Hulu's adaptation of the book series and already in awe of the work that Elisabeth Moss is doing. Her physical acting is incredible, but one of the things I really appreciate is that the show kept voiceovers. In the book, we are inside of Offred's head. In the show, we get glimpses into her thoughts (which are often darkly sarcastic, and Moss does a fantastic job with the delivery of those lines) through these voiceovers. Offred is a complicated character because she's really split into two people — the woman she was before (June) and the woman she is now (Offred). This role is incredibly layered and complex, and I wouldn't trust it in the hands of any other actress than Moss. She's proven to me already that she understands the struggles Offred faces in the present-day, and her portrayal of June in the flashbacks is just as moving (especially in the second episode, when June discovers that her daughter is one of very few who survived and is healthy). I'll be shocked if, come award season, Elisabeth Moss doesn't have a nomination for The Handmaid's Tale. She will certainly get my vote.

Marilyn’s MVP: Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen (Arrow)

Why he's the MVP: I knew I wanted this week’s MVP to be from Arrow, but I was legitimately torn between Stephen Amell and David Ramsey (and his arms) for a while. On the one hand, Stephen gave a brave performance that hit the mark both physically and emotionally in "Underneath." On the other hand, David Ramsey as John Diggle saved two-thirds of Original Team Arrow with just his arms

In the end, Stephen wins my accolades (but David Ramsey gets a solid Honorable Mention). Stephen Amell has been doing an excellent job portraying Oliver Queen’s most difficult challenge to date. Oliver’s been tortured many times, and he’s had people he loves die. But this year, the battle is so very personal. Prometheus wants to prove that Oliver isn’t a hero — that he’s actually a monster. For a while, he had Oliver believing it. But through his strong connection to Diggle and Felicity, Oliver’s slowly starting to realize that Prometheus is wrong. 

This week saw Oliver running the gamut in emotions: from lovestruck in the flashbacks to indignant in the present day and then vulnerable when he finally let Felicity in by explaining what was going on with him. Physically, Stephen Amell as Oliver had to carry a re-paralyzed Felicity around, climbing and jumping and piggy-backing — all with a grievous wound. 

Stephen Amell showed us why he is a master at playing Oliver Queen this week, and that there is no subject matter he can’t tackle with ease. He’s got us rooting for Oliver going into the finale and anticipating when he finally beats this demons once and for all. 


Mer’s MVP: Ben Feldman as Jonah Simms (Superstore)

Why he’s the MVP: So, my friends peer pressured me into binge watching Superstore. I don’t really have much time for TV these days, with two small children and a full time job. But I had a free weekend night and decided to start it. And then I couldn’t stop. I watched the entire series in less than a week, just in time for the season two finale this past Thursday. The season two finale was a pretty big Jonah/Amy (America Ferrera) episode, with a major development in their will they/won’t they relationship. It was tough choosing between the two as my MVP, but Ben Feldman won out. 

As the slightly nerdy, very millennial, overly-earnest Jonah, Feldman manages to balance Jonah’s awkward funny and genuine goodness week in and week out. This week in particular, as Jonah’s feelings for Amy come to a head, Feldman plays Jonah’s emotions-on-his-sleeve perfectly. Jonah is a guy who is not good at hiding what he is thinking and feeling. One look at his face and what’s going on inside is clear as day. This has never been more evident than during this week’s episode. Warning: Spoilers ahead!


Jonah’s concern for Amy is at the forefront this week, both emotionally, as well as physically as the two take shelter from the tornado bearing down on the store. In the immediate aftermath of the kiss that Amy plants on him for protecting her, Feldman captured Jonah’s awestruckness in the most perfect way. The look on his face is so sweet, so sincere and genuine, it’s hard not to feel your heart melt just a little. The sweetness of this moment was a long time coming for Jonah/Amy fans, and for Jonah himself, which Feldman was sure to demonstrate. 

However, it wasn’t all sweetness and light, as Jonah’s hopes get (at least, hopefully temporarily) shattered when Amy leaves without so much as a backwards glance (as far as Jonah knows), later in the episode. Once again, Jonah’s emotions are plain as day for anyone looking, and it’s a testament to Feldman’s talent that he can convey so much emotion so clearly without a single spoken word. 

Whether playing it straight, acting as the comedian, or showcasing depth of emotion, Feldman’s range as an actor and his chemistry with Ferrera make this show, and this character, an absolute delight to watch. If you aren’t yet, watch Superstore, you won’t regret it. 


Deb’s MVP: Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon (American Gods)

Why he’s the MVP: Adapting something from one medium into another can be a daunting task. Books to movies, comics to movies, comics television shows, books to television shows — all of it requires a deep understanding of both the medium the story came from and the medium it's being transferred into, not to mention inside-out knowledge of the story's core ideas and what it means to the people who already love it. Adaptations can send fans into fits of frothing rage and vexatious nitpicking if they’re not done right, or even if they are done right but not done “right enough.” Everything from broad-strokes storytelling framework to precise dialogue choices can fall under the steamroller of fan criticism, but character — the aspect of a story that is often the most directly connected with the fan on an emotional, personal level — is probably the most precious and the most easily blundered.

In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods novel, Shadow Moon was a protagonist who largely moved through the story primarily without being emotionally touched by it. This characterization added to the otherworldly, almost muted atmosphere of the story’s prose, but resulted in Shadow remaining enigmatic and difficult to relate to throughout. In Ricky Whittle’s hands, Shadow gains more emotion and nuance and relatability almost immediately. Whittle’s version of Shadow is heartbreaking, humorous, and more human — and that last bit is unbelievably critical in a story full of gods who only see humanity as a source for worship and power. All the understandable anger, mourning, and confusion that Shadow should feel as his whole world falls apart and his view of reality changes comes through in Ricky Whittle’s performance, down to the smallest facial expressions and quirks in line delivery.

It takes a truly special actor to not only embody an existing character, but to improve upon that character, to make the character come to life, and Ricky Whittle is clearly that kind of actor. I liked Shadow Moon in the novel, but Ricky Whittle’s depiction of Shadow as a frustrated hero trapped in a narrative he couldn’t possibly understand, overwhelmed by hurtful truths and bone-deep sadness and who knows what else, made me legitimately love him.

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


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