Wednesday, June 30, 2010
[Reading early Lovecraft in communion with the glorious HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast has inspired me to homage. Below is my loving impression of a Lovecraft short story, which I hope is fun green but will be especially fun for those familiar with Lovecraft or me.]
The Secret of the Pool
I never told anyone this story, which I myself had locked away in some private mental desk, not that anyone would believe it, but the drawer sprung open as I read one night an eerily similar tale by HP Lovecraft. In fact, this reclusive memory provides the answer to a bizarre dream I’ve been having that casts me as a frightened merman in a slippery abyss. Every word I speak is true, and I ask only that you embark on this indescribable journey with your heart stout and your mind uncluttered by the scoffs of scientific theory.
It was four or five years ago, never mind how long, that a curious whim sent me swimming by starlight. We lived in our old house then, that ramshackle ruin on Hemlock that still sits unsold since the tenant after us went mad. It was a serviceable estate, bedrooms for each of us, an aging kitchen, a humbly spacious living room. But by far the prime attraction was the swimming pool.
The previous occupants, about whom I suspected much but whose existence I never confirmed with my own eyes, must have barely landed on our shores, the telltale sign being their mixed up priorities: as the house crumbled off its foundation, the swimming pool was maintained with the utmost perfection. Neither algae nor mold dappled the alabaster walls, not a speck of dirt slept on the sunken floor, and no lost leaves from the gorgeous tropical scenery blemished the pristine surface. The perimeter sinuously wound pleasingly around the generous tub, adorned with kaleidoscopic stones whose ever-changing colors prevent me from adequate portrayal. Even the water itself, serenading from a prominent spa through a delicate stonework waterfall into the marvelous pool, was of the most magnificent azure. Let the fools lust after gold. They know nothing of the riches of this secret magical ocean.
It wasn’t until several summers of swimming floated by that I discovered the secrets of the tilework. I had always admired the elegance of the sapphire tiles lining the height of the pool. At even intervals appears a dolphin design amidst a rococo swirl. These markers wonderfully complement the circle of dolphins on the pool floor, a stunning mosaic of deep blue cetaceans, none exactly like the others, each hungrily chasing the tail of the dolphin ahead.
One foreboding evening a strange wind compelled me to swim beneath the stars, an activity to which I had never before been inclined. The night was singular in another way, too, for the moon was extraordinarily rotund and equally luminous, as big and bright as in fairy tale. In retrospect you could see that the man on the moon wasn’t smiling but mocking. The abundant moonbeams, crafted for some wretched purpose, pleasantly lighted the great pool, seducing you into its sinister trap. These same moonbeams struck the tilework at a bizarre vector, for they suddenly appeared to me as never before. Those dolphins guarding the pool weren’t dolphins at all. Surely they featured the trademark bottlenose and ended in august flukes, but the midsection was strangely muscular, and those weren’t flippers but limbs resulting in fingered hands.
The dolphin-creature tiles were upsetting but easy enough to disregard from the center of the pool. Not so forgettable were the bigger dolphins on the floor, and for several minutes I was frozen in their midst, reluctant to peer below the surface and confirm my suspicions that they, too, were disgusting creatures who had merely appropriated the look of the dolphin to go about their wicked deeds unnoticed.
I was shaken from my stupor by the arrival of my intrepid dog, a chocolate Labrador retriever uncannily attuned to my distress. She swam right into my arms playing security blanket, wanting desperately to make me feel as if all was well, but I knew this had only increased the quagmire. Now there were two of us surrounded by an army of detestable dolphinoids. Our extrication required immense care.
But the pup Gidget knew nothing of man’s thoughtfulness, and spotting a toy beneath the water she leapt from my arms and dove like mad. I had never known a dog to dive, but Gidget was in that respect Olympian, a solid mechanical feat of cosmic engineering. On lazy afternoons it was impossible to exhaust her.
This occasion was not so leisurely. Instinct takes over in cases like this, and as soon as she escaped my grasp I unthinkingly followed her descent, guiding my gaze directly to that which I had been avoiding. She had just reached her toy in the middle of the mosaic, a brief glimpse at which delightfully suggested they were perhaps dolphins after all, when she jolted in pain. A combination of survival instinct and protectiveness spurred me to her rescue, and reaching down to her foreshadowed a horrible discovery. As soon as my head submerged behind my arms I made out a triad of repulsive sea beasts circling my beloved dog like a hunting party!
We were above the surface almost immediately. I threw her toward the steps and she bounded out of the maleficent pool with supernatural dexterity. I hadn’t time to notice yet, but as she scampered toward the house I discerned a trail of cloudy scarlet obscuring the dolphin mosaic at my feet.
Whether it was vengeance or curiosity, bravery or thoughtlessness, I’ll never know, but for some reason I impulsively charged into the bloody nebula over the strange mosaic, the dolphins at first unresponsive. It wasn’t until I dove through the red mist that I finally got a decent look. Friends, the horrors that I witnessed that night are indescribably stupefying. I can only say that those terrible monsters wielding their tribal spears looked at me with such bloodthirsty intent that I flew screaming from the pool into the grass.
When my parents found me in the yard the next morning, I had forgotten the entire episode, and Gidget seemed in good spirits. Thinking back, I swam with great relish over those next happy summers, though, whether by happenstance or subconscious impulse, never again beneath a full moon.
Perhaps this history was hidden for my protection, but what good is a mind that defies its master? I'm afraid I have to leave you with that. It's lights-out in our ward.
P.S. Immigrants are ruining this country.
Click here for the full post
Thursday, June 24, 2010
I’m at a particularly bountiful artistic moment, awash in cultural works, and you people keep asking for recommendations. Because it’s all about you, isn’t it? So I’ll kick off a potentially recurring series endorsing cultural works I’m currently into. But you have to work for it. Well, you don’t, but you should. In return, I’d like to hear your own recommendations. Unless you watch True Blood.
After culling my culture, I decided to come up with a subtitle in order to distinguish today’s picks from others down the line, so that “Lone Star Legends” header is just a fun, loose way for me to connect most of them. You’ll soon learn that many of these have nothing to do with Texas, like this first one, which only subscribes to the “star legends” part.
1. The HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast
A few nights ago, one of those grim evenings where the clouds wage war with the moon, another podcast by chance led me to this one, a half-hour chat between Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer as they work their way through the stories of sci-fi/fantasy/horror luminary HP Lovecraft. So I downloaded the first one available on iTunes, Episode #3 about one of the more famous stories “Dagon,” which remains my favorite thus far, latching onto my imagination enough to make swimming the next night creepy. The podcast is produced like a radio show with eerie sound effects and terrific excerpt readings, and after briefly discussing the story, the hosts detail their reactions, the history behind the story, relevant biographical details, and some of the historical or literary allusions. It all amounts to an edifying good time. And if, as I did, you want to turn the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast into an Internet age book club, this site reproduces the entire Lovecraft oeuvre online. I’m five stories deep and there’s no looking back.
2. The Flatlanders – More a Legend than a Band
One of the great evils of Academic Decathlon is sealing semantic nostalgia for topics I didn’t pick, i.e. choosing interests for me that remain long after high school. So it is with country music, which is why I can tell you The Flatlanders’ legendary 1972 recording is somewhat vocally reminiscent of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys’ Mickey Mouse-ish “New San Antonio Rose.” Yeah, I’m talking real country, not this American Idol jibber jabber. I first heard Jimmie Dale Gilmore in the jukebox scene from Kicking and Screaming, but he originally sang with The Flatlanders, not to be confused with the Flat Earth Society, recording this album that was barely released at the time but spread like wildfire after the Flatlanders achieved fame individually in the ‘80s. Anyway, this is a fantastic collection of bouncy honky tonk tunes, led by Gilmore’s twang and backed by a simple strings arrangement. In other words, The Flatlanders ain’t exactly outlaw country. They’re more throwbacky, more timeless, more nostalgic.
3. Ed Howard’s Top 200 Albums of the 2000s, and Six Organs of Admittance – Compathia and Lift to Experience – The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads
In four posts, Ed Howard covers a vast—everything from standard indie rock to esoteric art noise—swath of the decade’s music in capsules that perfectly capture sound in words. His list led me to two albums this week: 1) the magnum opus concept album of Lift to Experience, a Denton rock trio, about Texas being God’s promised land told with lyrical wit, propulsive beats, and guitar odysseys as expansive as the Texas sky, and 2) an earlier album by an artist I already adored, Six Organs of Admittance aka Ben Chasny, clearly boasting a garage influence (album opener “Close to the Sky” could be a Vines number) but retaining that rustic southwestern flavor I love about his later albums. “Run!” is practically a tribal chant, a feeling that recurs, but the entire album could score an outdoorsy art western like Dead Man.
4. Richard Hawley’s “Tonight the Streets are Ours”
If you must have a song that’s not Texanish, here’s the soundtrack centerpiece for the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop, a fun, triumphant invitation to dance. The whole album Lady’s Bridge is nice—“The Sea Calls” is a particularly enchanting build—but you gotta start with “Tonight the Streets are Ours.”
5. Friday Night Lights Season 4
An entire post is to come, but that has spoilers, so let me take this opportunity to recommend once more this essential drama, at the moment (I’m not quite done with Treme) second only to Mad Men. Even if you’ve never seen it, I recommend tuning into NBC on Friday night at 7 or checking it out on Hulu, because it’s the perfect time to jump in: old character Matt Saracen just ended a wonderful farewell arc, and now we’re getting to the meat of the stories of the new characters and setting as Coach Taylor and wife Tami relocate to poor East Dillon to play parents to a whole new cast of wayward youth. Kyle Chandler’s typically excellent, but this season belongs to Connie Britton’s Tami Taylor, stuck as principal of West Dillon with a football community that resents her and struggling with her daughter growing up and preparing to move on. During the increasingly great first season, critics used to applaud the show’s ability to make you laugh and cry every episode. What that season pulled off from “I Think We Should Have Sex” to “State” has been present for Season 4 from the start, and trust me, the final arc is the best yet. There are occasional clunky dramatic performances, but they don’t distract because the stories are so naturalistic, and the season ender confirms ever so beautifully that Friday Night Lights is Steinbeck on television, a tough but sweet saga of community.
6. Terror in a Texas Town and Blood on the Moon
I wasn’t sure how to approach film recommendations since I recap the highlights in my monthly series The Best Movie I Saw Last Month. So I’ll be brief. Harold Bloom talks about great works requiring weirdness to set them apart from the everyday. With the exception of The Searchers, I don’t see that from John Ford like I do from Budd Boetticher, Sergio Leone, or Anthony Mann. But these two old westerns have weirdness in spades. Joseph H. Lewis’ 1958 beauty Terror in a Texas Town sees Sterling Hayden (Johnny Guitar, Dr. Strangelove) arrive in his father’s town to find him murdered, so he ends up solving the mystery with his harpoon. Did I mention he was a whaler? Meanwhile Robert Wise’s 1948 Blood on the Moon is a western noir that sees Robert Mitchun (and others) caught between opposing forces in a complicated cattle scheme. Both pictures are stunningly shot, each frame more gorgeous than the last. But the key to their greatness lies in their personalities, Terror’s angular deep focus and deliberate, thrilleresque stalking and Blood’s shadowy collisions and schemes gone awry. In other words, their weirdness.
Last, I have a personal recommendation for the person who keeps asking.
Recommendation for Leahanne: Dawson’s Creek
Or at least this clip. You know you love it.
Now it’s your turn. What have you enjoyed recently that I should check out?
Click here for the full post
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Toy Story 3 has achieved the impossible. Not the offputting consensus, a totalitarian daycare mob that will not tolerate what little and squeaky dissent has cropped up. Not the reduction of America’s manly men into teary messes hiding behind 3-D glasses; no, our collective submission to Pixar’s power has been a fact of life since Ellie died or before. Not the best Pixar film to date, and not even the best Toy Story. No, Toy Story 3 has achieved the impossible feat: I actually want to see Toy Story 4.
I realize this contradicts the film’s premise, a gentle push toward acceptance of that absolute lesson that everything changes. In fact, Toy Story 3 boasts the strongest thematic drive of the franchise, probably thanks to Pixar’s mid-decade push toward stamping out childish plotting (like Buzz’s Mrs. Nesbitt phase in the first one) in favor of mature storytelling. WALL-E’s climactic self-sacrifice has nothing on the two hells Toy Story 3 puts us through at the end, one so horrific I was more aware of myself than the film and the other beautifully bittersweet. You’ve been warned. It's all presaged by the haunting, reverberating stop to the title credits' rendition of "You've Got a Friend in Me," suddenly cutting out on the relevant passage: "and as the years go by / our friendship will never die."
It’s precisely this confrontation that makes the later Pixar pictures perfect for kids. Toy Story 3 is, for the vast majority of its running time, a joke roller coaster—most very funny (like the security camera monkey), a few very tired (like the one too many callback lines)—but it’s also unafraid to make us face the fact that we have to let go and move on, an especially beneficial message for children and an equally necessary lesson for us adults who don’t want to hear it.
But for all its bravery, the film comes up short when it comes to the ambition displayed in the recent Pixar outings. The creativity is there, especially in the character of Ken, a girl’s toy who struggles with or more accurately ignores his masculine identity, and in Mrs. Potato Head’s lost eye, which she can vaguely see through, and in the opening sequence, another showdown between Sheriff Woody and Evil Dr. Porkchop in a lovingly John Fordian Southwest, but there’s nothing as cinematically adventurous as the silent portions of WALL-E or the montage of Up.
Still, Toy Story 3 elegantly develops the world of the toy, both internal and ex-, as we focus on what life is like for an immortal joy provider in a number of toy-centric environments. More than the other Pixar films, the Toy Story series charms us into nostalgia, making each entry a personal experience. That’s why Toy Story 3 being a bit messier than Pixar’s latest still translates to landslide appeal. We laughed, we cried, and now we have to move on. There probably won’t be a Toy Story 4, and I think I’m beginning to accept that.
Click here for the full post
Thursday, June 17, 2010
This week a Slate article discussed the results of a survey that found that children of sperm donation are more likely to have a troubled life. These statistics were then used to argue in favor of abolishing anonymous sperm donation, using such rhetoric as “two classes” and the Law-and-Order-sounding “anonymous trade of sperm,” forgetting, I suppose, that the term also describes drunken blowies. The authors even want the state to force biological fathers to provide "care and protection" to their offspring. Where to begin?
“Two-thirds of adult donor offspring agree with the statement ‘My sperm donor is half of who I am.’ Nearly half are disturbed that money was involved in their conception. More than half say that when they see someone who resembles them, they wonder if they are related. About two-thirds affirm the right of donor offspring to know the truth about their origins.”
I’m not sure what the first result says; it’s just plain biologically factual. The second is unfortunate. The third is akin to looking into a crowd and wondering if your soulmate is out there. And the final number is surprising only in its smallness. Big surprise that a given cohort is not keen to relinquish their rights.
But there’s a question of whether these are rights. You don’t get to choose how you come into the world whether you were jumpstarted by a donated sperm, a drunken one, or a loving, faithful one. The involvement of money is an intriguing monkey wrench, but it’s still not up to the child. I know it’s frowned upon nowadays, but I maintain that you have to get over it because life isn’t fair; is a man masturbating in a cup so tawdry that your whole identity is at hazard? I’m not sure the unborn have any right to tell the rest of us what to do about them as long as they’re parasites or less.
Many of the results of this study confirm what I’ve long suspected: life’s a bitch. It sucks for everyone relatively equally, just not in the same manifestations. The seaweed is always greener and all that. But all the same, it’s worth the living.
Of course that’s rather basic. On some higher plane, we must want what’s best for our children. These results suggest that donor offspring are more likely to have trouble with drugs, the law, and mental health. But surveys only report trends. If a survey revealed that black people are likelier to have lower intelligence than white people, it would have no real-world application. So, too, this. If your child is likelier to face depression, I’d be on the lookout. Statistics are numbers, not fate. Besides, we all have problems. How long until we regulate the reproduction habits of adults whose families have a history of cancer or heart disease?
The study then uses stories to whip up an emotional hook. One donor offspring, Christine Whipp, says, “My existence owed almost nothing to the serendipitous nature of normal human reproduction, where babies are the natural progression of mutually fulfilling adult relationships.” In what world? Accidental pregnancies take up half of that particular pie. Another tells of being ethically confused by their parents lying to them about their origins—which strikes me as a whopper of an excuse, but I’ll allow it. In the report, this is used as evidence of the relationship between donor sperm and Bad Things, but really it describes a correlation between Bad Things and lying to your children. (And by the way, we’ve all been there, though not, perhaps, about something so personal.)
Other stories tell of seeking professional help to cope with this trauma, or imagining that man who kinda looks like you might be “the one,” or permanent damage to familial relationships in response to the news. None of this is especially persuasive, not least because it’s anecdotal, but who doesn’t have complicated relationships with family members? Show me the Stepford family and I’ll show you the batteries.
There are serious issues of identity surrounding donor offspring that we need to address, I agree. The same is true of, say, orphans, stepchildren, or kids who discover they’re gay. I’m not sure the solution is state intervention. I’ll admit that I’m not especially sympathetic to the idea that a child has a right to know who their biological parents are (one’s social parents are their truest parents, nurture over nature, etc.), though that's easy for me to say, and I’d love to hear from someone who doesn’t look exactly like his father. The slippery slope is a fallacy, but isn’t mandating parenting about the same issue as abortion, the state providing for the unborn, only 18 years more invasive? On a related note, I do so yearn for the days of anti-sodomy laws, and maybe one day a federal official can govern our sexual activity in person. The line must be drawn . . . over there, I guess.
All of the negative consequences—I repeat: All of the negative consequences have more to do with response than the fact of artificial insemination itself. A survey does not convince me that we should no longer allow anonymous sperm donation because chopping off that problem will only produce three others in its wake, because there are perfectly fine babies in that bathwater, and because the less invasive procedure is to manage our coping.
Life is unfair, but crying to the state won’t solve all your problems.
Click here for the full post
The 2010 Webby Person of the Year is your friend and mine Roger Ebert. Winners are given five words with which to give an acceptance speech, but Ebert only needed three: “Veni, vidi, vici.” My response is also only three words: What a dick.
I mean that only in the Freudian sense, of course. He’s got a penis, and he used it to conquer the Internet. As a peasant thereof, I resent the news.
Veni, vidi, vici! Am I missing the connotation that isn’t self-serious? I suppose it’s meant to be a bit of a chuckle that Ebert’s comparing the violence of Roman wars with little ole him writing some stuff on the Internet. But I don’t buy it. The guy knows how to write a five-word funny; this ain’t that.
There were a number of plaudits in the Webby description, some of them indisputable (unprecedented engagement) and others open for debate. Specifically, I take issue with praising the thoughtfulness and critique of someone who summarily rules on such low culture media as television, video games, blogging, and Twitter without feeling the need to do the appropriate legwork first. Maybe next year they'll honor Sarah Palin. Naturally I commend him for rescinding his prejudices against blogging and Twitter, but that doesn’t contradict what I’ll call his habit of solipsism, i.e. if I’m not doing it, it must not be worthwhile.
His discussions of video games and Film: Socialisme lay bare the truth of his wobbly critical apparatus, defining terms willy nilly, building on utterly subjective (and therefore unpersuasive) foundational arguments (which some, I concede, would argue comes with the price of admission), and regularly departing the realm of criticism entirely, and not just in his memoir pieces. Ebert’s website editor (I don’t think he edits the actual pieces Ebert writes, but I could be wrong) Jim Emerson says rightly that more than a paragraph of plot summary gets in the way of criticism. One wonders how Ebert gets away with it so often.
No, one doesn’t. Ebert gets away with it for being Ebert, the only film critic in American history that’s a household name. You’d think he enjoyed enough popularity, but the man is a constant self-promoter. On Twitter he links to everything he writes multiple times, just in case you missed it. Already you can find two links to his new Great Movies entry and two more to his review of Winter’s Bone. There’s time for at least twice that by the weekend!
But it’s the Ebert Club that really put me off. A while back Ebert started asking for fans to pay some small amount in exchange for benefits like a regular newsletter and stuff. Which is all well and good, and far be it for me to tell people how to spend their money, but my pinko heart shrinks from the sight of a super rich man asking for still more money and often (if not entirely) from people well below his tax bracket. Okay, so it’s a small price and goods are exchanged, but the principle rubs me the wrong way.
Then there’s his gross fan worship. He just loves to go on about how his comments are the best on the Internet and his commenters are the smartest anywhere and his fans will beat up your fans. It helps, surely, that his first several dozen comments on any given post take place in an enormous, unpolished echo chamber, except on those occasions where he rouses the rabbles, as in his post about video games not being art, in which case he’ll suddenly stop responding to the thoughtful dissenters and instead embolden (literally) what few agreements he can find.
A detailed storyteller, Roger Ebert is often smart and funny, and if he’s not saying anything that others aren’t—I especially find his comments on politics relatively facile—he’s usually saying it entertainingly. I’m happy he’s around, and I anticipate his blog posts, too. But there are sharper minds out there, and I refuse to genuflect before our new Internet overlord.
Click here for the full post
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
After my AMC cheerleading in drama and my NBC love in comedy, what else is there? Why, all the ones they just sign over to Jon Stewart and the latest HBO miniseries, of course. But in truth, there are just two more categories I care to weigh in on. After you.
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
Obviously The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are in no danger, here, and I don't care to whittle down the other ten or so candidates that I watched over the last year (especially since I only saw Letterman, Fallon, and Ferguson during Lenogate). But I have one request from the bottom of my heart. It's a cynical world, Hollywood, but it'd be a lot less cynical if they nominated The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien for this category. It won't win, not against the collective might of Jon Stewart's Band of Jews, but a nomination would say everything. NBC didn't even submit it, presumably because of the competition to their darling The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, so TBS is running this Emmy campaign. So, one last time: Go Team Coco!
Outstanding Made-for-Television Movie
Now, I didn't watch a single made-for-TV movie last year, not Al Pacino's Jack "Hooah!" Kevorkian movie, not that movie about autistic horses, and not, unfortunately, The Pregnancy Pact. And there's no way the O'Keeffe/Stieglitz flick matches up to the sketch of same by The State. But I did see what was intended to be a television pilot, and it was the best in years. I'm talking about Virtuality, nominated in this category. Trophies won't save it now, but it's earned whatever honors it can get.
I wouldn't mind seeing The Pacific or Man vs. Wild or Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List or Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations get nominated in their respective categories, either, but I'm also rooting for one entire category to be fill with nominations for the various Real Housewives franchises. But I'm not especially invested in the other categories like Reality Series or Reality Competition. What about you?
Click here for the full post
Earlier I played AMC cheerleader with my candidates for drama Emmys, and now I shift my attention to NBC, which, contrary to reports, is still a network. It hasn't been the best season for comedy, and I maintain that the television pantheon remains unchanged. But there are a whole slew of good comedies with consistent funny and genuine themes, and as Ron Swanson says, "Awards are stupid. But they'd be less stupid if they went to the right people."
Outstanding Comedy Series
1. 30 Rock (Season 4)
2. Better Off Ted (Season 2)
3. Cougar Town (Season 1)
4. Parks and Recreation (Season 2)
5. Party Down (Season 2)
6. United States of Tara (Season 2)
30 Rock, something of a zenith of media commentary (pointing that satirical lens at itself as much as the rest of the television universe, from NBC headlines to ESPN to cable news), finally has some strong competition with ("smash cut to") the rise of Parks and Recreation, whose remarkable sophomore season finds high satire, stirring romance, slapstick galore, and a promising relationship with current affairs. Three more sophomore seasons deserve nominations but won't receive them: Better Off Ted pushed more wacky boundaries in its timely anticorporatism reaching a high point in the offensive language episode, Party Down is still unfolding (though nobody's watching) a stunning, multivalent everyday Hollywood tragedy, and United States of Tara, like Parks, magically maintained its excellence episode after episode as the Gregsons pull apart only to find each other again. As for my freshman nominee, Cougar Town is perhaps more inconsistent than some other new shows, but it took more risks than its sister show and had more (and more interesting) things to say than any new comedy this season: Keep Cougar Town weird!
But it wasn't the best new comedy: that honor lies with Archer, inexplicably omitted from the nominating ballots. FX, go to your room! That said, since a couple of my faves have no chance, I wouldn’t mind seeing nominations go to Bored to Death, Community, Modern Family, or The Sarah Silverman Program. The inevitable Glee nod won't bother me, exactly, but with so many better comedies on the air, it's a shame the awards can't go to quality over hype.
Outstanding Lead Actor
1. Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock (Season 4)
2. Jay Harrington – Better Off Ted (Season 2)
3. Thomas Jane – Hung (Season 1)
4. Joel McHale – Community (Season 1)
5. Jason Schwartzman – Bored to Death (Season 1)
6. Adam Scott – Party Down (Season 2)
The strangest thing about this category is that Baldwin probably deserves to win for a banner year with Dealbreakers, Don Geiss' death, and his love life, but there's nothing like a monopoly to redirect your loyalties to the underdogs. With a few more episodes, Schwartzman might have my vote, but it's close with Adam Scott's rich restraint and Joel McHale's colorful versatility (e.g. his Goldblum). Hung was kind of forgettable for what purports to be a strident take on the economic crisis, but Thomas Jane was always good ("I'm Tom Jane"). And hopefully the final two episodes of Better Off Ted (slated to air on June 17) will continue the trend of letting Jay Harrington show more of his comedic chops this year.
I won’t be upset when inevitability nominates Steve Carell, but I also don’t think his work this season places him among the top six. Zachary Levi and Josh Radnor are fine alternates as well, but it'll be interesting to see whether Matthew Morrison can ride the Glee wave to a nomination. Of all the likely Glee nominees, he's probably the least deserving, right?
Outstanding Lead Actress
1. Toni Collette – United States of Tara (Season 2)
2. Courteney Cox-Arquette – Cougar Town (Season 1)
3. Portia de Rossi – Better Off Ted (Season 2)
4. Tina Fey – 30 Rock (Season 4)
5. Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation (Season 2)
6. Sarah Silverman – The Sarah Silverman Program (Season 3)
It's always gratifying to see a female category that's even stronger than its male counterpart, though I still favor combining them. Since Toni Collette had a less theatrical season this year, and since Tina Fey has a phenomenally theatrical submission in her back pocket (“Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001”), I think Fey may just win the category again. I'm still not sure, though, if I'd pick Fey over Poehler and Silverman. De Rossi will go unnoticed again, too, but Cox-Arquette has a well-deserved chance.
Lea Michele will hopefully take up one of my fantasy slots for her endlessly watchable work as a high-strung Broadway wannabe. But Edie Falco and Mary-Louise Parker, both in showy central performances, need material that matches their abilities before they take up more Emmy nominations.
Outstanding Supporting Actor
1. Ted Danson – Bored to Death (Season 1)
2. Nick Offerman – Parks and Recreation (Season 2)
3. Chris Pratt – Parks and Recreation (Season 2)
4. Danny Pudi – Community (Season 1)
5. Martin Starr – Party Down (Season 2)
6. Eric Stonestreet – Modern Family (Season 1)
Martin Starr has had a great storyline this year, trying out rock star life and hopefully growing as his screenwriting career comes under the microscope. Stonestreet represents the Modern Family men with his believable flamboyance, and Pudi represents Community since I couldn't find room for Donald Glover. And Ted Danson chews this absurd, magnetic performance as a high-powered New York editor. But thanks for playing, men: this category comes down to the impossible choice between Nick Offerman and Chris Pratt.
Honorable mentions include John Corbett for United States of Tara and Ian Gomez for Cougar Town, but there are plenty of performers whose nominations would make me happy, including frontrunner Ty Burrell and possible Glee surfer Chris Colfer.
Outstanding Supporting Actress
1. Alison Brie – Community (Season 1)
2. Lizzy Caplan – Party Down (Season 2)
3. Rosemarie DeWitt – United States of Tara (Season 2)
4. Busy Philipps – Cougar Town (Season 1)
5. Aubrey Plaza – Parks and Recreation (Season 2)
6. Sofia Vergara – Modern Family (Season 1)
Rosemarie DeWitt is the kind of actor who never fails to impress you, and she's better than ever this year, bonding more than fighting with her sister while retaining that inferiority complex that has her constantly demanding attention. Caplan was among my nominees last year, and she's still finding new sides to Casey. Aubrey Plaza is not only hysterical without words but responsible for some of Parks' most heartfelt moments. As for the newcomers, Brie and Philipps steal their shows, and Vergara nails every punchline as a sometimes clueless, sometimes hip mom who comes from a hilarious version of Colombia.
If her show were better, Jane Adams would be a lock for her work on Hung, and the same goes for the stars of Nurse Jackie, Eve Best and Merritt Wever, and the Office newbie Ellie Kemper. I'll be happy to see Jane Lynch get nominated for Glee, but unfortunately it'll come at the expense of richer performances.
Outstanding Guest Actor
1. Louis CK – Parks and Recreation (Season 2)
2. Matt Damon – 30 Rock ("I Do Do")
3. Will Forte – 30 Rock ("Argus," "I Do Do")
4. Steve Guttenberg – Party Down ("Steve Guttenberg's Birthday")
5. Adam Scott – Parks and Recreation ("The Master Plan," "Freddy Spaghetti")
6. Michael Sheen – 30 Rock (Season 4)
This is one tough category. I can't choose between the Parks guys: Louis CK's intensely mild-mannered cop often feels like a real person on a documentary, and Adam Scott makes his serious government axe-man multifaceted in just two episodes. And I definitely can't pick a 30 Rock star, whether Matt Damon's pilot, Will Forte's Jenna Maroney impersonator, or Michael Sheen's annoying Brit Wesley Snipes. Last, the star of Party Down's best episode so far, Steve Guttenberg as a weirdly cheery version of himself.
Unfortunately James Rebhorn's hysterical turn as Liz Lemon's dentist was nowhere to be found in the nomination ballot. James Franco did submit, however, but I finally had to cut him. Neil Patrick Harris was terrific in his episode of Glee, but Mike O'Malley's become a scene-stealer all year long. Finally, Fred Willard as Phil's dad and Reid Ewing as Dylan are both excellent candidates from Modern Family.
Outstanding Guest Actress
1. Elizabeth Banks – 30 Rock (Season 4)
2. Elizabeth Banks – Modern Family ("Great Expectations")
3. Tina Fey – Saturday Night Live ("Tina Fey/Justin Bieber")
4. Jan Hooks – 30 Rock ("Verna," "The Moms")
5. Jane Lynch – Party Down ("Constance Carmell's Wedding")
6. Megan Mullally – Parks and Recreation ("Ron and Tammy")
7. Betty White – Saturday Night Live ("Betty White/Jay-Z")
I nominated an extra slot in this category because the Jane Lynch episode of Party Down hasn’t aired yet, but I think we can all agree she will earn her spot here. Meanwhile, there are two terrific SNL hosts in Tina Fey and Betty White, and a crazy funny turn from Megan Mullally as Ron's ex-wife Tammy on Parks and Rec. Much as I enjoyed most of Elizabeth Banks' work as Avery Jessup (especially the clips of her show and her commercial for Overshoppe.com), Verna wins the 30 Rock guest actress competition. But no matter, because the Emmy needs to go to Banks for her phenomenal guest work as Cam and Mitchell's single friend on Modern Family ("You should kill that baby").
Which leaves out Joey Lauren Adams, Viola Davis, and Pamela Reed from United States of Tara, excellent alternatives.
1. Community, “Modern Warfare” – Justin Lin
2. Glee, “Pilot” – Ryan Murphy
3. Parks and Recreation, “Hunting Trip” – Greg Daniels
4. Party Down, “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday” – Bryan Gordon
5. 30 Rock, “Anna Howard Shaw Day” – Ken Whittingham
6. United States of Tara, “Torando!” – Craig Gillespie
I went with one nomination per show; despite the manifest eminence of Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, there was enough great comedy direction this year to go around. As you can see ("Modern Warfare," "Pilot," "Torando!"), I erred on the side of showy direction. So will Emmy.
I couldn't find room for a Bored to Death nomination, though the show is of typical HBO quality. The sole It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia submission ("The Gang Hits the Road") just didn't make the cut either. But Modern Family may score some bids here over the more deserving shows I picked. And it should be said that Glee selected the wrong nominees; "Dream On" is the show's best episode.
1. Cougar Town, “Here Comes my Girl” – Sam Laybourne
2. Modern Family, “Fizbo” – Paul Corrigan & Brad Walsh
3. Parks and Recreation, “Pawnee Zoo” – Norm Hiscock
4. The Sarah Silverman Program, “The Proof is in the Penis” – Eric Shaar
5. 30 Rock, “Dealbreakers Talk Show #0001” – Kay Cannon
6. United States of Tara, “Dept. of F’d Up Family Services” – Dave Finkel & Brett Baer
Just thinking about these shows has me laughing, whether I picture Cameron as Fizbo or Liz Lemon's Dealbreakers intro sequence or Charmaine playing Mrs. Gregson for Family Services or our first introduction to April's boyfriend's boyfriend or Sarah Silverman slapping her sister at her recommendation that she get a job.
Glee submitted "Pilot" and "Wheels," but I hope they're ignored. And I still prefer "The Incident" to "Fizbo." How could they not submit the episode that first featured "I Wanna Do You"? Finally, Community only submitted its pilot, a fine episode but nowhere near the show's best episode. I smell strategery.
There are enough good comedies on the air that I could see plenty of worthy alternatives to my picks, so what are you rooting for to win the comedy Emmys?
Click here for the full post
The 2009-10 season hasn't been especially strong for either comedy or drama. In fact, I'd say for the first time in at least a decade, the television pantheon remains unchanged. But as long as we're handing out glitzy trophies, we may as well give them to the most deserving candidates. So Part 1 of my dream Emmy ballot—all drama all the time—coming up after a brief word from AMC (attn: marketing people, e-mail me for info on where to send lavish Mad Men-related gifts, i.e. you're welcome).
Outstanding Drama Series
1. Breaking Bad (Season 3)
2. Friday Night Lights (Season 4)
3. Justified (Season 1)
4. Mad Men (Season 3)
5. Sons of Anarchy (Season 2)
6. Treme (Season 1)
Mad Men took some brave risks this year that put off many viewers (including me, spending five episodes wondering where this picaresque carnival was headed), but it remains the standard-bearer of television drama in an unspectacular year. Treme concludes an excellent, ambitious season on Sunday, and Friday Night Lights is in the midst of what may become its best season yet on NBC. Breaking Bad isn't as perfect as the critics paint it, but it easily earns its spot here. And then we have the FX kids, Sons of Anarchy and Justified, each a little problematic but ultimately winning in their energy and local flavors.
Slightly more problematic than those FX shows is Caprica, which at times is in the top three dramas on television but is more often aimless, histrionic dreck. (If hiatus goes well, the show could see quite the renaissance upon its return.) Last is Lost, which I considered for a while and which is likely to see an actual Emmy nomination, but which is hardly what I'd point to as excellent television storytelling. But at least it's not as ridiculous as Rescue Me, squandering all the joys of the first half of Season 5 on more of the (inexplicable, faux edgy) same.
Outstanding Lead Actor
1. Kyle Chandler – Friday Night Lights (Season 4)
2. Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad (Season 3)
3. Jon Hamm – Mad Men (Season 3)
4. Clarke Peters – Treme (Season 1)
5. Wendell Pierce – Treme (Season 1)
6. Steve Zahn - Treme (Season 1)
While I don't see how a show can have so many lead actors, I couldn't find any worthy alternatives, and frankly, I'd nominate Treme powerhouses Peters, Pierce, and Zahn as Guest Actress in a Comedy if that's where they wound up. Next are the AMC antiheroes who are sure to repeat at the actual Emmys, and Cranston is likely to continue his winning streak despite the unheralded glory of Jon Hamm, who took a page from Walter White's angry notebook this year in his dressing down of sweet, innocent Peggy, his firing of big gay Sal, and his ferocious nocturnal spat with his wife.
I wouldn't mind seeing Timothy Olyphant score a bid for his Justified hero, but I unfortunately couldn't find room for him. Also out in the cold are Matthew Fox from Lost, the accent- and machismo-challenged Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy, and the Caprica guys.
Outstanding Lead Actress
1. Connie Britton – Friday Night Lights (Season 4)
2. Anna Gunn – Breaking Bad (Season 3)
3. January Jones – Mad Men (Season 3)
4. Melissa Leo – Treme (Season 1)
5. Katey Sagal – Sons of Anarchy (Season 2)
Treme has almost as many lead actors as Desperate Housewives, the difference being these actors are all worthy. But I couldn't find a sixth nominee to accompany the splendor of Connie Britton and Katey Sagal, the stars of their seasons, Anna Gunn, New Mexico's Lady Macbeth, and January Jones, heartbreaking in her awakening.
Which means no-go for Sally Field and Evangeline Lilly, whose shows I've given up on (with a little help from a series finale) for good.
Outstanding Supporting Actor
1. Bryan Batt – Mad Men (Season 3)
2. John Goodman – Treme (Season 1)
3. Vincent Kartheiser – Mad Men (Season 3)
4. Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad (Season 3)
5. Ron Perlman – Sons of Anarchy (Season 2)
6. John Slattery – Mad Men (Season 3)
I'd like to have more diverse nominations, but I couldn't hoist other performances above any of these Mad Men, especially Bryan Batt who was the fulcrum for major story turns this season. John Goodman, meanwhile, is fascinating as a New Orleans professor on Treme, Aaron Paul is better than ever (and gets the final shot of the season) in Breaking Bad, and Ron Perlman gets the Sons of Anarchy slot despite a handful of worthy contenders from that show.
My final cuts were Jonathan Banks for Breaking Bad, who ought to have even more to do next year, and Jesse Plemons for Friday Night Lights, but I wouldn’t mind nominations for anyone from those casts (Bob Odenkirk, Dean Norris, Taylor Kitsch), not to mention some of the Sons of Anarchy. Oh, and Jorge Garcia for Lost and Nick Searcy for Justified. The supporting categories are so crowded any number of nominees would content me.
Outstanding Supporting Actress
1. Khandi Alexander – Treme (Season 1)
2. Madison Burge – Friday Night Lights (Season 4)
3. Kim Dickens – Treme (Season 1)
4. Christina Hendricks – Mad Men (Season 3)
5. Elisabeth Moss – Mad Men (Season 3)
6. Aimee Teegarden – Friday Night Lights (Season 4)
Three pairs shined brightest this year: Christina Hendricks with her quiet disappointment and Elisabeth Moss with her energetic feminism; Khandi Alexander and Kim Dickens, two entrepreneurs trying to stay afloat not just commercially but personally; and Aimee Teegarden and Madison Burge, two young girls growing up in their own ways.
Not quite as competitive as its male counterpart, my other favorites were Jurnee Smollett for Friday Night Lights, Joelle Carter for Justified, and Ally Walker for Sons of Anarchy.
Outstanding Guest Actor
1. Henry Ian Cusick – Lost (Season 6)
2. Zach Gilford – Friday Night Lights (Season 4)
3. Jared Harris – Mad Men (Season 3)
4. Robert Morse – Mad Men (Season 3)
5. Patton Oswalt – Caprica (Season 1)
6. Chelcie Ross – Mad Men (Season 3)
It helps that Robert Morse and Jared Harris were in practically every episode. Even Chelcie Ross in about half the season easily outshines actual guest actors. Zach Gilford got a dream of a final arc on Friday Night Lights, and Henry Ian Cusick never failed to pique our waning interests in what little of Lost's final season he was in. Finally, a real guest actor, is Patton Oswalt, whose quick, casual charm sells his persona as the Jon Stewart of the Caprica universe.
I'll just go ahead and list my favorite alternates: Adam Arkin and Henry Rollins, the white supremacists of Sons of Anarchy, Raymond J. Barry and Walton Goggins on Justified (and before you ask, the syrupy accent is the stumbling block of Goggins' performance), Steve Harris as an ex-Lion restaurateur on Friday Night Lights, and David Costabile, whose work in the Breaking Bad finale really rounds out an already interesting character.
Outstanding Guest Actress
1. Alison Brie – Mad Men (Season 3)
2. Judy L. Kain - Mad Men (Season 3)
3. Elizabeth Mitchell – Lost ("LA X," "The End")
4. Kiernan Shipka – Mad Men (Season 3)
5. Abigail Spencer – Mad Men (Season 3)
6. Maura Tierney - Rescue Me (Season 5)
There wasn't much competition, so I just checked off every name under Mad Men, including Olive the secretary, little Sally Draper, Miss Farrell, and, of course, the phenomenal and increasingly significant supporting role of Trudy Campbell. "The Grown Ups" ought to win her this Emmy.
I'm disappointed Mary Page Keller didn't submit in this category for her work as Roger's old flame in "The Gypsy and the Hobo." I also hope they can find a way to bring her back to Mad Men at some point.
1. Breaking Bad, “Fly” – Rian Johnson
2. Breaking Bad, “Full Measure” – Vince Gilligan
3. Friday Night Lights, “Stay” – Patrick Norris
4. Mad Men, “Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency” – Lesli Linka Glatter
5. Mad Men, “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.” – Matthew Weiner
6. Treme, “Do You Know What it Means” – Agnieszka Holland
Only one Treme episode submitted in the writing and directing races, so that was an easy pick. I'm sick of honoring the excellence of those two Mad Men episodes with such a wealth of great candidates, but at the end of the day, those remain the directorial high points. Similarly, "Fly" and "Full Measure" are Breaking Bad at its best; in an often suspense-less season, those two episodes really push the tension to its breaking point. And weirdly, I seem to be alone in preferring Friday Night Lights' "Stay" to "The Son," which was great but couldn't quite sell some of the more melodramatic moments. But "Stay" is masterful all the way through, from Tami's comical concern to the more serious subplots with Matt and Julie's concert trip and Tim's reunion with Lyla.
I suspect less strong, more showy episodes of Breaking Bad will score the nominations, but that's fine. Despite my problems with the season, I remain an AMC fanboy, and I love that they submitted almost every episode of both their series in the writing and directing categories. I also wouldn't mind seeing "Na Triobloidi" for Sons of Anarchy and "Fire in the Hole" for Justified score bids here. But my fervent hope is that voters aren't fooled into taking the Lost bait, no matter how pretty and shiny it is.
1. Breaking Bad, “Full Measure” – Vince Gilligan
2. Friday Night Lights, “The Son” – Rolin Jones
3. Mad Men, “Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency” – Robin Veith and Matthew Weiner
4. Mad Men, “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” – Matthew Weiner & Erin Levy
5. Mad Men, “The Grown Ups” – Brett Johnson and Matthew Weiner
6. Treme, “Do You Know What it Means” – David Simon & Eric Overmyer
It's similar to the directing category since these are some of the year's best episodes of television. But since "Stay" wasn't submitted for writing, I opted for "The Son." And I bumped a Breaking Bad to make room for the brilliant, oft-misunderstood "The Grown Ups."
Even more than the directing category, I'd have liked to include a wider variety of Mad Men scripts, especially "The Gypsy and the Hobo," "Souvenir," and "My Own Kentucky Home." And, again, Justified's pilot ("Fire in the Hole") would make a swell nominee too.
Next up: Comedy. In the mean time, who are you rooting for to win the Drama Emmys this year?
Click here for the full post
Monday, June 14, 2010
It’s time like this that I think critics would do well to audit a high school junior English class during the hyperbole discussion. It’s a technique, not a mandate. I’ve rarely felt so critically alone on a season, but I’d be more interested in reevaluating my opinion if I saw anything resembling detached criticism among its fellators. Breaking Bad Season 3 is good, but it’s not an all-time classic; it’s not even the show’s best season. Spoilerduh.
Since we’re talking critical objectivity, I’ll lay my cards on the table: My irritation is partially aroused by the constant suggestion that Breaking Bad is a better drama than Mad Men, at least this season. It’s symptomatic of the television criticism community habit of digging as deep as possible into a show without getting below the surface. There’s more to television drama than character and plot, and Mad Men never loses sight of thesis.
But this isn’t comparative politics. As an individual case study, Breaking Bad just concluded a season’s worth of false-starts and red herrings and indefensible stylistic pretension. The triumph is that the balance sheets are still very much in the black.
What saves the show is the joy that one story arc actually completed the 13-episode pass, and it’s the biggie. In the premiere, Walter White is a man who will not accept responsibility for any of the hurt he’s caused, not with the plane crash, not with his marriage, and not with Jesse’s corruption. But a funny thing happened on the way to the finale. In “Fly,” Walter suggests that deep down he knows he’s responsible for Jane’s death and thereby Jesse’s depression. That’s around the time he starts to speak openly about being a meth dealer with his wife, which secret combusted his marriage. And finally, in the riveting finale arc, he accepts both the blood on his hands and his responsibility to Jesse by running over the guys that killed Tomas and shooting one in the head, and later ordering Jesse to hit poor, innocent (ish) Gail to buy them both a little time. What excuses the plot cliffhanger is the thematic resolution: Walt has accepted who he is. It took a season, but with one baby step after another, we got there, and Season 3 has something resembling a skeleton.
I admit that sounds pretty fantastic, and sprinkled throughout were tantalizing little glimpses of Walt's obsessive accounting for error (skimming the pool, fixing the uneven table legs, "Fly"). But it came on the heels of so many narrative potholes and speed bumps that I can’t pretend the season was an elegant molecular realignment. I’m talking about the Cousins, from whom Walt was never in any danger and whom it took five episodes to reroute toward the actually potentially vulnerable Hank. I’m talking about Hank himself, a late-onset PTSD sufferer who became an often one-note barracuda sure to get Heisenberg until that story’s truncation. I’m talking about Mike bugging the Whites, Skyler at Beneke Fabricators, Don Salamanca, Jesse skimming, Jesse’s NA scheme, the hints that Gus had another original plan for Walt, and other ideas that petered out after a couple episodes.
The season opens with the Cousins meditating on a drawing of Walter White, ferchrissakes. The only defense of the hypersaturated amateur Jodorowsky style is tonal, yet the apocalypse is dispatched in Episode 7, and the plot ideas introduced don’t make it past Five. So much for that mythic opening sequence.
Breaking Bad often mistakes “arty” style for good style, aspiring to such lauded techniques as chiaroscuro lighting and eloquent monologues without naturally finding them. The effect is schizophrenic: sometimes the show’s stylistic gambles fuel the expressionism of Walter White’s state of mind, as in the claustrophobia of “Fly” and anything with Mike (the playground scene, his monologue at Walt’s, his set piece in the finale); other times the show feels hollow, as when it flails about trying to make the Cousins seem indomitable (barring, of course, their legitimately terrifying attack on Hank) or casting the Whites’ tense dining situations in mood lighting from hell. The flashbacks, too, are rarely determined by the story requirements, though luxuriating in this particular zombie western is admittedly satisfying.
Unfortunately, a slapdash narrative dominoes whatever attempts at thematic inquiry the show had in mind, and Breaking Bad was never that thematically complicated to begin with. Now that it's especially comic book-inflected, it's essentially just about good and evil, certainly unoriginal concerns unoriginally addressed, but at least the season has some thematic heft as Walt's descent ultimately brings Jesse to the unforgivable sin and simultaneously pulls both Hank and Skyler deeper into this moral morass.
I’m not surprised to learn that Vince Gilligan didn’t have a plan for this season. What is utterly stupefying is how many television critics are treating it as some kind of model. I recall Lindsay Bluth’s delighted response to the C- her daughter got: “You didn’t even study, did you?” Not that television writers necessarily need a plan. I’ve written at length about how Ronald D. Moore’s largely design-less grand design for Battlestar Galactica feels mostly inevitable. Then there’s Season 2 of Breaking Bad, wherein the writers apparently knew the gist of the plane crash and Jane’s father’s involvement but not the specific pieces. Having that target in mind drove the season elegantly toward its inexorable fate without dropping any of its characters along the way.
Season 3 could have used some of that elegance. I admire the serial attempts to write into plot corners in order to maneuver out. The problem isn’t that Breaking Bad flies by the seat of its pants. It’s that it shows.
Click here for the full post
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Lookie what I made! In the latest incarnation of my mediamania, I follow up my Mad Men jack-o-lantern with a Heisenberg card. That's right: I'm a couple cats away from launching my Etsy line. Now check out the back:
Really increases the retail value. Happy Breaking Bad finale!
Click here for the full post
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Twice makes it a tradition. After spending an inordinate amount of time legally proving the criminal mediocrity of Lost, bobbing through the semester’s Glee music has been quite the vacation. I can hardly believe that I can hardly wait for its return, so good news: this hiatus is the shortest Glee-break yet!
For posterity: Glee’s inaugural back nine ritualized the theme episode, dispensed with spitfire Quinn in favor of earth mother Quinn, and elevated Brittany and Santana into the hall of humor fame, while Chris Colfer proved himself the show’s clutch performer. In many cases, stories revolved around the selected songs, but the moodswing quality is old hat by now, and almost none of the drama was as infuriatingly absurd as last year (the Magical Paraplegic notwithstanding). Best of all, this once obsessively auto-tuned show either shaped up its stars’ vocal talents or accepted the natural quality of the sound to my eternal delight.
But you’re here for the music, so lez get to it. Chronological honorable mentions:
“A House is Not a Home” – Episode 16, “Home”
Kurt so bares his soul in this passionate, unornamented ballad that Finn seems about ready to up and move to Vermont with him. As Glee is wont, the sequence errs on the literal side with Finn singing directly to a chair, but the stories of Finn’s father and Kurt’s longing imbue the sentimentality with some honest-to-goodness pathos.
“Piano Man” – Episode 19, “Dream On”
The set is ripped from the lyrics, comically so, but, fine as Matthew Morrison’s karaoke was, the highlight is Neil Patrick Harris pretending not to want to sing only to belt out the second verse. Also the poor drunk guy who just wants to sex his tonic and gin in peace, thank you very much.
“Dream On” – Episode 19, “Dream On”
The joys here are tripedal: The last-ditch volatility of Aerosmith’s best song, the indomitable falsetto of Neil Patrick Harris (despite his lapses into Joel Madden-face), and the coherence of Joss Whedon’s roving long shots spiced up with action cuts.
“Shout it out Loud” – Episode 20, “Theatricality”
I guess complaining about a pyrotechnic stage show threatening the reality of Glee is for geezers, but the guys’ chosen outlet for homosexual panic is such seductive fun you’ll forget it’s ostensibly a bunch of teenage boys sporting elaborate makeup and not exactly butch costumes in a high school auditorium.
“Loser” – Episode 21, “Funk”
Man, Terri Schuester ruins everything! Before she cruelly truncated Puck’s escape (keeping us from witnessing the surely adorable joys of Finn’s “Get crazy with the Cheez Whiz”), this was shaping up to be one interesting video, Puck and Finn’s frustration spreading to an army of drones at the epicenter of ennui, a Linens ‘N Things in Lima.
My Top 10 Glee Songs of Spring 2010
10. “Run Joey Run” – Episode 17, “Bad Reputation”
It’s subversion on the order of Douglas Sirk that Rachel’s video purports to illustrate her embrace of not only Sirk’s dreamy suburbia but Todd Haynes’ ironic reach but ends up looking like quasi-trashy mid-‘80s MTV right down to its extreme zooms and Rachel’s cheesy deer-in-headlights look at the camera. But it’s an impressive piece of kitsch nonetheless that makes fantastic use of the alternating boyfriend hook, and Rachel’s dedication proves both admirable and fearlessly funny.
9. “The Lady is a Tramp” – Episode 18, “Laryngitis”
There was music before the ‘80s? Aided by a sharp vest and fedora, Puck utterly nails this jazz lounge number, charming Mercedes into joining him and making the rest of us wonder why Finn’s the male lead.
8. "Faithfully," "Any Way You Want it"/"Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'," & "Don't Stop Believin'" - Episode 22, "Journey"
If you can accept a quick jaunt to the hospital to deliver a baby and a return trip in time for the awards, you can accept this three-way tie which maybe shouldn't rank but as a child my only CD was Journey's Greatest Hits so deal with it. Typically, bursting into song for character reasons is necessarily stronger than doing so for story requirements like a singing competition, and frankly, the choreography was not New Directions' best. But "Faithfully" was charged with the turbulent romance of Finn and Rachel, and "Don't Stop Believin'" spread the solos as this great, democratic celebration of their fraternity. And while the mash-up wasn't as strong as its individual components, nobody puts "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" in a corner.
7. “Rose’s Turn” – Episode 18, “Laryngitis”
Kurt’s staggering cri de coeur, highlighting Chris Colfer’s range, has a lot of tricks up its sleeve, including the transition from butch Kurt storming through the high school to chic Kurt jazz-dancing across first an effective red curtain and then his name in lights. The end comes way too soon.
6. “Dream a Little Dream of Me” – Episode 19, “Dream On”
The subdued, simple quality of the sequence—Artie’s sweet singing accompanying Mike and Tina on tap—suggests a timelessness that transports you to a ‘20s jazz club straight out of Woody Allen’s dreams. Artie’s swirl of acceptance and longing elevates the sublime dance, and the closing closeup on Artie’s profile, Tina and Mike in the blurry back, perfectly captures the unyielding yearning of Glee.
5. “Vogue” – Episode 15, “The Power of Madonna”
Sue Sylvester’s (wait for it) madge-ical tribute was so lovingly detailed and enthusiastically performed that they couldn’t wait for the episode to show us the video. Special props to newlywed Jane Lynch, who manages the still life poses and spoken word riff impressively but is most surprising getting down to the dance beat.
4. "Bohemian Rhapsody" - Episode 22, "Journey"
This sequence is so accomplished: Jesse & Vocal Adrenaline rock a staple that demands they be stronger but display less (ahem) glee than New Directions, beautifully choreographed match cuts take us back and forth to Quinn's labor with each subplot augmenting the suspense in the other, and one of the most playful classic rock songs in history successfully unites visual moments of worry, fury, and humor.
3. “I Dreamed a Dream” – Episode 19, “Dream On”
I know “On My Own” was in the pilot, but it took a season for me to realize Glee may as well be called The Miserables. Highlighted by the austerity of the production, the rich, wistful vocals of Broadway clones Idina Menzel and Lea Michele and the accumulated pathos in their story of estrangement make this number in every sense a stage dream.
2. “Bad Romance” – Episode 20, “Theatricality”
This alternately robotic and animalistic performance of Lady Gaga’s sexual dirge makes the manic Glee-editing work for it, selectively spotlighting great individual moments like Kurt’s revolution or Santana’s solo. But it’s the clockwork ensemble that spins this glam phantasmagoria into something more powerful, an aggressive, irrepressible outcry of liberation.
1. “Safety Dance” – Episode 19, “Dream On”
An infectious electro-pop fantasy becomes an exercise in suspense as wheelchair-bound Artie smoothly initiates a dance number he couldn’t possibly be doing. But you go with it, and so do the crowd with their lo-fi intercut handheld shots, as director Joss Whedon magnificently parlays Glee’s rabid fanbase into an exuberant flash mob before finally, painfully, literally letting the other shoe drop.
Most likely to change positions in the coming weeks is "Bohemian Rhapsody," which may end up at the top. But enough about me. Now's your chance to throw a slushie in my face. What are your favorite Glee songs? Thoughts on the season and finale?
UPDATED GLEE TOP TENS:
Top 10 Glee Songs of Fall 2009
Top 10 Glee Songs of Spring 2010
Top 10 Glee Songs of Fall 2010
Click here for the full post