NGN’s Best of 2015 TV Performances

Paige

Source: blogs.wsj.com

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…The time when we reflect on all our favorite things about television from the past year! As 2015 draws to a close, I’ll be sharing with you the things I loved most from the world of television this year in a series of “Best of 2015” posts.

It’s always my hope that these lists allow you to reflect on your own favorite things about television in 2015. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments, and don’t forget to check out other fans’ and critics’ lists of their “Best of 2015” picks, too! (Heather always has amazing lists up at TVExamined if you’re looking for a place to start.) While you’re sharing your favorites, please be respectful of your fellow fangirls and fanboys, because our lists are all going to look different, which is what makes sharing them so much fun. We share so much about who we are when we talk about the media we love, and lists like these are such a great snapshot of who we were during a specific year in our lives.

Today’s “Best Of” list features my favorite TV performances of 2015. It was a fantastic year for acting on the small screen—especially for women (as you’ll see by the sheer number of women on this list). Many of the best TV characters this year were defined by complex motivations, stunning plot twists, and emotional storylines that called for new levels of vulnerability from the men and women who bring them to life. From new faces to old favorites, here are the actors that I thought stood out above the rest in 2015.

1. Holly Taylor as Paige Jennings (The Americans)
While I could have put the entire cast of The Americans at the top of this list, I chose to single out Taylor because no actor on television this year impressed me as much as she did. Season Three of The Americans boldly put a teenage girl at the center of everything, and the fact that it was a success speaks to Taylor’s ability to make Paige something more than just the stereotypes of teenage girls we’re so often shown in the media. In her hands, Paige became a character whose maturity I admired and whose innocence I wanted to protect. She wasn’t the one-dimensional morality police in a family desperately in need of one; she was just a girl who cared deeply about her faith, justice, and the truth and was thrown into a life she was unprepared to handle. In the hands of another young actor, that could have come across in an incredibly heavy-handed way, but Taylor appears to be learning the art of subtlety and honesty from her onscreen parents. It’s one thing for a young actor to carry a big storyline and not hurt a show; it’s another for them to do that and make the show better because of their work. Taylor’s ability to make viewers care about Paige—especially in the quiet moments this show does so well—played a critical role in making this the strongest season of The Americans yet.

2. Gina Rodriguez as Jane Villanueva (Jane the Virgin)
I was late to the Jane the Virgin party (having just started watching this summer), but now that I’m here, I’m ready to gush about Rodriguez. With a premise as crazy as this show’s premise, the characters need to keep things relatable, and Rodriguez does that in such a brilliant way—by making Jane one of the most likable characters to hit television screens in the last few years. She projects a warmth that can’t be faked, and she has a rare ability to be both genuinely hilarious and heartbreaking within the same scene. When Jane does a happy dance, I want to dance with her. When Jane cries, I usually do cry with her. Rodriguez is the heart and soul of a show with so much heart and soul, and I can’t wait to watch her star continue to rise.

3. Jennifer Morrison as Emma Swan (Once Upon a Time)
2015 wasn’t an easy year for Emma Swan: She found out some difficult truths about her parents, was trapped in a tower in an alternate reality, became a Dark One, and had to watch the man she loves die three times. But while Emma went through the lowest of lows, Morrison reached new heights, proving that—even after four-plus seasons in this role—she still had plenty of new things to show us about Emma as a character and herself as an actor. When she was tasked with playing Emma struggling with her new identity as the Dark One, she rose to the occasion, deftly using her voice and body language to make Emma’s struggle feel as intense and desperate as it needed to feel for this “Dark Swan” arc to resonate. And when she was asked to show us Emma at her most vulnerable—uncontrollably sobbing after having to kill the love of her life to destroy the darkness—Morrison did what she’s always done best: She took a show about fairytales and made it feel real.

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NGN’s Best of 2014: TV Shows

Once again, The Good Wife topped my list of the year's best TV shows.

Once again, The Good Wife topped my list of the year’s best TV shows.

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone (or Happy New Year depending on your time zone and when you’re reading this post)! For my last installment of NGN’s Best of 2014 series, I want to take a look at the best TV shows of the year. If you’re interested in reading a list from someone who has an even more comprehensive grasp of the current TV landscape than I do, I strongly suggest checking out Heather’s list. And, as always, I hope you leave your picks in the comments, so we can talk about what a great year this was for television.

From dramas that made me weep to comedies that warmed my heart and everything in between, here are my picks for the very best the world of television had to offer in 2014.

1. The Good Wife
The Good Wife is a show that has mastered the art of reinvention, emerging from each huge shift in its plot as a stronger and more compelling show. This year, it took a big risk and used the departure of Josh Charles, one of its lead actors, to create one of the most realistically devastating examinations of the grieving process I’ve ever seen on television. It created a story arc that allowed the audience to mourn a sudden, shocking departure along with the characters, and I think the show has never been better than it was in those episodes immediately following Will’s death. And this season has upped the tension in a remarkable way with Cary’s impending jail sentence, once again effortlessly shifting the show into new territory. With each new chapter, The Good Wife is buoyed by some of the strongest writing and one of the most brilliant casts on television. I challenge anyone who believes there are no good network dramas anymore to watch The Good Wife and still hold that assumption.

2. The Mindy Project
Television is becoming the place where the best romantic comedies are found, and leading the charge in that movement is The Mindy Project. This was the year this show found its voice, giving more depth not just to Danny but also to Mindy, allowing Mindy Kaling to show her range as an actress alongside Chis Messina. And by giving these characters room to grow, the show created one of the most entertaining, funny, and heartwarming couples on television. Romance isn’t dead; it lives and breathes and makes me laugh and cry every Tuesday night on FOX.

3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
This show has become my happy place. It makes me laugh harder than probably any other show on television right now, and that’s not even my favorite thing about it. It’s only in its second season, and already Brooklyn Nine-Nine has richer characters and more compelling relationships between them than most other comedies on television. Yes, the budding romance between Jake and Amy is adorable, but this show remembers what so many seem to forget: Life is about more than just romance. The friendships on this show (most notably the one between Jake and Rosa) are wonderful, and I could watch every possible combination of members of this cast interact, which is great because this show excels at pairing different characters together in fun situations. And no mention of this show is complete without stating that Andre Braugher keeps getting better and better, and if you’re not watching his work as Captain Holt, you’re missing out.

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NGN’s Best of 2014: TV Episodes

danny and mindy

This was another great year for television, featuring a plethora of memorable episodes that will live on long after 2014 is over. For today’s installment of NGN’s Best of 2014 series, I attempted the difficult task of choosing just 10 of the best episodes of television I saw this year. Remember to leave your own picks in the comments because there are plenty of amazing episodes to discuss! (And be sure to check out Heather’s list of the year’s best episodes, too!)

1. “Danny and Mindy” (The Mindy Project)
I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy, and the best romantic comedy I’ve seen in years was this glorious season finale of The Mindy Project. Mindy Kaling’s writing has never been sharper, funnier, and more emotionally evocative than it was in this half-hour tribute to a genre she holds close to her heart. Every rom-com reference was perfect, but this episode was about so much more than just referencing a genre’s classics; it was about creating a new classic. From the heartbreaking bathroom confrontation between Mindy and Danny to their perfect concluding kiss, this was an episode filled with both the strongest acting and writing this show has ever seen. And I dare anyone who loves romantic comedies to say they didn’t smile during this episode’s Springsteen-backed climactic race to the top of the Empire State Building.

2. “The Last Call” (The Good Wife)
The Good Wife is becoming known for its ability to reinvent itself, and what’s most impressive about that is the different tones with which its reinventions announce themselves. Last year’s “Hitting the Fan” was a game-changer defined by bursts of anger, while “The Last Call” was another sharp turn for the show defined by quiet grief. There was nothing flashy about this episode; it was driven by emotional honesty and realism rather than melodrama. Every talented member of this show’s ensemble was given a moment to shine in this episode, and each moment of grief beautifully reflected each character—from David Lee’s private tears to Alicia and Diane’s heartbreaking hug. “The Last Call” was about sudden, senseless death—the ways we deal with it, the helplessness and confusion it leaves in its wake, and the support systems we lean on when it happens. It was one of the most moving episodes of television I’ve ever seen, and it had the best acting of any hour of television that aired this year.

3. “Ann and Chris” (Parks and Recreation)
Friendship is very important to me. It’s one of the driving forces in my life, and my best friends will have been there—positively influencing my life—long before any romantic partner someday finds their way into my heart. For a long time, I felt like this strong belief in the power of friendship (especially female friendship) was one I’d never see reflected on television. But then “Ann and Chris” happened, and an entire half-hour of TV was dedicated to honoring the importance of having a supportive best friend. The episode itself had plenty of moments of laughter, but it was the emotional beats that focused on pairs of friends—Ann and April, Ben and Chris, Leslie and Ann—that gave this episode its soul. “Ann and Chris” represented the way Parks and Rec is so utterly fearless when it comes to wearing its heart on its sleeve, and the fact that this episode’s heart was so firmly focused on friendship made it unlike anything else on TV this year—in the best possible way.

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NGN’s Best of 2014: TV Moments

Orphan Black's big dance scene was my favorite moment on television in 2014.

Orphan Black’s big dance scene was my favorite moment on television in 2014.

This year was a great one for television, featuring plenty of memorable moments to keep us talking from the beginning of 2014 to its end. Whether those moments were happy or tragic, they stayed in our hearts and on our minds long after the episodes that featured them were over.

Today’s installment of NGN’s Best of 2014 series features my picks for the 10 best moments on TV this year. I hope you all share your picks in the comments because there are so many excellent moments to talk about!

1. Clone Club Dance Party (Orphan Black: By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried)
Orphan Black is a thrill-a-minute kind of show, but it was at its most impressive when it took a deep breath and allowed its characters to simply have fun dancing together. What made this moment the best of the year, though, wasn’t just its happy tone in the middle of chaos, it was the technical brilliance that went into making that scene. Besides the wonderful Jordan Gavaris, every other character in this scene was played by Tatiana Maslany. The way Maslany was able to convey the distinct personalities of each clone through their dance moves speaks to her incredible talent. There’s no one on television like Maslany, and there was certainly no scene on television in 2014 like this one.

2. Will Gardner Dies (The Good Wife: Dramatics, Your Honor/Last Call)
Death often blindsides us, and The Good Wife’s ability to blindside its audience with the death of one of its lead characters was one of the most talked-about happenings in the television world this year. In the two episodes surrounding Will’s death, The Good Wife delivered the most emotionally resonant hours of television in 2014. Every actor rose to the challenge, giving each scene weight and ensuring that no one would end either hour with dry eyes. Will’s death made everyone who watched The Good Wife think about the senseless nature of tragedy and the unanswered questions left behind when loved ones die. But even more than making us think, watching these characters grieve made us feel—and that’s what great television is all about.

3. Castle and Beckett Get Married (Castle: The Time of Our Lives)
I love a good wedding. And after months of waiting, Castle gave its fans a great wedding. Cheesy backdrops aside, everything about the scene was beautiful—from Beckett’s perfect wedding outfit and the way Castle looked at her in it to every word of their deeply personal vows. Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic put such joy and love into their performances in that scene, and it created a beautiful moment of joy for casual viewers and longtime fans alike. And as someone who has been invested in this relationship since the show’s pilot first aired, I can say this wedding produced more happy tears than any other scene I watched on television in 2014.

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NGN’s Best of 2014: TV Relationships

I hope all of you who celebrate the holidays had a very Merry Christmas yesterday and a Happy Boxing Day today!

Once Upon a Time's Emma and Hook were my favorite TV couple in 2014.

Once Upon a Time’s Emma and Hook were my favorite TV couple in 2014.

The television landscape in 2014 was filled with complex, compelling relationships—from old friendships to new romances. This was a great year for “shippers” of all kinds, with kisses we all rewatched 100 times, weddings that made us cry, and romantic moments that filled our hearts with joy. It was also a great year for platonic relationships, with friendships playing an even more important role than ever on some of my favorite television shows.

For today’s installment of NGN’s Best of 2014 series, it’s time to take a look at my 10 favorite relationships that developed on our TV screens this year. After you’ve read my picks, I’d love to read yours in the comments section!

1. Emma and Hook (Once Upon a Time)
Is there anything better than watching a brand-new fairytale develop right before your eyes? That’s what Once Upon a Time is doing with the slowly-developing love story between a princess with a fighter’s spirit and a pirate with a hero’s heart. The beauty of this love story is its realism in the middle of a world of magical true love and soul mates discovered by fairy dust. It’s a story about two people who’ve been broken by love slowly learning how to open their hearts again to a sense of hope and happiness. That’s a kind of love story that’s easy to believe in and rewarding to watch—from first dances and first dates to emotionally-charged kisses and moments of quiet intimacy that highlight the fantastic chemistry between Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue. Emma and Hook’s relationship has made both characters stronger and happier, and their scenes together this year have been some of the show’s best and most beautiful.

2. Mindy and Danny (The Mindy Project)
In 2014, the best romantic comedy wasn’t found in a movie theater; it was found every Tuesday night on The Mindy Project. Through smart writing and excellent performances all year from Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina, the relationship between Mindy and Danny went from everyone’s favorite “Will they or won’t they?” to everyone’s favorite “They did, and it’s awesome!” Mindy and Danny’s relationship is an exploration of what happens after the ending of a romantic comedy, and it turns out the answer is even more great comedy and character growth. The chemistry between Kaling and Messina is electric, and it shows no signs of faltering now that these characters are in a real relationship. From a race to the top of the Empire State Building to a very revealing striptease, this relationship has found the perfect balance of heat, humor, and heart.

3. Leslie and Ann (Parks and Recreation)
Once upon a time, a beautiful tropical fish met a passionate, stubborn steamroller, and the two of them became one of television’s best examples of female friendship. This year, Leslie and Ann’s friendship took center stage as the latter moved away from Pawnee to start a family in one of the year’s most emotional episodes of any television show, “Ann and Chris.” That lovely episode paid tribute to the power of female friendship in a way that was touching and true-to-life. It’s a rare thing for a television show to let one of the great loves of a character’s life be their best friend, but Parks and Rec is a rare television show that honors the beauty of friendship as much as it honors romance. Leslie and Ann’s friendship is as genuinely supportive and healthy as it gets, and that’s such a wonderful example for people to see in the media. My wish for every woman is that she finds the Ann to her Leslie (or the Leslie to her Ann)—a friend she can talk to about anything and a friend who loves her like the first soul mate so many of our friends often are.

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NGN’s Best of 2014: Character Arcs and TV Performances

The women of Once Upon a Time, including Emma Swan, had some of my favorite character arcs on TV this year.

The women of Once Upon a Time, including Emma Swan, had some of my favorite character arcs on TV this year.

With the holiday season upon us, it’s always fun to reflect back on the year that was. Here at Nerdy Girl Notes, that means reflecting on all of the best things to happen in the worlds of television, movies, and books in 2014. In the days leading up to the start of 2015, I plan to share some lists of my favorite things about the media I consumed in the past year.

Because one of the things I enjoy most about running NGN is hearing about why all of you love what you love, I hope these lists can serve as a starting point for discussion about what meant the most to you this year. I’d love to see you share your own lists in the comments, and I hope you’re checking out plenty of other “Best of 2014” lists, too, including the ones made by everyone’s favorite beautiful tropical fish, Heather!

Today’s “Best of…” list is all about character arcs. This was a fantastic year for rich, complex character development on television, which means it was also a year filled with outstanding performances, as talented actors brought these character arcs to life. From first ladies and lawyers to evil queens and clones, here are my 10 favorite character arcs of 2014.

1. Emma Swan on Once Upon a Time (Jennifer Morrison)
If Once Upon a Time’s motto is “Love is strength,” then Emma Swan’s character arc this year was all about becoming her strongest self by opening up to love. In 2014, Emma found a home, made a friend, confronted her forgotten past, fell in love, and made the choice to love her true self even when that choice seemed anything but easy. Emma’s journey this year was a journey of vulnerability, and Morrison made me feel every painful and beautiful step of that journey. But it was also a journey of joy, of coming to choose hope and happiness after a lifetime of pushing those things away out of fear of them being taken from her. And, for as much as Morrison showed Emma’s growth so well in moments of tearful vulnerability, she showed it even more in moments of quiet joy and intimacy. It’s not easy to make a smile feel as important to an audience as an emotional breakdown, but Morrison managed that feat, making Emma’s choices to believe in love, in the people around her, and in herself resonate with me. They felt as heroic as fighting any wicked witch or evil spell.

2. Regina Mills on Once Upon a Time (Lana Parrilla)
This was a fantastic year for the women of Once Upon a Time in terms of character development. Regina started 2014 ripping her own heart out to save herself from having to feel pain, and she ended the year choosing to cause herself pain in order to spare someone else loneliness and loss. Regina’s journey towards becoming a better, more selfless person was a true joy to watch this year. Whether it was shown through making peace with Snow White, giving her heart to Robin Hood (in every way she could), or choosing to let him go in order to do the right thing, Regina proved that she’s become so much more than the Evil Queen. And Parrilla has found the perfect balance of sass and sincerity to completely captivate me as a viewer every time she’s onscreen. I want a happy ending for Regina so badly even though I used to actively root against her, and if that’s not the sign of a well-written and well-acted character arc, then I don’t know what is.

3. Louis Litt on Suits (Rick Hoffman)
In the barren landscape of summer television, Suits is an oasis of great characters played by incredible actors. And this summer, it was Louis (and Hoffman) who stood in the spotlight. Louis’s character arc in 2014 was all about emotion and the pitfalls of letting that drive you in a world as cold as the one he inhabits. Louis lost so much this year—his fiancée, his job—but he seemed to gain a real friend in Donna and more respect than ever from Harvey. But ultimately, Louis’s character arc led up to a final, climatic moment of emotion where he discovered Mike’s secret and used it to demand the one thing he’s always wanted: to become a name partner. Thanks to the brilliant work Hoffman turned in this year, I cried for Louis, I celebrated with him, and I ultimately shared his anger and sense of betrayal, too. But the fact that I genuinely feared him in his final confrontation with Jessica is the real mark of Hoffman’s skill and the genius of the way Louis is written. He could have been a one-note office antagonist or bumbling idiot, but he’s now one of the most complex characters on television.

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NGN’s Best of 2013 (and 2014 Preview): Movies

American Hustle was one of 2013's most critically-acclaimed films.

American Hustle was one of 2013’s most critically-acclaimed films.

I hope all of you had a lovely end to 2013 and a fresh, fun, and hopeful start to 2014. May all your resolutions be beneficial and all your days full of learning, laughter, and love.

After ending 2013 with a look at the year that was in television, I’d like to kick off 2014 with a look at the world of film. It’s time to reflect on the performances and movies that made 2013 such a memorable year, and it’s also time to look ahead at what movies we have to look forward to in the coming year.

Top Five Female Performances of 2013:

1. Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld (American Hustle) and Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)
Lawrence’s turns as American Hustle’s charismatic but unstable housewife and Catching Fire’s stoic but tortured heroine were both outstanding on their own, but what was truly impressive was looking at them side-by-side as a testament to her incredible range. For someone so young to have built such an impressive body of work is no small feat, but in 2013, Lawrence proved herself able to rise to every challenge put in front of her as an actress—and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another Oscar at the end of this year’s journey.

2. Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone (Gravity)
Gravity was literally Bullock’s film—she was onscreen for nearly all of its 90 minutes, and, for much of it, she was onscreen alone. Bullock’s ability to convey the terror of her situation was excellent, but the most captivating thing about her performance was the way she was able to convey both the physical isolation of space and the emotional isolation of grief with such relatable humanity.

3. Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser (American Hustle)
For American Hustle to succeed as brilliantly as it did, Sydney needed to be the kind of woman everyone would fall in love with, and in Adams’s capable hands, she became that and so much more. Adams balanced Sydney’s sensuality, intelligence, ambition, and fierce vulnerability with grace and—even more importantly—with power you couldn’t help but be attracted to.

4. Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers (Saving Mr. Banks)
The way Thompson managed to show the broken little girl underneath P.L. Travers’s icy exterior was nothing short of magnificent. Her harsh sarcasm gave a film that could have been saccharine a nice edge, but it was her emotional journey that gave the film its most winning asset—its beating, beautiful heart. I still find myself tearing up thinking of the emotional range she showed during the scene in which Travers watches Marry Poppins onscreen for the first time, which was possibly the best acting without dialogue I saw all year.

5. Amy Acker as Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing)
It takes an impressive actor to make me truly care about a Shakespearean character. So the depth with which I came to care about Beatrice proves what an impressive actor Acker truly is. The lines rolled off her tongue like she was born speaking Shakespeare, but it was the genuine humor and gravitas she brought to the role that made this character come to life for me as if she was as real as one of my friends.

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NGN’s Best of 2013: TV Episodes and Shows

2013 was the year The Good Wife reminded us how good network dramas could be.

2013 was the year The Good Wife reminded us how good network dramas could be.

It’s time for the conclusion to my look at the best of the television world in 2013. There were plenty of memorable episodes that aired this year that people will be talking about for a long time—episodes that made us laugh, sob, and stay up way too late thinking about them. And whether you’re a one-episode-a-week viewer or a binge-watcher, there’s no denying that 2013 was a year where many great shows hit new heights of excellence.

Top Five Dramatic Episodes:

1. “Hitting the Fan” (The Good Wife)
It’s not often that a show manages to reinvent itself in its fifth season, but that’s exactly what The Good Wife did with this incredible episode. Tensions that had been building for five seasons found release in explosive scenes (Will and Alicia’s confrontation) as well as more controlled moments (Peter and Will’s phone call). Each member of this great cast brought their A-game to this episode, and their excellent performances were heightened by the expert pacing of this episode. “Hitting the Fan” was a bold move and a brave one, and it paid off tremendously for all involved, especially the audience.

2. “The Rains of Castamere” (Game of Thrones)
This episode will always be known by its more colorful moniker, the Red Wedding. The entire hour was a masterpiece of tension and foreboding, keeping audiences on the edges of their seats until the bloodbath began (which was when they moved from the edges of their seats to hiding behind their fingers). The brutal carnage still managed to surprise even those of us who read the books, but my lasting impression of this scene was not one of surprise; it was one of despair. Michelle Fairley made me physically feel Catelyn’s grief and desperation with a ferocity I’ve never experienced as a TV viewer before. This episode was raw and ruthless in its assault on my senses and emotions, and that’s exactly what it was supposed to be.

3. “Ariel” (Once Upon a Time)
“Ariel” represents what Once Upon a Time is at its best. It featured a faithful spin on a beloved fairytale (in this case, The Little Mermaid) with some fun twists (aka Lana Parrilla getting to channel Ursula); some delicious banter between Parrilla and Robert Carlyle; and some very human drama in the middle of a world of fairytales. Colin O’Donoghue, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Dallas, and Jennifer Morrison were at their very best as their characters shared their darkest secrets with one another in the Echo Cave. Each secret’s emotional impact was earned—from the beautiful (Hook’s admission that Emma gave him the hope that he could move on from his past) to the bittersweet (Snow wanting a new baby because her relationship with Emma isn’t what she wanted) to the painful (Emma telling Neal that she wished he was dead so she could finally move on). “Ariel” was a shining example of the emotional power of a television show that’s never been afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.

4. “The Quarterback” (Glee)
This episode was a respectful, beautiful, and honest way to tell a story no cast should ever have to tell: the death of a friend who left this world far too soon. The emotions ran raw and real—almost intrusively so at times—but “The Quarterback” allowed Glee fans and the cast to mourn together. From the brutally sad moment when Finn’s mother broke down while cleaning out his room to Lea Michele’s devastating rendition of “Make You Feel My Love,” this episode allowed the people who knew Cory Monteith best to share their grief with the fans who loved him, too.

5. “Variations Under Domestication” (Orphan Black)
Great television is all about pacing—finding a balance between tension and release, drama and comedy, emotion and action. “Variations Under Domestication” struck a genius balance between all of those facets as well as between all of the increasingly complicated roles Tatiana Maslany was asked to play. Between all of the twists and turns in this episode (and there were plenty of great ones), I found myself invested in the emotional lives of Cosima and Alison more than ever before. I would have paid to watch a film-length version of this episode in a movie theater—that’s how entertaining it was.

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NGN’s Best of 2013: TV Performances

There has been an embarrassment of riches this year for anyone who is a fan of phenomenal acting on television. 2013 gave us more memorable, complex, and layered characters than ever before. And they were brought to life by men and women with a wide range of talents—actors who didn’t just make us think about these characters as we were watching them; they made us care about them long after the episode was over.

For my next installment of NGN’s “Best of 2013” series, I want to take a look at the actors who brought something special to their respective television shows this year. In a year of standout performances, these—separated into male and female, comedic and dramatic—were the best of the best from my seat on the couch.

Top Five Female Dramatic Performances:

ORPHAN BLACK : GALLERY

1. Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black)
This might be cheating a little bit because I’m just over halfway through the first season of Orphan Black, but I highly doubt the final four episodes I have left to watch will affect my opinion of Maslany beyond making me respect her even more. Not only does she impressively give each clone her own unique posture, accent, and mannerisms, she gives each one her own soul. I was expecting to marvel at Maslany’s talent when I started this show, but I wasn’t expecting to feel so deeply for so many of the characters she’s created. Yes, it’s amazing how she’s able to not only play clones but also clones pretending to be other clones. But what’s really amazing is the emotional commitment she gives to each character and each scene.
Best Episode of 2013 (that I’ve seen so far): “Variations Under Domestication”

2. Jennifer Morrison (Once Upon a Time)
Emma Swan is not an easy character to play. She suppresses her emotions after a lifetime of loneliness, only showing them in the subtlest change of expression until they all come out in bursts of vulnerability that surprise even her. Emma is strong, but she’s also incredibly broken. And it takes an actress of considerable talent and also considerable love for this kind of character in order to bring her to life successfully. Morrison is so adept at showing every complicated facet of Emma’s character—her awkwardness and her innate ability to lead; her fear of opening up and her intense vulnerability; her ability to love and her inability to fully accept love from others. Emma grounds this fantasy show in real, human drama, and Morrison grounds Emma with real, human emotions.
Best Episode of 2013: “Lost Girl”

3. Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones)
There’s a reason the Red Wedding was one of the most heartbreaking television moments of 2013. Yes, it was horrifying to watch Robb Stark, his young wife, and his direwolf be brutally slaughtered. But the true pathos of that scene came not from Robb but from his mother. Fairley was fearless in her depiction of a mother’s desperation and grief. Her scream when Robb was murdered still haunts me, and her catatonic expression in the moments before her own death said it all: Catelyn Stark died the moment her son did. Only a truly great actress could communicate such depth without dialogue, and Fairley is as good as they come on a show filled with talent.
Best Episode of 2013: “The Rains of Castamere”

4. Bellamy Young (Scandal)
Mellie Grant could be an easy character to hate—and I suppose, for some people, she is. But I love Mellie—I love her ambition, her ruthless edge, the steel in her spine, and the ferocity behind her first-lady façade. In Young’s capable hands, Mellie developed this year into a tragic figure beyond just a woman scorned. Drunk Mellie was brilliant, but it was Young’s work in the horrifying episode where Mellie was raped that floored me with just how talented she is at making us care about this woman beyond her role in Scandal’s screwed-up love story. More than any other actress on my list, Young is the one I wish more critics and award committees were taking notice of this year.
Best Episode of 2013: “Everything’s Coming Up Mellie”

5. Hayden Panettiere (Nashville)
Juliette Barnes is a complicated woman—she’s a woman from a trailer park who rose to country music stardom; she’s a woman who surrounds herself with men and yet has never really been in love; she’s a woman who’s been used and who uses others; and she’s a woman who acts every bit the diva but also has moments of astounding empathy and kindness. Panettiere has managed to give just the right amount of hard edges and soft spots to this character to keep audiences guessing about exactly who Juliette is. Whether she’s ranting about the way women are used in the music industry, befriending a young girl whose mother is in a coma, or breaking down after a confession of love goes awry, Panettiere has made Juliette feel like a real, complicated woman who it is impossible not to care for—no matter how selfish she may seem on the outside.
Best Episode of 2013: “I Fall to Pieces”

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NGN’s Best of 2013: TV Relationships

nick jess kiss cooler

New Girl’s Nick and Jess were one of 2013’s most talked-about TV relationships.

This was a great year to be a fan of smart, complex, and emotionally-engaging relationships on television. In terms of romantic relationships, there were plenty of engagements, weddings, and first kisses to keep even the most rabid “shippers” happy. And there were plenty of other meaningful relationships that blossomed on our TV screens this year, too—between parents and children, friends, coworkers, and traveling companions.

Today at NGN, it’s time to take a look at the 10 best relationships that graced our TV screens this year. From lovers to family members to mentors, here are my favorite TV relationships of 2013.

1. Leslie and Ben (Parks and Recreation)
In a year that featured the development of many strong romantic relationships, there was still no other duo who could come close to the hold these two have over my heart. Through successes and failures, good days and bad, these two are each other’s ultimate teammate—always having each other’s back and helping them be their best self. Their perfect wedding was my favorite TV moment of the year. Not only are they the best couple on television; they’re the most inspiring for all us Leslies (and Bens) out there looking for someone to love and to like.

2. Nick and Jess (New Girl)
The best television surprise in 2013 for me was how this relationship was handled at the end of New Girl’s second season. With a deft mixture of silliness and sincerity, Nick and Jess moved from roommates to roomfriends to romance in what was quite possibly the most satisfying string of episodes of any show to air this year. Has the progression of their relationship faltered a bit in Season Three? Yes. But that doesn’t take away from what this relationship is at its best—a surprisingly honest (and surprisingly hot) look at what happens when two messy, imperfect people fall in love. And let’s not forget about the kissing. (But really, how could anyone forget about the kissing?)

3. Jaime and Brienne (Game of Thrones)
On a show filled with backstabbing, power plays, and relationships built on deceit, Season Three of Game of Thrones gave us the dynamic duo of Jaime and Brienne, whose relationship is built instead on a slowly developing sense of mutual understanding and trust. Theirs is a story of learning to look beyond first impressions and reputations to see the real person. All Jaime wants is someone to see him as Jaime instead of the Kingslayer, and Brienne finally gave him that gift when she called him “Ser Jaime.” In a world where relationships between men and women are either outlets for lust or political power (or both), Jaime and Brienne represent something very rare: genuine respect.

4. Charming and Emma (Once Upon a Time)
Once Upon a Time began with the ultimate act of paternal love—a father willing to give up his own life to save his daughter. But for over two seasons after that brilliant moment, it felt like Charming and Emma’s relationship would never come close to that level of importance on the show again. Thankfully, Season Three has featured a growing number of moments between father and daughter, and it’s been enough for audiences to see just how special this relationship is. Charming’s concern for Emma’s happiness never feels forced or tied up with any emotions other than deep, unconditional love. From lame dad jokes to sweet forehead kisses, their relationship always feels genuine and uncomplicated, which is the kind of love Emma needs from her parents. Josh Dallas radiates a kind of warm, paternal energy, and he is often at his best when sharing a scene with Jennifer Morrison, including even the smallest background moments.

5. Castle and Beckett (Castle)
Confidence is a beautiful thing, and that’s been the key to Castle and Beckett’s relationship ever since Castle proposed at the end of Season Five. By moving the characters into this next stage of their relationship, the writers seem to have freed themselves of any unnecessary angst and are instead weaving this warm, supportive, and sexy relationship into the fabric of the show rather than leaving it in its own box. From a first “I love you” to wedding planning and talk of future babies, this couple has taken huge strides in the last year, and I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings for them and for us as fans.

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