Public Service Announcement 1 of 2011: The Good Wife

If The Good Wife had only been the sum of its parts – good-looking legal drama, Margulies, Noth, Charles, Baranski – that might have been enough.  As it happens, it turned into very much more than that, from the Eliot Spitzer-referencing political and personal drama which started it through to its who-do-I-choose? finale.  As well as providing a showcase for some of US TV’s most reliable actors, it supplied a platform for Archie Panjabi (winning an Emmy) and Matt Czuchry in starmaking roles, and seamlessly integrated further big names and big talents (Alan Cumming, Gary Cole, Jill Flint, Dylan Baker, Titus Welliver) without ever looking as if it was stunt-casting.  Add to that some top-quality storytelling, clever writing, a finger on the news pulse, and some deliciously high production values, and what you had was perhaps the biggest surprise of 2010.  And it’s back on UK TV from 6 January (Thursday coming) at 9pm on More4.  If time permits, we might give it an Unpopcult upgrade to weekly reviews, but we’ll certainly be watching.

Also this week: Grey’s season 7 on Living (Wednesday, 10pm); a rerun of season 1 of Breaking Bad on FX (also Wednesday, 10pm – whether it will be followed by seasons 2 and 3 I don’t know); season 7 of NCIS on Five (Wednesday, 9pm); season 7 of Hustle on BBC1 (Friday, 9pm); season 6 of Criminal Minds on Living (Friday, 9pm); and probably some other things as well.

Unpopcult at the Emmys part 5: Best Drama

All right, nominees, let’s form an orderly queue.  What do we have here?

Y’know, I’ve only ever seen one minute of Breaking Bad.  I didn’t like it.  I know that’s a completely arbitrary and ridiculous way to judge a show, but it was my minute and I didn’t enjoy it.  So, yes, Breaking Bad is a potential, probably deserving, maybe even likely winner this year, but it wouldn’t be mine.  Next.

Ah, I’ve seen a few episodes of Dexter, although they were way back in season 1.  I liked them more than that minute of Breaking Bad but I didn’t really like them.  So, whether it’s got a chance of beating the other nominees, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be my winner either.  Next.

The Good Wife’s a tricky one.  I started watching it at the beginning of the season but lost interest after a few episodes.  It was perfectly watchable and reasonably entertaining but, amongst the deluge of tv this year, perfectly watchable and reasonably entertaining weren’t enough to keep me on the hook.  Much as I adored the cast, the few episodes I saw weren’t Emmy-worthy.   Jed stuck with it though, and his reviews suggest it became much more  than perfectly watchable and reasonably entertaining.  Not my winner then, but maybe in with a shot?  I’m not sure.  Next.

True Blood is actually nominated?  For Outstanding Drama Series?  Seriously? I watch it, I quite like it, but come on.   It’s too patchy, too erratic and too anxious to shock to merit a nomination, let alone a win.  It’s not the best drama on television.  It’s not even the best vampire drama on television.  Next.

Mad Men, now that’s more like it.  It’s won the past couple of years, and it’s deserved to.  And it probably deserves to again, after a strong third season with some utterly brilliant material and some fantastic acting.  Yes, I’d be perfectly happy if Mad Men won again.  But…

Look, I know.  Breaking Bad’s edgier.  Dexter’s cooler.  The Good Wife’s easier.  True Blood’s sexier.  And Mad Men’s worthier.  But, in a year of superb drama – plenty of which didn’t make it onto the shortlist – Lost’s final year was special.  Despite a few misfires, the season and the show as a whole, as Jed has said, was a momentous, astounding achievement and, for me, “The End” was the tv experience of the year.  Nothing else on this list came anywhere near affecting me in the same way as that last couple of hours with the passengers of Oceanic 815.  So I know a lot of people don’t agree, and maybe the Emmy voters won’t agree, but Lost is my winner.  Feel free to use the comments to tell us yours.

Unpopcult at the Emmys part 4: Best Supporting Actor and Best Guest Actor

As with the women, some top-notch performances are recognised in the second-banana categories.  There are also plenty of notable omissions, but there’s now so much good TV around that not everyone can be rewarded. 

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy:

Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel, ‘Glee’

Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson, ‘How I Met Your Mother’

Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell, ‘Modern Family’

Eric Stonestreet as Cameron Tucker, ‘Modern Family’

Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy, ‘Modern Family’

Jon Cryer as Alan Harper, ‘Two And A Half Men’

Any one of the ‘Modern Family’ nominees would be a worthy winner here, and while Ed O’Neill might be regarded as unlucky to miss out I’m particularly pleased that the sometimes overlooked Jesse Tyler Ferguson gets a shout.  So with half of the nominees, the wisdom of the ‘Modern Family’ strategy becomes clear here.  Or does it?  What happens if the ‘Modern Family’ vote gets split?  Neil Patrick Harris should, of course, have won last year, and dude who did, Jon Cryer, surely won’t win twice in a row.  (Incidentally, does anyone else remember ‘Partners’?  In the UK it was shown at about midnight.  I liked it a lot.)  Personally I would give it to Harris or Eric Stonestreet, but with all of that going on I just wonder whether Chris Colfer might sneak through the middle.

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama:

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, ‘Breaking Bad’

Martin Short as Leonard Winstone, ‘Damages’

Terry O’Quinn as John Locke, ‘Lost’

Michael Emerson as Ben Linus, ‘Lost’

John Slattery as Roger Sterling, ‘Mad Men’

Andre Braugher as Owen, ‘Men Of A Certain Age’

Another enormously strong category.  We haven’t seen ‘Certain Age’ in the UK yet but Andre Braugher is always value, and anything connected with ‘Breaking Bad’ is award-bait.  Last year’s winner, Michael Emerson, was if anything even better this season, but I wonder if the Losties in the Academy might decide it’s Terry O’Quinn’s turn this time?  If so he’ll be doing well to hold off the stellar John Slattery, scene-stealing as ever in ‘Mad Men’, where it must be pretty hard to steal a scene.  (And hard luck on Bryan Batt and Vincent Kartheiser, both of whom deserve to be here.  Possibly also half the cast of ‘Lost’.  And Robert Sean Leonard.)  I wouldn’t be at all surprised, though, if Martin Short’s playing against type as sleek, amoral Leonard Winstone in ‘Damages’ could just get there – the Academy’s love for Bryan Cranston demonstrates just how much the voters like comic turns going straight.

Outstanding Guest Actor In A Comedy:

Mike O’Malley as Burt Hummel, ‘Glee’

Neil Patrick Harris as Bryan Ryan, ‘Glee’

Fred Willard as Frank Dunphy, ‘Modern Family’

Eli Wallach as Bernard Zimberg, ‘Nurse Jackie’

Jon Hamm as Dr. Drew Baird, ’30 Rock’

Will Arnett as Devin Banks, ’30 Rock’

If Jon Hamm gets this one while missing out on the big prize yet again, I will not be pleased.  I’d like to think, though, that it’s a Mike O’Malley/NPH showdown, with O’Malley probably getting it for making the very most of what could have been a relatively insignificant part.

Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama:

Beau Bridges as Detective George Andrews, ‘The Closer’

Ted Danson as Arthur Frobisher, ‘Damages’

John Lithgow as Arthur Mitchell, ‘Dexter’

Alan Cumming as Eli Gold, ‘The Good Wife’

Dylan Baker as Colin Sweeney, ‘The Good Wife’

Robert Morse as Bertram Cooper, ‘Mad Men’

Gregory Itzin as President Charles Logan, ’24’

Now, here’s where I don’t get the whole “guest”/”supporting” thing.  Alan Cumming was in 7 episodes of ‘The Good Wife’,  Gregory Itzin was in 8 of the last season of ‘24’, and if someone told me that Robert Morse was in every episode of ‘Mad Men’ I wouldn’t be astonished; ditto John Lithgow and ‘Dexter’.  Cumming, of course was great; there perhaps isn’t more fun to be had among all the nominated acting performances than Itzin’s big, broad, President Logan; and Morse’s playing of eccentric shrewdness was absolutely precise.  Ted Danson was as good as ever in ‘Damages’, but this time round the character seemed oddly out-of-place.  I’d love Dylan Baker to get it for his ironic ‘The Good Wife’ psychopath, but although we haven’t yet seen season 4 of ‘Dexter’ I’ve heard enough about Lithgow’s performance to suggest that he’s the favourite here.  And Andre Braugher should have been nominated for ‘House’, of course.

Unpopcult at the Emmys: Leading Men

Woo hoo! The Emmy nominations are out, and Jed and I are a bit excited about them.  Okay, a lot excited.  So we’re taking advantage of the fact that we suddenly have no tv to watch (hello, off-season!) and indulging ourselves with a LOT of Emmy posts over the next few days.  Humour us…

I’m delighted I get to talk about the Leading Men categories –  or “Outstanding Lead Actor” if you want to be formal about it – because of the high swoon factor amongst the nominees.  Obviously, though, that’s not the point, so, er, anyway, let’s start with the surprises – finally FINALLY, Kyle Chandler’s been nominated for “Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama” for his work on Friday Night Lights.  He’s always been brilliant (even if I’m only on season 2 just now) and the only thing wrong with his nomination is that it didn’t happen years ago. 

But hang on!  Matthew Fox is nominated too!  And his valedictory turn in Lost this year deserved it, so I’m delighted for him as well. Am I supposed to choose between them?

I guess I should be grateful then that Timothy Olyphant didn’t make the cut for Justified, and make it even harder to pick my winner, but I don’t feel grateful.  His performance was perfect.  Nuanced, mesmerising and perfect.  And, like Fox and Chandler, it would have been someone new in the list of nominees.  Instead, we get the old guard of Laurie, Hall, Hamm and Cranston, yet again.  We all know I’d keep Jon Hamm in because a) I love him and b)  he needs to win sometime DAMMIT, but, good as the other three guys are, I’d have preferred to see Olyphant in there instead of any one of them.  Not that he’d have a hope of winning, I don’t think – it’s Foxy vs Hamm vs Chandler for me.  So Cranston’ll probably win it again.  Sigh.

To be honest, I’m a lot less invested in the “Oustanding Lead Actor in a Comedy” category.  As you know, I don’t “do” comedies so the only one of these shows that I’ve watched this season is Glee, and yes, Matthew Morrison’s Mr Shu is lovely and fun and everything, but I’m surprised to see him nominated.  Was he this year’s best lead actor in a comedy?  I have no idea.  Why has Chuck’s Zachary Levi missed out on a nomination yet again?  Again, I have no idea (and I’m not happy about it).  But who’s going to win? Well…. 

Tony Shalhoub’s fine in Monk, but it finished ages ago.  Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory has his fans too, but I don’t think he’s going to take it either.  And The Office’s Steve Carrell  and Curb’s Larry David have both been around for ages, and been nominated many times; I think their ships have already sailed.  Baldwin or Morrison, then?  Personally, I’d give it to Matt because a) I like a change and b) he deserves extra credit for all the rapping he has to do.  But I doubt these are the same criteria used by the Emmy voters; Alec will probably take it again.

Breaking Bad s1 ep 4

OK, I’ve tried.  But I just don’t get it.  Only a grim sense of duty kept me watching this week; another episode with 5 minutes of action crammed into an hour.  Look: it’s not as if I can’t appreciate a slow paced drama.  ‘Friday Night Lights’ (season 2 of which is presumably never coming to the UK) is never afraid to slow things down and find beauty and meaning in the mundane and quotidian.  But ‘Breaking Bad’ is just mundane and quotidian.

And Bryan Cranston beating Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall and Hugh Laurie to the best actor Emmy?  Come on.  All he needs to do is hang about looking downcast, and to suggest that his performance is anywhere near as good as Hamm’s, for instance, is simply perverse.

There’s three episodes to go.  I might save them until there’s nothing else on I want to watch, or I might not.  I might write about ‘Breaking Bad’ again, but don’t count on it.

Breaking Bad s1 ep 3

The pace remained measured this week, but this episode was somewhat more watchable than the last, so I’m starting to warm to this idiosyncratic programme.  The drug dealers – both dead and alive – continued to take up screen time, as the debris from the dead one had to be cleared up, and Walter had to decide what to do with Krazy-8, the living one (whose name unfortunately reminds me of Krazee Eyez Killah from a classic episode of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’).  And he did.

There were also signs that the supporting cast might be given some stuff to do: Walter’s asshole brother-in-law Dean, son Walter Jr, wife Skyler and sister-in-law Marie all made contributions, the last the briefest and most intriguing.

I wouldn’t describe myself as hooked quite yet, but ‘Breaking Bad’ is starting to win me over.

Breaking Bad s1 ep 2

I’m still not sure how I feel about this undoubtedly well-made show.  Picking up from where we left off in last week’s pilot, this episode asked the question: how much black humour can be found in topics such as disposing of a dead drug dealer’s body, and working up the courage to kill another drug dealer?  Answer: some, but perhaps not as much as the producers would have liked.

And it’s all a bit slow.  The above paragraph is pretty much an episode synopsis.  I appreciate that not every programme can match the headlong speed of a ‘Dexter’ or a ‘Damages’, and that there are pleasures to be found in a more leisurely piece of work, but unless things pick up a bit I fear that ‘Breaking Bad’ and I will be breaking up.

Breaking Bad s1 ep 1

A first chance for the UK to see cult US hit ‘Breaking Bad’, and a first chance for Unpopculters to see Bryan Cranston in action as Walter White, stealing the Best Male Actor Emmy away from our favourites Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall and Hugh Laurie.

Walter White, 50 year old sad-sack chemistry teacher, discovers that he has terminal cancer.  While riding along with his brother-in-law, a DEA agent, on a drugs bust, he encounters Jesse Pinkman, a former pupil.  Having realised how much money there is in the drugs game, he decides to go into partnership with Pinkman and uses his knowledge of chemistry to set up a crystal meth lab, with a view to leaving money behind for his pregnant wife and his son, who has cerebral palsy.

First impressions?  It’s pretty dark.  Not necessarily in a bad way, but I get the feeling it fancies itself as a black comedy along the lines of, say, ‘Six Feet Under’; for now, however, there isn’t much humour to be had.  It’s also pretty good, though, and the first episode was more than riveting enough to keep me in for the next.  At the moment I really don’t have a clue where it’s going to go, nor has the supporting cast had quite enough to do to establish whether this is yet another of these miraculous ensemble pieces which American TV throws up.

For those who missed it, it’s on iTunes (possibly free); and for those who are wondering whether it’s worth getting invested there will be a second series.