Thursday, August 4, 2016

Emmy Extravaganza 2016 - Part 1: The Praised

Ladies and gents - bust out your top hats and ball gowns, because the awards season is coming soon!

The event in the Fall that really kicks off months of red carpets and acceptance speeches - the Primetime Emmy Awards - announced their nominations recently. [Some might say that the season really kicks off in the summer with the Daytime Emmy one says that.]

This year, just like every year, there were shocks, snubs, and surprises (oh my!)

What is refreshingly new though is that the field of nominees keeps expanding. There has been a huge addition of new categories over the years: from shows that involve online interaction with their audience, to short form programs, to adding a category for "Limited Series", and even breaking up the costume category into "period" and "modern" (where The People v OJ Simpson is considered  a period piece - a horrifying fact to kids of the 90s who now feel ancient). The Academy is acknowledging that times have changed and there are many different kinds of shows other than a traditional comedy and drama.

There are plenty of places all across the internet to check out the enormous list of nominees in the 107 categories. [I did that count myself y'all, because I couldn't find the number listed anywhere. Doing the work - somebody has to.]

The following is a few notes (or rather a gigantic television themed manifesto) on some of the exciting inclusions on the list of this year's nominees.

Bob Odenkirk + Better Call Saul

Anyone looking for well acted, no gimmicks drama, should definitely be watching Better Call Saul. The show began as a spin off to mammoth TV giant Breaking Bad,  but between the superb writing and the multi-faceted Bob Odenkirk, Saul stands on its own delivering  witty and emotional episodes that cleverly expands the Breaking Bad universe without an ounce of blue meth in sight...for now anyway.

Ellie Kemper + Titus Burgess + The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Titus Burgess' amazing talent for performing dazzling rip-off show tunes and Ellie Kemper throwing everything she's got into her character (the always full of life, Kimmy), makes this duo and their show unstoppable in the comedy categories. Zany with a wallop of heart, Kimmy Schmidt solidifies the fact that shows with Tina Fey's guidance and vision need to always be a part of popular culture.

Aziz Ansari + Master Of None

The idea of a comedy has evolved over the years and as Master of None proved this year, there is still plenty of more room to be creative within the parameters of a half hour show.

Aziz Ansari is the belle of the Emmys this year - he is nominated for directing, acting, writing, and the show is up for Best Comedy. All of which is completely deserved by the way. Each of the episodes is focused on everyday topics - new relationships, interacting with family, going out with friends - but it is presented in a way that stands on its own. One of the most memorable episodes was a brilliantly written and acted story that progressed in time to show the entire life of a relationship. However, the episode receiving the most Emmy cred is "Parents", which features Ansari's real parents playing his fake parents and delves into multiple stories about growing up in countries other than America. Ansari is writing what he knows and that is proving to be just what TV was missing.

Will Forte + The Last Man On Earth

The Last Man On Earth is a drama hidden in the cream filling of an outrageous comedy cookie sandwich. Standing squarely on its own in comparison to other half hour comedies, it wonderfully captures both the hilarious and emotionally dark elements that people would find themselves encountering after almost the whole population is killed off by a virus.

The stories are often deep, the situations are wacky, the characters are sweet, and combined all together, it makes for a unique TV watching experience, where you're never sure exactly how the plot is going to progress week to week. With so many options to choose from, it takes a lot to get surprised by TV these days, but The Last Man On Earth will keep you on your toes, and also happened to throw in Will Forte with half of his facial/head hair shaved off for almost a whole season. Bravo.

Bob's Burgers

Throughout time there has been many animated shows featuring a rag-tag family and still Bob's Burgers has found a way to expand on something that feels so familiar. You may never be sure what will happen during the half-hour adventures of Gene, Tina, Louise, Bob, and Linda, but there is a guarantee of finding peculiar characters, lots of sarcasm, miraculous burger puns, endless jokes, and possibly a song along the way. (This brilliant number from the last season finale, might give you chills, even though it involves Bob on a toilet.)

Grease: Live!

The production of Grease: Live! (can't get enough of that exclamation mark) that aired on FOX earlier this year was masterful in execution and proved what many have believed was missing from the NBC musical productions -  the life of an audience. Grease is far from being my favorite musical and yet the way this version was produced - feeling alive as the audience became part of the show and the stress inducing maneuvers impressively moving from sound stage to sound stage - all made for an exciting night of TV. Which is why it will be a real travesty if this loses in the Best Directing of a Special. Plus, if I believed in guilty pleasures, mine would be Carly Rae Jepsen (who starred as Frenchie).

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Glee may have brought the idea of a musical TV show to life, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has perfected it. There are no covers of Journey, just completely original tunes full of satire and irony that the characters begin belting out mid predicament, just like any good musical comedy. The show starts with a stressed out and depressed lawyer (played by Rachel Bloom) who moves from NYC to West Covina, California to reconnect with a guy she dated at a summer camp years before. It's a show very much dedicated to characters fighting the harrowing adventure of "figuring it all out", but done in a way that will make you weep a little and then crack up. High praise is definitely deserved for a TV show presenting a totally one-of-a-kind product.

Oh and did I mention the songs were catchy? You won't be able to hear "West Covina, Califorina" without wanting to sing the ear-worm worthy excellent first song from the pilot episode. Plus, any distinct show that features a gem titled "Settle For Me", will win hearts all the time. Say hello to America's new boyfriend:


Atmospheric tension involving a butcher and a mob family (and oh hey! was that a UFO?) set in the middle of snowy plains, proved that Fargo, the movie turned TV show, was not a one season wonder. The drama unfolds slowly, but always with purpose, and most impressively manages a complex plot with a large cast of characters without letting the story become muddled and confusing. For my money, this is the best executed show on television. It's a show that needs to be experienced.

The People v O.J. Simpson

Anyone who was an adult in 1994 more than likely remembers every horrifying detail of the media circus surrounding the terrible murders that led to the O.J. Simpson trial. For everyone else, the FX show, The People v O.J. Simpson, might have been the first chance to learn more about this time in American history.

I was seven in '94 and only vaguely remember the Bronco chase and sitting on the carpet of my grandma's living room trying to wrap my head around the final day of the trial when O.J. was acquitted. While the FX series should not be taken exclusively as historical fact (the outstanding 30 for 30 doc, O.J.: Made In America, can be that for everyone instead), watching the dramatized series this year was enlightening in the way it revealed the important stories of certain other players in the case, like Marcia Clark, a name I recognized, but a woman I knew nothing about previously.

Truthfully this case impacted an endless amount of peoples lives and it is utterly spellbinding. The fascination of this story still enraptures the people in this country, which is proven in how the show completely dominated with Emmy nominations (14 in total).

Rupaul's Drag Race 

You know, the world can be a dark and unforgiving place, so I say thank God for a show like Rupaul's Drag Race. There are endless reality shows filling the airwaves, but there is not a single one that outshines the sheer amount of fun that is brought by Ru and his girls. Costumes, make-up, crafting, and each episode ends with the two worst performing contestants competing to stay on the show by lip-syncing for their life - what's not to love about this picture?

Sure, there's drama like any other competition show, but these contestant have gone through more than most of us ever will just to earn the right to express themselves the way they want. With that in mind, this show presents an overall sense of appreciation and community that we all could learn from.

Best Direction Of A Drama

This is one tough cookie of a category.

Two of the nominees are considered by many as two of the best episodes in the entire Game Of Thrones series - one which has huge emotional heft (involving the saddest door of all time) and the other which is full of battle and glory.

Both could be considered terrific picks, but then after scanning down the list of nominees Steven Soderbergh's name pops up and everything changes. He is nominated for his direction of  the Season 2 finale of The Knick.  The entire series stands out because of Soderbergh and the lead, Clive Owen. That finale in particular is a spectacular feat as it chronicles an entirely insane medical procedure - the whole thing will more than likely cause you to exclaim "wow! wow!" and curse up a storm as you hide your eyes slightly behind your hands.

Making A Murderer

The show that dazzled the country and turned everyone into social justice advocates, received several nominations. Recently, a second season was announced, so internet get back to work trying to sleuth out some new evidence.

Bryan Cranston

This guy is like Meryl Streep - he transforms into his characters, is notably suave and distinguished, and can honestly do no wrong. Not to mention that since his Malcom In The Middle days, he has been an Emmy fave. That did not change this year, because anyone who watched the first 30 seconds of his performance as Lyndon Johnson in All The Way, knew his Awards Room would be adding another friend.

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Limited Series Or Movie

Other categories feature some of my favorite people, but I'm going to be bold and declare this as my favorite one of the night.

Felicty Huffman, Lili Taylor, Audra McDonald, Kirsten Dunst, Kerry Washington, and Sarah Paulson, are an outstanding group of women representing television that is ground breaking in subject matter and exemplifying powerful roles women of any age are due to be playing on a more regular basis. They aren't just the mom in the background, these women are playing complex characters reflecting real dramas in American culture. How can you even begin to pick a winner from this bunch? (Lili Taylor from American Crime - a show which blew me away this year - would ultimately be my choice if forced to answer.)

Matt Walsh + Veep

There's nothing better than a first timer! Matt Walsh has been a consistently strong member of the hilarious Veep crew and it's delightful to see someone else from the cast getting recognized.

Judith Light + Gabby Hoffman + Transparent

Judith Light is my favorite actress on Transparent, but Hoffman especially stood out this year as her character tried to figure out her life and examined the past of their complex family. Hoffman was involved in one of my favorite moments from TV this year - the dazzling way her character was integrated into a scene that merged the past and present. The music and imagery made it unforgettable.

 Tina + Amy + SNL

We like them alone, we like them together and Fey and Poehler's pairing made for one of the must-see episodes of SNL last December. Now they are nominated for their hosting duties as a duo - something that has never happened in an acting category before. Give them an award so they can share the stage again (and because they deserve it)!

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

John Oliver may not be a "real" journalist, but he is leading the charge introduced by Jon Stewart to have comedic criticism blend with actual investigative journalism. Oliver and his team work tirelessly to make sense of complicated issues, serious issues, all while dropping "f bombs", inventing religions, and all in all, making hard reality fun for us all to consume.

Gay Of Thrones

"Where dragons!" Gay Of Thrones, a Funny Or Die series that follows a hairdresser discussing each episode of Game Of Thrones, is the only wrap up show that really matters. Each video adds a huge amount of levity to a very serious show. Especially in how Gay Of Thrones star, Jonathan Van Ness, has given lovable nicknames to all the GOT characters, like Blonde Cher, Capital City Selena, Christina Aguilera, Baby Barack Obama, Baby Miss Cleo, etc. Let's get real, no one has time to remember their real names. 

Watch all the videos on repeat here. Warning: they contain spoilers. (Duh)

Full Frontal With Samantha Bee

Most outlets were originally posting that Bee's new show was snubbed at the Emmys, because she wasn't nominated in the talk show category. Then I dug deeper and found that her show did get one nomination - Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series. Since writing is the basis for everything, that's a  tremendous nomination to behold!

Bee has taken her love of crafting passionate field pieces for The Daily Show and multiplied that tenacity by like a zillion. She is pushing boundaries and raging against injustice - at the local and national level - even more than her former colleague, John Oliver.  Bee may be the only woman currently with a late night show, but, for lack of a better way of phrasing it, she definitely has the biggest balls of them all.   

Other Thoughts

Shout-out to Kyle Chandler (Bloodline) and Jesse Plemmons (Fargo) - hey there! FNL alums make every show better and they have the acting nominations to prove it.

What Happened Miss Simone? and Cartel Land - So, because these docs are on Netflix/A&E they can be up for Emmys and Oscars? Discuss.

Nick News With Linda Ellerbee: Hello, I Must Be Going! - This is nominated for Outstanding Children's Program. I watched this as a kid and it played a part in me caring about current events and the passionate person I am today. What a lovely surprise to see that it was still airing.

There will always be people out there that recoil at the thought of awards shows and deem them pure drivel. And hey, even I acknowledge that there are more important things in the world,  but there are people (aka my kind of people) who very much appreciate the art of movie/TV making and it's a night dedicated to just talking about a favorite passion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Can there be anything more to say about the Emmys?  Oh, why yes, there's always more to say. Check back in for notes on some noteworthy TV that was excluded.

Until next time.

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