2013 Emmys: Surprises and Snubs

BBC's America's 'Orphan Black' was shut out of this year's Emmys.

BBC’s America’s clone thriller ‘Orphan Black’ was shut out of this year’s Emmys.

Though there were a lot of locks for the main categories at the Emmys this year, the TV Academy still managed to surprise us here at Cinema Sentinel with some very deserving underdogs scoring nominations and equally shocking snubs. Though we would certainly never want to be in the position of choosing a few nominees out of this past year’s terrific crop, it’s always fun to dissect and disagree with the TV Academy’s picks. Let’s take it one at a time with the six main categories:

Outstanding Comedy Series

This year’s category is almost identical to last year’s, with FX’s Louie sneaking onto the ballot in place of HBO’s Curb Your EnthusiasmLouie was certainly worthy of a nomination – no show still on TV does biting dark comedy as skillfully – but there were some equally deserving but unfairly snubbed candidates. NBC’s Parks and Recreation had a terrific season, far superior to, say, the latest season of Girls (debatably not even a comedy at this point). Parks and Recreation has even surpassed its stylistic muse, The Office, at this point by so completely involving the audience in the lives of its characters despite the documentary format, and it is about time that the Emmys recognize that after years of unfairly ignoring the show. And the total lack of love for FOX’s New Girl, which hit a real groove in its second season, is depressing, if not surprising given all of the deserving candidates this year. The characters on New Girl grew (though some more than others) from caricatures to legitimate protagonists, with strengths, weaknesses and quirks all their own. The scripts were also far better than in New Girl‘s first season, giving each actor time to shine individual while evolving all of the roommates’ relationships in exciting ways. With 30 Rock in the ground, maybe some fresher comedies will get a chance next year.

Biggest Surprise: Louie (FX)

Biggest Snub: Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Outstanding Drama Series

This field was the tightest of any this year, with so many brilliant dramas on the air, and so it’s difficult to argue with the nominees – in particular, AMC’s Mad Men, HBO’s Game of Thrones, and AMC’s Breaking Bad are all at the peak of their storytelling powers. Netflix’s House of Cards deserves a nomination not only for its terrific acting and plot, but also for its very existence. House of Cards is groundbreaking in that it is the first original online web television program to ever receive Emmy attention. If there’s any debating, it would be about SHOWTIME’s Homeland. The complex spy thriller had an undeniably weak second season, despite an extremely strong start. It’s safe to say that the TV Academy is honoring the first half of Homeland‘s second season, not the completely absurd Abu Nazir kidnapping twist of its last few episodes. However, there are other shows more deserving that, with careful restraint, avoided going off the rails in the way that Homeland did. FX’s The Americans had an exhilarating, almost flawless first season. Also on FX, Sons of Anarchy and Justified arguably had their best seasons yet.  On HBO, Boardwalk Empire was conspicuously absent for the first time. And while the same channel’s drama The Newsroom turned a lot of heads, it’s likely that tough love from critics scared off the TV Academy. Meanwhile, SHOWTIME’s Dexter pulled itself out of a nosedive in grand fashion with one of its best seasons in years, to no avail, and AMC’s The Walking Dead also didn’t make the cut, despite its burgeoning popularity and rise in quality. Neither did NBC’s freshman drama Hannibal, which had a surprising amount of awards buzz behind it going into the nominations. In this writer’s mind, the biggest snub in this category would have to be BBC America’s Orphan Black, which succeeded in making sci-fi cool again, as well as smart, sexy and compulsively watchable. Despite the many fantastical aspects of the show’s plot (which are almost certainly what turned voters off), the drama was as gritty, well-acted and fascinating as anything on American television this year.

Biggest Surprise: House of Cards (Netflix)

Biggest Snub: Orphan Black (BBC America)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama

The heavy hitters are all there, though Jeff Daniels somehow snuck in despite The Newsroom‘s bad press and lack of nominations. This was such a rewarding season of television all around that there were many deserving actors who just didn’t make the cut. Timothy Olyphant was great in this season of Justified. Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter) both got the shaft this year after being nominated last year, allowing Daniels and Kevin Spacey of House of Cards to take their places. Neither Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) nor Matthew Rhys (The Americans) stood a chance, though in weaker years they both would have been up for consideration. Hugh Dancy was truly outstanding on NBC’s freshman drama Hannibal as troubled criminal profiler Will Graham. And Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead turned in the most impressive performance on a show built on great performances, showing off his wide acting range this past season as his character sunk to new moral depths. All of them would have been nominated in a perfect world. Sadly, the TV Academy loves to show devotion to its favorite shows, so newcomers often get spurned in favor of mainstays like Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men).

Biggest Surprise: Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom (HBO)

Biggest Snub: Andrew Lincoln – The Walking Dead (AMC)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama

This category yielded some of the most surprising nominations in this year’s Emmys. Some of them were satisfying, like Vera Farmiga for her excellent work as twisted mother Norma Bates on A&E’s breakout Bates Motel. And some of them were a little frustrating, like Connie Britton on ABC’s Nashville, an uneven guilty pleasure show that went through some considerable growing pains. The category nominated seven actresses, as opposed to the standard six, which suggests the TV Academy struggled to narrow down the contenders, so there were likely many other actresses who were very close to receiving the nod that Britton ultimately (read: inexplicably) earned. Tatiana Maslany played not one but seven characters to perfection on BBC America’s Orphan Black, masterfully differentiating each performance with distinctive looks, styles, accents, and mannerisms. No one else on TV can claim to play both the protagonist and antagonist of their show, along with most of the supporting characters. Maslany’s omission, after her win at the Critic’s Choice Awards, was likely the biggest snub of any category at the Emmys this year. Other deserving candidates included Jennifer Carpenter for her increasingly terrific work on SHOWTIME’s Dexter, Lena Headey and Michelle Fairley of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and Keri Russell, the compelling center of FX’s The Americans. Julianne Margulies was also snubbed this year, though CBS’s The Good Wife had another strong season.

Biggest Surprise: Connie Britton – Nashville (ABC)

Biggest Snub: Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC America)

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy

Usual suspects Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) and Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) again received nods, but the category also found room to recognize underdogs like Matt LeBlanc for his wonderful, self-aware role on SHOWTIME’s Episodes and Jason Bateman for being the best part of Netflix’s revived Arrested Development. Louis C.K. picked up another well-deserved nomination for his work on Louie, and Don Cheadle was also recognized for SHOWTIME’s House of Lies. The weak spot in that line-up is definitely Cheadle, who suffers from the reputation of his show, generally criticized for listless writing. However, the TV Academy clearly likes Cheadle on TV, as they also nominated him last year, to the surprise of many. As far as snubs are concerned, Jake Johnson should have picked up a nomination for his consistently hilarious acting on FOX’s New Girl. Johnson really came into his own as a romantic and comedic lead for the show this past season, delivering many of the show’s best lines and moments. Despite a greatly improved role, he suffered from the total lack of love for New Girl from the TV Academy this year. John Krasinski was the heart of The Office in its final season, but evidently the show wore out its welcome around the time Steve Carrell packed his bags. Finally, Jon Cryer was also snubbed for Two and a Half Men after the TV Academy gave him the award last year, suggesting the goodwill towards him after the show’s Charlie Sheen crisis has all but evaporated.

Biggest Surprise: Jason Bateman – Arrested Development (Netflix)

Biggest Snub: Jake Johnson – New Girl (FOX)

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy

This category included comedy juggernauts like Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), while still acknowledging the more subtle work of underdogs like Laura Dern (Enlightened) and Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), in what was probably the fairest distribution of nominations this year. That said, many terrific actresses got shut out, which is particularly frustrating considering the Lead Actress in a Drama category had seven slots this year, while Lead Actress in a Comedy only had six. That seventh slot would have likely gone to Zooey Deschanel for her increasingly expressive and exciting work on New Girl. Deschanel really developed her character this past season, transforming Jess Day from the quirky weirdo of the first season into a fully formed, easily likable protagonist by taking bold risks and consistently humanizing her, particularly in her romantic storyline with roommate Nick Miller (Jake Johnson). Melissa McCarthy was also snubbed for her work on CBS’s Mike and Molly, likely just missing the cut. It’s possible that her lucrative film career overexposed her to voters, who instead opted for lesser-known actresses.

Biggest Surprise: Laura Dern – Enlightened (HBO)

Biggest Snub: Zooey Deschanel – New Girl (FOX)

Dan Harmon May Return to ‘Community’

Former 'Community' showrunner Dan Harmon may return.

Former ‘Community’ showrunner Dan Harmon may return.

The mad-genius creator of NBC’s underdog cult comedy Community may be returning to the show for its fifth season after being fired by NBC last year. Dan Harmon is widely perceived to be the creative energy behind the show, which centers on disbarred lawyer Jeff Winger, who attends the titular Greendale Community College in hopes of earning a degree and embarks on a series of misadventures with a zany and close-knit study group. Danny Pudi, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Donald Glover, Yvette Nicole Brown, Jim Rash, and (formerly) Chevy Chase co-star. Community is beloved by fans for its ambitious, high-concept storylines and affinity for meta-humor and pop culture references.

Harmon was evicted from the show after the close of the third season, following conflict between him and co-star Chevy Chase and reports that NBC was unhappy with the show’s direction and ratings. The fourth season, which was helmed by writers David Guarascio and Moses Port, concluded last month. It met with a less-than-enthusiastic reception from critics and fans, who felt it lacked the series’ typical humor and creativity, while maintaining almost the same ratings as Harmon’s Community.

News of Harmon’s possible return broke last Sunday on his podcast Harmontown, when he confirmed rumors that he was in negotiations with NBC. On Friday, Harmon tweeted, “Returning to Community, Day One: Hiring of directors hindered by an apparent promise from Sony to Jason Alexander. My deal: not yet closed.” Alexander previously appeared on the show during the fourth-season episode “Intro to Felt Surrogacy.”

Another tweet from Harmon appeared to cement the news on Saturday. Responding to a fan’s question, he tweted, “Yes yes yes! I’m back I’m back I’m back. You can thank @joelmchale.”

Community‘s fifth season is expected to air as a midseason replacement in NBC’s 2013-2014 schedule.

NBC and Sony declined to comment when asked by Entertainment Weekly.

Source: Entertainment Weekly.

Photo Courtesy: Digital Spy.

TV Season Review: Grimm

NBC's 'Grimm' delivers intermittent thrills.

NBC’s ‘Grimm’ delivers intermittent thrills.

In its first season, NBC’s dark fairy-tale cop procedural was often indecisive (and that’s putting it nicely), introducing new characters and plots without aim or direction and frequently dropping both without resolution. The show, about Portland detective Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli), who inherits the ability to see supernatural creatures called ‘Wesen’, lacked the bite it so desperately needed to be interesting. Watching Nick establish his role as a cop for both Wesen and humans was sometimes diverting but mostly frustrating. There were a few bright spots (the deliciously twisted “Organ Grinder,” serialized standout “Love Sick,” and exciting world-builder “Cat and Mouse”) but the show seemed to oscillate between expanding its universe and telling sometimes dull “monster-of-the-week” stories.

This was never more evident than in the season’s finale, “Woman in Black,” which ended the season on a sour note with little resolution and blatantly telegraphed twists. I wanted to like Grimm, and so I stuck with it this season. I was pleasantly surprised by a lot of the episodes and, (finally) the show has progressed to the point where I can happily continue to watch it. The second season, though rocky and sometimes just plain dumb in places, is a vast improvement over the first.

That’s not to say that Grimm is anywhere close to terrific. It’s certainly better than before, but then again that isn’t saying much. There are still overlong, boring character arcs and idiotic plot twists. And Bitsie Tulloch, as Nick’s laughably pathetic girlfriend Juliette, is somehow getting worse with every episode, now unable to convey a single convincing emotion. And the show made the mistake of saddling her with an overarching plot so redundant and boring that it deflated every episode it appeared in. But overall, Grimm has slowly improved, steadily building its universe and characters while figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I’m optimistic about its future, much more so this season than last.

The best episodes of the season either expanded Grimm‘s Wesen world or told entertaining and intelligent standalone stories.

In that first category, midseason finale “Season of the Hexenbiest,” the satisfying “Face Off,” and the two-part season finale (“The Waking Dead” and “Goodnight, Sweet Grimm”) come to mind. Without fail, as Nick learns more about the supernatural world he is a part of, the show gets better. The serialized episodes give Grimm an opportunity to commit to its darkness, asking tough questions of Nick as his duties as a detective come into conflict with his responsibilities as a Grimm. His tense standoff with the Wesen royal families of Europe has yielded some intriguing episodes this season.

On the procedural side, fun caper “One Angry Fuchsbau” and the gripping “Kiss of the Muse” show how entertaining Grimm can be when good performances and compelling plotlines converge. The show’s writers are mostly getting smarter, and the show has managed to establish a pace and tone that suit it well. I see promise in Grimm, which makes the bad episodes (too many to name) disappointing but bearable.

The actors, excepting the hopeless Tulloch, are also improving. Giuntoli, who gave a wooden and unconvincing performance as Nick in the first season, is visibly becoming more comfortable carrying the series, and he follows through on the emotional scenes he was unable to deliver last season. The series’ MVP is still Silas Weir Mitchell as charismatic Blutbad (a werewolf Wesen) Monroe. His scenes, particularly with love interest Rosalie (the delightful Bree Turner), are both the best-acted and most consistently amusing in the series. In supporting roles, Sasha Roiz plays mysterious Wesen Police Captain Renard with a dangerous, cool energy that makes him compulsively watchable, while Claire Coffee, as wily Hexenbiest Adalind Schade is a beguiling villainess.

The show has come a long way since its strictly-procedural roots, and the last string of episodes, culminating in a  genuinely terrific season finale, is Grimm‘s best yet. The show’s gradual but consistent improvement in quality excites me, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the show will resolve its first real cliffhanger in the fall. Its prognosis is far from Grimm. B

Photo Courtesy: Science Fiction.com.

What Did the TV Networks Do Wrong?

ABC's 'Happy Endings' was one of the many TV casualties.

ABC’s ‘Happy Endings’ was one of the many TV casualties.

So long, Go On. Happy Endings, not so much. Do No Harm, do not resuscitate.

The past few weeks were rife with cancellations over at the major television networks. Between ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and The CW, 39 shows have met their maker (as of press time) so far in the month of May.

Investigating the carnage, there are some trends in which shows were axed and which ones made the cut.

All but two of NBC’s half-hour comedies were given pink slips. Critically-acclaimed, consistently solid Parks and Recreation survived, as did perpetual underdog Community. Whitney, Guys with Kids, Animal Practice, Go On, Up All Night, The New Normal, 1600 Penn, The Office, and 30 Rock weren’t so lucky (though, in all fairness, those latter two shows went into the 2012-13 season knowing that they were filming their final seasons.) None of this year’s freshman comedies connected with a large audience, though The New Normal had a small, devoted following and Up All Night’s demise is more attributed to the departure of star Christina Applegate over “creative differences” with the showrunner than ratings.

It’s worth analysing what went wrong with the major networks this year. Though NBC killed the most shows, the other networks also had significant failures. With the exception of Nashville, ABC cut all of their new dramas, also killing low-rated comedies like Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, and Malibu Country. CBS’s much-anticipated Dennis Quaid drama Vegas underperformed and was shuffled to Friday nights to quietly perish. And The CW, which only green-lights a few new shows each year, experienced two embarrassing flops in Cult and Emily Owens, M.D.

A clear problem the networks had was with advertising. The CW’s Cult arrived with little-to-no prior notice and was canned after only seven episodes. Advertising for NBC’s Guys with Kids failed to convince audiences that the show was anything more than an image from The Hangover recycled into a bland comedy. And the Peacock network’s Do No Harm arrived and left television without ever showing up on my radar. The ads for that last one showed a guy in scrubs, with a poorly Photoshopped face superimposed over his cupped, raised hands.

Another mistake the networks made was assuming that they knew what people wanted to watch on TV. NBC’s Deception tried to copy ABC’s freshman hit Revenge without generating any of the same social-media heat or intrigue. A blander version of an already far-fetched guilty pleasure was not what most browsers were searching for. CBS’s Golden Boy ripped off every other cop procedural on TV without even pretending to bring something original to the table. Meanwhile, ABC struck out with ambitious pilots without giving any thought as to how sustainable their concepts were, green-lighting Last Resort and Zero Hour without noting how viewers had previously rejected ‘event’ TV shows like FlashForward, Awake, Alcatraz, The River, and (surprise!) The Event.

Viewer fatigue was one of the biggest reasons for the failure of a lot of shows this season. After years of the same, it seems that audiences are sick of hospital shows, for one. Grey’s Anatomy barely earned a pickup this year, while ABC staple Private Practice winked out of existence. FOX’s The Mob Doctor flopped simply because it couldn’t convince viewers that it could provide a worthwhile twist on the typical formula for hospital dramas. NBC’s Animal Practice hinged on the idea that viewers would flock week after week to watch a medical comedy with a Capuchin monkey scampering around in a lab coat (the network was so confident that the show would be a colossal hit that they pre-empted the London Olympics for it back in August). The CW’s Emily Owens, M.D. applied some high school angst to the medical drama formula but still didn’t draw an audience. Do No Harm, a hospital drama attempting a Jekyll/Hyde twist, also fell victim to genre fatigue, becoming the lowest-rated-in-season drama debut in modern television history. It was cancelled after only two episodes. ABC’s Body of Proof, a consistently low-performing procedural about an unconventional medical examiner, also got axed. It appears that hospital-based dramas and comedies are going the way of the TV western or game shows.

Viewers evidently also tired of another type of show: the ‘family life’ sitcom. FOX’s Ben & Kate, CBS’s Partners, ABC’s How to Live with Your Parents, Malibu Country, and Family Tools, and NBC’s The New Normal all perished during cancellation season after attempting to draw audiences with quirky characters and saccharine plotlines. Though Modern Family is still a ratings juggernaut over on ABC, viewers are evidently not interested in also finding similar shows to watch.

Whether the networks will learn from their snafus this past TV season remains to be seen. If one was to judge by the TV upfronts, which featured a familiar blend of copycats (NBC’s The Blacklist is evidently Hannibal-izing The Following and crossing its fingers, hoping for the best) and dull family sitcoms (The Family Guide, Welcome to the Family, The Millers, The Goldbergs, even a sitcom called The Michael J. Fox Show), that would be a resounding “No.” Oh well. At least there’s always HBO.

Image Courtesy: E Online.