Monday, June 20, 2011
The only thing I enjoy about picking Emmy candidates is finding pictures of my favorite performers. The rest is a bulldozer that flattens my critical personality—which found Breaking Bad offputtingly sloppy, Community rarely up to the tasks it sets itself, 30 Rock one of the great media satires, and Glee a shockingly transcendent vision—until it resembles People, all of us nominating the exact same shows. Sure I can set myself apart by snubbing Best Comedy Modern Family and holding off on Game of Thrones, however fun the ride, until it comes up with a more meaningful raison d'etre than a bunch of rich dudes fighting over who gets to tell whom to kill whom this week, but because I find Community breathtakingly ambitious and sometimes just breathtaking, I consider it one of the six best works of comedy on television despite feeling nothing so much as disappointment. Welcome to the leviathan.
There will be caveats! My critical philosophy prevents me from judging pieces of an artwork in isolation from how they contribute to it. Which is a highfalutin way of saying even if I thought Michelle Forbes was doing something richer than the weepy grieving awards thing (a ploy used to let characters do the most emotionally wringing thing possible at every moment, because how dare you judge them, they're grieving!), I still don't see how it's awards-worthy as the whole goal is helping the train of child molesters she's riding crash into the children's cancer ward at the end. Metaphor! Also, I still haven't watched Delocated, which I'm looking forward to, or Men of a Certain Age, which y'all are totally guilting me into watching someday. Someday. That said, I have watched significantly more shows in their entirety this year than ever before, so I demand fealty and dragon eggs. Now let's get on with it.
Outstanding Comedy Series
1. 30 Rock (Season 5)
2. Community (Season 2)
3. Cougar Town (Season 2)
4. Glee (Season 2)
5. Louie (Season 1)
6. Parks & Recreation (Season 3)
7. United States of Tara (Season 2)
I guess I can set myself apart. Glee's lows are Dadaist tests of endurance that I might not be able to pass without a special affinity for witty teen soaps and a head-over-heels passion for the show's faith in its kids' essential goodheartedness, but it doesn't get the critical credit it deserves for getting as much right as it does. While it's nice of Tara to confront its dangers, Bryce has taken the show hostage by promising answers that can't come and chasing everyone to the darker, not richer, precipice of misery porn. That said, the season unifies the excellent cast and offers enough goosebumps—Bryce in the maze, Max on tape, Marshall and Kate in bed—to easily earn a place here. And Cougar Town remains a consistently honest show about embracing your weirdness (also known as coming of age), best exemplified in a late-season plot about creepy neighborhood children that had Loren Bouchard rage-laugh at the television in his dungeon-bedroom before whispering to himself, "Game on." The others require no ink as the NBC shows keep the network relevant and Louie brings Bunuel to the auteurist sitcom.
Of course, I left off Modern Family, Nurse Jackie, and The Office, which deserve letter grades of M, N, and O but will nevertheless cut in line in front of Community and Cougar Town, if not Louie and Parks. But someone has to get the Curb nomination....
Outstanding Lead Actor
1. Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock (Season 5)
2. Louis CK – Louie (Season 1)
3. Steve Carell – The Office (Season 7)
4. Neil Flynn – The Middle (Season 2)
5. Joel McHale – Community (Season 2)
6. Jason Schwartzman – Bored to Death (Season 2)
This is what I'm talking about. Carell handled a terribly written character reasonably well, but what I hardly think of as awards-worthy still makes the top six, and thus it looks like I'm as over the moon as everyone else about his Overdue Emmy (TM). Suffice it to say, I'd rather see any of the other five take the gold, particularly Louis CK's channeling of not just his own persona but the frustrations of so many. Flynn and McHale are borrowing Rob Lowe's kool-aid if they think they're leads, but they're nevertheless two of the most consistent comedy actors, Flynn finding the texture in what could be a boring regular Joe and McHale spinning an arc that appears to be briefly confronting the idea of his father and embracing cartoonish vanity into the glue of the show. I'm less passionate about Schwartzman, but he's an expert at hitting that sad-funny spot, always just this side of a pathetic we can't root for. 30 Rock, though, is the perfect comaprison to The Office; where one grew complacent after giving its characters everything they want—in the middle of a recession so bad they made another Wall Street—the other confronted the new burdens of success, and Baldwin stopped phoning it in just in time to dive into old parenthood, a new corporate hierarchy, and the show's sharpest, um, intersection of politics and media since Jack Donaghy sodomized Dick Cheney.
But get your cringe-face ready, because Jim Parsons is still in the running, and apparently people think he's funny and not the most irritating thing on television up to and including Charlie Sheen. At least Matthew Morrison doesn't have the Glee train this year. Right?
Outstanding Lead Actress
1. Toni Collette – United States of Tara (Season 2)
2. Courteney Cox – Cougar Town (Season 2)
3. Tina Fey – 30 Rock (Season 5)
4. Lea Michele – Glee (Season 2)
5. Martha Plimpton – Raising Hope (Season 1)
6. Amy Poehler – Parks & Recreation (Season 3)
These are my usuals—the witty and competent office bosses played by Fey and Poehler, the sensitive, versatile work of Collette, and the manic charms of Cox—joined this year by a constantly self-effacing Lea Michele and reason-to-watch Martha Plimpton. Best of all, four were nominated last year, and there's a Julia Louis-Dreyfus-shaped hole in the race. I'm trying to scrounge up one measly misgiving about just one of these actors, but all I got is Collette's new haircut is like one big ad for Kate Gosselin.
Conspicuously missing from the candidates is Erinn Hayes for Childrens Hospital, a lock for my slate who didn't submit, presumably because she has no shot. The only two other names I wrote down were Patricia Heaton and Mary-Louise Parker, and even they'd be better choices than Edie Falco's Nurse Jackie, whose estimable talents do not transcend the sinking corpse she's on but enable it, no, they're inextricable from it, breathe parasitic life into this wannabe Larson, wannabe Kushner, wannabe serious short story conspicuously left on the desk in the hopes of getting somebody's attention. I'd rather give it to Laura Linney, whose narcissistic aggression is at least funny sometimes, if you can get past the pointless, monotonous hell that Showtime calls art.
Outstanding Supporting Actor
1. Aziz Ansari – Parks & Recreation (Season 3)
2. Chris Colfer – Glee (Season 2)
3. John Corbett – United States of Tara (Season2 )
4. Ted Danson – Bored to Death (Season 2)
5. Nick Offerman – Parks & Recreation (Season 3)
6. Chris Pratt – Parks & Recreation (Season 3)
I'd feel guilty about giving half the spots to a single show if I were a goddamn communist. But Offerman and Pratt are firmly in the top tier, and as the new blood lost some of its, um, redness (?), Parks finally made the most of Ansari and Rashida Jones, funny hangers-on who started lifting stories on their own. Colfer is such a consummate performer that his show just gave up on everyone else and focused on his travails for a while, but it's hard to blame them when he's so magnetic he even steals the ensemble numbers; if you're not watching him during the group shots of "I Love New York/New York, New York," you're not watching correctly. Corbett's become the center of a spiraling show, and he earns it every time someone tests his resolve and you see deeper into Max than ever before. Danson had a very Emmy story but let subtlety do the talking.
Everyone's going crazy for the Internet's favorite person Donald Glover and Danny "I pooped my pants" Pudi, but for all the missed marks of the Evil Pierce storyline, Chevy Chase navigated the nastiness like a pro, whether joking about raping people or joking about driving people to suicide, and if it weren't such a crowded category I would have like to have found room for him and Glover. Too bad Modern Family has six male cast members. Step aside, better actors! Okay, that was unfair. Jon Cryer and Neil Patrick Harris also participated in and will be rewarded for mediocrity.
Outstanding Supporting Actress
1. Carrie Brownstein – Portlandia (Season 1)
2. Gillian Jacobs – Community (Season 2)
3. Rashida Jones – Parks & Recreation (Season 3)
4. Jane Krakowski – 30 Rock (Season 5)
5. Busy Philipps – Cougar Town (Season 2)
6. Naya Rivera – Glee (Season 2)
Now I'm watching Glee clips, so let's go backward: Naya Rivera fleshes out the Shakespeare of bitchiness persona with depths that suggest more than explain, turning one of the show's most dependable laugh machines into one of its most dependable characters. Busy Philipps and Jane Krakowski are long-time favorites who aren't coasting, not with Philipps' fall breakup and Krakowski's return to being Liz's best friend. As I said before, Rashida Jones grew from a funny person in the cast to an essential part of the show's fabric. The other person Community lost track of this year was Gillian Jacobs, but you wouldn't know it from her breezy confidence, as vital as she is ridiculous. Brownstein skewered an array of hipster-progressive-folk culture that comprise the Big Tent, always with love or at least a really vicious joke.
I haven't seen enough SNL to judge Kristen Wiig's foregone nomination, but that's not going to stop me from blaming her for Gillian Jacobs' exclusion, and the less we say about American Dream satire Two and a Half Men and its much funnier, much less offensive, equally aimless cousin Modern Family the better, no matter how funny Sofia Vergara's accent is.
Outstanding Guest Actor
1. Kevin Corrigan – Community (“Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design,” "Competitive Wine Tasting")
2. Matt Damon – 30 Rock ("The Fabian Strategy," "Live Show," “Double-Edged Sword”)
3. Paul Giamatti – 30 Rock (“When it Rains it Pours”)
4. Ken Howard – 30 Rock (“Que Sorpresa,” “Plan B,” "100")
5. Jim Rash – Community (Season 2)
6. Ben Schwartz – Parks & Recreation ("Fancy Party," "The Fight," “Li’l Sebastian”)
Three recurring characters and three genuine guest stars (none of whom were heavily involved in more than one episode) makes a mixed bag even mixeder (pronounce it like Shakespeare). On the one hand there's the sweetly sinister KableTown CEO, the constantly buzzing Dean Pelton, and the buffoonish wannabe Jean-Ralphio, and on the other Professor Professorson putting on his greatest show yet, Carol Burnett cameoing here and there before reaching the point of no return on a parked airplane, and Ritchie the editor slash civil war reenactor who takes a shine to Liz Lemon. Jim Rash may be an actual deity and Jean-Ralphio's appearances are calibrated for maximum impact, but Giamatti's never been so challenged, and I include that time he convinced everyone that Sideways wasn't worse than Osama bin Laden, as he was when 30 Rock asked him to play someone other than an irascible schlub with no dignity.
Sadly I left off John Slattery as a loony politician, John Cho as a Canadian Walter White, and Buck Henry as Dick "Gentleman's Intermission" Lemon, but 30 Rock is crawling with guest stars. The harder cuts were Patton Oswalt's measured work on United States of Tara this year and Stephen Tobolowsky's brief, limited, and pitch-perfect turn on Community.
Outstanding Guest Actress
1. Pamela Adlon – Louie (“So Old / Playdate”)
2. Margaret Cho – 30 Rock (“Everything Sunny All the Time Always”)
3. Mo Collins – Parks & Recreation (“Media Blitz,” “Harvest Festival”)
4. Cristin Milioti – 30 Rock (“TGS Hates Women”)
5. Parker Posey – Parks & Recreation (“Eagleton”)
6. Sherri Shepherd – 30 Rock (“Mrs. Donaghy,” “Queen of Jordan”)
Of the 30 Rock stars, Margaret Cho's take on Kim Jong-il was pure cartoon, but I laugh just thinking of the phrase "everything sunny, all the time, always, good time, pizza party," not to mention the episode's Glengarry Glen Ross meets Rush Hour coda. Cristin Milioti had some genuine depth beneath the sitcom, and the moment she starts to crack is a lesson in underestimation all its own. Sherri Shepherd, meanwhile, has been 30 Rock's secret weapon ever since she showed up to inspect for heat in Tracy's hotel room, and "Queen of Jordan" gives her the showcase she deserves. All that said, I'm not sure if any of them deserve it over Pamela Adlon's jaded mom or Parker Posey's condescending old friend; not even the trash-fight tickles me like Posey hugging Leslie and asking the audience, "Isn't she trying her hardest?" Finally, the ever welcome Mo Collins, who actually got to support the Parks Department for once.
Not on my list are Julia Louis-Dreyfus' exceptional, ephemeral channeling of Liz Lemon and Chloe Moretz's little shark from 30 Rock, and Ashley Fink's Lauren Zizes and Dot-Marie Jones' Coach Beiste from Glee. But who knows what guest actresses on The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family Emmy will actually choose.
1. Louis CK – Louie, "Bully"
2. Nicole Holofcener – Parks and Recreation, "Eagleton"
3. Eric Stoltz – Glee, "Duets"
4. David Wain – Childrens Hospital, "Hot Enough for You?"
5. Ken Whittingham – 30 Rock, "Queen of Jordan"
I agonized over this tough category for at least three minutes, so go easy on me, but I had three essentials: David Wain and Ken Whittingham gave us expert parodies that use the camera and montage as part of the joke, and Louie is such an auteurist vision that Louis CK's only submission would make the cut even if it weren't the best episode. At last I had to narrow down Eric Stoltz's spatial integrity on cut-happy Glee, Joe Russo's Leone homage (not parody!) on Community, and one of several directors for Parks and Recreation. Ultimately I see more purpose behind Stoltz's submission—with its small-time frustrations and intelligible musical sequences—and Nicole Holofcener's episode of Parks—with its distinctly optimistic take on classism in government—than Russo's spaghetti western, which walks right up to the edge of validating everything about Evil Pierce but steps back at the last minute for a good joke instead.
Russo, of course, would make a fine alternate, as would Beth McCarthy-Miller with some good, old-fashioned live-show direction that turned a half hour of SNL into the 30 Rock we all know and love, complete with cutaways, flashbacks, and the theme song.
1. Kevin Biegel – Cougar Town, "Let Yourself Go"
2. Andy Bobrow – Community, "Mixology Certification"
3. Louis CK – Louie, "Poker/Divorce"
4. Katie Dippold – Parks and Recreation, "Fancy Party"
5. Matt Hubbard – 30 Rock, "Reaganing"
With only five slots I couldn't bring myself to nominate more than one Parks & Recreation, for example, but thankfully Community only submitted two episodes and Louie just one, so I just had to narrow down the others. For Cougar Town, I went with Travis-goes-to-college over Travis-goes-to-Hawaii; like "Mixology Certification," it's funny until it can no longer hide its frustrations. What "Fancy Party" lacks in political satire it makes up for in distilled optimism, and the Animal Control guys always get me ("What's the deal with that hot chick, April?"). And a toss-up for 30 Rock eventually landed on "Reaganing," which focuses on Liz, Jack, and course correction, uses Tracy appropriately for one-liners, and even finds room for Jenna, Kenneth, and Kelsey Grammer. Plus: "You two are pretty uptight for hanging out under a bridge."
Three of my top five weren't even submitted, one due to category minutiae, so I'll let you ponder that while I catch up on Boardwalk Empire so I can post my dream drama Emmy ballot and then, the moment two of us have been waiting for, my personal television awards for the season, free from silly Emmy constraints. Until then, feel free to discuss your favorite Emmy candidates for comedy, why I'm so awesome, and, if you dare, a simple question: who's the boss?