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TVLine’s Performer of the Week: Aaron Paul

September 2, 2013 Leave a comment
 Aaron Paul Breaking Bad Breakdown SceneA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Aaron Paul

THE SHOW | Breaking Bad

THE EPISODE | “Confessions”

THE AIRDATE | Aug. 25, 2013

THE PERFORMANCE | Let’s get this straight right now: Jesse Pinkman is a punk. He’s a criminal with no real ties to civilized humanity, and he hawked a product that creates ruin in individual lives and chaos in the community at large. He’s a loser, a waste, a killer.

But add Aaron Paul, and this scourge of law-abiding society also becomes a tragically broken young man desperate for connection. On Sunday, as Jesse begged Walt to “just, for once, stop working me” at their desert rendezvous, Paul vibrated with the tension of his character’s grief and guilt. “Just tell me you don’t give a s—t about me and it’s either this,” he said, his voice raised and his eyes wet, “or you’ll kill me the same way you killed Mike.”

Jesse’s conflict was apparent in his portrayer’s every move. As Bryan Cranston’s Walt approached him, Paul’s wiry frame retreated as if readying itself for a fight, but his face began to buckle under the weight of everything that had happened in the past year. During the hug, Paul kept Jesse rigid for a beat, then wilted into gulping sobs against Walt’s chest. He played the moment as a man adrift seeking comfort anywhere he could — even against his better judgment.

Scenes later, after Jesse’s epiphany about Brock’s poisoning, Paul took Jesse’s rage at being bamboozled and funneled it into his frenetic attack on Walt’s house. He moved Jesse with purpose, issuing guttural cries as he marinated the Whites’ home in gasoline. We can’t have been the only ones shouting “Yeah, bitch!” as Paul spun his character so beautifully out of control now, can we?

HONORABLE MENTION | In the few times Jane Fonda has graced HBO’s The Newsroom, the actress has shown that her Leona Lansing is powerful, shrewd and aggressive – but who knew she was also so damn funny? Fonda didn’t show up until the final moments of Sunday’s episode, but her performance of antics both odd (the glee with which she infused the Atlantis Worldwide Media chief’s Daniel Craig tirade) and admirable (the seriousness with which she exhorted Charlie, Mac and Will to regain the public’s trust) made us chuckle and cheer. Viva la Leona!

TVLine’s Performers of the Week: Suits’ Gabriel Macht and Sarah Rafferty

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment
 Suits Harvey Donna FlashbackA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMERS | Gabriel Macht and Sarah Rafferty

THE SHOW | Suits

THE EPISODE | “The Other Time”

THE AIRDATE | Aug. 20, 2013

THE PERFORMANCE | They flirted, they argued, they did something with a can opener — on this week’s flashback episode of the USA Network series, Harvey and Donna cemented their status as the show’s most winsome, charming and complicated duo. That was in no small part due to Gabriel Macht and Sarah Rafferty’s terrific chemistry and perfectly in-sync timing.

We were so impressed by how well the pair played off each other throughout the hour, we can’t even single out one scene as a shining example. First, there was the infectious back-and-forth in the office and at Donna’s apartment, before the two finally acted on their feelings. Then, their quieter moments in the diner — both in the past (“I don’t want to find out what kind of lawyer I’d be without you”) and present (“You and Stephen… it bothers me”) — which revealed just how deep their bond goes. Always confident and in control — not to mention often quite hilarious — Rafferty sold Donna’s special brand of talent, while Macht layered his cocky lawyer with enough genuine emotion to reveal just how important the secretary is to Harvey. (He even secretly paid her salary out of his pocket!)

With sparks like that, it’s easy to understand why Donna and Harvey couldn’t stay away from each other all those years ago — and why, despite putting the kibosh on any further hanky panky, they still can’t. We can’t stay away from them either.

HONORABLE MENTION | Breaking Bad‘s Anna Gunn
First, in a nailbiter of a scene, Gunn had us hanging on Skyler’s every unspoken word, as Hank not so much grilled Mrs. “Heisenberg” but beseeched her, as a sister-in-law he loves, to help him exact justice against her meth-king husband. As the diner confrontation unspooled, Gunn’s eyes did much of the acting, making us wonder: Will she snitch? Instead, all Hank culled from her was a steely, almost challenging, “Are you arresting me…?” Later, Gunn let Skyler’s veneer crack some, as her sister Marie made her own run at getting answers. Tears spilled, but the truth, still, did not.

TVLine’s Performer of the Week: Dean Norris

August 17, 2013 Leave a comment
 Dean Norris Breaking Bad Performer of the WeekA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Dean Norris

THE SHOW | Breaking Bad

THE EPISODE | “Blood Money”

THE AIRDATE | Aug. 11, 2013

THE PERFORMANCE | Take a minute, Breaking Bad fans, and think back to the series’ pilot. Remember what an unapologetic blowhard Dean Norris’ Hank was? Flashing his gun at a family party, giving Walt a birthday toast that seemed more like a put-down, flipping the bird with abandon – you’re telling us this guy would be the one to unmask the mighty Heisenberg?

But that was before time, circumstance, physical injury and Norris’ immense talent made Hank into the wiser, more cautious man he is in the AMC drama’s current season. So when Walt shows up at Hank’s garage and the two men finally face the truth between them, Norris’ character is someone you truly want to see win.

“All along it was you!” Hank screams at Walt, Norris’ eyes full of an angry sadness. As Hank grits out a partial litany of Heisenberg’s heinous crimes, Norris gazes upon his character’s brother-in-law as though he’s never seen him before — because he hasn’t, not really. Norris plays Hank’s dazed realization with a very believable mix of “is this actually happening?” and “how did I miss this all along?,” manifested in the wary way he can’t take his eyes off co-star Bryan Cranston. It’s mesmerizing.

Forget Walt’s “tread lightly” threat at the end of the scene – our shivers start when Hank whispers, “I don’t know who you are. I don’t even know who I’m talking to.” Norris expertly broadcasts his character’s betrayal loud and clear: These men were good friends, and Hank can’t believe he’s been played by someone he loves. If the intensity of Norris’ portrayal is a portent of things to come… Walt, watch your back.

Performer of the Week: True Blood’s Anna Camp

August 11, 2013 Leave a comment
 Anna Camp True Blood FightA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Anna Camp

THE SHOW | True Blood

THE AIRDATE | August 4, 2013

THE PERFORMANCE | After Sarah Newlin’s fight to the death with Tru Blood spokesbitch Ms. Suzuki, was there any doubt who would win the latest battle for Performer of the Week? Camp didn’t just careen from emotion (panic) to emotion (fury) to emotion (relief), she did it in the span of a single, hilariously horrifying scene!

First, the bible-thumping politico tried to keep her adversary out of the hep V lab by appealing to her sense of girl power… and got a knee to the lady balls for her efforts! After that, the line between sanity and madness blurred. “Are you adulterating my product?!” Ms. Suzuki wanted to know. “I could tell you,” Sarah replied, chirping like a cartoon character, “but then I’d have to kill you!”

As it was, Sarah would still have to kill Ms. Suzuki, lest she alert the FDA to her plan for the eradication of superhumankind. But, to her surprise — and our amusement — it isn’t as easy as it looks on TV to snap somebody’s neck! So a zany chase through the catacombs ensued, with both women teetering on impractical heels, their desperation growing with each step.

When, at last, Ms. Suzuki fell, making it possible for Sarah to bash her face into a grate (and conveniently allow the fangers below to lap at the dripping blood), we knew that the trip Steve’s ex was taking over the cuckoo’s nest was going to be of the one-way variety. By the time she finally finished the job — stabbing Ms. Suzuki in the back of the head with her own stiletto — and sobbed, “Thank you, Jesus,” all we could think was, “Thank you, Anna.” Thank you and wow.

HONORABLE MENTION | The Fosters‘ Teri Polo 

Polo may be best known for her work in the Meet the Parents franchise, but it was a different kind of parental confrontation on The Fosters’ summer finale that revealed the actress’ incredible depth of emotion. Filled with anxiety over her upcoming wedding to her partner Lena, Polo’s Stef was visibly confused and ashamed of her secret feelings — until she realized the disapproving voice in her head belonged to her dad, not her. As Stef told her father not to come to the nuptials unless he could support her, Polo was so full of heartache and resolve that we couldn’t fathom how anyone could not be proud of a daughter like her.

Performer of the Week: Joel Kinnaman

July 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Joel Kinnaman The KillingA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Joel Kinnaman

THE SHOW | The Killing

THE EPISODE | “Reckoning”

THE AIRDATE | July 21, 2013

When Season 3 of The Killing began, Joel Kinnaman’s Det. Stephen Holder, the recovering meth addict with charming street swagger and an offbeat sense of humor, was all cleaned up — rocking a suit and tie, cracking cases like they were flimsy peanut shells and even mulling the possibility of a promotion to sergeant. Over the ensuing couple of months, though, we’ve seen him fall under the grip of an impossibly difficult case: The vicious serial slayings of at least 17 runaway girls living in the underbelly of Seattle. Still, while Holder — reteamed with his not-quite-stable partner Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) — began retreating into his old gray hoodie, began snapping at underlings with an unexpected viciousness, his sweet, lighthearted side stayed afloat in large part due to his budding friendship with a tough, homeless lesbian teen named Bullet.

In “Reckoning,” however, we see Holder’s emotional house of cards come tumbling down when — after apprehending a possible culprit in the Pied Piper slayings — he pops the trunk of the suspect’s cab and begins to open it. Linden, having spotted Bullet’s signature necklace among the killer’s triophies, realizes the horror contained within and rushes to stop her partner. “Please, Holder. You don’t need to be here. Holder, please don’t,” she begs him, but he’s headed down a road from which there’s no turning back. Inside, lies the body of the charming girl whose phone calls Holder had ignored just the night before — a punishment for an overzealous and ultimately erroneous tip she’d provided that got him in trouble with his superiors. Without speaking a single word, and while barely moving a single facial muscle, Kinnaman captured Holder’s shock, disgust, disbelief and despair via a trunk’s-eye-view camera shot.

Later, Linden finds Holder alone in his darkened apartment, surrounded by empty beer cans and blaming himself for the tragedy that’s unfolded. Kinnaman keeps his character’s gaze straight ahead — almost as if he’s in a trance — until, overcome by his partner’s kind words and consumed by his grief, he leans in and tries to kiss her. When she dodges the ill-advised move, the seen-it-all cop finally cracks, sobbing into his hands, as Linden tries to convince him everything will be OK.

Capping a troika of gut-wrenching scenes, Holder discovers at the end of the hour that fellow detective Reddick had logged a series of calls Bullet made to the station on the night of her death. Kinnaman, descending his beloved character into an almost animalistic state, arrives at his ex-partner’s house and beats him with a ferocity that leaves the man’s wife and daughter attempting to subdue him while screaming their pleas for mercy in the process. The terrifying, bloody scene left us wondering how deep Holder will sink in a sea of guilt and regret. Regardless of the answer though, Kinnaman’s riveting work will keep us taking the journey with him.

HONORABLE MENTION | As USA Network’s Burn Notice barrels toward its series finale with a thrilling season, it slowed down this Thursday to afford Jeffrey Donovan a real gut-punch of a showcase, as Michael pulled out all the stops to get closer to Sonya’s boss (played by John Pyper-Ferguson). As part of this almost sadistic “interview,” Pyper-Ferguson’s character — who was ultimately revealed to be named James — plied Michael with a brain-addling cocktail of “truth serum” and hallucinogens, sending our brave hero down a rabbit hole where he confronted a vision of Fiona (reminding him of the lives at stake if he spilled too much) and revisited formative, destructive relationships with “Crazy Larry” Sizemore (played by Tim Matheson) and his abusive father. Through it all, Donovan depicted a strong man, an elite spy, compromised in a way never before and loath to let slip anything he shouldn’t, even as he lost most every bit of control. The episode was titled “Psychological Warfare,” and Donovan indeed compellingly portrayed a tragic victim of brutal mind games.

TVLine’s Performer of the Week: Katie Leclerc

July 14, 2013 Leave a comment

A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Katie Leclerc

THE SHOW | Switched at Birth

THE EPISODE | “Ecce Mono”

THE AIRDATE | July 8, 2013

Playing the sweet, nice character can be a thankless task. So while Katie Leclerc has been consistently good as the ABC Family drama’s Daphne, it took this past Monday’s “What If” episode — in which she played a completely different version of her character — to make us really appreciate just how much the actress puts into her good girl act.

Without Regina in her life, raised from the age of 3 by the Kennishes, Daphne became a vapid mean girl interested in all things expensive, cute and popular — especially clothes and boys. Leclerc brought the personality makeover to life with such sharpness and spunk that it made us sit up and take notice. (Her resemblance to Mean Girls‘ Rachel McAdams didn’t hurt, either.) Whether Daphne was skirting her parents’ rules by exploiting their weak spots with easy, manipulative charm or flippantly insulting her “sister” Bay (Vanessa Marano) (all using her real voice — makes the work that goes into maintaining Daphne’s accent each week all the more remarkable, doesn’t it?), Leclerc was a study in the art of bitchiness.

Then things took a turn when Bay to suggested to Daphne that she could use a visit to a shrink. “You could figure out why you’re so empty,” she said.

That’s when Leclerc’s performance went from fun to something deeper and truly impressive. Daphne tried to fill her hollowness with a random hook-up, but a boy would not take away the ache. Crying in her closet while clutching a stuffed animal the morning after, Leclerc transformed her mean girl into someone broken, vulnerable and sympathetic.

As Bay began to dig for the truth about her biological mother Regina, and tried to bring her sis into it, Leclerc maintained a certain level of detachment, giving Daphne’s journey of self-realization an unexpected level of complexity. Even as the two girls looked upon their mother’s grave, Daphne’s expression was confused and unmoved, almost as if she wasn’t aware of all that she’d lost with Regina’s passing. It wasn’t until the episode’s end that she finally realized what was missing in her life and made a simple request, imbued with hope and sadness by Leclerc, to Regina’s mother: “I want to know more.”

MistressesHONORABLE MENTIONS | It’s easy to dismiss ABC’s Mistresses as a lightweight summer soap, but that doesn’t diminish in any way the terrific work turned in by Jes Macallan in “Payback.” In the episode’s final, heartbreaking scene, Macallan’s party girl crumbled as she learned Savi had kept from her the news of her pregnancy — and her extramarital affair — while dishing said dirt with their pals. When the sisterly tiff opened the door for Savi to pass judgment on Joss’ promiscuous lifestyle and declare they were nothing alike, Macallan delivered Joss’ choked-up retort — “You’re my sister and I would never hurt you. Never. I would never do what you just did to me.” — with such a palpable ache that it was hard not to reach for the Kleenex.

General Hospital‘s Kirsten Storms delivered a major punch to the gut when her beloved character Maxie was both treated to and haunted by a surprise “reunion” with her late sister Georgie. Through sobs of joy and sorrow, Maxie was forced to face some unpleasant truths about her recent questionable actions (she’s currently carrying her own child, but passing it off as the unborn baby of her best friend), and appeared to come out the other end of the otherworldly visit better for it. Storms turned in a performance that evoked sympathy for her selfish alter ego, no easy feat indeed.

Performer of the Week: Peter Sarsgaard

July 7, 2013 Leave a comment

THE PERFORMER | Peter Sarsgaard

THE SHOW | The Killing

THE EPISODE | “Eminent Domain”

THE AIRDATE | June 30, 2013

Through the duration of its third season, The Killing‘s death-row inmate Ray Seward has been an enigmatic presence — capable of shocking violence (we still haven’t recovered from the visual of him bashing the chaplain’s head into the metal cell bars in Episode 1), quiet cunning and even the kind of deep despair that found him using a razor blade to cut away a chest tattoo of his young son’s name. And all along, Peter Sarsgaard has kept us guessing if Seward’s a good guy who got a bum rap for slaughtering his wife (then found his inner monster in the clink), a sinister man who happens to be serving time for the one crime he didn’t commit, or perhaps a little bit of both.

In “Eminent Domain,” Sarsgaard added subtle shading to his portrait of this dead man walking in a trio of brilliantly realized scenes. At the top of the episode, in an unlit and quiet cell block, Seward discovered his fellow inmate Alton was fashioning a noose from torn bedsheets and planning to commit suicide. After ascertaining that his pal really didn’t have much to live for, Seward took on the role of comforting witness, guiding Alton out of this miserable world with dulcet encouragements: “You did good. The hard part’s over. Now just let it go, kid. Nothin’ worth holding on to.” It was the unlikeliest of places and scenarios for Seward’s softer side to shine through, and yet Sarsgaard captured the odd mix of sadness, relief and brotherly affection that made the scene so harrowing (and, yes, eerily beautiful).

Later, as Seward arranged a visit with his inmate father, we got a glimpse of how he grew into a weary adult who was perhaps always destined for a life on the edges of the law. Sarsgaard began the scene with the faintest glimmer of hope — maybe, with only two weeks till his execution, he and his father could connect in some small way — but that quickly gave way to exasperation and regret, as dear old dad refused to take responsibility for abandoning Ray as a child. In fact, the only kindness extended by Seward Senior was a twisted expression of pride that Ray had done his time and kept his mouth shut. (Was that a clue to who killed Ray’s wife?) “Dying in a jumpsuit doesn’t make you a man,” Ray hissed as he walked away, his psyche absorbing one last blow from a father incapable of offering anything better than disappointment.

Finally, Sarsgaard was able to open the valve and release some of Seward’s pent-up rage in a scene where Det. Linden — who’d helped put him away for his wife’s murder — dropped by with the bombshell of all bombshell discoveries: “I know you didn’t kill your wife.” Seward, long past the point of hope, couldn’t begin to see it as a ticket to possible freedom, but rather as the final punch line in some cosmic joke. “You came to this realization, what, three years after the fact? Just 12 days before I hang?” Seward bellowed, his voice dripping with incredulity.

None of Seward’s scenes in “Eminent Domain” solved the mystery of the kind of man he is, but they certainly proved compelling evidence that Sarsgaard is doing some of the best work of his career. And for that, he’s earned his title as Performer of the Week.

HONORABLE MENTION | Continuum‘s Rachel Nichols pulled off the always formidable feat of making the surreal feel all too real, as Kiera’s distress over missing the birthday of a son who wouldn’t even be born for another 56 years triggers her emotional breakdown. Her CRM then activates on on-board therapist who affords her the opportunity to speak to a visualized amalgamated memory of young Sam, whom she reassures, through so many tears, that she did not abandon. “I know that you must think I’m dead. And I want to tell you so badly I’m not,” she said to the cypher. “I would never ever leave you. [My absence] is not your fault.” Then, in the name of moving forward with her 2013 life — and hopefully one day getting back to the future — she “accepts” her loss, telling Sam, “I miss you every day. But I will always be with you. And now I’m going to let you go.

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