Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What I’m Watching: Burn Notice (Summer Finale)

Burn Notice: Season 4, Episode 12 “Guilty as Charged” (B+)

It’s a good thing that, however angry he may be, Jesse doesn’t become violent upon realizing who his friends really are. Now, while shooting Michael might seem like a violent thing to do, he was only exercising what Michael himself would surely describe as the “shoot the hostage” strategy in order to save him. Still, seeing Jesse react so coldly to both Fiona and Madeleine’s pleas for leniency and assistance isn’t overly pleasant. This end of the summer season leaves things pretty much in pieces, as Vaughn has proved to be yet another double-crosser, even if he wasn’t actually trying to kill Michael, merely failing to adhere to their agreed-upon terms and therefore wrecking the whole Barrett operation. Robert Patrick is certainly a worthwhile villain (anyone who has seen “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” can tell you that), and it’s unclear based on the car crash at the end how much of a role he’ll have to play in the future. It’s uncertain even if he’s still alive, and whatever was in the briefcase that was taken is likely more valuable than both of their lives. It was quite intense to see Michael react so brashly, bleeding to death and determining that his best move was to flip the car over and free himself from Barrett’s clutches, even if he only injured himself more. The last time “Burn Notice” took a break, Michael ended up in a mysterious room after being arrested. Now, he’s losing a whole lot of blood and just as back to square one as ever, having lost Jesse’s friendship and Vaughn’s cooperation. It’s been a fun season; I’m curious what the show’s November return has in store for Michael and the gang.

Season grade so far: B+
Season MVP: Jeffrey Donovan

What I’m Watching: Psych

Psych: Season 5, Episode 7 “Ferry Tale” (B+)

It’s pretty hilarious how Shawn and Gus get themselves into trouble so easily, hopping aboard a boat for a friendly expedition and ending up smack in the middle of a prison break. I’m especially impressed with the casting on this episode, which pits prison guard Chi McBride against not-quite-mastermind criminal Kevin Alejandro. McBride was superb on the cancelled “Pushing Daisies” and is now seen frowning a lot on “Human Target,” which Alejandro is currently appearing on “True Blood” and has also been seen on “Ugly Betty” and “Weeds,” among others. Both were excellent choices to play their respective roles here. I truly enjoyed McBride’s angry relationship with Lassiter and Alejandro’s lack of patience for Shawn’s shenanigans. Most entertaining of all, of course, is Shawn’s express desire to do exactly the opposite of what he’s told, evidenced by his cry to take charge of the situation and intervene only seconds after his father has instructed him not to get involved. The use of the bible and the penultimate scene in the church coincidentally reminded me of the “Human Target” episode “Sanctuary” from last season (McBride’s presence probably aided that recollection). This was a fun episode, to be sure, but I was thrown off at the start by the introduction of a new young Shawn, played by Skyler Gisondo. He just doesn’t have the uppity attitude that longtime young Shawn portrayer Liam James does, and therefore I couldn’t take him seriously as an obnoxious Gus-bully and troublemaker like I always could with James.

What I’m Watching: Rescue Me

Rescue Me: Season 6, Episode 9 “Goodbye” (B)

I really should start paying attention when my signature shows are about to sign off the air for a while. With only one episode left to go (airing tonight, no less), the show won’t be back on until late next year, presumably to coincide with the ten-year anniversary of September 11th. This penultimate episode certainly prepares for another horrendous kick to the gut, as both Lou and Damien are now in mortal danger in the middle of a fire. As if this show needed something else to be mournful about, but that doesn’t mean it’s not decent drama. I’m a bit confused by the terms of Mickey and Janet’s punishment of Tommy and Sheila, since Janet now seems fully prepared to hop into bed with Tommy as long as he really stops drinking. I let out the biggest sigh of relief when Tommy finally passed the test and poured the alcohol down the drain when Janet offered him a choice between two different drinks. This season has actually been pretty good, and I think what it needs in its final season, and the next episode for that matter, is a centralization of all its storylines and a renewed focus on what it’s like to be a firefighter in New York City, especially as the tenth anniversary of September 11th looms ever closer. Losing Lou would be an appropriate tragedy, while Damien’s untimely death would be far too much to bear, and would likely send Tommy and Mickey spiraling down the drain along with the already-deranged Sheila. Tune in tonight for the season finale, and though this show’s departure is unfortunate, that does mean that “Sons of Anarchy” will be back in this timeslot next week!

Monday, August 30, 2010

What I’m Watching: Covert Affairs

Covert Affairs: Season 1, Episode 7 “Communication Breakdown” (B+)

It says something about a show when one of its strongest episodes barely features its lead character. It actually probably says more about its lead character, who I will admit I’m warming to a little more, but that doesn’t mean I’ll object if an entire episode highlights another, better character, and that would be Auggie. It’s always great to be so quickly and deeply immersed in the life of one character who we had before now not really known much about, and within minutes he’s become this incredible player who is sleeping with nosy reporter Liza Hearn to find out who the CIA leak is and also has a hacker ex-girlfriend who just happens to be on the verge of revealing much potentially dangerous information to the public in order to symbolize her feelings about open sourcing. It’s definitely interesting to see more of Auggie’s darker side, first shown in recent weeks when Auggie was reliving his military past and then even more now that he has to confront his feelings for this woman and to reevaluate his motivations for and the act of breaking up with her several years earlier. This episode is a wild ride that feels like a hybrid of an episode of “Alias” and “Chuck,” due mainly to the train setting and the feeling that this doomed romance just can’t last forever, even if it seems almost perfect for a while. This installment, more than anything, is proof that this show doesn’t need to rely on Annie to carry it, since she is more than content eating desserts for an entire hour.

What I’m Watching: White Collar

White Collar: Season 2, Episode 7 “Prisoner’s Dilemma” (B+)

I must say, I am delighted by how Mozzie is being incorporated so much into this season. Having Neal direct Peter and the on-the-run FBI agent to one of his many safehouses is pure genius, and makes for some terrific entertainment. “Me casa as suit casa” is perhaps my favorite line from this show yet. There’s a token devilishness with which Neal accomplishes his many feats, and that excitement at being able to break the law and get away with it is rubbing off on Peter, who goes on the run in this episode despite swearing to Neal that he would never do such a thing only hours earlier. Peter’s desperate call to Neal to help him hotwire a Lamborghini was great, especially because Neal tried to mask his explanation in hypothetical statements and Peter just didn’t have time for that. Elizabeth is now back in the picture, and it’s nice to see just how much she and Mozzie have bonded that he can stop by to explain Peter’s absence and she has no problem receiving him warmly. It seems Mozzie and Neal have also made an important breakthrough in the Kate case, which should hopefully mean that Sara Ellis isn’t far behind in terms of making the same discovery. The revelation that Kate called Fowler shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but he’s certainly a more compelling FBI baddie than this week’s villain, so bringing him back into the show’s vernacular should help, especially since the show only has two episodes left before it goes on hiatus (presumably) until 2011.

Emmy Awards: The Morning After

The Emmys aired last night, and the show was fine enough but hardly memorable. In terms of predictions, it seems that it's not a good idea to go in blind with the miniseries, TV movie, variety, and reality categories, having seen nothing but "The Pacific" and "Alice." I only got the two locks - "The Pacific" for Best Miniseries and Al Pacino for Best Actor - correct, and nothing else. In the main series categories, however, I got 11/18, including the guest acting categoriese that were handed out a week earlier. I'm happy to report that, after being too gutsy last year by suggesting wild upsets, I managed to accurately predict both Best Drama Series and Best Comedy Series. I don't have all that much to say about the ceremony itself, but here are a few notes:

- Jimmy Fallon wasn't bad as a host or anything, but aside from his humorous tributes to departed series and his quip to Tom Hanks about Steven Spielberg running out of wars, he didn't have all that much to do.
- It would have been a nice to see a few clips of the nominated shows rather than just the sectional montages. Also, is there any reason the Drama one had to contain only spoilers for the season ender of every major show and nothing else?
- It's interesting how Ricky Gervais pretty much gets free reign to do whatever he feels like, and he deserves it, because he's genuinely funny.
- For every trend-breaking win, there's another one that continues. As "The Amazing Race" loses for the first time, "The Daily Show" still manages to edge out the competition, including Conan. Glenn Close loses, and Bryan Cranston wins again. "30 Rock" finally loses, and "Mad Men" triumphs again.
- Though both Michael C. Hall and Jon Hamm really deserve Emmys, Bryan Cranston deserved his Emmy more than ever this year. It's a fantastic show and he does a magnificent job of creating a broken, somewhat evil character. I should probably be more excited for Aaron Paul, though he did deserve his award a bit more last year. Also, no recognition for the not-even-nominated Anna Gunn still stings. For those tired of Cranston repeatedly winning, fear not: "Breaking Bad" won't return until next summer, so he will not be eligible this coming year.
- In the biggest surprise of the night, Kyra Sedgwick defies the odds and manages to take down lock Julianna Margulies. It makes me very happy because she has now catapulted ahead of Hall, Hamm, Hugh Laurie, and Steve Carell in terms of winning later on in her show's run. A well-deserved win, and Margulies already has an Emmy for "ER," so it's all good.
- Archie Panjabi was also another great surprise, making it even more shocking that Margulies didn't win. She was a fun choice, and it's good to see that kind of role get recognized.
- Kudos to the writing categories, rewarding the best drama and comedy episode, respectively, of the season.
- I'll admit I was a bit surprised by the win for "Dexter" in the directing category. An interesting choice, to be sure.
- No goodbye prizes for departing shows. "Lost" didn't win anything, and neither "24" nor "Law & Order" were even nominated for major awards.
- The big winner of the night is... "Temple Grandin." I haven't seen it, but it won a lot - TV Movie, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Directing. That officially puts it one behind "The Pacific," which won seven trophies at the Creative Arts Emmys and one more at the prime time ceremony. "Temple Grandin" won two last week.
- I'm not a "Big Bang" fan necessarily, but Jim Parsons' win is still fun. Same goes for the inclusion of the "Community" cast in the commercials.
- Whatever happened to pausing between "And the winner is..." and the name of the winner?

Anything I missed? Who was your favorite winner? It's never too early to start predicting for next year!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Abe's Final Emmy Predictions

I'm not changing any of the predictions I made. I'm already 3/4 after the Creative Emmy Awards, where Betty White, John Lithgow, and Neil Patrick Harris all took home awards. I hadn't called Ann-Margret for her "SVU" turn. Now, on to the main event.

No guts, no glory:
"Curb Your Enthusiasm" takes Best Comedy Series
Jane Lynch doesn't win
Kyle Chandler & Connie Britton both win

Mad Men

Michael C. Hall (Dexter)

Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)

Terry O'Quinn (Lost)

Sharon Gless (Burn Notice)

Jack Bender, Lost (The End, Parts 1 & 2)

Matthew Weiner & Erin Levy, Mad Men ("Shut the Door, Have a Seat)

Modern Family

Tony Shalhoub (Monk)

Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)

Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)

Jane Lynch (Glee)

Ryan Murphy, Glee (Pilot)

Steven Levitan & Christopher Lloyd, Modern Family (Pilot)

You Don't Know Jack

The Pacific

Al Pacino (You Don't Know Jack)

Joan Allen (Georgia O'Keeffe)

Patrick Stewart (Hamlet)

Kathy Bates (Alice)

Tim Van Patten (The Pacific, Part 9)

Peter Morgan (The Special Relationship)

Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien

The Amazing Race

Round Two: The Big C

The Big C: Season 1, Episode 2 “Summer Time” (B)

I’m still not quite sure what to make of this show. It’s certainly intriguing and attention-capturing. Yet there’s something about it that doesn’t feel quite right. Watching as Cathy and Andrea followed the bus and Cathy riddled it with paintball pellets and then Andrea shot her defiant son several times with the paintball gun reminded me very much of Shane Botwin’s bear-hunting antics in the pilot of “Weeds.” This show strikes me as a sort of cross between “Weeds” and “Glee,” where mothers struggling to deal with their unique hardships bond with high school misfits unable to fit in with the rest of the student body. A scene like the one described above could instantly become classic, but there’s something about it that feels a little too staged. It’s as if no other students exist, and Andrea is the only one in whom Cathy has taken an interest. Now that Andrea has met both Cathy’s brother and her son, there aren’t nearly as many boundaries left standing between them. It feels a bit early on for them to make such a superficial connection, especially since Cathy knows nothing about Andrea’s home life or background aside from her academic record and attitude. I do like Oliver Platt’s complaining husband, and making therapy sessions feel fresh is hard to do, so I applaud this show for doing well with that. This show may well be headed places, but I’m still struggling to piece together my feelings since there’s something that’s still missing here for me.

What I’m Watching: Weeds

Weeds: Season 6, Episode 2 “Felling and Swamping” (B+)

As the season continues to roll along, we’re still stuck in the development stage in terms of determining exactly what the plan for Nancy and the newly-branded Newmans in their newfound fugitive status. The ending scene of this episode mirrors the show’s fourth season plotline where Roy Till was investigating Nancy and knew that she had something to do with the drug operation rather than just Celia, as everyone he interrogated had suggested. Now, it’s a much deadlier game since the people who Nancy has inadvertently pinned the blame on are the very ones who tortured and killed Roy’s partner and lover. These are bad guys, and the fact that the good guys are looking at Nancy and the bad guys together is definitely not a good thing. Fortunately, humor is in the air as Andy provides the family with his guide to surviving on the run and the Botwins officially become the Newmans. Nancy’s new wig and Andy’s continuous desire to use Hooters gift cards as currency indicates that there is a wild ride soon in store for this crew, and it’s definitely going to be an entertaining one. Shane’s new killer vibe and Silas’ eternal frustration with everything related to his brother or mother help reestablish this show’s dark comedic tone that worked so well in its first season. This is a third chance for the show as it embarks on its second fresh start, and if it finds its direction, I think this season could be a winning one.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What I’m Watching: Rizzoli & Isles

Rizzoli & Isles: Season 1, Episode 7 “Born to Run” (B+)

This episode first gets props for clever use of its title, which is also the title of a famous season one installment of “Lost” featuring Kate. In this case, the subject of the Massachusetts Marathon (likely a more legal way of riffing on the Boston Marathon) makes for an entertaining and fast-paced forty-five minutes of tracking down a murderer without causing mass panic and accidentally engineering a stampede. I feel similarly about this episode as I have about most of the installments of this show so far – the way things proceed along and turn out is often somewhat cheesy, but these gals (and guys) make it work. Use of technology is commendable in this episode, as a Skype-like interface helps to get around the traffic nightmare that is the marathon perimeter. Fanny pack as a gun muffler is also an impressive device, and this episode was especially well-timed in terms of the revelation of who the killer was and just why she was after these runners. Rizzoli’s arrest of the third runner who didn’t get assassinated was a nice score for justice, and it’s good to see the whole team taking this matter so seriously and emphasizing right and wrong just as much as the letter of the law. A notable guest star was on hand this week, and that would be Balthazar Getty of season five “Alias” and “Brothers & Sisters” fame. He didn’t really have much to do here, but that’s because there were other fun spotlights, like on the eager, nervous Boy Scout and the very malcontent Rizzoli parentals, who proved to be quite entertaining.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What I’m Watching: The Closer

The Closer: Season 6, Episode 7 “Jump the Gun” (B+)

Well, at least there’s one suspected law enforcement official on television who isn’t guilty of a major crime. He’s still obnoxious enough to ask his interrogators to sign his overtime sheet for the time he’s been in holding while being questioned, but that’s hardly as despicable an offense. It’s easy to forget because of the superb ensemble that this show takes its title from the fact that its lead character is a fantastic investigator capable of producing remarkable results in the form of a confession from her suspects. The penultimate scene with the brother is a perfect illustration of her subtle abilities, and a commendable one at that. Giving Fritz a new role as the FBI-LAPD liaison is similar to the job recently given to Henry on “Psych,” and I think both have been done for a similar reason: with less time spent at home, it’s beneficial to give these regular cast members something to do on a weekly basis that relates to the cases at hand. It also creates so many opportunities for the alternately cringe-worthy and hilarious negotiations and interactions between the married couple that is Brenda and Fritz. Pope’s news that Brenda is on the shortlist for chief and he isn’t is fairly surprising given his high-ranking position, and Brenda’s immediate confession that she doesn’t even want the job created a powerful last scene sure to have negative effects throughout the rest of the season. Truthfully, there isn’t really anyone else we’ve seen before who could be in the running for chief given the fact that both Raydor and Taylor probably didn’t apply. Could Brenda actually get the job?

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Comedy Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Beware of spoilers for listed episodes. The six episodes listed for each show make up the three tapes that could have been sent to voters. Please refer to my original reviews and chime in with your own commentary and predictions in the comments!

"Vehicular Fellatio" & "The Reunion"
"Denise Handicapped" & "The Table Read"
"The Bare Midriff" & "Seinfeld"

What this show did which was remarkably smart was to pair one of the standard Larry-offends-people installments with a Seinfeld-centric episode so that every voter gets a taste of both. Honestly, it’s the smartest strategy since the three non-Seinfeld episodes are terrific, and audiences seemed to get pretty excited about all of the Seinfeld stuff. If there wasn’t so much competition, this could be the year that this show finally won something (it’s only ever won one Emmy – for directing back in 2003). Call it a dark horse.

"Pilot" & "Preggers"
"Wheels" & "Sectionals"
"The Power of Madonna" & "Home"

This show is extremely popular and could win off of buzz alone. Its episode submissions, however, are hit or miss. The pilot, “Wheels,” and “The Power of Madonna” were all very well-received, as was the mid-season finale “Sectionals.” It all comes down to whether the show ultimately gets taken seriously by voters, and whether the musical aspect enhances the show instead of detracting from it. I think it will definitely rank high on some voters’ ballots, but ultimately lose out to…

"Pilot" & "Starry Night"
"Fizbo" & "Coal Digger"
"Come Fly with Me" & "Fears"

ABC’s most successful new comedy is likely the frontrunner in this competitive category because it didn’t have a single lackluster episode this past season. This is a collection of genuinely funny, heartwarming episodes that underline what this show is all about: family. These episodes do a wondrous job of highlighting Gloria, Cameron, and Phil, and those three characters, also Emmy-nominated, should help this show take home the top award it truly deserves.

"Pilot" & "Tiny Bubbles"
"Ring Finger" & "Health Care & Cinema"
"Apple Bong" & "Monkey Bits

This is the one comedy series that I don’t watch on a regular basis, so screening only these six episodes (as well as guest actor Eli Wallach’s) proved to be an interesting experience. I didn’t like the pilot either of the times I watched it, but the show definitely grew on me as I sampled three more episodes from the first season and two from the second. This show isn’t the typical fare to win this award, being a more serious cable drama that relies on week-to-week viewing rather than random sampling. If voters love Falco enough, perhaps this show could place, but most of it is truly black comedy that may make voters shudder just as much as it makes them laugh.

"Gossip" & "Murder"
"Niagara, Parts 1 & 2"
"The Lover" & "Secret Santa"

This show is definitely not going to win. Even though it took home the award for its second season and has been nominated ever since, this year was recognized as a very weak one. “Niagara,” also nominated for writing, was one of the best episodes of the season. Besides “The Lover,” however, the other episodes are truly subpar and there’s no way that this show could stage a comeback after the miserable year fans think it’s had.

"Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001" & "Black Light Attack"
"Anna Howard Shaw Day" & "Don Geiss, America & Hope"
"The Moms" & "Emmanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land"

This show is the reigning champ with three consecutive wins. This may well be the year it gets dethroned, however, thanks to new uber-popular new shows. In terms of episode submissions, I didn’t like the Dealbreakers episode, but the other five are all great. This show isn’t going to go down easily, and incorporating past elements like Liz’s former boyfriends and mothers of all the characters should give this older show an edge when it comes to fending off the newbies.

Who should win (based on entire season): “Modern Family” (my ballot)
Who should win (based on individual episodes) : “Modern Family”
Who will win: Tight race, but I’ll pick “Modern Family” to come out ahead.

Next up: The Emmy Awards ceremony! Tune in Sunday night!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What I’m Watching: Entourage

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

What I’m Watching: Hung

Hung: Season 2, Episode 8 “Third Base or the Rash” (B+)

Everything seems to be coming together and threatening to explode as Frances gets spooked and then clued in to Tanya’s scheme thanks to an ill-timed financial question by Mike and Ray runs into a client while at a diner with his son. The first interaction is much more severe, since Mike will now find out about Tanya and Ray and what they’re up to and the whale that was Frances will surely take her business elsewhere (or likelier, nowhere). Ray is almost as clueless as Mike in this whole situation, though that excuse won’t work once Mike comes to Ray furious about his being manipulated, and probably demanding a cut of what Tanya made for his time with Frances. And to think all this transpired without Lenore even appearing in any of the episode! Ray certainly injured his shoulder in a creative way, and what I absolutely love about this episode, and this show in particular, is the way it romanticizes Ray’s past as a baseball player. The same is true of that marvelous ending scene where Jessica starts to relive her cheerleader days by starting a cheer in the middle of the field as the scene fades to black. I’d like to make a case for “Hung” as the most underrated show on television that deserves enormous praise for its clever storytelling and masterful editing. The writing ain’t too bad either – just take any of Damon’s lines, like “I peed on home plate, Dad, I’m not a vandal.”

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Drama Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Beware of spoilers for listed episodes. The six episodes listed for each show make up the three tapes that could have been sent to voters. Please refer to my original reviews and chime in with your own commentary and predictions in the comments!

"No Mas" & "Sunset"
"One Minute" & "Fly"
"Half Measures" & "Full Measure"

These episodes are enormously strong and the pairings work pretty well too. The season premiere is paired with the astonishing episode where Walt and Hank almost come face to face, while directing nominee “One Minute” is put with the aggravating but fascinating “Fly.” The third tape contains the last two episodes of the last season, which are both magnificent but may prove less accessible to first-time viewers. I predicted this show to overtake “Mad Men” last year, and this season has been even better than the last (in both cases, which isn’t helpful). Still, consider this a dark horse, but the fact that it’s so dark will probably hurt rather than help it.

"Dex Takes a Holiday" & "Dirty Harry"
"Road Kill" & "Hungry Man"
"Hello Dexter Morgan" & "The Getaway"

These tapes are enormously strong, featuring consecutive episodes from different parts of the season. The first installment, episode four, features a great guest star in the form of Christina Cox, and the second emphasizes Dexter’s humanity and role as a family man. The second tape is truly fantastic, with two episodes that see Arthur really lose it (not to mention the best episode of this show’s season: the Thanksgiving one). The final tape includes the last two episodes of the season which pack their own particular punch. Simply put, this was the show’s best season since the first (before the show was nominated), and these tapes represent it well. The fact that John Lithgow already won a guest acting Emmy for his performance indicates that this show might do really well this year. It definitely has a chance.

"Pilot" & "Threesome"
"Hi" & "Bang"
"Fleas" & "Heart"

I don’t have reviews of all these episodes because I didn’t really like the show for a while following the pilot. It did grow on me, however, and those who liked the pilot probably liked the whole show more than I did. These episodes do a good job of incorporating Peter’s arc and Alicia’s dilemma about starting an affair with Will. Nominated actresses Julianna Margulies, Christine Baranski, and Archie Panjabi all submitted one of the above episodes, which is a good sign considering they all highlight the fine work done by the thespians. It’s been a long time since a procedural won Best Drama Series, but this is the best shot any show like this had for a long time.

"Dr. Linus" & "Ab Aeterno"
"Happily Ever After" & "The Candidate"
"The End, Parts 1 & 2"

It’s important to first point out that “The Sopranos” is the only show ever to win for its final season. The submissions for this show are strong and may be exactly the ticket to really competing in this race. The first three focus on wildly popular characters (Ben, Richard, and Desmond), while the fourth showcases some major shocking deaths, and then there’s the super-sized finale. This show may have divided too many people to take home another top award after winning in its first, still-fresh year, but it wouldn’t be too big a surprise if it did manage to overcome the odds.

"My Old Kentucky Home" & "The Gypsy & the Hobo"
"Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency" & "Seven Twenty Three"
"The Grown Ups" & "Shut the Door, Have a Seat"

This show is the reigning champ with two consecutive wins, and its third year was just as good as, if not better than, the previous ones. Smart submissions mean that the show is once again the frontrunner to win, and it’s only a matter of whether a show can muster up enough buzz to dethrone it. “The West Wing” won for its first four seasons, and some even thought it was losing some of its freshness by that point. This show, on the other hand, remains just as well-received as ever. These episodes are taken out of order but all marvelously effective. Each tape has one truly well-liked episode, and the others are great too. I imagine this show will make it three in a row this year.

"Nothing but the Blood" & "Scratches"
"Shake & Fingerpop" & "Never Let Me Go"
"I Will Rise Up" & "Frenzy"

Many have expressed that this show’s nomination is its win. That’s likely true, given both the plot of the show and given the fact that it has no other major nominations. “Big Love,” another HBO show, scored only one nod last year, which was in this category, and while “True Blood” does have four other technical nominations, it still doesn’t have much of a shot. The episodes themselves are fine but even, and they’re certainly not going to help this show win. “Keep This Party Going,” “Release Me,” and “Timebomb” weren’t even included, and those were all stronger than the selected episodes. Maybe next year, though I doubt that the show will get nominated again.

Who should win (based on entire season): “Mad Men” (my ballot)
Who should win (based on individual episodes): “Breaking Bad”
Who will win: It could be any of the shows except for “True Blood,” but I think it’s going to be “Mad Men” again.

Next up: Best Comedy Series

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 4, Episode 5 “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” (B+)

It seems that last year’s brilliant finale episode “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” has inspired more caper-esque, entertaining plots on the part of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Don’s latest scheme to trick the competition, led by Kevin Rahm, who plays Lee on “Desperate Housewives,” was truly dastardly and fantastic. I enjoyed seeing Peggy lead the bike in and Joey standing guard outside to ensure that no one would go in to peek at the commercial. Roger’s insistence on not working with the customers he detested because of past wars was particularly interesting, and watching Cooper, Pete, and Don all get mad at him in their different ways was fascinating. Lane really does seem to be taking a backseat in everything, and that’s very intriguing. The intense focus on Sally is proving to be an excellent center point for the show, giving Betty and Don a reason to be mad at each other, and referring back to Betty’s own therapy sessions back in the show’s first (?) season. It’s very insightful to hear Betty describe what she perceives to be Sally’s problems and what she thinks has caused them. Don’s embarrassment when his secretary loudly announces that his daughter is in therapy is hardly surprising, and it’s only quite interesting to see the effects of Sally cutting her hair. Phoebe told her that she’s in more trouble than Sally is, while Don yelled at Phoebe, decrying the fact that he would now have to deal with Betty’s anger. This show does a remarkable job of taking small topics not inherently related to one another and connecting them in an utterly compelling way.

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 3, Episode 10 “I Smell a Rat” (B+)

As we’re approaching the end of the season, I feel like this show is getting its ducks back in a row, and by that I mean things are still making sense even as they’re getting crazier and crazier. Sookie being described as a fairy is somewhat strange, but the admission that her blood is what made Bill able to go out into the sunlight unharmed is very intriguing. Bill and Eric talking reveals just how little both of them really know. Eric is truly preparing to meet his end, saying that he won’t be around much longer anyway and then saying goodbye by redrafting his will. I loved how Pam interrupted his conversation with Sookie – “blah blah vampire emergency blah” – and Eric’s assertion that her lack of sentiment has always been her most positive quality was amusing and all too appropriate. Eric’s decision to lock up Sookie at the end is a discouraging one, though it’s always possible that he’s just doing it for her own protection so she won’t go and get herself hurt. Sam’s flashbacks are interesting and a bit random, though I do like his motto: “it’s not respect when your employees think you’re a psychopath.” Jason’s decision to confess his murder of Eggs to Tara when she’s at her worst and finally starting to trust someone (him) seems ill-advised and doesn’t do much to help the idea that he’s actually smarter than he tries to appear. His discussion with Sookie about protecting and lying not always being different was one of the more powerful scenes of the episode. Jason getting mad and kicking Bill out of the house was also pretty intense, and a human taking back an extended invitation is one thing we hadn’t yet seen (to my best recollection) on this show. The crazy V trip taken by Lafayette and Jesus doesn’t do much to enhance the show, but it’s not overly distracting and the two actors are both extremely talented, so it’s not too grating. Terry vowing to raise Arlene’s child as his own, surrounded by lots of love, was sweet, and it’s a shame that Arlene immediately thought about how to get rid of the baby. Hoyt just punching Tommy in the face after leaving the bar when Jessica couldn’t say she loved him was quite a surprise, and Tommy’s response was a violent, though hardly atypical overreaction. It’s good to see one couple get happily back together, and now that he’s drunk a good deal of her blood, they’re sure to be closer than ever. It seems abundantly clear than Russell is insane, and in case there didn’t seem to be anything more off-putting than the image of a vampire being staked, it turns out that a human being staked is even worse because they don’t get to immediately move on to the “true death.”

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Writing for a Comedy Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Beware of spoilers for listed episodes.

Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk & Ian Brennan, Glee (Pilot)
This was the episode that got everyone talking, which now aired almost a year and a half ago back in May 2009. Yet it’s the only installment of the show recognized here and it’s a good bet to garner a good number of voters. Its only real competition is the episode listed right below: a pilot of another show that received many acting nominations and a bid for Best Comedy Series. It’s a crapshoot – one or the other should take home this award.

Steven Levitan & Christopher Lloyd, Modern Family (Pilot)
ABC’s family comedy is represented here for its beloved pilot, and I think that the writing on this show is one thing that can’t be ignored. The actors are great, as evidenced by the many acting nods the show garnered, but the characters are fantastic as well, and it’s in this excellently-composed pilot that everything comes together in a really great and endearing way. I’d put this above “Glee” in terms of writing, and I think it’s the frontrunner.

Greg Daniels & Mindy Kaling, The Office (Niagara, Parts 1 & 2)
This is the fifth episode of "The Office" to be nominated for an Emmy for writing, and “Gay Witch Hunt” is the series’ only win here. In an uneven season, this was unquestionably the strongest episode, a two-parter that saw its two most endearing members tie the knot. If not for the two new shows above, it might ideally be a shoo-in, but I think it will have to go unrewarded, especially since honoring the show doesn’t seem like anyone’s priority this year considering how most people now feel about it as a whole.

Matt Hubbard, 30 Rock (Anna Howard Shaw Day)
30 Rock” has won in this category the past two years, and this is definitely the stronger of the two installments under consideration this year. Liz’s re-imagined vision of Valentine’s Day is funny, and the way that all of her previous boyfriends are worked into the script is entertaining. I think one of the newbies is going to take this, but don’t ever count out the juggernaut that is “30 Rock” when it comes to the Emmys.

Tina Fey & Kay Cannon, 30 Rock (Lee Marvin vs. Derek Jeter)
What does this episode have going for it? Tina Fey’s name. Against it? The whole Avery vs. Nancy plotline. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something that depends heavily on having seen other episodes of the show (potentially annoying ones at that), whereas the “30 Rock” episodes that have won in the past haven’t been that type of installment. Additionally, Julianne Moore’s Boston accent will likely get most viewers to rank this episode last.

Who should win: “Modern Family” (my ballot)
Who will win: “Modern Family”

Next up: Best Drama Series

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I’m Watching: Royal Pains

Royal Pains: Season 2, Episode 11 “Big Whoop” (B+)

This episode featured all three of the season’s major recurring guest stars, all together in one episode, and all of their arcs are starting to be either wrapped up or headed in a new direction. Least interesting of all is Dr. Blair, who got spooked by Jill’s invocation of Boris’ name and decided not to sue Jill and her clinic. Dr. Blair’s presence has been hardly memorable, but at least it wasn’t too distracting and was sidelined to make time for far more important matters. Eddie’s shenanigans may now be revealed by his younger son, and I’m curious to see exactly what he’s been up to and whether the con has any benefit for his sure-to-be-hurt sons. The most intriguing of all is Dr. Emily Peck, who continues to delude Hank into thinking that she’s actually not competitive and anything cutthroat she might do is just cute. Divya’s suggestion that Emily serve as her replacement is a surprising and intriguing one. I would posit, however, that the absence of Divya would hurt the show, and Emily is too self-assured and unflappable to make up for her not being there. Whereas Divya finds Evan hopelessly annoying, Emily nothings him, which isn’t anywhere near as amusing. When it comes to casting, I must applaud the first-ever fitting role for actor Michael Rappaport, who here actually does a decent job playing a video game-obsessed process server. John Amos was great as always, here perfectly cast as a no-nonsense older doctor too stubborn to take care of himself.

What I’m Watching: Burn Notice

Burn Notice: Season 4, Episode 11 “Blind Spot” (B+)

Though I kept acknowledging it, the end of this half of the season really snuck up on me. Jesse’s discovery of Michael’s duplicity at the very end of the episode was a long time coming but still came as quite as a serious shock. He didn’t kill Fiona or take her hostage, which is good, but he is definitely angry and he is certainly coming for Michael soon. They were working so well together in this episode that his sudden violent turn really throws things for a loop. Michael also seemed to think that Jesse didn’t suspect anything since he let him go in his place to help Fiona out rather than stay and babysit their captive. Jesse has been a fine addition to the cast, and imagining the show without him is only slightly less exciting because it features fewer cast members. The core four are absolutely capable of getting stuff done all by themselves, as evidenced by the number of jobs taken on recently by Fiona and Sam as personal favors for friends. Madeleine’s exit from the group dynamic is only a temporary one, and if Jesse departs due to imprisonment, death, or self-imposed isolation, he’ll be swapped out for the returning Madeleine. This season more than past ones seems to have underused its primary liaison to the people who got Michael burned and instead favored giving Jesse much more to do. I think that’s fine since Vaughn didn’t seem all that interesting, and ultimately, as I’m sure next week’s episode will prove, this show is really about Michael, Fiona, Sam, and Madeleine.

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Directing for a Comedy Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Beware of spoilers for listed episodes.

Preface: Last year was the first year in six years that a pilot didn’t win this award (no pilot was nominated).

Paris Barclay, Glee (Wheels)
For all my criticism of this episode, I must admit that it was well-directed. The installment where all of the glee club members are assigned to spend time in wheelchairs by Will ranks as one of the more choreographically ambitious episodes of the musical sensation. It’s a strong entry, but it’s not the episode that got everyone singing and dancing, so it shouldn’t really have much of a shot.

Ryan Murphy, Glee (Pilot)
Unless voters suddenly decide this show is not for them, this episode is going to win. From 2004 to 2008, “Arrested Development,” “Desperate Housewives,” “My Name is Earl,” “Ugly Betty,” and “Pushing Daisies” won this award when they were the most popular new comedy of the year. Whether it’s this or “Modern Family” is up for debate, but given the extraordinarily nominations love bestowed on this series and the way it launched the show, I think it’s a shoo-in.

Jason Winer, Modern Family (Pilot)
This show is definitely popular, and having one episode here helps, but I’m not sure it caught on quite as much like wildfire as “Glee” did. Its many acting nominations indicate that it is an Emmy favorite, but again, it pales to “Glee” in terms of total nominations count. I wouldn’t dismiss it entirely (it’s definitely in second place), but I think this show will have a better shot in both the writing and series categories.

Allen Coulter, Nurse Jackie (Pilot)
This show scored a surprising nod for Best Comedy Series, which ups its chances here one hundred fold. It still has the least buzz of all the shows in this category, two of which are fresh-hot and the other a triple-crown Best Comedy Series winner. When “Weeds” was nominated in this category a few years back, it didn’t take home the gold, though the more serious “Desperate Housewives” did for its pilot. Either way, it’s in last place among these nominees.

Don Scardino, 30 Rock (I Do Do)
Down from three nods last year and one each year for the first two seasons, this show is up for its season finale, which was one of the better episodes of the season but still shouldn’t cut it here. This show has succeeded majestically in almost every other category, but directing is just one place the series doesn’t seem to be winning over voters. The episode is hardly comparable to some of the episodes that previously contended in this category, so I don’t think that this one is the tradition-breaker.

Who should win: “Modern Family” (my ballot)
Who will win: “Glee” Pilot

Next up: Best Writing for a Comedy Series

Monday, August 23, 2010

What I’m Watching: Psych

Psych: Season 5, Episode 6 “Viagra Falls” (B+)

This is a fantastic, fun episode featuring two great guest stars who serve as perfect foils for Shawn and Gus. Most importantly, however, this is a self-contained arc that is finite enough that it could be recalled again but likely wouldn’t need to be. Forty-five minutes is exactly the right amount of time to devote to a couple of retired ex-cops forced to partner up with younger, sillier novices. Anyone who tries to make a show with that as the premise should really reconsider. While this works as a one-shot deal, it would quickly become tiresome and irksome as a regular series. It does work incredibly well here, thanks to the guest performances by cranky William Devane, most recently seen as a regular player on “24” and “Crumbs,” and Carl Weathers, stranded last year on FOX’s abysmal “Brothers” but far more famous as Apollo Creed in “Rocky” thirty-four years ago. Their interactions with Shawn and Gus were hilarious, and I enjoyed how they actually ended up becoming quite a good team. The “Bark and Mark” was pretty funny, and it’s always entertaining to see Shawn and Gus in awe of people who really can’t stand them. I was most amused by Boone yelling at Gus and telling Juliet to pick up his dry cleaning only to have his life threatened by the female cop. It’s important to officially classify this episode as a positive use of well-known actors in guest-starring roles since Devane and Weathers proved to be quite fitting one-shot additions to the already enjoyable and talented cast on this show.

What I’m Watching: Rescue Me

Rescue Me: Season 6, Episode 8 “Cowboy” (B+)

This episode started with a surprisingly pleasant scene between Janet and Tommy that seemed like it was going to be the calm before the storm, though I’m not so sure that things are going to explode as much as they threatened to in this hour. Of course Tommy and Sheila can’t end their years-long affair as easily as she stupidly suggested, and the list of problems with Tommy had to be interpreted as a challenge to his manhood rather than an easy out. In a sense, Mickey is actually the most volatile and unstable Gavin family member because he used to be the voice of reason back when he was a priest and then succumbed to the family’s alcoholism and had his life turned upside down. I fear very much what he’ll do with the knowledge he has about Tommy’s latest indiscretion. Needles had a magnificent speech where he yelled and insulted his superior in a major way, and kudos to Adam Ferrera for some brilliant delivery. Damian turning to Franco and Black Shawn for some Yoda advice was fun, and even more unexpected and fantastic was the ensuing scene that followed Penny not even letting him finish his prepared speech before demanding that he take her home (and to bed). I had completely forgotten about Damian’s teacher, and having him get so excited about the thought of lasting one minute by Christmas was pretty hilarious. I loved Penny’s line: “This isn’t homework, you’re going to try this right now.” Sean and Mike really messed up in a big way by taking Pat to see all of the wrong people, but at least he died peacefully in the car reflecting back on his life. He did share one thought-provoking pearl of wisdom during that abysmal experience: “you don’t get to pick who you save.”

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Writing for a Drama Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Beware of spoilers for listed episodes.

Rolin Jones, Friday Night Lights (The Son)
Fans of FNL tout this as one of the all-around best episodes of the season. Watching it as a non-regular viewer of the show, I can understand the impact of the episode, which finds one character struggling to mourn the loss of a father he never really got a chance to know. This episode could make for a great consolation prize for the show not winning any Emmys in its first three seasons, but I think, like the football team at East Dillon High, it’s a long shot at best.

Michelle King & Robert King, The Good Wife (Pilot)
Even though I didn’t love it, the pilot of CBS’s new drama really had people talking, and the show earned nine nominations this year. Pilots rarely win in this category (“24” and “Mad Men” are the recent exceptions), but this is exactly the right kind of installment to break that mold. The buzz for lead actress Julianna Margulies and the show’s nod for Best Drama Series will also help considerably.

Damon Lindelof & Carlton Cuse, Lost (The End, Parts 1 & 2)
Despite earning five nominations over four seasons in this category, ABC’s serial drama has never won an Emmy for writing. Many were unhappy with the events of the finale, and therefore rewarding its writing might seem inappropriate. On the other hand, however, the controversial final installment of “The Sopranos” did manage to win in this category despite those same misgivings. It all depends on whether “Mad Men” still sweeps or nostalgia for this now-deceased show prevails.

Robin Veith & Matthew Weiner, Mad Men (Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency)
Down from four nominations in this category last year, “Mad Men” is now up for two. This episode, also mentioned for directing, is a more comedic and unusual episode for the show. Given the serious series premiere and second season finale that have won in the past, I wouldn’t count on this installment being honored for its writing, especially considering there’s another, stronger choice from the same show available.

Matthew Weiner & Erin Levy, Mad Men (Shut the Door, Have a Seat)
The third season finale was, in my opinion, the best episode of the year. The second season finale took home this prize last year, so that’s a good sign. This episode managed to reinvent the show and send it in a new direction by plucking its primary characters and having them mutiny and start a new independent agency. It’s a daring, entertaining episode that deserves the recognition it will likely get.

Who should win: “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” (my ballot)
Who will win: “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”

Next up: Best Directing for a Comedy Series

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What I’m Watching: Covert Affairs

Covert Affairs: Season 1, Episode 6 “Houses of the Holy” (B)

I’ll admit that this was one operational setup that never quite grabbed me from its inception, as opposed to the plotlines in the previous two episodes. That doesn’t mean it was necessarily bad; rather it wasn’t as engaging as the show has been recently. What I do like, however, is the undercover work that was begun at the beginning of this episode when all of the agents were sent in to infiltrate the staff teams of different senators. We only got to see Annie, of course, but her work does make it fairly interesting, much more so than something like a soccer player with a tricky sister. The casting of the senator and his wife in this episode was fun, featuring D.W. Moffett, of “Friday Night Lights” and “Hidden Palms” fame, with a silly accent as the senator, and Lauren Holly, initially unrecognizable to me because she had more hair than she had when she exited “NCIS,” as his treacherous wife. Having Annie spot her sister’s husband somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be was a nice subplot, though of course it does beg the obvious “Alias” comparison, reminiscent of when Sydney ran into Charlie while on a mission and had to confront him about his extracurricular activities and his relationship with Francie. One line from Joan that stuck with me was “Just for a moment, let’s be two women who are married to powerful men.” Auggie’s operation was interesting, but I must point out that these people need to have better control of their operations, most specifically knowing when a team has already gone radio silent and calling off a mission is too late.

What I’m Watching: White Collar

White Collar: Season 2, Episode 6 “In the Red” (B+)

Let’s have a round of applause for non-distracting celebrity guest star use. John Laroquette didn’t actually have much of a chance to do anything besides lie and bumble his way into the hands of the FBI, but the character served as a great anchor for the episode, and especially as a way to get everyone, even the mobsters, mad at him for exploiting Chechnyan children. While magnificently unrealistic, it was pretty hilarious that the mobsters ended up wearing a wire in order to catch the adoption lawyer red-handed and on tape. I’m loving the parallel plotline with Sara and her doggedness in retrieving the stolen envelope and inserting herself into Neal’s affairs because he roped her into his by having the package mailed to her apartment. His willingness to take a polygraph and his outright lie about not having the package in his apartment moments before they found it were both equally amusing. Mozzie detailing his exploits breaking into Sara’s apartment was very funny, and I enjoy how flashbacks to the actual events as they happen are shown for little reason other than their entertainment value. Watching Mozzie prepare to commit some petty crime is just so damn fun. The same goes for Neal; it’s just that the bald guy has been up to much more in terms of shenanigans lately. The opening of the package at the end doesn’t indicate anything concrete, and any mention of Peter is likely a red herring like the final scene of the first half-season of this show involving Peter and Kate. It’s still interesting, though, and it’s good to have a recurring plotline in which Sara will soon likely play an integral part.

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Directing for a Drama Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Beware of spoilers for listed episodes.

Jack Bender, Lost (The End, Parts 1 & 2)
The now-ended series won in this category for its pilot back in 2005 and was nominated again for its second and third season finales. Now, the two-and-a-half-hour series finale is eligible and could serve as a great way to say goodbye to the series since it likely won’t win the top prize it did after the show’s debut season.

Lesli Linka Glatter, Mad Men (Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency)
Despite having one episode recognized each year, the popular AMC show has never triumphed in this category. The representative installment for this year is the on where the British guy’s foot gets run over by a tractor, which serves as an oddly comic and entertaining installment and definitely stands apart from the other more dreary submissions in this category.

Agnieszka Holland, Treme (Do You Know What It Means?)
HBO’s latest critically-acclaimed show had to settle for this nomination and one for music and lyrics. The pilots of HBO series “Six Feet Under” and “Deadwood” won this award, while “The Sopranos” and “Big Love” were nominated but didn’t get the award (“The Sopranos” won in its final season). Given the fact that this show has only one other nomination (compared with the other four, which are all nominated for Best Drama Series), I think this well-directed pilot will sit this race out.

Michelle MacLaren, Breaking Bad (One Minute)
One of the more intense episodes of the most intense show on television last season is most compelling in its final minute, which should leave voters with energetic, astounding memories of the episode. The pilot of this show was nominated two years ago, and the series is now up for the top prize and has only gotten better. This is definitely a dark horse for the award.

Steve Shill, Dexter (The Getaway)
The first directing nod for Showtime’s serial killer dramedy comes in its fourth season for the finale which, like the episode above, packs a punch in its final moments. Truthfully, it’s probably the least likely to win given the fact that it’s not nearly as accessible as some of the other installments (disregarding “Lost,” of course). While it’s a good episode, it’s not necessarily the strongest of the season, while the other four installments here could all be argued as such.

Who should win: “Do You Know What It Means?” (my ballot)
Who will win: “The End, Parts 1 & 2”

Next up: Best Writing for a Drama Series

Pilot Review: The Big C

The Big C (Showtime)
Premiered August 16 at 10:30pm

There seems to be a theme running through much of Showtime’s recent programming: half-hour dramedies starring strong-willed, powerful women with much familial baggage and considerable extra-curricular activities of a questionable nature on the side. In this case, Cathy isn’t a drug dealer, doesn’t have multiple-personality disorder, and isn’t a nurse with an intense pill addiction. Instead, she’s a teacher who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and finds herself unable to open up to anyone other than her doctor and her neighbor’s dog. While it’s hardly as intense as “Breaking Bad,” the show still has a dark mean streak. Cathy’s son Adam has a nasty habit of tricking his mother into thinking he’s been gravely injured or killed, and once Cathy begins to accept her fate, she pranks him right back by posing in a bathtub filled with blood. Cathy’s new lease on life is interestingly optimistic, and her insistence on having a full pool put into her front yard is particularly intriguing. Oliver Platt essentially reprises his role from “Please Give” this past year as a childish husband who can’t really understand anything of what his wife his going through, and John Benjamin Hickey plays Cathy’s brother, who prefers to live his life homeless on the streets protesting for social justice. Gabourey Sidibe, who broke out in last year’s “Precious,” also appears as Andrea, a summer student of Cathy’s with a bad attitude, and the sardonic Cathy makes it her personal mission to encourage Andrea to lose weight since, as she puts it, “you can’t be fat and mean.” The real star of the show, of course, is lead actress Laura Linney. The series is a vehicle for Linney to channel a heartfelt and compelling portrayal of a woman with a new outlook on life, and in the pilot, she responds well to the challenge. I’m not quite as impressed as most people seem to be, partially because I think I’ve seen her do stronger work in films like “The Squid and the Whale” and “The City of Your Final Destination.” It’s still a powerhouse performance, however, and she’ll have plenty of time to hone out, even if her character only has one year left. This is a decent start to a show that will likely get better, and I definitely prefer it to the pilots of both “Nurse Jackie” and “The United States of Tara.” It’s not nearly as addictive as “Weeds,” but it has its own distinct appeal. It’s a somewhat uneven but otherwise compelling start, and it should only get better from here.

How will it work as a series? Word on the street is that the year Cathy is supposed to have left is going to play out over four seasons, both television-wise and calendar-wise (starting with summer in season one). I think that’s an effective strategy, and since this is only a kickoff installment, it’s hard to tell where the show’s headed, and a viewing of episode two (and likely further ones) is surely necessary. I’m fairly certain that the show should do pretty well.
How long will it last? Well, the day after the pilot aired, Showtime announced it as the highest-rated original series premiere the network has had in eight years. If that doesn’t mean instant renewal, I don’t know what does. Given the success of the three aforementioned female-led dramedies on Showtime, I’m sure this show can do perfectly well filling out its four prescribed years.

Pilot grade: B

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What I’m Watching: Weeds (Season Premiere)

Weeds: Season 6, Episode 1 “Thwack” (B+)

It’s great to have this show back, and that means something for a show entering its sixth year. Last year’s stay in Mexico with Esteban’s violent, murderous nature constantly hovering over the Botwin family got a bit tiresome and contradicted the show’s reboot and location switch at the end of the third season. Now, the show is taking a cue and reinventing itself once again, sending the Botwin clan on the run after Shane’s deadly act at the end of last season. His constant references to his new status as a murderer are entertaining, and this show does a great job of handling such ridiculous plotlines as everything that occurred in this season-starting installment. The inclusion of Andy is also deftly handled, giving his near-fiancĂ©e a believable reason to leave him after he abandons her in a major moment of need. Most of all, of course, the supreme talents of Mary-Louise Parker are on display here, reminding that she hasn’t lost any of the token sardonic flair and ability to convey exasperation, despite what Emmy voters would have you think. Most critics and reviewers will be buzzing about the new show that airs after this one, but don’t be fooled: this show may not be fresh, but that doesn’t mean it’s lost any of its flavor. On the contrary, however, it’s found a new way of making itself interesting and exciting. Whether that will last is another matter, but for the moment, this show is off to a great new start.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What I’m Watching: Rizzoli & Isles

Rizzoli & Isles: Season 1, Episode 6 “I Kissed a Girl” (B+)

Throughout this entire episode, I kept thinking that these cops really need sensitivity training. While everything is played for laughs and it’s generally harmless, the things these people say really aren’t politically correct. Television-wise, that does make things more entertaining. I kept recalling the season two episode of “Rescue Me” where the firefighters completely destroy a sensitivity training official with their crude and inappropriate remarks. In this case, it also made for a lot of amusing scenarios. Most importantly, those were spearheaded by the relationship between Rizzoli and Isles, which puts to rest a concern I had initially had with what the focus of this show would likely be. Unbelievable as it may be, having Maura pose as a waitress while Rizzoli speed dates lesbian suspects actually worked, and ended up being quite fun. Trying to categorize Rizzoli as a certain type of lesbian is also predictably entertaining, and having her react to all of it so strongly makes it even more enjoyable. The episode-beginning yoga session set up the episode well, positioning Rizzoli as an uptight rule-breaker who refuses to let herself be taken care of by anyone else, male or female, and especially not a male nurse. I do find myself stating the caveat of “this isn’t how it likely really works” quite often, but I don’t think that’s overly problematic. Rizzoli and Isles bartering hunches and dates over a dead body is fun enough that how realistic it actually is shouldn’t ultimately be too much of a concern.

What I’m Watching: The Closer

The Closer: Season 6, Episode 6 “Off the Hook” (B+)

I really liked the pace of this episode, aided considerably by the intense music that underlined the urgency of this case. It’s also good to see the whole team investigating things together, and having a powwow at Brenda’s house complete with suspects and food is indicative of how close this bunch is and just how well they work together. Pope does need to keep his temper in check, and he certainly gets chewed out for his lack of sensitivity. His failure to apologize to the detective he had accused of being responsible for the commissioner’s death was ugly, and having Brenda tell him that she wouldn’t let this happen if it were her was a rare, much-needed moment of honesty and true expression. It was good to see Commander Taylor so heavily involved in the case, from the beginning when he used his rank to expedite a response and then remained involved in the case as Brenda and Major Crimes tiptoed around to avoid Pope’s watchful eye. There’s something utterly thrilling about watching people subvert authority (see: “Mad Men” season finale “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”), and this episode was all about that. The resolution of this case proved to be interesting and surprising, initially pinpointing convicts and then ultimately coming back to a grieving widow who blamed the parole reviewer for letting a killer go free. With so many cop shows on the air, cases are bound to be recycled and get stale, but this one felt remarkably fresh.

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Submitted episode titles are in parentheses. Beware of spoilers for listed episodes.

Christine Baranski as Beverly Hofstadter, The Big Bang Theory (The Maternal Congruence)
Baranski was nominated in this category for the same performance last year. She has an advantage this time because her uptight character loosens up when she discovers alcohol, and Baranski is also a double nominee thanks to her new CBS show “The Good Wife.” Baranski is a respected actress who will likely win another Emmy soon, but with Betty White in the mix this year, don’t count on this being the time.

Kristin Chenoweth as April Rhodes, Glee (The Rhodes Not Taken)
Chenoweth won an Emmy last year for the cancelled “Pushing Daisies” and found success in her first post-PD role guesting on the most popular new show of the year. Chenoweth is charming as always and gets the chance to sing and dance for sensible reasons (they made it happen on “Pushing Daisies” somehow too). If for some crazy reason White didn’t win, Chenoweth would be next in line, but I don’t see it happening.

Tina Fey as Herself, Saturday Night Live (Host: Tina Fey)
The ultra-popular Fey won this award last year for hosting SNL, and her repeat performance is just as funny and endearing. She even reprises her imitation of Sarah Palin, which audiences and voters alike adore. Fey’s series “30 Rock” is also still popular, so she has everything going for her. Fellow SNL host and nominee Betty White thinks Fey is going to repeat, but as Tom O’Neil points out on his blog, she’s probably wrong. Fey is going to have to yield to her elder this year.

Kathryn Joosten as Karen McCluskey, Desperate Housewives (The Chase)
Beware Mrs. McCluskey. Joosten has won both times she was previously nominated, for the show’s first and fourth seasons. Now she contends again for her appearance in an episode of this season that had me pointing out how strange it was that she was so randomly reintroduced. Her Emmy track record is spotless, but I think showier comediennes should lower her batting average this year.

Jane Lynch as Herself, Two & a Half Men (818-JKLPUZO)
Lynch is fantastic, there’s no debating that. But she shouldn’t be here for her effortless performance as Charlie’s shrink on “Two and a Half Men,” where she barely lifts a finger and makes a few slightly funny puns. If she had been nominated for “Party Down,” that would have made more sense, but this is purely a response to her growing popularity with her new role on “Glee.” She’ll probably win that race, but not this one.

Elaine Stritch as Colleen Donaghy, 30 Rock (The Moms)
This is Stritch’s fourth straight nomination for playing mom to Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy (she won only on her first try). As the episode title suggests, she’s one of many memorable mothers who show up to 30 Rockefeller on Mother’s Day. She’s had much more to do in the past, so I hardly think this is the year that she would repeat given the less prominent showcase she got this time.

Betty White as Saturday Night Live (Host: Betty White)
A Facebook campaign got her the gig of hosting SNL, and the show gave her much to do in the penultimate episode of the season. It’s clear from the audience reaction every time she comes on stage that White is, as some have called her, a national treasure, and she’s simply too adored not to win this thing. The fact that she’s 88 years old and still doing all of this only helps her.

Who should win (based on entire season): Chenoweth (my ballot)
Who should win (based on individual episodes) : Chenoweth (though White is great too)
Who will win: White

Next up: Best Directing for a Drama Series

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What I’m Watching: Entourage

Entourage: Season 6, Episode 7 “Tequila and Coke” (B+)

I do feel bad for Ari. After he came as close as he can to groveling and actually putting effort into a situation rather than just yelling at someone, he managed to convince his enemy to back down, only to have the information leaked by someone else. We didn’t get to see much of the fallout aside from the beginnings of the dissolution of the NFL project, but things are certainly not going to be good for Ari from here on out. I’ll make note once again of Jeremy Piven’s dramatic abilities that work extremely well in his (rarer) more serious scenes. Vince is continuing to ruin his career without knowing it by mixing painkillers with a porn star girlfriend and not taking care of himself. Sasha is going to be on her way out soon, I’d imagine, and Vince can hopefully get himself back on track. It’s fun to see Turtle operating as such a great salesman, and it’s a shame that his suppliers can’t back him up when he promises fifty cases of the good stuff to a vendor. Mark Wahlberg’s cameo was very amusing, and I like that the executive producer enjoys stopping by his show from time to time. Billy Walsh’s new idea is actually brilliant, but Drama’s stubbornness and allergy to animation will likely stall the project for some time, even if the rest of the crew is on board. It’s interesting to see all of the characters on this show shuffle around and interact with one another, and this series handles it better than you’d expect.

What I’m Watching: Hung

Hung: Season 2, Episode 7 “The Middle East is Complicated” (B+)

What a fantastic title for a fantastic episode. Ray getting caught in between his Arab client and his Israeli neighbor over what kind of hummus he has in his fridge is absolutely hilarious, mostly because Ray has so many problems and, up until now, that wasn’t one of them. Lenore being a psycho and leaving her sweater at Ray’s house for Tanya is one thing, but having her describe what she would do to Man and Boy from “The Road” if she encountered them in a post-apocalyptic world and they had crossed her was completely ridiculous and far-gone. Tanya’s decision to take Charlie’s advice and spend some time in the bedroom with him was great, and it enabled Jane Adams to give a stunning performance that she should keep in mind if Emmy voters decide to rightfully acknowledge her next year (no luck this time, sadly). Ray doubting himself after seeing Mike’s success and beating himself up for asking him for tips is a fascinating character study, and I’m loving every minute of it. The scene where Ray’s neighbor described how wonderful it was to hear these made-up compliments from the people he pays to have sex with him was very intriguing, and even more astounding and surprising was to then see Ray actually do that when he was with Liz, insisting that his compliments wear heartfelt and truthful rather than just what he thought she would want to hear. Like the Middle East, this show is far more complicated that many might suspect.

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Submitted episode titles are in parentheses. Beware of spoilers for listed episodes.

Will Arnett as Devin Banks, 30 Rock (Into the Crevasse)
Arnett was nominated for this same role two years ago, when he lost out to more senior “30 Rock” guest star Tim Conway. While he does deliver a hilarious line about revenge being a dish best served cold like pizza, which elicits a fantastic response for Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy, he doesn’t have all that much to do in this repeat performance, and if was going to win, it should have been for the show’s first season, when he wasn’t even nominated.

Jon Hamm as Dr. Drew Baird, 30 Rock (Emmanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land)
Hamm’s nod comes as somewhat of a surprise considering most expected to see him here for his SNL hosting gig. Instead, it’s a minute reprisal of the role for which he was nominated last year. In an episode littered with old boyfriends, Dr. Baird is easily the funniest and most memorable, and in only a few short minutes should elicit more laughs from voters than all of the other nominees combined. This may be the best way to give the Emmy-less Mad Man an award.

Neil Patrick Harris as Bryan Ryan, Glee (Dream On)
Harris earned his fourth consecutive nod for HIMYM this year as well as recognition for his hosting of the Tony Awards, giving him three nominations this year. His fun-spirited spot on “Glee” as an old chorus nemesis of Will’s may be just the ticket to reward the Emmy-less comedian. It’s definitely the most versatile of all of the performances in this category since he gets to sing, dance, and crack jokes at Will’s expense.

Mike O'Malley as Burt Hummel, Glee (Wheels)
O’Malley isn’t much of a comedic actor in this guest spot, but fans of “Glee” definitely adore his portrayal of gay glee club star Kurt’s supportive dad. This isn’t the episode where he chews Finn out for calling Kurt a derogatory name, but rather the one where Kurt wants to do a “Defying Gravity” solo and Burt sticks up for him. He’s definitely not a comedic choice, but voters may be eager to honor this performer who’s been in a lot of bad shows and finally found a role that works.

Eli Wallach as Bernard Zimberg, Nurse Jackie (Chicken Soup)
Once famous as the “ugly” in the classic spaghetti western “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” Wallach is now 94 years old and still working fairly regularly. He won an Emmy back in 1967 and has received three nominations since then, including one for his appearance on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” back in 2007. He has little to do nothing to do on “Nurse Jackie” as a dying patient who only wants chicken soup. Old age and the respect he’s incurred may be on his side, but last year, nonagenarian Ernest Borgnine couldn’t beat Michael J. Fox, so don’t count on that too strongly.

Fred Willard as Frank Dunphy, Modern Family (Travels with Scout)
Funnyman Willard was nominated three years in a row in this category for playing a wacky parent on “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and now he’s back in the saddle as Phil Dunphy’s dad. One reason for his inclusion is his dead-on resemblance to actor Ty Burrell, who plays Phil. The show is extremely popular with audiences (and voters, judging by the number of nominations it received), so Willard could get his due for all the years he’s put in filling memorable supporting parts.

Who should win (based on entire season): Harris (my ballot)
Who should win (based on individual episodes) : Hamm
Who will win: Likely Hamm or Harris.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What I’m Watching: Mad Men

Mad Men: Season 4, Episode 4 “The Rejected” (B+)

There’s nothing like being told you’re not a good man to really get you to examine the way you treat people. Even though Don next takes out his anger on the woman running her experiment by telling her that her results mean nothing and can’t predict how people will behave, he does take the time to try and draft some sort of letter to his very hurt secretary to atone for what he did wrong. His offer to have her write her own letter of recommendation and have him sign it was absolutely the wrong thing to say, and it’s good to see someone actually take action for once and tell him off, even if he is the hero of the show despite his extremely chauvinistic practices. It’s especially interesting to see Joan be the first person to come and talk to him after the incident because she likely has the most insight into the situation. Lane does seem to have an attitude problem, yelling at Pete and barely even congratulating him on the good news about Trudy. Watching how the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce functions, especially handling a lengthy phone call from Lee, is completely riveting. The spotlight on Pete in this episode worked well because it showed him in shock about not having been told of his wife’s pregnancy before her father, genuinely happy about having a baby, and sticking the knife in his father-in-law’s back when he rather rudely told him what would have to happen next. Vincent Kartheiser really deserves an Emmy. Peggy also had an eye-opening episode as she let a different person than she thought make a move on her and experienced some of the budding counterculture of the 1960s. The interposed shots of Pete being welcomed into the boys’ club and Peggy going out to lunch with her free-thinking friends were brilliantly done, not that such excellent camerawork is anything of a surprise on this show.

What I’m Watching: True Blood

True Blood: Season 3, Episode 9 “Everything is Broken” (B)

There’s something alarming about the sight of a news reporter casually discussing vampire rights on television even before Russell swoops in and tears out his spine before announcing to the American people that vampires are nothing like them and that they should be very, very afraid. It’s easy to forget that this show is supposed to take place in the present, even if cell phones ring occasionally. The supernatural nature of everything makes it seem timeless, and Bill waking up inside Sookie’s dream doesn’t help make it feel any more modern. The sudden inclusion of the AVL and the notion of putting people like Eric on videotaped trial is startling, but it does help to energize this show. The reappearance of Franklin seemed like an about-face in the wrong direction, but his instant shattering into pieces thanks to Jason’s wooden bullets helped seal that plotline off for good pretty quickly. Seeing Jesus and Lafayette get along so well feels foreboding compared to all of the darker, more starkly serious elements on this show, and having Lafayette react to Jesus’ order of a veggie burger with bacon provided a nice moment of levity. Additionally, Hoyt admitting that he hates his new girlfriend to Jessica was pretty funny, although it's sad to see Jessica storm away in tears. It takes a lot to catch Eric off guard, and seeing the female vampire from the AVL do so by telling him he wouldn’t be charged with anything and the matter would be swept under the rug was enthralling. Her reaction to Russell’s televised act of murder put his surprise to shame, however, making things even crazier than they already are on this wild show.

Emmy Winner Predictions: Best Guest Actress in a Drama Series

Nominees are pictured and listed in alphabetical order. Submitted episode titles are in parentheses. Beware of spoilers for listed episodes.

Shirley Jones as Lola Zellman, The Cleaner (Does Everybody Have a Drink?)
Jones, a two-time Emmy nominee, competes this year for her turn as the matriarch of an alcoholic family in an installment of the now-defunct A & E series “The Cleaner.” While Jones delivers an impressive performance, she’s not the only one. The other members of her family (and other clients of Benjamin Bratt’s detoxer William) are also on display, and Jones may not stand out as much as she should due to the number of strong turns in the episode.

Ann-Margret as Rita Wills, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Bedtime)
Every year but two since the show started, at least one actress from SVU has been nominated in this category (four of them have won, including one every year for the past three years). This year, it’s five-time Emmy nominee Ann-Margret, who delivers a loud and memorable performance as a murder suspect. Voters may be keen to reward her considering she’s never won, and the fact that someone has SVU has won for the past three years is a plus for Ann-Margret’s chances.

Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet Burke, Lost (The End, Parts 1 & 2)
This is the definitive instance of a makeup nod for an actress who was shockingly snubbed in the show’s third season for her supporting performance. No longer a regular cast member, she returned in the premiere and finale to reprise her role as Dr. Juliet Burke. The only way she could win for her limited performance would be if “Lost” was really rewarded everywhere and diehard fans/voters were excited to see her back.

Mary Kay Place as Adaleen Grant, Big Love (The Mighty & the Strong) & Sissy Spacek as Marilyn Densham, Big Love (End of Days)
I have not screened either of these episodes because, though it’s the only one out of all the Emmy-nominated shows this year, I do plan at some point to catch up on the series and don’t want to spoil the fourth season for myself. I realize it’s a handicap, but it’s only one category. Spacek has two previous Emmy nods for her miniseries work, while Place has one win for supporting comedy work all the way back in 1977. Spacek is likely a serious contender in this category. If you’ve seen either of their performances/episodes, please offer commentary below.

Lily Tomlin as Marilyn Tobin, Damages (Your Secrets Are Safe)
Despite having four trophies, Tomlin has never actually won an Emmy for acting. The legendary actress guest-starred this season on “Damages” as the disgraced wife of a Bernie Madoff-type character, delivering a riveting performance as a woman whose true motivations only gradually became clear. The season premiere isn’t the best showcase of her work, but it’s the episode that changed my mind about this show, and I think it’s a good enough indicator of Tomlin’s abilities.

Who should win (based on entire season): Tomlin (my ballot)
Who should win (based on individual episodes) : Tomlin
Who will win: Probably Tomlin or Spacek.

Next up: Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series