Posts Tagged ‘HBO’

I’m still a few weeks out from completing the due diligence for this year’s list. Living in Salt Lake City doesn’t help things, as several of the big December titles won’t make it to Wasatch Front theaters until January (sigh).

But the end (of the year) is near, and inevitably there are more films warranting recognition than fit onto a Top 10 list. Sure, I could write a longer list, but ain’t nobody got time for that.

Here’s a few favorites from the year that you should check out if you haven’t already.


Best January Surprise: “Split”

Welcome back M. Night Shyamalan. The pop culture world had rightfully written off the erstwhile-wunderkind behind The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable after a lengthy string of mediocre to downright awful films.

Wisely, Shyamalan gave up on trying to be blockbuster director (remember After Earth? Ugh) and went back to his smaller-scale roots, crafting a low-frills, eerie thriller about a man with multiple personalities, some of whom like to kidnap young girls as offerings to “The Beast.” James McAvoy anchors the film with his playful and committed performance, and the signature twist at the end is a whopper for fans of Shymalan’s filmography, setting up ever more exciting things to come.

Stream it on: HBO Now/Go


Best Box-Office Flop: “Free Fire”

“Free Fire” to put it mildly, was not a successful film. It had a limited, art house run and while not an expensive film to produce (online reports say roughly $7 million) it made decidedly less than that in ticket sales.

And that’s a shame. It takes a fairly traditional set up — a gathering of criminals erupts in violence after a deal goes bad — and churns out a funny, exciting and entertaining-as-hell bottle episode of a movie as the various characters (played by Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Sharlto Copley  try to gun their way out of a bad spot, shifting alliances and betraying hidden motivations as they go.

Stream it on: Amazon Prime Video


Best Binge: “Okja”

Netflix is inching closer and closer to having it first bonafide film smash. It’s original television shows have already broken through, but it’s original films have yet to cross that Rubicon. In 2015, Beast of No Nation was a critical success, but wasn’t exactly a water cooler conversation, and the streaming giant is putting a lot of weight behind next week’s “Bright,” starring Will Smith in a more traditional (and likely underwhelming) fantasy-adventure role.

But all of that makes Netflix’s acquisition of “Okja” all the more interesting, and commendable. In no world was a surreal drama about a South Korean girl trying to save her pet giant pig from the slaughterhouse, and directed by the guy behind “Snowpiercer,” going to achieve mass appeal.

Okja is like nothing else you’ll watch this year. It’s got both Jake Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton in roles that almost seem to be competing to out-crazy the other and a legitimately hard-to-watch scene of forced animal reproduction, all in service of a larger allegory on the meat processing industry. It’s out there, like *way* out there, and it’s great.

Stream it on: Netflix


Best Foreign: “Raw”

Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, “Raw” is a French film about a vegetarian woman at veterinary school who develops a compulsion for raw meat after a new-student hazing ritual. That compulsion becomes intense, to put it mildly, eventually leading to fatal results.

It’s a dressed-down approach to what could have been a campy, neo-Zombie/Vampire retread. If there is anything supernatural at play, Ducournau only hints at it, instead preferring to tell a human story of addiction, which just happens to involve the consumption of human flesh. The movie is also deft in its use of gore and practical effects, making quiet scenes hang in the air with apprehension — a particular sequence involving the main character’s sister, a botched bikini wax and a pair of scissors stands out.

Best to watch it on an empty stomach.

Stream it on: Netflix


Best Superhero: “Logan”

As far as superhero films go, 2017 was an embarrassment of riches. Warner Brothers, which has little to show for its DC efforts so far, scored a major victory with Wonder Woman, the long-overdue superheroine movie we’ve all been waiting for. Marvel had two successes by embracing the weird in Guardians 2 and Thor: Ragnarok. And even Sony got into the game with it’s Spider-man: Homecoming, which put Peter Parker back in high school where he belongs.

(The less said about 2017 *other* big superhero movie, the better).

But the biggest risk, and subsequently greatest reward, was Fox letting writer-director James Mangold go out on a limb with the studio’s marquee character, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. In “Logan,” Wolverine is nearing the end of his long life, his healing powers of near-immortality waning, and is living off the grid as a limousine driver in a post-mutant world while caring for an ailing Professor Charles Xavier.

For long stretches of the movie, you might forget you’re watching a superhero film. It has little of the computer-generated phantasmagoria that have come to define the genre, instead putting its characters in actual dirt, covered in blood and sweat. It also does what most of these mega-franchises are too afraid to do: it ends.

Stream it on: HBO Now/Go


Best Documentary: “Chasing Coral”

Climate change is no longer something that can be safely ignored (in fact, it never was) and yet the nonsensically controversial and unnecessarily partisan “debate” drags on. Meanwhile, the Earth’s oceans get hotter and hotter, literally cooking the plant and animal life that make up a largely-unseen but crucially important ecosystem beneath the waves.

That effect, happening in real time, is what “Chasing Coral” captures, by sending a team of divers with underwater cameras to document the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. The footage is striking, showing the decimation of once-vibrant areas over a matter of weeks, and making it abundantly and undeniably clear that our oceans are burning we all fiddle with the politics.

Stream it on: Netflix


Best Horror: “It”

The horror genre took a decidedly indie-dominated turn a few years back, with films like “The Babadook,” “The Witch,” and “It Follows” generating buzz while mainstream fare puttered along with diminishing returns.

But there’s no denying the particular alchemy of “It,” which managed to take one of the biggest titles in horror history and update it. With all deference to the great work by Tim Curry, the old “It” doesn’t hold up very well, and it was high time somebody take another stab at adapting Stephen King’s signature work for the big screen.

Enter director Andy Muschiett, working off great writing by multiple screenwriters and equipped with a cast of capable child actors (including Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard). The script moves the action up a couple decades to capitalize on peak-80s nostalgia and wisely trims some of King’s more problematic impulses. And deserved credit to Bill Skarsgård, who is faced with the task of filling Curry’s shoes while making the character of Pennywise his own. He succeeds.

Stream it on: N/A


Best Indie: “It Comes At Night”

Few films stuck with me after I left the theater the way “It Comes at Night” did. Set in a thinly-defined post apocalyptic world, ICAN is focused on a family who live in solitary isolation in a boarded-up cabin, barricaded to keep out the unspoken menaces of a communicable ailment and the people who might bring it with them. After a man invades their home, ostensibly in search of supplies, the family is forced to weigh their safety over the risk of exposing themselves to other people.

It’s a quiet, dark and moody film with an omnipresent air of menace. So much is left abstract, with blurred lines between nocturnal dream sequences and diurnal reality, and only whispers on the wind and the fear on the characters faces communicating the stakes. The conclusion is haunting and begging for interpretation and it left me shook like few films can.

Stream it on: Amazon Prime Video


The 2017 Wood’s Stock Balls-To-The-Wall Award: “Mother!”

The saying is “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and by God, did “Mother!” venture. A challenging and provocative film by Darren Aronofsky, operating as an allegory on religion and the creation story (I guess?) “Mother!” would likely have been best served as a limited art house release, but distributor Paramount decided instead to go all-in on a nationwide roll-out.

That meant a lot of surprised and frustrated audiences, earning a rare “F” grade from CinemaScore (akin to exit polling, but for theaters) and a lot of “What were they thinking?” from the entertainment press.

But all of that noise distracts from the actual movie, which is bonkers and beautiful and dangerous and confusing and incredible. A synopsis would be pointless, suffice it to say that an artist and his wife find their country home increasingly invaded by strangers who adore the man’s work, culminating in a hypnotically gonzo sequence that follows Jennifer Lawrence through an escalating hellscape of violence and destruction. It’s a boldly executed, jarring film, the sheer ambition of which left my jaw on the floor.

Stream it on: N/A


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*Update: As of January 18, Mosaic is available for desktop users.

There has long been talk of applying the choose-your-own-adventure format of children’s storybooks to cinema. Various attempts have been made, largely by blurring the dividing lines between video games and movies, but none that have made significant splashes in the pop culture pond.

And that is what makes “Mosaic” — the new smartphone app-slash-television miniseries by Steven Soderbergh — all the more interesting; not for what it accomplishes but for what it suggests for the future of the medium. Having made my way through most of its episodic chapters and arrived at one of its two conclusions, I would say the story “Mosaic” tells is simply OK — perhaps 3 out of 5 stars if I’m generous — but its structure is fascinating to a degree that elevates the otherwise thin plotting.

The comparison to choose your own adventure books is incomplete, but fair. As a viewer, you’re not able to dictate shifts in plot the way a reader can; instead, you select the perspective of a character to follow through the next sequence of events. I’ve seen other critics describe it as “choose your own *protagonist*,” which is more accurate, as you travel through a static story and ultimately arrive at the same conclusion, albeit with certain pieces of information arriving out of sequence or simply alluded to as off-screen occurrences depending on the route you choose.



But the presentation is also jarring, particularly in the early stages. By way of synopsis, “Mosaic” is a murder mystery, concerned with the whodunit after a celebrated children’s book author, played by Sharon Stone, vanishes following a New Year’s Eve party at her rural estate in “Summit, Utah” (a barely-veiled Park City, which in real life is the county seat of Summit County, Utah).

“Mosaic” doles out its exposition late, and then awkwardly. You start on your path by meeting Stone’s Olivia Lake, and are then presented with a choice between two characters at the end of each chapter — various flashbacks and additional scenes that add clarity are offered as optional detours within chapters — and if you primarily follow Garrett Hedlund’s Joel, as I did, you won’t even know who died, when, or how until quite late in the series.

And because the audience still needs critical information independent of their protagonist selection, Soderbergh is obligated to write in lengthy, momentum-killing monologues that state on-the-nose what has happened just in case you missed it the first time through.

There’s a lot of talent on screen here. In addition to Stone and Hedlund the cast includes Paul Reubens and Beau Bridges in non-POV roles. But no one really does much of anything, as the central gimmick of “Mosaic” means making 15 episodes (roughly 30 minutes each) out of story that can be told in 7.

Soderbergh plans to release a more traditional tv-format through HBO early next year, and I think the actual content of “Mosaic” will be better served that way. But I still wouldn’t recommend watching the show. I would, however, recommend downloading the free “Mosaic by Steven Soderbergh” app for exploration of the selective perspective model.

Why bother? It’s a reasonable question to ask since I don’t think the content is particularly good television. But while the recipe may not have worked out right, there’s no denying that Soderbergh has cooked up something special with “Mosaic.” And with more and more of our television viewing habits shifting away from live broadcasts and toward a binge-able, steaming model, it’s not to much of a stretch to imagine a future where you choose to dwell on the shenanigans of a supporting character a little longer before rejoining the main plot. Or what about a future season of Stranger Things in which you have the option of watching the show in its entirety from Eleven’s perspective, or Mike’s, or a demogorgon?

When the next episode in a series is just a mouse-click away, why limit audiences to a linear progression? In any movie or tv show there are scenes and footage that end up on the cutting room floor. Why not let viewers choose their own 13-step path to the finish line. We’ve already scene this is some DVD and Blu-Ray releases, where a click of the remote inserts a previously-deleted scene. “Mosaic,” in essence, is the natural evolution of the extended cut, in which there is no definitive “version” of a story.

Maybe I’m overreacting, and the many failings of “Mosaic” will put an end to this type of experimentation. I doubt it. I think Soderbergh, and others like him, are just getting started. So download the app, and check it out.

Grade: C+

Mosaic by Steven Soderbergh is currently available as a free download on iOS and Android devices.

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This week’s scorecard is a little of the old and a little of the new. Plus, I did the unthinkable and watched the premiere of a show on the CW (!!!!) and you know what, it was kind of ok.


Crazy Ex Girlfriend (The CW)

I typically ignore the CW, which for years was a network existing solely for content marketed toward teenage girls. But recently, more and more of my critic friends have been trumpeting the network as a haven for well-made DC superhero fare (Arrow, Flash) and quirky out-of-the-box comedies (Jane The Virgin).

So it was that with the Big 4 networks taking a bit of a break in their premiere schedules, I tuned in for the pilot of Crazy Ex Girlfriend which is astoundingly and enjoyably insane.

After a chance run-in with Josh, the guy she kind of dated at summer camp, Rebecca (co-creator and star Rachel Bloom) walks away from her job at a New York City law firm to move to West Covina, California, a small town two hours from the beach (four in traffic) where Josh *just happens* to live.

Yes, this is a show where the PROTAGONIST is the crazy ex girlfriend, and her ill-advised misadventures are punctuated by sporadic, surrealist musical numbers in which Rebecaa is lifted into the air by a giant pretzel or, in “Sexy Getting Ready Song” croons about hygiene while waxing her buttocks.

Shows like this don’t exist. They just don’t. And from the pilot alone I’m still not sure they *should* but fortune favors the bold.

Grade: A-

Class: Cautiously subscribe

People Are Talking - Season Pilot

Truth Be Told (NBC)

Mark-Paul Gosselaar is a very charming actor with a hyphenated first name. FIRST name. I do not understand the circumstances that would lead to a hyphenated first name.

Why am I starting this review with an off-topic anecdote? Because nothing about this laugh-track-saturated is worth writing about. Ostensibly about a pair of best friend neighbors and their wives, Truth Be Told tries to shoehorn ISSUES into its lowbrow retread comedy, pausing between predictable sitcom shenanigans to chat about race, religion, the N-word, and ethnic ambiguity.

In the world of lame sitcoms (an expansive, heavily populated world) you could do a lot worse than MPG and Truth Be told. But as a standalone creation it’s trying to be so hard to be a comedy about capital-T Things that it forgets to have anything that resembles a point.

Grade: C+

Class: Kill and Bury


The Walking Dead (AMC)

The living characters on The Walking Dead spent most of last season on the move (from Terminus, to Atlanta, to DC, etc) and it’s nice to see them relatively settled down for the time being. Obviously Alexandria won’t last, but in the meantime the plot point of a secure community largely untested in the post-apocalyptic world opens up a lot of narrative room to play with.

And that’s exactly what the show runners do in the premiere, setting up a veritable army of the undead at Alexandria’s doorstep. Rick hatches and elaborate scheme to draw them away, which goes about as well as it could. The real draw is what’s going to happen in episode 2, which is exactly what a premiere should be concerned with.

Grade: B+

Class: Keep an Eye On


The Leftovers (HBO)

The Leftovers is a very good show that tries its hardest to get you to not watch it. Season 1 was almost intolerably grimm (and for many, no “almost”) and  while season 2 seems to be a more approachable affair in the long term, it starts with a premiere that seems intentionally designed to scare curious bystanders away.

After a lengthy cold open in which a prehistoric woman watches her people crushed by a landslide, gives birth, and then dies protecting her child, The Leftovers flashes forward to present day Miracle, Texas, a town in which no citizen was taken during the rapture-esque “great departure.” We spend about 30 minutes before our first glance at a familiar character while the show sets up a brand new family with its own brand of enigmatic quirks to rival the Garveys, who show up at the end of the episode at the world’s most awkward welcome-to-the-neighborhood barbecue.

The show burned through its source material in season 1, meaning all bets are off now. It’s a welcome removal from the original novel, and I, for one, can’t wait to see where the crazy machine that is Damon Lindelow (Lost) will take the story now that his hands are untied.

Grade: A-

Class: Subscribe

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There’s a moment early on in ‘Entourage‘ in which Turtle (a slimmed down Jerry Ferrara) is giving a tour of his home to his crush and UFC champion Ronda Rousey.

The home – which evidently is located next to that of Steven Spielberg – came furnished, Turtle explains, which gives it a “lived-in” quality.

It’s a fair metaphor for the Entourage movie, which – admirably — sticks to the formula that made it a success on the small screen. The film adaptation arrives in theaters on Wednesday four years after the corresponding HBO series signed off in 2011. Like real estate, it’s walls are already painted and the decor is fully installed, but that also means there’s little motivation to freshen up the place.

After a brief scene of exposition to orient new audience members – courtesy of a Piers Morgan interview with the central cast — it’s off to the races, as Vince (Adrian Grenier) and his titular entourage work with agent-turned-studio-head Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) to salvage Vince’s directorial debut.

That film, a dystopian fantasy twist on the Jekyll and Hyde tale, serves as the central MacGuffin for Entourage, as Ari has invested his political capitol as a new studio head in letting Vince behind the camera of a major tentpole film. Problem is, the film is over budget and in need of a final funding boost, which can only be secured with the blessing of the Texas co-financiers played by Billy Bob Thornton and his son, a deliciously off-putting Haley Joel Osment (watch for a well-placed Forrest Gump reference).

But the rest of the gang have pickles, albeit low-stakes ones, of their own: Vince’s manager/best friend Eric “E” Murphy is flailing since splitting up with his pregnant girlfriend; Drama is banking on a supporting role in little brother Vince’s movie to be his big break; and Turtle is attempting to woo the aforementioned Rousey.

It’s an uncomplicated (read: light) plot buttressed by the banter, tangents and celebrity cameos that serve as fan service to HBO devotees and icing to newcomers. For two hours, the film bounces around Los Angeles, offering a glimpse at the bizarre and anxiety-prone goings on of show business and the pomp and circumstance of the upper crust.

Longtime fans will likely welcome the return of the characters, and the uninitiated need not worry about being lost at the party. It’s a breezy, comfortable, entertaining film, but in its journey to the big screen Entourage also falls just shy of being cinematic.

Grade: B

*Entourage opens nationwide on Wednesday, June 3.

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Orange is the New Black

As I read through this mornings Emmy nominations list there were two thoughts that immediately popped into my head:

1) Broadcast television is truly dead

2) Emmy voters like what they like and if they do change it will be slowly thank you very much.

For years it’s been accepted that the drama categories are the domain of the flashier pay-cable networks, with traditional broadcasters left to scramble over the comedic offerings. But with this year’s Outstanding Comedy Series noms including Netflix’ Orange is the New Black, HBO’s Silicon Valley and Veep and FX’s Louie, that leaves just perennial nominees Big Bang Theory (CBS) and Modern Family (ABC) representing the big four.

And that OK, since OITNB, Silicon Valley, Veep and Louie are all outstanding comedies well-deserving of the honor. But it’s unfortunate that if broadcast TV only has two slots to fill, the Emmy Voters chose to waste them on the most overrated show on television (BBT) and a once-great sitcom in decline (MF).

In fact, the Modern Family situation is emblematic of the overall Emmy nominations list, which is basically a lukewarm dish of leftovers peppered with a few justified fresh faces. True Detective and Fargo got the love they deserve, but another nomination for Jim Parsons? A repeat for The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels? And why are we still nominating Downton Abbey for best drama when the show is a shadow of its former self?

HBO again reigned supreme in total nominations and Netflix expanded it’s footprint with OITNB, offering a glimpse of what the dystopian hellscape of television’s future will look like. Adapt or die, broadcast, adapt or die.

The Good:

• A lot has been written about the importance of Orange is the New Black – its character diversity, socio-political subject matter, female-centric storylines, etc – and it’s great to see the Emmy voters throw a nod to not only lead actress Taylor Schilling, but also Kate Mulgrew’s as supporting character Red and guest actress nods (more on that later) for Laverne Cox, Natasha Lyonne and “Crazy Eyes” Uzo Aduba.

• I, for one, am glad that True Detective went for the top prize of Outstanding Drama rather than play the miniseries game a la American Horror Story. I love me some AHS but when 75 percent of your cast returns every year the argument that you’re not a series can be kind of sneaky. Ironically, the leads of True Detective will not return next year, meaning it could actually justify it’s existence as a miniseries but why sell yourself short, eh?

• Another nomination for Veep’s Tony Hale, because the world can never have enough Tony Hale.

• [UPDATE] I am absolutely thrilled that Reg E. Cathey scored a guest actor nod for his work as Freddy on House of Cards. It’s weird how much I found myself caring about the fate of Freddy during season 2 considering the show deals with murder and corruption at the highest levels of American government, but I just want him to get his barbeque back.

The Bad:

• I try not to play the snub game because it’s petty and unproductive, but having said that I’m surprised to see James Spader miss out on a nomination for his quasi-performance-art scenery chewing on The Blacklist. The NBC procedural is mostly melodramatic cheese, but Spader is delicious as antihero Red Reddington and the person solely responsible for Blacklist being the success that it was.

• TBBT and Jim Parsons

• The Best Actor in a Comedy category includes Don Cheadle for House of Lies. I don’t watch House of Lies and as a vocal fan of Community I understand that viewership and buzz ≠ quality, but really House of Lies? or Ricky Gervaise in Derek? Basically, what I’m trying to say is Joel McHale deserves a lead actor Emmy.

• [UPDATE] Again, I don’t like the snub game but Hannibal’s second season was incredible. Darren Franich at EW devoted an entire Entertainment Geekly post to how Bryan Fuller’s NBC serial is a better version of both True Detective and Fargo. And particularly considering the decline of broadcast television, what Hannibal manages to pull off every week is nothing short of astounding. I won’t say it was snubbed, but it is some of the finest television I’ve ever seen.

The Interesting:

• I understand the strategy of not having your cast compete with itself, but can we really call Martin Freeman’s Watson a “supporting” character to Cumberbatch’s Sherlock?

• When the Golden Globes decided to name freshman comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine and its star Andy Sandberg as best comedy and best comedy actor, it was a little bit of a surprise but also in line with the boozy antics of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Funny, then, that the elder statesmen at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gave only a supporting actor nod to the very funny (who knew?) Andre Braugher.

• Viewers may be surprised to see three prominent Orange is the New Black characters listed as “guest” roles, but as explained by TIME, that distinction is due is due to wonky contract legalize. BUT since all three actresses were bumped up to series regulars for the show’s second season, it will be even more competitive for them to receive repeat nods next year.

Here’s the list of the major categories. Are you surprised? Shocked? Infuriated? Talk about it in the comments.

Outstanding Drama Series
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

Outstanding Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Modern Family
Orange Is the New Black
Silicon Valley

Outstanding Miniseries
American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
The White Queen

Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Lizzie Caplan, Masters of Sex
Claire Danes, Homeland
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba, Luthor
Martin Freeman, Fargo
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo

Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor
Minnie Driver, Return to Zero
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Coven
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful
Kristen Wiig, The Spoils of Babylon

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Louis CK, Louie
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Ricky Gervais, Derek
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
William H. Macy, Shameless
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Taylor Schilling, Orange Is the New Black

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Josh Charles, The Good Wife

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife

Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Colin Hanks, Fargo
Jim Parsons, The Normal Heart
Alfred Molina, The Normal Heart
Martin Freeman, Sherlock
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart

Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
Frances Conroy, American Horror Story: Coven
Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Coven
Ellen Burstyn, Flowers in the Attic
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Coven
Allison Tolman, Fargo
Julia Roberts, The Normal Heart

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Fred Armisen, Portlandia
Adam Driver, Girls
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Tony Hale, Veep

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Kate Mulgrew, Orange Is the New Black
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Allison Janney, Mom
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Outstanding Variety Series
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Outstanding Reality Competition Program
The Amazing Race
Dancing With the Stars
Project Runway
So You Think You Can Dance
Top Chef
The Voice

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The Emmy Nominations are in and boy, are they a doozy. There’s the usual list of snubs and surprises but the real bombshell comes in the form of House of Cards, the Netflix-original series about shady political machination, that scored nominations for Drama Series (the TV equivalent of the Best Picture Oscar) as well as lead actor and actress.

That’s right, for the first time ever the best drama on television may end up being a drama that never actually aired on a television. A win – which I wager is unlikely – would be a peacock feather in the cap of Netflix, who bet big on its new original programming binge-viewing model, and would also help usher in the end of broadcast tv as we know it.

But no such love for Netflix’ flagship comedy, the ultra buzzy Arrested Developed that ressurected this year after a decade-long hiatus. Ultimately it appears the show’s unconventional storytelling format, which focused on a single character per episode and featured a meandering, meta-humor, non-chronological plot, proved too out-there for Emmy voters, meaning we continue to live in a world where Two and a Half Men is considered “outstanding.” (ed note: The Horror!)

The Good:

• I love that House of Cards was nominated, as it represents a bold statement on the state of modern television and gives credit where credit is due. HOC delivered a season of truly compelling drama, with superb performances from it’s lead actors Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, who both picked up acting nods.

• Emmy voters made the right call by honoring 30 Rock’s final season while snubbing the last outing of our friends at The Office. It’s a testament to that fact that sentimentality is no substitute for quality.

• If I was going to pick a single actor to nominate from Arrested Development I’m not sure it would be Jason Bateman. Yes, he is the central character that held the various plotlines together, but his storyline during the most recent season ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack. Besides a few great gags about the faux-rivalry between Jerry Bruckheimer and Ron Howard, all of that “You’re out of the movie” talk landed with a dull thud for me. It should be noted, though, that fellow AD cast mate Tony Hale (the indelible Buster) scored a nomination for his supporting role on HBO’s Veep.

• Similar kudos to the Emmy for recognizing Girls’ Adam Driver. Creator-writer-star Lena Dunham earned her well-deserved kudos last year, but in season 2 it was the men of Girls, not the girls of Girls, that stole the spotlight, none more so than the conflicted Adam, who bounces back and forth between hero and villain without ever sacrificing authenticity. It’s Adam’s storyline that stands out the most this year, particularly for that episode (you know which one).

The Bad:

• The aforementioned Two and a Half Men, which continues to enjoy success in the world despite being the intellectual equivalent of a bag of wet hair.

• I hate to call Downton Abbey’s nominations “bad,” but given the lackluster third season we just witnessed I can’t hep but feel there’s other shows/actors/actresses that deserve those slots on the ballot.

• Not to drone on about House of Cards but it’s a crime that Corey Stoll wasn’t nominated in the supporting actor category. His tragic Pete Russo was the breakout star of the show and the moral glue that held the whole enterprise together. Frankly, I’m a little concerned how season 2 will be without him, since he was just about the only decent human being the audience could root for.

• There’s nothing more vindicating for a fan than to see your favorite, ratings-challenged show get nominated post-cancellation, which is why I’m somewhat crushed that my deerly-departed Happy Endings will end its tenure with absolutely no Emmy love. Ensemble shows always provide a challenge for the acting categories (see: the perennial Modern Family dilemma) but come on, couldn’t we have left off Two and a Half Men off the Comedy Series category just this one for the sake of truth and justice? (ed note: Ben is now whimpering in a corner)

• Two words: Schmidt happens.

The Interesting:

Connie Britton is great, but Nashville? No nominations required. Also, Scandal? Really?

• Last year’s Comedy supporting actor winner Eric Stonestreet is notably absent. But honestly, at this point that category is a just a revolving door of Modern Family men.

• I love that Elisabeth Moss is nominated in both the Drama and the Miniseries categories. Sadly, that probably means she’ll win neither.

Here’s the (mostly) full list of this year’s nominations. Are you shocked? Surprised? Enraged? Let me know in the comments.


Breaking Bad, AMC

Downton Abbey, PBS

Homeland, Showtime

Game of Thrones, HBO

House of Cards, Netflix

Mad Men, AMC


The Big Bang Theory, CBS

Girls, HBO

Louie, FX

Modern Family, ABC

30 Rock, NBC

Veep, HBO


Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey, PBS

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad, AMC

Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom, HBO

Jon Hamm, Mad Men, AMC

Damian Lewis, Homeland, Showtime

Kevin Spacey, House of Cards, Netflix


Connie Britton, Nashville, ABC

Claire Danes, Homeland, Showtime

Michele Dockery, Downton Abbey, PBS

Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel, A&E

Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men, AMC

Kerry Washington, Scandal, ABC

Robin Wright, House of Cards, Netflix


Jason Bateman, Arrested Development, Netflix

Louis CK, Louie, FX

Don Cheadle, House of Lies, Showtime

Matt LeBlanc, Episodes, Showtime

Jim Parsons, Big Bang Theory, CBS

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock, NBC


Lena Dunham, Girls, HBO

Laura Dern, Enlightened, HBO

Tiny Fey, 30 Rock, NBC

Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation, NBC

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep, HBO

Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie, Showtime


Adam Driver, Girls, HBO

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family, ABC

Ed O’Neill, Modern Family, ABC

Ty Burrell, Modern Family, ABC

Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live, NBC

Tony Hale, Veep, HBO


Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory, CBS

Jane Lynch, Glee, Fox

Sofia Vergara, Modern Family, ABC

Julie Bowen, Modern Family, ABC

Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie, Showtime

Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock, NBC

Anna Chlumsky, Veep, HBO


Bobby Cannavale, Boardwalk Empire, HBO

Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad, AMC

Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad, AMC

Jim Carter, Downton Abbey, PBS

Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones, HBO

Mandy Patinkin, Homeland, Showtime


Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad, AMC

Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey, AMC

Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones, HBO

Christine Baranski, The Good Wife, CBS

Morena Baccarin, Homeland, Showtime

Christina Hendricks, Mad Men, AMC


American Horror Story: Asylum, FX

Behind The Candelabra, HBO

The Bible, HISTORY

Phil Spector, HBO

Political Animals, USA

Top Of The Lake, Sundance Channel


Michael Douglas, Behind The Candelabra, HBO

Matt Damon, Behind The Candelabra, HBO

Toby Jones, The Girl, HBO

Benedict Cumberbatch, Parade’s End, HBO

Al Pacino, Phil Spector, HBO


Jessica Lange, American Horror Story, FX

Laura Linney, The Big C: Hereafter, Showtime

Helen Mirren, Phil Spector, HBO

Sigourney Weaver, Political Animals, USA

Elisabeth Moss, Top Of The Lake, Sundance Channel

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There’s a lot of concepts swirling through my head right now, so forgive me if this post comes off as a little disjointed. This post is mainly predicated by Netflix’s House of Cards, the first season of which I just finished viewing. But before we get into all of that, let’s talk a little bit about television.

As you may have heard, NBC recently came in fifth place for the month of February among the Big-Four networks. Yes, you read that right. There are four major American TV networks – NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox – and NBC managed to rank in fifth place behind the Spanish-language channel Univision.

Just how bad were NBC’s ratings? To paint another picture, TV prognosticators were all but besides themselves with glee reporting that the Feb 10 episode of AMC’s Talking Dead – an after-hours talk show dedicated to vivisecting AMC’s The Walking Dead, which immediately precedes it – had posted a higher rating in the coveted 18-49 demographic than ANYTHING aired by NBC during the ENTIRE month of February. I apologize for using all-caps like some twitterpated teenager but I just want to emphasize, a cable-network by-product bested everything aired on America’s oldest broadcast network for an entire month.

Strange times indeed.

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with House of Cards? For several years, Netflix has been toying with the idea of original programming and on February 1 it unleashed the first of its planned army to the world. But not content to merely challenge mainstream television on a creative level, Netflix decided to throw a wrench into the entire way that we view serial programming by releasing all 13 episodes of the first season at once, allowing intrigued viewers to feast upon its creation to their heart’s content.

Many people “binge-viewed” House of Cards in a single sitting. Others, like myself, attempted to ration out the series over a period of time only to become hooked and wrap the whole affair up in a week or so. Others still have yet to see it, the series bobbing somewhere in their instant queue between season 3 of The Wire and old episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba.

The problem, if it can be called that, is that once you’ve watched House of Cards you can’t really talk about it simply because you don’t know who has seen it and if so, how much. I’m not the first person to make this observation. Smarter writers than me at considerably more reputable websites like Vulture or The New York Times have already weighed in on the frustration you can feel by holding an opinion of House of Cards in your hand but not being able to share it with anyone.

Compare that to mainstream television that unfolds in real time week-by-week over twitter and Facebook, as viewers across the nation weigh in and pick apart every aspect of what they’ve just seen. Even for the lazy who pick up last week’s ep on DVR or Hulu are still aware that a new episode has dropped into the pop culture landscape and that they had best be careful navigating the internet where spoilers and analysis abound.

Whether you choose to view an episode live or postpone it indefinitely, you – and national conversation – are still subject to the scheduling structure of the weekly broadcast format.

An example? Pick a number between one and thirteen and google “Girls episode X” and you will find a veritable host of results where layman and critic alike argue, mere minutes after airtime, whether that particular hour of television was the worst or greatest thing ever produced for the small screen. In comparison, if you try to find an analysis of House of Cards’ Chapter 12 you’ll likely get little more than the episode’s IMDB listing and a few posts like this about how annoying it is to not find anything online about House of Cards and critics wondering what they can and can not spoil. I know, I tried.

This is neither a good or bad thing, but it represents a momentous shift in the way a TV show interacts with and delivers itself to an audience. There are a score of examples where show-runners have switched plot course midstream in response to viewer reaction – think Nicki and Paulo from Lost, in which a due were so despised by fans that their characters were mercilessly buried alive to appease the angry gods of viewer contempt.

Had we been watching House of Cards along the course of production, chiming in with our bits and bobs for any given week, is it possible that [Spoiler Alert] one of the most enjoyable characters in the show would have been spared his fate in episode 11? I don’t know. I’d like to think so, because I really wish he was still around. [/End Spoiler Alert]

On the other hand, you could argue that insulating yourself from viewer opinion is a boon to the show-runner’s creative intent. Instead of cow-towing to the demands of an admittedly unreliable marketplace, a creative team under the Netflix model can tell the story they want to tell and make it available as-is, viewer’s opinions be damned! It’s a refreshing notion that I would argue lends itself to a higher caliber of creative quality. America, after all, loves crap, which is why the cookie-cutter crime procedurals on CBS live forever while Community will likely never reach the syndication-friendly threshold of 100 episodes.

So what does all of this mean for the future of TV? It’s hard to say. Netflix, so far, has played coy about releasing concrete viewership numbers for House of Cards and even if they did, the viewing format is not based on advertising like other delivery models. You can’t point to the show and say “House of Cards resulted in X number of new Netlix subscriptions” so how can we measure if the model was truly a success? Or a failure?

But we can observe the national discussion. As internet-based services like Hulu, digital-recording programs like DVR, at-home DVD viewing, and the repeat scheduling of cable pay-chanells erode the notion of “appointment television” and make traditional Nielsen ratings near-obsolete in gauging what people are actually watching, it is not hard to imagine a world where TV shows skip the TV altogether,  and are instead made available in one form or another to be devoured and enjoyed at an individual’s leisure. If that is the future, then Netflix and House of Cards may be patient zero in the epidemic that consumes broadcast television once and for all.

As for the actual quality of House of Cards, it’s undeniably superior to the majority of option currently on television. I personally found the at-camera exposition engaging, adding valuable insight of character while also snapping you back into attention without becoming cloying or contrite. The performances are electric, all of them really, but particularly Spacey, Wright and the under-rated rising star Corey Stoll.

I honestly can’t say enough about Stoll, if you’re not familiar with him yet watch this clip immediately, but forgive the poor audio quality. Better yet would be to simply go out right now and get a copy of Midnight in Paris.

But I digress. House of Cards starts splendidly, peaks in the middle and then diminishes somewhat toward the end. After 13 hours of crisp, biting political intrigue and machinations, the cliffhanger ending feels somewhat anti-climactic and almost deceptive of your patience. That said, I remain as hooked as I ever was and look forward to picking right back up where it left of when the next 13 chapters drop out of the Netflix sky.

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