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.

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NGN’s Best of 2015: TV Shows

The Americans finale

As we approach the end of 2015, I want to start off by saying that this year has given me so many wonderful memories as a writer. From sharing my NYCC experience with you to starting my book to writing perhaps my favorite post ever, I’ve grown so much as a writer and a woman this year, and I want to thank you all for being with me and supporting me on this journey. Also, I want to take this time to remind you that a great New Year’s resolution would be to write a letter for my book before the February 1 deadline!

With all that being said, let’s get down to business. For today’s final entry in NGN’s Best of 2015 series, I’ll be taking a closer look at my favorite television shows this year. I think I watched more television this year than any year before, and I’m proud of the variety of choices on this list and the passion with which I care about these shows. Don’t forget to share your own lists of favorite shows in the comments. Also, more year-end fun can be found at MGcircles, The Girly Nerd, and TVExamined!

1. The Americans
The best show on television continued to get better in 2015, and it did so in the most unexpected way: by putting a teenage girl at the center of the show and allowing a young actress (Holly Taylor) to stand toe-to-toe as an equal with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (whose chemistry has never been better). In 2015, The Americans took big risks, provided us with huge moments of revelation, and did it all with the kind of subtle nuance that makes you pay attention to every beat because you don’t want to miss anything. There’s a lot to be said for whispering instead of screaming to get your point across, and this show has mastered that way of storytelling.

2. Parks and Recreation
In 2015, I said goodbye to my favorite show on television. But if Parks and Rec had to leave us, at least it went out on top. Its final season wasn’t just there to tie up loose ends and give fans plenty of sentimental moments before the end; it was genuinely great television that allowed its characters to continue to grow in believable ways, all while providing the combination of laugh-out-loud humor and heartwarming moments this show does better than any other. I couldn’t have been happier to see such a wonderful show have such a wonderful final season.

3. Jane the Virgin
Every time I venture into the Villanueva house as I watch Jane the Virgin, it feels like coming home. There is such warmth to be found on this show—such natural and believable love that makes the realistic moments of pain feel not so depressing and the moments of joy feel even more wonderful. I may be the farthest thing from a Latina (I’m as Polish as it gets in terms of my heritage), but I see my close, religious, supportive, and matriarchal family reflected so beautifully in Jane’s family. And I see so much of who I want to be in Jane—a woman who has flaws, who makes mistakes, but who is still as bright and warm as a summer afternoon. And, let’s be honest, Mateo is so cute that an hour of just his face would be one of my favorite shows on television.

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