TV Time: The Americans 6.01

The Americans 601

Source: ign.com

Greetings, Comrades! Welcome to the final season of The Americans posts here at NGN! I’m so excited to analyze every last detail of this last season with all of you, and if this episode was any indication, we’ll have much to discuss! So please share your thoughts in the comments because if any show begs for deep conversations, it’s this one, and I need some people to talk to if I’m going to get through this season without having a complete mental and emotional breakdown.

Title: Dead Hand

Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
I’m going to write this into being: This will be the year Keri Russell wins her long-overdue Emmy for playing Elizabeth Jennings. I’ve been beating that drum for years now, but if this episode is any indication of the work she’s going to be doing this season, I can’t imagine a world where she doesn’t win.

The thing that has always made Russell’s acting in this role so compelling is also the thing that I think makes it so underrated: It’s all about her body language. Of course she delivers her lines with a sharpness that makes them feel even more deadly than that knife to the security guard’s neck. (Her “I know you love to talk” to Philip was one of those moments that literally knocked the wind out me with how biting it was. It was reminiscent of her legendary work in Season Four’s “The Magic of David Copperfield V.”) But she also brings a uniquely purposeful physicality to the role that lives in the silences that make this show so special. I’ve always believed there is a connection between Russell’s history as a dancer and her ability to use her body as one of the strongest tools in her acting arsenal, and this episode may have featured the best use of those tools yet. So much of what’s going on with Elizabeth is happening under the surface—even more than it usually is because she can’t even let her guard down completely with Philip anymore—so Russell has to use her posture and her movements to let us see inside this character.

And what’s happening inside Elizabeth Jennings is like a car accident—you can’t look away, even though you know you’re staring at utter destruction. Elizabeth is broken, perhaps even more than Philip was at his lowest point. But Russell lets us see the effort she uses to try to hide that from everyone except her husband at the very end—when she’s too tired to be anything but herself. Exhaustion is a hard thing to play convincingly, but Russell makes Elizabeth’s burnout feel painfully tangible because it’s in every physical detail of her performance. It’s in the slump of her usually straight shoulders when she’s alone, it’s in the slower steps she takes, and it’s in the unfocused look in her eyes at times.

Elizabeth isn’t just tired, she’s crumbling from the inside out, and she has no one to lean on. Her isolation is a major visual motif in this episode—she’s by herself a lot. And when she’s alone, she’s often physically curled in on herself, hunched over and looking much smaller than she usually does. It’s been days, and I’m still haunted by one shot in particular: Elizabeth, having just murdered someone to protect Paige’s identity, standing in the rain and smoking a cigarette, shivering with her arms crossed over her body and staring out into the night. This is Elizabeth at the end of her rope, somehow both completely drained and a live wire at the same time. It’s the personification of an exposed nerve—completely frayed by her circumstances. And in that moment, I was both moved by Russell’s performance and terrified by it. Elizabeth at wit’s end could do anything, which was also reflected in that final shot of her with the cyanide necklace. The complete emptiness in her expression and the way Russell let us feel the weight of that necklace like it was a thousand pounds made my whole body tense up as I wondered just how much more she could take of the demands of this lonely life.

The Americans has always excelled at following the “Show, don’t tell,” maxim, and it’s because it has a cast that can tell entire stories without dialogue. This season, I can already see that the story Russell is telling us about Elizabeth—her isolation, her exhaustion, and her desperation—is going to destroy me.

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Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2018 Oscars

Oscars

Source: MentalFloss.com

Oscar Sunday has been a special day for me since I was a little kid. I’ve always loved movies, so the Oscars and all their pomp and circumstance and glamour have always drawn me to my couch to marvel at the gorgeous gowns, cheer when my favorites finally win, and loudly complain when other favorites are snubbed.

Although the Oscars can sometimes be frustrating to watch and we all know the best movies and performances don’t always win, my desire to watch them from an educated perspective taught me so much about film—especially in my teens. I used to try to watch every Best Picture nominee in a given year (which was much easier when there were only five), and that broadened my understanding of what movies could be and how they could make me feel by introducing me to movies I might never have seen without Oscar nominations behind them. (I’m looking at you, Brokeback Mountain, The Social Network, Slumdog Millionaire, and Revolutionary Road.)

In recent years, I was lucky to see one or maybe two Oscar contenders, but this year, I made a point of seeing as many as I could, and in the process, I fell back in love with movies and how much life-affirming beauty can be found in the hours spent in a darkened theater. So I wanted to come back to these predictions after four years off because I have a stronger sense of the year’s biggest contenders than I’ve had in a while. I hope you’ll share your own predictions with me in the comments and join me on Twitter for all the fun starting with my annual live tweeting of the red carpet at 6 p.m. EST!

Without further ado, let the predicting begin!

Picture
My Pick: The Shape of Water
My Thoughts: This is such a wide-open category this year, but I can’t pick against the magic of this movie. Some movies are simply works of art—like paintings come to life—and The Shape of Water is one of those movies. I can’t stop thinking about this movie as a whole, but what’s so special and unique about it is the way certain shots have gotten under my skin and become unforgettable to me not because they were disturbing or shocking or upsetting, but because they were so beautiful. Everything about this film was beautiful—its score, its cinematography, its color palette, its performances (I will sing the praises of Richard Jenkins in this film until the end of time.), and its message that love (even the strangest, most unexpected kind of love) can conquer all. This is a movie about a group of outcasts and outsiders coming together, and it’s also a movie that speaks to the power of cinema to inspire, which we all know Oscar voters love. It’s a love letter to movies, and it’s a creative love story unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. While I wouldn’t mind seeing Lady Bird or Get Out pull a shocking upset, I think this will be a case where the film with the most nominations takes home the big prize.

Director
My Pick: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
My Thoughts: The creativity, care, and unique perspective del Toro brought to this film took my breath away. Every part of the film was touched by del Toro’s ability to balance the gritty and dark realities of life in the real world with the magic of the movies. This is his masterpiece, and I hope it earns this visionary a well-deserved Oscar.

Actress
My Pick: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
My Thoughts: Although I feel like you can never count out Meryl Streep and Saoirse Ronan gave my favorite performance among the nominees this year, McDormand’s fierce and fearless work makes her one of the night’s few sure bets. Her ability to use seething silences to portray the overwhelming anger of grief in a way few actors are brave enough to touch made Three Billboards work, and I can’t see anyone else upsetting what’s essentially been a one-horse race since early on in awards season.

Actor
My Pick: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
My Thoughts: The Oscars love a good makeover, and no one changed their appearance for a role more than Oldman did this year. Although I didn’t see Darkest Hour so I can’t offer a truly informed opinion, I think picking with crowd is the way to go on this one. However, part of me is really hoping for a Daniel Kaluuya upset.

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Fangirl Thursday: Olympic Withdrawal Edition

IHOCKEY-OLY-2018-PYEONGCHANG

Source: The Denver Post

The 2018 Winter Olympics, are officially over, and I have no idea what to do with myself.

I make no secret of the fact that I am an Olympics junkie. I’ve been watching both the Winter and Summer Games religiously since Atlanta in 1996 (Magnificent Seven 4Ever!), but my full-blown obsession began in 2002. That year, thanks to a little Canadian pairs skating magic to the score of a little movie called Love Story, 13-year-old Katie fell into the kind of love that lasts well beyond two weeks and even well beyond four years. Sixteen years later, I’m still staying up way past my bedtime to watch Canadians tell love stories on the ice and win gold medals in the process.

There have been plenty of memorable Winter Olympics moments since those Games 16 years ago, but none completely captivated me the way the moments of these Games did. It seemed that every night, something happened that made me cry on my couch from the pure joy of watching someone achieve a dream, make an incredible comeback, or live out what felt like a chapter of a fairytale.

If these Olympics felt special to me, maybe it was because of that fairytale element—and maybe it was because we all could really use some fairytales right now. There were so many moments during these Games where it felt like even Disney couldn’t make up a story more inspiring or compelling than the one playing out in real time right in front of us. Night after night, we were treated to scenes that made us believe—even just for a moment—that good things can still happen amid all the bad things we’ve grown accustomed to seeing all around us. For two weeks, the athletes at these Olympics gave us something fun to talk about and to tweet about; it was such a welcome change of pace to scroll through Twitter and see excitement, joy, and hope instead of the usual dread, anger, and pessimism that the world we’re living in seems to generate in overwhelming quantities.

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Suddenly the World Seems Such a Perfect Place (or Help, We’re All Obsessed with Two Canadian Ice Dancers!)

Once upon a time…

A nine-year-old boy and a seven-year-old girl became ice dance partners, and in the boy’s own words, “Something really changed in my life when I started to hold onto the hand of a beautiful little girl.” The boy gave up his early dream of being a professional hockey player, and the girl gave up a spot in a prestigious ballet program—all because even as children, they were committed to each other. The girl was the boy’s first kiss; the boy became the girl’s best friend.

As the years went on, they faced highs and lows. She endured painful surgeries to keep skating with him, and while she recovered, he trained with sandbags because he didn’t want another partner. They won Olympic gold in their home country, becoming Canada’s sweethearts in the process, but four years later, they came home with a silver medal instead of the repeat gold they were chasing.

They took a couple of years away from the sport, but they couldn’t stay away from the ice—or from each other—for long. As the boy said, being close to the girl was “the whole reason [he] wanted to come back to skating.” They decided to return to the sport they loved with a new mindset and a new focus on telling their own story, on making it “personal” this time around. They fought to choose their own music—music that reminded the boy of the girl whose hand he first held 20 years before. And they fought to become the best once again—to bring home the gold medal that eluded them in 2014.

They faced tough competition, and despite winning a gold medal with their teammates, they needed to have the skates of their lives to win individual gold. They began with a world record, but their fiercest rivals set the bar high with one of their own. Stepping onto the ice as Olympic competitors for the last time, they knew they had to do something magical in order to win. But instead of waiting for a fairy godmother, they created their own magic—the boy singing their song to the girl as they danced across the ice, capturing the hearts of everyone in the crowd, captivating the world, and catapulting themselves to the top of the standings and the medal podium.

And they lived happily ever after…

Or so we all hope, right?

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NGN’s Best of 2017: Reasons to Hope

the good place

Source: avclub.com

One woman, standing in the middle of no man’s land with only a shield and an unshakeable sense of purpose, drawing all the fire to protect those who cannot fight for themselves.

One woman, staring down certain death with steel in her eyes, deciding to sacrifice herself to save the people and the cause she believes in with everything she has.

Two sisters, coming together despite their differences, finally executing the man who caused them, their family, and their home so much loss.

A mother and daughter, training together in a garage, learning what it means to never feel like a victim again.

A team, finding their strengths in the wrestling ring, using their bodies for themselves and not for anyone else.

A group of mothers, putting aside the things they believed divided them, acting as a force of nature to make sure an abuser never lays a hand on his victims again.

When I looked back on my favorite media moments of the year, one theme emerged loud and clear: This was a year that so many pieces of media—from prestige TV dramas to big-budget blockbusters—let women be their own heroes. This was the year that women teamed up, fought back, and found strength in themselves and in their relationships with one another.

This was the year female characters said “No more.” No more pushing us to the background. No more telling us people don’t care about our stories because of our gender, our race, our sexuality, or our age. No more trying to divide us or painting us as each other’s enemies. No more abuse. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was also the year more women than ever before started to say “No more” in real life, too.

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Hope and Heroism in The Last Jedi

last jedi poster

Source: StarWars.com

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! PROCEED WITH CAUTION! 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is many things. It’s surprising. It’s emotional. It’s visually stunning. It’s challenging. And at its heart, it’s deeply, profoundly, and unashamedly hopeful.

Star Wars has always been a story about hope—who embodies it, how it spreads, and what happens to those who lose it. In this way, it’s perhaps our most cherished piece of uniquely American mythology. For generations now, people have seen reflections of our collective national fears and aspirations in this saga, and they’ve found hope in this story that has now been passed on for more than 40 years. And that’s what myths are. They’re the stories we tell ourselves to get through the darkest nights, to inspire us to keep going, and to help us believe that heroes exist and maybe even exist inside of us.

In the eyes of some people, The Last Jedi takes that mythology and smashes it—making heroes fall and hope shrink. However, those eyes are trained on the past, and The Last Jedi is a story about the past giving way to the future and old heroes passing the torch to new ones. It doesn’t destroy the Star Wars mythology that’s been passed down since 1977; it expands it. And in doing so, it provides us with a new message of hope that is deeply important for the world we’re living in:

You don’t have to look like a traditional hero to be a hero. You don’t have to be born into greatness to do great things. Your worth isn’t determined by other people’s expectations; every person has value, and everyone’s journey can be a hero’s journey.

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NGN’s Best of 2017: TV Performances

nicolekidman

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—the time when we look back on all the great media we consumed during the last 12 months and talk about our favorites! These Best of the Year lists have been a part of NGN since our earliest days, and they’ve always served as a way to start great conversations about the TV shows we love and provide recommendations to fellow fans. (Comments on these lists were actually the reason I started watching The Americans a few years ago!) So please share your own lists and your thoughts on my picks in the comments. This has been a crazy year, and I’ve missed all our discussions about great TV more than I can say, so before 2017 is done, let’s get back to what’s always made NGN so fun—conversations with each other about the media that means the most to us.

Today, I’ll be sharing my picks for my favorite performances on television in 2017. It was a fantastic year for actors on the small screen, which made this list wonderfully challenging to compile. As I’ve been doing in recent years, I limited myself to only one actor from a particular show, or else I probably would have picked some entire casts. Don’t forget to tell me who turned in your favorite work on television this year in the comments, and for more year-end fun, check out the lists over at TVexamined and Marvelous Geek Circles!

1. Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright (Big Little Lies)
Big Little Lies was the show that challenged my “one actor per show” rule the most, but when it came down to choosing just one member of this extraordinary ensemble, there was ultimately no question that it would be Kidman. Her performance was heartbreaking in its vulnerability; the physical and emotional trauma Celeste went through was depicted with unflinching realism, and such a harrowing portrayal of the complexities of life in an abusive relationship required an actress who isn’t afraid to go to dark places and take the audience there with her. Kidman is exactly that kind of actress, putting her whole body into this performance—not just in the horrifying scenes of abuse but in the way she made her statuesque body seem small and fragile throughout the series, as if she was curling in on herself in a constant state of fear. Kidman’s gift for nuance was used to brilliant effect, as so much of who Celeste is exists under her picture-perfect surface. In those moments when Kidman let the façade slip momentarily (like when Celeste reveals to Jane that sometimes little boys who bully little girls don’t grow out of it), the quiet force of her performance left me breathless. I watched Big Little Lies months ago, and I still feel haunted by Kidman’s performance. It got under my skin and has refused to let go of my mind and heart, which is when you know an actor did something extraordinary.

2. Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
The fact that Russell still doesn’t have an Emmy for this role is criminal. (You have one more chance, Emmy voters! Don’t screw it up.) This season more than any other pushed Elizabeth in new directions emotionally, and Russell made the new layers added to this character feel believable, which is no small feat for a character who has always been defined by her lack of overt emotion. Of course, she was just as fierce as ever, but Russell was also able to show a gentler side of Elizabeth, deepening the character in complex new ways. The things Russell can do with just her eyes, her smile, and her body language never fail to astound me. So much of what makes this show work is the fact that it can go for long stretches without dialogue because its cast is so good at making quiet beats living, breathing moments, and it all starts with Russell. Every emotion seems to radiate just under her skin—just restrained enough to remind us that this is a woman who plays things so close to the vest it almost hurts to watch her struggle to find the words to show her husband or children the truth of how she feels. This was the season in which Elizabeth Jennings allowed herself to love someone enough to put their needs above the cause—with all the joy and pain that comes with it—and Russell made that journey breathtaking from start to finish.

3. Ted Danson as Michael (The Good Place)
The Good Place has an incredible cast, but the reason its many twists and turns have worked as well as they have (and they work SO WELL) is because of Danson. He gave Michael just the right amount of anxious energy in Season One to make us initially care about this bumbling architect, but his entire performance (and the entirety of the show’s plot) hinged on one moment: that laugh. If you’ve seen the show, you know what I’m talking about. That devious, gleefully evil laugh turned what was an entertaining performance into something so much bigger and bolder—a performance that becomes even better when watched again with the knowledge of the truth. And that performance only got more entertaining in Season Two, as Danson was able to let Michael’s annoyance with the characters around him drive his scenes to great comedic effect. But it wasn’t until we were able to see that Michael has a heart buried under all his evil plans when faced with the possibility of “killing” Janet that the full range of Danson’s skills as an actor were utilized. Danson’s career is already legendary, and after this year, that legend has added another fantastic chapter.

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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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