Thursday, July 8, 2010

Emmy Time! The Votes Are In

For me this is the most wonderful time of the year. Awards seasons always get my blood pumping, partly because of the hope that some of the greatest television around will be recognized for their skill. Furthermore, the predictions that I made were about the same results. They did nominate the old standbys, but their was for the first time in awhile, a much needed infusion of new blood. Let's go over some of the things that made me feel warm inside.

Glee --- Is there ever a more accurate description? Few shows have deserved so much joy, and they'll probably win a good deal of those 19 nominations. I was perhaps happiest to see that Chris Colfer earned a nomintion for his work as Kurt, the member of New Directions who is responsible for some of the most superb moments. I was also gratified to see Mike O'Malley get honored for his work as Kurt's father. This guys come a long way from Yes, Dear. I don't know if Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele will win, but they deserve a chance at the big prize.

Mad Women--- Yes, the men at Sterling Cooper are ultra cool, but the woman of this show are even more appealing. January Jones work as Betty Draper has been ignobly ignored for the past two seasons, so I was glad to see that she got recognized. Elisabeth Moss continues to wow as Peggy, who I'm convinced by the end of the series will be running an agency of her own. And Christina Hendricks is the epitome of svelte on this show as Joan Holloway, especially when she left her husbands side to join the new agency Sterling is founding. Let's hope they recognize her talent as welll as her figure.

The REAL Showtime powers---- Last Season of Weeds was probably it's most unfunny, so I'm glad the voters didn't just cut and paste it's nominations from last year, and instead recognized Edie Falco and Nurse Jackie. And it's also good that Dexter, which had it's best season, racked up eight nominations (Still, John Lithgow, best Guest Actor, not Supporting? Really? I know they did it for Jimmy Smits last year, but I kind of think that was misplaced as well? Oh well...

Lighting up Fridays --- I'm not a big fan of the show, but I can't help but feel impressed that Emmy Voters finally got their heads out of the sand, and recognized real talent in an unwatched you, when they nominated Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton for their work on Friday Night Lights. Show aside, I've been a big fan of these actors work for over a decade in countless solid performers, and they might be able to run an upset to pull off a victory.

Damages Done? ---- F/X still won't say whether the brilliant legal drama has a future, even though it is, for the third year running, the networks most recognized show. I do think they could've recognized Campbell Scott and Lily Tomlin's work really belonged in the Supporting Actress category, and it deserved a Best Drama nod, certainly more than True Blood. Here's hoping this earns them one last bite at the apple

Guest Actors --- Traditionally, Guest ACtor and Guest Actress are given away in an earlier ceremony, but considering some of the nominees this year, the Academy might want to rethink that stratagem.

Consider: In Best Guest Actor in a Drama, we have Dylan Baker and Alan Cumming for the Good Wife, Robert Morse for Mad Men, Ted Danson for Damages, John Lithgow for Dexter, and Gregory Itzin for 24, and Beau Bridges for a swell one-shot on the Closer. Best Guest ACtress isn't as flashy, but we still have Sissy Spacek, the one good thing about Big Love this season, Elizabeth Mitchell for Lost, Lily Tomlin for Damages, and Ann Margaret for Law and Order:SVU. I'd pay to see who comes out on top in either of those matchups. . Comedy isn't as flashy, but with Neil Patrick Harris, Kristin Chenowith, Christine Baranski, Jane Lynch, Jon Hamm all double dipping, they'd have some reason to watch. I know it ain't gonna happen, but the show could be so much more fun.

Out of their grooves---- And with this influx of new blood, the Emmys seem to have shaken some habits that I have been wishing they'd break for years. Finally, Grey's Anatomy, House, and Entourage are out of the Emmy Gods systems after years of diminishign returns. Maybe we can have some proof that the awards aren't stuck in a five years ago. And in the ultimate screw you, Conan O'Brian got nominated for the Tonight Show, and Jay Leno didn't. Conan if you win anything August 29, just say something like: "I would like to thank NBC for all the faith they had in us." Though personally I'll be routing for Bill Maher or Stephen Colbert.

That's it for recognition. Next post, I'll discuss some of the biggest snubs. (Treme, anyone?)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Final Five. I thought quite a bit over these

It's taken me nearly six months, but I've finally reached the end of this list. Glad that I did it, but I really want to hear is how horribly you disagree with me, or which ones I left out. For several of these shows, I could have picked multiple episodes, but I tried to find the one that may have had the greatest impact. You've got any better ideas, let me have it

24--- Day 5: 6:00 P.M.-7:00 P.M.
This one probably presented the greatest challenge of all the shows: how do you pick the best from what is essentially eight different shows? And how do you choose an episode from one where every piece is integral to overall effect? You choose the one that has the moment that probably resonated more in the middle of what the series greatest day. We see the Vice President arrive on the scene raised to appear to be the probable villain. You put Jack Bauer in the same room with the daughter he betrayed when he faked his own death nearly eighteen months earlier. You make one of the most insidious attacks on the most daring group of terrorist--- CTU's been attacked from within and without, but never quite like this. And then you kill everyone with nerve gas --- including one particular CTU tech. Considering how many regulars the creators had axed so far this season (people we'd known for longer and were more invested in) it's surprising that chubby Edgar Stiles who we hardly know really meant so much to us. Perhaps it's just the way he dies--- his running on to the scene with no way of escape, his slow little cough as he doubles over, and the horrified expression on Chloe O'Brian's face as this man she feuded with dies right in front of her eyes. Her look made that scene. We didn't need the ticking clock to go silent; her look was so devestating that it really said it all.

Lost --- There's No Place Like Home, Part 2 and 3
Say what you will about the last episode--- the finales that Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof designed for this jigsaw of a show were positively brilliant, and this one shined brighter than most. We thought that rescue had come for some of the Oceanic survivors, instead all it seemed to bring was death, but there were so many set pieces Sawyer's swan dive of the helicopter to allow his fellow passengers to be rescued, Ben's act of revenge against the mercenary who killed his daughter, the helicopter flying off the freighter just in time for Sun to (apparently) see her husband get blown to smithereens--- all of this shock, balanced by the awe when Desmond was reunited with his beloved Penelope after nearly eight years, the apparent moving of the island (still not sure where it actually went) and, oh yeah, the revelation that in the future John Locke was the man in the coffin. All of this seems byzantine when I describe it (and believe me, even when you know what's happening , it's still confusing) but this demonstrated better than any other how remarkable an accomplishment Lost truly was. Even knowing the ultimate fate of all the characters that were involved, it's still a hell of a shock and watching it blows my mind and brings a tear to the eye. Episodes like this are why we watch series like Lost in the first place.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer --- Hush
There are at least six or seven episodes of this series that register as some of the most landmark in television, so choosing this one--- the only one of this series to even earn an Emmy nomination --- may seem a bit obvious. But it's not just that Joss Whedon elected to due an episode of his series without dialogue for nearly forty minutes. It's that he elected to do this series--- where the rapid fire repartee was ninety percent of thefun--- without dialogue. Amazingly, none of the series trademark humor got sacrificed--- there are at least a dozen brilliant sight gags locating throughout the episode. It also happened to have one of the scariest standalone monsters--- the Gentlemen, with faces that looked like they were right out of German horror films. This also celebrates the introduction of Tara, the shy little woman who would become Willow's greatest love, and finally reveal the exsistence of the Initiative, which has been stalking Buffy since the beginning of Season 4. And considering how much of the brilliance of this show centers around the general kick-ass nature of the heroines, it's rather ironic that the key to stopping what was the most dangerous threat was a woman's scream. This was a landmark episode, and demonstrated why Joss and Sarah Michelle Gellar should have been wracking up an Emmy a year. Another blog.

The Wire --- Middle Ground
This is an even harder pick than 24. How do you separate a show that tells so many intricate interlocking stories with so many characters, and then try to pick out one that is the most amazing. That may have been one of the reasons this show got even less Emmy love than Buffy. Watching Major Colvin try to justify the establishment of a drug free zone than led to a major reduction of crime is hard enough because even though it worked, the city councilman he's selling it to will deliver enough information to bury it and him. The case to try and bring down Stringer Bell--- an investigation that essentially had to have the Major Case Squad sell pre-tapped cell phones to a bunch of drug dealers is creative marketing, to the say the least. But what makes this episode last in the mind is Stringer Bell's fate. For years, he's been trying to negotiate a middle path to sell drugs with less death. He believes every solution can be solved with money. Which is why there's something tragic about his eventually dying by being in a situation with the bloodthirsty Omar Little that he just can't negotiate out of. The best laid plans of mice and Baltimore detectives are not able to get him in jail in time to stop him from meeting his fate at the end of two shotguns. And the fact that so many fans of the show were horrified that this murderous, cold-blooded drug dealer met his end just goes to show how brilliant David Simon is as a writer. There is no good and evil in the world of The Wire, and the fact that Simon thinks both Bell and Colvin's approaches might have merit in this world, only guarantees that they will be ground into dirt by the system they are both locked into.

Homicide --- Crosetti
Another flashpoint for debate--- this police drama was the best television of the nineties. And even though it should so many episodes demonstrating the effect of murder, none-- not even their billiant 'Subway' episode in 1997, matched the power of this earleir episode. Detective Crosetti hasn't come back from a supposed vacation in Atlantic City. Which is why it comes as a huge shock that a bloated, waterlogged corpse dragged out of the harbor belongs to the detective. Everyone in Homicide knows what has happened, but Meldrick Lewis can not accept that his partner has killed himself. He spends most of the episode trying to convince all of Crosetti's associates that he was all right, while Stan Bolander tries to convince him otherwise. The moment when the autopsy's results are revealed finally break him, and leads to a wrenching moment of agony for everybody. The rest of the episode is dealt with what seems to be part of the mundane, Lieutenant Giardello trying to get an honor guard for his fallen detective, and ultimately failing, Munch trying to get a coffin from his undertaker brother, Pembleton and Bayliss trying to buy cookies for the wake. All of this is balanced by Frank Pembeleton (the peerless Andre Braugher) appearing to act like a self-righteous jerk for almost the entire episode, refusing to go to church because of his own personal antagonism towards God. Which makes the last two minutes of this episode so moving. As the funeral procession walks by the Homicide Unit, standing there is Pembleton in full uniform, performing a one-man honor guard. No matter how many times I watch this episode, I can't see the last couple of scenes without crying. I've seen a lot of beloved characters deis on TV (many of them mentioned in these posting, but this one, more than any of the others hits the hardest. It's been over sixteen years since I first saw it, but it's still arguably the most wrenching moment I've ever seen.

Please by all means tell me how wrong I am. Tomorrow I will be ranting (or cheering) at this year Emmy nominations. Stay tuned to this site for more diatribes

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Top ten of the Past 20

Well, it's taken me nearly three months to get here, but I finally made it ---- the top ten TV episodes that, in my mind, are the high points of television in the past twenty years.. I don't know if I'll take the same kind of heat that TV Guide does (unlikely, even I'm not egocentric enough to think I've that big) I am just a humble scribe who has watched a LOT of TV in his life. I welcome any other opinions, or really justa response or too.

OK. I've stalled long enough. Here goes.

Mad Men ---- The Grown Ups
The minute I learned that Season 3 was going to take place in 1963 (and that Roger Sterling's daughter was going to get married in November) I knew they were going to interesect with the Kennedy assassination. It's one thing to know it; it's another to see it. Watching these characters (most of whom are rock ribbed Republicans) deal with perhaps the seminal event of the 20th Century was stunning. Seeing them crowd around the TV's, watching Sterling's wedding going on with only half the usual attendance--- it was mesmerizing. One of the key moments came when Pete's wife said: "I don't care what you're politics are --- you don't kill the President"--- we know how people can say something like this, because tragedy causes us to say things we know sound idiotic. This was a realism I hadn't expected, even from this show. And watching the Draper's marriage (which had been hanging by a thread all season) finally implode gave us a chance to see Jon Hamm and the criminally undervalued January Jones do some of their finest work in a year which had already demonstrated Emmy caliber work. Other episodes have gotten more publicity, but this one shown t he brightest

The Simpsons --- 22 Short Films About Springfield
It's been on the air at least five or six years too long, but it has produced some of the most endearing image in TV comedy. And no other episode demonstrate the true depth of the shows depth then this little gem. Taken as a riff on all of the background characters that the Simpsons has, they try to do a lot of little vignettes on how Springfield really operates. From Apu's five minute party to Mr. Burns 'helping' Smithers practically kill himself, Moe finally collecting some of Barney's 14 billion dollar bar tab only to immediately be robbed by Snake, the Tarentino like bit in the Krusty Burgers, Wiggums ineptitude even in getting runover by a hoodlum--- this demonstrates how versatile the Simpsons cast really is, even with the first family getting little more than walkons. There may have been other Simpsos that had more hysterical moments, but this one better than anything else demonstrates the quintessential Simpsons

The X-Files --- One Breath
Darin Morgan's episodes were landmarks in TV history, and rightfully so, but some of the best scripts in the shows early years were written by his brother Glen and collaborator James Wong. Few demonstrated better how clearly the X-Files would work, which is odd, because there really isn't much supenatural that's in it. Rather, it's a character piece as Scully, missing for three months is finally returned to a DC hospital, just clinging to life. The episode focuses on Mulder's desperate efforts to find out who did this, and spends almost the entire episode considering giving into his dark side. Most of the quasi-regulars on this show--- the Lone Gunmen, the Cigarette Smoking Man, Skinner, X (my favorite of all of Mulder's informants) and Maggie Scully give some of their finest performances in this episode. In the end, Mulder is left with a choice between dark and light--- he can kill the men who abducted Scully, or he can spend what might be her last night by her bed. He chooses the latter. We never know what helped Scully come back from the jaws of death, and for once, we don't need to know. And for those people who believed David Duchovny's face is unexpressionless, his look of pure joy when he hears Scully is alive speaks volumes. In that moment, I knew--- all evidence to the contrary--- Mulder was in love with Scully. Why'd it take them six more years to realize it? THat's another blog

The West Wing --- In Excelsius Deo
The Thanksgiving episodes are required viewing at my house, but the Christmas episodes of this series would lead to some of the finest moments in TV history. The majority of them would focus on the relationship between chief of staff Leo and his deputy Josh. Knowing a scandal is coming involving Leo, Josh tries to run a counterstrike by going to a friend of Sam's who's is also a call girl. Leo tells him not to, Sam tells him not to, Josh does it anyway, the girl chews him out royally, and later Leo does the same. But when Josh asks if this was supposed to mean something, Leo said: "It did." These are two people who will go to the ends of the earth for each other. Of course the meat of this episode occurs when Toby gets a call from the DC polcie and learns a homeless man has died wearing a coat he gave to Goodwill. The normally stoic Toby goes into this, learns he was a Korean war vet, and uses his power to give him a military burial. The final sequence, intercutting that funeral with Little Drummer Boy, may have been the finest the show ever did, and still raises a lump in my throat every time I watch it. Plus CJ learns her Secret Service names is Flamingo, Donna tries to get Josh to go Christmas shopping for her, and the President visits a rare book store. Really you couldn't ask for more from this series, and Aaron Sorkin did his damnedest to give it to us.

Frasier ---- An Affair to Forget
I'll probaby get derided by this til the day I die, but I've always held that this show--- not Seinfeld, not Friends, not Everybody Loves Raymond--- was the funniest show of the 90s. It hat a slightly higher intellectual tone that other shows didn't, while constantly putting its characters through situations that could only be described as pure farce. No episode demonstrated this better than this one where Frasier comes to believe that Niles' never-to-be-seen wife Maris is having an affair with a Bavarian fencing instructor. Frasier goes to extremes to keep this from Niles, but their maids trouble with pronouns and a sensory deprivation tank leads to the truth coming out. Urged on by Martin, Niles tries to engage in a fight with him--- only to learn he speaks no English. This leaders to the maid translating the instructors German into Spanish, which Frasier ends up translating into English. The two engage in a duel after Niles insults him to the following brilliant exchange--- Niles: En garde! Frasier: Oh yes, that's all we needed: a fourth language! There have been brilliant comic moments on almost every season of this spinoff, but none matched the pure comedy gold of this episode. David Hyde-Pierce, please come back to TV

Tomorrow, the final five. ALmost there now.