Thursday, July 14, 2011
In a few hours are the nominations for the Sedgwick Cryer Awards Charade, but for now we can still pretend like Terriers is an Emmy candidate with our dream ballots. There are two points to keep in mind: 1) I have as much interest in assessing probability as I do in watching Hot in Cleveland, which it turns out is a likely contender. These are just the nominees I would pick from the submissions were I hundreds of balding west coast liberals brainwashing your children. 2) A show cannot be chopped into pieces to be judged individually and arbitrarily. How good Denis Leary was in his arc can only be evaluated by how well his performance contributes to the whole of the show, which I think we can all agree is too drunk to realize we stopped listening hours ago.
It's true that I've seen more shows in their entirety this year than ever before, but I still haven't gotten around to some of your favorite contenders, notably Big Love, Fringe, Parenthood, and Men of a Certain Age, so you can keep those to yourselves. Some of us were too busy organizing a For Your Consideration campaign for the direwolves.
1. Friday Night Lights (Season 5)
2. The Good Wife (Season 2)
3. Mad Men (Season 4)
4. Rubicon (Season 1)
5. Terriers (Season 1)
6. Treme (Season 2)
It's cute when people say something other than Mad Men is the best show on television, but this multivalent spider is so far ahead of the pack it's becoming increasingly clear how superficial the early embrace was. It'll crop up plenty throughout, but suffice it to say the American dream drama's dive into postmodernism has been not just self-reflexive but pointedly so, and all the more exhilarating for it. Behind it are about eight very good shows, the best directed of which is Rubicon, not just a story about storytelling but a smart take on a Godzilla superpower with the weariness it demands, and the best written of which is Terriers, a shaggy, bittersweet noir with an unflagging faith in fraternity. The Good Wife marries the fun parts of soap with a complicated (if not too complicated) take on the US justice system, and Treme and Friday Night Lights ride the literary inertia of their shows, neither radically narrowing nor expanding but maintaining sharp worldviews nonetheless.
Like I said, there were a few others in that pack behind Mad Men, and despite its foundational lack of integrity (it would be tension if it weren't obvious the show just loves gun violence), Justified is a worthy alternative with its southeastern noir. HBO also offers two backups, the freewheeling retread of HBO past Boardwalk Empire and the uneven, conflicted In Treatment. Game of Thrones may someday become the masterpiece its fans suggest, especially when it's not devoting so much time to setting the stage but performing on it, but the exciting medieval fantasy pulp is heavily outweighed by the self-serious soap opera and the shallowness of its pursuits, by which I don't mean boobs but themes, or what would be themes if it cared to explore them.
Outstanding Lead Actor
1. Steve Buscemi – Boardwalk Empire (Season 1)
2. Gabriel Byrne – In Treatment (Season 3)
3. Kyle Chandler – Friday Night Lights (Season 5)
4. Jon Hamm – Mad Men (Season 4)
5. Donal Logue – Terriers (Season 1)
6. Timothy Olyphant – Justified (Season 2)
Nothing remotely surprising here. Byrne's probably most in need of defense, but he took the show's muddiness to its logical conclusion this year. Similarly, Olyphant and Chandler have never been better, though it will forever grate that the final subplot for the Taylors was not Tami achieving success but Eric allowing her to achieve success, a bizarrely framed paternalism true to life, especially for the South, but less true to that family. I prefer Michael Raymond-James to Donal Logue, but I'd have found room for both even if Raymond-James submitted here. Thanks in part to the universes around them, my favorites are Hamm and Buscemi, which is good because it'll help with the rage-headaches when Buscemi beats Hamm at the Emmys. Then again, "The Suitcase" is so self-evidently transcendent it may yet lift all boats.
Sean Bean is one of those supporting characters who looks like a lead, and he won me over in spite of the show not allowing him much range. So when he gets nominated, don't look to me for an angry quote. William H. Macy, on the other hand, is the worst part of a pretty good show; what's bizarre is this is entirely by design, and Macy certainly gives it his all. But I'd prefer James Badge Dale from Rubicon or Holt McCallany from Lights Out or even Jason Clarke from The Chicago Code, though only James Badge Dale came close to making my favorites.
Outstanding Lead Actress
1. Connie Britton – Friday Night Lights (Season 5)
2. January Jones – Mad Men (Season 4)
3. Melissa Leo – Treme (Season 2)
4. Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife (Season 2)
5. Elisabeth Moss – Mad Men (Season 4)
6. Emmy Rossum – Shameless (Season 1)
It's tough to come up with six here when you don't watch Big Love. January Jones was my last pick, only partially because she's so supporting as to be Mad Men's wacky neighbor. But that didn't stop me from rubber-stamping other strong performances in whichever category they chose, and Jones hasn't been this good at revealing the cracks in her Stepford fantasy since her big showcase season; talking to the child psychologist and hearing about Don's engagement are two of Betty's best scenes. But she and everyone else can step aside for Elisabeth Moss, not just the best of the category but the best lead performance of the year. Britton's had better seasons, but her work is so immaculate they could throw a Dangerous Minds arc at her and it'd be worthy; and whaddyaknow, they did! Emmy Rossum is probably the shocker, but as the center of her show in both plot and theme, she's better on Shameless than Margulies on The Good Wife. I think the writers think Alicia Florrick is on this really subtle arc with respect to embracing the moral gray of her law firm and politics, but really it's just a line of dialogue here and there delivered in the same quirky rasp. Like most of the elements of style, Margulies is fine enough to make a top six list and no finer. And Melissa Leo, despite being slightly less supporting than January Jones, has overcome my tremendous aversion to her desperate floozy performance on last year's Oscar trail with a powerful performance that is as close to the center of Treme as a non-artist can be.
I nearly included Jennifer Beals for The Chicago Code, and her exclusion has more to do with how phenomenal January Jones' final scene is than any faults in her own performance. Other than them, I suppose Katey Sagal is in contention for that Lifetime arc, and there's a contingent that thinks the stink won't stick to Mireille Enos. I'd rather give it to Lena Headey, who along with the editors delivered the ninth best female performance on Game of Thrones this season. But remember, somewhere out there lurks Kyra Sedgwick just dying to dash your dreams.
Outstanding Supporting Actor
1. Dane DeHaan – In Treatment (Season 3)
2. Arliss Howard – Rubicon (Season 1)
3. Vincent Kartheiser – Mad Men (Season 4)
4. Wendell Pierce – Treme (Season 2)
5. Michael Pitt – Boardwalk Empire (Season 1)
6. Michael Raymond-James – Terriers (Season 1)
Yet again this is the most difficult category to narrow down, full of the all-male supporting casts of every cable drama from Boardwalk Empire to Treme. I didn't consciously pick one from each show, but it's a nice compromise. Kartheiser and Pierce had their best seasons yet, Howard and Raymond-James are the highlights of their shows, and Pitt's practically a lead and an unassailable one at that. Irrfan Kahn had fun with an empty part, but DeHaan was the low-key, nuanced heir to Sophie and April, bringing out the best in our hero and his show.
But like I said, you could fill it out with any of fifteen other performances and I wouldn't complain: Boardwalk Empire (Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Shannon, Stephen Graham), Game of Thrones (Peter Dinklage, Jason Momoa), Mad Men (Jared Harris, John Slattery), Treme (Clarke Peters, Steve Zahn). Nick Searcy is my favorite part of Justified, and not for nothing its ideological hero, and Jeremy Allen White is my favorite part of Shameless, the most restrained of the child performances. The men of The Good Wife, much as I like them, just don't pass the distinguished test. I liked Alan Cumming's work a lot until I realized his cutthroat was not as advertised, and Chris Noth plays thematic villain and dramatic heavy brilliantly when he's not earnestly imitating Darrell Hammond's Bill Clinton. Josh Charles, meanwhile, is like everything else, perfectly fine, and Matt Czuchry is rightly left out of this discussion.
Outstanding Supporting Actress
1. Khandi Alexander – Treme (Season 2)
2. Kim Dickens – Treme (Season 2)
3. Christina Hendricks – Mad Men (Season 4)
4. Kelly Macdonald – Boardwalk Empire (Season 1)
5. Margo Martindale – Justified (Season 2)
6. Debra Winger – In Treatment (Season 3)
Alexander, Dickens, and Hendricks are returning favorites who excelled in their stories this year, and Macdonald, Martindale, and Winger are each distinguished by subtle authenticity developed over the course of their debut seasons.
This one was pretty easy once I cut two terrific ladies of FX, Natalie Zea, who gave us the best episode of Justified this season (the one with the marked bills gave us thrilling plot, moral consequence, and arc momentum without descending into gunplay), and Jamie Denbo, the most reliable actress on Terriers with just too little business to make the cut. Otherwise there's the narrowly defined Archie Panjabi and Christine Baranski, who must be so comfortable on a show that won't push them, and Amy Ryan showing January Jones how sparkly ice queen is done. I would also accept the other ladies of Terriers or Mad Men, but not under any circumstance Paz de la Huerta. And by the way, Stacey Oristano as Mindy Collette Riggins was the MVP of the season; too bad she didn't submit.
Outstanding Guest Actor
1. Raymond J. Barry – Justified (Season 2)
2. Michael Cristofer – Rubicon (Season 1)
3. Jay R. Ferguson – Mad Men (Season 4)
4. Michael J. Fox – The Good Wife ("Poisoned Pill," "Real Deal," "Wrongful Termination")
5. Robert Morse – Mad Men (Season 4)
6. Mark Moses – Mad Men ("Waldorf Stories," "The Suitcase")
My Justified pick goes not to the caffeinated Jeremy Davies, who studied under Walton Goggins at the School of Letting You Know How Hard I'm Working, but to Raymond J. Barry's touching work as Arlo. From Mad Men we get Stan Rizzo, Bert Cooper, and one of the two actual guest stars, Duck Phillips. The other is Michael J. Fox, whose three episodes tell an interesting story of justice in themselves. And Michael Cristofer's work, like Davies and Goggins before him, is just so weird that I can't help but be fascinated; the difference is while Justified works hard to melt into its regional authenticity, Rubicon is actively self-aware, skeptical and twitchy about everything including its own authors, and nobody embodies that better than Cristofer.
I didn't really have any alternates except Denis O'Hare as heart-on-his-sleeve Judge Abernathy on The Good Wife, but come on. And Christopher Stanley's never been better as the current Mr. Betty Francis, but he has so little bearing on the show it's no contest.
Outstanding Guest Actress
1. Elizabeth Ashley – Treme (Season 2)
2. Cara Buono – Mad Men (Season 4)
3. Linda Gehringer – Justified (Season 2)
4. Randee Heller – Mad Men (Season 4)
5. Jessica Pare – Mad Men (Season 4)
6. Anika Noni Rose – The Good Wife (Season 2)
More Mad Men: Dr. Faye is obviously the standout, though Miss Blankenship was truly delicious and powered some of the show's most vulgar digressions. Megan The Secretary made the cut only because I couldn't find 1) anyone else and 2) anything significantly bothersome about her work. But she's no Aunt Helen, who it turns out is, er, was the heart and soul of Justified. Anika Noni Rose registered powerfully on first viewing as the surprisingly cunning Wendy Scott-Carr, but scrutiny reveals a great plot played well, neither ordinary nor extraordinary. Which is the one thing that can't be said about Aunt Mimi, who good or bad always leaves a mark, a crazy old broad with no time for her show's pretensions.
Other notable possibilities include Sarah Silverman on The Good Wife, Adrianne Palicki on Friday Night Lights, and Gretchen Mol on Boardwalk Empire. I was never as impressed with Kaitlyn Dever as others, but she's integral to the season's outcome and acquitted herself well enough.
1. Jennifer Getzinger – Mad Men, "The Suitcase"
2. Ted Griffin – Terriers, "Hail Mary"
3. Michael Slovis – Rubicon, "Wayward Sons"
4. Michael Uppendahl – Mad Men, "The Beautiful Girls"
5. Michael Waxman – Friday Night Lights, "Always"
If I were honest I would fill this with Mad Men episodes, six of which are the strongest hours of anything this side of Mildred Pierce. (For funzies: "The Rejected," "Waldorf Stories," "The Suitcase," "The Summer Man," "The Beautiful Girls," "Tomorrowland.") But I guess I do have a soft side, especially for the greatest edit in Friday Night Lights history, the epitome of what's important on the show. And then there are two brilliant climaxes, one too late and one cut short.
With five slots and several more successful series, I'd be disappointed but not too disappointed by "Baelor" or "A Golden Crown," two of the best episodes of Game of Thrones. And there's always "Bloody Harlan" and "Cleaning House" and the entirety of Boardwalk Empire, decent alternatives all.
1. Ted Griffin & Nicholas Griffin – Terriers, "Hail Mary"
2. Brett Johnson and Matthew Weiner – Mad Men, "Waldorf Stories"
3. Richard E. Robbins – Rubicon, "Wayward Sons"
4. Shawn Ryan & Kelly Wheeler – Terriers, "Pimp Daddy"
5. Matthew Weiner – Mad Men, "The Suitcase"
Again, I should go all Mad Men, but this isn't that far from that, with only three shows nominated. But Terriers in general and those episodes in specific are notable for tight structure and witty scripts, always in service of a powerful humanism, and "Wayward Sons" is the rare case of an unhappy ending deployed as neither cheap nihilism nor immature cynicism but genuine, conscience-heavy honesty.
Apologies to "Always," a hopeful finale for Friday Night Lights, and "Carnival Time," a symphonic weaving of parades and reunions in a moment of profound peace. The Good Wife has two entries that'll get your dander up, the insanely unfair military trial "Double Jeopardy" and the mawkish death penalty dramatization "Nine Hours," but both liberal causes are cast in gripping plots, and these cases of life and death deserve nothing less than righteous fury.
It should go without saying that I'm also rooting for Mildred Pierce in the miniseries races, except where it comes into conflict with Olivier Assayas' ingenious look at the institutionalization of global politics (among so many other things) Carlos. In a perfect world, Edgar Ramirez and Kate Winslet would win the lead races. My comedy picks, meanwhile, are here. Only a few more hours to pretend Community and Terriers are actual Emmy candidates. I'm going to sleep.