“That would be some way to leave us.” – This Is Us Recap – Moonshadow

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 18
“Moonshadow”
Posted by Shannon

The first season of This is Us had some near-perfect episodes. It also had some that stood on the importance of their character development, even when the plot or structure faltered, and some that worked despite sections with deeply problematic writing, but it hadn’t yet had an episode that just fell flat. So it’s especially unfortunate that the first episode to truly disappoint me was also the season finale. “Moonshadow” revelled almost exclusively in the show’s worst qualities, and while This is Us is secure in its unprecedented second and third season renewal, I for one hate that its first season went down like this. With barely a moment for the Big Three, no closure on Jack’s passing, and a lack-luster closing speech, we’re left with some lingering questions and a whole lot of plot devices to tide us over until season two.

Young Jack

 
source: bigthree.tumblr.com
 

A Vietnam veteran, Jack has returned from the war and is living at home, working as a fix-it guy around the neighborhood. Mrs. Peabody, a widow who wants to set Jack up with her best friend’s granddaughter, opens the episode by offering him $5 for fixing up her car and chatting with him in the driveway. (Her car is immediately recognizable as the one Jack drives later on, so all that work on the engine will pay off in time.) Jack is trying to piece together his livelihood on odd jobs, and while he painstakingly saves every dollar he earns in a box with his dog tags, it’s slow going. Not only is he living in his parent’s attic, his horrible father is back and is taking every opportunity to berate Jack and his mother.

At least Jack has one friend to commiserate with; Daryl, with whom he wants to open up an auto shop. They even have a spot in mind, and they spend nights sitting outside of the garage, making plans and drinking beers. Jack and Daryl just aren’t saving up money fast enough, and Jack asks Daryl to get them into his cousin’s poker game in an attempt to move things along. It’s clearly misguided, but we’re still meant to see the origins of Jack’s best qualities in this conversation: against all odds, we’re told that he’s returned from Vietnam without any emotional or physical wounds, and he’s toiling away in a horrible family situation, working hard to pull himself and his mother out into safety. Instead, though, I found this characterization of Jack to be entitled and indignant. When he told Daryl that “we’re good guys, we deserve to make it,” for the first time it occurred to me that Rebecca was onto something when she called Jack out as only acting like the good guy to make himself feel better. Yes, motivation and drive are good qualities, but being a good person does NOT mean that good things will automatically happen to you, and even at this age, Jack doesn’t seem as naive as he’d need to be to believe otherwise.

source: ventimigrillo.tumblr.com

Once they get to the poker game, things are even more painful to watch. The set up is a cliché representation of a dive bar, just smoky enough to read as “bad” without actually feeling dangerous, and Jack plays the part of the fool, walking in and winning a pile of money on his first hand, only to bail on the rest of the game immediately afterwards. It’s a bad move in the best of circumstances, and of COURSE it means that he and Daryl get beat up outside the bar, with all their earnings stolen. Jack doesn’t see how foolish his behavior was, instead blaming it all on how unfair the world has been to punish him instead of his father, who’s always broken on the side of the morally bankrupt. He’s chosen to be the opposite of his father, to be “respectful to women, be a good man – look where it’s gotten me.”

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

Jack is feeling angsty and angry, and ready to “take the life that I was supposed to have.” He intends to take that life by blatantly standing up his blind date and stealing his poker winnings out of the bar. Everything is going according to plan when Jack spots Rebecca singing an open mic, and stops short his life of crime. I’m not sure what it would have taken for me to find this plot line interesting, or more importantly, actually in character for Jack. Maybe if he’d seemed more genuinely angry or frightened by his life’s path, maybe if his entire character wasn’t now based in Rebecca as his salvation from petty thievery. Maybe if he hadn’t openly decided to stand up some poor unnamed woman, with never so much as a phone call or a thought to her well-being. It’s possible that this will all make more sense if we spend more time with young Jack, but with the context we’re given in “Moonshadow”, it just fell flat. Being a good person is not something to be done for a reward. You do good because it’s right, not because it will pay off in the end in some karmic display of gentle retribution. Before this episode, Jack had never seemed like the kind of person who acted singularly for ulterior motives, positive though they may be. And now that he’s been established as such, it’s that much harder for his words to ring true.

Young Rebecca

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

Single Rebecca is, by contrast, living a pretty great life, despite friends who are on a constant mission to set her up. Rebecca is happy to sit alone, happy to focus on her career and to stand up for her individual goals. She’s busy and content, doing open mics and recording demos for a family member who works at a recording studio. Rebecca also manages to be confident in the face of two friends who seem dead-set on feeling bad for her, telling her that she needs to “diversify” her options by taking a date with a guy in finance so she won’t be doomed to go to a wedding alone.

Continue reading

“It was enough time to know that I loved him.” – This Is Us Recap – What Now?

source: sancriss.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 17
“What Now?”
Posted by Shannon

After saying farewell to William last week, the penultimate episode of the season is full of complex themes. The Pearson clan has spent their recent days pondering legacy, blame, and forgiveness, and while some are making more concrete moves than others, each of them carry a hefty emotional weight. As we head into the season finale, Randall and Kevin share clarity and opportunity in their work and home lives, while the guilt and shame of Rebecca’s decision to lie to Randall is lifted and transposed to Kate. The legacy of the Hill-Pearson patriarchs is felt fully this week, and their children’s emotional connections to those legacies are not a simple matter. “What Now?” is rife with guilt and mourning, but there’s just as much joy to be found in those moments as there is sadness.  

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

Jack/Rebecca

It’s time for Rebecca to head out on her two-week tour, and while she’s packing her best dresses, Jack is staying late at work for a retirement party. He’s under no obligation to stay, and he and Miguel don’t even like the guy they’re celebrating, but Jack is searching for any reason not to go home. While he hasn’t stopped Rebecca from going on tour, he’s determined to be as difficult about it as possible, making her wait until the last possible moments to say goodbye. Rebecca calls him out on this behavior as soon as he gets home, and the two bicker privately in the kitchen over schedule changes and getting the kids to a party. There’s a quiet sadness watching them like this, so disconnected, especially after their night in the old apartment was such a short time ago. They’re at least able to share a laugh over Kevin and Sophie, who are deep in the throes of teen romance and unable to keep their hands off each other, but even that doesn’t break their moods. Rebecca gives hugs to each of the kids, but Jack only offers a kiss on the cheek before she leaves for the van.

Kate sees right through her parents’ interactions, and from the moment Jack walks in the door, she knows something is wrong. She glares worriedly at Jack, urging him to give Rebecca a better farewell just with a quiet, muttered “….Dad….” Their connection is so strong (as is Rebecca and Randall’s) that she can feel every single one of her father’s moods, and she knows that he can do better than he’s doing right now.

 
 
source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com
 

After Jack drops the kids off at a party, Kate lingers in the back seat, asking pointedly why he hasn’t made the relatively short two-hour drive to Cleveland to watch Rebecca’s show. This is SUCH a tough line for a kid to walk, and Jack does the right thing by assuring her that it shouldn’t be her problem. Her focus should be on “boys, and grades, and that band that sounds like they’re always kidding” – not on the ups and downs of her parents’ marriage. But Kate can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong, and while she does finally leave for the party, it’s only after making sure that her father won’t spend the whole night being sad and alone.

But that’s exactly what he does. After spending some time in front of the television with Chinese takeout, Jack grabs his keys and heads out the door – but it’s not for Rebecca’s show, it’s for his coworker’s after-party. Miguel is nowhere to be seen, but Heather is, and she promptly buys him a beer. She takes the opportunity to ask what’s been bothering Jack, and he opens up with one hell of a Freudian slip. (“She’s on tour with her Ben. Her band.”)  Heather tries to get Jack to admit that he’s having marriage troubles, but Jack isn’t having it. He’s a little too slow on the uptake, but once Heather puts her hand on his leg, he catches up quick, and shuts down her advances. Finally, after listening to his daughter’s fears, and defending Rebecca’s dreams to Heather, Jack knows that this has gone far enough. He calls the party and asks if the kids can stay the night, opening his schedule up to make the drive to Rebecca’s performance. Except he’s been drinking. A lot. After a final conversation with Kate, and after fumbling his keys, Jack gets behind the wheel and heads to Cleveland.

Randall/Beth

 
 
source: sylviebret.tumblr.com
 

It’s just been a few days since William’s passing, but Randall is already trying to make sense of the space William has left in his heart and in his home. The last time William was in Annie’s room, he was packing up for his final trip to Memphis, deciding what to take and what to leave. His instruments stayed; his poems were packed.  While Randall sits on the bed, trying to unravel the best way to honor his father’s legacy, (“Do I start wearing sweater vests?”) Beth spots a letter tucked underneath Annie’s pillow.

William rarely did anything without intention. Especially in the final weeks of his life, every single decision he made ensured that the people in his life knew how special they were to him. So of course, in his final letter to Tess and Annie, he knew just what to say. Rather than let Randall and Beth plan his memorial, he asks Tess and Annie to do it. After all, “adults make these things sad, and I want you two to make it fun.” The change in the girls from the beginning of the letter to the end is palpable. They take their mission so seriously, especially their grandfather’s request that it be joyful. Tess and Annie share mischievous smiles, and immediately scrap the plans Beth’s plans for catering and white doves. Randall asks just one thing of his girls: permission to deliver a eulogy. But eulogies are sad affairs, so it’s retitled a toast, and Tess and Annie agree.

 
 
source: myfriendamy.tumblr.com
 

The Pearsons aren’t the only ones mourning William. I had wondered how Jesse would be included in the memorial, and his call to Randall is full of grace. Knowing himself and the danger of a potential relapse, Jesse has decided to stay in Chicago, but he wants to be sure that Randall knows how much William was loved by him and all of the people in their NA group. Jesse specifically passes along the well wishes of a gentleman named Sebastian, an athlete who started attending NA after an addiction to pain pills. Since no one at the group was into sports, William feigned an interest in football, hoping it would give Sebastian someone to connect with. Jesse and Randall’s conversation is painful and quiet and beautifully written. These two haven’t had the chance to get to know one another, and outside of William, they don’t have much of a connection. But William is enough, and they both feel the need to honor him, to share stories, to laugh when they can, to celebrate his memory. Randall won’t have many people in his life with which he can share those memories, and I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Jesse.

When the neighborhood mailman brings in a perishable box from Randall’s office, it gives him another opportunity to learn the extent to which William was  “a soft arm rest for weary souls to lean on.” After getting to know each other on his morning walks, the neighborhood mailman is devastated to hear of William’s passing. I was so moved to hear him say simply that “this neighborhood will miss him.” Immediately, I flashed to the first of William’s walks, when his mere presence was enough to make the neighbors call the cops. The subtle racism of the suburbs can’t be handled simply, but his impact on the neighborhood is felt in that one line alone.

Continue reading

“He was the one that could steady you when the world felt like it was spinning.” – This Is Us Recap – Jack Pearson’s Son

source: mickeyandmumbles.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 15
“Jack Pearson’s Son”

Posted by Shannon

One of the most remarkable things about This Is Us is its ability to speak on a topic before really expanding on the details that brought its characters to that point. This has never been clearer than in “Jack Pearson’s Son,” which, for all of its plot points, truly comes down to one thing: that the death of Jack Pearson, however it happened, has left his family with a lack of a clear moral center. Jack was not a perfect man – and that’s never been more clear than in this episode – but he created a family that relied on him to act as their true north. Their constant. Jack wasn’t a superhero, and of course he didn’t have the ability to protect his children from the difficulties of their lives (Randall will always have anxiety, Kevin and Kate will always live with self-doubt and self-confidence issues) but he was one of those rare people who had the ability to center anyone who needed it. And without him, the center has tilted, spun, spiraled – leaving the surviving Pearsons in chaos.

Jack/Rebecca

Now that we know the ages of the kids when Jack passes, it’s impossible to watch an episode with them as teens without wondering when the other shoe will drop. That awareness leaves this Valentine’s Day celebration with a fog hovering overhead at every moment. Rebecca is about to depart for her five-state, month-long tour, and she’s in the throes of guilt and anxiety. Leaving her family for that long, with one parent to juggle Kate’s music lessons, Randall’s debate team meets, and Kevin’s football games seems insurmountable, but Jack assures her that he has it all under control. He even has time to book their favorite restaurant and their favorite table to celebrate Valentine’s Day – after Rebecca finishes her gig with the band.

Jack puts on his typical superhero husband face while he and Rebecca make plans, but it’s a different story when he’s at work with Miguel. It only takes a little bit of prodding for Jack to admit that he’s not thrilled about the tour after all (“Who does she think she is, Janis freakin’ Joplin?”). Jack refuses to tell Rebecca how he feels, convinced that she’ll resent him for denying her the opportunity – and he’s right. She would resent him – but she’d be right to do so. And what Jack misses entirely is that his feelings about the tour have already bred resentment in their marriage; except it’s Jack who’s resenting Rebecca. He’s clearly worried about Ben, the bandleader we met earlier in the season, and the fact that he isn’t willing to talk to Rebecca about how he feels NOW, before things blow up, is a real flaw. That said, it’s been a while since Jack has shown flaws of any kind, so it was time to see his perfection crack and give way to a bit of realism.

Meanwhile, Miguel has completed his divorce with Shelley and he’s anxious to get back out on the dating scene. He initially asks Jack to go out with him once Rebecca is on tour (and it’s telling to note that he’s quick to assure Jack that he doesn’t have to drink while they’re out, making it clear that Jack’s sobriety has lasted the decade since he decided to stop drinking). Instead, Jack invites Miguel to tag along to Rebecca’s show, certain that there will be some single women out, keeping busy during the holiday. (This single woman wouldn’t be caught dead out at a bar for a mellow jazz performance on Valentine’s Day, but what do I know.)

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

Naturally, while their parents are trying to plan their way out of a crisis, the Big Three are in the throes of standard teenage drama. Randall is anxious about his Hamlet paper, which Kevin thinks can only be fixed by setting his brother up on a date, and Kate is quick to jump to Randall’s defense, but does so by outing that Kevin and Sophie have started having sex. Rebecca, of course, overhears all of this, and jumps to attention after hearing that her 16-year-old is sexually active.

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

She and Jack sit down to talk to Kevin, making sure that above all else, he’s being safe and respectful. There’s no way to have this conversation that isn’t mortifying for all parties, but I do have to say that Jack does an exceptional job. His priorities are clear and on point, and he doesn’t linger or try to make Kevin feel ashamed of himself. However, he also doesn’t really have much of a chance to get beyond the basics before Randall, steadily spiraling into a panic attack, interrupts. The small signs that we know in adult Randall are all here – he’s breathless, shaky, and can’t quite form a cohesive argument while he tries to explain to his father that he hasn’t been able to formulate a topic for his Hamlet essay. Jack immediately calms him down, breathing with him, removing him from the basement and focusing his son by asking him to walk Jack through the life and times of the Prince of Denmark. It’s handled ably and quickly, but Rebecca sees all of this as proof positive that she cannot possibly go on tour right now.

Jack, once again, assures her that he has everything under control, and that she can’t miss touring with the band. But everything comes to a head when he and Miguel arrive at Rebecca’s show that evening. Jack doesn’t really focus during the whole performance; instead, he spends the entire time eyeing Ben, sizing him up and trying to decide if he and Rebecca are flirting on stage while they duet. Miguel isn’t concerned, assuring Jack that it’s a performance for the crowd, but Jack is having none of it. This is a side of Jack we haven’t really seen before; he’s cold, defensive, distracted and above everything else, painfully jealous.

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

When Ben greets Jack after the performance, he certainly doesn’t help the situation. The two men are both varying degrees of passive aggressive, sizing each other up with every word and glance. Ben drops that he and Rebecca used to date in college, and all hell breaks loose right in Jack’s eyes. He moves from distraction and distance to severity and bitterness, even hints of rage. He ends the night abruptly, insisting that he and Rebecca cancel their traditional Valentine’s Day bacon cheeseburgers and go straight home instead.



source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com
 

This is the first Real Fight we’ve seen Jack and Rebecca weather. Back in the beginning of the season, when Rebecca confronted him about his drinking, she was so clearly in the right that there wasn’t much nuance to the disagreement. But this argument has all the messiness and chaos of a fight with no real right or wrong. They both say things they shouldn’t say, things that will haunt their relationship from that moment on, and it says so much about their characters at the same time. Rebecca DOES feel like she’s sacrificed for Jack and the kids; how much she regrets that decision is unclear, and while I don’t doubt her love for her family for a SECOND, it’s easy to see how much joy performing has brought back into her eyes. She needs to have something that’s only hers, and that’s not too much to ask. However, the family has done nothing but support her new musical venture. Jack, on the other hand, knows those things to be true, but he spins out in every sense of the phrase. His constant perfection is exhausting, even though it’s not an act (and no one, certainly not Rebecca, would have thought of it as such). But no matter how genuine his drive to be a perfect father and husband is, it leaves him feeling entitled – entitled to Rebecca telling him every slight detail of her past, regardless of her feelings, and entitled to deny her the right to go out of the house to follow her dreams if he so chooses.

A fight this deep and biting can’t be sorted in the blink of an eye, and they don’t try to. Jack heads out to dinner, alone, and orders a drink. He downs it so quickly, and with such visible relief and anger, that any doubts viewers might have had about the severity of his addiction are immediately wiped away. This is a Jack we haven’t really seen before, and it’s not pretty.

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

Continue reading

“Take me to meet your father.” – This Is Us Recap – Memphis

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 16
“Memphis”
Posted by Shannon

“Memphis” is the second episode of the season to narrow its focus to something smaller, less sprawling, than the usual story. But instead of focusing on a day, it focuses on a person – the life of William Hill, from birth to death. We’ve known this was coming, of course, and as much as I was hoping for William to receive a miracle cure, I’ll settle for the knowledge that Ron Cephas Jones will be back in the second season. The episode sends William off with the grace and style he deserves: on his own terms, surrounded by music, and in his old home. But first, we have the opportunity to learn a little more about his upbringing, and to paint the picture of William’s life before Randall was born.

Young William


source: sylviebret.tumblr.com
 

Dorothy Hill, while pregnant with William, lived in Memphis with her husband. Their time together is summarized quickly, but it doesn’t take long to see that William’s dad had the same loving, kind eyes we know so well in his son (and his grandson, for that matter). Music rang through the home already too – William’s father would sing quietly to Dorothy and her baby bump, prompting a kick or two along the way. But just a few months before he was born, William’s father died in WWII, leaving Dorothy to raise him alone. And raise him she did; William and Dorothy lived happily in a home full of music, poetry and dancing. Their bond is strong and clear, but when Dorothy’s mother takes ill, she heads up to Pittsburgh and leaves William to his music.

source: thedreamerangel.tumblr.com

Dorothy knows the temptations that surround William and his cousin Ricky, and as they say goodbye at the train station, she leaves him with a request: to make the best of his time in Memphis, and to choose the best possible future for himself. William is already well on his way – he and Ricky have a band and spend their nights playing cover songs at a club called Melvin’s. While Ricky parties and gets smacked upside the head by the female population of Memphis, William takes his mother’s advice to heart. He declines Ricky’s invitations night after night, plays records, works on his poetry and music, and writes often. It’s a quiet life, but a good one. Up in Pittsburgh, Dorothy’s mother passes away, but she decides to stay put after landing a job at the local library. She can’t quite bear to leave, since her job “pays well and I get to be around books all day.”  (Dorothy, you’re a woman after my own heart. Stay with your books, girl.)

William has struggled to take his poetry and set it to music, but inspiration finally comes in the form of a killer soul number, “We Can Always Come Back to This.” He and his mother’s farewell at the train station was hugely impactful for William, even a few years later, and it serves as his song’s launching point. It took me a few times through the song to realize it, but the lyrics are a complete encapsulation of William’s life. It’s a song of goodbyes, hope, home, and loneliness. The refrain, “If I’m gonna be alone, then let it be with you,” is applicable to everyone William has loved and lost – Laurel, Jesse, Dorothy and of course Randall and his family. William has carried all of them in his heart his whole life, and even when he was physically alone, he’s been comforted by the knowledge that he has loved and been loved by a beautiful family.

The song, of course, is a huge hit. The crowd at Melvin’s grows and grows, and the band is poised to make a break just when William gets a call from Dorothy. She’s fallen ill, and he immediately heads up to Pittsburgh to take care of her. William knows this is the worst possible time to leave, but his priority is clear, and Ricky supports him completely. (“Never apologize for taking care of family.”) William heads off with a small loan from Ricky and the promise to return with a notebook full of 16 new tracks. Once he’s in Pittsburgh, William finds Dorothy in far worse shape than she let on. She sends him right back out again for the afternoon, off to the bus outside her apartment (“I know how you like the bus”) to explore the city.

source: piccolina-mina.tumblr.com

And all of a sudden, with the familiar chords of Jackson C. Frank’s “Blues Run the Game,” we’re back to the place where we first met William. The picture is more complete now; not only is he meeting and falling in love with Laurel on a Pittsburgh bus, but the two are taking care of Dorothy. They frequently decline invitations to hang out and party down the hall, focused instead on her care, but eventually, Laurel turns the corner. Slowly but surely, her drug habit becomes more serious. William can’t be distracted from his mother and spends every day at her bedside, reading her poetry and making sure she’s comfortable. Laurel used to paint Dorothy’s nails and keep her laughing, but as her addiction grows, she stumbles into Dorothy’s room and can no longer make eye contact to say goodbye.

Dorothy hadn’t even wanted William to know how sick she had become, so it’s no wonder that she was dismayed to have her son see her like this. Remembering all her years spent taking care of William as a child while she looked down at him from the bedside, Dorothy is heartbroken that the positions have been reversed. William wouldn’t have had it any other way, and I cannot imagine him leaving Dorothy to her illness alone. But the care takes a toll, and their second farewell leads to another pivotal moment in William’s life. His loss leads him to addiction and a life spent in Pittsburgh; he never makes his way back to Memphis.

Continue reading

“They’re make or break, these moments.” – This Is Us Recap – I Call Marriage

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 14
“I Call Marriage”

Posted by Shannon

The Valentine’s Day episode is still to come, but this week’s episode took the opportunity to focus in on love. What does it mean to love, in its many contexts and forms? Familial love, romantic love, and love of self all carry different burdens and challenges, and the Pearsons are struggling with the definitions and limits of this complex emotion. Some family members are handling it better than others, but for this episode, each of the characters are tending towards insular behavior, focusing in on their own relationships. Solitude has its moments, but this week, every single one of the Pearson clan would have been helped by opening up a little more than they have to their loved ones.

Jack/Rebecca


source: thisisdefinitelyus.tumblr.com
 

It’s Jack and Rebecca’s wedding day, and after leaving what looked to be a perfectly 70’s ceremony at city hall, Miguel offers a toast during their reception. He summarizes their self-written vows over a montage of Jack and Rebecca living them out in their daily lives; there’s shower sex, bad oysters, and more general evidence of how charming and loving their relationship has been through their early years. Over a decade later, Jack and Rebecca are worn down and even a little awkward while they get ready to meet Miguel and Shelley for dinner. Once there, the reason for the tension makes itself known: Rebecca has been out late playing with the band night after night, and Jack’s work schedule has been increasingly demanding. The timing couldn’t be worse. After years of being unhappy, but before they turn the corner into being outwardly cruel to one another, Miguel and Shelley have decided to get a divorce. It sounds like a healthy move for both of them, and Rebecca hears it as that, but for Jack, it’s an utter betrayal.

Jack has implied his cut-and-dry perception of marriage before, but he’s never laid it out as clearly as he does now. For Jack, marriage is the meeting of two soul mates, never to be separated until death. It’s phenomenally idealistic, but Jack doesn’t see it as such; for him, it’s just a fact. Rebecca, though, knowing how unhappy Shelley has been, sees their divorce as a healthy step. It all shakes Jack to his core, and the next day at work, after seeing Miguel and Heather flirting yet again in the break room, Jack demands an explanation. Miguel promises that he hasn’t been having an affair, and offers up a far more realistic and subtle examination of romantic love. Sometimes, relationships die “not with a bang but with a whimper.” The small decisions made in daily life often carry much more weight than we know; for Shelley and Miguel, it was a cup of coffee, and the slow acceptance that they have stopped noticing each other. Jack hears this as a warning; even the small distance that has been growing between he and Rebecca is too much for him to bear.

Meanwhile, Rebecca sees no such distance. After Ben tells her that the band has the opportunity to play on an east coast tour, “on actual stages, to actual crowds,” Rebecca’s first thought is what it will mean for Jack. When Ben tries to sway Rebecca by saying that “if Jack really loves you, he’ll understand” she calls bullshit. She sees every single gesture that Jack makes, big or small, and loves them for what they are: daily evidence that Miguel’s warning was unnecessary, that these two have not stopped noticing each other. Far from it.



source: strawberry-split.tumblr.com
 

Even still, Jack feels the need for a sweeping, romantic gesture. He packs an overnight bag for Rebecca and surprises her by renting their old apartment out for the night, all done up in lights, with champagne in every room and rose petals on the floor. Jack and Rebecca both appreciate their relationship, and they both make daily sacrifices, big and small, for each other. And now that we know the timeline for Jack’s passing, every moment spent in this year is tinged with sadness and fear of impending doom. The couple re-reads their vows, Rebecca admits that she wants to go on tour with the band, and I for one am left with a new fear – that Rebecca will be away on tour when Jack dies.



source: thisisdefinitelyus.tumblr.com
 

Randall/Beth

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

Randall is teetering on the edge of a breakdown. And just as Beth feared, he is actively refusing help every step of the way. His nightmare of finding William at the piano was horrific, but it’s also his subconscious trying to make him face what he can’t bear to look at in his daily life. After all, he’s too busy trying to be the perfect father, husband, and coworker all at once. Beth knows that something was very wrong with Randall when Annie wakes them up after wetting the bed, but they don’t get the chance to discuss it (and even if they did, Randall wouldn’t have said a word). Instead, after helping Annie get back to sleep, they find Tess downstairs, practicing chess with William in the early hours of the morning.

Tess is so scared that her parents will blame William for their late-night chess games, but she doesn’t know what else to do. With William napping after school, soccer practice on the weekends, and parents too understandably crazed to check the whiteboard for new obligations, the only time she can spend with William is in the middle of the night. And she knows what Randall won’t allow himself to recognize – their time with William is limited, and she needs to take every opportunity to make memories with her grandfather. William is in a healthy place mentally, all things considered; he immediately apologizes to Randall about keeping Tess up, but his face doesn’t carry an ounce of guilt. Nor should it. Tess will always treasure those moments, and they both know it.

Beth brings in a grief counselor to make plans for the family, but Randall shuts down at every single mention of William’s health. The counselor is there under the guise of helping the girls,  but Randall is the one who truly needs coping strategies. And this is where the pressure of trying to live up to Jack’s memory really comes crashing down on Randall. He won’t hear a word about William’s illness or end of life care, insisting that they don’t need any help, trying to be superhuman. Randall is refusing help at home AND at work. Maybe I’ve worked for non-profits for too long, but I believe his boss when he says that Randall’s position at work is not under any threat. After a decade of proving himself, a decade of being the first one in and the last one out, Randall has earned a little support in the office. Sanjay is there to help, to go to dinner with a client when Randall can’t. And Randall’s insistence that he can do everything at once, that he can go to client dinners and handle all his accounts AND support his family emotionally will be his downfall.



source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com
 

Despite all of this, Randall and Beth are still Randall and Beth. She insists that he show up for Tess’s chess game, knowing that the office can wait, knowing that Randall is on the verge of making one too many sacrifices for the sake of his job at the expense of their family. (Perhaps a part of him is hiding at the office, too – after all, his work is important, but it’s not life or death.)  It’s a testament to their relationship that, even with all of this on his shoulders, they’re still the couple from the pilot – except now the soccer game is a chess tournament. Randall and Beth haven’t been as good at checking in on their girls’ daily lives as they could be lately, but they will always show up when the chips are down.

Randall’s fear that the girls will be broken by the loss of their grandfather is just more proof of his projection and of the constant emotional barriers he has built against his loss. Randall is the one who will be broken, not Tess and Annie. Just think about Tess’s grin when she knows she has a checkmate. Tess ONLY has eyes for William. She wouldn’t trade this for anything. But Randall is in danger, emotionally and physically. He’s made himself blind from stress once before. This time, his hand won’t stop shaking, and he won’t even wake up Beth to talk it out.

Continue reading

“Why are you here?” – This Is Us Recap – Three Sentences

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 13
“Three Sentences”
Posted by Shannon

The Pearsons are all about family traditions; be it big holidays or tiny annual celebrations, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to see just how much comfort the family takes in their unique customs. Now that we’ve fully experienced the day leading up to their birth, this week we get the chance to see how that day gets celebrated year after year. It’s been a while since we’ve seen formative childhood experiences reflecting in the lives of their adult counterparts, and their 10th birthday in particular echoed through the timelines. After all, it’s an important birthday.

Jack/Rebecca

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

That old handheld video recorder sure got a lot of use. Jack and Rebecca have taped every birthday the family has celebrated, and the opening montage runs through nine years’ worth of loving family parties. Year after year, it’s pin the tail on the donkey, three-layer cake, and wrapping paper fights. The celebrations are beloved and fun, but small; these birthday parties are a family affair, with no big, chaotic, packed parties to be seen. But for their 10th, Kevin and Kate have other ideas. The kids storm their parents bedroom with a list of demands: Kate insists on a Madonna party since she and her best friend Sophie are all about Madonna at the moment, and Kevin, a year older and infinitely braver than he was at 9, wants to celebrate with The Princess Bride.  Randall can’t really be bothered, but he can’t very well be the only Pearson kid without a birthday party, and the promise of a magician in attendance is enough to get him to agree.



source: bigthree.tumblr.com
 

Their mini-rebellion didn’t leave Jack and Rebecca with much time to plan. The parents have only a day’s notice to orchestrate three themed parties. They hop to, and Jack is hard at work bedazzling Madonna gloves while he revisits some of the old birthday party tapes. He’s lost in thought, and emotional at how quickly they all seem to be growing up. Jack takes the perceived loss of tradition hard; he can’t stand the thought that the kids don’t want to play pin the tail on the donkey anymore, and he can’t bear letting the celebration go. His ask to Rebecca to consider having another kid is genuine in the moment, but ultimately misguided, and she knows it. He doesn’t really want another kid; he wants them to stay locked in childhood, as cute as they were at five.

source: vxmchna.tumblr.com

Despite the herculean turnaround time, the parties are going off without a hitch. Kevin shows his first performance tendencies by channeling his inner Mandy Patinkin, and Kate is looking fierce as hell with her Madonna clan. Randall, relaxing outside with the magician, is the wildcard; most of the yard is empty, except for Yvette’s kids and a few friends. But Randall, even at 10, is already the most emotionally mature member of the Big Three. Knowing his parents would be more upset at this reality than he was, he hadn’t wanted to bother them with the fact that his social circle isn’t as big as that of his siblings. Worried that his new school is full of “racist bastards” and that Randall isn’t fitting in as well as they thought, Jack and Rebecca are beside themselves – just as Randall knew they would be. The thing is, Randall couldn’t be happier. He has his three really good friends (“That’s a lot!”) and as far as he’s concerned, the most important thing about his new school’s social dynamics is that he has a friend to sit with at lunch and make a book of mazes. Randall’s emotional awareness at such a young age is striking, but what’s more impressive to me is how little he’s changed as an adult. Randall’s needs are straightforward and clear. He doesn’t care how many people are around; what matters to him is that the ones who are around TRULY know him. It’s why he’s so distraught when his brother won’t let him in emotionally, and why his mother’s deceitfulness hit so hard. It’s already there, playing across his 10-year-old face.


source: bigthree.tumblr.com
 

Their son’s self-assuredness won’t stop Jack and Rebecca from trying to poach kids from the twins’ parties to fill in Randall’s. Their efforts are largely unsuccessful, but Kevin’s aren’t; most of the Madonnas have left Kate to join in on The Princess Bride party instead. Jack is determined to solve the defection, and while his efforts to cheer Kate up are valiant and adorable, they’re also not quite enough. Kate’s entering the most intense, most emotionally fragile years of girlhood, and not even her dad’s vogueing efforts can stop that. She just wants to be alone.

Jack is devastated, but he won’t give up; knowing that Kate doesn’t want him around right now, he goes to Kevin’s section of the party to see if he can coerce Sophie into spending more time with Kate instead. He and Rebecca are told off quickly and simply; Kevin can’t ask Sophie to go back to the Madonna party. After all, he loves her.



source: s-mokeclouds.tumblr.com
 

This is charming and precious and lovely, and Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia give master classes in subtle reactions while they listen to their son’s admission. But it’s also incredibly telling, and not just because of adult Kevin’s reveal at the end of the episode. Jack and Kate clearly have a special bond, as do Randall and Rebecca. Not to say that both parents don’t love all three of the kids; of course they do. But those two relationships are undeniably special; and it means Kevin was left out in the cold. It’s no wonder he felt insecure and second-best in adolescence. And my tendencies towards psychoanalysis are probably showing here, but I think it says a lot that Kevin imprinted on Sophie so quickly in his childhood. Even at 10, he’s looking for affection and attention, anywhere he can.

Once all the guests go home and the parties close down, Jack and Rebecca collapse together, recovering from the day. They’re emotional and exhausted, but they also both know that they weren’t actually interested in having another kid. Their emotional reaction was one that I’m told many parents feel; the desire to keep their kids frozen in time, at an age where they will never outgrow pin the tail on the donkey or ask for time alone, and certainly at an age where Jack’s talks will never falter. (“That’s like, my thing!”) And while the Big Three are getting older, they still haven’t outgrown their family traditions; downstairs, the kids kick off a wrapping paper fight. Jack and Rebecca can’t wait to join in.

source: bigthree.tumblr.com

Randall/William



source: bigthree.tumblr.com
 

Work never stops when family life is in chaos, and lest we forget that Randall is still holding down his day job trading weather, his boss has asked for an early morning meeting. It leaves Randall with no time for yogurt, much less the time to help William put music on Tess’s old iPod. William, who had just bounded into the kitchen with insurmountable energy and unbridled joy, is experiencing what Beth immediately identifies as a chemo boost. Beth is wary of the medical implications for William, but she still plays along with him while he jokes and dances his way through the morning, laughing about the differences between iPods and iPads. (“Let’s call the whole thing off!”)

Continue reading

“Always a headache with triplets.” – This Is Us Recap – The Right Thing to Do

source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com

This Is Us Season 1, Episode 11
“The Right Thing to Do”
Posted by Shannon

I have a theory about handling a crisis: it’s just as important to understand how you’ll react in the aftermath as it is when you’re in the midst of one. As the Pearsons watch the dust settle from their holiday season, every member of the family is navigating their own crisis or its aftermath. And every one of our primary players has to decide what doing the right thing means to them in this moment. This week, This Is Us lets us observe these characters as they react to their own individual crises, essentially taking each of their emotional temperatures and setting the stage for the second half of their first season.

Jack/Rebecca


source: thisisusedits.tumblr.com
 

It’s the early days of Rebecca’s pregnancy, and she’s nesting. Hard. The two are on the hunt for a new apartment, and Jack and Rebecca are both thrilled to find a sun-filled, two-bedroom, sixth floor walk up that feels a lot like home. At $200/month (insert modern New York apartment-dweller sounds of dismay here), it’s a stretch, but Jack puts down first, last, and security without a second thought. The timing is perfect; the couple is just about to find out the sex of their baby, and let Rebecca loose on full-scale apartment decorating, when Dr. Schneider comes out with the unexpected news. Not one baby, but three. Dr. Schneider knows that it’s a curveball, but his bedside manner leaves something to be desired, and the couple is shocked. (Was opening with the twins line supposed to ease them into it? Cause I feel like it didn’t.)

Back at their new apartment, Jack and Rebecca try to adjust to the news. I can’t imagine how intense this would be for both of them, but my heart broke especially for Rebecca. The last time we saw her talking about motherhood, it was at the Steelers bar, frustrated and confused and filled with anxiety at the prospect of changing life as she and Jack knew it. The couple had clearly come to a new place in their relationship and decided this together, but three kids? Right out of the gate? There must have been a voice in her head whispering that this wasn’t what she signed up for. To make matters worse, Rebecca has a lunch date with her mother set for the afternoon, and won’t have time to really process on her own before facing her mom.


source: bigthree.tumblr.com
 

We’ve known that Jack and Rebecca both have complicated relationships with their parents. But this week, the curtain is drawn back to show us just how bad things had been for them both. Jack’s father had been verbally and physically abusive to his mother (and likely to him as well), and as a teenager, he had often witnessed his father’s outbursts. At the beginning of this episode, we see a young Jack coming to his mother’s defense during one of those moments. His mother, sitting at the kitchen table while her teenage son comforted her, had asked for a promise: “Promise me you’ll never be like him.” I was completely floored by the mirror to Rebecca and Randall here. Randall’s mother had asked for a promise after a crisis, too: “Promise me you’ll always be good.” And while the circumstances of those oaths could not have been more different, both the Pearson men held fast to them, and we’ve seen both promises shape their lives as adults. For Jack, it’s meant doing anything and everything he can to support Rebecca and the kids: it’s meant overtime work, it’s meant shelving the dreams of his own construction company, it’s meant laying on the floor with Randall on his back doing push up after push up after push up. All of it has been in honor to the promise he made to his mother, and all of it has set himself at a distance from his father in every way possible.


source: sylviebret.tumblr.com
 

Rebecca, growing up at the hands of a quieter form of emotional abuse, rife with passive aggressive, controlling, and demeaning barbs from her mother, knows that her familial relationship with wasn’t healthy either. This kind of struggle isn’t as cut and dry, and while she makes a cruel aside to Jack about how she knows his father was worse, he doesn’t take that to heart. Rebecca’s anxiety (and later on, her confusion at how to speak to her only daughter) is a clear line from the nightmare lunch she sits through the day she found out she was having triplets. Her mother orders for her at the restaurant (a diet soda, a salad without dressing), constantly degrades Jack, his profession, and his ability to support them, and nearly refuses to put out her cigarette when Rebecca asks. Every sentence is dripping with disdain and condescension, and Rebecca sits, tries to defend herself and her husband, and ultimately hears her mother’s suggestion when she admits that she doesn’t know what to do.


source: bigthree.tumblr.com
 

When Jack and Rebecca are back at home, Rebecca makes her mother’s suggestion to Jack: that the two move in with her parents after the triplets are born, save some money, and take advantage of the space at her old family home. It’s painfully clear what this would mean for Rebecca, and Jack doesn’t believe she’s even voicing this suggestion – but she doesn’t see any other way out. Rebecca feels trapped, and when Jack doesn’t see how dire her emotional state has really become, she promptly sends him out for ice cream. Once she’s alone, the effects of the day finally come crashing down around her. The triplets, the apartment, her mother, her desperation – all of it leaves Rebecca in their tiny kitchen, falling against the wall, sobbing. No part of her wants to let Jack hear her break down, but he does anyway, after forgetting his wallet and heading back into the apartment to get it. The loneliness that Rebecca was feeling here was palpable. Jack does everything right: knowing she wants to be left alone, he doesn’t go to her, and lets her believe he hasn’t heard the depths of her tears.

source: thisisdefinitelyus.tumblr.com

But of course he has. And now that Jack understands how trapped and desperate Rebecca is feeling, he has to take action, has to do the right thing. He takes a detour from the grocery store and arrives instead at his father’s front door, with his wedding ring safely hidden in his pocket. Jack is a blank wall during this conversation, and it’s devastating to watch. Jack sits there and listens while his father repeats many of the same lies about him that Rebecca’s mother had thrown at her during lunch. After his father prompts that he must need money for gambling debts, Jack grabs at the suggestion and leans in. There’s not a word about Rebecca, not a word about the expected triplets; Jack has kept his father as far away from his life as humanly possible, to keep them all safe. When the gambling lie isn’t quite enough, he repeats back his father’s insults, knowing that groveling and stroking his father’s ego is the only way forward. It’s brutal, but it works – he walks out with a check, slips his wedding ring back on his finger, and moves on.

He sells the car. Gets a loan. Goes back to his boss, who had already given him a 10% raise at the triplets announcement, and gets a solid deal on the money pit he’d been working on. It’s in shambles, but Jack has six months to pull the house together and nothing can stop him. By the time they welcome the Big Three, that construction disaster has become the Pearson family home we all know and love.


source: bigthree.tumblr.com
 

Kate

The big mid-season cliffhanger left Toby in the hospital, after he collapsed during the Pearson Christmas celebration. This week, the show doesn’t linger on his fate for very long; it’s mere moments before Kate is visiting Toby, alive and relatively well and snapping at everyone he can find. He had suffered an arrhythmia, and has been recovering in the hospital ever since. Hospital stays rarely bring out the best in people, but still, Toby is at his worst. He admits that he’s “cranky,” which seems like a pretty dramatic understatement considering his opening sentence to Kate is “That’s what I get for flying across the country to surprise you” and that he’s openly hostile to every doctor in sight. It’s clear that he’s scared, and that he’s trying to act like none of this is a very big deal. But it very much is, and he’s not out of the woods yet.

His doctor arrives to tell Toby the official cause of his arrhythmia – a small hole in his heart that, while it could be treated using medication alone, should be operated on as quickly as possible. Heart surgery is terrifying, and with the doctor suggesting they operate in the morning, the turnaround is quick. But Toby doesn’t intend to volunteer for a second procedure when he’s already had a stent put in. He stops mocking the doctor long enough to decline, but Kate is having none of it. She sees right through his fear and calls him out on it immediately. She does it “gently and quietly,” though, because Kate has no intention of upsetting him more than she needs to in order to make her point.

Continue reading

The Best Performances of 2016

Posted by Kim and Sage

We’ve discussed the best TV moments of 2016 (you can find those here and here), so now we turn to the individual performances that brought us the most joy this year. These are the performances that inspired us, that stayed with us, and drove us into many a social media fight defending their worthiness. (Note of warning: if you come at Ryan Gosling, we WILL fight you.) I love everything we do for this website, but I have to admit that our annual “Best Performances” holds a special place in my heart, especially when I go back and re-read them when they pop up in our Timehop. These posts are like little time capsules of OUR year in entertainment; they reflect our crushes of the moment, our long-standing love affairs with performers that can do no wrong (Hey Eddie Redmayne), and a scrapbook of all the TV and Movies that we saw throughout the year. Some of these are the performances EVERYONE is talking about, whilst others are the ones that we think you all should be paying attention to. (ARE YOU ALL WATCHING SPEECHLESS BECAUSE YOU SHOULD BE.) Thus we present to you our 18 Best Performances of the year plus four Honorable Mentions. Because it’s our blog and we can’t be limited to our normal 20 shout outs. We hope you love them as much as we do.  — Kim

1) Millie Bobby Brown – Stranger Things

I obviously follow many celebrities on Instagram who are on the convention circuit. And I’ve noticed a pattern over the last few rounds of cons. All of these icons who themselves draw fans by the droves to their photo ops were all geeking out over one of their own. I can’t tell you how many backstage selfies I’ve liked of some famous fan cheesing like mad with Millie Bobby Brown.

And why shouldn’t they be starstruck over her? Millie burst onto the pop culture scene in the role of Eleven on Stranger Things in a striking performance reminiscent of Drew Barrymore in Firestarter. Eleven is a scientific marvel and a weapon, but she’s also a child – a child who was stolen from her family and exploited by the only “Papa” she’d ever known. Millie can do a thousand-yard stare like nobody else, but my favorite moments in the series are the ones where Eleven grasps for a sense of normalcy and belonging with the boys who find her. (“Still pretty?”) This young actor’s work warrants those deep reads of Stranger Things as an allegory about puberty, child abuse, or just being a kid in this big, bad world. 2016 will always be her breakthrough year, and we can’t wait to see how Millie’s career unfolds. –Sage

2) Kylie Bunbury and Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Pitch

The success or failure of Pitch as a show depends entirely on the woman playing Ginny Baker. If the audiences don’t connect with Ginny and her journey as the first woman to play professional baseball, the show never gets out of the dugout. (BASEBALL METAPHORS.) Lucky for the creators of Pitch and the television audience at large, we’ve got Kylie Bunbury carrying the entire show on her (very toned) shoulders. And the thing is, Kylie makes it look easy. Ginny Baker is an incredibly complex character and Kylie is tasked with a LOT. She’s got a spine of steel yet she remains incredibly vulnerable. (If you weren’t moved by her breakdown in the bathtub during her Almost Famous-esque “fuck everything” night, you may want to make an appointment with a cardiologist.) She’s been hurt and taken advantage of by so many people, yet she constantly puts herself on the line in the name of pursuing her dream. She fights to be treated as an equal in her workplace. (The episode where she blatantly refuses to back down from the “Beanball” war because she is a woman is SO IMPORTANT.) Kylie makes Ginny wonderfully human; she is flawed and complicated and she struggles being considered a role model when all she really wants to do is just play baseball. She’s the most important female character on TV right now, for so many women, and I PRAY that Fox does the right thing and picks up the show for season two.

gifs vis ginnyspitch.tumblr.com

And in the other corner, we have Mark-Paul Gosselaar as the aging All Star catcher Mike Lawson. Listen, it’s not like this is an out of nowhere comeback for the erstwhile Zack Morris. Mark-Paul has worked steadily since his Saved By The Bell days, but something feels DIFFERENT in this performance. He brings a “seen it all” attitude to Mike. He has a weariness that could easily be seen as a disillusionment towards the game when really it’s a career ballplayer being painfully aware that he’s coming to the end of his time in the sun. It took me about 75% of the pilot episode before I realized that I was watching Mark-Paul Gosselaar on my TV screen and it’s NOT just because of his GLORIOUS mountain man beard. Mark-Paul completely disappears into the character and brings a very Coach Taylor-esque quality to the Padres captain. It’s the speeches and the eye crinkles and the bone deep love of the game. Come on, you KNOW Mike Lawson would bust out with “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

So what happens when you put these two incredibly dynamic performers opposite each other? Fireworks, naturally. Kylie and Mark-Paul’s chemistry is SO PALPABLE and has so many levels. For Mike, Ginny serves as an inspiration and a reminder of why he loves baseball in the first place. In Mike, Ginny finds a true teammate who will stand up for her and not treat her with kid gloves. There’s a definite mentor relationship between them but there is also an undeniable sexual chemistry. Bawson is the slowest of slowburns, with their attraction building through lingering looks and late night phone calls. It’s the most DELICIOUS kind of tension and it’s one they are both incredibly aware of. Mike and Ginny are like magnets, pushing against each other, challenging each other, and eventually, falling into each other. To quote my boo Kate Moseley, “all they needed was a little flip.” — Kim

3) Joshua Sasse – No Tomorrow

As the meteor he believes is hurtling towards Earth inspires Xavier Holiday to live his life to the fullest, so does the uncertain future of the CW’s apocalyptic romantic comedy No Tomorrow inspire us to recognize it while we can.

Bearded, beanied, and tattooed Xavier is played by HOT AUSSIE Joshua Sasse, fresh off the unfairly canceled musical romp Galavant. (YEP, he sings too.) He makes an amazing case for not writing off the sexy guy who’s into you juuuuust because he believes the rapture is on its way. He breaks the Dealbreaker Scale, basically.

I’d like to keep on objectifying Xavier and Joshua (as the show clearly does – he’s 1/2 or more naked in most episodes), but I’ll get serious. It’s a challenging part, because Xavier has to believe completely in his end-of-the-world theory but not come off as dangerous or deranged. And as charming as he is to Evie and the audience (and OH, HE IS), Xavier is also kind of an arrogant jerk, accustomed to putting himself first. It’s a credit to Joshua’s embodiment of the character that Xavier is still our hero – a flawed person who heard terrible news and decided to use it to turn his life around. You see his petulance when Evie challenges him, but you also see the way he lights up when someone around him takes control of however many days they have left. And the man knows how to sell a love scene, just saying.

He’s so convincing that I wonder sometimes if Xavier is actually right about our impending doom. And if No Tomorrow gets the pick-up it should, I hope it ends with a completely fulfilled Apocalyst and a vindicated male lead. –Sage

4) Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us

2016 was a garbage year but it’s ALSO the year that gave us Sterling K. Brown’s major career breakthrough, so I am ALMOST willing to call it even. I foolishly missed out on The People Vs. OJ Simpson (and am counting down the days until it gets added to Netflix), so my first exposure to Sterling’s acting came when I saw the pilot episode of This Is Us. Sage said it perfectly when she wrote about Sterling for our Handsome Young Man post: just when we think Sterling has hit his peak as Randall Pearson, he just gets BETTER. Randall is easily the most compelling character on This Is Us, and sometimes I can’t decide if it’s because he has the best story or because Sterling is just THAT GOOD in a cast filled with stellar actors. I actually think it’s a combination of both; Randall DOES have the meatiest stories, but Sterling also elevates every single scene that he’s in. In my humble opinion, he is giving THE male television performance of the year.

It’s clear that Sterling understands Randall on a fundamental level. The performance is never one-note and Randall can switch from achingly vulnerable to slyly sarcastic in the blink of an eye. (His comic timing is MASTERFUL.) If I had to think of one word to describe Sterling’s performance it would be DEFT. You never see him working, you never see him changing gears, and you NEVER see Sterling. You only see Randall Pearson, king of bad Dad jokes and devoted son, brother, and husband. It’s such a fully formed and nuanced performance. But the most important thing about Randall is how wonderfully human he is. It would be quite easy, after all the truth about William and Rebecca and his adoption came out, for Randall to be played as bitter and jaded. But he’s never been that, even in his initial meeting with William in the pilot episode. Randall Pearson has the biggest HEART and his capacity for love and forgiveness is truly inspiring. Sterling imbues him with such grace and warmth that you can’t help but fall in love with him immediately. It’s the perfect combination of actor and the character he was meant to play and we’re so blessed to watch him work week after week. — Kim

5) Aya Cash – You’re the Worst

The first time I saw Aya Cash perform was in 2008 when she played a disillusioned teen in the off-Broadway comedy From Up Here. She was memorable in a way that surpassed quirkiness, and I’m so thrilled to see her thriving in a role like Gretchen Cutler.

I binged the first two seasons of You’re the Worst in time for the season 3 premiere and responded instantly to the show’s filthiness and honesty. As it progresses, the show digs deeper and deeper into what familial and chemical circumstances make Gretchen and Jimmy, in fact, the worst. And what Aya has done with already keen and incisive material is to give an alarmingly accurate crash course on clinical depression. Jimmy can talk himself out of feeling most things, so it’s scary for him and for us when the normally verbose Gretchen goes nearly comatose. She wants nothing, asks for nothing, finds comfort in nothing. For the novelist, cause and effect are always talking to each other. Aya shows Gretchen paralyzed by the fear of telling Jimmy that there’s not switch to flick when it comes to her illness. She worries that he loves her because she’s irreverent and fun, but she can only be those things when she’s capable of feeling anything. In a brave and desperate moment of confession, she finally tells him: “So the only thing I need from you is to not make a big deal of it and be OK with how I am and the fact that you can’t fix me.”

This is You’re the Worst, and it’s not the kind of show that will present a newly determined Gretchen facing her illness with gumption and putting one foot in front of the other until she’s better. Mental illness and its treatment are not linear. In season 3, she backslides and claws and insults her therapist for wearing the same pair of jeans every day. But that’s Gretch and that’s depression. Even badass bitches can have it. –Sage

6) Minnie Driver – Speechless

Speechless is my favorite new comedy of the season and that’s largely in part to Minnie Driver’s FIERCE performance as ultimate tiger mama Maya DiMeo. The overbearing mom is a sitcom trope that could easily go the clichéd route but Minnie plays Maya like she’s in on the joke. She KNOWS she’s ridiculous but she also makes no apologies for it. (Also, she’s advocating for her disabled kid, so how ridiculous is she, REALLY?) It’s such a WRY performance, especially in the way Minnie delivers so many of her lines completely deadpan, her posh British accent just ACCENTUATING the dry delivery. While I never watched About a Boy, I heard nothing but good things about Minnie’s performance on it, so I am so happy to see that she’s found herself another television vehicle to showcase how talented she is. (Look, I can make a very strong case for the fact that she should have won the Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Ask me about it over cocktails.)

So often on television, unabashedly alpha females are portrayed as ball busters or stone cold bitches. Speechless takes a different approach. Maya IS a ball buster and she is often a bitch but it’s clear that those closest to her adore and cherish that part of her personality. Her husband Jimmy (a DELIGHTFUL John Ross Bowie) is more than happy to let Maya wear the pants in the marriage, but not from a slacker “oh look at the old ball and chain” point of view. It’s clear that Jimmy loves and respects his wife immensely and takes pleasure in watching her run the show. (And he’s always there to pick up the pieces when she comes in like a wrecking ball, shrugging his shoulders in a “Yeah, isn’t she great?” kind of way.) While her kids often roll their eyes at Maya, it’s obvious that there is no one they would rather have in their corner than their mother. Same. TV needs more characters like Maya DiMeo and it needs more actresses like Minnie Driver to bring them to life in an honest and relatable way.  — Kim

7) Kate McKinnon – Ghostbusters

Dudes, I love you. But it is IMPOSSIBLE to explain to you how much Ghostbusters means to us. When you tell me it’s “OKAY” or “good but not great,” you’re just proving how little you understand our intense craving for movies like these. We were DEHYDRATED over here, okay? But we didn’t know how thirsty we truly were until we saw Kate McKinnon as Jillian Holtzmann.

We got Holtzmanned, baby. And we loved it. Forever an SNL MVP, Kate imbued the gadget-loving scientist with a resplendent weirdness that made the whole movie sing. She instantly became an icon for girls who geek and – explicit though it wasn’t allowed to be – girls who would absolutely hit on Kristen Wiig if she ever wandered into their basement lab. The women in this movie were never sexualized, yet somehow, everyone I know walked out of that theater with a massive crush on Jillian and her collection of safety goggles. I’m so distracted by the gif below, it’s taken me 40 minutes to write this paragraph.

Which brings me back to why this is so important. Not since Ellen Ripley can I remember a female character kicking paranormal ass like Kate does in that sublime slow motion fight scene without being stuffed into cut-offs or a catsuit. Holtzmann is not a token hero, like so many in the “There’s One Girl!” teams that have been shoved down our throats. She’s a brilliant, bizarre, queer, ghostbusting scientist who’s biggest takeaway from this whole world-saving thing is that she’s finally found her tribe.

There should be a sequel. Kate McKinnon should be a movie star. Safety lights are for dudes who say this movie could have been better. –Sage

8) The Women of Penny Dreadful

RIP Penny Dreadful and some of the best female characters to grace our television screens in years. I’ll never understand why awards didn’t rain down upon Eva Green, Billie Piper, and Patti LuPone (whose role is the definition of a Guest Acting Emmy). But WE know the truth and we will never stop preaching the gospel of Vanessa Ives. Years from now, television historians will look back on Eva Green in Penny Dreadful and laud her bravery and her boldness. Her performance exhausts me, honestly. I don’t know how she did it. It was completely free of vanity. She wouldn’t just go to the ugly places, she would marinate in them and let them soak into her soul. Watching her every week was a masterclass in character development and determination and any episode that was Vanessa-less was weaker for it.

It was such a brilliant move to bring back Patti LuPone back for season three as Vanessa’s shrink, Dr. Seward. She had an incredibly memorable role in Season 2 as Joan Clayton, a witch who helped shape Vanessa’s life and cemented her identity as the Scorpion. I love how the two roles were completely different but yet the underlying thread of overwhelming compassion for Vanessa Ives tied the characters together. Patti brings SUCH gravity to all of her roles and really she’s the only woman who could go toe to toe with Eva Green and WIN. My biggest regret about the fact that we won’t be getting a season 4 is that we won’t get more of Seward the Vampire Slayer. NEVER FORGET how Seward casually admitted that she killed her abusive husband with a meat cleaver. Where’s my spinoff John Logan?

And then there’s Billie Piper, Queen of Our Hearts and the 2016 Feelie Winner for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama. There’s not much to say about Billie’s furious portrayal of Lily Frankenstein that we haven’t said before, so I’m just going to quote creator John Logan here. “It’s a very feminist show, and the idea that the audience gets to see, in our three years, Lily as a degraded figure who’s abused by men, as Brona, literally being reborn into a blank slate and then achieving incredible power but always having a great human connection. That was a case where I was also inspired by the actor, because Billie Piper so delights me, and I found that in the second season I was able to write her an eight-minute monologue that she absolutely delivered, completely, in a way that I found thrilling. I just wanted to do it again, because she’s an actor who understands theatricality and understands larger than life language in a very unique way, and that’s part of what this show is about.”

Quite right too.  — Kim

Continue reading