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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama Acting

Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Drama Acting

June 3rd, 2010

On the drama side of things, there’s fewer trends that we can follow through to the nominees than there are in comedy. There, we can look at Glee and Modern Family and see some logical directions the awards could take, but in Drama there’s really only one new contender (The Good Wife), and the other variables are much more up in the air in terms of what’s going to connect with viewers. Lost could see a resurgence with voters in its final season, or it could be left in the dust; Mad Men could pick up more acting nominations now that its dynasty is secure, or it could remain underrepresented; Breaking Bad could stick to Cranston/Paul, or it could branch out into the rest of the stellar cast.

That unpredictability isn’t going to make for a shocking set of nominations, but I do think it leaves a lot of room open for voters to engage with a number of series to a degree that we may not have, so it’s an interesting set of races where I’m likely going out on some limbs.

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House – “Wilson”

“Wilson”

November 30th, 2009

You might be wondering why I stopped reviewing House after the season premiere. And, well, the answer is quite simple: I stopped watching House after the season premiere.

It wasn’t an intentional decision: a few episodes piled up on the DVR, which proceeded to crash and lose all of its files, and then more episodes piled up alongside some frustrated critics who were growing tired of the show’s ignorance of the rather great premiere, “Broken.” And so my desire to catch up with House was limited, and until tonight I was kind of convinced that I may never return to the show again.

However, on the advice of those same critics, I returned to “Wilson” and discovered what role House will play in my television criticism future. It is a show where the only episodes that truly engage me, truly suck me in, are those which feel uniquely possible within the show’s universe. Alan Sepinwall quite rightly observes in his review of the episode that the focus on Wilson in the episode would never work if not for the inherent juxtaposition of his methods to House’s methods.

It’s an episode that puts someone else in the driver’s seat, and rather than feeling like an overly complicated, soap operatic version of the show’s basic premise (which, based on what I’ve read of the season so far and parts of last season, is effectively what the show has boiled down to) the episode felt like a rumination on character, themes, and the inherent humanity or lack thereof at the show’s core.

The result was a very compelling hour of television, one which is uniquely housed (I made a funny!) within this particular series but will do little to change its overall downward trajectory.

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The 2008 Television Time Capsule: House – “Wilson’s Heart”

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“Wilson’s Heart”

Season Four, Episode Sixteen

Airdate: May 18th, 2008

House’s fourth season was a needed shakeup of its formula, and presented some of its strongest comedy ever in its opening reality show-esque hunt for a set of new fellows to play sounding board for House’s eccentricities. But the emerging fellows also brought the introduction of Amber, also known as Cutthroat Bitch and, by season’s end, the emotional lynchpin for one of the most powerful episodes in the series.

While some may prefer the loud and dangerous “House’s Head,” focused more on the doctor’s internal struggle to remember the events of the bus crash through dangerous drugs and procedures, “Wilson’s Heart” is where the storyline truly comes together. Learning that it was Amber on that bus raised the stakes considerably, and while the first part of the finale (“Head”) gains greater meaning with this revelation I nonetheless cared less about House (who was tragically partly responsible) than I did about Wilson, who had to bear the brunt of the consequences of his friend’s actions.

While Season Five’s attempts at pairing House and Cuddy have felt similarly broad as something meaningful to the show’s emotional core, like House’s flashback to his injury in “Three Stories,” this episode felt the most tapped into something bigger than the show’s procedural construct. Robert Sean Leonard is often given too little to do on this show, with the focus being divided as it is, but he is fantastic here as a grieving boyfriend and, eventually, a friend who blames House for her death.

The episode is also a goodbye for Anne Dudek’s “CTB,” who may have been too much a female version of House to be his fellow but was too delightful a character to abandon entirely. While the winning fellows may have “won,” added as series regulars and all, Dudek got the most material by far: she was robbed of an Emmy nomination for some great work in this episode (and others), but her emotional farewell was nonetheless one of the show’s highlights through four seasons.

“Wilson’s Heart” is somewhat tainted by the fact that the show has more or less abandoned its ramifications halfway into its fifth season, but let its inclusion in the Time Capsule serve as a reminder for the writers: this is how you craft a storyline where we care about the characters and their consequences, not through giving a boring bisexual doctor a terminal illness and having her flaunt it for everyone to see. That’s not tragic, it’s just surprisingly boring for such destructive behaviour, and at the end of the day the show needs to tap into what they had with Amber before Thirteen can feel like something we should care about.

Let’s hope they listen.

Related Posts at Cultural Learnings

[For more details on the Cultural Learnings 2008 Television Time Capsule, click here!]

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House – “Emancipation”

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“Emancipation”

November 18th, 2008

A week after throwing the show’s structure for a loop by reintroducing Chase and Cameron to the central narrative, House is at the kind of place where the show never really was last season. It’s a sort of unstable normalcy, where everything on the surface is the same but underneath there is clearly unrest amongst the team. There’s drama building everywhere, and it’s the kind of drama that will eventually explode in some fashion.

It’s a lot of moving parts, so I wonder how long they can make it last. “Emancipation” largely only works because of Omar Epps giving Foreman a very real sense of tarnished pride, a character who tried making it on his own last season only to find that he’s too much like House for his own good but now finds himself unable to get himself out from his shadow. While the fragmented nature of the episode was problematic in a few ways, the dual cases gave Foreman his biggest showcase of the season to date, more Chase and Cameron than we’ve received on average, some Wilson and House interaction, and even some new ripples appearing in the world of the three newer cast members.

No individual part of the episode really got to stand out beyond Foreman, but it all felt like positive momentum at this stage in the game.

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House – “The Itch”

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“The Itch”

November 11th, 2008

When David Shore and Co. decided to make the rather odd decision to “fire” the three fellows who worked for Dr. Gregory House at the end of the show’s third season while still employing them as cast regulars, I think we all asked ourselves a question: how, precisely, do they plan on balancing new fellows with the old ones who are off in various corners of the hospital.

And while they pushed Foreman back into the diagnosis group fairly quickly, this has remained a problem, especially as it relates to developing the characters of Chase and Cameron, and the new fellows for that matter. There have been some rumblings about House beginning to fall into the medical procedural trap, designing cases which are “on the nose” for individual cast members as a shorthand version of character development. And for Chase and Cameron, who have had almost zero “showcases” since leaving House’s team, this episode has been a long time coming.

“The Itch,” at the end of the day, is an episode that walked a fine line between organic investigation into the lives of these characters and a convenient episode that dealt with how we scratch that itch, whether through imaginary mosquitoes, coveting every single drawer in your apartment, or giving in to your agoraphobia. What we learn most of all is that some things never change: House will always be manipulative but emotionally stunted, Cameron will always be woefully incapable of self-rationalizing, and Chase will always be a character without, well, a character.

But even if it wasn’t a life-changing return to our former cottages, I’d say it was enjoyable enough.

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Season Premiere: House – “Dying Changes Everything”

“Dying Changes Everything”

September 16th, 2008

Well, thanks for the obviousness lesson, House. Or, more appropriately, everyone other than House.

After perhaps the most emotionally powerful episodes in the show’s history ending the show’s fourth season, it was easy to romanticize the world of House: we’re supposed to be paying attention to Wilson’s grief process and 13’s reaction to news that her lifespan has been cut in half by Huntington’s disease, but nothing about the season finale really dealt with the show’s other problems. “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart” were two episodes that stand alone as an emotional highpoint, but their fallout is somewhat less groundbreaking.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the show’s choice to investigate reactions to mortality, and there is nothing wrong with House working hard to keep Wilson from leaving the hospital after Amber’s death, but the rest of the episode kind of struggles dealing with the rest of the series. Whereas the finale demonstrated an intense connection between case and character, here the case is quite literally just a pawn in House’s game and, at worst, just a bland cliche to the same degree as Wilson’s desire for a clean start. And the show does nothing to help deal with the imbalance between characters, spending so much time with mortality that it’s continuing to let some of them die off, figuratively speaking.

So while dying is supposed to change everything, it doesn’t appear to change House much at all; while this means that the show is still entertaining, it’s taking its time to get to the point where it can improve on last season’s problems.

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The Top 12+ Snubs of the Emmy Top 10s

The Top 12 Snubs of the Emmy Top 10s

This post has been delayed a bit after getting captured between my new and old computers, but I think it’s for the best. When the Emmy Nominations are announced in just over a week’s time, more names will be added to this list, but what this list allows us to do is spread out the disappointment. That these contenders won’t even have a chance in front of a panel, though, is its own tragedy, and the more time I had to embrace this fact the more I realized how much this process hurts.

And it’s not that it’s not fair: while it may not always produce results I like, the current Emmy system is perhaps as close to democracy that they could possibly achieve. The reality of popular and patronage-dominated shows performing well at the Emmys will not go away anytime soon, so we should be thankful that there were some pleasant surprises as I discussed last week. But at the same time, we can’t help but feel it: that the people who were snubbed at this end of the process deserve recognition, no matter how they get it.

So, without further delay, and in no particular order, my Top 12 2008 Emmy Snubs…and let’s hope the list doesn’t grow too greatly next week.

1. Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights)

Category: Supporting Actress, Drama Series

What more does she need to do to get noticed? Britton moved herself to the supporting category to avoid juggernauts like Sally Field or Glenn Close, but at the end of the day the category proved to be even more difficult to break into unless you’re heavily featured in a popular show or an award show veteran. She gave a fantastic performance through an uneven season, the constant rock the show could lean on. She makes weak storylines solid and good storylines great, and if that’s not a great supporting actress I don’t know what is.

2. January Jones (Mad Men)

Category: Supporting Actress, Drama Series

January Jones is the victim of her series’ plot – the show’s pilot, the episode most voters would have seen, doesn’t actually feature the character of Betty Draper, revealing her existence only at episode’s end. While someone like John Slattery was able to ride his reputation to a nomination, Jones doesn’t have the name recognition and is unfairly snubbed here. She did some amazing work embodying the 60s housewife, especially in “Shoot,” and that this portrayal won’t be seen by the judges is a disservice to the ensemble nature of the series. While I’m happy for Christina Hendricks, that was Jones’ spot.

3. Chi McBride (Pushing Daisies)

Category: Supporting Actor, Comedy Series

With all three of his primary co-stars breaking into their respective Top 10 lists, forgive me for being upset that my favourite was left off. Not known for his comic work, McBride’s Emerson Cod has been a delight. He’s a knitting private detective, for cripes sake, and he has adapted maybe best of all to the witicisms and whimsy that this world entails (albeit it through cynicism and sarcasm). The shortened season robbed him of a showcase episode (We got hints of a baity fatherhood episode), something that the other actors by comparison had, but that doesn’t mean that the show’s most consistently hilarious character should get snubbed. Here’s hoping the voters smarten up for the show’s second season.

For more snubs including performers from House, Lost and Battlestar Galactica, click on through.

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