2018 Emmy Nominations: Let’s Get Mad About All The Snubs

 

The nominees for the 60th Annual Primetime Emmys have been announced, and for the second straight year, I have to say that I’m pretty happy with most of the categories. While, as usual, there were some major snubs that the internet is fuming about, it’s hard to get upset about too many of the people that were actually nominates. After taking some time to ruminate, I thought it might be fun to go through the major categories and look at who was nominates, the major snubs, and to take a look back at a list of dream nominees that I had prepared in private a few weeks ago.

But first, some general musings; I know a lot of people get angry about one show or another missing out on nominations, or another getting way too many, and while I do agree that the Emmys could use some category revamping, generally speaking, I’m happy with these nominations. There are a fair amount of new shows represented in the major categories, and I honestly feel like it’s a list that might set us up for some upsets.

On the drama side, last year’s dominant winner (The Handmaid’s Tale) became even more dominant with an egregious amount of acting nominations, besting the previous year’s returning champion, Game of Thrones, which is well represented, but missing some key players itself. Both shows have seen backlash, so does that open things up for a show like The Americans, a critical darling in its last season? For comedy, everyone (rightly) expects Atlanta to dominate, and that would be okay, but Barry snuck in there with its fair share of nominations and I’m overall really happy with most of the comedy categories.

While I really want the Emmys to do a better job of recognizing genre TV like science fiction, there is good diversity in every sense of the word in most of these categories and I hope it’s going to make for a good show. Beyond that, there are other cool things that could potentially happen at the ceremony, like John Legend completing his EGOT in four years for Jesus Christ Superstar, or Jeff Daniels winning in two Limited Series categories. There are always surprises at this show, and I’m looking forward to it.

Until then, here’s my major category anlysis. You can find the full list of nominees on the Emmys site

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COMEDY SERIES

The Nominees: Atlanta, Barry, Black-ish, Curb Your Enthusiasm, GLOW, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Silicon Valley, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

The Snubs: Modern Family,  Insecure, Will & Grace.

Dream Nominees: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place, The Good Place, and did I mention The Good Place?

Analysis: I’m not going to pretend that I’m not happy with how this category turned out. I watch everything nominated except for Black-ish, and most of these shows made my list of the best TV of the first half of 2018. However it was a pretty stacked year for comedy, so it was kind of surprising to see some of these omissions. Modern Family was completely shut out after an eight year streak in this category, and Insecure and Will & Grace but had acting noms but failed to break through for Best Comedy. The Good Place saw a Ted Danson nominee but couldn’t break through in this category, despite being one of the consensus best shows on TV, and B99 couldn’t capitalize on the goodwill coming out of its surprise NBC pickup this past may. But, hey, I’m not angry. Atlanta will likely take home everything it’s up for, and if it doesn’t, that means that Barry is going to be the upset, and that’s fine in my book.

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DRAMA SERIES

The Nominees: The Crown, Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, The Americans, This Is Us, Westworld

The Snubs: Ozark, Killing Eve

Dream Nominees: 9-1-1, Counterpart, Mindhunter,

Analysis: No surprises in this category. Literally no surprises. Five of the seven nominees are repeats from last year, and the other two others (The Americans and GOT) were expected to jump back in as they were nominated in 2016 and the shows they’re replacing (Better Call Saul and House of Cards) weren’t on this past year and had been deemed untouchable due to scandal, respectively. It’s kind of boring, sure, but I think that it’s probably going to be an interesting race. Three of these shows, including the two likely frontrunners (GOT and Handmaid’s) saw a lot of backlash for their most recent seasons. , which may open the floodgates for a surprise Stranger Things or The Americans win, one being universally beloved and the other sticking the landing impressively with its final season.

As for the snubs, the only shows close to a surprise were Killing Eve and Ozark, which were honoured elsewhere but failed to break through in the main category. My dream ballot had three new shows on it. 9-1-1 was a big broadcast hit but likely too broad for what the Emmys has become. Counterpart, a great sci-fi thriller that had the opposite problem. And Mindhunter, arguably Netflix’s best original series, has bizarrely been forgotten by many, although Cameron Britton’s incredible guest performance as serial killer Ed Kember was rightfully recognized.

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LIMITED SERIES:

The Nominees: The Alienist, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, Genius: Picasso, Godless, Patrick Melrose

The Snubs: Twin Peaks

Dream Nominees: The Looming Tower, American Vandal, Collateral

Analysis: Limited series at the Emmys will always have some weird choices, but it seems especially weird that they’d ignore a show like Twin Peaks, which managed to score 9 mostly below-the-line nominations but failed to break out here or in any acting categories. People are really mad about it. I haven’t seem most of these, so I’ll probably be rooting for Godless and ruminating about how Carey Mulligan’s amazing performance in Collateral or the perfect dick jokes in American Vandal were ignored.

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LEAD COMEDY ACTRESS

The Nominees: Pamela Adlon, Rachel Brosnahan, Allison Janney, Issa Rae, Tracee Ellis Ross, Lily Tomlin

The Snubs:  Kristen Bell, Debra Messing, Ellie Kemper, Alison Brie

Dream Ballot: Constance Wu, Wendy McLellan-Covey

Analysis: All of these tremendous women certainly deserve to be nominated, however we could make an entirely new category out of the snubs and dream nominees. Alison Brie’s omission from GLOW is especially glaring. Kristen Bell’s was expected, but it still stings. And I gotta throw some love towards my favourite ABC sitcom moms, hopefully some day there’ll be room for them. That being said, this is all moot, because of Rachel Brosnahan doesn’t win for The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, then the Emmys have bigger problems.

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LEAD COMEDY ACTOR

The Nominees: Anthony Anderson, Ted Danson, Larry David, Donald Glover, Bill Hader, Bill Macy

The Snubs:  Jeffrey Tambor, Eric McCormack, Will Forte, Thomas Middleditch, Zach Galifianakis, John Goodman, Jason Bateman

Dream Ballot: Andy Samberg, Randall Park

Analysis: Just like with the women, this year’s crop of comedy actors is so stacked that we could make a full category out of the people that were snubbed, but similarly, I can’t say that any snub is egregious or that any one person shouldn’t have been nominated. Tambor’s included in the snubs just because he’s a previous winner, but we all knew he’d be left off due to his scandals. John Goodman should have broken through for Roseanne if Laurie Metcalf did, and we won’t pine over Jason Bateman being left off for Arrested Development after coming in as a double nominee for Ozark. And just like lead actress, it’s all mood, because there’s no world in which Donald Glover doesn’t repeat his win for Atlanta.

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LEAD DRAMA ACTRESS

The Nominees: Claire Foy, Tatiana Maslany, Sandra Oh, Elisabeth Moss, Keri Russell, Evan Rachel Wood

The Snubs: Mandy Moore, Emilia Clarke, Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, Maggie Gyllenhaal

Dream Ballot: Gillian Anderson, Connie Britton, Laura Linney, Claire Danes

Analysis: I think you get the point by now. There are plenty of talented actors who deserved to be nominated in these competitive categories. I don’t think there was anything too egregious in this one, other than maybe Mandy Moore being left out after her performance in This Is Us season 2 was arguably more lauded than in the first. It would habe been nice to see Claire Danes get back in after a resurgent season of Homeland, or something a little crazier like Anderson for The X-Files or Queen Britton for 9-1-1, but at the end of the day, this is a good category that I could honestly see going to almost any of these ladies. Moss is the defending champion, Maslaney a previous winner, Keri Russell is a goddess in the final season of one of the best shows of the decade, and Sandra Oh is coming in hot off a surprise hit in Killing Eve. At the end of the day the Emmys will probably be boring and give it to Moss again, but I’m crossing my fingers for Russell.

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LEAD ACTOR DRAMA

The Nominees: Jason Bateman, Sterling K. Brown, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Matthew Rhys, Milo Ventimiglia

The Snubs: Freddie Highmore, Kitt Harrington, Rami Malek, Liev Schreiver

Dream Ballot: Jonathan Groff, J.K. Simmons, Dan Stevens, Peter Krause

Analysis: The only real surprise here is that Freddie Highmore didn’t get in for the overall-snubbed but highly watched The Good Doctor. This is another category that could have stood to see some genre diversity (hence my dream ballot picks), but like the women, it could go either way and see a (deserved but boring) repeat from SKB, or a surprise from any one of the high-profile, terrific actors he’s nominated with. In my dreams, Matthew Rhys wins right after his wife does for The Americans, but you know this already.

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SUPPORTING ACTRESS COMEDY

The Nominees: Zazie Beetz, Aidy Bryant, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, Betty Gilpin, Megan Mullaly, Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein

The Snubs: Rita Moreno, Jessica Walter

Dream Ballot: D’Arcy Carden

Analysis: A wild category saw a whopping eight nominees this year (up from six last year) to accomodate for virtually everyone on the SNL cast. At this point the Emmys’ love for the NBC variety show is getting out of hand. It’s nice to see Aidy there, but Leslie Jones is barely on the show. It would have been much better to see that spot go to one of the three other actresses I mentioned, particularly Jessica Walter, as this may have been her lost shot for Arrested Development. It seems likely that they’ll wind up rewarded McKinnon again, as she keeps reinventing what she can do on SNL, but I wouldn’t count out Beetz.

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SUPPORTING ACTOR COMEDY

The Nominees: Louie Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Kenan Thompson, Titus Burgess, Bryan Tyree Henry, Tony Shalhoub, Henry Winkler

The Snubs: Sean Hayes, Marc Maron, Ty Burell, Ed O’Neil

Dream Ballot: Lakeith Stanfield, Tony Hale, Will Arnett, J.B. Smoove, Zach Woods

Analysis: Alec Baldwin doesn’t deserve to be nominated for a role he sporadically plays on SNL and that he doesn’t even like. I get why he won last year, and I get why that basically guarantees him a spot this year, but if he wins again, then that’s some bullshit. The Emmys made up for it by giving in to the Kenan Thompson campaign, so it’ll be nice to see him there. But both these SNL spots should have probably gone to some combination of two snubs/dream nominees. Particularly Marc Maron. How the hell did they miss him? As for potential winners, dread the Balwin repeat, but I would hope the academy would recognize Henry’s brilliance on Atlanta, as they do his co-star Donald Glover’s. If not that Henry, then giving Henry Winkler his first Emmy (I can’t believe he’s never one either) for Barry would be more than acceptable.

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SUPPORTING ACTRESS DRAMA

The Nominees: Alexis Bledel, Yvonne Strahovski, Ann Dowd, Millie Bobby Brown, Lena Heady, Vanessa Kirby, Thandie Newton

The Snubs: Chrissy Metz, Uzo Aduba, Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale

Dream Ballot: Aubrey Plaza, Holly Taylor, Julia Garner, Anna Torv

Analysis: If a Handmaid’s actress doesn’t take this statue with 50% odds (and after Ann Dowd did last year) then these women are as unlucky as their characters, am I right fellas? Seriously though, expect this category to set the tone for the name. If one of those three doesn’t take it, we might be in for a night of surprises. As for the snubs, you know me and how I want more diversity, so seeing three actresses from the same show in this category, as deserving as they may be, is somewhat unnerving. Especially when multiple actresses from The Americans could have wound up in there.

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SUPPORTING ACTROR DRAMA

The Nominees: David Harbour, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Joseph Fiennes, Mandy Patinkin, Matt Smith

The Snubs: Noah Emmerich, Justin Hartley

Dream Ballot: Brendan Fraser, James Marsden, Jason Isaacs, any of the Stranger Kids

Analysis: Lots of repeat nominees here, so it’ll be interesting to see if Joseph Fiennes could ride some Handmaid’s momentum to an upset win. In all likelihood we’re in for a Harbour or Dinklage repeat. Which is boring to me, especially considering they left out arguably the most egregious snub outside of Kyle McLaughlin in Noah Emmerich, who really did a phenomenal job of making the final season of The Americans as much his own as it was The Jennings’.


That’s it for now! The 70th Annual Primetime Emmys will be presented September 17th, 2018 on NBC, hosted by SNL Weekend Update due Michael Che and Colin Jost.

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The Best Shows of the First Half of 2018: Barry, GLOW, Atlanta, and More!

 

TV – there’s so much of it these days! How do you parse the hundreds of scripted shows on at any particular time and figure out what’s worth watching? Well, you have psychos like me, who watch way too much television and try to parlay what’s actually good and worth watching. If the exhaustive list of my favourite shows of 2018 so far is any indication, it’s not a job I’m particularly good at. But seeing as we’ve passed the midway point of 2018, and we’re only a couple of days removed from this year’s Emmy nominations, I thought it would be fun to check in on what I’ve been watching this year that may be worth your time. Some, like Barry, The Americans and Atlanta, you’ve probably seen on similar lists, and some shows like Killing Eve or The Terror I unfortunately haven’t gotten around to watching, but I hope you’ll also find some off-the-beaten path shows on here you might not expect to find

So without further adieu, where are my unsolicited thoughts on nearly 20 shows that have aired in the first half of 2018, presented in the best of orders, alphabetical!


AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D – SEASON 5 – ABC

Phil Coulson and his Agents of SHIELD had a hell of year. They traveled to a dystopian future where the planet has been destroyed, and what remains floats in space under the control of Kree warlords running genetic experiments on survivors in order to traffic Inhumans. The first half of the season was a huge departure from what the show had done in the past, and yet another welcome change for one of TV’s most dynamic superhero dramas. And if that wasn’t enough, the second half of the season transformed General Talbot, a beloved character played by Adrian Pasdar, until the comics supervillain Graviton. Unfortunately, the show didn’t tie into the events of Avengers: Infinity War, despite some generic teases, and ABC put us through the ringer before they finally renewed the show for a shortened sixth season, but that’s not enough to detract from how delightful Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to be.

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THE AMERICANS – SEASON 6 – FX

If the plodding, overlong season 5 of The Americans is what it took to deliver one of the best final seasons in recent memory, including a pitch-perfect finale, then opinions on season 5 need to be retroactively adjusted. With season 6, Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields deliver 10 episodes that not only bring the tale of The Jennings (and all the characters around them, notably their lowly FBI agent neighbor Stan Beeman) arc to a satisfying conclusion, but they do it in a way that (without spoiling anything) no one could have possibly anticipated. Philip and Elizabeth, the villains in their own story from the very beginning, don’t get the kind of comeuppance that media has trained us to expect them to get, in a finale that could easily garner two of the top spots in the best TV moments of 2018 (that parking garage scene! With or Without You!).

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ATLANTA – SEASON 2 – FX

What can be said about Atlanta that hasn’t been said already? Donald Glover’s opus (one of many, if we’re being honest) is a unique, creatively rich experience that transcends the traditional confines of what most expect TV to be, even in 2018, when it can be pretty much anything. Everyone points to “Teddy Perkins” at its fulcrum, but almost every episode this season has something to offer worthy of those same accolades. It would be easy to name them all, but my favourites (and each for very different reasons), would probably be “Barbershop”, “Woods”, “North of the Border” and “FUBU”.

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BARRY – SEASON 1 – HBO

I’ve already spoken at length about all the things that made the first season of Barry special. It’s black comedy that can be gut-bustingly funny when it needs to be and uncomfortable or melodramatic in its more serious moments. Bill Hader is a revelation in the titular role, and everyone around him, notably the great Henry Winkler, are perfect in supporting roles. And maybe most importantly, the story goes places you wouldn’t expect it to, to the point where I’m having trouble conceiving what season 2 might look like. And that’s an exciting feeling to have for a show these days.

BROOKLYN NINE-NINE – SEASON 5 – FOX

You probably don’t need a full diatribe to understand why Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a special show that will wind up in the pantheon of single-cam comedies. It’s regularly hilarious, its cast is perfectly balanced between television vets, established comedians and relative unknowns (at least prior to the show), and it has a tendency to be able to get serious when it needs to. It also continues to get better with every passing season. And this past spring, it managed to rally the internet around its cancellation and subsequent resurrection at NBC with the kind of love you simply don’t see for a TV show anymore. B99 is television comfort food and I hope it never goes away.

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COUNTERPART – SEASON 1 – STARZ

Competing with Barry for one of 2018’s best new shows is this sci fi drama about parallel earths and the spy shit that goes on between them. Counterpart feels like it’s drawn straight from a Cold War mystery novel. Its world(s) feel lived in and distict, interesting in the ways they subtly deviate from our own, its characters fully fledged (including a set of doppelgangers played expertly by J.K. Simmons, in dual roles so different from one another that may actually convince you that he has a twin brother who’s just as good at acting as he is). I want to see so much more in the world of Counterpart, and yet it is a show that’s really good at holding back until it absolutely needs to, leading to some very satisfying moments peppered throughout season 1.

GLOW – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

Back on my old site, I proclaimed GLOW the best new show of 2017. It was a decision I was relatively comfortable with, but one I had to mull, as putting a sitcom about women’s wrestling in the 80s ahead of things like Mindhunter, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and The Handmaid’s Tale in such a stacked year for frashmen shows, especially dramas, felt kind of odd. But I don’t regret it, because GLOW is such a feelgood, uplifting show that perfectly encapsulates its time period and projects it against some of the issues we face in society today, especially women’s rights. Season 2, which recently came out on Netflix, only reinforces my views on the show. It’s just as good, if not better, than the first season, and it’s transformative and different from the first season in the best possible way.

THE GOOD PLACE – SEASON 2 – NBC

This might be cheating, because The Good Place only aired five episodes in 2018, but those episodes were among the best of a second season most of us had no idea what to expect of, and introduced us to Maya Rudolph’s Judge Gen. Since we’re a couple days removed from the second season’s inevitable Emmy snubs, it seemed only fair to give it a shoutout here.

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THE HANDMAID’S TALE – SEASON 2 – HULU

A lot of people have struggled with the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale, because it doesn’t hold anything back. It’s a tormenting, depressing, dark, drab show that you don’t feel good about while watching. But it’s an important show, serving as a somber warning about the kind of society we could be headed towards, and it’s expertly acted and made. The sort of existential conversation around this show is whether or not this is the kind of thing people want out of a television viewing experience, as being told that a show is important is a tough pill to swallow in a medium that’s mostly seen as entertaining, but, like, we don’t have a trouble with the idea of the importance of a movie (contrasted with whatever building The Rock is jumping out of this quarter), so why can’t we accept the importance of a TV show?

HOMELAND – SEASON 7 – SHOWTIME

This is probably the only place you’ll see Homeland on such a list. It seems as if critics and viewers have long abandoned Showtime’s once seminal drama, and that’s a real shame, because I truly believe that, with season 7, Claire Danes and co. delivered the Homeland season since its first. Season 7 tells a very pertinent story about the overreach of government, about fake news and media manipulation, about the danger of falling prey to conspiracy theories. It even ropes in the Russians in a very tangible and scary way, all while skirting the obvious places it could have gone in this post-Trump world. Season 7 of Homeland it the most relevant its ever been, and a more realistic and grounded version of 24, a show that’s often been drawn in comparison to Homeland but never previously embraced the way it had this year. Nu-Homeland is hyper-relevant, its storytelling and action is tight and gratifying, and the performances are as good as they’ve ever been. I urge people who were once fans of Homeland to jump on board this train, because season 7 is probably the best season of television in 2018 that you’re not watching.

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LEGION – SEASON 2 – FX

Legion’s best quality is that it’s willing to go places most shows won’t ever want to come near. It’s TV’s high brow superhero drama, its most unique and interesting show about mental illness, and probably the least linear thing you’ll see on mainstream TV this year. But you already knew that after season 1. If anything changes with season 2, it’s probably that the storytelling is more coherent and the action is better, with “fight” scenes that are stylized and weird (ranging from cartoons fighting among the clouds to dance battles of the mind). Almost every episode of season 2 has mesmerizing, entrancing scenes unlike anything else on TV.

THE LOOMING TOWER – MINISERIES – HULU

I kind of don’t know why The Looming Tower exists. It’s a throwback miniseries that feels like it’s using standards abandoned by TV filmmakers years ago, telling a long-form story about the events leading up to 9/11 that don’t seem to be sure about whether they want to tell the story about what led to 9/11, or about the quirks of the people involved. The miniseries has a stacked cast led by Jeff Daniels and Peter Sarsgaard, both of whom act their asses off and bring life to a story that would be hard to tell without the baseline pizzazz that they try and offer. The Looming Tower isn’t perfect, but it’s probably the best narrative take on the most important event of the past 30 years that I’ve yet to see, managing to be entertaining and interesting despite its difficult subject matter.

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LUKE CAGE – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX

After a string of disappointments from the ongoing partnership between Netflix and Marvel Studios, I truly felt as if they finally delivered something that, from beginning to end, felt coherent, worthwhile and not terribly overlong with Luke Cage season 2 (maybe for the first time since the first seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones). While most will probably continue to insist that these Marvel Netflix shows probably shouldn’t be 13 episodes long, this was the first time in a while that I didn’t find myself checking how many episodes I have left or complaining about how long they they were. This was the first time I wanted more from one of these shows, and that’s saying a lot. Could it have been 10 episodes instead of 13? Maybe, but it still didn’t feel as if it dragged. What’s more, they manage to stick the landing better than any of these shows, an ending which transforms the titular character, give him more depth than ever before and sets a completely different, interesting path forward. I suspect I need to do a rewatch of all these shows, but Luke Cage S2 might be gunning for the top spot in my ranking of Marvel Netflix seasons.

SILICON VALLEY – SEASON 5 – HBO

The writers on Silicon Valley took fan complains to heart and finally gave us a season of the show where the characters don’t fail upwards. Seeing a modicum of success in season 5 reinvigorated the HBO sitcom, allowing the show to go different places and do some different things. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but it’s still one of the funniest shows on TV with one of the best ensemble casts.

SUPERSTORE – SEASON 3 – NBC

Speaking of one of the funniest shows on TV with one of the best ensemble casts, Superstore continues its quiet run as a reliable sitcom about the inner workings and relationships at a department store. I don’t have much to say about this one, but it perennially deserves a shoutout.

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WESTWORLD – SEASON 2 – HBO

While I can certainly acknowledge that season 2 of Westworld had more than its fair share of issues with storytelling and pacing, I also can’t deny that it’s a show that’s a compelling, wildly entertaining visual feast. I think the backlash for the second season largely stems from the creators obvious and probably misguided attempts to subvert fan expectations and likely purposely mislead them after they so quickly figured out the “puzzle box” of the first season. And that’s fair. But there also isn’t any other show on television that can give me a downright perfect bottle episode like “Kiksuya”, the Akecheta background episode, or “Akane no Mai”, the long-awaited foray into Shogunworld. There is no other show on television that can simultaneously mistify and entertain, no other show that goes this hard on its sci-fi premises of artificial intelligence and the singularity. Season 2 of Westworld wasn’t perfect, but its peaks, and its potential are among the things that will keep me coming back and keep me hoping that it can get better.

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THE X-FILES – (MOST OF) SEASON 11 – FOX

Just hear me out.

The likely final season of The X-Files ended in a terrible way that I’d extinguish from my memory if I could. It showed me that there is no saying this once revered Mythology. Seeing Chris Carter continuously besmirch his own oeuvre the way he has with these revival seasons has left me battered and broken. But there’s a silver lining. And there’s merit to the continuation of The X-Files, within its procedural Monster-of-the-Week episodes. The clunky season 10 gave us a pantheon-worthy episode in “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”, and several episodes in season 11 proved that this was no fluke, that we deserve to see Mulder and Scully occasionally get together and solve an anthology of good old-fashioned paranormal mysteries, unencumbered by a Mythology that’s beyond saying. So if you haven’t seen season 11 yet, I’d recommend you forget the Cigarette Smoking Man or Mulder and Scully’s super-son or the impending end of the world. Ignore all the bad stuff from this past season, and instead watch the half-dozen or so episodes that don’t rely on the mythology and stand on their own. My two favourites this year were “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat”, in which we’re introduced to a third, previously unknown member of team X-Files played by Brian Huskey as the episode explores the Mandela Effect, and “Rm9sbG93ZXJz”, where Mulder and Scully are haunted by AI restaurant staff in search for a tip, an episode presented almost entirely devoid of dialog. These episodes are good enough to overcome Chris Carter’s malice and will hopefully stand the test of time for this show. They deserve to be watched, and deserved to be mentioned on this list.

 

A Bittersweet, Melancholic Series Finale Leaves ‘The Americans’ In The Perfect Place [Review]

WARNING: The following review contains *SPOILERS* for the series finale of The Americans. Read ahead at your own risk!


 

It’s rare for a series finale to leave you entirely satisfied. Even rarer is it for it to also leave you wanting more. In fact, those two things sound like they should be at odds. How can a show have you feeling as if there’s more story to tell with its characters, yet also leave you in a place where you don’t necessarily want to see any of it? It’s a paradox I’ve been trying to reconcile since the final moments of “Start”, the series finale of The Americans. After a six-season long journey following Philip and Elizabeth Jennings on their quest to pillage Washington, D.C. in thename of the Soviet Union, during the height of the Cold War, their journey comes to an end in a way that I don’t think many of us expected; Philip and Elizabeth get away scot free.

That’s right; after a season where Elizabeth basically becomes a Russian killing machine and Philip is dealing with the malaise of being a former spy incapable of making his American dream work, the final scene of The Americans isn’t either of them getting their comeuppance, or facing consequences for their actions, it’s Philip and Elizabeth re-becoming Mischa and Nadezhda, staring out at their native home from atop a bridge, wondering what comes next for them, for their children, and for the country they sacrificed their lives for.

In a surface level kind of sense, or for someone who may have previously given up on the show, this might seem completely inadequate, unsatisfying way to end a show where the protagonists are antiheroes. Even when their finales shock and wow us, shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire and so many more have taught us that bad guys generally tend to get what’s coming to them, even if they’re the main characters, or if they have a redemption arc. Despite the fact that they might tell angry FBI agent that they were just doing their job, or how they’re actually the people they always appeared to be, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are bad people, doing bad things for bad reasons. Logically, nothing short of capture or death would be an appropriate or satisfying end to their tale, especially after a final season where, at long last, Stan opens his eyes, figures out what’s been happening under his nose and ostensibly becomes the show’s hero.

But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Philip and Elizabeth don’t exactly get a happy ending. They don’t seem pleased to be back in Russia, even if they’re in awe of what their nation has become in their years away. They don’t seem satisfied with the decades of work they put in, or the situation they’ve left behind. They’re merely escaping because that’s what they’ve been instructed to do. And they don’t get to see the results of their work, or even the results of their betrayal, as the catalyst to the finale’s events involve Elizabeth going rogue after realizing that her handlers were working against her in order to orchestrate a coup on Gorbachev. But neither of them ever seem to consider, for example, surrender as a logical course of action. The only course of action they know is to go back, no matter what the cost (in this case, their children), so that’s the conclusion we get. It sort of makes sense. Philip and Elizabeth still fail, they still sacrifice their mission, yet they get to prove one last time that they’re badass spies capable of just about anything under the right circumstances.

It’s a bittersweet ending that shouldn’t work, yet does, not only because it’s so well acted or because it’s an unexpected twist for these kinds of shows, but also because, when you think about it, the show has been subtly hinting at this kind of thing for years. It sacrificed the pacing of its entire fifth season last year simply to get us to a place where Philip has to quit his job, even though we all kind of saw it coming, to get us to a place where Elizabeth becomes complacent and consumed by her work, to beat us over the head with the fact that is and always has been a show about the mundane and prosaic nature of American life, even when you’re a freaking spy doing cool spy shit. Even in this final season, which was markedly better paced and more exciting, finds time to spend on Philip running a travel agency and going line dancing, or his strained relationship with his family. All the while, Elizabeth clocks in at an 11, killing at least one person and episode and dealing with a clandestine plot to overthrow a government, even roping Philip back in for  One Last Mission several weeks before the finale, a mission which, by the way, fails catastrophically and leads to Elizabeth figuring out that her handlers are working against her and eventually questioning her work and betraying them, a moment six seasons in the mkaing. Philip leaving the service and forcing Elizabeth to take the brunt of the work also leads Stan to finally getting a whiff of what they’re cooking. But they leave most of that on the table and abandon it prior to the finale so we can get long scenes of Elizabeth and Philip riding planes, trains and automobiles, of Stan staking out multiple buildings, in order for it to be more reflective and melancholic.

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Even in the finale itself gets its tensest and most exciting scene out of the way relatively early. The “garage scene” is something you’ll likely hear TV fans talking about for a good long while, as it instantly feels like something poised to go down as one of the best scenes in television history. Stan hasn’t yet confirmed that Philip and Elizabeth are Russian spies, but his hunch eats away at him enough that he stakes out Paige’s apartment. Sure enough, the Jennings arrive to take her away, so he confronts them in the parking garage. What follows is a heartbreaking, anxiety-inducing scene where Philip first tries to deny Stan’s accusations and feigns ingurance, before he surprisingly comes clean, and tries to appeal to Stan by saying that they were merely doing a job for his country, much like Stan does. Stan doesn’t buy it, because he’s (rightfully) betrayed and because he’s smarter than that and his job doesn’t entail that much murder, so Philip digs deep and decides to appeal to the version of Stan that still remembers him to be his best friend. And in truth, as Philip sheds his layers of deceit, there’s a sincerity to what Philip is saying. He hasn’t been a spy for the better part of three years. He resents Elizabeth for still doing it and for roping Paige in, and he hates how their work has ostracized their son. On top of that, he’s useless as a travel agent and has largely wasted the last three years of his life. He’s pathetic, the same way Stan feels pathetic, and his appeal manages to convince stan to let them go.

Deep down, you probably know Stan’s going to let them go. That’s the kind of show that The Americans is, and there’s still like half an hour left in the episode. But if there was ever a moment for them to pull the trigger, figuratively and maybe even literally, this would have been it. If there was ever a moment for them to fall into the trappings of the kind of show that The Americans pretends to be as expertly as their main characters pretend to be The Jennings, this is it, in this long, uninterrupted scene where a shaken Stan doesn’t actually shake one bit, holding a gun in the general direction of his best friends for a solid ten minutes. This is where Stan or even the Jennings might do something unexpected, and we spend the entire time wondering when it might happen. But like I’ve already said, this isn’t really that kind of show. It isn’t a twist-based show, it’s a character study, and whether or not he feels betrayed Stan is still Stan. It makes much more sense for him to let the Jennings walk all over him, the same way he let them walk all over him for years prior, and live with the shame of what he did. It makes sense for Philip to bare his soul to his best friend, like he’s always wanted to do, but then still do the selfish thing, even kicking him while he’s down by suggesting that his wife might also be a Russian spy. That’s something that Stan has to live with, and it’s entirely Philip’s fault, but it makes sense in the context of who they’ve always been. And it makes sense, a few moments later, in the shows final crescendo (once again, figuratively as well as literally, as the sequence is set masterfully to U2’s With Or Without You), when after escaping all the way to the Canadian border, Paige decides to abandon her parents and go back, presumably unable to live with who they are, what they’ve done, and what awaits them back in a country she’s never truly known.

But we’ll never actually find out why Paige left, or what happens to her. She goes back to Claudia’s abandoned apartment and has a drink of Vodka, but we’ll never find out if she turns herself in, or what happens to her. We’ll never find out what happens to Stan. He goes home and sleeps on the chair next to his bad, suddenly distrusting of his wife. We’ll never find out if she actually is a spy, or how Stan copes with not only the betrayal of the Jennings, but also his utter failure at doing his job. We’ll never find out what happens to Henry. After he sarcasms his family off the phone as they’re trying to say their final goodbyes, we only see him as Stan breaks the news, and he seems more disappointed than shocked. We don’t even get to see what becomes of poor Oleg, his final moments on the show spent in an FBI holding show.

The show leaves all of that to our imagination so that Philip and Elizabeth can return to Russia and stare wistfully out across a bridge, pondering whether or not what they did was worth it and declaring that they’ll find a way to survive, as they always have.

It’s an ending that may play better with critics than with general audiences, but it makes me feel like Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg leave it in a perfect if unsatisfying place, which is an exact mirror both of reality and of what The Americans always has been. The Americans drew you in with action, sex and intrigue, but it was never about that stuff. It was about life and people, and that’s exactly how it decides to end.

“Start” is a perfectly balanced series finale, so it gets 10 perfect musical cues out of 10. Season 6 as a whole gets 9 discarded wigs out of 10.

 

 

 

 

The Flash ends a mediocre fourth season on a high note in ‘We Are The Flash’

Spoiler Alert: The Following contains spoilers for season 4 of The Flash, including last night’s season finale. Read ahead at your own risk!


 

I’ve been growing wary of the formula on The Flash as of late. The overarching story has followed roughly the same path in each of the show’s four seasons. Team Flash is introduced to a new Big Bad that purports itself to be stronger and smarter than our hero, Barry Allen. Chasing various MacGuffin, the team proceeds to lose the lion’s share of its battles against said Big Bad over the course of the next 20+ episodes, pausing intermittently for filler episodes that range in quality, before scoring one final Ultimate MacGuffin in the finale, as they finally manage to best the villain once and for all, right before some crazy, long-teased twist sets up what will happen in the next season.

To be honest, I’ve largely been okay with this formula because The Flash still manages to be a decent enough show working within the confines of this formula. It’s generally well-written, it’s funny, I care about almost all the characters (who have great chemistry with one another), and the show is good about introducing new interesting characters and compelling guest stars along the way. The world of The Flash is rich and filled with great Easter Eggs for fans of the comics, and there’s always something interesting lurking around the corner, even if the show tends to operate mostly in a sort of dulling mediocrity.

With that in mind, season 4 had a lot of both the good and the bad. As it pertains to said formula, the writers made a conscious effort to break the cycle, notably by making this season’s Big Bad something other than a Speedster for once. After Reverse-Flash, Professor Zoom and Savitar, not only was the new villain (Clifford DeVoe, AKA The Thinker) not a speedster, but it was actually a plot point that he was was completely disinterested in The Flash’s speed, even though much of his arc was about absorbing other metahuman powers. The way the show explains why in the finale is even pretty clever. DeVoe is a good character and the show sets him up and a real threat to The Flash regardless of his lack of speed. It’s a refreshing workaround to the usual archetype of Barry’s nemeses. But it sort of feels like a half-measure, especially after the way he was disposed of in the season finale. Lack of speed and future knowledge aside, DeVoe is pretty much the same villain The Flash always faces; he’s super smart, he’s planned for every contingency and he’s always ahead of his opposition, until the plot requires him not to be.

Still, the season shines in other areas, notably in additions it made to its cast. The standout is easily Hartley Sawyer as Ralph Dibney, the schlubby private eye who gets a second chance when he’s gifted with the power of elasticity and goes on to become Elongated Man. The character and the actor portraying him easily fit into the strong chemistry the cast already has, which is rare to see in the fourth season of a show. He’s quick-witted, funny and has a compelling arc of redemption. The show even manages to kill him and bring him back in a way that doesn’t feel cheep, and that still has emotional stakes for the team, especially Barry, who feels responsible for losing the life of one of his teammates.

The show also added Danielle Nicolet as Cecille, a prosecutor who goes on to marry Joe and have his child. Cecille grew on me as the season went on, especially her late-season arc, which manages to uproot most of the tropes involved with pregnancy on a show like this. She develops gestational metapowers that become the key to defeating DeVoe in the finale, all while she goes into labour. Having a kid in the middle of a crisis is a trope that most would agree has overstayed its welcome on television, but doing it in the middle of a world-ending calamity is a nice twist.

Beyond Ralph and Cecile, season 4 also introduced us, among others, to Amunet Black (Katee Sakhoff doing a wonderfully ridiculous cockney accent, Hazard (Sugar Lyn Beard), Breacher (Danny Trejo) and Big Sir (Bill Goldberg), among others. We also got to see Tom Cavanagh try his hand at some really ridiculous versions of Harrison Wells through the Council of Wells, a pool from which the show might have to draw on in season 5 as the show bid farewell to this version of Harry, who winds up suffering the irreversible effects of DeVoe’s plan to lobotomize humanity and decides to leave Team Flash to spend more time with his daughter.

 

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Season 4 also gave us “Enter Flashtime”, an episode that takes place almost entirely in the slowed-down version of time that Barry can experience, as he works to stop a nuclear bomb from destroying the city after it’s already detonated. It’s an awesome episode that immediately enters the show’s pantheon of classics, and even in a season that’s filled with a lot of mediocrity, it proves that The Flash is still capable of doing great things. It’s an episode that was really needed in a season that included “Girls Night Out”, where Felicity comes to town to celebrate Iris’ bachelorette, and “Run Iris Run”, the one where Iris acquires Barry’s powers. Some internet perusal suggests that some may disagree, but I thought last night’s finale was pretty good too. In “We Are The Flash”, Barry enters DeVoe’s mind with the help of Cecille’s powers and DeVoe’s his estranged wife Margaet to stop him, where he finds Ralph’s consciousness still kicking despite DeVoe being in control of his body. Together, they find an army of Mind DeVoes in order to take back control of Ralph’s body and put an end to the Thinker’s plan to lobotomize the entire planet. Sure it’s nonsense, but it’s the good sort of nonsense.

As a whole, I have to wonder whether this season of The Flash holds up. In retrospect, it feels so telegraphed. Barry and the team fail almost every episode at DeVoe’s hands before conveniently and neatly beating him in the finale. The legitimately great episodes are few and far between although, to be fair, there aren’t that many episodes that I’d qualify as abjectly bad either. This season has existed in this space where I’m more than glad to enjoy the show as it airs weekly, but that seems to have fallen a few steps from where I originally thought a Flash show would be able to go at this point in its run. But season 4 leaves us with another cliffhanger and more big promises as the girl who has been subtly meddling with the team’s affairs reveals herself to be Barry and Iris’ future daughter (a twist that, let us be serious, we all saw coming ever since she first appeared all the way back in the Nazi crossover), back from the future to ask for their help fixing what she claims to be a mistake of Gob-like proportions.

I’m certainly not going to be dropping The Flash ahead of season 5, it’s enjoyable even if it tends to fall into the traps of its own formula more often then it’s capable of being subversive. But I’m definitely going to have to be more cautious. We’ve already been through this with Arrow, a show I finally managed to drop after the snoozefest that was the first half of this past season. Supergirl isn’t making a great case for itself either as it bogs itself down with relationship drama every chance it gets. The Flash is at least fun as it goes off the rails, but the writers need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to do something new and different for season five, and not just shallow changes that amount to a slightly more detailed reskinning of the main villain. Although I won’t speculate on what they might have planned for next year.

Season 4 of The Flash was a step backwards for the show, despite efforts from its writers to switch things up. But its ability to remain entertaining and introducing compelling new elements every so often allowed it to rise above the lower end of the CW DC dramas. I’m comfortable giving it a decent 6.5 out of 10 bus metas, while last night’s season finale, We Are The Flash, gets 7.5 time travelling daughters out of 10.

With Its Penultimate Episode, HBO’s “Barry” Proves To Be One Of TV’s Best New Shows

There are plenty of reasons to love Barry. The HBO sitcom has really surprised in its freshman season, starting off by pitching itself as a quirky dark sitcom about a hitman who has an existential crisis and decides to try his hand at acting and, well, going places thereafter, over the course of the seven episodes we’ve seen so far. But as we approach this week’s season finale, and coming off of a handful of rousing episodes after the show picked up steam and culminating in the penultimate “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast, And Keep Going” this past Sunday, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what makes this show tick, and how it’s managed to surprise us by elevating itself to a level I didn’t think possible, even with the pedigree of all the people involved.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s what been happening on “Barry” so far (and be forewarned, this will contain some spoilers: While on a hit in Los Angeles for the Chechen mob, Barry (Bill Hader, who also co-created the show), a former marine and current hitman, gets roped into attending an acting class alongside his target, Ryan. Barry becomes interested in the class as well as one of the aspiring actresses in it, Sally (Sarah Goldberg), so he decides to start attending. He’s a terrible actor, but his real-life story is so absurd and unbelievable that the teacher, Gene Cousineau (portrayed by the incomparable Henry Winkler), thinks he’s improvising and lets him into the class.

Meanwhile, the Chechens think Barry is screwing them, so they send their own hitman after Barry. Things get messy and Ryan and some Chechens wind up dead, attracting the attention of the (mostly incompetent) police but also roping Barry and his handler Fuches (another incredible character actor in Stephen Root) into Chechen affairs. Fuches and the Chechens convince Barry to stick around and do more jobs for them, but things only get messier when (a) a fellow marine that Barry meets insists on doing these jobs with him and (b) the Bolivians that Barry goes after wind up being much more competent than the Chechens had anticipated.

So, long story short, as the events of the seventh episode unfold, Barry has inadvertently started a gang war and gotten his army buddies killed, all while the police is slowly starting to catch up to him. “Loud, Fast and Keep Going” is a particularly phenomenal episode, because it feels like shit is finally starting to get real for Barry. We’ve seen glimpses of him break through his monotonous exterior in the past, like in that first episode when he admits to Gene that he’s a hitman, and when his fellow actors question his time at war and his PTSD kind of snaps through. In this episode, after the army guy Taylor winds up dead in a failed bum-rushing of the Bolivian drug lord, Barry is forced to kill the other guy that was along for the ride, his buddy Chris. Chris had no idea what he was getting into and did not heed Barry’s call to get out of the car as they were on the way to do the job. In fact, prior to getting the drop on one of the Bolivian hitmen, Chris had never even killed anyone. So when he laments to Barry and tells him that he’d rather serve time and come clean to the police than deal with it on his own, Barry has no choice but to kill his friend.

All of this coincides with the big play that the class is putting on. Sally, who Barry is still enamored with even though he previously pushed her away with his antics and lack of demeanor, has brazenly taken on the role of Macbeth. She has everything riding on this as an agent is there to see her. She needs Barry to deliver a line for her. The whole thing is ridiculous because why does any of this matter, and why would Barry delivering one meaningless line make or break her performance? Barry is fucked up because he can’t get the image of Chris’ wife getting the call that she’s now a widow. He’s never had to kill someone he knew before, and even struggled killing Taylor, the crazy army go who finagled himself into Barry and Fuches’ business and caused this mess in the first place. So Barry channels that into his one line about how the queen is dead, and pushes Sally into giving the performance of her life and earning the agent’s card.

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Considering a lot of the show is about gang wars and a hitman realizing that what he’s doing is crazy and fucked, the fact that the emotional crux of the episode is in a bad student rendition of McBeth for the lowest stakes possible is kind of amazing. The show manages to make you care the most about a mediocre actress getting a business card from a low-end Hollywood agent. And they do it by treating this plot more seriously than it has any right to be treated, more seriously than all the other crazy stuff happening on the show.

Because while the stakes may be low, they’re real. If Sally doesn’t get that card, her career is probably over. She’s put everything into the idea of becoming an actress, to the point where we don’t know who that character is without that identity. Getting that card is paramount for her, and the show has managed to set up a conceit where it all hinges on Barry, even though that’s sort of laughable. And Barry is able to pull it off because he’s finally starting to feel something as it pertains to the things that he’s doing, to the lives that he’s ruining. His job is finally starting to hit close to home, he’s finally starting to realize that there are consequences to his actions. He’s falling apart emotionally because he had to kill Chris and because the job went south. So that line delivery, that pressure on him to deliver a line is merely a vessel for what he’s feeling.

I think that the show insists on us clinging to Sally and her journey because, while the stakes are higher for Barry’s hitman business, we know he’s going to come out on top. Maybe some Chechens die, maybe even Fuches days could be numbered, but there’s no “Barry” without Barry. He’s going to survive and get the job done, even if it breaks him. Sally is probably not at risk at being killed, but she may not “survive” in that acting is her only means of survival, so Barry coming through for her is a big fucking deal.

The fact that the show is able to make us feel invested in all of this is a testament to the people behind it. Bill Hader is proving his brilliance behind the scenes (after proving it on screen for years at Saturday Night Live), and he’s doing it with the help of co-creator Alec Berg (one of the best working comedy writer/directors). The directing is top notch too, not only from Berg and Hader but also from two-episode stints from Maggie Carey and Hiro Murai (who is currently having a hell of a moment between this show and his contributions with Donald Glover). This group of directors has contributed to one of the show’s core strengths; the way the show handles its action. The action on “Barry” is on par with some of the best hour-long dramas, and the way it crafts action sequences is something you wouldn’t expect from a sitcom, similarly to how you wouldn’t expect it to deal with the psyche of a hitman and former marine the way that it has.

But it’s also really good at balancing this out with truly funny moments. There’s a perfect dichotomy between the serious stuff in “Barry” and the gut-busting funny stuff. Not only because that funny stuff is really funny, but because of the source as well. Despite being one of the funniest men on the planet, Hader mostly plays Barry straight. As do most of the aspiring actors in his class, including the aforementioned Sarah Goldberg and others like The Good Place’s D’Arcy Carden. They’re just as serious about acting as Hader is about killing. That isn’t to say that they haven’t had room to be funny on the show, but in comparison, those around them are downright quirky. Henry Winkler plays Gene Cousineau like he would Barry Zuckercorn on Arrested Development. Stephen Root has tapped into something hilarious by like eating something in every scene he’s in. The incompetent police characters are great. And, bar none, the two main Chechens on the show, played by Glenn Fleshler and Anthony Carrigan are the most hilarious part of the show. Carrigan’s NoHo Hank in particular is a standout and maybe my favourite new character on TV this year.

And that’s really the key. Hader can tap into dramatic chops hidden under the surface of the guy known for breaking character on SNL and he can delight up in that sense, but he still knows that the format needs to be funny, and that’s where Stephen Root stuffing his face with complementary hotel breakfast or NoHo Hank sending Barry sad Bitmojis comes in. Or, situationally, we can laugh at how the low stakes McBeth play hinges on a dude having a breakdown delivering one meaningless line. That’s hilarious, even if it’s fucked up, and I’m invested in seeing what happens.

All of this makes “Barry” a special show. It’s hilarious, but it can be serious, and it’s certainly complex. The people behind and in front of the camera are phenomenal, and the plot is compelling. With the season finale airing at the end of this week, I highly encourage everyone to catch up on what’s one of the best new shows of 2018.