December 20, 2010 · 1:41 pm
“Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday”
Aired: May 21st, 2010
[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]
Along with Better Off Ted, I find it’s easy to forget about Party Down. Its short ten-episode seasons mean that it airs during a very concentrated period of time, and the transience of all but its central characters means that it doesn’t have quite the same cumulative impact of other series. Combine with the fact that the show did take a bit of time to get itself settled following the exit of Jane Lynch and the arrival of Megan Mullally, and that the show was sadly canceled earlier this year, you have a show which might not immediately spring to mind as a 2010 highlight.
However, “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday” has resonated with me more than the series itself, for reasons which largely relate to its structural distinctiveness. You’ll find that this is a consistent criteria for a list like this one: rather than leaning towards prototypical episodes of a series (like, for example, Constance’s wedding in the case of Party Down) I tend to lean towards those which are trying something different. In this case, “Birthday” is both one of the series’ most postmodern episodes (what with Guttenberg, he who has been elevated by the Stonecutters, playing a version of himself) and one of its most naturalistic, with the caterers becoming partygoers in their own right. It is silly, as the show often was, but it leans more heavily on a version of reality which I found compelling and, more importantly, resonant.
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June 2, 2010 · 2:47 am
Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Comedy Acting
June 2nd, 2010
In comedy this year, a lot depends on what shows make it big: we know that Glee and Modern Family are going to make a statement (as noted in my piece handicapping the Comedy Series race), but is it going to be a statement of “this is a great show” or a statement of “this is the greatest show since sliced bread?” The difference will largely be felt in the acting categories: both Modern Family and Glee have multiple Emmy contenders, but it’s unclear whether some of the less heralded performers will be able to rise along with the big “stars,” or whether the halo of series success won’t help them compete against some established names already entrenched in these categories.
Ultimately, I’m willing to say that there’s going to be some pretty big turnaround this year in some of these categories, but others feature quite a large number of former nominees who likely aren’t going anywhere, so it should be interesting to see how things shake out on July 8th. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the four major Comedy Acting Emmys and see where the chips lie.
Filed under Emmy Awards
Tagged as 2010, 30 Rock, Adam Scott, Alec Baldwin, Alison Brie, Amber Riley, Amy Poehler, Aubrey Plaza, Awards Show, Better Off Ted, Brian Van Holt, Charlie Sheen, Chevy Chase, Chris Colfer, Chris Pratt, Community, Cougar Town, Courteney Cox, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Ed O'Neill, Edie Falco, Emmys, Entourage, Eric Stonestreet, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, Hung, Jane Lynch, Jeremy Piven, Jim Parsons, Joel McHale, Jon Cryer, Julie Bowen, Larry David, Lea Michele, Matthew Morrison, Merritt Wever, Modern Family, Monk, Neil Patrick Harris, Nick Offerman, Nominees, Nurse Jackie, Parks and Recreation, Party Down, Patricia Heaton, Portia De Rossi, Predictions, Rainn Wilson, Rico Rodriguez, Rosemarie Dewitt, Sofia Vergara, Steve Carell, Television, The Big Bang Theory, The Middle, The Office, Tina Fey, Toni Colette, Tony Shahloub, Tracy Morgan, TV, Two and a Half Men, Ty Burrell, United States of Tara, Weeds
June 1, 2010 · 2:30 am
Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama and Comedy Series
June 1st, 2010
What’s weird about predicting the Emmy nominations (which are on July 8th, for the record) is that it really doesn’t have anything to do with quality: sure, a bad season can certainly hurt your chances at getting an Emmy, and a good season is sure to be of some assistance, but the objective quality of a series doesn’t really matter until they’re nominated. Until that point, it’s one big popularity contest, combining old habits, much-hyped new series, and those nominees who seem particularly newsworthy.
This is why it’s possible to predict the nominees, or at least the long-list of contenders who could logically garner a nomination on July 8th, before the eligibility period even ends (which isn’t really that big a deal this year, as any series which aired the majority of its season before the deadline [like Breaking Bad] will still be able to submit their concluding episodes). And while it may seem a bit premature, I’m pretty Emmy obsessive, and wanted to take some time this week to run down the potential nominees in each category. In the case of the series and acting categories, I’ll single out some who I believe are guaranteed nominations, while I’ll likely be less able to do so with Writing and Directing (which are often much less predictable, outside of a few exceptions).
We’ll start with Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series today, both because they’re a bit easier to handicap and because they’re the “big” races. They’re also the categories where I’m willing to put money down on a majority of the nominees, leaving only a few spots remaining for the other series to fight over in the months ahead.
And what a fight it’s going to be.
[Before we start, hats off to the great work of the Gold Derby forum members, especially moderator Chris “Boomer” Beachum, whose work continues to make projects like this a lot easier. Check out their Official 2010 Emmy Campaign Submissions thread for a full list of submitted nominees; you’ll end up there for at least a half hour before you realize how much time has elapsed.]
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Filed under Emmy Awards
Tagged as 2010, 24, 62nd Annual, ABC, Awards, Better Off Ted, Big Love, Bored to Death, Breaking Bad, CBS, Comedy Series, Community, Damages, Dexter, Drama Series, Emmys, Entourage, Family Guy, Friday Night Lights, Glee, Grey's Anatomy, Handicapping, HBO, House, How I Met Your Mother, Hung, Lost, Mad Men, Men of a Certain Age, Modern Family, Nominees, Nurse Jackie, Parks and Recreation, Party Down, Predictions, Primetime Emmys, Sons of Anarchy, The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, The Office, Treme, True Blood, Two and a Half Men, United States of Tara, United Syayes of Tara, Weeds
January 6, 2010 · 10:56 am
More than One Way to Steal a Scene: Thievery in Television Comedy
January 6th, 2010
Last night, when watching Better Off Ted, I tweeted the following:
When I made the comment, I was really only trying to say that while I enjoy Lynch’s work on Glee (for which she could well win a Golden Globe in under two weeks) I believe Portia de Rossi is doing some stunning work on Better Off Ted that is being comparatively ignored by the major voting bodies (I’m with James Poniewozik: we need to ensure she remains consistently employed on sitcoms for all of time). However, a few alternate suggestions for television’s best scene stealer made me realize that I was commenting less in terms of who is the better actor, and more on what precisely I consider “stealing a scene.”
The Chicago Tribune’s always spot-on Maureen Ryan made a case for Nick Offerman, whose Ron Swanson is an unquestionable highlight on Parks and Recreation. And my immediate reaction was that, as great as Offerman is and as hopeful as I am that he receives an Emmy nomination later this year, I don’t know if I consider him a scenestealer. Of course, as soon as I say that, she comes back with the example of Offerman simply raising an eyebrow and demanding your attention despite an only observational role in the scene in question, making me look like an idiot.
However, I’m going to argue that our differences of opinion on this issue are not simply the result of my poor memory or our subjectivity when it comes to what we enjoy on television, but rather the result of the various different ways one could define “stealing a scene.” Based on different intersections of acting, writing, and cinematography, I would argue that we all have our own impression of what this term means, as we all have our own readings of each individual show and who the scene in question actually belongs to.
Which is why I didn’t initially consider Nick Offerman a scene stealer, and why I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way.
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Filed under Comedy
Tagged as Barney Stinson, Better Off Ted, Comedy, Dave Franco, Entertainment, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, Jane Lynch, Jim Parsons, Neil Patrick Harris, Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation, Party Down, Portia De Rossi, Ron Swanson, Scene Stealer, Scrubs, Sheldon, Television, The Big Bang Theory, TV, Veronica, Zach Braff
December 21, 2009 · 8:00 am
The Shows of the Year
December 21st, 2009
When you’re selecting the Top 10 shows of the year, you reach the point where you have to ask yourself: what would the year have been like if this show hadn’t been on the air?
And this criteria oddly kept a few shows off this list that I thought would have been here, shows which felt like they made a fairly substantial impact at the time but eventually felt defined more by a single episode than by the season as a whole, or by a single performer rather than the entire ensemble. And then there were shows which I love, shows that hold a special place in my heart and held special places within my End of Decade retrospective, but delivered seasons this calendar year which felt as if they were relying on rather than building on previous success. And then there were shows that I know are objectively better than some of the series which are on this list, but yet never felt integral to the year in television as we know it, that never felt as if they had made an impact on my experience with this medium over the past twelve months. Throw in the shows I just don’t watch, and those which just barely missed the cut despite meeting my criteria, and I’m sure there’s plenty of shows which you would contend should have a place on this list.
However, the shows on this list are a reflection of what was a really great year in television, a year where shows with intense fan support proved to withstand critical scrutiny and where shows with strong reputations delivered seasons that demonstrated intense control over their characters and their journeys. It was also a year where we recognize the joys of the Sophomore Season, where a network shows enough faith in a series to give it a second kick at the can and is rewarded with a creative explosion impossible to ignore. And it was also a year where, according to the list below, the network with the worst track record somehow managed to be affiliated with five of the best shows on television, demonstrating that there are some shows capable of transcending industry finagling to simply be great television.
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Filed under Best of 2009
Tagged as Chuck, Community, End of Year List, Entertainment, Friday Night Lights, Glee, Lost, Mad Men, Parks and Recreation, Party Down, Shows of the Year, Sons of Anarchy, Television, The Office, Top 10, TV
December 20, 2009 · 8:00 am
Episodes of the Year
December 20th, 2009
[This is the second of three lists recognizing the best of 2009 in Television: Performers of the Year has been posted, and Series of the Year will be posted tomorrow morning. These other lists will recognize parts of some of the shows missing from this particular list.]
When you review individual episodes all year, you might presume that it’s easy to be able to then categorize those episodes for the sake of an end of year Top 10.
You would be right…and wrong.
See, on the one hand, I have a pretty good memory of individual episodes that really made an impact, ones which stood out from the pack and connected with me. However, on the other hand, comparing an episode of Lost to an episode of 30 Rock doesn’t feel particularly natural, and more importantly you can’t actually create a list like this in a bubble. You have to consider which shows are making it onto other lists, and whether the sum of their parts are perhaps more worthy of recognition than a single episode. And you also need to consider whether a single performance was more likely the cause of an episode’s greatness as opposed to its collective influence. Throw in concerns about nostalgia or proximity clouding your judgment, and you have just as large a challenge whether or not you write episode reviews for the heck of it.
As such, my Top 10 Episodes of the Year are not, perhaps, the best episodes that aired this past year, but rather those which either really connected with me, or felt incredibly important to their individual shows’ success, or those which are on the list so that I’m not so embarrassed as to have those shows represented on none of the lists I put together. It’s not an exact science, but it eventually created a list (which is ordered by air date, in case that isn’t clear) of ten television episodes that really stuck with me this year.
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Filed under Best of 2009
Tagged as 2009, 30 Rock, Battlestar Galactica, Best of 2009, Better Off Ted, Dollhouse, Episodes, Flight of the Conchords, List, Mad Men, Party Down, Scrubs, Sons of Anarchy, Television, The Office, Top 10, Year in Review
December 19, 2009 · 8:00 am
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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Filed under Best of 2009
Tagged as 2009, Alison Brie, Best of 2009, Community, Dollhouse, Elisabeth Moss, Entertainment, Enver Gjokaj, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, Jane Lynch, Jeremy Davies, Jim Parsons, Katey Sagal, Lost, Mad Men, Merritt Wever, Neil Patrick Harris, Nurse Jackie, Party Down, Rico Rodriguez, Sons of Anarchy, Television, The Big Bang Theory, Top 10, TV, Year End List
December 14, 2009 · 11:39 am
When the American Film Institute delivered their list of the Top 10 Television Series of 2009, with critics Maureen Ryan, Brian Lowry and Matt Roush on the jury with CCH Pounder and David Milch, you start to realize that any sort of representative Top 10 is about casting a diverse group of shows which offer an objective spectrum of the television world.
The result, if we look down AFI’s list, is choices which may be more representative than they are substantive, more recognizable than entirely creatively successful. And, accordingly, we could “label” each show as filling a particular niche, if not necessarily filling it as well as another show in our personal opinions.
- “The Big Bang Theory [Newly minted “hit”]
- “Big Love [Transcendent Season]
- “Friday Night Lights [New business model]
- “Glee [New series]
- “Mad Men [Unquestionable Quality]
- “Modern Family [New series]
- “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency [Int’l Co-production]
- “Nurse Jackie [Dramedy]
- “Party Down [Underground sensation]
- “True Blood” [Fan Favourite]
You could replace a show like Big Love with Breaking Bad, or a show like Party Down with Better Off Ted, or Modern Family with Community, or Nurse Jackie with United States of Tara, and the list would ostensibly be the same. And in some ways, when you have the huge range of great television available at the moment, this is all that a small jury can do: use their own subjective analysis to craft a list objective in its diversity, trying to capture the trends and the series which helped define the year in television. We’d all swap out a few shows here or there (as the discussion on Twitter decided, Parks and Recreation is the big name that deserves to be here), but I don’t think anyone can argue the list is a failure (especially considering the fantastic mention of Starz’s Party Down).
However, when the Golden Globes casts its nominations tomorrow morning in the television field, its choices are far more indiscernible, its criteria limited to whatever happens to strike the fancy of the mysterious Hollywood Foreign Press Association. And in most cases that is “the new,” those shows which are new and hip and tapping into the cultural zeitgeist. Combined with the existence of “Comedy and Musical” categories, Glee seems like a sure bet to break through into this year’s awards, but with such a wide range of new shows it’s hard to know which will happen to match the Globes’ casting call.
I like analyzing the Emmys because you understand the nomination process, and can delve into individual performances in predicting who might grab a nomination. However, with the Globe, there is so little logic involved that all you can do is have no expectation of quality and be glad that you live in a time zone where the awards are nominated at a decent time (or, at least that’s what I do). Daniel Fienberg at HitFix has more patience with the awards than I do, and has a detailed analysis of every category, but I just can’t bring myself to predict the unpredictable.
I can, however, bring myself to watch the nominations at 5:30 pacific (that’s 8:30 eastern, and 9:30 for me) tomorrow morning to see just what those crazy folks at the HFPA are up to this year, especially since the show itself is a must watch with Ricky Gervais hosting.
August 5, 2009 · 3:08 am
August 4th, 2009
Warehouse 13 is a show about some really complex supernatural events, there’s no question about that. However, really, the show wants nothing to actually do with any of them. When a pop song is used to rob banks, the story quickly shifts to the quite humanitarian and kindly reason for the thefts, and the show wants us to empathize with them and let them get off scot free. When the mystery of an evil chair is solved, it’s not due to some evil mastermind plot but rather a crazy scientific explanation and some unfortunate circumstances. Everything needs to right itself in the end, which makes the show’s complexity somewhat quickly resolved by episode’s end.
Last week’s “Claudia,” a compelling tale of Artie’s past encounters with a young scientist and his sister coming back into his life, was another example of this: in the episode, Claudia and Artie manage to bring her brother back from some sort of between world existence, the same age as he was 12 years previous and ready to re-enter the world. The show never stops to question the implications of this, and this week they even shipped him off to Switzerland to work as if the 12 years was just a bunch of facts he needs to learn and Springsteen records to catch up on. The show doesn’t feel the need to stop and consider any of this, and that’s something that really stands out for me.
I’m not suggesting that the storylines should be less complex or more realistic, thus justifying this approach a bit more, but rather that they need to be careful about what kind of shortcuts they pull to achieve their goals. “Elements” is an episode where the mythical meets the realistic, Native American creation mashing up with an epic battle between high-powered businessmen, but in attempting to resolve the storyline there’s a few missing pieces, links that rob the storyline of any real impact in an effort to cleanly move onto the next week without asking the difficult questions.
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Filed under Warehouse 13
Tagged as Allison Scagliotti, Artie, Claudia Donovan, Creation Myth, Elements, Entertainment, Episode 6, Feather, Joe Flanigan, Myka, Native Americans, Party Down, Pete, Season 1, Stargate: Atlantis, SyFy, Television, TV, Warehouse
July 15, 2009 · 4:15 pm
The Tale of the Tape
July 15th, 2009
Heading into tomorrow morning’s nominations (5:30 Pacific Time, so 8:30 Eastern and 9:30 for me in the Atlantic time zone), there are a few certainties, and a few question marks. I talked before about the uncertainty of the popular vote, which places a show like Lost somewhere in between an equilibrium of popular shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy and more critical/industry favourites like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Here, it’s tie to take a look at some of the big stories that could emerge from the nominations, as well as a glimpse at some of the categories that I didn’t get to during the week. So, let’s get the Tale of the Tape.
Mad Men = The New Sopranos?
Last year, Mad Men racked up an Emmy for Drama Series, a nomination for Lead Actor and Best Supporting Actor, and five other statues (including Writing for Matthew Weiner). The question now really comes down to just how much the show’s second season is going to increase those odds. Chances are that one of the show’s two leading women will break through, now much more household names when it comes to the show’s success, and there’s room for more supporting players at well. If it follows the Sopranos pattern, it could break through big – if it, however, gets held back by being on AMC, it could end up with roughly the same nominations.
The Year of CBS?
It may be unlikely, with far more popular shows in terms of Hollwood and the Emmys in the category, but How I Met Your Mother is at the point where its breakout year might be upon us. Neil Patrick Harris is hosting, the show’s ratings have solidified it as a hit in its own right, and it is no longer in fear of cancellation which makes it seem like the kind of show that will be around for a while. It has to compete with stablemate The Big Bang Theory, which has Jim Parsons breaking out in a big way, and Two and a Half Men, but that two more legitimate Emmy contenders than the network had a year ago (and, in my mind, two more than it should have, but that’s neither here nor there). Combine with a chance for The Mentalist’s Simon Baker, and CBS is maybe not just the people’s network anymore.
Breaking Bad Breaking Through?
Last year, Bryan Cranston won in a bit of a shocker in the Lead Actor category for his work on the other AMC drama, Breaking Bad. Many have taken that win and viewed it as a sign that the show, which got even better in its second season, has a chance of breaking through in its own right. I’m of the mind that it will, but Cranston’s win was as much for his lack of a win for Malcolm in the Middle than it was for his brave performance, so it will be interesting to see if the show can join Cranston in the Emmy race. It has the benefit of having aired fairly recently, but it’s yet to be seen if it can break through on the popular vote.
The Final Chance for Battlestar Galactica
A real chance of breaking into the Drama Series race, or the various acting categories, just isn’t in the cards; Battlestar Galactica may have had an amazing finale, and its actors may have stepped up more than ever before, but in a popular vote competition it just isn’t going to get the support it needs. Mary McDonnell is going to get pushed out of her category, although remains a long shot candidate if things get really weird, but the show’s real chance lies in both writing and direction. There’s probably room in those categories for Ronald D. Moore and Michael Rymer, as they’ve been represented before, so it will be interesting to see if they can pick up those nods. They’ll also dominate the special effects categories, with the Visual Effects team easily picking up their third Emmy.
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Filed under Emmy Awards
Tagged as 2009, 30 Rock, 61st Primetime Emmy Awards, Acting, AMC, Amy Ryan, Award Shows, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Cat Deeley, Comedy, Damages, Directing, Drama, E.R., Emmy, Emmy Nominations, Emmys, Friday Night Lights, Generation Kill, Grey's Anatomy, Guest Actor, Guest Actress, Guest Star, HBO, How I Met Your Mother, Jon Hamm, Kristen Bell, Mad Men, Nominations, Nominees, Party Down, Predictions, Preview, Reality TV, Sci-Fi, So You Think You Can Dance, Television, The Amazing Race, The Office, Tina Fey, True Blood, Variety Series, Writing