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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 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)