Tag Archives: Zeljko Ivanek

Season Premiere: Damages – “I Lied, Too”

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“I Lied, Too”

January 7th, 2009

Damages is one of the few shows that, despite airing during the period when I began this blog, I have never honestly blogged about the show. The reason is simple: I wasn’t really doing episodic reviews back when the show first emerged, and it took me a few months to get to the final episodes of the season after losing interest in where the show was headed.

More accurately, I lost interest in the fact that the show had no idea where it was headed. The first season of Damages, for me, had two fundamental problems. First and foremost, I felt like the show was constantly battling the fact that its ostensible lead, Rose Byrne as Ellen Parsons, was far less interesting than her mentor, the fantastic Glenn Close as Patty Hewes. And secondly, it seemed like the show at its midpoint abandoned the nuances of that relationship for contrived, red herring storylines that never felt like they added up to anything substantial.

For this reason, the verdict on Damages Season Two remains out – the show knows how to start a season, and they know how to end one, but it’s going to be the middle section that causes them the most trouble. But what “The Lies We Tell” gets right has me hopeful that they are at least aware of his to solve their first problem: I never particularly engaged with Byrne in the first season, but here she is up to the challenge to portray a character who is exponentially more interesting.

With one of the most impressive supporting casts on a cable drama at the moment, the show has even opportunity to turn this strong start into a strong season: let’s just hope that there aren’t any contrived stalkers in the show’s future.

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The Search for a Showsaver: Heroes, Bryan Fuller and NBC’s Big Little Problems

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The Search for a Showsaver

November 4th, 2008

In case you didn’t hear (I’ve been out of commission in terms of blogging due to a major presentation, so my Twitter feed has been the best source of information/reaction), NBC over the weekend let go Jesse Alexander and Jeph Loeb, the two head writers at their highest rated scripted series, Heroes. Note how I make the distinction: no longer a hit, the show has been relegated to simply being the highest rated amongst NBC’s anemic fall lineup.

This is a fact that NBC wants to fix, a purpose I find admirable if a tad bit idealistic. At this point, Heroes’ problems are that awful mix of inevitable (that some viewers would tire of the serialized narrative), creative (an admitted lack of quality and consistency ever since the first season finale), and logistical (budget overruns, an overabundance of cast members, etc.). Taken individually, the problems might be easy to handle: you offer more social networking integration to hook in what hardcore viewers you have, you bring in a new showrunner who is capable of bringing some quality writing the show’s solid foundation, and you cut some cast members and focus more on character than action or setpieces.

But, solving all three at once can’t be done: any creative or logistical changes could alienate the existing fanbase, and there is no guarantee that a showrunner will be able to balance the creative side of the series with the budget cuts that NBC is forcing on the series. Plus, at the same time, Tim Kring is still in charge of the series, and while Loeb and Alexander may be the scapegoats I’d tend to think the problem goes beyond them to the man truly in charge.

So while names like Bryan Fuller are bandied about, it begs the question: can NBC save Heroes?

Keep reading to find out.

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“Truth” and Emmy: The 2008 60th Primetime Emmy Awards in Review

As Tommy Smothers received his Commemorative Emmy Award for his work on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, he ended his (rousing) speech with a small note: in all languages, Truth means the same thing – what others make you believe. And while there are broad implications of this statement in regards to the world’s political climate, there’s a more direct application: the idea that that the decisions of the Academy are supposed to be seen as the “Truth” about last year’s best television.

Of course, what Smothers was getting at is that this is impossible, primarily because the definition of truth is so malleable and, in our case, adaptable. There might be one or two TV viewers out there who agree with every single decision made tonight, or those who believe in award shows as simple celebrations of excellence as opposed to any sort of competition. And even some people who consider themselves to be elite television viewers could open their favourite internet news site and find word that critical favourites 30 Rock and Mad Men took home the evening’s big prizes – surely, then, the Emmys are truly representative of the best in television.

But, if this is truth, I don’t want to know what fiction is – yes, there were quite a few deserving winners, but the criteria by which most categories were decided is severely divergent from anything even remotely approaching truth. For some awards, age defines truth: if they’re older than the other competitors, then they must truthfully be the superior performer. For others, truth is defined by past precedent: if we voted for you before, than there is no way that your greatness is any less truthful this time around. Conversely, on the same note, was the legacy win: if we nominated you for previous roles but you didn’t win, surely there was truth to our judgment and maybe you were truthfully great here as well.

For that reason, Stephen Colbert’s presence at these awards is all the more apt: his word, truthiness, defines the nature by which awards shows are decided. And there is no greater example of the dangers of truth that, while his writers were rewarded for coining the turn of phrase, he himself was not honoured for saying it out loud for that first time. And while there are greater injustices of truth around the world, let us for one night recognize the subjectivity of truth and the mixed up world of the Primetime Emmy Awards with some Headlines, of sorts.

[For more scattered, but also more fully-encompassing, reactions to tonight’s show, check out Cultural Learnings’ LiveBlog.]

“What’s Mad Men?”

While we critical types are applauding Mad Men’s victory in the Best Drama Series category (And Matthew Weiner’s win for writing the show’s pilot), I am sure there are millions of people saying something quite different: “What the hell is this?” You see, the amount of people who watch Mad Men is about, oh, 1/17 of the average audience for CSI. And while there has been some lowly-rated shows that have won in the past (Arrested Development, as an example), never before has there been a show on Basic Cable that has emerged from the pack to take the award for Best Drama Series.

And the impact it will have is yet unknown: the show, following Don Draper and the life of advertising executives and their lives outside of the office, debuted to little fanfare on AMC before downright exploding onto the critical scene. I’ve yet to see a critic who is ambivalent about Mad Men, even – it’s the kind of show that hooks people in. With a fancy-looking DVD set on the shelves, the second season airing right now on AMC (Plus with episodes available On Demand), this is a show that should be set up to receive a real boost.

But it’s also not a mainstream show, the kind of show that the people who make CSI a hit are going to gravitate towards. It’s a period drama that, while painting some fascinating characters, does so at a pace that, while I like to give them the benefit of the doubt, might scare away a fair chunk of potential viewers. Still, though, let’s ignore for a second the financial or ratings realities of television: here is a show which, in a single season, built stunning characters, an amazingly realized world, and a sense of self-identity that has led into a tremendous sophomore year so far. Simply put, this was the best show on TV last year – few would argue that point of those who’ve seen it, so let’s hope that number increases ever so slightly in the weeks to come.

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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 60th Primetime Emmys LiveBlog

I’m foregoing the Jimmy Kimmel-style opening hour that ABC is airing (Edit: Or I was, until a particular moment), or any of the red carpet deals, in favour of digging into some of the actual awards themselves. I wrote my predictions late this week, and had planned to write up more of a general preview, but time got away from me.

In truth, there’s isn’t much to say that I didn’t say when the nominees were announced: it’s an awards show that offers the most opportunity for legitimate winners accepted by both viewers and critics that the Emmys have seen in recent years. At the same time, it also has every opportunity to remove all relevance the Emmys could ever have. This is the double edged sword of having more progressive nominees: the fall from grace is only going to be harder.

For example, the Best Actor in a Drama Series category is like a ticking time bomb: Hugh Laurie, Michael C. Hall, Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Gabriel Byrne all stand as strong candidates from well-liked shows, but James Spader (Three-time winner in the category) sits waiting to wipe out any sort of optimism we may have about the rest of the awards. Even those of us who watch the Emmy Awards with great interest are going to be shaken by such a decision: as the night goes on, we are going to have many of these moments, beacons of hope either raised up or snuffed out.

So, follow along as we go on this epic rollercoaster ride, this wondrous journey through a year in television as a bunch of (likely) out of touch or (hopefully) intelligent saw it.

7:30pm: I was informed by my brother that Tracy Morgan was going to be part of Jimmy Kimmel’s opening Barbara Walters mock-fest, and I’m darn glad I turned in considering that it features a baseball-bat wielding Morgan attacking the set of How I Met Your Mother in order to enact revenge against nominee Neil Patrick Harris.

7:33pm: Okay, so this has definitely more comic value than expected: notification process goes from Ben Stein, to Brad Garrett, to Nich “Buttercup” Lachey, to William Shatner, to Rachael Ray, to Kobe Bryant, to Jon Hamm, to Martin Short, to Nastia Liukin, to THE HOFF, to Regis and Kelly, to Tina Fey. Purple Monkey Dishwasher style. And then she dances. And she owns a Macbook like mine. This makes me happier than it should.

7:42pm: Selma Hayek was on Ugly Betty? Her whole self? I don’t remember…most…parts of that.

7:49pm: Is anyone aware of a Canadian network who is actually doing a pre-show? I realized at a certain point that I didn’t care enough to find one – instead, relocating to the basic cable TV and catching the end of the newly Steven Weber-infused Without a Trace.

7:56pm: We’re getting close – Tom O’Neil over at The Envelope has the order of events, so we’re starting off with Oprah! And then Supporting Comedy Actor (go NPH).

7:58pm: Honestly, how many crime procedurals did storylines with nearly murdered leads? CTV is having a field day sensationalizing Without a Trace and CSI: Miami.

8:00pm: And here’s our opening, complete with the various memorable TV quotes being quoted by various industry types. There’s too many to note: ends on Spader and Shatner.

8:01pm: Man, am I ever glad to see the normal stage again: Oprah, meanwhile, saunters out to welcome us to the show reminding us that nothing else speaks to us like television. That was a really, really bad line about the book buying, though – we get it, you own our souls.

8:04pm: And now it’s our cavalcade of hosts, with Probst going tie-less, and Heidi Klumn wearing a suit. It’s really, really attractive. Meanwhile, Howie talks over everyone, Seacrest is his schmaltzy self, and Heidi Klum kind of looks like she is terrified to be there amongst these people. Mandel breaks out the political jokes, and they keep saying it isn’t a bit, but Bergeron and Klum are just standing there. It’s just strange. This whole five hosts thing seems…unfortunate. “The odds have improved considerable,” though, is sharp.

8:07pm: And Shatner for the save.

8:08pm: Okay, that being said, I will have to say that Heidi Klum is muchbetter in the dress. And now for our first award: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, both nominees later in the show and one of them enormously pregnant, to present Supporting Comedy Actor. This comedy bit is too simple by half, but they love it. Nominees: NPH, Rainn Wilson, Cryer, Piven, Dillon. This is, sadly, Piven’t to lose.

8:10pm: The graphics feature really cheap little picture photoshop work, and it must be said: NPH definitely had the best little clip. And the Emmy goes to…Jeremy Piven? Ugh, I’m getting bored out of my mind with this, Emmy Voters. Please, for the love of all things good, stop giving this man awards.

8:11pm: Jeremy Piven gets mad points for making fun of the opening, though, but still – completely deserved, but utterly pointless and growingly frustrating win. I hate being so frustrated with a win that in a bubble makes so much sense, but the history says otherwise.

8:15pm: I’m hoping that a Jeremy Piven vs. The Hosts feud goes on all evening, but I don’t think Probst or Klum could handle it. Okay, actually, from her appearance on HIMYM Klum could handle it.

8:16pm: “LIVEEEE!…it’s like a nervous tick.” Oh Bergeron, you’re so much better than your show. In other news: they’re going to let Bergeron and Seacrest handle most of this type of stuff, I hope.

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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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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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Cultural Learnings’ 2008 60th Primetime Emmy Awards Nominations Predictions

When I started my Emmys coverage for this year’s ceremony a while ago, I (as always) had a lot of plans: previews of every category (Got through a lot), reviews of every submitted episode (Almost got through those), and all sorts of other grand schemes that never come to fruition. This is the nature of being a television critic of sorts: you have a lot to say, but balancing it and the rest of your life (See: Watching Television, clearly) can be a bit of a challenge. Let it be known I took most of that free time doing my duty and finally watching shows like The Wire, Six Feet Under and Flight of the Conchords.

However, there’s no way I could possibly procrastinate on writing up my various predictions. Predictions are one of those things that I think about more than I write about (I tried writing more this year, and after a while it petered off). Great sites like AwardsHeaven or Coco at the Movies or TV with Abe keep detailed lists for weeks or months ahead of time updating when the Top 10s come out, but I tend to ruminate a bit more introspectively. We’ll see how that goes this time around, when our access to the Top 10 lists for various categories makes this task easier, yes, but also far more competitive. But, I’m not in it to win it, so to speak; I’m just an Emmy fanatic who enjoys the thrill of participation.

So, without further adieu, my predictions for the nominations for the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Boston Legal (ABC)
  • Damages (FX)
  • House (FOX)
  • Lost (ABC)
  • Mad Men (AMC)

This is a very hard category to call, and admittedly I’m following my own interests here: there’s every chance of Grey’s Anatomy replacing Lost on this list based on its popularity alone, but something tells me that Lost’s episode submission (The fantastic “The Constant”) will elevate them through. Mad Men and Damages represent the new crop of summer cable hits, while Boston Legal and House should ride baity submission and Hugh Laurie, respectively, to nods.

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)

The first four are pretty much locks: while his show is too bloody to make it into major categories, Hall’s Emmy pedigree and the fantastic nature of his performance should get him the nomination he deserved last year. Meanwhile, “should have won before” Laurie and newcomer and Golden Globe winner Hamm will try to dethrone undefeated Emmy king Spader, and that last slot is up for grabs. I’ve gone with Bryan Cranston’s brave performance in the AMC series, one I need to finish watching at some point (Only got through the opening two episodes). Gabriel Byrne is the other option, but I believe that if Cranston made the Top 10 people were watching, and he would have performed well on the panels.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters)
  • Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)
  • Holly Hunter (Saving Grace)
  • Glenn Close (Damages)
  • Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica)

Those following the Emmy race will sigh at that last name – while the first four are more or less locks based on name recognition and showy performances, the fifth candidate in this category is somewhat more open. However, with previous nominees like Mariska Hargitay and Minnie Driver waiting in the wings, the chances of an actress from a science fiction series breaking through are slim. However, frak that kind of logical thinking: I want to have hope, for once, that they’ll see through the Science Fiction and discover a tremendous performance that is worthy of consideration.

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