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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Comedy Acting

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Comedy Acting

June 2nd, 2010

In comedy this year, a lot depends on what shows make it big: we know that Glee and Modern Family are going to make a statement (as noted in my piece handicapping the Comedy Series race), but is it going to be a statement of “this is a great show” or a statement of “this is the greatest show since sliced bread?” The difference will largely be felt in the acting categories: both Modern Family and Glee have multiple Emmy contenders, but it’s unclear whether some of the less heralded performers will be able to rise along with the big “stars,” or whether the halo of series success won’t help them compete against some established names already entrenched in these categories.

Ultimately, I’m willing to say that there’s going to be some pretty big turnaround this year in some of these categories, but others feature quite a large number of former nominees who likely aren’t going anywhere, so it should be interesting to see how things shake out on July 8th. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the four major Comedy Acting Emmys and see where the chips lie.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama and Comedy Series

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama and Comedy Series

June 1st, 2010

What’s weird about predicting the Emmy nominations (which are on July 8th, for the record) is that it really doesn’t have anything to do with quality: sure, a bad season can certainly hurt your chances at getting an Emmy, and a good season is sure to be of some assistance, but the objective quality of a series doesn’t really matter until they’re nominated. Until that point, it’s one big popularity contest, combining old habits, much-hyped new series, and those nominees who seem particularly newsworthy.

This is why it’s possible to predict the nominees, or at least the long-list of contenders who could logically garner a nomination on July 8th, before the eligibility period even ends (which isn’t really that big a deal this year, as any series which aired the majority of its season before the deadline [like Breaking Bad] will still be able to submit their concluding episodes). And while it may seem a bit premature, I’m pretty Emmy obsessive, and wanted to take some time this week to run down the potential nominees in each category. In the case of the series and acting categories, I’ll single out some who I believe are guaranteed nominations, while I’ll likely be less able to do so with Writing and Directing (which are often much less predictable, outside of a few exceptions).

We’ll start with Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series today, both because they’re a bit easier to handicap and because they’re the “big” races. They’re also the categories where I’m willing to put money down on a majority of the nominees, leaving only a few spots remaining for the other series to fight over in the months ahead.

And what a fight it’s going to be.

[Before we start, hats off to the great work of the Gold Derby forum members, especially moderator Chris "Boomer" Beachum, whose work continues to make projects like this a lot easier. Check out their Official 2010 Emmy Campaign Submissions thread for a full list of submitted nominees; you'll end up there for at least a half hour before you realize how much time has elapsed.]

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Agency begets Tragedy: Ruminations on Catching Up with AMC’s Breaking Bad

Agency begets Tragedy: AMC’s Breaking Bad

March 18th, 2010

Last night, as Todd VanderWerff and I talked about this year’s Emmy awards on Twitter, he remarked that Breaking Bad will always be held back at the Emmys thanks to its Albuquerque setting – by filming outside of Los Angeles, and outside of more acceptable industry alternatives like Vancouver or New York, the show is alienated with primarily L.A.-based voters. My response to this was to make what, on the surface, seems like a really complimentary comparison: Breaking Bad, in other words, is the new The Wire, another show that by shooting in an off-market city (Baltimore, in the case of The Wire) was never able to get as much respect as it perhaps deserved.

Now that I’ve finished the second season of AMC’s second original series, this comparison is infinitely more interesting than I had imagined it last evening. While I love The Wire, and fell in love (in an entirely non-romantic way, considering the darkness of the show) with Breaking Bad over the past few weeks, the two shows couldn’t be more different in terms of how they represent agency. While The Wire tends to argue that the organizations which govern both sides of the law are inevitably corrupt and fraught with challenges that prevent all but a lucky few from rising above it, Breaking Bad offers Walter White countless opportunities to escape the life he has chosen to live, and at every turn he makes personal decisions that send him further down his dark path.

If I tried to talk about everything I had to say about the first two seasons of the show, I would be writing for days, so instead I’m going to focus on a few elements of the series (many relating to questions of agency) that I thought were particularly effective. If you have yet to watch the series, I can’t recommend it enough if you’re not afraid to watch something that’s morally compromising and unafraid to go to some very dark places – this isn’t a show for everyone, but it’s fantastically well-made, and you can all look forward to reviews of the show’s third season starting on Sunday.

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Screw Dramedy: How We Distinguish Between Comic and Dramatic Television

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Screw Dramedy:

How We Distinguish Between Comic and Dramatic Television

November 6th, 2009

Mirror, mirror, on the wall – which television “comedy” is the least comic of them all?

There’s been some great back and forth on Twitter as of late surrounding the rankings of the best comedies currently on television, which is something that always brings out some controversial opinions. While I offered a very tentative ranking done without any sort of indepth scientific analysis on Twitter, I’m resistant to posting a more detailed list (like Jace at Televisionary, for example): I feel like there’s so many different categories of comedies on the air (long-running favourites which are very familiar, series which have improved so greatly that the relativity is almost blinding, and shows that are new and just finding themselves) that to rank them feels false.

However, I do think there’s something to be said for the fact that how we as critics (and viewers in general) individually define comedy is somewhat different from how the networks might define comedy. Genre definition in television is always a little bit slippery, especially when the oft-labeled “dramedy” exists, as has been demonstrated yearly at the Emmys when shows that walk the fine line are slotted into either category seemingly at random. Gilmore Girls is perhaps the most famous example, where Lauren Graham was submitting dramatic performances in a comedy category that perhaps fit the show in general but seemed to be out of place with the show’s highlights. The issue was never resolved (it was never nominated for Emmys outside of craft categories, despite the amazing work of Kelly Bishop/Graham), and right now there is perhaps more than ever before the sense that comedy and drama just aren’t clear divisions.

I was discussing the return of Showtime’s Nurse Jackie (returning alongside United States of Tara on March 22nd) with Maureen Ryan, and in particular I noted that I actively refuse to call Nurse Jackie a comedy. Mo, however, correctly noted that disqualifying Nurse Jackie calls into question a whole lot of cable “comedies,” and that this is a can of worms she (quite logically) doesn’t want to open.

I, apparently, like worms, so let’s dig into just why I refuse to accept certain shows as “comedy” in good conscience (and how my refusal is indicative of the role personal opinion plays in such classifications).

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Emmy2009Title

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures…Christine)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
  • Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program)

I’ve been wrestling with this category for a while, although let’s be entirely clear: this is a duel.

While Louis-Dreyfus is a past winner, and Parker is a consistent nominee, and Applegate contended for the award and could have won it last year, there is no one in this category who can challenge Fey outside of Toni Colette (Silverman might as well not be nominated). Fey has been the toast of the town with her work on 30 Rock, and as my brother put it yesterday she has in many ways “saved” television in the mind of some people. While some “cult” success stories like Arrested Development had some Emmys buzz independent from viewership levels, those shows did not have such a definitive individual in front of and behind the camera on whom the credit could be laid so cleanly.

And it’s not as if Fey had a poor year on 30 Rock this season or anything similar. She was as good as she ever was, in particular in her submitted episode. “Reunion” is a great showcase for Fey’s talents, the kind of showcase that can easily win the award. She gets to indulge in Liz Lemon’s deliciously vindictive side, always a highlight, as well as play up a sense of self-discovery and the really quite fun setting of the high school reunion. It’s an episode that I actually didn’t like at first glance (I came around), but Fey’s performance is undeniably great.

But I don’t know if it’s as showy, or as dramatic, as what Toni Colette did on United States of Tara. The show itself didn’t get much love, but Colette’s nomination was assured quite early. Tara’s multiple personalities (or alters, as the show calls them) are not simply alterations of costume or voice, but are based entirely in separate mannerisms. What draws me towards Colette over Fey is how dependent the show is on her performance, to a degree that Fey can’t match; while I can’t imagine 30 Rock without Fey, I can’t even conceptualize Tara without Colette. The pilot shows her transforming from a regular mother and wife into first a thong-wearing teenager and then into a grizzled and foul-mouthed (male) Vietnam war veteran.

It’s a performance that defines everything the Emmys should, in theory love. The question is whether the gimmick (which is not gimmicky, if that makes any sense) is overshadowed by the continued coronation of 30 Rock and its creator/star extraordinaire.

Predicted Winner: Toni Colette (United States of Tara)

It’s going out on a limb, but she’s a well-respected actress in a showy performance that remains grounded and controlled in a way that makes the show possible. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s something I’m willing to predict.

White Horse: Tina Fey (30 Rock)

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Emmy2009Title

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)
  • Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live)
  • Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live)
  • Elizabeth Perkins (Weeds)
  • Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
  • Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty)

With last year’s winner Jean Smart out of the race, let us take a moment to remember that nobody in their right mind really predicted Jean Smart to win this award last year. This means that there is a definite air of unpredictability around this award that makes for an interesting battle.

I think that Perkins and Williams are out of the running at this point: I don’t think either of them have the material or the buzz factor to be able to successfully mount a competitive fight here. I’m also going to suggest that Wiig is probably not going to make it either. I like her, and I think that she was better overall on SNL this year, but I think her lack of name recognition will keep her out of the winners’ circle as known entities tend to do better in the Supporting categories.

That leaves Amy Poehler (favoured to win last year but shut out), Kristin Chenoweth (whose show is cancelled) and Jane Krakowski (whose show dominated the Emmy nominations). Part of me thinks that all have something working against them that could let one of the other sneak in. Poehler was supposed to win last year, but didn’t even when her profile (due to Baby Mama) was at an all-time high. This year, her profile wasn’t enough for her to sneak into Lead Actress Comedy for Parks and Recreation, and she’s been overshadowed by Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin performance in terms of SNL. That’s a tough situation to balance, but she’s well-liked and remains a major player.

Chenoweth and Krakowski have the exact opposite problem, really. In Krakowski’s case, I don’t think she had the same kind of strong material this year (when she and her co-stars picked up on the 30 Rock Emmy train with supporting nods) as she did last, with her fat period providing a lot of great comic material overall. Jenna was a bit more all over the place this season, but on a show with that much buzz it might not matter. Chenoweth’s Olive Snook, meanwhile, was in fine form on Pushing Daisies, in the midst of deeply personal but hilarious storylines played out in the show’s trademark zany and surrealistic environment. However, no one watched Pushing Daisies, and for all of her Tony-winning brilliance the cancelled show factor could weight heavily on her ability to win the award.

Predicted Winner: Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies)

All of that being said, going with my heart and my gut on this one: I think Emmy voters appreciated Pushing Daisies enough and find Chenoweth charming enough in a winning submission to give her and the show the sendoff they deserve.

Dark Horse: Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)

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Season Finale: Weeds – “All About My Mom”

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“All About My Mom”

August 31st, 2009

“Something happens today, something else will happen tomorrow.”

That’s really the motto of this show, isn’t it? Shane, in his numbed and disconnected state, is the poster child for the series, accepting of the idea that if something goes bad today, you might as well just shrug it off and move onto tomorrow, when something similarly terrible is going to happen. Shane got shot, a shot meant for Nancy, but rather than send him into some sort of depressive state it seems like he sees this world (if not reality, which we know has little to no connection to this sensationalist fable of sorts) clearer than he’s ever seen it before.

Whereas Nancy Botwin, she has never seen this world clearly. She is impulsive and in over her head at every turn, making decisions that she knows she will eventually regret but struggling to stop herself, to really right herself on this particular journey. At the end of this, the show’s fifth season, Nancy finds herself surrounded by people who are suddenly seeing the world in a different light. Andy has grown up, purchased a minivan and proposed to Audra. Celia has decided she’s set on doing what Nancy did, and looks to regain power of her drug dealing future. And Shane, young and formerly naive Shane, decides to take matters into his own hands when it matters most.

What separates this finale from every other is that it seems as if the show has accepted its identity: it, like Shane, accepts that something happens today and something else happens tomorrow, and that this season’s cliffhanger will not be the last for the show. While this season has had its quirks, and has been perhaps the most different of any season, where it succeeds is in its clarity: the actions undertaken in the finale are cleaner, more precise, than they’ve ever been before, but with an opportunity for consequences as complicated as the show has ever dealt with.

Which, if not quite what drew me into the show into the first place, at least feels like a consistent and effective dramatic purpose for the aging series.

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