Guest Post: Join the Clone Club!

One month from tomorrow (April 14) Orphan Black returns with its Season Four premiere. To celebrate, please welcome our newest NGN Contributing Writer Meera, who’s written a little something about why this show means so much to her.

orphan-black-season-2-finale

Every so often we come across a book, film, or TV show that leaves us in awe. One such TV show for me is Orphan Black, the Canadian TV show based on human cloning. It kicks off with protagonist Sarah Manning witnessing the suicide of a girl who looks just like her (Beth Childs). Sarah steals Beth’s wallet with the hope of taking up Beth’s identity to fix her messy life. This is where the mystery unfolds and chaos ensues. Sarah learns she is a clone, she meets her clone sisters (Cosima Niehaus, Alison Hendrix, and Helena), and a series of adventures unfold—which I am not going to get into because I’d rather you watch the show yourself. I am, however, going to get into why this show is so special to me and why it is so important for today’s day and age.

First, the show’s representation of women is, above all, realistic. The show has many female characters—from the clone sisters to scientists to mothers. The women are not just stereotypical “strong independent women;” they are that and so much more. We get to see the lengths a mother is willing to go to protect her child. We discover irresponsible women who change entirely when it is their child in danger. We’re introduced to women who get anxious and turn to alcohol and pills, and eventually go through rehab. We meet smart women who are excited by the tiniest scientific discoveries. We see women who love food, women who smoke pot, women who have been broken, and women who have been abandoned and are dealing with the repercussions of that. We watch women fall in love, fall out of love, and even crave love. We see women with heels, with dresses, and with sneakers and leather jackets. We see women in control, we see them being controlled, we see them take control, and we see them lose control. We uncover the vulnerabilities, the sacrifice, and all the other facets of these female characters that are present in women of all ages, and that is just beautiful.

Continue reading

Advertisements

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.

Continue reading

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (5/17 – 5/24)

This week in television kicked off on Sunday with a fantastic season finale of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and quite possibly the most controversial episode yet of Game of Thrones. Monday and Tuesday featured a pair of ABC reality shows, as Dancing with the Stars crowned its champion (the very deserving Rumer Willis) and The Bachelorette aired a two-night season premiere. Wednesday night saw the end of David Letterman’s reign on The Late Show. And Saturday gave us one of the most emotional and shocking episodes of Orphan Black in the show’s three-year history.

While nothing on TV this week made me happier than Jake and Amy finally sharing a great kiss on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, there was nothing better than Paul’s final minutes on Orphan Black—even if they did break my heart in the process. After multiple seasons spent wondering where Paul’s allegiance lies and what’s behind his stoic facade, we learned the truth, and what a beautiful truth it was: Paul is a protector, and once he fell in love with Sarah she was always the one he tried the hardest to protect. He spent so long trying to help the Castor clones, but once he realized the truth of what was going on (and what a terrifying truth it was—planning to use their sexually-transmitted defect as a weapon and testing it on Sarah), he turned his fierce protective instinct toward the women who were harmed, especially Sarah. He was willing to die to destroy the science behind those experiments and protect Sarah and all the other women who could have been sterilized by the Castor clones.

Paul died a hero, and it was the most honorable death scene I’ve seen for a character in a long time. He died with love in his heart and a brave purpose filling his soul. All of his interactions with Sarah in this episode reminded me why I was once so captivated by their dynamic—because, in a world where Paul’s loyalties always seemed to be a mystery, his love for Sarah (which was never supposed to happen) became his primary motivating factor. It shouldn’t have surprised me to hear Paul tell Sarah that it wasn’t Beth he loved, but I was floored by his honesty in that moment. It was the most beautiful way imaginable for Paul to go out, and it was the perfect way for us to say goodbye to Dylan Bruce as an actor. His little smile after saying that line just about killed me.

This episode of Orphan Black showed us Paul’s heart, and it also showed us Mark’s. I loved the comparisons drawn between them in this episode. Mark’s honest confession that he loved Gracie perfectly paralleled Paul finally admitting to Sarah he loved her. And Mark’s desire to defy orders to avenge the pain he never meant to bring to Gracie humanized him in such a beautiful way. Both Mark and Paul were motivated by their love for women treated as pawns in Dr. Cody’s experiments, and I loved the way that connection was shown, especially in the final scene between them. Ari Millen absolutely destroyed me when Mark told Paul to make things right. The tears started then, and they didn’t stop until long after the final credits rolled. I was so sad to see Paul die, but his death scene honored his character and the actor who brought him to life with deep respect and understanding. But, of course, I wouldn’t expect anything less from Orphan Black.

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (4/19 – 4/26)

This was a very dramatic week in the world of television. On Sunday, Once Upon a Time gave us the shocking backstory of Cruella de Vil and pushed Emma closer to darkness than ever before. Also on Sunday, big changes happened for a variety of characters on Game of Thrones, including Arya, Jamie, and Jon. Monday’s episode of Castle revisited Castle’s missing two months and seemed to finally answer the question of why he had to miss his wedding. Wednesday featured an episode of Nashville that broke everyone’s heart by taking away Deacon’s immediate hope of a new liver and taking another step toward the discovery that Juliette is suffering from postpartum depression. That same night also gave us the season finale of The Americans, which was everything the finale of an excellent season should be. Finally, Saturday’s Orphan Black spent more time developing the story of the Castor clones, and Outlander brought Jamie and Claire home to Lallybroch.

In general, this was a week of heavy, depressing television, and I don’t even watch Grey’s Anatomy anymore. (My condolences to those of you who do.) Such is the life of a TV drama fan in the weeks leading up to season finale time, so I’ve learned to treasure small moments of happiness on the dramas I watch when they happen at this time of year. Therefore, my favorite moment on TV this week is actually a pair of moments from two different dramas that offered small moments of joy in the middle of heavy episodes.

The first of these moments happened on Saturday’s excellent second episode of Orphan Black‘s third season. During the very tense episode, I was thankful for the brief scene of domestic joy we were given between Cal, Sarah, and Kira. Watching the three of them play hockey together in the home Cal hoped to share with them was lovely, and it helped counteract the sadness to come, as Sarah had to let Kira go far away with Cal as she went deeper into Helena’s disappearance. Things might be difficult for that family unit right now, but there is still the memory of that happy hockey game (and that fantastic kiss) to hold onto for characters and fans alike.

The second moment also aired on Saturday. This week on Outlander, there were many flashbacks to the horrors both Jamie and Jenny suffered at the hands of Black Jack, and the episode ended with an anxiety-inducing cliffhanger. However, throughout the hour, there were moments of such sincere love and adorable happiness that it made the heavy parts much easier to handle. This was especially true of the episode’s penultimate scene. To hear both Jamie and Claire finally tell each other “I love you” was beautiful. However, the moment I liked even more was when Jamie was describing Claire’s “round arse” and “rock-solid head.” There was something so comfortable, happy, and realistically sexy in their body language during that part of the conversation that I couldn’t help but smile. It felt like a real moment of playfulness between a husband and wife, and that made the professions of love that came after feel even sweeter.

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

Grading the Season Finales 2014: Orphan Black

orphan-black-season-2-finale

Title By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried (2.10)

Written By Graeme Manson

What Happens? In an attempt to gain access to Kira after she was kidnapped by Rachel, Sarah surrenders to Dyad, and upon her surrender she’s interrogated about her sexual and reproductive history and forced to allow Dyad to harvest her eggs. Kira has her own plans for getting out of Rachel’s clutches; she steals a cell phone to call Cal, who appears at Mrs. S.’s house with plenty of revelations of his own: He’s figured out that Sarah is a clone, and he’s been in contact with a mysterious source who brings up the name Castor, which seems to mean something to Mrs. S.

Sarah and Kira aren’t Rachel’s only captives. She visits her father to try to get him to reveal the secrets to his genetic sequence, but he poisons himself with his own teabag before they can get any more information out of him. In a fit of rage, Rachel shows up at Sarah’s bedside before the surgery that will remove one of her ovaries, and she smashes the tubes of bone marrow Kira donated to help Cosima. The connection between Kira and Cosima has grown to be stronger than just bone marrow, though, and a drawing Kira made of a science lesson her Aunt Cosima taught her leads Sarah to a projectile device rigged up by Cosima and Scott. She frees herself (and ultimately Kira) by putting a pencil through Rachel’s eye with the help of a fire extinguisher.

Momentarily safe from Dyad, Sarah is able to enjoy some time with her sisters, introducing Cosima and Alison to Cal before Felix brings Helena home to meet her family. The sisters, Kira, and Felix are able to enjoy a night of family bonding (aka one big dance party) before chaos resumes in the morning.

Helena is kidnapped by men who are somehow connected to Mrs. S. and Paul, and the last we see of her, she is being put onto a military plane as they watch. Back at Clone Club Headquarters, Cosima experiences a near-death vision of Delphine before Kira wakes her. The little girl brings her aunt the book Rachel’s father gave her, and Cosima sees that his formulae and sequencing codes are hidden in its pages.

Meanwhile, Sarah visits Marian and meets her adopted daughter Charlotte, the only child to survive the 400 attempts to continue Project Leda and create new clones. Marian explains that Project Leda was never really shut down, and it has a brother project continued by the military: Project Castor. As Sarah sees one of the Project Castor clones, it’s revealed that Mark—the ex-military man who helped Gracie escape the Prolethean compound and married her (knowing she was carrying Helena’s child/children)—has plenty of “brothers” that he may or may not know about.

Game-Changing Moment The entire sequence of events at Marian’s home featured one big, game-changing moment after another. For two seasons, we assumed that Project Leda was finished, we assumed that any and all clones would be the same age as Sarah, and we assumed they would all be played by Tatiana Maslany. The introduction of Charlotte, a Kira-aged clone with Sarah’s DNA, blew all of those assumptions to bits. And the introduction of Project Castor changed the game in perhaps an even bigger way. Not only did it add a military angle to the scientific/political/religious debates this show brings to light every week; it broadened the entire scope of the show’s universe by adding a whole new set of clones into the mix. I don’t think their stories will pull too much focus from the female clones we already know (we first discovered Project Castor through Sarah’s eyes, after all); the producers know what’s working for them and probably don’t want to mess too much with that formula. But it will open up some interesting new avenues of storytelling for the show’s third season (which will hopefully be announced soon, pretty please!).

Continue reading

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (6/15 – 6/22)

This week in television began with a conclusion, as Game of Thrones wrapped up an excellent fourth season with its greatest finale yet. Monday’s episode of The Bachelorette provided plenty of drama of its own, as accusations of racism and jealousy plagued an episode that featured my favorite suitor (Josh) getting his first one-on-one date. After a slow Tuesday night, Wednesday was quite eventful: more auditions on So You Think You Can Dance, a wedding on Melissa & Joey, big moves and almost-kisses on Baby Daddy, and one of the greatest episodes for Donna and Louis in the history of Suits. The week ended with another finale, as Saturday’s episode of Orphan Black closed the book on the show’s sophomore season with enough twists to keep viewers on the edge of our collective seat until Season Three (hopefully) airs.

I’ll be writing much more about this when I grade it (hopefully tomorrow!), but nothing on TV this week—not even a very strong Game of Thrones finale—could compare to Saturday’s Orphan Black finale. Off the top of my head, I could pick about five different moments that would qualify as the best thing I saw on TV in almost any given week. However, since I want to save some opinions for my full analysis of the episode, I’m going to pick the moment that brought me the most joy and also reminded me just how brilliant everyone involved with this show is: the Clone Club dance party.

I loved the fact that—in this breathless finale, filled with twists and crazy plot revelations from start to finish—the creators were brave enough to include a scene that had nothing to do with moving the plot forward. Its purpose was simply to show the dysfunctional but beautiful little family that has formed between these sisters, Kira, and Felix over the last two seasons. Watching all of these characters let off some steam and enjoy each other’s company by dancing together was everything I never knew I always wanted.

What impressed me the most in this scene was the totally unique movements Tatiana Maslany gave to each of the clones. Each dance style reflected each clone perfectly, and it was yet another moment where I completely forgot I was watching the same actress work her magic as so many different women. But upon reflection, I find myself even more in awe of this scene because of the technical work that had to go into shooting it. This scene demanded nothing less than complete dedication from the cast and the crew, but it ended up looking so effortlessly fun. That’s the mark of a great work of art—it takes a hell of a lot of work but looks like the most natural thing in the world.

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (6/8 – 6/15)

I apologize for being late with this post once again, but I needed the extra day to get caught up on Orphan Black (and I’m so glad that I waited to post this until I did). 

This week in television started off with a penultimate episode of Game of Thrones that was possibly a little too heavy on the action sequences but somehow managed to strike a good balance with plenty of strong (and especially tragic) character beats as well. Sunday also featured a Tony Awards ceremony filled with incredible performances and plenty of deserving winners. The rest of the week’s TV offerings included another round of auditions on So You Think You Can Dance and another hilariously entertaining episode of Hollywood Game Night. The sports world also offered plenty of excitement in the form of NHL and NBA Finals, World Cup soccer, and U.S. Open golf. And Saturday’s episode of Orphan Black was filled with the plot twists, character development, and phenomenal acting that has made this show one of my favorites on television.

It was easy for me to pick the best TV episode I watched this week (that title belongs to Saturday’s Orphan Black), but it was far more challenging to pick just one moment from that episode as the single greatest one. Instead, I’m going to cheat a little bit and say that the best thing I saw on TV this week was a pair of moments that reminded me exactly why Tatiana Maslany is the greatest actress on television right now.

Sometimes we all get so wrapped up in talking about Maslany’s ability to seamlessly shift between clones that we fail to mention the real reason she’s such a good actress: Even if she only played Alison or Helena or Sarah or Cosima, she would still be deserving of critical recognition. She makes us care about each character on their own. Yes, sometimes I sit back in awe of the quantity of roles she plays, but this week, I was reminded that her true gift is in the quality she brings to each role. Watching Maslany, as Sarah, sit at Kira’s bedside as her daughter’s bone marrow was taken to give to Cosima, I found myself crying harder than this show has ever made me cry before. There was such real fear, love, and self-loathing in Maslany’s performance, and it was all shown with a subtlety that only the best actors possess. In that one moment, I forgot that there were other roles she plays on this show. I was so caught up in Sarah’s genuine and grounded emotions that everything else fell away, which is a hard thing to achieve on a show with as many plots as this one.

While Sarah’s bedside vigil reminded me that Maslany has a gift for making me care about each clone independent of the others, her turn as Rachel impersonating Sarah reminded me that the thing that really sets her apart from any other actress is the way she links so many independent characters together. From the slight changes in Sarah’s accent to the tiniest differences in her posture and gait, Maslany used her gift for subtlety to reveal to those paying attention that it wasn’t Sarah going up to see her daughter. Rewatching it again after the twist was revealed, I noticed all of those quirks, but in the moment, I was left with such a delicious feeling of eerie anticipation and total surprise. No other show gets the kind of visceral reactions out of me that Orphan Black does, and so much of the credit for that has to go to Maslany.

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (5/25 – 6/1)

After a couple of weeks away from my regular television viewing schedule while I was in Disney World, I came back to a TV week that didn’t feature a whole lot of new material (in no small way because last Sunday was without a new Game of Thrones episode), but what it did feature was fabulous. Monday nights in the summer are nights I spend with The Bachelorette, and last Monday featured a sweet date between Andi and Eric, which was ultimately heartbreaking with the knowledge of his tragic death after he finished filming the show. On Wednesday, So You Think You Can Dance returned with its first series of audition episodes. (For any of you wondering, I’ll be starting my SYTYCD recaps when they pick the Top 20.) And on Saturday, Orphan Black featured one big twist after another, ending on a shocking note that I don’t think anyone saw coming.

There’s nothing like Orphan Black to shake up a relatively slow TV week. Saturday’s episode will probably be most remembered for how it ended, but that wasn’t my favorite thing about it. Instead, I was drawn to the relationship between two characters who are now intrinsically linked though they have never actually met: Cosima and Kira. Cosima’s disgust and anger at finding out that Kira’s stem cells were put into her body without her knowledge and consent powered the episode’s most emotional confrontation. To see the way this woman cares for and wants to protect this little girl she never met was incredible, and it made me love Cosima even more. And then when Kira overheard Sarah and Cal talking about Cosima’s need for another of Kira’s teeth, that brave little girl pulled out her own tooth to help her sick “aunt.” Kira is a special little girl (and one of my favorite children on television), but she’s not just special because she’s the child of a clone with special healing abilities. She’s special because she can understand things far beyond her years and can act with empathy and level-headedness that even the adults around her don’t seem to possess. More than ever, I need Kira to meet Cosima, but I just hope it’s not because Dyad gets their hands on that incredible little girl.

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.

Continue reading