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.

Continue reading

NGN’s Best of 2016: TV Relationships

the americans 408

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.

Continue reading

NGN’s Best of 2016: TV Performances

Before we get down to business, I want to take a moment to wish all of you a holiday season filled with laughter, love, and light. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all who are celebrating!

peple-vs-oj

Source: ABCNews.com

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year—the time to reflect on the year that was in the world of television! For the next week, I’ll be posting my year-end retrospective lists detailing the best of TV in 2016. I love doing these posts because they encourage such great discussion and have led to some fantastic TV recommendations, so please share your own choices in the comments! And if you’re looking for more year-end lists, I highly recommend the ones put together at TVexamined and MGcircles.

Without further ado, let’s get the party started! Here are my choices for the year’s best performances—the ones that made me laugh the most, cry the hardest, and think the most deeply. This was a year of incredible acting on the small screen, and these performances are just a small sample of the brilliant work done on so many television shows this year. (As usual, I tried to limit myself to one actor per show—with one exception.)

1. Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden and Randall Pearson (The People vs. O.J. Simpson and This Is Us)
Turning in one powerful, nuanced, heartfelt performance in a year is a great feat; to do it twice in two different shows is so rare that I had to give Brown special recognition for his stellar work this year. He made a name for himself in The People vs. O.J. Simpson as Christopher Darden, and his complex portrayal of a lawyer trying to reconcile his identity as a black man with his identity as someone who fights for justice hit all the right notes—from moments of barely-controlled fury to moments of surprisingly gentle warmth. It was that warmth and sense of inherent goodness that made Brown’s Darden the beating heart of The People vs. O.J. Simpson, and those traits have also been on full display in his work on This Is Us. Not a week goes by where I’m not moved to tears by Brown’s work on this freshman drama. He has a true gift for emotional honesty, and his ability to show just as much in his reactions as he shows in his character’s big, dramatic moments helped make every actor around him better. There’s a steadfast quality Brown brings to his characters that grounds everything and everyone around them, and that allowed him to stand out in ensembles filled with talented actors.

2. Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark (The People vs. O.J. Simpson)
In terms of single performances given in 2016, there was none better than Paulson’s work as Marcia Clark. To give you a sense of how much her performance affected me, the only thing I knew about Clark before the series aired was that her hairstyle was a huge deal and she lost the case of the century, but afterward, I came to care so much about her story that I bought her autobiography. That was Paulson’s true gift: She made us care about someone that so many people wrote off, mocked, or outright hated. And she did this by making us feel everything her character was feeling—I dare you to watch the scene where Clark walks into the courtroom with her new haircut and not feel her humiliation as acutely as if it was happening to you. The amount of anger and sadness I felt on her behalf throughout the series genuinely surprised me, and it was all because of the depth Paulson gave this woman. She allowed us to finally see Clark as a person and not as a symbol, stereotype, or caricature, and in doing so, she made everyone watching reconsider their own preconceptions and judgments about her, which is exactly what a great portrayal of a real person should do.

3. Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
Elizabeth may have been struggling with her work as a spy more than ever this year, but Russell was certainly not struggling with her work bringing her to life. As Elizabeth became more vulnerable, Russell became more of a force to be reckoned with. This was the year in which Elizabeth’s emotions started to break through her stoic facade, and the way Russell played those emotions showed her masterful understanding of this complex woman. There were the moments her sadness seeped out in quiet words shared with her husband (“I’m going to miss her.”); moments her emotional and physical vulnerability made her seem smaller than ever before (She made almost dying seem all too real.); moments her insecurity made this superspy finally feel relatable (when she asked Philip if he would leave with Martha); moments of sincere connection between her and her daughter (opening up about her childhood and why she wanted to join the KGB); and moments her anger exploded out of her like a volcano, destroying everything in its path (the entirety of “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears”). Russell’s work in this role is the kind that rewards you for paying attention, and the rewards were more fruitful than ever this year.

Continue reading

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (9/25 – 10/2)

This week in television started out with a strong Season 6 premiere of Once Upon a Time that laid out some very compelling internal and external conflicts for each character. On Monday, Dancing with the Stars aired a head-to-head dance-off episode, and that was followed by the first U.S. presidential debate of the election season. Tuesday’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine brought us back to the precinct and balanced that with some biting, Florida-based satire from Jake and Holt’s storyline. Tuesday also featured a politically-minded episode of New Girl and a second episode of This Is Us that gave each character even more depth and each relationship even more nuance. On Wednesday, Speechless proved to me that it has the right balance of heart and humor to keep me invested for the long haul, and black-ish made me cry with its emotionally gripping sonogram scene. Thursday provided me with moments that sold me completely on two very different partnerships: Eleanor and Chidi on The Good Place and Ginny and Mike on Pitch. Finally, Saturday Night Live kicked off its season with a much-hyped debate skit and an entire episode devoted to reminding everyone why Kate McKinnon won her Emmy. (Her impression of Trump campaign manage Kellyanne Conway was exceptional.)

It was impossible for me to pick just one moment this week that I loved more than any other, but all of my favorite moments were connected by the same theme: emotional investment. All the new shows I’ve started watching featured a moment this week where I knew I was hooked—whether it was Maya listening to Kenneth help J.J. use the bathroom on Speechless; Rebecca and Beth doing their best to be good wives and mothers (and delivering killer monologues in the process) in two different timelines on This Is Us; Eleanor praising Chidi with nothing to gain from it on The Good Place; or Mike telling Ginny that she might not trust her fastball but she needs to trust him on Pitch. All of those moments took me beyond the initial introduction of characters and stories and revealed something genuine and compelling about the relationships that will serve as the heart and soul of these shows. All of these were moments of sincere connection, and it was lovely to see such strong dynamics developing so early in the game for these shows.

Continue reading

The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week (9/18 – 9/25)

The fall 2016 television season kicked into high gear this week, starting with Sunday’s Emmy Awards, which featured some nice surprises (Tatiana Maslany) and beautifully sincere speeches (Jeffrey Tambor, Sterling K. Brown, Sarah Paulson, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus). On Monday, Dancing with the Stars gave us “TV Night,” and little did we all know how empty our lives had been before we saw Laurie Hernandez dancing to the theme from DuckTales. Also on Monday (and Thursday), The Good Place proved to be the smart, funny, and emotionally engaging comedy I was hoping it would be. On Tuesday, Brooklyn Nine-Nine returned with a hilarious look at Jake and Captain Holt’s life in the Witness Protection Program; New Girl reminded me why I fell in love with the show years ago, thanks to a stellar season premiere; and the pilot of This Is Us lived up to every expectation I had for it. Wednesday’s ABC comedies were all excellent, with a perfect Breakfast Club tribute on The Goldbergs; a fantastic pilot episode of Speechless; an entertaining return for Modern Family; and a fun Walt Disney World trip on black-ish. On Thursday, the pilot of Pitch showed enough heart, style, and substance to hook me from the start. And Friday’s episode of Girl Meets World reminded us all of a very important lesson: You can’t control every aspect of your life; you can only control how you react to what happens in your life.

Overall, this was the best week of television I’ve watched in a very long time. I wasn’t disappointed with anything I watched, which is impressive because I often have unrealistically high expectations for premieres and pilots. I enjoyed every minute of television I watched this week, and I watched many minutes of television.

Grouped together, I loved the three big twists that new shows served up this week, which shouldn’t be a shock to anyone given how much I love when television shows can still pleasantly surprise me.

SPOILERS FOR THE GOOD PLACE, THIS IS US, AND PITCH AHEAD!

Continue reading