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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)

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.