Monday, August 31, 2009

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Submitted episode titles are in parentheses.

Glenn Close as Patty Hewes, Damages (Trust Me)
Last year’s winner submitted wisely this year, picking an episode that shows the full scenes heavily teased at throughout the entire season. Rather than risk frustrating some viewers with too much mystery, she is instead able to showcase two powerhouse confrontation scenes, one with costar Rose Byrne and the other with a random attacker in an elevator. It’s Close at her best, owning up to Patty’s wrongdoings while manipulating events in her favor. I think it’s too early for Close to repeat this year, and despite nominations for costars William Hurt and Byrne, “Damages” doesn’t seem to be as popular as it was in its first season.

Sally Field as Nora Walker, Brothers & Sisters (A Father Dreams)
If there’s anyone guaranteed not to win this year, it’s Field. She won for the show’s first season two years ago, and returned as a nominee last year. This time, her costar Rachel Griffiths got dropped from the supporting category, and the always-sparse Emmy support for the show seems to be waning. On top of that, Field’s submitted episode is nothing memorable, and there are presumably those (like me) who think she’s tremendously annoying. Even if she had a good episode, she’s already won and she has no buzz factor going for her to earn her another win.

Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, Law & Order: SVU (PTSD)
This is Hargitay’s sixth straight nomination, and she’s managed to stay in this field and edge out some heavy cable competition like January Jones, Anna Paquin, and Mary McDonnell. She won back in 2006 for the episode “911,” and her latest episode submission follows last year’s installment and her dealing with her near-rape. It’s a strong episode for Hargitay but not nearly as effective as the one that won her the award three years ago. The actresses who did make it into the lineup with her all have impressive episodes, so I don’t think Hargitay’s really a threat to win this year.

Holly Hunter as Grace Hanadarko, Saving Grace (Have A Seat, Earl)
Oscar-winning movie star Hunter was nominated last year for her basic cable series’ freshman season but lost out to another Oscar-winning film actress with a new TV show. Hunter’s submission of the season premiere is a stunning showcase of her portrayal of an over-the-edge cop dealing with the man who molested her as a child. Hunter’s performance is terrific, but her submission of the season one finale, where she discovers that he’s still alive and goes to confront him, didn’t win voters over last year. I’d say that Hunter may win, but she’s not the frontrunner.

Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson, Mad Men (Meditations in an Emergency)
This is Moss’ first nomination after a top ten placement in this category last year. She edged out the other lead “Mad Men” female, January Jones, for this slot, and her episode submission could make lead her to a slam-dunk victory. Her scene with Vincent Kartheiser’s Pete where she tells him about their baby by itself is enough to secure her a win. Her show’s certainly on fire, but what might hurt her is that she’s not as clearly a lead and she doesn’t have an excessive amount of screen time, unlike the other five women in this category. Still, watch out for her as a big possibility.

Kyra Sedgwick as Detective Brenda Leigh Johnson (Cherry Bomb)
Despite four nominations in a row, Sedgwick has never won this award. Nothing else about her show has ever been recognized by the Emmy Awards, and it’s still a ratings kingpin, and therefore her chances are just as good as they were when the show first started. Her selected episode is great, featuring her boldly taking on a cop who’s trying to protect his rapist son under the cover of his authority. No other contender (besides maybe Moss) has buzz currently going for them, and therefore this may finally be Sedgwick’s year.

Who should win (based on entire season): Kyra Sedgwick
Who will win (based on individual episodes): Kyra Sedgwick or Elisabeth Moss
Who will win: I’ll go with Kyra Sedgwick to clinch it, barely edging out Moss, with Hunter nipping at her heels.

Next up: Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

What I’m Watching: Monk

Monk: Season 8, Episode 4 “Mr. Monk is Someone Else” (B+)

I’ll admit that the setup for this episode is rather flimsy and silly, but it makes for a very amusing premise. Monk’s tried to act cool in the past, but never quite like this. It’s another instance of expert guest casting, utilizing Vincent Curatola, also known as Johnny Sack from “The Sopranos,” as the head mafioso. Monk’s traditional tics are hilariously used here as the very unorthodox methods of the hitman going about things the way he does them. Even more fun than Monk’s attempts to pose as a mafia honcho are the reactions by Natalie and Leland. Natalie seems to be enjoying herself very much as she gets the chance to play along too, and Leland’s efforts to protect Monk by trying to take care of him and keep him safe are both funny and moving. I’m a bit worried that Monk revealing himself to the mob so overtly will put him in danger in the future (or at least it might in real life), but fortunately Monk has a limited number of cases left, and I sincerely doubt that the writers would waste much time returning to an outlet they covered pretty well and fully in this installment.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Submitted episode titles are in parentheses.

Simon Baker as Patrick Jane, The Mentalist (Pilot)
Baker’s inclusion here is an absolute shocker. He stars on a freshman network show, and, in my opinion, his performance doesn’t exactly demand much. Nonetheless, the fact that he got nominated is extremely significant, and he’s a legitimate threat to win. Back in 2005, Patricia Arquette picked up a nomination – and a win – for her performance in NBC’s supernatural procedural “Medium.” Baker’s situation is very similar, and he also wisely submitted the pilot. Any viewer has the same opportunity to get to know the brand-new character, and Baker’s charisma may outshine all the heavy cable performances he’s facing off against.

Gabriel Byrne as Paul Weston, In Treatment (Gina: Week 4)
Byrne returns for his second year as an overworked therapist with a slew of troublesome patients with deep issues and plenty of dramatic material for him to select for voters to see. He submitted very wisely, choosing probably his most well-rounded episode, where his anger finally gets the best of him and he lashes out at his girlfriend and his therapist, while testifying in court on behalf of his skill as a therapist and watching his father die in the hospital. One particularly powerful scene in his tape shows him complaining about his therapist not having water and Gina explaining to him that the water’s right on the table, stressing his determination to be mad at her as the reason he’s blinded. It’s a knockout performance, but Byrne doesn’t have the buzz to compete against the likes of Hamm and Cranston, both on more popular, Emmy-welcomed shows.

Bryan Cranston as Walter White, Breaking Bad (Phoenix)
Last year, Cranston pulled off a surprise victory for the pilot episode of AMC’s drama. This year, the show managed to break into the Best Drama Series category, signaling great support for the show. Cranston’s character has become increasingly less relatable, and in his chosen episode, he misses the birth of his child to deliver drug money and allows a young woman to die in order to get his partner back on track. It’s a deeply disturbing performance, but also a shocking and impressive one. He could very easily repeat – he’s got tough competition, but he’s the only winner among the crew.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper, Mad Men (The Mountain King)
Hamm’s back for the second time as the man leading AMC’s wildly-embraced drama series. This year, he submitted terrifically, choosing an episode which humanizes the usually stoic adulterer as he shares his secrets and uncertainties with the one person who knows his true identity. Hamm will likely return in this category for years to come, so there’s no reason he needs to win now, but I think that if he can overcome last year’s champ Cranston, the popularity of “Mad Men” will prevail.

Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan, Dexter (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)
This is Hall’s second consecutive nomination as nice-guy serial killer Dexter. His show is up again for Best Drama Series, and season-long guest star Jimmy Smits is also nominated. Hall’s episode is pretty great, and it allows him to display his softer side as he thinks about the possibility of being a father and ensures that his girlfriend’s kids are safe from a preying pedophile. It’s an impressive performance, but I don’t think that he’ll be able to beat Hamm or Cranston. “Dexter” just isn’t quite as well-regarded, in my mind, and therefore Hall probably won’t take home the gold.

Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House, House (Under My Skin)
This is Laurie’s fourth trip down the aisle, making him the most senior nominee in this category. He’s still never won, which is somewhat hard to believe given how much people seem to love him (and wins for writing and directing over the past few years for the show). His submission, in which he hallucinates Amber and isn’t able to sleep, doesn’t hold a candle to last year’s tape where he pieced together his memories to solve a case. If he couldn’t win last year, I don’t think there’s any way he could take home the trophy this time around, especially given all his competition.

Who should win (based on entire season): Jon Hamm
Who should win (based on individual episodes): Jon Hamm or Bryan Cranston
Who will win: It’s just a fierce a competition as last year, and while Cranston could repeat, I think that Jon Hamm will take home the gold. If it’s not those two, watch our for Baker, Hall, or Laurie.

Next up: Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series

What I’m Watching: Royal Pains (Season Finale)

Royal Pains: Season 1, Episode 12 “Wonderland” (B+)

This episode is a fitting finish to the first season of the surprisingly entertaining and fresh would-be “Burn Notice” clone. It’s definitely established itself as a worthwhile series on its own merit, and ended on the perfect semi-cliffhanger to entice viewers for a second season without really leaving things too up in the air and frustrating its audience. The addition of the elder Mr. Lawson as a new (as-yet-unseen) character is quite unexpected but also a nice new direction that can revitalize the show and avoid a sophomore slump. I don’t remember hearing the boys’ father mentioned much if at all prior to this, and therefore I’m intrigued to know what kind of degenerate gambler (maybe?) shaped these two very different sons, only highly motivated and driven to succeed, the other lazy and generally driven to little. What I do know is that they are great characters who are most amusing when they’re bickering with each other, each having different conversations about the same thing. Jill’s decision-making is also worthy of applause, and while Charlie sticking around might have been intriguing for a bit, it’s probably for the best that he got the boot. Now hopefully Jill and Hank can begin their romance, though a certain hallucinating blonde seems to have gotten in the way this episode. While it’s been almost ten years since her arc on “Friends,” I still think of Elizabeth as a little kid, and therefore Alexandra Holden should be dating Evan, if anyone, rather than Hank. Divya should also reevaluate her relationship choices, and seeing her imagined display of courage was nice for a second, even if it was a fleeting fantasy. “Royal Pains” should be back next summer, and I can’t wait. This is a great show.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Reshma Shetty

Saturday, August 29, 2009

AFT Awards: Best Comedy Series

This is the twentieth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Californication, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Flight of the Conchords, 30 Rock, Weeds

Emmy nominees: Entourage, Family Guy, Flight of the Conchords, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, 30 Rock, Weeds

Semi-finalists: The second seasons of Californication and Flight of the Conchords had high points, but as a whole weren’t nearly as cohesive as their debuts last year. Pushing Daisies needed more time to find its footing, but it was cancelled prematurely and therefore couldn’t reach its potential. Ugly Betty remained entertaining, and the characters are still fabulously outrageous. Better Off Ted got off to a great start, and the second half of its first season, airing during the summer after the close of the 2008-2009 TV season, was even better.

Finalists: Eastbound and Down managed to be so much smarter than it should have been and actually compelling in only six episodes. Psych was amusing and devilishly clever. The Office featured the strong Michael Scott Paper Company arc, but wasn’t as solid overall as it has been in past years. Monk’s case were for the most part quite fun, and new therapist Hector Elizondo fit in just right. Weeds explored more dramatic territory in its fourth season to great effect.

The nominees:
Chuck was comically brilliant and always action-packed, greatly improved from its still-good first year. Secret Diary of a Call Girl was a fantastic, insightful look at one woman’s very unique life. 30 Rock was witty and irreverent with plenty of laughs to go around. Burn Notice combines action and adventure with a terrific comedic cast. Parks and Recreation was so much more than just a rip-off of “The Office,” and its six initial episodes were immensely promising.

That’s a wrap for the 3rd Annual AFT Awards! I don’t actually get to give out any prizes to my winners, but Emmy voters do! Check back starting tomorrow for Emmy Awards winner predictions in each category. And don’t miss the 4th Annual AFT Awards, coming summer 2010!

What I’m Watching: Weeds

Weeds: Season 5, Episode 12 “Glue” (B+)

Looking at an episode as a season finale really changes your perception on it, and I was mistaken in thinking this was the show’s fifth season closer. It really lacked that definitive finale punch, but rightly so since it wasn’t a finale. I am happy to say that one thread in this episode was a nice return to the impressive dramatic form of previous seasons of the show. Andy and Nancy taking the love quiz throughout the entire episode was wonderfully nostalgic, and a great way of really analyzing Nancy’s previous history with the men in her life and her road from Judah to Esteban. Andy’s determination to see through his relationship with this woman is also touching, though I doubt it will last, more so because I think that Alanis Morissette’s arc will continue into next season. Silas and Shane’s defense of their stepsister is fun, and I’m hopeful that she’ll play a bigger part in next week’s episode and in the coming season. Esteban’s episode-long disappearance was very ominous, and seeing him onscreen with his campaign manager at the end of the episode returning to the ticket was a bit of a shock. Celia’s newfound paranoia is quite amusing, and it was all worth it to see Dean pacing around looking like Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder.” It’s funny how the kids are actually the smartest ones on this show, particularly Isabelle and Shane. So, next week is in fact the finale, and hopefully everything will go out with quite a bang.

Friday, August 28, 2009

AFT Awards: Best Drama Series

This is the nineteenth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Brotherhood, Closer, Jericho, Lost, Mad Men

Emmy nominees: Big Love, Breaking Bad, Damages, Dexter, House, Lost, Mad Men

Semi-finalists: The Cleaner had a definitive formula, but it was occasionally very powerful and interesting. Smallville saw a resurgence in quality this year thanks to some fresh faces and new plotlines, and it’s on its way to becoming a great show again. Dexter wasn’t nearly as good as it used to be, but it was still entertaining and gripping. Even though I gave up early on Sons of Anarchy, it got much better and turned out to be a truly terrific show by the end of the season.

Finalists: Brotherhood had its (unexpected?) swan song and delivered a third season just as incredible as the second – and it’s a real pity no one watched this complex drama that’s just as good as “The Sopranos.” Rescue Me was revitalized due to a renewed focus on 9/11 and Tommy’s alcoholism, and the first eight episodes of the show’s fifth season that aired before May 31st were outstanding. Breaking Bad was intensely dramatic and greatly improved from its first year. In Treatment found new patients who were just as interesting, if not more, as the first slate. The Closer transitioned to the Major Crimes Unit and dropped one player, but it was still just as fabulous.

The nominees:

Mad Men was incredibly good, week-to-week, telling more in-depth stories from the 1960s and reaching deep into the backstories of its characters. The final act of The Shield was utterly compelling and completely unmissable, providing a completely unexpected kind of closure for all its characters. Lost sent half its cast time-traveling and handled the reality-juggling extraordinarily, becoming more intriguing and addictive than ever before. Battlestar Galactica brought humans and Cylons together in an incredible hurtle towards the end of the show with a fitting final season. True Blood was ultra-violent and edgy, but completely paid off with fascinating characters and fantastic storylines.

Next up: Best Comedy Series

What I’m Watching: The Closer (Season Finale)

The Closer: Season 5, Episode 12 “Waivers of Extradition” (B+)

Any chance to see Xander Berkeley back on television is well worth an hour by itself. The terrific “24” actor who played George Mason in the first two seasons of the show has been nearly absent from the world of cinema since then with the exception of a small role in “North Country” and what would have become a longer arc on “Jericho” had the show returned for a third season. Seeing him here with a Southern accent and generally laid-back attitude is a lot of fun, and he’s among the best guest cops on the series. As far as the rest of the season finale goes, everything’s in fine form. A vicious serious killer always makes good fodder for a powerful closer (no pun intended), and a high-speed car chase is also a nice treat for this show that’s often more relaxed and not necessarily as action-packed as some other shows. Fortunately, that’s not the case with this hour, and the ultimate resolution of the case and Brenda’s decision to allow him to be extradited is a resounding, hard-hitting realization on Brenda’s part about the inner evil in some people. That acceptance makes for a nice parallel with the Charlie situation, and Brenda’s advice that since she and Fritz gave Charlie a second chance, perhaps her parents deserve one too. Barry Corbin’s guest appearance is always welcome, as a nice bonus. Like many cable finales, this show doesn’t end on a dastardly frustrating cliffhanger but instead on a well-resolved note that can lead into a completely new direction to be begun when the show returns for its winter run.

Season grade: B+
Season MVP: Kyra Sedgwick

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What I'm Watching: Entourage

Entourage: Season 6, Episode 7 “No More Drama” (B)

This is certainly an entertaining episode, but the two major plotlines are more than a little weird. Only minutes into his new job, Eric already has a new rival, Scott, and has been embarrassed by Ari’s delivery of a dozen pizzas because he’s no longer a pizza boy but now a pizza man. Bob Saget’s request is just plain bizarre, and it’s the kind of thing that someone might wonder how anyone even ever came to think of it. It’s all part of the general “Entourage” mantra of trying to make uninteresting stars seem much more inappropriate than they really are (like David Schwimmer). Then again, Saget did include a very tasteless sexual reference to the Olsen twins in his rendition of a famously lewd Hollywood joke in the film “The Aristocrats,” so maybe the depiction of him isn’t that far from the truth. The central storyline that occupies most of Vince and Turtle’s time is pretty dumb, and them actually arming themselves with real weapons is pretty laughable and also uninteresting. I’m much more fascinated by how Johnny continues to get himself into more and more drama by insulting his boss, and even wearing a wire to try to get him on tape. I wonder if Jamie will step in and help to defend Johnny’s ailing career, but I think that her inspired suggestion of wearing a wire was the best way she could contribute.

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

This is the eighteenth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Californication, Entourage, The Office, Pushing Daisies, 30 Rock

Emmy nominees: This isn’t an Emmy category. SAG nominees for the 2008 calendar year were Desperate Housewives, Entourage , The Office, 30 Rock, and Weeds.

Semi-finalists: Everyone over on Showtime’s Californication and Weeds is doing a great job, but they just don’t make my top ten list this year. And judging from this summer’s additional episodes, Better Off Ted will very likely be here next year – the cast was already impressive in the show’s first seven episodes, and they show a lot of promise.

Finalists: The zaniness of 30 Rock wouldn’t be possible without the completely outlandish and hilarious cast. The supporting detectives and family members are just as good as the leads on USA’s Psych and Monk, and they’re just as fresh a number of years in as they were at the start of both shows. The dedicated ensemble of fashionistas and families on Ugly Betty is easily the best asset of the show. And like star Danny McBride, somehow the cast of Eastbound and Down makes stupid look good.

The nominees:

Government agents and minimum-wage earners have never been more charming and cohesive as a cast than on Chuck this year. Cube dwellers are still humorous, especially when they’re at war with each other, like this season on The Office. The same goes for a smaller unit of office workers, like the one on Parks and Recreation. And solving cases on dramedies still demands impressive teams, and Pushing Daisies and Burn Notice both provide their share of appropriate actors and devilishly-prepared group scenes.

Next up: Best Drama Series

What I’m Watching: Hung

Hung: Season 1, Episode 8 “Thith ith a Prothetic or You Come Just Right” (B+)

Just as Jemma’s arc began, it’s over. As her fantasy became real and the carefully crafted man of her dreams fell for her, she shut down completely. It’s incredibly fascinating to see how Jemma operates when she’s at work and when elements of her personal life show up unexpectedly, first Tanya and now Ray. The happiness consultant still has enough ladies in his life with whom to interact, and his latest client is a lot of fun. Tanya continues to be a terrific character, and her conversations with Lenore are absolutely hilarious. The ending scene in the tent with Tanya taking care of Ray was a perfect example of the best of what this show has to offer, complete with Ray’s attempt to kiss Tanya and her immediate turning away of him. Her line, “Why do men always want me only when they’re drunk,” and his subsequent complimenting of her regarding the first time they slept together, were the highlights of the episode, and a great demonstration of the pure bond between Ray and Tanya, and how their relationship is more than just business but personal on a completely non-sexual level.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

AFT Awards: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

This is the seventeenth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Battlestar Galactica, Brotherhood, The Closer, Dirty Sexy Money, Mad Men

Emmy nominees: This isn’t an Emmy category. SAG nominees for the 2008 calendar year were Boston Legal, The Closer, Dexter, House, and Mad Men.

Semi-finalists: The cops on Dexter didn’t get much closer to catching the real killers, but they still did a fine job of working together as a cast.

Finalists: Everyone buckled down and gave humanity (and the Cylon race) their all in the final season of Battlestar Galactica. The humans and the vampires on True Blood all felt real despite the show’s obvious supernatural twist. The detectives transferred to the Major Crimes Unit on The Closer and were just as entertaining and intelligent as before. The firefighters occasionally traded immaturity for dramatic rethinking of 9/11 on Rescue Me, and the cast plays serious just as smartly as funny. With two series regulars out the door and three terrific new additions, the cast of Smallville came through and really helped a previously struggling show along its return to quality.

The nominees:

Everyone on The Shield seemed to know the end was inevitable, and they truly lit up the screen with their complex, emotional performances this year. Each cast member on Mad Men fits in perfectly in the 1960s and enhances an already tremendous period feel. On and off the island; in the past and in the future, every performance on Lost was incredibly dynamic and intriguing. The line between corrupt and honest became increasingly blurred on Brotherhood, and everyone was at the top of their game. The bikers on Sons of Anarchy were perfectly cast, and they were equally matched by the superb “old ladies” on the show.

Next up: Best Ensemble in a Comedy Series

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 2 “Love Among the Ruins” (B+)

This tremendously multi-layered episode explores so many avenues so extensively, and does a terrific job of giving each of them equal attention. Despite her near-absence last week, Peggy takes the spotlight as she continues to deal with the fact that she’s a woman in a man’s world. Her attempts to live the life that secretaries might enjoy are fascinating, and her ultimate acceptance that she doesn’t really fit that model. The opening clip of “Bye, Bye, Birdie” was fantastic in the way that it set the tone for the episode and, as always, helped to cement the show’s place in history and in the 1960s. Betty contemplating her role in her father’s life was very interesting, but not as much as Don’s determination to have Betty taken care of and encourage her brother to “do the right thing” and suggest what the Drapers wanted to happen. It’s great to see Paul’s personal opinions come front and center again after his party last season, especially because Paul hasn’t really been n the show at all for quite a while. The British takeover of Sterling-Cooper really is doing a number on the firm, and Don’s frustration at all his hard work being tossed aside so callously makes for almost as good a scene as his stellar job of convincing the Madison Square Garden folks to take them back. And Roger Sterling, previously just the comic relief, gets a chance to see his life go down the toilet as his daughter doesn’t want him even to come to the wedding. This show is really good at getting to know its characters, and the show, which is spectacular enough on its own merits, is enhanced greatly by it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

AFT Awards: Best Writing in a Comedy Series

This is the sixteenth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. For the directing and writing categories, I’ve included only honorable mentions rather than semi-finalists and finalists. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order.
Best Writing in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Californication (Pilot), The Office (Dinner Party), The Office (Dunder Mifflin Infinity), Pushing Daisies (The Fun in Funeral), 30 Rock (Seinfeld Vision)

Emmy nominees: Flight of the Conchords (Prime Minister), 30 Rock (Apollo, Apollo), 30 Rock (Mamma Mia), 30 Rock (Kidney Now), 30 Rock (Reunion)

Honorable mentions: Californication (No Way To Treat A Lady), Californication (The Raw and the Cooked), Californication (Slip of the Tongue), Flight of the Conchords (Murray Takes It to the Next Level), Monk (Mr. Monk is Underwater), The Office (Broke), The Office (Business Trip), The Office (Heavy Competition), The Office (Weight Loss), Parks and Recreation (Rock Show), Psych (Disco Didn’t Die, It Was Murdered), Psych (Murder?...Anyone?...Anyone?), Pushing Daisies (Dim Sum Lose Some), Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Season 1, Episode 1), Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Season 2, Episode 6), 30 Rock (The Funcooker), 30 Rock (Mamma Mia), Weeds (Head Cheese), Weeds (I Am the Table), Weeds (Little Boats), Weeds (Till We Meet Again)

The nominees:
Chuck (Chuck Versus the Ring)
Parks and Recreation (Pilot)
30 Rock (The Bubble)
30 Rock (Gavin Volure)

The season finale of “Chuck” was a great bird’s-eye view into what Chuck’s life would be like without the Intersect, and it had one of the coolest, more surprising endings I’ve ever seen to a season (thankfully, it got renewed). The first episode of “Parks and Recreation” was funny and fresh despite the familiar theme of disgruntled office employees giving mockumentary interviews. The two best episodes of “30 Rock” this year were unbelievably clever, featuring a man whose good looks blinded him to anything bad in life and an imprisoned billionaire trying to use Liz to escape tax fraud charges (and a brilliant usage for the Tracy Jordan sex doll).

The winner:
Chuck (Chuck Versus the Colonel)
The penultimate episode of the second season of “Chuck” sent things spiraling as everyone finally seemed to be on Chuck’s side, and he found himself truly in love with Sarah and for once free of the burden that’s plagued him since the first episode of the show. Chuck wasn’t the only great part of the episode – even Casey become marvelously three-dimensional as he let slip his sadness at not being included in the shenanigans.

Next up: Best Ensemble in a Drama Series

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 2, Episode 10 “New World in My View” (B+)

The opening sequence was a powerful coda for the previous episode’s awe-inspiring farewell to Godric. It’s also an impressive way of playing out the not-so-hilarious portion of Eric and Sookie’s new bond. While Godric was a tremendously moving plotline, it’s clear that Sookie and company have far more pressing matters to address. I’m very happy that all of the threads have finally come together, and everything is incredibly fascinating. Bill and Sookie’s reactions to their contact with Maryann were both so shockingly different but quite cool, and Maryann’s responses to their touches were also quite intriguing. Bill and Sookie did a great job getting Tara free of Maryann’s influence, and they made a terrific team. Surprisingly, they weren’t the best team of the episode. Andy and Jason, the two most hapless, unintelligent characters on the show, somehow came together and, within minutes, put on a show that fooled the whole crowd and enabled them to free Sam, with an equally impressive show put on by the shape-shifter himself. This frame of view that anyone under Maryann’s spell has once they start to see into reality is very interesting, and I’m curious to know more about that. I’m glad that the vampires are getting involved in helping to take down Maryann, and I’m tremendously exciting to see the queen next week. I won’t spoil the surprise if anyone doesn’t know who’s playing her, but I think it’s going to be great. And, finally, Jessica biting Hoyt’s mother is not going to go over well, but again, there are bigger fish to fry.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What I’m Watching: Psych

Psych: Season 4, Episode 3 “High Noon-ish” (B+)

I’m not usually a fan of this type of episode, where the plot has a very real chance of getting quickly derailed by spending too much time in some sort of tourist trap town which seems like a real abandoned town with a rather defunct and ineffective system of law enforcement. James Roday and Dule Hill do a stellar job of keeping everything entertaining, and this episode is really a tribute to their skill as a comedic team. Having Lassiter be the one to introduce Shawn and Gus to the town is fantastic, and his episode-long nickname Binky was rather amusing. Gus’ opening worries about Lassiter murdering them, continuing along the theme of Gus thinking Lassiter killed someone last year, is a terrific thread that I hope sticks around for a while. I’m happy to see Lassie in the spotlight, though I would really be delighted to see much more of Juliet. Since her season-ending interaction with the newly taken Shawn, she’s been almost completely absent from the show, serving only as a bouncing board for Lassiter. She’s one of the best parts of the show, and it would be nice if she started being more prominently featured.

AFT Awards: Best Directing in a Comedy Series

This is the fifteenth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. For the directing and writing categories, I’ve included only honorable mentions rather than semi-finalists and finalists. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order.
Best Directing in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Californication (California Son), The Office (Dunder Mifflin Infinity), Pushing Daisies (Pidgeon), 30 Rock (Cooter), Weeds (Go)

Emmy nominees: Entourage (Tree Trippers), Flight of the Conchords (The Tough Brets), The Office (Stress Relief), 30 Rock (Apollo, Apollo), 30 Rock (Generalissimo), 30 Rock (Reunion)

Honorable mentions: Burn Notice (Bad Blood), Californication (No Way To Treat A Lady), Californication (The Raw and the Cooked), Californication (Slip of the Tongue), Chuck (Chuck Versus the Ring), Flight of the Conchords (Newzealandtown), The Office (Broke), The Office (Michael Scott Paper Company), The Office (Weight Loss), Parks and Recreation (Pilot), Psych (Murder?...Anyone?...Anyone?), Psych (There Might Be Blood), Pushing Daisies (Comfort Food), Pushing Daisies (Dim Sum Lose Some), Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Season 1, Episode 1), Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Season 1, Episode 5), Secret Diary of a Call Girl (Season 2, Episode 6), 30 Rock (The Bubble), 30 Rock (The Funcooker), 30 Rock (Gavin Volure), 30 Rock (Mamma Mia), Weeds (Head Cheese), Weeds (Till We Meet Again), Weeds (The Whole Blah Damn Thing), Weeds (Yes I Can)

The nominees:
Chuck (Chuck Versus the First Date)
Chuck (Chuck Versus the Colonel)
Monk (Mr. Monk’s 100th Case)
Weeds (I Am the Table)

The season two premiere of “Chuck” paved the way for a sophomore year that was infinitely better than the first, but no episode of the show shined as brightly as the game-changing episode where Sarah disobeys her orders to protect Chuck. I do love clip shows, but the 100th episode of “Monk” was more than just that, and it was brilliantly put together, incorporating many of Monk’s convicted killers while still leaving room for him to solve a new case. Two scenes of “Weeds” sealed the deal for the show’s funniest episode in the midst of a mostly dramatic scene: Shane hitting a bully in the face with a lunch tray to seem intimidating, and Andy feeding Mexicans matzoh.

The winner:
Parks and Recreation (Rock Show)
The sixth episode and finale of NBC’s newest comedy achieved the dramatic height it took “The Office” two seasons to get to (with “Casino Night”) and emphasized that these civil servants are dedicated to filling in this hole, and dim-witted, kind-hearted Leslie might even be able to consider Brendanawicz a true friend.

Next up: Best Writing in a Comedy Series

What I’m Watching: Monk

Monk: Season 8, Episode 3 “Mr. Monk and the UFO” (B+)

It’s about time Monk saw something truly out-of-this-world that isn’t just peculiar and unbelievable, but truly impossible. Having UFO fanatics swarm Monk with attention and scanners is brilliant, and the fact that even Natalie and Leland consider the fact that Monk actually fits the profile of an alien is pretty hilarious. Monk’s interaction with the mechanic and his refusal to apologize for thinking that he was stupid rather than saying it were certainly highlights of an episode filled with spectacular moments. One of the UFO enthusiasts was immediately recognizable as Radzinsky from the Dharma Initiative on “Lost,” and it was fun because I think he was wearing the same goggles he was wearing at the Swan when he was last seen in the show’s season finale. It’s a terrific reference because sci-fi devotees (perhaps some of the same people who believe in UFOs) are likely “Lost” fans, and it’s cool to have the two tie in to each other. “Monk” has been on the ball with “Lost” guest stars this season after Mr. Eko’s spectacular spot last week. I’m looking forward to the remainder of this series – it’s really so much fun.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

AFT Awards: Best Writing in a Drama Series

This is the fourteenth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. For the directing and writing categories, I’ve included only honorable mentions rather than semi-finalists and finalists. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order.
Best Writing in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Battlestar Galactica (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), Dexter (The Dark Defender), Dirty Sexy Money (The Chiavannesca), Lost (The Beginning of the End), Mad Men (The Dark Defender)

Emmy nominees: Lost (The Incident), Mad Men (The Jet Set), Mad Men (Meditations in an Emergency), Mad Men (A Night to Remember), Mad Men (Six Month Leave)

Honorable mentions: Battlestar Galactica (Daybreak Part One), Battlestar Galactica (Sometimes A Great Notion), Brotherhood (Let Rome Into Tiber Melt), Dexter (Our Father), Lost (Because You Left), Lost (The Incident), Lost (LaFleur), Mad Men (The Jet Set), Rescue Me (Iceman), Rescue Me (Sheila), The Shield (Coefficient of Drag), Smallville (Bride)

The nominees:
Rescue Me (Perspective)
The Shield (Family Meeting)
True Blood (Strange Love)
True Blood (You’ll Be the Death of Me)

Tommy’s interview with the French reporter about 9/11 while sitting right next to Ground Zero was an incredible turning point in quality for the series. The series finale of “The Shield” was gripping and utterly tragic, and a fine salute to all its fantastic characters. The season premiere and finale of “True Blood” were the tremendous high points for the first season of the show, which introduced a darkly compelling story in its pilot and wrapped it up boldly and impressively in its finale.

The winner:
Battlestar Galactica (The Oath)
A show which frequently probed deep internal motivations of humanity and ethics dug deeper than ever into all of its characters’ psyches as the crew of the Galactica was divided in half with mutineers on one side, and the battle resonated stronger than the show ever has.

Next up: Best Directing in a Comedy Series

What I’m Watching: Royal Pains

Royal Pains: Season 1, Episode 11 “Nobody’s Perfect” (B)

This episode started out great, with Divya and Evan trying to resist going to meet a client whose refused to divulge his identity, and Hank being informed by Boris that the family of the donor he let die was trying to have his medical license revoked. The episode was quite entertaining, but I take issue with a few of the things that were central to the storyline. The moment the mysterious client’s mistress mentioned that he had been stolen money, Bernie Madoff’s story came to mind. Hearing Evan say, “you mean Gary Schmalowski” (or whatever it was) just sounded cartoonish. The show has enough fun material to riff on without ripping from the headlines. Having to deal with trying to save the guy on the boat seemed a bit like a forced situation, like Divya needing to help her father after his life-threatening bug bite at the racetrack. Also, setting the entire episode on a boat was very much like the fifth episode, where taking a vacation from the already-intriguing Hamptons proved unnecessary and detrimental to the creativity of the show. Hank’s abrupt dismissal of those suing him and declaration that he needed the room to Skype with Evan was a bit silly and highly unwise. I’d like to know how the hell did Evan got Internet on that boat. Back on land, the charming Bruno Campos is doing a fun job as Charlie, but his presence, however grand, will put a real chip in Hank and Jill’s relationship. Hank seemed certain to stay after visiting Manhattan, but now that his summer romance may be over, perhaps his stay will be too. Boris’ worsening condition should be interesting, though his half-hearted attempts to have Hank help him may become overly frustrating. Finally, that fish-hook-in-the-body sequence reminded me a bit too much of a not-so-friendly scene from “The Last King of Scotland.”

Saturday, August 22, 2009

AFT Awards: Best Directing in a Drama Series

This is the thirteenth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. For the directing and writing categories, I’ve included only honorable mentions rather than semi-finalists and finalists. Nominees are listed in alphabetical order. This is the only category where I really had to nominate six episodes rather than narrow it down to five.
Best Directing in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Dexter (The Dark Defender), Dirty Sexy Money (The Chiavennasca), Jericho (Patriots and Tyrants), Lost (The Beginning of the End), Mad Men (The Wheel)

Emmy nominees: Battlestar Galactica (Daybreak, Part 2), Boston Legal (Made in China/Last Call), Damages (Trust Me), ER (And In The End), Mad Men (The Jet Set)

Honorable mentions: Battlestar Galactica (Daybreak Part One), Battlestar Galactica (Sometimes A Great Notion), Brotherhood (The Curse of True Love Never Did Run Smooth), Brotherhood (Let Rome Into Tiber Melt), Dexter (Our Father), Lost (Because You Left), Lost (Jughead), Lost (LaFleur), Lost (The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham), Mad Men (Six Month Leave), Rescue Me (Perspective), Rescue Me (Sheila), The Shield (Coefficient of Drag), Smallville (Bride), True Blood (Strange Love)

The nominees:
Battlestar Galactica (The Oath)
Lost (The Incident)
Mad Men (The Jet Set)
Rescue Me (Iceman)
The Shield (Family Meeting)

The first hour of full-out mutiny on “Battlestar Galactica” was the show’s most powerful hour, and that’s saying a lot. The season finale of “Lost” saw everything come together in a masterful and awesome way. Don Draper’s extended vacation on “Mad Men” was breathtaking and intoxicating. Tommy conjured up all his dead family members while battling alcoholism on “Rescue Me,” and it was simply staggering and stunning. The series finale of “The Shield” included so many moving moments, and featured just the right tone for the sendoff of the series.

The winner:
True Blood (You’ll Be the Death of Me)
The season finale brilliantly revealed the secret killer’s past and wrapped up his storyline in the most compelling, suspenseful way, and sent the show in a whole new direction with its clever finish.

Next up: Best Writing in a Drama Series

What I’m Watching: Warehouse 13

Warehouse 13: Season 1, Episode 7 “Implosion” (C)

I was struck while watching this episode at just how understaffed this show seems, cast-wise. I remarked in early 2008 that “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” seemed terribly low on stars when it first started its alternating cast scheme and only three detectives were present each week. Now, “Warehouse 13” seems to me to be focused on a far too tight-knit group of characters. “The X-Files” had so many recurring players who popped up on a regular basis, but here there’s only Mrs. Frederic and Agent Dickinson, who I was very surprised to identify as the fifth member of the cast (after Leena). A show that focuses exclusively on such a small number of characters needs to have the storylines to really carry it week-to-week, and this show does not have that. This one seemed like it was going to get really good when Artie was revealed to be a traitor, but obviously that’s not quite true and he just shrugs that off and has Mrs. Frederic bury it for him. It would have been much more interesting if he had been an actual fugitive, and Pete and Myka were pursuing him every week (kind of like “Sanctuary”). I guess that would strip the show of one of its precious few heroic cast members though, and then the two bickering agents wouldn’t have anyone to complain to about each other.

I’m feeling awfully tired of this show, but I really want to stick around to see Michael Hogan (“Battlestar Galactica”) guest star. And just as I decided I might opt out of this show, Syfy declared that it’s in. The series will return for another 13 episodes next summer. I’m not so sure I will.

Friday, August 21, 2009

AFT Awards: Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

This is the twelfth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Susan Blakely, Mary-Kate Olsen, Amy Ryan, Brooke Smith, Kerry Washington

Emmy nominees: Jennifer Aniston, Christine Baranski, Gena Rowlands, Elaine Stritch, Betty White

Semi-finalists: Judy Greer (Californication) was positively charming in her endearing repeat performance as a prostitute who clearly got into Hank’s head. Milena Govich (Psych) possessed a rare, wonderful genuine enthusiasm for her job and her work with Shawn. And I should note that while Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live) was spot-on in her impression of Sarah Palin, I don’t consider variety performances equitable with guest posts, and therefore she doesn’t make my list in this category (I have no separate category for her because I don’t watch any variety shows on a regular basis)

Finalists: Jordana Brewster (Chuck) was sweet and seductive but ultimately treacherous as Chuck’s ex-flame. Paula Marshall (Californication) rocked the boat with her unexpected pregnancy and impingement onto Hank’s life. Kristen Bell (Party Down) was ultra-efficient and spared no breath for unnecessary words, making for the perfect contrast to the lazy, useless Party Down employees. Tricia Helfer (Burn Notice) was a constant commanding thorn in Michael’s side, and her loyalties were never quite clear. Lily Tomlin (Desperate Housewives) acted like she was just trying to have a good time as she stopped by Wisteria Lane to help her sister spy on a naughty neighbor.

The nominees:

Justine Bateman (Californication) was intensely vulnerable and the perfect conquest for Hank, despite her surprising link to his daughter. Rachel Leigh Cook (Psych) instantly conveyed years of longing and disappointment as Shawn’s ditched prom date, and her chemistry with him was palpable. Amy Ryan (The Office) was the only character geeky enough to make Michael seem cool – and evidently she left more than an impression on him. Jane Lynch (Psych) toned down her usual raunchiness to play the Chief’s sister, and the two had a perfect familial dynamic. Meredith Monroe (Californication) was simply immutable as another conquest of Hank’s, and watching her get taken down a peg was one of the most enjoyable moments of the season.

Next up: Best Directing in a Drama Series

What I’m Watching: Weeds

Weeds: Season 5, Episode 11 “Ducks and Tigers” (C+)

There’s a point where a show becomes too much to take. “Weeds” has been treading that fine line for almost the entirety of its fifth season, and now it’s pretty much crossed the threshold. Esteban’s arrest for corruption basically undoes everything that’s occurred this season, and most importantly over the past two episodes, and puts Nancy back in the same place she was before she met Esteban. Just when things were finally coming together, they fall apart again. Obviously that’s expected, but the show doesn’t even allow more than a moment of bliss or a glimpse at how things might actually work. There seems to be a fervent determination to keep Nancy cycling through the same plotlines of getting dangerously closer and closer to a man in some form or another (Conrad, Peter, U-Turn, Bill, Guillermo, Esteban) and then having him abruptly ejected from her life. It’s all very repetitive, and the same is true for Celia. While her excitement at lesbian experimentation is amusing, I believe she actually said to Nancy in the first season that she had slept with a woman in college, and it’s nothing new in the way it affects her relationships with other people. Isabelle has always hated her and seen her try to manipulate her into liking her, and she’s definitely teamed with Dean and Doug before to take down Celia. Only Andy is actually headed in a new direction, and his new doctor companion will likely disappear from his life as soon as Esteban fully disappears from Nancy’s and she’ll have to move on to another town with another dangerous man.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

AFT Awards: Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

This is the eleventh category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees
: John Amos, Matthew Modine, Lou Diamond Philips, Jerry Seinfeld, Dean Winters

Emmy nominees
: Alan Alda, Beau Bridges, Jon Hamm, Steve Martin, Justin Timberlake

Semi-finalists: None – not enough contenders.

Finalists: Callum Keith Rennie (Californication) infused this season with a lasting presence and enduring legacy. Callum Blue (Secret Diary of a Call Girl) showed Belle how her job could really affect her loved ones’ lives. Jay Karnes (Burn Notice) made a great nemesis for Michael – and his token smirking just added to his charisma. Ed Begley Jr. (Party Down) reminisced about good old times and proved a surprisingly well-equipped match for the craziness of Jane Lynch. Glynn Turman (Scrubs) taught J.D. and Turk about the meaning of life, and his stubborn attitude guided the whole episode.

The nominees:

Demian Bichir (Weeds) first appeared as a mysterious face at the end of a tunnel, and quickly became an influential force in the regular plot of the series, mixing sincere affection for Nancy with ruthless, corrupt business conduct. Steve Martin, Jon Hamm, Peter Dinklage, and Alan Alda (30 Rock) were memorable guests on NBC’s quirky comedy, all subdued in their various ways yet very funny. Martin’s fraud cover-up was amusing, Hamm’s obliviousness to his own beauty was entertaining, Dinklage’s anger at Liz for confusing him with a small child was hilarious, and Alda’s excitement at meeting his son, so different from him, was touching.

Next up: Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

What I’m Watching: The Closer

The Closer: Season 5, Episode 11 “Maternal Instincts” (B+)

While I absolutely love main title sequences that are accompanied by a musical theme and shots of the cast members and their adventures, the way “The Closer” opens each episode is simply terrific. Instead of placing the names on the bottom of the screen while the scene plays out, the picture is interrupted every few seconds by a black title screen with the name of a cast member. “The Shield” did this also (and I’m sure a number of other shows did/do this), but it just works so well here. It’s a way of easing into the show, coming in at a relaxing, or occasionally stressful, moment in Brenda’s life or one of her team members’ lives. In this episode, where the kid slides across the hood and Brenda goes a-chasing after him, it was particularly effective, also in displaying Charlie’s reaction and then cutting to a black screen with a name on it. I’m glad Charlie’s sticking around, since she’s good for both comedy (not apologizing to Brenda, not staying put) and drama (bonding with the kid in the hospital, staying serious at home with Fritz). It’s incredible how involved she’s getting in all of Brenda’s cases, or rather how involved Brenda is getting her, and while that’s certainly unrealistic, it’s highly entertaining.

Next week is the summer finale. I feel like this season has just flown by, and while Charlie’s been visiting for a bit, we haven’t been treated to in-depth focusing on each of the Major Crimes Unit detectives. Additionally, the loss of Detective Daniels and the lack of a replacement team member stung, even though that one female detective kicked down that door in one episode, never to be seen again. Maybe Mary McDonnell’s Captain Raydor can join the squad. That would be fun.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What I’m Watching: Entourage

Entourage: Season 6, Episode 6 “Murphy’s Lie” (B+)

Now that everything was going right for everyone, of course it has to fall apart. Johnny’s attempts to keep his best friend’s girl from getting seduced by his predatory producer are probably the most entertaining of the bunch, since he’s almost as bad as Andrew a few weeks ago trying to remain cool and collected while clearly spying on David Schwimmer. It’s also one of those situations where Johnny’s persistence and devoted efforts to make sure it doesn’t happen actually inspires the future-guilty party to take an active interest in making Johnny’s blood boil. This good streak for Johnny isn’t likely to last after this, and he’ll probably be out of a job before he knows it. Turtle starting school isn’t terribly exciting, so there’s not much to write about concerning that. Vince’s exploits to avoid boredom are extremely entertaining, especially when he forgets that Johnny’s on the phone while he’s otherwise…distracted. I’m a bit worried about Vince being caught on camera, but maybe I’m being a bit too paranoid since this is, after all, just a comedy and there’s presumably no danger. Eric’s renewed interest in Sloane is rather unfortunate since she likely doesn’t want anything to do with him, romantically speaking at least, and now he’s gone and lost Ashley. She does seem like she’s a bit of a nutcase, so it’s probably for the best. The best reaction to the threat of another woman goes to Andrew’s wife, running through the office and shrieking at every girl who looks at her the wrong way. Lizzy’s defiant refusal to let Ari talk down to her is a great showcase of Autumn Reeser’s talents, but I still want to see more of her!

AFT Awards: Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series

This is the tenth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Jennifer Esposito, Lucy Lawless, Mira Sorvino, Shoshannah Stern, Frances Sternhagen

Emmy nominees: Brenda Blethyn, Carol Burnett, Ellen Burstyn, Sharon Lawrence, CCH Pounder

Semi-finalists: Brenda Blethyn (Law & Order: SVU) is a terrific actress – all the “SVU” performances didn’t really do much for me, but Blethyn stood out as the best among them.

Finalists: Bernadette Peters (Grey’s Anatomy) was heartbreaking in her unflappable determination to taking care of her friends. Erin Daniels (Swingtown) is great in anything – and as one half of a swinger duo, she was incredibly memorable despite a small part. Margo Martindale (Dexter) is also excellent in whatever she’s in, and her deathbed request for a mercy killing was no exception. Marguerite Moreau (Mad Men) left a mark on Roger Sterling as someone who might have made him happier than he let her. Kate Vernon (Battlestar Galactica) turned a shocking character revival into engaging meditations on robotic life and human ethics.

The nominees:

Lizzy Caplan (True Blood) shook up Jason Stackhouse’s life as a seemingly harmless new-girl-in-town with a deadly penchant for survival. Michelle Forbes (True Blood) owned the screen as a mysterious philanthropist definitely hiding more than one secret of her own. Melinda McGraw (Mad Men) proved a fearful match for Don Draper – and their affair was more significant than either expected. Kandyse McClure (Battlestar Galactica) chose death over accepting a truth completely contrary to her upbringing, and sent Dualla out with a tearful finale. Laura Ramsey (Mad Men) gave Don the vacation he needed, and was a major part of what made his trip so intoxicating.

Next up: Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

What I’m Watching: Hung

Hung: Season 1, Episode 7 “The Rita Flower or the Indelible Stench” (B+)

It’s really great to watch cable shows like this that aren’t tied down to a week-to-week episodic norm, where an episode can start and end in the middle of the story without seeming too out-of-whack and guest characters can enter at any point without any set exit point. Along those lines, it’s nice to see Ray trying to be his own pimp and exploring a real relationship with Jemma, and Tanya meeting a guy in a bar who may just help inspire the confidence in her to pull her life together in the ways she hasn’t yet been able to. Jemma’s absence in Ray’s life is unfortunate, but it makes sense as an arc, and having Ray settle down with a girl while still whoring himself out would likely create the same relationship-breaking problems as on “Secret Diary of a Call Girl.” The lack of Jemma opens up the door for Ray’s neighbor to walk in on him in the shower and enlist his services under not-quite-correct pretenses. Ray running into Jessica while shopping for clients near the flowers was amusing. This show’s really coming together, and I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What I’m Watching: Mad Men (Season Premiere)

Mad Men: Season 3, Episode 1 “Out of Town” (B+)

The highly anticipated return of one of the most acclaimed shows currently on television doesn’t disappoint. This is one case where a “previously on” sequence really does seem necessary, even though the show’s jumping ahead in time a bit and the British invasion is well into its takeover of Sterling-Cooper. The episode-opening flashbacks to Don recalling the way he came into this universe offers a nice parallel to his current situation with Betty, and really cements the show’s tone as intense and spectacularly dated in its feel. The way things are running at Sterling-Cooper certainly has changed with the arrival of the British, and it’s interesting to see how some characters have remained true to themselves but still adapted to the new management, like Joan, who’s still driven and shrewdly manipulative when she wants to be, and Roger, who comes in drunk and late to a meeting where someone got fired. I thought I recognized Burt Peterson as actor Michael Gaston (“Jericho”), and upon further research, it turns out I was correct. It’s great to see that the actor is able to play against type and be quite funny when he’s hamming up his role. The dual hiring of Pete and Ken is a fantastic move for the show, especially to see how both of them handled it in this episode and how they’ll work together in the future. Tremendous credit should go to Bryan Batt, who does a phenomenal job as Sal in this installment, keeping up with Don through all his lies and charades but failing to keep his own secrets hidden. His plane conversation with Don which only skirts the surface was extremely powerful, and it’s nice to see that Don is at least capable of being discrete and humane despite his chauvinistic and homophobic beliefs. Don’s pre-fire alarm encounter with the flight attendant was a wonderfully subtle scene, capped off by Don’s haunting admission that he’s been married a long time, and there are lots of opportunities to cheat. Not much has changed, but this show is just as good as ever.

AFT Awards: Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

This is the ninth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees: Steven Culp, Charles Durning, Dohn Norwood, D.B. Sweeney, Glynn Turman

Emmy nominees: Ed Asner, Ernest Borgnine, Ted Danson, Michael J. Fox, Jimmy Smits

Semi-finalists: Matt Servitto (Brotherhood) showed how political office could really change an honest man into something wholly different. Joel Murray (Mad Men) conveyed the tragic end of an ad man’s career with heartbreaking sentimentality.

Finalists: Mark Pellegrino (Lost) instantly created a mythology-worthy series character with his endless appearances in all of the characters’ pasts. Andre Benjamin (The Shield) also made quite an impression in the last few episodes of FX’s show as a rival candidate to Aceveda with groundbreaking ideas. Billy Burke (The Closer) was stoic and creepy as murderous man with a massive familiarity with the law which helped him get away with his crimes. Dean Stockwell (Battlestar Galactica) commanded the screen as he waged war on those who refused to accept the superiority of his race. Jason O’Mara (The Closer) was devilishly entertaining and darkly suspicious at the same time.

The nominees:

Stephen Root (True Blood) showed deep compassion as a vampire placed in a terrible predicament desperately longing to be left alone. Patrick Fischler (Mad Men) was oily and unlikable, but tore a deep hole in Don’s adulterous character. Richard Hatch and Alessandro Juliani (Battlestar Galactica) made for an unexpected but fantastic duo of mutineers both securely rooted in their beliefs and determined to follow their hearts. John de Lancie (Breaking Bad) conveyed utter sadness as he dealt with his daughter’s untimely death and wreaked unintentional havoc on Phoenix.

Next up: Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 2, Episode 9 “I Will Rise Up” (B+)

So, the bomb went off but it didn’t do as much damage as it could have. It’s a common occurrence on TV, a monumental event which takes place and wreaks havoc but manages not to kill off any major characters. This episode certainly didn’t lack in dramatic punch though, with one of the most stunning guest arcs I’ve seen recently coming to a poignant, powerful end as Godric decides that he’s ready to die. The final scene, just as brilliantly lit and filmed as the as the airport hangar sequence a few weeks ago, was simply incredible. Godric was so calm and relaxed, and even managed to make Eric cry. Their reversion to their native tongues was immensely moving, but nothing left more of a mark than Godric’s last words, declaring his joy at a human with real human tears being present at his end, still managing to surprise him after 2000 years. That scene will really stick with me for a while. The rest of the episode wasn’t quite as moving, but that’s to be expected. Eric’s manipulative ploy to establish a bond with Sookie didn’t really fit with the tone of the episode, but Sookie’s dream sequence managed to be less goofy than it could have been due to the dramatic skill of actor Alexander Skarsgard and the spooky presence of Lorena. Maryann’s antics are getting a bit freaky, and I’m pretty impressed with Lafayette’s bold move to take Tara away and enlist help from her mother. If her mom thought she was possessed last season, wait until she finds out what’s going on now. I’m thrilled that Sam sought out Andy for help, and I can’t wait to see what Andy really is and how they’re going to manage to take Maryann down. The most surprising part of the episode was Hoyt’s stunning show of defiance to his mother, which was alternately funny and intense. I’m really pleased with how Jessica is being incorporated into the show, even though she’s off on a bit of a tangential arc. I worried she’d distract from the show and from Bill, but for the moment, her storyline is far more connected than that of Maryann and crew, and it’s all proving to be extraordinarily interesting and compelling.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What I’m Watching: Psych

Psych: Season 4, Episode 2 “He Dead” (B+)

I’ve often said that “Burn Notice” is the best summer show around, but I think I’m getting more attached to “Psych” as the most entertaining show of the summer, if not the whole year. It’s always enjoyable to see Shawn fake his way through a case, and the addition of Rachel Leigh Cook as his girlfriend is better than I could ever have imagined. Her appreciation of his psyching faking (“When he embellishes, I know he cares”) and attempts to bond with his father (“You’re not bald, you’re just taller than your hair”) are truly fun, and I’m looking forward to further interactions between her and Shawn and anyone else on the show. She’s hardly a distracting presence, and I’ll be happy to see more of her in the future. The case of the week is a hoot in the way that Shawn gets to explore high society and embarrass himself repeatedly. Christine Baranski’s guest turn is amusing, and it’s a treat to see a client actually fire Shawn when he threatens to accuse them of murder. I’ve decided that I’d like to collect some of the best quotes from each episode at the end of my reviews. To start this week, here are three more (in addition to the two previously mention ones uttered by Abigail):

“I’m sure the taxpayers’ money is better spent on some social programs…or a tree”
“Neither is thoo, but it is a word”
“We don’t hide anything except the fact that we’re Jewish”

AFT Awards: Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

This is the eighth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Esposito, Jenna Fischer, Becki Newton, Jean Smart

Emmy nominees
: Kristin Chenoweth, Jane Krakowski, Elizabeth Perkins, Amy Poehler, Kristin Wiig, Vanessa Williams

Semi-finalists: Lizzy Caplan (Party Down) is wonderfully sarcastic, and gives her party planner part her all. Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation) is talented, and even though her role doesn’t ask for much, she delivers.

Finalists: Maggie Lawson (Psych) got closer to Shawn and tried to prove herself as a detective, and her charm is undeniable. Jean Smart, Jennifer Esposito, and Melissa McCarthy (Samantha Who) all contributed exceptionally to a dwindling show, and kept it entertaining through it end. Becki Newton (Ugly Betty) moved in with Betty and managed to experience some true feelings along the way.

The nominees:

Kristin Chenoweth (Pushing Daisies) went to a nunnery and sang her socks off but still remained on task as the cheeriest pie server around. Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) thought she found true love at last, and watching the villainess lose everything after actually developing emotions was enthralling. Portia de Rossi (Better Off Ted) exuded everything but compassion as a ruthless, ethically challenged, awesome workaholic. Ashley Madekwe (Secret Diary of a Call Girl) stole all of her scenes and proved that Belle wasn’t the only interesting prostitute in London. Jenna Fischer (The Office) made a startling decision to advance her career and experienced a life-changing thrill.

Next up: Best Guest Actor in a Drama Series

What I'm Watching: Monk

Monk: Season 8, Episode 2 “Mr. Monk and the Foreign Man” (B+)

The continuing parade of recognizable guest stars on “Monk” turns out to be truly terrific this week with the brilliant casting of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko from “Lost”) as a grieving husband from Nigeria who comes to the United States to find out who killed his wife. Akinnuoye-Agbaje is an extremely talented actor capable of displaying a broad range of emotions, but I had no idea he was comically skilled. It turns out he’s the perfect companion for Monk, eager to please and to learn what true Americans do, according to Monk, that is. Monk’s initial gesture of friendship to Monk was touching, and their further adventures were really great. The laundromat scene where Monk divided all the clothes into an absurd number of categories and used all the machines to run pre-wash cleansing cycles was particularly entertaining. I also loved Monk’s reworking of certain American phenomenon, giving Samuel the smoking bag and explaining that the woman’s middle finger was a thumbs-up gesture. This is a typical case for Monk, an accident and a coincidence mixed together and connecting two cases, but it still worked extremely well. I enjoyed Samuel’s summation of Monk’s character, declaring “sometimes you are like a big crying infant.” Monk’s refusal to take Samuel up on his offer to come visit him in Africa was expected but still terrifically entertaining. The inclusion of Randy’s attempt to impress the CSI woman with his incredible resistance to the smell of rotting flesh was a nice bonus; it’s nice to know that the writers on this show are committed to keeping the supporting characters in the spotlight.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

AFT Awards: Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

This is the seventh category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Last year’s nominees: John Krasinski, Chi McBride, Jeremy Piven, Michael Urie, Rainn Wilson

Emmy nominees: Jon Cryer, Kevin Dillon, Neil Patrick Harris, Jack McBrayer, Tracy Morgan, Rainn Wilson

Semi-finalists: Bruce Campbell (Burn Notice) was incessantly hilarious, and if his role was a bit bigger, he might be one of my nominees. Both Rex Lee (Entourage) and Ed Helms (The Office) have similarly small roles, but they steal scenes constantly. Neal McDonough (Desperate Housewives) was the only reason to watch ABC’s fading soap this year, and he constantly remained far above the material he was given. Paul Schneider (Parks and Recreation) didn’t exactly have a comic role, but he provided NBC’s new series with a nice dramatic touch. Kevin Nealon (Weeds) does the exact opposite, but it’s exactly the kind of wackiness the show needs.

Finalists: John Krasinski (The Office) played his usual pranks and took a big step in his relationship with Pam. Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) finally focused on his own career instead of just his subservience to Wilhelmina. Aziz Ansari (Parks and Recreation) found the perfect vehicle for his obnoxious sarcasm. Justin Kirk (Weeds) got serious with his father to wonderful dramatic effect and realized his affection for his pot-dealing sister-in-law. Dule Hill (Psych) didn’t let playing second fiddle to Shawn’s psychic performer stop him from stealing scenes every episode.

The nominees:

Chi McBride (Pushing Daisies) was fabulously impatient and funny as he made pop-up books and took on countless curious cases. Adam Baldwin (Chuck) retorted more than ever before as he showed his true colors when his loyalty to Chuck and the government came into conflict. Jeremy Piven (Entourage) ran around hectically as usual, but still engaged in every scene in which he appeared. Rainn Wilson (The Office) went head-to-head with his former boss and his lover’s fiancée, all the while maintaining his distinctive work-oriented nature. Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords) took his minute manager role to a new level, and the results were fantastic.

Next up: Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

What I’m Watching: Royal Pains

Royal Pains: Season 1, Episode 10 “Am I Blue?” (B+)

Once again, this show manages to incorporate so many different plot threads and move each part of the story forward. The return of Andrew McCarthy as Tucker’s dad makes fantastic use of the recurring youngster (and his very entertaining girlfriend). It makes sense that an addict with unlimited wealth would try to circumvent his recovery process and take a fast-tracked shortcut. Evidently, it wasn’t going to work out, but it’s a great step for the relationships between both Tucker and his dad and Tucker and Hank. Jill’s ethical ponderings about accepting Boris’ check keep her grounded as a philanthropic corporate employee, and Charlie’s ability to be seedy while still sounding charming is quite entertaining, and makes their interactions a pleasure to watch. The best scenes, as always, come from Evan and Divya. Evan’s desperate search to find a female friend is typical, but his newfound friendship with the topless Polish girl who turns blue is entirely unique and entirely amusing. The appearance of his new bud’s angry-looking boyfriend forced that terrific and unexpected kiss between Divya and Evan, and the only thing better than that was Divya’s subsequent flirtatious declaration that she doesn’t mix business with pleasure.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

AFT Awards: Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

This is the sixth category of the 3rd Annual AFT Television Awards, my personal choices for the best in television this past season. This year, semi-finalists are included to recognize more of the impressive work being done on television today. Nominees are pictured in the order I’ve ranked them.
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Last year’s nominees
: Kristen Bell, Tricia Helfer, January Jones, Tatum O’Neal, Natalie Zea

Emmy nominees
: Rose Byrne, Hope Davis, Cherry Jones, Sandra Oh, Dianne Wiest, Chandra Wilson

Semi-finalists: Tina Benko (Brotherhood) stood up and for once thought for herself, and realized she couldn’t really ever have what she truly wanted. Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) may have been the harbinger of death, but the hard-headed hotshot stuck around long enough to help humanity find a new home. Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) kept the office in order while her personal life slipped out of her control. Kristen Bell (Heroes) almost turned Sylar from a villain into a hero – if only the show hadn’t dismissed her so quickly. Callie Thorne and Andrea Roth (Rescue Me) both kept Tommy on a tight leash as they expressed a renewed interest in the tumultuous alcoholic. Cassidy Freeman (Smallville) and Laurie Holden (The Shield) weren’t the most important stars on their respective shows, but their fresh faces helped move along the major storylines on both series. Miriam Shor (Swingtown) fit perfectly into the 1970s period of the show, and her stubbornness was torn apart in the face of shocking sexual exposure. Rutina Wesley (True Blood) dealt with relationship issues at home and at work – and though she never encountered vampires, her trials and tribulations were still very intriguing.

Finalists: Natalie Zea (Dirty Sexy Money) dialed up the crazy as she was manipulated by her fiancée and honed in on old flame Nick. Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy) played the long-suffering wife’s role in the motorcycle club, but defiantly reused to accept a subservient life. Fionnula Flanagan (Brotherhood) played favorites as she cared for all her children and her nephew Colin, and struggled to keep her family together as they fell apart again. CCH Pounder (The Shield) found her health failing as her nemesis slipped away from her but pledged never to give up until the day she couldn’t come into work anymore. Lucy Liu (Dirty Sexy Money) delivered far more than her so-so role called for, and made shark-like attorney Nola Lyons more than just a plotline.

The nominees:

Hope Davis (In Treatment) didn’t accept the role of the patient in her dynamic with her therapist, and her strong-willed nature made her therapy must-see. Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost) got left with a different crew and saw a different life (and love) emerge in her new past. Marcia Gay Harden (Damages) stepped onto the scene to shrewdly represent a powerhouse firm, only to try to bring them down once she realized their true motivations. Alison Pill (In Treatment) sought therapy when she was diagnosed with cancer, and let her guard down in a way that it was clear she never did elsewhere, as conveyed spectacularly by this breakthrough actress. Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) led the Cylons through an alliance with humanity to fight a greater evil, and fulfilled her destiny as a key to the survival of both races, all the while finely playing multiple roles in various episodes.

Next up: Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series