Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My 2012 Emmy Wish-List


                It’s that time of the year, folks. In just two days, on July 19, 2012, Kerry Washington and Nick Offerman will announce the nominations for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ 64th Primetime Emmy Awards. The lineups will no doubt be swiftly met with much scorn and bickering over the snubs, surprises and undeserving nominees, so in anticipation of all that, I’ve decided to grace you with my personal Emmy wish-list. Note that these are not predictions, so don’t expect them to be at all logical or realistic, and as amazing as I imagine they are, you won’t be seeing any Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones mentions here, because I can only watch and keep up with so many TV shows. If you have your own ideas of what you’d like to see from the Emmys, feel free to share them in the comments section. Now, with those disclaimers out of the way, let’s get down to business:


                Fringe love. When this J.J. Abrams-created sci-fi show first aired on Fox in 2008, it was often compared (not necessarily favorably) to The X-Files, thanks to its blend of science-fiction, mystery and horror; its attempts at merging a procedural, monster-of-the-week format with a larger, overarching mythology; and the will-they-won’t-they romance at its center. Though promising, it had a rather lukewarm initial reception and was considered a ratings success in large part because of the weakness of its competition. However, once the second season came around, the show found its groove and hasn’t looked back since. Perpetually on the verge of cancellation, Fringe may have dwindled in the ratings, but it has only grown in ambition, creativity and pure quality. Grounded by terrific lead performances from Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson and John Noble, as well as an able supporting cast and refreshingly heartfelt and irony-free writing, the show especially excels when it uses its sci-fi elements to explore themes of family, personal identity and human connection. While the fourth season as a whole did not coalesce quite as well as the show’s brilliant third season, it still boasted several standout episodes and featured the daring scope and unabashed emotionality that has made Fringe one of the best shows not just on network TV, but on TV, period. With the 13-episode fifth and final season approaching in the fall, this year will be one of the Academy’s last chances to acknowledge the incredible work being done by show-runners Jeff Pinkner and J.H. Wyman and their wonderful cast and crew. 
CHECK OUT: “One Night in October” (Ep. 2), “The End of All Things” (Ep. 14), “Letters of Transit” (Ep. 19)

 Seriously, just fucking nominate him already.

                Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) for Best Supporting Actor. You could choose almost any cast member from Mad Men – Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, Jared Harris (who, coincidentally, was also great on Fringe), newcomer Jessica Paré, even child actor extraordinaire Kiernan Shipka – and chances are, whoever it is deserves an Emmy. The season 5 MVP, however, was none other than Vincent Kartheiser, who portrays the smarmy, baby-faced Peter Campbell. Of the show’s original, headlining cast, Kartheiser is the only person who has yet to garner an Emmy nomination; in a world filled with slimy, morally flexible characters, Pete almost always manages to be the most despicable person in the room (he’s Don Draper without the Dick Whitman conscience), something that has no doubt turned off many a voter. Yet, in a role that could easily have sunk into caricature, Kartheiser gives a performance of such nuance and depth week after week, season after season, that it’s impossible not to, on some level, sympathize with Pete in all his flawed humanity. Never has this been more evident than in Mad Men’s most recent season, which found Pete at his most desperate and lonely even as he ascended the corporate ladder and built up the illusion of a perfect, suburban life. Pete may be unlikable, even pathetic at times, but thanks to Kartheiser, he is never less than compelling.
CHECK OUT: “Signal 30” (Ep. 5), “Lady Lazarus” (Ep. 8), “The Phantom” (Ep. 13)

                Walton Goggins (Justified) for Best Supporting Actor. It’s astonishing to think how far Goggins’s Boyd Crowder has come. Introduced in the pilot of FX’s western/neo-noir procedural as a redneck neo-Nazi, Boyd initially seemed poised to be the show’s central villain, but has since evolved into one of the most fascinating characters on TV. He's a savvy opportunist with a penchant for pea coats and oratory, the kind of guy you’d be foolish to piss off but who would doggedly defend you if you were smart enough to slip into his inner circle. In a season marked by densely plotted storylines and the emergence of an almost overwhelming array of new, colorful characters to the detriment of some of the series regulars (more Tim and Rachel, please!), Boyd still managed to stand out, and Goggins continued to reveal and flesh out different facets of this wonderfully complex role. In addition to being endlessly watchable as Boyd attempted to secure footholds in Harlan’s various criminal enterprises, he cultivated a surprisingly sweet romance with Joelle Carter’s Ava that created several nice character moments in a mostly plot-heavy season.
CHECK OUT: “Harlen Roulette” (Ep. 3), “Loose Ends” (Ep. 9), “Coalition” (Ep. 12)

Yep, he gets my vote.

Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) for Best Supporting Actress. For a supposedly misogynist show, Mad Men sure has some great female characters (I’d go so far as to say that it may even be – and here comes that dreaded f-word – feminist), and perhaps no character embodies the show’s exploration of gender politics more than Christina Hendricks’s poised, no-nonsense secretary Joan Holloway (or Joan Harris, if you prefer). What makes Hendricks’ portrayal so masterful is her ability to exude both strength and vulnerability, often at the same time, and her unwillingness to let the character sink into saint or victim clichés. Season 5 saw Joan’s cool, confident façade crack under the weight of society’s rapidly changing expectations as well as her own doubts and fears, a quietly heartbreaking character arc that Hendricks played up to devastating effect. It’s a performance that, even after five seasons, can still take your breath away.
CHECK OUT: “Mystery Date” (Ep. 4), “Christmas Waltz” (Ep. 10), “The Other Woman” (Ep. 11)

If a single look could win an Emmy…


                No Glee or The Office. One is a once-promising show that rushed onto the TV scene amidst a flurry of confetti, flashy costumes and sincere, albeit often cheesy messages of self-empowerment. The other is a once-beloved sitcom that transformed modern American TV. What do these two shows have in common? Simply put, neither of them is very good anymore – in fact, they’re both pretty downright terrible. 

When Glee first premiered back in that distant year of 2009, I didn’t want to buy into the hype, but eventually, I convinced myself to see what all the fuss was about, and as it turned out, it wasn’t half-bad. Granted, it had its flaws: a proclivity for sugary, afterschool-special style messages; far-fetched storylines (*ahem* Terri’s fake pregnancy, I’m looking at you); characters who often toed the line between believable and caricatured; a tone that veered wildly between almost painful earnestness and acidic satire a la Election. But, with a bright-eyed, enthusiastic cast, fast-paced dialogue and slick musical numbers, there was a lot to like about it too. It was easy to assume they’d work out the kinks as the show went along. Then, reality sank in, and as the first season wore on and the second one got into full swing, Glee gradually seemed to believe too much in its own buzz. All those early issues became significantly more pronounced, and the writers not only developed a disturbing inability to create credible, well-rounded female characters, but they also handled several key plotlines in ways that came off as insensitive, even offensive, at times (a surprising shortcoming for a show that prides itself for being progressive). As a result, Ryan Murphy’s high school musical dramedy descended in quality almost as quickly as it burned through plot and character arcs. Glee had gone commercial – even down to its musical numbers, which became overly polished and seemed designed less for artistic/story purposes and more for selling iTunes downloads – and in the process, it lost its soul. Even Channing Tatum agrees.

                The Office is a different, albeit (perhaps) more familiar story. For a while, NBC’s workplace sitcom was among my favorite TV shows. Populated with memorable characters, it had just the perfect mix of funny (even if that humor sometimes made you cringe) and sweet, but like most long-lasting shows, it proved unable to sustain that quality. Although the decline began well before the eighth season, it was the departure of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott, the show’s cornerstone, that delivered the decisive blow. In its most recent season, The Office faded from mediocre to a nearly intolerable shell of its former self, as its previously endearing characters turned dull, cynical and obnoxious. New additions to the cast failed miserably, and the laughs came far and few in between. Everyone involved appeared content to just sleepwalk their way to a paycheck.

Oh, how the mediocre have fallen.

With so many more deserving or more promising comedies out there (Community, Louie, Happy Endings, Girls depending on who you ask), it’s time to give these two a pass.

                Community love. I’ll be the first to admit that this season of Community was rather uneven, to say the least; for every brilliant episode, there were a few that didn’t work nearly as well. Still, Dan Harmon’s sitcom about a misfit study group at Greendale Community College was at least consistently ambitious and original, even when those risks didn’t always pan out. Carried by a gifted, colorful (occasionally, a little too colorful) cast and ingenious writing, the show refused to sacrifice its quirky identity, even if doing so might’ve appealed more to a broader audience. Though most known for its incessant use of meta commentary and its zeal for deconstructing various pop culture tropes, what drives Community is the empathy it has, buried deep down under layers of sardonic, tongue-in-cheek wit, for its flawed, painfully human characters, all of whom are struggling to simply get through life and want nothing more than to find true acceptance from those around them. In a television landscape where it becomes all too easy to be safe and play to the lowest common denominator for the sake of high ratings, it’s rare to see a show that is not only willing to take risks week after week, but also has the skill and composure to do so without losing sight of the people and relationships at its center.
CHECK OUT: “Remedial Chaos Theory” (Ep. 4), “Regional Holiday Music” (Ep. 10), “Pillows and Blankets” (Ep. 14)

                Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation) for Best Lead Actress. This is probably among the most realistic entries on my list, seeing as the SNL alum has gotten an Emmy nomination two years running for her portrayal of the perky, endlessly optimistic Leslie Knope (though she doesn’t have a win yet, and the rest of the cast has been sadly unacknowledged for their work). While I don’t personally find Poehler to be the funniest part of Parks (that would have to be Chris Pratt, for his sheer commitment to the physical comedy and goofiness demanded by his role as the bumbling Andy Dwyer), she is undeniably the gung-ho, wide-eyed, eager glue that holds everything else together. She has had more than her share of hilarious moments this season and in the past, but it’s her ability to pull off the more intimate, dramatic scenes, the way she imbues what could’ve been an extremely cartoonish character with heart and authenticity, that really makes her performance stand out. Thanks in large part to Poehler, the season 4 finale in particular might be one of the most perfect episodes of TV I’ve ever seen.
CHECK OUT: “Citizen Knope” (Ep. 10), “The Debate” (Ep. 20), “Win, Lose or Draw” (Ep. 22)

                James Marsden (30 Rock) for Best Guest Actor. Yes, I know the guest acting categories mean next-to-nothing, especially since the award usually just goes to whoever is the biggest name (or, in the case of the dramatic categories, whoever starred in Law & Order or one of its spin-offs that season), but that doesn’t mean I can’t have my own ideas about who deserves to get in. 30 Rock isn’t as stellar as it was during its peak, but, for a show that will be heading into its seventh (and final) season this fall, it’s still pretty damn good. This past season still had many merits, and arguably foremost among them was James Marsden’s Criss Chros, who was introduced in the second episode of the season as Liz Lemon’s latest love interest. What initially appeared to be just another brief romantic fling gradually evolved into something much more promising: a couple that I – and, from what I could tell, other fans of the show – couldn’t help but rooting for. Displaying terrific chemistry with Tina Fey, Marsden’s dorky but endlessly patient Criss turned out to be the perfect match for the more uptight yet equally dorky Liz, and their relationship firmly anchored a season that functioned largely as a joke machine and frequently veered into wacky absurdist territory.
CHECK OUT: “Hey, Baby, What’s Wrong?” (Ep. 6), “St. Patrick’s Day” (Ep.11), “Murphy Brown Lied to Us” (Ep. 17)                                

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