Tag Archives: The Wire

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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Series Premiere: 90210 (2008)

“We’re Not in Kansas Anymore, The Jet Set”

September 2nd, 2008

“That’s what a blog is supposed to do, make problems”

When The CW chose not to send screeners of their latest show out to critics, they were making a statement. Now that viewers have been able to see the show for themselves, we can finally discern what exactly that statement was: was it that the show is so poor that the network didn’t want critics ‘making problems’? Or, more positively, was it just that there are so many reasons to watch this show that they decided the critics were irrelevant?

I can understand the argument: between nostalgia and teen girls, a majority of 90210’s potential audience is probably already aware of the series’ existence. So those of us who either choose to or are employed to look past our personal interest to answer the question of whether or not the series is actually any good are not what they’re interested in.

But I don’t think they really needed to be quite so scared of our kind: no, the show is not a new standard in teen drama, and its various archetypes don’t offer the type of wit or charisma of even the network’s Gossip Girl, but if we’re judging the series on its ability to offer flashy melodrama with just enough substance to keep it afloat, 90210 lives up to its hype.

However, only time will tell if the real people The CW wants watching are going to feel the same way.

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Generation Kill – “Screwby”

“Screwby”

July 27th, 2008

I’m a bit late in getting to Generation Kill, but as I stated last week it’s kind of hard to find things to talk about each week. This time around, with Screwby, Alan Sepinwall concurs:

I’m running out of things to discuss in these weekly reviews, not because I’m losing interest in “Generation Kill,” but because each episode is very much of a piece with the whole miniseries, and there are only so many ways I can analyze the dysfunctional relationship between command and the troops.

And that’s really want differentiates this show from, say, The Wire. While I wasn’t able to write individually about that series either, mainly because of how quickly I wanted to burn through each season, it tended to provide a wider spectrum of such relationships: within each command structure, whether police or drug in nature, there was various different levels to the various relationships and more time to spend with each of them.

For Generation Kill, there’s a far more strict line between command and the troops, between those who know what they’re doing and those who don’t; perhaps a symptom of the “message” of the miniseries, if you will, everything seems to be going towards proving a point as opposed to necessarily allowing these characters to just plain grow. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but rather that it’s different, and makes discussing each episode individually more challenging.

Doesn’t mean I won’t try, though.

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On a Grand Scale: The Similarities between “The Wire” and “The Dark Knight”

As has been noted many times when my guest spots on the /Filmcast (Which, excitingly for Kevin Bacon potential, has Kevin Smith as its guest on Monday night) end before the group gets into discussing the latest new release, I’m not much of a moviegoer. When my own visual media renaissance hit a few years ago, Television was just what I gravitated towards – it happened in such a way that I’m still one of those people who has to pretend I’ve seen various classics I haven’t. Just last night I pulled I “I think I’ve seen parts of X” when, in reality, I’m clueless.

But, like a whole boatload of other people, I headed to the theatres last evening to check out the biggest film of the summer. And like any multi-layered epic film of this nature, I do have a lot of things to say, but I don’t really want to write a review. Cultural Learnings is, at the end of the day, a television blog, and part of my life’s curse is comparing everything I read/watch to some sort of television example.

So, I decided that I’d kill two birds with one stone. I’m halfway through Season Four of The Wire, David Simon and Ed Burns’ HBO masterpiece, and I see a lot of connections between the construction of that series and what Nolan has accomplished with The Dark Knight. I’m not suggesting that the two shows are identical, or that Nolan achieves the effect or quality of The Wire’s five season long story arcs within a single two and a half hour film, but rather that some of the decisions and emphases he makes render this story as much an exercise of scale as Simon’s visionary work.

And both in the world of television crime series and superhero cinema, this type of scale is unprecedented.

[Note: Yes, believe it or not, I am going to try to discuss both of these examples without any major spoilers. This means that, while I’m going to talk about themes and characters in both series, I don’t plan on going into major details on either of them. So, people who have seen both can fill in the blanks, and maybe those who’ve only seen one may be intrigued by the other.]

In Terms of Scale

What sets The Wire apart from other crime shows on television is its emphasis on all impacts of a particular event or scenario. It is not a story of the police fighting against the Baltimore Drug Trade, but a show about the expansive impacts of that trade on the people fighting it, the people trapped inside of it, and the people who are simply innocent bystanders caught up in a game they’re not playing.

Similarly, The Dark Knight isn’t a film about one man’s crusade against crime. It is, instead, about Gotham’s reaction to the rise of crime and, in particular, the introduction of the diabolical terrorism of the Joker. Batman is but one of the many players we see – whether it’s new district attorney Harvey Dent, Lieutenant Gordon, Rachel Dawes, or even the people of Gotham themselves. The Joker’s terrorism impacts all of them, and such a broad viewpoint takes this from being a traditional story of good vs. evil to a whole new level of social inspection.

In Terms of Character

While some have criticized The Wire for lacking traditional character development, what it allows is for later seasons to go beyond its set of main characters into something deeper and more thematically interesting. Because the expected actions and reactions of various characters were already in place, Simon and Burns were able to use their time in establishing new characters in relation to them. By constantly adding to the universe, you get a very complicated but rewarding structure wherein heroes are not always playing the hero and villains are not always plotting villainy.

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The Zero Sum Game: Why The Emmys Can Never Be Perfect

In writing this editorial, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I am greatly appreciative of the great work that Tom O’Neil does at The Envelope’s Gold Derby Blog in getting inside scoops on the Emmy Top 10s and creating important discussion about these awards. He is clearly highly committed to this process, and I have great respect for him and his coverage.

But, one of my nagging issues about Gold Derby is its reliance on searching out any potential flaws in the Emmy system and exploiting them in ways that just don’t make any sense. Earlier this week, I was outright flabbergasted at the theory that the reason some favourites didn’t get nominated was because they hadn’t submitted a picture to sit beside their entry on the official list. It’s one thing to mention this off hand (And one voter did mention it to Tom, hence the article), it’s another to turn it into a potential widespread conspiracy. Heck, even his own article listed off all sorts of other competitors who didn’t have pictures but were still shortlisted.

But this is the trend, and a dangerous one. We’re always highly critical of the Emmy Awards process due to the various reformations of the past few years, and while I’m not suggesting that we ignore the negatives in favour of the positives I do think that we need to stop extrapolating grand theories from the exclusions. O’Neil’s latest editorial, continuing to paint his oft-favoured picture of the recent Emmy changes as a conspiracy to get Lost back into the main category, devolves into the usual complaint that the Emmys screwed over The Wire and other low-rated programs.

Has Emmy Wandered Off Base – GoldDerby

And I’m not defending the Emmys’ decision to exclude that great HBO series, but rather defending the system from being to “blame” for the exclusion. While the method that they’ve developed is certainly not perfect, there is no way it can be: like the traditional zero sum game, everything you add to one side will simply be taken away from the other. This journey of Emmy overhaul is likely not over, but every single snub or every single surprise cannot be taken as a pattern to be jumped on, or ironed out. And, this year in particular, the positives seem to have won the day, something that should not lead to such extensive deconstruction of the Emmy process.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Dissecting the 60th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Nominations

Emmy nomination morning is kind of like Christmas morning – you’re all excited about it as it approaches, wary of the potential surprises and the like, etc. But, unlike Christmas that ends in the complete elimination of suspense, the Emmy Awards are the start of a whole new game. In this case, not only do we react to what just happened (The good, the bad and the ugly of it) but also to what will happen in September when somebody in each of these categories has to win one of the darn things.

For now, it’s time to take a look at the big stories out of this morning’s nominations (You can check out the fill list here).

30 Rock Domination

The Good: With a ridiculous 17 nominations, 30 Rock is the most nominated series at the awards. This includes nods for the series itself, Alec Baldwin, and Tina Fey, along with two writing and one directing nomination for the series, along with well deserved guest acting noms for Elaine Stritch, Edie Falco, Carrie Fisher, Will Arnett and Rip Torn.

The Bad: The rather unfortunate snubs of Jane Krakowski and Jack McBrayer sting a little bit, but they had tough races and this isn’t too much of a surpise.

The Ugly: Steve Buscemi and Tim Conway do not deserve guest acting nominations for this show – Buscemi was great, but he was barely in the episode, while Conway coasted on his past success with a role that never fit into the episode. Matthew Broderick, Dean Winters and David Schwimmer all did considerably better work on the series, and that they are not represented here is extremely unfortunate.

Lost is Back in the Race

The Good: In perhaps my favourite news of the ceremony, a bump to six nominees in the Drama Series category sees Lost make it into the fray ahead of Grey’s Anatomy, securing its first nomination in the category since its first season. Michael Emerson also grabbed a Supporting Actor nomination, as expected, while I’m extremely pleased to see Michael Giacchino pick up a nod for his great composing for “The Constant.”

The Bad: Still a bit annoyed that so few other supporting players were eligible for the major awards, so it’s a bit disheartening to see most of the show’s nominations coming from sound editing, mixing, editing, etc. when the cast is so deserving.

The Ugly: Despite getting the show nominated for an Emmy, no room is found for “The Constant” in writing or directing categories; the latter isn’t too disappointing, but the former is a bit more surprising and disheartens me as to Lost’s chances in the major categories.

Pushing Daisies Blooms…and Busts

The Good: Announcing the nominees was good luck for the ever charming Kristin Chenoweth, who along with co-star Lee Pace picked up an acting nomination to go with the series numerous technical, writing and directing awards resulting in the third highest total with 12 nominations.

The Bad: Unfortunately, they weren’t joined by their co-star Chi McBride, who really should have made the Supporting Acting Top 10.

The Ugly: And yet, despite all of this, the show failed to net a nomination for Best Comedy Series, an omission that just doesn’t make any sense. I will rant about who I think should have gotten the boot in a moment, but this is an oversight that will haunt the Emmys for a long time in my books, and is surprising considering both Pace and Chenoweth making their respective races.

Damages Gets it Right

The Good: So much, mainly the fantastic inclusion of Zejlko Ivanek in the Supporting Actor race, is right with this picture. Along with Ted Danson, they are a strong force in that category, and they’re joined by Glenn Close in the Best Actress race, and writing/directing/series nominations for the fantastic pilot.

The Bad: While it’s not quite what I’d call a bad thing, it’s a big surprise to see Rose Byrne snubbed in Supporting Actress Drama. Mind you, I was never a fan of her performance so I would personally not put her into the category, but that Emmy voters didn’t is surprising.

The Ugly: Not much, to be honest – while I felt the series fell apart at the end, the nominated performers and the Pilot were both great, so I’m content with this performance.

The Rise and Fall of The Office

The Good: Rainn Wilson and Steve Carell return to the nominations circle along with their series this year, including a number of directing and writing nominations for the uneven but very solid fourth season.

The Bad: Amy Ryan, fantastic in the finale “Goodbye, Toby” gets snubbed for her great turn in the episode, joining Sarah Chalke as examples of Emmy voters ignoring great performances from younger female competitors in favour of older ones (With Sarah Silverman being the only youth candidate, and a kind of annoying one).

The Ugly: Jenna Fischer, deserving of a win last year, doesn’t even break into Supporting Actress Comedy this year, and John Krasinski literally has his spot stolen away in Supporting Actor. Apparently the love for Jam at the Academy is limited, which is unfortunate as they both do great work.

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Premiere: Generation Kill – “Get Some”

“Get Some”

July 13th, 2008

When watching Generation Kill, a miniseries event from HBO, it’s impossible not to draw the obvious comparisons to The Wire. While usually shows from the same creator bear moderate resemblance to one another, David Simon and Ed Burns have a style so distinctive that it’s hard to write a single sentence about this series without discuss the other. The Wire was a show about dropping the viewer into a world they didn’t understand without holding their hand about it, developing its own language, identities, and pacing. It wasn’t about telling a story about something, but rather telling the story.

That story, here, is the journey of a Marine Corps Battalion, and their embedded reporter Evan Wright (Who wrote the novel the series is based on), as they invade Iraq in the opening throes of the 2003 invasion. There’s a lot of people thrown around, and like The Wire you never really pick up their names so much as begin to identify them based on other characteristics. Although the first segment is not eventful in the traditional sense, the various bits and pieces we see give us enough of a background so that, when things do go down, we’ll know how people should or do react.

What makes Generation Kill compelling is not just Simon and Burns’ usual sharp writing and ear for realistic drama, or even the great cinematography/direction – rather, it’s seeing all of this play out in a context where we know the basic story at hand. In most stories, there would be attempts to shoehorn politics into this story; to not only show the wrong camouflage being sent to the army, but to show some stuffshirt politician making the decision so as to villainize. Here, the authority is a villain by omission – we as an audience have information they don’t, and that isolation is incredibly compelling.

It is also, however, intoxicating – when a show requires flow charts, you know that you’re not in for a normal television watching experience. Thus far, though? It’s a damn good one.

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Academy Reveals Emmy “Top 10s” for Comedy and Drama Series

Earlier this week, Tom O’Neill over at The Envelope’s Gold Derby revealed that the Academy planned, for the first time, to reveal the official Top 10 qualifiers for the Series and Acting prizes. These are the shows that will be screened in front of panels, and then used to decide 50% of the final nomination process. These lists are the cutoff point – if you don’t make the list, you cannot get nominated for an Emmy.

Now, the Academy is making their unprecedented decision a little bit more tentative; they’ve announced the Top 10 Series in both Comedy and Drama, and are going to re-assess the situation tomorrow after they see the critical and industry response to these revelations. This is fair, I guess, but let me be the first to say that as a wannabe TV critic I love this news, and think that it’s only helpful to the process. Yes, it will make a potential nomination for a show like The Wire less surprising (Where before people would have presumed that it wouldn’t even make the Top 10), but now people are actually kind of excited going into the process.

Now, Tom has asked that the list of episode submissions be kept to his blog, but the Top 10 lists are floating around. So, here’s the link to Tom’s list, and then I’ll provide the full list of shows and go into some commentary on the choices, and why releasing the acting lists is still a viable option.

Gold Derby: Emmy Drama/Comedy Top 10 Submissions [Link]

Drama

“Boston Legal”
“Damages”
“Dexter”
“Friday Night Lights”
“Grey’s Anatomy”
“House”
“Lost”
“Mad Men”
“The Tudors”
“The Wire”

The Big Surprise: The Wire, which in its fifth season finally captured a little more of voters’ attention. The show is actually HBO’s only show in the category, trouncing their more heavily promoted In Treatment.

The Big Snub: While one could argue that Big Love’s absence from the list is a surprise, the real surprise is that Heroes (nominated last year) didn’t make the Top 10. That the Academy so clearly judged the second season’s quality correctly gives me high hopes.

The Sentimental Favourite: It’s gotta be Friday Night Lights, which squeaks its way into the category with an uneven, but still quality, second season.

After the break, the comedy list.

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June @ Cultural Learnings: A Preview

As far as TV months go, you’d think that June would be pretty dead.

All the finales have ended, there is largely still a lack of quality in summer network offerings, and enough major films release that it seems that other media formats are outweighing my personal favourite.

However, at the same time, June is a month in which I have a fair amount of time: summer is here, DVD prices are continuing to drop rapidly, and after pontificating to great length over various finales there is a desire to continue on the same path. As a result of this, perhaps even more than last year, I have every intention on keeping busy during this month.

Most pressing is tonight’s guest spot on the /Filmcast, the official podcast of SlashFilm.com. My old pals from The Watchers have gone corporate, but with good reason: /Film’s a great site, and the podcast remains a great community in which to discuss film and television. I’ll be on for the first half hour of the show or so to discuss Lost’s season finale, so tune in @ the live uStream Channel at around 10 EST to listen to me attempt to condense 5000 words of analysis into quippy contributions to a group discussion!

Elsewhere, however, there’s plenty of other things to chat about.

First off, I’m in the process of what I’d like to call “Myles Meets HBO,” a chance for me to catch up on shows that aired on a cable network I didn’t get, and to a certain extent pre-date my interest in television. First and foremost, I am now 2+ seasons into Six Feet Under, a show I picked up on DVD and have been enjoying greatly (I’ll probably talk about this later in the week, maybe once I hit the official halfway point).

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