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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama Acting

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama Acting

June 3rd, 2010

On the drama side of things, there’s fewer trends that we can follow through to the nominees than there are in comedy. There, we can look at Glee and Modern Family and see some logical directions the awards could take, but in Drama there’s really only one new contender (The Good Wife), and the other variables are much more up in the air in terms of what’s going to connect with viewers. Lost could see a resurgence with voters in its final season, or it could be left in the dust; Mad Men could pick up more acting nominations now that its dynasty is secure, or it could remain underrepresented; Breaking Bad could stick to Cranston/Paul, or it could branch out into the rest of the stellar cast.

That unpredictability isn’t going to make for a shocking set of nominations, but I do think it leaves a lot of room open for voters to engage with a number of series to a degree that we may not have, so it’s an interesting set of races where I’m likely going out on some limbs.

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Friday Night Lights – “Injury List”

“Injury List”

January 27th, 2010

Friday Night Lights is a show about convergence.

Really, all ensemble dramas end up driving towards climaxes which tend to bring various story elements together, so this may not seem overly remarkable. However, as the show heads towards the conclusion of its fourth season, the show is doing a lot to bring together stories, simplifying in some instances and complicating in others.

And while some of the tension created by this convergence is engaging, what I tend to enjoy more is the sort of indirect effects: this is the first time in a while where the show actively demonstrated the show’s central dilemma of ignoring the football in order to service the characters on a personal, non-football level, and that tension (when used, as opposed to simply created and elided) is part of the show’s tragedy.

“Injury List” is about capturing the tragedy of stories converging at the worst possible time, although the show manages to keep (most of) that convergence from seeming too convenient in the show’s late season push.

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Friday Night Lights – “I Can’t”

“I Can’t”

January 20th, 2010

If you’re one of the people who are holding off watching Friday Night Lights until it debuts on NBC, you received good news this week: the show returns on April 30th. And I’m going to be really interested to see how viewers respond to “I Can’t” when it airs in early July, because the episode has the show headed in some potentially controversial directions in terms of both cultural and narrative taboos.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the latter are my only real concern, as the show continues to demonstrate a deft hand when dealing with sensitive subjects. However, I don’t know if the same kind of sensitivity could possibly rescue the show from itself in its other major storyline, which is creating some compelling television now but is creating far more concerns than I would like heading towards the end of the season.

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Friday Night Lights – “Toilet Bowl”

“Toilet Bowl”

January 6th, 2010

Friday Night Lights is a show that, despite various dips in quality, has not fundamentally changed since its first season. It has always been a show about the people in a football-crazy town, revealing both the problems which complicate their lives and the people (and the sport) that helps them keep grounded.

The show’s problem has been those moments (primarily isolated in the second season, but cropping up in the first season as well) where it feels as if the problems are the only thing that’s working about the show. The second season didn’t just struggle because a character murdered someone, but rather because the show simultaneously retreated from the football culture that was its heart: I don’t believe the murder would have ever been a good idea regardless, but it could have been handled much more efficiently if it had been folded into the community rather than remaining a distraction.

While the fourth season started as an homage to Season Three, with Matt Saracen’s farewell arc echoing Smash and Street’s exits, it has quickly evolved into an extended test of whether the show better understands the mistakes it has made in the past. The show has never been beyond having people make mistakes, and delaying the consequences of those mistakes, but the show is stepping into familiar stories, and not in a good way. “Toilet Bowl” is filled with red flags, characters taking actions that come from a somewhat logical place but which for the sake of narrative expediency are coming faster than they probably should.

It’s adding up to a show that I’m not quite as excited as watching, even if (relative to the second season) there are more reminders of the show and the community that elevate that drama to another level.

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Friday Night Lights – “Stay”

“Stay”

December 9th, 2009

“What else do you want?”

Last season, when Friday Night Lights said goodbye to Jason Street and Smash Williams, they were leaving to be able to follow their dreams. Jason left Dillon so that he could be with his baby mama, while Smash left so that he could fulfill his dream of playing college football despite his recent injury. In both cases, what kept them in Dillon was out of their control: Street’s injury kept him from taking the path he had always imagined for himself, while Smash’s injury delayed what was supposed to be his triumphant moment. They did not so much stay in Dillon as they were forced to remain in Dillon, and as such we were able to view their eventual departures as an overcoming of unique circumstances.

However, if we root for Tim Riggins or Matt Saracen to leave Dillon, Texas, we are effectively arguing against staying rather than arguing for their departure. Dillon is holding these two characters back more than it is helping them move onto the next stage of their journey, and while both Jason and Smash found support and opportunity in Dillon that could give them the boost they needed it has become inherently clear that living in a trailer and delivering pizzas is not going to be a stepping stone to a prosperous future for either 7 or 33.

Accordingly, “Stay” is about those characters (and quite a few others) dealing with the separation anxiety that people have with the town of Dillon, the people who live in it, and the connections they made that cannot be overwritten so easily by things like common sense or opportunity. You may want to stay, but if you ask yourself what else you might want out of life you might find that staying isn’t going to achieve those goals. While not quite the emotional powerhouse of last week, it’s an almost too consistently themed hour that connects well with the last we’ll see of Matt Saracen for at least a little while.

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Friday Night Lights – “In the Skin of a Lion”

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“In the Skin of a Lion”

November 11th, 2009

It isn’t precisely a dud, but “In the Skin of a Lion” is certainly the weakest episode of the fourth season thus far. It’s really an issue of premise more than it is of execution: every scene and storyline that they ask these actors to portray is effective and hitting the right notes, but there are some underlying imbalances to be found within them.

It’s a problem that the show had, to some degree in its third season, but which felt overcome by an intense emotional centre that kept the show balanced. Part of what the episode is about is how that emotional core is absent in East Dillon, and while the episode works to bring it back the vacuum at the centre of the East Dillon Lions makes this episode distinctly less enjoyable or empowering than the episodes which came before it.

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2009 Emmy Award Predictions: Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

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Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Predictions

There is no tougher category to predict than this one, where it is actually possible that all six nominees could come from only two shows, and chances are that no one could really argue about their quality.

Those two shows are Grey’s Anatomy and In Treatment. The former has Katherine Heigl back in the mix with some material (Terminal Illness! Ghost Sex!) that is definitely “good enough,” Chandra Wilson dealing with professional and personal struggles (always a winner), and Sandra Oh getting strangled by her PTSD boyfriend. The latter has last year’s winner Dianne Wiest, plus two new patients who made a big impact: cancer patient Alison Pill, and former patient turned lawyer turned patient Hope Davis. Any of these women could garner a nomination, although my money is on Heigl, Wilson, Wiest and Pill at the end of the day.

This only leaves a few spots available. In terms of old contenders, Rachel Griffiths is always a threat for her work on Brothers & Sisters (she’s another one getting nominated for never winning for another show, Six Feet Under), while Rose Byrne looks to make up for last year’s snub with another highly illogical supporting performance that’s clearly a lead. Plus, while she didn’t make the cut last year, Connie Britton continues to do amazing work on Friday Night Lights, and the voters actually picking up on this would make me extremely happy. However, with veteran Candice Bergen submitting for Boston Legal, that could all go up in flames.

There’s also an opportunity for Mad Men to break through here, as Christina Hendricks was a surprising top 10 choice last year and the show has only increased in buzz. Combine with a hugely impressive story arc, including a scene I simply can’t erase from my mind, and she should be a shoe-in – however, it’s hard to know whether she can compete with a huge number of big names, especially with Mad Men’s second season ending earlier than most back in the fall.

Elizabeth Mitchell, who has never managed to break the Top 10 for her work on Lost, put together some strong work, but ultimately is too far off Emmy’s radar to break through on popular vote, as Lost has never connected with voters outside of Supporting Actor and Drama Series. Her chance was in Season 3, I think, although I’d be mighty pleased to see her sneak in as a surprise.

The two big “newcomers” are enormously different. Marcia Gay Harden is an Oscar-winning actress who joined the cast of Damages as a head-strong lawyer who went head-to-head with Glenn Close. Anika Noni Rose, meanwhile, was not nominated for anything for her role in Dreamgirls but gets a showy role on No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency that’s very funny but also highly emotional. While I may be convinced that Hurt isn’t going to grab a nomination, I think Harden was more closely connected with Close and stands a better shot here.

Predictions for Supporting Actress in a Drama

  • Marcia Gay Harden (“Damages”)
  • Katherine Heigl (“Grey’s Anatomy”)
  • Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”)
  • Allison Pill (“In Treatment”)
  • Dianne Wiest (“In Treatment”)
  • Chandra Wilson (“Grey’s Anatomy”)

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