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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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.09

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Source: spoilertv.com

I apologize for the brief hiatus that caused me to miss the last episode, fellow Oncers! I was off having a magical Disney adventure and then having a very non-magical adventure catching up on all the work I missed during my time away. But I’m back now and ready to talk about all things Storybrooke!

Title Changelings

Two-Sentence Summary As Belle is faced with the threat of her pregnancy being sped up so Rumplestiltskin can take her baby and Emma is faced with more detailed visions of her death, both women find the strength to fight for the fate of those they love. In flashbacks to Belle’s time in Rumplestiltskin’s castle, she witnesses a confrontation between the Dark One and his long-lost mother.

Favorite Line “I never wanted you to be perfect. I just wanted you to try.” (Belle, to Rumplestiltskin)

My Thoughts Love is not easy. It calls for sacrifice, selflessness, and the knowledge that sometimes you have to put your own pain and fear aside to do the right thing for the person you love. Love asks us to be brave, to try, and to believe. To love fully and truly is a hero’s calling, and Once Upon a Time has always shown that the most heroic thing a person can do is open their heart to love.

“Changelings” was an episode that proved that the strongest, bravest heroes on Once Upon a Time are the characters who are willing to do the difficult thing for the ones they love. And it did this by contrasting the heroes and villains in incredibly stark ways.

At the center of this episode was the conflict between Belle and Rumplestiltskin over the fate of their child, and that conflict has its roots in Rumplestiltskin’s inability to understand what Belle clearly does: Love does not demand perfection, but it does demand effort.

No matter how much power he amasses, Rumplestiltskin will always be a coward. He’s afraid that his son won’t love him, so he wants to force him to love him by cutting the ties to his fate. He’s afraid of losing his son, so he goes to drastic measures to keep him—including threatening Belle with an expedited pregnancy. And he’s afraid to put the hard work in that it takes to truly love someone, so he takes the easy way out—hiding behind the idea that he’s “unlovable” instead of trying to be a better person for his wife and unborn baby.

That’s always been Rumplestiltskin’s way—he always looks for a magical solution instead of making sacrifices and working hard to do the right thing for the people in his life. His actions in this episode were no exception. As Belle stated so perfectly, she never asked for him to be perfect; she just wanted to see him trying to be the best version of himself. Once he stropped trying and clearly stopped believing in himself, she stopped believing in him, too. As sad as that is, it also fills me with a sense of pride for Belle. This season has been all about her standing up for herself and her child, and it was powerful to see her refuse to give in to her husband’s demands and tell him that he would lose her forever if he used magic to take away their son.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.07

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Source: spoilertv.com

Title Heartless

Two-Sentence Summary When the Evil Queen gives Snow and Charming an ultimatum—give up their shared heart or force all of Storybrooke to suffer from the water of the River of Lost Souls—it allows several characters to think and talk about what True Love really means. In flashbacks, it’s revealed that the first sparks of True Love were ignited between Snow and Charming long before they even saw the other’s face.

Favorite Line “Knowing you believe in me means I’m not alone.” (Snow, to Charming)

My Thoughts For an episode titled “Heartless,” this had more heart than any other Once Upon a Time episode so far this season. It was another beautifully romantic chapter in the sweeping love story of Snow and Charming—the love story that first sold me on this show and the love story that will always hold a special spot in my heart. And as this episode allowed us to focus on the True Love between Snow and Charming, it also reminded us that their daughter is living out her own love story with a man whose belief in her echoes the belief that makes her parents’ love so strong.

Most of us who watch Once Upon a Time didn’t start watching it because we thought it would add more realism into our media-consuming lives. We started watching it because we needed an escape. We needed a fairytale. And sometimes it’s nice to watch episodes of this show that give us exactly that—the fairytale, the epic romance, the beacon of hope even when things seem to be at their worst. When life is hard (like in the final days before a presidential election that has everyone in America on edge), it’s nice to turn on the TV and watch something that makes you feel good. And even though “Heartless” ended with quite the heartbreaking twist, I still walked away from it feeling good, feeling uplifted, and feeling hopeful. This is why I watch Once Upon a Time and will continue to watch it as long as the TV gods keep it on the air.

“Heartless” was an episode about True Love, and, as such, it felt right that a quote about belief played such an important part in it. True Love and belief have always gone hand-in-hand on this show; to truly love someone, you need to believe in them, and you need to open your heart to let their belief in you help you grow stronger. Snow and Charming have always exemplified this idea—going so far as to believe in their love to the point of sharing a heart. But this episode showed that their belief in each other goes back even further than they knew.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.06

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Source: spoilertv.com

Title Dark Waters

Two-Sentence Summary After Henry discovers that Killian kept the shears that could cut Emma’s ties to being the Savior, the two of them are forced to work out their issues 20,000 leagues under the sea while being held captive by Killian’s half-brother. Meanwhile, Belle faces her first ultrasound appointment, and Emma and Aladdin bond over being reluctant Saviors.

Favorite Lines
Killian: What made you come back?
Henry: You said you couldn’t ruin one more family…Neither could I.

My Thoughts One of my favorite things about Once Upon a Time is that it is uniquely focused on women and their relationships with one another. However, that doesn’t mean that its male characters are left without proper development and compelling relationships in their own right. “Dark Waters” was an episode that centered on the complex family dynamics between some of the male characters on this show, and, its tight focus on one compelling relationship in particular (the often-underdeveloped one between Killian and Henry) made it one of the best episodes of this sixth season.

First of all, say what you want about the Evil Queen (and all I’ll say for now is that her Southern accent in this episode was the weirdest acting choice I’ve ever seen Lana Parrilla make), but she gets things done. I appreciate a woman who doesn’t let secrets stay secrets for long, and if having her around means no unnecessary angst lasts longer than an episode, then I guess I can handle her meddling in the lives of our heroes for a little while longer.

The Evil Queen will never be successful, though, because she consistently underestimates her opponents. If you’ll permit me a Harry Potter reference, it’s like Voldemort’s weakness being his inability to understand love. The Evil Queen thinks that everyone will react to things the way she would—with grudges that last a lifetime. But that’s not how heroes operate. As Rumplestiltskin said, forgiveness is a virtue, but it’s one the Evil Queen does not understand, which foiled her plans to drive the Charming Family apart.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.05

JENNIFER MORRISON, JARED S. GILMORE

Source: tvline.com

Title Street Rats

Two-Sentence Summary After Jasmine reveals that Aladdin was also a Savior, Emma leads the charge to try to find him alive, with her family’s full knowledge of her visions and how Aladdin’s fate is tied to hers. When Aladdin is found, he gives Emma a pair of shears that can sever her fate and save her life by making her no longer the Savior.

Favorite Line “I have actual magic in my life—I have you. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change a thing.” (Emma, to Henry)

My Thoughts Honesty is power. We’re at our strongest when we’re honest with ourselves about who we are, and our relationships are at their strongest when we’re honest with those we love. Accepting the truth—both our own truth and the truth that lives in the hearts of those we love—is the key to developing into the best version of ourselves and creating strong and stable relationships.

Honesty seems to be turning into a major theme this season on Once Upon a Time. For as strange as the Evil Queen and Zelena’s spa day was (and it was incredibly strange), it brought up a central concept for this season: owning who you are and what you’ve done. Although the last thing I want is for Zelena to raise her daughter to only know her mother as the Wicked Witch, the Evil Queen brought up a good point about how she can’t hide that part of her identity from her daughter. She was right; Henry hated the fact that Regina lied to him and made him feel like he was crazy for so much of his life. It was only when she became honest with him about who she was and her struggle to be a better version of herself that he could find it in his heart to love and forgive her.

Zelena’s little girl should know who her mother was, but she should also know the better person her mother was trying to be. For as much as Zelena is the Wicked Witch, she is also the woman who wanted to be more than that not so long ago. She needs to be honest with herself about the fact that the good part of her is as much a part of her as the wicked part. And the only way she can do that is by getting away from the Evil Queen, who wants to bring out her worst self.

The Evil Queen was at her worst in this episode, encouraging Zelena to embrace her darkness (Poor Archie!), taking a page out of her mother’s playbook and taking the form of someone else in order to get information and create discord (Poor Archie again!), and killing an innocent because she wouldn’t help her. (Looks like I was wrong about the seer being Jafar in disguise.) But I must admit that I didn’t mind that she ended up being the plot device that led to Emma’s secret being out in the open. It was past time it happened, and if it took the Evil Queen masquerading as Archie to force Emma’s hand, then so be it.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.04

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Source: spoilertv.com

Title Strange Case

Two-Sentence Summary When it seems Belle is in danger of being attacked by Hyde and the Evil Queen, Rumplestiltskin goes to drastic measures to try to keep her safe. However, flashbacks reveal that Hyde may not be the one everyone should be worried about.

Favorite Line “I don’t need your protection!” (Belle, to Rumplestiltskin)

My Thoughts Once Upon a Time has always asserted that no one is completely good or completely evil. “Villains” have the potential for goodness in them, just as “heroes” have the potential for darkness. “We are both,” as the show has said time and again, and, as such, it was hard for me to understand how the show’s version of story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that was introduced in last season’s finale—which seemed to be about physically separating yourself into two halves—could fit into that ethos. It turned out that Jekyll and Hyde fit perfectly into Once Upon a Time’s vision of good and evil because neither half was exactly what they appeared to be. Hyde was not the singularly sociopathic monster we thought he was, and Jekyll was far from the meek, harmless man he appeared to be at first sight.

Ultimately, just like every other character on this show, Jekyll and Hyde were both, and no amount of magic or science could completely separate them. At first, I was annoyed with Mary’s obvious attraction to Hyde because the “every girl loves the bad boy” trope is not one I agree with or want to see on television—especially not on a television show kids watch. However, upon discovering just how inseparable Jekyll and Hyde really were, I came to believe that Mary’s attraction was to the fact that Hyde was brave and uninhibited, not that he was bad. She appreciated his passion and his ownership of that passion, which if Jekyll was brave enough to show to her when he was himself, she might have come to love in him as well. Mary was attracted to Hyde because he wasn’t afraid to be himself, while Jekyll felt he had to hide and eventually physically break with part of himself.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.03

Before we begin, I know that Ella is known as Ashley in Storybrooke, but to avoid confusion, I’m just going to refer to her as Ella throughout.

Title The Other Shoe

Two-Sentence Summary When Cinderella discovers that her stepmother and stepsister have found their way to Storybrooke, she has some things to make right after ruining her stepsister’s chance at happiness in the past. As Emma tries to help her, she learns that you have to allow yourself to be happy in the present—even when the future is uncertain.

Favorite Line “I know everything in life is uncertain. Sometimes you have to walk out the door and hope there’s no bus.” (Emma)

My Thoughts “The Other Shoe” was one of my favorite episodes of Once Upon a Time in years. It was funny, it was romantic, it featured new twists on a classic fairytale, it dealt with universal themes in a magical setting, it put the spotlight on the family dynamics that warm everyone’s hearts, and it featured a bunch of women being strong in a myriad of important ways. In short, it felt like the classic Season One episodes that made me fall in love with this show—with the added bonus of focusing on the character development of Emma Swan and all the beautiful ways she has grown since that first season, while highlighting the compelling inner conflict that shows how much she can still grow.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that such a phenomenal episode was written by one of the most universally adored Once Upon a Time writers: Jane Espenson (with Jerome Schwartz). Espenson has an unparalleled sense of who these characters are now, where they’ve come from, and what real relationships between fairytale characters would look and sound like. Her gift for natural dialogue and sincere emotions in the middle of this crazy fairytale world has always made her episodes stand out. Also, she has a great sense of humor; it felt completely right for a Jane Espenson episode to feature Cinderella wearing pale blue Converse and holding a shotgun, as well as Grumpy complaining about doing all the work while Dopey gets his advanced degree. (Side note: Does Storybrooke have a college, or is Dopey taking online classes? Inquiring minds need to know.)

Espenson is also great at crafting thematically cohesive episodes, and this was another excellent one. In the case of “The Other Shoe,” nearly every storyline seemed to revolve around the idea of happiness—what it looks like, how to hold on to it, and what we do when we’re afraid that we’ll lose it. As such, it was an aptly titled episode, as many of the characters were struggling with the idea of waiting for “the other shoe” to drop.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.02

COLIN O'DONOGHUE, JARED GILMORE, LANA PARRILLA

Source: ABC/Eike Schroter

Title A Bitter Draught

Two-Sentence Summary When the Count of Monte Cristo shows up in Storybrooke, he tries to finish the job Regina gave him years ago—killing Snow and Charming. As the Count’s plan begins to unfold, Regina discovers that the Evil Queen is not only still alive, she’s planning a twisted game to prove to Regina that she still has darkness inside of her.

Favorite Line “I have a long road to travel before I can be someone I can be proud of. Despite the forgiveness of others, I must forgive myself, and I’m not there yet.” (Killian)

My Thoughts Sometimes thinking about the future is exciting, but sometimes it’s terrifying. Sometimes it feels easier to hide from a future that could end in pain, and sometimes it feels easier to ignore or push down the things we’re afraid of rather than facing them. Fear is a powerful motivating factor, but there is something more powerful: hope. As such, it seems fitting that this season of Once Upon a Time seems poised to address that universal conflict between fear and hope in a number of major storylines.

On the most obvious level, that conflict was addressed immediately upon finding out what the Land of Untold Stories really was. It was a land people escaped to when they were afraid of finding out how their stories would end. It was a place they ran to out of fear and hopelessness, thinking it was better to have no story than to have a story that could end badly.

That’s where Operation Cobra Part 2 came in. The original Operation Cobra was about restoring happy endings for people who’d forgotten their stories, but, as Henry so astutely pointed out at the end of this episode, the sequel is going to be a lot more complicated. From what we know so far, these people actively chose not to have a story; their lives weren’t put on pause by a force beyond their control. So it’s going to take more work to get them to believe in their own ability to have a story that ends happily. But if anyone can do it, it’s Henry. As the Truest Believer and the Author, he has the unique ability to help people believe their stories are worth living out. And not only do the citizens of the Land of Untold Stories need that hope, Henry’s mothers need it, too.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.01

Welcome back, fellow Oncers! I can’t wait to spend another season discussing all the fairytale fun and feelings with you, so don’t hesitate to jump in and start a conversation in the comments. Just remember, we like to keep things as positive and respectful as we can here at NGN!

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Source: ibtimes.com

Title The Savior

Two-Sentence Summary As Hyde and the others from the Land of Untold Stories arrive in Storybrooke, Emma struggles with side effects of being a Savior, including visions of her death. Meanwhile, Rumplestiltskin attempts to wake Belle, and Regina tries to work through her grief after losing Robin.

Favorite Line “I choose to believe that this story will have a better ending.” (Regina)

My Thoughts If Once Upon a Time has taught us anything, it’s this: We have the power to choose how our stories end. We have the power to push back against the forces that try to tell us what our story will be. And that power comes from belief—belief in our own strength, belief in those who love us and want to help us, and belief that light and love is stronger than fear and darkness.

In “The Savior,” that lesson—that the only way we can get a happy ending is by believing we can have a happy ending—was at the center of its three main storylines: Rumplestiltskin’s quest to wake Belle, Regina’s difficulty working through her grief, and Emma’s discovery of her decidedly unhappy fate.

Like most Once Upon a Time season premieres, this one spent a fair amount of time setting up conflicts for this season. However, it also featured a surprising number of emotional moments for a season premiere, especially for a show that tends to favor plot over prolonged character beats. The return to a Storybrooke setting certainly helped: Less world building means more time can be spent on the characters and relationships we already know and love. And it seems that this season is going to explore the benefits of characters actually dealing with what has happened to them in a healthy way, which is a wonderfully realistic approach to emotional health for a story about fairytale characters.

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