Tag Archives: Neil Patrick Harris

The Best of 2009: Performers of the Year

Performers of the Year

December 19th, 2009

I am not capable of working magic, so I shall not attempt to rank every single amazing television performance of the past year and boil them down to only ten selections. It’s an impossible task that the Emmys are incapable of doing correctly even when they have numerous categories in which to highlight particular nominees, so who am I to try to cover all of my bases with just ten names?

The purpose of this list, rather than trying to represent every great performance, is to highlight those that had an impact on me, and to some degree to highlight those which might not be represented elsewhere on the list in terms of particular episodes or the series themselves (and since I limited it to one performer per show, in some instances I refused to make a decision and chose to represent them elsewhere). In some cases, this means singling out the one part of an ensemble that I enjoyed, and in others it means singling out obvious candidates because there may not have been room for their shows on other lists (although I could just be messing with your heads, who knows?).

Now, in selecting this list, I had two basic rules:

  • If they won an Emmy or some other major award, chances are I didn’t include them.
  • If I didn’t see it (e.g. Breaking Bad), I can’t award them for it.

The second rule is there for an obvious reason, but the first is a bit more complex. I know that someone like Toni Colette gave a great performance in United States of Tara this year, no doubt, but I also know that she already got an Emmy for it – I don’t really need to tell you she gave a great performance, and I am more likely to give her spot to someone who hasn’t won an Emmy, or who should have won an Emmy, or who might some day win an Emmy. This isn’t to say I’m avoiding all buzzworthy individuals, but rather to suggest that I tried to avoid the usual suspects (so, no Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, for example).

So, without further ado, let’s discuss the Top 10 Performers of the Year (in alphabetical order, by the way).

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How I Met Your Mother – “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap”

“Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap”

November 23rd, 2009

I’ve been having a back and forth with other critics over the past few weeks about the current state of How I Met Your Mother, as there’s a general consensus that the show got rid of Barney and Robin before its comic potential had been fulfilled but a disagreement over whether this is all part of a broader plan. And, on Friday, co-creator Carter Bays did an interview with Michael Ausiello that managed to do absolutely nothing to settle this argument. On the one hand, Bays noted that this could just be one part of a larger journey between the two characters, which seems encouraging. However, on the other hand, he also said the following:

“None of us wanted to see Barney wearing a sweater-vest and going to bed-and-breakfasts,” says Bays, adding that it makes sense the relationship would “flame out fast” given that “neither of them, at their core, really wanted to be tied down.” Bays also believes that, deep down, viewers prefer single Barney to attached Barney. “It’s one of those things where you can give people what they think they want, or what they really want.”

It’s one thing that Bays is remaining coy about their future, but for him to have internalized what I feel is a close-minded and limiting audience reaction to the character is highly problematic for me. The show didn’t give Barney a chance to adapt Single Barney into Attached Barney so to judge so quickly is so short-sighted that it is either a misquote or a sign that my faith in Bays/Thomas is lower than it’s ever been.

And while “Slapsgiving 2: Revenge of the Slap” seems built to regain my trust and sympathy by tapping into the show’s most slaptastic mythologies and by actually giving Lily and Marshall a story of their own, it does nothing to deal with my overall concerns about Barney as a character (proving a wash in this area) and disappoints by feeling like a strange mash-up of sentimental and comic that feels far less organic than the original “Slapsgiving.

Accordingly, How I Met Your Mother remains “on notice,” even during this holiday season.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Playbook”

“The Playbook”

November 16th, 2009

Last week’s episode of How I Met Your Mother proved enormously divisive, despite the fact that for the most part most critics read the episode itself in much the same way. For example, Todd VanDerWerff and I both liked elements of the episode, but our overall impressions of the episode were fundamentally different. He chose to believe that the writers still have more in store for Robin and Barney, the episode representing just a bump in the road, whereas I chose to assume the worst and believe that the writers had truly bungled the conclusion of this relationship that still had a lot of mileage in it.

In the end, Todd convinced me that I was perhaps being too hasty to judge where the show was going, but forgive me if “The Playbook” doesn’t somewhat prove my point. If the writers dumped Robin and Barney’s relationship so quickly because they were that desperate to be able to tell stories where Barney gets to be his usual, philandering self, then it feels like the sort of regressive move that I thought the show was above. This episode could have worked within the context of their relationship had the show been willing to do so (I’ll explain how after the jump), but the end of the episode confirms that Barney has reverted to a one-dimensional caricature and Robin is already moving on.

And while the show is certainly more clever than your average sitcom, that sort of character regression is the sort of thing that I call out other shows for – as such, this is another disappointing episode for me.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Rough Patch”

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“The Rough Patch”

November 9th, 2009

One of the intriguing elements of How I Met Your Mother is its use of skewed memory, as what we’re seeing is not reality so much as it is Future Ted’s perception of reality. In some instances, the show uses it for subtle jokes such as the opening one here, when Future Ted manufactures a preposterous story for how a pornographic movie happened to find its way into the VCR. In other instances, however, the show creates more of what I’d call gags, like how Robin’s older boyfriend at Thanksgiving was played by Orson Bean so as to exaggerate his age for the sake of the story being told. These are unique because, unlike those established mainly through voiceover, they become a running gag in their own right.

Last week’s “Bagpipes” used a combination of the two in the running gag of sexual noises emerging as bagpipe music, which was clever and underplayed. However, “The Rough Patch” fails because it uses such a gag at the heart of a fairly substantial bit of character development, one which is not capable of transcending the pop cultural stereotypes. Putting Barney into a fat suit as a one-off gag is fine, but using it as a representation of an integral piece of character development feels both false (in that the exaggeration seems too central) and rushed (in that the story doesn’t feel like it has come to its conclusion).

It results in an episode that is wholly dissatisfying, a failure both in terms of its premise and in its execution.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Duel Citizenship”

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“Duel Citizenship”

October 19th, 2009

So, this was pretty awesome, eh?

I don’t know if there’s many episodes of an American comedy series that likely work far better for Canadians than Americans, but I think this is probably one of those examples. Much of “Duel Citizenship” took the form of a pretty standard episode of the show, with Ted turning into an unwilling third wheel on a trip with Lily and Marshall, but the story of Robin’s need to consider becoming an American citizen turned into a love letter to Tim Hortons (which is a famous Canadian coffee chain, in case you weren’t aware) and in many ways another sign that this Robin’s character (and the show) has more of an appreciation for Canada than the jokes might initially indicate.

The result is a solid episode of How I Met Your Mother from the perspective of someone who finds the jokes to be at Canada’s expense, and a kind of fantastic episode for those of us who “get” the Canadian side of the storyline in a way that others cannot. All in all, it’s an episode I had a lot of fun with, albeit for the love of my country more than my love of the rest of the episode.

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How I Met Your Mother – “The Sexless Innkeeper”

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“The Sexless Innkeeper”

October 12th, 2009

In the season premiere, we essentially got a confirmation that How I Met Your Mother would be dipping into the well of the double date: after struggling for a few seasons to integrate a drama-free Lily and Marshall into the show’s set of couples, they kind of gave up late last season with Hannigan disappearing to have a baby. The result is that, while Barney and Robin are a newer couple and in need of development, it’s perhaps more important that the show use this opportunity to remind us of Lily and Marshall’s value (as a couple, individually isn’t really a question) to the show’s dynamic.

“The Sexless Innkeeper” is simultaneously a justification for why we haven’t seen much of their individual life since they moved into their new apartment and a sign that the show really should have been going out of its way to do so. I don’t think that they should have rushed another couple together, but the addition of a two-couple dynamic lets them play stories that they’ve clearly wanted to dabble in without much of an opportunity. As Ted says at one point, couples need other couples, and Lily and Marshall only needed another couple to bring back what I enjoyed about their characters.

It really only had two jokes, but one was clever and the other was committed to by four really great comic actors and featured a whole lot of HIMYM-style intricacies (like The Best Night Ever.com, another meta-website), so it’s a very enjoyable half-hour of comedy.

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Cultural Learnings On the Road: Starstruck, Broadway’d and HBO’d

As my Twitter feed has indicated, I am currently in the Big Apple, New York City, on a brief adventure. And since this means a lack of traditional reviews (I guess I’d call this a vacation in that respect), I figured I’d blog a tiny bit about the trip itself, as well as some of the TV I watched when I was dead tired and had not the energy to do much else.

So, thoughts on Broadway’s Next to Normal, being starstruck on the subway, and HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, Bored to Death and Entourage after the jump.

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How I Met Your Mother – “Double Date”

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“Double Date”

September 28th, 2009

I love when episode titles aren’t what you’d expect. As a television critic, it means that I’m taking notes after I’ve looked to see what the title of the episode is (so you can more easily find this post), so I went into this one expecting the show to take advantage of their newfound pairing in order to provide some sitcom-style double date antics.

I should have known, of course, that How I Met Your Mother isn’t that kind of show. The “Double Date” at the center of the episode was a clever sort of “instant mythology,” where Ted relives a previous blind date all over again seven years later, which allows the show to do what it does best. We get healthy doses of both the show’s time-twisty structure as well as its heart within the storyline, while the other (also double-themed) story with Marshall and Barney helps to provide some levity while both work in tandem to create a whole new element of the HIMYM Lexicon.

On the whole, it’s a clever and well-executed episode that further cements the show’s strong sense of narrative, and one which provides a pretty darn good showcase for a somewhat maligned character.

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Hard-Boiled or Sunny-Side Up: The Divisive but Satisfying 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards

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Hard-Boiled or Sunny-Side Up:

The Divisive but Satisfying 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards

How do you like your Emmys?

Oh, don’t pretend as if you don’t have an opinion. Anyone who is reading this column has some sort of an opinion about the award show and its brethren, lavish ceremonies designed to recognize the very best in a specific industry. However, the Emmys are not a universally accepted success story, and while there are some who view the awards as a valuable institution for recognizing talent others see them as an antiquated and slow-minded organization hellbent on refusing to accept that which is different in favour of more traditional “awards” fare.

As such, Emmy producers really have two entirely different bodies of viewers to be concerned with (throwing out those who would never watch the show in the first place). On the one hand, they have those people who believe in the dignity of the Emmy Awards, who highly respect the work of the Academy and believe quite strongly that this is a serious occasion meant to honour the very best in television. On the other hand, you have those who are angry that Battlestar Galactica never won a major award, and that The Wire and The Shield got snubbed for their final seasons, and who are convinced that any time the Emmys do make a good decision it was by some sort of fluke.

What host Neil Patrick Harris and producer Don Mischer put together for the 61st Annual Emmy Awards was what I would considering to be the Sunny-Side Up version of the Emmy awards. With a charming and self-deprecating Harris at the helm, and a sarcastic and rarely serious John Hodgman playing the role of announcer, they staged a show which spent nearly every moment not taken up by awards being self-deprecating or dismissive of something, whether it’s the future of broadcast television or Harris’ own bitterness over his loss in his own category.

For those who have little to no faith in the Emmy institution, this was an ideal point of view which gave them an entertaining show that one almost feels joins in on their frustration, if not directly. However, for those who look for a more hard-boiled and serious awards ceremony, chances are that they viewed this year’s Emmys as an ill-conceived attempt to pander to younger audiences.

Me? I’m just happy they weren’t scrambled.

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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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