Emmy Awards 2013-14

Emmy AwardIt’s the Emmy Awards next week and I figured in advance of my own assessment of the 2013-14 season (I’m still trying to finish a couple of shows off!) I’d quickly run through some of the Emmy categories. I’m only looking at the drama and mini-series categories as I’ve watched hardly anything that would qualify in the comedy, variety or reality categories.

goodwifeOutstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Lizzy Caplan (Virginia Johnson), Masters of Sex – I only watched one episode and don’t remember much about her performance I’m afraid.
  • Claire Danes (Carrie Mathison), Homeland – I gave up on the series due to the terrible writing, but that was certainly no fault of Danes who always delivered impressive performances.
  • Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley), Downton Abbey – Sigh. No. Dockery does an ok job with what she’s given, but this is not an Emmy worthy role or performance.
  • Julianna Margulies (Alicia Florrick), The Good Wife – Another powerful but human woman again beautifully performed. Margulies was given some great material this year and she delivered accordingly.
  • Kerry Washington (Olivia Pope), Scandal – The series itself is bonkers and Washington plays the powerful but human Olivia Pope superbly.
  • Robin Wright (Claire Underwood), House of Cards – She’s superb as this very complex and unusual character. A really mesmerising performance
  • Who’s missing: Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black is such a gaping absence in this list you could almost believe that someone screwed up reading the nominations out. It’s possible that she could almost be viewed as cheating as she’s playing half a dozen characters, but that doesn’t change the fact that she should certainly be in Dockery’s slot and should quite probably have won. Keri Russell of The Americans, Ellen Pompeo of Grey’s Anatomy would also be worthy nominees if more slots were available.
    Who’ll win: This is a phenomenally strong year for women on television and choosing one winner is hard. I’d be pretty happy with either Wright, Margulies or Washington winning, but the general consensus seems to be that Caplan will win.

    House of CardsOutstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Bryan Cranston (Walter White), Breaking Bad – I haven’t seen it, I’m sure he’s great, but I do get a bit frustrated when show’s drag out a minimal number of episodes to extend across multiple years.
  • Jeff Daniels (Will McAvoy), The Newsroom – a good performance through some very uneven writing, I think some of the people I mention below are more deserving of his slot, but his nomination isn’t as ridiculous as some have suggested.
  • Jon Hamm (Don Draper), Mad Men – I think Hamm is managing to deliver a strong performance of a very poorly written character. Maybe that’s even more deserving than an actor who’s given a great character from the start, but it’s a bit tricky.
  • Woody Harrelson (Martin Hart) and Matthew McConaughey (Rust Cohle) True Detective – Bundling both nominations together, I didn’t watch beyond the first episode of the series and know McConaughey has got a lot of praise for his performance, but I found Harrelson the more interesting and delicate role.
  • Kevin Spacey (Francis Underwood), House of Cards – superbly chilling, it’s a very restrained performance for the most part, but the moments of emotion that the character allows through are startling.
  • Who’s Missing: If we put the two True Detectives into the miniseries category where they belong and bump off Daniels and Hamm, that leaves plenty of space for some under-appreciated performers. Matthew Rhys in The Americans gave a stunning performance of the conflicted spy, James Spader is wonderfully unpredictable on The Blacklist, Andrew Lincoln continues to be amazing on The Walking Dead and I haven’t seen this season, but I bet you anything you like Charlie Hunnam was incredible on Sons of Anarchy. I didn’t watch them, but I know a lot of people who did are frustrated by the lack of love for Michael Sheen in Masters of Sex and Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen of Hannibal. I’m also a bit surprised that Damian Lewis isn’t here for Homeland.

    Who’ll win: I’m actually pretty ambivalent about this category, it’s nowhere near as strong as the Actress category. I’d like Spacey to win I think, but I don’t know enough about Cranston and the True Detective roles to really make it a particularly educated choice. I suspect McConaughey will win on the night though. I think it’s just been a little too long since Breaking Bad and I think the academy will be smitten with the idea of McConaughey winning the Emmy and Oscar in the same year.

    Downton AbbeyOutstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

  • Christine Baranski (Diane Lockhart), The Good Wife – Amazing. She had some of the best scenes of the series and she utterly broken my heart.
  • Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates), Downton Abbey – a meatier storyline, but still the roles on Downton do not give the actors enough subtlety to really deserve these nominations.
  • Anna Gunn (Skyler White), Breaking Bad – no idea
  • Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Game of Thrones – slightly surprising to see her here. Like with the Downton roles, I’m not sure this one really had the subtlety to show off Headey’s talents to the full, but it was certainly interesting. I think I may have voted for Maisie Williams (Aria), Sophie Turner (Sansa) or Emilia Clarke (Daenerys) who got more range in their characters.
  • Christina Hendricks (Joan Harris), Mad Men – I like the character and performance a great deal, Joan is such a strong period character, fully belonging in the period, but also pushing the boundaries.
  • Maggie Smith (Violet Grantham), Downton Abbey – she didn’t have anywhere near enough material to be here.
  • Who’s Missing: Sandra Oh had a great final season on Grey’s Anatomy. I can’t imagine Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff on Sons of Anarchy were anything less than incredible. I didn’t watch season 2 of Nashville, but given her performance in season 1 and the material she had, I’d guess Hayden Panettiere was pretty impressive. Belamy Young (Mellie) manages to make her character both a bitch and a hero all at once on Scandal and Annet Mahendru (Nina) from The Americans quietly turned her character into an absolute star as well.

    Who’ll win: Baranski would most definitely be my choice, but Anna Gunn may steal it.

    Game of ThronesOutstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

  • Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman), Breaking Bad – the number of times I have to write “I haven’t watched Breaking Bad” really should have motivated me to watch it by now.
  • Jim Carter (Mr. Carson), Downton Abbey – Oh for pities sake. I actually thought Allen Leech as Branson gave a more interesting performance.
  • Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) Game of Thrones – yes indeed. Very much so. In fact, I’d almost say he should be in the Lead Actor category and winning that one.
  • Mandy Patinkin (Saul Berenson), Homeland – it was actually the shift in Patinkin’s character that made me stop watching as his character gave up the moral highground. It was a good performance though.
  • Jon Voight (Mickey Donovan), Ray Donovan – I didn’t watch more than the pilot and don’t remember the character or performance.
  • Josh Charles (Will Gardner), The Good Wife – I didn’t actually like where the character went this year, falling into old patterns in his anger and betrayal. But another great performance.
  • Who’s Missing: Guillermo Diaz as the terrifying Huck on Scandal, Matt Czuchry as Cary on The Good Wife and both Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Chandler Riggs (Carl) had great seasons on The Walking Dead.

    Who’ll win: I suspect it will be between Paul, Dinklage and Voight. Personally I’d probably have given it to Dinklage as he really does carry the show.

    Breaking BadOutstanding Drama Series

  • Breaking Bad – at just 8 episodes long, this almost feels like cheating.
  • Downton Abbey – sigh. It’s hugely entertaining, but no other series is ever allowed a drama nomination just because it’s entertaining and/or popular.
  • Game of Thrones – this season was better than previous and the series is certainly spectacularly well produced, but it’s still got problems that it inherits from the books.
  • House of Cards – Such a fascinating series, whether despite of or because of the way that it’s produced it’s a fascinating and original new tone for American television.
  • Mad Men – I’m calling time on Mad Men, it’s just going round and round in circles, foregoing linear character development in favour of dragging things out.
  • True Detective – I didn’t make it past the first episode because although I could see that it was very good, I just didn’t want to watch it and none of the characters or stories grabbed me enough to make me want to stay.
  • What’s missing: There are two big problems with this list, the first is the absence of The Good Wife which is an oversight so huge that if I had any faith in awards it would be completely destroyed. The Good Wife should not only be nominated, but should be winning this category easily, if for no other reason than it produced 22 stunning episodes this year, rather than just a dozen like most of these nominees. The second problem is the presence of True Detective which may well be superb, but should appear in the mini-series category. If it’s going to have a new cast and storyline next year, then it should be competing alongside Fargo and American Horror Story. Beyond that, I think Orphan Black and The Walking Dead should certainly be there and The Americans if we could find space.
    What will win:: Of this choice, the only one I’ve seen and think is worthy is House of Cards, I suspect True Detective will win though.

    Outstanding Miniseries

  • American Horror Story: Coven – it was fine, but I don’t think it was necessarily outstanding.
  • Bonnie & Clyde – didn’t see it
  • Fargo – I wasn’t sold on it at first, feeling it was just an extended version of the film, but the subtlety grew on me and eventually completely sucked me in.
  • Luther – excellent performance from Idris Elba in an otherwise very mediocre show.
  • The White Queen – didn’t see it
  • Treme – I never made it past the first episode several years ago.
  • What’s missing – I strongly believe True Detective should be in here instead of competing in the drama category. Yes, it would probably sweep the awards to the detriment of others, but that’s just how the cookie crumbles. It would seem that Sherlock was submitted as a ‘Made for TV Movie’ which is a mistake because a) it’s not and b) it’s not going to beat the phenomenal Normal Heart. Penny Dreadful by the way aired after the eligibility period, so saves me thinking too hard about whether it should be here or not.
    What will win: Fargo. I don’t think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it’s certainly the best of this pretty poor list.

    American Horror StoryLead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie

  • Jessica Lange (Fiona Goode) and Sarah Paulson (Cordelia Goode Foxx) both of American Horror Story: Coven – good performances from both actresses, I think Paulson’s was actually the more interesting and varied character though.
  • Helena Bonham Carter (Burton and Taylor), Minnie Driver (Return to Zero), Kristen Wiig (The Spoils of Babylon), Cicely Tyson (The Trip to Bountiful). – I haven’t seen any of these, in fact the only one I’ve even heard of was Burton and Taylor.
  • Who will win – Dunno, don’t care. Clearly while women are doing well in Drama series, they’re not getting anything particularly interesting in miniseries. Incidentally, I rather think that Allison Tolman from Fargo should be in here instead of in the supporting actress category, and she should be winning.

    lutherOutstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie

  • Chiwetel Ejiofor (Louis Lester), Dancing on the Edge – solid but unremarkable performance. Ejiofor is clearly capable of far greater than this role allows him to show off.
  • Martin Freeman (Lester Nygaard), Fargo – it’s a very engaging performance, playing to Freeman’s speciality as the seeming bumbling everyman with a strong/dark core.
  • Billy Bob Thornton (Lorne Malvo), Fargo – initially this seemed the more interseting role than Freeman’s, but actually, it was all a bit monotone. Admittedly an interesting tone, but the relentless creepy coolness became a bit old..
  • Idris Elba (John Luther), Luther – a wonderful performance bringing life and originality to an otherwise unremarkable series. Like James Spader, his characters are always utterly unpredictable, while still being coherent.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes), Sherlock: His Last Vow – Always excellent and this season gave his character some depth and conflict which was delivered expertly.
  • Mark Ruffalo (Ned Weeks), The Normal Heart – A devastatingly powerful TV Movie and stunning performances from the whole cast. Ruffalo plays to type as the slightly bumbling academic with a fiery temper, but he does it exceptionally.
  • Who’s missing – I can’t actually think of anyone who’s missing, although I think I would argue that Freeman is as much a lead in Sherlock as Cumberbatch is, but I fully understand why he wouldn’t enter this category to compete against both himself and his co-star!
    Who will win – men in miniseries are fairing far better than the women are, particularly British men, it says a lot when I think that the Oscar nominated Ejiofor is the weakest of them all. I suspect Mark Ruffalo will win, not undeservingly but strongly helped by the subject matter of The Normal Heart. I wouldn’t be disappointed if Elba, Cumberbatch or Freeman was announced though.

    Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie

  • Frances Conroy (Myrtle), Kathy Bates (Delphine) and Angela Bassett (Marie), all from American Horror Story: Coven – all of these were single note performances, and frankly hammy over-the-top ones. That’s what the show demanded, but I don’t think it gave any of these wonderful actresses a chance to shine.
  • Allison Tolman (Molly Solverson), Fargo – she started off a little basic but gradually revealed more depth until she really became the star of this series.
  • Ellen Burstyn (Olivia), Flowers in the Attic – didn’t see it.
  • Julia Roberts (Dr Emma Brookner), The Normal Heart – her character was a bit of a macguffin in the movie and didn’t have the subtlest of material so I thought her performance came across a bit heavy handed.
  • Who will win: I think and hope Tolman wins, she gives a far more nuanced performance than anyone else in this category.

    SherlockSupporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie

  • Colin Hanks (Deputy Gus Grimly), Fargo – like Freeman, Hanks is playing to type here and he does it very well, but it’s not a role with a huge amount of variety in it.
  • Martin Freeman (John Watson), Sherlock: His Last Vow – Watson is almost the opposite side of the coin to Lester Nygaard, starting from strength and adding uncertainty. He’s such a restrained character opposite Sherlock’s extravagance and this episode certainly gave Freeman the opportunity to shine.
  • Matt Bomer (Felix), Jim Parsons (Tommy), Joe Mantello (Mickey) and Alfred Molina (Ben) all from The Normal Heart – Everyone in this cast deserves an award, all very different, utterly superb and devastating performances. I would definitely have put Taylor Kitsch in instead of Molina.
  • Who will win – I would like to see Freeman win, his co-star gets all the glory for Sherlock, but for me, Watson is by far the more interesting character and the straight man is the harder role. That said, anyone from The Normal Heart would also be thoroughly deserving and if I had to pick just one of them, I think the heartbreaking Matt Bomer would just edge ahead of the beautifully restrained Jim Parsons and the explosive Joe Mantello.


    Luther: Season 3

    lutherGiven my mixed feelings on the previous two seasons of the show, I didn’t really have particularly high expectations of this final season, and the show pretty much met them dead on. It continues to be one of those shows where one shining piece of excellence doesn’t make up for the rest of the mediocrity around it. In this case, the central character of Luther and the performance of Idris Elba isn’t just in a different league to the rest of the writing, it’s playing an entirely different game.

    Luther is a truly brilliant character, he’s smart and good at his job, but functioning in a completely different paradigm to everyone around him. That conflict makes him appear to some as a rogue, something dangerous. He’s like Doctor House in some regards, he gets the results that everyone wants but they still endlessly complain about his methods. Idris Elba’s performance has been consistently superlative throughout the series, a masterpiece of consistency and surprise, and the only difference here is that he seems to have gotten even better.

    Which is a bit of a shame, because it really draws attention to the way that pretty much everything else is worse than ever.

    The four episodes are tied together by an ongoing investigation into Luther’s methods. The problem is that while this investigation is probably justified, and certainly has some potential for an interesting challenge, it’s compltley undermined by a pantomime investigator who has an unexplained vendetta against Luther and yet uses even worse tactics than Luther himself. It’s utterly ludicrous. Just the stupidest plot in the world.

    In comparison the actual criminals were paragons of credibility. Except, well, no they weren’t. The second investigation, a grieving widower killing criminals who’d evaded justice in an attempt to avenge his murdered wife played out like a high school ethics class, all the beats utterly predictable from the first moment to the last. As for the fetish killer meanwhile was a cheap CSI plot with extra bonus gratuity and jumps.

    Supporting characters, such as they were, got a pretty short shrift too. Poor old DS Ripley had to suffer through the familiar flip-flopping as the writers tried to decide whether he was on Luther’s side or his biggest threat. It was hard not to see where his character was heading (there was a particular line at the start of episode 3 that had me groaning), although I would be lying if I didn’t admit to being moved by the resolution. Psychopath Alice meanwhile was absent for all but the last episode and I really missed her, particularly given the soppy Mary as an alternative partner for Luther.

    I don’t think the series ever really gelled. It was pulling in a lot of different directions, with over the top Bond villains going up against the detailed psychology and subtleties of Luther himself. Likewise the gritty realism of London was undermined by the unrealistic presentation of the way the police force works. While I will miss the character, I can’t say that I’ll miss the series itself and really hope Idris Elba finds something better.

    Luther: Season 2

    While I enjoyed the first season of this show, I was more than aware that it had still had a lot of problems, unfortunately the second season has not only failed to fix those issues, but actually gone in completely the opposite direction and made them worse!

    The biggest problem with the series is something that I’m beginning to see as a problem at the heart of British television – the season was too short. For US series twenty plus episodes is pretty much the norm, which often leaves the production and creative teams overstretched resulting in too many filler episodes, however it also gives plenty of time for subtle character and story development, room to breathe as it were. UK shows have traditionally had much shorter seasons of six to a dozen episodes making the seasons more focussed, more intense and more consistent in distribution of quality and ideas. But recent series such as Luther and Sherlock have taken that to extremes and I’m getting frustrated by it.

    Luther’s second series was just 4 episodes long, and with each case taking up two episodes, really it could be considered as just two movie length episodes with one element of the story running over the two. I like films, I watch loads of them and really appreciate the good ones that manage to tell a compelling story and introduce, develop and resolve characters within just a couple of hours. However I want something different from television – time and subtlety to really appreciate the complexity of people and situations.

    Luther’s first season (six episodes) already had some problems with developing the supporting characters and of the three that were established, the two best ones weren’t featured for the second season. By losing the dramatically contrasting two female characters who best understood Luther it’s almost like starting from scratch again. Adding insult to injury the new characters didn’t get much beyond outlines – the new cop who doesn’t trust him and the young prostitute who needs him to be a hero. They get the job done, but it’s blunt and cliché.

    Idris Elba as the titular detective is still superb, he has a unique and entertaining style to him that makes him burst from the screen. Every intonation, mannerism and word he says is fascinating and unexpected. I never knew what to expect of him, yet everything he did made perfect sense.

    The stories and crimes are brutal and chilling but just edged over into the territory of ‘ridiculous’. While the ‘good guys’ seemed extreme but credible, the ‘bad guys’ were too much. That’s where more episodes and time would have been best spent, grounding the series in some more realistic criminals rather than movie style super-villains. It really conflicted with the otherwise beautifully shot vision of London.

    I’m disappointed that this show wasn’t better. There are clearly great writers, the direction and photography is innovative and beautiful, and the actors are superb. But the series needs more time if it’s going to be a television series. Maybe, like Sherlock, it’s a victim of its own success with a star now too in demand to commit to more than a few episodes a year. With Sherlock that just about manages to still work on the ‘better than nothing’ front, but for Luther, it undermined the whole thing and left me massively disappointed.

    The BBC has commissioned a third season, but at time of writing there’s no announced broadcast date. Seasons 1 and 2 of Luther are available on dvd at Amazon

    Luther: Season 1

    There’s nothing particularly original about a police drama built around a lead character who gives his name to the show. But this isn’t Morse, or Bergerac. Luther the show is more a psychological thriller than a cop show, there’s far more emphasis on outwitting people than on chasing them in cars and shooting them. Luther the character is a Chief Inspector in a serious crime team, he’s an extremely good investigator, using intelligence to keep a step ahead of the criminals. Unfortunately he’s not exactly what you’d describe as entirely on the up-and-up. He’s one of those characters with a ‘strong sense of justice’ which is slightly troublesome for a police officer, because sometimes his methods for finding information and evidence won’t exactly hold up in court.

    The really interesting part of the set-up created for the first season is that although Luther starts off in a mental institution, he’s not nearly as crazy as those around him think he is. He does have a temper, but for the most part he controls it, what others may think is craziness is actually him rationally deciding on a course of action. He has a strange set of cheerleaders on his side however, his new partner who wants to learn from him and believes in him for no particular reason that I can see, his estranged wife, and a murderer that he couldn’t catch.

    The relationship with his estranged wife is the best developed of the series, possibly even the only relationship that makes any sense. Although there are excellent reasons why they are no longer together, they have a long history and both remember that their relationship used to be good. Even when she is angry with him, she understands him and is firm in her beliefs of what he would and wouldn’t do. Likewise through it all, he wants her to be safe and happy, and he can understand and accept that those two conditions may not be possible with him. To counterpoint that complicated but generally positive relationship is the altogether less healthy connection that develops between Luther and a murderer that he couldn’t catch. Luther seems to respect her ability to elude prosecution and gradually uses her more and more to gain insight from a mind just as sharp as his, but wired an entirely different way. How and why this relationship develops is as much a mystery to Luther as it is the audience, but it really works somehow.

    The first season is only six episodes long and I wish it had been a couple of episodes longer to give the writers more time to develop the characters and situations more naturally. I would have preferred a couple of episodes where Luther beats the criminals in a fair competition, too often he gives up and declares that there’s no way to catch criminals without stretching the law, the fact that he always feels the need to cheat undermines his supposed intelligence and abilities. More time would have also given more time for the surrounding characters to develop, to really get a feel for the relationships they have with Luther, so that when things get complicated at the end, there’s a firmer starting point. As it was, the acts of betrayal and loyalty didn’t feel as dramatic to the audience as they did to Luther, they just didn’t feel earned.

    This is far from a perfect series, most of the cases are ridiculously over the top, the writing lays things on a bit thick and many of the characters under-developed. However at its core there’s a very interesting character, played beautifully by Idris Elba (The Wire), he takes the hammy dialogue and does fascinating things with it just in the tone of his voice and the tilt of his head. The show Luther really is all about the character of Luther, and with Idris Elba’s inspired performance, that is more than enough to make me recommend it.

    Luther will apparently be returning later this year, although maybe only as two longer standalones. Season 1 is available on dvd for £7.50 on Amazon

    Other Reviews
    The Guardian: Gradually, as the weeks have passed, the audience’s persistence has been rewarded and it has developed into something approaching appointment TV. Yes, Luther’s still an unconventional cop who doesn’t play by the rules and, yes, his personal life is a mess – but that’s not the only substance the programme has to it. In fact Luther is barely even a cop show at all: it’s a slightly sillier version of Silence of the Lambs.

    TV Squad: ‘Luther’s’ increasing density and darkness becomes addictive, and it almost does the impossible — it takes that old TV cliche about the detective who may think too much like a criminal and makes it feel fresh again.