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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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (3/1 – 3/8)

As beloved shows ended last week and this week, plenty of old favorites returned to fill the void. On Sunday, Once Upon a Time came back with self-awareness, sweet moments, and some pretty big secrets. Sunday also featured the much-anticipated return of The Good Wife and a wedding extravaganza on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Tuesday’s episode of The Mindy Project dealt with some big misunderstandings and ended with a big step forward for Mindy and Danny. On Wednesday, Deacon’s secret was finally revealed to Rayna on Nashville, Philip and Elizabeth faced turning points with the teenage girls in their lives on The Americans, and Harvey and Donna’s relationship changed in a major way on Suits. Finally, Saturday gave us Chris Hemsworth’s very funny turn as host on Saturday Night Live.

When I thought about my favorite moment on television this week, I was torn between one that was deeply dramatic and one that was as silly as it gets. On the dramatic front, I still find myself getting emotional about the ending to Wednesday’s Nashville. Connie Britton has been aces this season, and her heartbreakingly realistic tears in response to Deacon telling Rayna he has cancer were so powerful. Yes, the slap is what everyone is probably still talking about—and deservedly so—but I was completely captivated by the moment after when she flung herself into his arms. It was the best example I’ve seen in a long time of the way the strength of Nashville’s cast allows its most melodramatic moments to feel grounded and, thus, even more devastating.

However, sometimes the best thing I saw on TV was simply the thing that made me smile the most. And this week, nothing made me smile like Rumplestiltskin, Cruella de Vil, and Ursula going through a fast food drive-thru in Cruella’s car on Once Upon a Time. The quick change from the three characters making villainous plans to two of the Queens of Darkness ordering chicken to go was an example of something only Once Upon a Time could do. Watching the fairytale characters we grew up with navigate the modern world has always been one of the most charming aspects of this show, and I was thrilled to see it presented in this midseason premiere in such a fun way.

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (2/1 – 2/8)

This week in the TV world started with a very dramatic Super Bowl—and I’m not just talking about Katy Perry’s halftime show (or that exceedingly depressing Nationwide commercial). On Monday, Castle continued its strong streak of episodes in its P.I. arc. Tuesday’s Agent Carter took the team to Russia, and big changes were in store for character on both Parks and Recreation and The Mindy Project. Wednesday gave us a strong post-hiatus return for Nashville, another episode of Suits dealing with Louis’s feelings of betrayal and how it impacts the whole firm, and one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen on television on another completely compelling hour of The Americans.

There were a plethora of strong moments on television this week, but sometimes you just have to stop and single out one actor for their performance throughout an episode. This week, there was nothing that impressed me more than the heartbreaking work Connie Britton did on the latest episode of Nashville.

Nashville is a nighttime soap opera, but it’s grounded by some surprisingly honest and heartfelt performances. And this week, Britton’s performance was a thing of sincere beauty. She made me feel every bit of Rayna’s exhaustion and regret that she let things get so far with Luke before calling off their wedding. There was one moment when she went to hug her sister and her face crumbled into genuinely ugly tears (which I didn’t know an actress as beautiful as Britton could cry), and it was some the most realistic crying I have ever seen on television.

And then there was her scene with Deacon at the end of the episode. Declarations of love can often be so cheesy and overwrought, but both Britton and Charles Esten played Rayna’s confession that she still loved Deacon with the perfect amount of restraint. It was soft and simple, and that made it feel so genuine. There was such honest emotion and warmth between them in that moment, making it a scene I could watch over and over again, finding new things to love each time. On a show where it could be easy to veer into melodramatic performances, I’m always impressed by the grounded honesty shown in Nashville‘s best moments.

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (12/7 – 12/14)

This was a very strong week of television, with plenty of midseason finales and penultimate episodes to keep us talking all week. On Sunday, Ingrid’s storyline concluded in a truly beautiful and emotional way on Once Upon a Time, and the holidays were in full swing on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Monday’s Castle winter finale ended on one heck of a cliffhanger, and Tuesday’s Christmas episodes of New Girl and The Mindy Project both made me happy cry. Wednesday’s Nashville was jam-packed with emotional moments—with one bright spot amid a whole lot of darkness. And Saturday Night Live had perhaps its strongest episode of the season in Martin Freeman’s capable hands.

It was incredibly tough to choose just one moment as the best of the week. Both Ingrid’s final scene on Once Upon a Time and Danny’s Christmas gift to Mindy on The Mindy Project were absolutely perfect. However, this week, I chose a moment that stood out for being a reason to smile during an hour of television filled with so much sadness.

The midseason finale of Nashville featured paternity problems, a possible cancer diagnosis, a potential death by overdose, and a canceled wedding. But in the middle of all of those things, my favorite couple on the show—Juliette and Avery—got back together, engaged, and married all within the course of a few minutes of screen time. Both of these characters have grown so much together and apart, and I loved that this was a moment of them choosing not to be without each other anymore, because they’re good together; they help each other be their best selves. Their love story grew to become one of my favorite things about this melodramatic primetime soap opera, and there’s nothing like watching a TV couple you’ve rooted for finally get married. And as someone who loved Juliette Barnes like I love only a handful of other ladies on television, it filled my heart with joy to see her get this moment of pure happiness, starting a beautiful family with the man she loves.

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (10/13 – 10/20)

This week in the television world got off to a fantastic start with another excellent episode of Once Upon a Time that introduced Tinker Bell, forced Regina to confront her own fear of happiness, and had all of us crying with Mulan over her unrequited love. Monday’s Dancing with the Stars allowed all of us Saved By the Bell fanatics to relive its infamous “I’m So Excited!” scene, and Castle had quite possibly its strongest episode of an already strong sixth season. Tuesday’s New Girl wasn’t the show’s finest hour, but The Mindy Project made up for it with a hilarious episode featuring a lot of naked Danny. Wednesday’s Nashville was a fantastic exploration of Maddie’s relationships with the adults around her, and Thursday’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland hinted at a very interesting backstory for the Knave of Hearts. Thursday also featured a fun new episode of Parks and Recreation and an incredibly tense hour of Scandal.

Some shows soared this week, some faltered, and some gave us moments we’ll remember even after this season is behind us. One of those moments was Maddie and Daphne’s duet at the end of this week’s episode of Nashville. Any scene featuring Lennon and Maisy Stella singing is a great scene, but what made this scene special was the emotional power of it. To watch Maddie singing her father’s song with the sister who loves her no matter who her father is was beautiful, but it was even more moving to watch Rayna’s reaction to her daughters bonding over Deacon’s music. Connie Britton can do so much without words, and this scene is another perfect example of that.

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

Five Reasons the Emmys are the Worst

Okay…The title of this post may be a little hyperbolic, but let’s call a spade a spade: The 2013 Emmy nominations (which were announced yesterday) weren’t exactly exciting. In fact, they left many (myself included) disappointed. I know I shouldn’t get my hopes up for the majority of my favorite shows and actors getting nominations, but that should be part of the fun of nomination day. But I guess “fun” and “nomination day” are two words that only go together for the Critics’ Choice Television Awards.

Over at Media Through a Mom’s Eyes, you’ll find some great reactions and analysis of the Emmy nominees, especially in the dramatic categories. Here, I just want to point out five reasons I’m convinced the Emmys are out-of-touch with what’s actually going on in the world of television.

1. I don’t love you, and I don’t like you. Once again, Parks and Recreation was left out of the running for Best Comedy, with only Amy Poehler securing a nomination in a category which I’m sure she’ll be overlooked in once again. I’ve grown sadly jaded about Parks and Rec’s chances of ever getting nominated again, but I really thought they stood a chance this season. While it wasn’t the strongest season overall, it had two of its most compelling episodes ever with “Halloween Surprise” and “Ben and Leslie.” To see such a heartfelt, well-acted, genuinely funny television show go without any recognition (beyond its fabulous leading lady) continues to break my heart and make me wonder what exactly voters are looking for. If you don’t love Parks and Rec, I don’t think you’re the kind of person I want to know—or the kind of awards show I want to watch.

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