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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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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: ABC’s Modern Family

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: ABC’s Modern Family

July 5th, 2010

[This is part of 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.]

Last September, I would have called Modern Family the favourite in the Comedy categories, but times have changed: after winning at both the Golden Globes and the SAG awards, Glee has all of the momentum, which means that handicapping Modern Family’s chances becomes a bit more complicated.

A lot of it will come down to how much people appreciate Modern Family’s sturdiness: while it has been related with The Office (for its mockumentary style) and other single-camera comedies, its focus on family dynamics and fairly traditional sitcom plots makes it a far more comfortable show than one might have imagined when it debuted, especially compared to the messy but ambitious Glee. The show, not unlike CBS’ The Good Wife, hearkens back to the classic era of the family sitcom while using the trendy single-camera style, and so the show feels like it would appeal to voters from both camps. The problem, though, is that there are a lot of comedies which “pick a side” a bit more comfortably, and last year’s nominations skewed towards the trendy (30 Rock, Family Guy, The Office, Flight of the Conchords, Weeds, Entourage).

These reservations, however, are more about the series winning than about the series being nominated: there’s no question that Modern Family will be nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series, and it will certainly compete in the Writing and Direction categories. The question, though, is in the acting categories, where the entire cast is submitting in the Supporting races. This isn’t a bad reflection of the series’ dynamic (able to mix things up and being anyone into a “leading role” when asked of it), but it makes predicting the categories somewhat challenging, and there’s the risk that the show will garner fewer nominations as a result of vote-splitting.

In Supporting Actor, there are three front-runners: Ed O’Neill has sitcom pedigree (if not Emmy pedigree) that earns him some respect, Ty Burrell was the breakout performer from the Pilot, and Eric Stonestreet was the breakout performer from the rest of the season. The other two floating around the race, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Rico Rodriguez, are in the race but not to degree I wish they were: Rodriguez would probably be my choice if you forced me to pick one of these contenders, but I don’t think he can compete with the big three.

In Supporting Actress, meanwhile, there are two contenders that could easily make it into the race: Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara are playing such different characters (the former as the straight woman, and the latter as accent-accentuated comedy) that they won’t split votes to the degree of the men, which means each could garner a nomination. I think Bowen has a slightly better chance (since she’s been around longer, and was largely well-liked for her turn on Ed), but Vergara is arguably the “funnier” of the two performances, although it’s never clear just how much voters value that within these particular awards.

In some ways, Modern Family’s most direct historical comparison comes from ABC’s Desperate Housewives: yes, they’re very different shows (calling Housewives a comedy is a stretch, really), but both have expansive casts which threaten to split votes, both represent a turning point for ABC in terms of critical and ratings success, and both seem like “ideal” Emmy candidates but could still get beat out by other contenders (in Housewives’ case, by Everybody Loves Raymond). Housewives wasn’t the last time ABC had a nominee in Outstanding Comedy Series (Ugly Betty broke through in 2007), but it’s the first time they’ve had a real contender since then, so we’ll see if the network can finally enter the winner’s circle for the first time since The Wonder Years in 1988.

Contender In:

  • Outstanding Comedy Series
  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell, Eric Stonestreet)
  • Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara)
  • Writing for a Comedy Series
  • Directing for a Comedy Series
  • Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Fred Willard)

Dark Horse In:

  • Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Rico Rodriguez)

Should, but Won’t, Contend In:

  • Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (Shelley Long, who didn’t submit)

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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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Modern Family – “Fears”

“Fears”

March 4th, 2010

I understand sitcom formulas: I know why they exist, I know why they can sometimes be very funny, and I understand why there are quite a few viewers who are in love with them. And while I’m on the record as amongst those who are not quite on the Modern Family bandwagon, I respect a lot of what the show is doing, and do not begrudge it for being formulaic to varying degrees each week.

If I’m being honest, “Fears” was one of the best episodes the show has done in its most limiting formula, the separation of the three families into distinct stories. The theme was consistent, the comedy was varied, and the show perhaps came the closest yet to earning its saccharine conclusion. None of the stories fell too far into comic farce to feel like they were shoehorned into the corny conclusion, and while every story was on the edge of tipping into that land of love and caring that makes me want to throw up, they mostly stayed within something funny and sweet without going too far.

And yes, that’s the most convoluted way of saying “this was a pretty good episode of Modern Family” you’re likely to find.

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Modern Family – “Great Expectations”

“Great Expectations”

November 18th, 2009

In terms of the great comedy battle of 2009, which continues to rage amongst shows both new and old, Modern Family is at a distinct disadvantage: with Parks and Recreation delivering some legitimately great comedy and Community doing a really compelling and confident meta-storyline, the simplicity of this show is a disadvantage in terms of being flashy. There comes a point where the hype surrounding the show creates greater expectations than the storylines themselves can live up to in terms of their premise, requiring viewers to appreciate the strong execution where originality isn’t overtly present.

“Great Expectations” is a solid episode of the show, featuring a number of fun loving gags and a couple of big guest stars, but nothing stands out as particularly stunning as compared to some of the other comedies. In this instance, I think there was enough nuance to each individual story to continue to prove how strong the writers understand these characters, but it nonetheless follows similar patterns to what we’ve seen in the past. I think it’s one of their stronger episodes due to a nice role reversal, but it’s not reaching as high as some of the other comedies are right now.

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Modern Family – “The Bicycle Thief”

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“The Bicycle Thief”

September 30th, 2009

I, like every other TV critic on the planet, liked Modern Family. I even loved parts of it. But I was one of the few who expressed some trepidation at what the show was going to look like in the weeks ahead. So much of the episode was derived from the amazing final scene, one where everything came together in a bit of epic coming timing, and I wasn’t sure how the individual stories could live up to that moment.

For me, “The Bicycle Thief” leans heavily on two elements that made the pilot as strong as it was, focusing on Ty Burrell’s cool dad Phil and Cam’s dramatic side. I love what it does with Phil in this episode, and very much enjoy Cameron and Mitchell’s side of things, but I felt as if Jay and Gloria’s side of the equation was lacking a bit.

And it matters because here they choose to let the different families stand on their own for an episode, connecting them together with a general theme (a theme of fatherhood, in particular) as opposed to letting them mingle between one another. It makes for an episode that is somewhat less zany and surprising, but in at least 2/3 of its content it’s just as strong as it was last week.

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Series Premiere: Modern Family – “Pilot”

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“Pilot”

September 23rd, 2009

There has been a pretty impressive critical consensus that Modern Family is pretty darn good. While Glee might be creating the most enthusiastic response amongst fans, and Community appeals to particular senses of humour more, Modern Family has been the one pilot that nearly everyone has considered well-made, well-cast, and just all around kind of great. It’s also one pilot that I wasn’t able to see in advance, which meant that I went in with that always awkward sense that I was almost required to love the show. Expectations were higher than perhaps any other show, and the result could easily have been a sense that this had all been overhyped, and that it was all for naught.

But, as hard as the critics have tried to potentially ruin this experience, and the clips I saw back when the show was first announced ruined particular moments, and ABC decided to ruin the pilot’s “surprise,” none of it did anything to ruin the enjoyment of an enormously charming pilot. With a fantastic cast and a clever premise, the show only stops delivering laughs to provide heartwarming moments which are then turned upside down all over again.

The show isn’t perfect, by any means, but it’s a pilot which so hilariously defines its characters without turning them into one-dimensional stereotypes that it is certainly something to get excited about.

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