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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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Season Finale: Party Down – “Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception”

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“Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception”

May 22nd, 2009

There’s an argument to be made that Party Down is the season’s strongest new comedy, and it’s one that has become progressively easier to make as the season continues. Not to disparage Better Off Ted (which is good but not particularly revolutionary), or The United States of Tara (which was a drama before it was a comedy, realistically speaking), but this out of nowhere Starz series from Rob Thomas and John Enbom simply presented the most complete comedy to debut. A strong ensemble cast is supported by a series of constantly changing party scenarios, ranging from the ridiculous to the personal, where recognizable actors show up as guest stars to complicate the lives of the characters involved; it doesn’t sound too complicated when you really think about it, but it’s essentially an absurdist procedural dark comedy series, and one that has been remarkably consistent.

“Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception” is a strong way to end such a consistent season, if not the show’s best episode: like many other comedies, the show is often as its most effective when dealing with heavier dramatic material but at the same time can lose something of its essence. The presence of Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) helps to elevate the finale from a comic level, and Jennifer Coolidge’s continuing guest stint in place of Jane Lynch brings something fun to the table, but this episode is far less about the scenario than it is about the characters. While the series has often ignored the reality of catering in order to allow the characters to mingle about and face little to no actual work, here the whole point is that there is real work: this is the real world, and if you can’t take the heat get out of the barn.

And by the end of the episode, everyone but Henry sort of does.

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Flight of the Conchords – “Prime Minister”

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“Prime Minister”

March 1st, 2009

There are two stories in “Prime Minister,” and each of them is absolutely perfect for this surrealist world we’ve created. The show has leaned heavily this season on the humour to be found in New Zealand’s low level of cultural awareness, and less on the Conchords as an actual music duo: here, both of these elements are brought together with Bret and Jemaine spiraling into the world of cover bands while we get to meet Murray Hewitt’s own Murray Hewitt, the Prime Minister of New Zealand.

They end up coming together better than one might expect, especially late in the episode where the “lookalike” culture moves from one storyline into another, and both end up going in directions that are awfully nutty but in a way that is always noticed by the characters, either because they were responsible for its execution or because they are sober enough to realize that Art Garfunkel showing up at your girlfriend’s door while you’re in an Art Garfunkel wig is about time to hightail it out of there.

Yet, the episode was nonetheless another sign that while the comic foundation of the show is perhaps better than other, the songs just aren’t there: here is an opportunity to potentially have the episode soundtracked by Simon & Garfunkel-esque hits, and yet instead we get a Korean karaoke song and a 90s rock song with a nice hook but nothing to really connect it to the episode’s identity. And while I’m all for the show projecting such comic confidence on one end of the spectrum, I’m still left wanting for an episode that brings the two parts together.

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