John Carter

29 Apr

John Carter is a confounding feature film, in part for the ways you may have heard (a sky high budget for a film based on a property few have heard of, its foolishly simple name), some you may not have (internal Disney politics, being the debut live action film by the acclaimed director of Wall-E, its source material being an inspiration for Star Wars and Avatar) and because, in fact, in spite of everything it is a film that flirts with being quite good while largely ending up quite the mess. At the end of the day, with a budget of $250,000,000, it needed to be great and to be pretty perfectly marketed and managed. It was neither.

When it comes to the film itself, it looks every bit of its giant budget. There are many set pieces that do well in conveying a mysterious alien world but its greatest achievement is likely the alien race of the Tharks. They are tall, green, skinny creatures who manage to interact in the world of Barsook (the native’s name for the planet Mars) which fulfills the ideas of the book that it is based on, which imagined Mars as a vast desert like expanse.

That book ‘A Princess of Mars’, the first in the ‘John Carter of Mars’ series by Edgar Rice Burroughs was the author’s second most successful franchise. His most successful was Tarzan of the Apes, a concept that has been spun into more movies, radio plays, film serials and television programs than nearly any property in history. This, however is the first time John Carter has been adapted, although not the first time its concepts have been mined.

The most famous examples of films indebted to Burroughs series are Star Wars and Avatar. George Lucas is on record, as is James Cameron, of being not just John Carter fans but having been inspired by the books. The Tharks resemble the alien creatures who populate Pandora in Avatar, Princess Leia resembles in many respects the titular ‘Princess of Mars’ who is the titular character of the first Burroughs book in the series, of which this film was based.

Filmmakers have tried to adapt the material for many years, including a recent attempt by Robert Rodriguez, but it took Andrew Stanton, a veteran writer-director of ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Wall-E’ and the fact that Disney, before its purchase of Marvel and LucasFilm, was utterly devoid, save maybe ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ of a franchise with appeal for boys, for the film to get on the production schedule.

There are few films where it seems more central to the film to establish such context of its origins before its screenplay was ever written, yet for John Carter it seems needed. Because without that context we would not have gotten the film we did for with a smaller budget would come a far lesser realization of the project. And yet, paradoxically without the astronomical budget, we would not have had a film so well remembered as a flop- it’s possible we may have gotten a film that blandly made its money back and disappeared. And yet there are other factors in play.

It’s also important to view the film as the aborted first in a franchise- Stanton had wished to make at least a trilogy of films. Asked recently about the idea of a sequel Stanton was enthusiastic to make it. There is, in fact, a small cult of fans who have also championed this cause. A large enough group that ‘John Carter 2’ is the #2 suggestion to autocomplete in Google when you type in ‘John Carter’ into the search engine. It easily outranks ‘John Carter flop’ in that measure, yet in terms of the number of hits the latter far outreaches the former.

And so we have the tale of the film- one given an enormous budget (rumors of it going over-budget turn out to have been false- all involved seem to agree, $250,000,000 was the original budget and Stanton came in on budget), that lost its title and became the near anonymous ‘John Carter’, sans any mention of Mars (2011’s flop ‘Mars for Moms’ indicated to them that Mars wasn’t marketable, it seems) and which, once it arrived was met by a company that had changed Presidents twice since it was greenlit, had just bought Marvel (and was in negotiations with Lucasfilm) and thus suddenly had all the boys franchises it could ever need and which placed the film, without a major star and sans a recognizable mainstream character or hook, precariously outside of Summer and yet right in the crosshairs of the obvious to be smash hit ‘Hunger Games’.

It was dead on arrival- vague marketing, making the blandness of the film’s title shine even brighter in the spotlight and Disney’s eventual announcement of having been written off to the tune of $200,000,000, announced oddly just weeks into the theatrical run have lead its boosters to speculate at conspiracy- did George Lucas tell them to killbit if they wanted Star Wars, for instance. Given how poorly nearly every step went one almost wonders.

So, then is the film as bad as some might say? No, surely it is not. It’s very lovely to look at, is ambitious in its scope and plotting and is enjoyable to watch in many respects. Is it as good as its boosters claim? No, regrettably, it’s a bit of a mish mash of ideas, has a largely wooden lead performance by Taylor Kitsch and has some regrettably awful dialogue at times.

It might take an hour to summarize the ins and outs of the plot but the short version is that a man who wishes to escape the Civil War is teleported, via a magic talisman to Mars, gets involved in a 3 way civil war on that planet and learns he can leap great distances. He then gets involved with a Martian princess, who is betrothed in an attempt to put an end to the war. Predictably they fall in love and live happily ever after, in spite of running afoul of all manner of baddies, from enormous ape creatures to shapeshifter demigods.

And yet one can also see why the story was so beloved and the film, in some circles, well loved. It’s a sci-fi epic with interesting visuals and ideas, new environments and creatures the likes we’ve not encountered before. The princess, Dejah Thoris, is a fiery female lead and clearly one of the highlights of the film, although she too often ends up a damsel in distress near the end of the film.

The screenplay, attributed to Stanton, as well as Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon, manages some good ideas, such as the wraparound sequences that establish a fictional version of Burroughs deciding to write the book and some poor ones, of which I would consider much of the dialogue. On his previous films Stanton had been able, as with all Pixar films, to take the pieces as built and rebuild them over and over. The average Pixar film is given several tries, the equivalent of having reshot the films numerous times, over months and sometimes years, whereas here the shooting lasted little more than two months. I can imagine if Stanton had the same leeway to work with here he may have made a masterful film, in the vein of his first two films. This, however, never fully comes together.

In the end ‘John Carter’ could not have been made well for less money- in many respects expensive reshoots might have actually been the best thing for it – and yet for the money it was made for and with the scrutiny and financial risks that come with it, it needed to be a great film, promoted well, in a way that revealed those strengths it had at its center. This film had neither advantage, instead becoming, in so many aspects, a how-to guide as to lose hundreds of millions of dollars on an only all right film. In the end ‘John Carter’ is in all ways a mess and yet a charming one. Unfortunately those charms aren’t nearly worth the films considerable weight in gold.

Roger Ebert RIP

5 Apr

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I’m remembering well today a wthought I had a few months back. I don’t recall what, if anything prompted it but I recall thinking that when Roger Ebert died I was going to be terribly sad. Turns out I was right.

I’ve long been a person who cared about and paid attention to reviews and critics. As far back as I can recall I have looked to critics and reviews for guidance, and none more often or more intently than I did Roger. I remember as a teenager getting into arguments with family about why I cared what a critic thought about movies or music and I’d be told it wasn’t the end all, be all. And it wasn’t and isn’t but it was always the guide into what might be worth my time.

More than that though, Roger was one of the first and most prominent examples of someone who looked at culture the way I did. I can tend to be critical of all forms of culture, reflexively, in a way that sometimes rubs people wrong. Whatever it is I’m watching or reading I tend to do it with a critical eye- is this a 3 star record, a 4 star book, an A episode of TV? On some level I don’t know where or when this started but I do know that it’s people like Roger Ebert that made those thoughts seem OK, it made it actually seem like a good thing.

I’ve read plenty of memoir pieces about someone feeling an outsider and a piece of art making them feel understood but to me, understanding the arts, quantifying them, making lists, considering what this or that detail may have meant- that’s the stuff that makes art real and relevant and interesting to me. I think, pretty possibly that, when it comes to the media, to realizing that was something other people really thought about and considered was watching ‘At the Movies’ in it’s various incarnations. I feel sad to have likely seen far more Richard Roeper than Gene Siskel but all the same, I’m glad to have seen Roger.

It’s an odd thing, as well, that I’ve never really been what most would consider a film buff. I see my fair share but there are innumerable classics I’ve never laid eyes on, and yet Roger Ebert always exemplified the best of what criticism could be. As I grew older I’d read, listen to and consume reviews on so many things, from pro wrestling (which in so many ways is beloved by me for being a form that is incredibly rich with ability to be scrutinised, for whatever reason), to comic books (wherein I for years would read and consider reviews and at the peak of my fandom talk about and debate furiously on message boards) to music (where I’ve made lists of my favorite records of the year for what is coming up on nearly a decade, though the ten year old one is probably an embarrassment and also a singles, rather than album list) and finally- TV where in recent years I’ve felt endlessly drawn to watching and considering, as much of this blog and my ill-fated Mary Tyler Moore series reflected.

In all these cases, whether it was debating the merits of Spider-Man on the Bendis Board, listening to Bryan Alvarez overthink an episode of Monday Night Raw, rolling my eyes at an undeserved ***** Springsteen review in Rolling Stone or wondering how the latest episode of Parks and Rec only got a B+ on the AV Club, the sheer time, thought and effort given to understanding the world of ideas that others might find completely trivial has always not only given me joy but made me feel OK for doing the same.

With no one person was this more clear than Roger Ebert, a man who I’d view as a patron saint of criticism- a man who made his life’s work seeing, writing and talking about movies. The first place I always went, for as many years as I can think, to get perspective on not just what was in theaters but also whatever random film I had just seen was to his website at Chicago Sun-Times, where I’ve been sad to see the reviews get fewer and farther between, as the days went by.

All the same, even as his health declined and his show ceased to have him along for the ride he also became, as years went on an oddly heroic figure. Suddenly small and eventually with a face showing the horrors of cancer, he was always a chipper presence on the internet, sending out one-liners to The New Yorker and answering questions on his site about arcane subjects, and even publishing a review of Thor, then a long detailed defense of it that I gladly and interestedly read and gave long thought to. It was interesting, as always, seeing something through his lens (even if in this case he was crazily wrong- that was almost even better, his review of Fight Club is still one of the reviews I’ll remember best, even if it was wildly off-base)

He was such a figure of gleeful polarity. To embrace Roger Ebert, especially in his best known role as TV host, was to embrace well considered and well thought out argument. It is why I watched and felt a twinge of misunderstanding in the air when on CNN’s Crossfire, Jon Stewart ripped into them. For sure the show, and sucessors in different arenas like ESPN’s Pardon the Interuption, never had the panache he and Gene had but the best aspects of the idea of getting into a good, constructive argument about something that really matters to you is something I think gets lost in the conversation about what a shame it is that people are getting so angry about their opinions. They might be like assholes, but an opinion doesn’t make you one- Roger knew that.

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Near the end, as cancer took it’s toll, he took on a second role for me. His public battle with the disease called easily to mind the one that had previously taken up nearly as much of my time and thought as all those reviews, my father’s losing battle with it. Through each surgery and new setback he fought against it in a way that mirrored the struggle I’d seen up close for months and years, several years back. When he lost his voice it brought to mind my father, always so talkative, struck mute by the disease. And so through it all I think I very likely saw him as a second chance to see that these things can be conquered and while both of them tried, ultimately no one suceeds forever in that battle.

Another lesson one can take from culture, when you give it thought like he did, though, is that unhappy endings aren’t always the worst thing. Once I get to the end, good or bad, I’ve always loved to read the reviews. I’d glance at the ratings and a paragraph or so before but after? Then I’d read the whole thing and get to weigh in. So far I’ve read several remembrances, obituaries and articles about him- the closest thing a life gets to a review, and while I’m taking less joy in these than most reviews, seeing the raves come in from The White House to Facebook, it’s an interesting satisfaction to see his life in review.

And so this has happened and those will keep coming in. And tomorrow I’ll tell a group of classmates what I think of their short stories drafts, probably focus a little too intently on the Hulu replays of some of my favorite sitcoms and hope that anyone who might read this gives it a thumbs-up. It’s in these ways, and myriads more as days go by that I’ll hope, in my agnostic way that I can get some approval shining down from the balcony. Regardless the reviews, though- I’m going to keep going till I get to the last of it, just like he did, and maybe, if there is something after I’ll get the pleasure of comparing notes on that too.

‘February in Greece’

1 Aug

Some incomplete short fiction…

‘Greece is totally in Latin America, dude’ Jim had declared to him, all of the sudden. It was an odd statement. Wrong, for starters but also so oddly wrong and impossible as to be hard to believe someone would hold this misstatement as a matter of fact. He began to argue but he was cut off by the blonde girl butting in, quickly, he forgot her name but she’s always hanging around Jim, who agreed. He assumed she did this just to score points with him, she couldn’t possibly believe it to be true.

‘It is not’, he stated, adding ‘All I was saying is that it wouldn’t be hard to confuse a Greek person and a Hispanic person. There is a common skin tone, almost’

‘Yes – because Greek people are Hispanic, Paul.’ – this literally unbelievable sentiment was continuing. It had to be stopped. He demanded Jim look it up on his phone, right now. Jim pulled up Wikipedia. He waited to be proven correct. He knew he was and he almost felt bad for embarrasing the guy like this. Jim normally isn’t this dumb, this seemed terrible out of character.

‘There – see’, Jim declared, pulling up a map showing Greece, couched beside Argentina and dwarfed by Brazil above it . He starred, galled by it. It had to be a Wikipedia prank and this had to be something Jim was just playing along with. It felt odd, though, it had come up in conversation quite naturally – Jim couldn’t have known he’d say it, surely. Odd.

‘I’m going to need to see another site – you can’t trust Wikipedia’

‘Why can’t you just admit you’re wrong?’

‘Oh, I’m sorry, does your phone not GO to other websites’

‘Fine’ he said and then, moments later a variation on the same map was shown to him. He starred, slack jawed at it. It made no sense. Greece was, well it was somewhere in Europe, right? It kinda looked like a boot? This didn’t even look like Greece as he remembered it, it was an awkwardly ridged square. Something about the whole experience had him doubting himself and confused.

‘You know, guys, I think I’ve had a few too many drinks’, he said, suddenly getting up to go.

‘Wow – you really can’t just let this go, huh?’

‘It’s not that, I just feel-‘

‘Embarassed?’

‘Confused. And drunk, I guess? I mean… yeah, that must be all. I’m just going to walk it off.’

‘Walk it off? Where to?’

‘Home. It’s only like a block away.’ he said – matter of fact, somewhat confused by the question.

‘Shit, man – how drunk are you? You don’t even know where you live?’

‘What?’ – this was getting out of hand. He lived a block away. 48 Concord Street. He told Jim this. Jim told him that might well be his address but that he knew for a fact that he lived all the way across town.

They both looked at each other, each of them confused and a little taken aback. It was an uncomfortable moment. It felt oddly intimate, in the worst way. They only knew one another from the bar, this moment felt oddly personal. It was especially odd for him, because it had no reason to feel this way. Jim had been right, (maybe? It still seemed impossible) about Greece but this was his home, this was an important detail and even if he was blackout drunk he’d know this, wouldn’t he? Where he was?

‘This… is Gregory’s… right?’ he asked, trying to maybe finger the problem being that perhaps he didn’t know where he was. Perhaps he’d had that much to drink. It hardly felt like he’d pushed himself at all tonight, though. Maybe something was wrong with one of the drinks. Did he get drugged. That was possible, right? But why?

‘Yeah, man, it’s Gregory’s. And Gregory’s is all the way across town from your place. I dropped you off that one time’

‘When?’ he asked, perhaps too demandingly.

‘Like a few weeks ago. A month? You were hammered. It was nothing like this though. What did you have?’

‘God… I… I don’t know. I feel really disoriented. Ever since the whole Greece thing, I guess?’

‘Shit. Well, I can’t drive you home, I’m 3 beers in.’ He looked over to the blonde girl ‘Hey, Jen? Favor?’

She looked up from her drink, a little woozy ‘Anything for yoooou.’ she slurred. He sighed ‘Actually, nevermind’ he told her. She shrugged and went back to her drink.

‘I really don’t think I can let you leave like this, bro. You just seem… off your rocker.’

‘I feel it.’ he said, ignoring that Jim, a man who it appeared was at this moment his intellectual superior had just called him ‘bro’. It seemed safest at that moment to ignore most of his inclinations. His inclination was still that Greek was in Europe and home was a ten minute walk away and, well… you know, actually, maybe he was giving Jim too much of a benefit of the doubt. The internet is often wrong and who’s to say it still wasn’t a prank. Maybe he just felt weird because it was so hard to take something so wrong as the truth. And maybe this whole ‘across town’ business was false too.

‘I’m going to go take a walk to my apartment and it’s going to be fine’, he declared.

‘Man, what the fuck. You can’t walk to your apartment. The. Other. Side. Of. Town.’

‘I’m going to walk where I know it to be and it’s going to be there. And then I’m going to give you a call and we’ll have a laugh about it. It’s fine.’

‘It’s not fine. Shit. You know what? How about we take that walk – you could use the fresh air, I think and for some reason I seem to be the only one that gives a shit around here’ and with that Jim got out of his stool and put his arm around him. It didn’t seem like he was having trouble walking at all. In fact, Jim felt more drunk than he was, with a slight stagger.

‘Where are yooou going?’ asked Jen, drearily.

‘I’m going for a walk with Paul here’

‘We cooould take a walk! To my bed! Ha ha.’

‘I’m gonna pa-‘

‘SEX! HA HA!’

Jim sighed and from all appearances began to ignore her and he started to lightly stagger toward the door, his arm still awkward strewn upon Paul’s shoulder. They exited the bar into a cold alley. This all felt not quite right. He wondered if this wasn’t just a different exit than he was used to.

‘Why did we go out this way’ he asked.

‘This is the only exit, bro – which way to your house’

‘I don’t think I’m where I thought I was’

‘Right. Of course. Well… we’re out here now, we might as well get some air, right, buddy?’

He paused for a moment. He was collecting himself. On some level this made the whole thing make more sense. If he wasn’t where he thought he was then it made sense that his apartment wasn’t where he thought it was. But why was he somewhere else?

‘Air might help’, he concluded.

‘It’s not really the best day for it, though’ said Jim, as an aside.

‘Yeah, it’s a good thing February is short’ he said trying to make small talk.

‘What? What does that even mean?’

Tonight was not Paul’s night. ‘I mean, it’s a short month and that’s good because, I… I don’t know, I guess because it’s a shitty month for weather’

‘What the fuck does ‘it’s a short month’ even mean’

‘It’s like 28 days. Or, well 29 in a Leap Year’

‘A what?’

‘A Leap Year’ he said, becoming slightly more distressed. Maybe Jim was just a moron? Maybe he just never noticed. But if so, that still wouldn’t explain where he was. And the internet wasn’t a moron and so it’s hard to argue the Greece point, right? Shit.

‘I still don’t know what that is. You’re not making a lot of sense.

He decided he’d try to explain, though he knew already that it would get him nowhere: ‘February has 28 days…’ he started.

‘No… nope, it has the standard 30. Fuck – did you have a stroke or something? You’re not acting drunk, just… weird’

‘February has 28 days! 29 in a Leap Year!’ he began shouting.

‘What the fuck, bro! I don’t know what a Leap Year is, I don’t know what you’re talking about and YET AGAIN you are wrong. 30 days. 30 days is a month. February is 30. Days. I don’t think I can do this anymore.’

’30 days? What about 31?’

‘What about it? 31 days is one more day than a month.’

‘No! NO! That is NOT right. 30 Day has September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31! 31 days! And February has 28! Or, well 29 every 4 years…’

‘I’m about to just leave you here’, Jim said and Paul realized suddenly that they’d gone a bit of a ways since they started. He felt like he was in a haze still, though, so maybe that’s why he hadn’t noticed. He was very caught up in the conversation. It was beginning to make him feel like he was going a little crazy, actually. He couldn’t possibly be wrong about all of this.

‘Maybe I did have a stroke. Is this what having a stroke feels like?’

‘I don’t know. I’ve never had a stroke, bra. But I mean, isn’t it more like slurred talking and all that. You don’t just start spouting off about the days in a month and all that. I mean, I don’t think?’

‘Yeah, me either. Shit shit shit. What the fuck happened. Am I on drugs? Did someone drug me?’

‘Maybe. You know what, man? I think we should just call you a cab and it’ll take you home.’

‘Only I don’t even know where home is! We’ve established that!’

2012 Emmy Ballot: Best Comedy Series (Series Conclusion!)

18 Jul

Finally, to wrap up my series on Emmy nominations, I bring you my concluding thoughts and most importantly, the category I care the most about – Best Comedy Series.

In going through these I’ve realized that I definitely have certain favorites that I return to again and again and maybe, as revealed in my last post, some blind-spots. That said, if you’ve been following along, my choices for Best Comedy Series shouldn’t surprise too much.

I was actually disappointed by the lack of Animated series being eligible for this category, as I’m not sure if I would have picked it or not but Bob’s Burgers, as well as South Park, could have been contenders here.

My previous columns are:

For Writing and Directing Emmys: https://ryantardiff.wordpress.com/2012/07/01/2012-emmy-ballot-best-writing-directin/

For Supporting Actor and Actress Emmys: https://ryantardiff.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/emmysupports2012/

For Lead Actor and Lead Actress Emmys: https://ryantardiff.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/emmyactors/

Before I get to my final thoughts, the nominees.

Best Comedy Series:

Parks & Recreation

For four seasons Parks & Recreation has been one of the finest shows on television, with the exception of it’s first abbreviated year it has deserved a nomination every time as one of, at the very least, the six finest comedy program on television. Amy Poehler leads one of the finest ensembles with some of the finest characters and funniest scripts on television. It’s a well oiled machine at this point but I thought this season managed some surprises.

For one, for a show that was already one that used, on occasion a sweet dramatic turn to it’s advantage, it turned into a much more sentimental show. It also followed the longest narrative of any season thus far, taking one larger storyline – the campaign of Leslie Knope for City Council and turning it into two long arcs, both of which rival what I would consider the show’s break-out arc, the one where it became one of the elite best shows on television, ‘The Harvest Festival’ and both of which delivered not just laughs but solid, well won sentiment.

A show that can balance the madcap silliness that can be Chris Pratt’s Andy or Aziz Ansari’s Tom with the sweet love story of Leslie and Ben with an always compelling main narrative pitting Amy’s Leslie against the often absentee (both from the show and in character) Bobby Newport, as played by guest Paul Rudd and eventually the impressive Katherine Hahn as his consultant.

By the end of the season the election was over and the season reached a fine and fitting conclusion. And in spite of slightly anemic ratings the citizens of Pawnee, Indiana will live to fight another season – hopefully it can live up to this one.

Girls

I already wrote at length about the first season of Girls here:

https://ryantardiff.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/adventurous-women-girls-season-one-in-review-nearly-spoiler-free/

But to re-iterate: a quite accomplished and adventurous first season of a show that found it’s voice quickly and managed to excite, entertain, enlighten and engage me every time out. One of the finest shows on television, by my estimation and one that may only figure itself out better with age. One hopes, at least the characters will (but it’s hard to count on it)

Louie

In it’s second season Louis C.K.’s ‘Louie’ continued and advanced on all of the odd, often unrelated misadventures of season one. The series basically serves as a free form video platform for Louis to get any and all ideas out into the world. Be it a short story about his pregnant sister, an odd fable about a homeless man being hit by a bus or one of the longest, most awkward rejections in maybe all of television history, Louie does things it’s own way and does it in a way no else does and no one else can.

In many ways it’s a simple show: Louis, a comedian of seemingly different regard in any given story, goes about his life with few constants, among them his two little girls. It allows for any and every story and in spite of that excites, delights and disgusts with the places it is able and all too willing to go. It’s vulgar, nearly always but sweet sometimes too. It’s everything and one might think nothing as well – it floats and flits so effortlessly from idea to idea that one might want to say it’s inconsequental but it’s only as inconsequental as a brilliant man’s imagination. And I find that very consequental (and funny, it turns out, most of the time) indeed.

Happy Endings

An under the radar critical and cult darling sitcom that is as funny as anything on television, ‘Happy Endings’ managed, in it’s second season to escape from under the weight of it’s premise (of which it’s initial episodes, in my estimation suffered less than people say, but enough to still occasionally struggle) into an ensemble with no weak links and some of the finest, sharpest writing and comic acting on television.

Unlike most of the shows on this list, Happy Endings is infrequently a show that is about much – there are plots and ongoing stories and they’re done well but this is a more pure comedy, albeit about characters we like and care about. But joke for joke I will take Happy Endings over any show on television, bar none and the jokes come aplenty.

The worst thing about Season One arguably, in my mind wasn’t the premise weighing things down so much as two leads of the ensemble Elisha Cuthbert as Alex and Zachary Knighton as Dave weighing the others down and in Season Two both of them are back and suddenly among the funniest and most compelling parts of the cast. Alex, especially blossoms into one of the funniest, silliest characters on television. The show figured them out and figured out how make me laugh. That gets it an easy nomination from me.

New Girl

Speaking of shows that figured themselves out, ‘New Girl’ didn’t get off to a particularly strong start. There were elements that were amusing from the beginning but they never quite managed in it’s first 4-5 episodes to put together a particularly strong front to back episode. Then – suddenly, it found it’s voice and from then on it was as funny, sweet and smart a comedy as any on television.

One of the failings to start was the way they played the titular character – Jess was made into a pariah and seemed like she almost deserved to be, with the behavior she displayed. But they toned that way down and made her eccentric but charming and the show found it’s voice.

It also found it’s ensemble. If anything worked from the word ‘go’ it was Max Greenfield’s Schmidt, the oddest snob on television who only grew into a better more complete character as the show around him got stronger and better grounded.

Adding to it was Lamorne Morris to the ensemble was an awkward fit at first, Happy Endings’ Damon Waynes Jr. was originally cast in, basically, his role but left when that show was unexpectedly picked up for season two (and as we’ve discussed, that was a good thing) and left them scrambling for a replacement – by the end of the season I thought he had been established and made a worthwhile member of the gang. And finally Jake Johnson as Nick, slowly, as the season moved along moved into a position of near co-lead and did so by being quite nearly blow for blow as interesting and as funny a character as Schmidt and even if they’re positioning him for what I think is a mistake of a love story with Jess, he makes for a great foil for not only her but all his housemates.

It’s amazing to me that a show with as much promise as New Girl in it’s early episodes managed, so quickly to become one of the best shows on TV, but it did. By the last third of the season it was easily as good as anything it could be compared to easily on television – from ‘Real Americans’ to ‘White Fanging’ it was one of the most fun and funny shows there is and if this season;s quality arc is to be believed might only get better.

Considerations went to:

30 Rock: A getting older but still effective (sometimes more than others) romp

How I Met Your Mother: Occasionally transcendent but often misguided, it has some of the best single episodes on television and to be fair, at it’s worst is merely interesting.

Modern Family: Consistent. Funny. Not much there there.

Portlandia: Cute and funny but the appeal is wearing thin. Still amusing enough.

Community: Often quite good but often, also, too cute by half.

And in the end my #6 is…

How I Met Your Mother

Probably the most inconsistent of my six nominees and clearly the hardest to justify, How I Met Your Mother is also, at times, one of the very very best half hours of television there is. It plays with structure and expectations in satisfying and wonderful ways and at this point has built character connections with the audience to a point that everything seems heightened. Maybe because of my connection with the characters I have a tendency to over-rate it but there have been recent seasons that didn’t come together nearly as well…

That being said this highlights better than anything what I’ll close out by talking about – doing this has given me a new goal of watching and enjoying more shows and having a more varied taste. While I love cheerleading for my shows – Happy Endings, Parks & Rec, Girls etc. I also feel like, perhaps, I could be better rounded in my tastes. And I take it seriously (if  thousands of words didn’t clue you in) but in doing so I’m somewhat pained to be making exclusions based on ignorance. While I’m a fan and it had a good year, clearly the 6th best comedy on television wasn’t a solid but slightly shaky season of How I Met Your Mother – maybe it was Curb Your Enthusiasm or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Nurse Jackie or any number of shows I have either not seen or just never felt like watching this year.

And that’s why, when Thursday comes and the nominees are announced I’m going to try and not be too upset at the results, even if I’m clearly pulling for my shows (and I truly think Girls, Louie, Parks and Happy Endings deserve recognition and some specific actors, actress and behind the scenes folk) but I’ll try to keep an open mind.

Unless it’s Modern Family sweeping the ultra competitive (in my mind) category of ‘Best Supporting Actor’ again, because c’mon really.

AND

Unless it’s Two and a Half Men getting nominated because fuck that piece of shit.

And that concludes my look into the 2012 Comedy Emmys. I’ll be waiting, anticipatoryly for the nominations on Thursday and I’ll return to whatever the regularly scheduled blogs here are. It’s been a fun project – expect more fun projects as time goes by…

2012 Emmy Ballot: Best Actor/Best Actress

18 Jul

With the announcement of the Emmy Nominations fast approaching (they’ll be announced Thursday morning) I have precious little time to wrap up my series on who I’d nominate for this year’s comedy categories. With that in mind, I’m going to cover two of the major categories today: Best Actor and Best Actress. And, for me, they are both categories that leave major question marks.

In the case of both I think much of the best acting is being done in supporting roles but especially when it comes to ‘Best Actor’ – there is a surplus of supporting actors, ranging from Jason Segel to Ty Burrell who I didn’t even give a ‘Best Supporting Actor’ nomination to that I would likely end up nominating here, due to the weakness of the fields, all things considered.

When it comes to ‘Best Actress’ there are many more strong performers but I have the odd conundrum of having a large amount of performers who I know have given notably good performances on shows that I don’t watch. This is an issue in every category to a point – I watch many many show but I don’t watch every one and I didn’t see every episode of even the shows I like – but it seems unusually pronounced in the case of this category, where I might have been able to throw together six viable candidates but only if I ignored the work I wasn’t familiar with. Thus I’ve called in an outside voice I respect the opinions of to give me some help, so that little birdie will provide two nominees, as well. The sixth is still to be decided as I write this.

But before we get to that, let’s start off with the fairly disappointing field for Best Actor, shall we? This is a field weak enough that last year Johnny Galecki – who is perfectly fine but not particularly notable as Leonard on The Big Bang Theory – snuck a nomination. It’s field weak enough that people who should be also-rans got a solid look from me – no offense to Josh Radnor of ‘How I Met Your Mother’ but he’s likely the show’s weakest member of the ensemble (which shouldn’t be an offensive statement given that, if nothing else ‘HIMYM’ has one of the great casts on television – Alyson Hannigan, the aforementioned Jason Segel, the nominated by me Colbie Smulders and the always terrific Neil Patrick Harris are very tough competition).

And people I happened to enjoy but weren’t terribly familiar with their work got a thought given to them too. I gave up on ‘Bored to Death’ after a few episodes but I can easily believe that Jason Swartzman is giving good performances there. In the end I gave one nomination to a performance from which I hadn’t seen any of the current season of but it seemed fairly reasonable to believe that said performer hadn’t fallen off from the great performance he was giving back when I did watch the show (which was easily the best thing about the show of which I haven’t otherwise been a notable fan)

Let’s kick this off with the ones that I think just about everyone are getting nominations whether they think they deserve them or not (and in my mind they do or they wouldn’t be here), starting with the reigning two time winner…

Best Actor

Jim ParsonsThe Big Bang Theory

As the breakout character of one of the two most popular comedies on television (with Modern Family) Jim Parsons’ Sheldon has reached a level of iconic notabiliy that few modern television characters have or could. But the thing is, whether given good material (as he is somewhat frequently) or bad (which happens more often than it should) – Parsons is always engaged in commiting to this character.

This would be the fourth nomination for Parsons and it’s hard to see him not racking them up every year for the forseeable future. I think there is some level of animosity in the more ‘sophisticated’ television watching world that Big Bang Theory ought to be so heavily nominated, given it has seen better years and in the eyes of some isn’t among the very strongest shows on television even at it’s best. I’d argue that at it’s best it’s an extremely likeable and funny show (and at it’s worst it can be faintly amusing but misguided) and honestly, for the most part at the moment it’s held back by not having much for the male cast to do that is very new or interesting and limitations on what more can be done organically with some of it’s male stars.

That said – Jim Parsons as Sheldon is a performance that rises above anything else in the show, by sheer commitment to a character that could be so easy to get wrong and he so often nails. That’s worth an easy nomination, especially in a category that is a little weak.

Alec Baldwin 30 Rock

The other nominee who has been a shoe-in for years and again – I think he’s fabulous and deserves it. It could be said that this year might have been an off-year for Baldwin’s Jack Dongughy but even in an off-year the strength of the perfomances is so high that it rises above the pack.

Now, Alec had a lot to work with this year and I think he was a solid lead actor on the show but some of his stories were a little off – be it his quest to start a recliner business or his wife gone missing in North Korea or his flirtation with her mother. None of those stories really resonated with me and his role as mentor to Tina Fey’s Liz has grown, if not stale then perhaps a bit stagnant.

That said, in spite of that Baldwin is one of the funniest performers on television – his stories and his role might have not been the best but he sold every one of them like an absolute star. Even if the Liz and Jack dynamic is maybe a bit stale, watching them negoiate her new contract or watching him play Batman (as ‘The Tuxedo’) to her Joker (um, Liz as a homeless looking weirdo) was magic and even when not given the proper material, he was still dynamite.

Louis CK Louie

The first nominee of which no reservations or questions might be had of, maybe the only one in this category. The absolute and total lead actor of a show that succeeds at being funny, smart, sad and true, Louis CK is giving some of the best performances on television today. That they are performances of which he is directing and starring as well makes him one of the top names in all of television today, if not when it comes to popularity then at least when it comes to quality.

In season two of Louie we saw him argue with Dane Cook, have awkward sex with one his daughter’s classmate’s mother, persue a friend and get rejected in one of the most emotionally wrenching scenes of the year and go to Afghanistan on a USO tour with an univited duckling guest, among other absolute highlights. In every case CK’s perfomance has to be absolutely on point for these scenes and these episodes to work and it always was.

This should be Louis CK’s year. I believe he likely will get a nomination, as he did last year and anything short of him winning will be the wrong decision to me.

Larry DavidCurb Your Enthusiasm

Another example of an actor who does much of the work to make his show work, behind the scenes and in front of the camera. ‘Curb’ has had better years but like Parsons and Baldwin it’s hard to question the commitment ot the character that David has. That the character is a (hopefully, for all involved hightened version of) himself? That doesn’t come into play – we’re not judging who acted the most here – we’re judging who acted the best.

Few people can wring the same level of awkward energy out of a situation than Larry David. Just when you think he is out of trouble he brings himself right back in. Some of that is writing, but given the fact that Curb is and has been largely improvised, one has to imagine much of that comes from the performance by David.

This is one of the shows wherein I, perhaps, did not see every episode however it’s hard to believe that David didn’t nail everything that was expected of him yet again, even once I had tuned out. He’s that good here, even if I think the show is showing it’s age, quite possibly. Like Parsons and Baldwin – I have a hard time imagining a year where he is unworthy of nomination, even with all the shows in question going somewhat down hill.

Adam ScottParks and Recreation

When Adam Scott’s Ben entered in Season Two of Parks he was the second banana to Rob Lowe. It was clear he might be a love interest to Leslie but it didn’t seem like he was going to be anything more than another voice in the ensemble. But slowly over the seasons he’s worked his way into a role that I could happily consider a lead role, as his romance with Leslie has put him in front of the action. And he’s done a heck of a job with the role.

Scott, who was previously very good on the cult hit ‘Party Down’ brings a charm and likeability to his character that takes him from a solid romantic foil for our star to being a focal point of a show that has some of the best perfomances on television. The Leslie/Ben romance, as it played out over Season Four had some of the best arcs of any plot on any comedy on television – it was funny, sweet and dramatic.

For his part Adam Scott manages to have a dry comic voice that stands out from the crowded pack at Parks and Rec and his interactions with not just Leslie but the entire gang (especially Aziz Ansari’s Tom) were golden. Even in a more crowded field, I’d consider him strongly but in this one he’s an easy pick.

And finally…

Danny McBrideEastbound and Down

There are few shows that rest more heavily on the performance of their lead than ‘Eastbound and Down’ and while I think the show is only pretty good it’s hard to put down the wildman lead performance of Danny McBride.

In a weak field it’s hard to see who does a better job than Danny at commiting so fully to a character and managing to build a pretty good show around the broad, craziness he provides.

As I said – there is one nominee of which I did not watch this season and that would be him. But his performances thus far have been so consistent that I can’t imagine he suddenly put out poor work in this, the series final season.

And now, we move on to Best Actress! I take this category pretty seriously but looking at the list I knew I didn’t know enough to do my best in picking – I could have just loaded it with people from shows I’ve seen that I liked but it seemed unfair to what I was pretty sure were likely good performances on shows that I have just never happened to watch.

My solution to this problem (as well as the problem of narrowing down the final choice) was to call in someone whose opinion I trusted and who had seen a few more of the nominees than I had, which ended up being a little birdie who wishes not to be named, before we get to our mystery lady, here’s our less mysterious nominees, starting with my easiest picks:

Best Actress

Lena Dunham Girls

Much like Louis CK on Louie, there is no Girls without Lena Dunham and as much as she does fine work behind the scenes in making this a good show, her lead performance as Hannah is some of the best acting on television. She was able to make Hannah both likeable and somewhat repugnant, often in the same breath, in a way that female leads of television shows are infrequently able or allowed to do.

From the pilot, which concludes with her stealing a twenty from a housekeeper, to the finale, which ends with her managing to push away a man she’d spent the whole season trying to get close to, Hannah was one of the most fascinating and fully realized characters on television. Lena gets credit for writing the character but if she couldn’t pull off the role it wouldn’t work.

Her relationships with every character on the show were complex and interesting – her friendship with Marnie and her relationship with Adam, in particular (as well as the dynamic with her parents, for that matter). She was able to show different sides to the character and stay consistent and sharp. Not to mention – she’s very funny, a great comic actress, who like David or CK is great at taking whatever is awkward about a situation and hightenning it. She’s hard to beat in this category, personally.

Amy PoehlerParks & Recreation

If anyone could beat Lena here, it’d be be Amy Poehler, who in Parks & Recreations’s fourth season, after three years of great work, may have peaked in a story where she runs for City Council. Always a great comic performer and a likeable actress it seems like Amy took it up a notch with her dramatic work this year and it payed off with moment after moment this season managing to come off in amazing fashion.

At the heart of her character, Leslie Knope, is faith in her town, governement and her friends and all were on display this season. She began the season by having to distance herself from and break up with her boyfriend Ben and both played the scenes together in this story with aplomb and a sweetness that registered as earned. In addition Leslie is the focal point of all things Parks & Rec and she steered things in all sort of interesting directions.

Leslie has interesting, engaging relationships with nearly every character on the show – her romance with Ben might have been the obvious highlight but her friendship with Ann, her professional and personal relatonship with Ron and her rivalry and yet warmth toward Paul Rudd’s guest Bobby Newport were all explored and were all worthwhile parts to one of the best shows on television.

Zooey DeschannelNew Girl

Coming to television was not an obvious move for Zooey Deschannel – it’s hard to believe after several years of playing leads and major supporting characters in a series of largely successful films that this was anything other than a major risk. But she came and it came under fire, especially in the wake of the advertising for the series and it’s highly mocked tagline ‘Adorkable’. And to begin with it didn’t seem like the criticism was far off- the first few episodes of the series were notably bad at getting the tone of the character right.

A funny thing happened, though, by the time about a half dozen episodes had passed – suddenly this character started working and working incredibly well. It’s a testament to the acting and writing of the show that a character who had notable flaws to begin with, in terms of likeability and a small grating annoyance managed to build, and quickly, into one of the most charming and likeable characters on TV.

The difference came, not only in performance but I think in warmth – once the ensemble embraced Zooey’s Jess as their friend it was easier to see her as a likeable character. And from then on out she was off to the races, with Zooey’s sizable charms on display for the rest of the season.

The ultimate turning point may have been my mentioned in an earlier addition ‘Jess and Julia’ where Zooey manages to address and fire back at the easy targets put on her back. From there her relationship with every major member of the ensemble, not to mention romantic arcs with Justin Long and especially Durmot Mularoney were great and charming. Of the three shoe-ins I chose, she is the one it’s hardest to justify but on some level it’s just hard to deny her – by the end of the year she was among the best leads on any comedy this year and somehow adorkable as ever.

From here, I turn it over to a conversation with a lady I happen to like even more than Ms. Deschanel’s character, who is going to let you in on a few of her favorite performers of the year that I was unaware of.

So, take it away, mystery lady:

Laura Linney – The Big C


Laura Linney’s performance in Showtime’s “The Big C” is the stuff Emmy dreams are made of. She plays a married high school teacher dealing with everything from cancer to infidelity to raising a teenage son – all with acerbic wit, dark humor and high drama. This season in particular, Linney was able to show her chops as her character came to terms with her health issues, her family and her own struggle in the pursuit of happiness. I’d say she’s a well deserved shoo-in; few comedic leads are given the opportunity to play with such high stakes material. While I’m at it, I’d also throw my Supporting Actor support to Oliver Platt who tears it up as Linney’s goofball husband who has been recovering from a near-death experience.

Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie


Oh man, do I love Edie Falco! She plays a tough-assed broad like nobody’s business. And as the titular character on Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie,” she has breaks balls and sharpens her teeth on the bones of the lesser-thans in just about every scene. It is awesome. However, she is also able to give a nuanced and complex performance as she works her way through her own substance abuse, a crumbling marriage and personal trials in and out of her emergency room workplace. And, since I set the precedent with Oliver Platt, I’d also strongly urge a Supporting Actress nod for Merritt Wever who blows my mind with her naive, enthusiastic and annoyingly earnest performance as Jackie’s at-work protege and recent roommate, the adorably daffy Zoey.

Why thank you!

And my final choices comes down to a complex choice between two people I think are legitimate comic geniuses, even if one a better comic actress than the other – Julia Louis Dreyfuss for Veep vs. Tina Fey for 30 Rock.

They both have strengths and weaknesses – Julia is on a show I’m not sure I quite connect with the way I ought to and as the lead actress that seems like partially her fault and yet she’s a compelling and funny character and does her damnedest to keep things working. Tina? She’s on a slowly sinking show and has never been the greatest pure actress, but then again she’s gotten better with practice and this season she had a variety of challenges, as an actress that she rose to and did well with.

Ultimately my choice is…

Tina Fey30 Rock

A multiple time nominee and a lady who cuts a charming and funny figure, Tina Fey none-the-less has never impressed me much with her acting… until this season, where she showed a certain level of heart that raised her game to a level that I think she deserves a nomination.

Much of this has to do with a romance plot with James Marsden’s Criss that grew her character up and made her more relatable. The idea of Liz Lemon weighing her options of marriage and children and romance is one that could have took the show down a wrong path. Instead it felt like the one thing that indisputably worked this season. I thought the Valentine’s Day episode built around them was maybe their best and most uncharacteristic episode of the season and Tina nailed it.

At the end of the day Tina Fey, like Louis CK and Lena Dunham, is a creator probably first and foremost but unlike them it doesn’t seem to me that performing comes quite as naturally. That said, over many seasons she has found Liz Lemon and this year was the year that she found a new way to bring her across. The show is not better for many things these days but it’s better for that.
And with that – those are my nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress! I will, quite shortly, wrap things up with Best Comedy Series, just in time for the Thursday nominations! See you then!

Classic TV Review: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Season One, Episode Four: “Divorce Isn’t the Only Thing’

16 Jul

I found this to be an odd episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. On first viewing, a few months ago I remember liking this episode quite a bit, in fact I’d go so far as to call it a favorite. But now, having gone back to it, I see the positives but the negatives flare out a bit too much for me to be too enthusiastic.

The plot for this episode basically is that Rhoda finds out about a Divorced persons support group and tries to get Mary to join, due to the fact that they give discounted airline tickets to France out. Mary, against her better judgment tries to go along and just join and get the tickets but of course it’s not that easy.

Eventually Mary is roped into being the vice president of the club by an overenthused divorced dentist Dr. Walter Udall, played by Shelly Berman and honestly, if nothing else, his weird, over-anxious and over the top portrayal in a more supporting role is probably the thing that sinks this episode.

That said – there is another in a series of great physical gags with Rhoda and Mary at one point, where they are working out, Mary in tight tights and doing everything just so, Rhoda in baggy sweats barely able to make anything work. These scenes and scenes like them are the show at it’s very best – funny, character based comedy that somehow feels detailed in spite of it’s broadness.

The main story is amusing, certainly, in concept. It’s a classic sitcom ‘getting in too deep’ scenario, as the characters attempt to scratch the surface of something and end up falling deep into it. It’s just that we aren’t shown some of the key moments and the humor doesn’t always quite register when we do.

Some of this might be the premise of a ‘Divorced’ club, not playing to the same laughs in 2012 as it did in 1970. At the time the idea of divorce was controversial enough that it was vetoed that Mary be divorced, as she was originally intended, for reasons of thinking that she’d either be seen as having divorced long time TV husband Dick Van Dyke or seen generally poorly for having been divorced in the first place.

The supporting players here are mostly guests, which might be part of the problem, as generally the show gets by on the strength of it’s great ensemble – as noted Berman doesn’t work. If nothing else he seems to be playing it flamboyantly gay and thus his obsession with Mary (even if it’s most notably about her teeth) never quite is able to be bought. He ends up a slightly weird, creepy figure, really.

Pat Finley as ‘Sparky’ (well… her name is Frances Franklin, but everybody calls her Sparkie. She doesn’t know why. She guesses it’s cause all her friends say she sparkles and bubbles. They say ever since I’m divorced I’m like another person, all sparkling. Thats why they call her Sparky! – she repeats this several times and it’s a fun runner) is much better. She reoccurs as an entirely different character (who is, actually almost exactly the same character but still…) later on and is very broad and silly but she works.

There is a sad lack of the supporting characters here though, except for Rhoda. And as fun as it is having it be the Rhoda and Mary show for an episode, it doesn’t quite work without quality people to bounce off of.

Grade: C

http://www.hulu.com/watch/703?forums=1

 

 

 

2012 Emmy Ballot: Best Writing and Directing

1 Jul

Continuing my series on who I’d nominate for the Primetime Emmy Awards, based on the official ballot (started here with my picks for Best Supporting Actor and Actress), I’m going to move to focusing on ‘Best Actor in a Comedy Series’ and ‘Best Actress in a Comedy Series’ next but I thought I might take a bit of a detour first.

First, though, I’d like to look at some of the smaller categories which, in my mind, probably ought to not be small categories – starting with Best Direction in a Comedy Series.

(Included where possible are links to either clips or more likely full episodes from Hulu! And where not possible more questionable links from YouTube!)

The problem with this and it’s sister category ‘Best Writing’ is that people have to submit their own episode for this honor and the nominations are judged on the strengths of those single episodes. In looking at the list there are a myriad of episodes I quite enjoyed of many series that were left out in the cold – notably the ‘Girls’ episode ‘Welcome to Bushwick AKA the Crackcident’ (Directed by Jody Lee Lipes and written by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner) and the How I Met Your Mother episode ‘Symphony of Illumination’ (Directed, as nearly always for HIMYM by Pamela Fryman and written by Joe Kelly (who it turns out, has no relation to the reasonably prominent comic book writer and ‘Ben 10’ co-creator)

Symphony of Illumination

That leaves me with merely the eligible nominees (available here, as with all the nominees, if you’d like to take a look) and additionally when it comes to Directing, it’s a tough category because one has to weight how much of the direction of an episode is just the vision of the showrunner and how much is an independent view of the series by the director (and furthermore if that independent view is consistent with the internal logic of the series itself)

With that in mind, my nominees for Best Direction in a Comedy Series:

Louis C.K. for the ‘Louie’  episode ‘Ducking’

Louis C.K. is a man who wears many hats in the making of his show ‘Louie’. He directs, he acts, he writes, he edits. And the show, itself has a very strong narrative voice and a very clear look and vision. But that vision, generally, is one of New York City, run down comedy clubs and apartments. For this, the second season finale, Louis took all of those elements and transported them to a USO base in Afghanistan and focused on Louis, secretly, trying to keep alive his daughter’s duckling, packed in his suitcase for luck. It’s a radical departure even for a show that isn’t afraid to make major changes from show to show. It feels somewhat like a grand adventure for a series that thrives on telling small, contained short stories.

Jesse Peretz for the ‘Girls’ episode It’s Hard Being Easy’

‘Girls’ is often an awkward show, by design, but the tone in this episode where Hannah, confronting her boss for sexually harassing her decides to make a move on him is so wonderfully awkward and stilted that I would give a lot of credit to the direction of the scene in question.

Lena Dunham for the ‘Girls’ episode ‘She Did’

That being said, the main voice of all things ‘Girls’ is Lena Dunham and she manages, in this episode to nail what was a very very good scene and one that feels near impossible to pull off. All stories I’ve heard about the making of this episode suggest that the end scene, a fight between Hannah and Marnie, which had been building all season in the background, was filmed in many single takes, taking the two friends all around the set of their apartment, hurling invectives and occasionally toothbrushes at one another. Between being one of the principals of the scene and directing it Lena had a heavy task and it paid off with one of the most rewarding scenes of the season and one that felt like nothing else on televison.

Lynn Sheldon for the New Girl episode ‘Injured’

New Girl – Injured

I would point to ‘Injured’ as turning point for ‘New Girl’ where it truly hit it’s stride. And it’s to it’s credit and to Lynn’s credit that this episode both feels fully entrenched in the universe of the show and yet feels entirely different than any other episode this season, both tonally and in the way the show stretches itself to address a premise that isn’t inherently in the wheelhouse of the pallet of the show. When Nick fears he may have a cancerous growth, his friends rally around him and attempt to both comfort him and get him past his desires to leave it be. The beautiful closing shot, set to Beach House’s  song ‘Take Care’, as well as a beautiful scene on a beach late at night establishes whole different tones and looks than anything else the show has done this season and suggest a show more flexible than previously imagined. I put a lot of the credit for that in the direction.

Michael Schur for the Parks and Recreation episode ‘Win, Lose or Draw’

Win, Lose or Draw (Director’s Cut)

For it’s entire fifth season ‘Parks and Recreation’ was building to this election day episode, where we’d learn if Leslie Knope has won the seat on the City Council that she’d been aiming for since the close of the last season. Parks is unafraid to get sentimental but rarely does it raise it’s stakes as high as they were for this episode. And to properly pull off this episode was to nail the emotional moments that occur as our characters learn the results and for all that went into the acting and writing of this episode, I think it set a different and fascinating tone and feel that I would chalk up to showrunner Michael Schur’s direction.

And finally…

Michael Engler for the 30 Rock episode ‘Hey Baby, What’s Wrong?’

Hey Baby

30 Rock, as much as it succumbs to the occasional gimmick episode (the Queen of Jordan episodes or the Live episodes) is a show that week in and week out generally has very set tone and I think this episode, a special hour long Valentine’s Day episode, managed to subvert that tone in a way that I thought was very effective. There is a cynical element to this episode that feels earned and sharp and the visual tone seems muted by the standards of the series. There were people who didn’t much like this episode but I thought it stood out as a show which is likely a few years past it’s prime doing something different and daring and pulling it off and to do that and to subvert the feel of the show like that is a credit to the director.

And then we come to a slightly easier to argue category – Best Writing for a Comedy Series

David Caspe, Matthew Libman & Daniel Libman for the Happy Endings episode ‘Cocktails and Dreams’

Clip of ‘Dave’s Speakeasy Truck’

Clips of ‘Sex Dreams’

In the best episode, arguably, of Happy Ending’s excellent second season, we’re treated to a main story revolving around Dave’s food truck gaining a level of popularity and the B-list friends that he makes as a result (including guest Colin Hanks) but the real magic is in a series of sex dreams that the cast has about Dave, as well as Penny and Alex have troubles with ‘cleansing’, including a beautiful scene set around Penny trying to hide from Alex. As perfect an episode as the series has managed, very possibly.

Carter Bays & Craig Thomas for the How I Met Your Mother episode ‘The Ducky Tie’

Bringing back a beloved but not much seen guest star is a tricky proposition, as is doing a done in one episode to write that character out of the show’s universe (at least seemingly) but series creators Bays and Thomas did a bang up job bringing back Season One love interest Victoria and teasing a possibility of a romance between her and Ted (in spite of her soon to be engagement) – it brought back all the romantic tension between the two well paired characters and paid off in a heart-wrenching climax that managed to make sense and be painful all the same.

At the same time it also ran a completely off tone and fun B-plot that gives the episode it’s name, wherein Barney is coerced into continuing to wear an embarrassing tie by the rest of the gang which managed to keep the show grounded in it’s usual tone and provide needed comic relief to a story that could have gotten a bit heavy for the tone of the show. Easily among the better episodes of the season, arguably among the better episodes of the series, especially of the last few years.

Louis C.K. for the Louie episode ‘Pregnant’

There are few episodes in the second season of ‘Louie’ that weren’t written at a level worthy of this category and this was surely not one of them and as the single episode that Louis chose to submit it’s a reasonable choice. When Louie’s sister arrives at his door, pregnant and seems to go into labor Louie has to figure out how to get her the help she needs. It’s a strangely effective mediation on the kindness of strangers among other things and it plays, as so many Louie episodes do, as a complete, harsh and effective story.

Elizabeth Meriwether & Luvh Rakhe for the New Girl episode ‘Jess & Julia’

Jess & Julia

Another episode that turned a corner for the series, ‘Jess & Julia’ co-staring guest actress Lizzy Caplan (the titular Julia), managed to make a strong argument for Zooey Deschanell’s lead character Jess as an actual human being worthy of something other than being mocked and laughed at. I thought the early episodes of the show often had Jess coming off as a bit too quirky and unlikeable (not to mention a little too roundly disliked by her castmates) and this episode contrasted her to a character who was very willing to point out her deficiencies and allowed Jess to hit back on a lot of those points, in a way that made the character stronger and more charming.

In addition, this was one of the funnier and more charming episodes of the series to this point – both the lead plot with Jess, Julia and Nick is well played and the B-plot with Winston trying to woo back a past lover is funny and well done as well.

Joe Port & Joe Wiseman (story credit) and J. J. Philbin (writing and story credit) for the New Girl episode ‘Injured’

As mentioned before, I thought this was the ultimate turning point for the series from a good to a great show. And it manages a whole new tone for the series without giving up the humor that is needed for the show to work. Having already explored this episode earlier in the post, I’ll just add that the overall theme of ‘letting go of what scares you’ is handled with aplomb and this is easily among the best comedy half hours of the season.

And finally…

With competition for Lena Dunham’s Girls ‘Pilot’ (which, in retrospect, while a fine pilot, was not the strongest episode of the season), Parks & Recreation’s ‘Trial of Leslie Knope’ and the strongest Veep episode of it’s freshman season ‘Catherine’, the final spot goes to:

Josh Siegal & Dylan Morgan for the 30 Rock episode The Tuxedo Begins

The Tuxedo Begins

A broad ‘The Dark Knight’ parody with Jack as the titular hero and Liz as a slowly evolving Joker-esque character mixed with an odd bit of commentary on Occupy Wall Street blended with a subplot about Jenna and Paul’s subverse fetishistic joy in acting like ‘normal people’, I thought this was probably the funniest, sharpest and weirdest episode of 30 Rock this season (and one of the weirdest of it’s entire run) . It felt not exactly like a return to form, because this isn’t really something the series has done regularly, but like a fun shot outside of their comfort zones that managed to work rather well. And I also think that these premises maybe ought to not work, yet do, is another argument for the overall success of this episode, which seems like it easily could have been a disaster.

Next time – I’m going to address Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Guest Actor and Best Guest Actress, possibly with a little assistance (I’d like to think I’ve seen everything worth seeing but I have pretty large gaps in my knowledge of several of the ‘Best Actress’ nominees, it turns out)