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Small Screen MVPs: The Leftovers, Transparent, Black-ish and more...

Each week or so we're asking member of Team Experience to share the MVP of whatever they've been watching on TV lately. The MVP may be a prop, a theme, a person, or a collective. In past episodes we've talked The Flash and Bob's Burgers, The Walking Dead and The Knick and a handful of others. Now five more shows hit our collective eyeballs. Maybe you're watching them?

The Leftovers' Showrunners
The first season of The Leftovers made for difficult but extremely rewarding viewing. But nothing could have prepared us for the show's second season, which has been more daring, more ambitious, and yes, even more difficult than the first. Take the season premiere, which spent its first nine minutes telling a prehistoric tale of a cavewoman and her infant child, before shifting to present-day Jarden, TX - thousands of miles away from the show's previous setting of Mapleton, NY. When characters we finally knew appeared, they were treated as supporting characters. And it wasn't until the fourth episode of the season that we finally came back to the opening scene's lake in the aftermath of the premiere-ending earthquake during which that entire lake and at least three girls disappeared. 

The sixth episode "Lens" was a killer dual showcase for the Emmy-worthy Carrie Coon and Regina King... More plus Transparent, The Mindy Project, and Black-ish after the jump...

The sixth episode "Lens" was a killer dual showcase for the Emmy-worthy Carrie Coon and Regina King. It's no accident that the show's new theme song has the refrain "I think I'll just let the mystery be." Tom Perrotta and Damon Lindelof, freed from the boundaries of the former's novel, are doing something completely audacious with the second season of The Leftovers, and I for one can't wait to see where it goes.
-Dancin' Dan

The Leftover's Regina King
Since Dan stole my topic for this week's column, my "runner up" MVP is the daring show's newest cast member, Regina King. Yes, she's having quite a year. Though she's always been an engaging actress on film, her talents were underutilized at best until TV finally handed her a few juicy roles with which to stretch and wow us. She anchored the better-than-it-had-any-right-to-be cop drama Southland with Emmy worthy-work for a handful of years and then things really exploded with American Crime (a surprise Emmy win) and her work as a secretive outwardly calm inwardly raging deaf wife and mother on The Leftovers. With the brilliant Ann Dowd, last season's arguable MVP, sidelined as a kind of perverse Greek chorus this year, Carrie Coon and Regina King are in an entirely brutal altogether dazzling throwdown for Season 2's MVP - neither actress is giving an inch and their faux neighborly, weirdly damaged, hostile window smashing duet in "Lens" was the single best thing on TV since Jon Hamm 'ommmmed' his way through that genius final moment of Mad Men. It wasn't until the end credit card flashed that I realized I had momentarily stopped breathing.
-Nathaniel R 

Master of None's co-creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang
The premise of Aziz Ansari's new Netflix show doesn't sound particularly innovative or exciting. Ansari stars as Dev, a 30-something actor trying to make it in New York City. I know. How many shows about single professionals in New York do we really need? Well, Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang prove that there is still room to explore in the "contemporary Brooklynite" genre.

Some of the best episodes are inspired by personal experiences that we haven't seen a thousand times before thanks to the lack of diversity in American television: like an episode that focuses on Dev's relationship to his dad, and the multigenerational divide of the immigrant experience; or an episode that deals with the complications of being a person of color trying to find work as an actor. The most important thing, however, is that Ansari and Yang have developed a distinctive voice all their own, and understand that the more personal and specific their stories are, the more ambitious and exciting their show is going to be. There is something melancholic, insightful, and thoroughly entertaining about Master of None
- Coco 

Blackish's Children
Even when individual episodes fail to reach greatness there is always something to appreciate about Blackish and one of its finest assets is the children quartet, my favourite group of children on a current show (RIP Trophy Wife, sigh). Last week’s Halloween episode had some plotting issue seeing the privileged Johnson family confronted with their poorer cousins but the story issues were negligible in seeing a chance for the four Johnson children to play off each other. The show avoids forced drama in making them battle each other, and it’s always more charming seeing a group of TV siblings who appreciate each other’s weakness. Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown and Marsai Martin are doing fine comedy work in their own way and they win this week for going all in the episode’s highlight moment where the children undergo a Rocky-esque training montage to stand up to their tougher cousins. If I had to choose the MVP of the quartet it would be Martin, who is pitch perfect as the acerbic Diane but they all have legitimate chemistry with each other, suggesting a camaraderie that’s not always easy to do. (And bonus points for the Halloween costumes.This year the family went as the Obama’s, the two daughters as the Obama girls, the older son as a secret service agent and the younger son as the dog.)
- Andrew Kendall


The Mindy Project's Girlpower
From Girls to Gossip Girl, to Lipstick Jungle and Cashmere Mafia, it seems every show starring a group of women was supposed to be "the new Sex and the City", and while no show will ever replace the magic SJP and MPK conjured together, there is one show touching similar topics in an unafraid, in-your-face manner.

When it aired on FOX, Mindy Kaling's The Mindy Project brought anal sex to people's homes, but since moving to Hulu it has touched on even more issues that television, or film for that matter, rarely discuss. This season as we've seen Mindy deal with the fact that she does not want to be a stay-at-home-mom, and craves the thrill of work life, despite the wishes of her husband (Chris Messina) the show has become almost subversive in its unapologetic way. Warmhearted, funny, sexy and socially conscious it seems it kinda has it all. 
 -Jose Solis

And finally...

Transparent's Dildos
This week’s MVP is a collective award to the dildos of Transparent. Yes, I've finally caught up with Amazon's hit. Transparent was far better than I’d imagined, even after its rave reviews and awards. It deftly balances heartfelt drama with moments of hilarity, some of the latter being brought by our silicone MVP. Dildos make three appearances on Transparent. The first, in an early episode, shows two women in the throes of passion pausing to deal with a slight dildo inconvenience. The second, about midway through, is a woman and a trans-man dealing with much more, much funnier, inconvenience. And in the season finale, a character uses the hilarious word “dildology”, while homophobically suggesting that dildos cannot make up for the “real thing”.  

Among its many, many virtues is the fact that Transparent understands how lesbians (and people in general) have sex. People of the male and/or straight variety tend to be very confused about how sex happens without a factory-installed penis involved. It’s really pretty simple, and often involves the after-market variety. “Dildology”!
- Deborah Lipp

Who was the MVP of your TV week? And if you're not watching The Leftovers or Transparent you owe it to yourself to catch up. (The new season of Transparent debuts the first week of December)

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Reader Comments (26)

kirsten dunst. fargo.

November 17, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I recently caught up to "Transparent" too and was so pleased that it exceeded the hype for me. Let's hope they keep it up in season 2.

November 17, 2015 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

I have to play grinch here. I'm starting to react against all the unqualified acclaim for Transparent. I really like the show overall (especially the women in the cast and Tambor). But come on. It's jarringly clumsy. That entire penultimate episode felt like a twenty-five minute trailer for three other episodes with roughly eight separate plots mashed together.

I love the show for its individual episodes and sequences and scenes and sometimes just bits of scenes. But as big-picture storytelling it's extremely patchy with undernourished plot threads and relationship dynamics. It feels put together in a rush by relatively inexperienced writers. I don't think the half-hour format fits it at all. It just makes the gaps in the various throughlines that much more glaring, like half an episode has gone missing every time.

Maybe I'm just whining because ten years later nothing has replaced the void in my TV viewing left by the end of Six Feet Under.

November 17, 2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

The Leftovers is SO much better than last year in almost every single way. Huge improvement. Still not perfect but incredibly watchable.

Fargo which has been great so far this year, just hit its stride in a major way the past couple of episodes. Easily the best thing currently on TV at the moment. Let's hope it sticks the landing. Cast wise, Patrick Wilson is my MVP but the entire cast (even the bit players) and especially Jean Smart and Dunst are excellent.

My guilty pleasure is Survivor. I'm loving it.

November 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

@Anonny, yes Survivor! it is so great this season!

November 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTom

I absolutely agree with everything that was said about The Leftovers and Black-ish. That final scene between Regina King and Carrie Coon is a masterclass. Brutal, but completely mesmerizing.

And I can't say enough about how much I love the kids on Black-ish, especially the younger two. So much of what they're given to do could come off as grating/obnoxious, but they find the perfect pitch every episode.

November 17, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

I'm with @Anonny and @Tom, Survivor is always one of my favorites, but this season is especially great!

Other than that, Kirsten Dunst on Fargo and How to Get Away with Murder just being overall cray cray highlighted my week.

November 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKeelay!

I agree with goran - there is some seriously amateurish writing and direction in Transparent. And yet I kind of loved the first season. I can't tell if that's in spite of its flaws, or because of them. The way it shows a California family carving out its weird little niche in the world, to hell with everyone else, reminds me a lot of Six Feet Under, though I would say it is not on the same level as SFU yet.

I'm way behind on The Leftovers - just watched episode 4 tonight. It is off to a great start, and I can't wait to get to this Coons/King face off everyone keeps raving about. If there was one thing I could change about the show, it would be to get someone to WRITE SOME NEW MUSIC. Those same couple of cues repeated over and over again, every episode, were effective once upon a time, but when that plunky piano cue kicks in now, it throws the show right to the edge of self parody, which is very dangerous ground indeed.

My MVPs of the week are the entire cast (Nick Offerman, Kirsten Dunst, and Ted Danson in particular, this week) and crew of Fargo, because the most recent episode was just about the best thing I've seen this year on television. I love Fargo season 2 because it has successfully extended its point of view beyond Coen Brothers fetishization. There are heavy doses of Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake on this season, and I'm loving every second of it.

November 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Guilty pleasure is definitely the return of the NSA and their weird goat videos on The Good Wife. Really really missed them last season.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJames

James - I love the show but I honestly don't care about a single thing that is going on. It's really plodding along this season so far!

The Leftovers is pretty damn good TV once they stay away from the unnecessary supernatural/mystical bullshit. All of the best scenes are those with people dealing with reality and the consequences of The Departure.

My best in show for this current season is The Affair. A nice mix of intelligent drama and trashy soap.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

I am so glad to read these comments and see that I am not alone in my indifference towards Transparent. Great as Jeffrey Tambor is on the show, I had to force myself to watch the four episodes that I did - I found very little to latch on to and I didn't find it particularly funny or moving. Some of this might have been a reaction to it dominating "Comedy" awards categories when it's really more on the "Drama" side of things, but I found it to be incredibly uneven despite really liking the cast.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Fargo. Hands down the best thing on television right now, and all the more impressive given it's initial loaded premise as a "remake" of The Coen's fantastic film. Season 1 was great, but this year is showing that the crew behind the series is getting better with each episode. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTheCinescape

The Leftovers has quietly become one of the greatest shows on television. I've never been so completely absorbed in a show like I am in this one. Ann Dowd was spellbinding last season and Justin Theroux, Carrie Coon, and Regina King are doing phenomenal work in season 2.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterElie

My MVP is Rachel Bloom for co-creating and starring in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend which, if you like musical comedies at all, you should definitely check out. Not all of it works, but most of what does is due to both Bloom's perfectly calibrated performance and the hilarious songs that are sprinkled through each episode. The show's title is unfortunate but they even deal with that in a funny way after the pilot.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Yes on what DJDeeJay just said since I was about to ask if anyone here watched that weird, kooky, fun show. I mean based on ratings the answer is NO, but people should really check it out. At the very least, search the music videos from the show.

Also YES on the black-ish kids! They're so good. And so in that same vein, FRESH OFF THE BOAT hasn't had one weak episode this season IMO. Super strong sophomore effort so far and the whole family cast is fantastic.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

Ryan T. - yay! Glad to hear others like it, too. I think "Feeling Kinda Naughty Tonight" is maybe one of the best-written comedic songs...ever? Maybe that's pushing it, but I had to watch it multiple times to hear all the lyrics, as they fly by so fast and made me laugh so loud that I missed a lot the first time. I can't believe how it manages to be so dark, so silly and so funny all at the same time.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

You're on the same Transparent episode as I am. I enjoy the show, but it doesn't quite stack up to recent all-time favorites. It has really good moments.

Although I follow The Leftovers, its oppressively dark mood is wearing on me more and more. There are no moments or characters to provide levity. I suspect this may be my last season.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBD

Ryan T. and DJDeeJay - YES!!! I gave a shout-out to the musical numbers in the Pilot in the first episode of this series of posts, and I would include something from it just about every week (especially the numbers "Feeling Kinda Naughty", "Face Your Fears", and "Settle For Me") but Nathaniel wants us to spread the wealth.

But since there are lots of musical comedy lovers on this site, PLEASE watch Crazy Ex Girlfriend. It is amazing and totally living up to the promise of the pilot. Rachel Bloom is a STAR.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Getting On deserves a shout out, it just started it's 3rd season on Sunday.
If you want smart and funny try binge watching the first 2 seasons - great stuff.
and Cush Jumbo in The Good Wife is very hot.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Denny - so you did! I forgot the show was discussed in that post - it was before I started watching it but probably one of the reasons I started.

I also loved "The Sexy Getting Ready Song."

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

I tried Transparent and The Leftovers but just couldn't get into them. Really didn't like Transparent. Love Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, though (Santino Fontana!!), and is no one watching iZombie? It's like a cross between Buffy and Veronica Mars, although not nearly as good as either of those. (It could get there, though, it gets better all the time.) Also really surprised by Minority Report. I almost didn't watch a second episode, but it finds its footing pretty quickly if you give it a chance.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered Commentervladdy

i almost went with a Crazy Ex Girlfriend MVP this week but since we discussed the show a month ago i thought we'd give other shows a chance.

November 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

My MVP this week is London Spy, which aired its second episode in the UK this week and I assume will be airing in the US at some point soon. It's a spy thriller with Ben Whishaw, written by Tom Rob Smith (who wrote Child 44, the book, not the film, which I have no interest in seeing). It's been pretty great so far, and refreshingly queer. Whishaw is, of course, outstanding, and it gets bonus points for filming up the road from my old house.

November 19, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterben1283

Enjoying Mindy this season, though there's been a brief break from the sex stuff with Chris Messina's absence. Hopefully, they'll resume this week. I am enjoying the frank discussion of the stay-at-home vs. working mom debate. In a few corners, I've seen it said that Mindy SHOULDN'T discuss these topics because, of course, her character will continue to work, but since most women at least think about the question, I think it's great that they are.

I love Black-ish's kids but I love Fresh Off the Boat's Evan and Emery even more. If people aren't watching this show, they should.

November 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSunta

The Leftovers is crazy, but so complexed as well. Put episode 6 and episode 7 of season 2 on a loop I will not be able to stop watching.

I watch each episode of Survivor at least 3 times in that week it airs, even when it's a crap season, so this season currently airing I'm absolutely crazy over it.

But, the Leftovers of the past two weeks stole my Survivor love. Regina King, Carrie Coon, Ann Dowd, Justin Theroux, Amy Brenneman

Truth is, none of these shows are perfect, sometime I even feel guilty to say I like Survivor. Just both of these two shows are so rich and plenty of humanity at the moment and I only see beauty in them. Bias?

So happy Survivor is mentioned by some commenters so I don't feel so out of the place to mention it here.

Thanks Nathaniel for introducing me to The Leftovers last year on this site, also so happy to read both writers' thoughts on it in this post.

November 21, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMingy

Crushing on Aziz Ansary's talent right now. The show is just what I need after so much heavy bloody heavy on The Leftovers, the Walking Dead, Broadchurch, Daredevil, etc.

November 22, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

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