Thursday, July 19, 2012

Emmys -- the good, the bad and the head-scratching

So, today the Emmy nominations were announced, and they were the usual mix of pleasing and puzzling. First, it was a really good year to be "Breaking Bad," "Downton Abbey" (moving from the miniseries category to the regular series category) or "Homeland" (unless you are poor Mandy Patinkin, who got lost in all the Downton love).

It was a bad year to be "Justified," which, other than a nod for Jeremy Davies as guest star, yielded pretty much no major nominations.

Here are some more of my thoughts on the good, the bad and the loony in this year's Emmy nods.
The good: Well, obviously, I love that "Breaking Bad" got so many nods -- not just for lead Bryan Cranston and second lead Aaron Paul, but also for the eternally overlooked Anna Gunn (who probably suffers from how much people seem to hate her character) and for season four MVP Giancarlo Esposito. Bonus: Mark Margolis's mostly silent (but brilliant) performance as Don Hector got a nod for best guest performance. I ding my bell in approval!

I also applauded the nomination of "Girls" in not just the best comedy category, but also in the lead actress category. Lena Dunham not only created one of the riskiest, funniest new shows of the year, she also gave an incredibly raw and daring performance as a fairly unsympathetic character. Love it or hate it (and her), "Girls" is an original, and it's nice to see something that risky get recognized.

Other things making me smile included the nod for Jared Harris of "Mad Men", whose searing performance in his final episode as Lane Pryce earned the nomination (even if he had little to in the episode leading up to it).
And yay to the "Homeland" love as well, with the expected best actress nod for Claire Danes, as well as a slightly more dark horse nomination for Damian Lewis.

The bad: Look, I love Michael C. Hall on "Dexter," but hated this latest season so much I couldn't even finish it. I guess we shouldn't punish him for that, but the truth is that Timothy Olyphant had a much stronger season on "Justified" than Hall did on "Dexter."  And yes, we love Kathy Bates and "Harry's Law" got canceled and all that. But there's just no way that she deserves a nod over Emmy Rossum, who continues to be amazing and heartbreaking on "Shameless."

Also,  I wish the Emmys could have found some way to show some love for HBO's "Luck." Yes, it met an unfortunate end, but it had some really good performances (including from marquee stars like Dustin Hoffmann and Nick Nolte), and I really think they deserved a little applause.

Lastly, how many times do we have to nominate Jon Cryer for "Two and a Half Men," people? I like him too, but the show stopped being good a while ago. I would have preferred to see the nod go to Danny McBride's brave, crazy work as Kenny Powers in the fourth season of HBO's "Eastbound and Down."

The insane: Um, I knew "American Horror Story" would be competing in the miniseries category (which is weird, but whatever), but I didn't know that ABC's short-lived "Missing" was using the same strategy. If it means Ashley Judd gets recognized for her fine performance on that show, OK. But it's still crazy. And it further illustrates to me that someone really, really didn't want "Luck" to get nominated for anything, or they would have used the same strategy for that show.

What did everyone else thing?

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Breaking Bad" recap -- Magnetic attraction

Spoilers for the season premiere of "Breaking Bad" below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Breaking Bad" heads into first half of its final run

It is even worth reviewing "Breaking Bad" at this point? I mean, the series -- which begins the first half of its final run tonight at 10 on AMC --has pretty much cemented its reputation as one of the best shows on TV at this point. You don't really need me to tell you that it's good, right? But, if you love TV, it's not possible to stay silent about "Breaking Bad," because this is a show that's so weird and crazy and unlike any other show on TV.
After all, this is a series where the previous season's finale included a horrific shot of its chief antagonist with half of his face blown off, and revealed that meth-making antihero Walter White (Bryan Cranston) poisoned a child to manipulate his partner Jesse (Aaron Paul). But "Breaking Bad" isn't just about shock value.

In fact, the shocks are doled out so gradually that they never feel gratuitous. They almost seem incidental to the show's real mission, which is to painstakingly detail a seemingly normal man's transformation into a monstrous criminal mastermind. Showrunner Vince Gilligan and his team seldom miss a step in painting Walter's journey. Each bit of the process is show in loving detail, from the precise way Walt and Jesse make their meth to the methodical way Walt plotted his nemesis Gus's assassination to the hilariously long and detailed sequences of people getting dressed, opening bottles of wine or setting up completed pieces of equipment.

Take this season's premiere, which spends a good 10 minutes or so following Walt, Jesse, and reluctant cohort Mike (Jonathan Banks) as they calibrate a magnet. The magnet will eventually be used in a much more exciting scene (which I won't spoil here), Gilligan and co. wouldn't dare skip over this important step in the process.

There are plenty of shows about crime and antiheroes, but most of these "skip to the good parts," so to speak. They don't show a ton of process or buildup. Even the luxuriously paced "Boardwalk Empire" wouldn't spend 10 minutes on a magnet. Yet "Breaking Bad" is rarely boring and is often insanely thrilling.

The two episodes I've seen so far this season aren't among the show's more exciting episodes, but they do a good job of rebuilding the narrative after Gus's death and Walt's assumption of the role of crime lord. There's a lot of talk about what will happen next, and strong hints that, even with Gus gone, Walt will still have people to answer to. There's not a shocking moment akin to the finale of last season's premiere, "Box Cutter," but there's still plenty of good stuff.

Cranston and Paul remain arguably the best acting team on TV, playing off of each other's intense styles well (Note: At some point, the Emmys really should give a lifetime achievement award to the vein in Paul's forehead, which just might be the hardest-working body part in the TV business). Banks, whose role seems to have expanded this season (though, with this show, who knows) is also fantastic, and the second episode gives him a brilliant showcase. On a show full of complicated characters, Mike might be the hardest to pin down. He was loyal to Gus, seems loyal to Jesse and can't stand Walt, which all makes for an interesting cocktail. It will be fun to see where Mike is heading as the show nears its finish.

And yes, the end is coming soon. The series will air eight episodes this summer, and then air the final eight next summer. It will be sad to see this excellent series finish, but I'm looking forward to watching (and talking about) every minute of it.