Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pilot Review: Hung

Hung (HBO)
Premiered June 28 at 10pm

HBO’s latest effort, which when it next airs will be sandwiched in between “True Blood” and “Entourage,” is a familiar kind of dramatic comedy which focuses on one man desperately seeking a life change by entering a new, questionable profession. Ray Drecker isn’t good at anything, and his entrepreneurship classes lead him to realize that he should try prostitution. It’s not a terribly unfamiliar concept, and that’s both positive and negative for this series. It doesn’t feel original, but it also manages to keep afloat without being too stale. Part of the credit is due to the sharp writing and snappy dialogue which feeds the entertaining banter between the characters. The rest of the praise should be reserved for star Thomas Jane, who carries the show on his shoulders. He’s charming, but not too charming, and his delivery of all of his often-sarcastic lines is right on track. The show doesn’t appear to have much of an ensemble, featuring Ray’s family in small doses, the only real bright spot of which is Anne Heche’s crazy ex-wife rant. Jane Adams is also onboard as a nutty, overly sexual poet who fashions herself as Ray’s pimp. It’s terribly unclear what this show will be like since the 45-minute pilot doesn’t really explain or develop much, and as a result, a viewing of the second episode (airing July 12) seems necessary. There isn’t much more to say – I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. I may be fresh out of words after writing an extremely lengthy review of “Virtuality” (which you should watch), but I just don’t have too many opinions on this series. What did you think?

How will it work as a series? As I’ve mentioned, it’s hard to tell. I think it’s just the right kind of show for HBO, and in between the uber-weird fantastical “True Blood” and the buddy lite “Entourage,” it will find a nice home and a proper groove. It won’t necessarily be totally inventive, but that may not be a problem. Ray’s not too well-rounded, maybe this show doesn’t have to be either.
How long will it last? HBO doesn’t ax shows before their first seasons are completed, and most cable shows these days get renewals within days of their premieres. I imagine “Hung,” which debuted to pretty positive reviews, should get renewed after a week or two for a second season, but I’m not sure there will be much additional ground to cover. That’s a long way off, of course, but I think this show has two seasons in it. HBO’s last new comedy – “Flight of the Conchords” – got cancelled after two seasons; maybe it will become a trend. But again, that’s looking too far ahead. Let’s see how episode two is.

B-

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 2, Episode 3 “Scratches” (B+)

I loved last week’s episode because I thought it was intensely fascinating throughout its whole runtime. This episode isn’t quite as action-packed, but it sure sets things up for the rest of the season in a very clear way. Jason, who is currently on his own Andy Botwin-like tangent plotline, is beginning to realize that maybe he doesn’t like vampires after all because they’re responsible, however indirectly, for the death of Amy and his grandmother. Hopefully he’ll return to his hometown before too long, and ideally he’ll bring some of those viewpoints with him and be in for a rude awakening when he is inevitably confronted by Sookie and Bill. The attack on Sookie was pretty vicious, and “True Blood” still does a good job of remaining spooky and seriously creepy. It’s also still very difficult (for me) to handle those scenes where Sookie actually drinks Bill’s blood right from his arm. That’s a credit to the show though, that it’s able to evoke such a reaction of disgust and wonder. It’s particularly interesting to watch another vampire-human relationship develop, and see how Jessica and Hoyt handle their own desires and potential cravings for each other. Sookie’s mind-reading ability has never proven more awesome, as she discovers Lafayette’s whereabouts and barters a deal to get Lafayette released. Now it looks like Sookie and Bill will be headed to find out what happened to Eddie, which should keep them occupied and bonding, while Eric will attempt to find out what exactly this monster that attacked Sookie is. The end shot of Daphne’s back indicates that either she’s a victim or perhaps she’s the monster itself – this show just keeps getting more and more interesting.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pilot Review: Virtuality

Virtuality (FOX)
Premiered June 26 at 8pm

*Important note: I both recommend watching this pilot, and watching this pilot before you read this review. It’s available via the Internet Movie Database. Enjoy!*

Science fiction pilots are tough for several reasons. The first important notion is not to leave an audience that doesn’t enjoy futuristic themes and space travel behind, making the characters relatable and the story engaging enough to attract a diverse group. Shows like “Firefly,” “Threshold,” and “Battlestar Galactica,” much as I love them, do suffer a bit from that problem, which only means that sci-fans can appreciate it all that much more. In the case of “Virtuality,” I think that the story is extremely well-presented. A crew of twelve people is headed to find new possibilities for life in a faraway system aboard a spaceship. While David Hinckley of the New York Daily News suggests that “it all feels pretty dense and confusing to those outside the sci-fi world,” I don’t agree. Interview segments are spliced in frequently to humanize the characters and have each of them explain their perspective on the mission. The second major handicap in a new sci-fi series is making sure the science isn’t too difficult to comprehend, too lofty, or simply too impossible. The main technological gimmick is a virtual reality program which the crew members can use by placing a Geordi LaForge-like visor over their eyes and which provides them with a necessary escape from the confinement of the ship over this ten-year period. The simulations, especially the one the show opens with, a Civil War scene, are extremely reminiscent of holodeck sequences from “Star Trek,” but that’s not a problem. It makes sense that this is how these people might be able to relax, and while I’m not an expert on the technology, it’s not hard to fathom that this kind of thing would be possible in the near future. The real scientific innovation – traveling into deep space – is still treated like a monumental event with true amazement in the eyes of the crew members and the music that plays during the launch. The third truly crucial necessary element of a sci-fi show is making sure that it doesn’t get lost in space. There must be something tying the show back to reality and to Earth, as well as enough characters so that the world of the show isn’t confined just to the cockpit of a small ship. That’s hardly a problem here, since there are twelve fully fleshed-out characters who all have distinct personality traits, and all of them seek to escape the happenings of their daily lives through their individualized virtual simulations. It’s the perfect avenue to explore all the characters, and having the interview segments recur as part of a reality show being beamed back to Earth is a terrific additional route into the characters’ minds.

“Virtuality” contains all the necessary elements of a sci-fi pilot, but it also bears the characteristics of an excellent pilot, regardless of genre. Its two-hour launching pad starts at just the right point, coming in when the mission has already begun, and a critical decision point is fast approaching. There’s no time wasted on establishing characters outside of the ship’s confinement, and that’s instead cleverly done through the lens of virtuality. It makes things infinitely more exciting that something’s going wrong right away – a glitch in the virtual reality software in the form of a menacing-looking blond-haired man with a penchant for shooting characters while they’re in the virtual world. The additionally tacked-on facet of a reality show could have gone horribly wrong, but it’s actually quite interesting. The term “reality show” is probably a misnomer, since the show is more of a continuous documentary that would air on the Discovery Channel rather than people being forced to eat things to survive on an island before voting each other off. These twelve strangers aren’t stranded on a ship – they all came there for a reason, and the revelations of their motivations for doing so are entirely fascinating. The fact that nearly everyone is coupled up, including a gay duo who serve as the ship’s chefs, isn’t a clichĂ© feature of the series; instead, it provides an intriguing window into their interactions. The cast is all-around terrific, most notably Clea DuVall as hotheaded pilot Sue (“Get that thing out of my face before I annihilate you!”), Omar Metwally as the sick Dr. Meyer, and particularly James D’Arcy as reality show producer slash psych officer Roger Fallon. Even star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a perfect fit for the role of Commander Pike. The virtual simulation with him at the beginning had me thinking this would be just like “New Amsterdam,” and that he wouldn’t be aging at all. It turns out I was slightly right about him not going anywhere, just in a slightly more virtual sense. The ending was simply awesome, and makes me so excited for where this show could go.

Unfortunately, there’s not much hope. This show wasn’t picked up after the pilot was ordered, so this was likely the only shot this show will ever get at seeing the real world. It’s really too bad that it wasn’t picked up, since I think that this show could really have gone very far, exploring the complexities of reality and the depth of the virtual world, while simultaneously focusing on all the crew members and their fascinating lives. For all the characters whose psyches were probed extensively in the pilot, there are still more, like chef Manny and second-in-command Jimmy, who have a lot more to share and find out about themselves. Unfortunately, I know I’m in the minority and that chances of this show getting picked up are pretty much nonexistent. The show performed terribly in the ratings, though what’s really to be expected from a summer Friday night launch of a show that was hardly promoted by its network? Even though the show has an impressive 68 ranking on Metacritic, I’ve read some reviews which are very negative and tear the show apart. This situation, while it was never quite as optimistic, is reminiscent of another poorly-reviewed, poorly-rated sci-fi series that was extremely short-lived, “Threshold.” This is certainly the best pilot since the two-hour start of “Threshold” blew me away, and I think I’m even most impressed with “Virtuality.” On that note, I think “Virtuality” may be the best pilot I’ve seen since the 2001-2002 season, when “24,” “Scrubs,” and “The Shield” all launched, and it’s definitely on par with both “Desperate Housewives” and “Threshold,” my recent favorite pilots. My point is, this was one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen. I thought “Virtuality” was incredible, and I hope at least someone agrees with me so they can appreciate its unbelievable greatness.

A

What I’m Watching: Royal Pains

Royal Pains: Season 1, Episode 4 “TB or Not TB” (B+)

This episode really seals the deal in terms of this show’s lasting quality. It perfectly incorporates all four series regulars into their own separate and intersecting plotlines, and the result is terrific. Hank and Jill’s romantic flirtation and scheduling of their date on Hank’s former wedding day is a good setup, but it’s made even better by the teamwork they end up putting in when their medical services are needed. Evan’s diagnosis of their brunch date is also quite hilarious. Guest star Callie Thorne isn’t as crazy as she is when she plays Sheila on “Rescue Me,” but that’s good since she can also play a hard-working, sexed-up chef at an Italian restaurant. Her stroke progression is a compelling case for the episode, but it’s even cleverer how it’s structured in the way that they only find out about it because they’re already there doing tuberculosis vaccinations. The best part of the episode isn’t actually Hank and Jill – it’s the other two leads. Evan is funny trying his very best to become sportive and accidentally spotting Boris’ shark (always great to see Campbell Scott again!). The combination of Evan and Divya, however, is completely hilarious. It seemed from previous episodes that their interactions might quickly become strained, awkward, and tiresome, but that’s absolutely not the case. Their bickering is thoroughly entertaining, and I love seeing them interact. This particular case of the Italian woman reacting poorly from a tuberculosis shot made for a truly fun back-and-forth with Evan’s horrible Italian and Divya’s incredible ability to put up with him. I especially like the fact that even Evan’s subtitles are a bit funky due to his poor language skills. Hank setting the two of them up to work out their differences at the end of the episode is a great sign that hopefully there will be many more of these similar situations in the future. I’m in for the long haul with this show, and I’m excited.

Both “Burn Notice” and “Royal Pains” aren’t airing this week due to the holiday weekend; catch them when they return on July 9th.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Emmy Race: Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

The Emmy Award nominations are still a few weeks away, but this year looks to be quite competitive in all the major categories, even with the notable addition of an extra nominee in each category. This year, there will be six, rather than five, nominees in the regular acting categories and series categories. At this point, I’d like to offer a rundown of the potential nominees, revisiting my predictions in early July once episode submissions become clear. I’ve placed contenders in specific groupings that speak to their history and chances.


Last year’s nominees:
KRISTIN CHENOWETH as OLIVE SNOOK, PUSHING DAISIES (1 nomination)
Chenoweth got nominated last year when ABC’s inventive fantasy drama was considered fresh and popular, despite getting snubbed in the Best Comedy Series category. Now, “Pushing Daisies” has been axed by ABC and the buzz surrounding it has faded considerably. She was still terrific this year, but some despised her nun plotline, and a handful of her best episodes include that. I hope she won’t miss out, but it’s a very scary possibility.

AMY POEHLER as VARIOUS CHARACTERS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (1 nomination)
Poehler got in here last year when variety show performers were suddenly reclassified as comedy supporting actors. One year later, she has her own series, “Parks and Recreation,” for which she contends in the lead actress field, and she appeared in only eight of SNL’s episodes this season. I think she’ll fare better with her other role, although her immense popularity these days and her rap with Sarah Palin could propel her to a double nomination.

JEAN SMART as REGINA NEWLY, SAMANTHA WHO? (1 nomination/1 win)
Last year’s shocking winner, predicted by almost no one, is an Emmy favorite, having been nominated twice for her role on “24” as the nutso First Lady and winning twice for her guest spot on “Frasier.” Her current ABC show failed to take in its second season and got axed by ABC, so Smart’s chances hinge a bit on her popularity. History is on her side – similarly respected actress Blythe Danner pulled off a repeat win after her show, “Huff,” had been axed by Showtime following its second season run. Smart can probably do the same, at least as far as a nomination is concerned.

HOLLAND TAYLOR as EVELYN HARPER, TWO AND A HALF MEN (3 nominations)
I considered leaving Taylor off my predictions this year, but then thought better of it. This woman only has to step on screen for one minute the whole season to garner awards attention. As I’ve mentioned in past years, she won an Emmy in the supporting actress category for “The Practice” when she wasn’t even a regular cast member! Even if she was only in the credits this season, Taylor’s probably a safe bet for a nomination, regardless of performance or permit.

VANESSA WILLIAMS as WILHELMINA SLATER, UGLY BETTY (2 nominations)
Wilhelmina Slater was up to no good more than usual this season on “Ugly Betty,” but she also forged unexpected relationships with people like Connor and Daniel, which allow her to be more human without coming off as overly sentimental. Williams got nominated last year along with lead actress America Ferrera despite the show itself being snubbed in the Best Comedy Series category, and I imagine that Williams’ work this season will get her nominated once again, even if Ferrera gets dropped, though she’s vulnerable due to waning popularity.

Past nominees, making a comeback:
CONCHATA FERRELL as BERTA, TWO AND A HALF MEN (2 nominations)
Ferrell was nominated for her one-liner-fueled portrayal of Charlie’s sarcastic housekeeper for the show’s second and fourth seasons, respectively, along with costar Holland Taylor, who managed not to slip out of the top five last year. Her submission of the misfire CSI crossover episode last year was probably most to blame, but her infrequent screen time probably doesn’t help her case. She’ll probably garner a number of votes, but likely not enough to make it into the top six.

JENNA FISCHER as PAM, THE OFFICE (1 nomination)
Two years ago, the sweet receptionist at Dundler-Mifflin came out of her shell and confessed her feelings for Jim, and landed herself an Emmy nomination. This year, Pam went a step further and actually quit Dunder-Mifflin to work at the Michael Scott Paper Company. Fischer is a likeable, popular actress who probably just missed the list last year when Pam didn’t have much of a major role, and she should return this year, especially as the only female with a significant role on the show this year.

ELIZABETH PERKINS as CELIA HODES, WEEDS (2 nominations)
Perkins was actually the only actress representing her show in its debut season at the Emmys, and even managed a nomination the following year for an episode during which she barely appeared. This year, “Weeds” rebounded from a lull and Perkins was a big, loopy part of that in her drug-obsessed adventures in Mexican tunnels. Unless Emmy voters are unwilling to re-embrace “Weeds,” Perkins has a good shot at another nomination.

Variety variables:
TRACEY ULLMAN as VARIOUS CHARACTERS, STATE OF THE UNION
As may be clear from the title, Tracey Ullman is the star of her variety show. Yet, for some reason, she’s classified here instead of in the lead race. Ullman is a nine-time nominee (and two-time winner) in the now-defunct variety performance category, and she also has two Emmys for comedy series guest appearances. She just won a Satellite Award and managed a SAG nomination for her role on this show, but in the lead categories – will the category fraud hurt or help her? Watch out for her, though, because she could surprise.

KRISTIN WIIG as VARIOUS CHARACTERS, SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
With former costars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on to bigger and (perhaps) better things, Wiig is the token woman on “Saturday Night Live” who engages in gross-out humor and really gives every one of her sketches her all. She has yet to receive any awards recognition of any kind, but her name has been thrown around a lot in conjunction with the Emmys, and voters may be looking to fill (or supplement) Poehler’s slot from last year with another SNL female. The new voting system, however, coupled with the new category placements from last year, may do more harm than good for Wiig.

The perennially snubbed:
DANA DELANY as KATHARINE MAYFAIR, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES
Last year’s newest housewife arrived on Wisteria Line all prepared to pick up an Emmy nomination but then didn’t even make the top ten, especially surprising since the similarly dramatic-oriented Alfre Woodard made the Emmy cut a few years back when none of the show’s other stars were nominated. This year, Delany added comedy to her repertoire since she was no longer the center of the mystery, and her romance with Mike helped make her more sympathetic and likeable. Delany is a five-time Emmy nominee and two-time winner for the series “China Beach.” Unfortunately, Emmy voters may now be over “Desperate Housewives,” and, judging by the nominees from last year, they’re seeking laugh-out-loud funny in this category.

JANE KRAKOWSKI as JENNA MARONEY, 30 ROCK
Krakowski’s fate really is like that of her character – putting in so much hard work and effort to show that she’s talented and not getting an ounce of attention or recognition in return. Poor Krakowski didn’t net a nomination for her stunning episode, “Hardball,” from the first season of the hit NBC comedy, and then was sidelined during the second season and missed out again. This year, she’s had more screen time and more outlandish plotlines, and the show’s only become more popular, but I fear she’ll strike out with a third miss this year.

The roundup:
This category yielded two surprising nominees last year in Poehler and Smart, and there are just so many possibilities here, including past winner Jaime Pressly (My Name is Earl), Portia de Rossi (Better Off Ted), Sarah Chalke (Scrubs), Becki Newton (Ugly Betty), Kristen Schaal (Flight of the Conchords), Nicollette Sheridan (Desperate Housewives), and Lizzy Caplan (Party Down), to name a few. Additionally, watch out for another unpredictable threat: Judy Davis, who reprised her Emmy-winning role from the “Starter Wife” miniseries in its short-lived series incarnation. This year’s lineup will likely include a few past contenders mixed in with last year’s crop.

Current predictions:
KRISTEN CHENOWETH, PUSHING DAISIES
JENNA FISCHER, THE OFFICE
ELIZABETH PERKINS, WEEDS
JEAN SMART, SAMANTHA WHO?
HOLLAND TAYLOR, TWO AND A HALF MEN
VANESSA WILLIAMS, UGLY BETTY


Who could win? Jean Smart

Next up: Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Emmy Race: Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

The Emmy Award nominations are still a few weeks away, but this year looks to be quite competitive in all the major categories, even with the notable addition of an extra nominee in each category. This year, there will be six, rather than five, nominees in the regular acting categories and series categories. At this point, I’d like to offer a rundown of the potential nominees, revisiting my predictions in early July once episode submissions become clear. I’ve placed contenders in specific groupings that speak to their history and chances.


Last year’s nominees:
JON CRYER as ALAN HARPER, TWO AND A HALF MEN (3 nominations)
Charlie’s whiny chiropractor brother has been included on the Emmy ballot for the past three years, and it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere, as “Two and a Half Men” continues to be a comedy leader on television and Cryer’s Alan makes people laugh. He could be vulnerable to an inevitable “Two and a Half Men” backlash, but they aren’t enough solid contenders to compete with him to knock with him out, especially with an extra slot this year.

KEVIN DILLON as JOHNNY DRAMA, ENTOURAGE (2 nominations)
After scoring a nomination two years ago, Dillon surprised many by proving that it wasn’t a one-time thing when he returned to the ballot last year. Dillon didn’t have nearly as much to do on this season of “Entourage,” and his show wasn’t terribly good either. With so many other comic actors who work harder than Dillon, it’s a wonder he’s been back for two rounds, and I suspect he’ll return for a third only because he’s an easy name to check off, though he could be ousted by any number of new candidates who have never been nominated for an Emmy.

NEIL PATRICK HARRIS as BARNEY STINSON, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (2 nominations)
The amusing/hilarious Neil Patrick Harris (whose IMDB page comes up immediately if you search for “NPH” – I found that very cool) is still the real star of CBS’ Monday night sitcom. His costar Jason Segel wasn’t even submitted for Emmy consideration this year, so Harris is pretty much the safest lock behind the guy who’s beat him for the past two years. He was probably the runner-up last year, and may even have a chance at winning this time around.

JEREMY PIVEN as ARI GOLD, ENTOURAGE (4 nominations/3 wins)
Piven has been nominated for every season of the HBO comedy’s run, and he has managed a stunning three consecutive wins, largely due to his stellar episode submissions and relative lack of competition. While his show took a dive this year, he still had some great moments, whether it was contemplating a new job or smoking mushrooms in the middle of the desert. He’s back in for sure, and I’m fairly confident he’ll score a fourth win this time.

RAINN WILSON as DWIGHT SCHRUTE, THE OFFICE (2 nominations)
The assistant to the regional manager of Dunder-Mifflin this season had the opportunity to try to keep his boss from stealing his old clients and fight to defend the honor of his office romance. It’s been a pretty standard season for Dwight, and the fact that Wilson has been nominated for the past two years without terribly strong episodes means that he should be fine this year, although he may have another “Office” mates with whom to contend…

The perpetual snubbees…
JUSTIN KIRK as ANDY BOTWIN, WEEDS
The wacky brother-in-law of the pot dealing mom really lit up the first season of Showtime’s comedy series when he arrived midway through the first season, and he scored a Golden Globe nomination to prove it. Since then, he’s been on Emmy’s radar with a top ten placement last year, but still no nomination. The Satellite Awards gave him a promotion to lead actor this year and he walked away with a win in that category. The trouble is, this year Kirk’s been just as good but had more a dramatic role, and is that where Emmy voters will finally spot him? I’m not so sure.

JOHN KRASINSKI as JIM HALPERT, THE OFFICE
It’s a mystery to me that Krasinski has been trounced the past two years when I was confident that he would make the Emmy list. Last year it could just have been that unexpected support for Kevin Dillon beat out votes for Krasinski, but this year there’s an extra spot. Krasinski has been good this year, but it’s no different than past years when he was shut out. Could it happen again? I’m afraid so. I think I’ll predict him anyway, partially because it’s so unlikely that he could go the show’s entire run and never get nominated, but it’s getting closer every year.

JOHN C. MCGINLEY as DR. PERRY COX, SCRUBS
McGinley has been calling Zach Braff girls’ name for eight years now, and this past season he ascended to Chief of Medicine at Sacred Heart Hospital. It’s a real shame that McGinley never once, over the course of seven years, got nominated for a single Emmy, though “Scrubs” didn’t really catch on with Emmy voters much throughout its run, with the exception of the fourth and fifth season, which scored nominations for best series and one for lead actor Braff. The fact that this may be McGinley’s last shot may help him, but the news that “Scrubs” will be back once again for another season diminishes the “last chance” factor that might have helped McGinley get that many-times-overdue nomination.

Those crazy “30 Rock” kids:
JACK MCBRAYER as KENNETH THE PAGE, 30 ROCK
NBC’s resident tour guide and seeming assistant to everyone who works at 30 Rockefeller Plaza is one of the most entertaining parts of NBC’s offbeat comedy. McBrayer made the top ten last year, when I wrote that “30 Rock” had become even more popular than the year before. That’s true ever more so this year, but McBrayer’s somewhat decreased role and increased hysterics may not do him any favors. He’ll probably come close, but I don’t expect this to be the year he gets nominated.

TRACY MORGAN as TRACY JORDAN, 30 ROCK
Morgan, on the other hand, who also made the top ten last year, probably has a great shot this year. His character has become a bit more tame and relatable while still remaining hilarious. He has a brilliant episode that is one hundred times better than last year’s, where he challenges Liz Lemon’s charge that everyone should be treated equally and ends up trying to act serious and getting bored. The real Morgan is just as crazy as his character, so Emmy voters may be wary of recognizing him, but he has a great shot.

Second chance/last chance/who knows:
RHYS DARBY as MURRAY, FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS
The manager of Bret and Jemaine’s band didn’t make the top ten last year, but his show made a surprising showing in the writing and directing categories as well as earning a top ten placement in the Best Comedy Series category. “Flight of the Conchords” seems to have been a failed experiment, cancelled after only two short seasons on HBO, so this is Darby’s last chance to earn recognition as Murray. He has a terrific episode, where he creates friend graphs to chart his relationship with the band members, but I just think he’s too low-profile and unknown. His inclusion would be pretty damn cool, though.

CHI MCBRIDE as EMERSON COD, PUSHING DAISIES
McBride was unexpectedly omitted from the top ten list in this category last year, despite all three of his castmates making it onto their respective lists (and two getting nominated). The usually stoic McBride has been especially entertaining on this, the last season of “Pushing Daisies,” and has several episodes from which to choose – like chasing after his ex-wife or receiving a note in his Chinese food – and if voters don’t completely disown the show, he might have a decent chance. From the trailer for “Human Target,” it looks like McBride is already on to similar roles, though not quite as carefree or entertaining as this one, so Emmy voters should wise up and recognize him sooner rather than later.

The roundup:
This category is a standalone example for two major reasons: the past two years have yielded the exact same list of five nominees, and, as such, there are no past nominees in this category whose shows are still on who could compete for this award. Therefore, the sixth contender will definitely be a fresh face, and some of last year’s nominees might not be back, like Kevin Dillon. It’s a complete crapshoot to determine who the new face(s) will be because there’s no history to examine. John Krasinski and Justin Kirk have likely been runner-ups in the past few years, but the increasing popularity of “30 Rock” may favor Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer. Though there are other actors on their shows with better chances, both Ed Helms (The Office) and Donald Faison (Scrubs) could manage a substantial number of votes. Additionally, there’s a whole host of “SNL” guys who are eligible, including Seth Meyers, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis. It’s going to be an interesting race with, if I’m correct, uninteresting results.

Current predictions:
JON CRYER, TWO AND A HALF MEN
KEVIN DILLON, ENTOURAGE
NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER
JOHN KRASINSKI, THE OFFICE
JEREMY PIVEN, ENTOURAGE
RAINN WILSON, THE OFFICE


Who could win? Jeremy Piven

Next up: Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Friday, June 26, 2009

What I’m Watching: Burn Notice

Burn Notice: Season 3, Episode 4 “Fearless Leader” (B+)

This is a stellar installment of “Burn Notice” for a number of reasons, the main one being that it delves headfirst into all three main characters (sorry, Madeleine!) in one fell swoop and does them all justice. Michael’s decision to insert himself into Detective Paxson’s life is highly amusing, and actually quite effective. Their interactions are quite terrific, and I’m continually surprised and impressed with Moon Bloodgood’s acting. I hope that, even though their situation has been temporarily resolved, she won’t be gone for long and will soon return either as a thorn in Michael’s side or as his unexpected partner-in-sort-of-crime on some mission. That would be cool! What is already cool, however, is the usage of Fiona in the case this time. Maybe my memory isn’t serving me right, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard her do an accent (I only started from season two). It’s a lot of fun, and her being left out in the cold by Michael at the beginning of the episode was also amusing. The funniest part of the episode was, of course, Sam. He prepared to woo IRS agent Stacey and discovered that not only was he male, but he was also the impressionable son of a woman Sam once dated. Their episode-long interaction was thoroughly entertaining, and I enjoy very much seeing Sam like that. His cocky, careless demeanor is unparalleled. This show is great, but can you really classify it a drama? I’d certainly call it a comedy, and a tremendous one at that. One more thing – I couldn’t place who played the head honcho who Michael took down. I finally found him on IMDB - Erik Palladino - but cannot for the life of me figure out where I recognize him from, even after reviewing his resume. Maybe it's because he looks a bit like Desmond Harrington? Any thoughts? Do you know him from somewhere?

What I’m Watching: Samantha Who?

Samantha Who: Season 2, Episode 14 “The Rock Star” (C+)

This begins the summer burn-off of the remaining episodes of ABC’s cancelled comedy. The show started out with such promise, starring the likeable but not likeable Christina Applegate as freshly nice Samantha Newly, slowly recovering missing parts of her past and rectifying past wrongs with every person she’s offended. The show’s pilot was quirky and fun, and the first season was decent. This year, the show just didn’t have much left to offer, since Sam was at a point where she remembered enough that she should be able to function pretty well as a normal human being. Season two was fairly repetitive and not terribly funny. The slew of men parading in and out of Sam’s life has become a bit much – the show would be better to revisit Todd’s one-time proposal and emphasize that relationship. This episode is both a man-for-Sam and a gimmick one, where Sam meets a famous musician without knowing who he is, and then devolves and falls for him once she realizes everyone else is into him. We’ve seen it all before. Sam’s parents aren’t quite as entertaining as they used to be, and the rest of the supporting cast is not used terribly well. Both Melissa McCarthy and Jennifer Esposito are terrific actresses who need more to do than just act like overindulgent fans. Dena going on and on about how crazy she is serves as the episode’s sole truly positive note, and Andrea’s obsession with being Tony Dane’s girlfriend is getting tired. If I heard correctly, I also think this episode aired out of order, since it seemed to imply that Andrea still hadn’t met Tony, even though a previous episode clearly established that Tony was gay and Andrea was going along with it so that she could have a celebrity boyfriend and still sleep with whoever she wanted. “Samantha Who” needs a good, inventive episode to turn it around before it succumbs to the nether after its remaining six (?) episodes, or at least it needs to feature more of Todd and the rest of the supporting cast.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pilot Review: The Philanthropist

The Philanthropist (NBC)
Premiered June 24 at 10pm

So far this summer, NBC has premiered three new series, two of which were imported, one from Canada, one from the United Kingdom. “The Philanthropist” is NBC’s first original offering this season. Starting a show during the summer often implies it isn’t destined for a long life, like NBC’s lottery winners drama “Windfall” from a few years ago. Often they’re jam-packed with a number of actors who might have starred in several other failed shows in the past (Lana Parilla, for example, who went from “Windfall” to CBS’ cancelled “Swingtown” last summer). Usually, there’s some intrigue or theme that might place it exclusively in the summer (like, say, “Burn Notice”) or just a more relaxed feel to it that denotes its sunny season. In the case of “The Philanthropist,” only the last thing is really true – it’s hardly determined to get anywhere fast.

James Purefoy, formerly of “Rome,” stars as a wealthy playboy who questions his excessive, meaningless lifestyle when his hotel room in Nigeria floods and he sees the look in a child’s eyes as they are being rescued. It’s quite a leap for Purefoy’s character Teddy Rist – who used to operate carelessly slickly and now rides barefoot on a motorcycle to deliver a vaccine to a small Nigerian village while ducking gunshots. His story is introduced in the form of a nonchalant confession to a waitress, whose disbelief overshadows her potential enjoyment of the tale. That’s even truer for the show – it’s too lavish and grand-sweeping on an individual scale to be realistically compelling. Billionaire Rist isn’t content to put all of his funds towards charitable means; he has to see that they can personally delivered to the doorstep of the needy. By him. On a motorcycle. Barefoot. Avoiding gunshots.

In addition to being flat-out ridiculous, there’s almost nothing tethering “The Philanthropist” to reality. Rist doesn’t seem to have any priorities or actual work holding him back, and he feels completely alright dragging his staff, including a secretary and a driver, to a foreign country with only a moment’s notice. Purefoy is quite charismatic, but the role’s just too broadly written to be believable. Rist doesn’t possess superpowers, but you’d think it to read an episode description. Don’t look to the supporting cast to offer much – Neve Campbell and Jesse L. Martin, his business partners, aren’t given much to do, and Martin isn’t even credited as a series regular in the pilot. Michael K. Williams (The Kill Point) could provide good comic relief or dramatic guidance as Rist’s driver, but he hardly has any lines. Ditto Lindy Booth as his secretary, though she’ll likely play a bigger part as the show goes on.

The series’ most obnoxious trait is its product placement. It looks like Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing, is paying for the entire show. Twice during the actual episode, the Bing logo popped up for several seconds in the bottom right-hand corner of the frame. When the show broke for commercials, the actors appeared, in character, discussing where Rist might go next as if it was part of the show. They referenced and used Bing to pinpoint his potential location, and Booth even praised Bing’s constantly changing background images. Product integration is one thing, like Sarah working at sponsor Subway on “Chuck” or “One Tree Hill” promoting a real-life clothes line, but this is just too transparent. The show may as well not be about the adventures of Teddy Rist, but instead the philanthropic enterprises of one spectacular new search engine. If that sounds interesting to you, go ahead and check out this show. Otherwise, go on Bing and search for Nigeria. It will be more productive.

How will it work as a series? Is he obsessed with Nigeria or is he going to travel to a different impoverished country every episode? It’s hard to tell. The pilot failed in that sense in setting up the show as a continuing story. If Purefoy’s dynamic enough, though, he could very well serve as the show’s token vehicle that makes the plot all but irrelevant. Slim chance – I think this show will get stuck somewhere in the jungles of Africa.
How long will it last? There’s no way this thing is outliving the summer, and it may even get killed earlier because it’s not a reality show, which NBC usually sticks to during the summers. The ratings were pretty good for the pilot, so I imagine this show will quietly finish out its current eight-episode order without any fanfare other than the hype NBC itself drums up.

Pilot grade: F

What I’m Watching: Better Off Ted

Better Off Ted: Season 1, Episode 8 “You Are The Boss Of Me” (B)

This marks the return of ABC’s freshman comedy for its run of fresh summer episodes before it revs back up for a second year sometime midseason. These six installments should be considered as a bonus supply that has no reason for existing. Therefore, expectations aren’t high, since this is a fun opportunity to see what the writers of “Better Off Ted” came up with for episodes that should have been included during the first season, and there’s still a second season in the works where they can improve on the first season. This first episode isn’t quite as clever of some of the previous episodes of “Ted,” but it still contains a few laughs. It follows a traditional sitcom setup: the bosses want to become friends with their underlings, but things go awry when people realize that business and pleasure don’t quite mix well. The eventual result for both Veronica and Ted is obvious from the start, though it’s a bit of an amusing ride there. There’s little to complain about, but the show just isn’t quite as sharp as it often is. The medieval fight club is a bit geeky to be sure, and it would be great to actually see Ted’s ex-wife instead of just hear about her, especially because it might give Jay Harrington a chance to show some emotion. Veronica’s tormenting of Linda is fun, although I’m not sure that it’s possible to top the earlier episode where she tries to be nice to everyone. Hearing her talk about (and demonstrate) how easy it is to fire people is a hoot, however, and a highlight of this episode.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What I’m Watching: Weeds

Weeds: Season 5, Episode 3 “Su-Su-Sucio” (B+)

Things started coming together this episode, even if it appears they won’t stay that way for long due to the disappearance of one smelly Sucio. Silas and Doug’s venture has turned from aimless to amusing, as they try to get a permit for their medical marijuana shop and then bribe a government official to get their plan approved. I especially enjoyed Doug offering the woman her own food and the bickering about the official’s cut which resulted in confusion on the part of both idiots. Celia’s been forcibly removed from her vacation in Mexico and transplanted to Texas, where I suppose she’ll eventually find something to do. Jill’s interaction with Nancy and the family is fun, and Shane’s newfound perverse form of maturity is rather entertaining. The best part of the episode, however, is Nancy herself. She’s just an inimitable character, who can stand there slurping her soda while she jokes about Sucio shooting her sister but not her kids. It’s one of Mary-Louise Parker’s best skills – playing indifference to a wonderfully deadpan point, and here it works extraordinarily well with both Cesar and Sucio. Where things go from here, I have no idea, but this episode was impressive and fun.

What I’m Watching: The Closer

The Closer: Season 5, Episode 3 “Red Tape” (B+)

Now here are two ingredients for a standout episode of a procedural: spotlight one actor as he or she is implicated in a questionable shooting and introduce a perfect new character portrayed by a fantastic actress. Sergeant Gabriel’s drive to be the do-gooder among his team makes him the right person to become the suspect of an investigation. In the early episodes of the show, he used to suck up to Chief Johnson without caring whether he was pissing off the other members of his team. Now, he’s become fond of all of them (a bit too fond of one of them who’s now gone), and they’re willing to help him out. Flynn raising his hand and repeating Gabriel’s inadmissible suggestion during their brainstorming session was particularly enjoyable. It’s also always nice to see Commander Taylor getting along with Chief Johnson and working actively with her to protect the department’s people. Chief Pope didn’t do much, but he’s amusing in his brief scenes as always. The real scene-stealer was guest star Mary McDonnell, late of “Battlestar Galactica.” From the moment she came onscreen directing her crime scene, she was a perfect fit for the role. Her scenes with Kyra Sedgwick were fantastic. She has the right respect for authority motivated by disrespect for those who refuse to acknowledge hers. It’s a great guest character, though “The Closer” has introduced terrific recurring players over the year. I hope McDonnell will return again and join the list, which already includes district attorney James Patrick Stuart, doctors Jonathan Del Arco and Bob Clendenin, and pyro Jason O’Mara (I’d also like to see Billy Burke’s murderous attorney back). In summation, this was a fine episode of “The Closer” showcasing its strengths and its casting wonders.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Miniseries: Impact (Part 1)

I’ve always wanted to watch all the miniseries and TV movies that air during the summer. Coming through the programming slate for this summer, I encountered several weather-themed TV movies airing on NBC in July, but somehow neglected to discover this one until the very last minute. I can’t say that I’m thrilled I did, since it isn’t terribly exciting or intriguing. There’s little to keep audiences on the edge of their seat, because this is a meteor-themed movie, and it’s highly unlikely that it will culminate in the complete destruction of Earth and all its inhabitants. That just strikes me as a bit too depressing for ABC. Therefore, it’s only a matter of time until someone figures out that there’s a way to take out the rapidly approaching moon (that’s right!) and stop the meteor from destroying the Earth. The cast is one-note and flat, led by the evocative personality of David James Elliott of “JAG” fame and featuring, as the only character with any distinct personality, James Cromwell as a stubborn grandfather who won’t leave his house. The drama isn’t remotely interesting, and having an (in)animate object as the villain doesn’t make for a story worth following. I don’t think I’ll be checking in for the second part, airing Sunday, June 28th from 9-11pm on ABC. Check out “Meteor” on NBC in July instead. It’s worse quality-wise, but infinitely more entertaining, from what I’ve seen of it so far.

Impact: F

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 2, Episode 2 “Keep This Party Going” (A-)

This was a fantastic second installment, which set events in motion without really getting too far, but remained incredibly enticing throughout its entirety. Watching the various couples interact, like Sookie and Bill and Tara and Eggs, was extremely interesting. Sookie and Bill’s banter was very entertaining, and it’s worthwhile to see whether Tara’s setting herself up for a fall just like Dawn last year (hopefully not as bad, of course). Jason’s presence at the conference at first seemed trivial and perhaps stupid, but it quickly turned dead serious when he nearly impaled the woman pretending to be a vampire, with powerful simultaneous flashbacks running through his mind. I did have a laugh at Jason asking his new friend whether he was related to the farm and then not repeating the question. His new friend may be trouble, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out. Eric has also gotten entertaining, and Lafayette’s still on fire, though it looks like Lafayette may be no more, or may be a newfound vampire. Maryann’s power over Sam is truly fascinating, and their interactions are some of my favorite scenes. I love Maryann and actress Michelle Forbes, and her brief meeting with Sookie was immensely intriguing – her reaction and tone, but also the deep, whisper-like voice Sookie could hear in her thoughts. The best part of the episode, however, was the end. Jessica’s presence could have been extraordinarily detrimental to the show, but instead, she bonds with Sookie and convinces our heroine to take her home. The meeting goes fine until the abusive father comes home, and watching Jessica get so angry and push Sookie away proves that she’s a legitimate character worth keeping around. Bill’s arrival is typically awesome, and by far my favorite part of this series is that vampire hypnosis, when Bill puts Jessica under his spell and demands to be invited in. The end, with Bill rushing in and demanding Sookie get out while she pleads for him to spare all their lives, was amazing. I got chills and was on the edge of my seat. What a terrific show.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pilot Review: Merlin

Merlin (NBC)
Premiered June 21 at 9pm

NBC is importing dramas from outside the U.S. this year, and “Merlin” comes to the Peacock after airing in the U.K. last fall. It doesn’t feel anything like most of NBC’s dramatic programming, and is instead reminiscent of a lighter, brighter, less mature version of HBO’s “Rome.” The classic story has been changed, pitting Merlin and Arthur together as their lives converge early on, with Merlin as a gutsy, magic-wielding do-gooder and Arthur as a snotty prince who takes himself too seriously. If it sounds like “Smallville,” which utilized a similar twist and made Clark Kent and Lex Luthor best friends before either fulfilled their destinies, it’s probably because this new show was inspired by the Superman reinvisioning.

“Merlin” is still set in Camelot, and uses magic to great extent as its definitive hook. Much like every episode of “Smallville” finds Clark fending off a “meteor freak” with unexplained powers, Merlin must combat some deadly use of magic with his own natural talents and wit. He, of course, has his Merlin-style mentor, a bumbling old physician, and encounters his fair share of ladies throughout his time in the court. His initial meeting with Prince Arthur leads to taking up arms, but eventual events lead to Merlin ending up as Arthur’s servant. The pilot closes with an intriguing and fun summary of events by Camelot’s fabled dragon, voiced by John Hurt, where he implores Merlin to fulfill his destiny, even if, as viewers are well aware, things aren’t exactly like they’re supposed to be. One day, however, Arthur and Merlin will call each other the greatest of friends.

The pilot itself is impossibly hokey, and it’s hard to take the characters, notably Merlin and the evil witch set off by her husband’s execution by the king, seriously. At the end of the pilot, the dragon’s epitaph of sorts put things together nicely, and made it seem as if this silly show could actually work. I was driven by hopeful possibility to watch the second part of the two-hour pilot broadcast, but was quickly disappointed. Two minutes in, the plot and dialogue are so devastatingly boring that it’s simply not feasible to keep track of what’s going on. No member of the cast is skilled enough or entertaining enough to contribute much. Arthurian legend fans may love the series, but it won’t register strongly with the general population that prefers NBC’s other fare like “Southland” or “Law & Order.”

How will it work as a series? Well, episode two didn’t symbolize much promise for the future of the show. It seems destined to follow in the footsteps of idol “Smallville” and result in episode after episode of challenging magic, with the continuous nagging feeling that those around Merlin should really be picking up on his abilities, what with him using them all the time. That said, there are sure to be plenty of Arthurian stories the show can borrow from, and shouldn’t have trouble infusing that material into its plots.
How long will it last? Well, the show has already been renewed by BBC One for a second season. Whether NBC will continue airing it is another question. CBS liked their summer pick-up from Canada, “Flashpoint,” and Showtime ordered up more of the British “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.” NBC has enough programming, and this really feels like a summer show that should have aired on the WB, so I think this season will be it for America.

Pilot grade: C-

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Emmy Race: Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

The Emmy Award nominations are still a few weeks away, but this year looks to be quite competitive in all the major categories, even with the notable addition of an extra nominee in each category. This year, there will be six, rather than five, nominees in the regular acting categories and series categories. At this point, I’d like to offer a rundown of the potential nominees, revisiting my predictions in early July once episode submissions become clear. I’ve placed contenders in specific groupings that speak to their history and chances.


Last year’s nominees:
CANDICE BERGEN as SHIRLEY SCHMIDT, BOSTON LEGAL (2 nominations)
Five-time Emmy winner Bergen, for her work on the comedy series “Murphy Brown,” has been nominated every time she’s been eligible for this award. She didn’t appear in enough episodes during the first season, and withdrew her name from consideration for the third season before mysteriously reentering herself last year and scoring a nomination. “Boston Legal” is now off the air, and Bergen will likely be back with a smart episode submission, although she’s vulnerable because there are so many fresh contenders in this category. It seems, especially based on last year’s top ten list, that well-known veteran actresses do well here.

RACHEL GRIFFITHS as SARAH WHEDON, BROTHERS & SISTERS (2 nominations)
Griffiths has been nominated for the past two years for her standout work among a large ensemble on ABC’s family drama. She’s also a past nominee for “Six Feet Under,” and likely isn’t going anywhere unless voters forget about her show, which isn’t too far outside the realm of possibility. Recently, Griffiths has been nominated in the far more competitive corresponding Golden Globes category, where drama series, comedy series, miniseries, and TV movies are all mixed together, and clearly she has many ardent fans. I strongly suspect she’ll be back.

SANDRA OH as DR. CRISTINA YANG, GREY’S ANATOMY (4 nominations)
Oh is the only actress from her show who has been nominated for its entire run, even its shortened first year that failed to garner much awards attention. The show fell out of favor with Emmy voters in the series category last year, and Oh probably barely squeaked by with an episode that didn’t really showcase much acting talent. She faces heavy internal competition in addition to other shows with multiple contenders like “In Treatment” and “Lost.” Oh, despite having the longest history with the Emmys, is the most vulnerable and will probably miss the mark this year.

DIANNE WIEST as GINA, IN TREATMENT (1 nomination/1 win)
Last year’s winner was a no-show at the awards, but she’s a powerhouse respected actress who’s taken home two Oscars in addition to her Emmy from last year. Along with fellow nominees from last year Gabriel Byrne and Glynn Turman, she’s the only “In Treatment” cast member who returned for the show’s second season, and should have no problem getting nominated again. Last year, she beat out critics’ pick Mia Wasikowska and fellow Golden Globe nominee Melissa George from her own show, and while the show’s new ladies have earned just as much praise, she should be at the head of the pack for Emmy voters.

CHANDRA WILSON as DR. MIRANDA BAILEY, GREY’S ANATOMY (3 nominations)
Wilson hasn’t won an Emmy yet, but she’s remained on the list of nominees for the past three years for her portrayal of a no-nonsense doctor on ABC’s primetime medical soap. Wilson has shown Bailey’s emotional side in previous years and charmed sympathetic Emmy voters, whose enthusiasm for the show decreased last year when it failed to make the cut for Best Drama Series. Wilson is probably the strongest of her show’s cast members in terms of likelihood of a nomination, but the influx of new and renewed blood in this category and the waning support for her show may diminish her chances considerably.

Past winners, back with a vengeance:
KATHERINE HEIGL as DR. IZZIE STEVENS (1 nomination/1 win)
After winning this award in 2007, Heigl controversially did not submit her name for consideration last year, claiming the material she had to work with didn’t merit an award. Candice Bergen returned to the list of nominees after not submitting herself, but her circumstance wasn’t nearly as public or despised. Also, Heigl already won this award and those who feel she is deserving may feel they’ve rewarded her enough in the past. This season of “Grey’s Anatomy” has reportedly given her the chance to show much dramatic range, which could help, as could her continually growing movie star status. It’s a toss of the coin, but I think that the negative will win over the positive and Heigl will be left out.

Close, but no cigar:
ROSE BYRNE as ELLEN PARSONS, DAMAGES
Last year’s most shocking snub left the unarguably lead actress of FX’s legal thriller out in the cold. It’s a clear ploy to avoid competition with Glenn Close, but Byrne is most certainly not a supporting actress. The second season of “Damages” hasn’t been through an awards season yet, and while Close is safe, the show may not be, and I think that Byrne’s poor classification will keep her out of the running in any case, as well as internal competition from another Oscar-winning cast member, Marcia Gay Harden.

CHRISTINA HENDRICKS as JOAN HOLLOWAY, MAD MEN
Hendricks made the top ten runoff list last year over buzzed-about costar January Jones, but failed to get nominated despite the extreme popularity of her show. The series has become even bigger this past year, and Joan got a larger role as she found herself a fiancĂ©e and struggled to maintain dominance over the office secretaries. Now Jones has been promoted to the lead category, but that may not mean anything for Hendricks, who didn’t make the final cut last year, and will probably come just as close this year.

Fresh faces:
MARCIA GAY HARDEN as CLAIRE MADDOX, DAMAGES
Oscar winner Harden just picked up a Tony for her latest play, and it looks like an Emmy may be on the horizon. Harden was one of several high-profile stars cast on the second season of “Damages,” and her conflicted lawyer proved to be a smaller part than perhaps anticipated, but she gave it her all and individual episodes will show the strength of the performance. Two “Damages” guys got into the supporting actor category last year, so Harden should have no problem making it in, even if costar Byrne isn’t as fortunate.

ALLISON PILL as APRIL, IN TREATMENT
I haven’t yet had a chance to see Pill in action, but I’ve heard great things. Her role as one of Paul Weston’s new patients on “In Treatment” has garnered her terrific buzz, and the show clearly got Emmy’s attention last year with nominations for Gabriel Byrne’s Paul and his therapist Dianne Wiest. The patients, however, didn’t do so well, and the relatively unknown Pill may suffer the same fate that relative unknown Mia Wasikowska did last year – fall victim to a category that emphasizes big roles and big names, not breakout performers.

The hopefuls:
ELIZABETH MITCHELL as JULIET, LOST
Two years ago, Mitchell was a sure thing for her performance of the duplicitous Other who defected and romanced Jack. Shockingly, she didn’t even make the top ten list. After a diminished role last season, she was far more prominent this year in a highly transformative and far more likeable role. The show bounced back last year to return to the Best Drama Series category for the first time since its freshman season victory, and having it in favor will do well for Mitchell’s chances. Unfortunately, competition is likely too stiff and Mitchell is a risky spoiler at best.

CCH POUNDER as CLAUDETTE WYMS, THE SHIELD (1 nomination)
Pounder got her one and only nomination for FX’s gritty cop show when the series regained some popularity in its fourth season due to Glenn Close joining the show. Now, Close is elsewhere and has two actresses from her series who will contend against Pounder, and “The Shield” aired its final episode back in November. Pounder was a force to be reckoned with, and was the only verified “Shield” cast member to make any top ten list two years ago, so it’s possible that she was very close and could pull off a nomination this year, but it seems like there are simply too many contenders.

The roundup:
The above list can’t hope to capture all of the possibilities. Take, for instance, the additional top ten finalists from last year who clearly garnered enough votes to almost get nominated: Jill Clayburgh (Dirty Sexy Money), Sharon Gless (Burn Notice) and S. Epatha Merkerson (Law & Order); also factor in Hope Davis (In Treatment) and Yunjin Kim (Lost), who may outshine their respective costars who I’ve mentioned above, and then throw in two “24” ladies (Cherry Jones and Annie Wersching) and one silly hopeful in Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), and you have a crazy mess that will likely churn out a boring list half made up of “Grey’s Anatomy” actresses. We’ll see.

Current predictions:
CANDICE BERGEN, BOSTON LEGAL
RACHEL GRIFFITHS, BROTHERS & SISTERS
MARCIA GAY HARDEN, DAMAGES
ELIZABETH MITCHELL, LOST
ALLISON PILL, IN TREATMENT
DIANNE WIEST, IN TREATMENT


Who could win? Dianne Wiest

Next up: Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Emmy Race: Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

The Emmy Award nominations are still a few weeks away, but this year looks to be quite competitive in all the major categories, even with the notable addition of an extra nominee in each category. This year, there will be six, rather than five, nominees in the regular acting categories and series categories. At this point, I’d like to offer a rundown of the potential nominees, revisiting my predictions in early July once episode submissions become clear. I’ve placed contenders in specific groupings that speak to their history and chances.


Not eligible: Both from “Damages,” Zeljko Ivanek (no longer on the show) and Ted Danson (in the guest category this year).

Last year’s nominees:
MICHAEL EMERSON as BENJAMIN LINUS, LOST (2 nominations)
Emerson has had a continually prominent role on the past three seasons of “Lost,” and this year, he has a whole bunch of episodes to choose from that showcase his acting abilities. It’s also fun that it’s still up in the air whether Ben’s actually good or bad. Emerson is the biggest lock in this category. The real question is which costar, if any (or multiple), will join him. Any guesses?

WILLIAM SHATNER as DENNY CRANE, BOSTON LEGAL (4 nominations/1 win)
Once perceived as a terrible actor on a popular sci-fi series (Star Trek), Shatner somehow fooled the television academy into thinking he was a good actor. He’s managed consecutive nominations for the entire run of ABC’s preposterous law dramedy, and with the show now off the air, he could make it a round five for the whole series. Unless voters have really tired of the show (and many definitely have), Shatner’s in, for the last time.

JOHN SLATTERY as ROGER STERLING, MAD MEN (1 nomination)
Slattery ended up being the only performer besides lead actor Jon Hamm nominated from breakout hit “Mad Men” last year. He had a storyline involving his deteriorating health and infidelity, and this year he took an occasionally more active role courting the new receptionist and throwing his life in the toilet. I initially thought Slattery might not be back, but he actually had a fuller role this season than last, and has a number of episodes to show it.

The “Lost” guys:
NAVEEN ANDREWS as SAYID, LOST (1 nomination)
Andrews was nominated along with Terry O’Quinn (not submitted this year) for the show’s first season, and made it into the top ten list last year. This season, he’s had a very splintered role, but has pretty much been unequivocally awesome every time he’s appeared on screen. He’s the easy choice for “Lost” devotees to choose a character they’ve always liked and vote for him out of nostalgia and admiration.

JOSH HOLLOWAY as SAWYER, LOST
Holloway is the counterpart to Andrews: an actor who fans love but who has never really been taken seriously by awards bodies. This year, he had a completely changed role that some would even classify as a lead one, and had one shining episode (“LaFleur”) where he got to showcase an unexpected range of emotions and really craft a reformed character. “Lost” has been spotty with its nominees over the past four years, so Holloway may have an uphill battle ahead of him, but he’s earned it.

The “Damages” guys:
WILLIAM HURT as DANIEL PARCELL, DAMAGES
Hurt doesn’t have to do much more than step on set for a minutes to garner a major awards nomination (see his 10-minute performance in “A History of Violence” and corresponding Oscar nomination). This time, he did actually spend a fair amount of time appearing sympathetic, conflicted, corrupt, and then back to conflicted as an old friend and new client of Patty Hewes. Hurt faces tough competition in Emmy’s most crowded category, but he’s a seasoned veteran who should have no trouble intimidating the competition.

TIMOTHY OLYPHANT as WES KRULIK, DAMAGES
The quieter star of HBO’s “Deadwood” baited Ellen Parsons this year before developing a softer side, all the while remaining cool and collected. Olyphant’s role doesn’t seem like one that would lead to an Emmy nomination, but he’s a respected actor who hasn’t really had a role, short of “Deadwood,” to showcase his superb acting talents. His toughest competition is his own costar, Hurt, but that didn’t stop the less famous Zeljko Ivanek from getting nominated alongside, and even beating, Ted Danson last year. Olyphant may get lost in the shuffle, however, given how many contenders there are in this field.

The veterans:
CHRISTIAN CLEMENSON as JERRY ESPENSON, BOSTON LEGAL
Clemenson was nominated twice, and won once, in the guest category for this role. After becoming a regular on the series, he made the top ten runoff but not the final five. The final season of “Boston Legal” makes this his last shot at a nomination, but amidst costar Shatner and a whole sea of contenders from all across the dramatic scope, Clemenson’s wacky character doesn’t quite hold up. He has a chance, but I’d consider it highly unlikely.

JOHN MAHONEY as WALTER, IN TREATMENT
Mahoney starred for years on NBC’s hit sitcom “Frasier,” and managed two nominations during its run. This year, he checked into therapy on HBO’s “In Treatment,” and while I have yet to watch his performance, I’ve heard he’s excellent and should be considered a strong contender. The only thing working against Mahoney was the snub of Blair Underwood last year, as well as the other “In Treatment” patients. Perhaps Emmy voters only like hearing therapists and patients’ fathers? Mahoney should be fine.

The wild card:
NELSAN ELLIS as LAFAYETTE, TRUE BLOOD
Ellis was the comic relief for HBO’s vampire drama’s first season, but his role turned serious midway through the season when his friends and family started getting mixed up with the wrong people (or rather, vampires). Ellis picked up a Satellite award for his performance, beating out the likes of last year’s Emmy winner Zeljko Ivanek, Jimmy Smits, and Harvey Keitel. It isn’t a terribly relevant accomplishment, but others have praised Ellis’ performance and this could be a great way for voters to acknowledge their support for the series without lauding the genre show too overtly in the major categories.

The heavyweights’ supporters:
WALTON GOGGINS as SHANE VENDRELL, THE SHIELD
Vic Mackey’s former right-hand man spent the season outrunning the law and trying desperately to stay one step ahead of Vic while taking care of his family. “The Shield” returned to critics’ radar last season (two Emmy eligibility periods ago), but Goggins and past winner Chiklis failed to make the nominees list. The fact that “The Shield” signed off the air this year, and the incredible way in which the series, and particularly Shane’s storyline, was wrapped up should help Goggins towards a nomination, but I fear he’ll be left out, just missing the mark.

AARON PAUL as JESSE PINKMAM, BREAKING BAD
The high school dropout half of Walter White’s meth-cooking enterprise has been earning stellar raves for his performance on this season of AMC’s breakout drama. He wasn’t discussed much as a contender last year, but with increased screen time devoted to his life and relationships, he has a number of terrific episodes to submit and prove that great supporting actors don’t always come in the same shape and size. Cranston made it all the way to a win last year; Paul has a good chance at a nomination.

The roundup:
With two nominees from last year ineligible (Zeljko Ivanek and Ted Danson from “Damages”), and a past winner not submitted (Terry O’Quinn from “Lost”), the field is wide open. This is an incredibly crowded category, and the above possibilities include many others with half a shot, including any number of “Lost” supporting actors like Jeremy Davies or Henry Ian Cusick, as well as any “Heroes” or “House” cast member voters want to recognize. Additionally, Patrick Dempsey (“Grey’s Anatomy”) is categorized here instead of the lead race for the first time, and while Emmy voters seem to be over the show, this could be his first real shot. Veteran actor Max Von Sydow, rumored to be placed in the guest category, is instead here for “The Tudors” and could get nominated, though the snub of Peter O’Toole for his role on the same show last year doesn’t bode well. Therefore, the nominees will likely include last year’s eligible crop plus any combination of the previously mentioned 2,342 guys. I’m very torn between Holloway or Paul for the last slot, and a tie isn’t out of the question. If I had to pick one…

Current predictions:
MICHAEL EMERSON, LOST
WILLIAM HURT, DAMAGES
JOHN MAHONEY, IN TREATMENT
AARON PAUL, BREAKING BAD
WILLIAM SHATNER, BOSTON LEGAL
JOHN SLATTERY, MAD MEN


Who could win? Michael Emerson

Next up: Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Friday, June 19, 2009

What I’m Watching: Royal Pains

Royal Pains: Season 1, Episode 3 “Strategic Planning” (B+)

This show seems to have found its tone well at this point, and I’m quite comfortable with it. The scene where Hank jogs around Evan is a perfectly defining moment which sums up the shows in a minute. Just like he knows that exercising is healthy and worthwhile, Hank knows that people are sick and he’s ready to get out there and help them. Evan, who’s not in peak physical shape, is less eager, and wants to spend more time planning out their business model. Their bantering is highly amusing, especially when you throw the two women in the mix. Divya’s hatred for Evan is hilarious, and watching Evan interact with Jill is highly entertaining. The cases of the week – which is rather impressive, that there are always multiple – are cool, because Hank’s getting to be useful in a way he never could have before, by providing discreet, confidential care to the rich and famous. Evan’s side plotlines provide him plenty of opportunity to get into trouble, and the fact that the ailment that befalls him and his ladies is diagnosed instantly and laughed at by both Divya and Hank makes it all the more entertaining. The guest appearance by the great Campbell Scott just seals the deal and makes this the first really good episode of USA’s new show.

What I’m Watching: Burn Notice

Burn Notice: Season 3, Episode 3 “End Run” (B+)

It’s always great to have a familiar guest star come back, especially when he’s a terrific actor. Jay Karnes, who for seven seasons grilled perps on “The Shield,” returns as arms dealer Brennen, who Michael conned last season and then let loose. Reviewers like Alan Sepinwall have noted that Michael, time and time again, sets up the “bad guy” to be killed after he’s helped his clients, but this is one case where he didn’t do it, and it came back to haunt him. And the craziest thing is that he let him go a second time. Luckily, Karnes is a fantastic actor and Brennen is a fun character, who’s smart and professional, but quickly sensible in unexpected situations. What was most exciting about this episode was the smoothness and ease of Michael’s plan to get Brennen to back down – with a little research and a little phone re-routing, he had him convinced that his bank accounts had been completely drained and that his daughter was in danger. That’s really the power of Michael Westen. I also thoroughly enjoyed his interaction with the low-level employee whose car he smashed, and who he forced to say all the numbers. Michael's brother is decently cool also, and it’s great to have so many recurring players back in one episode, including Paul Tei as Barry, who quite surprisingly bonds with Madeline over hair product. Fi and Sam are great supporting characters, but it’s always nice to have a few extra recurring players in the mix. The ending scene is a great tease for what’s to come. Detective Paxson seems quite infuriated, and it will be interesting to see how Michael’s stoic calm deals with her cold-blooded revenge.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pilot Review: Hawthorne

Hawthorne (TNT)
Premiered June 16 at 9pm

TNT’s newest drama is just the latest in a series of strong female-led shows on the network. “The Closer” features Kyra Sedgwick as a stubborn police captain leading an all-male team and “Saving Grace” stars Holly Hunter as a hardened Oklahoma cop who speaks to an angel on a regular basis. “Hawthorne” follows the same essential format. Jada Pinkett Smith takes the lead as a head nurse at a hospital. Similar to both Sedgwick and Hunter’s characters, Smith’s Christina Hawthorne won’t put up with anyone’s crap, and is more than willing to dish out enough of her own to bother other people in order to get what she wants done. Endless comparisons have been made to “Nurse Jackie,” and in terms of the leads, Christina is hardly as edgy as Edie Falco’s Jackie, and all of her problems and interactions with people are infinitely less interesting. Christina’s personal tragedy is the death of her husband one year before the show takes place, blamed on her by many a member of her family. She breaks rules, but only if it’s for the greater goal of helping people. She doesn’t do much for herself other than trying to help out her friends. The show is very typical hospital fare, and nothing really sets it apart from a generic medical drama. Smith gives her performance as much as she can, but she’s sort of a loose cannon character who isn’t quite as much of a loose cannon as she thinks she is. She tries to push her opinions onto the rest of the people who work with her, and they’re a fairly lame bunch. The hospital’s director of medicine is portrayed by Michael Vartan, who is just as big a waste of space as he was on “Alias,” and while he’s entirely sympathetic to Christina’s desires, he doesn’t seem like he’ll actually get much done. Anne Ramsay, who has popped up in impressive guest spots on “The L Word” and “Dexter,” is a rival doctor who detests Christina, but her character’s cockiness and lofty absence is starkly imbalanced by her lack of actual expertise, which becomes clear in the first episode. The staff of nurses is not terrific, including a nervous but entertaining male nurse played by David Julian Hirsh and a completely out-of-place Christina Moore (slutty, flirtatious mother of Naomi on “90210). Aisha Hinds (True Blood, Invasion) is the character that’s supposed to be fresh, the homeless woman who lives outside the hospital, but the actress just isn’t that dynamic. The weak link of “24,” D.B. Woodside (who played Wayne Palmer), is onboard as a suicidal friend of Christina and her husband’s. Even the fantastic Joanne Cassidy (Brenda’s mother on “Six Feet Under”) isn’t terribly fantastic as Christina’s bullying mother-in-law. None of the cast makes the show, and the show itself relies on this main character that just isn’t entirely compelling. A working title for the show was “Time Heals,” and perhaps that would have been a better moniker; the problem is it’s generally unexciting and doesn’t contain any elements that set it apart from your run-of-the-mill medical drama.

How will it work as a series? Eventually the mystery of what happened to Christina’s deceased husband will have to be solved, and that would be the only real thing keeping the show going besides those immature, uninteresting nurse-to-nurse relationships. That said, hospital shows can go on forever (“ER” just wrapped after fourteen seasons), and so this one just needs a new case every episode and it should be set for a while, though that doesn’t mean it will be interesting.
How long will it last? TNT’s ratings for all of its shows recently have been very strong, and this show should be no exception. This also happens to be one of the best cases of series pairings I’ve ever seen, doing one better than the former couple of “The Closer” and “Saving Grace.” Putting “Hawthorne” with “Saving Grace” is almost as stunningly smart as placing “Burn Notice” and “Royal Pains” together, and I think that should save the show enough to get it to a second season.

Pilot grade: C

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What I’m Watching: Weeds

Weeds: Season 5, Episode 2 “Machetes Up Top” (B-)

Nothing much happened in this episode. Andy bonds with Nancy’s sister over frustration with Nancy, Silas and Doug can’t grow weed in the forest, Celia becomes an unwanted revolutionary, and Nancy sneaks away from Cesar. The plot description pretty much sums it up. Jennifer Jason Leigh seems like she will make an interesting character, but Andy sleeping with someone (under false pretenses) is hardly earth-shattering territory. Silas and Doug are literally wandering through the woods. Both of them have outgrown their purpose, and it’s especially interesting that Doug is still around since there’s no real reason for him to be, though he does provide some excellent comic relief. Silas has matured too much, and the show would be fine to send him off backpacking somewhere far away from the rest of the series. Shane, on the other hand, is growing up fast, taking videos of Andy and Jill having sex. Celia doesn't really have a purpose either. Everyone is too separate, and nothing ever seems to come together. I just have no idea what the show has planned for all of its characters except one: Nancy. And in her case, her fate is a mystery. Clearly she can’t die, but she does have to figure out a way to get herself out of her current mess. Esteban has grown angry and unkind, and Cesar, while funny, is going to get too pissed off by Nancy some day and just shoot her. It was fun to see Guillermo again, but this show has got to get a handle on when it’s headed or it’s going to slip and fall headfirst from the fresh opportunity its new start last season provided.

What I’m Watching: The Closer

The Closer: Season 5, Episode 2 “Blood Money” (B)

This second episode of TNT’s cop drama’s fifth season is very much like the first – full of interesting, promising stuff, but ultimately a bit puzzling when taken all together. Most of all, I’m not sure I’m going to continue reviewing this show since it doesn’t really lend itself to weekly recaps. I’ll have to wait to make that decision until after next week’s episode, since I’m certainly not giving up on at least watching the show. As I’ve mentioned dozens of times in the past, I love seeing characters spotlighted. This week, Sergeant Gabriel and Lieutenant Provenza each got a few scenes to showcase their varied troubled stages. I would have liked to have seen more of them in their states, and additionally, the absence of Lieutenant Daniels is really taking a toll. I presumed that this week’s newest female addition would take on the role of the new woman cop on the show, but she hardly interacted with them, with the exception of breaking doors down too early and crashing a car into a barely-fleeing suspect. What I did like, from the end of the episode, is its finish which seems to imply that there’s more going on and that, were the hour not up, more would occur. Instead, it’s a simple fade-out, as it’s revealed that the suspect lied to them and isn’t in fact the innocent person they presumed he was. It’s a decent case, I just wish the show was more together. This is why I don’t watch procedurals – I want dependable week-to-week characters who have tangible relationships, and I’d really like to see a lot more of that soon on what used to (in its first three or four seasons) be a terrific, above-the-bar series.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What I'm Watching: True Blood (Season Premiere)

True Blood: Season 2, Episode 1 “Nothing But The Blood” (B+)

Last season’s finale of “True Blood” was truly terrific, and set the bar high for its second season. In its first installment, things are still being worked out, but not in the blatantly leg-dragging way some shows start their second seasons. Jason’s headed for more radical religion, and hatred of vampires may be an unfortunate side effect of his transformation. Tara’s getting feisty with her newfound male friend, and is no longer standing by her mother after Maryann tells her off. Bill’s trying to train his new vampire, who seems like she won’t be quite as much of a pill as initially expected, and she may actually prove a fun addition to the cast, especially if her relationship with Sookie becomes interesting. Sookie finds out that Bill killed her uncle, and while that could cause trouble for their relationship, it looks like they’re pretty quick to reconcile and the episode ends with a very literal bite.

What this season premiere provides is three distinctly intriguing and positive plot directions for the show to take from here on, following up directly on last year’s events. The first is the body in the car, which is not Lafayette but instead the fake exorcist, which does well to shake everyone up since there’s a new non-Renee murder, but doesn’t have any major implications like, say, the death of a main character. The second involves Lafayette himself, who isn’t dead, which is good considering how much people seem to love him. I worried that the underground dungeon he found himself trapped in served a very peculiar new brand of perverted character, but luckily it’s just Eric the vampire sheriff interrogating those who may have been involved in the murders of vampires, and likely Lafayette will be implicated for Eddie’s death (though the murderess is already dead herself). It’s always interesting to see the villainous sides of those who aren’t quite villains, and though Eric hasn’t had a huge role on the show thus far, this may be his chance. Lastly, I’m amazed by the intense flashbacks that Sam is having to when he met Maryann, and I think she has to be the most intriguing character on this show since Amy, and this show only has intriguing characters. I’m so ready for more.

The End of: Pushing Daisies

ABC’s dazzlingly colorful and original series got axed last fall along with “Eli Stone” and “Dirty Sexy Money.” All three shows will spool out their final three filmed episodes Saturday nights at 10pm this summer, hardly a fitting tribute to their sharp premises and devoted fan followings. “Pushing Daisies” is probably the most interesting for me since I don’t watch “Eli Stone” and “Dirty Sexy Money,” despite some very strong episodes, was always a touch ridiculous. “Pushing Daisies,” on the other hand, put its fantasy disclaimer right out there from the start, and its characters and trademarks became reliable and fun. These last three episodes don’t represent any of the truly fantastic episodes of “Pushing Daisies” like “The Fun in Funeral,” “Pigeon,” and “Dim Sum Lose Some,” but they’re still pretty good.

“Window Dressed to Kill” was slightly confusing because of the number of possible villains and weak because the case itself wasn’t terribly engaging. It did, however, contain two elements that speak to the show as a greater entity, an all the more tragic discovery since the show has no more room or possibility to develop or grow. The first involves the camera, and it’s yet one more instance of the stunning cinematography this show uses. The camera zooms in to show the culprit the narrator has just described, but then flies behind him to another, and then to another, and another. It’s wonderfully goofy but doesn’t feel too childish, and it’s always been fun to piece together all the little mysteries of this show and see who’s loyal to whom. The second aspect of the episode that was intriguing and ideally could have been used is Ned’s comparison of himself to Superman, who he realizes he does in fact have the potential to be towards the end of the episode. It’s a fun parallel, and emphasizes the fact that Ned really is an unusual type of hero. Ned’s romance with Olive, on the other hand, is old news, and the revelation of his twinge of jealousy at the end of the episode didn’t seem to lead anywhere, for good reason. Olive’s singing, however, is something that this show could never have used enough of, since it’s a wonderfully tangential distraction from the (occasional) serious of the cases.

“Water and Power” was one of those episodes where wordplay was crucial to the show’s humor, and every single character downplayed it, which I think made it work without being annoying. Investigations at the damn Papen County Dam were particularly interesting because Emerson was so closely and personally involved with the case, and his history with ex-wife Lila is revealed along the way. I enjoyed Emerson’s rivalry with the dead owner, and just hearing every talk so stoically about their positions at the dam. Lila as a not-quite-villain was terrific, played by the fairly underused Gina Torres, and I also liked the inclusion of Simone (Christine Adams), whose affection for Emerson had her tailing along and making sure everything went according to plan. I like the team of Olive and Randy, Emerson and Simone, Ned and Chuck which has just been formed and which Ned tried to unite again in the last episode. Lila’s ultimate departure and trickery of Emerson is unfortunate, since it really would have been nice to see the two of them meet. Also lamentable: the momentary introduction of the fantastic Robert Picardo as a rival investigator whose recurring presence of the show would have been simply stellar.

The final episode, “Kerplunk,” was a fine episode, and served as a decent closing finale. It got the Darling Mermaid Darlings back in the water, and in a clever way, having them attend a show in honor of Chuck and then killing off one of the swimmers by means of shark food. The episode used its guest cast tremendously, including master of ceremonies Joey Slotnick (Nip/Tuck, Alias), selfish swimmer Wendie Malick (Just Shoot Me), and foolish husband Josh Hopkins (Swingtown). The team going undercover, including Olive and Emerson in matching neon track suits and Ned as a suit-wearing manager, was the best part and will forever serve as an example of the fun this show could have had over and over in the future. Chuck’s excited yammering and bright lipstick could have been a preview of a new Chuck with a new take on how she was going to face the world. Chuck’s reunion with her aunts wasn’t quite seen by the audience, but it did lead to a proper 2-minute summation of where the show might have gone after its cancellation. Emerson’s reunion with his daughter is fitting, as is Olive’s opening of a cow-shaped restaurant. The most fitting part, however, is the closing note that, as everyone knows, ends are just the beginning. I can’t think of another way that this show could have ended, especially in such a short time frame. It’s too bad we’ll never see any more of these characters, since this really was the most delightfully inventive and unique show I’ve ever seen. It didn’t always work marvelously, but when it did, it was indeed marvelous.

Season grade: B+
Window Dressed to Kill: B
Water and Power: B
Kerplunk: B+
Series grade: B+
Season MVP: Chi McBride
Series MVP: Kristin Chenoweth

For those interested, “Dirty Sexy Money” returns on Saturday, July 18th at 10pm with the clip-show-style episode “The Facts” that never aired, followed by the unaired final three episodes. “Eli Stone” starts this coming Saturday night, but I won’t be watching or covering it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Round Two: Royal Pains

Royal Pains: Season 1, Episode 2 “There Will Be Food” (B)

The start of this episode provides a homey feel for the show and its characters. Brothers Hank and Evan wake up in the morning in their enormous, fantastic Hamptons residence. Hank doesn’t quite have time for breakfast because he has a client, but no worries, since he’s an on-call doctor, and he always gets breaks in the middle of the day. There’s no real stress to this show, which is nice, with the possible exception of those panic-inducing moments where the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy suddenly topple over or go into cardiac arrest. It’s the perfect kind of feel for this show, though, since it’s a stress-free summer show that isn’t looking to go too far. Hank’s not in a rush to work out his life, because he’s in the Hamptons, and the gig he’s got going at the moment is working out pretty well. What seems a bit peculiar to me, then, is the fast-paced nature of the relationships in the lives of both the brothers. Hank’s doctor friend Jill should probably have waited until the fifth or sixth episode (or even the season finale) to get drunk and confess her (slight) attraction to him, if only to keep the flirtation as just that. Instead, the writers opted to make their chemistry more recognized, and their near-kiss and open flirtation do work well. Evan, by contrast, gets to be with the girl of his dreams without hardly lifting a finger (well, maybe a few pots and pans), and then she’s gone, off to retire from dancing and probably never to see Evan again. Evan’s a remarkably dorky character who likely doesn’t get the girl that much, and therefore the choice to have him score so early on seems a bit bizarre. In keeping with the show’s tone, at least the girl doesn’t die, she’s just a flitting fantasy that Evan will have to continually convince himself is real. I like the recurring characters, like the kid and his neurotic girlfriend, and I imagine we haven’t sent the last of absent dad Andrew McCarthy. Hank’s side project of helping the not-so-wealthy out is a great subplot for this series, and it frames Hank in a very good light. I’ll certainly be back for more of this show.

What I'm Watching: Burn Notice

Burn Notice: Season 3, Episode 2 “Question and Answer” (B+)

After seeing the preview for this week’s episode, I began to worry for two reasons. The first is that the introduction of a new femme fatale boss in Michael’s life, played by Moon Bloodgood, seemed just a bit reminiscent of his dearly departed puppeteer Carla. The second is that I’ve seen Bloodgood’s acting on “Daybreak,” and it was about as good as the show itself (not at all). Luckily, both panic attacks seem to have been for naught. Bloodgood’s character is a cop who is playing generally by the book to get on top of Michael’s criminal activities, and her acting isn’t bad either. I look forward to seeing more of her and wondering whether Michael actually outsmarts her or if she switches sides (sort of) and ends up helping him along in his quest to regain his old job. This week’s case wasn’t terribly complicated, but I did enjoy the “reverse interrogation” since Bruce Campbell is a whole lot of fun and Jeffrey Donovan’s always funniest when he’s trying to act scared and sarcastic at the same time. This is only the second installment of the season, and already the show is primed and ready for a new direction (operate while the law is watching closely) with the same great stars as always ready to contribute their respective strengths.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Emmy Race: Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

The Emmy Award nominations are still a few weeks away, but this year looks to be quite competitive in all the major categories, even with the notable addition of an extra nominee in each category. This year, there will be six, rather than five, nominees in the regular acting categories and series categories. At this point, I’d like to offer a rundown of the potential nominees, revisiting my predictions in early July once episode submissions become clear. I’ve placed contenders in specific groupings that speak to their history and chances.


Last year’s nominees:
CHRISTINA APPLEGATE as SAMANTHA NEWLY, SAMANTHA WHO (1 nomination)
The star of last year’s breakout ABC comedy, and a past Emmy winner for her guest spot on “Friends,” lost out in this race to the extremely “in” Tina Fey. She was probably second in line for the award, but in the past year, things have changed. Since then, the show’s ratings declined, and it has now been axed by ABC. This is suddenly Applegate’s last shot at claiming recognition for the character of Samantha Newly, who was far less likeable this season. She’s incredibly vulnerable, and may not be able to hold on to her slot.

AMERICA FERRERA as BETTY SUAREZ, UGLY BETTY (2 nominations/1 win)
Critics and fans alike have decried the decline in quality of “Ugly Betty,” and while I’m at a loss to comprehend it, it’s certainly not a good thing for Ferrera. She was huge two years ago when she eclipsed the now-meteoric Tina Fey for the Best Actress trophy, but now she’s in danger of being left off the list on nominees. I still have faith in her, and I think the performance speaks for itself, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see her name omitted.

TINA FEY as LIZ LEMON, 30 ROCK (2 nominations/1 win)
The days of questioning whether Fey was actually an actress as opposed to a Larry David-type who doesn’t really “act” are long gone. Fey won this award last year in a likely landslide, in addition to producing and writing trophies. She’s a lock to repeat as a nominee as long as her show stays popular, the question now, as it is for costar Baldwin, is whether she has the episode to win, but that’s a question for a later date.

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS as CHRISTINE CAMPBELL, THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE (3 nominations/1 win)
Louis-Dreyfus broke the Seinfeld curse with her Emmy win for the debut season of this hit CBS comedy. She’s continued to return since then, despite dropping off Golden Globe and SAG lists after a year. She’s easily the most vulnerable due to the nature of her show, but she has two factors going for her: voters love “Two and a Half Men,” which is a similar show in style, execution, and sense of humor, and there are people who really, really love this show. I’ll never understand why, but they exist. She may miss the mark, but she could just as easily return for a fourth nomination.

MARY-LOUISE PARKER as NANCY BOTWIN, WEEDS (2 nominations)
After being snubbed for the first year of Showtime’s comedy, Parker has been nominated the past two years. The second and third years weren’t so well received critically, but the fourth season has seen a major overhaul of the show and a location and plot transplant. Even if the show isn’t beloved in its new form, there’s no denying the effort Parker has put in to maintain this frazzled character of Nancy, who took the saying “in over my head” to new levels this year. She should be safe.

The newbies:
BILLIE PIPER as HANNAH, SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL
Piper crossed over to American audiences via Showtime, which imported the first two seasons of this British series. Piper is the entire show, and if voters can get past the theme and her accent, she may have a fighting chance. It’s hard to gauge how awards bodies feel about her since both seasons of the show aired during the current eligibility period and the series wasn’t eligible for the Golden Globes. Additionally, Showtime was initially campaigning this as a drama, where Piper would have had no shot. I think she’ll do fine.

AMY POEHLER as LESLIE KNOPE, PARKS & RECREATION
Poehler surprised last year with a Supporting Actress nomination for her newly-recategorized work on “Saturday Night Live.” Now, she’s back with her own show, which NBC saw fit to renew for a second season after a six-episode first round. For each one of her proponents (myself included), there are just as many people who aren’t ready to put their faith in the show yet, and that could keep Poehler from making the final cut.

The housewives:
MARCIA CROSS as BREE HODGE, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (1 nomination)
There wasn’t much to laugh about when it came to Bree on this flash-forwarded season of “Desperate Housewives,” especially towards the end when she contended with a down-spiraling, thieving husband. Bree wasn’t featured prominently this year, with no real ties to the rest of the housewives. Nonetheless, her ejection from the list of nominees is unlike the other housewives. The show suffered an enormous backlash from Emmy voters in its second season, and Cross sat most of the third season out due to her real-life pregnancy. She’s only had one shot to get back on the list, and didn’t manage it last year, but with an extra slot in this category, she could do better than most expect.

FELICITY HUFFMAN as LYNETTE SCAVO, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES (2 nominations/1 win)
After Huffman pulled off a surprising victory over costars Cross and Teri Hatcher for the first season, she sat out the second year and returned alone for the third. This year, she’s had a lot to do, and would probably be the most likely of all the housewives to return to the lineup. It is a crowded category full of far more comedic performances, and I think Emmy voters are over “Desperate Housewives.” The show didn’t even crack the top ten list for Best Comedy Series last year, and even with Huffman as its best shot, the odds don’t look good.

EVA LONGORIA PARKER as GABRIELLE SOLIS, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES
The only lead housewife never to be nominated has been the one earning the most praise in recent years, especially this year as the actress transformed her character into a (slightly) more mature mother of two. The transformation was short-lived, and the quality of the show wasn’t high enough to really elevate Parker’s character at all. There’s often some actress who gets left out of Emmy lineups, and sometimes they manage a nomination for a show’s final season (Kristin Davis for “Sex and the City”) and sometimes they don’t (Courtney Cox for “Friends”). It’s too early to tell at this point, but Parker should at least garner some support.

The wildcards:
ANNA FRIEL as CHUCK, PUSHING DAISIES
The quirky dead girl from the now-dead show earned a spot in the top ten list for this category last year, but didn’t manage a nomination. This year, the competition is stiffer with two new actresses in the running and everyone from last year still around. I think the ship has sailed for Friel and the Emmys, and she’ll have to settle for the big new roles she’s getting, like the one opposite Will Ferrell in the film “The Land of the Lost.”

SARAH SILVERMAN as HERSELF, THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM
Silverman is offensive, to be sure; it’s just a question of how funny Emmy voters find it. Last year, she made the top 10 runoff, but didn’t get any further. I’m not sure much has changed between now and then, and I imagine Silverman will continue to almost make it for a while. Consider her a longshot who may someday surprise.

The roundup:
It’s a semi-crowded field where the only truly safe bet is Tina Fey, but it’s unlikely that all four of the other nominees from last year will be summarily dumped. The housewives shouldn’t have too much influence, and there aren’t really many other contenders (the category-misplaced Judy Reyes would be a huge shock if she made it in for “Scrubs”). I’m putting my money, somewhat unwisely, on both of the new girls to make it in.

Current predictions:
CHRISTINA APPLEGATE, SAMANTHA WHO?
AMERICA FERRERA, UGLY BETTY
TINA FEY, 30 ROCK
MARY-LOUISE PARKER, WEEDS
BILLIE PIPER, SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL
AMY POEHLER, PARKS & RECREATION


Who could win? Amy Poehler

Next up: Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series