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Emmy Nominations: 2014 Analysis

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(Photo Credit: AP)

The Emmy nominations have become a day for television critics of all shapes and sizes, including this rotund but lovable charlatan, to rip those responsible for their oversights, their out-of-touch way of being a year or two too late on classics, and every single year for leaving out The Wire. David Simon got Treme in there as a miniseries this year though, so that’s something…I guess.

I must say though, today’s snubs felt more egregious than in years previous. But first a little bit of good news as several categories feature three or more nominees that could and should win, which seems a bit higher than normal but in a good way. The last 12 months has been an exceptional time on the flat screens of the world and the limits on nominees always leave a few on the outside looking in, but as Tim Goodman said in the Hollywood Reporter, that should change.

While it wasn’t surprising, the Emmys will have quite the Orange tinge as the first season of NETFLIX’ Orange is the New Black debuted with 12 nods, including for Best Comedy Series, Lead Actress for Taylor Schilling, and numerous Guest and Supporting nominations. What might be more impressive for Jenji Kohan’s powerhouse is the second season, by nearly every indication including my own, is superior to the freshman effort. It won’t be eye raising in the least if the prison yard has a stack of Emmys in a few weeks. It seems clear you can just hand them Best Comedy right now and also make sure Uzo Aduba is in attendance to pick up her Guest Actress honor for Crazy Eyes. She has to compete with two of her co-stars in Natasha Lyonne and Laverne Cox. The always good Kate Mulgrew also has a good shot in the Best Supporting category.

NETFLIX, as a whole, is the new Emmy darling. It’s replaced AMC and supplanted FX. In addition to Orange, House of Cards also racked up plenty of nominations, including one I like for Reg E. Cathey, who remains one of the few notable things about FX’ underwhelming Lights Out drama from years ago and who simply does great work. You know a network has the Emmy’s hearts when Ricky Gervais gets nominated for Derek, a show almost no one has paid any attention to whatsoever. 31 nominations for the streaming service has to be a nice way for Ted Sarandos to wake-up on a Thursday.

Breaking Bad got everything it deserved and if it wins in every one of those categories, you won’t get an argument from me. Cranston, Paul, and Gunn all nominated, plus Best Drama series for the back half of its brilliant fifth and final season. It’s maybe one of the three best shows of all-time and unlike some of the other yearly staple Emmy favorites, it ended just as strong as it started.

First time nominee Lizzy Caplan was tremendous in Masters of Sex (as well as Party Down) and it’s great to see her get recognized for it, but the entire Best Lead Actress in a Drama category is invalid for one simple reason: Tatiana Maslany was left out again. I’m not sure how, except in Emmy world, it’s possible to omit the best performer in one of the four biggest categories for the second consecutive year. Not only should Maslany be nominated for Orphan Black, she should then be walking on stage to accept a trophy for that performance. It’s astonishing and it’s sad that she’ll remain the best actress on television and receive nothing for it. It’s almost a complete damning of the Emmys as a whole.

Another show dangerously and deplorably left out is The Americans, which is certainly more worthy of a Best Drama nod over Downton Abbey at this point, or are we all just insane? Downton is a show made for the Emmys, but one where the subject matter and perceived gravitas far outweighs its actual value, especially in 2014. Put The Americans in first or Masters of Sex and the category would be much more just. Put them both in and just expand the nomination rules a bit as Goodman mentioned and the vitriol drops significantly.

With the success and the ratings of The Blackllist, I expected and am disappointed to see James Spader left out, but I’d campaign first for Matthew Rhys, who was just spellbindingly good on FX this season. I’d easily campaign for both of them over Jeff Daniels, who, although always very good, was on a show that barely survived and ended horrendously. You can add Michael Sheen in Masters of Sex to that list as well. All three of those shows were far better received across the board than The Newsroom. Margo Martindale got the lone acting nod for The Americans, and while she was excellent, it’s probably more because she was great in Justified four years ago than anything else, #BecauseEmmys.

True Detective had fewer episodes than Fargo and also featured a story with a defined beginning and end, but it’s too important to HBO (because Thrones hasn’t been an award juggernaut) and thus is on the Drama slate. Both shows deserved their nominations, however, and ironically in both Lead Actor categories, we’ll see the shows cannibalizing themselves. Thornton and Freeman competing on the Miniseries side and Harrelson and McConaughey on the Drama side is most interesting.

Then there’s Jon Hamm, who in what’s probably the most egregious reality in Emmy history, has never won for Don Draper. He’s been nominated every year, but he’s never won, and if you look at that loaded category, it’s very possible that streak will continue. He’s going to have to deal with the True Detective besties, Frank Underwood, and that Walter Hartwell White guy.

Parks and Recreation being left out except for Amy Poehler remains expected and sad, but what’s astonishing is leaving out Brooklyn Nine-Nine and honestly, leaving out The Goldbergs in at least some comedic category (ahem Wendi McLendon-Covey). Silicon Valley and Veep are very worthy nominees and will definitely challenge Modern Family, though everyone is likely playing for second behind Orange. Edie Falco gets yet another comedy nomination for Nurse Jackie, which isn’t, wasn’t, and never will be a comedy. Edie is awesome and she takes heat because of things outside of her control. That’s another argument we make every year.

Because of its success on CBS, The Big Bang Theory takes plenty of shots from hipsters and “above it” people, but I’ve got no problem saying it’s one of my favorite half hours of the week and has been since the first season. This past year’s run was also very strong. I’m especially pleased to see Bob Newhart get nominated for a Guest role for Professor Proton. Jim Parsons remains as good at what he does as anybody in their field and his continued nomination is evidence of it. He also received a second nod for his work in The Normal Heart.

Back to overall thoughts, it isn’t that those nominated did bad work, it’s that the Emmys give us the same thing every year and sadly are predictably out-of-touch and behind the times. The show feels incredibly stale and the snubs become the story rather than the great work of the nominees and the incredible age we’re living in right now as fans of the medium. Grasping onto the now fully-declined Downton Abbey is the biggest example of it.

QUICK STRIKES:

Another one of the traditional nominations is Modern Family, which although still a good program, is recognized more for what it did rather than what it still does. It’s now the Derek Jeter of the Emmy Awards. If it won this year, which it won’t, it would tie Frasier at five for most ever in the category.

Melissa McCarthy’s back for doing nothing new, but again no Wendi or maybe more disappointingly, no Emmy Rossum…again.

Alison Tolman was superb in Fargo, but she has a trio of competitors from American Horror Story: Coven AND both Ellen Burstyn and Julia Roberts to deal with…so I’m not holding my breath there.

I love that Gary Cole got a Guest nom for Veep. That’s all I have to say there…Hale and JLD no shock nor should there be but there’s so much more to that cast and Cole added plenty to the product.

Thank goodness the voters didn’t forget about Cumberbatch and Freeman (nominated twice this year) in Sherlock: His Last Vow, although the show itself didn’t crack the nominations for Miniseries.

The big question in the Miniseries or Movie category is whether Fargo can get the job done or whether the topical and extremely good The Normal Heart will walk away with a fleet of gold. They’re drastically different and I can make a case why the Emmy voters will learn heavily in one direction or the other.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned Game of Thrones, it’s because the show got 19 nominations and I have no problem with any of them. It’s one of the best shows out there and I’m glad to see it get recognized for its success. The Emmys has traditionally ignored the show, again why HBO submitted True Detective as a drama.

I’m never against Christina Hendricks, but Elizabeth Moss in the first half of the final Mad Men season (what was eligible) was maybe at her best and she’s long been ignored in final tallies. Her character became unlikable early in the year, but was a knockout as “Waterloo” concluded.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was the belle of the Golden Globe ball, but the Emmys only seemed to notice Andre Braugher. But at least they DID notice him, because he was magnificent.

I have grown to understand American Horror Story is good. I just don’t like the show. It’s just not for me and I’m okay with that.

The rose continues to fall from the Homeland shrub as expected. Danes gets her due again as does Patinkin, but no Damian Lewis and no Best Drama nod. The reinvention of the series this fall will either save it completely or you can wave goodbye to its award consideration.

Anna Faris was likely a longshot for Mom, but she was really good. Janney, another Emmy favorite, did get some love. The Best Actress in a Comedy Series category was going to leave someone on the outside looking in, because Dunham, Schilling, Falco (unfortunately), and Louis-Dreyfus were all shoo-ins, again #BecauseEmmys. 

Follow me on Twitter @GuyNamedJason and read my pieces for FOX at OutkickTheCoverage.com. 

EXTANT - Re-Entry Review, Halle Berry Heads to the Small Screen

Molly Woods is a brilliant, nearly infallible National Space Exploration Agency (NSEA) astronaut who just returned from a 13 month solo mission aboard the Seraphim space station. She saw no one during that time frame and only communicated with the station’s disembodied artificial intelligence. 

As Extant’s opening sequence unfolds, Woods (Halle Berry) is bent over a toilet engaged in what she believes to be part of the re-acclimation process after time in outer space. It’s not a good look for Molly as she sees herself in the mirror after a bout of vomiting.

We meet her son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) and her husband John (Goran Visnjic) and all seems normal enough. The pilot does a good job of masking its true intentions for the first few minutes before hitting the viewer squarely in the face with them one scene later.

The Woods family host a party and Ethan ends up pushing down another child, showing potential behavioral issues but also potential “kid being a kid” reflexes.

You know going in the show is about space and science fiction in some way and if you’ve watched any of the mountain of teasers and trailers on CBS, which began all the way back during the NCAA Tournament, you already know portions of the main premise.

After the party, Molly takes out the trash and tells her husband, “Got to get back to the routine right?” That’s one of the last pieces of the episode that is any way “routine.” A solid and intentionally mundane line because literally five seconds after she says it comes something outlandish and the end of any semblance of normalcy to the proceedings.

Before we get to Molly’s predicament, we find out more about Ethan. After the party and a talk with his father, Ethan tells him he may need a “flip.” John checks his son’s back, opens up a compartment, replaces a battery and reconnects minor circuitry. In a very Spielbergian move, Ethan Woods is indeed a robot and it isn’t a long con in getting the audience to that first big reveal.

Five minutes later, a mere ten minutes into “Re-Entry,” Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim) tells Molly Woods that tests have revealed the astronaut is pregnant. Molly is stunned, particularly because she tried for years, even with medical assistance, to have a child and was unsuccessful. Perhaps the vomiting wasn’t re-acclimation after all.

In a broken-up flashback sequence that plays throughout the episode and will likely be a continuing narrative device, we see a half-horror, half-science fiction mystery begin to unfold. Molly isn’t completely oblivious to it, but she’s also confused as to what exactly happened and what might have been a hallucination.

Two other big things happen over the next 30 minutes. The first is John Woods attempting to secure funding for the HUMANICHS project, of which Ethan is the test study. The project centers on building robots and giving them real life experiences and a true human life rather than the Master vs. Slave relationship. Moral and ethical questions as well as the usual Terminator/BSG robot uprising questions arise and John makes it clear that those who believe in the concepts of a soul or intelligent design are “idiots.”

Ethan’s behavioral issues show up in a major way later in a very Culkin “Good Son” reminiscent scene that comes across incredibly creepy but also relatively effective.

The story of two former astronauts, Marcus Dawkins (Sergio Harford) and Harmon Kruger (Brad Beyer) also plays a role in “Re-Entry” and both will assuredly become highly important. To avoid spoilers, I’ll leave their roles vague. One thing you probably already guessed: The NSEA doesn’t seem benevolent.

One thing becomes perfectly clear once we find out Ethan is indeed a robot: This is science fiction. The design of nearly ever image on screen displays technology past modern times, including even the most basic of buildings, monitors, and screens. No flying cars as of yet, but we don’t see any vehicles on Earth either. We do see a balloon vendor, but we also see a pair of toys that fly without a remote control. If you were expecting a baseline drama with a pregnancy angle and a major leading star, you’d thankfully be wrong.

The initial mystery, HUMANICHS, multinational corporations with questionable interests, a shadowy conspiracy with likely NSEA culpability, hallucinations that prove real, and the re-emergence of a whistleblower in the episode’s final moments put any fears of a run-of-the-mill network drama to rest. It’s shot well and looks gorgeous. Make no mistake, this doesn’t feel like a CBS product except for the budget and the obscenely large banners for fall programming that ruin the effect after each break. It will be interesting to see how Extant does. CBS has had more failures than successes with non “Case of the Week” projects, but they’ve never had a show like this combined with the star power of the lead and the producer.

Berry serves as a co-executive producer of the show and immediately adds weight to the project that might otherwise not exist. The names Spielberg and Berry matter and it’s likely the first episode rated well as a result.

I have no idea what we actually have in Extant. I need to see more. I know I enjoyed the first episode and look forward to next Wednesday. It’s quite possible the show could fall apart or lose itself in its eccentricities and in the process decimate its entire audience. It’s also possible CBS has found a way to duplicate or supplant the success of last year’s breakout summer hit, Under the Dome. I lost interest in the Stephen King adaptation as it went along, but although the alien pregnancy story isn’t exactly novel, the potential plot river tributaries could make Extant a show with staying power.

amctv:

JUST RELEASED: Watch the full premiere episode of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire NOW.

Oscar 2013 Preview - The “Will’a” and “Should’a”

It’s been entirely too long since I last penned a blog, but in truth, the idea of composing a regular piece is much more attractive than actually…well…doing it.  It’s been a busy last twelve months for me and almost all of it has been positive.  For the first time in seven or eight years, my usual year-end television rankings behemoth didn’t happen, but I promise to remedy that soon…in fact, maybe in this article.  The Academy Awards are just a few hours away and it felt like the right time to jump back into 6PM and start up again.  I think the best way to handle it is to say I’d like to think I could have something done each Friday…by 6 PM, rather than…every day.  Sometimes there might be more, sometimes just the one, but that seems like a reasonable goal.  So with that quick aside out of the way, let’s get to Oscar.

Tonight’s Oscars should be most interesting because of the sheer quantity of award-level content from what was a terrific year in movies.  One quick disclaimer…everyone who knows me understands that The Dark Knight Rises was my favorite film of the year…Batman as my obsession since childhood along with good sitcoms dictates it as such; Chris Nolan as by far my favorite director (with Fincher and Scorsese behind him) dictates it as such; Quality of the film itself dictates as such.  It will not be included here because it was left out of award consideration.  I had once thought that TDKR would be Nolan’s big Oscar night, in similar fashion to how Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was handled…the final installment gets the due for the entire series.  But here, not to be…Nolan will have his day.

BEST PICTURE

In order from five to one, here are the best films of 2013.

5. Moonrise Kingdom

4. Silver Linings Playbook

3. Django Unchained

2. Argo

1. Zero Dark Thirty

Silver Linings Playbook was a rarity in American cinema…a film that was utterly predictable, a film that used virtually every traditional rom-com trope, but a film whose predetermined ending was still satisfying.  David O. Russell did a masterful job in taking a standard formula and, for lack of a better description, screwing around with it.  He also had the benefit of one of the finest young actresses in Hollywood history…Jennifer Lawrence, who is capable of executing the biggest blockbuster (as she did in The Hunger Games) and still being nominated for an overlooked classic like Winter’s Bone.  Whereas Gosling, Levitt, and Renner stand as the standard-bearers for a new generation…with Eisenberg and a few others nearby, Kentucky’s Lawrence is in a class all by herself.  In many years, SLP might be atop this list, but it’s been a really good twelve months at the multiplex. 

Django Unchained will not win tonight…because of the controversy and more notably, where the controversy comes from…the use of racial slurs and intense (even for Tarantino) segments of violence.  However, look past some of the sensationalism and stylistic debauchery and what’s left is a tremendous, easy-to-follow, superbly realized neo-western.  Quentin has quite a list of accomplishments, and Django stands at worst as his third best film, and quite possibly number two.  Foxx was brilliant but Waltz was truly flawless yet again and Jackson, DiCaprio, Washington, and others all played their roles perfectly.  Samuel L…folks this was the role he was born to play, and it showed.  Truly a special film…if you can handle it.

Let’s speak about the top two together, because they feel linked in many ways.  Argo is flat out perfect.  The cast is outrageous, the direction magnificent, the pacing consistently suspenseful…even when in many cases, the shots are of characters staring into the abyss fearful of their lives or the risks involved in their outlandish escape attempt.  More impressive than any of this is how effective the history is used to illustrate Affleck’s vision.  Both Argo and his big brother, we’ll call him “Zero,” relied on telling fairly accurate stories.  It’s so easy to write a bad “based on truth” movie.  The story is already there…cut and paste…hire actors…film it…release it…rinse, repeat…rent.  The reason Zero Dark Thirty is the best film of 2013, just barely surpassing Argo, which will take home Oscar tonight, is because Kathryn Bigelow had the guts to take the researched facts that were compiled…and not change them to fit any particular ideology. 

Waterboarding is shown immediately after the pitch-black opening sequence (which was as emotional as anything any of us will ever see at the movies) and guess what, (gasp), it works!  The intelligence surrounding the death of UBL indicated clearly that guess what, (gasp), that’s how it happened!  It bothers me that at least one Academy voter said that because “torture” was shown as being effective, he would not be voting for ZDT in any category.  Are you kidding me?  Was the film of the highest quality?  Was it moving?  Did it succeed in its goals?  All an emphatic “yes,” but since it kind of goes against my ideology, I won’t be voting for it.  Since most of us don’t believe in talking teddy bears, does that also exclude Ted?   How dare Bigelow not toe the Hollywood line and instead tell the story in the way she found it…without creative license and with her integrity intact.  I doubt she’s a conservative and it’s immaterial.  What she did was treat something of the utmost import…fairly.  Whether you are a Marxist, a liberal, a conservative, an establishment Republican, a libertarian, a progressive, or a Nader-loving Green, does disagreeing with a story told in a movie serve as an adequate reason to blackball it (or its director, who was snubbed for the same reason) and eliminate it from award contention?  I certainly hope not.

To conclude, I won’t be upset tonight when Argo wins.  I’m staring at my Blu-Ray on the table nearby…I’ll be watching you again soon my boy (or girl, I’m not sexist.)  It’s absolutely Best Picture worthy.  It saddens me that political beliefs could cost Zero Dark Thirty its due when that’s really the only consideration against it.  So let’s put it this way…Argo and Zero Dark Thirty are the films of the year.  Affleck has gotten better with each film.  Gone Baby Gone was good, The Town was tremendous, and Argo is top notch in every way.  If filmmaking and achievement is a process, Affleck’s triple-threat has progressed in a rational way.  Don’t tell that to Bigelow though…her first real offering…won Best Picture three years ago over her ex-husband’s epic.

WILL WIN: ARGO

SHOULD WIN: ZERO DARK THIRTY / ARGO

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

These will be shorter segments…hopefully the above felt necessary to you, the beloved reader.  Let’s be serious here, Bradley Cooper was realllllllly strong in Silver Linings and Hugh Jackman took it to a new level as Jean Valjean in Les Mis.  Denzel played a supremely tough role as a completely unlikeable self-destructive character in Flight, which incidentally is a close cousin to the role that won Jeff Bridges his Oscar a few years ago for Crazy Heart, and the Master was another Paul Thomas Anderson challenge and Joaquin nailed it.  But as much as Hollywood tries to sell how “new” and “cutting edge” they are, the Academy voters are some of the stodgiest people this side of the Middle Ages…or Downton Abbey. 

With that said, Daniel Day-Lewis wins again tonight.  Abraham Lincoln is an interesting role to take, because the only records of how he sounded are written descriptions.  That said, it felt like DDL somehow still DID sound like the Abraham Lincoln we grew up respecting.  Lincoln was a great film…overshadowed by the overall quality of the field.  Over a full year before Spielberg’s film released, the buzz was that THIS movie would be one of those that would walk out with awards in both hands and sweep every major category.  When I first saw it…I felt it certainly had that kind of effect, but quite frankly, other films were better.  DDL hasn’t won for a while though, and this performance certainly warrants an end to his streak.  I feel for Bradley Cooper, because he could win in almost ANY other year, and he wasn’t known for this level of role, though we could see it coming after his performance in Limitless.

WILL WIN: DANIEL DAY LEWIS

SHOULD WIN: DANIEL DAY LEWIS  / BRADLEY COOPER

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Boy is this one going to be close.  Jennifer Lawrence captivated us in Silver Linings Playbook with her role as a mentally unstable girl trying to find herself…and her future…following a tragedy.  Naomi Watts was strong yet again in a survival tale against Mother Nature.  Quvenzhane Wallis made history for being the youngest actress ever to receive a Lead Actress nomination for her work in Beasts of the Southern Wild, which honestly was a film that was nowhere near as good as this girl’s performance, and Emmanuelle Riva impressed the world in Amour. 

In the end, the award will come down to Lawrence and to the one lady I haven’t mentioned, an actress whose life since her breakout role in The Help and subsequent triumph in The Tree of Life propelled her to play the role of her career…the female protagonist of Zero Dark Thirty.  It was Maya who rarely slept and worked virtually every hour attempting to determine the location of UBL.  Chastain wasn’t just good in this film…she was all-time great.  She was on camera in a nearly three-hour film for at least two solid hours and not once did she seem out of place.  It isn’t an easy role because there was no romance in Zero Dark Thirty, no moments where the focus wasn’t almost entirely on Bin Laden and national security.  In short, there were no breaks where stress could dissipate from the exuded performance.  Chastain’s performance might seriously be one of the best I’ve ever seen, and she absolutely deserves the hardware tonight.  If Lawrence wins, it could be for the same reason Bigelow wasn’t nominated and the same reason the film was left behind in the top category…but in truth, Jennifer really was spectacular.  This is Chastain’s night though, and I believe they will get this one right.

WILL WIN: JESSICA CHASTAIN

SHOULD WIN: JESSICA CHASTAIN

ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTION

I watched trailers for Life of Pi for many months before it released and just never cared…then I saw it, and it was amazing.  Ang Lee did great work here…his best since Brokeback Mountain without any doubt.  We already talked about Lincoln…it was really good.  Amour and Beasts were good films…but they aren’t winning films.  David O. Russell should walk out tonight victorious and I predict he will; here Silver Linings Playbook gets a major accolade because unfortunately, it’s against true juggernauts in other categories.  We’ve talked about SLP, so let’s talk about what’s really interesting here, the two snubs. 

How Argo could be as good as it is and Ben Affleck somehow isn’t nominated for Best Director is truly beyond me…I can’t (although I could look it up – but that wouldn’t be nearly as good for my point) remember the last time the Best Picture’s director isn’t even nominated in his or her own category.  I’m disappointed that not one of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films got him a nom…but I’m not surprised.  But either of my Best Picture choices…neither of those directors have a shot in this category because their names weren’t on the ballot.  Explain that to me…no seriously, I really want you to explain it.  Affleck, Bigelow, O. Russell… Bigelow, Affleck, O. Russell, either one I’d be okay with.  But O. Russell and neither of the other two is pure nonsense.  It does make this category pretty easy to determine though…

WILL WIN: DAVID O. RUSSELL

SHOULD WIN: BEN AFFLECK / KATHRYN BIGELOW (100% sure they won’t though.)

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

I felt like Jason Clarke was snubbed here for his work in ZDT, but that’s par for the course.  I wouldn’t have chosen him to win or voted for him, but he deserved a nomination.  That said, all five performances here are ROCK solid.  Arkin was just as good here as he was in Little Miss Sunshine.  DeNiro’s work as a bookie/Eagles fan was an incredibly complicated role for a romantic comedy and his best work in film since Meet the Parents.  Hoffman is always good and stands up with Joaquin in The Master.  Tommy Lee Jones nearly stole Lincoln from…well…from Lincoln.  Thaddeus Stevens really drove that movie and TLJ has never been better or more cantankerous. 

With all that in the background, Christoph Waltz should and will win tonight…his second Supporting Actor Oscar in as many Tarantino appearances.  He ran away with the Academy Award after taking over Inglorious Basterds and it was Dr. King Schultz that really sticks in our heads after watching Django Unchained.  Dr. King was the “good guy” in the film… a bounty hunter who cared about money and found a way to care about a new friend, even though it cost him his life.  Waltz is starting to distinguish himself.  One more role of this level…he might be the next Daniel Day-Lewis in the Oscars.  All five deserve the win, but Waltz deserves it most.

WILL WIN: CHRISTOPH WALTZ

SHOULD WIN: CHRISTOPH WALTZ

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

This one’s REALLY easy, or it is the minute you start watching Anne Hathaway sing in Les Mis.  Jacki Weaver was awesome, and trust me, that’s the right word for it, in Silver Linings Playbook.  Sally Field played an exceptional Mary Todd Lincoln, Amy Adams is truly one of my favorites, and Helen Hunt continues to shine when placed in roles worthy of her talent.  Hathaway, though she wasn’t visible in Tom Hooper’s film for very long, is quite possibly the single lasting impression from Les Miserables.  Jackman and Crowe and all the rest were wonderful, but watching Hathaway in her final song…won her the award almost instantaneously.

Spoiler here to me is Weaver simply because it’s an off-the-radar role that kind of sneaks up on the viewer…similar to Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine.  It’s disarming because it isn’t the focus, but it’s always a major key in every scene.  Hathaway has been knocking on the door for a long time.  Tonight, a gold statue opens the portal.

WILL WIN: ANNE HATHAWAY

SHOULD WIN: ANNE HATHAWAY

OTHERS

Original Screenplay: Mark Boal in ZDT certainly makes a strong case and didn’t get the Bigelow treatment…I think the “N” word may end up costing Tarantino…Gatins Flight was a surprisingly deep story…Haneke’s Amour is worthy…but Moonrise Kingdom is the biggest snub of the year for me in Best Picture and Wes Anderson stands right with Affleck and Bigelow.  I hope it wins here… if it doesn’t, I hope (and expect) Mark Boal to win.

Adapted Screenplay: Russell will win for direction I believe so they’ll go another way here, though I wouldn’t be stunned to see him win both.  Lincoln, Pi, Beasts all good, but here’s where Best Picture wins another key award…Argo and Chris Terrio take this one in a walk.

Original Song: “Suddenly” from Les Mis probably wins…but Adele should win for “Skyfall.”  If you heard it, you’d likely agree.  It was worth the wait.

Cinematography: Three words… LIFE…OF…PI.  Claudio Miranda – should be a good night for you.

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: In caps because I wanted to make sure it stood out a bit.  I feel very strongly that Wreck-It Ralph is the finest animated film since Up.  I’m a huge Pixar guy…absolutely enormous, but Brave wasn’t close…Cars 2 wasn’t close… Wreck-It Ralph is a film I will likely watch 800 times in my life.  It’s so good, especially for people my age who grew up near gaming and even those of us who worked in the industry.  I always feel when I watch it that it’s more for my generation than the kids.

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED): It had BETTER go to Paperman…my favorite animated short…EVER.  Seriously.

Foreign Language Film: Um…Amour.  I admit I haven’t seen the others, but Amour is a Best Picture nominee, the only one of the five, so it stands to reason that it’s the best of the lot.

So there you have it…Oscar is upon us once again, and so is my blog.  Hopefully I’ll have something prolific to say once a week that I can release via the typed word.  As promised, here’s my quick TV ranking for 2012 without any explanation – someday I will get to this.  Not including comedy:

5. Suits (Just have to mention it – deserves it.) (I call em like I see em…not what people expect.  S2 finally ended on Thursday and was the most consistently entertaining show of the year.  That single season was the best in USA Network original series history.)

5 (TIE). Game of Thrones (Enough said).

4. Walking Dead (Since mid-S2, stepped up in a big big way)

3. Homeland (Uneven at times, not the level of S1, still super)

2. Mad Men (Still my fave show other than Lost, but S5P1 of BB was more consistent than S5 of MM – it was close, but Gilligan, Cranston, Paul, Gunn, Norris, etc win)

1. Breaking Bad

Out of top five – Sons of Anarchy (too busy, too much going on, lost a little focus – in short, a bit too much anarchy, still love it), Justified (really good Season 3, but not the level of Season 2 for me), Dexter (my favorite season and almost cracked 5) about a thousand others.

Final Fun Fact: Maybe first time ever the three best films (critically) of the year could all be described with one word…ending with the same letter.  2012 was the year of ZERO, ARGO, and DJANGO.  Look forward to seeing you guys and gals at the movies again soon…

In the words of one of my personal heroes…my personal sendoff…

“Of course that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.”

-JM

Donna Paulsen

Everybody expected a Dark Knight Rises post…well, there’s a podcast for that, and Andy and I waxed poetic about my lifetime obsession with the character and my favorite director for over two hours last night - look for “Certifiable Total Recall” on iTunes and all episodes will drop straight to your device — and we’re totally free.

Because I was at the IMAX premiere in Nashville (which I saw back to back, 12:01 and 5 AM) - I missed Thursday night’s episode of Suits, which (SPOILER ALERT)…

resulted in the firing of one of my top fantasy wives, Sarah Rafferty AKA Donna Paulsen as an on screen character at Pearson-Hardman.

Now, to pull some folks off their ledges…this is the USA Network.  I want to explain why our Sarah ain’t gone for long and further explain why EVERY USA show works in a certain way.

When Monk became a critical darling and Psych took off with major success, the USA Network realized they had a chance to be known for more than the Westminster Dog Show and Monday Night Raw.  They invested money in syndicated properties like JAG and Walker: Texas Ranger and people began to pay closer attention to their entire catalog.

Insert Burn Notice, originally advertised as a limited run series (ahem, Political Animals) that is now roaring through it’s sixth full season after obtaining a three season renewal from the network two years ago.  Then came In Plain Sight, White Collar, Covert Affairs, and a little show we like to call Suits.  The critics ragged on the pilot and we watched anyway, and we loved it.

Critics hold their opinions up as extremely important but in the end, our own opinion dictates what matters to us in pop culture.  I’ve written a TV blog for many years and now host a fairly popular podcast that allows me to express my admiration for television, film, gaming, comics, books, you name it.  But it’s still just my opinion, and in the case of USA Network original programming, critics have thumbed their noses at some of the most entertaining, fun, brisk watches on television.  BUT…here’s what USA does…

They ask their showrunners…”ask” isn’t correct actually…it’s part of the contract, to allow only 20% of each show at MAXIMUM to a continuous storyline.  They want each episode to be self-contained (at least 80% and more if possible) and feature an “of the week” motif.  The reasoning is simple.  USA wants to be able to run any episode of any original series at any time of day and have viewers able to watch and understand without having to have seen every hour - it’s the anti-Lost phenomenon. 

Suits broke the mold a bit because they allowed language that wouldn’t run in early afternoons or in the famous USA holiday original series marathons.  So it’s been allowed to run more continuous stuff and tell an extended story.  However, it’s also a show that like every drama, has to fill time.  Drama is created by what we hate, like bringing Shaw onto Chuck to split Bartowski and Walker up for a season or having Neal Caffrey lie to Hillarie Burton’s character and split them apart when it’s still likely that’s what’s coming down the road.  The most obvious recent example is Auggie and Annie on Covert Affairs.  No way that show ends without them together, but they have to fill time and not give it away too soon.  Fringe did it THREE separate times with Peter and Olivia, so we’re not seeing anything new here.  The moment Suits allowed Mike and Rachel to get together…I told the people watching with me that evening that it was classic USA - they’d be split apart either by Mike’s pseudo-degree or something else rather quickly and we’d deal without them together probably for a season or even longer.  Sure enough, before the end of the hour, Harvey convinced Mike to break it off in emotionally gutwrenching fashion.

Did Donna screw up?  Maybe…maybe Hardman showing back up at the same second as a case from WAY in the past isn’t a coincidence either.  What I do know is that writing a popular character off a USA show isn’t just normal, it’s almost a requirement…the other half of the requirement is…they aren’t gone, they’re just away for a bit to stretch for time as part of the USA Network strategy.  Just this past week on White Collar, Peter Burke lost his position in the FBI…is that going to last?  Auggie and Annie have both been reassigned and we’ll see less of them interacting with one another…is that going to last?  On Fairly Legal we saw the lead FIRED at the end of the first season…how long did that last?  On Burn Notice, Fiona is in prison…but already has cut a deal to be an asset.  Every single episode, the two combatant “frenemies” on Common Law almost get it fully together and then have a mild argument to keep the show going.  It’s all for dramatic purposes.

Sarah Rafferty is much too important to Suits to be written off and her interview from three days ago seems to prove it.  We’re going to go back to more self-contained stuff in the coming weeks, like Harvey gambling over a one-week case while in the back of his mind, missing his redheaded dynamo.  It’s all part of the plan.  As sure as Michael Westen found the person that burned him…and had another to find…and then another…and another…and now it’s Anson - it’s all just to draw out a series.  They have to fill their episodes and they have to be interesting enough both to the new viewer and those like us that live for the show each week.  Suits can’t blow their wad all at one time, every show has a finite number of ideas and then it’s done.  Rachel and Mike…and likely…Harvey and Donna, being the two biggest “we need this” conclusions the show could give us in five years before closing the curtain.

And one thing USA also believes in…is giving the fans what they need.  Unsure if Donna and Harvey rekindle their romance from the past or not, but I can guarantee you Mike and Rachel end up married (or WAY serious at worst) before the series ends.  Adrian Monk found his wife’s killer and changed his life on the final episode of the eighth and final season of that wonderful show.  Michael Westen will propose to Fiona (or the ceremony will be held) to end Burn Notice…with Sam Axe as Best Man and Mike’s mom as Maid of Honor.  Auggie and Annie will end up together…and so on and so forth.  USA believes in happy endings after putting their viewers through the ringer. 

We just so happen to be in the midst of the ringer on Suits, but in four weeks (max) and probably in two or three, that beautiful Sarah Rafferty will be lighting up our TV screens and leaving me with a smile on my face, even though she’ll be there for Harvey Specter…and America, and not just for me.

I love USA shows, but I know what I”m in for - I just simply take the journey because I find those shows to be as watchable (over and over and over) as any programs ever placed on television.  The strategy works, even though (like right now) it sucks a lot of the time.

-JM

Oscar Night: The Annual “Shoudas” and “Willas”

The 84th annual Academy Awards will be wrapping up in about nine hours from now, but that still gives me the opportunity to give you my annual “Shouda” and “Willa” predictions in advance of tonight’s show.  The “Shoudas” are who I would award the Oscar to in each category and the “Willas” are who will actually take the hardware home this evening.  It’s been a great year in film, with many memorable efforts and a few that I simply can’t wait to own and watch until the end of time.  With heavy competition and multiple worthy performances brings tough choices – but my goal is to do just that for you on Oscar Afternoon.  So let’s do it shall we?

(Disclaimer: I did not italicize/underline/quote the films because it would have pushed release back longer than I wanted this afternoon.  My apologies for that fact…but I hate laptop mouse technology and felt like writing this more comfortably than at my desk.)

BEST PICTURE

We’re really looking at three films here of the nine nominated, though all have their merits.  Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris was a great movie, but the ending kept it from being even better.  I loved it, but it’s not going to win.  Hugo was really special, but it’s not going to win a Best Picture Oscar.  Virtually no one who saw Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close (particularly critics) liked it; making it potentially the most shocking Best Picture nominee in history…it has zero chance.  War Horse was a sprawling epic, the kind of film that might have won twenty years ago, but no longer.  The Tree of Life is the film that thinks its quirks and concept are so prolific that it deserves to be showered in praise…but it just didn’t live up to the idea.  Moneyball was amazing, but I’m still stunned it was nominated for Best Picture.  I own it, I adore it, but Pitt would have a much better chance of a win than the film itself.  So that brings us to the magic three…a trio perhaps stronger than any in recent memory as a whole. 

The Help is a wonderful film, from the acting to the casting to the directing to the cinematography to the sound to the reflection of Stockett’s incredible book.  It’s truly beautiful and has that Forrest Gump or Benjamin Button feel to the way the flashbacks are utilized. 

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer both could walk away with Oscars on Sunday and in doing so could become the first duo of African Americans to do so on the same night.  Jessica Chastain, also nominated, was flawless in her role as the troubled, but partially heroic Celia Foote.  Emma Stone was, as usual, very good as well.  I’ve seen The Help three times and it gets better with each viewing.  It’s a timeless movie.  This film could win, absolutely, but in all actuality, Oscar is a two-film race this year. 

George Clooney’s work in The Descendants is the best of his career, an extraordinary statement when one peruses the actor’s resume.  It’s also Alexander Payne’s best movie, another staggering opinion to be able to write, considering Sideways.  The Hawaiian tale of a family, a secret coming to light, a wealth of fortune, and the simple pain of infidelity and deceit all contribute to one of those films that it’s hard to ever turn down when given a chance to watch again…even if you’ve seen it a hundred times.  Until this week, it was my pick to win the award, but I believe I’ve figured out how to award all three of these films in their own way tonight. 

The most unique motion picture to arrive in many moons is The Artist, a brilliant story of the silent movie era, the advent of technology and those it affected, all wrapped around a distant love story and a “meant to be” mentality in many respects.  Jean Dujardin, who reprised his George Valentin role on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago in a surprise cameo for Zooey Deschanel, was masterful from start to finish in both his success and happiness and later his despair and depression.  Berenice Bejo, likewise, owned the screen as Peppy Miller.  John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller, James Cromwell, the DOG…the list goes on and on – it was all perfect in the casting phase.  As a visual spectacle, it was a treat of simplicity as art.  Leaving this film without a smile should be impossible.  So good…oh so so good folks.  Hazanavicius’ direction was impeccable and The Artist will be talked about for a long time.

SHOUDA

Loved most of the films, particularly the big four, but in the end, the most affecting film of the year was The Artist, because of just how unique it truly was and how masterfully it was executed.  If The Descendants or The Help were to win, I would have zero trouble in celebrating those gems, but I highly believe The Artist deserves the honor this year.

WILLA

The Academy will agree with me.  The Artist was wonderful, the critics love it, audiences who saw it still talk about it, and it would serve as a way to break the mold in some respects in terms of Best Picture winners.  If it isn’t The Artist, it will be The Descendants – which would be awesome as well, but go with the black and white and the deafening silence that captivated the world in 2011.

Okay, so that was long – for the rest…brevity is a virtue.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Pitt was outstanding as Billy Beane but it’s a film that likely will disappear off the ballots of most Academy voters.  Oldman is one of the most overlooked actors of the past fifty years but honestly, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was merely average and was directed as LeCarre would have wanted – light on explanation, heavy on haze and creeping confusion.  A Better Life was seen by so few people that the nomination was its win, as great as Bichir was in his role.  So we’re down to a silent film star fighting against technology and a Hawaiian businessman dealing with a neurotic family, a tragedy, and his own shortcomings as a father.  So…

SHOUDA

How can I pick against Dujardin, traditionally a comedy actor who played depression so well in the back half of The Artist, or Clooney, who has knocked on Oscar’s Lead Actor door for years and just entered his career best performance?  Oh…I have to?  Okay, okay, then it’s Clooney, because his consistency through the last seven years or so has been better than anyone else’s, particularly because he’s been so much more careful (with a few exceptions) in the roles he has chosen.  While I do want to see him break out into more varied roles as he often plays a similar character with similar inflection, he was just perfect in The Descendants.

WILLA

Because I chose The Artist for Best Picture, I think Clooney gets The Descendants its big win here.  Either of the two is absolutely deserving though – it’s a great crop of five performances, with Clooney’s at the top.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Michelle Williams will win a Best Actress Oscar, just not this year.  Glenn Close is as good as it gets but Albert Nobbs never opened to over half of the country.  She could be a major dark horse.  I’m as big a Stieg Larsson fan as it gets and I thought Rooney Mara was amazing, but if she wins for her role as Lisbeth Salander, it will be in the third film of the trilogy, same with David Fincher and in the same way as Peter Jackson and The Return of the King.  She also still has to deal with following up Noomi Rapace, which is impossible if you’ve seen the original Swedish Millenium trilogy.  So we’re down to two, one the most decorated actress in American history and the other in a performance that so totally owned the screen that it was impossible to look away, even in its most difficult moments.

SHOUDA

Here’s the thing about Streep in The Iron Lady.  The reason her performance was so spectacular is because the film itself was merely average (at best).  I’m a big Thatcher fan but the movie treatment of her life was slow, poorly paced, and at times incredibly dull and boring.  Streep was pitch-perfect but at some point, the bar she has set for herself can be her biggest challenge.  Viola Davis’ portrayal of Aibileen Clark was the performance of the year.  It was so rich, so full of depth and emotion, and so stubbornly vulnerable that it simply should not be denied this year.  Also, if you look at my thought in terms of awarding all three films, one should win picture, one should win actor, the third should win actress, and all other awards are up for grabs.

WILLA

Streep won the Golden Globe and has not actually WON a Best Actress Oscar in many years, despite being nominated an obscene (and warranted) number of times.  She’s the best of all time, but The Iron Lady as a film and the Academy Awards facing pressure to be more mainstream should both hurt her here.  Most are picking Meryl to win anyway, but I’m picking the best performance from the much better movie.  Viola Davis – the Oscar is yours.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Plummer won the Golden Globe and he’s often undervalued in acting conversations and could win for Beginners, a film very few actually had a chance to see in the United States.  Jonah Hill broke out in Moneyball and then returned to…well…being Jonah Hill with the horrific Allen Gregory on Fox and a pair of less-than-stellar comedies on the way.  He was awesome in Moneyball, but an Oscar win just doesn’t feel right at this point.  Warrior may have been the most underrated movie of 2011, largely because of its subject matter, but Nick Nolte is a flat-out heavyweight as a talent and he showed it again in the film.  Kenneth Branagh’s work as Sir Lawrence Olivier was exceptional but My Week With Marilyn has Oscarless written all over it.  Max von Sydow has been nominated in the past, but he’s nominated for a film most critics hated, so he’s not likely to win.

SHOUDA

Plummer finally gets the icing on his career cake for a film that will have most asking their friends when it came out and “Did you see it?”  The answer likely will be no, but the performance of an elderly man coming out of the closet, surprising his son, is most definitely award worthy stuff.

WILLA

Plummer – his work was great and the rest of the category just isn’t as strong as in previous years.  It’s that simple, the Canadian will get his due.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

If Supporting Actor largely rests on films the public hasn’t seen, Supporting Actress is the complete opposite.  Bridesmaids justifiably made tons of cash and Melissa McCarthy remains the most memorable part of that hilarious film (along with Wiig, who I can’t get enough of), The Help was everywhere and both Spencer and Chastain shined (you could also argue Bryce Dallas Howard, but only two per film per category are allowed), McTeer rounded out Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs, and then there’s Berenice Bejo, whose smile alone was enough to win me over in The Artist.  This is a fascinating category because whoever wins, there’s a snub.

SHOUDA

It’s so hard to go against Bejo here.  Peppy Miller was an outstanding character and Berenice played her to an off-the-charts level.  I’m going to go against her though, simply because Minny Jackson, just like Aibileen Clark, completely dominated the screen whenever she was on it.  Octavia Spencer had a few moments in The Help that were the right chances for her to show her stuff and she did so…in spades.  Her stuff with Viola was so good, but the stuff with Chastain was just as good, not to mention the stuff with Viola and Emma. 

WILLA

Octavia will become the first Alabama woman to leave with an Actress Oscar.  She won the Golden Globe, she’s been the front runner for a while, and her performance warrants the Award.  Don’t underestimate that the Academy might really like the idea of the headline reading “African American Actresses Sweep the Oscars” across the world on Monday morning.  Both Viola and Octavia were so good and so pure in their performances that The Help gets its place in history thanks to both.

BEST DIRECTOR

Allen’s Midnight in Paris was directing perfection, but so was Payne’s The Descendants, Hazanavicius’ The Artist, and of course Scorsese’s Hugo.  Malick has done much better work than the artsy overwrought film, The Tree of Life, so this isn’t his year. 

SHOUDA

Four deserving possibilities here, but I can only choose one.  Usually, Best Picture and Best Director generally go the same way.  Scorsese won a Golden Globe, but I don’t see it tonight.  Allen could definitely win, but I think he’s more likely to win for Screenplay than here in this category.  Trying to decide between The Artist and The Descendants is just too difficult, but if I have to do it, I would pick Hazanivicius because of the way in which he chose to showcase his story.  The Artist is a monumental achievement.  I also think Tate Taylor deserved a nom for The Help.  He’s brand new as a director but he did better than solid work on his first big film.

WILLA

Most seem to be picking Scorsese for one reason or another, but I’m going with the momentum.  The Artist is all the talk going into the Academy Awards and I suspect it will still be that way walking out of Los Angeles.  I liked four of the five of these films very much and love all five directors.  Allen is the dark horse here…he hasn’t won for Best Director since Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris is truly one of his best, despite a rather bland ending. 

QUICKIES (The Rest – In the Interest of Time)

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Here’s Allen’s award, beating out Wiig, Hazanavicius (because he’ll get Director), and Chandor for Margin Call, which was the best film you DIDN’T see last year.  Love it.  If Scorsese ends up winning for Director, I’d still say Woody wins here, and it would be hard to disagree.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Sorkin always has a lot of love and did another solid job with Moneyball.  Dialogue was the key to the film and no one’s better than Aaron.  Here’s Alexander Payne’s award though, along with Nat Faxton, and DEAN PELTON himself, Jim Rash.  The Descendants gets the nod for Adapted Screenplay.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Down year in terms of nominees.  Puss in Boots was great, Kung-Fu Panda 2 was pretty good, and I dug Rango a lot.  I’d say the former if I had to guess…or one of the two nominees I didn’t see, neither big in the United States.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: I’m biased for Reznor and Ross as you know, but Dragon Tattoo, as good as the score was…was outdone by Ludovic Bource.  One thing about Dragon Tattoo’s music is that most of it was remixed or similar variations from Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts release.  Bource’s score for The Artist is so good that I find myself listening to it far more than even I thought I would when I purchased it a few months ago.  He won the Golden Globe, he’ll win the Oscar for truly special work.  He always does Hazanavicius’ movies and tonight he gets recognized for it.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: Bret McKenzie leaves with an Oscar for Flight of the Conchords tonight.  “Man or Muppet” is the best original tune of the year and even Murray could get the Conchords a gig once this show ends tonight.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: I hope to be standing and cheering when Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory wins tonight.  The trio of films documenting the case, arrest, trial, and now “freedom” of the West Memphis Three caused my obsession with Damien, Jason, and Jessie and their story.  The original docs were so good and so well-done, it’s hard to quantify, and the third installment, which premiered on HBO two months ago was just unreal. 

BIGGEST SNUB: Yeah this is my award, and it goes to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.  It’s one of my top five films of the past seven years and the final chapter wasn’t just good, it was nearly flawless.  It has a few tech award noms, but deserved better…somehow.  Let’s be honest, Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close yes, but Harry Potter no? 

So there’s most of the biggies…at least from me.  The one I’m least confident in is Best Director, because Scorsese is such a heavyweight (and 2 or 3 on my all-time list behind Nolan and right there with Fincher) and Hugo was so good.  But regardless, I hope this gets you primed for Billy Crystal’s triumphant return tonight to host…which even if it’s only average will still be seen as the best in nearly a decade.  He’s just that talented and right for this.  I find myself extremely excited for the medley.

I’ve said it before, but if you haven’t seen The Artist, The Descendants, or The Help…you need to do so.  Add to that Moneyball, Warrior, Hugo, Margin Call, and Bridesmaids (and ahem! HP) and you’ve done a lot in terms of your film knowledge for the past twelve months.  Now, let’s hand out Oscar and head back to the movies.  I need to start preparing my 2013 blog. 

-JM    

touchoftheblues:

bon iver is great. justin vernon’s beard is great. everything is just great.

touchoftheblues:

bon iver is great. justin vernon’s beard is great. everything is just great.

Off My Rizzockah on a Satahday Nite

So the whole point behind 6 PM was to post on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday… at 6 PM.  It’s Saturday, but I’m chilling inside the studios at WKU doing some radio production work and for some reason, my brain is telling me to write down some thoughts.  Now the question is, what are those thoughts?  This could get interesting folks, so grab a beverage and strap in for all the craziness. 

Actually, perhaps I can come up with something tangible that’s truly worth sampling.  First off, very pleased with the response to Wednesday’s piece on Person of Interest, both from big fans of the show and fans of my stuff.  I even had a fairly well-known television critic send me an email on the column.  I truly appreciate any and all of it - really cool stuff. 

I did want to do a full exposition of the continually ballyhooed idea for an Ensemble Award going forward for the Academy Awards, but I want to do some real thinking about past films that could have benefited from such an honor.  This year, without a doubt, The Help and The Artist both serve as spectacular examples.  It wouldn’t mean that individual performances wouldn’t be possible or expected, but simply that an ENTIRE cast could get credit when it’s due for helping to craft a high-level or memorable experience.  Think of The Departed for instance.  That piece is still to come in the next few weeks but I’m not ready to do it just yet.

It is an enormous aid to the producers of ABC’s Once Upon a Time for their program to air on a network owned by Disney.  What needs to be said here is that THIS is a good way to spend an hour every Sunday night.  I could write and write about what I like about the idea and execution, which I originally believed would be a bastardized version of Willingham’s epic Fables comic, but I’ll save it for another time.  But to be able to utilize Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket, Snow White, Cinderella, and so many other marketable characters gives the show a leg-up in terms of credibility with its audience.  We get the REAL THING every week, every episode, and with the quality of the story and the character development thus far, it’s not surprising at all to see the ratings.  You should definitely give this one a shot, without hesitation.

Grimm is indeed…not crap.  I’ve enjoyed it since the pilot and wondered what the audience would have been had it not been relegated to purgatory on Friday evenings at 9 PM.  Another interesting concept, but one that’s familiar to those who watch procedurals and serials.  The best way to talk about Grimm is in comparison to many other shows the idea borrows from regularly.  If you haven’t watched it, think of Monk, Psych, The Mentalist, Lie to Me, and I’m sure that’s just the beginning of the list.  Protagonist has a special ability to observe or see something that the general public can’t. 

For Adrian Monk, his obsessive compulsive disorder led to him always being able to piece together a crime.  For Patrick Jane, he was a former grifter and fake psychic with extraordinary abilities to control and manipulate the mind…he’s also spectacularly observant.  Psych to this day plays on Shawn Spencer’s rare propensity for seeing what’s hidden in plain sight.

And for Nick Burkhardt, we find out at the same time as the lead character that he is one of the last remaining descendants of a group of hunters known as Grimms, who can see the monster behind the human being.  He’s also conveniently a detective, so he solves crimes (almost always violent - VERY violent) with his skill.  You see, in this world, the monsters really ARE monsters.  He sees the Big Bad Wolf (a family of them globally as a matter of fact) whereas everyone else only sees the normal human that exists in our world.  One happens to now be his closest friend. Think of how Buffy saw vampires or how Neo saw Agents inside the Matrix - but this time it’s all built off Grimm Brothers dark fairy tales.  It’s a solid concept, executed well, with a solid cast, and the ratings are slowly rising.

But it still needs another time slot and better promotion.  The general public also doesn’t realize how dark it actually gets - it definitely has a bit of an “unease” or even a scare factor from time to time, but for the most part, Grimm gets its concept correct.

Book project still in its infancy, but I’m piecing together the motivations for the five main characters and their back stories, which are central to the idea. 

Musically, I’ve been digging on Leonard Cohen’s newest, Old Ideas, which is Leonard being Leonard (killing it as always) and still can’t put down Childish Gambino.  Since I’m heading to see Mumford and Sons in March at the Ryman, I’m back into Sigh No More and listening to some of the new cuts in anticipation of their next record.  I couldn’t be more excited for The Shins’ fourth album in March and I’m hopeful for The Avett Brothers to put out their new one before summer hits. 

In terms of scores and soundtracks, I can’t stop listening to Bource’s work on The Artist, the authentic brilliant Hawaiian soundtrack for The Descendants, and of course Reznor and Ross’ genius for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Okay, so I’m glad I wrote this after all…got a few things out there and refocused on topics for the future.  I will write extensively on Once Upon a Time sometime soon and will have plenty to say about the Academy Awards very soon as well.  Make sure to catch Certifiable Total Recall next week as we sit down with author Bryan Dull on the release of his novel and discuss the next book in the Solstice Chronicles series. 

The three of us will also be talking big time about the Oscars, so it should be a solid two hours to end February with for all the fans.  Those unfamiliar, CTR is a pop culture podcast created and hosted by myself and Andrew Van - subscribe on iTunes today!

So there’s that - it’s way past 6 PM, but good enough.  Felt like bloggin’ - so I blogged. 

In the words of J. Peterman, “Elaine, congratulations on a job…done.”

Batman and John Reese: Just the Beginning

If you haven’t been watching television lately, you might have missed a Thursday night program that’s beginning to turn some heads and actually won the People’s Choice Award for best new drama.  Johnathan Nolan, brother of Chris (yes THAT Chris, if you didn’t know) created the show and produces and writes along with J.J. Abrams, one of the best at creating initial buzz for television shows.  

Abrams’ list of accomplishments includes Lost, Fringe, Alias, the new Fox hit Alcatraz, as well as Person of Interest in addition to his many film credits.  

You should be watching Person of Interest, that’s the underlying point here, but if you’re ALREADY watching, I have an angle that you may not have thought about to explain why you’re hooked…or why you will be soon enough.

John Reese lost virtually everything important in his life as well as parts of his psyche as a covert officer and CIA-hitman in overseas operations.  He worked in special forces and did plenty of sludge work, for lack of a better description.  He was deadly, disciplined, and incredibly skilled.  He’s now a broken man in many ways: very quiet on many occasions, brooding in demeanor, and living a veritable life of solitude.  By the way, Caviezel isn’t just good - he’s perfect in this role.  It’s a real treat to watch him and Emerson together.  

Harold Finch used to work for the United States government as part of the war on terror and built and developed a machine that could be used to filter all potentially dangerous language spoken through forms of technology and flag those individuals as threats to national security.  What the viewer finds out is that Finch created a machine that pumps out a social security number of a respective “person of interest” that may be in imminent danger or may be a potential threat BEFORE the fact.  Think of Minority Report or precognition with very little detail, where the puzzle is left to Finch and his partner.  

The show builds around Finch and Reese, with the former hiring the latter, saving lives and stopping crimes before they occur or protecting key figures.  Originally, it appeared that POI would be a week-to-week show, with a “number” every week, entirely self-contained, and the fear was that depth just wasn’t in the cards. But luckily for all of us, while there IS generally a new person of interest each week, the story has begun to truly take shape…and it’s amazingly (and ironically) familiar.

Within the first three episodes, I noticed parallels to my childhood (and let’s face it, adult - I can’t get enough) obsession and hero, the Dark Knight.  Reese and Bruce Wayne have plenty in common, but if that’s where the similarities ceased, this piece would never have been written.  Harold Finch, played by the brilliant Michael Emerson, represents an amalgam of Barbara Gordon, who as a result of the events of The Killing Joke became the Oracle…and Alfred Pennyworth.  

Finch does all the tech-savvy stuff, he sits in a dimly lit room with screens and machines all around him and guides Reese to and from destinations, in and out of trouble, and monitors communications through cloned and synced mobile signals.  He also often serves as Reese’s conscience and a source of “calm” mixed with sarcasm and playful banter with his gritty colleague.  I won’t go into detail about Barb and Alf, because you either already know or you can quickly find out, but it’s uncannily similar.

Reese is outrageously resourceful.  Just this past week he took on an FBI convoy using a gas mask to cloak his face and smoke bombs placed inside the hood of the car to completely conceal himself while saving a victim who was about to be handed over to assassins.  He speaks in a near whisper, but always raspy, direct, and with a dark inflection.  He lives alone and though he flirts with women, he always returns to silent reflection of his past.  After saving someone, they often look back to where he was previously standing and he has vanished.  He’s barely ever caught on any camera and even then, it never captures his face.  Does any of this sound familiar?  

Quite possibly one of the ONLY differences between Reese and Bruce is that John has no problem with lethal force.  Death is both a necessity and pure self-defense in the POI universe, which makes sense when you realize that there aren’t any Jokers or Riddlers running around who have to escape in order to be recurring nemeses forever.  

Where it becomes blatantly obvious, however, is in the character of Detective Joss Carter, played extraordinarily well by Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson. In the beginning, Carter sought Reese as a fugitive who kept showing up and basically dispensing vigilante justice and doing a lot of good…while being suspected of acting in a dangerous manner.  She continually got closer and closer to Reese (and by proxy, to Finch) and then…it happened.  The two heroes brought her in, explained some of what they were doing, and she became an ally.  

It came as a result of her own “number” printing from the machine, but that was simply the catalyst for the overall plan.  They call her for favors, give her information to aid her work and keep her out of trouble, and while she doesn’t feel perfect about the situation, she leans more and more to their side and is beginning to trust them.  She doesn’t like being kept out of the loop but Carter is starting to see that they are trying to solve problems, stop horrific tragedies, and reduce crime in a deadly world.  She (and one other) is the only one in the PD that knows of the two secret crusaders, but the relationship is undeniably the inception of the Commissioner James Gordon - Batman dynamic.

Person of Interest was always good, but early on it lacked the long-term arc.  We now have a villain that has vowed “next time” to Finch as part-hacker, part contract killer and overall chaos-creator, and Reese has run into a few recurring characters of his own.  Do you see where this is going?

It’s become a really special show and still has plenty of room for growth.  The last six episodes have shown what’s to come and the ratings are slowly beginning to climb.  CBS is set to bounce a few dramas this summer officially, but Person of Interest is moving off of “maybe” lists and seems more and more safe by the week. And why shouldn’t it be, it’s a mirror image of what will undoubtedly be the biggest box office splash in a long time - Johnathan’s brother Chris’ finale to his Dark Knight trilogy.  

There’s a reason why Batman has endured and why it continues to enthrall me unlike any other character ever (though Harry Potter has staked his claim in my life BIG TIME over the past four years) - the story just doesn’t get old.  The concepts that drive it and the darkness that surrounds it are unique in the superhero genre. John Reese is Batman without the cowl or the outfit.  He wears a basic coat, a button down shirt, slacks, and packs serious heat.  Harold Finch wears a suit, often pinstriped, dark black glasses and as a result of an attempt on his life, needs a cane in order to walk.  But the motivations, the ideas, the execution, it’s as if Neal Adams is speaking through Johnathan Nolan.

Oh, and Reese - LOVES to wear black, particularly when he’s on a motorcycle, where he often wears all black with a flat black helmet and tinted facemask.  It’s basically impossible NOT to see the similarities.  Once you do, it’s oh so easy just to sit back and enjoy the ride.  It may not be Gotham, but there’s still time.

And this is just the first season.  Given time, think of what’s yet to come!

Tonight, the Burbank Buy More Closes

One Last Hurrah

It’s been an odd day - extremely cold and rather unpleasant mixed with a feeling of loss.  Please understand I’m speaking in relative terms, clearly the end of a television series is not a true “loss,” but in its way, it’s sad.  

It’s disappointing because NBC had a property that could have been much better publicized, but they chose to place it on Mondays at 8 PM against How I Met Your Mother, House, and before a terrible lead in as Heroes began to fall.  This season has been on Friday nights at 8, but I’m thankful to NBC’s failure to have kept this great show on the air for five seasons.

It’s upsetting because the cast works so well together and there’s really never been something quite like Chuck.  If you took the references and meta of Community and put them inside a live action geek spy series, without losing any of the humor or wit, you’d have Fedak and Schwartz’ brilliant creation.

It’s disheartening because so much programming falls into the same categories, with the same basic ideas and formulas, and Chuck was able to mix a procedural around a serial action show and a male nerd fantasy all on top of a very serious subject… and at a time when the War on Terror was not just a buzz phrase, but a major reality.

It’s disgusting in some ways because so many people who would LOVE Chuck… never saw Chuck.  This returns back to issue one stated above.  BUT 

It’s exciting because I predict Chuck will be the show that takes off both in syndication and through Netflix.  Many people will discover the show through various means and I believe it will endure where so many of today’s shows end… and end.  

It’s full of optimism because the talent on the show have proven they will be major players for years to come.  Adam Baldwin has been on the scene for many years and will continue to be - his roles as Jayne on Firefly and John Casey on Chuck leave him in the rare position of playing a key part on two shows with die-hard fanbases in similar communities.  Yvonne will always have a job and she’s grown so much over the years on screen… and I look forward to more Miranda in the video game universe as well.  Josh Gomez will be one to watch as the Morgan Grimes character evolved SO MUCH over five years and as it did, he did.  Sarah and Ryan… Vik and Scott… Mark and… Mark, tons of talent, energy, passion, and potential.  Zachary Levi seems destined to try and attain Renaissance Man status. He loves to sing, so he’s sung on award shows, he’s also hosted awards shows, been nominated for an Academy Award for music, and is genuinely likable by any description.  His career is just getting started.

So tonight is the end of a great television series.  Chuck embraced its fans, asked them to watch to ensure renewal, never took a single viewer for granted, and constantly gave that audience fan service of the highest degree.  Chuck and Sarah, Ellie and Awesome, Morgan and Alex, Casey’s growth, Beckman, Shaw, the Ring, everything had conflict but had a very “awwwww” kind of resolution.  

The few minor things I’ve read (many from Yvonne) have said that tonight is a major tearjerker.  Tragedy strikes in the first hour and although the ending is satisfying, it’s not the happy ending in all respects that most would expect. That’s an incredibly interesting choice for a show that has always found a way to deliver the happy ending.  

And yet, for some reason, I think it’s probably going to be a spectacular finale because it goes against what Chuck has always been.  

Buy More is gone and Carmichael Industries closes along with it tonight, but Chuck will live forever.  Let’s all, for one more night, get together around the tube and just enjoy the ride.  Thanks to everybody associated with Chuck for one of the most purely entertaining and clever shows ever to hit television.  The shortcomings were there but didn’t matter, because the show was fully realized on every level.

#GoodbyeChuck - I’ll be watching episodes for the rest of my life.  Kudos on a job well done.