Archive | June, 2012

2012 Emmy Comedy Ballot – Supporting Actor/Actress

25 Jun

I’m always curious about the Primetime Emmy Awards. Last year I went out of my way to find a way to watch them and was pretty heavily invested in the outcomes. In spite of this, the Emmys stand somewhere, in credibility between The Oscars (somewhat credible) and the Grammys (complete bizarre non-sense) and much of that starts with the nominations. Often a credible choice is made from the nominees but they have a tendency to be, well, a bit ridiculous honestly. They will honor performances that were rote and uninteresting yet on a popular series or made by a big name actor and often ignore performances that are laudatory for no discernible reason (that Nick Offerman not only has no Emmy but no nominations is nearing tragic).

So, all that said, I have decided that I ought to, based on the available information of who registered themselves to be nominated (and in what category – while I might think, for instance, that Jason Segel might be a candidate for ‘Best Actor’ or that Rob Lowe ought to be a Supporting Actor – I’m bound by their own decisions) and formulated what my ballot would look like, starting with two of the categories I have the strongest opinions on – Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor.

I’m not alone in doing this exercise – I’m aware of ongoing series by both Julia Hass and notably Alan Sepinwall, both of whom are putting out ballots I’d probably far prefer to what we’re likely to see. Also, it’s worth noting I have not seen all nominated shows (though I’ve seen a good portion of them)

We’ll start with…

Best Supporting Actress

My Nominees

Aubrey Plaza – Parks and Recreation

One of the main components of what makes what is, arguably the best and hard to argue as one of the best sitcoms on air work. As April Ludgate she’s generally been a sarcastic, cold type and while that hasn’t changed she’s evolved into something more and better in the latest season, taking step in character development and yet retaining all the charms of the character. An easy pick and someone who has consistently deserved recognition for a few years now.

Eliza Coupe – Happy Endings

Probably the longest long shot of all my picks (and probably who I’d vote to win, if it came to it) – she plays the dominant half of the series married pair Brad and Jane and, while playing what could be a caricature of a Type A sitcom type, manages to be consistently as  entertaining and funny as anyone on any show. The Brad/Jane dynamic is probably one of the main reasons the show works.

For an example, see:

http://www.hulu.com/watch/331949#s-p4-sr-i1

Mayim Bialik – The Big Bang Theory

Easily the most interesting thing about this show, at this point in time, are the female supporting cast and the former Blossom is the highlight of the bunch. She is a more specific and likeable version of Sheldon and it works – she feels like a vibrant, interesting character that is easy to invest in.

Ellie Kemper – The Office

The Office had a definite off year, still suffering from the loss Steve Carrell (and honestly, it’s been on a downslide for a few years now) but Ellie Kemper as Erin is probably the highlight of the show for me. The dim but appealing secretary got plenty to do – her romance with Ed Helms was one of the main stories on the series this year and while repeating many of their previous plots beats, she got plenty of time to shine. Another one who has deserved nominations in the past.

Colbie Smulders – How I Met Your Mother

Given several big plots this year, Colbie really knocked them out of the park. I think she’s always been laudable in her role as Robin but this year had several standout episodes where she showed emotional and comic range. I’m not sure she’d be a candidate in any of the past years but I think she’d make a strong nominee this year.

Nominee Six would be between: Allison Brie, Gillian Jacobs- Community, Casey Wilson, Elisha Cuthbert- Happy Endings,  Jane Krakowski – 30 Rock, Sofia Vargia, Julie Bowen – Modern Family, Allison Williams –  Girls

Ultimately I’d go with:

Zosia Mamet – Girls

The most purely supporting of all of these performers, Zosia’s Shoshanna has a tendency to not get a lot to do often times on Girls but when she did she was among the most amusing characters on all of television. It’s been said she feels like she’s imported from another, more traditional comedy show, and perhaps so but she’s a hoot and I think by the end of the season they’d figured out how to fit her particular brand of character into the ensemble more clearly. She moved slowly from pure comedy relief to being one of the easiest to root for characters on the show – she definitely is vibrating at a different frequency and it works.

And now for…

Best Supporting Actor

My Nominees:

Nick Offerman – Parks and Recreation

Ron Swanson deserves to be the reigning king of this category and that he’s never even been nominated, as I said before, is a minor crime against humanity. Easily one of the best realized and funniest characters on television – it’d be hard to argue with him as the winner. He’s developed Ron into a character that is one of a kind, emotionally solid as a rock and still manages to surprise. If I care about any one item of business with the nominations it’s that this performance deserves a nomination – and what’s more this was a stand-out season for the character as well.

Chris Pratt – Parks and Recreation

As good as Offerman is, Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer is as funny a character as any on television and always slowly being built into something bigger and better as time goes on. His relationship with Aubrey Plaza’s April is a highlight of the show and his hijinx is the most purely madcap of the cast and nearly always hits it’s mark.

Max Greenwald – New Girl

If anyone deserves to beat Nick Offerman here it’s easily Max Greenfield as Schmidt who was the easy breakout character of New Girl’s excellent cast. Another entirely unique persona and another great, emotionally relevant and comically terrific performance. He was an early highlight and as they fleshed out his character he only got better, funnier and easier to root for and understand. Another performance that is hard to beat. I’d put him and Offerman in a dead heat and likely do a very Award show thing I dislike and give it to the candidate likelier to not get another nomination. But it’d very close.

Adam Driver – Girls

Speaking of performers who evolved as their season continued, perhaps the biggest and best thing Girls did in it’s first season was introduce Adam Sackler as Hannah’s romantic interest and manage to do one of the most complex and interesting job developing a character of any show in television this year. And the performance had to be just right to pull it off and he pulled it off. One of the oddest, most compelling characters on TV. Another contender, really, but probably boxed out by the two I have already anointed.

Adam Pally – Happy Endings

Adam Pally’s Max is likely the least stereotypical gay character on all of television and another one of the funniest. Another example of purely funny character gaining some level of emotional depth. Had a great romance storyline and was all around the comic highlight of what is a very funny show.


Nominee Number Six would be between: Danny Pudi – Community, Damon Waynes Jr. – Happy Endings, Jake Johnson – New Girl, Ty Burrell – Modern Family, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Segel – How I Met Your Mother, Tony Hale, Timothy Simmon – Veep, James Van Der Beek – Don’t Trust the B– in Apartment 23

Ultimately I’d go with:

Damon Wayans Jr. – Happy Endings

As the other half of Brad and Jane, it’s hard to not give it up to Damon Wayans Jr. for being one of the weirdest and most fun characters on a pretty weird and funny show. If he wasn’t perfect that couple wouldn’t work and Eliza Coupe’s arguable award worthy performance would be for naught.  That’s at least nomination worthy.

That said – #6 here is hotly contested. It’s hard to give it to a 2nd cast member on the same show (and hard to make the call to have 3 nominations in only these two categories but the entire cast is up for nominations in supporting, so…). 

And there we go!

I’ll return soon to look at Best Actor and Best Actress, perhaps later to look at some other categories and then also to finally reveal my Best Comedy Series picks. Look out for it, coming soon!

Classic TV Review: Mary Tyler Moore Show, Season One, Episode Three: ‘Bess, You is My Daughter Now’

24 Jun

There are two, very distinct ideas that came to my mind as I watched this, the third episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show – the obvious one, full of plot twists and turns and which is done well enough and with enough verve for it to work well but there is also another show, a show of incidental comedy moments and the further establishment of what would become the main cast of the show, seemingly shunted to the side for the majority of the episode but still managing, often to start stealing the show.

The main plot is, as I said, fairly twisty – Phyllis, as played by Cloris Leachman – who’d later be spun off into her own show but who was oddly always billed as a ‘special guest’, is concerned her daughter Bess (who figured prominently in the pilot and who, as played by Lisa Gerritsen, is pretty good there and in a more prominent role here and who would also join Phyllis, logically enough in her spin-off) will get sick when her father catches chicken pox – she pawns her off on Mary for a few days. Mary isn’t sure about it and Phyllis doesn’t make this any better by telling her she has to take care of her inline with the ‘progressive parenting’ techniques in the books she raises her child with.

Predictably enough Phyllis, it’s revealed, isn’t exactly doing the best job of things, especially when it comes to keeping Bess in line. We’re first introduced to Bess in the episode with her decked out in a wig and make-up stolen from Phyllis, a regular occurrence, it seems. And when Mary tries to suggest that perhaps the make-up doesn’t look particularly good and that it’s perhaps a bit unusual for Bess to refer to her mother by her first name she locks herself in the bathroom and again Phyllis notes it’s something that happens a lot though she notes it’s really because Mary isn’t using the books.

Bess, You is My Child Now

It’s interesting how this is all played. It’s a clear attempt to criticize a certain sort of liberal child rearing technique. Phyllis is often used in the show in their criticisms of certain effete notions, which she summarily plays wildly over the top, which is certainly true here. Phyllis does everything according to the books and their notions of independence and freedom and has no discipline in place. What is sort of odd is that the counterpoint isn’t really Mary as disciplinarian, getting the better of Phyllis – it’s Mary as a source of fun and whimsy that Bess is missing.

Mary herself, after winning Bess over in a sequence that is among the best known in first season – a montage of shopping and ice cream that, like the opening title sequence has a certain iconic flair but seems oddly out of place, to me, in the character’s universe. But whatever one might think of it, it establishes, quickly, a bond between Mary and Bess, which starts imploding for same reasons that Phyllis was so ineffective – a lack of any real discipline.

The montage:

Once Mary and Bess are attached Bess doesn’t want to leave and go back to Phyllis, which creates the crux of the dilemma of the episode. This is one of the several episodes this season where I would have been glad to see an idea get a few episodes to build but that is just not the way that this show, or shows of it’s type and time in most cases, operated in these days. So, we get in a half hour episode – Mary doesn’t know if Bess likes her, she wins her over, Bess doesn’t want to leave, Phyllis is mad at Mary, Mary wants Bess to go back and Bess ends up going back. It’s a lot of story and at times it slightly overwhelms. That said – it works.

The B plot mostly seems to be that Ted Baxter is bad at his job and screws things up. Given that’s the premise of the character, well, that’s not much of a plot. That said – the newsroom characters are all very amusing in their roles. The jokes go fast and free and are often pretty funny. Given this is only the third episode they can be forgiven for basically re-stating the role of one of main supporting characters and especially can be forgiven since it’s funny.

And that’s the second thing going on in this episode – we’re just seeing the cast play, seemingly shallow plots that are just there to provide a springboard to small comedy moments, some of which are barely even in any real context, such as Rhoda attempting to get into the Lotus Position, getting stuck and spending perhaps a minute and a half of engaging in the lovely physical comedy by Valerie Harper – who plays what could have been a oddly digressive scene so well that it’s actually one of the highlights of the episode.

And while the Bess plot is interesting and well done and has nice moments from Mary, Bess and Phyllis, I do think it’s the somewhat aimless B-plots that are the funniest bits. And that’s OK, actually – Phyllis and Bess are supporting players worthy of an occasional main plot like this but the honing of the other characters – Rhoda, Ted, Lou – here is actually more important to the show and the fact that they’re so good in small roles, filling in the spaces between the main plot, bodes well for the series moving forward from here. And those characters all, certainly have their big spotlights yet to come.

This is possibly the funniest episode of the season thus far but the pilot was likely a better episode. Still quite good, however.

Grade: B+

Quick thoughts:

The Onion AV Club recently posted an article speaking of a season five episode as part of an ongoing series on adolescents on television through the years and this stands as another Mary episode that strongly features an adolescent even if it’s a bit more about parenting than it is about being a kid.

Speaking of the kid, though, Lisa Gerritson, given a spotlight here lives up to it about as well as you can expect a young actress to- she gives a good performance and never seems out of place.

http://www.hulu.com/watch/668

Adventurous Women – Girls, Season One in review (nearly spoiler free)

16 Jun

GIRLS

In advance of Sunday’s first season finale of ‘Girls’, the HBO comedy staring Lena Dunham which is both my favorite new show of the season (sorry New Girl!) and the subject of an enormous amount of contraversy for a show that has only once recorded over a million viewers. I’m certainly not the first to talk about the show but I wanted to record my thoughts as well, in hopes that maybe even as a drip in a larger pond I might be able to grab a few people’s attention who might at this point be confused at the larger media narrative toward the series.

Let me lead off with the praise, before getting into the criticisms (and their possible merits or lack thereof). ‘Girls’ is big and brash while managing to be specific and nuanced. That’s a heck of a trick to pull. It’s more explicit, realistic and relatable about sex than nearly any show on television. It does cringe humor about as well as anything this side of ‘Louie’ (and in fact seems to share a certain bit of comic DNA with that show). It depicts twenty-something angst in a way that rightfully trivializes it at times and yet takes it profoundly seriously in a way that I can easily and firmly relate to. Finally, importantly – it’s damned funny, every time out.

The main media criticisms coming it’s way (and to be fair, it’s both a lightning rod and a critical darling) seem to be two fold. Both of these criticism seem to come from the place of finding the show to be too insular in it’s viewpoint.

First there is the charge that there are too few minority characters, especially given the show takes place in Brooklyn. It’s hard to know what to say to this, because on the face of it, it seems both to be a reasonable charge and yet a glorification of token-ism. Lena Dunham, the creator, star and main writer (and occasional director) of the series has noted that she both plans to diversify the cast in the second season, to some degree and also claimed that she didn’t include more minorities because she didn’t feel she could accurately represent the viewpoint of them, more than anything. The addition of, among others, Donald Glover of Community fame, to the cast next year should help this but I’m not sure I find it to be a big issue.

One of the main things the show has going for it is it’s specificity. Every character, from Lena’s Hannah down to one time guests (such as a memorable appearance by one of my favorite stand-up comedians, Mike Birbiglia) tend to have very strong and specific character traits. And the re-occuring characters grow and change over time, as well they should. But Lena, in her role as the near be-all end-all of the show didn’t feel she could accurately portray the experience of a minority character with that specificity, at least in the first several episodes, well – it seems like arguing against that is an argument for the show to be everything to everyone, which it isn’t going to be and shouldn’t try to be. If anything I’m made nervous by the idea that the show seems to be boxed in to having to try and add token minority characters.

The other major compliant seems to be that these characters are too entitiled and unlikeable. And this seems to miss the boat entirely. I’m not about to say that everyone making this complaint is doing so from a position of mysogony but it’s hard to deny that the places that cover the show extensively seem to be havens for people to make fun of Lena’s weight and percieved lack of attractiveness as a reason in and of itself to dislike the show.

But getting down to the real core complaint here – again, I think it comes down to specificity and the inability of the show to be everything to everyone. This is a show about mid-20s women coming of age in the big city and it is very much warts and all. The show begins with our main character coming off as an unlikeable ungrateful bitch and plays that card often and with aplomb. This is not a show that is afraid to make you dislike it’s characters, from it’s lead to it’s supporting cast. And that’s OK – as much as you frequently might find yourself disliking these people for individual actions, with few exceptions you are likely to be rooting for them, even in spite of yourself along the way. And that, I think, is the mark of an interesting piece of art. It’s fine to wish it was more accessable, if you find it inaccessable for whatever reason (probably most likely is that many people are inclined to want to out and out like the characters in a show they are going to follow, which is their perogative, most certainly) but I have a hard time hearing from people who have already decided they dislike the show and would wish to push the narrative of it’s lack of quality and having been over-rated on any and everyone who will listen. The world might be a better place if these people moved on and offered their opinion on such things, perhaps only if asked, at least at this point.

Hannah GIRLS

Lena’s Hannah is a brat and often worse than that. She’s an aspiring writer (in theory) and a bit of a charity case, from her parents (who cut her off at the beginning of the pilot) to her best friend Marnie who is, for much of the season paying her bills for her. She is engaging in what is, at best, even with recent movement on it’s front, a fraught relationship with a man named Adam who could certainly at most times, especially as the series begins, treat her better. Her aimlessness and mix of being a seeming know-it-all with unaware niaevette, mixed with a pension for pushing things a bit too far are probably her defining characteristics.

Hannah often comes off poorly and this seems, at once, realistic and as a reaction to Lena Dunham, perhaps, overcompinsating for what she is asking the rest of the cast to do by taking the majority of the comedy on the nose. She’s been naked (and mocked for it), cruel, stupid and hurtful at times. She’s also oddly charming. You can see, if you look close enough, a worthwhile person who just hasn’t quite gotten themselves together as best they could and on many ways there is an underdog quality to the narrative that is quite effective. That Hannah is often an underdog because on inherent schmuckiness is actually very true to the character of many twenty-something talented but aimless creative types.

Marnie

The other titular girls include Marnie, Hannah’s roommate and best friend. She’s perhaps, even more than Hannah, the worst person of the group and probably the hardest to sympathize with, even as things happen around her that would seemingly lead one to do so. As the series begins she’s stuck in a relationship with boy, Charlie, who is both in love with her and doting but also, in her mind deeply boring which may have come with the fact that their relationship is several years old and probably a few past it’s natural expiration.

Jessa

Also there is Jessa, a Brit with both a lazie faire cool to her and some serious issues. She seems to get effortlessly into and out of trouble in a way that some people actually do. She seems on some level to be floating through both the show and life, finding no real pathos in spite of pregnancy scares, random drug use and seeming globe hopping. As the show goes on it seems she’s more and more on verge of hitting a wall but of all the main characters she’s the one who seems to have the easiest time in the world. She’s also often very unlikeable, perhaps for that reason above all but also because she doesn’t tend to give much of a shit about most things or people. But it’s also hard for me to argue the voracity of her character. She seems very nearly fully realized. She has flaws running deep but they don’t seem to trip her up much and most people she meets don’t even seem to notice them, entranced as they can be in her effortless cool.

Shoshana Girls

Certainly entranced is her cousin and roommate Shoshana, who might, on any other show be a clear breakout character. She has broken out in the sense that she wasn’t planned initially to be a series regular until actress Zosia Mamet nailed the part in the pilot. If the show can be compared to the other HBO series about women in New York, (Sex in the City, of course), she’d be the show’s Charlotte, although she’d like to prefer to call herself a Carrie/Charlotte/Miranda mix, as she notes in her first scene, technicolor Sex in the City movie poster in the foreground, to a thoroughly confused Jessa.

Shoshana is the comedy relief, on some level, to a show that already has plenty of humor. There has been talk that she seems like a character from another, broader comedy but I think she both rings true in her exhuberant uncool naievete and is a clear scene stealer. She’s given less to do than anyone else but she rarely not a highlight of the show.

The men in the cast are largely excellent and flawed as well. The main male cast member is Adam, Hannah’s would be boyfriend and as we begin the season seemingly regular friend with benefits. Although it’s not entirely clear they are even quite friends. They engage in small talk and then get to, often graphic and embarrasing (especially for Hannah) sex. Adam’s portrayal over the course of the first season is the most radically changed episode to episode – taken at face value in the first few episodes he could be taken somewhat monsterously. And yet, as time goes on he is discovered to have some unexpected layers (while never really shedding the earlier characterization even if he moves you past initial revulsion – for the most part)

I may well come back to this, to write a follow up but I just wanted to put this out there to encourage anyone who might be on the fence to give Girls a fair shake. In a lot of ways, having watched this and the previously reviewed ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ at the same time they seem like both pure products of their time in an oddly linked fashion – they are show made largely with a female touch about a female protagonist trying to find her way in a world she doesn’t quite know and understand quite yet. MTM stands as a light, 70s look at the way being a 30something career woman could work and I think Girls, in many respects stands as a far cruder, more realistic look at today’s 20something women and trouble that even what might appear to be among the more privledged have to go through to make it through the world.

Girls LOGO

Girls season finale airs at both 10 and 10:30 PM EST on HBO but I recommend that you check out the pilot episode and make a judgment for yourself – I think it’s maybe one of the finest comedy pilots I’ve ever seen, honestly.