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More “Not Boring” Than Usual: Surprises Elevate the 2010 Primetime Emmys

More “Not Boring” Than Usual:

Surprises Elevate the 2010 Primetime Emmys

As a whole, the Emmy Awards live and die on surprise: sure, there’s always favourites, but the idea that “anything can happen” is what keeps us watching a show which so often punishes us for becoming emotionally involved. For every pleasant surprise there has been soul-crushing complacency, and so we watch hoping that something will cut through the pain in order to give us some sense of hope for the legitimacy of these awards.

And while we eventually leave each evening lamenting numerous mistakes, comfortable in our superior knowledge of what is truly great in television in a given year, I don’t want that to obfuscate the moments of transcendence. Sometimes, moments come together that defy our cynical expectations, moments that find the spontaneity in the scripted or make the spontaneous feel as if it was planned all along. And while I remain the jaded critic that I was before the show began, any chance of carrying that attitude through the entirety of the show was diminished at the sight of Jon Hamm booty-dancing towards Betty White, and all but gone by the time Top Chef finally ended The Amazing Race’s reign of terror over Reality Competition program.

It was a night filled with surprises, whether in terms of who was winning the awards (with a huge number of first-time winners) or in terms of emotional moments which resulted from those winners – sure, there were hiccups along the way, and there were still a number of winners which indicated that the Emmys are still stuck in their ways, but there was enough excitement for me to designate these Emmys as “not boring.”

In fact, I’d go so far as to say they were more “not boring” than usual.

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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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2010 Creative Arts Emmys Predictions: Guest Acting

2010 Creative Arts Emmys Predictions

August 21st, 2010

Each year the Creative Arts Emmys are a celebration of the unsung heroes, albeit a celebration which remains largely unsung: few ever really get to see the awards, and so there’s a certain lack of fanfare. However, with the Guest Acting awards given out at the show and with the battles between shows like Glee and Modern Family unfolding for the first time, it’s a good early indicator for how the big awards will fall.

I’m still grappling with the idea of doing predictions for the big awards, and waiting until the Creative Arts ceremony is over is a good reason to put it off for another day. So, let’s take a look at the Creative Arts awards, and go from there.

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And Your Winner, by Submission…: Analyzing 2010’s Emmy Tapes

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.

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The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

July 8th, 2010

The Emmy nominations (which you can find in full here) are less a sign of what’s truly great on television and a more a sign of what the Emmy voters have actually been watching.

Series and performers are nominated for Emmys for one of two reasons: either the Academy members watched episodes carefully and saw them deserving of an award, or they looked at their ballots and chose a familiar name, a much buzzed-about series, or the first name on the ballot. And, frankly, most years the latter seemed to be their modus operandi, to the point where I’ve started to disassociate voters with any notion of television viewership – I’m not even convinced most of them own televisions.

However, for once, I’d say that the 2010 Emmy nominations seem to have been made by people who actually enjoy the medium, with plenty of evidence to demonstrate that voters actually watched many of the shows they nominated and discovered not only the most hyped elements of that series but also those elements which are truly deserving of Emmys attention. There are still plenty of examples where it’s clear that Emmy voters didn’t truly bother to watch the series in question, and all sorts of evidence which indicates that the Emmy voters suffer from a dangerously selective memory and a refusal to let go of pay cable dramedies, but the fact remains that this is the most hopeful Emmy year in recent memory.

It isn’t that every nominee is perfect, but rather that there is evidence of Academy voters sitting down in front of their television and watching more than a single episode of the shows in question, making them less like soulless arbiters of quality and more like actual television viewers – it might not stick, but for a few moments it’s nice to finally see some nominees that indicate voters aren’t so much different from us after all.

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The 2010 Primetime Emmy Award Nominations

The 2010 Primetime Emmy Award Nominations

July 8th, 2010

[For complete analysis of the 2010 Emmy Nominees, head to my full breakdown, “The Trick is to Watch TV,” here.]

Here are the nominees for the 2010 Emmy Awards (and, for added value, my gut feelings in terms of early favourites have been bolded): for all of the awards, click here to download the Academy’s PDF.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • True Blood
  • Breaking Bad
  • The Good Wife
  • Dexter
  • Lost
  • Mad Men

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
  • Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)
  • Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights)
  • January Jones (Mad Men)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Matthew Fox (Lost)

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Parks and Recreation

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: NBC’s Parks and Recreation

June 25th, 2010

[This is the first in 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.]

I think there are many who doubt Parks and Recreation’s chances at this year’s Emmy awards, and I understand where they’re coming from: the show’s weak first season left a poor impression last Spring, and the lack of starpower beyond Amy Poehler makes it tough for the series to really break through.

It’s tough to assess its Emmy chances without comparing it to past NBC comedies, and the comparisons don’t really do the show any favours. While The Office also had a weak, and ignored, first season which failed to register any Emmys attention, Steve Carell became a movie star between seasons and the series had the UK series’ pedigree to build from. And while 30 Rock was also a low-rated NBC comedy series with a female lead from Saturday Night Live, it was also a low-rated NBC comedy series which pandered to industry-types with both its movie star male lead (Alec Baldwin) and its show business-centric premise. Amy Poehler did not become a movie star this past summer, nor did the Academy suddenly become experts on small town government, which means that Parks and Recreation’s surge in quality between seasons has every chance of being ignored by voters.

However, I do think that Parks and Recreation will grab itself an Emmys foothold this year, if perhaps not quite as large a foothold as The Office found when it won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in its second season. The Office didn’t grab a whole slew of nominations in that year: only Carell grabbed an acting nomination, and the show picked up just two editing nods and a writing nod (for Parks showrunner Michael Schur, in fact) to go along with them. I think there’s an outside chance of Parks and Recreation matching that total number of nominations when you factor in the technical awards (which I can’t really predict, but I have to hope those awesome murals don’t go unnoticed): Amy Poehler has to be considered a contender in Lead Actress in a Comedy Series after back-to-back nominations for Supporting Actress on Saturday Night Live, Megan Mullally has a great shot at grabbing a nod for her guest turn in “Ron & Tammy,” and the Outstanding Comedy Series category is unpredictable this year that there’s no way you can count out a show as good as this one.

And when it comes to Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, I think it’s safe to say that Nick Offerman has already won the award for many of us, as Ron Swanson was the season’s breakout television character by a country mile. Precedence says that Offerman’s a long shot: not only is he not quite a household name, but Rainn Wilson and Tracy Morgan didn’t even get in for The Office’s second seasons, so the supporting players are often the last to be recognized when a show is making a name for itself. However, I have faith that either Emmy voters will have seen enough of his performance to see its genius or that they got wind of the fact that he’s married to seven-time nominee Mullally and luck their way into a brilliant decision.

Parks and Recreation is unquestionably, and unfairly, fighting an uphill battle, and I don’t expect it to break through as The Office and 30 Rock did in their first major Emmy seasons. However, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the show has some things going for it, and that quality is not always absent from Emmy races: Two and a Half Men got bumped from Outstanding Comedy Series by Flight of the Conchords and How I Met Your Mother last year, so it’s not as if there’s no room for a dark horse. It doesn’t have the strongest ratings, or much buzz outside of highly vocal critical circles, but it has a whole lot of heart, and I have to hope that meant something to voters when they cast their ballots.

Contender in:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Amy Poehler)
  • Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Megan Mullally)
  • Writing for a Comedy Series

Dark Horse in:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Nick Offerman)
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Rob Lowe)

Should, but Won’t, Contend in:

  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Aubrey Plaza)
  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Chris Pratt, Aziz Ansari)

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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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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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The Best of 2009: Episodes of the Year

Episodes of the Year

December 20th, 2009

[This is the second of three lists recognizing the best of 2009 in Television: Performers of the Year has been posted, and Series of the Year will be posted tomorrow morning. These other lists will recognize parts of some of the shows missing from this particular list.]

When you review individual episodes all year, you might presume that it’s easy to be able to then categorize those episodes for the sake of an end of year Top 10.

You would be right…and wrong.

See, on the one hand, I have a pretty good memory of individual episodes that really made an impact, ones which stood out from the pack and connected with me. However, on the other hand, comparing an episode of Lost to an episode of 30 Rock doesn’t feel particularly natural, and more importantly you can’t actually create a list like this in a bubble. You have to consider which shows are making it onto other lists, and whether the sum of their parts are perhaps more worthy of recognition than a single episode. And you also need to consider whether a single performance was more likely the cause of an episode’s greatness as opposed to its collective influence. Throw in concerns about nostalgia or proximity clouding your judgment, and you have just as large a challenge whether or not you write episode reviews for the heck of it.

As such, my Top 10 Episodes of the Year are not, perhaps, the best episodes that aired this past year, but rather those which either really connected with me, or felt incredibly important to their individual shows’ success, or those which are on the list so that I’m not so embarrassed as to have those shows represented on none of the lists I put together. It’s not an exact science, but it eventually created a list (which is ordered by air date, in case that isn’t clear) of ten television episodes that really stuck with me this year.

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