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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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Chuck – “Chuck vs. the Role Models”

“Chuck vs. the Role Models”

May 3rd, 2010

I wasn’t actually in the writer’s room when it happened, but the more I watch of Chuck Season 3.5 (the six episodes ordered after the first thirteen were broken/written as a conclusive story) the more I feel like the writers quite literally went back to the drawing board. In some ways, this set of episodes is like a whole new spinoff series, starting with last week’s pilot-like “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners,” and now these are the episodes where the show taps into various situations that seem to stem logically from the central premise.

In this case, Chuck has been reimagined as a series about two spies in love trying to make it work, so “Chuck vs. the Role Models” trots out an older married couple within the CIA to offer Chuck and Sarah a glimpse of their future, and to test their long term compatibility (after their short-term teamwork was proven in last week’s episode). Similarly, after last week’s episode introduced us to Morgan as a member of Team Bartowski, this week had Casey run him through his paces by offering some field training. They’re stories that feel like sitcom pitches based on where the show was situated after the end of last week’s episode, logical avenues for the show to investigate that could feel perfunctory is not executed well.

Fortunately, “Chuck vs. the Role Models” is a regular hootenanny (bonus points to who can tell me what episode of Buffy I watched today which has this word stuck in my head), taking full advantage of a couple of great guest stars and some nicely drawn situations to really get the most out of these central storylines. Throw in some nice subtle serialization, both through Ellie and Awesome’s time in Africa and through the consistency of character/tone throughout, and you have a show which continues to feel re-energized after a downer of a season.

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Modern Family – “Travels with Scout”

“Travels with Scout”

April 28th, 2010

If we accept that Modern Family is going to be an inherently predictable show, then the difference between a good episode and a bad episode is what predictable behaviour it leans towards. In the case of “Travels with Scout,” we find a familiar three-part structure that offers each family with their own story, all of which reach somewhat heartwarming, somewhat embarrassing, ultimately positive conclusions.

And ultimately, this is the type of episode which works: the show isn’t really going to abandon this formula, and so long as those stories provide a solid balance of believable human behaviour and clever one-liners the show is pretty much in its comfort zone. The show runs into problems when it becomes predictably sappy or overwrought, and the few moments where “Travels with Scout” could move in that direction are nicely undercut with the subtle deployment of some broad comedy.

It’s not going to be a series best, but it feels like an episode which earns its running time, which is what the show should be doing at this stage in the season.

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Pushing Daisies – “Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic”

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“Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic”

November 19th, 2008

With production on the thirteenth episode of its second season completed last week, Pushing Daisies has officially completed all episodes ordered by ABC. This is an alarming fact that hasn’t been lost on fans of the series, and they’re (justifiably) hoping that tonight’s episode brings a solid ratings bump and a chance for a third season (or, even, the order of more episodes for the Spring). As someone who is very much a fan of this series, I count myself amongst them: my fingers are crossed for tomorrow moning. Call it a cliche, but we’re hoping for a little bit of magic.

“Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic” is actually a really interesting study for the show, and poses a question to this particular critical eye: is it the fanciful locations and atmospheric qualities that give Pushing Daisies its magical quality, or is it the characters who populate this world who have such pure and human emotions that magic spontaneously erupts when they’re on screen? While Fred Willard’s guest appearance as an illusionist (“The Great Herrmann”) and the world of magic offer some points of interest, the season has had better locations (in particular, the monastery and the circus exploded off the screen in ways that the claustrophobic stage just doesn’t).

Instead, this first episode back from a three week hiatus finds the show leaning on its characters, finding its emotion in their humour (Emerson and Olive) as well as their own tragic pasts (Ned and Chuck’s parent troubles). While there have been some who have called this one of the show’s best episodes yet, I felt somewhat more lukewarm about it. Until it kicks into gear in the third act, where the emotions finally overflow into a very exciting and meaningful conclusion, it was what Pushing Daisies always is: a show that finds magic in procedural mystery, and one that we hope continues to do so for a long time to come.

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