Wednesday, May 27, 2015

My 10th Annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot

Technically, the 2014-15 TV season doesn't officially end until June 1st. With scripted programming now running more or less year-round, early June is the thin red line for Emmy contention. It has been both a transitional and bountiful year, with longstanding Emmy favorites either bowing out and fading into old age, which a bumper crop of quality programming ready to gobble up some hardware. The nominees won't be announced for another six weeks, but I've never been afraid to jump the gun.

Supporting Actress, Comedy: Mayam Bialik, The Big Bang Theory; Julie Bowen, Modern Family; Anna Chlumsky, Veep; Allison Janney, Mom; Judith Light, Transparent; Kate McKinnon, SNL.
Supporting Actor, Comedy: Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Ty Burrell, Modern Family; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family; Tony Hale, Veep; Steve Zissis, Togetherness.
Supporting Actress, Drama: Christine Baranski, The Good Wife; Christina Hendricks, Mad Men; Kate Mulgrew, Orange is the New Black; Dame Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey; Sissy Spacek, Bloodline; Cecily Tyson, How to Get Away With Murder.
Supporting Actor, Drama: Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul; Jim Carter, Downton Abbey; Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones; Vincent Kartheiser, Mad Men; Mandy Patinkin, Homeland; John Slattery, Mad Men.

Lead Actress, Comedy: Lena Dunham, Girls; Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie; Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep; Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly; Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation.
Lead Actor, Comedy: Louie C.K. Louie; Don Cheadle, House of Lies; Matt LeBlanc, Episodes; William H. Macy, Shameless; Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory; Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent.
Lead Actress, Drama: Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder; Taraji P. Henson, Empire; Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife; Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men; Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin; Kerry Washington, Scandal.
Lead Actor, Drama: Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom; Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Terrence Howard, Empire; Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul; Kevin Spacey, House of Cards; Dominic West, The Affair.

Best Limited Series*: "American Crime," ABC; "American Horror Story: Freak Show," FX; "The Honorable Woman," BBC/PBS; "Olive Kitteridge," HBO; "Texas Rising," The History Channel.
Best Comedy Series: "Louie," FX; "Modern Family," ABC; "Silicon Valley," HBO; "Transparent," Amazon Prime; "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Netflix; "Veep," HBO.
Best Drama Series: "Downton Abbey," BBC/PBS; "Game of Thrones," HBO; "House of Cards," Netflix; "Mad Men," AMC; "Masters of Sex," Showtime; "Orange is the New Black," Netflix.

*new category for miniseries and limited-run shows


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Close the Door, Have a Seat

This Sunday is the series finale of "Mad Men," a show that I've been watching somewhat religiously since its third season. (I caught up with the first two in repeats.) I don't watch a lot of dramas, but the few that I do enjoy have a larger ensemble cast and an exquisite attention to detail.

What fascinates me most about "Mad Men" is the survival-of-the-fittest mentality that drives most of the action. When the series began, the setting was the Spring of 1960, and the partners of Sterling Cooper were the kings of their respective world. As the series progresses, however circumstances both within and beyond their control force them to adjust to a world that is making leaps and bounds of social progress. To an extent, the show is bifurcated between these two scenarios. The first three seasons finds the ad agency at the height of Madison Avenue's power; after getting bought out by a British firm, then find themselves on the verge of being sold again, they break off into their own independent agency again. This sets up the second half of the series, when Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (later SCDP plus Cutler Gleason Chaough, then Sterling Cooper & Partners) is more or less a fledgling upstart with heightened competition.

Setting a TV show in the '60s also opens up the action to a feast of historical irony. Look at the clients that seek SCDP's prowess throughout the show's run: a dog food company that refuses to switch from horse meat. A swimsuit manufacturer that won't make bikinis. A southern-based chain of auto body shops expanding northward... that refuses to hire blacks. Jai alai. The agency's success is scoring major, familiar clients like Kodak or Chevrolet pales next to this imaginary graveyard of businesses that wouldn't adapt to the times. (Granted, Burger Chef lands somewhere in between...)

Above all, I'll miss the characters. Don Draper was an enigma for the ages, a man who put up the most labyrinth con in existence, but failed to maintain that double life and nearly lost everything. "Mad Men" was also about the journey of Peggy Olson, from naive secretary to jaded, savvy proto-feminist copy editor. Pete Campbell was the smug beneficiary of nepotism and old money, his greatest asset becoming his greatest character weakness. Joan Holloway Harris, who used her feminine wiles to her advantage, would eventually be trapped in the role of a sex object. Media guru Harry Crane went from office punching bag to Machiavellian tool. One of my favorite characters of all was Roger Sterling, son of the agency's co-founder and man of many vices. It wasn't until SC&P was bought out by McCann Erickson that Roger realized he basically whored himself out of being an advertising power player.

"Mad Men" was AMC's first scripted series when it bowed in the summer of 2007, and in quality and consistency it has been eclipsed only by its network neighbor "Breaking Bad." It was the tentpole of the third (maybe fourth) great era of American television, and the countless essays written about the show in recent weeks have been both insightful in substance and deserved in magnitude. (Also, thank you for "The Suitcase," the show's center point and arguably the best hour of television in the last five years.) I can't do justice to the layered performances and attention to minutiae that enthralled me over seven seasons, other than it totally enthralled me.

Next Week: my tenth annual fantasy Emmy ballot.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Through a Fifth Freshman's Eyes

May already? Where did the first third of the year go?

It's already prom season at most of the local high schools, which means graduation is in a few weeks. As I've done in past years, I've written a list that offers the world perspective of the average American high school senior, most of whom were born in either 1996 or 1997. This was inspired (or ripped off, depending on your perspective) by the "mindset list" that Beloit College releases every year. Here goes:

If you're a graduating senior...

...Hong Kong has always been part of China.'re used to a woman being U.S. Secretary of State.
...divorce has always been legal in Ireland.
...scientists have always been cloning farm animals.
...NASA has always been able to explore Mars.
...there has always been at least one electric car on American highways.
...there have always been Asian long-horned beetles on American soil.
...Ellen Degeneres has always been openly gay.'ve never had a combo meal at Burger Chef.'ve never shopped at Venture, Woolworth's, Handy Andy, Thrift Drug, or Omni Superstore.
...Steve Jobs was never been associated with any company besides Apple.
...the Freedom of Information Act has always been in effect.
...the Dow Jones Industrial Average has never been below 6,000.
...there has never been a hotel in Las Vegas called the Hacienda. don't understand why '90s kids much such a big deal out of "The Simpsons."
..."South Park" and Toonami have always been on TV.
...TV has always had parental guidance ratings.
...TV has always had those little watermarks on the lower corner of the screen that tells you which network you're watching.
...Bryant Gumbel has never hosted "Today," and Bob Saget has never hosted "America's Funniest Home Videos."
...The Disney Channel has always been a basic cable channel (as opposed to, say, HBO or Showtime).
...Kobe Bryant has always played in the NBA.
...Gregg Popovich has always been head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. have likely never attended a Hartford Whalers game, and there has always been an NHL team in North Carolina.
...the Florida --er, Miami-- Marlins have a tendency to win championships, then completely disembowel the team shortly after.
...Tupac Shakur, Spiro Agnew, Morey Amsterdam, Eva Cassidy, Tiny Tim, Pete Rozelle, Carl Sagan, JonBenet Ramsey, Townes Van Zandt, Deng Xiaoping, Biggie Smalls, Willem de Kooning, Allen Ginsberg, Laura Nyro, Blackstone the magician, Gianni Versace, Robert Mitchum, Jimmy Stewart, Charles Kuralt, Fela Kuti, William S. Burroughs, Brandon Tartikoff, Princess Diana, and Mother Teresa have always been dead.

Am I missing anything? I'm asking in earnest, but I understand if you don't want to add to this blighted nostalgia trip.