This week in television started out with a strong Season 6 premiere of Once Upon a Time that laid out some very compelling internal and external conflicts for each character. On Monday, Dancing with the Stars aired a head-to-head dance-off episode, and that was followed by the first U.S. presidential debate of the election season. Tuesday’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine brought us back to the precinct and balanced that with some biting, Florida-based satire from Jake and Holt’s storyline. Tuesday also featured a politically-minded episode of New Girl and a second episode of This Is Us that gave each character even more depth and each relationship even more nuance. On Wednesday, Speechless proved to me that it has the right balance of heart and humor to keep me invested for the long haul, and black-ish made me cry with its emotionally gripping sonogram scene. Thursday provided me with moments that sold me completely on two very different partnerships: Eleanor and Chidi on The Good Place and Ginny and Mike on Pitch. Finally, Saturday Night Live kicked off its season with a much-hyped debate skit and an entire episode devoted to reminding everyone why Kate McKinnon won her Emmy. (Her impression of Trump campaign manage Kellyanne Conway was exceptional.)
It was impossible for me to pick just one moment this week that I loved more than any other, but all of my favorite moments were connected by the same theme: emotional investment. All the new shows I’ve started watching featured a moment this week where I knew I was hooked—whether it was Maya listening to Kenneth help J.J. use the bathroom on Speechless; Rebecca and Beth doing their best to be good wives and mothers (and delivering killer monologues in the process) in two different timelines on This Is Us; Eleanor praising Chidi with nothing to gain from it on The Good Place; or Mike telling Ginny that she might not trust her fastball but she needs to trust him on Pitch. All of those moments took me beyond the initial introduction of characters and stories and revealed something genuine and compelling about the relationships that will serve as the heart and soul of these shows. All of these were moments of sincere connection, and it was lovely to see such strong dynamics developing so early in the game for these shows.
One of the dynamics that was fleshed out in a nuanced way this week was the one between the “Big Three” on This Is Us—namely, the relationship between Randall and Kevin. The flashbacks showed that their relationship has always been a rocky one, which made Kevin’s late-night phone call to his brother even more important. Both Justin Hartley and Sterling K. Brown were powerfully vulnerable their performances in that scene, but it was Brown who absolutely took my breath away. Ever since I first discovered him in The People vs. O.J. Simpson, he’s been able to break my heart with one facial expression, and that’s exactly what he did in this scene. The moment right after he led his siblings in the “Big Three” chant was filled with such a realistic depth of feeling from a character who we now know has always felt like something of an outsider with his siblings—especially his brother. Randall is a truly good person—sometimes too good, as his wife stated. And in order for us to believe that, the actor playing him had to be someone who radiates integrity and goodness, which is exactly what Brown does every time I see him on my television screen.
What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?
This is Us is magic and a reminder of what Network TV can still do, quality storytelling.
I watched This Is US since you recommended it last week and I really enjoyed it too. I love that it seems so good at showing the complexity of loving relationships. I half-watched the second episodes of Pitch (haven’t seen the first yet) and think I can probably love that show too once I watch properly. I think my hubby might enjoy it to, if he has time to watch. I really enjoyed all of my shows this week. New Girl was pretty funny and I liked that they did a voter registration day episode, Speechless is great (and I finally realized why the dad looked so familiar when my hubby took one look and said “Kripke is in this show!”), and I love The Good Place. My favorite moment was seeing the Nine Nine again – I was braced for another Florida episode, so I was thrilled to see everyone dealing with the absence of Holt and Peralta back in the precinct.
It’s a strong start to the season for sure. And I love that Speechless appears to be taking a page from Blackish and Mom in not always looking for an emotional tug, but allowing for these characters to be flawed and cared for in spite of those flaws. Mini Driver is walking that fine line of likability with such a deft performance. Blackish had Daveed Diggs being his story arc as Rainbow’s brother and that would have been enough for me. And I couldn’t agree more about Sterling K. Brown’s performance on This is Us. Alongside that You’re the Worst turned in a brave, honest, uncomfortable episode that gave us insight to Edgar’s PTSD in the myriad of events we watched happen in the episode prior. In addition to stellar acting on the part of Desmin Borges it was heartbreaking to understand that the system is stacked against someone who genuinely wants to feel but is trapped in a stigmatized system and surrounded by world that would rather he be quiet and medicate because it would make everyone around him feel better. And in spite of myself I continue to be emotionally wrapped up in all that Alicia Keys is bringing to The Voice this season.
However, when I think about the television scenes that stayed with me. I’ve got to give it up to This Is Us this week. Not just for the solidifying of characters, in particular the parents of our core three siblings, but how I believe the show has laid the foundation that each of these three siblings will and has experienced isolation and being on the outside in a family that is obviously filled with love. For me we saw it in all three. I appreciated the parallels of Kate’s story perhaps because it mirrored my own growing up in a well meaning mother and reinforcements that made my weight part of my identity. Kate’s release of anger at the support group is real, because when you are the person who internalizes and the person who doesn’t seek affirmation of each step of progress you make other’s who do can be undercutting. And then when you feel as though you are failing, it’s nearly impossible to contain it without resentment. I appreciated the show being willing to show that resentment in Kate and even in Randall in the moment right before he rallies to support his brother. It’s small and subtle in many places but it was for me an opening that the show will explore that love doesn’t always make you feel seen. It doesn’t always make you feel embraced. And the resentments and remorse that come with it informs our ability to be vulnerable. It’s a strong start to a show and reminds a lot of Thirtysomething in its prime and it was the best thing I saw on TV this week.
What a fantastic week of television. I am so excited by the way this season seems to be shaping up already. It feels refreshing after the drudgery that was last spring and the less than stellar crop of new shows last fall. Last week was so good that it’s going to be another novel length comment from me as I attempt to talk about everything I loved.
1) The top of my list this week belonged to You’re the Worst for four separate moments that could have qualified for the list individually but became even more stunning with taken together. Everything about this episode was truly fantastic. Stephen Falk’s directing and Desmin Borges’s acting combined to make something incredibly special and memorable. Edgar is the one main character on the show who really isn’t the worst, though he often sees himself that way. He did terrible things in his time as a soldier and he’s been deeply scarred for it and has tried everything imaginable to break free from his memories and PTSD.
Edgar’s first moment came with his girlfriend. He spent a night plagued by insomnia and paranoia and tries to make it go away by having sex. He’s too forceful and she needs to push him off of her and it’s not a good moment for him. He’s so beaten down by the process and thought of recovery and the effort it takes that he tells her he may not go to his VA appointment after all and seems ready to just give up on the hope of ever feeling any better. It’s hard to see Edgar like this. He’s in a terrible headspace and when his girlfriend tells her that he has to go because she’s actually scared of him sometimes, he breaks even further and sinks into the corner. It was what he needed to hear though because he did end up going and attempts to advocate for himself.
Which leads us to the second moment. Things seem like they may actually work out for a all too brief second before Edgar confesses that he’s gone off his 11 medications. The doctor, who had feined concern and frustration at their limited resources to help, became distant and cold and refused to listen when Edgar explained that the meds just turned down the volume of his horror without letting him truly live. Borges’s line delivery here was some of the best in the episode. He was quiet and broken and desperate and when no help could be offered, he lashed out and destroyed the office chair and left feeling more lost than he did before he came in.
His paranoia and hypervigilance gets to a point where he is unable to carry out normal functions, like driving, and he pulls over and opens a bottle of alcohol before toying with the idea of killing himself. Losing the hope of treatment seemed like the final piece needed for him to give up altogether but a paper boat drifting down a river catches his eye. It ends up being a prop for a movie (that he ends up acting in, as we find out later) but it’s enough to give him the moment of peace he so badly needed. When he comes back, his car is being towed and his resulting conversation with the driver is my #1 pick for moment of the episode and week.
The tow truck driver is a fellow veteran and after feeling alone and set apart from everyone else in his life who can’t understand what he’s feeling and don’t try to, this moment gives him exactly what he needed. The driver is able to get through to him because he’d been there himself and he’s had numerous friends who have as well. It is a moment of pure connection and you know how much I love those. It provides an empathetic look at the struggles of the entire military system and the way it affects those who serve and the inherent inadequacy of it all. It’s compassion is for both the system that tries but often fails to care for veterans and the individuals veterans who are suffering and who often need to get themselves out of a struggle they didn’t necessarily know they were choosing when they enlisted. It ends with the line of the episode and one that will stay with me forever. “The minute you stop looking for someone else to cure you, maybe you start living again.” It gave some power back to Edgar to take charge of his life and his PTSD and gave him some hope that living, not just surviving, could be in his future. It’s a hard message to hear, that ultimately you’re the only one who can save yourself, but the agency found in that message is both terrifying and uplifting to me.
And finally, we conclude this emotional journey with Edgar with a moment of joy. He’s riding in his car, listening to a cassette tape his brother gave him and is overcome with emotions and so stuck his head and most of his upper body out of the sunroof and let out a happy yell. It made me yell at my computer because I thought he was driving before the camera panned over to the tow truck driver who told him to stop that before pulling back further to reveal that his car was still on the flatbed trailer. It was the first time I laughed during the episode and it was the perfect moment of release, both for Edgar and the viewer.
It was the best episode of TV I’ve seen this year and the best this show has done. It took everything that made the depression arc last season powerful and moving and condensed it all into one perfect episode. This show normally makes me laugh (though admittedly less so this season because everyone is trying awfully hard to be even more unlikable than they’ve been in seasons previous) but I love it the most when it takes an empathetic look at the flaws and struggles these characters are going through and finds a way for them to connect with someone else on a deep level. So much of these characters is based in the superficial because they are all terrified at the idea of introspection and exploring the darker (and by that I mean more vulnerable) parts of themselves. It’s especially true of Jimmy and Gretchen, but Edgar has also been afraid to look at himself and learn how to love himself again in spite of what he’s done and I hope this episode is a step in the right direction for him. An earlier moment in the season had him helping a group of homeless veterans create better signs for themselves that would bring in more money and I think that sort of giving back and being around people who know what he’s been through will be really good for him and I’d like to see that idea come back in the rest of the season. As I type this, I realize that so much of the season has been about these characters aggressively avoiding being vulnerable and how it is making them lash out because their feelings need to go somewhere. Which, knowing what I do about Stephen Falk means that it’s more than likely going to come back around and they are going to have to deal with some of their issues. They can be funny when they are the worst but they are also stagnant (and occasionally regressive) and I can’t believe that the creator who turns out such thoughtful work would opt for that as a long-term strategy for these characters. They may always be selfish and narcissistic and bad at dealing with struggles but that doesn’t mean they can’t grow in small ways.
I am once again incredibly excited to see where this show takes us from here. This episode proved that this show still makes me feel more deeply than anything else when it is at its peak and I can’t wait for more exploration of everything that makes this characters exactly who they are.
This got comically long for one episode and I have a lot to say about my second pick for the week too so I’ll stop here and start a new comment since I don’t know if WordPress comments have character limits.
2) Any other week, Halt and Catch Fire would have been my top choice for an absolutely stellar episode but my love for You’re the Worst will win out over most everything, so it gets relegated to my second favorite episode of the week.
This is another show that is at its best when the focus is on relationships and that was never more apparent than in this episode when they all were fractured, though hopefully not irreparably.
The psuedo father-daughter relationship that has developed between Cameron and Bos has been one of the sweetest and most pure relationships. Whereas Cameron’s relationship with most other people is a little complicated, her friendship with Bos has been full of nothing but affection. He covered for her and went to prison for her and Joe’s actions in season one and she was there waiting with a ride and a job when he was released. She’ll often listen to his guidance and his presence gives her comfort when she is feeling unmoored. But on their recent trip back to Texas, they fought. He pushed too hard and she snapped and told him that he wasn’t her father so he needed to stop trying to parent her. They didn’t speak for a month (during which time she got married) and both suffered for it.
They delivered my two most heartbreaking moments in the episode. The first came solely from Bos when Donna casually reveals that Cameron got married. He had no idea and that fact broke his heart for the first time in the episode. Finally they talked and he was able to give her some guidance and they almost got back to their previous dynamic. He reiterated his love for her and how much she needs Donna as a partner and she accepted what he had to say. The second make in the meeting to decide whether Mutiny was going to go public. Cameron said she didn’t believe in it and would walk away if everyone else wanted to do it. Donna, Gordon, and Diane were all for the idea and so everything came down to Bos. He’s been a businessman all his life and he knew going public was the right move for the company but it broke his heart (and mine) to say so. He knew what it meant for Cameron and their relationship and Toby Huss did an amazing job conveying the weight of that decision through his body language.
Cameron’s reaction was nothing short of devastating. She couldn’t suppress the sob that came from essentially being voted out of her own company and all of the fight left her. All she could do was try to protect her emotions and allowed herself to be led out of the building by her husband fighting tears. So much of her identity was intertwined with Mutiny just as Mutiny has so much of Cameron in it and that loss shook her to her core.
And to conclude my (perpetually) lengthy feelings, we circle back around to the foundational relationship of the show – the one between Cameron and Donna. The show became so much better when it started focusing on these two women and the company they created and have grown in a strongly male-dominated field. They’ve always been very different, which is why they didn’t initially get along. Cameron was the rebel genius coder while Donna appeared to be a stick-in-the-mud mom who was later revealed to also be amazingly talented with computers. Cameron is the dreamer while Donna’s a little more pragmatic. Both are stubborn and feel better when they are controlling everything. Donna keeps the company running. She makes sure things like rent and salaries get paid and keeps track of things like the number of users. As a result, she doesn’t get to work on the computing side of things as much which has been a point of contention in the past. She ends up being the mom when she just wants to be a partner. Cameron, on the other hand, is bad with the business side of things. She gets lost in the coding and in her own head and ideas and does things like not communicate with anyone for a week because she has this idea she needs to figure out first. When they work together, they are brilliant and share ideas freely and excite and support each other. When they are at odds, things get ugly because they are fundamentally different people and each feels frustrated and boxed in by the other’s expectations and behavior.
Their relationship was already a little strained because Donna lied to Cameron earlier in the season about a business decision and while they had made up and agreed to move forward together, Donna once again decided to go behind Cameron’s back. She believed in what Cameron was trying to do, she just didn’t think it made much business sense. When they met about it, tempers flared and things got ugly. They insulted each other’s marriages and their impulsivity and their need to be right and when Cameron put the option (essentially me or going public) on the table, Donna was the first to vote to go public. I love that they are two strong women who are allowed to have such a complicated relationship with each other. It’s not a mentorship role, they aren’t competing with each other, they are partners and equals and they disagree and fight fiercely despite their very apparent love and respect for each other. I don’t know how they are going to overcome this (especially if we don’t get a season four) but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this episode and am anxiously awaiting whatever tomorrow will bring for the show.
3) Those two episodes with their multitude of extraordinary moments were my MVPs for the week but Queen Sugar once again gave another strong contender.
It wasn’t trying to do anything particularly ambitious with the moment, but the simplicity of Nova, Charley, and Vi sitting around talking and laughing about their romantic lives and relieving some of the external pressure surrounding them with a little alcohol and weed made it stand out from the crowd. The chemistry between the actresses felt so natural and lived-in, which gave the scene a wonderfully intimate feel.