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Lost – “The Substitute”

“The Substitute”

February 16th, 2010

In Esquire Magazine’s fantastic feature on Roger Ebert’s struggles with cancer and the surgeries which have left him unable to speak, there are a myriad of passages which are emotional and poignant. However, the one that resonated with me most is the section where Chris Jones talks about Ebert’s dreams:

“In his dreams, his voice has never left. In his dreams, he can get out everything he didn’t get out during his waking hours: the thoughts that get trapped in paperless corners, the jokes he wanted to tell, the nuanced stories he can’t quite relate. In his dreams, he yells and chatters and whispers and exclaims. In his dreams, he’s never had cancer. In his dreams, he is whole.”

Ebert’s story is hugely powerful, and while a fictional character can’t possibly compare I feel his story offers valuable perspective on the narrative arc of John Locke. For Locke, the island was like a dream (but not actually a dream, at least we presume), a place where everything he was unable to accomplish confined to a wheelchair became possible. When John Locke woke up on that beach able to move his legs, it was his miracle, and he went forward in the rest of his life as a believer, someone who felt renewed faith towards whoever was responsible for his miraculous recovery. He was “whole” in a way that he had never experienced before, as if his kidney and his legs hadn’t been taken away by his spiteful father.

But John Locke was always scared: he was scared that it would all be taken away from him, desperate to solve the puzzles of the island so that this dream wouldn’t end. Locke became a believer not because he felt safe, but rather because he felt deathly afraid of what would happen if the dream ended, and the tension that defined his life before arriving on the island never truly left him even when he was able to move his legs.

“The Substitute” is about John Locke, who he was and who he might have been, but it is also about what John Locke was searching for. At the end of the day, he wasn’t searching for faith so much as he was searching for a purpose, and we learn in this episode that Locke was no more chosen than anyone else, which in some ways would have given the man a sense of peace before his tragic end.

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Equal Treatment: SAG delivers Disappointing TV Nominations

The other day, I tore into the Golden Globes for being star fetishists, arguing that their choices reflect a clear lack of interest in actually honouring the best in television (when Entourage is your default, there is something very wrong). However, I think sometimes we pick on the Golden Globes so much that we forget that other award shows which actually have some shred of credibility are just as capable of proving disappointing.

And so I feel I need to provide equal treatment, and criticize the Screen Actors’ Guild for a bizarre set of nominations (click the link to read if you want to know all of the context for the below rant) which seem to indicate that they’re not actually watching television at the moment. While the rut SAG has fallen into is less egregious than that of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, its relative credibility makes its shame a definite disappointment during this end of year awards season.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog

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2009 Primetime Emmy Awards LiveBlog

September 20th, 2009

For Cultural Learnings’ complete review of the show, CLICK HERE. For the full live blog, read on below.

I was kind of on the fence about liveblogging the Emmys this year, I really was. Twitter has provided an outlet for quippy remarks and observations that I might have while watching the event, and I ultimately end up writing a huge 2000-word rundown when the show ends so it’s not as if a LiveBlog is going to stand as my only coverage of the big event here at Cultural Learnings.

However, ultimately I want something to be able to refer to when piecing together my final rundown of the night’s festivities, and a LiveBlog seems like the kind of setup that will capture my reaction to the various winners/moments in the ceremony for those who want to know how everything is going down as it’s going down.

So, if you want to follow along with the show or check back later to see my subjective take on a particular moment in the show, here’s where you’re going to want to be. Meanwhile, if you want things elaborate and substantial, check back later tonight for my full analysis of the evening’s winners, losers, and everything in between.

7:20pm: As we wait for the show to begin, feel free to check out my predictions for the big night (the acting categories all link to long analysis pieces of each category): Cultural Learnings’ Full Emmy Predictions.

7:54pm: Enjoying Christine Baranski’s guest spot in a pre-Emmys airing of The Big Bang Theory – an omen for Jim Parsons? Baranski was always going to lose to Tina Fey, but she was damn good in this episode.

8:00pm: And we’re off and running. Television: useful science of the electronic age, indeed. Making fun of Wipeout as “Unsophisticated” is a bit low of CBS, but I guess they don’t have anything quite as lowly…except for Big Brother. Anyways, time for NPH.

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Predicting the 2009 Emmys: Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

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Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Predicting the 2009 Emmys

And the nominees are…

  • William Shatner (Boston Legal)
  • Christian Clemenson (Boston Legal)
  • Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
  • William Hurt (Damages)
  • Michael Emerson (Lost)
  • John Slattery (Mad Men)

This is the kind of race that really makes you curious to know just what voters are really thinking about going into the ceremony. This is an intensely deep category, with quite a few potential contenders left to the sidelines, so it’s really a question of what voters are looking for in a winner and how well people’s submissions match up with that.

Last year, no one gave Zjelko Ivanek a chance because he was the character actor in a cast of giants, but with a stunning and emotional submission he was able to beat out a lot of bigger names. And really, that’s what is perhaps most interesting in this particular race: for all of the big names, it might just come down to whose submission really strikes at the heart of what voters want to see.

As much as it pains me, I think Michael Emerson is out of the race. He had an amazing submission last year and wasn’t able to pull out the victory, and his submission this year isn’t nearly as impressive. I would also tend to count out William Hurt – he wasn’t given the material on Damages to win out in a category this competitive, and while his name assured him of a nomination there really isn’t the room for him to pull out a victory. And while I think that he’s done some interesting work, Christian Clemenson is going to get overshadowed by his colleague, and go home empty-handed.

For me, this leaves your perennial winner, your wave of popularity choice, and this year’s Ivanek. For your winner, Shatner has a few of these statues in his trophy case already, and no one can deny that Denny Crane was an enigmatic character that made a lasting impact. The problem is that he has won before, and while voters overlooked the show’s mid-season demise when getting him into the category there isn’t that buzz factor about it. Yes, it’s the last time they could give Shatner an Emmy, but it’s not the first, and that’s going to mean they’re less likely to crown him here.

John Slattery was nominated last year, and I think he does an amazing job as Roger Sterling on Mad Men. The issue with him is that he is really riding the show’s success: he’s got a solid submission, and he certainly does strong work, but he’s also riding the wave of success of his show, winning last year’s drama Emmy and remaining the talk of the town when it comes to award shows.

But yet, I have a feeling about Aaron Paul, who I think is going to walk home with this one. He is the perennial dark horse, but so was Bryan Cranston last year, and I think a young actor really emerging out of the shadow of his Emmy-winning co-star is the kind of story voters can get behind (plus, although I am remiss in watching the show, I’ve heard the submission is really good).

Predicted Winner: Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)

He might be the dark horse, but he’s the kind of story that voters will move towards and that will stand out as a grittier performance in a category of either comic performances (the Legal men), more science fiction fare, and the slickness of Mad Men and Damages.

Runner-Up: William Shatner (Boston Legal)

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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…

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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: Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

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Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Predictions

In the Comedy supporting categories, I actually feel as if there’s some trends that you can follow, shows that are dominating the main nominations and therefore are clearly catching voters’ attention. However, I just don’t see that on the drama side: there are people here who are going to get nominated entirely independent of their series, and some who have other variables that will place them in contention. With last year’s winner Zjelko Ivanek out of the running (feel free to watch his Emmy-winning performance to find out why), this leaves a wide open category for some familiar faces.

Michael Emerson and William Shatner are likely to be repeat nominees, as even with Boston Legal’s cancellation voters are likely to gravitate towards Shatner and Emerson has taken the mantle for Lost when it comes to the Emmys, especially with Terry O’Quinn choosing not to submit himself into the category. In terms of the other nominees from last year, though, John Slattery and Ted Danson are not going to be returning, the former due to a lack of material and the latter due to being bumped to recurring guest star on Damages. This means there’s a lot of room, and a lot of options.

Lost has to be considered in the running with two of its co-stars. Josh Holloway has never really been taken seriously by the Emmys, but Sawyer came into his own this season in a leadership role and Holloway nailed the drama therein and deserves attention. However, if there’s going to be a second castaway on the ballot, my money (illogically and against all expectations) has to be on Jeremy Davies, whose performance in episodes like “The Variable” but also throughout the season was consistently strong as he crafted a memorable and complicated character in Daniel Faraday – whether the Emmys notice or not will depend on where Lost sits on their popular radar.

William Hurt, meanwhile, looks to capitalize on Damages’ two nominations in the category last season with a nod here. As an oscar winner slumming it on television, he’s bound to get some attention, but I think people are overestimating Damages’ awards potential this year (let’s remember that Rose Byrne did get snubbed last year in a bit of a surprise), and I just think Hurt’s role was so slight and without nuance that there’s no justification for a nomination beyond his name. Or, more realistically, I thought his role was stupid and pointless, and will blindly ignore his guaranteed nomination in order to make myself feel better.

More likely to break into the category is John Mahoney, who has two things in his favour. The first is that the former-Frasier co-star never won an Emmy for that role, having been beaten out by David Hyde Pierce on a regular basis. The second is that his role on In Treatment has gained a lot of buzz, and with three acting nominations last year it’s clear that the show will be on Emmy’s radar.

The long shots, meanwhile, are a couple of young(er) actors who are sitting in wait. John Slattery is fine in Mad Men, but its real supporting star is Vincent Kartheiser, who expertly turns Pete Campbell into a heartless bastard when required, but always with this tinge of sadness as if the facade he puts up has begun to tear away his soul. Mad Men could dominate the nominations this year, and he could emerge as a contender, but he has another show’s dark horse to contend with. Patrick Dempsey might be submitting in Supporting this year with a lot of strong material, but it’s Justin Chambers who surprised people, continuing to do really strong work with Katherine Heigl and demonstrating the depth of that show’s cast.

Predictions for Supporting Actor in a Drama

  • Justin Chambers (“Grey’s Anatomy”)
  • Jeremy Davies (“Lost”)
  • Michael Emerson (“Lost”)
  • Vincent Kartheiser (“Mad Men”)
  • John Mahoney (“In Treatment”)
  • William Shatner (“Boston Legal”)

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Lost – “Dead is Dead”

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“Dead is Dead”

April 8th, 2009

Forgiveness is a really interesting emotion, primarily because of how subjective it is. There is a great moment in “Dead is Dead” where Locke suggests that he and Ben discuss the elephant in the room, being the fact that Ben, you know, murdered him, and Ben immediately heads into a long and rambling explanation of how he had to do it, how it was the only way, how he knew he couldn’t leave it to him, etc. Locke, meanwhile, just shrugs: “I was just looking for an apology.”

Locke, of course, has a very different value of forgiveness, having been through so much, and in his new resurrected form Locke is more sure of himself than ever; he forgives Ben because he’s now alive, and he now has purpose, so who is he to really complain?
The problem with the episode is really not a problem at all: Benjamin Linus’ flashbacks are designed specifically to show us those moments where his empathetic nature emerges, some sign of the young boy who went into that Temple returning as part of this new individual. However, in the present day, we see that Ben is still just as much a monster as before, and I think there’s something inherently problematic in the way he treats these situations with such moral dichotomy.

But it’s supposed to be problematic, and Michael Emerson delivers another knockout performance, and “Dead is Dead” succeeds based on the show’s emphasis on his duality.

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Lost – “He’s Our You”

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“He’s Our You”

March 25th, 2009

When “316” first aired, it became immediately clear the way in which the rest of the season would unfold, the stories of how the Oceanic Six made their way onto that airplane serving as a new mystery, small but structurally valuable. In a couple of instances, there’s some really important character-driven reasons we’ve yet to uncover (See: Kate), or events which give us reason to be fearful (see: Ben).

But our question for Sayid has little to do with his agency, considering he was led onto the plane in handcuffs: Sayid swore he would not have anything to do with Ben, and whatever got him onto that plane was either something immensely powerful or something wonderfully manipulative. The mystery for Sayid was much less how he got on that plane, since it was clearly not in his control, but rather what he came back for, the same question that at one point Sawyer asks Kate point blank.

That’s ultimately the more interesting question, which makes “He’s Our You” much more about the eventual answer we receive than about anything we get in the meantime. While I find the return to an older style of flashback almost refreshing, a welcome breather after a lot of breakneck episodes as of late, nonetheless we spend a lot of time confirming what we had already presumed before. The value of the episode, then, is in the 1970s, where we see what happens when a man so averse to change decides not to trust anyone else’s word, not to allow anyone the ability to betray him, and to take advantage of an opportunity even when he feels destiny is starting him in the face.

And for the episode’s ending alone, it was all worth it.

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Lost – “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”

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“The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”

February 25th, 2009

Because there’s a war coming, John – if you’re not back on the island when that happens, the wrong side is going to win.

The question of destiny plays a pretty fundamental role in how things operate in the world of Lost. John Locke, of course, was a man who believed in the foundational aspects of destiny, who took on the role of believer while on the island because he had been most affected by its healing, most drawn in by its mystery, most wrapped up in its central nervous system of sorts.

But Locke has never been unwavering in that faith, until more recently; when the island began skipping, his insistence that he needed to go and find the others came from the words of Richard Alpert, and was something that has never made sense in and of itself. Locke does not know why he is to bring them back, or what good it will do, but he has committed himself to Alpert’s word, and to the island that he has some sort of a connection to. We knew, from the show’s fourth season, that Locke got off the island, and that he spoke to the Oceanic Six in order to convince them to return, convince them to come back with him. But what we didn’t know is what drove him to do so, and even before this week’s episode, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham,” that point wasn’t entirely clear. Was it fate and destiny that brought him to this place?

There are, however, two faces of fate that linger around this narrative, two people who appear to profit from and are driven by the manipulation of fate, this power lust of sorts for something approaching control. When Locke returns to spread his word, the word that the island told him to tell, he is swept under the wing of two men who lay the same claims, who give the same reasons, and who ultimately offer the same thing: safety, protection, guidance. We have been taught, with time, to trust neither of them, and with the structure of this episode we have to wonder where the show now sits on these two men. The episode, written by series creators Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse and directed by Jack Bender, investigates a period in John Locke’s life where he became another man, where that man had his faith tested, and where John Locke was reborn.

And, well, there’s a lot of things to consider with this.

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