NGN’s Best of 2015 TV Performances



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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Fangirl Thursday: 10 Reasons Why We’re All a Little in Love with Danny Castellano

Let’s face it: It’s hard to watch The Mindy Project and not fall a little bit in love with Danny Castellano. Is he perfect? Not at all. There are even some times when it’s hard to like him, but we still love him. Because when it counts, Danny is a man straight out of our best rom-com dreams.

Maybe it’s the complex and nuanced way his character is written. Maybe it’s the way Chris Messina brings him to life with such sincerity. Or maybe it’s the dancing. (It’s definitely the dancing.) Whatever magical combination is responsible for Danny’s charm, it’s been working on me for years, which is saying something, because after the pilot of The Mindy Project I might have ranked Danny my least favorite male character on television.

Danny was allowed to grow and evolve, and the show grew and evolved with him. The Mindy Project became a great TV rom-com when its leading lady was given a male character to play off of who’s as great as she is. In order for us to believe that Mindy could fall in love with Danny, we all had to fall in love with him, too. And the show gave us plenty of moments that helped us do exactly that.

Without further ado, here are 10 reasons why The Mindy Project made it easy for us to fall in love with Danny—starting with the most recent example. Click on each reason for more gifs to help you fall in love with him all over again.

1. He appreciates a strong woman—and he’s not afraid to say it. (4.02: “C Is For Coward”)

This entire post was inspired by the fabulous final minutes of “C Is For Coward.” When Mindy went into labor and fear started to overtake her, Danny stepped up in a major way—reminding her of her strength at a time when she was feeling weak. Danny telling Mindy she’s stronger than him was such a powerful moment because Messina made us feel that Danny believes that with his whole heart, and he loves her all the more for it. And Danny naming baby Leo after Leo the Lion because he’s strong like his mother would have been perfect enough on its own, but the adoring, awestruck look that accompanied those words just about killed me. Danny doesn’t just love Mindy; he respects her, and he respects her strength more than almost anything. And who doesn’t love a man who knows his fiancee will draw strength from being called a “stone cold bitch”?

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (9/13 – 9/20)

As television shows are slowly awakening from their summer-long slumber, we were treated to the first taste of this new TV season over the past week. On Monday night, Dancing with the Stars returned with a very promising new crop of celebrities. And on Tuesday, The Mindy Project started the next chapter of its life after its move to Hulu.

I was all set to write about the ending to the season premiere of The Mindy Project for this post. I had a lot to say about Chris Messina’s ability to say so much with so little and the beauty of Mindy Kaling’s smile. I also wanted to talk about how important it was for Danny to tell Mindy he’d like to be wrong about marriages never working out. Because that’s what mature love is—it’s a leap of faith that you choose to take instead of something you blindly fall into. It’s knowing that there’s a chance this could end in disaster but choosing to believe there’s also a chance it might not. Love is belief—belief that the person you love is worth the risk and belief that your own happiness is worth fighting for. All those themes were wrapped up in one moment—in one line, really. And it gave me so much hope for the future of this show.

I had all that planned, and then last night’s Emmy Awards happened. Viola Davis happened. And now I don’t want to write about anything else.

Viola Davis is class, elegance, and power personified. When she talks, you listen. And when she talks about the struggle for African American women to find their voice and their own place on television, you don’t just listen; you cry.

You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.

What an honest and deeply moving statement. There’s still so far to go for women—and especially women of color—in television, but progress and change are happening. And it’s happening because of a community of writers, creators, and actors who believe in what they’re doing and believe in each other. As Taraji P. Henson embraced Davis with such emotion on her way up to the stage, as Kerry Washington cried her way through Davis’s speech, and as Davis mentioned so many of her peers who are making their mark on the television landscape, I was moved to tears by the power and beauty of women supporting other women.

The Emmys weren’t perfect, but they gave us this moment. And for that, I am so grateful.

What was the best thing you saw on TV this week? And let’s use this post as a post-Emmys discussion group, too! What were your thoughts on the night’s winners, snubs, and overall entertainment value?

Grading the Season Finales 2015: The Mindy Project



Before we start talking about last night’s finale, I just wanted to say a quick thanks to all of you who’ve joined us here at NGN to talk about The Mindy Project this season. It’s been a true pleasure writing about this season and discussing it with all of you!

Title Best Man (3.21)

Written By Mindy Kaling

What Happens? Mindy invites Danny to meet her parents at a going-away party before they spend a year in India. However, when Danny gets stuck at the hospital for longer than he expected, he decides to stay in New York instead of making the effort to get to Boston. Mindy then takes this as a sign that she was right not to tell her parents about Danny. With his commitment issues and her history of failed relationships, she didn’t want to introduce them to someone who wasn’t going to stick around.

Mindy reveals all of this to Peter while he’s in town to pick a new best man for his wedding. She explains to him that her parents think that the father of her baby is just an ex-boyfriend she’s no longer dating anymore. Naturally, Morgan overhears this part of the conversation and believes there are now questions about the paternity of Mindy’s child.

During a surprise baby shower at Annette’s house, Morgan has a surprise of his own for Mindy: a lineup of her former boyfriends whom he believes could have fathered her child. Forced to confront the fact that she kept information about Danny from her parents, Mindy reveals that she was scared because—as the lineup of men Morgan found proves—she hasn’t been great at picking guys who stick around. As truths start to come out, Danny has one of his own: He doesn’t think he wants to get married again.

While Mindy and Danny discuss their different stances on marriage, they realize they’re on opposite ends of a debate in which there’s really no middle ground. Mindy doesn’t think it’s crazy to want to get married, but Danny thinks the institution is meaningless. After Mindy leaves, a conversation between Annette and Danny allows Danny to open up about why his parents’ divorce and his first divorce left him so scared of getting married again: He doesn’t want to end up hating Mindy. However, Annette reminds Danny that maybe the problem both of them had was that they married people who weren’t deserving of everything good about marriage.

While Mindy stays home from Peter’s wedding due to her preeclampsia (and tries to write to her parents about the real father of her baby), Danny appears to be on a plane to Austin. However, when Mindy gets a call from Morgan, he tells her that Jeremy took Mindy’s place as Peter’s best man, and Danny isn’t at the wedding. Instead, Danny flew to India, where he introduces himself to Mindy’s parents and tells them he’s in love with their daughter.

Game-Changing Moment While I think many would (not incorrectly) see Danny showing up in India to introduce himself to Mindy’s parents as the biggest moment in “Best Man,” I think the most important moment was the conversation that led to Danny taking that big step: his conversation with his mother. Danny isn’t good at vulnerability. But with his beloved Ma, he could finally open up about how damaged he is by the failed marriages he’s seen and been a part of. And it’s only through that open confronting of his fears that he could begin to heal in a way that allowed him to get on the plane at the end of the episode. Without his mother’s guidance and support, Danny would never have found the courage to be the man Mindy deserves. As Annette said so perfectly, if Danny doesn’t believe in fairytales, he picked the wrong girl to start a family with. Mindy deserves the things Danny was scared to give her, and Annette helped her son see that. And in giving her son guidance without pushing him, Annette showed us why Danny became the good (if understandably flawed) man he is: He has a Ma who wants nothing more than for him to be happy and to be his best self. Without Annette’s words of wisdom, there’s no big gesture to end the episode, so I’d consider her this finale’s ultimate game-changer.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (3/15 – 3/22)

This week in television started off on Sunday with an exploration of Maleficent and Regina’s past on Once Upon a Time, another entertaining half-hour of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and one step closer to the big election on The Good Wife. Dancing with the Stars started its new season on Monday night, and that was followed by an episode of Castle that gave us some insight into Beckett’s view of her place in the working world. On Tuesday, The Mindy Project introduced us to Tamra’s cousin Sheena, and on Wednesday, The Americans tested Martha and “Clark’s” relationship in ways neither character was anticipating.

As any of you who regularly visit NGN probably know, there are few things in the media I love more than depictions of supportive female friendships and women encouraging other women to believe in themselves. This week, The Mindy Project gave us such a lovely example of this with the introduction of Laverne Cox’s Sheena, who helped Mindy find her confidence again. Sheena’s advice was the perfect mixture of funny and sincere, and it’s advice I hope all women watching took to heart. Talk to yourself like you talk to your friends—with kindness and encouragement rather than negativity. Be nice to yourself. And when all else fails, do your makeup, put on a fierce outfit, and fake it until you make it.

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

TV Time: The Mindy Project 3.20

Title What To Expect When You’re Expanding

Two-Sentence Summary As Mindy struggles with her self-confidence after starting to gain weight due to her pregnancy, she gets some help from Tamra and her cousin Sheena. Meanwhile, Morgan is also struggling with his weight, and Jeremy tries to date again after learning that Peter and Lauren are getting married.

Favorite Lines
Sheena: Mindy, confidence comes from—
Mindy: From within. Yeah, I know.
Sheena: Within? Who the hell told you that? Confidence comes from amazing outfits and perfect makeup.

My Thoughts One of my favorite things about Mindy Lahiri as a character is her confidence. It’s still a rare thing for a female character on television—especially a female character who doesn’t fit the “traditional leading lady” model in terms of her appearance—to be so unashamedly confident in who she is, and that includes how she looks. Mindy makes me feel like it’s okay to look at yourself in the mirror and think you look amazing, and that’s one of the reasons why this character isn’t just entertaining—she’s important.

As this pregnancy storyline has unfolded on The Mindy Project, it’s allowed for deeper explorations of some aspects of Mindy and Danny’s characters that have only been briefly touched on previously, such as Danny’s Catholicism in last week’s episode. In “What To Expect When You’re Expanding,” the focus was put on Mindy’s self-confidence, giving it new layers and depth by showing that underneath Mindy’s healthy sense of self-esteem are some very relatable insecurities.

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TV Time: The Mindy Project 3.19



Title Confessions of a Catho-holic

Two-Sentence Summary Danny and Mindy attempt to charm the new pastor at Danny’s church, who happens to be someone Danny knows from his old neighborhood. Meanwhile, Jeremy tries to pull off a one-man show about his childhood.

Favorite Lines
Mindy: How old was Father Francis? Was he Jesus’ roommate?
Danny: No! Jesus didn’t have a roommate. He lived with his Ma.

My Thoughts Religion is a very tricky topic to tackle on television shows—especially comedies, and especially comedies as typically silly as The Mindy Project. Yet somehow, even at its most ridiculous, The Mindy Project has always done a really wonderful job balancing the humor to be found in Danny’s devout Catholicism with its genuine importance in his life and his family. It’s easy to turn someone being religious into a joke, but the TV comedy landscape is filled with enough one-dimensional, satirical portraits of religious people. However, what The Mindy Project has done so well is acknowledging the humor inherent in some of the sillier aspects of organized religion while still respecting the place that organized religion has in many people’s lives. Danny isn’t made out to be a better or worse person because he’s Catholic; it’s simply one of many facets of his complex character. And that’s rare on television.

Before we go any further, I just want to state for the record that I’m a practicing Catholic. I went to Catholic schools through college, and I still go to Mass on Sundays. So I knew going into this episode that I was probably going to love it. Every single Catholic joke told on this show in three seasons has landed with me. And I’ve always found Danny’s Catholicism to be a really interesting part of his character—especially because he doesn’t fit into either of the two main stereotypes about Catholics: He’s not ultra-conservative in his moral views and behaviors, and he’s also not just someone who identifies as Catholic but doesn’t go to Mass. Danny is a person trying to balance living his life the way he feels is right for him with his religious upbringing and beliefs, and that’s both incredibly relatable and incredibly deep as both a source of character growth and comedy—both of which were explored to their fullest potential in “Confessions of a Catho-holic.”

Once again, The Mindy Project did a great job addressing a common question people in relationships must tackle in order to grow together: How does religion factor into this relationship? This is especially important when there’s the issue of bringing a child up in a particular faith that needs to be talked about, which is exactly what Mindy and Danny were going through in this episode. And once again, this show tackled this point of relationship growth with big laughs and also genuinely sweet moments of sincerity. That combination brings out the best in The Mindy Project, and it was on full display here.

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TV Time: The Mindy Project 3.18



Title Fertility Bites

Two-Sentence Summary Mindy’s new clinic is struggling to find its footing, which leads to drastic measures and a big misunderstanding about Danny’s fertility. Meanwhile, the nurses band together against Dr. Bergdahl—until they find out he’s been sleeping in his car.

Favorite Lines
Dr. Bergdahl: Anybody else want anything? The nurses are making sandwiches.
Tamra: Do I look like I work at Au Bon Pain?

My Thoughts The Mindy Project is a very funny television show. And sometimes that’s all it needs to be in order for me to enjoy it. However, there are other times when the show’s desire for laughs asks me to turn my brain off, and I get frustrated because I know it’s better than that. “Fertility Bites” was a funny episode; I’m not going to say otherwise. However, it came by those laughs at the expense of logic and through clichés that I’m getting a little tired of, if I’m being honest. But, like more than a few episodes of this show, it was saved by a strong ending and the overwhelming charms of its cast.

I actually think I liked the B-plot more than the A-plot this week. There’s something to be said for surprising moments of kindness, and that’s what we saw with the nurses in this episode. I had absolutely no fun at all watching Dr. Bergdahl treat the nurses so poorly, but it did give us Tamra’s great line about Au Bon Pain, which almost made his over-the-top nastiness worth it. And the body-odor jokes were a little juvenile, but I still giggled at Danny saying he should take the nurses out for “coffee or deodorant.” In the end, though, this story wasn’t about Dr. Bergdahl so much as it was about the nurses. It was about giving these supporting characters a chance to show real kindness toward someone who wasn’t in the inner circle of the practice, and I really liked seeing that. I’m still not sure Dr. Bergdahl is going to be a great fit with this cast of characters long-term (which his stay at Mindy’s apartment seems to be hinting at), but maybe he’ll grow on me. After all, Peter went from being a character I didn’t like at all to one of my favorite characters on the show. Sometimes The Mindy Project takes a while with characters and stories to find its groove, and maybe that’s what’s happening here.

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TV Time: The Mindy Project 3.17

Join me in welcoming back the lovely and talented Heather, who was kind enough to take over reviewing duties as I devoted my time and energy to all things Parks and Recreation this week!

TMP 317

Title Danny Castellano is My Nutritionist

Two-Sentence Summary Danny worries about the effect Mindy’s eating will have on their baby, while she is plagued with morning sickness and worries about Danny’s smoking habit. Meanwhile, the practice looks for a new doctor to replace Peter.

Favorite Line “Gandhi said ‘The British are coming.’ That’s how he got independence for India.” (Mindy)

My Thoughts I have traditionally liked episodes with titles that start with “Danny Castellano is My …” so I was looking forward to seeing how one of these episodes would play out now that Danny and Mindy are dating. Unfortunately, this episode was not the same caliber as “Danny Castellano is My Personal Trainer,” so my mixed feelings about this episode may be a result of expecting too much.

I may also have mixed feelings about the episode because an awful lot of it centered around a type of humor I don’t particularly care for. Morning sickness is a part of many pregnancy experiences, and I recognize that and may have even enjoyed a humorous look at the way pregnancy can make carrying on a day-to-day routine difficult for a woman. Instead, we got to (theoretically) laugh at all the creative and inappropriate places Mindy found to throw up, and that’s just not something I’ve ever found funny. Throwing up is unpleasant and makes you feel miserable, and I always end up feeling badly for the character instead of laughing at them like I think I’m supposed to.

It was perfectly consistent with the character Danny has been portrayed to be for him to be concerned and try to micromanage what Mindy eats during her pregnancy. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly is important to him, and while he’s mostly accepted that they aren’t as important to Mindy, the fact that she’s carrying his child changes that acceptance. Danny likes to plan for things, as evidenced by the baby books, and to do things in a way that has proven to be successful in the past. It’s the way he’s lived his life, and it’s a part of his personality that isn’t going to change. However, it doesn’t make him any easier to live with when he wants things a certain way. He was looking out for Mindy in the way he thought was best for her, but he was making her miserable in the process.

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TV Time: The Mindy Project 3.16

As I began the process of saying goodbye to Parks and Recreation by working on some posts to be revealed before the series finale, Heather was kind enough to take the reins with this week’s review of The Mindy Project. After you tell Heather how great her post was, make sure you wish her a happy belated birthday, too, since her birthday was yesterday! 



Title Lahiri Family Values

Two-Sentence Summary Mindy and Rob move forward on the fertility clinic until Mindy’s drug-dealing brother makes her realize she doesn’t want to leave New York. Meanwhile, after some mistaken communication, Danny announces that he’s moving to San Francisco for Mindy (not dying, as Morgan thought).

Favorite Lines
Mindy: What are you, his math tutor?
Big Murder: You know, I became a drug dealer to break stereotypes like that.

My Thoughts It’s official: Mindy (and the show) are staying in New York! While I loved the opportunity that the fertility clinic in San Francisco would have provided, I wasn’t as excited about the setting of the show switching coasts and potentially losing most of the supporting cast in the process. Mindy opening her own clinic in New York (in Cliff’s old offices) seems like the best of all possible solutions. Mindy still gets to keep her professional dreams, and she gets to stay with Danny in New York.

While I’m happy with where the episode left Mindy, the jumps needed to make the plot move forward were not the smoothest. It’s very possible that I’ve just forgotten, but was this the first time Mindy’s mentioned that Rishi lives in San Francisco? So much of Mindy’s half of this episode revolved around him, so the lack of previous mention made it feel a bit forced. I enjoyed seeing Mindy in protective sister mode and it’s a good night any time John Cho is on TV, but it never felt like a compelling story.

I recognize the necessity of episodes like this one, which primarily exist to move the plot forward, but it doesn’t make me like them any better. I would have preferred to see Mindy decide that she would rather stay in New York to be closer to Danny’s mother/the baby’s grandmother, or because her life is there and she’d rather be there with all the other changes that are coming. It just felt too abrupt to have Rishi be the one to make Mindy realize that she wanted to stay in New York closer to her broken co-workers. A lot of things related to the fertility clinic plot happened very quickly with little discussion, so this new change in plans fits right in. But now looking back, it makes everything that’s happened feel a little too contrived for drama, which is not a complaint I have often had with this show this season. Whatever my feelings on how we got to the conclusion of this arc, I am happy with where it ended up and look forward to Mindy experiencing her pregnancy in New York with her former co-workers by her side.

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