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.


    True Detective: Pilot Review

    truedetectiveAs soon as the cast list for this was announced, I was interested. This was before Matthew McConaughey won his Oscar of course, but he was already showing signs of being more than just the second-rate romantic comedy lead he’d seemingly been pigeon-holed into. I’ve always been a fan of Woody Harrelson, he’s able to play everything from innocent stupidity through to scary hard men, and he can even pull off a complex combination. It instantly struck me as an interesting pairing and I wanted to see the chemistry between them.

    The other good thing about casting like this is that a series isn’t going to be able to lure those kind of names without a very good story and script. And once a studio or network is shelling out the sort of money necessary for these kinds of movie stars, they’re not going to skimp on the production costs. All in all, it’s a pretty positive set of indicators.

    All the indicators were spot on. All the elements were of extremely high quality, each well polished and original. The case is as dark and powerful as you’d expect for HBO (although it’s not quite so original if you’ve seen Hannibal) and the characters are complex and certainly worthy of the acting talents. It’s particularly interesting to watch the story play out both in the present tense of the murder, and looking back on it from several years in the future. It’s also beautifully shot, each scene well framed and lit to perfection. The music is well pitched, adding character but not overwhelming. Even the costumes are carefully designed to support the periods and add to the characters.

    But. I didn’t like it. I just didn’t seem to have any emotional connection to any of it. The case focused on the crime but without any real attempt to make the victims any more than bodies. It was all very clinical. McConaughey’s character was equally cold and dissociated. I found him just slightly more annoying than I did intriguing. His speech patterns and rambling delivery, lengthy meditations on life and the state of the world just bored me. Harrelson’s character was more interesting but often seemed reduced to second fiddle relatively to McConaughey’s. I enjoyed the moments that he called bullshit on his weird colleague, but it got a bit repetitive.

    I was bored by the pilot. It was all very drawn out and ponderous. I didn’t get round to reviewing it at the time, so I’ve just re-watched it and even though I was looking for reasons to continue with the other 7 episodes, and although I wanted to see more of Harrelson’s character, I just couldn’t be bothered to sit through the rest of it.

    New and Returning Shows – HBO, AMC, Showtime

    Game of ThronesIn addition to the big five networks, the US has a collection of free and subscription based channels that show a combination of syndicated shows (i.e. re-runs) and original programming. Increasingly these channels are where the most critically acclaimed shows are; a network show hasn’t won the Best Drama Emmy since 24 in 2006, and this year there weren’t even any nominated. Subscription channels also don’t have quite the same demands on ‘decency’ so tend to have more sex, violence and swearing in and also are considerably less ratings driven. For example season 3 of Game of Thrones gets between 4 and 5 million viewers, while in the same time slot on CBS a repeat of The Mentalist got over 7 million viewers and the top rated show in prime time (NCIS) is looking at 20 million plus.

    I haven’t actually looked at the upcoming shows from these channels before, partly because they’re not really announced in the same way. Their schedules tend to run in counterpoint to the main networks, so many channels are launching their new programmes now and running them over the summer when major channels tend to go quiet. I’ve relied heavily on Wikipedia for ‘facts’ and may have missed out entire channels let alone programmes, but I thought it was good to show willing. Today’s post has HBO, AMC and Showtime; tomorrow will have FX, Syfy, TNT and USA Network.

    hboArguably HBO is the biggest name in cable, but the other channels have been coming up fast and most of the biggest names aren’t at HBO anymore. The most well known and popular show on HBO these days is probably Game of Thrones which is just finishing up its third season and will return next year for a fourth. Other critical, but not necessarily popular hits are Boardwalk Empire which will be back later this year for a fourth season, and Treme, whose fourth season will be its last.

    The NewsroomTrue Blood is now the longest running series on the channel, back in June for its sixth season. Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom also returns in June for its second season despite getting off to a very uneven start. HBO also does comedy – Veep’s second season just starting and a third season booked for next year, and while Girls’ second season didn’t get quite the overwhelming praise the first did, it will return in 2014. Eastbound and Down was unexpectedly picked up for a fourth season, but there’s no air date yet and I’m a bit confused about Curb Your Enthusiasm which hasn’t aired a new episode since 2011, but is still listed as an ongoing show.

    On the down side, Enlightened was cancelled after 2 seasons due to ratings too low for even HBO, despite several award nominations and wins. Life’s Too Short was a Ricky Gervais offering of a mockumentary about Warwick Davis and his life as a “showbiz dwarf”, I’ve never seen anything from Gervais I didn’t hate, and I can’t see this being any different.

    NEW Family Tree – Tom Chadwick (Chris O’Dowd. The IT Crowd) is left a box of items by a great aunt and it sets him off investigating his family’s past. The series is filmed in documentary style and mostly improvised, and given that it’s produced by Christopher Guest (Spinal Tap), master of the mockumentary format, that might work. The series is a joint production with BBC2 and has already premiered in the US to not great ratings and a resounding apathy.

    NEW – True Detective – there’s no air date and very little information available beyond “two detectives hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana”. What has been released though is the exceptional cast – Matthew McConaughey (loads of films), Woody Harrelson (ditto. And Cheers!), Michelle Monaghan (loads of films).

    There are a bundle of shows listed as being in development and some big name authors attached, but without broadcast dates announced its hard to tell what will really materialise. Hobgoblin tells the story of a group of magicians and conmen attempt to bring down Hitler. It’s a great one liner, and is written by Pulitzer, Hugo, and Nebula prize winning author Michael Chabon and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan). There’s been long mumblings about an adaptation of Stephen King’s Dark Tower, but that seems to have fallen flat once more. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods seems to be a lot more solid, possibly airing later this year, although I wouldn’t be holding my breath.

    Links: HBO official site, Wikipedia and Program list

    amcEven I had to double check the name of this network, but regardless of whether you know its name you really know it’s programmes, the biggest hits on cable aren’t in fact on HBO, they’re on AMC. Breaking Bad returns in August for the last eight episodes of its fifth season which will finish up the series. Mad Men is just finishing up its sixth season and there’s no word yet on a pickup, to be honest I haven’t been that enthused by the latest season and given how contentious the contract negotiations were with creator Matthew Weiner last year, it wouldn’t be the biggest shock in the world if it didn’t return. The Walking Dead on the other hand continues to be both a popular and critical hit, and despite continual shuffling in the production team seems to go from strength to strength. The fourth season will likely start towards the end of the year. Hell on Wheels and the American remake of The Killing have both been renewed for third seasons in August and June respectively.

    NEW – Low Winter Sun – Frank Agnew (Mark Strong, Tinker Tailer, Zero Dark Thirty) is a Detroit detective and the series opens with him murdering a fellow police officer. The details are a bit light on the ground and I can’t find a trailer despite it apparently starting this summer, but Mark Strong tends to steal any film he’s in, so it’s interesting to see what he does in a lead role.

    Links: AMC official site, Wikipedia and Program list

    showtimeProbably the second most familiar name in cable channels is Showtime and it has a pretty eclectic catalogue past and present, from Stargate through to Dexter which starts its eight and final season in June.

    While the responses to Homeland season 2 were pretty mixed, there was no doubt that it would be renewed and the third season will start in September. Season 3 of the Borgias has already started, but there’s no word on a fourth, while the remake of the UK show Shameless has just completed its third season and has been picked up for a fourth.

    The Big CShowtime has a number of shows that hover on the fence between comedy and drama, including Californication (S7, 2014), Nurse Jackie (S5 currently airing), The Big C (currently airing the fourth and final season), Episodes (S3, 2014) , Web Therapy (S3, later 2013?) and House of Lies (S2 currently airing, S3 2014).

    NEW – Ray Donovan – The titular character (Liev Schreiber, Scream) is a fixer for the rich and famous and can fix any problem except his own and his father’s (Jon Voight, Midnight Cowboy). The cast is impressive, but the trailer was a lot heavier than I was expecting and left me thinking it might be a good series, but not necessarily one I want to watch. (Premiering June)

    NEW – Masters of Sex – Michael Sheen (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) and Lizzy Caplan (True Blood, Party Down) play two researchers investigating the nature of human sexual response. Could the subject be more cable channel? But the trailer actually looked a lot of fun and if it manages to not trivialise the subject matter, there could be something there. (Premiers September)

    Links: Showtime official site, Wikipedia and Program list

    Coming tomorrow – FX, TNT, USA and Syfy