THE PERFORMER | Claire Danes
THE SHOW | Fleishman Is in Trouble
THE EPISODE | “Me-Time” (Dec. 22, 2022)
THE PERFORMANCE | So far this season, Hulu’s witty divorce dramedy had mostly concentrated on Jesse Eisenberg’s mopey single dad Toby, casting his ex-wife Rachel as a shrill, status-obsessed villain. But this week, we heard Rachel’s side of the story, which provided a spectacular showcase for Danes, reminding us that she’s one of the very best TV actresses of our time.
Rachel had vanished from Toby’s life without explanation, essentially abandoning her two children, and Libby found her nibbling on a bagel on a park bench, with Danes lost in a vacant-eyed-daze. At first, Rachel was addled and incoherent, with Danes layering her rants with tics and twitches. But then Rachel explained what happened — “I got dumped… by everyone” — setting off a swirling series of flashbacks that showed us why Rachel abruptly went off the grid. (It didn’t excuse her actions, mind you, but it allowed us to understand them.) Danes radiated impressive smarts when Rachel was wheeling and dealing as a high-powered talent agent, but we also saw Rachel at her lowest, struggling through a traumatic birth and post-partum depression. Yes, Danes broke out her signature Cry Face throughout the hour, and it even built to an anguished howl of grief when Rachel let out her pent-up emotions in group therapy.
She later got caught up in an affair with her married friend Sam, and Danes glowed with giddy infatuation. But that went south during an impromptu yoga retreat excursion, and Danes vented Rachel’s frustrations with another haunting primal scream that even seemed to shake the trees outside. Rachel also broke down in apologetic sobs when her biggest client cut ties with her following her disappearing act. Fleishman smartly showed us that there are always two sides to every divorce story, and Danes told Rachel’s side in a loud, clear voice and with stunning clarity.
THE PERFORMER | Billie Piper
THE SHOW | I Hate Suzie
THE EPISODE | “Fear” (Dec. 22, 2022)
THE PERFORMANCE | We all knew things would get worse for Suzie Pickles before they got better, but we never thought her image rehab ploy on a celebrity dancing show would’ve exploded with such consequential fireworks.
In the Season 2 finale, Suzie’s personal and professional lives collided, as on-set drama at Dance Crazee became entwined with her messy divorce proceedings. At the show-within-the-show’s big finale, we saw fear, panic and insecurity paint Piper’s face as rumors of her character’s on-set hook-up threatened to surface. But that wasn’t the only stressor looming. The results of her drug test (which would determine her right to custody) hung in the air, her friendship with Naomi hit the rocks again, and Suzie and Cob’s constant warring was upending her son’s wellbeing. And as the dominoes horrifically fell one by one, Piper’s body language and shaky energy gave us the play-by-play of just how much her character’s screw was tightening.
And that’s when a breakdown became a full-on meltdown. Suzie didn’t botch the dance routine, as we half expected. Rather, she won the show, grabbed the mic and began babbling about everything, tearing off a wig to reveal a true shocker: her bald head. When she finally, truly cracked, it was a mental break that had us feeling all of the feelings. As Suzie disassociated, a glammed-up Piper pulled a 180, basking in the limelight and gallivanting across the stage. But back in reality, the actress was teary-eyed and manic; her stone-cold sober ramblings sounded like a belligerent drunkard. It was an utter disaster in the best possible way. Watching Piper exercise such physical prowess, such control — from her well-choreographed dance routines (which were, no joke, fire) to her near hyperventilation and shrieking, panicked delivery — shook us to our cores.