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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Emmy2009Title

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • 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)

I’ve been wrestling with this category for a while, although let’s be entirely clear: this is a duel.

While Louis-Dreyfus is a past winner, and Parker is a consistent nominee, and Applegate contended for the award and could have won it last year, there is no one in this category who can challenge Fey outside of Toni Colette (Silverman might as well not be nominated). Fey has been the toast of the town with her work on 30 Rock, and as my brother put it yesterday she has in many ways “saved” television in the mind of some people. While some “cult” success stories like Arrested Development had some Emmys buzz independent from viewership levels, those shows did not have such a definitive individual in front of and behind the camera on whom the credit could be laid so cleanly.

And it’s not as if Fey had a poor year on 30 Rock this season or anything similar. She was as good as she ever was, in particular in her submitted episode. “Reunion” is a great showcase for Fey’s talents, the kind of showcase that can easily win the award. She gets to indulge in Liz Lemon’s deliciously vindictive side, always a highlight, as well as play up a sense of self-discovery and the really quite fun setting of the high school reunion. It’s an episode that I actually didn’t like at first glance (I came around), but Fey’s performance is undeniably great.

But I don’t know if it’s as showy, or as dramatic, as what Toni Colette did on United States of Tara. The show itself didn’t get much love, but Colette’s nomination was assured quite early. Tara’s multiple personalities (or alters, as the show calls them) are not simply alterations of costume or voice, but are based entirely in separate mannerisms. What draws me towards Colette over Fey is how dependent the show is on her performance, to a degree that Fey can’t match; while I can’t imagine 30 Rock without Fey, I can’t even conceptualize Tara without Colette. The pilot shows her transforming from a regular mother and wife into first a thong-wearing teenager and then into a grizzled and foul-mouthed (male) Vietnam war veteran.

It’s a performance that defines everything the Emmys should, in theory love. The question is whether the gimmick (which is not gimmicky, if that makes any sense) is overshadowed by the continued coronation of 30 Rock and its creator/star extraordinaire.

Predicted Winner: Toni Colette (United States of Tara)

It’s going out on a limb, but she’s a well-respected actress in a showy performance that remains grounded and controlled in a way that makes the show possible. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s something I’m willing to predict.

White Horse: Tina Fey (30 Rock)

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2009 Emmy Award Predictions: Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Emmy2009Title

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Predictions

Like the Lead Actor race, Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category isn’t particularly deep, although it’s got a bit more room for surprise. Not too much will be different from last year, where the category was a runaway victory for Tina Fey, but there’s one new face and a few old faces that could theoretically enter into the Emmy scramble depending on how the popular vote turns out.

Fey is a lock to return, likely alongside Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Mary-Louise Parker who continue to give strong performance and continue to have a lot of pedigree with voters. The other three slots could be filled by other returning nominees Christina Applegate and America Ferrera, but Applegate’s show has been canceled and Ferrera’s show might as well have been with its anemic ratings. However, both actresses are integral to the appeal of their show, and past nominations can only help you in a popular vote driven system.

Very likely to take one of the spots is Toni Colette, whose multi-faceted performance as Tara and her three alternate personalities on United States of Tara is what makes the show possible – her supporting cast is strong, but the way she pulls off both a struggling wife and mother and a male Vietnam war veteran who won’t stop sexually harassing women is the show’s most valuable asset, and she stands a legitimate chance at taking this award.

Amy Poehler garnered a nomination last year in the Supporting Actress category for Saturday Night Live, so there’s a chance that she could be back for her role in Parks and Recreation. The question is whether or not the low-buzz comedy, that never quite caught on and which didn’t particularly know how to handle Poehler’s character, made enough of an impact for Poehler’s rising fame to bring her above other more seasoned competitors.

Waiting on the periphery, meanwhile, are the women of Wysteria Lane (absent from the category the last few years), plus voters could theoretically be swayed out of habit to choose Debra Messing and Megan Mullaly without realizing that their respective shows were, you know, The Starter Wife and In the Motherhood. There’s also the potential for Sarah Silverman to break into the category, although this happening in a year that doesn’t involve songs about fornicating with Matt Damon isn’t likely.

Predictions for Lead Actress in a Comedy

  • Christina Applegate (“Samantha Who”)
  • Toni Colette (“United States of Tara”)
  • Tina Fey (“30 Rock”)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”)
  • Mary-Louise Parker (“Weeds”)
  • Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”)

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Weeds – “Super Lucky Happy”

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“Super Lucky Happy”

June 29th, 2009

Known for its rather glacial pacing (I was reading in Todd’s review from The A.V. Club last week that the show arguably has only taken place over the course of a year or so, which is probably accurate if often ignored by the show itself), Weeds has been operating at a pretty decent clip this year. However, that was bound to change, and we have our first bit of a thematic pause in “Super Lucky Happy.”

Now, let’s be clear: this isn’t a bad thing. Personally speaking, I’m a fan of Weeds episodes that try to capture a mood or a particular point of view, rather than those which feel like they’re being particularly sensationalist. What struck me about this episode, though, was that it arguably wants to have its cake and eat it to. The actual events in the episode are pretty major, but the show’s current milieu means that there really isn’t anything abnormal about Nancy taking people hostage, and so her reaction after the fact seems less like a major event than a necessary moment of reflection.

It has the show in a holding pattern, either way, but it’s ultimately a position that the show can manage thanks to the skill of Mary-Louise Parker and the need to place Nancy’s predicament into a slightly different light.

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Weeds – “Machetes Up Top”

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“Machetes Up Top”

June 15th, 2009

Weeds, perhaps more than any other half-hour “comedy”, follows a particularly serialized structure, where almost all of its characters are on separate and interconnected paths that always take a few episodes to get going. This is especially true early in the season, where everyone sets off on their own path until they slowly begin to return to their place of origin. When that origin was the community of Agrestic, you felt like there was a potential stabilizing force in the universe, the oppressive nature of the suburbs nonetheless offering something of a protection from the world of drugs, or gangs, or anything else you can imagine.

But when the Botwins moved to Ren Mar, the show and more importantly its characters lost that comforting sense of home, and in many ways the fifth season is about where they go to find safety and security in a situation that is quickly spiralling out of control. However, for various reasons, that security if proving difficult to attain, leaving nearly every character in a position to find themselves back in Ren Mar with Nancy waiting to see when the axe is going to fall.

For now, at least through “Machetes Up Top,” I think it works for the show, as the impending doom on one end is tempered by the comedy elsewhere, albeit all tinged with that sense that no one is going to escape the fallout – of course, at the same time, everyone probably is, considering that Nancy is unlikely to stop being alive anytime soon.

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Season Premiere: Weeds – “Wonderful Wonderful”

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“Wonderful Wonderful”

June 8th, 2009

There are not many cool things in Nancy Botwin’s life.

This isn’t something sudden: as each subsequent season has gone forward, things have become more and more tense. The show’s fourth season was yet another shift in a direction where things are decidedly uncool for Nancy Botwin, a suburban mother who has been removed from suburbia and in many ways was no longer a mother as one son grew up and the other drifted into his own awkwardness. It resulted in a different sort of show, one where we are asked to laugh at situations removed from our own experience and, in all honesty, that are actually quite dangerous. The threat of the Mexican mafia was almost entirely without the humour of Marvin (during the U-Turn arc of Season Three), or the injection of Conrad and Heylia to keep the business from seeming quite that dangerous.

I don’t think this is inherently a bad thing: I thought the fourth season was a strong one for Nancy’s character, even if it took her away from the show’s original intention or purpose, and we can’t begrudge a show evolution moving into its fourth season. The problem is that the show is as schizophrenic as ever, with Nancy’s storyline proving so dire and dramatic that the absurdist comedy feels dichotomous, splitting the show into two separate parts. I like both of those parts, depending on who’s involved, but the show goes out of its way in “Wonderful Wonderful” to emphasize that, at least at first, there’s no room for the two to interact, a problem that will need to be rectified sooner rather than later if the season is to get off to a strong start.

For now, it remains poignant and capable of some strong humour, which makes it an ideal dark comedy on paper if not quite in practice – now it just needs to build on that.

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2009 Golden Globes: TV Nominations Analysis

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2009 Golden Globe Awards: TV Nominations

December 11th, 2008

Predicting the Golden Globe awards is, quite literally, a devil’s bargain. While the Movies side is its own monster, the Television nominees are perhaps one of the most difficult to predict in all of awards-dom. Yes, the Emmy Awatds are a broken process, but they at least have a structure that allows for observant parties to analyze. With the Globes, it’s about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s whim – it’s what they consider hype-worthy, what they wake up one morning obsessed with, and overall what about 100 obscure and oft-maligned international journalists decide people should be watching.

Which makes this more fun than anything: we can’t take it too seriously, so it’s just a fun head shaking exercise. The big question is what big new show they’re focusing their attention on (The answer: HBO’s cult hit True Blood, although not as much as they could have), which returning shows they continue to be obsessed with much to my chagrin (The answer: HBO’s Entourage), and which nominees actually sneak in to be deserving independent of their trend-driven qualities (The answer: Neil Patrick Harris).

Overall, these nominees aren’t bad, but they do little to save the show’s reputation: while often lauded as potential kingmakers for films during Oscar season, they are still content to pretend that liking HBO is still hip and cool. While they were the first to recognize Mad Men, and will good reason, there were some other cable shows this year (Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy, in particular) which probably could have snuck in for some attention. Unfortunately, the awards don’t quite work that way, and I guess we can’t expect them to. All we can do is sit back or, if you’re me and obsessive about award shows, delve into each individual category with critical gusto. So, let’s take a look at the madness.

Best Television Series: Drama

Dexter, House, In Treatment, Mad Men, True Blood

This category tells us a few things. First, it tells us that the HFPA are fans of both Dexter’s dark sensibilities and House’s dour but occasionally light-hearted medical mysteries, along with being big fans of the show’s eponymous performances. Second, it tells us that Mad Men is going to be a show that the HFPA continues to like: after winning last year, the show is back in the awards’ marquee category. The other two nominees are no surprise: often one to pass over great seasons of returning dramas (See: Lost) and shows which don’t have the same international appeal as others, it is no surprise that their interest in international connections, HBO series and hip new series would lead them to the low-rated but Israeli-created In Treatment and the buzzworthy vampire lust of True Blood. If there’s one show missing, it’s AMC’s Breaking Bad, but it couldn’t repeat Mad Men’s successful ascension from AMC to the interest of the HFPA (even with Cranston’s Emmy win), plus it aired quite some time ago.

Best Television Series: Comedy

30 Rock, Californication, Entourage, The Office, Weeds

While I am more than slightly annoyed that it is the uneven and kind of boring Californication and not Pushing Daisies that proved to have legs for the HFPA following their freshman frames last year, I’m more annoyed at their continued obsession with HBO’s Entourage. I just don’t see how the show belongs in this category over some other, much better, comedies. This isn’t a new sentiment for me, sure, but it warrants mentioning. I’m glad that The Office and 30 Rock have both stabilized in this category, something that is difficult for a show like The Office being in its fifth year. Similar to Entourage, Weeds is a HFPA favourite, having been the first to recognize Mary-Louise Parker for her role in the series; they’ll apparently nominate it until the cows come home. Missing shows here include any new network sitcoms (The Big Bang Theory) as well as some deserving holdovers (How I Met Your Mother, It’s Always Sunny…)

For all of the acting nominations, click below.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 60th Primetime Emmy Awards Predictions

Last year, during this important period of the pre-Emmy festivities, I had a bit more time to really delve into some key issues. This year, things are busier, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to make some prognostications about the end results. I’m going to be discussing more themes and the like tomorrow in my Emmy Preview, but for now let’s get to what we really care about: predicting who is actually going to walk home with Emmy Awards.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Boston Legal (ABC)
  • Damages (FX)
  • Dexter (Showtime)
  • House (FOX)
  • Lost (ABC)
  • Mad Men (AMC)

There is some wiggle room here, as each some has something (Pedigree, viewership, buzz, etc.) that makes it stand out, but there is nothing on this list quite as emphatically received and, more importantly, different from your standard fare than Mad Men. I’ll discuss more of this tomorrow, but its combination of a small network, a small fanbase, fresh-faced actors and its attention to detail will be unstoppable.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • James Spader (Boston Legal)
  • Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
  • Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
  • Hugh Laurie (House)
  • Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
  • Gabriel Byrne (In Treatment)

This is a category where only one thing is important: that James Spader finally loses. Either Hamm, C. Hall or Laurie are in a position to usurp last year’s winner, and I’ve got my money on Michael C. Hall. After getting snubbed here last year, and with his show in the big race, voters might choose to recognize his brave and fantastic performance even when the show itself loses them with its dark atmosphere. But, this is maybe the night’s most up in the air race.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

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

This race, however, is not up in the air at all. Its highly serialized nature and red herring use might keep it from being the best drama series on television, but there is no way that Emmy Voters can ignore Close’s pedigree with such a richly portrayed character (even if I’d argue that character isn’t nearly as important as voters might think it is to the show’s success).

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