Tag Archives: Elisabeth Moss

Season Finale: Mad Men – “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”

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“Shut the Door”

November 8th, 2009

“I’m not going…I’m just living elsewhere.”

Every episode of television is a collection of scenes, individual set pieces designed to present a particular moment or to evoke a particular emotion or feeling. The scenes serve one of many potential purposes, whether it’s establishing a standalone plot within a particular episode, calling back to a previous scene or event in another episode, or even simply being placed for the sake of foreshadowing. A scene can change meaning as a season progresses, an awkward encounter with an overly touchy politico turning into a legitimate affair by the addition of new scenes that speak to the old one, for example. And, at the same time, other scenes are simply brief thematic beats designed to give the viewer the sense of a particular time or place, with nothing more beneath them than the aesthetic value apparent in the craftsmanship involved.

A great episode of television, however, is where every single scene feels purposeful, and more importantly where there is no one type of scene which feels dominant. There can still be scenes designed to engage with nothing more than the viewer’s sense of humour, just as there will be scenes that feel like the culmination of two and a half seasons worth of interactions. In these episodes there is a balance between scenes which unearth feelings and emotions from the past that have been kept under wraps all season and scenes which create almost out of thin air entirely new scenarios that promise of an uncertain future.

In a season finale in particular, this last point is imperative. A great season finale assures the reader that, as the quote above indicates, the change which is going to take place in the season to follow is both fundamental (in presenting something which surprises or engages) and incidental (in maintaining the series’ identity), both chaotic (in the context of the series’ fictional universe) and controlled (within the mind of the show’s writers). It is an episode that must feel like the fruit of the thirty-five episodes which preceded it while also serving as the tree for the twenty-six episodes which will follow. It is the episode that, for better or for worse, will be more closely scrutinized than any other, and for which expectations are exceedingly high.

“Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” is more than a collection of scenes. It transcends the concepts of script and screen to capture characters in their most vulnerable states, in the process tapping into the viewer’s emotions with a sense of purpose that the show has never quite seen. Where past amazing episodes have sometimes hinged upon a single scene or a single moment, or on the creation of a particular atmosphere, this finale is like a never-ending stream of scenes that we have been clambering for all season: characters say everything we wanted them to say, do everything we wanted them to do, and yet somehow it never felt like puppet theatre where the characters would follow the whims of Matthew Weiner more than their own motivations.

It is a finale that never wastes a single scene, and which marches towards an uncertain conclusion with utmost certainty. Somehow, in a finale which does not shy away from scenes which are both disturbing to watch and destructive to the show’s tempestuous sense of balance, it maintains a cautious optimism by demonstrating that not everything will fall apart at once, while retaining the right to have everything in shambles by the time we return with Season Four. It’s a singular achievement, an hour of television which sits perfectly in the gap between the past and the future while never feeling as if it takes us out of the present, the moment in which these characters are captured in these scenes.

So, shut the door and have a seat: we’ve got some discussing to do.

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Mad Men – “Seven Twenty Three”

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“Seven Twenty Three”

September 27th, 2009

It’s always interesting to see how viewing Mad Men changes when you have certain pieces of information.

One of the key themes of “Seven Twenty Three” is knowing certain information, or having certain contraptions which allow you to better view your situation. The eclipse is obviously the central image of this, but across the board we see characters who know things which make the actions or words of others particularly dangerous. It’s like everything is a trap waiting to happen, where saying the wrong thing can push someone to do something you couldn’t expect. Of course, this being Don Draper’s show at the end of the day, it is Don who says the wrong thing, and who is slowly losing what he thought was control of his life as he waits until the eclipse gets more interesting before donning his sunglasses.

For me going into this episode, I had heard about the walks of shame, and had pieced together what I would consider to be one of the most traumatizing (if not in the same way as Joan’s Season 2 predicament) images Mad Men has offered to date. However, much like an eclipse, there is something powerful about seeing even what you know was going to happen, especially when the important thing is not so much what happens but rather how it changes the person at the centre of it all.

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Emmy2009Title

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

Five heavyweights and one newcomer, defining a race that’s all about recognizability and not actually about the submissions being made…on the surface.

What makes this category interesting is that Glenn Close really doesn’t have a real shot of losing the award. She’s got just as much credibility as she had when she won last year for Damages’ first season, and she put forward yet another season of strong work on the series. She’s submitted its tense conclusion (which, full disclosure, I never got around to watching since the season got too uninteresting for me to continue), which gives her that element of added drama, and by playing the essential villain in the piece (a somewhat misunderstood villain, even), it’s the kind of performance that voters are really going to see stand out.

And the thing about this category is that there isn’t much variety, so Close’s familiarity and consistency is unlikely to lose when it won against more or less the same contenders last year. Field submitted poorly, and the procedural cop nature of Hargitary/Sedgwick/Hunter doesn’t seem like it can match her intensity. This leaves only one other competitor, young Elisabeth Moss, the first of Mad Men’s accomplished female cast members to garner a nomination.

The problem with Moss is that she has a one scene submission: outside of her amazing sequence with Pete in his office discussing the events of a year previous, she isn’t in a lot of the episode, and because entire episodes are submitted to voters to watch they’re likely going to be wondering just where she is the rest of the time. That scene is incredibly important when you’re a viewer of the show and understand the context, and there’s no question that Moss is stunning in it. The problem lies in the fact that it won’t have that impact with voters, who will see a great episode of television but one in which she plays a supporting role. While I think that submitting in Supporting is misleading to the role Moss/January Jones both play on the show, it does seem like the category would have worked better (where they show only the scenes the nominee is in) for this particular example.

Predicted Winner: Glenn Close (Damages)

I don’t think enough has changed since last year, nor do any of the other actresses have an amazing enough submission tape, for Close to be knocked off of her throne. Hopefully next year sees a bit more divorce lineup of competition and perhaps some room for some surprises.

Dark Horse: Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)

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2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis: Power to the People?

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Power to the People?

2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis

The people have the power, and the people have pretty darn good taste.

That’s the story out of this year’s Emmy award nominations (click here for Cultural Learnings’ list, and here for the Academy’s) where a few key surprises and a couple of major snubs indicate that the popular vote was not in any capacity an absolutely travesty for the Academy, as some quite logically predicted. I spoke earlier this week about just what the definition of popular would end up indicating, and the answer appears to be a healthy combination of an appreciation of great television and an eye for trendy selections. The result is an Emmys where nearly every category has a silver lining, and where a few snubs are not enough to give the impression that there’s going to be some very deserving winners in this field.

Mad Men and 30 Rock Dominate

There is no surprise here, don’t get me wrong: no one expected the iron grip of these two shows to stop after dominating last year’s proceedings. However, the scale of that domination is quite ludicrous. 30 Rock has 10 acting nominations, 4 writing nominations, 3 directing nominations, plus its nod for Best Comedy Series and all of its other technical nods. The result is an absolutely staggering number of nominations, and I’m happy about it: I like seeing Tracy Morgan, Jack McBrayer and Jane Krakowski all get nominations for their work along with Fey and Baldwin, and although the four writing nominations kept other shows out of the running they are four pretty fantastic episodes.

Mad Men, meanwhile, didn’t add quite as many nods, although it did pick up a Lead Actress nomination for Elisabeth Moss, which makes me extremely happy. As I said in my preview, I really expected January Jones in the category, but I prefer Moss’ less showy role at the end of the day. Still, combine with Hamm (also nominated for his guest stint on 30 Rock) and Slattery returning (I’d have preferred Kartheiser, but I’ll take it), and its own four writing nominations (plus a directing nod), and the show is without a doubt dominating on the drama side of things.

Out with the “Popular,” In with the Popular

In the biggest shocker of all considering the popular vote, the Comedy Series category had one shocking exclusion and one suprising (but oft predicted) inclusion. The exclusion is the most popular comedy on television, in terms of viewers – Two and a Half Men failed to secure a comedy nod, something it has done in years previous. This makes me question the definition of popular, especially with the inclusion – Family Guy, the first animated comedy series since The Flintstones to make it into the category. While The Simpsons always chose to compete in the Animation category because it also reflects the work of the animators, Family Guy chose to cut out the animated part and compete with the big boys, and it paid off. However, unlike last year where they could submit their Star Wars special in order to get credit for the animators, this year they’re left off entirely, so MacFarlane’s ego is being boosted at the expense of the show’s direction.

The Sophomores Triumph

No one was quite sure what would happen with Breaking Bad, a second year show that won Emmys last year but without much support around it. Well, we have our answer: although snubbed out of both directing and writing, the series picked up a nomination for Drama Series, and Aaron Paul snuck into the highly competitive Supporting Actor (Drama) category for his work on the show, in addition to Bryan Cranston’s nomination for Lead Actor. Damages also impressed, delivering nominations for William Hurt (undeserved, but whatever), Rose Byrne, Glenn Close, Ted Danson (Guest), as well as Series and Directing nods.

The Freshmen Fail

True Blood had a real shot at some awards love, but it was empathically shut out of the proceedings: it’ll probably contend with United States of Tara for best Title Sequence, but with no Drama Series or Lead Actress love, it’s clear the Emmys didn’t find its vampire story appealing. That’s unfortunate for the show, but it’s a trend: no Freshman series broke into the series categories, and only Simon Baker (The Mentalist) and Toni Colette (United States of Tara) made their way into the major categories.

HBO “Domination”

In a popular vote, nobody quite knew where HBO would end up, but the answer is in far better shape than people anticipated – although Mad Men and Breaking Bad have AMC as the new “it” network, HBO is still holding some cache. Not only did Big Love score a huge surprise nomination as the 7th contender in the Drama Series race, but Flight of the Conchords is honestly the biggest story of the awards. With a Comedy Series nomination, a shocking Lead Actor nomination for Jemaine Clement, plus both writing and directing nominations, the show blew onto the radar like it wasn’t struggling with growing pains in its second season. While everyone saw the show’s Carol Brown getting an Original Song nod, the love wasn’t anticipated. The network also performed well with In Treatment, which missed the Drama Series race but picked up three acting nods (Byrne, Davis, Wiest).

The Year of How I Met Your Mother

I let out an extremely girlish “Yay,” nearly dropping my computer, when How I Met Your Mother was listed as one of the nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series (and I even predicted it!). I know it has no chance in the category, but its nomination is a vindication of the highest order that voters went with the popular vote, and that it jumped from not even being in the Top 10 to being in the Top 7. I call it the Year of HIMYM, though, because Neil Patrick Harris has an open door to pick up an Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Comedy – long live Barney Stinson.

After the jump: Surprises! Snubs! Etc.!

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2009 Emmy Nominations: And the Nominees Are…

Emmy2009Title

And the Nominees Are…

2009 Emmy Nominations

For analysis of the surprises, the snubs, and everything in between, check out:

Power to the People?: 2009 Emmy Nominations Analysis [Link]

However, in list form, the nominees for the 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards are…

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Big Love
  • Breaking Bad
  • Damages
  • Dexter
  • House
  • Lost
  • Mad Men

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Simon Baker (The Mentalist)

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • Entourage
  • Family Guy
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Office
  • 30 Rock
  • Weeds

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords)
  • Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
  • Steve Carell (The Office)
  • Charlie Sheen (Two and a Half Men)
  • Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
  • Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Christina Applegate (Samantha Who?)
  • Toni Colette (United States of Tara)
  • Tina Fey (30 Rock)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (New Adventures…Christine)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)
  • Sarah Silverman (The Sarah Silverman Program)

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2009 Emmy Award Predictions: Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Emmy2009Title

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Predictions

Like with Lead Actor, chances are there are going to be a lot of familiar faces in this category, as veteran actresses in showy roles are unlikely to disappear from last year’s ballot. The difference here, though, is a bit more uncertainty in terms of how the popular vote will fall and who will benefit from the extra spot and someone potentially dropping from the category.

Glenn Close, who won last year for Damages, is a lock for another nomination, as are Sally Field and Kyra Sedgwick who will remain perennial nominees at this stage. This leaves three spots, which could go in a number of directions. The safest bet may be to give two of them to last year’s nominees, Mariska Hargitay and Holly Hunter. However, I have an odd feeling about Hunter, and Hargitay is one who I think benefited more from screeners than she may have from the popular vote, which creates some opportunity for some new blood.

While that may seem like a logical segue into another actress, I think the most likely individual is January Jones. Mad Men’s ladies were entirely unrepresented last year, a sin considering how great they are, but this year one would expect either Jones or Elisabeth Moss to break through. The reason Jones is the obvious choice is that Moss really had her big storyline in the first season; she was great in the second season, and part of me prefers her to Jones, but there is something iconic about Betty Draper and her connection with her husband (guaranteed nominee Jon Hamm) that is likely to pull voters towards her.

Also circling is Mary McDonnell, whose portrayal of President Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactica reportedly made the Top 10 last year. It’s a showy role, and SciFi did their best to remind voters that this is their last chance to nominate her for her stellar work. At the same time, it’s still a science fiction series, and the emotion of her final scenes in “Daybreak” or her anger in “The Hub” are more powerful for fans than voters.

Speaking of fans, Anna Paquin has to be considered a contender; no, winning the Golden Globe doesn’t mean anything when it’s a Golden Globe, but she’s a former Oscar winner (if you haven’t seen The Piano, do so immediately) and the show has garnered a real following and has HBO backing its campaign. The show’s a bit too campy in order to break into the series race, but Paquin’s character shows some skin, has an accent (a bad one, but still), and has highly emotional storylines – that’s a solid recipe for Emmy.

Also on the periphery: Jeanne Tripplehorn, who is now the only of Big Love’s wives to be submitting in the category, Patricia Arquette, who continues to garner attention for newly-relocated Medium, and Jill Scott, whose Botswana-shot No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency was well-received critically and where she has a highly dramatic, engaging performance that could sneak in under the radar. I’m aware that she’s a definite long shot compared to former Oscar nominees slumming in television, but sometimes doing predictions I get bored and want to go out on a limb.

Predictions for Lead Actress in a Drama

  • Glenn Close (“Damages”)
  • Sally Field (“Brothers & Sisters”)
  • January Jones (“Mad Men”)
  • Anna Paquin (“True Blood”)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer”)
  • Jill Scott (“No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”)

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Season Finale: Mad Men – “Meditations in an Emergency”

“Meditations in an Emergency”

October 26th, 2008

“We don’t know what’s really going on; you know that.”

While there have been a lot of meta-critical statements made by characters in the universe of Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men, there is perhaps none more simple than this observation Don makes about the nature of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The entire series hinges on secrets, on facts hidden to everyone but a select few who are concealing something that is potential volatile. For the most part, these secrets are more dangerous to those who hold them than those who are in the dark: for others, not having secrets when you know that others do can leave you desperate for something, anything to identify with them.

The genius of “Meditations in an Emergency” is the emergency itself, the Cuban Missile Crisis which suddenly made the Cold War very real. Kinsey notes how everyone is looking at people in a different way, suddenly terrified that they’re a spy and that they’re helping to organize some sort of attack. For our characters, however, this culture of fear and concern is less a motivator to run for the hills in search of safety and more an opportunity to face what is truly inside of them. If there is a single unifying factor in our main characters, it is that none of them show any signs of running away in the face of this struggle: instead, they all run closer than ever before to that which has paralyzed them, that which has confused them, or that which has been causing them to question themselves.

What we get in this fantastic season finale, then, is a series of actions: letters written, confessions given, power plays made, acts committed, and feelings confronted. The end result is, without question, the ultimate test of these characters: it is a question not of whether we value their actions, but rather their choice in making them which defines who they are, and why they matter to us as a viewer, to Weiner as a writer, and to this series as a timepiece of a period of social and personal change.

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Season Premiere: Mad Men – “For Those Who Think Young”

“For Those Who Think Young”

July 27th, 2008

The breakout success of Mad Men has been a huge surprise – when I started watching the show last summer, it was a cable show from a network that didn’t do such shows. It had the pedigree of Matthew Weiner, and it had some positive kudos from the critics, but what person would have predicted sixteen Emmy nominations, two Golden Globes, and a cultural firestorm so powerful that it even compelled the Canadian networks with the rights to the series to air the second season premiere before the first season has even completed airing?

But the time for kudos, set visits, really fancy DVD sets and excessive hype is over: while last season’s finale seems like ages ago at this point, it’s time to see whether the emotional resonance of “The Wheel” can be rekindled as the show picks up fifteen months later and in a whole different critical context: once a show without expectation, it has become perhaps the most closely watched sophomore session of the year.

And the series is showing its age, to use the opening episode’s central theme: it is a show that allows its characters to feel all of their insecurities in a way that ages them. If we look back to each character’s trajectory, and the series’ central transportation back to another era, a lot of it is about time and the way it changes people: whether it’s Betty Draper looking back to her modeling days or Roger Sterling having an affair with Joan, the voluptuous secretary, it’s all inevitably about returning to a younger self, a younger identity.

As the show begins its second season, it strongly and intelligently hits on this note, framing a story of a Valentine’s Day where “Young” is in and where those feeling time slipping away from them are hoping to hang onto everything they can. With a large ensemble cast and a number of emotional cliffhangers to deal with, the jump forward in time brings new facial hair, new jobs, and new rumours; in the process, it’s a new season of one of television’s finest dramas.

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The Top 10+ Pleasant Surprises of the 2008 Emmy Top 10s

The Top 10 Pleasant Surprises of the Top 10s

[If I was currently wearing a hat, I would take it off in honour of Tom O’Neill’s continued amazing work gathering up leaks in regards to the Top 10 lists of semi-finalists for the Emmy Awards panels taking place over the next few weeks. While he doesn’t have the complete list, I’m willing to go out and indicate the 10 choices (In no particular order, but the top 2 probably are) that actually make me optimistic about the show’s relevancy (Before, admittedly, taking a look tomorrow at the ones that give me no hope at all).]

1. Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica)

Category: Lead Actress, Drama Series

Last year when writing up my For Your Consideration posts, I said the following about Mary McDonnell’s work as President Laura Roslin on my favourite Sci-Fi series:

“What I love about Mary McDonnell’s portrayal of the character is that, without fail, you are always rooting for Laura Roslin to succeed except for those moments where she is clearly wrong. In those cases, McDonnell makes you want to see Roslin get let down as easily as possible, in order to ensure that she isn’t too damaged in the process.”

This is even more true this season, where her character finds her cancer back and where a whole new perspective is reached. Her performance in “Faith” is heart-wrenching, and that panels will finally get to see an episode of this fantastic series in the Top 10 warms my frakking heart. This is one of those surprises that gives you faith that the Emmys are willing to recognize performances off the beaten path, if you will, and they don’t get much better than this.

2. Zeljko Ivanek (Damages)

Category: Supporting Actor, Drama Series

When previewing this category, I lamented the likely lack of recognition for Damages other supporting actor contender:

“While he seemed fairly minimal in most instance, sparring with Patty or reasoning with Frobisher, Ivanek burst into the main narrative with “I Hate These People.” Without falling into total spoiler territory, the character took a sudden turn to the tragic, a dramatic fall that was more compelling than anything the other supporting characters went through.”

That he broke through was a highlight for me, a sign that people were watching all of Damages and not just the show’s pilot. Ivanek may have had accent issues, and certainly the show wasn’t near perfect, but his performance in his submission is simply stunning, and I can only hope voters enjoy the time they have with this amazing piece of work.

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