Tag Archives: Directing

A Westerossi Balancing Act: Game of Thrones Season Two [Review]

Review: Game of Thrones Season Two

March 29th, 2012

What do people really want to know about HBO’s Game of Thrones as it enters its second season?

When the first season premiered, writing a pre-air review was an easy process. Fans wanted to know how well George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire had been adapted for the screen by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and non-fans wanted to know if the result still qualified as a television show worth their time. These questions were conveniently interlinked, in that the show’s success as an adaptation (faithful but not slavish, episodic without losing broader narrative complexity) was very much part of its appeal to non-readers.

However, I found myself somewhat stumped as I sat down to write about the first four episodes of the second season. The challenge is that we’ve already answered those broader questions, and to my mind the answer hasn’t changed – the show is still a compelling and worthy adaptation of Martin’s series, and that still results in some tremendous television. I have some specific comments about nuances in the adaptation, and some opinions about how certain stories are being depicted, but I don’t feel as though I have anything new to add to the growing chorus of people praising the show upon its return as a preface to my post-air reviews which will go up over the next four weeks (and which will delve into those nuances and opinions in more detail).

Looking to solve my writer’s block, I opened up the conversation to my followers on Twitter and the users at NeoGAF (where a lively community has been built around the show), asking them whether they had any lingering questions they had which they didn’t feel had been covered by the mass of reviews to date. While I want to address a few directly, the larger takeaway was that readers and non-readers might have more in common as the show goes forward than I had presumed, a notion I’d like to explore further.

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Funhouse Transparency: The 2011 Oscar Nominations

The 2011 Oscar Nominations

January 25th, 2011

On Twitter, I suggested that I was relatively bored with this morning’s Oscar nominations…or, more accurately, I tweeted “Oscar nods = yawn,” which frankly says more about how much I enjoy being up at 7:30 in the morning than it does about the nominations themselves.

Still, though, I must admit to being fairly unexcited by the whole affair. While there were a few pleasant surprises, and a few snubs which raise my ire in the way that I more or less enjoy, something about the nominations just doesn’t sit right. While the nature of the 10 Best Picture nominations means that a large number of major films from the year enjoy a moment in the spotlight, I would actually argue that there are subtle ways in which this is ruining some of the other categories where voters should be more willing to go out on a limb. With the Academy’s populist and avant garde recognition now done in the main category, the ability for a director like Christopher Nolan to earn a Best Director nomination has been severely diminished, as the legacy of the five-film Best Picture race continues to hang over the remainder of the awards.

And while I wouldn’t quite call it a travesty, I would say that it demonstrates how awards voters only break out of patterns where they are absolutely required to do so.

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2010 Emmy Award Predictions: Outstanding Drama & Comedy Series

Outstanding Drama & Comedy Series

August 29th, 2010

Despite being the biggest awards of the evening, I’ll admit that this is one of my least favourite categories to analyze: yes, this is where things should become even more interesting, but more often than not this is where the complacent power of inertia kicks in worst of all. While a good actor being killed by a bad submission has nuance, and a great submission can truly change the nature of a category, there is a sense with the Series awards that the episodes themselves are more or less irrelevant. If they submit tapes that resemble the series’ cultural influence, then it will be enough to make this a race of hype vs. hype rather than actuall quality.

Of the legitimate competitors for these awards, there is nothing that would cause me to become outraged or anything – while there are certainly some contenders which I would prefer, it’s more a question of which series have the quality to go beyond the hype, and whether or not the voters will actually see through those layers to find the actual most outstanding series on television.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: FX’s Sons of Anarchy

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: FX’s Sons of Anarchy

July 6th, 2010

When I started handicapping the Emmy awards, I had presumed that Sons of Anarchy would be the kind of show heralded by critics but ignored by voters: the show got no attention for its first season, and FX’s Emmy hopes have centered on Damages to the point where I expected them to ignore the series. As a result, I was surprised (in a good way) to discover that FX was actually placing Sons of Anarchy at the front of its Emmy materials, a move which reflects its critical, creative, and viewership surges in its second season.

The series’ Emmy chances are still a long shot: while Damages broke into the field for FX last year, it was on the back of Glenn Close, and voters tend to value star power over critical praise or viewership numbers (Damages, for example, has been a ratings failure in its final two seasons). However, while the show may be a dark horse in Outstanding Drama Series, I’d argue it’s a legitimate contender in both Writing and Directing: Kurt Sutter submitted strong episodes which reflect the season’s strong points, and like Battlestar Galactica before it I think that voters will gravitate towards it for these creative awards where the series’ accomplishments may be better recognized.

The series’ other contender is its most deserving: Katey Sagal absolutely deserves to be part of the conversation surrounding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, and FX’s decision to promote the series more heavily (and feature her pivotal episode, “Balm,” in their DVD mailer) has placed the actress in legitimate contention. Her work as the matriarch of the series’ dysfunctional family, holding a terrible secret inside so as to avoid the family tearing itself and others apart, was the anchor of the show’s second season, and she’s got a real shot at this one: not only is she truly fantastic on the show, but there’s the potential for an amends narrative here, as Saga – along with likely nominee in Comedy Ed O’Neill – was never recognized by the Academy for her work on Married…with Children, an oversight which they may want to rectify for this very different, but deserving, work. Mind you, she still has to compete with stablemate Glenn Close, and stalwarts like TNT’s Sedgwick/Hunter, and a bevy of other contenders, but if anyone is going to break into that fold outside of January Jones I believe it is Sagal.

As for the rest of the series, its chances are unfortunately slim: Charlie Hunnam and Ron Pearlman did some great work in the season but are unlikely to be recognized, while Ryan Hurst gave a stunning performance early in the season which will be summarily ignored by voters. There are also a bevy of guest stars who did some great work during the season, like Adam Arkin, Henry Rollins, and Ally Walker, who deserve to be part of these conversations but who might as well not even be on the ballot as far as voters are concerned.

Like with a show like Battlestar Galactica before it, voters will admit that the show is good, admit that it has a key lead performance or two, and that it is well crafted in terms of writing, directing and perhaps some technical awards as well. However, they’re not likely to dig a little bit deeper to find the supporting players who really sell the series’ complexity, a fact which has become sadly commonplace for the Emmys. While I understand that there are a lot of shows on television, and that the Supporting categories are particularly challenging in terms of the sheer volume of strong peformances, the fact remains that some of the best work on television never even enters into the conversation for various Emmys. Thankfully, with FX’s support, the series and Sagal have captured the Academy’s ear, so let’s hope that they’re paying attention.

Contender in:

  • Lead Actress in a Drama Series
  • Writing for a Drama Series
  • Directing for a Drama Series

Dark Horse in:

  • Outstanding Drama Series

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Charlie Hunnam)
  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Ryan Hurst, Ron Pearlman, Kim Coates)
  • Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Maggie Siff, Ally Walker)
  • Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Adam Arkin, Henry Rollins)

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: FOX’s Glee

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: FOX’s Glee

July 5th, 2010

[This is part of a series of posts analyzing individual show's chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

While critics have been somewhat divided on Glee’s quality, they have been fairly consistent in terms of its importance to the current television landscape: with its unique business models and its nearly earth-shattering levels of hype, the fact of the matter is that Glee is a phenomenon, so in some ways it represents the ultimate test of how “success” measures with the Emmy Awards.

The show has a lot of things going for its beyond the metric ton of promotion surrounding the series’ first season: it has a breakout supporting performer in Jane Lynch, Broadway imports like leads Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele to lend its musical elements some credibility, and some meaningful messages about difference and humanity sharing space with its elaborate production numbers. While I’d argue that Lynch’s Sue Sylvester was inconsistently used, and that Morrison and Michele were overshadowed from a character perspective by Chris Colfer and Mike O’Malley, and that its messaging was highly contradictory at various points, I think Glee is going to get an “A for Effort” by Emmy voters. Sure, the show isn’t perfect, but it’s doing so many interesting and potentially brilliant things that voters seeing only the episodes that work (the Pilot, “Wheels,” etc.) are probably going to look past smaller issues and focus on the parts of the series which brought it so much hype and success.

While part of the show’s appeal is its ensemble cast, FOX’s Emmy campaign has been pretty focused: Morrison and Michele have been labeled as leads and will contend in the category on the strength of their musical performances, while Lynch is the breakout “Comic” side of things and so is a shoo-in for a nomination and a likely favourite to win in the Supporting Actress category. For the most part, though, the more emotional storylines (like Kurt and his father, or Artie and his disability) are being lumped in with the series as a whole, a compliment to the musical performances which set the series apart. And to be fair, while I think Chris Colfer and Mike O’Malley gave the series’ best performances, they weren’t particularly comic, although the same could be said for more or less everyone but Lynch and Heather Morris (whose Brittany was the series’ comic highlight in the back nine).

The series’ best chances for wins, to be honest, probably come in the Guest categories: Neil Patrick Harris, shut out for his work on How I Met Your Mother, gets a number of strong performances and a meaningful (but still funny) storyline in “Dream On,” while Kristin Chenoweth (who won for a quasi-musical role on Pushing Daisies last year) has a similar turn in “The Rhodes Not Taken” which is going to garner her a nomination. These roles manage to capture, within a single character, all of the things that make Glee work, which is not always true for the other characters (Michele’s Rachel, for example, only got to become a dramatic character when her birth mother was revealed, while Morrison’s dramatic material with his ex-wife was a series low point). I’ve often argued that Glee would work better without serial continuity, and these guest roles best capture that sort of fleeting, but powerful, emotional connection the series is going for.

The Glee being sold to voters is the Ryan Murphy-led Glee of “Wheels,” which is perhaps the smartest choice: while I prefer Brad Falchuk-led Glee (“Sectionals” and “Journey,” for example), FOX is trying to connect with voters’ emotions immediately, and the show’s finales are sort of dependent on you having some sort of attachment to the characters in question. The fact of the matter is that Glee is the kind of show which will create those emotional reactions for better or for worse, and I think it will play to its favour with voters: while it might be messy and inconsistent, that isn’t going to matter with Emmy voters who pop the screener into their DVD players and see something completely different than everything else on TV and anything that’s been on TV in the last decade.

And that’s going to go a long way for the show on Thursday morning.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Matthew Morrison)
  • Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Lea Michele)
  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Jane Lynch)
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Neil Patrick Harris)
  • Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Kristin Chenoweth)
  • Writing for a Comedy Series
  • Directing for a Comedy Series

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Chris Colfer)
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Mike O’Malley)
  • Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Idina Menzel)

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Kevin McHale)
  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Dianna Agron, Heather Morris)

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: CBS’ The Good Wife

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: CBS’ The Good Wife

July 5th, 2010

[This is part of a series of posts analyzing individual show's chances at the Emmy Awards ahead of the nominations, which will be announced on July 8th. You can find all of my posts regarding the 2010 Emmy Awards here.]

There is a great deal of buzz surrounding CBS’ The Good Wife this Emmy season, and what’s remarkable is that I’m willing to join the chorus. When the show picked up a surprised nomination in the “Ensemble Cast” category at the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, I was sort of perplexed, believing that the series was more or less a star vehicle for Julianna Margulies and that it didn’t deserve taking the place of Lost, or Sons of Anarchy, or Breaking Bad. However, as The Good Wife’s first season progressed, I was able to see the show is more than Margulies’ triumphant return to television, and its blend of procedural and serialized elements have created a series that deserves to be part of this conversation.

The series benefits from being both familiar and unfamiliar to voters. On the one hand, the show has a comfortable legal procedural/workplace drama structure which hearkens back to Emmys past (when Law & Order was dominant, or when The Practice and Boston Legal each saw considerable success). However, on the other hand, the show very clearly expands beyond that structure with a complex serialized storyline surrounding Alicia’s relationship with her husband and the scandal which surrounds his life, which interrupts and complicates the ongoing procedural elements. The show has its cake and eats it too, which will allow voters to feel comfortable voting for the show either for its well-executed simplicity or for the risk in adding serialized elements to the series (while the show takes far fewer risks than Lost or Breaking Bad, they seem riskier considering The Good Wife is ostensibly a CBS procedural).

Margulies is unquestionably the frontrunner in the Lead Actress in a Drama Series race: her wins at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards were not flukes, and her Emmys pedigree is just as strong (and while she has a win for ER, it was in the Supporting category, so she’s searching for her first win in five nominations this year). It’s a deserved place for the actress, whose work on the show has been extremely strong and who truly does anchor the cast. The question, however, is how much the show (which I’d consider a strong contender for a nomination in the Drama field) expands into further caregories: while I’d say that the series’ pilot is a contender in both Direction and Writing (as most high-profile, successful drama pilots are), I’m more interested to see what happens to the rest of the SAG-nominated cast.

In Supporting Actor, Chris Noth has to be considered a threat – he’s part of the season’s prominent serialized arc (and makes a big impact in the pilot), has some notoriety from his time as Mr. Big, and is quite great on the show. However, Josh Charles (who is Emmy-nomination free despite the genius of Sports Night) is equally as good on the show, and has to merit some consideration as well. Similarly, Christine Baranski has a real chance in the Supporting Actress field (having won for Cybill in 1995 and having grabbed a guest actress in a comedy nomination just last year), but arguable Archie Panjabi’s Kalinda has been the breakout character from the series, and so she probably deserves greater consideration even if her lack of name recognition will keep her from breaking through (although, we said the same about Aaron Paul last year, and he made it into the field). Throw in some guest acting contenders (Alan Cumming for his extended guest arc, Mary Beth Peil recurring as Peter’s mother, Martha Plimpton as a rival attorney, Dylan Baker as a sadistic client), and the series could land in a big way.

The Drama field is pretty crowded this year, but The Good Wife is in a good position to take advantage of this as a freshman series: its newness will serve it well against some established, but less noteworthy contenders, and this is likely to grab it a number of key nominations that will provide some considerable momentum (which the show might need, as its ratings dropped quite a bit after its early renewal). A nomination for Outstanding Drama Series would be CBS’ first since CSI and Joan of Arcadia in 2004, and if it garners over 6 nominations it will be CBS’ most-nominated drama series since Chicago Hope’s years of dominance in the 1990s, and I think CBS will have a lot to be happy about on Thursday morning.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Drama Series
  • Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Julianna Margulies)
  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Chris Noth)
  • Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Christine Baranski)
  • Writing for a Drama Series
  • Directing for a Drama Series
  • Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Alan Cumming)
  • Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Mary Beth Piel)

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Josh Charles)
  • Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Archie Panjabi)
  • Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Martha Plimpton)
  • Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Dylan Baker)

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Honestly, I think it’ll contend in some capacity in every place it really deserves to: Matt Czuchry did well with his part, but his character’s real potential will be next season (considering where the season left his character), and no one else really played a pivotal enough role to be considered. However, the one omission above is Titus Welliver, who I think could have contended in Guest Actor but who didn’t submit himself for consideration (for this or for Lost), which is a pity.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Official Ballot Miscellany

Official Ballot Miscellany

June 4th, 2010

Earlier this evening, Emmy voting officially began; this isn’t particularly important to us non-voters, but it does mean that the official ballots were released (PDFs: Performers, Writing, Directing), which means that we know who submitted their names for Emmy contention and can thus make our predictions accordingly. In some cases, this simply confirms our earlier submissions regarding particularly categories, while in other cases it throws our expectations for a loop as frontrunners or contenders don’t end up submitting at all.

For example, Cherry Jones (who last year won for her work on 24) chose not to submit her name for contention this year, a decision which seems somewhat bizarre and is currently being speculatively explained by her unhappiness with her character’s direction in the show’s final season. It completely changes the anatomy of that race, removing a potential frontrunner and clearing the way for some new contenders (or, perhaps, another actress from Grey’s Anatomy). Either way, it’s a real shakeup, so it makes this period particularly interesting.

I will speak a bit about some surprising omissions and inclusions in the categories I’ve already covered this week, but I want to focus on the categories that I haven’t discussed yet, including the guest acting categories, writing, and direction, which are some interesting races this year.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Jenkins”

“Jenkins”

January 18th, 2010

When Marshall and Lily got married, their friends were worried that they would no longer hang out with them, and their lives would change. And while that never entirely materialized, the show has had a bit of a tough time writing the characters since that point. Putting them into debt never really went anywhere, their new apartment has become an afterthought, and it feels as if they’re just marking time until the point where they decide to have a baby. I don’t meant to suggest that the characters are no longer funny, but they lack a drive forward, and surrounded by characters like Ted and Robin who have a more uncertain future they can sometimes feel less interesting to viewers, and to some extent the writers, as characters. Lily, after all, disappeared for part of last season without the show losing a beat (although, as I’ll get to below, there have been exceptions).

“Jenkins” demonstrates that the writers are self-aware to this point, as the title story basically turns into Marshall doing everything in his power to convince Lily that their relationship is not almost problematically safe and secure. It’s not a bad story idea, and it reaches a satisfying conclusion, but it’s another sign that the kind of storytelling that often sets How I Met Your Mother apart from other shows just no longer jives with Marshall and Lily’s day-to-day lives. They will always remain an integral part of this ensemble, but I think they’re going to have to get moving on that baby before they can carry an A-Story.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog

Emmy2009Title

2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog

September 20th, 2009

For Cultural Learnings’ complete review of the show, CLICK HERE. For the full live blog, read on below.

I was kind of on the fence about liveblogging the Emmys this year, I really was. Twitter has provided an outlet for quippy remarks and observations that I might have while watching the event, and I ultimately end up writing a huge 2000-word rundown when the show ends so it’s not as if a LiveBlog is going to stand as my only coverage of the big event here at Cultural Learnings.

However, ultimately I want something to be able to refer to when piecing together my final rundown of the night’s festivities, and a LiveBlog seems like the kind of setup that will capture my reaction to the various winners/moments in the ceremony for those who want to know how everything is going down as it’s going down.

So, if you want to follow along with the show or check back later to see my subjective take on a particular moment in the show, here’s where you’re going to want to be. Meanwhile, if you want things elaborate and substantial, check back later tonight for my full analysis of the evening’s winners, losers, and everything in between.

7:20pm: As we wait for the show to begin, feel free to check out my predictions for the big night (the acting categories all link to long analysis pieces of each category): Cultural Learnings’ Full Emmy Predictions.

7:54pm: Enjoying Christine Baranski’s guest spot in a pre-Emmys airing of The Big Bang Theory – an omen for Jim Parsons? Baranski was always going to lose to Tina Fey, but she was damn good in this episode.

8:00pm: And we’re off and running. Television: useful science of the electronic age, indeed. Making fun of Wipeout as “Unsophisticated” is a bit low of CBS, but I guess they don’t have anything quite as lowly…except for Big Brother. Anyways, time for NPH.

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Tactless Logic: The Emmy Awards Time-Shifting Fiasco

Emmy2009Title

Tactless Logic:

The Emmy Awards Time-Shifting Fiasco

The Academy was so close to getting away with it.

Every year, the Emmys are faced with a mountain of criticism that no other award show really deals with, as the show in and of itself is part of the medium that it judges. While the Oscars or the Grammys are television presentations, the critics who analyze them as award shows are not likely film critics, and lack that personal connection with the material being dealt with. With the Emmys, however, the same television critics who (rightfully) criticize the Emmys for failing to recognize certain performers or certain shows for various reasons are the same ones who watch and criticize the show itself, making it a darn tough job to be in charge of the awards show.

This year, they are in the unenviable decision of having to make dramatic changes after two disastrous experiments: first, FOX confused just about everyone with their “Theater in the Round” setup, and last year ABC allowed the Reality Competition Program hosts to host the event and nearly caused a riot amongst angry critics questioning the lack of humour, chemistry, and just about anything worthwhile. They’re in the position where they needed to make changes, but when critics are always on the lookout for potential concerns they needed to step very carefully.

The changes they came up with, and revealed this week, were changes designed in order to streamline the show, allowing more time to let critic-approved Neil Patrick Harris do his thing, and to clear the way for the show to be more engaging for the audience at home. Their purpose alone, is quite logical: everyone wants a better show, and people acknowledge that there need to be changes for that to happen.

Where the Academy (particularly producer Don Mischer) went wrong, however, is in how they sold these changes, changes that demonstrate a logical understanding of some of the award show’s struggles and yet also a tactless understanding of how critics, the industry and other observers would react to their reasoning. If sold differently, these changes would have remained a sticking point but one that would have been over time forgiven: as it stands, it’s a scandal that isn’t going away anytime soon, and a scandal that’s standing in the way of the Emmys making a much-needed comeback.

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