Red Carpet Uniforms: Critical Ire and The Golden Globes

When the Golden Globe nominations were announced a couple of weeks ago, the general run of television critics launched into what I would consider the usual response to the Golden Globes’ television nominations, most landing somewhere in the realm of mild irritation greatly mitigated by not taking the awards seriously.  “Look at these silly Golden Globe nominations.  Silly as always!”  Sure, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association doesn’t do much to help the case for their own credibility when they do things like nominating action drama The Tourist in comedy categories on the justification that the plot was farcical.  But I’ve always loved the Golden Globes television nominations because of their willingness to buck trends and expectations and take chances.

One of the most common complaints about the Emmys is the inability, or unwillingness, of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to look forward rather than backward.  The Emmys’ devotion to their own previous nominees make breaking into certain categories all but impossible for newcomers, or even not-so-newcomers.  In spite of this and the other problems critics have with the Emmys, they remain a respected institution and are still generally considered at least an indicator of quality television.  The Golden Globes have the reverse of the Emmy problem.  Rather than seeking to reward the established, the tried and true, the Globes are much more likely to look outside the agreed-upon set of candidates and try to find greatness where others aren’t looking all that hard.  Where the Emmys prefer to be not wrong in their awarding, the Globes take their chances at being either gloriously right or spectacularly wrong.  There’s something very appealing about that.

I think for most critics, what it really comes down to is having a few key nominees in certain categories that indicate whether or not a list of nominees is good.  Was Mad Men included?  Was Parks and Recreation included?  To me, this points to a degree of standardization for what makes good television and what doesn’t.  A show can be shamed out of the room nowadays for being a police or medical procedural, and forget about being a comedy that features recorded laughter.  The critical attitude toward incorporating a little variety into these categories seems to be rather parochial.  I wouldn’t find it unreasonable if the HFPA felt that one serialized AMC drama series being nominated was enough, and opted to bump Mad Men in favor of Breaking Bad.  Some would complain that that led to the nomination of The Newsroom, a mess of a show that I myself did not enjoy enough to watch past the first couple of episodes, but The Newsroom is unlike any other show in the category.  That has to count for something.  Parks and Recreation was excluded, but maybe the HFPA felt that one show where the characters break the fourth wall (Modern Family) was enough, and instead wanted to round out the Comedy or Musical category with something more musical than comedy, going for the critically lampooned Smash.  I’d argue there’s some merit to that line of thinking.

At the end of the day, the television awards given out by the Golden Globes, months removed from the industry-standard Emmys and not even working with the same eligibility period, are almost as inconsequential as the critics’ opinions of them.  I just wish that the Globes could be viewed with a more open-minded and less dismissive attitude by the majority of smart people who write about television.  Even these brilliant minds might find themselves learning something from the Globes nominees when they aren’t too busy knowing more than the nominating committee.

For reference, the full list of Golden Globes television nominations is below:

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

  • “Breaking Bad”
  • “Boardwalk Empire”
  • “Downton Abbey: Season 2”
  • “Homeland”
  • “The Newsroom”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

  • Connie Britton in “Nashville”
  • Glenn Close in “Damages”
  • Claire Danes in “Homeland”
  • Michelle Dockery in “Downton Abbey: Season 2”
  • Julianna Margulies in “The Good Wife”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – DRAMA

  • Steve Buscemi in “Boardwalk Empire”
  • Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad”
  • Jeff Daniels in “The Newsroom”
  • Jon Hamm in “Mad Men”
  • Damian Lewis in “Homeland”

 

BEST TELEVISION SERIES – COMEDY OR MUSICAL

  • “The Big Bang Theory”
  • “Episodes”
  • “Girls”
  • “Modern Family”
  • “Smash”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A TELEVISION SERIES -COMEDY OR MUSICAL

  • Zooey Deschanel in “New Girl”
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus in “Veep”
  • Lena Dunham in “Girls”
  • Tina Fey in “30 Rock”
  • Amy Poehler in “Parks and Recreation”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TELEVISION SERIES – COMEDY OR MUSICAL

  • Alec Baldwin in “30 Rock”
  • Don Cheadle in “House of Lies”
  • Louis C.K. in “Louie”
  • Matt LeBlanc in “Episodes”
  • Jim Parsons in “The Big Bang Theory”

 

BEST MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • “Game Change”
  • “The Girl”
  • “Hatfields & McCoy”
  • “The Hour”
  • “Political Animals”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Nicole Kidman in “Hemingway & Gellhorn”
  • Jessica Lange in “American Horror Story: Asylum”
  • Sienna Miller in “The Girl”
  • Julianne Moore in “Game Change”
  • Sigourney Weaver in “Political Animals”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Kevin Costner in “Hatfields & McCoys”
  • Benedict Cumberbatch in “Sherlock”
  • Woody Harrelson in “Game Change”
  • Toby Jones in “The Girl”
  • Clive Owen in “Hemingway & Gellhorn”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Hayden Panettiere in “Nashville”
  • Archie Panjabi in “The Good Wife”
  • Sarah Paulson in “Game Change”
  • Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey: Season 2”
  • Sofia Vergara in “Modern Family”

 

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A SERIES, MINI-SERIES OR MOTION PICTURE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Max Greenfield in “New Girl”
  • Ed Harris in “Game Change”
  • Danny Huston in “Magic City”
  • Mandy Patinkin in “Homeland”
  • Eric Stonestreet in “Modern Family”

 

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On The Bubble: The Sophomore Search for Self

Being an avid watcher several dozen television shows, I find that I’m never quite settled on my DVR’s playlist.  While many shows feel like must haves, there are always a few that I’m considering getting rid of to make more time for reading, writing, or watching the other shows that people are always talking about that I don’t currently watch (here’s looking at you, Homeland).  Like the emcee at a karaoke bar, I’ve found that some of these only come by once or twice, but the majority of them are regulars.  As we reach the winter break of this current season, I find myself reflecting on two shows with promising starts last season: Up All Night and Suburgatory.

Suburban Wastelands

Suburgatory was never a must-see show, but benefited from airing just before Modern Family, a show I was already committed to watching.  (Why this would matter with a DVR is sort of a mystery to me, but it still for some reason makes a huge difference to me.)  For me, there have always been parts of the show that work and parts that don’t.  With the changes going into this season, like the additions of Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell as regulars and what seemed like an expanded role for Lisa’s boyfriend Malik, I thought the show was doubling down on the things that work best, much of which involves the Shay family.  Instead, Suburgatory has found new ways to highlight its less interesting and funny elements.  I was excited for the relationship between George and Dallas to finally start to progress, for example, but the show wasted several episodes having over-the-top Dallas be over the top even by Dallas standards, while grounded George became even more resistant to these shenanigans than usual.  The fun of watching opposites attract with these two was zapped by overplaying to the extremes.  Fortunately, with the relationship having reached stable ground, the two are back to their dissimilar but complementary dynamic that works really well in limited quantities.

This leads to a larger point overall about something where the show excelled during the first season, playing the tensions between George and Tessa’s city ways and the bizarre and conservative pace of life in Chatswin.  It’s natural to have both characters adapt to some degree to their new surroundings, but the show seems to have lost its voice where this juxtaposition is concerned.  Where George once rejected the suburban way of life as much out of disdain for it as his inability to conform to it, he’s now become the town’s voice of reason in many ways, neither bothered nor befuddled by the neighbors around him, even if many of them still view him as a lesser man.

The biggest detraction from my enjoyment of the show, though, has been Tessa’s direction during this first part of the season.  The story with her wanting to get to know her mother is a logical step emotionally, and were Suburgatory a drama, I think it would work much better.  As comedy, though, there’s not much to be reaped in terms of humor from a daughter’s struggle to make a relationship with the mother who has been within reach but simply out of touch for 15 years.  Even Tessa’s eagerness to spend time with her mother feels like something of a betrayal to me, not because I don’t want them to spend time together, but because Tessa seems to have difficulty making room in her heart for her mother without pushing her father out of it to some degree.  Tessa is portrayed as a mature teenager, and sure, she is, but the character really works best when she is part of teenage storylines, whether involving Lisa, Dahlia, Malik, Ryan, etc. or just interacting with the adults in her life in a way that makes her seem like a teen rather than someone who thinks she’s an equal.  The urge to make Tessa come across as more mature is making her irritating.

The outlook for Suburgatory is still fairly bright, even if it is at the bottom of my DVR list this month.  More recent episodes have returned to some of the things I’ve enjoyed most about the show — the weird family dynamic of the Shays, Lisa’s relationship with Malik, Tessa’s relationship with the other teens on the show, families having outlandish fights over lawns and housekeepers — and are hopefully transitioning out of some of the rough waters of the fall.

Up All Night’s Identity Crisis

The problems of Up All Night are much less straightforward than those of Suburgatory.  Up All Night is a show that I usually enjoy when I watch it, but rarely do I feel compelled to watch.  Up All Night’s cozy timeslot within NBC’s Thursday night comedy block is the primary reason the show is still on my list (though, again, I know that doesn’t make sense for a person who watches everything on DVR).  Up has had a hard time getting into a good rhythm of what the show is about, mostly because it can’t decide what the show is about.

I read numerous complaints during Up’s first season that the show felt like two separate shows, the one people seemed to enjoy about the difficulties of a hip, ambitious couple with a newborn, and the one people seemed less enthusiastic about following the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of a talk show diva.  This dichotomy never bothered me much, and actually I was relieved that neither element seemed terribly slapped together, considering that Ava wasn’t even written as a famous talk show host in the original pilot.  While the show did seem on sturdier ground where the home life was concerned — and frankly there are probably many more viewers interested in seeing a professional couple struggle with an adorable baby than an overblown diva walking all over her mousy assistant — the stories surrounding Ava and the talk show did start to pick up focus and depth in the second half of the season.

All of that is a moot point, though, since the Ava Show was completely dropped at the start of this season.  While getting rid of the show within the show may have helped solve the problem of the split identity, it created the larger problem of what do with Maya Rudolph’s Ava, whose plots are seeming like more and more of a stretch each week.  The repeat use of Sean Hayes’s recurring character Walter, not particularly funny in his first appearance, is a clear sign of the writers grasping for ideas for Ava.  Things at home have begun to flourish somewhat, with the addition of Reagan’s brother and the swapping of Chris for Reagan as the at-home parent.  Unlike Ava’s stories, these feel like they are real and have heart.  Background characters like Gene and Terry (or is it Jean and Terry???) have begun to come to life, and the show feels like it knows exactly who it is.  Until it has to cut back to the scenes with Ava.

Once Up All Night wraps for the winter, it will take an extended hiatus before coming back in a new format, as a multi-camera show filmed before a live studio audience.  It is very hard to imagine the show working in this format, and I fear it will only be another instance of taking something and making it work less well than it did before.  The format seemed to be working fine, though perhaps the people in charge think that making the show look like a CBS sitcom will help achieve CBS ratings.  As Guys With Kids can attest, that is not always the case.  No, the real outlier that the show needs to address, if it’s looking to make changes, is Ava.  I really enjoy this character, and love Maya Rudolph, but Up All Night has bucked the ways in which she naturally connected to the rest of the show.  She is no longer working with Reagan, and the show rightly has opted not to have Ava simply hang around the Brinkley home in a way that doesn’t make sense.  The easiest connection to foster without perpetuating the problems with The Ava Show would have been to nurture Ava’s relationship with Jason Lee’s Kevin.  Perhaps Lee was unavailable, though I would think that an offer to be a regular on a network comedy would have been a decent offer for him.  With Kevin as a good friend and neighbor of the Brinkleys, involving him and Ava in Chris and Reagan’s lives would have been easy and natural, and the courting of the talk show queen by a contractor and single dad would have provided tons of potential plots.

Whatever the reasons behind it, the Brinkley’s now seem as far from Ava as ever and all are now heading into a format that seems completely incongruous with the show.  I hope the showrunners can get things together and pull the show into a cohesive, successful unit.  But I fear that this latest retool will be the show’s last before NBC puts it out to pasture at the end of the season.

Top Ten Shows

  • 30 Rock
  • American Horror Story: Asylum
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • The Mindy Project
  • Nashville
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Pretty Little Liars
  • Revenge
  • Survivor

Current (or Nearly Current)

Revenge, Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls, Revolution, Go On, The New Normal, Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Hart of Dixie, Nashville, American Horror Story, Survivor, Suburgatory, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Up All Night, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Glee, Saturday Night Live, The Soup

On The Backburner

666 Park Avenue, Ben and Kate, Guys With Kids, Last Resort, Fringe

Winding Down and Catching Up

My two main preoccupations for the post-Thanksgiving week of television were the latest episode of Revolution, and the show’s evolution (or not?) over the season, and getting caught up on the Fox sitcoms.

The Evolution of Revolution

This week Revolution aired its final episode before going off to hibernate for the winter. (The show will be off air until late March.) As other shows start their winter breaks in the coming weeks, the so-called fall/winter/mid-season finales of these shows mark a good time to reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re going. I’m not sure I have a harder time thinking about any show than I do about Revolution.

When I watched the pilot for Revolution, I thought it was terrible. I couldn’t imagine it would survive more than a few weeks, and I didn’t even think I’d watch a second episode. The plotting was all over the place, with six or eight or maybe even 12 episodes’ worth of action crammed into a single hour, after we’d already been jolted 15 year ahead of what would have been the most interesting aspect of the show. Rather than getting the story of people like ourselves coming with the sudden loss of man-made power sources, we were ultimately handed a rescue mission in a world that had already coped so well with what they’d lost that it hardly seemed to matter that they’d lost it. It became just another story about people who we weren’t given the chance to know before we were asked to care about them. Much of the acting was laughable, and the flashbacks only served to illuminate that apparently, in a world without power, all the visible signs of aging in adults cease to progress.

How then have I come to be so invested in the continuing dramas of Miles, Rachel, Nora, Aaron and, yes, even Charlie, as they go about their various missions? There are moments I watch of the show in the most recent episodes and think how much its grown, that character development has become important and the pacing makes sense and the flashback information we’re getting is interesting rather than obligatory or filler. But I can’t help but wonder if many of these improvements were even intentional, whether getting to know the characters is for its own sake, or simply as a means to stretch the plot because so much of it was expended so quickly in the early episodes? In the episode where we learned Maggie’s backstory, it is casually mentioned that she walked, alone, in a world where people were looting their neighbors’ homes and holding children hostage for a wagon of food, from Seattle to Buffalo. A couple of weeks ago, Neville’s wife Julia went to great lengths to make sure that their son wasn’t send to California from Philadelphia, because of how dangerous a trek it would be, even in a military troop. I see these kinds of discrepancies, and it’s hard to know whether the writers have gained a better sense of this world they’ve created or it’s all just to serve the greater plot.

These questions will start to be answered, I’m sure, as the second half of the season presents itself in the spring. The fall finale left us at an interesting place, and how the show handles things going forward will be very telling. For me, though, nothing is more important than the backstory of how the power was lost. We’ve gotten the beginnings of it, and I was pleasantly surprised that the story so far seems neither lame nor idiotic. But it is much easier to throw out a glimpse of something and make it seem interesting than to craft something that is actually interesting and makes sense. So the jury is still out on whether Revolution is transforming itself into a respectable drama actually worthy of being one of the season’s biggest hits. We’ll have to wait another three months to see if Revolution becomes something more than the show that’s good to make fun of around the water cooler.

Funny Like A Fox

Tuesday has become a wonderfully conflicted night of television for those of us who enjoy “smart” sitcoms, with a DVR-busting lineup that includes Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, Go On, The New Normal, New Girl, and The Mindy Project all airing within the span of an hour.  I’m an old-fashioned viewer who lives to rely on just recording two things at once on the DVR, but Tuesdays has forced me to explore other options to watch all these shows.  This past weekend, I found myself signed up to Hulu Plus to catch up on the episodes of New Girl, Mindy, and Ben and Kate (I’d also missed a few episodes because of power outages and inclement weather) and had a few of those realizations that only come from watching several episodes of things in close proximity.

For one thing, while I like the show well enough to catch one episode per week, i don’t enjoy Ben and Kate enough to watch more than one episode of the show in a row.  I got to the end of the Emergency Kit episode and felt like I’d had enough for a month.  I’m going to have to reconsider giving the time I spend watching this show to something else, like reading or taking a nap.

I more enjoyed watching and contrasting New Girl and The Mindy Project.  My favorite revelation of the weekend was that I’ve actually met Tommy Dewey, the dashingly handsome and charming actor playing Mindy’s love interest Josh on The Mindy Project.  (We went to college together, though I can only claim to have met him during my unsuccessful audition to join the improv troupe of which he was the star.  The saying holds true: Those who can do; those who can’t blog.)  Aside from that, I like the fact that Mindy Project isn’t just doubling down on ensemble hijinks but digging a little deeper into the supporting players.  I didn’t need a reason to invest in Chris Messina’s Danny other than Chris Messina, but I left my mini-marathon caring more about Betsy, Jeremy and even the underutilized Gwen.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Shauna, played by the talented Amanda Setton, of whom I’ve been a fan since Gossip Girl.  I guess the show is going with what works, but I’m sad that she’ll soon be departing.

New Girl continues to march along at its New Girl pace, with its awkward and funny dynamics in the main cast with that hint of the show being not quite as cool as they think they are.  For all Jess’s flaws, I will say it seems uncharacteristically juvenile for her to be pulling the so-called Parent Trap-type shenanigans to reunite her parents who have been divorced since forever.  This by no means ruins the episode, it just detracts from the show’s credibility, which it needs to sell some of the more ambitious episodes it puts out.  But no, what most stands out to me is that almost halfway through the second season, New Girl still seems not to have recovered from having replaced the pilot character Coach with Winston (because of Damon Wayans, Jr.’s unavailability when Happy Endings was picked up).  I can only imagine what the character and the subsequent dynamics would have been like had Coach stuck around, either with Wayans or maybe with Lamorne Morris as a recast instead of a new character, but it is impossible to get past the idea that Winston is just a placeholder or a foil, someone who exists almost exclusively to take a side when two of the other roommates are arguing or act as a foil to Nick’s or Schmidt’s peculiarities.  Toward the end of last season, New Girl really seemed to make an effort to develop Winston, building up his relationship with Shelby and having him search for a career.  But through all of that, and despite a few shining moments (working with Jess’s bell choir kids and singing along to Wicked while driving Schmidt’s van come to mind), Winston has failed to register as an actual person in the New Girl world.  I don’t even mean that he’s just less developed that Jess, Schmidt, Nick and Cece.  Characters have come on for an episode or two and existed more on their own than he does.  I like New Girl a lot, but the show would be much better off if they could find a way to use Winston beyond just filling whatever space the other characters leave for him in every episode and start considering him with somewhat comparable importance to the other characters.  If not, they should get rid of him and replace him with a character who the powers that be do feel is real and worthy of existing beyond propping up the other four.

Top Ten Shows

  • 30 Rock
  • American Horror Story: Asylum
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • The Mindy Project
  • Nashville
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Pretty Little Liars
  • Revenge
  • Survivor

Current (or Nearly Current)

Revenge, Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother, 2 Broke Girls, Revolution, Go On, The New Normal, Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B- in Apt. 23, New Girl, The Mindy Project, Hart of Dixie, Nashville, American Horror Story, Survivor, Suburgatory, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Up All Night, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Glee, Saturday Night Live, The Soup

On The Backburner

666 Park Avenue, Ben and Kate, Guys With Kids, Last Resort, Fringe