Tag Archives: Treme

Cultural Crowdsourcing: The Top Scenes of 2010

The Top Scenes of 2010

December 17th, 2010

So, the Top 10 Episodes of 2010 series will be taking a hiatus as I head into paper mode over the weekend (which means it will finish on Christmas Eve, in case you hadn’t done the math), but in ruminating on the subject I wanted something to spur some discussion over the weekend.

And, I think scenes are the way to go. While every episode is technically composed of various scenes, there are often scenes which make an impact distinct from their larger context and linger in ways we wouldn’t normally expect. Sometimes they are conversations which seem to resonate beyond the episode into the series’ larger context, whereas other times they are simply scenes which make us laugh or feel some sort of emotion whenever we think about them. Others, meanwhile, are simply incredibly inventive or exciting – there are just an infinite number of criteria, and so I figured this is a job for all of us rather than just myself.

So, I’m going to start with five, and then I very much encourage you to nominate your own selections in the comments. There are, however, two rules:

1) Avoid Detailed Spoilers

There are some shows people haven’t seen, and so I would appreciate (and I’m sure everyone would appreciate) that you don’t go into explicit detail with spoiler-heavy analysis. If you think something (whether it be a death on Dexter or a major event on Lost) could be construed as a spoiler by someone who hasn’t seen it, see if you can’t use other signifiers (episode title, omitting character names) which could at the very least limit the damage.

2) This is Not a Contest

I don’t think we’re going to have this problem, as you’re all pretty civil, but this is not some sort of elimination contest to decide the best scene of the year – rather, it’s a chance to collect an assortment of scenes that people really enjoyed. Like I said, don’t think it will be an issue, but I wrote that I was going to have two rules, and then discovered that I really only had one rule, but decided that the impact of there being two rules may be in some way helpful. Also, whether or not anyone comments on the inanity of this particular paragraph will test and see whether people bothered to read the rules in their entirety, which is always fun.

One final note: I participated in a feature going up at The A.V. Club next week which recognizes scenes of this nature – I wrote about a couple of scenes there, and so I’ll be sure to link to that when it goes up next week. It also means that I likely didn’t include certain scenes here because I’ve covered them elsewhere in other capacities (whether in A.V. Club Features or in my Top 10 Episodes list). My list also tends to lean towards comedy, but “scenes” can mean pretty much anything you want it to be, so don’t feel limited by that.

Five of the Top Scenes from 2010

Fairy Janette performs “Iko Iko” – Treme

[Sorry for the awful quality – better than nothing?]

Treme had numerous high points, but for me the scene which most reflected the infectious spirit which it both embodied and disembodied over the course of its first season was Kim Dickens’ Janette drunkenly dancing in the streets of New Orleans trying to turn cars into carriages with her wand and absent-mindedly belting out “Iko Iko” at the same time. The scene doesn’t become anything sinister, nor does it seem at all self-destructive: it is just a woman, freed of her responsibilities, letting loose and bringing passerby into the revelry – when Janette responds to the teenager that she’s “Me,” it’s sad and beautiful at the same time, which seems to be Treme‘s modus operandi.

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The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

The Trick is to Actually Watch TV: The 2010 Emmy Nominations

July 8th, 2010

The Emmy nominations (which you can find in full here) are less a sign of what’s truly great on television and a more a sign of what the Emmy voters have actually been watching.

Series and performers are nominated for Emmys for one of two reasons: either the Academy members watched episodes carefully and saw them deserving of an award, or they looked at their ballots and chose a familiar name, a much buzzed-about series, or the first name on the ballot. And, frankly, most years the latter seemed to be their modus operandi, to the point where I’ve started to disassociate voters with any notion of television viewership – I’m not even convinced most of them own televisions.

However, for once, I’d say that the 2010 Emmy nominations seem to have been made by people who actually enjoy the medium, with plenty of evidence to demonstrate that voters actually watched many of the shows they nominated and discovered not only the most hyped elements of that series but also those elements which are truly deserving of Emmys attention. There are still plenty of examples where it’s clear that Emmy voters didn’t truly bother to watch the series in question, and all sorts of evidence which indicates that the Emmy voters suffer from a dangerously selective memory and a refusal to let go of pay cable dramedies, but the fact remains that this is the most hopeful Emmy year in recent memory.

It isn’t that every nominee is perfect, but rather that there is evidence of Academy voters sitting down in front of their television and watching more than a single episode of the shows in question, making them less like soulless arbiters of quality and more like actual television viewers – it might not stick, but for a few moments it’s nice to finally see some nominees that indicate voters aren’t so much different from us after all.

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Why I’m Not Writing 2010 Emmy Nominations Predictions

Why I’m Not Writing 2010 Emmy Nominations Predictions

July 7th, 2010

Like anyone who follows the Emmy Awards, I have accepted that I will derive equal parts pain and pleasure from this particular interest. While I pride myself in remaining objective about the awards, I wouldn’t follow them the way I did if I didn’t get giddy on Nomination morning and if I didn’t spend the hours after the announcement bemoaning the mistakes the Academy has made. While my interest in the awards may be more intellectual than emotional on average, the fact remains that my analysis comes from a genuine love for the flawed and frustrating notion of award shows rather than simply an outsider’s curiosity surrounding a fascinating nomination system.

And so when I sat down to write out my final predictions, I balked: I’ve handicapped the major categories in comedy and drama, looked at the individual changes for a number of series of interest, and chatted about it on Twitter, and I sort of feel like I’ve run out of momentum. I think I have made most of the points I really wanted to make, and staking my claim on particular nominees doesn’t feel necessary or particularly valuable to me personally. It’s not as if I begrudge those who predict every category, or that I feel they are degrading a complex process: rather, the part of the process in which I have the least interest in is trying to consolidate all of the potential circumstances into a set of predictions that will be almost surely wrong.

You wouldn’t be wrong to suggest that I’m effectively copping out of this particular process, but it isn’t because I’m worried about being wrong: rather, I just feel like I’ve written so much already that going into every individual category seems like a daunting task which would make me less, rather than more, excited about the nominees and the process of sorting through the lists seeing how the races are shaping up.

However, since I don’t want to appear to be flaking out too much, here’s my basic feelings heading into tomorrow’s nominations in terms of who I’m hopeful for and who I’m hoping doesn’t make it onto the ballot, which best captures my state of mind as we enter the next stage of the process.

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Off-Site Learnings: More Thoughts on Familiar Topics

When writing my Across the Pond column for Jive TV, I often draw upon things I hint at in reviews, or discuss on Twitter – as a result, the material may not be new to you, per se, but I hope the column has become a decent repository for those ideas and more broad analysis of the industry. In some cases, I was ahead of the trend: I wrote about Steve Carell leaving the Office weeks ago, and now news emerges which confirms that he plans on departing after the show’s seventh season.

In my two latest pieces, though, I’m less predicting the future and more wondering just what that future might bring. First, I took a further look at AMC’s Rubicon: while my review stuck to the reasons why I have my doubts about the series creatively, the column focuses on the ways in which the series seems to clash with AMC’s other drama series, and how the experiment of stealth premiering the show behind Breaking Bad draws attention to that conflict.

Across the Pond: Rubicon vs. Scheduling

There is, of course, no perfect way to experience a series that starts quite as slowly as Rubicon. Even online viewing would also be problematic thanks to the wealth of distractions, and when the show premieres without a lead-in on 1 August it will still face certain challenges. However, AMC learned a lesson in terms of trying to leverage previous success in marketing new series.

In my latest, column meanwhile, I spilled more virtual ink on Treme, specifically addressing some of the claims that the show was a “failure.” I wrote a lot about the show last week, so I’m sure you’re all a bit fatigued about it, but in light of David Simon’s post-season interview with Alan Sepinwall there are some interesting tidbits in terms of why Treme met that response, and why it doesn’t affect the show’s momentum going into its second season.

Across the Pond: Treme vs. Failure

I would argue that Treme is flawed, as The Wire was at points within its run, but I would also argue that its willingness to go out on a narrative limb is bound to fail for some people, and that Simon has nothing to apologize for. No television show, if it’s a particularly good television show, should please everyone, and the freedom of HBO (and other cable networks like Showtime) is that shows like the ones Simon creates have a space where they can evolve at their own pace and afford to lose viewers who aren’t on the same wavelength (or the same rhythm, if you prefer).

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Treme the Morning After: Critical Arcs Conclude with “I’ll Fly Away”

Treme the Morning After: Critical Arcs Conclude with “I’ll Fly Away”

June 21st, 2010

In Alan Sepinwall’s fantastic interview with David Simon about Treme’s first season, Simon was particularly animated about those who argue that Treme is a show light on plot. In an amendment to the earlier interview (which Simon requested to add during a subsequent conversation), Simon says the following about the criticism of the show:

When they start to sort of evaluate the arc that they can’t know, the story arcs themselves, even if they’re loving it, I just can’t take it seriously. Nobody knows what we’ve built until the end. In some ways, even though we’ve planned it out and know where we’re going, until we look at the last edit of the last episode and send it off – that’s the only point where we can look at it and go, “This worked really well, this not so much.” Until then, you can’t really tell. That’s what I was trying to say. I was not trying to say I do not take criticism seriously. Obviously, anybody who gets to the end and says, “I don’t think this worked,” that’s entirely legitimate. But I can’t take seriously stuff in the middle. It’s like reading a book report in the middle. Not to say there isn’t valid commentary about the process. Just not about arc.

Writing about Treme has been a distinct challenge (as Scott Tobias mentioned in this A.V. Club Crosstalk with Noel Murray) for those of us who write about television on a week-to-week basis, largely because “arcs” are one of the primary ways in which we evaluate individual episodes. What Simon is arguing is that it’s not really possible to evaluate an arc until it reaches its conclusion, and that while critics can like/dislike certain characters, or moments, or direction, they can’t like or dislike the story arc until they discover how it ends. In the case of Treme, these arcs were elusive on a good day and near non-existent on others, and so their presence or absence became a key part of these reviews despite Simon’s concerns.

I have a great deal of respect for Simon, and I’ll agree that he is in no way suggesting that criticism isn’t a worthwhile venture. However, I think that the “stuff in the middle” has been an important glimpse into how critics, and viewers, have been watching the series. A critics’ analysis of an individual season of television is not unlike the first season of Treme, building momentum and information until eventually reaching a conclusion: at no point do critics use individual reviews to offer definitive opinions on a storyline, their responses to episodes standing as evidence of their emotional and critical reaction to the series which build towards an eventual judgment on how the season has progressed. While a story should ultimately be judged once it has concluded, there is nothing wrong with reacting to that story as it unfolds, and critics have simply documented the ways in which they’ve responded to the series both positively and negatively over the course of a season. Even if those concerns are eventually washed away by a strong finale, or if their opinions change through the course of the year, this doesn’t mean that we should take earlier reviews less seriously: instead, we should see them as a dialogue with the text, valuable not in offering a definitive judgment of particular storylines but rather in terms of capturing the way viewers are experiencing the series as it unfolds week-by-week.

As critics confront “I’ll Fly Away,” they draw back on some of their early misgivings in order to properly elaborate on their perspectives, giving the show credit for pulling some storylines together while criticizing the show for potentially missing some opportunities with others. Simon is right that arcs can be judged prematurely, but I think critics have a responsibility to reflect the fact that watching a David Simon series requires a degree of patience that only monks could pull off without difficulty, and that while they will ultimately wait to pass judgment on the series they will have their moments of doubt which should be reflected in their reviews. While Simon is likely right that Treme (like The Wire) would benefit more from a Sepinwallian post-series rewind to these earlier episodes within the context of the broader story, critical commentary of the experience of watching Treme is valuable insight into how the arc is being read by viewers as it progresses, which is ultimately how we primarily watch television.

So as the internet’s television critics offer their views on Treme’s first season finale, all of those who have been writing about the show with some regularity acknowledge the ways in which their opinions have changed and how arcs have or have not come together, acknowledgements we can understand and see for ourselves in reading their intelligent analysis of the season’s individual episodes. As television become a more collective experience in the internet age, viewers want to be able to become part of critical communities which analyze episodes of a show like Treme and create discussion surrounding its relationship with history, its characters, its direction and, yes, its story arcs. And while writing about the show has at times been a challenge, the “stuff the middle” created intriguing conversations which extended the series’ impact beyond its individual segments, building towards a more thorough and definitive conversation to be held now, after the season has come to a close.

While I will agree with Simon that now is when the real analysis can truly take place (and has been taking place, as you’ll see from the reviews I’ll link to after the break), I wouldn’t want to have lost the dialogues which emerged throughout the season, if only because I can’t imagine how long my already ludicrously long review would have been if I had held it all in – while Simon’s concern is not entirely misplaced, the experience of Treme was better for the discussions which emerged from critical reviews, and so long as critics continue to reserve judgment within their analysis of individual episodes I will continue to take them seriously in the future.

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Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Official Ballot Miscellany

Official Ballot Miscellany

June 4th, 2010

Earlier this evening, Emmy voting officially began; this isn’t particularly important to us non-voters, but it does mean that the official ballots were released (PDFs: Performers, Writing, Directing), which means that we know who submitted their names for Emmy contention and can thus make our predictions accordingly. In some cases, this simply confirms our earlier submissions regarding particularly categories, while in other cases it throws our expectations for a loop as frontrunners or contenders don’t end up submitting at all.

For example, Cherry Jones (who last year won for her work on 24) chose not to submit her name for contention this year, a decision which seems somewhat bizarre and is currently being speculatively explained by her unhappiness with her character’s direction in the show’s final season. It completely changes the anatomy of that race, removing a potential frontrunner and clearing the way for some new contenders (or, perhaps, another actress from Grey’s Anatomy). Either way, it’s a real shakeup, so it makes this period particularly interesting.

I will speak a bit about some surprising omissions and inclusions in the categories I’ve already covered this week, but I want to focus on the categories that I haven’t discussed yet, including the guest acting categories, writing, and direction, which are some interesting races this year.

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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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