Every year, writers and directors kind of get the short straw, if you will, when it comes to Emmy night. In the past, these categories have served as catch alls for the Academy to recognize series that aren’t getting the same level of attention at higher levels. Two years ago, House won for Best Writing in a Drama Series while Lost swept Directing/Drama Series; last year, My Name is Earl won writing and directing despite being otherwise shut out. This year, these categories will be yet another chance for shows to be recognized.
Today, I want to highlight five comedy episodes in both directing and in writing that, I believe, should be recognized by the Academy and its voters this year. [For my list of Drama candidates, click here]
Oustanding Writing in a Comedy Series
30 Rock – “Hard Ball” (Writer: Matthew Hubbard)
It’s hard to believe a former staff writer on Joey was capable of writing such a fantastic episode of 30 Rock, but it happened: this episode made Jenna tolerable, had some great moments from Jack and Liz, and gave Tracy and Kenneth an engaging storyline. It was satirical, it was funny, and while it isn’t perfect I think it’s as close as 30 Rock came to achieving it in its first season.
Entourage – “Manic Monday” (Writers: Doug Ellin, Marc Abrams & Michael Benson)
I think that Entourage had a few well-written episodes, but Manic Monday caught me eye for being so focused on Ari. Jeremy Piven knocks all of his material out of the park, but this particular episode showcased a human side, just briefly. The writing allows Ari to progress naturally, and features perhaps the best overall arc of the show’s eligible episode within his character.
Desperate Housewives – “Bang” (Writer: Joe Keenan)
Joe Keenan did the impossible: he took a character that was seriously just there to be annoying, and by the end of the episode you actually mourned her death. While Laurie Metcalf and Felicity Huffman certainly elevated the material to a different level, Keenan’s bones were structurally fantastic and resulted in a tense, engaging hour of television.
The Office – “Business School” (Writer: Brent Forrester)
A former writer on The Simpsons, I think Forrester absolutely nailed so many characters in this episode that I don’t see how it can’t be nominated. Michael was funny, Pam was crushed, and Jim and Dwight were as ridiculous as ever. It was an episode that has emotional sentiment and a lot of universal themes…and a bat in the office. That’s inspired writing.
How I Met Your Mother – “Slap Bet” (Writer: Kourtney Kang)
From the episode ending 80s-inspired Robin Sparkles reveal to the initiation of the Slap Bet, this episode is a slow build to a conclusion that is basically just a music video…but it works. We spend the entire episode wondering what Robin’s secret it, and its reveal is about as perfect as you could imagine. This is the episode that could have garnered the series an Emmy nod; it’s also a strong writing candidate.
Outstanding Direction in a Comedy Series
The Office – “Business School” (Director: Joss Whedon)
The Buffy/Angel/Firefly creator was one of two guest directors in the month of February, and I think that he personally nailed the comic timing of the series for me. The show felt the same, but the angles were really a lot of fun. He had the classroom, the art show and the office to play with, and he used some dynamic camera moves and really cool angles to get the most out of them. Listening to commentaries that he does shows he has an eye for direction, and it was proven here.
Ugly Betty – “East Side Story” (Director: James Hayman)
I actually think the Ugly Betty pilot is a poorly directed mess that, visually, has none of the style that the show achieved later in life. In the show’s finale, however, that life is very clear, and I think Hayman does a good job of it. Or maybe I just love the final scene set to West Side Story and its poetic qualities. That might be skewing my opinion of the remainder of the episode.
Scrubs – “My Musical” (Director: Will MacKenzie)
Say what you will about Scrubs, but its musical episode was a well-oiled machine. MacKenzie deserves special credit for coaxing a decent vocal performance out of Sarah Chalke (Whose inability to sing held back the episode for years) and for keeping the entire thing from spiraling into a black hole of musical theatre. It was an ambitious episode, and the director will likely garner the credit.
Weeds – “Pittsburgh” (Director: Craig Zisk)
The show’s second season finale featured the entire show fall off the rails, and there were a few scenes that simply took my breath away. Watching the death of one character take place behind a garage door was incredibly effective, and the entire episode felt on a grander scale than anything else that show has done.
Entourage – “Sorry, Ari” (Director: Julian Farino)
I think that Entourage is a series that benefits a lot from its slick direction, and this episode (The show’s 3.0 finale) was a good example of this. The similarity of the various pitches combined with the final pitch from Ari’s firm, it felt like there was enough built-up justification within this single episode for the boys to depart from Ari. While a lot of that is writing, the direction supported it well.