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? 

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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?

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (4/3-4/10)

This was a great week for partnerships on television. Sunday’s episode of Once Upon a Time introduced a new potential pairing in the unexpected relationship between Zelena and Hades. On Monday, strong partnerships created some memorable routines to go along with memorable years on Dancing with the Stars. Tuesday’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine featured a pleasantly surprising bit of honest and open conversation between Jake and Amy during an undercover operation, and American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson ended with plenty of emotion and another reminder that the show’s version of Marcia Clark and Chris Darden’s partnership helped make it must-see TV each week. On Wednesday, Juliette returned to Nashville, which ignited some hope in my “shipper” heart that she and Avery might be able to rekindle their partnership someday. Also on Wednesday, The Americans started by putting its central partners in quarantine and ended with a sad death in a lonely prison basement.  American Idol also ended this week, and I’d be lying if I said the reunion of Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman wasn’t one of my favorite things about that finale. Finally, Outlander returned on Saturday with a start I never saw coming but an ending that reminded me how much I love spending time swooning over Jamie and Claire.

Out of all the great moments between great partners this week, nothing topped the work done by two of the best scene partners on television right now: Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys on The Americans. In this week’s episode, the two shared a scene in a dimly lit bathroom that I have watched probably close to 10 times since it aired because it’s taken that many times to even come close to catching all the nuances in their performances. Watching Elizabeth have to work through the reality that she could die was painful enough, but nothing prepared me for watching Philip work through it. It was hard to see the normally stoic and strong Elizabeth look and sound so fragile and weak. (The statuesque Russell’s hunched posture in that scene conveyed so much.) But it just about destroyed me to watch Philip refuse to even consider a life without his wife and then almost fall apart when forced to consider it. In just a few short lines, Elizabeth showed how much her family has come to mean to her and how much their happiness now comes before them carrying on the mission. And in even fewer lines, Philip showed just how much Elizabeth means to him. Rhys and Russell have always made me believe the depth of feeling between their characters without ever making it feel forced, and that depth of feeling was like a warm light in that dim bathroom, adding another layer of honesty and emotion to TV’s best marriage.

Here’s a link to a GIF-set of this scene in case you want your heart to be broken by Matthew Rhys’s face. 

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (3/27-4/3)

This week in television started off strong on Sunday with a powerful examination of Killian’s character on Once Upon a Time. On Monday, Jane the Virgin gave me plenty of reasons to reach for my tissues (especially with the new storyline its opening up for Petra), and early frontrunners are starting to separate from the pack on Dancing with the Stars. Tuesday’s episode of The Flash was a time-traveling adventure, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine borrowed just the right amount from Parks and Recreation‘s excellent “Two Parties” episode. Also on Tuesday, tensions continued to rise in The People v. O.J. Simpson‘s penultimate episode. Finally, Wednesday’s episode of The Americans ensured that I’ll never be able to go to EPCOT again without thinking of Pastor Tim, Glanders, and Elizabeth’s dreams of Odessa.

There were some incredibly powerful statements made on television this week—from Killian finally saying he deserves to be saved on Once Upon a Time to Philip telling Elizabeth that he wants to run on The Americans. However, nothing could top the dramatic force of the breathtaking moments in The People v. O.J. Simpson in which both Christopher Darden and Marcia Clark are threatened with being held in contempt of court.

That explosive scene was the perfect example of how to make rising tension pay off. Darden’s outburst felt cathartic after weeks of mounting pressure and increasing failures for the prosecution. Sterling K. Brown might not have the profile or fame of the other actors on this show, but he is every bit their equal in terms of the power of his performance.

And that explosive reaction from Darden was followed up by one of my favorite moments so far on what I believe is one of the best shows on television right now: when Marcia Clark’s own frustrations boiled over, putting her in jeopardy of also being held in contempt, to which she replied (with pitch-perfect delivery by Sarah Paulson): “Shall I take off my watch and jewelry?” Because I don’t remember much about the trial, I had no idea this moment was coming, so when it did, I was blown away—not just by the moment itself but by the performances that made it resonate and the direction that made it almost unbearably tense. While so much of this scene’s brilliance came through in strong line readings, there was also so much being said in silence. Brown and Paulson are so good in their characters’ unspoken moments of connection and partnership, and this was another scene that showed that aspect of their palpable chemistry off to its fullest extent.

The People v. O.J. Simpson ends this week, and, while I know how the story ends, I’m still waiting with bated breath to see what these actors do with it. That’s when you know a show is great and a cast is masterful.

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (3/13 – 3/20)

I apologize for the long hiatus with these posts. Unfortunately, the job that pays the bills took up a lot of my Sundays over the last few months. But now that things have slowed down a little in that regard, I’m back and ready to talk about the high points in the last week of television with all of you! 

This week in television kicked off with a strong episode of Once Upon a Time (pun intended) on Sunday that introduced us to Hercules and reintroduced us to part of a main character’s identity that’s been missing for far too long. Monday gave us the season finale of The Bachelor, which ended with a proposal but wasn’t exactly a fairytale (or maybe I’m just not used to fairytales that involve a guy telling two women he loves them right until he has to make the choice of who to propose to). On Tuesday’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Jake helped Terry solve an old case and stand up to detectives in his old precinct, and Tuesday’s The People vs. O.J. Simpson was a case study in how to use dramatic irony to its fullest. (I wanted to scream “Don’t make him try on the glove!”) Wednesday featured a big Nashville wedding event, as Rayna and Deacon finally tied the knot, and the intense and suspenseful season premiere of The Americans. Finally, the start of March Madness provided college basketball fans with plenty of memorable moments, even if most of our brackets blew up in the process.

Those exciting March Madness games remind us every year not to count people out; it’s not over until it’s over. And that same lesson was presented in a surprising way on Once Upon a Time this week. I’ll admit it: I never expected Snow to find her spark again. I thought she would always be Mary Margaret, and it made me so sad that I tried not to focus on it too much—because it was hard to think about what had happened to my favorite character over the last few seasons of the show. So imagine my delight when Snow not only reclaimed her fighting spirit and her leadership abilities; she reclaimed the name I feared was lost forever. She became a woman of action again, an active participant in her own story instead of a passive supporting character in the stories of those around her. Seeing Snow choose who she wanted to be and how she wanted others to see her was inspirational. And the reactions of those who love her were perfect—from Regina’s “It’s about time!” and Emma’s proud smile to the swoon-worthy sincerity in Charming’s voice when he called his wife by her real name. It finally felt like my favorite character was back, and that moment gave me so much hope—hope that it’s never too late to remember your best self and to connect with that best self again. And when you do decide who you want to be, those you love will be there to support and encourage you.

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (12/6 – 12/13)

Sorry for the slight delay, dear readers! This one took longer to write than I’d anticipated. 

Winter finale season is upon us! On Sunday, Once Upon a Time broke all our hearts with a stunning and surprising winter finale, but, thankfully, Brooklyn Nine-Nine spread lots of happiness with an episode focused on Jake and Rosa’s friendship. On Tuesday, the winter finale of The Muppets brought Mindy Kaling to the show to play (and sing!), and The Flash took us into the hiatus with the introduction of Wally West and about a million more reasons to care about Patty Spivot. Also on Tuesday, The Mindy Project gave us a look into the past to send a surprising sign about Mindy and Danny’s future. Wednesday’s Nashville ended this half-season with a proposal, a rare moment of joy amid a depressing start to the season. Finally, my Buffalo pride came out in full force during ESPN’s excellent 30 for 30 special “The Four Falls of Buffalo,” and Saturday Night Live gave us another thoroughly entertaining episode—this one featuring the return of Will Ferrell as George W. Bush and Chris Hemsworth as its charming host.

A lot of big things happened on television this week: Mindy took her apartment off the market, Joe West met his son, and Deacon and Rayna got engaged—just to name a few. But nothing has stayed with me like the events of Once Upon a Time‘s midseason finale, namely, the death of Killian Jones. It wasn’t just the most moving moment I saw on television this week; it was the most moving moment I’ve seen on television all season so far. And that was all because of the complete vulnerability displayed by Colin O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison in that moment.

Once Upon a Time is a fairytale, and almost all fairytales have a moment like this one—the moment when the hero believes their love is lost to them forever. But the thing that’s always set Once Upon a Time apart is the fact that it’s a fairytale about a woman who didn’t grow up in a fairytale world. Emma Swan has always been and will always be the character who grounds this show in reality, and Morrison grounded this scene in the painful reality of grief. She held nothing back in her performance, and her fearlessness created a moment of raw emotion unlike anything we’ve ever seen on this show.

Killian’s death was a devastating moment of loss, but it was also a triumphant moment of love. It was this arc’s climactic reminder that love is stronger than darkness, that love can make us brave, and that love can bring out the best version of who we are. Knowing what this show was all about, it was easy to guess that Killian would ultimately find his way out of the darkness, but watching him break free of its hold on him was more powerful than I ever could have imagined. The way O’Donoghue showed—in just the smallest change in his facial expression—that Killian’s love for Emma once again lit a spark in the darkest corners of his heart was masterful.

I could write a million words about why Killian telling the darkness “That’s enough!” meant so much to me (and hopefully I will write all those words someday), but for now I’ll just say that moment was such a strong reminder that we all have the ability to choose how we’re defined. Even when we feel defined by our darkness, we can fight back. We can choose to be the kind of person we never felt brave enough to believe we could be. There’s still hope for us, even when the darkness in our own mind and heart feels overwhelming; we’re not a lost cause just because we feel like one. In that moment, Killian finally stopped letting his past define and control him, and that said so much about the ability we all have to acknowledge who we were but to choose to become who we want to be.

Killian Jones wanted to be a hero—the kind of man who is driven by love instead of hate, the kind of man who saves instead of destroys. And even though he didn’t save his own life, he saved his heart and the heart of the woman he loves from the grip of the darkness. The light of their love proved strong enough to destroy the darkness once again, as they changed from Dark Hook and Dark Swan to Killian and Emma before he died in her arms. That shot—with their foreheads touching like they have after so many intimate moments dating back to their first kiss—was such a powerful image: Killian and Emma taking one last moment to savor the love that helped them grow into the best versions of themselves. It was gut-wrenching to watch Emma lose him again, but this is how he wanted to die: in the arms of the woman he loves after knowing she was free of the darkness, looking one last time on the face of his Swan—not the Dark Swan.

While Killian’s death was brutal to watch, it was also beautiful (in no small way because we all know that Emma is going to march into the Underworld and get him back—that’s what this show is all about). It was a reminder of the strength we all have inside us, and it was a testament to the transformative power of love. It was a moment straight out of an epic fairytale, balanced with complex and realistic emotions—and I can think of no higher compliment to give a scene on Once Upon a Time.

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