Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Alterna-Emmys

Pretty good regular Emmys this year, with a solid slate of winning shows and performance, plus some long-overlooked actors (Elisabeth Moss, Ann Dowd, Donald Glover) finally getting some Emmy glory.  But still, no matter how good the actual show did, it wasn’t quite up to my sky-high standards!  Behold the alterna-Emmys! 

I realize that my list of the year’s best shows may have spoiled by Best Drama and Best Comedy picks, but whatever.  The Leftovers was just an astonishing season of television, one that will be talked about for years to come, or at least whenever anyone discusses series that were hidden gems.  New Girl just continues to click away on all cylinders year after year in a post-hype classic kind of way.  It may have been responsible for my single-biggest laugh of the entire year, with the revelation of Schmidt’s real name.  It was a joke six years in the making and yet it was both absolutely clever and a semi-twist that nobody saw coming. 

The performances!  You’ll noticed I’ve just gone and mushed the regular series and the limited series together in some lovely melange — it’s all a level playing field here at the alterna-Emmys.

Andre Braugher/Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Tituss Burgess/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Ty Burrell/Modern Family, Ted Danson/The Good Place, Ken Hall/People Of Earth, Lamorne Morris/New Girl
WINNER: Tituss Burgess

I should point out the nonsensical actual Emmy given to Alec Baldwin in this category, since a) it was based on a single impression and b) he’s not actually in the SNL cast.  I realize that Baldwin is more associated with Saturday Night Live than most full-time cast members in the show’s history, yet it’s still pretty weird that he has an Emmy for his SNL work and nobody else on the show save Kate McKinnon has won.  (Though the concept of SNL players being nominated in the supporting category is still a fairly new one for the Emmys, admittedly.)  That being said, if you can win Emmys for a single SNL character, then Tom Hanks as David S. Pumpkins was completely s. robbed! 

Anyway, whatever, Baldwin’s win was pretty absurd given the much better work done by literally everyone else nominated, not to mention my alterna-picks.  Tituss gets the nod in a close call since, as I said last year, he and Ellie Kemper do such incredibly great work in carrying this show that I feel he has the highest WAR of anyone in the category.  Like, as great as, say, Braugher or Danson are, there are probably a few other actors that could play those roles just as well.  Admittedly this is kind of an unfair standard given that the role of Titus was literally written for Tituss himself, but still, he’s one of a kind.

Donna Lynne Champlin/Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Ana Gasteyer/People Of Earth, Carol Kane/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kate McKinnon/Saturday Night Live, Alice Wetterlund/People Of Earth
WINNER: Donna Lynne Champlin

Aside from Darryl and White Josh, there is no relationship on CExG that I’m remotely as invested in as Rebecca and Paula.  It broke my heart to see them at odds even for a few episodes this past season, and between that sorta-feud and Paula’s separation from her husband, DLC had a lot of dramatic beats to work with on top of being hilarious.  As for the other nominees, shoutout to the Kimmy Schmidt writers for finally giving Kane an interesting story to work with!  The show wasn’t entirely an Ellie-and-Tituss two-hander this year! 

Anthony Anderson/Black-ish, Aziz Ansari/Master Of None, Hank Azaria/Brockmire
WINNER: Hank Azaria

Azure has an admittedly large advantage in the category since he has the benefit of “the Brockmire Voice,” which automatically makes anything he says hilarious.  He’s been using this voice dating back to his Simpsons days and the legendary “whitey whackers” scene that is notable in my personal circles for being my friend Sarah’s favourite Simpsons scene ever.  It literally reduces her to laughing tears no matter how many times she sees it.  Black day for baseball!

Rachel Bloom/Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Zooey Deschanel/New Girl, Ellie Kemper/Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Veep, Amanda Peet/Brockmire, Tracee Ellis Ross/Black-ish
WINNER: Rachel Bloom

Another loaded category, though not one loaded enough that I feel obligated to omit JLD even though I don’t watch Veep anymore.  That’s right — she’s THAT good that I can still nominate her since I just assume she’s still great.  Legend.  Anyway, Bloom repeats as champion in sort of another Tituss Burgess situation where this is a role specifically tailored for her (by herself!) so it’s a bit unfair, but damn, it’s just too great to overlook.  The fact that CEG also seems to be slowly morphing into a drama gives Bloom even more to work with.  I mean, can Amanda Peet compete with someone who sang a song called “Period Sex”?  I rest my case.

Jonathan Banks/Better Call Saul, Liam Cunningham/Game Of Thrones, Frank Langella/The Americans, Michael McKean/Better Call Saul, Michael Stuhlbarg/Fargo
WINNER: Michael McKean

Better Call Saul saw its share of Emmy recognition in high-profile categories, with the inexplicable exception of McKean not even being nominated.  Do voters still resent him for Laverne & Shirley or what?  It blows my mind that a performance as nuanced as this (a sympathetic character you can’t help but hate or a villain who you can’t help but relate to) didn’t even make the cut.

Danielle Brooks/Orange Is The New Black, Julia Garner/Ozark, Mallory Jansen/Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Selenis Leyva/Orange Is The New Black, Thandie Newton/Westworld, Mary Elizabeth Winstead/Fargo, Alfre Woodard/Luke Cage
WINNER: Danielle Brooks

Last year’s alterna-Emmys featured a whopping 15 nominees in this category, so this year’s slate of seven is modest by comparison but still, wow, what a field.  You have Newton and MEW in the “doing their best to carry an annoyingly flawed show” category, Jansen wowing while (essentially) playing four or five different roles as the season’s AoS big bad, and Woodard creating an interesting twist on the “big bad” trope by having the first season be essentially her origin story as Luke Cage’s biggest nemesis.  Julia Garner has one foot in the ‘carry a flawed show’ camp as well, though I was somewhat let down that she didn’t steal the entire series, as I fully expected after Ozark’s mind-boggling second episode.

Picking between all of the OITNB cast is such a tough call, and I went with Leyva and Brooks since their storylines underscored the more dramatic aspects of the season’s prison riot storyline.  Leyva’s character was in such an impossible position where we’re rooting against her for more or less selling out her fellow prisoners but for a justifiable reason.  Brooks is ultimately my winner since, in a season that weirdly undercut the prison riot with a bit too much comic relief (even if the show is a dramedy), you had Brooks turning that idea on its head by making laugh-a-minute Taystee into the voice of reason and change.  Taystee is the one that never stops trying to make the riot mean something, both for Poussey and the rest of the prisoners writ large.  I love that this show’s acting bench is so deep that when these established characters are given a new element, Brooks and Leyva are more than capable of hitting it out of the park.

Jason Bateman/Ozark, Bob Odenkirk/Better Call Saul, Matthew Rhys/The Americans, Justin Theroux/The Leftovers
WINNER: Bob Odenkirk

It’s interesting that three of the four nominees are mostly comic actors doing dramatic roles.  Bateman can’t help but be kind of Michael Bluth-ish which gives Ozark kind of a dark comedy vibe at times, yet he does a great job at creating an actual non-Bluth character as a man capable of being incredibly resourceful despite being, essentially, trapped in an unwinnable situation.  Theroux is, ironically, actually kind of terrible whenever I see him try to be funny, and his true calling is clearly drama.  I’ve spoken before of how absolutely crucial his performance is to Leftovers as a whole, since anything less than total believability causes the whole house of cards to collapse.  While it’s true that the show’s focus shifted onto Nora in the final season, that was more due to Carrie Coon having a pantheon year than it was any reflection on Theroux’s ability to carry the show, since he was more than capable.  No shame in “only” being the Lou Gehrig when you have Babe Ruth in the lineup.

But it’s Odenkirk who wins due to his increasingly fascinating slow transition from Jimmy into Saul.  I should say Saul 2.0, since as much as Better Call Saul adheres (or has to adhere) to Breaking Bad’s chronology, it’s pretty clear that the Saul we’ll get by the end of this series will be developed well beyond the entertaining but somewhat one-dimensional huckster we see dealing with Walt and Jesse.  Looking at the arc of Jimmy McGill over both series, maybe all of Breaking Bad could just be his “dark night of the soul,” with his final redemption coming whenever we fully enter his black-and-white Cinnabon-managing post-BB life.

WINNER: Carrie Coon/The Leftovers

“Hey Mark, where are the other nominees?”  Well, frankly, why bother?  Apologies to Keri Russell, I guess, but Coon was so far beyond the stratosphere that every other performance really just paled in comparison.  Like I said, she’s Babe Ruth — she’s the one outhomering entire teams and changing the game.  You talk about pantheon episodes, how many actors have three all-timers within a seven-episode span?  “Don’t Be Ridiculous” or “The Book Of Nora” alone would’ve clinched her this award, but tossing “G’Day Melbourne” and that insane breakup scene with Kevin in the hotel room?  In the words of Jim Ross, someone stop the damn match!  I’m going to remember quite a few things from this crazy, fantastic show, but tops on that list will be my introduction to one of the best actresses in the world.  What a showcase.  And, not to brag, but…

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Music Video Dance Party!

Since I'm posting a lot of Radiohead and U2 stuff recently, I might as well cover their recent video releases in one fell swoop!

It's not nearly in the lower tier of U2 videos, and I like the subtle pro-immigration message.  But overall, I dunno, I'm just not too fired up by generic "walking around the city" type of music videos.  Given the New York setting, it's like the Saturday Night Live opening credits or something.  I feel like this is an opportunity for U2 to get some viral interest going with a really unique video, something can be appreciated by fans of cool imagery or filmmaking techniques.  There are only so many ways for a musician to get a breakthrough hit in 2017, especially when said musicians are a rock band in their mid-to-late 50's.  On the bright side, I think Larry Mullen smiled once!

For instance, this new Radiohead video (for an old song) is actually funny, which I don't think I've ever said about a Radiohead video before.  Repurposing Thom Yorke as a Buster Keaton-esque straight man observing nonsense is such an obvious idea that I can't believe it hasn't been done before.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Amateur Dream Analysis

DREAM: It’s the series finale of Game Of Thrones.  It’s a special three-hour episode — for all intents and purposes the movie event of the year as well as the TV event of the year.  The first two hours are amazing, all the spectacle and intrigue that you’d expect from the climax of this epic show. 

As the second hour wraps up, we see Theon Greyjoy entering a castle to confront his hated uncle Euron, who has his sister Yara captive.  The scene then shifts to…a modern luxury apartment building.  There we get Alfie Allen, Pilou Asbaek and Gemma Whelan (Theon, Euron and Yara) all in modern street clothes, still in the midst of a confrontation, but they’re all now just angrily sniping at each other passive-aggressively. 

Needless to say, it’s confusing.  The rest of the episode also takes place in modern times, with all of the characters now facing each other in family and business-related squabbles over a “Westeros Corporation.”  It’s basically like Dallas, except with all of the GoT cast in the lead roles.  The episode ends with the head of the company (CEO Cersei Lannister) agreeing to divvy up shares amongst everyone, leading to an uneasy truce that the financial officer for Jon Snow’s bid (Davos Seaworth, who is now a CPA?) predicts things will eventually break down again.

In the final scene of the show, it’s revealed that the entire dragons-and-war framing was actually a bedtime story told by Samwell Tarly to young Sam Jr. as a way of explaining the corporate machinations and why, ultimately, Sam (an employe of one of the companies) lost his job.  As a result of this, Gilly has left Sam for Jaime Lannister.  The last shot is Gilly hopping into Jamie’s convertible while Sam sadly watches from behind the curtain of his modest two-bedroom home.

: The phrase “break the internet” is thrown around quite a bit, but needless to say, this type of ending for Game Of Thrones would literally cause a riot on message boards.  The showrunners for Dexter, the Sopranos, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother and any other of the infamous ’ended poorly’ programs over the years would get together and share a toast over being off the hook as the Worst Ending In TV History.

I think we can assume that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss won’t choose to actually end the show this way.  (I’m not sure even the vast fortune they’ve amassed from the show’s success would protect them from the hordes of angry fans that would want to re-enact the Red Wedding in the event of such an ending.)  What my subconscious may have warning me of, however, is that however GoT does conclude, it’s going to be something of a letdown.  Most shows, no matter how good, don’t end on a perfect high note. 

Frankly, subconscious, I’m not really expecting a five-star finish from Game Of Thrones anyway given how the show has become increasingly shaky now that Benioff and Weiss have gone well beyond the books.  The entire seventh season seemed like ten episodes of story crammed into seven episodes, with way too many far-flung plot machinations.  I’m keeping my expectations firmly in check for how things

Ironically, part of my dream actually may have some basis in reality in regards to the actual finale.  No, not Jaime and Gilly hooking up…despite their shared background of incest, that might be a stretch.  It has long been speculated by GoT and A Song Of Ice And Fire fans that Samwell Tarly is essentially George R.R. Martin’s avatar within the series.  With Sam now becoming a maester and (this past season) learning of the importance of chronicling Westerosi history, the theory has been that the story told by ASOIAF and GoT will be “told” within the narrative by Sam himself.  Of course, this doesn’t make total sense given the number of events that Sam wasn’t there to witness, nor the lack of living survivors to many of these events that Sam couldn’t perhaps interview after the fact.  Then again, I guess Bran the three-eyed raven can help Sam will in the blanks.  Framing devices are cool!

The other “some basis in reality” aspect is another fan theory about the show being allegorical.  In this interpretation, the White Walkers actually succeed in conquering Westeros and killing everyone, in the ultimate overturning of fantasy tropes.  In this allegory, the White Walkers represent climate change, and Martin (and the show) are saying that humanity will be doomed unless it puts aside its petty leadership squabbles and unites against a common foe.  This, needless to say, would be a pretty stunning ending, and one I’m not sure the show would have the guts to pull off.  Maybe Sam, Gilly and little Sam escape on a boat to Braavos as the only survivors, and we still get the Narrator Sam ending of his telling the Braavosi about Westeros’ downfall?  I know GoT loves to shock audiences, but having EVERYONE die and the final scene as the Night’s King sitting on the Iron Throne would be something else even for this show.  Still, better that than the Night’s King recast as, like, “King Knight,” a mysterious bidder from up north planning a hostile takeover of CEO Cersei’s corporation.

Also, place your bets now — what are the chances that the Greyjoys all make it to the finale?  10-1?  20-1?  My pal Dave would hope this scenario happens, since Theon (of all people) is his favourite character.  Words fail me.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Bobby Heenan

One of the single funniest TV personalities of all time, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan was the perfect pro wrestling heel.  He was an unabashed jerk who was "officially" hated since he managed bad guys and talked down to the faces, but secretly beloved by fans because he was so outstandingly good in every aspect of performance.

Nobody was better at playing the arrogant heel and, as a crucial by-product, nobody was better at taking comeuppance for his heelish acts.  Heenan was a master at getting one-upped --- whether it was taking an actual beating in the ring, being dealt some humiliation like having water poured on him or being dressed in a weasel costume, or simply getting verbally owned by Gorilla Monsoon, nobody sold comic exasperation like Bobby Heenan.

His commentary job in the 1992 Royal Rumble is often held up as maybe the single best broadcasting work in wrestling history.  Heenan has to carry the story of his man, Ric Flair, being the #3 entry out of 30 wrestlers and lasting all the way to the end.  The Brain goes from being speechless with rage over Flair's unlucky entry number, to desperate over-confidence, to cheering every time Flair gets any sort of advantage in the match, to openly pleading with other wrestlers in the ring to help Flair out (and then hilariously ripping them for attacking Flair), to openly pleading with God himself to let Flair win, and then to final joy when Flair actually wins the match.  This was a full hour of commentary brilliance that added immeasurably to the already-great action in the ring ---- the 1992 Rumble is probably my favourite match ever. 

My favourite Heenan "performance," however, is slightly lesser-known.  It's the underrated storyline when Randy Savage, in need of a tag team partner for a big match against Ric Flair and Razor Ramon, offers the spot to (of all people) Mr. Perfect, Flair's manager/executive consultant.  Over the course of an entire episode of PrimeTime Wrestling, you see the wheels turn as this seemingly ridiculous proposal from the Macho Man starts to be taken seriously by Perfect, much to Heenan's chagrin.  Everyone, it should be noted, plays their parts really well in these segments --- Vince McMahon, Jim Duggan and Hillbilly Jim stirring the pot, Flair being so egomaniacal that he can't see what's happening until it's too late, Razor being the cocky newcomer with no respect for Perfect's past accomplishments, Savage simply laying out the scenario and Perfect himself as the proud athlete who doesn't feel he's washed up.  But I'd say it's the Brain that really drives things, as he's the one who is unwittingly undermining and insulting Perfect while trying to praise him and laugh off Savage's offer.  It's the perfect example of Bobby "the Brain" outsmarting himself while trying to be the smartest guy in the room.  He just says one word too many, and that's what dooms he, Flair and Razor to somehow losing a chief ally over the course of 30 minutes.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Total Mediocrity!

Happy Emmys night, everyone!  Nichols & May were the best.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Best TV Of The Last Year

This was an interesting year of TV that actually saw my number of shows *drop* from 45 last year to just 42 this year.  Frankly, I think I’m just getting less patient with shows.  In the past I would’ve some programs more episodes or even a full season, whereas now I’m just more apt to cut and run.  I gave Dirk Gently, for instance, four episodes to stop annoying the crap out of me and it never turned, so the hell with it.

There is obviously also a ton of television I haven’t watched, so if you feel there’s a great show that’s missing from this list, it’s 50-50 that I didn’t see it.  (That’s a much nicer way of putting it than saying “why would I watch such obvious garbage?”)

In all cases, I’m citing the most recently-aired season of an ongoing series, which aired between now and mid-September 2016.

42. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
41. Son Of Zorn
40. Legion
39. Family Guy

38. Wet Hot American Summer Reunion
37. Big Little Lies
36. Great News
35. The Defenders
34. Sherlock
33. Modern Family

32. Portlandia
31. Easy
30. Survivor: Game Changers
29. Fargo
28. The Simpsons
27. Westworld
26. The Apprentice UK (s12)

25. Baroness Von Sketch Show
24. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
23. Pitch
22. Ozark
21. Saturday Night Live
20. Amazing Race Canada (s5)
19. Amazing Race Canada (s4)
18. Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen-X
17. Luke Cage
16. The Good Place
15. The Americans
14. Amazing Race USA (s29)
13. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

12. Agents of SHIELD
11. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
10. People Of Earth
9. Brockmire
8. Black Mirror (note: it feels sort of weird listing this as a 'show' but whatever)
7. Game Of Thrones
6. Orange Is The New Black

5. Master Of None
4. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
3. New Girl
2. Better Call Saul
1. The Leftovers

Thursday, September 07, 2017

NFL Predictions

On a scale of one to Golden State Warriors, the Patriots are pretty predictable Super Bowl champions this year.  Something weird could happen, true, and injuries can always set a team back (Julian Edelman is already gone for the year), but if I had to pick one team to win it all, it'd be New England again.

And hey, I do have to pick a team to win it all!  That's the whole point of this post!

East: Patriots, Dolphins, Bills, Jets
North: Steelers, Bengals, Ravens, Browns
South: Texans, Titans, Jaguars, Colts
West: Chiefs, Broncos, Chargers, Raiders
wild cards: Broncos, Titans

East: Cowboys, Giants, Washington, Eagles
North: Packers, Vikings, Lions, Bears
South: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers
West: Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers
wild cards: Giants, Panthers

AFC title game: Patriots over Steelers
NFC title game: Seahawks over Packers

Super Bowl 52: Patriots over Seahawks

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

You're The Best Thing About Me

Back when it looked like "Songs Of Experience" was going to be released in late 2016, Kygo played his remix version of this song during a concert.  So U2 fans have been aware of YTBTAM for over a year now and been awaiting the proper version by the actual band.

The verdict?  It's a great melody, great chorus, great bridge, great rhythm section, Bono sounds good, and the guitar is only half-there.  I would've preferred if the funk guitar/beach rock sound from the first 30 or so seconds had been used throughout the entire track, rather than the Edge kind of just disappearing into effects world.

Also, could the title have simply not been 'The Best Thing'?  What's with U2's tendency to add extra words and clunkier phrasing?

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Count Down

When last we checked in on the Count's Twitter acCount, he had resumed tweeting after an unexplained absence that lasted from May 22-July 6.  It seemed like all was well, and yet we are now nearly a month into yet another hiatus. 

The Count's most recent tweet came on August 11, when his counting reached 1399.  There has been no follow-up.  Since he was about to hit a round number, I was wondering if the Count was merely pausing to create suspense, but no....research of past tweets indicates that in past instances of reaching a round number (the transition from the 1200s to 1300, for instance), he just kept on with the count with nary a pause.

The world stands terrified as we're once again left wondering why the Count has forsaken his count.  I need not remind you that this kindly vampire loves counting more than anything in the world, so something truly shocking must have happened for the Count to cease operations.  And now with TWO shutdowns within the span of three months?  The mystery deepens.

Of note: while the large majority of the Count's tweets carry just the latest number in this countdown, some also contain laughter.  As in, the Count's signature "Ah ah ah!" laugh.  Why did the Count find these particular numbers so amusing?!  Recent tweets that contained laughter corresponded to the numbers 1292, 1307, 1316, 1317, 1318, 1322, 1373, 1377, 1379, 1391 --- can any amateur John Nashes out there find a pattern?

This mystery is driving me...

( •_•)>⌐■-■



Monday, September 04, 2017

How We Remember Bad Movies

Courtesy of my friend Ian.....

"It's amazing that Austin Powers was a major, multi-million dollar film franchise that was released within the last 20 years, but the only enduring reference from those movies is when you're trying to maneuver your car out of a tight spot. If you say 'Shagadelic, baby!', people will laugh at you for being dated as hell, but if you're trying to parallel park and you say, 'Oh, I'm going to have to try an Austin Powers move here,' people instantly know what you're talking about and laugh at the reference."

It’s very true, and a prime example about how you never know what bits of pop culture will stick in people’s memory.  As Ian points out, Austin Powers was actually a good movie* and a big franchise, but it’s stranger than a bad movie somehow retains a spot as a go-to reference.

* = having not seen the original Austin Powers in some years, I’ll stick with teenage Mark’s memories and impressions rather than give into my suspicion that the film has aged hella-poorly.  As in, aged worst than using “hella-“ as a prefix.

To name just a few examples, hence the entire point of this post…

* Junior is still the go-to reference for the idea of a man giving birth
* Jack is still the go-to reference for the idea of someone who looks much older than they actually are, or someone who’s a veritable manchild
* Groovin’ 2 is still a go-to reference whenever someone wants to mock the idea of a goofy or unnecessary sequel, since they just refer to it as “___ 2: Electric Boogaloo”
* Pay It Forward introduced the concept of, well, paying it forward as an act of social kindness
* The Bucket List introduced the concept of, well, a bucket list.
* Master Of Disguise, based on the “turtle turtle!” gimmick in the trailer, is still the go-to reference when you see someone that looks like, or is dressed like, a turtle.
* Sliding Door is still the go-to reference for alternate realities based on one minor decision
* Powder is still a chief go-to reference for bald people.  I was actually recently described in a roast-like fantasy sports messageboard thread as looking like “Sean Patrick Flanery’s character in Powder.”  Dude, just say I look like Powder.  I watch a hundred movies a year; trust me, I’ll get the reference.  ‘Powder’ is even the character’s name.  It’s like saying someone looks like “Tom Hanks’ character in Forrest Gump.”