2014 in Review: Television is a Beautiful Mess

Transparent

When Breaking Bad departed from television in a trail of crystal blue persuasion last September, television lost its center of gravity. At the time, this development seemed troubling. Without a consensus show around which to rally on social media, television fans and critics alike had to search elsewhere to find a show worthy of their devoted attention and undying affection. But a year removed from Walter White’s final blaze of glory, the loss of Breaking Bad seems more like a gift.

The consensus about this year’s television is that there is no consensus. Continue reading

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2014 in Review: The Year in Episodes

True Detective

This list is exactly what it looks like: a list of one great episode in each of twenty shows that I watched this year. I could have filled the entire list with episodes of The Americans and Hannibal, but I decided to impose a limit of one episode per show. This list is different from a list of my favorite TV shows of the year, though there’s plenty of overlap between the two. And if it’s not on this list, I either didn’t like it, liked it but preferred other things, or didn’t watch it.

And now, in chronological order, twenty of my favorite TV episodes of 2014.

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Call Me Emmy: The Best in Supporting Performances

Dean Norris

The 68th annual Emmy nominations will be announced at 8:30am Eastern/5:30 Pacific this Thursday, July 10. As I did last year, I’ll be formulating my own ballots in this space in the days leading up to the big announcement.

A few caveats:

1. (Copied from my 2013 Call Me Emmy posts) I’m not paid to watch television. I can only watch what I have time to watch, so I can’t nominate undoubtedly high-quality shows like Game of Thrones, Scandal, The Good Wife, Masters of Sex, Shameless, Girls and Veep, just to name a few. In other cases, I can’t nominate a particular show because I haven’t seen the current season, as with Homeland, Downton Abbey and Modern Family.

2. Boiling down a remarkable season of television into just twenty-four commendable supporting performances is a fool’s errand. I’ve done my best to choose my favorites, but if you ask me tomorrow, I might choose slightly different groups. These awards, as much as they have weight in the industry, don’t dictate my tastes, and they should exist primarily to shine a spotlight on the best that television has to offer in a given year.

Without any further ado, the nominees…

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Watch These Shows or Away They’ll Go: “Enlisted” and “Trophy Wife”

Enlisted

Serious is overrated.

There’s a tendency in critical discussion of modern entertainment to elevate shows that tackle “dark” and “mature” subject matter (drugs, violence, grief) above shows with sillier, funnier, brighter ideas (family, community, professional and personal success). And it’s not just television. The Oscars rarely, if ever, make room for comedies and lighter movies amid the annual barrage of solemn dramas about historical events and “important issues.” Dying is easy, comedy is hard, and getting recognition for making great comedy is the hardest of all.

To be fair, many of the critically acclaimed dark shows earn their praise – in 2013, for instance, Breaking Bad, Rectify, Mad Men and Hannibal tackled unpleasant subject matter with nuance and artistry aplenty. But too often, good or even great comedies fall by the wayside in our hurry to anoint a new drama as a worthy heir to those titans of TV drama’s alleged Golden Age. But it’s just as important to recognize achievements in comedy, a genre that requires as much talent and passion as drama but in service of a different set of goals and emotions.

While wide swaths of television fans have been obsessing over True Detective and biding their time until Game of Thrones and Mad Men return, two network comedies have quietly shoved their way to the head of the TV class. Enlisted and Trophy Wife both have trappings that will be familiar to anyone who’s seen a network comedy before (slapstick, “heartwarming” moments, wacky dancing), but they’re also exploring relatively untapped thematic territory, the casts are deep and diverse, and both shows are (most important for a comedy) really, really funny. But they’re languishing in their timeslots and hurting for viewers as they approach the end of their respective first seasons. Even as critics like Maureen Ryan and Alan Sepinwall have begun to sound the gong in favor of “save this show” campaigns and last-minute timeslot switcheroos, these shows may have been doomed from their first episodes.

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The M&M Report, Episode 24: Rear D-tective

Enlisted

Click here to listen to Episode 24 of The M&M Report.

Spring break is over, and The M&M Report is back! This week, Devin Mitchell and I discussed and debated Fox’s little-seen, critically acclaimed comedy Enlisted. Is the show on par with the best of network comedy, or is it merely a promising freshman with room to grow? We attempted to answer these questions and more.

After that, Devin and I returned to True Detective. We discussed the first four episodes a few weeks ago, and now we’ve got thoughts on the first season as a whole. Bonus: we make our dream picks for the cast of season 2.

Next week, we’ll be back with more pop culture commentary. Thanks for listening!

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