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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
HONORABLE 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.
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.
THE PERFORMER | Julia Louis-Dreyfus
THE SHOW | Veep
THE EPISODE | “D.C.”
THE AIRDATE | June 23, 2013
The Washington, D.C. of Veep‘s fictitious Vice President Selina Meyer is a toxic place of paranoia, buck-passing and political gamesmanship. But in the HBO comedy’s Season 2 finale, that mood was amped up to insanely comic heights, with series star Julia Louis-Dreyfus deftly taking her titular character from the depths of career despair to the heights of political triumph (and then back, and then back again).
Indeed, as buzz over the current POTUS’ various scandals became deafening, Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina gathered her inner circle and glumly revealed she planned to abandon the ticket, with plans to reemerge as a presidential candidate in six years. Shortly thereafter, however, she learned from POTUS’ chief of staff that her boss was planning to fall on his own sword — clearing the way for a presidential run in a mere 24 months. Louis-Dreyfus wrang every last laugh from the moment, as an elated grin took over Selina’s face and she practically sprinted to find privacy in a West Wing supply closet, dropping to her knees and celebrating her stroke of fortune with total abandon.
Back at her office, Selina’s mood of invincibility gave her a great opportunity to razz POTUS’ loathsome liaison Jonah, in quite possibly the best exchange in Veep‘s two-season history.
Selina: Jonah, hey listen, settle something for me: You like to have sex and you like to travel?
Jonah: Yes, ma’am.
Selina: Then you can, f*** off.
Louis-Dreyfus’ relentlessly foul-mouthed Selina had already used that profane phrase three times against Jonah earlier in the episode, but this time, she merely mouthed it, grinning wickedly and slicing the air with her hand.
Veep being Veep, though, the ups and downs were just beginning. While attending a children’s science fair, Selina absorbed the news that the President had flip-flopped again, leading to a hasty exit (“I gotta get out of here before I set fire to one of these nerds”) and a scene of the veep back in her quarters, screaming desperately into a pillow.
The episode crescendoed into a ferociously funny frenzy, with Selina convinced that the President — on his way to her office for a very rare one-on-one — planned to drop her from his ticket and end her political aspirations. “I gotta jump before I get stabbed in the back,” she declared, while desperately demanding that her director of communications write “all possible statements that you can think of.”
But the panic was all unnecessary. It turned out POTUS was indeed stepping down after all, leading Selina to embrace her staffers, plant a massive kiss on her estranged husband, and respond to a secret service agent’s report that the president had left the building by shouting, ”Who gives a flying f***?” before dissolving in giggles. “Sorry! I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it!” Selina quickly added.
Nor could we help rewarding Louis-Dreyfus’ brilliance with our Performer of the Week title.
HONORABLE MENTION: Falling Skies‘ Doug Jones and Defiance‘s Trenna Keating each pulled off neat tricks, delivering resonant performances from beneath a layer of prosthetic. As Volm emissary Cochise, Jones regaled a wary President Hathaway — and us — with the reasoning of why he is friend not foe, longing as he is to rebuild a home world he has never set foot on. Keating, meanwhile, hit a very different, dark note as Doc Yewll’s true colors fully bled through. In a chilling sequence, we learned the shocking extent of her alliance with Mayor Nicky — an undercover Indogene — and then watched as she snuffed her friend/staged a grim suicide. Holy shtako!
THE PERFORMER | Mads Mikkelsen
THE SHOW | NBC’s Hannibal
THE EPISODE | ”Savoureux”
THE AIRDATE | June 20, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | Just as Hugh Dancy earned POTW honors with his rendition of a man slowly becoming unraveled, Mikkelsen has regaled viewers with his portrayal of a calculating killer icily in control — until, in a rare, shocking moment of humanity, he wasn’t.
Having framed Will Graham for the death of Abigail Hobbs and almost brutally gaslighted the FBI consultant all along, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, in sharing with his own psychotherapist Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (played by Gillian Anderson), is visibly moved by that which he has secretly accomplished. “Seems hard to find the words today,” he admits, as tears slip from his deep-set eyes. Addressing his first loss, he says that despite the evidence, “I find myself search for ways Abigail could still be alive.” When De Maurier gently asks why this end of life affects him so, he reveals, “I never considered having a child. But after meeting Abigail, I understood the appeal” to shape a life (though perhaps in not the most admirable of ways).
Lecter then “mourns” what has become of Will, his patient… and friend? “I was so confident in my ability to help him, to solve him,” he laments. And despite all that we have witnessed the not-so-good doctor do, at Will’s expense, the sense of loss seems genuine if not coming from the healthiest of places.
Later, Mikkelsen resumes his depiction of the dark puppetmaster, cool and collected as he serves dinner to De Maurier (who frets that his “patterns” might become evident to those around him, conspicuously attached as he becomes to violent, dangerous people) and then as he visits detained Will. There, the music, setting and dialogue stirringly mirrors what will one day be an infamous encounter between Lecter and one Clarice Starling (yet with the brilliant doctor one the other side of the barrier), creating an irony that is simply… delicious.
HONORABLE MENTION | Danny Pudi on Hot In Cleveland, who walked onto the stage of the TV Land comedy’s live premiere and more than held his own against heavyweights Betty White and William Shatner (and that ‘stache!). Pudi effortlessly transformed himself into a nerdy spelling bee winner-turned-local prescription drug peddler, almost making us forget all about his beloved Community alter ego Abed Nadir. It seemed as though we were witnessing the improv vet in his element — and it was pretty cool, cool, cool.
A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars
THE PERFORMER | Neil Patrick Harris
THE SHOW | Tony Awards
THE AIRDATE | June 9, 2013
As host of Broadway’s biggest night, Neil Patrick Harris took our breath away without ever losing his.
From the moment the show started, we knew we were in for a treat, but we never could have imagined the impeccably delivered and stamina-testing opening number that was to follow. He jumped through a hoop. He climbed a giant statuette. He did it all. Never pausing for more than a few seconds, Harris sang and danced his heart out (at one point while being hoisted by Bring It On cheerleaders!) with so much dynamic enthusiasm and power that it radiated out from the screen — and left us gasping for him.
As if that wasn’t enough, he performed a magic trick, sprinting from the stage to the back of theater in seconds — we’re still trying to figure that one out — and even imbued heartfelt emotion into a verse reaching out to all the theater-loving kids out there. (When he said, “We were that kid,” you knew he meant it.)
And it only got better from there. A clever bit about Broadway vets from recently canceled TV shows, featuring Megan Hilty (Smash), Andrew Rannells (The New Normal) and Laura Benanti (Go On), delighted, and as both a performer and a producer, multihyphenate Harris deserves some credit for that.
Then, for the crème de la crème, the host delivered a wrap-up rap about the night’s big winners and moments with help from Broadway star Audra McDonald. It’s become something of a tradition for Harris to close out the show with Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) and Tommy Kail’s on-the-fly written words, but he still impresses every time he does so.
A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars
THE PERFORMER | Michelle Fairley
THE SHOW | Game of Thrones
THE EPISODE | “The Rains of Castamere”
THE AIRDATE | June 2, 2013
Over the past three seasons, portrayer Michelle Fairley has played each new layer of Catelyn’s despair (widowhood, war, the loss of home and family) like another heavy cloak flung over Lady Stark’s highborn shoulders.
So on the occasion of Edmure’s make-peace nuptials, we welcomed the opportunity to see Fairley play small degrees of relief. With Walder Frey’s ring kissed and Robb once more seeking his mother’s advice, the actress allowed her character to lose a little of her long-standing dread. She smiled. She chatted up Roose Bolton. She even allowed herself a happy recollection of her own wedding night with Ned. Catelyn couldn’t forget that there was still a war to fight, Fairley’s subtle shift said, but she was beginning to think that Robb might just win it.
Of course, that was the exact moment that everything went south for the Starks – and Fairley was glorious in her character’s descent.
With an arrow lodged in her torso, Catelyn resolutely held a knife to Frey’s wife’s throat and demanded an honorable trade: the girl’s life for Robb’s. Fairley’s angry tears made Cat’s desperate diplomacy so hard to watch, especially as she urged her dying son to walk away. And when Bolton stepped in to finish the King in the North, Fairley’s anguished scream made us feel like we’d taken a dagger to the gut.
Fairley said nothing – but communicated everything – as her dead-eyed character matter-of-factly cut Lady Frey’s throat and then didn’t even fight as a Frey loyalist did the same to her. Rest in peace, Catelyn. If you had to go, at least you did so in Fairley’s talented hands.
HONORABLE MENTION | Veep‘s Tony Hale, who, as Vice President Selina Meyer’s primary lackey Gary, walks a fine line between pitiful sycophant and the one person who truly understands the insecurities and outbursts of America’s second most-powerful person. In Sunday’s installment, as Gary independently found a private waste-management firm to remove Selina’s trash during a government shutdown, Hale managed to play both hapless (his high-pitched squeal upon seeing a rat had the Secret Service seeking out a frightened woman) and cutthroat (he coerced White House aide Jonah to help him pick through foul rubbish until Selina’s incriminating — yet never specified — garbage could be repossessed). Somehow, Hale repeatedly served as the butt of the joke and remained a character whom it was impossible to root against.
A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars
THE PERFORMER | Hugh Dancy
THE SHOW | Hannibal
THE EPISODE | “Buffet Froid”
THE AIRDATE | May 30, 2013
It’s tough to pull focus from a series’ titular character, especially when that character is a cannibalistic sociopath who views murder as the highest art form. But in Thursday’s episode, Hannibal’s exploits took a back seat to Hugh Dancy’s portrayal of the killer’s fragile pawn, Will Graham.
The genius-as-prickly-recluse thing has been done before; Hugh Laurie as Gregory House instantly comes to mind. But Will has none of Dr. House’s swagger or bravado to protect him, and Dancy’s vulnerability in the quirky role makes the socially awkward profiler an endearing – and intriguing — character.
When Will is under duress, as he was on Thursday, Dancy is incandescent. He filled the episode with a frantic energy as Will feared he was going insane (but unknowingly suffered from encephalitis). Each time Graham’s mind took another disturbing detour, the actor conveyed a new level of freaked-out. His eyes darted. He paced. He pleaded with Hannibal for answers. And by the time Will shouted his name, the time and his location in a vain attempt to root himself in reality, Dancy had elegantly worked his character into a panic nearly as scary as Dr. Lecter himself.
HONORABLE MENTION | Mad Men‘s January Jones
The real Betty is back, and January Jones is on fire. No longer shackled to fat suits and Betty’s crumbled self-esteem, Jones played the skinny former Mrs. Draper with gusto on Sunday. Whether she was coyly courting an admirer, proudly singing a goofy song at Bobby’s camp or delivering a perfect post-coital send-up of Don, Jones shone with Betty’s newly regained confidence. Here’s hoping the actress gets more opportunities to strut Betty’s slimmed-down stuff in the remainder of the season.
THE PERFORMER | Tatiana Maslany
THE SHOW | Orphan Black
THE EPISODE | “Entangled Bank”
THE AIRDATE | May 18, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | Throughout Orphan Black‘s freshman run, Tatiana Maslany’s work has been as mind-blowing as the show’s concept: A young woman whose life is in shambles witnesses her doppelgänger committing suicide on a train platform, assumes the dead woman’s police-detective identity and discovers she’s one in a series of at least nine human clones (another of whom is attempting to kill off the entire line).
During the course of “Entangled Bank,” Maslany deftly and distinctly brought to life four different characters going through arcs that were respectively hilarious, heartbreaking, romantic and suspenseful: Uptight soccer mom Alison; psychotic zealot Helena; bisexual science geek Cosima; and tough-gal heroine Sarah (who at one point had to pass herself off as dead cop Beth).
In Maslany’s hands, Alison has been the portrait of prim, suburban conformity — with a hilarious undercurrent of barely suppressed rage. In “Entangled Bank,” we finally saw the character come unravelled: Reeling from her decision to seek a divorce, stressed from keeping her clone status a secret, and suspecting that her bestie neighbor Aynesley might be her “observer,” Alison wound up ditching her daughter’s figure-skating practice, sharing a joint with Aynesley’s dolt husband and then hilariously seducing him in his minivan. When Maslany growled, “I bet you could bounce me like a ball,” you could sense a season’s worth of deeply felt tension on the brink of release. And later, as Alison drove home belting out Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch,” there was a mixture of joy at having decided not to “give an eff” and terror at not knowing how her future would look in the morning. (Just for good measure, we followed up with an Alison-Aynesley slugfest in the middle of their picturesque street — complete with a head to the steering wheel and a car door to the torso. Ouch! And LOL, too.)
Equally mesmerizing was Maslany’s turn as the unhinged Ukranian Helena, who discovered that Sarah, the clone she just can’t kill, has a biological daughter named Kira. Watching Helena in her shipyard hideout, sniffing Sarah’s jacket and reading Kira’s letters to “mommy,” you knew the hour was headed for something dark and derangerd — and sure enough, Helena lured Kira out the door and began to abscond with her. But a funny thing happened on the way to Helena’s creepy keeper: Little Kira sensed something broken in her mother’s “twin” and gave her a hug while whispering, “Helena, what happened to you?” The sudden jolt of being treated like a human being — and not as a programmed assassin/angel of death — opened a tidal wave of emotion, leaving Helena no choice but to let Kira run from their alleyway hiding place toward her screaming mother. Alas, as Kira ran directly into the path of a car, we saw Maslany capture Sarah’s abject horror and shock, as well as Helena’s sense of desperation and guilt.
If this episode doesn’t put Maslany on the Emmy shortlist for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, then nobody in a genre series is ever going to stand a chance.
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THE PERFORMER | Maggie Q
THE SHOW | Nikita
THE EPISODE | “Til Death Do Us Part”
THE AIRDATE | May 17, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | Maggie Q was tasked with a difficult job in Nikita‘s season ender: to portray her typically tough-as-nails heroine as she fluctuated from hopeless to hopefulness then back again a few dozen times — and did she ever deliver. From forcing down heartache after bidding a subtle so long to her Division family to accepting Michael and Alex’s assistance against Amanda to being wrongfully implicated in the President’s assassination, the actress effortlessly kept viewers riveted with every emotional choice
The actress was never more stunning than in the episode’s final moments. Having just discovered that she was at the center of a nationwide manhunt, Nikita vowed to leave her friends in peace. “I’m putting you all in the line of fire,” she confessed. Though they claimed otherwise, Q’s meek smile said it all: Nikita had succumbed to the hopelessness. And that’s why the last shot of the installment found a tearful Nikita alone and on the run.
At first, all that appeared to be left was the shell of the strong and stalwart leading lady Q spent three seasons creating. Then, with a flick of the eyes and a gut-wrenchingly vacant stare, the actress summoned a familiar Nikita: one who, while struggling to find the hope in her current circumstances, is resolute on doing what she believes is best — because putting her loved ones’ safety first is what Nikita does best.
HONORABLE MENTION | Revenge‘s Nick Wechsler
For two seasons now, Wechsler has been proving that when called upon, he can bust out the waterworks and break our hearts in the process. And, sadly for Jack, that skill came in handy when his brother Declan died in Sunday’s season finale, pushing the elder Porter to his breaking point. When Jack confronted Victoria, Wechsler showed off the perfect mix of devastation, malice, sadness — that parting tear! — and venom (“I would break the news to Charlotte very gently. You know how she takes these things”).
A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars
THE PERFORMER | Simon Helberg
THE SHOW | The Big Bang Theory
THE EPISODE | “The Love Spell Potential”
THE AIRDATE | May 9, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | Nicolas Cage plus Dungeons & Dragons shouldn’t equal hilarity, but it absolutely did in Thursday’s episode – thanks to the spot-on celebrity impressions Simon Helberg sprinkled throughout Wolowitz’s highly entertaining turn as dungeon master. After hearing Helberg offer up the National Treasurer as a mystical tree, Al Pacino as a satanic fungus and Christopher Walken as a dying dragon, our delight in the quest quite possibly paralleled Sheldon’s. While we’re at it, we’ll take another cue from Dr. Cooper: Much like Zachary Quinto as Spock, Helberg’s celebrity mimicry was a weird, wonderful event that lent an unexpected hint of pop-culture cool to one of the nerdiest amusements around.
HONORABLE MENTION | Once Upon a Time‘s Lana Parrilla
It takes a certain something to command a scene while strapped down to a table and hooked up to electrodes, yet Parrilla alternately conveyed the Evil Queen’s regal might — her guttural, “You have no idea who you’re dealing with” still has the hair on the back of our necks raised — and Regina’s perilous plight, as course after course of voltage zapped through her. The warm scenes in which Regina realized the Charmings emerged as her savior were but icing on the apple turnover.
THE PERFORMER | Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
THE SHOW | Game of Thrones
THE EPISODE | “Kissed by Fire”
THE AIRDATE | April 28, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | In the span of just a few episodes, Game of Thrones‘ Jaime lost a hand and grew a conscience – a rough go in anyone’s book. In last Sunday’s outing, for the first time in his Lannister life, the Kingslayer was laid so low that a warm bath and a semi-sympathetic ear was all it took to undo him. Portrayer Nikolaj Coster-Waldau artfully nailed Jaime’s despair – and made his character far more sympathetic — as he revealed the real story behind the Mad King’s murder.
The actor started out in familiar territory, carelessly tossing mean-spirited barbs at a discomfited Brienne as he slipped, naked, into her bathing pool. His jab about Renly’s death was nothing unusual, but his reaction to her ire was. Head bowed, Coster-Waldau showed us a new angle to his alter ego as he tiredly apologized. “I’m sick of fighting,” he admitted, sick and covered in filth, his stump held just above the water’s surface and his head bowed. As he proposed a truce and acknowledged his trust in his unlikely protector sitting a few paces away, Coster-Waldau softened Jaime into a defeated warrior completely sapped of strength.
The elder Lannister brother related the true story behind the Aerys II Targaryen’s death, which turned out to be more about preventing thousands of innocent deaths and less about gaining fame and glory. “Would you have kept your oath then?” he wearily demanded of Brienne, Coster-Waldau using a matter-of-fact tone to relate the terrible details of the act that earned Jaime his nickname. But at the mention of “the honorable Ned Stark,” the actor leapt forward on a surge of anger that left the knight trembling in Brienne’s sturdy arms – the best swordsman in Westeros reduced to swooning invalid. Jaime’s never had it worse, and Coster-Waldau’s never been better.
THE PERFORMER | Guillermo Diaz
THE EPISODE | ”Seven Fifty-Two”
THE AIRDATE | April 25, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | For a show that metes out backstory on its gladiators so frugally, Scandal this Thursday shed an immense amount of light on its darkest character — and in turn shone a spotlight on the incredible work of Guillermo Diaz.
Picking up the aftermath of the former CIA spook being abducted and tied up in a none-too-big crate, Huck was introduced in the here and now as a shell-shocked warrior, a strong and able man crippled by trauma, only uttering the number “752″ over and over again.
Throughout the hour, Diaz toggled between vastly different iterations of Olivia Pope’s most enigmatic associate. As Huck-the-PFC surprising his lady with an early return home from a tour of duty, he was almost unrecognizable. He broadcasted a smile we have never, ever seen before, and a spring in his step replaced the slouched shoulders and hands in pockets we’ve come to expect.
That Huck quickly devolved into a more somber version, as he was pulled into a pitch-black line of employ: killing. Diaz communicated the ghastly nature of the work and Huck’s discomfort with it until an unnerving sequence in which, with a baby on the way and marriage under his belt, he brought a zeal and cleverness to his craft.
Then there was Huck the homeless veteran, a fallen man forced to forget everyone he loved, leaving him lost in life. That wounded warrior would be one day be given purpose anew by Olivia. And it was ultimately Olivia’s words, her story of how he saved her more than she ever saved him, that drew him out of his near-cataonic state there in the corner of the OPA office, where he realized that the family he suspected he had only imagined in fact was forgotten but very real.
Diaz’s work, in every of these scenes and varied arcs, made us appreciate and lament all that Huck had lost as much as he did.
HONORABLE MENTION | Throughout all of Smash‘s up and downs, Megan Hilty has been a consistent bright spot. In last Saturday’s installment, though, the actress’s light shone brighter than ever. In the opening night performance of the fictional Broadway musical Bombshell, Hilty’s Ivy Lynn delivered the closing number “Don’t Forget Me” with such off-the-charts horsepower and genuine emotion, we were ready to camp out at the TKTS booth and score tickets. And just as compelling, her character buried the hatchet with arch rival Karen, showing her trademark mix of cattiness and vulnerability in the process. When the curtain finally goes down on NBC’s troubled musical drama, it’ll be Hilty that we miss most of all.
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THE PERFORMER | Vera Farmiga
THE EPISODE | ”Ocean View”
THE AIRDATE | April 15, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | If Bates Motel had set out to create a showcase for its female lead, it could scarcely have done any better than this hour. Over the course of the episode, the Oscar nominee took Norma from spitting mad to jumping for joy… albeit jumping on a rug that was about to be pulled out from under her!
First, the actress made it clear that her alter ego wasn’t in the running for Mother of the Year by snarling over Norman’s “devotion.” (Probably made the poor kid glad there was a partition between them, she was so pissed!) Later, she granted his request that she look at him, just look at him, only to have her cast him the most withering glance this side of Medusa. Finally, she conjured up such a head of righteous indignation in proclaiming her innocence to her lawyer that, for a second there, it was easy to forget that she was actually guilty.
Wait, did we say “finally”? Because it wasn’t over yet!
After that, Farmiga totally let loose, responding to Norman’s fears by telling him, “If I’m so damn scary, get the hell out of my car!” — and awkwardly, physically removing him from said vehicle! Then, after a brief respite from her stress upon learning that loverboy Zack has destroyed the evidence against her, Norma was hit with the lowest blow of all: She learned that her savior was — oh, crap — trafficking in sex slaves.
Through it all, Farmiga wasn’t just good, she was, ahem, crazy good.
HONORABLE MENTION | The Americans‘ Susan Misner, for the tsunami of pent-up anger and grief her put-upon housewife Sandra unleashed on Noah Emmerich’s cheating Stan. Her kitchen-set catharsis was a long time coming, and Misner made it well worth the wait.
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THE EPISODE | “Order Room Service”
THE AIRDATE | March 31, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | Shameless‘ coffeehouse-set clash on this past Sunday’s episode might have been Jimmy’s exploding moment, but it was leading lady Emmy Rossum who once again blew us away (no disrespect to her extremely talented co-star Justin Chatwin).
With her boyfriend’s secret plans for his Gallagher-less life in Michigan exposed, Fiona and Jimmy’s relationship reached its boiling point during an ugly, heated fight. The confrontation wasn’t pretty or easy to watch, but it was a thing of beauty. From Fiona’s heartbreak and disappointment at the realization that the love of her life was pulling away to her fiery anger at his betrayal to the hurt in her eyes when Jimmy labeled her home “a goddamn slum,” Rossum was captivating. She may have let out a disbelieving chortle when he threw the last insult her way, but the emotion that followed was no laughing matter.
“You made me feel like I could depend on you, and now it’s a slum?” she spat back, tears in her eyes.
Later, after confessing her “idiot” mistakes to her boss mid-drunken makeout – “It’s not even the first time that he’s lied. I closed my stupid eyes to it because I wanted it to work so badly,” she said, her voice cracking at her own denial – Fiona called Jimmy to tell him they can make it work.
We might not have done the same thing in her situation, but Rossum is so terrific and believable as the wounded tough girl that we totally bought her late night plea.
HONORABLE MENTION | Revenge‘s Gabriel Mann, who fell apart so beautifully when Nolan learned of Padma’s death. The couple never got much screen time, but Mann’s complete destruction as Emily hugged her techie pal made us ache for his loss nevertheless.
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THE EPISODE | “This Sorrowful Life”
THE AIRDATE | March 24, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | People love Daryl for a lotta reasons. He’s hot. He’s cool. He’s a badass. He’s no-BS. But, beneath all of those lies the real reason the that character is so adored: He’s vulnerable. And rarely (if ever) has Reedus as viscerally depicted that quality of his post-apocalyptic counterpart as he did in Merle’s final scene.
We knew that it wasn’t going to end well for Daryl’s beloved brother — the Governor had already shot him, after all. But what we, and certainly Daryl, couldn’t have anticipated was that, instead of Merle’s dead body, what he’d find just outside of Woodbury was Merle’s undead body — feeding on the corpse of young Ben.
As Daryl took in the stomach-churning scene, Reedus’ face crumbled. The redneck gasped for air and tried to choke back sobs. He even pushed Merle away, as if willing his eyes to be deceiving him. But he was only delaying the inevitable. Merle attacked, and Daryl, his heart in his throat, was finally forced to put him down.
As deaths go — especially on this show — it wasn’t the most gruesome one ever. Yet, thanks to the authenticity of Reedus’ performance, it’s likely be one of the most widely remembered.
THE EPISODE | “Heroes”
THE AIRDATE | March 27, 2013
THE PERFORMANCE | On this week’s Southland, Cudlitz showcased his uncanny ability to say everything without saying anything at all. Forced to visit his dying rapist/murderer father in prison, Cudlitz’ stoic cop John Cooper stood silently over the man who had ruined his life. He listened to another round of his dad’s insults, including perhaps the worst one yet: “I used to pray you’d kill yourself, because I’d rather see you dead than have a f—-t for a son.”
Rather than lashing out and betraying his character’s guarded nature, Cudlitz kept his face almost still, but the pain in his eyes was evident. Then with a small, disappointed, resolute nod of the head, he walked over to his father’s side and whispered something into his ear. We never heard the words, but thanks to the actor’s performance, we didn’t need to.
It didn’t end there. In a powerfully emotional scene, Cooper once again listened as his retired training officer Hicks (a superb Gerald McRaney) waxed about his empty life. With sadness, compassion and even a little recognition – this could easily be a glimpse into his own future – on his face, he watched the man he admired for so long crumble before his eyes.
Then, making his words count, Cooper recalled a scary day when he was a young cop. “When I saw you, I knew I was going to be OK,” he said tearfully to his mentor. Slowly, Cudlitz let the walls down, unveiling a vulnerable side to his character that’s hardly ever glimpsed. “You are not going out like this old man. I’m not letting you,” he continued.
And it would be a shame if Southland went out without the consistently impressive Cudlitz getting some recognition, too.
HONORABLE MENTION| New Girl‘s Jake Johnson, who gave us a painful part of Nick’s backstory with his instant shift from loft clown to resigned family head following his father’s death. Every choice Johnson made in the episode – from haranguing Jess into writing a eulogy to grasping her hand in front of the crowd — was done with the weariness of someone who desperately doesn’t want the task he’s been handed but knows no one else will step up.