Friday, September 14, 2007

The Emmys always manage to disappoint

Technical difficulties continue to keep yesterday's column off of NJ.com for some reason, so I'm just going to post the whole thing here for now, with items on Sunday night's Emmys telecast, tonight's premiere of Fox's "Nashville" and last night's premiere of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." (Feel free to use this post to comment on the episode, as I won't be doing anything separate for it). Last night's "Mad Men" was the first I watched live instead of on an advance screener, so I won't be reviewing it until sometime later this morning.

Column after the jump...
Even the cast of "Jersey Boys" serendading the cast of "The Sopranos" wouldn't be enough to get me to watch Sunday night's Emmy telecast if I wasn't getting paid to do it.

Sure, Sunday night's show (8 p.m., Ch. 5) will be the last real hurrah for the "Sopranos" cast and crew, who lead all series with 15 nominations. And, sure, the "Jersey Boys" -- or, at least, the touring company -- will be on hand to present a Four Seasons-style musical medley tribute to Tony and Paulie Walnuts.

But even by the silly, narcissistic standards of Hollywood awards shows, the Emmys have rendered themselves irrelevant, year after year, first with nominations that often leave out the best shows, then with awards that go to the least likely, least deserving finalists. If a great show gets some recognition, I consider it either an accident or a sign that the show or performer was so popular that even the ostrich-heads in the TV Academy heard about them while they were enjoying their time in the dirt.

This year's list of nominations completely ignores "The Wire," which is neck and neck with "The Sopranos" as the greatest drama in TV history. It all but ignored the best show on network TV, "Friday Night Lights," not to mention HBO's brilliant "Deadwood," no doubt because the latter aired last summer and the voters have the attention span of a 10-year-old with a Pixy Stix habit. Also no love for the likes of "Battlestar Galactica," "Dexter" or "The Shield," all while giving multiple nominations to name-brand shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Entourage" that had seasons even their fans were hard-pressed to defend.

The Emmys have reached guilty-until-proven-innocent status with me. I am fully prepared to see James Spader and William Shatner hit the stage ahead of more interesting winners, to see Mariska Hargitay get another statuette, to see "Two and a Half Men" beat out both "The Office" and "30 Rock" for best comedy, etc., etc., etc.

The last straw was when Emmy historian Tom O'Neill posted a report on his Web site, GoldDerby.com, that Fox executives debated between two choices to host the telecast: "American Idol" emcee Ryan Seacrest and "House" star Hugh Laurie. In one corner was Seacrest, who's good at keeping a live telecast moving, but whose speciality is facilitating performances by other, more talented people -- a skill that's not as essential on a night that's all about people giving soul-deadening speeches thanking their business managers and attorneys. In the other was Laurie, who in addition to being a deserving Emmy nominee for best actor in a drama is a gifted musician and an experienced, hilarious sketch comedian, the exact sort of guy who could liven things up in between the attorney-thanking.

Guess who Fox chose?

As if it wasn't bad enough that the people who vote on the Emmys can't be bothered to choose the right nominees and winners, now we find out that the people who run the Emmy telecast can't even be bothered to choose the right host.

So I'll be watching on Sunday night, but only out of obligation to you fine readers. My professional motto is "I watch so you don't have to." Keep that in mind, do something else with your Sunday night and pick up a paper Monday morning to keep your aggravation at a minimum. And if the "Jersey Boys" medley is any good, it'll be on YouTube.

(No) Music City

Basic cable spent all summer cleaning the networks' clocks, both in terms of ratings and quality. While the networks tried and failed with one new reality concept after another ("Pirate Master," "On the Lot"), cable scored with the kind of scripted product that used to be the networks' bread and butter: sitcoms (TBS' "Bill Engvall Show" and "My Boys"), dramas (TNT's "The Closer" and "Saving Grace," not to mention AMC's brilliant "Mad Men"), even made-for-TV movies ("High School Musical 2").

So I suppose it's appropriate that the the first new network show of the season would be an MTV-style "docu-soap" from the people who unleashed "Laguna Beach" and, by extension, "The Hills," upon an unsuspecting populace. If the competition's beating you at your own game, maybe it's role reversal time.

"Nasville" (9 p.m., Ch. 5) follows a group of easily defined types around the country music capital: the privileged rich girl (Terry Bradshaw's daughter Rachel), the privileged rich guy (trust fund player Clint, the obligatory villain), the has-been (Matt, who once had a song that got radio play and now struggles with dive bar gigs), the rising star (Chuck, on the cusp of a big record deal) and a literal coalminer's daughter (Mika, new in town from rural Kentucky).

Though all but clint are trying to make it as country singers, the music is really just an excuse to throw together a bunch of attractive young people for the usual partner-swapping and catfights. Rachel, you see, has a boyfriend -- whom she dumps, by phone, with a crib sheet of excuses on her lap -- but has a crush on Clint, only he's hot for Mika, only Matt has a thing for Mika, only... you know where this is going before it even starts. Reality TV began as an unpredictable alternative to all the clich├ęs we got from the scripted shows, but now it's become another form of comfort food for its audience.

Also predictable -- and making shows like this largely critic-proof -- is the way you know going in whether you'll like it or not. If you don't mind how contrived so much of it is -- how, for instance, Matt and Mika are "introduced" to each other by their landlord without either one bothering to say, "Hey, you have a camera crew following you, too! Awesome" -- or how shallow the entire Clint/Rachel/Mika love triad seems to be, you'll be fine. If not, don't even bother.

Still somewhat cloudy

"You guys are the most horrible people alive!" a guest start tells the main characters of FX's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" early in the show's third season.

The comedy wears that description like a badge of honor. No amount of bad behavior by its anti-heroes -- three lunkheads who own a Philly bar, plus a sister and a non-biological father (or is he?) -- is too foul, too appalling, too offensive in the quest for a good joke.

Unfortunately, the focus too often is on the degree of outrage and not the degree of funny. The two can go hand in hand, as evidenced by "Curb Your Enthusiasm," but season three of "Sunny" features a lot of yelling and not a lot worth laughing at. The characters are interchangeable in their awfulness, behaving in whatever way serves the joke instead of letting the jokes be defined by their behavior. And the frequency of the shocks becomes wearisome after a while; I laughed when one character was told he was an abortion survivor ("I had an abortion! It just didn't take!") but could barely muster a raised eyebrow by the time two characters were being manipulated into incest to claim their share of an inheritance.

Sometimes, extremes aren't necessary. Maybe for season four they should just try to be among the most horrible people alive.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

When I read that Hugh Laurie was almost picked to be the host, y jaw dropped; he's one of the best acceptance-speech-makers ever, and would have been absolutely amazing. But the Fox execs thought viewers wouldn't be able to understand why House was speaking in a British accent, or something, which shows you what they think of their viewers.

Bruce Reid said...

Not to defend Fox, because nothing can make the selection of Seacrest justified, but would it have really been logistically feasible for Laurie to host? I'd think there'd be plenty of prep time required--working with writers, rehearsals, trying to figure out a funny joke about Isaiah Washington that doesn't cross the line--and he's probably up to his eyeballs filming House right now, yeah?

It seems the talk show hosts who take the gigs invariably play reruns for a few weeks. Could Laurie have put the filming of his show on a similar break? I'm ignorant of the schedules involved, and ask sincerely.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Bruce, that could have been an issue -- and with the set-up of "House" at the beginning of the season, Laurie's in even more scenes than ever. But O'Neill's article and other things I've heard implies that the decision was made largely because, as anonynmous says, the Fox execs were worried that Laurie working in his natural accent would confuse people (because no one at home watching a showbiz awards show understands the concept of "acting") and also, perhaps, as a bone to throw to Fox reality czar Mike Darnell, who recently signed a new contract. So it sounds like they had figured out a way to make it work with Laurie's schedule and just chose not to for reasons having nothing to do with making an entertaining show.

Dark Tyler said...

Damn. Hugh Laurie is basically the reason more award shows should be invented. Oh well, at least he may win, which would treat us to another awesome speech.

Now that I mentioned it, wouldn't his nomination interfere with the hosting? I don't know if there is precedent of a host winning the award. Furthermore, perhaps that's the reason the Academy didn't go with Seinfeld for the Oscars. (Not that I didn't love the announcement of Jon's return.)

Matt said...

I can think of at least two recent occaisions when the host of a major awards show was a nominee (and winner), though both are the Tonys, which may not count as "major." In 2001, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane co-hosted. Both were nominated for leading actor in a musical, with Lane winning. In 2004, Hugh Jackman hosted and won for leading actor in a musical.

I believe Conan O'Brien was nominated (at least as part of a team) when he hosted the Emmys in 2002 and 2006, though he might not have been the lead accepting had they won.

And Seinfeld only faces a 50-50 change of getting nominated in the animated category, and a lower chance than that of winning (Ratatouille and Simpsons are both locked in, with the third slot being open.)

filmcricket said...

I can't believe I'm about to defend the choice of Ryan Seacrest over... well anyone, actually, but over Laurie in particular, but: even if there is precedent, I think it's tacky to have a possible winner be the host. The Juno awards (Canada's version of the Grammys) always has some musician host the show and inevitably it's someone who's nominated and a likely winner. This past year Nelly Furtado hosted and won, like, five awards or something, so it essentially turned into the Nelly Furtado show. Not so cool for the other performers.

Now, given that Gandolfini's name is probably already engraved on the only statuette Laurie'd be up for, it might not have been horribly awkward. But I still think that, much as I love him, it'd be weird to have Laurie host when he's nominated.

Anonymous said...

Just out of curiosity, did you enjoy the last season of "It's Always Sunny"? I thought it was hysterical, but agree with your assessment of the premiere episode(s).

It just seems like the initial episodes of this season were rushed out or something. Hopefully this doesn't continue, or season 3 will end up reaching Entourage-level disappointment(perhaps more, since IMO, the best episodes of It's Always Sunny far surpass the best of Entourage).

Andrew said...

I also agree that the first two episodes of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" were subpar. I'm not all that worried about it though, since the episode they posted on MySpace a few weeks back was quite good, so I gotta think they were just a little rusty with those first two.

Donlee said...

I think you guys are all wrong. I found both episodes of "Philadelphia" great and made me laugh out loud on several occasions, moreso than the "Curb" premiere or the entire last season of "Entourage."

DeVito is the best thing to happen to the show and with episode titles like "The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby" and "The Gang Gets Invincible" already funnier than anything else HBO has to offer, it's time to admit that maybe, just maybe, this should be the little comedy that could.

Anonymous said...

it's doubly sad Fox didn't have the faith to let Hugh host, considering it's the only (other) time he's going to be seen on an Emmy stage, apparently (the first being when he and Zach Braff presented, together)

Could I perhaps go out and shoot James Spader? (guess I should go read that rant, but I'm a bit behind)
He was good on The Practice, but he's much less so on BL.

Of course it was nice to see David E Kelley (in the audience), but actually, the show deserved to win more than the actor did. (and I was rooting for House and Grey's, and not BL, myself)
-Pam (David E Kelley fan)

Carl in the Bay State said...

Seps - I agree with a lot of what you write, but you are way off on Sunny in Philly. "The gang gets held Hostage, was one of the funniest things I've seen in a while. The Stockholm Syndrom gag, mirroring the hostage situation to a take-off on Big Brother, and the revelation of "Charlie's Angry Room" were nicely developed and added to the story quite well.

Sorry, i think you are way off here.