And Your Winner, by Submission…: Analyzing 2010’s Emmy Tapes
July 15th, 2010
Last week, I wrote a piece for Jive TV which described the next step in the Emmy Awards process, and the ways in which this post-nomination period is honestly more interesting for me than the pre-nomination period: as my Twitter followers have noted, I’m a bit obsessive about the submissions process, where the nominated series and performers choose episodes to represent their work over the past season.
It fascinates me because of how unnatural it is: performers can’t simply put together a reel of their strongest moments from throughout the season, they need to find a single representative episode (which, for supporting players, is cut down to only their scenes), and so what they choose is incredibly telling. For example, the cast of Glee have very clearly been instructed to submit episodes which feature big musical performances: Chris Colfer submitted “Laryngitis” because of the show-stopping “Rose’s Turn,” while Lea Michele submitted “Sectionals” based on her take on “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” These might not be their more consistent episodes in terms of overall material, but musically they are character-defining performances, and Glee has decided that this will be its Emmy focus. And yet, for Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch, their submissions don’t work as well when oriented around their most show-stopping musical performances, and so sometimes a series’ approach doesn’t match with each performer.
It’s a delicate balance, and one which I think best captures the equally maddening and addictive nature of this process, which is why I will now take a closer look at the submissions strategy from a number of series: for a look at how they look as categories, and for more submissions I don’t talk about here, check out Tom O’Neill post at Gold Derby.
Tape A: “Pilot” & “Starry Night”
Tape B: “Fizbo” & “Coal Digger”
Tape C: “Come Fly With Me” & “Fears”
Ty Burrell, “Modern Family” (“Game Changer”)
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, “Modern Family” (“Family Portrait”)
Eric Stonestreet, “Modern Family” (“Fizbo”)
Julie Bowen, “Modern Family” (“My Funky Valentine”)
Sofia Vergara, “Modern Family” (“Not in My House”)
The tapes are all over the map for me: there’s a real focus on episodes where the families interact (only “Fears” and “Pilot” show the family as divided for any of their running times), but that “Hawaii” and “Airport 2010” aren’t here seems very bizarre to me. That seemed like a surefire tape, so I’m not sure why they chose instead to create tapes without any sort of rhyme or reason. Yes, “Pilot” and “Starry Night” is a darn good Emmy tape that could get the show some votes, but I really expected for the two vacation episodes to be here. Perhaps they wanted to avoid the gimmick, but the show handled the vacation episodes really well, so it seems like a waste.
Individually, the performers leaned towards gimmicks: Ferguson has the slow motion operatic pigeon attack, Stonestreet has his clown suit, Burrell has his iPad (yes, he submitted that episode), Bowen has her attempt to spice things up by wearing an overcoat with nothing underneath, and Vergara has the Dog Butler. I think Vergara and Burrell misfired here, with the former being too slight and the latter failing to capture the best qualities of the character as opposed to his most annoying. Also note that Bowen and Vergara avoid any sort of cross-talk, while Stonestreet and Ferguson will each benefit from some screentime in the other’s tape.
Tape A: “Pilot (Director’s Cut)” & “Preggers”
Tape B: “Wheels” & “Sectionals”
Tape C: “The Power of Madonna” & “Home”
Matthew Morrison, “Glee” (“Mash Up”)
Lea Michele, “Glee” (“Sectionals”)
Chris Colfer, “Glee” (“Laryngitis”)
Jane Lynch, “Glee” (“Power of Madonna”)
The tapes are almost what I expected: throw “Journey” in there instead of “Home,” and this is exactly what I predicted on Twitter a while back. The first and second tapes are very strong for the show, while the third is considerably weaker: while the first two tapes nicely balance spectacle and story, Madonna and Home both lean towards broad storytelling without much nuance, although Chenoweth’s presence and Madonna’s influence are not likely to sink the third tape with voters or anything. These are frontrunner tapes, simple as that, and I expect the show to compete with them.
As for the performers, who as I note above lean towards big musical performances over strong comic or dramatic turns, Colfer is the winner here: while I think that “Wheels” has his single most effective storyline, and “Preggers” is the episode most centered around his character, “Laryngitis” is the episode where it feels like Kurt literally bursts out of his shell. As a part of the season’s arc, Kurt’s dalliance with flannel and the heterosexuality it represents was a bit bizarre, but as a standalone piece it perfectly captures his relationship with his father and his identity crisis, ending in the triumphant “Rose’s Turn.” By comparison, “Sectionals” is only really the solo for Michele, lacking the emotional content of something like “Theatricality,” and while “Vogue” was a big moment for the series I don’t think that “Power of Madonna” works nearly as well as “Bad Reputation” would have. And, frankly, Matthew Morrison submitting “Mash Up” is a laugh riot: “Bust-a-Move” and “Thong Song” were both painful, and there is absolutely no character material to compliment those musical numbers.
Tape A: “My Old Kentucky Home” & “The Gypsy and the Hobo”
Tape B: “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency” & “Seven Twenty Three”
Tape C: “The Grown Ups” & “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men” (“The Gypsy and the Hobo”)
January Jones, “Mad Men” (“The Gypsy and the Hobo”)
John Slattery, “Mad Men” (“The Gypsy and the Hobo”)
Christina Hendricks, “Mad Men” (“Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”)
Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men” (“Love Among the Ruins”)
Some very unique tapes from Mad Men, eschewing continuity with the first (flipping between the beginning and the end of Don and Betty’s struggles in the season) and oddly including “Seven Twenty Three” over a lot of superior episodes in the season. The third tape, though, isn’t a surprise: voters get both the Emmy bait qualities of the Kennedy episode and one of the year’s best finales, which is going to make for some stiff competition.
As for the performers, you’ll notice a trend: no surprise that Hamm and Jones each want to benefit from their electric confrontation in “The Gypsy and the Hobo,” although I’m a bit surprised from Slattery (who, frankly, has too much competition in the category to really compete), although I guess it’s one of his most contained storylines of the year. Meanwhile, I think the supporting ladies got it perfectly: Hendricks has a stunning scene with Hamm in “Guy Walks Into…” while Moss has her efforts to prove she could use her feminine wiles if she so desired in “Love Among the Ruins.” Hendricks has the better chance out of the two, but Moss is submitting her most substantial work of the season in my eyes, so they’re both definitely contenders.
Tape A: “Dr. Linus” & “Ab Aeterno”
Tape B: “Happily Ever After” & “The Candidate”
Tape C: “The End: Part I” & “The End: Part II”
Matthew Fox, “Lost” (“The End”)
Michael Emerson, “Lost” (“Dr. Linus”)
Terry O’Quinn, “Lost” (“The Substitute”)
It’s a bit of a surprise to see “The Candidate” here, as I think it is far less successful as a standalone episode of television than “The Substitute,” but Lost’s first and third tapes are very strong, emphasizing both the epic scale of the series as well as the strength of its characters. I do thin, though, they would have been better off with Linus/Substitute and Aeterno/Happily, but these are still strong contenders (which I don’t think will overcome the burden of a lot of history and context voters will lack).
As for the performers, zero surprises: Fox picks the finale for screentime and for being central to both of the parallel storylines, while Emerson and O’Quinn each submit their primary Flash Sideways episodes in which they are decidedly lead, rather than supporting, performers. Fox remains a long shot, but Emerson and O’Quinn remain frontrunners.
Tape A: “No Mas” & “Sunset”
Tape B: “One Minute” & “Fly”
Tape C: “Half Measures” & “Full Measures”
Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad” (“Half Measures”)
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad” (“Full Measure”)
The biggest risk I’ve seen in the tapes so far is the inclusion of “Fly,” as it sort of contradicts what Paul and Cranston are doing with their submissions. Rather than pairing “Sunset” and “One Minute” (an obvious two-parter), they paired their most exciting episode with their most sterile, a decision which will make for some whiplash but could actually help emphasize the cathartic impact which “Fly” was intended to have for the characters and for the narrative. Otherwise, no surprises: the premiere was a strong one, and the connected finale will make for a stunning two-hour tape which will compete nicely with Mad Men’s similar Tape C.
As for the performers, I’m surprised that they’re going with these episodes: these are unquestionably important episodes for their characters, but to be honest Paul did more arresting work in “One Minute,” while Cranston showed more range in “Fly.” However, they’re submitting based on how well each episode captures the overall position their characters found themselves in this year, so the final two episodes fit in that respect (and could still earn them Emmys, although both are in tough, tough races.
Tape A: “Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001” & “Black Light Attack!”
Tape B: “Anna Howard Shaw Day” & “Don Geiss, America and Hope”
Tape C: “The Moms” & “Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land”
Tina Fey, “30 Rock” (“Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001”)
Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock” (“Don Geiss, America and Hope”)
Jane Krakowski, “30 Rock” (“Black Light Attack!”)
There’s some strange decisions in the tapes, but they’re not bad decisions. They omitted some episodes which “feature” some of the bigger guest stars (like the finale, “I Do Do,” which is conspicuous in its absence), and instead featured the main cast with guest stars as a side dish – it’s telling that all three of the acting submissions are here even when the show had stronger episodes than “Black Light Attack!” to pair with the quite great “Dealbreakers.” They’re showcasing what people like about the show, with the extended Comcast parody in “Don Geiss, America and Hope” likely to pull over quite a few voters with “The Moms” offering a bit of heart that people like to see the show offer. It’s a really solid lineup of tapes, reflecting some of my critical concerns with the series’ inconsistency but not likely raising any flags for voters. These tapes, despite Glee and Modern Family’s hype, could still very easily win them an Emmy.
As for the other tapes, Fey could easily walk away with the category with her attempt to film the opening credits of her new talk show, while Baldwin is smart to use the “Kabletown” storyline for maximum industry appeal – Krakowski didn’t have a tape to compete with Bowen/Lynch, so that’s not going to make any difference.
Tape A: “Niagara”
Tape B: “Gossip” & “Murder”
Tape C: “The Lover” & “Secret Santa”
Steve Carell, “The Office” (“The Cover Up”)
A bit surprised to see the series avoid the baby episodes, which seemed like they would play together nicely as an hour-long block, but they likely wanted to display a bit more diversity and smartly chose “Niagara” as their hour-long episode (as that ending will pack a punch with voters). What’s interesting about the tapes is that they only feature episodes from the first half of the season: the entire “Sabre” arc, which most fans/critics felt suffered, is absent from the tapes, which means that the episodes featured largely stand alone. In some cases, this works alright (“Murder,” “The Lover,” and “Gossip” are solid choices), but “Secret Santa” is pretty bad, featuring Michael at his least likable and in my mind proving a liability for these tapes.
As for Carell, it’s clear that he’s coasting until he gets to his final year on the show (when he has to be considered the favourite) – “The Cover Up” isn’t a terrible episode of the show, but it doesn’t actually feature Michael. Yes, his paranoia is central to the episode, but it’s more about the Office hysteria which emerges around him than about the character himself, and so it seems bizarre to choose that over an episode where Carell plays off of Kathy Bates (which is not to say those are better episodes, but rather that there’s something which stands out). I have to think that this is a nod to castmate Rainn Wilson, who directed this episode, as I can’t think of any other reason behind the pick.
The Good: House’s Hugh Laurie logically went with “Broken,” the two-hour mini-movie of a season premiere, while his co-star in that episode, Andre Braugher, chose very well with his one-mad crusade against the power company in Men of a Certain Age’s “Powerless.” Tony Shahloub also selected logically, with the two-hour series finale “Mr. Monk and the End” to showcase his character finally discovering the identity of his wife’s killer (which is not a laugh riot, but does succeed in being quite emotional).
Meanwhile, frontrunners from last year will compete again: How I Met Your Mother’s Neil Patrick Harris fights fire with fire by submitting the musical-enhanced “Girls vs. Suits,” while last year’s winner in Comedy Actress, United States of Tara’s Toni Colette, is a frontrunner again with the multiple-personality showcase in “Torando!” However, she’ll compete with Amy Poehler (wisely submitting “Telethon” from Parks and Recreation’s second season) and Edie Falco (who plays it safe by submitting Nurse Jackie’s “Pilot,” which is always a good move).
And finally, Friday Night Lights’ Kyle Chandler enters the Drama Actor race with “East of Dillon,” which was a very strong premiere for the series and which nicely captures the uphill battle he faced all season.
The Bad: Burn Notice’s Sharon Gless, instead of submitting the episode featuring her character becoming part of Michael’s case and where she appears alongide her Cagney & Lacey co-star Tyne Daly, submitted the overwrought season finale (“Devil You Know”) in which he performance has far less context and resolution, making it a much less interesting submission. And, while I think The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons is very strong in the episode, I really wish that he had a better tape than “The Pants Alternative,” which I thought was silly and fails to represent the true strengths of both Parsons and Sheldon as a character – that he has a better shot for winning with something so reductive compared to last year’s “Bath Item Gift Hypothesis” makes me nauseous.