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

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

Words matter.

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

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

And those words mattered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The stories that made us.

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

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

But not everyone is that lucky.

Not everyone knows how their story began.

And Randall Pearson was one of those people.

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

How he began.

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

The story of his mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the Buffalo Bills.

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

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

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

And they’re fun.

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New Year, New NGN

The beginning of the year has always been a time of new beginnings at NGN. This site started as a New Year’s resolution, and January has always been a time for reflecting on this little corner of the internet and how I can make it the best it can possibly be.

For a few years, I wasn’t sure how to do that. My career changed in a major way in 2016, and with that, the time I could devote to this site—especially in the form of weekly reviews of shows—drastically decreased. But it was more than just my job that changed around that time. I changed. My relationship with fandom changed. My relationship with writing about and for fandom changed.

I felt like I couldn’t be what fandom needed me to be.

For years, I’d built a reputation as being a force of unstoppable positivity in fandom. And I relished that reputation. I encouraged it and took it very seriously.

But sometimes it’s hard to be positive.

Sometimes you can’t be what other people need you to be.

So I all but disappeared because I felt like I couldn’t be what fandom needed me to be—what fandom expected me to be. I couldn’t keep up with The Fan Mail Project (remember when I tried to write a book?) thanks to my grueling workload and packed schedule. I couldn’t post as often because I was burned out from writing all day at work. I couldn’t be as endlessly enthusiastic as I used to be because I was struggling with a prolonged period of anxiety and self-doubt.

I felt like I was letting people down, and I didn’t know how to deal with that.

I wrote when I could, but after my posts about The Americans ended, it was hard for me to find my groove—to find my voice.

But I think I’m starting to find it again.

And I have you—my NGN Family—to thank for that.

The encouragement you gave me when I wrote about what Schitt’s Creek taught me about coming home. The kindness you all showed when my year-end posts took a different—and more honest—tone this year. The sense of community that’s filled this place again in the last week.

It’s all reminded me that the people who matter—the people who’ve made the NGN community what it’s been for almost a decade—don’t need me to be anything but myself. My messy, vulnerable self. It’s reminded me that NGN can be a safe space not just for the people who visit it, but for me too. And it’s reminded me that nothing makes me feel less alone than connecting with people through the kind of writing that I’ve always loved bringing to NGN—writing about the things we love and what those things say about who we are.

So with that in mind—and in the spirit of new beginnings—I’m excited to announce that I’m bringing back a couple of old features from NGN’s past that I think will focus on that kind of writing and allow all of us to share enthusiasm and love the way we did this past week—and the way we’ve been sharing for more than eight years.

The first of these is The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week, which will return to its Sunday slot starting tomorrow! The second is an updated version of NGN’s old Daily Dose of Feelings feature that discussed some of my favorite emotional moments from TV. However, my life doesn’t really allow for “Daily” posts anymore, so instead, Right in the Feels is going to pop up at least a few times a month to focus on moments from movies, TV shows, and other aspects of pop culture that have brought me to tears throughout my many years as a fangirl. (I have a working list of moments to write about, but if you have suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments!)

It’s my hope that these features—along with more essays throughout the year—will allow us all to continue to connect with the joy, enthusiasm, and community that’s been buzzing around NGN for the last week and that has always made this little corner of the internet so special.

It may be a new year, but I’m ready to rekindle a little bit of that old NGN magic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s nothing like a great television proposal.

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

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

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (9/25 – 10/2)

This week in television started out with a strong Season 6 premiere of Once Upon a Time that laid out some very compelling internal and external conflicts for each character. On Monday, Dancing with the Stars aired a head-to-head dance-off episode, and that was followed by the first U.S. presidential debate of the election season. Tuesday’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine brought us back to the precinct and balanced that with some biting, Florida-based satire from Jake and Holt’s storyline. Tuesday also featured a politically-minded episode of New Girl and a second episode of This Is Us that gave each character even more depth and each relationship even more nuance. On Wednesday, Speechless proved to me that it has the right balance of heart and humor to keep me invested for the long haul, and black-ish made me cry with its emotionally gripping sonogram scene. Thursday provided me with moments that sold me completely on two very different partnerships: Eleanor and Chidi on The Good Place and Ginny and Mike on Pitch. Finally, Saturday Night Live kicked off its season with a much-hyped debate skit and an entire episode devoted to reminding everyone why Kate McKinnon won her Emmy. (Her impression of Trump campaign manage Kellyanne Conway was exceptional.)

It was impossible for me to pick just one moment this week that I loved more than any other, but all of my favorite moments were connected by the same theme: emotional investment. All the new shows I’ve started watching featured a moment this week where I knew I was hooked—whether it was Maya listening to Kenneth help J.J. use the bathroom on Speechless; Rebecca and Beth doing their best to be good wives and mothers (and delivering killer monologues in the process) in two different timelines on This Is Us; Eleanor praising Chidi with nothing to gain from it on The Good Place; or Mike telling Ginny that she might not trust her fastball but she needs to trust him on Pitch. All of those moments took me beyond the initial introduction of characters and stories and revealed something genuine and compelling about the relationships that will serve as the heart and soul of these shows. All of these were moments of sincere connection, and it was lovely to see such strong dynamics developing so early in the game for these shows.

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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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