Guide To The Emmys

Guide To The Emmys




18/09/15

The Emmys are the Oscars with much less crying. The claim that TV is rivalling movies is shown to be ridiculous by just how little the nominees themselves care in comparison to the Oscars. But still, they act as a good moment in time to take stock of the big TV shows of today.

Words: Niall Murphy // @murphyniall2012

Another difference to the Oscars is the sheer amount of nominees. There are categories for everything, and seemingly no limit to the numbers in each category. So here is just a taster, of some of the more interesting races at this year’s Emmys.

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BEST COMEDY SERIES

Probably the Best: Silicon Valley

Mike Judge hit zeitgeist gold with Beavis and Butthead in the 90s, but don’t let that turn you off his newest show. Ostensibly set in Silicon Valley, it is in fact set in the heart of corporate America, where capitalists are no longer traders and bankers, but programmers and bloggers. Judge has a fascination with the idiocies and idiots at the heart of modern America, and here he challenges the idea that the information revolution is being driven by geniuses. It’s obviously milked for comic effect, but the message is pretty clear – people will follow the money.

The show doesn’t romanticise Silicon Valley as a Big Bang Theory style commune where people have been drawn together by their thirst for knowledge.  Instead, it’s the Wall Street of the West Coast, where people are drawn together by their love of money. The only difference being they don’t wear suits.

The rest (in no particular order):

Louie

Is Louis CK the funniest man alive? At the end of last season it was very much in doubt. For a man who keeps making jokes about how fat he is, he stretches himself extremely thin. He does as much as he can on the show, even down to the editing, while still doing a few movies and comedy tours. The wheels came off the wagon last year when half the season consisted of a storyline based around silence. He is probably convinced it was arty and worthy, when really it smacked of a man out of ideas.

But he’s back on form and less ambitious now, with a strong season, made up of a modest eight episodes. Yes, he does just put a fictionalised version of his life on camera. But Woody Allen is getting old, so there is space for it.

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Veep

The comedy companion piece to House of Cards, but arguably more cynical, and landed with the same problem of what to do when your character becomes President. This is more of a problem for this series than Kevin Spacey’s show, because this is actually called Veep. The fact the title character actually becomes President is a sure sign the writers are making it up as they go along. Which is actually only a criticism for a politician, making it up as they go is what a writer is supposed to do.

It’s just that they are straying so far from the source material mothership they are at risk of drowning. The original series, The Thick of It, rotates around foul mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, who doesn’t translate into American. There is no guy who bullies American cabinet members, there’s just too much deference to their status. No one bursts into their office to tell them they’re about as useless as a marzipan dildo. And that’s a real shame.

Modern Family

It’s so successful we have to be reminded it’s ok to like it. The show’s creators had previously worked on Cheers, then made Frasier, so are the definition of classy comedy writers. But much in the way they lost interest in Frasier after four or five seasons they seem to have wandered off the set of Modern Family and left it to the interns to run things.

The show has never failed to win this award, like Frasier it has won five times already, but it is on a downward trajectory. Everyone in the show is now paid a small fortune for every episode, so they’re all given something to do. And now the kids are getting older they’re even getting their own story lines. Which all just serves to distract attention from Phil and Cam, who are the only characters we want to see.

All that being said, a Modern Family episode at its best is still better than everything else. Even a broken tv show can be right once a year.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Box set marathons are now part of life, whole weekends and entire relationships are lost because of them. So Netflix started the idea of launching an entire show all in one go, to feed the beast. Now you can binge on new shows too, not just the ones from years ago the guy next to you in the office is always banging on about.

It remains to be seen if this system works. It does for low quality shows, like their Marco Polo show, which many people watch before they realise it’s awful.  And it may not work for comedies like this. The ‘Just one more episode before bed’ delusion is really a drama thing, wanting to know what happens next on Breaking Bad or Sopranos. But comedies like Unbreakable don’t leave you on the edge of your seat.

This is a new show from Tina Fey, starring a lot of the players from 30 Rock, except herself. It has the same seemingly random comedy, which somehow gets better with repeated viewings, as though she’s trying to hide the fact the show is really funny. So, a success, but likely to be forgotten, or go unnoticed, by most.

Parks and Recreation

The opening theme music of this show puts you in a good mood. And it is relentlessly upbeat and genteel comedy thereafter. To the point you feel they’ve given everyone in the show a storyline and something to do, just to be nice, so no one feels left out. And this good vibe engenders good will, so it’s difficult to say anything bad about it.

Difficult to point out it’s so tame and restrained it’s no different to a show the Christian Coalition would produce. Yes, so difficult to say anything bad about it. So let’s leave it at that.

Transparent

Now that we’re all modern and liberal and love each other, and no one is remotely disturbed seeing two men kissing, we’re being tested. Tested by wrinkly people. It’s all well and good to be comfortable with a good looking 20-something-year-old guy just being himself, just being true to himself. But this story about an elderly father who wants to be a woman will really challenge your ability not to laugh. Granted, that’s perhaps not a good approach for a comedy, shaming people who laugh at it. But the show is really more of a thoughtful drama, even if its creators think it was born a comedy.

 

BEST ACTRESS – COMEDY (random order)  

Lily Tomlin in Grace and Frankie

Much like Transparent, this show challenges our liberalism by making the gay characters wrinkly and old. Lily Tomlin’s plays Frankie whose husband comes out and leaves her for his best friend. Frankie seems particularly zen about this, perhaps because in real life Tomlin has been out since the 70s, and doesn’t do surprise, she’s seen it all.

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Amy Schumer in Inside Amy Schumer

The joke about Inside Amy Schumer is she only talks about men being inside Amy Schumer. This is almost completely true, but she does sometimes stray into other less sexed up territory, and can be quite good when she does. But sex pays the bills, and has made this show quite popular. Her movie career is also doing ok, even after the unfortunately titled Trainwreck. A brave title. A bit like calling your movie Utterly Disappointing or Goes Off the Rails in the Middle.

Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreation

There are two Amy Poehler characters. The one who lives in Pawnee and is the nicest person in America. And the one who presents the Golden Globe awards and is one of the funniest people in America. And unfortunately there seems to be little overlap between the two.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep

In the real world she is the daughter of a real life billionaire. So tone down the sympathy you feel that she’s relatively typecast as Elaine from Seinfeld. She made a fortune from that show too, by the way. So she’s going to be fine. But more seriously, credit where credit is due. She is superb in this show, squeezing every ounce of insecurity and ambiguity from each scene. A master class in comic acting.

Edie Falco as Nurse Jackie

After years of handwringing and conflicted judginess, as Tony Soprano’s wife, she finally decides to give something back as a nurse. All the expensive jewellery and mink coats are gone, just leaving one of America’s finest actresses at her best. She keeps that accent though.

Lisa Kudrow in The Comeback

Perhaps the most typecast of them all. Phoebe is one of the most internationally recognised characters on the planet. Friends isn’t just always on your TV, it’s always on everyone’s TV, all over the world. It’s a particular shame in her case, as she was always the most talented of them. This meta show, about a typecast star of a sitcom trying to make a comeback, actually started ten years ago, but didn’t work and was shelved. HBO have re-launched it in the hope the world is now ready to see Kudrow in another role.

 

Best Drama Series

Probably the Best: Game of Thrones

The most absurd and admirable thing about the culture surrounding Game of Thrones is the omerta amongst its fans, the Mafioso conspiracy of silence over who knows what, over who whacked who, or who is about to get whacked. And to break this omerta, to break the code of silence, can lead to the same social shaming and loss of status.

Do we dare reveal anything? Do we dare risk a horse’s head being delivered to The Prowlster’s offices? No, we don’t dare. We’re already expecting a horse’s head from the producers of Mad Men (see below), and two would just make a mess.

But the culture is still absurd. Game of Thrones is filmed in Northern Ireland, which is small enough, but the actors also all stay in the same small village. So who lives and who dies at the end of a season is no secret: Did that actor renew his lease for his house next year? Is he still hanging around that same small village? If yes, he’s coming back, his character isn’t dead yet.

There are problems with the show, but it is still probably the best by dint of its own self promotion, if nothing else. It’s perhaps the first show guys gather around the water cooler in work the morning after to vent about, and let out gasps as though discussing an episode of Eastenders. And there’s no denying it’s by the boys, for the boys. For now, that is. Not to give anything away.

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The rest (in no particular order):

Better Call Saul

The success of the new show Narcos about Pablo Escobar shows us what this show could have been, a spin off about the rise of Gus Fring, the fast food manager and drug lord from Breaking Bad. But they didn’t choose him, they chose Saul Goodman instead, the Irish lawyer who pretends to be Jewish to drum up business.

The choice makes sense for the shows’ creator, Vince Gilligan. What Saul and Walter White seem to have in common is they’re both relatively ordinary and decent men, who start making more and more moral compromises just to get by in life. While, though probably also a victim of circumstances, the Gus character was perhaps made of sterner, steelier, more psychotic stuff.

It’s difficult to know where the show is going to go. It’s certainly a huge let down from the end of Breaking Bad. But it wasn’t a follow on from that, it is better compared to that show’s beginning. And in truth this season was probably better than season one of Breaking Bad. So if it just throws in a couple of meth heads digging holes, we have ourselves a show.

Homeland

Yes, this show is still going, and America still hasn’t been blown up yet. Another series in which a character gets Presidential notions, it started becoming too incredible when Nic Brody the Muslim terrorist became a Congressman and was set to become Vice President. Good thing nothing gets past agent Claire Danes – after Jordan Catalano broke her heart she’s never really trusted men.

After a dramatic fall off in quality, when the series kept going by itself, after the Israeli show it is based on had ended, Homeland is finding its feet again.

House of Cards

Much like Veep the writers wrote themselves into a corner with this show. A story about a man who double –crosses and kills his way to the Presidency is a story worth telling. A story about a man who is now President has nowhere else to go. Yes, it’s based on the British books/show, but the wiser course would have been to digress from the material and postpone the inevitable.

However, the quality of writing is generally poor anyway. Most scenes are conducted in silence or with minimal dialogue.  The writers hope they will therefore get credit for being so plainly different to the wordy West Wing, when in fact it’s just a ruse, because they can’t think of anything for the characters to say.

Downton Abbey

The writer and creator of the show, Julian Fellows, has been accused of plagiarism, accused of lifting one particular story line straight from the classic novel Little Women. This is at the heart of the problem with the show: How different can stories be in a world before electricity? Didn’t people just spend all day sitting in dark rooms waiting for the internet to be invented? Aren’t all these costume dramas the same?

And, more cuttingly, in a medium where people are trying to lay down new ground, Downton Abbey doesn’t really rise above the novels which inspired it. Everyone watching knows they really should be reading an EM Forster or Evelyn Waugh book instead.

Mad Men

Like its characters, the show does a masterful job of selling you something you don’t want or need. A victory of style over substance, which sells us the 60s, by showing us how naive consumers were back then, while hoping you, the modern audience, is naive enough to buy the lazy narratives they pedal.

The creator, Matthew Wiener, has a formula he revealed in his previous show, the Sopranos: Take an interesting context, like gangsters. Then strip it of all pace and try to make it as ordinary as possible. Strip away anything interesting, anything that makes it different and just make it about a guy with family troubles. Which is exactly the ruthless, lazy simplification he brings to bear on this show too.

Mad Men leaves you feeling the golden age of television is itself an advertising gimmick. A soap opera, just with more expensive sets.

Orange is the New Black

The accusation that women can’t be funny is obviously offensive and ridiculous. Though this ‘made by women’ show proves some women don’t put any humour in their comedies. Which isn’t really a mark in their favour.

A comedy without any jokes is a very tough sell, and by the rules the show was placed in the drama category. The show’s producers pleaded it should be considered a comedy, but the appeal was rejected. They were actually told the show isn’t funny enough to trade itself as a comedy.

Which, at the end of the day, made OSTNB the most hilarious show on the entire list, for all the wrong reasons. But somehow this nearly all female show with casual lesbianism has its fans and gets a nomination here. It’s inexplicable really.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – COMEDY (in no particular order)

Ty Burrell in Modern Family

And then there was one. Usually three of the Modern Family cast are nominated here. Cam has won the award twice. But time has not been kind to his character and now it is Phil Dunphy who stands  alone.

Andre Braugher in Brooklyn Nine-Nine

This is the only major nomination for a successful show. It’s created by and starring Andy Samberg, the guy who appeared in That’s My Boy with Adam Sandler. And Samberg needs to choose if he’s the new Sandler, or if he’s better than that.

In the meantime Braugher is good value as his boss, gay Captain Ray Holt. The gay part is only important because Samberg keeps mentioning it.

Adam Driver in Girls

The only main boy character in the series Girls is also the only member of the cast to get nominated. He has also been cast as one of the bad guys in the new Star Wars movies. So this show has been good to him. Suffering through the other character’s torturous self analysis has finally paid off. He survived.

Titus Burgess in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

D’Fwan from 30 Rock gets his own starring role. And it’s as d’camp and d’over the top as you would expect.

Tony Hale in Veep

His inclusion seems like a bit of a hangover from Arrested Development, where he played Buster Bluth. He won here last year, for the same role, beating the Modern Family posse. But it’s a bewildering choice. He’s fine in it, but he probably wasn’t even recognised at the show’s wrap party, because he just doesn’t feel part of it.

Keegan Michael Key in Key & Peele

Probably the most controversial nomination of them all – playing favourites between Key and Peele. Obama played favourites too, asking Key to help him with his Press Association dinner speech.

The comedy duo aren’t as famous in Europe as they are Stateside. And though the intention wasn’t to give out homework, not to shame people about how they’re not in touch anymore, really we have to draw the line if you don’t know these guys.

So get ye to youtube. To keep with the theme, start with the clip Spoiler Alert and strike out from there.

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//ENDS//

READ NIALL MURPHY’S “RUGBY AT THE MOVIES” COLUMN HERE.





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