2014 Dream Emmy Nominees

Nearly two weeks ago, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the Primetime Emmy Awards. Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on those nominations! Below are my picks for Emmy Dream Nominations.

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June 2014 – Television Power Rankings

Each month, Watching Too Much TV will provide a Television Power Rankings list of the top series of the year, the top episodes of the month, and the top performers of the month. The Top Series includes all programs of the year as an on-going ‘best of 2014′ list while the Top Episodes and Top Performers list only includes content that aired in the specific month. June’s rankings are as follows:

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Community – S04E10 – “Intro to Knots”

Community S04E10

It may be the middle of April, but for Community, it’s Christmas. Thanks, NBC scheduling! Like the much-delayed Halloween episode that aired in in February, or the Thanksgiving episode in aired in March, the constant changing of Community’s return cause its holiday episodes to air just four months late.

Delayed airdates aside, it was a stronger episode than last week’s literal puppet show, and the characters felt a bit more like themselves again. Most of the characters are back to their regular form, although Abed felt like a fake version of the character with forced meta-humor (such as acknowledging that the episode is filmed in real-time, as if he doesn’t normally experience life in real-time) and a closing tag in his mind that calls back to the Darkest Timeline of last season. While it’s nice for the show to make callbacks to its past seasons, and it tries many times in this episode, they never feel handled correctly so result in feeling like a joke stolen from another show.

Despite this, there was some nice character moments for the others this episode, and I particularly liked the reveal of Shirley as a competitor for Annie’s race to valedictorian. It seems to be pulled out of nowhere, but works for a character who is so often ignored by both the series and her friends.

Unfortunately, the return to the characters’ former selves also means a return to the old Chang, a character that I am rarely on board with. Since his firing at the end of the first season, the show has seemed desperate in his attempts to keep the character relevant to the show. After the ridiculous plot of him kidnapping the dean and taking over the school last season, the amnesia plot seemed to be a way of correcting past mistakes with the character – but it looks like he’ll back to crazy form in no time.

While the old Chang makes a comeback, there’s no sign of Pierce again this week, and a different excuse for his absence than last week’s episode. This may be another issue with the airdates being moved around, the production order, and Chevy Chase’s sudden departure from the show, but I hope a clearer answer about his absence is given soon.

It was nice to see some of the characters back to their normal selves, but the series continues to feel just slightly off. It would be easier to forgive the changes of the show if it seemed that the new show-runners and writers wanted the show to be different. Instead, they are trying to mimic its preceding seasons and act as though nothing is different, making the small differences into obvious and large obstacles.

Mad Men – S06E02 – “The Collaborators”


Mad Men S06E02

Guilt and the consequences of guilty actions seem to be the theme of this week’s episode of Mad Men. Pete, Don and Sylvia feel guilt over their affairs. Megan feels guilt over her relief about the miscarriage. Joan feels guilt about her deal with Herb after he stops by the office. Peggy feels guilty at the notion of gunning for the Jaguar account with knowledge she wasn’t given as a friend.

The characters in Mad Men are typically feeling guilty of something, but they also normally seem capable of getting away with everything as their darkest secrets take forever to boil out. This season, however, the pace has picked up considerably in a way atypical for the show.

In this episode alone, Pete has an affair with a housewife on his block, inviting her out to his new apartment in the city. However, when she tells her husband he beats her and drops her off at the Campbell residence doorstep. As Trudy treats her wounds, Pete searches for a hotel with a vacancy, rejecting her suggestions to stay with him or for him to drive her to the hotel. Instead, Trudy drives her and finds out about the affair. The next day, she is threatening Pete, saying the one thing she wanted was discretion yet he sleeps with someone on their block and says that she is done dealing with him. While Trudy rejects divorce as a path of failure she will not take, she threatens to destroy him if he steps out of line again.

In Mad Men’s past, this much plot development would carry on throughout a season, but instead plays out in just an hour. Perhaps this increase in pacing is a response to last season’s criticism that nothing was happening or that all the action was too symbolic, but such a direct response to this sort of criticism and bowing to it isn’t a decision I would have expected the series to take.

Perhaps also in response to last season’s criticism, this season seems to be taking a far more direct and on-the-nose approach to its symbolism. There is also the bloodied rag that Trudy tosses aside as a stain to her domestic life, and finally the bottle of the fake product that reminds Peggy of her employee’s dislike of her. There is the quick cut between Don seeing his mistress and his flashback in the brothel, to later offering money to her.

There’s also a greater deal of dramatized coincidence and timing going on, as Megan and Sylvia’s husband Al back out of dinner leaving Don and Sylvia alone at the table. The situation plays out with further dramatized coincidence when Don challenges Sylvia what she wants out of their adulterous relationship just as a waiter asks for what they have decided.

Megan, meanwhile, first confides to Sylvia that she had just had a miscarriage, with a bit of relief, as she doesn’t feel the timing is right. She eventually comes clean to Don, who had just returned from sleeping with Sylvia, who responds supportively that he wants whatever she wants – something he repeats to any question she has about what he really wants, the repetition stretching it’s own credibility.

Although Joan isn’t given much to do this episode, she has a bit more screen time than last week’s episode as she is reunited with Herb from Jaguar, who she slept with last season to land the account and become partner at the agency. There’s a fun little exchange between the two:

            Herb: “I know there’s a part of you that’s glad to see me.”
            Joan: “And I know there’s a part of you that you haven’t seen in years.”
 

She swiftly makes her way to Don’s office for a drink, clearing the room for some time to herself, speaking volumes about her unspoken feelings about her past decision.

Peggy, meanwhile, tries to manage her staff using some encouragement but flails with her words. They respond by playing a prank on her, leaving a bottle of pills on her desk for a product ‘Quest’ made for “professional women and other Olsons” to be less critical. She expresses her disappointment to Stan over the phone, who reveals to her that Heinz ketchup is looking for new advertisers but that the baked beans department asked SCDP to refuse business. When she shares this information with her boss, he asks her to gun after Heinz ketchup and betray Stan’s secrecy, leaving Peggy uncertain.

While the handling of the series’ plots seems to have changed to take a more overt and quicker pace than past seasons, particularly different than last season, the storytelling retains its level of high quality that make it one of the best series on television today. The plots tease for an eventful and emotionally tense season as the character’s guilt and consequences of their decisions continue to come up.

Hannibal – S01E02 – “Amuse-Bouche”

Hannibal S01E02
“You are naughty, Miss Loundes.”

Only its second episode into the series and Hannibal is already showing great promise. After the first episode, it wasn’t clear which direction the series would take – would it go the route of being a serialized drama or a case-of-the-week procedural? Instead, it looks like a nice mix of both as the emotional repercussions of last week’s episode are felt in the second installment and the two cases very nearly tie into each other.

In the pilot episode, we saw our protagonist FBI profiler Will Graham kill for the first time as he shot the cannibalistic serial killer Garrett Jacob Hobbs ten times in the chest, leaving behind Hobbs’ daughter Abigail, her throat slit by her own father. Although Will managed to save her life, she is in a coma and Will is understandably shaken up by the whole ordeal. He is ordered to get a psych evaluation, landing him back in Hannibal Lecter’s office for some psychoanalysis.

Although Hannibal quickly gives Will a stamp of approval, they further delve into Will’s mind until he ultimately confesses that killing Hobbs made him feel good; it felt just. Hannibal assures Will that killing must feel good to God too, as he does it all time, leading to this great exchange that closes out the episode:

Hannibal: “God’s terrific. He dropped a church roof on thirty-four of his worshippers last Wednesday night in Texas, while they sang a hymn.”
Will: “And did God feel good about that?”
Hannibal: “He felt powerful.”
 

While I found Mads Mikkelsen’s performance lacking in the first episode, he was shining here with eerie charm and mystery. While his thick accent is at times still difficult to understand, his presence is more strongly felt. However, the true MVP of the episode is Lara Jean Chorostecki as blogger Freddie Lounds, the female counterpart of the tabloid journalist from the source work.

In just her first episode, the character is already becoming a favorite as her utter lack of morals and empathy are plainly laid out. She breaks into a crime scene, tampers with evidence, records therapy sessions, costs a local police officer his job, and retains her cool when he is later shot in the head just feet before her. It is her meddling that ultimately causes the case of this week’s episode to very nearly get away – twice. As Hannibal says, “You are naughty, Miss Loundes.”

The case of the week is so delightfully disturbing, even if I am finding that each week of this series there is another food that I cannot look at the same. Last week it was eggs and sausage. This week? It’s mushrooms.

Our serial killer is Elden Stammetz, a pharmacist who targets diabetics. When they refill their insulin prescription, he swaps out their medication with sugar water to put them in a diabetic coma and abducts them. He then buries them in a shallow grave where they are kept alive, complete with an air system, for just long enough to use their bodies as a gardening bed for his mushrooms, which crave sugar water.

As the mushrooms grow out of the corpses, he feels they are reaching out to him, connecting with him. When Stammetz tracks down Freddie for information about Will after she publishes an article revealing his inability to connect with people, Stammetz grills the reporter for more information about him. She reveals that Will has felt responsible for the comatose Abigail Hobbs, visiting her nightly. In response, Stammetz feels he can help Will by burying Abigail and turning her into his next experiment. Although Will manages to stop him in time, Stammetz reveals his motivation is so that the fungi can reach out and connect with Will, too.

It’s sick, certainly, but there is something about it that’s beautiful – or perhaps it’s just the imagery of it all. The entire series is truly haunting, creepily beautiful with its low-saturation and imaginative macabre obsessions. There is an unsettling beauty in every shot, whether the focus is a garden made of corpses or a pork loin dinner.

Introduced this week are the opening credits for the series – something I am very particular about. For me, the opening credits of a television series sets the tone while also saying a lot about its quality, creativity, and what kind of show it wants to be. The credits of this series features bright red blood floating on a harsh white background, until the blood forms its shape into a person’s face. The accompanying soundtrack is appropriately unnerving. The opening credits effectively set the tone, displaying just how great the show is after just the second episode.

Community – S04E09 – “Intro to Felt Surrogacy”

Community S04E09

When Dan Harmon was the show runner of Community, the series was groundbreaking for its wild imagination and unconventional style. It felt fresh, original, and something that only the creative mind of Dan Harmon can do as he follows his secret formula to create the series. After its third season, however, it was announced that he would be removed from his post as a show runner and was replaced with new leadership. Although the leadership has changed, the formula seems to remain – and because it isn’t the same mind following this formula, it feels like a strangely different show.

Community is not a bad show, but it isn’t the show that it once was – and what is different about it is difficult to place a finger on. Perhaps it is a different styling of humor, or the writing not fully capturing the characters’ voices. Or perhaps it is that because the secret formula behind Community has been passed along, it no longer feels as unique as it once was. Take for instance, if Houdini passed along all the secrets of his tricks to his assistant who then takes for him.

Sure, the magic act would be all the same tricks and the assistant could be doing everything right, but it wouldn’t feel the same – it’s an imitation of greatness, not the real thing. The act loses its magic; it’s a performer pulling off the tricks of the trade.

Thursday’s episode, “Intro to Felt Surrogacy,” is an episode of Community that highlights this effect. The original three seasons featured many episodes where the program bends its structure, form, and world to pay tribute to a different genre. It’s done this with mafia movies (“Contemporary American Poultry”), action movies (“Modern Warfare”), zombie films (“Epidemiology”), stop-motion Christmas specials (“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”), 8-bit video games (“Digital Estate Planning”) and more. In this episode, it’s a love letter to musical puppets.

The episode features a framing device for the narrative as the study group uses puppet therapy to tell the dean about a harrowing experience they had together, and the story is told through singing puppets. The idea is cute at first, but the story told with the puppets isn’t nearly as charming or interesting as it should be – or as funny.

The characters (as puppets) musically decide to go on a hot air balloon ride to break out of being predictable, and ultimately get lost in the sky when they take off without their hot air balloon guide (Sara Bareilles). They find their way back to ground rather quickly, lost in the middle of the woods, giving the hot air balloon journey very little payoff other than to get them lost. In the woods, they find a strange man (Jason Alexander) who used to attend Greendale, but now lives in the woods. It is here where the episode earns the biggest laugh of the episode, as Jason Alexander he feeds the study group puppets with berries as they suddenly transition from singing to tripping in the woods.

While high, the characters share their darkest secrets with each other, and afterwards feel incredibly uncomfortable around each other, bringing us back to the framing device in the study room. However, they then realize that nobody was listening to each other’s secrets – only after Shirley repeats her dark secret that she once abandoned her kids in a grocery story overnight.

To comfort Shirley, Jeff suggests they all reveal their secrets sober. The puppets are used to reveal the secrets as Jeff tells of a woman he used to date until he discovered she had a kid, Troy started a fire, Britta never voted despite all her ‘activism,’ and Annie had let her professor rub her feet to cheat on an exam. Abed, meanwhile, told no secret but was just mirroring their uncomfortable behavior.

Annie and Shirley’s secrets are particularly dark, and even for Greendale it seemed strange that nobody – not even the dean, as terrible at his job as he is – really raised an eyebrow at what she revealed. Furthermore, the use of puppets during this was a strange decision – it made it unclear if the moment should be viewed as dramatic or darkly comedic, not living up to being either.

With the secrets out in the open, the group feels comfortable with each other once again – although neglect the fact that Pierce is no longer with them, after having gotten lost going to the bathroom in the woods. It’s been public news for some time that Chevy Chase was leaving the show, and it’s a funny background way to write the character off, but even Pierce deserves some more acknowledgement than he received here, so hopefully his absence is addressed further in the coming episodes.

While the episode was probably one of my least favorite episodes of the series, it was still not a bad episode of television. Community is still wildly imaginative, but what was once a magical show now feels like a strange and unfamiliar puppet show standing in its place.

Glee – S04E18 – “Shooting Star”

Glee S04E18

When Glee began, it was a musical-comedy series about teenagers learning the values of self-acceptance, community, and chasing after their dreams. As the series progressed, however, it became a vehicle to tackle various social issues of the day through song, essentially becoming a snarky and dramatic musical after-school special. It became an unstoppable beast pushing through social issue after social issue, ranging from bullying to suicide, and now, to gun violence in schools.

Is that appropriate? Probably not, but like any idea, it all depends on its execution. Here, however, it is a crass failure.

In “Shooting Star,” the world of McKinley High comes to a dramatic halt as two gunshots ring through the halls. Students and faculty rush into classrooms as the school is placed on lockdown, and the glee clubs are trapped n the choir room filled with emotion. And there was so much emotion, of course. It is a serious, traumatic emotional event – but this event is used for nothing more than to be a serious, traumatic event to empathize with our characters as they experience something horrific.

Here’s the trick that makes this event feel so exploitative and cheap: It doesn’t matter who the characters are that experience this. I would still feel for them, I would still feel emotional as their lives and safety become threatened. It is a situation that guarantees an emotional audience response.

The very serious topic of gun violence at schools gets belittled to being nothing more than a plot convenience, a catalyst for a heavy emotional response that may be confused as quality simply because it makes the audience feels something. It isn’t quality – it is cheap, contrived and offensive in its cavalier usage of a heavy issue.

It is revealed, ultimately, that nobody was shot – the entire shooting was just an accident. Becky, a cheerleader with Down’s syndrome, is scared about her future and after taking some well-meaning advice from Brittany, decides to prepare for the scary world by bringing a gun to her high school. When she shows the weapon to Sue, she accidentally fires the weapon and drops it, releasing two shots.

Sue, however, covers it all up and takes the fall for Becky, claiming the gun was hers and that she is the one who fired it on accident, resulting in her being fired. If this is the exit to the show for Jane Lynch, it is the perfect timing as it hits all-new lowest point, but its terrible to see a once-beloved character’s highly-awarded coaching career end as she covers for someone else.

It feels like another emotional ploy – we empathize with the bond that Sue has for Becky, but instead feels like a cop out. Sue shouldn’t have taken that fall – Becky knows what a gun is. She brought a gun to her high school and fired it on its grounds; she should face the consequences for those actions. That Becky gets away with her decisions is even more belittling to the seriousness of gun violence.

Aside from the gun violence, there is some C-plot swimming about as Ryder carries on an all-text relationship with an anonymous girl until he realizes he is being Manti Te’o’d, who they even name drop in explaining the situation. He is now set out on finding out who this person is that is texting him, discovering it is someone in the glee club as he tries to contact him or her while in lockdown and a cellphone in someone’s bag rings. It’s a largely nonsensical plot that is parody ripped from the headlines – again, they even name drop the original case of this – that seems to be going on too long to still be cheeky parody while also too silly to take seriously.

It was a terrible Glee outing this week, with the only real deserved praise going to the episode is along the lines of “Well, it could have been worse.”

And well, it could have been worse.

Mad Men – S06E01 – “The Doorway”

Mad Men S06E01

It’s always nice to have Mad Men return, even if this premiere did little more than check in on beloved characters to see where they are now. The sixth season premiere consisted of four character story lines running largely independent of each other – Don, Peggy, Betty, and Roger – with plots that were largely self-contained within the episode.

Death is still on Don Draper’s mind, with the allusions to suicide last season that culminated in Lane’s suicide in the office. The episode begins with him and Megan in paradise in Hawaii as they enjoy a stay in a hotel that Don is preparing a pitch for. His ultimate pitch, however, is all too reminiscent of suicide for the hotel executives – a man’s footprints leading off into the ocean with his belongings left behind him in the sand. To Don, it isn’t an image of suicide; it’s an escape to paradise, because to Don, death is paradise. That isn’t to say Don is ready to kill himself, his mind isn’t viewing death as an ending but a beginning.

Don wants to die in the same way that his past identity, Dick Whitman died. He doesn’t want death, he wants what comes after death – he wants heaven, he wants paradise, he wants Hawaii.

His new affair with Dr. Rosen’s wife, one half of a couple that his new family with Megan has become friendly with, is an obviously terrible decision. It is so obviously terrible that it could be nothing more than Don’s way out of his life – his best excuse for an exit when the truth inevitably comes out, his marriage ends, and he can end this life of Don Draper and start over just as he has done before. However, saying that his resolution is to end his affair signs that he isn’t sure what he wants – but its doubtful his affair will truly end there.

While Don is feeling a bit lost, Peggy is thriving and learning exactly where she is – at the top. Peggy’s plotline was little more than showing the audience how phenomenal she is at her job, but it was a delight to see her perform so well. She’s constantly in charge at her new agency, taking authority when dealing with her client and making her employees work late on New Year’s Eve, and handling herself like the professional she is as she gets recognition from her boss.

She’s isolated from most of the cast for the entire episode, and its unclear how and when she will merge with the rest of the cast again – but a professional showdown between Don and Peggy seems inevitable, albeit predictable for Mad Men.

Even more disconnected from the rest of the cast this episode is Betty. It was one of the better Betty-episodes in some time, softening her character quite a bit even as she makes a terribly awkward rape joke about her daughter’s friend, Sandy. However, Betty forms a bond with the girl that is more maternal than she has been to her own daughter. When Sandy runs away to Manhattan, Betty goes searching for her in a building of squatters, only to find out that Sandy has taken off to California and getting a closer and ugly glimpse of what her future may be like, and of the new youth.

The events that occur in Roger’s plot are a bit unusual for the show. The confrontations in Mad Men so frequently happen behind closed doors with a great deal of professional privacy that Roger’s public outburst at his mother’s funeral seems atypical and awkward, but fully within the lines of Roger’s character. It also leads to a nice scene between Roger and Mona, a relationship that’s always nice to return to.

However, the events of Roger’s plot aren’t the critical point of his story in this episode. Roger is still looking for the meaning in his life, but instead of desiring for LSD he’s taken himself into therapy where he describes life as a series of doors – he opens one, and finds something he doesn’t like, so tries what is behind the next.

This analogy, which the episode is titled after, crosses through all four of the story arcs. Don is unhappy with the doorway he checked into in his life as Don Draper, husband of Megan Calvet, and is looking for the doorway to be an exit; meanwhile, Peggy is happy and thriving having crossed through her doorway into a new job. Betty, much like Roger, is in a bit of a loss and checking through multiple doorways – literally, as she searches for Sandy – and ends the episode with dyed black hair, hoping for a change.

If the season premiere indicates anything of how the rest of the season may plan out, it is that change is still very much in the air – as it as always is in Mad Men – but more on the characters’ minds than ever as they barrel in to 1968.