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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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Episodes

The Americans 3.10

Source: spoilertv.com

Today’s entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series focuses on the year’s best episodes of television. From fantastic finales and shocking surprises to beautiful bottle episodes and half-hour romantic comedies, these episodes gave us reasons to laugh, sob, and cheer from our couches (or wherever we watch TV nowadays). These are the episodes we never stopped talking about—even to people who didn’t watch these shows. They’re the ones that kept us up all night thinking about what happened and what it meant for the characters we’ve come to know and love. And they’re the ones we reference when we want to tell someone why a particular show is so wonderful.

As you check out this list of my 10 favorite TV episodes this year, don’t forget to share your own list in the comments! And, as always, there are some wonderful year-end lists to check out at MGcircles and TVExamined if you’re hungry for more!

1. “Stingers” (The Americans) 
“Stingers” was as close to a perfect hour of dramatic television as a show can get. It used the element of surprise perfectly, lulling the audience into a false sense of security right along with Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. Just as they thought they’d have more time before revealing their identities as KGB spies to their daughter, Paige, we thought the show would have more time because this episode wasn’t the season finale or even the penultimate episode of the season. But Paige forced their hand, and in one wonderfully tense dinner table conversation, the entire makeup of the show changed. However, in typical The Americans fashion, it did so not with fanfare but with subtlety—with powerful moments of silence, whispered words in Russian, and achingly nuanced performances from Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, and Holly Taylor.

2. “Leslie and Ron” (Parks and Recreation)
“Leslie and Ron” was the exact moment I knew Parks and Rec was going to have the masterful final season it deserved. If a show can deliver finale-caliber emotional beats and finale-level tears in one of the early episodes of its last season, you know you’re dealing with quality television. And “Leslie and Ron” delivered on both of those fronts. It was unafraid to aim for the heart and to ask both Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler to do much, proving that amazing things happen when writers and directors trust their actors to make magic together. The fact that a show could produce an episode like this one in its seventh season proves how smart, special, and brave Parks and Rec truly was.

3. “The Devil’s Mark” (Outlander)
Outlander is a sweeping romance the likes of which I have never experienced on television before, and no other episode of this show was as sweepingly romantic as “The Devil’s Mark.” Of course, the early scenes in the episode featured powerful acting and one heck of a twist involving a scar, but the reason this episode landed on this list was because of its final 20 minutes. Watching Jamie and Claire come to terms with the truth about her identity was the stuff epic love stories are made of: tearful confessions, emotional embraces, windswept farewells, and the hottest fully-clothed scene I’ve ever seen on television (which, coincidentally, took place in front of a fire). By the episode’s end, I was left with tears in my eyes and hands over my heart like a true swooning fangirl, and that’s exactly the kind of feeling I want to have while watching a show like Outlander.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Moments

Our latest entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series is all about the magic of a moment. A great scene, a great line, or even a great shot can stay with us for an entire year and beyond, and 2015 gave us plenty of amazing television moments to analyze, talk about, and remember for years to come.

Don’t forget to share your favorite TV moments of the year in the comments! And check out the Best of 2015 lists our friends have made over at MGcircles and TVExamined for even more fun!

1. Basement Tooth Extraction (The Americans: Open House)
This might be the single best moment I saw on television not just in 2015, but in my entire TV-watching life. It was all the reasons I recommend The Americans to anyone who loves great television rolled up into one brilliant scene. On the surface, it was a moment showing the ugly realities of life as a spy—with Elizabeth needing Philip to pull out her broken tooth because dental offices were told to be on the lookout for a woman looking like her. But what could have been just a gruesome moment was actually a scene of remarkable intimacy—a look at what it means to trust your spouse enough to be completely vulnerable with them in the most brutal way imaginable. Thanks to brilliant performances from Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (I’ve never seen eye contact express so much.) and stunning direction from Thomas Schlamme, a dental procedure became the best love scene I saw on TV this year.

2. A Parks Department Reunion (Parks and Recreation: One Last Ride)
All good things must come to an end. And if Parks and Rec had to end, this is how I wanted it to happen: one final scene in the Pawnee Parks Department offices, with every love of Leslie’s life getting its time to shine—her friends, her beautiful tropical fish, her husband, and her career. Whether it was Leslie dropping everything to hug Ann or Ben announcing that Leslie was running for governor because it had always been her dream, this was a scene filled with love, light, and everything that has always made Parks and Rec feel good. This was a scene designed to spread happiness on a show designed to spread happiness, and it was the perfect way to say goodbye.

3. “I am not nothing!” (Once Upon a Time: Nimue)
The best fairytales are meant to teach us lessons we can carry into our own lives, and that’s exactly what happened when Once Upon a Time showed us Emma Swan facing the call of the darkness. When she was tempted with power that would allow her to stop being “nothing,” something inside her snapped, and the strongest version of Emma rose to the surface. “I am not nothing! I was never nothing,” she told the darkness, reminding us all that we have the power to push back against the negative voices in our own head telling us we’re nothing; we can all be our own heroes by choosing to love ourselves and believe in ourselves. It was the most empowering moment on television in 2015, and it’s one I know I’ll draw strength from in my own life for many years to come.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Relationships

COLIN O'DONOGHUE, JENNIFER MORRISON

Source: ABC/Jack Rowand

The television landscape in 2015 was filled with incredibly compelling relationships. Whether you’re a fan of fairytale romances, supportive friendships, complex marriages, or loving families—there was something on television this year for you to be captivated by.

For today’s entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series, let’s take a look at the relationships that made us swoon, cry, and cheer this year. Don’t forget to share your thoughts and your own lists of dynamic duos (or groups!) in the comments! And if you’re in the mood for more “Best of 2015” lists, be sure to check out TVExamined and MGcircles for some NGN-approved fangirl fun!

1. Emma Swan and Killian Jones (Once Upon a Time)
I’m a sucker for a good fairytale, and there’s no better one right now than the epic romance between Emma and Killian on Once Upon a Time. This year, Emma and Killian faced beautiful highs (declarations of love, planning a future together in a new home…) and painful lows (a double dose of Dark One danger, a couple of almost-deaths before one that was all too real…). But if their story in 2015 proved anything, it’s that love is stronger than darkness. Whether they were reigniting a spark of connection in an alternate universe or kissing among the flowers of Camelot, they were a beautiful example of the power love has to help us be our best and strongest self. No couple on TV made me smile bigger or cry harder in 2015, and no couple had a more powerful ending to the year—with Emma ready to literally go to hell and back for the man she loves.

2. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
I always describe The Americans as a show that on the surface is about spies but is actually a fascinating study of a marriage and a family. In order for that premise to work, the marriage at the center of the show needs to be even more compelling than the espionage plots around it. Thankfully, this show has found a pair of actors in Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell who set the screen on fire when they’re together and are probably the best scene partners in the business right now. I find myself not wanting to blink when they’re together because I’m afraid to miss even the smallest look between them—because one look or one touch conveys so much emotional depth and honesty. In the middle of a life that asks these characters to constantly lie, it’s beautiful to see them develop a sense of truth and intimacy with each other, even when it’s imperfect and messy—because that’s what a real marriage is all about.

3. Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser and Jamie Fraser (Outlander)
Watching Claire and Jamie grow from a pair forced into marriage to a pair truly living out what it means to love someone “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” was one of my favorite things I did as a television viewer in 2015. I don’t use the word “swoon” lightly, but these two made me do that on more than one occasion this year. There is no duo on television with better chemistry than Caitriona Balfe and Sam Hueghan, and this show wisely uses that chemistry to its fullest potential, creating the best love scenes on television this year (many of which I will admit to watching more than once…purely for research purposes, of course).

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NGN’s Best of 2015 TV Performances

Paige

Source: blogs.wsj.com

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…The time when we reflect on all our favorite things about television from the past year! As 2015 draws to a close, I’ll be sharing with you the things I loved most from the world of television this year in a series of “Best of 2015” posts.

It’s always my hope that these lists allow you to reflect on your own favorite things about television in 2015. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments, and don’t forget to check out other fans’ and critics’ lists of their “Best of 2015” picks, too! (Heather always has amazing lists up at TVExamined if you’re looking for a place to start.) While you’re sharing your favorites, please be respectful of your fellow fangirls and fanboys, because our lists are all going to look different, which is what makes sharing them so much fun. We share so much about who we are when we talk about the media we love, and lists like these are such a great snapshot of who we were during a specific year in our lives.

Today’s “Best Of” list features my favorite TV performances of 2015. It was a fantastic year for acting on the small screen—especially for women (as you’ll see by the sheer number of women on this list). Many of the best TV characters this year were defined by complex motivations, stunning plot twists, and emotional storylines that called for new levels of vulnerability from the men and women who bring them to life. From new faces to old favorites, here are the actors that I thought stood out above the rest in 2015.

1. Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings (The Americans)
While I could have put the entire cast of The Americans at the top of this list, I chose to single out Taylor because no actor on television this year impressed me as much as she did. Season Three of The Americans boldly put a teenage girl at the center of everything, and the fact that it was a success speaks to Taylor’s ability to make Paige something more than just the stereotypes of teenage girls we’re so often shown in the media. In her hands, Paige became a character whose maturity I admired and whose innocence I wanted to protect. She wasn’t the one-dimensional morality police in a family desperately in need of one; she was just a girl who cared deeply about her faith, justice, and the truth and was thrown into a life she was unprepared to handle. In the hands of another young actor, that could have come across in an incredibly heavy-handed way, but Taylor appears to be learning the art of subtlety and honesty from her onscreen parents. It’s one thing for a young actor to carry a big storyline and not hurt a show; it’s another for them to do that and make the show better because of their work. Taylor’s ability to make viewers care about Paige—especially in the quiet moments this show does so well—played a critical role in making this the strongest season of The Americans yet.

2. Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)
I was late to the Jane the Virgin party (having just started watching this summer), but now that I’m here, I’m ready to gush about Rodriguez. With a premise as crazy as this show’s premise, the characters need to keep things relatable, and Rodriguez does that in such a brilliant way—by making Jane one of the most likable characters to hit television screens in the last few years. She projects a warmth that can’t be faked, and she has a rare ability to be both genuinely hilarious and heartbreaking within the same scene. When Jane does a happy dance, I want to dance with her. When Jane cries, I usually do cry with her. Rodriguez is the heart and soul of a show with so much heart and soul, and I can’t wait to watch her star continue to rise.

3. Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan (Once Upon a Time)
2015 wasn’t an easy year for Emma Swan: She found out some difficult truths about her parents, was trapped in a tower in an alternate reality, became a Dark One, and had to watch the man she loves die three times. But while Emma went through the lowest of lows, Morrison reached new heights, proving that—even after four-plus seasons in this role—she still had plenty of new things to show us about Emma as a character and herself as an actor. When she was tasked with playing Emma struggling with her new identity as the Dark One, she rose to the occasion, deftly using her voice and body language to make Emma’s struggle feel as intense and desperate as it needed to feel for this “Dark Swan” arc to resonate. And when she was asked to show us Emma at her most vulnerable—uncontrollably sobbing after having to kill the love of her life to destroy the darkness—Morrison did what she’s always done best: She took a show about fairytales and made it feel real.

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