The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: “The Hill We Climb”

“For there is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” — “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate

Words matter.

Words have the power to incite the worst of us. We saw that on January 6. We saw that for the last four years. We saw that throughout our history as Americans and will still sadly see that far into our future.

However, words also have the power to inspire the best in us. We saw that on Wednesday, as President Joe Biden’s Inauguration Day celebrations ushered in a new era for Americans—an era of words that aren’t dripping with vitriol, devoid of empathy, and divorced from the truth. Wednesday was a day filled with words that acknowledged the harsh facts of our current reality, offered healing to those who are hurting, and offered hope for the future.

And those words mattered.

When Lady Gaga sang about the flag still being there only two weeks after Capitol was besieged by insurrectionists, it mattered. When Jennifer Lopez recited part of the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish, it mattered. When President Biden told us, “Don’t tell me things can’t change,” it mattered. When Kamala Harris—the first female, Black, and Asian American Vice President of the United States—took her oath of office with conviction in her voice and a smile on her face, it mattered.

And when Amanda Gorman took the podium to recite “The Hill We Climb”—her poetic testament to “a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished”—it mattered.

Many words will be remembered from that cold January day in Washington, D.C., but none will be remembered more than the words of a 22-year-old young woman who asked us, “Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” and answered with the powerful reminder that the light we seek is all around us—and inside of us.

“If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Randall Pearson and the Power of Story

“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Our lives are shaped by stories—the stories that inspired us, the stories that changed us.

The stories that made us.

Stories are how we make meaning out of our existence. Our whole lives are a process of creating and understanding our story—the narrative of who we are, where we come from, and what our lives mean.

Some people grow up knowing all the details of how their story began—they know what the day of their birth was like, they know how their parents met and fell in love, they even know the stories of their grandparents and maybe even ancestors who reach deep into the past. They know where they fit in a larger story, but even more importantly, they are often taught that this larger story is a love story—of parents who love them and children borne of love and love that’s been passed on through generations.

But not everyone is that lucky.

Not everyone knows how their story began.

And Randall Pearson was one of those people.

Randall’s journey on This Is Us began with a quest for the truth—for a deeper understanding of his story. By not knowing the truth about his parents, his story felt incomplete. Something was missing—the key to finally feeling like he fully belonged instead of the nagging sense of being an outsider that he felt as a Black young man in a white family. It was hard for him to join the past to the future the way Tim O’Brien said so beautifully without full knowledge of how it all began.

How he began.

As This Is Us has gone on, we’ve watched all the Pearson siblings deal with the most difficult chapters of their stories and move closer to a place of understanding how those chapters influenced all the chapters that have come after. But for Randall, there was still one chapter that was missing.

The story of his mother.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Goodbye to a Legend

There were a few things I debated choosing for this feature this week. This Is Us featured a powerful moment for Kate, as she confronted the man who abused her as a teenager and spoke to the pain many women carry with them for years after damaging relationships. The Rookie set the tone for its new season with a few strong speeches about accountability, privilege, and the need for change in policing that made me feel hopeful about the direction the show is going to take. And of course, my beloved Buffalo Bills pulled off another victory on national TV yesterday.

But I couldn’t talk about TV this week without talking about the moment that moved me the most—Alex Trebek’s final episode of Jeopardy!, which aired on Friday.

I grew up with Jeopardy!, and Trebek’s voice is probably more familiar to me than the voice of some family members. Playing along with Jeopardy! is a daily pastime in my house, and my whole extended family gets involved when we get together for birthdays or dinners at my grandmother’s house. Jeopardy! was even a topic of conversation at my cousin’s wedding, with my relatives debating whether or not James Holzhauer was good or bad for the game. (For the record, I am a huge fan of Jeopardy James and genuinely hoped I’d see him on my trips to Las Vegas over the last couple of years.)

Alex Trebek felt like family in the way only a long-running TV personality can feel. Whether he was asking contestants about their strange hobbies or teaching me new facts about geography and opera or even showing up in Disney World on Ellen’s Energy Adventure (to remind us that brain power is the one source of power that will never run out), he was a constant in my life as I grew from a kid who had no idea what was going on to an adult who has been known to dance around the kitchen after running a category and dreams of making it onto the show herself one day. And even as he battled cancer, he was still a presence in my home and the homes of so many fans—we grew even more attached to him because he let us see his vulnerability, which in turn allowed us to see his strength and determination.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: Let’s Go Buffalo!

The most consistently entertaining show on TV right now isn’t one of my beloved Bravo shows. It’s not even the very pretty (and very steamy!) Bridgerton, which I spent this week escaping into (and am currently on Episode 6 of, so #NoSpoilers!).

It’s the Buffalo Bills.

If you’re looking for something to watch on TV that will keep you on the edge of your seat, leave you smiling, and entertain you for hours, then look no further than the team that’s risen from NFL punchline to headline.

Great relationships? Check. (Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs are everyone’s favorite dynamic duo.) Comedy? Check. (I’ll never stop sharing their snowball fight video.) Killer dance moves? Check. (I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Bills team so well choreographed—on the field and on the sidelines!)

Even if you don’t think you’re a football fan, this team will probably find a way to make you smile—unless you’re a fan of whoever they’re playing that week, that is. They’re charismatic. They’re confident. They’re good.

And they’re fun.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: A Terrific Trio

It’s been a while since I’ve written from a dancer’s/choreographer’s perspective on here, and I’ve missed it. Few things in my life bring me more joy than combining my two passions: dance and writing. I knew it was only a matter of time before this season of Dancing with the Stars made its way into one of these posts—it’s been a phenomenal season with one of the most talented and charismatic casts in recent memory. I just needed the perfect routine to inspire me.

And then two Disney Channel boys teamed up with a creative choreographer, and I had no doubt what I was going to write about this week.

I dare you to watch that without dancing in your seat and smiling from ear to ear. It’s impossible. The joy this combination of dancers—Corbin Bleu, Lindsay Arnold, and Jordan Fisher—radiates is infectious, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen people look like they’re having more fun on the Dancing with the Stars dance floor.

I know it’s a weird thing to say, but this routine made me cry the first time I watched it. There’s something moving and magical about watching people having so much fun doing what they love. The joy of performing is something I’ve never been able to accurately describe, so I love those rare moments when I can point to a performance and say, “That’s it. That’s what it feels like.” This was one of those moments. It brought me back to my days as a competitive dancer, stepping onstage to perform a routine you’re 100% confident in with people you love dancing with. Every so often as a dancer, you’re part of a routine you know is special from Day One, and when you know you’re performing it well on the biggest stage, everything about you radiates happiness: your body language, your facial expressions, the sharpness of your movements, your eye contact with your audience…You can tell when a dancer knows they’re on, and I’ve never seen three people on this show as on as these three were in this routine.

I could go on and on about the technical brilliance of this trio—the way Lindsay’s choreography flowed and seamlessly utilized everyone’s strengths, the tricks, the rhythms—but what made this dance were the smiles all three dancers had the whole time. Dancing has always made me happier than anything else—yes, even happier than writing—and it warms my heart whenever I get to see other people find joy in it, too, and project that joy for everyone watching.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week? 

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: A Romantic Reunion

My love for a good love story is well documented around these parts. And there is no more sweeping love story on television than Jamie and Claire’s epic Outlander romance. Every chapter in their story feels cinematic, so I was thrilled when it was announced that their long-awaited reunion episode, “A. Malcolm,” would be almost feature-length (74 minutes, and I could have watched another 74). Their farewell in last season’s finale was one of my favorite TV moments of 2016, so it was safe to say my expectations for their return to one another were high. But even the (probably too many) hours I spent imagining how the show would depict their famous “print shop” reunion could never have prepared me for how wonderful it would be to see Jamie and Claire—and Sam Hueghan and Caitriona Balfe—together again.

The chemistry between Hueghan and Balfe is something special, and sometimes you have to go without it for a while in order to fully appreciate how much it elevates the already beautiful story they’re telling. “A. Malcolm” asked them to do a lot of heavy lifting—imagine how cheesy some of those lines could have sounded coming from anyone other than Hueghan or how long some of those silent beats could have felt without all the emotions we see so clearly in Balfe’s eyes. And one of the hardest things they had to do in this episode was play this reunion as realistic rather than pure wish-fulfillment. Obviously, both the audience and the characters end up quite satisfied with their return to one another, but it’s not all smooth sailing. There were awkward moments, shy glances, secrets told and some still kept, doubts, anxieties, insecurities, bumped heads, and many other complications that needed to be shown beyond pure relief, joy, and passion, and Balfe and Hueghan gave us a true sense of the roller coaster of emotions these characters were on. It would have been easy to play this reunion as a one-note explosion of passion and longing, but that wouldn’t have felt real. Instead, by infusing this reunion with an honest sense of hesitation, they made it even more beautiful because it was believable.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: A Perfect Proposal

It’s finally back! I apologize for the delay, friends, but everyone’s favorite celebration of the best of the week in television has returned here at NGN—and with a slightly new look. Instead of titling it with the days the post will be covering, I’m now leading with a hint at what the choice will be. And as you’ll see as you keep reading, I decided the scrap the little weekly rundown of TV shows to just get to the best of the best. I hope you enjoy—and that you share your favorite moments with us each week in the comments! This has always been one of my favorite features to write and read your responses to here at NGN, so no matter how busy the rest of my life gets, I’m excited to get back to sharing this special part of my Sundays with all of you! 

There’s nothing like a great television proposal.

From Ben and Leslie to Emma and Killian, I’ve written about some beautiful proposals over the years here at NGN, so when another one happened this week on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, there was no way I could keep myself from writing about it.

There was so much to love about “HalloVeen” even before its genuinely surprising ending (everyone joking about Jake in prison, the Tramps, Andre Braugher’s perfect delivery of “This bitch?!,” Jake getting a lot of enjoyment out of Amy being mean to him, Terry eating all those GPS trackers, etc.), but let’s cut to the chase: Jake and Amy got engaged, and it was perfect.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (9/18 – 9/25)

The fall 2016 television season kicked into high gear this week, starting with Sunday’s Emmy Awards, which featured some nice surprises (Tatiana Maslany) and beautifully sincere speeches (Jeffrey Tambor, Sterling K. Brown, Sarah Paulson, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus). On Monday, Dancing with the Stars gave us “TV Night,” and little did we all know how empty our lives had been before we saw Laurie Hernandez dancing to the theme from DuckTales. Also on Monday (and Thursday), The Good Place proved to be the smart, funny, and emotionally engaging comedy I was hoping it would be. On Tuesday, Brooklyn Nine-Nine returned with a hilarious look at Jake and Captain Holt’s life in the Witness Protection Program; New Girl reminded me why I fell in love with the show years ago, thanks to a stellar season premiere; and the pilot of This Is Us lived up to every expectation I had for it. Wednesday’s ABC comedies were all excellent, with a perfect Breakfast Club tribute on The Goldbergs; a fantastic pilot episode of Speechless; an entertaining return for Modern Family; and a fun Walt Disney World trip on black-ish. On Thursday, the pilot of Pitch showed enough heart, style, and substance to hook me from the start. And Friday’s episode of Girl Meets World reminded us all of a very important lesson: You can’t control every aspect of your life; you can only control how you react to what happens in your life.

Overall, this was the best week of television I’ve watched in a very long time. I wasn’t disappointed with anything I watched, which is impressive because I often have unrealistically high expectations for premieres and pilots. I enjoyed every minute of television I watched this week, and I watched many minutes of television.

Grouped together, I loved the three big twists that new shows served up this week, which shouldn’t be a shock to anyone given how much I love when television shows can still pleasantly surprise me.

SPOILERS FOR THE GOOD PLACE, THIS IS US, AND PITCH AHEAD!

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (9/11 – 9/18)

Welcome back, fellow TV addicts; I hope you had a wonderful summer! Now that the fall television season is upon us, it’s time for the return of our weekly breakdown of the best television moments! 

This was a warmup week in the world of television before things return to normal in the coming days (and weeks). However, even with a short list of shows airing new episodes, there were still some standout moments. Sunday saw the return of NFL games for most teams, which is either the best news ever or cause for another year of disappointment. (Can you tell I’m a Buffalo Bills fan?) On Monday, the new season of Dancing with the Stars premiered with some unexpected drama (protestors charging at Ryan Lochte on live TV) and some fantastic dancing. (Let’s just give Laurie Hernandez the Mirror Ball trophy now; she’s that good—and that much fun to watch.) Wednesday’s season finale of Suits was one of the show’s best episodes in recent memory, reminding us all why Jessica Pearson (and Gina Torres, by extension) is the queen of all she surveys only the break our hearts with her departure in its closing moments. Finally, Friday’s new episode of Girl Meets World touched on some incredibly deep and painful topics (the Holocaust, slavery) while never losing sight of the good in the world as shown through friendship, the diversity that makes America beautiful, and the belief that human connection—being part of something—is something to treasure and respect.

This is a week earlier than I’d planned to bring these posts back, but as soon as I watched the Suits finale, I knew I had to write about it. In a season where I found myself bored more often than usual (I actually missed a few episodes and discovered I didn’t really miss anything plot-wise.), Jessica was still a highlight every time she was on screen. And this finale—with its tight focus on Jessica and her backstory—was the finest episode of the season and one of my favorite episodes of the whole series. Watching Jessica own a courtroom was something I’d always wanted to see, and when Torres was given the chance to show this side of her character, she didn’t disappoint. But it was the way show peeled back Jessica’s layers to reveal her motivation behind what she did in that courtroom that really resonated with me.

Jessica Pearson’s father sacrificed his family at the altar of his career, but he believed he was doing something for the greater good. And even though Jessica chose a different career path (law instead of medicine), she did so as a young woman believing she would also serve the greater good. She became a lawyer to help people, but somewhere along the way, the relentless pursuit of power and prestige blinded her to the reason why she became a lawyer in the first place.Like her father before her, she chose her career over personal relationships, but her career choices didn’t offer her much comfort in the end. She’d stopped helping people who needed help and instead became so focused on protecting her firm that she lost her way. And that’s easy to do as a woman in a position of power (and probably even easier as a woman of color in that position, but that’s an experience I can’t personally speak to). You have to work so hard for the smallest victories that it becomes easy to lose yourself and your ideals in the fight to protect what you’ve earned.

But this death row case helped Jessica find herself again. It allowed her to reconnect with the young woman she once was, and in doing so, she learned a scary truth: She didn’t want to keep living the life she’d been living. She wanted to be better; she wanted to be happy. It was clear in the scene in which she told Harvey and Louis she was leaving: Jessica couldn’t keep fighting these battles to protect the firm; it was crushing her spirit. She’d fought for so long, but what was it all for? And as such, she chose to walk away from the firm she’d sacrificed so many things to protect.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (4/10 – 4/17)

This week in television started off with a closer look at Belle’s character on Sunday’s episode of Once Upon a Time. Monday gave us Disney night on Dancing with the Stars, Jane’s bachelorette party on Jane the Virgin, and one of the most uplifting Castle moments of this season when Ryan and Jenny’s new baby boy was born (and given the perfect middle name of Esposito). On Tuesday, Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s penultimate episode made me laugh harder than any episode of television so far this season, while The Mindy Project‘s big return made me cry (while also making me feel so proud of Mindy). Wednesday’s episode of Nashville took the drama—especially surrounding Maddie—up another notch, and on The Americans, certain characters found a way to release some of their own tension while others found their anxiety reaching a fever pitch with no release in sight. On Thursday, Orphan Black premiered with a look at Beth’s story, and on Friday, the impossibly charming Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt returned to Netflix.

When many TV shows seem to be going to very dark places, it’s nice to take a moment to celebrate shows that still make us laugh. And Brooklyn Nine-Nine was at its comedic best on Tuesday night. “Bureau” had so many highlights that I can’t pick just one for the best moment on television this week. But I will single out Andre Braugher as the week’s best performer. Whether he was talking about his lint (which was oblong and blue, in case you were wondering) or describing the plot of Sex and the City, he proved once again why it’s a crime that he hasn’t won an Emmy for this role yet. I hope this is his submission episode for this season, because I can’t think of a better example of his talent.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week? And would anyone else like to sign a petition for FOX to create a web series in which Captain Holt reviews TV shows?