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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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Treme – “Shame, Shame, Shame”

“Shame, Shame, Shame”

May 9th, 2010

There is a certain familiarity within Treme that has seemed a little bit foreign in the early stages of the series – community is obviously a key theme for the series, but it seems like everyone knows everyone else, or at least seem to know everyone who they need to know in order to allow Simon and Overmeyer to make the arguments they want to make. It just so happens that Lambreaux knows a city councilor, and it turns out that Ladonna’s brother worked at Janette’s restaurant, and it seems Toni Bernette represents just about everyone in this city. There’s a point where we start to wonder just how all of these connections could be possible, moments that pull us out of the sense of “realism” and authenticity the show seems to be trying to capture (and which Christopher Cwynar wrote about here).

And yet, “Shame, Shame, Shame” opens with a dream sequence, which is precisely the opposite of realistic and yet which sort of places everything into perspective. There is a certain level of spiritual fantasy to New Orleans, a lyricism which the show wants to be able to capture: it wants to show people struggling in the wake of the storm, certainly, but it also wants to emphasize that they are always part of a community, and what better way to capture that than by having them know one another, or at the very least having their paths intersect more than we could have imagined. The show’s various cameos are not so much meant to overwhelm us with star power (although tonight’s got to me for reasons I’ll get into after the jump) as they are to place these characters within “real” communities, providing them a sense of hope within a situation that isn’t going to be getting better anytime soon.

Sure, there are occasionally moments when things seem a bit too serendipitous, but there are enough moments where this episode nicely delineates between hope and reality that I think I’m along for the ride.

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I Come to Praise Sepinwall, Not to Bury Him: Reflections on “What’s Alan Watching?”

In the world of television criticism, tomorrow is a pretty important milestone: Alan Sepinwall, television critic for the Star-Ledger and NJ.com, is becoming Television Critic for HitFix.com.

I don’t want to make this sound like some sort of eulogy: Alan’s writing isn’t going to change with this transition, and if anything his new job prioritizes the kind of writing that has made Alan so influential within the critical community. However, as someone whose work is unquestionably inspired by Alan’s and who has been lucky enough to become part of that critical community over the past few years, I want to take a moment to contextualize what “What’s Alan Watching” has helped facilitate.

While in his “transition” post Alan highlights some of the big moments on his blog (like his involvement in the “Save Chuck” campaign or his post-Sopranos finale interview with David Chase), the largest impact “What’s Alan Watching?” has had in my experience is the empowerment of the masses – his work bridges the gap between how we think about television and how professionals write about television, and used the potential of internet communities to form a space where the cultural value of television is more clear than perhaps any other space on the internet.

And I think now seems like a good time to recognize this.

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The Best of 2009: The Shows of the Year

The Shows of the Year

December 21st, 2009

When you’re selecting the Top 10 shows of the year, you reach the point where you have to ask yourself: what would the year have been like if this show hadn’t been on the air?

And this criteria oddly kept a few shows off this list that I thought would have been here, shows which felt like they made a fairly substantial impact at the time but eventually felt defined more by a single episode than by the season as a whole, or by a single performer rather than the entire ensemble. And then there were shows which I love, shows that hold a special place in my heart and held special places within my End of Decade retrospective, but delivered seasons this calendar year which felt as if they were relying on rather than building on previous success. And then there were shows that I know are objectively better than some of the series which are on this list, but yet never felt integral to the year in television as we know it, that never felt as if they had made an impact on my experience with this medium over the past twelve months. Throw in the shows I just don’t watch, and those which just barely missed the cut despite meeting my criteria, and I’m sure there’s plenty of shows which you would contend should have a place on this list.

However, the shows on this list are a reflection of what was a really great year in television, a year where shows with intense fan support proved to withstand critical scrutiny and where shows with strong reputations delivered seasons that demonstrated intense control over their characters and their journeys. It was also a year where we recognize the joys of the Sophomore Season, where a network shows enough faith in a series to give it a second kick at the can and is rewarded with a creative explosion impossible to ignore. And it was also a year where, according to the list below, the network with the worst track record somehow managed to be affiliated with five of the best shows on television, demonstrating that there are some shows capable of transcending industry finagling to simply be great television.

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The Best of 2009: Performers of the Year

Performers of the Year

December 19th, 2009

I am not capable of working magic, so I shall not attempt to rank every single amazing television performance of the past year and boil them down to only ten selections. It’s an impossible task that the Emmys are incapable of doing correctly even when they have numerous categories in which to highlight particular nominees, so who am I to try to cover all of my bases with just ten names?

The purpose of this list, rather than trying to represent every great performance, is to highlight those that had an impact on me, and to some degree to highlight those which might not be represented elsewhere on the list in terms of particular episodes or the series themselves (and since I limited it to one performer per show, in some instances I refused to make a decision and chose to represent them elsewhere). In some cases, this means singling out the one part of an ensemble that I enjoyed, and in others it means singling out obvious candidates because there may not have been room for their shows on other lists (although I could just be messing with your heads, who knows?).

Now, in selecting this list, I had two basic rules:

  • If they won an Emmy or some other major award, chances are I didn’t include them.
  • If I didn’t see it (e.g. Breaking Bad), I can’t award them for it.

The second rule is there for an obvious reason, but the first is a bit more complex. I know that someone like Toni Colette gave a great performance in United States of Tara this year, no doubt, but I also know that she already got an Emmy for it – I don’t really need to tell you she gave a great performance, and I am more likely to give her spot to someone who hasn’t won an Emmy, or who should have won an Emmy, or who might some day win an Emmy. This isn’t to say I’m avoiding all buzzworthy individuals, but rather to suggest that I tried to avoid the usual suspects (so, no Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, for example).

So, without further ado, let’s discuss the Top 10 Performers of the Year (in alphabetical order, by the way).

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Cultural Catchup: The Week in Comedy

After a week away in New York, which was really exciting, I came back to a pretty huge backlog. While I might not end up reviewing any individual shows beyond Mad Men (which went up earlier tonight), I do want to be able to comment on the comedy of the past week or so. Drama might be a bit more intimidating (was two episodes behind with both House and Sons of Anarchy), but we’ll see if we get to that in the days ahead (Reality won’t be there at all: Top Chef was predictable, Runway was boring, Survivor was expendable, and Amazing Race was a week ago and similarly uneventful).

For now, thoughts on (deep breath) The Office, Community, Parks and Recreation, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, Saturday Night Live, Modern Family, Cougar Town, The Middle and Greek (phew!).

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Upfronts Analysis: The 8 2009-2010 Shows I’m Looking Forward To

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The 8 2009-2010 Shows I’m Looking Forward To

May 22nd, 2009

Every year when the madness of the Upfronts begins, there’s a deluge of video clips of the various new shows arriving. In some ways, I’m kind of an awful TV critic, since I hadn’t watched a single piece of video from any of the new shows until late last night.

Admittedly, when it comes to scheduling, I often find the various moves and strategies more entertaining than the programming itself (with only a few clips available, and usually very polished ones that hide a show’s flaws), but it just seemed like this year’s upfronts weren’t catching me as it relates to the shows themselves. There wasn’t one big show that, based on its cast or its premise, jumped out at me as something that I would absolutely have to watch, no pilots that I had followed extensively and really wanted to see make it to series, or anything like that. It got to the point where, when I did sit down to start watching video clips, I didn’t expect to find much at all to be excited about.

In the end, though, I ended up putting together a list that surprised me both in its length and its quality. No, there isn’t that one big pilot that really threatens to dominate my TV viewing, but there’s eight shows where based only on clips I’m ready to commit to giving the show a shot in the Fall. I still want a chance to dig into the pilots before making any sort of final judgment, but in the meantime there’s a collection of series which show that, although I don’t think this year’s lineup has one breakout hit in it (I’ll get to why in a second), it is very diverse in its areas of strength.

I’ll get to some of the shows I’m already canceling in my head, as well as those which are going to be pilot dependent, over the weekend, but for now let’s take a look at the eight shows (counting down from 8 to 1, because rankings are fun) I’m excited about for next season.

[Note: I’m not including Glee, since I’ve seen Glee, and you can go to iTunes or Fox.com to watch Glee, and I already know I’m going to enjoy it, and have in fact already enjoyed it.]

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Upfronts Analysis: NBC 2009-2010 Fall Schedule

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NBC 2009-2010 Schedule

May 19th, 2009

NBC is not a network of surprises: it announced its new shows at its Infront presentation, we’ve known about Jay Leno moving to 10pm for ages, and even Chuck’s renewal was something that was pretty well guaranteed before today’s upfronts presentation. At the same time, the network’s schedule is perhaps the most interesting of the major networks since, with less primetime real estate than CBS or ABC, they are working on a whole new schedule and forced to make some important decisions.

It’s a better schedule than I expected, to be honest: yes, the network has been forced to make some tough decisions (My Name is Earl and Medium cut, but potentially returning on another network – FOX and ABC interested in Earl, CBS likely to pick up Medium), but they’ve been pretty smart in how they’ve scheduled everything else. With smart strategies for launching their new comedies, and one last attempt at seeing whether Heroes’ audience is capable of serving as a lead-in, NBC has at least leveraged what momentum they have going into this year (not much) to try to create a schedule that could keep them out of last place.

Even with all that work, though, ten to one Leno ends up keeping them there.

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