NGN’s Best of 2016: TV Moments, Episodes, and Shows

I hope all of you have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and may 2017 bring you an abundance of laughter, love, peace, good health, and everything that makes you happiest.

I apologize for the delay in posting my Best of 2016 lists; I needed to take some time instead to write something in honor of Carrie Fisher, a personal hero of mine. But the delay just means you get three lists in one on this last day of 2016!

For as difficult as parts of this year have been, I think we can all agree that it was a great year for television. In a world where it felt like sexism was given a frighteningly public platform, we were given shows, episodes, and moments that brought fierce, complex female characters to the forefront. In a stressful year, we were given plenty of things to laugh about, but there were also plenty of cathartic moments to cry over, too.

As the television landscape continued to broaden and deepen, it became more difficult than ever to narrow down these lists, which is a problem I am more than happy to have. These are my choices for the best TV had to offer this year (in addition to my picks for Best Performances and Best Relationships, which I shared earlier), but I want to know yours, too! Don’t forget to add your picks in the comments and to check out the lists made by TVexamined and MGcircles for more end-of-2016 fun!

Best Moments

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Source: Disney Channel

1. Secret Santa exchange (Girl Meets World: “Girl Meets a Christmas Maya”)
Sometimes you just want to feel good when you watch television, and no moment this year made me feel better than this gift exchange between the core group of friends on Girl Meets World. Each gift represented the kind of deep, sincere understanding and appreciation that makes the relationships on this show so special. From Smackle’s gift of the broken clock and reminder to Maya that her friends know how hard she’s working to fix herself to Zay’s gift of the re-written etiquette book that made Smackle feel loved for exactly who she is, this was one of those moments that made you feel hopeful for the future. In a year that made many of us confront the reality that the world can be an unkind place, this was a reminder of the importance of kindness and friendship just when we needed it most.

2. Claire and Jamie say goodbye (Outlander: “Dragonfly in Amber”)
Claire and Jamie’s love story has always been epic, but this scene took it to an entirely new level of emotional power. The chemistry between Caitriona Balfe and Sam Hueghan was sparking during this scene with a ferocity I’ll never forget, an intensity and total believability (even in the face of the fantastical element of time travel) that set this scene apart from any other love scene that aired in 2016.  I dare you to watch Hueghan deliver his line, “Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God, I loved her well” without swooning and crying at the same time. (I’ve tried; it’s physically impossible.)

3. “Hallelujah” (Saturday Night Live: “Dave Chappelle, A Tribe Called Quest”)
Kate McKinnon is a gift that none of us are worthy of, and if you need proof of that, watch this moment again. It was the perfect blending of character and actor; you could feel her singing as both Hillary and Kate, which made it even more cathartic to watch. For those of us left shocked and saddened by the results of this year’s presidential election (and the loss of the genius Leonard Cohen), this was the cathartic moment we so desperately needed. “Hallelujah” is one of my favorite songs ever written, and this only made me love it more. I still can’t watch it without crying through McKinnon’s stunning vocals on the last verse (“And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah…”) and her impassioned, emotional plea to do as both she and Hillary would want and never give up fighting for what we believe in. When I need to feel both emotional and empowered, this is still the moment I turn to.

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NGN’s Best of 2016: TV Relationships

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Source: spoilertv.com

Television in 2016 was filled with a variety of complex and compelling relationships—from family and friends to fairytale True Loves and teammates. These dynamic duos weathered professional and personal storms together, fought and made up in epic fashion, and provided plenty of reasons for us to cheer, cry, and swoon this year.

Today’s entry in NGN’s Best of 2016 series is focused on the best partnerships, parent/child pairs, and friendships on television this year. Don’t forget to share your choices in the comments to check out TVexamined and MGcircles for even more year-end fun!

1. Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (The Americans)
The center around which the high-stakes world of The Americans orbits has always been this marriage and the family it created, and that center was shaken more forcefully than ever this season—from the strain of having a daughter who knows too much about their true identities as spies to jealousy over fake relationships that have more truth behind them than either wants to admit and, of course, the constant anxiety of living double lives across the street from an FBI agent (and throw in one major near-death experience via potential bioweapon for good measure). Just one of these things could have destroyed their partnership, but what was so beautiful about this season of The Americans was the way it allowed them to grow closer together, ending the season as a more united front than perhaps ever before. Each new challenge was met with a deepening sense of honesty, openness, and intimacy, which sometimes resulted in horrible fights but, more often, resulted in quiet moments of connection that reminded everyone watching that, as Philip said this season, “The Center made a good match.” The same could be said of the casting team, who found lightning in a bottle with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. Their chemistry continues to shine through the smallest details, creating a marriage that feels believable and a partnership that you can’t help but root for—even when you feel like you should be rooting against them.

2. Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden (The People vs. O.J. Simpson)
It’s not easy playing real people, and it’s especially challenging to play two real people whose relationship has been a source of speculation and conjecture for 20 years but who have never given a definitive answer to what the nature of their relationship was. Somehow, though, Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown—along with some wonderfully ambiguous writing—managed to turn what could have felt uncomfortable into a twist on the “Will they or won’t they?” (or maybe “Did they or didn’t they?”) dynamic that was at turns sexy, sweet, and sad. Paulson and Brown had the kind of chemistry directors and writers pray for—conveying so much in a look across a bar, a charged moment outside a hotel room, or a late-night dance. The show managed to walk the line between professional respect, deep friendship, and the continued undercurrent of romantic possibility so well, and it did this by focusing less on the question of what actually happened between them and more on the support system they created with each other, which—like many aspects of this show—took something that was often sensationalized and made us care about it on a deeply emotional level.

3. Ginny Baker and Mike Lawson (Pitch)
Sometimes the best TV relationships sneak up on you, and you find yourself caring about them more than you ever expected to. That was certainly the case with these two teammates. Part mentor-mentee relationship, part professional partnership, part reluctant friendship, and part slow-burn romance—Mike and Ginny’s relationship is a delicate balancing act between sharp banter, serious scenes, and sizzling chemistry. The writers did an admirable job of building this relationship with a solid foundation of respect—showing Mike take every opportunity to sing Ginny’s praises to anyone who would listen, including Ginny herself—so that when the “almost kiss” happened at the end of the season, it felt earned and believable instead of cliché and cheap. Kylie Bunbury and Mark-Paul Gosselaar became two of 2016’s most potent screen partners, creating an electrifying dynamic that felt completely effortless and natural. A freshman show (especially one with only 10 episodes) creating such a strong arc for its central relationship is something that should be commended. And beyond any serious analysis, this relationship made me smile more than any other on television this year, and if you need a reminder, just watch their phone call after the All-Star Game if you need a little year-end pick-me-up.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: Hollywood Ending

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“Dwelling on what might have been is no way to live.”

We can’t change the past, and we can’t control the future. But we can choose how we deal with the present. A life lived as a slave to the hypothetical is a life half-lived, so it’s up to us to make the present the best it can be. Peggy Carter’s journey this season has been about moving away from the hypothetical—her longing over what might have been and her fears of what could be—and allowing herself to find a place in the present where she belongs and feels happy. That journey created a season of Agent Carter that was allowed to grow with its heroine and a finale that showcased the power of choosing to live in the present and forge a path without regrets.

As a Catholic schoolgirl, I learned a prayer when I was younger that I still use as a mantra today:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change those things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s in that balance between serenity, courage, and wisdom that we find happiness in the present. And “Hollywood Ending” highlighted the ways all of this season’s major players worked to find that balance.

Naturally, the character who struggled the most with that balance was Whitney Frost. If I had one major complaint about “Hollywood Ending,” it was that Whitney’s defeat felt anticlimactic and not worthy of the complexity of her character. I would have loved for her to have been the reason the rift stayed open instead of her playing no real role in that life-or-death situation. However, the scenes before and after the Zero Matter was taken from her were much more interesting.

Watching the madness take hold of Whitney was fascinating, and Wynn Everett was once again at the top of her game. Whitney believed this was her way of making the most of the present, of choosing her happiness. She’d spent so many years listening to what other people told her to do and living the life she thought she was supposed to live, but it broke my heart to see that all she was doing now was listening to another voice telling her what to do—the voice of Zero Matter.

Whitney’s desire to grow more powerful on her own set up another excellent parallel between her and Peggy. While Peggy learned that she could achieve more by allowing others to fight alongside her, Whitney chose to push everyone else away. Peggy entered that final showdown with a whole team beside her, but Whitney entered it alone.

However, there was one person who was still fighting for Whitney over the voices of Zero Matter—and that was the man who loved her. Yes, Joseph Manfredi is a villain in his own right, but I’m a sucker for a man who loves a strong woman—and that’s who Joseph turned out to be. He knew a life with Whitney—the real Whitney—was worth fighting for. Even if it meant working with Team Carter to save the woman he loved (which gave us that fantastic scene of him holding Jarvis at gunpoint).

It broke my heart to see Joseph visit Whitney at the episode’s end, only to discover that she’d lost the one thing she valued above all others: her mind. She was now a slave to what might have been—desperately trying to get back to a place of power by any means necessary, including clawing at her own face to open it up. It was a chilling final moment that was worthy of such a great character, and that final scene made up for the fact that the actual climax of her story was a bit underwhelming.

Unlike Whitney, Jason Wilkes refused to be controlled by Zero Matter. He chose a different path for himself—a hero’s path. And while it felt a little convenient for his explosion to take away all his Zero Matter, I wasn’t complaining, because it was nice to see him join Team Carter as himself. Jason is a fundamentally good man who made desperate choices when faced with an impossible situation, and I liked that no one held that against him. What mattered weren’t the choices he made in the past but the choices he was making in the present. And in the end, he found where he belonged.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: The Edge of Mystery/A Little Song and Dance

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You must own the choices you make.

This week’s Agent Carter double feature will most likely be remembered as “The One With the Musical Number.” There’s no denying that the show took a bit of a risk by starting the aptly-titled “A Little Song and Dance” with an extended dream/dance sequence, but the gamble paid off. It showcased the incredible talents of its cast (including the Dancing with the Stars cast they brought in for backup) and the downright ridiculous amount of chemistry between Hayley Atwell and Enver Gjokaj (who can dance with me anytime, if we’re being honest). It allowed us to see the always wonderful Angie again. It provided a brief moment of escapist joy in the middle of a very tense two hours of television. And—perhaps most importantly—it used an entertaining plot device to highlight the central theme for this pair of episodes: choice.

The entire musical number was staged as Peggy’s subconscious way of working through the romantic entanglement she’s found herself in this season. Peggy has a choice to make: Jason, Daniel, or none of the above. She has to choose soon, and only she can make that choice. And it’s so important for her to make the right choice, because—as this episode reminded us—we must live with the choices we make and the repercussions of those choices.

And when it comes to Peggy’s love life, there’s an added complication with her ability to choose the right person: Most of the people she chooses to care for wind up hurt or dead. I feel like this dream sequence reinforced who Peggy is more closely drawn to (Let me mention again that Atwell and Gjokaj were basically burning up the screen together in that dance scene, looking every bit the pair of lovers in a 1940s musical romance.), but Peggy is still wrestling with her fear that her destiny is to keep losing everyone she loves. If you’ll permit me the Hamilton reference, I always come back to this lyric when I think about Peggy Carter:

And if there’s a reason I’m still alive when everyone who loves me has died, I’m willing to wait for it.

I think Peggy deals with an incredible amount of survivor’s guilt; I think she’s still waiting to find the reason why she’s been spared even though so many people she’s cared about were not. And that idea came up again in what was probably this pair of episodes’ second most memorable scene: Peggy’s fight with Jarvis in the desert.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: Life of the Party/Monsters

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up and running, friends! I’ve been a little busy getting things ready for the deadline for submissions to The Fan Mail Project (which is February 29 if you’re still interested in writing a letter)!

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No one should have to go through difficult things alone, and it’s important to remind others that they have a support system when times get tough. 

Agent Carter started as a show about a woman who felt she was alone in the world. She’d just lost the man she loved, and most of her coworkers kept her on the outside looking in because of her gender. It made sense for her to keep her guard up, to isolate herself, and to pull away from anyone who tried to get too close. It broke my heart to watch it happen, but it made sense.

The beauty of this second season of Agent Carter, though, is that Peggy isn’t alone anymore. She’s slowly learning how to fight battles with people by her side rather than believing (as she did for much of last season) that every battle she fights is her against the world.

The main plot of this pair of episodes involved Peggy teaming up with Dottie Underwood and then trying as hard as she could to find and rescue Dottie when Dottie was left alone and in the clutches of Whitney Frost. Watching Peggy work tirelessly to rescue one of her biggest enemies underscored the idea that this two-hour event was about the ways these characters have grown to support each other and accept support from each other—and what happens when that support gets taken away.

This pair of episodes focused closely on characters seeking each other out in potentially isolating situations. In many instances, these moments of vulnerability were beautiful and led to powerful moments of honest connection, but one example had tragic results. It made me so uncomfortable to watch Whitney genuinely find hope in and feel buoyed by her husband’s support, because I knew there was no way it could end well. All Whitney seems to have ever wanted (even from the time she was a girl) is for someone to believe in her and support her as a scientist, and it finally seemed that’s what Calvin Chadwick was doing. However, it ended up being a lie; his support was a ruse that he hoped would lead to her capture, but it ultimately led to his death. And it emphasized the fact that, while it’s a good thing to let your guard down and lean on people for support when you need it, you have to choose the right people to trust with your most vulnerable self. It turned out that Calvin wasn’t the right person for Whitney to trust, and that had deadly consequences for more than just one person.

Throughout the rest of the episode, it was interesting to see Whitney have small moments of connection with both Dottie and Jason Wilkes. With Jason especially, it was fascinating to watch her remind him that the respect he’s found with Peggy’s team isn’t the norm, to watch her try to forge a bond between them not just based on their connection to Zero Matter but also their place in society. It’s the kind of connection we saw more subtly evoked in the season premiere between him and Peggy, but this was a version of that connection twisted by Whitney’s bitterness.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: The Atomic Job

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Everyone has hidden parts of their identity; sometimes they’re hidden because others don’t bother to look past the surface, and sometimes they’re purposely tucked away in the dark corners of the heart. But it’s important to be honest about who you really are and what you really want—and that includes not lying to yourself.

Agent Carter‘s characters often dabble in the world of espionage: a world of secret missions, elaborate disguises, and fancy gadgets meant for covert operations. And like most shows that take place in such an environment, it raises important questions about the nature of the secrets we keep, the identity we share with the world, and the people we choose to be our most honest self with. Most of the time, I don’t think of those themes immediately when I think of Agent Carter—because Peggy Carter herself is about as honest as it gets about who she is. However, “The Atomic Job” reminded me that every character on this show has layers that aren’t visible on the surface, and the plot of this episode allowed those hidden layers, unknown depths, and damaging secrets to come out—as they often do in times of crisis.

The first mission in this episode did an excellent job of foreshadowing what was to come near the end of the hour. Although Peggy had previously met Hugh Jones, she thought she could hide her identity from him with a wig and a flawless American accent. But Jones saw through her disguise and figured out her true identity. The discovery of the truth and the ramifications of that kind of revelation were presented in a comedic manner in this scene (with Jones repeatedly getting his memory erased), but, by the end of the episode, that theme was no longer being played for laughs. Instead, we were shown the heartbreak that can occur when truths people try to hide even from themselves are suddenly revealed.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: Smoke & Mirrors

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Choose your own path. Define yourself on your own terms. It’s okay if other people don’t understand you in the moment, because someday that path you chose will lead you to people who respect you for who you really are.

Throughout our lives, we’re presented with many crossroads. Sometimes we’re too scared to go down an unfamiliar path, so we stick to the well-traveled route. Sometimes other people around us steer us in the direction of one path or another. Sometimes one of the paths is closed to us because of factors beyond our control. But sometimes we bravely step onto a new path that we know in our hearts is meant for us. And that might mean leaving behind people who don’t want to follow us on that new journey. It might mean having people question why you would ever choose that road. But it might also mean finding new people along that path who are meant to walk beside you.

“Smoke & Mirrors” presented us with stories about two women walking down what seem to be two very different paths: Peggy Carter, who is openly walking on her own tradition-defying path, and Agnes Cully, who was forced to hide everything about herself—from her real name to her passion for science and engineering—until she snapped.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: Better Angels

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up and running! I spent most of last week recovering from a stomach bug. But I feel better now and can’t wait to talk about Peggy Carter with all of you!

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“I trust my instincts…. They’re more reliable than what I’m told to believe.”

Those words from Peggy Carter resonated with me on a very deep level when I heard them in “Better Angels.” I believe in little else like I believe in the power of trusting your gut and following your instincts—even if it feels like no one else understands. If something feels wrong to you, it feels that way for a reason—and you should trust that feeling instead of belittling your intuition. It takes confidence to trust your instincts, but, as many of the characters in “Better Angels” showed us, it’s a path we don’t have to walk alone. If we have the right people around us, they’ll trust our instincts, too.

From the start of the episode, Peggy knew the story being spun about Dr. Wilkes being a Communist spy wasn’t right. But when she went toe-to-toe with Jack Thompson about the truth behind what happened at Isodyne Energy, Peggy encountered a sad truth about a woman’s intuition: People are often quick to dismiss it. Jack accused her of letting her emotions cloud her judgment, and all too often we as women are told that our instincts are actually just our emotions, our anxieties, or our nerves getting the better of us. But instead of letting what he said lead to self-doubt, Peggy stood up for her instincts and her ability to act on them. Peggy has enough confidence to trust herself and her feelings—no matter what anyone tries to get her to believe. And she’s also not afraid to call out someone (in this case, Jack) when they’re ignoring their own instincts.

Peggy knew Jack also had a sense that she was right, but he was willing to ignore the truth in order to behave how others wanted him to behave. And that kind of attitude is shameful to Peggy—not just because he’s ignoring her instincts, but because she knew he was ignoring his own. It’s often easier to just push away the gnawing feeling in your gut that says something isn’t right. To follow your intuition can sometimes mean acting in a way that others—especially those society deems “cool” or “important”—won’t appreciate or understand. And while it was more important for Jack to do as he was told in pursuit of acclaim and power, it was more important for Peggy to be true to herself, which often means acting in direct opposition to the way she’s supposed to behave.

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Agent Carter Life Lesson of the Week: The Lady of the Lake/A View in the Dark

Welcome, fellow Peggy Carter fans, to the first of my weekly Agent Carter posts for this season! Instead of doing a traditional episode review/analysis, I’m going to take a different path with these posts. Each week, I’m going to focus on something I learned from Peggy (or any of these fantastic characters) and explain how that lesson manifested itself throughout the episode (or pair of episodes, in this week’s case). I can’t wait to discuss what looks to be an excellent second season of this wonderful show with all of you, so don’t be shy—dive right into the comments section as soon as you’re done reading! And if you’re looking for more thoughts on this show, I highly recommend checking out MGcircles

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Kindness is power.

The Marvel Universe is filled with so many powerful people that it’s easy for us to focus only on the flashiest powers and stereotypically strongest people. But, in doing that, we lose sight of the beauty that comes from finding strength and power in unexpected places and people. There are so many different ways a person can be strong, and perhaps one of the most underappreciated powers a person can possess is the power to openly show kindness toward another human being. Agent Carter has always taken great pains to show strength in all its many forms, and that continued in this second season premiere with poignant examples of the value of kindness and the power of those who offer it to others.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Shows

The Americans finale

As we approach the end of 2015, I want to start off by saying that this year has given me so many wonderful memories as a writer. From sharing my NYCC experience with you to starting my book to writing perhaps my favorite post ever, I’ve grown so much as a writer and a woman this year, and I want to thank you all for being with me and supporting me on this journey. Also, I want to take this time to remind you that a great New Year’s resolution would be to write a letter for my book before the February 1 deadline!

With all that being said, let’s get down to business. For today’s final entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series, I’ll be taking a closer look at my favorite television shows this year. I think I watched more television this year than any year before, and I’m proud of the variety of choices on this list and the passion with which I care about these shows. Don’t forget to share your own lists of favorite shows in the comments. Also, more year-end fun can be found at MGcircles, The Girly Nerd, and TVExamined!

1. The Americans
The best show on television continued to get better in 2015, and it did so in the most unexpected way: by putting a teenage girl at the center of the show and allowing a young actress (Holly Taylor) to stand toe-to-toe as an equal with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (whose chemistry has never been better). In 2015, The Americans took big risks, provided us with huge moments of revelation, and did it all with the kind of subtle nuance that makes you pay attention to every beat because you don’t want to miss anything. There’s a lot to be said for whispering instead of screaming to get your point across, and this show has mastered that way of storytelling.

2. Parks and Recreation
In 2015, I said goodbye to my favorite show on television. But if Parks and Rec had to leave us, at least it went out on top. Its final season wasn’t just there to tie up loose ends and give fans plenty of sentimental moments before the end; it was genuinely great television that allowed its characters to continue to grow in believable ways, all while providing the combination of laugh-out-loud humor and heartwarming moments this show does better than any other. I couldn’t have been happier to see such a wonderful show have such a wonderful final season.

3. Jane the Virgin
Every time I venture into the Villanueva house as I watch Jane the Virgin, it feels like coming home. There is such warmth to be found on this show—such natural and believable love that makes the realistic moments of pain feel not so depressing and the moments of joy feel even more wonderful. I may be the farthest thing from a Latina (I’m as Polish as it gets in terms of my heritage), but I see my close, religious, supportive, and matriarchal family reflected so beautifully in Jane’s family. And I see so much of who I want to be in Jane—a woman who has flaws, who makes mistakes, but who is still as bright and warm as a summer afternoon. And, let’s be honest, Mateo is so cute that an hour of just his face would be one of my favorite shows on television.

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