Gems from Valeisha Butterfield Jones, Dapper Dan, and Other Black Leaders [VIDEO]

It was a night of celebration, inspiration, and black excellence at the New York Urban League’s annual Frederick Douglass Awards Dinner on Tuesday. This year, dozens of influencers, leaders, and luminaries applauded the astounding achievements of three esteemed African American trailblazers: Google executive Valeisha Butterfield Jones, fashion innovator Dapper Dan, and Next Management President Kyle Hagler. In addition, the ceremony serves as a fundraiser to support the organization’s mission to foster equality and change through scholarships, programs, and initiatives.

New York Urban League President Arva Rice said each honoree was chosen for paving a pathway of access and mobility for other people of color within their respective industries. “Looking at the influence that Dapper Dan has had, not only on his culture but fashion as a whole is so moving. Drawing inspiration from his resilience to pursue his dream and his recent resurgence we felt the history of this living legend had to be told,” said Rice in a statement. She added, “Kyle and Valeisha are amazing representations of how we as a people have evolved to break barriers and to achieve our highest capabilities.”

During their acceptance speeches, each honoree shared inspirational gems about their work and impact on society. Here are a few nuggets.

Valeisha Butterfield Jones

Kyle Hagler, Valeisha Butterfield Jones, Arva Rice, and Dapper Dan at the NYUL’s 53rd Frederick Douglass Dinner (Twitter/ArvaRice)

Valeisha Butterfield-Jones

As Google’s Global Head of Women and Black Community and Engagement, Butterfield-Jones advocates on behalf of minorities at the tech giant as well for diversity and inclusion in the industry at large. While accepting the Ann S. Kheel Award, she stressed the need to strive for progress when it comes to black women not only in the tech sphere but also in politics and entrepreneurship. Here are the stats she shared:

  • Black women generate over $ 1 trillion in this country every year, but “we’re still locked out of career opportunities for the companies that we helped build.”
  • Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S., “yet we still don’t have access to capital to scale and grow our businesses.”
  • Black women are the most educated demographic in the U.S., yet they “still make 63 cents to the dollar of every white man.”
  • Black women have the highest voter turnout of any group in the U.S., “but yet, our priorities are not part of any administrations agenda.”

Dapper Dan

Dapper Dan was honored with the Icon Award for the mark that he has made on fashion. During his acceptance speech, he talked about the struggle he’s faced as a black man in fashion earlier on in his career. “When I tried to do something positive in my community, and I tried to open up a store, I couldn’t get businesses to sell to me because I was black.”

Rather than doing business with the influencer, high profile brands have been accused of appropriating Dan’s style. Gucci, for instance, featured a fur bomber jacket with puffy sleeves in its Resort 2018 collection last year that looked almost identical to a Louis Vuitton monogrammed jacket Dan created in the ’80s. After outraged social media users called Gucci out for stealing the style without giving Dan proper recognition, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele called the jacket “an homage” to Dan. Gucci also made amends by recently partnering with Dan to open a new store in Harlem, N.Y. and providing him with funding and support.

Kyle Hager

Hager, who was honored with the Frederick Douglass Medallion for Leadership and Service for his role in pushing for representation and guiding young people of color in the pursuits of their modeling dreams, paid tribute to Frederick Douglass, himself, and black women, who taught him that “self-actiulization and perseverance [is] the only path to true success.”

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Pusha T and Steven Victor Drop Gems at Universal Music Group’s Masterclass Kickoff


As the saying goes, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.” But In the case of hip hop influencer Pusha T and SVP of A&R at Universal Music Group Steven Victor, hard work and talent will certainly take you further.

Recently Universal Music Group (UMG) kicked off their Masterclass series— a six-part speaking engagement featuring both artists and music executives, discussing the ins and outs of the industry. Targeted towards college students, the series spotlights both a forward facing figure in music, as well as a prominent background figure, while candidly addressing the currant climate in hip hop and the industry as a whole.

Moderated by Digital Content Director of Ebony-JET Soraya Joseph, the Master Class series kicked off with Pusha and Victor at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute’s Element of Hip Hop event, before some 400 students.

Screen Shot 2017-10-20 at 7.03.16 PM

Curated by UMG’s VP of College and Lifestyle and Marketing, Todd Goodwin, the intimate 45 minute Q&A touched on such topics as career, the importance of being dimensional in your role, and the most current climate of the industry today.

When discussing the future of hip hop and the importance of embracing newer artists, Pusha said:

“I’ve been here damn near 20 years and I look to be here for a long time. I feel my calling is to basically see the game forward and see new artists forward. I feel like all of the greats in music who I loved, except for a couple, would always shun new [artists] and energy. And these are people who I was dressing like and actually trying to look like them.  But I remember I would always see interviews and they would be say, “These new artists don’t do it like we do,” and I always said “I never want to be this guy. I didn’t want to be like that. That’s not hot!

Especially for the youngest genre, like c’mon man. What are we like, on 44 years of hip hop? We gotta see this thing though. I’m trying to see the Mick Jagger’s of rap — all of that. Whose going to be that in hip hop? I’m just trying to see the whole culture grow, and you can’t do that by saying ‘Hey, Trap Music isn’t as hot as ‘Paid in Full’ by Rakim or whatever. You can’t do that. You gotta embrace it all.
You gotta stay outside of what you know That’s the simplest way I can translate it. Like, I’m still outside. I’m still trying to go out and find that energy. I’m still going to the club and I’m still seeing how you guys are even reacting to the music. I love [music] so much, that I want to be in it in every aspect. It’s not just about money. I don’t know what I would do without music. Hunting and searching and just trying to find artists… I live for all of that.
I’m not cutting the legs off of hip hop. The youth are the legs. I’m not cutting the legs off at all!”
In regards to the A&R process, Victor was sure to address the more recent stigma surrounding major labels, stressing the importance of a major, while also maintaining your independence:

“[Being independent] doesn’t work for everybody. It worked for one person- Chance the Rapper.

If you look at the biggest artists in the world, who is independent? Nobody can do it [all] by themselves. That’s like a label person saying ‘Hey, you don’t need a producer, you’re a rapper, just make the beat yourself.’ It’s the same thing.

You should build your own fan base— you should do that.  I admire independence [but] it depends on what kind of artist you want to be. I’m not [just] in it as an executive or a manager as someone in the music business. I’m not in it for indie games. I’m in it for master success; and I think if you want to have master success [you need help]. If you look at the biggest artist in the world, look at the list. The top 10 or Top 20. I’m not telling you anything you can’t research.”

Rapper/President of G.O.O.D music Pusha T, who is also managed by and has a long working history with Stevens, challenged the SVP’s logic because, after all, what’s a debate without a slight disagreement?

Pusha: I’m from an era of hip hop where we celebrate independence. So we always admired and loved the stories of all the indie labels- Swave House, 8 Ball and MJG.

Victor: Those indie labels had partners-

Pusha: Not at first, not at first!

Victor: Yeah, but at the end of the day, after a while, when he wanted to take it the next level, he had a partner.

Pusha: Look man, this is why we come to a happy median. And when we do agree, it’s usually right.

Victor: You gotta go through these conversations to get through it.

Pusha: Yeah, and I still disagree with him. Right now.

Victor: So why ain’t you independent?

Pusha: Good question! [laughs]

In the end, Victor was sure to stress that while although major labels are idea for growth, independence is still a major key:

Victor: Get you a smart manager, and a smart lawyer and get yourself a good deal. An independent deal. You’re still signed to a major corporation but—

As an artist you have to do things on your own, you have to be independent, but up to a certain point because a major record label can’t get you any fans, they can’t get you a fanbase, they can’t do the work for you. Once you’ve done those things on your own, and when you’ve done those things on your own, you’re able to negotiate a better deal for yourself that might resemble an independent deal but, you have to do the work. You have to do it independent up to a certain point. But if you’re trying to take it to the next level, you need certain help that you won’t be able to do on your own.

Pusha: Facts!

Check out the entire conversation below.

The UMG Masterclass series, done in partnership with Ebony Media Operation’s newly redesigned JET, will travel to Atlanta, Chicago and Houston, with its most recent stops being Atlanta and LA’s University of Southern California (USC).

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Gamescom 2017: The Gaming Gems We Played That Should Be on Your Radar

After the behemoth that is E3, it can be easy for gamers to forget about Gamescom 2017. Yet, with over 300,000 attendees expected over the course of the show, the German mega-con is actually the second largest gaming event in the world — and it has the games to prove it.

Despite a meek showing from Microsoft this year (and Sony opting to abstain entirely), Gamescom has had its fair share of unexpected first looks and exciting new announcements. With hundreds of games playable on the show floor and many more hidden behind closed doors, we’ve tirelessly wandered around Koln Messe’s massive halls in order to find the best kept secrets that Gamescom has to offer.

Without further ado, here’s our picks of the little-known games that seriously impressed us in Cologne.

1. FE

Developed by Swedish indie studio Zoink, EA’s first foray into the indie world is a surprisingly bizarre little adventure. Announced at E3 2016, little has been seen since of FE since, but after finally sitting down with this ambitious little indie title at Gamescom, we came away eager to experience more. Speaking with the game’s director, Hugo Bille, he reveals that FE was inspired by the team’s childhood adventures in the Nordic wilderness. Creating an atmosphere where players feel like a kid plunged into a mysterious forest, FE is a mysterious game that refuses to tell the player where they are or what they’re meant to be doing.

Put in control of a small, dark, and utterly adorable creature, traversing FE’s mysterious world is an experience of constant learning and discovery. Taking its cues from games like Journey and Metroid, FE is an incredibly atmospheric experience that sees you back tracking through its sizable world. A lot of the world’s appeal comes down to the music. As our cute protagonist patters along the forest floor and toward a nearby deer, his footsteps are accompanied by a slow and haunting string section.

Yet, in FE, music isn’t just part of the background – it’s a crucial game mechanic. As our hero approaches a small yellow flower, Bille soon reveals that players can communicate with the forest by singing to it. While the noise sounds more like a high pitched gargle than a haunting melody, the note seems to resonate pretty strongly with the forest’s inhabitants, allowing you to open new paths and form bonds with nearby animals.

Befriending the right creature in FE is crucial to delving deeper into the forest. Here, making friends with the right animal will even able to teach you new languages, allowing you to befriend even stranger creatures as you progress. In the next part of the demo, the studio’s Metroid influence rears its Samus-shaped visor, with the developer revealing that players are able to learn new abilities and revisit previous areas.

With FE’s curious little critter eventually able to climb trees, glide and manipulate all kinds of objects, this open world adventure looks to offer a surprisingly deep and varied adventure. Impressively, there are no loading screens in FE either, meaning that there’s very little to pull players out of the game’s utterly intoxicating atmosphere. While the game isn’t out until early next year, we came away highly impressed with FE. If you’re looking for something a little different to play in 2018, FE is definitely a game to watch. FE is coming to PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in early 2018.

2. Ruiner

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Ruiner is little more than a Hotline Miami clone. Featuring a similar top down perspective and published once again by indie darlings Devolver, this is another game that delights in letting players spill virtual blood. Yet, despite these similarities, Ruiner is very much a game with its own identity.

Set in the seedy and neon-soaked metropolis of Rengkok, players find themselves thrown into the midst of a deadly conspiracy. With the opening level seeing the player’s brain hacked by a violent criminal gang, Ruiner is a game that constantly makes you question what you’re seeing on screen. With the world distorting and rippling as you play, you never quite know if you’re being manipulated by those around you or genuinely battling for a noble cause. Thankfully, there’s normally too much going on for you to  have the time to ponder such issues.

Ruiner’s combat is incredibly frantic and fast paced, throwing a ton of enemies at you simultaneously and not pulling its punches when it comes to difficulty. Armed with a steel baton and whatever firearms you can scavenge, Ruiner plays like a cross between a twin stick shooter and a hack and slash. Players are armed with a lightning-fast dash ability and a handy shield, evening the odds a bit as your lone soldier finds himself squaring off against massive criminal syndicates. What makes Ruiner difficult though, is that your abilities use stamina. With players only armed with a set amount of stamina in each fight, they have to choose carefully when to risk dashing, using their shield or just doing things the old fashioned way.

With an awesome aesthetic that channels sci-fi classics like Akira and Blade Runner, Ruiner is a game that looks just as good as it plays. With  hand drawn anime dialogue scenes and fully 3D cinematics, this is a game that just feels effortlessly cool. Ruiner launches on September 26 on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

3. Crossing Souls

Have you ever thought life would be better if it played out like an eighties movie? If so you’re in luck, because that’s pretty much the hook of Crossing Souls. Sporting a cool Earthbound-esque pixel art style and beautifully drawn Saturday morning cartoon-style cinematics, this story-driven action RPG tells the story of four kids who get sucked into a crazy situation. With nods to everything from ET to The Goonies, our brief time with Crossing Souls left us grinning from ear to ear. Gameplay-wise, the setup is pretty simple. Players will spend most of their time talking to those around them and switching between characters in order to solve puzzles and beat certain enemies.

Yet, while the gameplay was fairly enjoyable, it was the brilliant writing in Crossing Souls that had us itching for more. With dialogue that feels wonderfully faithful to ’80s coming of age movies, and an endearing cast of characters, we found ourselves wanting to talk to everyone we met in our demo. With a cool mechanic that sees players able to summon the past into our world, the story looks to go to some pretty crazy places too.  While it may not be the high octane adventure some gamers are looking for, this looks to be another gripping story-led experience that we can’t wait to experience.

For anyone who found themselves wishing that Stranger Things was an 8-bit video game, Crossing Souls looks like the answer to your prayers. Crossing Souls is coming to PS4 and PC later this year.

4. Strange Brigade

Out of all the games we were booked into play at Gamescom, this was the one we were the least sure about. Developed by Sniper Elite studio, Rebellion, Strange Brigade is an Indiana Jones-inspired take on the co-op zombie shooter. With early trailers suggesting a competent, if uninspired Left 4 Dead-style blaster, we entered the booth with pretty middling expectations. After spending 30 action-packed minutes slaying the undead however, it turns out our snobbiness was completely unfounded.

Seeing players face off against everything from Egyptian gods to mummies, what we saw of Strange Brigade felt like perfectly orchestrated co-op fun. While horde modes can get highly repetitive, Rebellion has wisely designed each level with a nice sense of progression. Starting off in a sun-soaked Egyptian courtyard, we eventually laid waste to all the horrors that Egypt had to throw at us. Climbing up a nearby ladder, the map soon led us to a dimly lit tomb. With traps hidden throughout the cursed building, players have to not only watch out for the waves of attacking undead, but also their deadly surroundings.

As you’d expect from a game with such a cool setting, Strange Brigade has fully embraced the B-movie schlock. Each mission opens with an old-fashioned 1930s inspired projector reel, where an over excited narrator reveals what lies in store for players on this mission. With both local and online co-op, four completely different characters to play as, and surprisingly varied enemy types, Strange Brigade looks like a co-op game to keep an eye on in 2018.

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50 Splendid Gems Guide

50 Splendid Gems Guide

As a species, we love to adorn ourselves with jewelry, makeup, hair accessories. We do it now to enhance our looks, to attract a mate and because it just makes us feel good about ourselves. Some forms of adornment are symbolic – like wedding rings. Or they’re used to make a statement about our lifestyle, like multiple piercings and earrings. Have you ever wondered what the origins are of such self-decoration? Was there a meaning behind it? Or did we just start wearing beads, necklaces and earrings as our awareness of self increased and as we evolved? Even today, much jewelry takes the form of amulets. People wear crosses around their necks, or the Star of David, or wear a claddagh ring – all to attract good fortune or ward off bad luck. There are even more throwbacks to this earliest form of magic, such as a lucky rabbit’s foot, or a lucky penny. Or we often have less well known, more personal amulets that have a meaning to us alone, but are still worn as good luck charms and amulets. Grab this handbook now and learn so many things about your favorite gemstones!

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Best TV Of 2013: Weirdos, Oddballs, Veterans And Left-Field Gems

orange is the new black

What a bunch of weirdos.

I’m not speaking specifically about “Orange Is the New Black,” but about my year-end lists in general, which are chock full of glorious, category-avoiding weirdos, strange hybrids, unexpected gems and commercial hits that would have been unlikely or unthinkable a decade ago. This trio of lists, which I’m rolling out this week, represents a collection of shows that are entirely and exuberantly different from each other, and that variety — which encompasses classy traditionalists and odd imports, commercial hits and profound niche shows — makes me very happy.

When I’m not happy, I’m mildly alarmed: It’s obvious that the TV industry is making its most concerted attempt yet to kill the people who cover it. There’s just so damn much TV! In 2014, I would ask that the 8,000 or so outlets now making TV (or whatever it is we’re calling it these days) remember that writers need at least an hour or two of sleep per night. Occasionally.

But even if our DVRs have groaned under the load, it’s hard to complain about the bounty that exploded across our screens this year. Shows arrived from overseas and brought exciting new flavors and styles into the mix. Upstarts like Netflix grabbed a lot of the buzz. So many shows featured complex, interesting women that I’m half-convinced that TV executives have been reading all my favorite feminist writers. They probably aren’t, but as you can see from my list, it’s hard out here for an anti-hero these days. Those messed-up men used to lord over most critics’ top 10 lists, but now they’ve got to compete with women in prison, randy sex researchers, female detectives and Tatiana Maslany, who would rate her own “Top 10 Alter Egos” list if I had the time to write one.

Two of the things I love most about this list are its novelty and breadth. Eight of the shows are new (or new-ish, in the case of “Borgen”). Several originated overseas. One is a miniseries that won’t come back, but did wonderful things with that newly invigorated form. But let’s also spare a thought for grizzled veterans like “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” both of which doubled down on their core concepts to great and weird results this year. If nothing else, 2013 was a gift to GIF makers everywhere.

I fully recognize that this list contains some potential fails: It offers little in the way of officially designated comedy (though several of the shows are funny as hell). Is this my revenge on the TV gods who canceled my two favorite half-hour shows, “Happy Endings” and “Enlightened“? Much as I enjoy a bit of petty vengeance, not really. With so much amazing drama around, most of my favorite half-hour shows got pushed onto my upcoming “Best New Shows” and “Best Returning Programs” lists. (At some point, writing reviews will be a thing of the past: My job will consist of compiling lists of things I should or did watch. And then I will be replaced by a robot, which I predict will burn out within a month.)

Broadcast-network shows are also missing from this list, but not because I’m a snoot, I swear! The fact is, a clutch of shows plucked from my next two lists would make a fine top 10 most other years. Shows had to clear an insane bar this year, and I have a whole lot of love for runners-up from the broadcast networks (among them “Sleepy Hollow,” “The Good Wife” and “Scandal“).

In any event, if critics agree on one thing, it’s that it’s simply not possible to be starved for good TV these days. Check out what my esteemed fellow critics have been saying about the year’s best offerings, and I humbly submit my own below. One final note: Unlike many fellow critics, I don’t rank the shows once I come up with my top 10 (which is really a top 12 — shhh, don’t rat me out).

Without further ado, here are my favorite shows of 2013, in alphabetical order.

Borgen,” Link TV/DVD: In a strong year for non-American TV, “Borgen” (which airs on Link TV and finally came out here on DVD in 2013) is in a class by itself. By what wizardry are the back-room machinations of the Danish government made enthralling? I have no idea, but this Danish series lives up to the hype. The writing is crisp and detailed, the personal and the political are blended with exquisite skill, and though the entire cast is strong, I usually emerge from my “Borgen” marathons with but one idea in my head: Why isn’t Sidse Babett Knudsen in everything all the time?

“Breaking Bad,” AMC: How could something so punishing be so great? Well, half of what made “Breaking Bad” was its relentlessness, a function of the unrelenting personality of its supremely narcissistic lead character, Walter White. It doesn’t matter all that much that the last episode of “Breaking Bad” doesn’t rank among the all-time great series finales. What came before was a master class in thrilling, brutal, gut-punch storytelling, with the show’s actors, writers and directors topping their “A” game again and again. No wonder America — a nation obsessed with original sin and reinvention — became obsessed with this show: Walter White was an American Everyman, convinced of his own basic decency and determined that everyone should know of his magnanimous nature. Of course, in Walt’s case, any claim to altruism was a self-serving illusion — something he admitted long after he had poisoned everything and everyone around him. It was impossible to look away from Walt’s lies and the toxic wreckage he created.

Broadchurch,” BBC America: Sometimes the unthinkable happens, and life has to go on — but how? This gripping drama followed the dislocating fallout in a small town after a tragic, unsettling death. Despite the familiar framing device — mismatched cops searching for a killer — “Broadchurch” had a lot to recommend it: The drama easily established a wonderful sense of place, it was expertly paced and it featured stellar performances from David Bradley, David Tennant and Olivia Colman, among others. But, as was the case with “Top of the Lake,” one of the greatest achievements of “Broadchurch” was its ability to limn the awful consequences of a crime against a child without lapsing into grandiosity, exploitation or cheap melodrama. “Broadchurch” worked very well as both a crime thriller and a portrait of disillusionment, and the proposed American adaptation will have to clear a very high bar to justify its existence.

Enlightened,” HBO: The great TV tragedy of 2013 was the cancellation of this aesthetically rigorous and dreamily intelligent show, which challenged viewers to stick with the bundle of contradictions that was Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern). Tom Scocca’s great recent essay, “On Smarm,” castigates those who would sacrifice real dialogue and productive confrontation in favor of cloying, reductive “civility,” and it’s hard not to think of Jellicoe when reading Scocca’s words. She was not tactful, she was often abrasive and her self-absorption tripped her up time and again, but at least her subversion and drive had a purpose. Sure, it may have been a partially self-serving purpose, but Jellicoe believed in her ideals and didn’t care whom she inconvenienced by pursuing them. “Enlightened” was a gorgeously crafted, compassionate ode to the dreamers, schemers and oddballs who see life not as a game to be won — or a challenge to be avoided by hiding in a corporate cubicle — but an opportunity to be seized. Amy Jellicoe was after, yes, enlightenment, and who are we to say she didn’t find it — and lead others in that direction as well?

Game of Thrones,” HBO: In this sumptuous, well-constructed meditation on the nature of — ah, the hell with it, Brienne fought a bear! I contend she would have won had she not been interrupted, and the entire sensational sequence is reason enough for this saga to be on my “best of” list. What’s so satisfying about this drama is that it doesn’t just execute the epic scenes — the Red Wedding, Daenerys’ diva-esque destruction of the slavers’ city, Jon and Ygritte climbing the Wall, the bear fight — with an enormous visual panache and thematic richness. We know by now that when “Game of Thrones” goes big, it rarely falters. The good news is, every year the show gets better at exploring the painful, intimate moments of self-doubt, the times when these outsiders and interlopers come face to face with their deepest faults, their biggest mistakes and their most well-founded fears. This isn’t a great show because Brienne fought a bear (though, let’s face it, that’s a good enough reason). It’s among TV’s best because Jaime Lannister’s tortured hot tub confession to Brienne — among many other intense moments — was just as mesmerizing.

“Mad Men,” AMC: The further into its run it goes, the weirder and more experimental “Mad Men” gets, which isn’t a bad thing at all. This season, the characters were forced to contend with disorienting and tragic public events, which further loosened their grips on the illusory “good life” they’d all been chasing for so long. Among the many topics that set the Internet debate machine in motion: Just how much therapy will Sally Draper need? Which was the better GIF, Pete Campbell falling down the stairs or Pete Campbell uttering the classic line “Not great, Bob!”? Even if “Mad Men” sometimes goes in circles, few shows provide better company, more worthwhile digressions or more diverting scenery along the way.

Masters of Sex,” Showtime: The word “sex” is in the title, but this bracing, subversive drama is often about something else: Intimacy and the difficulty of finding it consistently on an emotional, social or physical level. “Masters of Sex” isn’t the first show to depict what happened when those ’50s pencil skirts and skinny ties came off, but it’s one of the first to be truly honest about what prevents people, then and now, from expressing their truest selves in the bedroom and elsewhere. Lizzy Caplan, Michael Sheen and Allison Janney were among the cast members who gave wonderfully brave and subtle performances: These actors didn’t just have to take off their clothes, they had to depict what it’s like to be emotionally naked, and there’s no bigger acting challenge.

Orphan Black,” BBC America: Tatiana Maslany’s performance as several different women has justifiably earned a lot of praise for this taut, techno-grime thriller, but the most impressive aspect of what she’s accomplished? She made you forget she was doing it. By the third episode of “Orphan Black,” you weren’t thinking about the brilliant directing and performing that made the clones’ interactions appear seamless, you were just dying for another one of Felix’s bon mots or another sly example of Allison’s soccer-mom obsessiveness. This series, made on the cheap in Canada, serves as an overwhelming rebuke to every crappy, expensive show made in the U.S. this year or any other: The frugal and smart “Orphan Black” combined relevant ideas about biotechnology and body-modification (that tail!), suspenseful storytelling and brilliant lead performances to create a stylish and enjoyable mystery that was the talk of social media for months.

Orange Is the New Black,” Netflix: With a lot of stiff competition for the title, this was without a doubt the year’s best new show. “Orange” started out as something that seemed classifiable — a sly, frisky satire about an upper-middle-class woman forced to do without lattes, organic produce and Pilates. But the show evolved into something far more fascinating and profound: It was a meditation on consequences, a thoughtful examination of the complexity of a vital, evolving community and a sensational showcase for its exceptional cast, who brought to life a host of unforgettable characters (most of them gloriously complicated ladies). I think I speak for all OrFans when I say I can’t wait to spend more time with clones and convicts.

Sundance Channel’s hat trick — “The Returned,” “Top of the Lake” and “Rectify“: Three tightly knit yet secretive towns in three different countries: That was the starting point for these nuanced dramas, each of which examined the effects of disturbing or tragic events involving young people. What these shows had in common were distinctive atmospheres and an unwavering devotion to the small but important moments and personal revelations that resonate deeply in their characters’ souls. “The Returned” functioned extraordinarily well as a creepy thriller and a melancholy meditation on grief; “Top of the Lake” was spectacularly shot by Jane Campion and showcased virtuoso performances from Elisabeth Moss, Peter Mullan, David Wenham and Holly Hunter; and “Rectify’s” sincerity, its contemplative mood and its quiet, detailed portraits of moral and spiritual dilemmas made it one of the year’s most memorable offerings. Not only did the characters from these shows (both the living and the dead) linger in the mind, with these idiosyncratic yet well-crafted dramas, Sundance Channel put itself firmly on the Quality TV map.

Coming soon: My Best New Shows and Best Returning Shows lists.
Comedy – The Huffington Post
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