Saturday, August 22, 2009

New Poll – Who SHOULD Win The Emmy For Outstanding Host For A Reality or Reality Competition Program?

Okay, I've thought it over and decided to go with the Reality-Competition Host category.The thing is that I don't really think that it's very likely that the show that has won in the Reality-Competition series category literally since before the category was created will lose this year. And I don't just say that because The Amazing Race is one of my favourite shows. I just don't see it losing against the same four shows that it beat last season, and the season before that. While I'm not convinced of the necessity of the Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program, at least it seems like the category is more competitive(!) than the Series category is. Besides, it contains one of the oddest nominations of any category in the Emmys, the two hosts of Top Chef being nominated as one. So here are the nominees:

Tom Bergeron - Dancing With the Stars
Phil Keoghan - The Amazing Race
Heidi Klum - Project Runway
Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio - Top Chef
Jeff Probst - Survivor
Ryan Seacrest - American Idol

As usual, vote for who you think should win, not who you think will win. And as always feel free to submit comments here about how you've decided to vote – or even if you've consciously decided not to vote. I want to see comments. I'm begging you to comment. I'm down on my knees here people! (And believe me with my knees the only thing harder than getting down on them is getting up.)

Deadline for votes is August 31, 2009.

Poll Results – Who SHOULD Win The Outstanding Actor In A Drama Emmy?

Well here we go again with another round of poll results. There were twenty-six votes cast. In sixth place, with one vote (3.85%) is Simon Baker from The Mentalist. In a tie for fourth place, with two votes each (7.69%) are Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston and Dexter's Michael C. Hall. John Hamm from Mad Men came in third with three votes (11.54%). Second place is held down by Gabriel Byrne from In Treatment with six votes (23.08%). But the overwhelming winner, with twelve votes (46.15%) is House himself, Hugh Laurie.

Simon Baker brings a charming and witty take to his role as Patrick Jane on The Mentalist, something that is not totally surprising since he had the same qualities on his first North American series The Guardian. Behind that facade though there's frequently an unsuspected depth to the character. Still, I'm afraid that I'm convinced that – not knowing which episode he was nominated for (and not really caring since this poll tends to focus on overall performance) – the principal reason why Baker was nominated was because this show is the highest rated new show of the 2008-090 season. But then I'm a bit cynical about these things. I haven't seen either Cranston or Hall's performances in Breaking Bad and Dexter. In both cases its rather a case of having too much on my plate rather than the shows not being available on channels that I get. Cranston's performance however was strong enough for him to stage a major upset by winning the Emmy in this category last year for his role as the science teacher who has turned to making and dealing drugs to provide a nest egg for his family after he dies of cancer. Still, I'll turn to my friend Ronniecat for her thoughts. She was conflicted between Cranston, John Hamm, and Hugh Laurie before finally coming down on the side of Bryan Cranston: I think I have to go with Bryan Cranston. His work in Breaking Bad is just outstanding. The character's desperation is so palpable I feel sometimes like I need to leave the room. Like her, I find the lack of support for Cranston this time around to somewhat disappointing and more than a bit surprising given both his success in last year's Emmys. I am a big fan of John Hamm's Don Draper character from Mad Men, which has become appointment TV for me. Draper's internal demons came to the fore in this past season and he finds himself increasingly questioning whether or not to throw all that he has away. It's a powerful performance. As far as Gabriel Byrne's second season of In Treatment goes, it is one that I haven't seen because it is on HBO and I don't have HBO's Canadian service.

This leaves us with House and the always strong Hugh Laurie. This season's storylines have focussed on Dr. House's relationships with his two peers and best friends, Wilson and Cuddy. At the same time we were privy to House's descent into mental instability – or at least greater mental instability than had been produced by his drug addiction and his generally abrasive personality. The last two or three episodes of the season, where House is unable to differentiate between his reality and his fantasies or hallucinations, are impressive bits of acting, and as is always the case with Laurie's performance as House deserving of acknowledgement. While I think that the Emmy will most likely go to Cranston, I don't think that anyone would be shocked, surprised, or unhappy if Hugh Laurie won the Emmy.

Turning away from the actual poll, I want to discuss something that I observed in the voting. Analysis is providing interesting results – I won't go into detail until this set of polls is completed but next time I run a poll the amount of time it will be open will be shorter – but one thing is rather odd. The poll receives fewer votes for the Actress categories than for the Actor categories. For the two comedy categories Actresses had a total of five votes cast while Actors had a total of twenty-two. In the Drama category Actresses had eleven votes cast while Actors had twenty-six. I'm not sure what this means. Are most of my readers (or at least the people who stop by from time to time) men? Or do my readers just find performances in the actor categories easier to judge? Thoughts?

New poll will be up shortly. It will be Outstanding Reality-Competition although there is a part of me that thinks it should be Outstanding Reality-Competition Host.

Friday, August 14, 2009

New Poll - Who SHOULD Win The Outstanding Actor In A Drama Emmy?

I'm putting this poll up a few hours later than expected, but we were making Borscht and large quantities of soup take precedence over just about everything.

The nominees are:

Simon Baker - The Mentalist
Gabriel Byrne - In Treatment
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall - Dexter
Jon Hamm - Mad Men
Hugh Laurie - House

Vote for the actor that you believe should win rather than the actor you think is going to win, and as always, please feel free to post comments on this post about why you believe that the person yu chose should take home the Emmy.

Deadline is Saturday August 22nd,2009 at noon or there abouts.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Poll Results – Who SHOULD Win The Outstanding Actress In A Drama Emmy?

With nine votes cast, the turnout for this poll wasn't as large as for the one for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy where there were 22 votes cast, it was still larger than the turnout for the Actress in a Comedy category where only five people voted. The voting pattern continues to solidify my views on just how long future polling periods should be. And while my Internet connection has gotten faster (much faster than it was) it has a tendency to drop for a few seconds without apparent provocation. Just in case you were interested.

The results were as follows. Tied for fifth place with no votes were last year's winner Glenn Close from Damages and Holly Hunter from Saving Grace. In a tie for third place are the 2007 winner Sally Field from Brothers and Sisters and
Mariska Hargitay from Law & Order SVU who won in 2006. They each had one vote (11.11%). In second place was Kyra Sedgwick from The Closer, with three votes (33.33%). But the surprise winner was Elizabeth Moss from Mad Men with four votes (44.44%). It's interesting to note that Sedgwick and Moss led from the beginning, with Sedgwick edging ahead on the fifth day of polling but with Moss taking the lead the next day.

I have to say that I'm not at all convinced that the voters are right in this one. First of all I think that Glenn Close will win this battle of the Oscar nominees (Hunter has four nominations and one win, Field has two nomination and won both times, and Glenn Close has been nominated five times – and never won which I constantly amazed at). I'm not entirely convinced that she's the best actress of the group, but she has the name and the reputation and it's a showy role. Since I don't watch Brothers And Sisters on a regular basis I can't be sure if Field has brought anything new to role of Nora Walker. Certainly Mariska Hargitay hasn't changed things up too much in Law & Order: SVU. She's an excellent actress but I'm not sure why she keeps getting nominated.

Turning to the actresses who I consider to have turned in the best performances, my personal favourite is probably Holly Hunter. Grace Hanadarko is a deeply scarred and twisted character who has been given a second chance to try to be a good person even though the temptations that she faces and the life she is living aren't always conducive to her reform. As for Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson, she faces none of the metaphorical demons (and one very real angel) that Grace does but she is very hard when she is in her element – interrogating suspects – and confused and vulnerable when she is out of it. As a character Brenda is a great deal of fun to watch.

Which leads us to Elizabeth Moss and the character of Peggy Olson on Mad Men. There is a part of me that feels that Moss is nominated in the wrong category; that the only lead character in Mad Men is John Hamm's Don Draper, and that the other characters are there to support him. And yet I don't think you can ignore the emergence of Peggy Olson as a character on this show. She has gone from being the largely innocent secretary turned junior copywriter with a secret in the first season to become one of the powers in the office of Sterling Cooper, eclipsing both the women that she worked with in the secretarial pool, including the chief secretary Joan Hollaway, and many of the male characters, some of who are senior to her. Time and again we see glimpses of Peggy that give her greater depth and reveal more about her. Meeting the women of her family, who basically resent her for rising above her station (this is particularly true of her sister) give us a sense of why she frequently acts in such a repressed manner. And yet Peggy is coming into her own. There's a scene in the next to last episode that illustrates this quite well I think. Alone in the empty office before a huge presentation, without her mentor and safety net Don Draper to take charge, Peggy takes a cigarette and starts smoking. It's clear from the way that she does it that this is the first time she's smoked, and perhaps the last. In a way it signifies the moment that she becomes an adult at the office because after a few puffs she puts the cigarette out and has apparently gained the confidence that she needs because she wins the contract for the company. Throughout the season Elizabeth Moss has turned in little moments like that that add up to a strong performance. But I'm still not sure if it is a role that deserves to be considered a lead, and I'm definitely not convinced that it is on a level with Holly Hunter's Grace.

New poll up shortly.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

No Phones, No Lights, No Motorcars – At Home!

One of the worst things you can probably say about a TV series may be that it is derivative. Everyone wants their show to stand out as original, or if not original then as the best of the type. I think that's why CSI and The West Wing became such huge hits when they debuted. They were original; they weren't derivative (of course the fact that the shows treated their audiences like intelligent human beings not only didn't hurt but helped). And maybe that's why there are so few reality shows that really pop. Most of the reality shows out there, particularly the summer reality shows, are as derivative as hell. A few years ago there was a deluge of The Apprentice clones, and only one of them worked. That was Hell's Kitchen, and it works not because of what is similar to The Apprentice but because of what is different. Unlike Trump, and the hosts of virtually all of the clones, Gordon Ramsay has his eyes on the donkey's every working minute of the process. Ramsay is very much a part of the process, and his personality – or at least the part of his personality that comes out when dealing with a crew of what are essentially novices that he is trying to mould into a team – is an essential part of the show, even more than Trump's personality shows up in The Apprentice. (Anyone who has ever seen Ramsay's big British show, The F Word, will have seen a different aspect of his personality; of course that show would never sell on FOX.)

In the new CBS show There Goes The Neighborhood the show being cloned is Survivor, with some Big Brother thrown in for good measure. Call this Survivor: Family Edition if you want to and you wouldn't be far wrong. Of course you can't whisk kids – some as young as 6 years old – off to a tropical hellhole paradise, so the show instead tries to replicate the tropical hellhole paradise atmosphere in their own homes. This is accomplished by erecting a concrete wall around eight houses in an Atlanta neighbourhood (it looks like the Berlin Wall without homey touches like the guard towers), and then cutting the power to the neighbourhood. The loss of power not only means no TV, no video games, no chargers for cell phones but also no electric stoves, no refrigerators, no hot water and no air conditioning. And they're in Atlanta. That makes it the next best (?) thing to a tropical hellhole paradise but without the poisonous snakes and man-eating fish. Of course in Survivor (and Big Brother) the real threat isn't from those things but from the people that you're competing with and on this show that makes things more than a bit complicated.

Casting in a reality show is essential of course. That's complicated in this case because they're actually casting a neighbourhood with both pre-existing relationships and pre-existing groups. It's not like they can bring people in to fill some real or imagined quota system that requires a certain number of each group. That said, the producers managed to find a street to do this show on that is almost surprisingly diverse, both demographically and interms of human interest stories, which is another aspect of reality show casting. There's a mixed race family (the Upshaws), a mixed faith family (the Schindlers – the father is Jewish, the mother is Christian – they go to temple and celebrate Christian holidays), a same sex couple (listed as the Mullenix family), a single parent family (Laurie Southey and her daughter), a family consisting of three generations (the Bussieres), and another where the wife's niece is living with them while going to school (the Johnstons). The human interest stories are there as well. Clarissa "Chris" Mullenix has her own son from her previous marriage and adopted her two nephews after her brother and sister-in-law were killed in a freak accident (only one of the nephews is participating in the show). When Susan Bussiere suffered a stroke in 2008 her mother moved in to help the family out and has stayed. David Schindler is a workaholic whose kids often don't see him as much as they'd like, and when they do see him he usually has his phone glued to his ear. The participants on the show range from 5 to 74 (Jake Bussiere and his grandmother Marcia Flerra, with most of the "adults" being in their 40s.

As you might expect most of the first episode deals with the players getting used to their new situation and throwing in the various twists – like the power going out – before the game part of the game really gets going. Losing the power, is a big thing of course. The children and teenagers primarily think about playing their video games, using the computer to communicate with their friends and being able to charge their cell phones. For adults of course the worries are more basic questions of survival; storing food (think how much of it goes into the refrigerator), cooking it, staying cool (think of how dependent all of us are on air conditioning), and even being able to do things after dark. It is very much like being on the island in Survivor. And of course that's where competitions come into play.

The competition in the first episode required one player from each team to wear a T-shirt covered in mud and another player from the team to unravel a tangled fire hose and use it to wash the mud off the shirt, revealing three numbers printed on the shirt (water supplied by a fire engine on the other side of The Wall). Once the numbers were revealed the two team members had to run to a box locked with a combination lock – the three numbers on the T-shirt were the combination to the lock, but they had to be put into the correct order to open the lock. It was a close race, but in the end it was won by the Nelsons, the self-described "Southern Family." They became "Kings of the Neighbourhood, which carried both a Reward a Responsibility. The Reward in this case was a refrigerator full of food powered by generator, probably on "the outside." There's also a plentiful supply of food, and of course the Nelsons are expected to share with their neighbours. The Responsibility is to nominate two families one of which will be removed from the game. The Nelsons choose the DeGirolamo family (a competitive but overweight poker player) and the Mullenix Family. Chris Nelson (the father of the family) has some rather interesting logic in making his selections. He believes that the neighbours will see the Mullenixes as being weak competitively – he sees Chris Mullenix as being a bit of an emotional basket case – so that they will vote to keep them and eliminate the "strong" team," the DeGirolamos. After the nominations are made, the other families adjourn to their homes to talk about which of the families they wanted to keep. Voting was done by handing in photos of the family they wanted to keep. As Chris Nelson predicted all but one of the teams – probably the Southeys – elected to keep the Mullenixes.

I'm not entirely sure what to think about There Goes The Neighborhood. On the surface it seems like a rather ordinary reality-competition show, a reworking of an older, superior, format that manages to rise slightly above the level of most such reworkings of originals. It's not on the same level as Hell's Kitchen when it turned the format of The Apprentice on its ear, creating – in my opinion at least – a product that is in some ways superior to the original (or maybe I just like Gordon Ramsay's personality better than I like Donald Trump's – Ramsay would have appreciated Annie Duke over Joan Rivers in a second). On the other hand the show is much better than that ersatz version of The Amazing Race that NBC put on the air called The Great American Road Trip. Quite frankly, as viewers we basically know what to expect from There Goes The Neighborhood; there will be competition and interpersonal conflicts and from a purely detached point of view there's nothing really to object to. The show isn't cheaply done or badly thought out. It is, in its own way, as comfortable for the viewers as an old boot.

My problem with this show isn't with the show as television, it is with the concept itself. In most reality-competition shows the relationships are transitory. With relatively few exceptions the people who appear on these shows have no previous exposure to each other, no bonds to be tested, and after the event they will have as much or as little connection as they wish with each other. Famously, Rob & Amber got married after their time together on Survivor: All Stars (and in July of this year became parents of a daughter, Lucia Rose), but I have no idea of how close Amber is with her fellow Survivor: Australian Outback competitor Elisabeth Hasselbeck. These are, by their nature mostly transitory relationships so that the disagreements and battles and other relationship stressors cease to matter outside of the context of the game. A major exception is The Amazing Race in which team members have pre-existing relationships, but the teams are competing against people with they don't have a history. That's different in There Goes The Neighborhood. There are pre-existing relationships, friendships or at least acquaintances. Chris Nelson was able to make the strategic move that he did because he knew his neighbours, both the ones he nominated and those who would be doing the voting. That's where the show seems somehow unsavoury. There will come a time when, despite the fact that everyone knows that it's just a game and that what goes on in the game stays in the game, feelings are going to be hurt in a way that goes beyond the game, and that after the game things aren't going to be the same. I find it vaguely unsettling that the production company was willing to take that chance with people's lives. I find it even more unsettling that the producers were able to find eight families willing to risk their friendships.

As a detached TV viewer I find There Goes The Neighborhood to be an competently executed, if not particularly compelling, summer reality-competition; the sort of thing that will hold your interest for a while but which you won't particularly miss when it's gone or care about when it's not back next year. But part of me is disturbed by the voyeuristic aspects of this show. It's one thing to see people who don't know each other brought together in a highly stressful environment and watch how they interact because they know that once they're done with this show they don't necessarily have to see each other again. It's quite another thing to watch the possible disintegration of existing relationships. Somehow it makes me feel just a little unclean. But maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

New Poll - Who SHOULD Win The Outstanding Actress In A Drama Emmy?

Here we go again with the Emmy poll for the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama. As always, vote for the actress that you think should win in this category, not necessarily the one that you believe will win. The Nominees are:

Glenn Close - Damages
Sally Field - Brothers & Sisters
Mariska Hargitay - Law & Order: SVU
Holly Hunter - Saving Grace
Elisabeth Moss - Mad Men
Kyra Sedgwick - The Closer

As always I desperately want to see comments on why you voted the way that you did, and I am more than willing to keep those comments anonymous.

The poll will end at noon (approximately) on Thursday August 13th.

Poll Results - Who SHOULD Win The Outstanding Actor In A Comedy Emmy?

I'm back with the results of the poll on who should win the "Outstanding Actor in a Comedy" Emmy, and I have to say that I'm impressed on a number of levels. After the anaemic turn-out in the first poll, I wasn't expecting many votes, but the response to this poll totally exceeded even my most optimistic expectations. On another note, the voting patterns, which I have also been tracking seem to reinforce the results of the first poll as to when people vote in these things. Of course more data is required to come up with a definitive answer, but what I'm getting so far is probably going to have an effect on how I do poll in the future.

Now to the results of the voting. There were 22 votes cast – four times as many as in the first poll for reasons I don't fully understand...yet. In sixth place, with no votes is Charlie Sheen from Two And A Half Men. In fifth place, with one vote (4.55%) was Jemaine Clement from Flight Of The Conchords. In fourth place with three votes (13.64%) was last year's winner in this category – both in this poll and at the awards – Alec Baldwin from 30 Rock. In third place, with four votes (18.18%) is another previous winner in this category, Steve Carell from The Office. In what for me was a surprising second place was yet another multiple winner in this category, Tony Shaloub from Monk. But the winner with eight votes (36.36%) was Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory.

As usual, Charlie Sheen gets no love from people voting in this category on this blog. And as usual I will make the comment that he's probably crying all the way to the bank. His father has enough Emmys for the whole family anyway. The poor turnout for Flight Of The Conchords star Jemaine Clement probably has a dual cause; his show is on HBO and the focus of this blog tends to be on broadcast TV. Clement, and the show, was the subject of the only comment that I received for this poll (and just as a reminder, I do welcome, and even beg for, comments on why you voted the way you did – I'm even willing to make them anonymous on the blog) even though part of it was a sales pitch for some merchandise: "Their music rocks and i love their show. Who knew kiwis were so funny! I especially love there (sic) First season of songs." Since I can't afford HBO Canada, I can't possibly comment intelligently. The only New Zealander that most of us get exposed to is Phil Keoghan, who I find to be somewhat funny.

Moving on, we have Alec Baldwin and Steve Carell. Although Carell received one more vote than Baldwin, I'm lumping them together here because it is my expectation that either Baldwin or Carell is the likely winner in this category (although they aren't who I want to win) and if I had to choose between the two I'd say that it would be Baldwin who will win. I believe that the Academy voters like what they perceive to be "intelligent" and "sophisticated" comedy. What will probably give Baldwin an edge in the voting is that 30 Rock is a show about television and very specifically about NBC. I'm willing to bet that people in the industry will see people that they know reflected in the show.

I want to spend a minute on Tony Shaloub who is doing his last season of Monk right now. Shaloub regularly gets more votes in this poll than I usually expect him to – he finished second to Alec Baldwin last year and in third place in 2007 – for a show that, if others better qualified to comment than I (who again doesn't have access to the most recent episodes of this show) are to be believed is becoming less sharp as the years have passed. I'm not saying that Shaloub doesn't deserve the nomination, I am however questioning whether he deserves eight votes in this poll.

Or winner however is Jim Parsons, and I think that the acclaim here is well deserved (I should mention however that this is the only one of the nominated comedies that I watch on a regular basis). While The Big Bang Theory is at its heart a fairly routine comedy about a group of friends with a "fish out of water" aspect in the form of Kelly Cuoco's character Penny, and a hint of unrequited love thrown into the mix, Parsons as Sheldon is an absolute stand-out. As the obnoxious roommate/best friend from Hell he's hilarious. He nails the behaviour of this uber-geek so well that there have been several things written trying to diagnose Leonard's behaviour – they tend to come down on the side of Leonard suffering from Asperger's Syndrome, a view that Parson himself agrees with, saying that Sheldon "couldn't display more traits" of AS." His lack of a sense of humour, his total failure to understand irony and his obsessive compulsive adherence to routines ("You're sitting in my spot.") are the principal sources of comedy in this show. What makes Parsons worthy of this award – and why I personally think that he should win it – is that in the wrong hands this role could be obnoxious and a caricature, one of the most disliked characters on TV. The obvious comparison is with Jaleel White's Urkel character on Family Matters; Urkel took over the leading part in the series, but can anyone really say that they liked Urkel as a person? Sheldon could have been the "next Urkel" but instead Parsons has given him enough endearing qualities that for all of his obnoxious character quirks we, as the audience, like him and his friends on the show don't want to throw him under a bus...too often.

New poll up in a few minutes.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Soup Can Post Minus The Soup Can

Mark Evanier created the "tradition" of posting a picture of a Campbell's Tomato Soup can on his blog on those occasions when he knows or believes that he won't be able to post for a while. Well even though I haven't been posting all that often this summer I'm posting the Tomato soup can. Except that I can't post the image, and here's why.

A few days ago I got an email from my ISP, Shaw Cable telling me that because of changes they were making that would make my Internet faster, but to make this work I'd have to replace my modem which wasn't being supported by the manufacturer, which was reaching the end of its expected life span. So yesterday – Saturday – I took my old Motorola Cybersurfr modem down to the soon to be closed office in the mall and replaced it with a brand new SB5102 Surfboard Modem. I took it home and hooked it up... and I've been hating it ever since!

Downloads have been significantly, observably, slower. Images in particular have slow in downloading. Running Speedtests – including Shaw's own Speedtest – revealed download speeds hovering around 1 mbps and upload speeds of about 450 kbps. For the service that I'm paying for I am supposed to be getting download speeds as high as 7.5 mbps. Podcast downloads, which usually take about a minute now take up to ten. The breaking point came when I was trying to play poker online at Full Tilt Poker. It was a nightmare. The client kept disconnecting and at one point crashed entirely. I had to restart the program and when I did it took about five minutes for it to actually connect get me back to the tournament I was playing in. I think I can safely say that this has cost me (a small amount of) money. I've done everything that I can think of – short of calling Shaw, which is the next step after I finish writing this post – and nothing has changed. And since I don't how long this is going to take I post the Tomato Soup Can.

Ah, but of course I can't. That would mean uploading an image file and with the way things are going, who knows how long that would take. So I'm afraid I'm going to have to post the Tomato Soup Can without actually posting the Tomato Soup Can.

P.S.: It took me three tries to get this posted from Word. Wholly unacceptable.

Update: Apparently the problem has remedied itself without my having to call Shaw. Well not quite remedied itself. Turns out that for some unearthly reason best left to wizards and gurus, all it all had something to do with my power bar. I plugged the modem into the power bar as I have with just about every electronic device on my cluttered desktop. The exception is the printer because the cord won't reach. In a last desperate move I pull the printer plug from the wall socket and the modem plug from the power bar, plugged the modem into the wall socket and Hocus Kadabra, Alika Pocus (as a certain Wascally Wabbit would put it) everything is working as advertised, although I haven't tested it yet with Poker. Makes me wonder if maybe I should get a new power bar though.