Let Us Shine: Lessons from BTS to Begin 2022

2021 American Music Awards - Arrivals

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 21: BTS attends the 2021 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 21, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for MRC )

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

I was 17 years old when I read those words from Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God for the first time, but I don’t think I fully understood them until now, more than 15 years later.

When I look back—as one does at this time of year—it feels clear: 2020 was a year that asked a lot of questions, and 2021 was a year when I started finding some of the answers.

The years that answer are harder.

The years that answer challenge us to confront hard truths about the world, about the ways we live our life, and about ourselves.

And this year, one of the answers I found was that so much of who I am and how I interact with the world was built on a shaky foundation because it was all external—it was all about appearing perfect and seeing myself through the eyes of others. I defined myself using the words other people had used to define me, which feels good when the words are good but also means you’re constantly looking outside of yourself for answers to the big questions asked in years like 2020: Who am I? What do I want? Am I worthy of love? Does my story matter?

At times this year, I honestly didn’t know the answers to any of those questions.

But then, this year answered back in a big way.

It gave me BTS.

And somewhere in the middle of countless YouTube videos and car singalongs in my bad attempts at Korean and talking to my best friend about these seven men who’d stolen my heart, some of those answers, which had been evading me for so long, started to become louder and clearer. The part of me that had always known those answers—that voice in my gut that has stubbornly stuck around even during years when I didn’t want to listen to her—grew more confident.

Maybe it was the therapy I finally decided to commit to. Maybe it was the self-compassion journaling and the hard work I started putting in to understand myself and to be gentle with myself instead of always looking to shame and punish.

It was all of that.

But it was also BTS.

Because it can’t be a coincidence that the year that taught me that I hadn’t ever learned to love myself as I am in an internal way—independent of how other people perceive me—also brought me into the orbit of a band who sing songs with lyrics like:

You’ve shown me I have reasons I should love myself…

I am the one I should love in this world…

You can’t stop me loving myself…

That’s the big lesson I learned from BTS this year—and it’s the answer to one of the questions asked by years like 2020, years when I felt isolated from the other people I always looked to when I needed to see what about me was worth loving, why I should love myself:

Loving myself doesn’t require anyone else’s permission.

And there are times when that seems easy and times when that seems like such a lofty concept that it’s impossible to put into practice. But luckily, BTS has illuminated the path not just for the big picture of self-love, but also for the million little ways we can actually put it into practice. From each of the seven members of this band, I’ve learned lessons about what it means to love yourself and why that should be the most important resolution I make going forward—to commit to a practice of truly, completely learning how to love myself.

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Lights in the Dark Forest: 2021 in Review

wandavision-westview-hostage-torture

My journey through the dark forest of 2021 began with Wanda Maximoff. (Source: TVLine)

“Believing in rom-communism is all about believing that everything’s gonna work out in the end. Now, these next few months might be tricky, but that’s just ’cause we’re going through the dark forest. Fairy tales do not start, nor do they end, in the dark forest.”

I can’t write about Ted Lasso.

But every time I think about 2021, I come back to this quote.

(And maybe that’s why I can’t write about it.)

So much of the last two years has felt like a long walk through the dark forest. And in 2021 things felt like they got even darker. So it was hard for me to watch a show—whose first season had given me so much comfort—take its characters through that dark forest and not quite out of it yet.

I didn’t like that Ted Lasso had changed.

And I felt that way about a whole lot of media this year. From The Rookie’s decision to all but abandon the challenging storylines that had made the first half of its third season so compelling to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s emotional farewell that took its characters in different directions, some changes were for the better and others less so, but it still seemed like a lot of the media I had used for comfort through the toughest parts of early pandemic life had changed.

And I hate change.

When I look at the only piece of scripted television that motivated me to write on an almost weekly basis, the only one that consistently moved me and stayed with me in a meaningful way, it was a show about a woman who resists change so strongly that she creates an entire new reality to escape the fact that her life had changed in deeply painful ways.

WandaVision is a show about a woman in the dark forest who spends so much time refusing to admit she’s in there that she builds herself a home and a life in the middle of it because even if it’s an illusion of control, it’s still better than the terror and unknown of the dark forest.

Control—however fake, however fleeting—feels better than uncertainty.

I don’t have a lot in common with Wanda Maximoff. I don’t have her powers or her tragic backstory or her tortured romance with an AI system turned sentient. But her need to hold on to some sense of control in a world that feels scary and lonely? That I get.

I spent the beginning of this year trying to build a world that I could control—a place that felt like nothing had changed even though everything had changed (both inside and outside of me).

There’s a reason WandaVision was the show that produced the most writing from me.

When I couldn’t control anything else, I wanted to control this little corner of the internet. I wanted it to be what it was when things felt better and brighter. I wanted to be who I was when things felt better and brighter.

Because, like Wanda, I didn’t want to acknowledge one of the truths of the dark forest: You don’t come out of it in the same place you were when you went in.

Slowly, steadily, my writing has started to move toward that truth. NGN has started to move toward that truth. Instead of being Westview—a place created to desperately hold onto a piece of the past because the present is sad and the future is scary—it’s growing into something that feels more real, something that feels more honest. It may not be sitcom shiny—a beacon of constant positivity where every problem is fixed and hurt is healed by the end of a post—but it’s stronger because of its messy reality.

I’m stronger because of my messy reality.

I’ve changed so much this year, and that means my writing changed too. And that’s part of life. Change is a part of life.

You can’t grow if you refuse to change.

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How Movies Got Me Through 2020

Happy New Year, fellow nerds! This is the third and final post in a series wrapping up a different year in a different way. I’ve been recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with TV, books, and movies reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year. Since this post is going live on New Year’s Eve, I want to wish you all a happy, safe, and healthy start to 2021. May we all find brighter days in the coming year!

I’m not sure how to talk about movies this year.

Movies got me through 2018. And 2019. And I was ready for them to get me through 2020. In a string of years that featured major work stress, family health issues, and personal struggles, movies were my saving grace. When I stepped into a movie theater, I could forget about my own life for a couple of hours and become enveloped by a story that was all-encompassing. And when I stepped back out into the world, the world felt different. It felt brighter. It felt lighter. It felt bigger than me and my problems.

Then, a pandemic happened. And my world suddenly shrank to the four walls of my house and the often claustrophobic confines of my anxiety-ridden brain. The world felt so much smaller—suffocating and smothering.

And when it felt that way, I found myself missing movies, missing the ability to walk into a dark room and go somewhere else—anywhere else—and emerge from that journey feeling better than I did before the previews began.

I found myself missing the shared joy of a New Year’s Day family excursion to see The Rise of Skywalker, the excitement of taking myself to a Saturday matinee of Parasite, the emotional journey of Onward turning out to be nothing like I expected—in the best possible way.

I started 2020 on a movie fan high—seeing every Best Picture Oscar nominee before the ceremony for the first time in more than a decade. I was going to the movies by myself more often—relishing the sense of independence it gave me and the deeply personal, almost spiritual, experience that’s the closest thing I get to church (outside of church itself). I was making plans with friends and family to see a long lineup of great movies that were set to open this year.

And then it all stopped.

Of course I still watched movies. I enjoyed the lush beauty of Emma. I found Disney’s new take on Mulan to be thrilling and gorgeous to look at. I rewatched a lot of Star Wars movies and took comfort in animated favorites.

But it didn’t feel the same.

My couch is comfortable, and my TV screen is big. I’ve watched plenty of new movies at home before. But it never feels the same as a trip to the theater.

The phone rings. People walk into the room to talk. The siren song of Twitter and Instagram is so close. The lights are too bright, and the popcorn never tastes exactly the same.

So for a long time, I didn’t watch any movies. And I could feel my world getting smaller—and my problems feeling bigger—as a result.

It took until Christmas Day—and two miraculous movies—for that to start to change.

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How Books Got Me Through 2020

Happy Holidays, fellow nerds! This is the second in a series of posts wrapping up a different year in a different way. Between now and the start of 2021, I’ll be recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with TV, books, and movies reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year. And if you’re in the mood for more book discussion, Mary wrote a fabulous guest post for NGN earlier this month about her favorite books of 2020.

I read 22 books this year.

(Technically, it’s more like 21.99 books at the time I’m writing this, but let’s round up for the sake of simplicity.)

For me, that’s a huge number. It’s almost double the number of books I read in 2019.

And yet I still found myself slightly nervous about sharing it. I found myself writing long-winded explanations about why I don’t read more—defenses mostly centered on a job in publishing and a past as an English major who read so many books in college she burned herself out for the next decade.

I found myself comparing my reading habits to those of everyone around me—and coming up short.

That’s when I knew I had to write about it.

Because that’s been my experience through much of 2020. Comparing myself to everyone around me—and coming up short.

I didn’t become an expert chef (or even a particularly functional one). I didn’t learn a new language or meditate every day or take up running. I didn’t write more blog posts or start a new hobby or even spend that much more time outside appreciating nature.

I didn’t become a more voracious reader or a reader of more respectable literature.

And for most of this year, I beat myself up about all of it.

But then, I thought about those 21.99 books. And like they have for my entire life, the books guided me to the exact lesson I needed.

Your story doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s to be good enough. You should never feel bad about or downplay something that makes you happy. You should embrace it. And if you have the strength, you should share it.

And if the way I shared books with loved ones, talked about them with friends, and got excited to read them with my morning coffee was any indication, every single one of those precious 21.99 books I read this year made me happy.

And now I want to share it.

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How TV Got Me Through 2020

Happy Holidays, fellow nerds! This is the first in a series of posts wrapping up a different year in a different way. Between now and the start of 2021, I’ll be recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with books, movies, and TV reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year.

I watched a lot of reality TV this year.

A lot.

From fantastic making-of docuseries (Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian and Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2) to intense competitions (Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelorette), my streaming queues and DVR were filled with the stories of real people.

And then there was Bravo.

bravo

In a year without a lot of stability, I always knew I could count on Bravo to keep me company. Whether it was the best season of Top Chef in the show’s storied history, the stunning scenery of Below Deck Mediterranean, or the delicious drama of Vanderpump Rules and the Real Housewives Cinematic Universe, there were very few nights—especially this summer—when my TV wasn’t tuned into Bravo.

And that’s not even counting the weeks my sister and I spent binge-watching the entirety of Southern Charm and becoming far too attached to its bevy of South Carolina men-children.

I’ve never been shy about my consumption of reality television, but it reached new heights this year. And for a long time, I figured that was because I needed something mindless when it felt like my mind was going a mile a minute the rest of the day.

But as I found myself getting more and more invested in Tayshia Adams’s journey to find love, the crumbling friendship between Lisa Rinna and Denise Richards, Melissa King’s cooking, and whether or not Ramona Singer really has 50 close girlfriends, I realized that what most people would call “empty calories” in my TV diet was actually feeding me exactly what I was missing most in 2020.

People.

Real people.

I’m an extrovert. I love talking to people, being around huge groups of people, celebrating when people succeed, and comforting people when they struggle. I love people-watching at the mall, at happy hour, in airports, and walking out of hockey games, musicals, and movies.

I love people.

I miss people.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have spent 2020 with my immediate family, but there’s still so much that I miss. I miss the energy of a Friday at the office, with everyone sharing their weekend plans. I miss long dinners with friends and unpacking all the silly drama in our lives over glasses of wine. I miss the excitement of sightseeing around big cities with my favorite people.

And reality TV gave me a little bit of that back.

I know the “real” part of reality TV can be debated, but these shows gave me a window into a social life I missed deeply this year. Watching the Real Housewives gossip over appetizers and watching Top Chef contestants support each other and watching the Dancing with the Stars cast form genuine friendships born of shared struggle and success allowed me to experience one of the things I was craving most acutely in an isolating, quiet, lonely year.

Human connection.

Every TV show that captured my attention this year had a strong element of human connection at the center of it. From the groups of people working together to make Frozen 2 possible to the Real Housewives of New York coming together to cheer on one of their own when she finally launched her clothing line to the former enemies burying the hatchet on Vanderpump Rules, I was drawn to shows with strong group dynamics—shows that demonstrated the fact that, for better or worse, humans are social animals who are always better together.

That extended into the fictional television that I loved this year too.

The year started with the core group of lovable disasters of The Good Place helping each other finally get to the titular heavenly realm—and eventually move beyond it. And it continued with the team at the 99th Precinct helping each other through fertility struggles, dognappings, and the birth of a new baby on Brooklyn 99. I was immediately charmed and moved by the realistic female friendships on The Baby-Sitters Club, which filled the hole in my heart that was left behind when I stopped teaching teenage girls at the dance studio where I used to work. And watching the women of Mrs. America talk about feminism, politics, and social change helped me at a time when I missed having serious discussions in person with my female friends.

My extroverted soul felt seen by Lucy Chen on The Rookie—a character who talks through her feelings, her problems, and pretty much everything else. Lucy’s belief in people and in the importance of relationships and communication anchors a show that could easily become lost in a swirling sea of procedurals. And her relationship with Tim Bradford is so much more than just the stereotypical “gruff mentor/sunshiney mentee” trope—or a budding slow-burn romance (depending on how you want to read it). It’s a beautiful representation of how human connection works—the little moments of sharing and learning and helping each other that build up over time to bond us to another person. Warmth is something a lot of us have been missing this year, and their dynamic gave me that in spades.

And that brings us to Schitt’s Creek, the warmest and most wonderful show I watched in 2020. To paraphrase another show I love deeply, no one in Schitt’s Creek achieves anything alone. This is a show about people needing people—to succeed, to lean on, to grow into the best versions of themselves. It’s a show about the healing power of relationships based on kindness, sincerity, and appreciating other people for who they truly are. It’s a show about what it means to love people—really love them—and how our relationships are the most valuable things we carry with us.

Schitt’s Creek is a show that believes in people—in the power we all have to help each other, to reach out to each other, and to give each other a safe place to land. And in a year that was defined by isolation, there was real comfort—and real catharsis—in watching a show about the beauty of togetherness, community, and connection.

From a fictional small town to a galaxy far, far away—and from a very real yacht on the Mediterranean to a mansion in Charleston—all the TV shows I watched this year reminded me that the connections we make with other people are all that really matters in the end.

I can’t think of anything more real than that.

Guest Post: A Year in Books

Today, we have a little treat in the form of a “Best of 2020” list from one of my favorite fellow Nerdy Girls, Mary! This deep dive into best books she read this year (which didn’t all come out in 2020) feels like a perfect way to introduce her to all of you, since Mary and I met working at a library back when we were baby fangirls still talking about Twilight. I trust Mary’s thoughts on books more than I trust my own, so I hope all of you enjoy this beautiful summary of a year in literature and a year in the life of an honest, open-hearted woman I’m lucky to call my friend.

There’s nothing like a global pandemic and unbridled anxiety to reignite a lost love of reading! We all know this year has been a lot, to put 2020 in the most reductive framing possible. I’ve been mostly stuck inside for month after month, feeling the walls closing in, physically and mentally. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we were mostly thinking this would be done in a few weeks while we all baked bread and became experts in the fields of big cats and true crime, I was not thriving. My spouse and several of my family members work in healthcare. I have a sister-in-law who works as a teacher, another as a social worker. Too many relatives were vulnerable. My nieces, nephews, and my friends’ children all seemed SO young and SO fragile all of a sudden. My sleepless nights turned into weeks then months. I was not doing well. I felt like I was walking around a room inside my head, and every day the walls were closing in a little bit more. My brain was thinking too much and too fast, and I needed an escape.

Confusingly, while I felt like I was losing my mind, I was also feeling really…bored. None of my usual hobbies could keep my attention. So I charged up my Kindle, installed the Kindle app on my phone, got a second library card, signed up for Kindle Unlimited, and even signed up for Audible. I was off like a shot. I was a desperately unstoppable reading force! By the time December rolled around I realized I had read a whopping (as of writing this sentence) 85 books. Friends, I have NEVER read this many books in my entire life. Even during my book-crazed youth! So what does one do, exactly, after reading 85 books in one year? They ask their friend if they can hijack their blog to write a top 10(ish) list of the books they read!

Before I begin the list, I’d like to make it clear that I can’t in all honesty say books alone saved me. But they opened the door I needed. By escaping into fictional worlds like I used to when I was young, I got to breathe. I could open a book with certain expectations, and watch them unfold. Watch the heroine win the hero’s heart. Watch a great evil crumble. See justice played out. Look back in time and be reassured things have been this bad (or worse!) before and we persevered. So then I reached out to friends and told them honestly that I was Not Okay and we’d commiserate. I talked with my boss about my struggles to have any motivation or focus. I got in touch with a therapist. I listened to folklore a lot. (A LOT). And slowly, I began to adjust. So, without any further ado, here are the books that I’ve fallen into—the books that became my flashlight in a very dark year.

10 – The Bride Test by Helen Hoang: Do you want a book that feels like a hug? That features language and cultural differences, a neurodivergent hero and immigrant heroine written by an own voice author? The Bride Test is a sequel to The Kiss Quotenet, and this was one of the books I read earlier in the pandemic. Khai and Esme are genuinely some of the sweetest characters I’ve had the pleasure to read. Esme lives in Ho Chi Man City and works as a cleaner in a hotel. When her paths cross with Co Nga, our hero’s mother, in a hotel bathroom, she is presented with an interesting offer: move to America and marry her son. And while I’m normally not much for books where one character either doesn’t realize or doesn’t acknowledge they are in love, it made so much sense within the context of this story. Khai has autism, but Esme never sees that as a negative, instead seeing him as a whole person right from the beginning. Esme is a strong woman, but her strength is never her only characteristic. She is smart, driven, loving, vulnerable, kind, scared, focused, and shy. I cannot stress enough how utterly charmed I was by this book. The next book in this series, The Heart Principle, is expected in 2021. Read this book if you like fun contemporaries, friends to lovers, POC representation, or descriptions of a really good dress.

Quotes: “It wasn’t loneliness if it could be eradicated with work or a Netflix marathon or a good book. Real loneliness would stick with you all the time. Real loneliness would hurt you nonstop.”

“In a split second, she redefined perfection for him. His standards aligned to her exact proportions and measurements. No one else would ever live up to her.”

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Discovering Euphoria: 2019 in Review

the good place

Source: avclub.com

“If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big, dumb food processor. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.”

When I think back on 2019, I’ll think of this quote from The Good Place. At many points this year, things—personally, professionally, and in even in my fangirl life—didn’t seem to make sense. This was a challenging year on a lot of levels for me and for a lot of people I know—and even a lot of people I know only through this wonderful world of fandom. But through it all, one of the best and most beautiful things about it were those brief moments when something clicked—when something finally made sense and the pieces fell into place and for just one moment it was euphoria.

Looking at my favorite pieces of media this year, they’re all connected by that thread—moments of euphoria amidst the pandemonium. As I searched for meaning in the chaos of my own life, I found comfort, catharsis, and so much joy in watching fictional characters do the same.

It began with The Good Place—the show that gave us those beautiful words about our search for meaning and where we find it. There’s no more perfect show for this current moment in our world because it never tells us that life is supposed to be painless or that being a good person is easy. It acknowledges that life can be hard and hope can feel a million miles away and happiness can be fleeting. But it also reminds us that the important thing is to never stop trying to make things a little better for your fellow human beings. That’s how we find euphoria—in connecting with others, for a moment or for eternity. And maybe—just maybe—those connections—that love—can be the thing that saves us all.

There’s no message more brazenly, bravely, beautifully hopeful than that.

And almost every other piece of media I loved this year followed in those footsteps—reminding me that there’s hope to be found in moments when we feel truly understood and accepted—by others or even by ourselves.

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NGN’s Best of 2018: TV, Movies, and More

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s time once again to highlight the best of pop culture from this year. In previous years, I’ve stuck to television, but one of my goals for 2018 was to expose myself to more of a variety of media, so I watched more movies and read more books than I have in the past. That, coupled with a slight dip in the amount (and, frankly, the quality) of TV I watched this year inspired me to expand my year in review post to include movies, books, and sports in addition to television. I also hope this inspires you to share all of you favorite media from 2018, because one of the best things about these posts over the years has been all the wonderful recommendations I’ve been given in the comments. (I never would have fallen in love with The Americans without my NGN Family championing it in these posts years ago.)

Looking back on this year in media, it’s no surprise that so many of my favorite things revolved around female characters. The books, movies, and TV I loved this year almost unanimously dealt with women learning to define themselves on their own terms as brave, strong, and—most importantly—kind people. The media I gravitated toward this year often celebrated a kind of radical goodness—a message of light pushing back against the darkness, of love surviving even the most painful things life can throw at us, and of hope existing in that quiet corner of our souls that allows us to keep getting up when everything around us seems determined to keep us pinned down. This year in media taught me that we all have choices to make and those choices determine who we are. And when we choose to believe in ourselves and our capacity to love—that’s when we become our best selves. That’s the message I’m taking into 2019, and what an empowering message it is.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at my favorite television, movies, and more in 2018!

Television

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Source: spoilertv.com

Best Show (Drama): The Americans
The Americans changed me in ways I never could have expected when I first started watching it. It changed me as a writer; it changed me as a TV viewer. It forced me to look more closely and think more deeply about the media I consumed, and it challenged me every week to find the words to talk about its brilliance with others. Although I was sad to see it end this year, I couldn’t have asked for a better final season for what I consider the best show I’ve ever watched. The Americans was always a show about marriage and family above everything else, and this final season reinforced that in the most surprising and impressive ways imaginable as it built to a finale that was all about letting your children leave you behind as they grow. From “Don’t Dream It’s Over” to “With or Without You,” this season took us on a journey of self-definition for nearly every character that ended in a way I don’t think anyone expected. Along the way, it gave us heart-stopping chase scenes, romantic axe mutilations, line dancing, and a moment that will go down in TV history simply as “the parking garage scene.” With everyone in the cast turning in top-notch performances and masterful moments of silence balanced by lines that cut like a dagger (“You’re a whore!”), The Americans turned in one of television’s most complex and unique final seasons by staying true to itself until the very end.

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NGN’s Best of 2017: Reasons to Hope

the good place

Source: avclub.com

One woman, standing in the middle of no man’s land with only a shield and an unshakeable sense of purpose, drawing all the fire to protect those who cannot fight for themselves.

One woman, staring down certain death with steel in her eyes, deciding to sacrifice herself to save the people and the cause she believes in with everything she has.

Two sisters, coming together despite their differences, finally executing the man who caused them, their family, and their home so much loss.

A mother and daughter, training together in a garage, learning what it means to never feel like a victim again.

A team, finding their strengths in the wrestling ring, using their bodies for themselves and not for anyone else.

A group of mothers, putting aside the things they believed divided them, acting as a force of nature to make sure an abuser never lays a hand on his victims again.

When I looked back on my favorite media moments of the year, one theme emerged loud and clear: This was a year that so many pieces of media—from prestige TV dramas to big-budget blockbusters—let women be their own heroes. This was the year that women teamed up, fought back, and found strength in themselves and in their relationships with one another.

This was the year female characters said “No more.” No more pushing us to the background. No more telling us people don’t care about our stories because of our gender, our race, our sexuality, or our age. No more trying to divide us or painting us as each other’s enemies. No more abuse. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this was also the year more women than ever before started to say “No more” in real life, too.

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NGN’s Best of 2017: TV Performances

nicolekidman

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—the time when we look back on all the great media we consumed during the last 12 months and talk about our favorites! These Best of the Year lists have been a part of NGN since our earliest days, and they’ve always served as a way to start great conversations about the TV shows we love and provide recommendations to fellow fans. (Comments on these lists were actually the reason I started watching The Americans a few years ago!) So please share your own lists and your thoughts on my picks in the comments. This has been a crazy year, and I’ve missed all our discussions about great TV more than I can say, so before 2017 is done, let’s get back to what’s always made NGN so fun—conversations with each other about the media that means the most to us.

Today, I’ll be sharing my picks for my favorite performances on television in 2017. It was a fantastic year for actors on the small screen, which made this list wonderfully challenging to compile. As I’ve been doing in recent years, I limited myself to only one actor from a particular show, or else I probably would have picked some entire casts. Don’t forget to tell me who turned in your favorite work on television this year in the comments, and for more year-end fun, check out the lists over at TVexamined and Marvelous Geek Circles!

1. Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright (Big Little Lies)
Big Little Lies was the show that challenged my “one actor per show” rule the most, but when it came down to choosing just one member of this extraordinary ensemble, there was ultimately no question that it would be Kidman. Her performance was heartbreaking in its vulnerability; the physical and emotional trauma Celeste went through was depicted with unflinching realism, and such a harrowing portrayal of the complexities of life in an abusive relationship required an actress who isn’t afraid to go to dark places and take the audience there with her. Kidman is exactly that kind of actress, putting her whole body into this performance—not just in the horrifying scenes of abuse but in the way she made her statuesque body seem small and fragile throughout the series, as if she was curling in on herself in a constant state of fear. Kidman’s gift for nuance was used to brilliant effect, as so much of who Celeste is exists under her picture-perfect surface. In those moments when Kidman let the façade slip momentarily (like when Celeste reveals to Jane that sometimes little boys who bully little girls don’t grow out of it), the quiet force of her performance left me breathless. I watched Big Little Lies months ago, and I still feel haunted by Kidman’s performance. It got under my skin and has refused to let go of my mind and heart, which is when you know an actor did something extraordinary.

2. Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
The fact that Russell still doesn’t have an Emmy for this role is criminal. (You have one more chance, Emmy voters! Don’t screw it up.) This season more than any other pushed Elizabeth in new directions emotionally, and Russell made the new layers added to this character feel believable, which is no small feat for a character who has always been defined by her lack of overt emotion. Of course, she was just as fierce as ever, but Russell was also able to show a gentler side of Elizabeth, deepening the character in complex new ways. The things Russell can do with just her eyes, her smile, and her body language never fail to astound me. So much of what makes this show work is the fact that it can go for long stretches without dialogue because its cast is so good at making quiet beats living, breathing moments, and it all starts with Russell. Every emotion seems to radiate just under her skin—just restrained enough to remind us that this is a woman who plays things so close to the vest it almost hurts to watch her struggle to find the words to show her husband or children the truth of how she feels. This was the season in which Elizabeth Jennings allowed herself to love someone enough to put their needs above the cause—with all the joy and pain that comes with it—and Russell made that journey breathtaking from start to finish.

3. Ted Danson as Michael (The Good Place)
The Good Place has an incredible cast, but the reason its many twists and turns have worked as well as they have (and they work SO WELL) is because of Danson. He gave Michael just the right amount of anxious energy in Season One to make us initially care about this bumbling architect, but his entire performance (and the entirety of the show’s plot) hinged on one moment: that laugh. If you’ve seen the show, you know what I’m talking about. That devious, gleefully evil laugh turned what was an entertaining performance into something so much bigger and bolder—a performance that becomes even better when watched again with the knowledge of the truth. And that performance only got more entertaining in Season Two, as Danson was able to let Michael’s annoyance with the characters around him drive his scenes to great comedic effect. But it wasn’t until we were able to see that Michael has a heart buried under all his evil plans when faced with the possibility of “killing” Janet that the full range of Danson’s skills as an actor were utilized. Danson’s career is already legendary, and after this year, that legend has added another fantastic chapter.

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