Dream Emmy Ballot: Lead Actor (Drama)

Don’t get me wrong, I like  dramatic television series as much as the next guy, but hot damn did the six gentlemen below do some heavy lifting to earn their hard-earned spots.  From crystal meth kingpin to pioneering sex researcher, from philanthropic billionaire genius to clandestine Soviet spy, and from one messed up homicide detective to another slightly less messed up homicide detective, these guys  brought their A games.

When a lead performer really carries a show, his (or her) presence on it becomes a defining mark of that series’ identity.  Could you imagine any other living human being playing Breaking Bad‘s Walter White?  Or some other stringy-haired jamoke depicting True Detective‘s Rust Cohle?  Of course you can’t because I’m right.  But more than that, we correlate a show’s overall greatness with the singular greatness of the central performance anchoring that show, and that’s exactly what we have on display here.

Without further delay, here are the men most deserving of hearing their names called for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series.


breaking bad                                      poi

Bryan Cranston,                                                  Michael Emerson,

    Breaking Bad                                                       Person of Interest


td                                     td2

Woody Harrelson,                                        Matthew McConaughey,

     True Detective                                                        True Detective


americans                                     masters

Matthew Rhys,                                                      Michael Sheen,

   The Americans                                                         Masters of Sex


Honorable Mentions: Kevin Spacey, House of Cards; Hugh Dancy, Hannibal; Jim Caviezel, Person of Interest


“Show your work…”

Matthew Rhys’s chameleonic turn as Phillip Jennings/Clark/long-haired hippy in FX’s phenomenal series The Americans positively scintillates.  In addition to the physical presence he brings to a scene–whether engaged in a fire-fight or approaching an asset–Rhys does a masterful job depicting the emotional tole his career as a Soviet spy living in America has taken on him.  Feeling trapped between two worlds, Rhys can take his character from calm, supportive father to a terrifying rage monster (note to self: don’t mention church around him, right Paige?) sometimes within a single scene.  While his precise handle on the range of emotions that might define a spy’s life impresses, it’s something far more subtle that makes his performance so miraculous:  even when he must adopt a disguise and persona in order to complete a mission, there still lurks the uncertainty and ambivalence that typifies Phillip’s emotional struggle.  In order words, Rhys makes it very clear that it’s Phillip playing these other roles, not Rhys the actor.  I’m not sure how this insanely talented actor manages to pull that high-wire balancing act off, but it catapults his uniformly outstanding performance into the upper echelon.

Time is a flat circle, and no matter where you stand on its continuum, you will not find a more electric partnership anywhere on television than the one between Marty and Rust in HBO’s brilliant crime series True Detective.  With the McConnaisance heading into stage two, Matthew McConaughey seems all but guaranteed to win an Emmy for his work as Rust Cohle.  And trust me, the inevitable accolade is well-deserved–his performance is a revelation, imbuing his enigmatic character with shades of hubris, arrogance, sadness, weariness, hope and cynicism in equal doses.  I can’t remember the last time a character’s redemption has felt so authentic, earned, and profoundly moving as that which Rust found.  Plus, the man does a great parlor trick with beer can origami!  #YouAskMeTheMcConaugheysWinning Despite the superlatives we heap onto McConaughey, it it no way detracts from Woody Harrelson’s work as Marty.  As this dark and winding season progressed, Marty became more difficult to like and even more difficult to understand, as his self-destructive path ultimately destroyed the relationships closest to him.  Harrelson didn’t shy away from the depths of rage that motivated Marty, and when he cut loose, the results were truly explosive.  Need evidence?  The scene of him resorting to physical  violence against his daughter after she returns home from a promiscuous sexual escapade perfectly captures Marty’s impotent rage.  It’s a humdinger of a performance and a reminder that we couldn’t have Rust without Marty.  Do you think the Emmy could just call it a tie already?

Michael Sheen’s depiction of sex pioneer Dr. William Masters, in Showtime’s preciously titled Masters of Sex, is one of the most engaging feats of acting on television.  His William Masters becomes a man of repressed urges, soaring ego, and insufferable arrogance, and Sheen does little to temper those uglier sides of his personality because he understands that they also illuminate the uncompromising depth of his genius.  Sheen, however, also allows us the occasional glimpses beneath his veneer of self-righteous pomposity; his “research-based” relationship with Virginia Johnson reveals a tenderness and vulnerability that Masters has snuffed out of his own bloodless marriage.  Sheen can accomplish a great deal with a contemptuous look or a truncated cry of “Virg–Jane!” to convey precisely what motivates Masters, and this gift–more than the words on the page–forces us to root for a man he doesn’t try to get us to like, simply to understand.

Michael Emerson’s Harold Finch, a reclusive billionaire with a helluva Machine, gives the world of Person of Interest its much-needed moral compass.  Beset on all sides by those who seek to use the Machine to satiate the most morally corrupt facets of human nature, Harold remains the devoted philanthropist undeterred by the likes of Decima Technologies and Samaritan.  You might argue that such single-mindedness would create a character (and performance) entirely myopic, but to suggest that would undercut the simplistic depth of Emerson’s work.  Even when bound to his sense of moral duty, Finch finds new ways to surprise us, unlocks new possibilities for selflessness and sacrifice.  You see, Emerson embodies Finch with character details (the limp, the almost robotic voice, the tech savvy) that specify his character, and the more specific he becomes, the more universally symbolic he becomes of the need for self-actualized goodness in a world determined to wipe it out.  Great stuff.

Over the years, the Emmys have garnered a reputation for awarding the same winner for the same performance several years in a row, including the likes of The West Wing’s Allison Janey, The Sopranos‘ late and greatly missed James Gandolfini, and Frasier‘s David Hyde Pierce.  As much as I adore all three of them (and the other repeat winners, like Aaron Paul, not listed here), at a certain point enough is enough.  I mean, how different was, say, Pierce’s Niles Crane from one year to the next?  I’d hazard a guess and say not different at all.  What I’m trying to say here is that I’m not a huge fan of the repeat winner, okay?  I’m sorry I’m not sorry.  But then along comes Bryan Cranston, who manages to take Walter White through so many iterations, so many transformations, that he seems as if he does give an entirely new performance each year.  And this, Breaking Bad‘s final season, found Cranston digging deeper than ever before.  One of the best pieces of acting to ever grace stage or screen, Bryan Cranston deserves the right to repeat his Emmy glory and make me look like a hypocritical such-and-such.  I can take it.  You’re welcome, Mr. Cranston.


That’s the end.  Stay tuned next time for the penultimate Dream Emmy Ballot: Best Lead Actress in a Drama!

Dream Emmy Ballot: Supporting Actor (Drama)

Not sure if you’ve heard the scuttlebutt, but there’s a heck of a lot of excellent television these days, and a great deal of it seems to flourish in the mystical land of drama.  Like my previous list of outstanding supporting actresses, I found this particular field of noteworthy gentlemen difficult to whittle down.  My first pass at this had a list of ten men who just had to make the final cut.   I know, I know #TVWatcherProblems.

But hey, before you climb up on your high horse and start pooh-poohing this arduous process, I’ll admit that having an overstuffed field from which to pluck possible nominees is a great problem to have.  We’re in the midst of TV’s Golden Age (forgive the dramatics, your honor), and the men listed below–not to mention the several other excellent performers that didn’t make the cut–all contribute to the preservation of that legacy.

Here we go, folks!  My dream Emmy ballot for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series!


Get A Room                                         lannister

Josh Charles,                                                                   Charles Dance,

The Good Wife                                                                 Game of Thrones      


lannister 2                                         dean

Peter Dinklage,                                                                  Dean Norris,

Game of Thrones                                                                 Breaking Bad


jesse                                         chalky

Aaron Paul,                                                        Michael Kenneth Williams,

Breaking Bad                                                                 Boardwalk Empire


Honorable Mentions: Jeffrey Wright, Boardwalk Empire; Walton Goggins, Justified; Pedro Pascal, Game of Thrones; Michael Kelly, House of Cards; Noah Emmerich, The Americans


“Show your work…”

When it comes to Breaking Bad, Dean Norris’s Hank and Aaron Paul’s Jesse played significant roles in maximizing the already outstanding quality in the show’s final season.  Few scenes floored me as much as Walt confronting Hank in the Schrader family garage in the season opener, and that sequence’s excellence has as much to do with Norris as Cranston; the man radiated anger and betrayal from every pore of his body, but his eyes allowed us a peak beneath the blow-hard bravado and at the bruised ego and terrifying powerlessness lurking there.  Meanwhile, Jesse’s sense of obligation to Walt clashed with his morality in fascinating ways, and Paul played those reversals and counter-reversals brilliantly.  But Paul’s best work came in his depiction of Jesse’s downward spiral, as this young man found himself subjected to such physical and mental cruelty that reduced him to a dehumanized shell of his former self, culminating in his gut-wrenching reaction to the death of a truly innocent bystander.  Needless to say, Breaking Bad had a banner year–did it ever not have one during the course of its run?–so you might as well get used to hearing its name called repeatedly in the drama categories come Emmy night.  Consider this a glimpse into the future.

There’s this other show on television, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it.  It’s called Game of Thrones?  Oh, you have heard of it because you’re a human being currently residing on this planet called Earth.  Gotcha.  Anyway, in addition to showcasing wedding massacres, this show also features one of the most upsetting father-son relationships on television in Charles Dance’s Tywin Lannister and Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister.  Despite their names’ passing similarities to one another, the two men could not be further apart.  This season, it was King Joffrey’s death that drove a larger wedge between the two; when Tyrion becomes the lead suspect in the regicide, Tywin sees it as his opportunity to fulfill his longterm goal of removing the member of his family he views as tainting it.  Charles Dance is the epitome of icy resolve, while Peter Dinklage absolutely spellbinds during Tyrion’s trial; his rant, wherein he vows he did not kill Joffrey but wishes he had, saw our favorite Lannister fed up with his almost universal mistreatment and adopting the persona expected of him.  Oh, and the way Dinklage performed the season finale’s big climax?  Happy Father’s Day!

In many ways, season four of HBO’s overlooked Boardwalk Empire is all about Michael Kenneth Williams’ Chalky White.  As the episodes unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that this is–in some ways–the story of Chalky’s personal tragedy as much as it is the story of Nucky’s criminal ascent.  Certainly, Chalky encountered his fair share of tragedy on multiple fronts this year, none as gut-wrenching as the accidental murder of his daughter in front of him.  Is there any performer on this list who so seamlessly vacillates between menacing rage and tender vulnerability with the ease of Michael Kenneth Williams?  Maybe, but Williams takes these moments that most would tackle with Acting (with a capital A, of course) and uses them as an opportunity to showcase his quiet subtlety, and that’s a decision that deserves recognition.

As if Josh Charles hadn’t blown our minds with his desk-clearing meltdown in The Good Wife‘s game-changer “Hitting the Fan,” he had to go and take Will Gardner deeper down the rabbit hole in the episodes that followed.  Will’s bruised ego, his sense of betrayal, his fratboy pettiness–they all rose to the surface.  But even more impressive is Charles’s showcase episode, “The Decision Tree,” wherein this talented actor did so much with the shake of his head or a wry smile as memory flashes revealed the undercurrent of Will’s facade: his continued fascination with (and dare I say love for?) Alicia. It would have been so simple for Josh Charles to play this entire arc with the dramatics of “Hitting the Fan,” but he wisely dialed back, revealing a more contemplative side to Will so that–even when he actively worked against Alicia, as in the scramble to claim the ChumHum account–we couldn’t help but root for the guy.  Josh Charles has been so good for so long, and his work in this season of this excellent show seems as good a time as any to reward him for that.  Plus, Will’s dead so it’s now or never, right?  I say now.  #CharlesInCharge


That wraps up this go around of my Dream Emmy Ballot!  Until next time, whence we dive into Best Actor in a Drama Series!  Hold onto your hat!

Dream Emmy Ballot: Supporting Actress (Drama)

Geez, ladies!  What’s with all the drama?  See what I did there?  #TVpuns

Listed below you’ll find a list of exceptional actresses whose performances absolutely enthralled.  Paring the field down to just six presented a (hyperbole warning) Herculean task, forcing me to trim great performances from the likes of Game of Thrones just to make way for some of the women you’ll see here.  And when Game of Thrones winds up on the cutting room floor, you know the competition is fierce.  For me, determining my dream ballot for this category was easy: which performances stuck with me after having moved me profoundly or shaking me to my core or, as is often the case, both at the same time?

Fun game: contrast the thumbnails below to those just recently posted to accommodate my picks for comedy categories.  From steely eyes to ugly cries, here we go!


good wife                                           bb

Christine Baranski,                                                           Anna Gunn,

       The Good Wife                                                              Breaking Bad


carter                                             americans

Taraji P. Henson,                                                         Annet Mahendru,

 Person of Interest                                                             The Americans


carol                                            Parenthood - Season 5

Melissa McBride,                                                            Mae Whitman,

The Walking Dead                                                                 Parenthood


Honorable Mention: Lena Headey, Game of Thrones; Ivana Milicevic, Banshee; Sophie Turner, Game of Thrones; Erika Christenson, Parenthood


“Show your work…”

If you scoffed at my selection of The Walking Dead‘s Melissa McBride, then allow me to provide my five-word retort: “Look at the flowers, Lizzy.”  I mean, right?  McBride absolutely killed it (too soon?) in portraying the weight of the soul-crushing decision to euthanize Lizzy before she transformed into a full-blown psychopath.  I watched this scene, hands clapped to my slack-jawed mouth, in awe of her spellbinding performance: McBride wore Carol’s moral conflict on her face like a grotesque Halloween mask.  As a show, The Walking Dead can be frustratingly inconsistent, but that in no way diminishes the wallop Melissa McBride packs in the all-time great episode “The Grove.”  A stunner.

A thousand times da, Nina Sergeevna!  I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen any performer–actor or actress–pull off the kind of high-wire balancing act required of Annet Mahendru on FX’s brilliant series The Americans.  Mahendru manages a mind-boggling paradox: Nina is both one hundred percent sympathetic and one hundred percent untrustworthy.  Perhaps it has to do with the woman’s gorgeous face, which emotes so completely that we feel her feeling the burden of her betrayal as a double agent.  I hope with every fiber of my being that Nina’s walk down the stairs at the end of season two did not serve as her permanent exit from the show because The Americans–for all its strengths, which are myriad–must credit this outstanding actress as a major contributor to its overall success.

Look, Mae Whitman.  We need to talk.  Can you do me a huge favor and not rip my still-beating heart out of my chest every time you’re on screen?  Thanks, Mae!  That would be just darling of you.  Seriously, a mere quiver of the lip is enough to send me into paroxysms of despair.  If you’ve read this blog before, then you know I hold a very soft spot in my heart for NBC’s Parenthood; the cast is excellent, the writing spot-on.  I could single out any one of the talented performers from this showcase of a series, but Amber’s doomed relationship with Ryan was one of the best things this show has done, and that has a great deal to do with Mae Whitman (and Matt Lauria, but he ain’t no lady, so back off!).  Even better?  This arc forced Amber to reconnect with her deadbeat dad Seth, which always forces me to feel every single feel.  #MaeMayWin Let’s get that trending!

Speaking of the ugly cry, was there anything more gut-wrenching than Skyler White’s mid-street collapse in Breaking Bad‘s best episode, “Ozymandias?”  Truly intense stuff, and that’s to say nothing of the minutes preceding her futile sprint down the street.  Geesh, Anna Gunn, you’ve already won an Emmy for your excellent portrayal of Mrs. Walter White.  Can you leave some for the rest of us?  I know fans loved to hate on Skyler throughout the course of the show’s run, but I found Gunn consistently compelling in the role and never more affecting than in the series’ final stretch of episodes.

Person of Interest very confidently strode to the head of the network drama class this season, and Ms. Taraji P. Henson helped it get there.  Jos Carter’s multi-season struggle with the nefarious HR reached its brutal climax halfway through the third season, though Carter’s  victory came at a steep cost.  Along the way, Henson elevated what could have amounted to little more than a stock character into a multi-faceted, complex woman whose belief in justice motivated many of her decisions and actions.  Embodying the show’s heart, Henson proved Person of Interest anything but a flash-in-the-pan science fiction show.  For that alone, her nomination would be very well-deserved–unfortunately, I’m not counting on the Emmy machine picking Henson’s number this time around.

On a television show full of bad-ass women, Christine Baranski’s Diane Lockhart still manages to stand out from the pack.  The Good Wife reinvented itself this season, and Diane found herself at the epicenter of these narrative shifts.  Baranski’s refusal to rely on obvious histrionics as Diane leaned over the body of her fallen friend is indicative of the subtlety and restraint she brings to the role without sacrificing palpable pathos.  Yet somehow, Baranski’s best work came after her partner’s death, whether grappling with her grief or butting heads with the circling sharks of fellow partners.  But, for me, Diane’s reconnection with Alicia and her gradual separation from the firm she helped build really carried this performance.  Where this character ended up–knocking on the door of Alicia’s firm–might have been inevitable, but the journey Baranski took us on with her her character to arrive there felt like an acting masterclass.


That’s the end!  Next time, let’s see what the supporting gentlemen are doing in their respective dramatic roles, shall we?  Looking forward to it!

Dream Emmy Ballot: Best Series (Comedy)

Look, comedy is incredibly subjective.  What I find gut-bustingly hilarious might elicit little more than the wryest of smiles from you, so–of all the categories so far–this one seems the most subjective.  Even if you don’t find, say, Louie to be your proverbial cup of tea, I doubt very much you could deny the craftsmanship of the performances and writing, but when it comes to the selection of the Best Comedy Series, such a title seems synonymous with Funniest Comedy Series.  And so this crazy little wheel of subjectivity keeps spinning ’round.  Like a record, baby.  Right round round round. #MixingMetaphors #80s

Taking all of that into account, here they are, the comedy series that I consider most worthy of nominations.  Let the debate over the true nature of comedy commence!


enlisted                                           Louie

                  Enlisted                                                                                Louie


Spoiler Entitlement                                          Parks and Recreation

     Orange is the New Black                                          Parks and Recreation


Silicon Valley                                          veep

              Silicon Valley                                                                          Veep

Honorable MentionsShameless; The Mindy ProjectFamily Tree; DerekHello Ladies; Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Nurse Jackie


“Show your work…”

Enlisted, likely, caused you to furrow your brow when you spotted it on my list, so let’s start there.  It’s a ridiculous show, one that can feature a loving homage to Donkey Kong or a heart-stopping escape from a field of porta potties, an ever-escalating prank war or an obsession with Lori Loughlin.  But reveling in the ludicrousness of life at Fort McGee becomes the point of the series: it tackles Army-related drama, such as Sgt. Pete Hill’s PTSD and palpable survivor’s guilt, without sacrificing its own brand of humor.  Very assuredly and slyly, this became a comedy series about the process of overcoming trauma and the need to reinvent oneself in the wake of it, but it’s also a show about the bond of brotherhood in its myriad forms.  The principle cast (Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell, Keith David, Angelique Cabral, and Parker Young) clicks perfectly and gets great back up from those making up the ragtag squad Pete leads.  Unfortunately, Fox mishandled the scheduling of this excellent show, leading to its cancellation, so a surprise nod for Best Comedy Series might assuage the sting a bit and give those Fox execs a moment of pause.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

I’ve written about Louie on here before, so I’ll keep it brief.  There’s never been a show like this before; I doubt we’ll see one as good as it for a very long time.  No other series imbues its consistently disarming comedy with such insight, wit, heart, and sadness; even more miraculous, sometimes the show dispenses with comedy altogether and aims to present a dramatic story instead.  Simply put, this is wondrous television at its most surprising and satisfying.

Netflix’s Orange is the New Black seems poised to claim the title of awards darling this year–and for good reason.  The predominantly female cast reveals its talent piece at a time as the season’s overall narrative structure zeroes in on a specific inmate (providing backstory and context) while also depicting Piper’s gradual unraveling.  Amidst so much quality storytelling, a few threads stand out: the show’s frank and moving depiction of how an inmate’s gender identity affects her family truly impresses, as does Larry (Jason Biggs) struggling to accept the way Piper’s choices have impacted his own sense of self.   If this doesn’t sound gut-bustingly hilarious, that’s because it isn’t, but that’s not to say moments of levity do not emerge.  So, while Orange certainly stands as the least laugh-out-loud comedy on this list, its achievement remains nonetheless staggering.

Parks and Recreation, network television’s best comedy by a considerable margin, stands alone, a true anomaly.  Often times, the shows that strike a chord with audiences come with a twinge of cynicism, as if–underneath the jokes–lives condescension; most times, these shows ask us to laugh at their characters, to judge them for their stupidity or closed-mindedness, their religiosity or social awkwardness.  But not Parks and Recreation.  If anything, this is a show about idealism and positivity in a world hellbent on squashing both.  Somehow, this show feels like a celebration of life, and it also happens to be hysterical.  See Ben Wyatt getting drunk on blueberry wine, Donna scolding her cousin Ginuwine, Andy (and Mouse Rat!) leading a Li’l Sebastian tribute song, Ron destroying a homemade chair for looking “too perfect,” Chris Tragger enacting a one-man dance party to the sultry sounds of “One Headlight,” and Michelle Obama stunning Leslie into silence.  And beneath the effervescent comedy lies a beating heart imbuing it all with a true warmth that’s as infectious as the characters and jokes.  Because as memorable as the comedy is on Parks and Recreation, those moments of friendship–pure, true friendship–ring truest, such as Ron’s pilgrimage to a whiskey distillery in “London.”  Long-lasting network comedies shouldn’t be this good, but Parks and Recreation certainly defies convention.

Silicon Valley‘s inaugural season might stand as a collection of the funniest  episodes HBO has ever aired.  Vacillating between sharp parody of the tech industry in desperate need of lampooning and bawdy humor (the epic dick joke that accounted for a considerable amount of the finale’s run time still has me laughing), Mike Judge’s show emerged as confident in itself as Richard is unconfident.  Anchored by a breakout turn from Thomas Middleditch and buoyed by the likes of TJ Miller, Christopher Evan Welch, Zach Woods, and Kumail Nanjiani, Silicon Valley proves what we already know: the best comedy is concentrated, playing to its strengths while also finding news ways to surprise its audience.  For eight brilliant episodes, Silicon Valley did just that and more.  Bring on season two, and remember: never trust coders in muscle tees.

No show on television (since perhaps another HBO staple, Deadwood) has relished in the poetic nature of profanity to such masterful effect as Veep.  From the outset, this series means to satirize American politics–and it does–but, really, it goes deeper, so what we have here is a show about the corrupting influence of power and the buffoons foolish enough to attempt to wield it.  And what’s more, in allowing the charade of politics to continue in the way Veep depicts them, we–the audience–become the butt of the grandest joke of all.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus kills it as Selina Meyer, but her staff of knuckleheaded idiots are suitable counterparts, from Matt Walsh’s Mike to Tony Hale’s Gary, from Anna Chlumsky’s Amy to Reid Scott’s Dan.  And let’s not forget–how could we?–Sufe Bradshaw’s stoic Sue, Gary Cole’s pandering Kent, Kevin Dunn’s curmudgeonly Ben, and founder of Ryantology himself: Timothy Simon’s Jonah.  Excellent cast, excellent writing, biting satire, and Shakespearean bawdiness coalesce to create truly original comedy.


That’s it on my end!  Feel free now to decry my limited comprehension of what does and does not qualify as funny.  Don’t worry, I won’t cry too much.  Until next time, when we dive into the swirling miasma of misery that is drama!  Bring some tissues, ‘cuz it’s ’bout to get…dramafied.  Had nothing.  Sorry.

Dream Emmy Ballot: Lead Actor (Comedy)

So many hilarious performances on television, so little time!  I’m dubbing this category #YearoftheChris because two of my hopefuls are blessed with said first name, and that can’t just be happenstance, can it?  I didn’t think so either.

From a doctor to a single dad, from a would-be womanizer to an amateur genealogist, from a start-up’s CEO  to a nerdy city planner, below are–in my mind–the cream of the crop of television’s comedy actors.

Without further delay, here we go: my dream Emmy Ballot for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series!


ck                                   dr c

Louis CK, Louie                                 Chris Messina, The Mindy Project


richard                                hello ladies

Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley      Stephen Merchant, Hello, Ladies


family tree                               Parks and Recreation

Chris O’Dowd, Family Tree              Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation


Honorable Mentions: H. Jon Benjamin, Archer; William H. Macy, Shameless; Ricky Gervais, Derek; Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Elijah Wood, Wilfred


“Show your work…”

The criminally underappreciated Family Tree was–pardon the impending pun–rooted firmly in the excellent performance by Chris O’Dowd.  Thanks to O’Dowd’s one-of-a-kind charm, Tom Chadwick became a man whose multi-continental journey became a symbol for his own self-discovery following a divorce.  O’Dowd tempered the show’s moments of outrageous quirkiness with ace reaction shots but could also deliver the funny himself: see his diatribe against an angry motorist for spouting off “mythical racism.”  I’ve resigned myself to the reality that O’Dowd will not receive the gift of a nomination, and that’s a true shame.

Speaking of requisite straight-men in the face of absurdity, is there a character better suited to the role than Adam Scott’s Ben Wyatt?  Mr. Leslie Knope has the difficult job of grounding some of the more ludicrous situations and characters (see Andy Dwyer), but he does so with such deadpan aplomb, he manages to elevate this standard role to something truly funny.  Scott knows just when to ramp up Ben’s childlike glee (or outrage) when it comes to his nerdy wheelhouse, whether that’s his reaction shot to Letters of Cleo reuniting for the Unity Concert or showing the boys how a real man plays Cones of Dunshire.  For me, Leslie Knope is the heart of Parks and Recreation, but thanks to Adam Scott, Ben Wyatt is its lungs, finding new ways to breathe new life into otherwise standard comedy tropes.

In years to come, doctoral candidates will be analyzing the unadulterated brilliance of FX’s Louie and the way it quietly and single-handedly altered our expectations of what a comedy series can accomplish, and none of that would be possible without CK’s titular performance.  Whether struggling with the modern realities of life as a single-father or delivering gut-busting stand up, Louis CK’s fearless performance can match the dauntless writing step for step.  It’s an incredible performance brimming with pathos, humor, and more than a pinch of sadness.

Thomas Middleditch is spectacular as the socially awkward but technologically brilliant Richard in HBO’s Silicon Valley.  His mannerisms and speech patterns give his character a fullness because Middleditch clearly has no interest in poking fun at Richard; rather, he wants to expose his quirks and idiosyncrasies as well as his genius. Great stuff.  Stephen Merchant, on the other hand, walks a fine line with Stuart Pritchard in Hello, Ladies.  At times, we need to fume at Stuart; other times, we pity him.  We laugh at him (how hilariously awkward was the scene of him trying to get out of the sports car in front of the club in the pilot episode?); we laugh with him.  That’s quite a bit to ask of an audience, but Merchant manages handily, creating a full portrait of a man trying too hard to find a connection when there’s one right under his nose.

Chris Messina has been great for what feels like forever, so it’s about time to laud this guy with the props he so richly deserves.  His Dr. Castellano is the most charming curmudgeon to grace our small screens in quite some time, and Messina did an excellent job dismantling Dr. C’s bravado a piece at a time over the course of the excellent second season to reveal the beating heart of a true romantic.  The Mindy Project enjoyed such phenomenal success this year in no small part due to Messina, whose electric chemistry with fellow dream-nominee Mindy Kaling virtually set our televisions on fire.  Oh, and the dude can dance apparently.


There we have it, ladies and gentlemen.  Tomorrow, stay tuned for the culmination of this first half of my Dream Emmy Ballot experiment: Best Comedy Series!  Until then, don’t forget to keep that mythical racism in check.  Leprechauns are people too!  #TheMoreYouKnow

Dream Emmy Ballot: Lead Actress (Comedy)

If I had my druthers (and don’t we all wish to hold our druthers firmly in our grasps?), then this year would feature an unprecedented victory the likes of which the Emmys have never seen: a six-way tie!  Hurray!  Wouldn’t that be grand?  #WereAllWinners

Seriously, this is one tough category to judge with shows like Shameless and Orange is the New Black straddling the the line arbitrarily dividing drama and comedy.  But whichever way you slice it, the six women below deliver some of the best comedic performances on television–male or female.

Without further adieu, here we go!


Episode 507                                    mindy

Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie                       Mindy Kaling, The Mindy Project


"Veep"                               leslie

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep                       Amy Poehler, Parks and Rec


fiona                                  piper

Emmy Rossum, Shameless           Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black


Honorable Mentions: Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope; Kerry Godliman, Derek; Aisha Tyler, Archer


Show your work…”

I’m going to flout convention on this one and toss the names of two repeat nominees/winners into the ring, though I usually detest the Emmys for doing just that.  Edie Falco should hear her name called for her turn as Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus needs a nod for hers as VP/POTUS(!) Selina Meyer in HBO’s hilarious Veep.  Both deserve to keep their streaks of nominations alive, though for markedly different reasons: Falco has taken Jackie to some dark, manipulative places this year while Selina has soared to new heights of neurotic self-aggrandizement.  I’d be flummoxed if both of these exceptionally talented women don’t find their names on the ballot come July.

Meanwhile, Emmy Rossum and Taylor Schilling of the “comedies” Shameless and Orange is the New Black deserve to hear their names called.  Schilling transformed Piper from a cloyingly obnoxious and privileged women to a one beaten down by a system, stripped of her identity.  It’s a powerful performance; in the closing minutes of season one, you can feel the impotence and rage radiating off her as she unleashes her aggression on her erstwhile aggressor.  Great stuff.  Rossum’s Fiona Gallagher faced a similar downward trajectory this year, a path paved with infidelity, drug use, and negligence that ultimately landed her in prison.  But what made Rossum so compelling this year was that, for each frustrating misstep Fiona took (and they were myriad), she still managed to retain her character’s pathos.  We couldn’t help but feel that Fiona, like Piper, has been crushed by her circumstances and therefore overwhelmed and out of her depth in the face of even marginal success.  Sounds hilarious, doesn’t it?  Oh wait a minute, it’s actually a soul-crushing performance beautifully depicted!  I always get those two confused. #EmmyforEmmy Yup, that happened.

Mindy Kaling and Amy Poehler might serve as the centerpieces to the two most “traditional” sitcoms on this list–not that there’s anything remotely pedestrian about these two fantastic, original network comedies–but that in no way diminishes the quality of their performances on The Mindy Project and Parks and Recreation.  Both actresses are considerably adroit at jumping from drama to comedy. Kaling mastered it over the duration of season two’s arc that ultimately landed Dr. L in the arms of Dr. C.  The scene where she breaks up with Dr. C (the first time) could have been welcomed on the screen of any major drama, but Kaling can also crack us up as we watch her collapse into an exhausted heap at the top of the Empire State Building after running up the stairs to the man of her dreams.  Amy Poehler captures every glimmer of Leslie Knope’s optimism and every note of idealistic resolve, but Leslie had some trying times this season: first, the departure of new mom/beautiful land mermaid/best friend Anne Perkins, next the bitter disappointment of her removal from office, and finally, the ongoing decision whether or not to take a federal dream job that will force her to leave Pawnee in her rearview.  What’s most impressive about these two performances is that they leave us longing for more.  What’s next for Leslie after that unexpected time jump?  Will Dr. L maneuver a romantic life with Dr. C?  Stellar performances both in dire need of some recognition.


Well that about does it!  Until next time, friends, when I’ll present my dream ballot for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series!

Dream Emmy Ballot: Supporting Actor (Comedy)

Let’s keep this gravy train a-rolling, shall we?  Last week, I posted my Emmy hopefuls in the category of Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, with my selections ranging from “strong possibility” to “not a snowball’s chance in hell.”  What do you say we keep that tradition alive by crossing the gender line hand-in-hand and turning our sights on Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series?

Sound good to you?  Perfect.  Here they are: the funny men that Emmy voters should nominate if they know what’s good for them! #Emptythreat

mindy                                           braugher

Ike Barinholtz, The Mindy Project             Andre Braugher, Brooklyn 99


ron                                          peter

Nick Offerman, Parks & Rec        Christopher Evan Welch, Silicon Valley 


lip                                          enlisted

Jeremy Allen White, Shameless                      Parker Young, Enlisted


Honorable Mentions: Noel Fisher, Shameless; Tony Hale, Veep; Matt Walsh, Veep; Chris Pratt, Parks and Recreation; Danny Pudi, Community


“Show your work…”

I would be ecstatic if Christopher Evan Welch earns a posthumous nomination for his turn as the hilariously awkward Peter Gregory in HBO’s ingenious Silicon Valley.  The only proof you need: his free-style brainstorming about Burger King’s sesame seed rolls evolves into an analysis of cicada patterns and, ultimately, forms the backbone of a multi-million dollar investment.  One of my favorite comedy sequences of the year handled with comedic precision by Welch, who seemed poised to break out in a big way with this role.  His loss hurts, but a nod (and win?!) would assuage the sting a bit.

Meanwhile, Ike Barinholtz continues to delight as Morgan, the male nurse on Fox’s underappreciated gem The Mindy Project.  Amidst an already impressive cast, Barinholtz steals the show with his playful awkwardness.  I can just hear his “in character” acceptance speech now: “Dr. L” this and “Dr. C” that.  I would be very okay with that.

Speaking of small screen delights, is there a more iconic sitcom character on the air right now than Parks and Recreation‘s Ron Swanson?  Seriously, Nick Offerman did great work this year, from his heart-warming pilgrimage to a whiskey distillery in the “London” two-parter to his evolution into an honest-to-goodness family man over the course of the season.  Few comedic actors can vacillate between drama and comedy with the aplomb of Offerman; it’s high time Ron F****** Swanson won the props he deserves.

We’ve already discussed how Shameless has no business being in the comedy category; still, it is, and White did impressive work as Lip Gallagher this year.  Lip’s attempt to balance his academic and work study duties with his newfound responsibilities as surrogate father (while Fiona flushed her life down the toilet) formed the backbone of one of Shameless‘s strongest seasons to date, and White should take more than just a little credit for that.

Andre Braugher has already won an Emmy for his brilliant (dramatic) turn as Detective Frank Pembleton on the Hall of Fame-great series Homicide: Life on the Streets, but dammit if Braugher doesn’t deserve another win for playing a cop again, though this time in a comedy series on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.  His Captain Holt is the perfect straight man, eliminating histrionics altogether–the fact that he could deliver the line, “I’m in agonizing pain right now,” with a straight face and robot’s monotone is, in my estimation, Emmy-worthy.  But let’s also note that Braugher has been, very unobtrusively, doing some groundbreaking work with Holt; his character’s homosexuality is neither a defining trait nor a caricature.  Holt is a cop who just happens to be gay, and Braugher pulls it off brilliantly.

Last but not least, that leaves Parker Young in Fox’s recently cancelled Enlisted.  This is my long shot, but Young is just hysterical in depicting Randy Hill’s charming stupidity and unabashed adoration of his older brothers.  Dude’s got killer comic timing and deserves a spot right alongside the aforementioned performers, even if you never watched his show.  Take my word for it, okay?  The guy has an emotional breakdown at the mere thought of the plight of the Pixar lamp–yeah, the one in the logo.  What else can an Emmy hopeful do?


Until next time, my television-obsessed friends!  We’ll be moving onto Lead Actress in a Comedy Series!

Dream Emmy Ballot: Supporting Actress (Comedy)

As we gear up for the Emmys, that most frustrating of television awards, I’d like to take the next couple of weeks to present to you my dream ballots in several categories before then defending several of my choices to the death in a trial by combat versus The Mountain.

Our first category up: Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series!


Veep                                      shameless

Anna Chlumsky, Veep                                   Emma Kenney, Shameless


OitNB                                        Brooklyn Nine Nine

Kate Mulgrew, Orange is the New Black       Chelsea Peretti, Brooklyn 99


NURSE JACKIE (Season 2)                                        Ladies 

Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie                 Christine Woods, Hello, Ladies


Honorable Mentions: Beth Grant, The Mindy Project; Stephanie Beatriz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation


“Show your work…”

In a fair and just world, all six of these ladies will hear their names called come time for the Emmy nominations in July.  However, I’ll concede that several of them are long shots, mostly notably youngster Emma Kenney, who masterfully handled Debbie Gallagher’s burgeoning young adulthood with aplomb in season four.  Now, let me say this: I fundamentally disagree with Shameless being classified as a comedy, but since it is, Kenney’s name appears on my hopeful ballot.  While we’re on the subject of long shots, I’d love to see Christine Woods scoop up a nod for her turn as Jessica in HBO’s brilliantly cringeworthy Hello, Ladies; I found myself consistently impressed by how Woods tempered Jessica’s neuroses, never allowing them to reduce her character to cliche but instead using them to highlight what a pitch-perfect mate she would be for Stuart, her unsuccessful philanderer of a roommate.  She just strikes the perfect balance between pathos and comedy.

In terms of the remote realm of possibility, my other four choices seem grounded at least tenuously in reality.  Merritt Wever’s Zoey Barkow is not just the best character on Showtime’s underappreciated Nurse Jackie but one of my favorite characters on television right now; I know she won last year, and–given the Emmy’s predilection for repeat winners–I wouldn’t at all mind to see her at the podium again this year.  Meanwhile, Anna Chlumsky continues to do excellent work on HBO’s Veep; Amy snatching the coveted spot of campaign manager this season was great, and she can spout out the poetically profane dialogue of this series with the best of them.  Love her.

That leaves us with Kate Mulgrew, whose character Red manages to stand out so vividly amongst the already vivid and vibrant cast of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black.  I suppose it bears repeating that OitNB ain’t really a comedy, but that was its submission category, so here we are.  Regardless, Mulgrew’s understanding of this character is simply breathtaking; she knows how to balance her intimidating nature with the softer sides to her (often revealed in those heartbreaking flashbacks).  I’m pulling for you big time on this, Red!  Finally, that leaves Chelsea Peretti, the one actress on this list that without fail had me in stitches at least two or three times an episode.  Her Gina Linetti is an unapologetically unique creation; I mean, her dance in the briefing room?  Man, I’m still laughing about that.  The fact that Peretti managed to steal scenes left and right from the cast of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a feat in and of itself, but as the season progressed, so did her character, and Peretti matched the evolution step for step.  I’ll do a dance of my own if her name winds up on the final ballot.

Well there it is, my first Dream Emmy ballot!  Stay tuned for my next one later in the week: Supporting Actor in Comedy Series!

Season Finale Report Card, Part II

Let me catch you up.  Last time, we did part one; this time we’re doing part two because counting.  Any questions?  Good!  This second crop of episodes brought their shows’ respect seasons to a close with some expected tropes: engagements, weddings, explosions, interpersonal conflict, the death of modern privacy.  You know, typical stuff.  But even when these shows leaned heavily on such traditional narrative developments, the best of the bunch still managed to leave us salivating for the fall.

All right, time to dispatch with the generalities and dive right in.  Without further adieu, here we go!


Arrow, “Unthinkable”

I’m just going to say it, after the outstanding quality of the two preceding episodes–“City of Blood” and “Streets of Fire”–I went into Arrow‘s second season finale with the kind of enthusiasm reserved only for the most anticipated of television events.  Make no mistake about it, “Unthinkable” brought it home in many ways, but can I also admit I felt a tad let down?  I know, I know.  Shoot me in the face with an exploding arrow because I’m a dumb-dumb.  But hear me out!

After upping the ante big time vis-a-vis Moira’s murder at Slade’s hands (sword?) and the general pandemonium in Starling City caused by Blood’s super-soldiers, I wanted even more sh*t to go down.  It felt like Arrow was going there, and I wanted the show to tumble even further down the rabbit hole.  Unfortunately, it didn’t.  Look, it’s probably the right choice to bring closure to the first two seasons with Oliver triumphant and Slade burried deep within an A.R.G.U.S. prison beneath the sand of Lian Yu.  But am I the only one who found Oliver’s take-down of Slade far too easy?  Not to mention, of course, it took those of us ‘shipping the U.S.S Olicity and ripped our hearts out.  What a cruel trick, Oliver, you heart-breaking rapscallion.


Still, I enjoyed the way Arrow went out of its way to set the table for a new chapter both in the present and past narratives.  A.R.G.U.S seems poised to take a more prominent role in Starling City’s myriad goings-on, with Amanda Waller at the controls.  I dig it.  Plus, for the better part of season two’s back-half, the flashbacks on Lian Yu were progressing at a glacial pace, so I loved the reveal of Oliver waking up in Hong Kong and meeting Waller.  And at its best, that’s what this finale did so well.  It closed the two-season chapter on the show we’ve grown to love: the rise of The Arrow.  Now onto bigger and better things, I hope!  For instance, more of this, please:


The finale sent off our secondary characters with variable success.  Pros: Thea, sick of the lies, aligns with Papa Malcolm and Diggle needs to pick out a crib ’cause he gonna be a daddy!  The meh: Quentin succumbs to his injuries and collapses in a bloody heap in Laurel’s arms, and Sara rejoins the League of Assassins as repayment for their clandestine assistance in stopping Slade.

For me, the pros outweighed the cons, and the second season proved itself a vast improvement over the first: more cohesive, more balanced, more confident.  So, in that regard, I’m looking forward to season three, but I can’t shake the wish that Arrow  had given us just a little something more.

Grade: B+


Chicago Fire, “Real Never Waits”

I’m not going to lie: Chicago Fire played it safe in its finale.  It didn’t swing for the fences; instead, it seemed more content to tick off the boxes needed to put a bow on a solid and improved second season.  Boden marries (at 51 because duh they’re family) with Mills officiating; Dawson passes her firefighter’s test; Casey proposes to Dawson at Boden’s wedding (Lt. Casey, ye hogger of limelight) but an emergency interrupts her response; a fire at a boarding school shakes Severide to his core, prompting him to buy a junky motorcycle rather than feel his feels; Shay continues to see the ragamuffin thief who ripped her off earlier in the season.


Narratively speaking, none of this would set the world on fire (ha! puns!), but it was serviceable and did its Chicago Fire thing throughout, so good for it.  My favorite part of the finale, however, has to be the pairing of Eamonn Walker’s Boden with David Eigenberg’s Hermann.  Sure, Eigenberg deserves more than B-plot status as Boden’s best man, but I’ll take whatever the show gives me.  Season two made incremental improvements in giving this talented and underrated actor some better material (Lieutenant Hermann!), but I want to see that trend continue into season three.

I’m a sucker for a good cliffhanger, even if said cliffhanger relies on something obvious like a building explosion.  But, man!  A building exploded with all of 51 inside!  The sequence played out with palpable tension, and we knew too much joy and reconciliation amongst the members of the squad would not last long.  Hence, boom.


And what a chilling ending to the episode: Boden screaming into his radio for somebody–anybody–to report.  REPOOOOOORT!

Grade: B


The Good Wife, “A Weird Year”

If you haven’t been watching The Good Wife this year, then you’re missing out on one of the best seasons of network drama in recent memory.  Seriously, throughout its twenty-two episodes, The Good Wife managed to reinvent itself not once but twice.  First with Alicia and Carey branching out from Lockhart/Gardner to start their own firm and then with one of the best small screen shockers ever: Will Gardner getting gunned down in a courtroom.  Since Will’s death, Alicia has been reeling, and the show used her personal catastrophe to enrich and deepen arguably the best female character on television.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you prevent a show from stagnating.  Holy cow!

What’s even more impressive, next year seems headed on an exciting trajectory sure to give season five a run for its money in terms of quality.  Despite concluding a season typified by shake-ups and surprises, this episode dealt mostly with the theme of inevitability.  Alicia and Carey, after a seeming blissful start to their partnership, inevitably devolve into acrimonious debate over the issue of merging with Lockhart/Gardner; Zach graduates and inevitably leaves the nest; Finn’s District Attorney campaign inevitably crashes up against the reality of Chicago politics and ends before it began; Jackie inevitably butts in where she doesn’t belong; Diane inevitably leaves the firm she co-created (David Lee and Louis Canning are just the worst…don’t ever change) and asks for a position at Florrick/Agos.  Such a wonderful sense of closure to this tumultuous (in the best sense of the word) season.  Great stuff.

the-good-wife-a-weird-year-czuchry and margulies

But then the doozy, the definitive period to end this season’s litany of game changers: Eli, struck by a sudden epiphany, turns to Alicia and asks if she would like to run for District Attorney.  Mic drop.  Fade to black.  Yeah, you thought for a moment that Eli would confess to Alicia about deleting Will’s voicemail back in season two, but no.  The ghost of Will Gardner would not face such summary dismissal; he’ll linger for a while longer, of that I have no doubt.

All in all, a fantastic finale to a brilliant season of television that, this deep into its run, had no business being this good.  Is it September yet?

Grade: A


Nashville, “On the Other Hand”

At this point, Nashville is what it is: a night time soap that has lofty aspirations it cannot execute.  Now, I’ll grant that this finale stands as a marked improvement over last year’s sudsy debacle, but that’s still not saying a hell of a lot.

I admit I am not the target audience, so the show’s “big moments” don’t land with me like Nashville hopes they will.  Luke’s arena-staged (and super awkward) proposal to Rayna did not imbue me with giddy delight; likewise, Deacon’s counter-offered proposal later that night did not send me swooning.  Sorry, but can we not end each season of this show with a proposal?  Hey, wait a tick!  You know what’s better than one proposal?  Two?  Can you sense my rolling eyes?


Scarlett’s character needs some serious revisiting, with her nervous breakdowns lacking pathos and coming across as unintentional comic relief.  Gunnar seems to have persuaded her to stick around and not slink back to her po-dunk town (thanks to the gift of song because duh), but I don’t really care.  Meanwhile, Teddy’s Teddying all over the place (ugh), Juliette shows up drunk to a sobriety event (stay classy), and Will comes out to his fiancee, unaware that a well-placed camera recorded his confession.

Hear that?  It’s the sound of me straining to care.

Like I said, this show is what it is.  It’s never going to be my favorite or even something I’ll admit to watching in public, but look: I dig the music, Connie Britton’s the best, and my wife likes it, okay?

Grade: C


Person of Interest, “Deus Ex Machina”

So we’re all in agreement that Person of Interest is now officially the scariest show on television, right?  I mean, sheesh, with Samaritan not only up and running but also–if the closing shot of the episode is any indication–beginning to adopt a sentient sense of self, PoI pretty much warns us about the death of privacy in the modern world.  And it’s terrifying.  Yes, by the end of this fantastic episode, Greer and Decima Technologies emerge as the victors, and the cost is steep: our core group disbands to evade the watchful eye of Samaritan thanks to a bit of handy work from Root that essentially creates identity blind spots.  Quick question: um, what’s the deal with Fusco?  He should totally get out of Dodge, too, right?  Fusco?


Person of Interest fully embraced the dark realities of surveilling citizens this year, turning in its strongest run of episodes yet.  Season three will prove difficult to top, but I’m thrilled for the next chapter.   One small point of contention: apparently, Peter Collier, the Vigilance leader/kangeroo court baddie, found himself at the wrong end of Greer’s long con.  That Greer created Vigilance as a tangible threat to national security in order for him to prove the worth of Samaritan to the US government is one of those classic villain plots that makes no sense when given a millisecond of scrutiny; come on, Person of Interest, you’re better than that!  Then again, I suppose we don’t have to bemoan this fact too much because Greer fired Collier very aggressively.  Namely, he shot him.

Still, what a brilliant and frightening hour of television!  Highlights of the episode included the intense trial (um, Control rocked my world) and the genius pairing of Reese and Hirsch kicking ass and taking names.  Talk about a match made in heaven!  Speaking of which, RIP Hirsch, you loony ‘toon you!


I absolutely cannot wait for the fourth season of this fantastic show because this finale left me with so questions swirling around my brain.  How will our fateful heroes find each another again?  How far will Person of Interest  take this terrifying vision of government surveillance run amok?  And, most important, how’s Bear?

Until the fall!  And remember: Samaritan’s watching…

Grade: A


Thanks for reading, TV fanatics!  Look for the third and final season finale report card next week!

Season Finale Report Card, Part 1

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
With the networks all yelling
And everyone praying “Hope to see you next year!”
It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year
It’s the sad -saddest season of all…
With those end of year meetings and depressing greetings
When cancellation comes to call
It’s the sad – saddest season of all…

There’ll be  execs for roasting,
Unresolved plot lines for toasting,
And angry tears by moon’s glow.
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories of
Beloved shows lost long ago!

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

That’s right, folks!  Amidst the veritable bloodbath that is May sweeps, with networks axing approximately nine-tenths of their current lineups (*), we’ve still got to dust ourselves off, put our pants on, and face the world.  Sure, we feel like curling up into the fetal position and never leaving our houses again because Community‘s been cancelled, but our ever-exploding DVRs are, as we know, cruel mistresses and do no halt recordings because we’re feeling all the feels.  I mean, we’re swimming the stormy seas of nonstop season finales, am I right?

(*) Disclaimer: This statistic is in no way based in scientific fact and is–in the interest of candor–completely made up.  But Community, noooooooooo!

Now that the first batch of shows have wrapped up for the season, I thought I’d do a quick report card, rate the shows for their final episodes only.  Will you indulge me?  Of course you will, you flirt!  Let’s get to it!


Archer, “Archer Vice: Arrival/Departure”

While the whole “Archer Vice” experiment this year met with some divisive reactions from fans, I settled firmly in the “I dig it” camp.  I mean, Archer had no real need to reinvent itself but chose to just for the sake of creativity.  You gotta admire that.  Fortunately for detractors, the season finale essentially assured us that this was a single season exercise, as the closing minutes of the episode find Mallory strong-arming the CIA into reestablishing ISIS.  Along the way, the reign of Cyril met its end point, Ray hit on Christian Slater’s animated counterpart and arms dealer Slater (“So, what’s your deal?”), Krieger might or might not be a cloned version of himself (obvi), Lana gives birth to a baby girl while firing a machine gun, and Archer learns he’s a dad.

Archer As with most Archer episodes, not every joke lands, but so many get fired at us, it would be impossible to keep up if they did; still, I enjoyed the finale thoroughly (um, do you see the picture above because duh it was funny).  I can’t wait to see where these plotlines take our characters next season.  Will Pam kick the coke habit?  (God, I hope not.)  Will Charlene continue her rise up the country music charts?  Only time will tell, and I’m anxious to see our favorite spies thrust back into the espionage danger zone next year.  Why aren’t we saying phrasing?!

Grade: B+


Community, “Basic Sandwich”

Clearly, you weren’t rubbing your nipples hard enough as Prof. Borchert encouraged because Community is over, cancelled just shy of fulfilling its #sixseasonsandamovie prophecy.  I don’t want to talk about it.

I reviewed the episode already, so follow the link here.


Grade: A-


Hawaii Five-O, “O ka Pili ‘Ohana ka ‘Oi”

This show is an absolute blast, and if you’re not watching it, you should be.  Look, it’s not the most original show around (it’s both a remake and a cop show, which is, I’ll grant you, sort of the double whammy of television recycling), but the game, up-for-anything cast, lead by Alex O’Loughlin as Steve McGarrett, Scott Caan as Danny Williams, Daniel Dae Kim as Chin Ho Kelly, Grace Park as Kono, make this show work.  More than a standard CBS case-of-the-week procedural, Five-O has weaved itself an impressive serialized narrative over the course of its run, and the handling of the story in this way has–in the past–resulted in some of the absolute best season finales on television.  Seriously.

Five-O‘s fourth season ender had its moments but failed to live up to the previous finales in its canon.  Nick Jonas’s cyber-terrorist Ian Wright reappears and kidnaps Grover’s (the amazing Chi McBride Chi McBriding all over the place) daughter as leverage to help steal $100 million.  The plot moves along at the show’s patented lightning-quick pace and leads to a happy ending: daughter rescued, Wright dead, and Grover offered a spot on the Five-O task force after getting the boot from HPD.

But, unlike in previous years, I’m not begging for more.  Sure, Wo Fat is out there now, having broken out of a Colorado Maximum Security Prison after making a toilet bomb with his nitroglycerin heart meds (sure…), but the episode just sort of lets the Wo Fat stuff fizzle out after he shoots Ian.  It’s disappointing since the season seemed to gear up for some more on this front with the revelation that Steve’s mom killed Wo Fat’s mom back in the day.  Oh well, at least we got to see Steve and Danny tooling around Honolulu in that minuscule pseudo-car.  Hilarity ensued.

O Ka Pilo 'Ohana Ka 'Oi (Family Comes First)

In the end, fun episode but a tepid finale.  ‘Til next year, Dano!

Grade: B-


The Mindy Project, “Danny and Mindy”

The show’s title is terrible and opening credit sequence equally bad, I’ll give you that, but the fact remains that Mindy Kaling’s hilarious show has quietly and confidently become one of television’s best comedies.   Peppered with clever homages to the romantic comedies with which the show’s heroine is obsessed (Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail get the most play), Kaling created a truly romantic half hour that can cause shippers to rejoice: Danny and Mindy are like totally a thing now!

I’m not going to spoil the journey to the finish, but by the time you see Mindy lying on the observation deck of the Empire State Building gasping for air, you’re guaranteed to have a smile spread across your face.  The tone for the finale felt damn near perfect, balancing outlandish comedy (attacking a foreign grad student on the subway, anyone?) with the kind of genuine, heartfelt emotion that grounds the show’s forays into hilarious absurdity.  It doesn’t hurt that Morgan, the on-staff male nurse and ex-con, is one of the funniest sitcom creations in quite awhile.

Take note, television comedies: this is how you craft a season ender.  I cannot wait for season three!

Grade: A


New Girl, “Cruise”

New Girl, New Girl, New Girl.  What’s gotten into you lately?  You used to hold the mantel of “appointment television,” but now it feels like a real chore just to get through your paltry twenty-three minutes.  Many critics lay this season’s myriad problems at the feet of the doomed Jess-Nick pairing, but I think that’s a simplistic answer to a very complicated question.

The finale served as a microcosm of this season’s central issue: a lack of focus.  I mean, this puppy’s been all over the place.  Schmidt moved out, Schmidt moved in, Winston’s showering with his cat, Cece’s dating an Australian dude, Nick has an inherent fear of bank accounts, Winston’s a cop, Coach is back.  Huh?  Slow down there, New Girl.  In trying to be all things to all fans, you ended up being nothing of consequence to anyone.

However, I will admit it took a brazen level of confidence to set this episode on a cruise ship, almost daring detractors to levy “jump the shark” declarations.  The driving force of the narrative, Nick and Jess engaging in a post-breakup couples cruise (with the gang in tow bc duh…forgive the nautical pun, Schmidt!) because they couldn’t get a refund, had its moments as the two endured crotch-rubbing yoga and champagne under the stars, but too much choked the narrative to mine genuine comedy out of anything: Schmidt’s continued timid courtship of Cece (seriously, this story is moving at a glacial pace…too soon?), Winston playing matchmaker, Coach’s WAY over-the-top fear of boats.  The only scene that sort of worked was when the gang found themselves trapped in the stateroom, forcing a cathartic truth-telling sesh.  But, again, that was what, two minutes?

New Girl

Fortunately, it seems like New Girl hit the reset button.  In the end-tag, Nick and Schmidt rekindle their roommate love, an indication that things might be reverting back to a semblance of normalcy in the loft, whatever that means.  All I know is that this finale–and season–was a mess but, what’s worse, it wasn’t even funny.  Better luck next year, New Girl.

Grade: D


Parenthood, “The Pontiac”

It’s been renewed for a sixth and final season!  Hurray, the Braverman clan will return for thirteen more episodes or, as I like to call them, thirteen more opportunities to rip my beating heart from its ribcage and stomp on it until I cry my eyes out.  In other words, I can’t wait!

Parenthood - Season 5

I already reviewed this episode, so check out the link here if you want a reminder or haven’t read it in the first place:


Grade: A-


Parks and Recreation, “Moving Up”

As if Parks and Recreation needed to cement its title as “Best Comedy on Television,” it went ahead and had The Decemberists (and the rest of the Unity Concert lineup) joining Andy Dwyer and Mouse Rat in a Li’l Sebastian tribute song.  That the Unity Concert proved an unbridled success did not, in and of itself, surprise, but that’s not to say there weren’t surprises galore in what I would call one of the show’s best episodes ever.

To wit:

Ron outed himself as Duke Silver at the Unity Concert to prove to himself (and Tammy) that he is now a changed man.  On the back of the influx of celebrities in Pawnee for the concert, Tom’s Bistro takes off (even if Donna had to threaten her baby cousin Ginuwine into making an appearance), Dr.  Saperstein buries the hatchet with Tom and expresses interest in becoming an investor in the restaurant, Ben learns his accountant friends applied for a copyright to Cones of Dunshire in his name, Jean-Ralphio continues to be magical (“The only reason I wouldn’t be there is if I get pulled over… for violating my house arrest!”), and Leslie proves she can have it all, accepting the federal parks gig while also remaining in Pawnee thanks to a swift, metaphorical kick in the rump by Michelle Obama.

Sort of sounds like a series finale, doesn’t it?  As the episode unfolded, you couldn’t help but notice that it continued to go out of its way to close out long-running plot lines and provide tangible resolution.  But all of that was in service of the final twist: a time jump three years in the future.

That’s right, Leslie’s rocking bangs, Andy’s broken his arm, Ben’s abuzz with importance, Terry (aka Jerry) is still the worst, and then the triplets walk in!  MIND EXPLOSION!  Or, as Ben would say while watching Letters of Cleo from backstage:

Parks and Recreation

I absolutely loved this finale and the brilliant decision to implement such a gutsy time jump leaves me salivating for next season (even though NBC has not, as of this writing, put it on its schedule). Also, I very much hope Jean-Ralphio and Craig are best friends in this near future because this cute-meet happened:

Jean Ralphio: “I like your energy, hombre.  What do you say you and I ride go karts later?”


Hands down, this was my favorite season finale I’ve seen so far!

Grade: A+


Part two coming soon, so please check back in next week to see how some other favorite shows wrap up their seasons!