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

gmw

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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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (9/11 – 9/18)

Welcome back, fellow TV addicts; I hope you had a wonderful summer! Now that the fall television season is upon us, it’s time for the return of our weekly breakdown of the best television moments! 

This was a warmup week in the world of television before things return to normal in the coming days (and weeks). However, even with a short list of shows airing new episodes, there were still some standout moments. Sunday saw the return of NFL games for most teams, which is either the best news ever or cause for another year of disappointment. (Can you tell I’m a Buffalo Bills fan?) On Monday, the new season of Dancing with the Stars premiered with some unexpected drama (protestors charging at Ryan Lochte on live TV) and some fantastic dancing. (Let’s just give Laurie Hernandez the Mirror Ball trophy now; she’s that good—and that much fun to watch.) Wednesday’s season finale of Suits was one of the show’s best episodes in recent memory, reminding us all why Jessica Pearson (and Gina Torres, by extension) is the queen of all she surveys only the break our hearts with her departure in its closing moments. Finally, Friday’s new episode of Girl Meets World touched on some incredibly deep and painful topics (the Holocaust, slavery) while never losing sight of the good in the world as shown through friendship, the diversity that makes America beautiful, and the belief that human connection—being part of something—is something to treasure and respect.

This is a week earlier than I’d planned to bring these posts back, but as soon as I watched the Suits finale, I knew I had to write about it. In a season where I found myself bored more often than usual (I actually missed a few episodes and discovered I didn’t really miss anything plot-wise.), Jessica was still a highlight every time she was on screen. And this finale—with its tight focus on Jessica and her backstory—was the finest episode of the season and one of my favorite episodes of the whole series. Watching Jessica own a courtroom was something I’d always wanted to see, and when Torres was given the chance to show this side of her character, she didn’t disappoint. But it was the way show peeled back Jessica’s layers to reveal her motivation behind what she did in that courtroom that really resonated with me.

Jessica Pearson’s father sacrificed his family at the altar of his career, but he believed he was doing something for the greater good. And even though Jessica chose a different career path (law instead of medicine), she did so as a young woman believing she would also serve the greater good. She became a lawyer to help people, but somewhere along the way, the relentless pursuit of power and prestige blinded her to the reason why she became a lawyer in the first place.Like her father before her, she chose her career over personal relationships, but her career choices didn’t offer her much comfort in the end. She’d stopped helping people who needed help and instead became so focused on protecting her firm that she lost her way. And that’s easy to do as a woman in a position of power (and probably even easier as a woman of color in that position, but that’s an experience I can’t personally speak to). You have to work so hard for the smallest victories that it becomes easy to lose yourself and your ideals in the fight to protect what you’ve earned.

But this death row case helped Jessica find herself again. It allowed her to reconnect with the young woman she once was, and in doing so, she learned a scary truth: She didn’t want to keep living the life she’d been living. She wanted to be better; she wanted to be happy. It was clear in the scene in which she told Harvey and Louis she was leaving: Jessica couldn’t keep fighting these battles to protect the firm; it was crushing her spirit. She’d fought for so long, but what was it all for? And as such, she chose to walk away from the firm she’d sacrificed so many things to protect.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Episodes

The Americans 3.10

Source: spoilertv.com

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

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

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

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

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

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NGN’s Best of 2015 TV 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 (8/17 – 8/24)

I apologize for not having one of these posts last week. Traveling kept me from watching most of last week’s episodes until early this week. But if you have a pick for best thing you saw in the last two weeks, feel free to share it! 

This was a fairly average summer television week, except for one outstanding night in the middle of all the ordinary, and that was Wednesday’s emotional roller coaster, featuring the highs of a strong set of performances on So You Think You Can Dance and the twists and turns of an exceptional Suits summer finale.

While there was plenty to love on SYTYCD this week, nothing could even come close to the brilliance that happened on Suits this week. The intensity of this summer finale left me breathless by the end of it, hands shaking from the overwhelming emotional power of the episode’s final scenes. The way Louis found out about Mike was handled so well, especially after the anticlimactic cliffhanger of the last Suits summer finale. I was absolutely blindsided by the reveal of the key’s importance, and I love when I find myself surprised by a show I’m watching. What I loved most, though, was that this discovery of Mike’s secret had real implications—both in terms of the show’s future and the emotional arcs of the characters.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (8/3 – 8/10)

This week in TV kicked off with a new Bachelor-franchise spinoff, Bachelor in Paradise (featuring my favorite will they/won’t they, Michelle Money and Graham Bunn). The week continued with a trifecta of good television on Wednesday: the first “All Stars” episode of So You Think You Can Dance, another strong episode of Suits, and the premiere of Top Chef Duels.

The summer television landscape can seem bleak at times (just look at how short the previous paragraph is if you need proof), but in the middle of all of the reruns and reality shows, there’s Suits. This season has been excellent, and this week’s episode was no exception. And while the strength of “Exposure” was primarily due to its emotional moments (Mike and Rachel, Louis and Jessica), my favorite moment came to us courtesy of Harvey and his excitement over having Mike back at the firm.

This has been a very serious season for Suits, so it was nice to have a moment of genuine happiness in the middle of a lot of angst and drama. Seeing that happiness come from the normally stoic Harvey Specter made it even better. The This man who usually holds such control over his emotions was so unashamedly happy to have his friend back, and it was adorable (a word I don’t usually associate with Harvey). It was a great example of so many things I love about Suits: its ability to walk the line between making me cry and making me laugh on a consistent basis; its rich characterizations; and its focus on one of TV’s best and most nuanced examples of male friendship.

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

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (7/13 – 7/20)

This week in television began with a new episode of The Bachelorette on Monday, which left little doubt as to the identity of the next Bachelor (Chris) and the man Andi ultimately chooses (Josh). The week continued with an episode of So You Think You Can Dance that featured the return of some favorite contestants from Season Three (Pasha, Anya, and Lacey), as well as an episode of Suits that put conflicts on the shelf for a moment in favor of exploring the show’s complex characters and their relationships with one another. Finally, Thursday featured another highly entertaining episode of Hollywood Game Night.

I’m not sure there’s anything better on television this summer than what Suits has delivered in its last few episodes. Last week, it was Louis who took center stage, and he once again had some incredible moments in this episode. But the real star of “Pound of Flesh” was Donna, and it was wonderful to see a character who is so beloved but so mysterious in terms of her past given a real moment in the spotlight and true character development.

Of course, as an admitted Harvey/Donna “shipper” (I just want those two crazy kids to stop fighting their feelings already!), I loved the episode’s last scene. It always makes me smile to see just how easy it is for Harvey to be attentive and open with Donna when it’s so difficult for him to do that with anyone else. Donna has supported Harvey for so long, so I love little moments like that final scene, when we get to see Harvey be just as supportive of her and her goals.

Although I loved Harvey telling Donna he was a fan of hers, my favorite moment in the episode—and my favorite TV moment of the week—was one that didn’t focus on Donna and Harvey’s relationship; it focused on Donna’s growth as an individual character. When Donna told Louis about her decision to pursue her current career path instead of chasing her dream, it was her best moment in the whole series to that point. Suits is a show about a heightened world of designer clothing and million-dollar deals, but it’s at its best when it touches something real—something we can relate to. Sometimes we don’t chase our dreams—sometimes we make the tough decision to prioritize security and stability above the romantic idea that we could be the rare person who “makes it” in a creative profession. That’s a truth that’s been told before, but never with the quiet vulnerability that Sarah Rafferty gave to that scene. I felt her regret, but I also felt her fear that regret may be better than the reality that could come with chasing that dream again.

That’s the truth that doesn’t get told very often: Giving up on your dreams allows you to live with the idea that you could have been great instead of facing the reality that maybe you would have fallen on your face. In a weird way, giving up on your dreams still allows you to dream—to pretend that you could have been great had you decided to try. The honesty of that moment, delivered with such genuine sincerity and emotion by Rafferty, floored me. And it made Donna’s decision to act again feel like the courageous move that it really was. It takes bravery to try again at a dream we put aside for a long time, and I loved that her bravery was rewarded with success and with the support of two men who genuinely care about her—first Louis and then Harvey.

Each week, Suits keeps dishing out these little character moments that stun me in the best possible way. If they keep it up, it might make for the show’s strongest season yet.

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (7/6 – 7/13)

This week in television began with an episode of The Bachelorette on Monday that featured hometown dates as well as the tragic revelation of former contestant Eric Hill’s death. Tuesday’s season finale of The People’s Couch was as entertaining as ever. Wednesday’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance didn’t quite live up to the standard set by the first week of live competition, but Suits had quite possibly its strongest episode of the season later that night. World Cup soccer action came to a riveting conclusion this week, and no mention of TV’s best can go by without a mention of a Harry Potter Weekend on ABC Family when it occurs.

I watch a lot of reality TV during the summer, so I’m always thankful for Suits, which allows me to keep one foot in the world of smart, scripted drama. This week’s episode featured stellar performances from every member of the show’s talented ensemble, but I have to single out Rick Hoffman’s work as the best of the best. Louis Litt has had some of the best character development on television in the last couple of seasons of Suits, and this week’s episode made me love this character more than ever before. Louis could have been the antagonist or the bumbling office idiot, but the writing and Hoffman himself have given this character such relatable humanity that it’s impossible not to feel for him.

When Louis told Harvey that he didn’t understand how Harvey could be so cold yet so loved while he’s so emotional but so hated, my heart broke. Hoffman was brilliant in that moment—I found myself moved to tears by his vulnerability. Louis and Harvey are such brilliant foils for one another. Louis is driven by emotion, while Harvey closes himself off from emotion as much as he can. Both are extremists in their own ways—too open and too closed. Louis’s emotions sometimes get in the way of his professional life, while Harvey’s lack of emotions (or at least lack of understanding about how to display them) gets in the way of him ever forming healthy relationships outside of his professional circles. They need each other to balance each other, and all I want is for Harvey to see that without any help from Donna. Louis deserves it, and the fact that Hoffman’s performance moved me enough to want this so badly for a fictional character is proof of just how good he is.

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

 

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (6/22 – 6/29)

After Orphan Black‘s season finale last Saturday, my summer TV season officially began—which means a lot of reality TV and very little scripted television. Monday started off with an episode of The Bachelorette that featured quite possibly the dumbest group date idea ever: a lie detector test. The Top 20 was picked on Wednesday’s So You Think You Can Dance, and Harvey and Mike’s battle got decidedly uglier on Suits. Episodes of The People’s Couch and Hollywood Game Night made me laugh this week, and there was plenty of exciting sports action to catch as the World Cup continued and drafts were televised for both the NBA and NHL.

While Harvey and Mike’s fight may have gotten uglier on this week’s episode of Suits, there was nothing ugly about the outfits worn by the women around them—in fact, the fashion statements made by those women were my favorite things I saw on TV all week. It’s no secret that I pay perhaps more attention than I should to fashion on television, and there were moments during this episode of Suits that I was so distracted by the beautiful clothes worn by Jessica and Donna that I stopped paying attention to the actual scene and started imagining owning those aforementioned beautiful clothes. Sometimes the best thing I see on TV in any given week is just something that stops me in my tracks for a moment in the best possible way. This week, it was the fabulous wardrobe choices made to highlight the class, elegance, and power of two of my favorite female characters on television. I’ve always said that Suits is one of the most stylish shows on television, and never has that been more true than it was this week.

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

Small Screen Style: Who’s Your Fictional Fashion Inspiration?

When I was 15, I bought myself a black pantsuit and a pinstripe skirt suit. No, I didn’t have ambitions of running for political office. I just wanted to dress like Sydney Bristow, the hero of ABC’s espionage thriller, Alias. Sydney wore a lot of suits and a lot of turtlenecks, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me to look at my wardrobe from my sophomore year in high school and see it filled with blazers, black dress pants, and fitted turtlenecks. Even today, whenever I wear an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt, I feel like I’m harkening back to Sydney’s climactic last scene in the Season Two finale, “The Telling.”

What started with Sydney has grown to include fashion inspirations from all corners of the television landscape in the 10 years since I bought that first pantsuit. We all have those TV characters whose styles we envy and ultimately try to emulate, with varying degrees of success.

When we dress like our favorite characters, we channel a little bit of their personalities into our daily lives, too. Wearing a red leather jacket might make you feel like you’re giving yourself a dose of Emma Swan’s strength. Putting on a killer pair of shoes could give you the feeling of being as fashion-forward as Carrie Bradshaw. Investing in a new pair of thick-framed black glasses might allow you to believe you can be as smart as Orphan Black’s Cosima.

My closet is filled with wardrobe pieces inspired by TV characters I love, but there are four whose styles I most often imitate when I want a boost of confidence.

1. Jess Day (New Girl)

jess day dress

Jess’s style leans more towards the “cute” side of her “cute and quirky” personality. It’s defined by flirty dresses and skirts, polka dots and stripes, vintage-inspired pajamas, and plenty of pairs of flats.
My Favorite “Jess-Inspired” Look: A fit and flare dress with a cardigan and ballet flats. If the weather is too cold for dresses, substitute with jeans and a polka-dotted sweater.

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