Thursday, December 17, 2009

TV in the 2000s or How Let's name ABND's Best Drama Actors/Actresses

Best Performances (TV Drama)

Narrowing the performance/actor categories was HARD. But I went with two things:
1. Do I like the actor/actress?
2. Do I like the performance?
Okay, maybe that didn't help 'em narrow them down at all. But I do have a crazy math system in the back of my head. Just don't make me explain it to cause I'm sure it would blow you away with its awesome and accurateness.

Best Drama Actor
What is it about male actors that keeps me from being wholly invested in them and prevents me from giving great praise to their work? I was planning on writing these men up but maybe it's the end-of-year fatigue coupled with the amount of schoolwork I have but I think they'll speak for themselves.

Jon Hamm - Don Draper (Mad Men)
"You are the product. You feeling something. That's what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can't do what we do and they hate us for it."
Peter Krause - Nate Fisher (Six Feet Under)
"None of us know how long we've got. Which is why we have to make each day matter."
Michael C Hall - David Fisher (Six Feet Under)/ Dexter Morgan (Dexter)
"Yeah, I'll be the strong one, the stable one, the dependable one, because that's what I do. And everyone around me will fall apart. 'Cause that's what they do." - David
"Viva Miami" - Dexter
Hugh Laurie - Dr Gregory House (House)
"It's Never Lupus!"
Victor Garber - Jack Bristow (Alias)
"Sydney, get in. Get in now... you can be stubborn later."

Runners up:
What would Battlestar Galactica have been without Edward James Olmos' raspy, Bale-doing-Batman voice and stern command? What would Big Love have been without its center piece in the form of Bill Paxton? Or, what would Joss's Angel had been without its leading cast member (David Boreanaz, now a staple at Fox's Bones)? Answer: not as good a show as they were.

Best Drama Actress
The ladies though, I couldn't leave without some commentary. Brief as it may be:

Mary McDonnell - President Laura Roslin (Battlestar Galactica)
"I won't compromise the success of this operation or the safety of this fleet to indulge the neediness of 12 perpetually unhappy representatives. I can't."
What to say about one of the most complex female political figures to grace TV this past decade? The younger cast may have given us plenty of eye candy (Tricia, Katee, Tammoh, Jamie) but it was truly in the duo of Edward James-Olmos and Mary McDonnell, that BSG soared for me. In Laura Roslin - a minister of Education thrust into the role of president after humankind is annihilated, McDonnell gave us a towering presence from the miniseries all the way to the end, when we finally saw her experience pure happiness. Here was a woman who knew what was best for humanity and in many odd ways managed to make me support and believe in the powers of dictatorship, torture, as well as ruthless political strategy without ever making me blink or doubt her. That alone was a feat in itself. The fact that despite this resolute nature of her was still imbued with tenderness and vulnerability (not only in the form of her illness but in her romantic engagement with Adama), without ever seeming at odds, shows how carefully McDonnell (a past Oscar nominee, let us not forget) crafted this character.

Sarah Michelle Gellar - Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
"I'm the thing that monsters have nightmares about. And right now, you and me are gonna show 'em why."
Probably my pick for the bravest and most fully formed character this past decade, there's no denying that Buffy Summers wouldn't have been the pop cultural icon it became without the strength of Gellar's thespian skills. Few can straddle the line between high camp and deep melancholy which this part required. Here was a conflicted woman torn between triviality (prom, dating, hairstyles, boys) and the transcendent (death, grief, demons, boys). "The Body" - the episode where Buffy's mom passes away (beautifully directed sans accompanying score by Joss Whedon) is one of the most affecting episodes this show ever produced. To see Gellar's close ups is to see a great actress at work, showing so much grief and so much pain yet trying to remain in control and composed: but how does a slayer deal with death when 'death is her gift' as that season constantly reminded us? But it wasn't just the dramatic scenes that make Buffy a great character and Gellar a worthy candidate for this award: her comedic timing (whether she's playing a robot version of herself, going all "cave-girl" because of beer, or playing up her ditzy blonde routine) is flawless, never missing a beat and always willing to be butt of the joke should the occasion require it. For that, Gellar remains one of my all-time favorite actresses, even if her filmography leaves much to be desired.

January Jones - Betty Draper (Mad Men)
"Sally! Go Bang Your head against the wall"
There are many detractors when it comes to Betty Draper. But one thing that is hard to argue is that, regardless how you feel about Betty, you have to give January Jones props for unflinchingly making Betty the ice-cold Nordic frazzled and childish queen that she is. While her storyline this past season fell mostly on the grating side, her season 2 arc is one of the most interesting examinations of female (and feminine) desire in twentieth century America I've seen put on screen (and here's someone who loves Revolutionary Road, Far From Heaven, The Women, The Hours and Almodovar's films). Betty may seem like a spoiled child (and there's no denying she is) but rather than see her as merely promoting this ideal, Weiner's show is clearly more interested in examining her as a symptom of the culture that bred her. Her mood swings are no less a consequence of here-and-there plot twists but more of a portrayal of the conflicting discourses that rule her life and which she cannot seem to comprehend. I am still waiting to see what they have in store for her next season (I, for one don't want Betty to go away) but these past three seasons enamoured me and while she's anything but lovable, she's fascinated and most of this is because Jones plays her so beautifully (her melancholy gazes, her hysterical fits, even her eerie calm resolve are always magnetic).

Jeanne Tripplehorn - Barb Henrickson (Big Love)
"We're never too far apart when we're holding hands."
This show is pitch-perfect when it comes to complex women (any of the other two wives could have easily made this lineup) but for me it's all about Barb. Maybe it's because she's the one I can relate to the most (and the one that most reminds me of my mother) but it's also because she seems to be the most fully formed and conflicted when it comes to her make-shift "family" and still its most staunch supporter (as evidenced by last season's storyline). She always breaks my heart but what Tripplehorn manages is to achieve this without falling into a portrayal that plays up her victim-like position (which is rarely promoted by the writing itself) but by braving the attacks on her family and her lifestyle knowing full well how she will always stand for what is right (which is why I love the quote that I chose): she may not agree with Margie or Nikki all the time, but she loves them. Family, as they say, always comes first.

Amy Acker - Winifred Burkle (Angel)/Dr Saunders (Dollhouse)
"This has been the best night ever. First, there's you taking me to ice cream, then there's the ice cream, then that monster jumps out of the freezer and you're all brave and, "Fred, watch out!," and then we get to chase it down into the sewers, which are just so bleak, and oppressive and homey. I-I could build a condo down here." - Fred
"You can't be your best. Your best is past. Your past you can't even remember. You're ugly now. You're disgusting. All you can hope for now is pity. And for that, you're going to have to look somewhere else." - Dr Saunders
This is probably my only left-field entry but I have a soft-spot for Amy Acker and I truly believe that her 2 (well, 4 if we're being specific) Whedon characters speak very highly about this young Sci-Fi starlet (it's no surprise she has several Saturn Award nominations and one win under her belt). From the quirky and lovable Winifred ("Fred") to the ice-cold alien nature of Illyria to the touching pitiable Dr Saunders (and then her creepy and touching turn as Whiskey), Acker showed great range, while still nailing the vulnerable and wounded aspects of her characters. "A Hole in the World" (the episode where - spoilers alert! - Fred "dies") still ranks as one of my all-time favorite Whedon episodes and most of it is due to Acker's performance because even as it could have fallen into cliche (dying words, sickness), her tenderness and humour weren't completely gone and made the scene when she finally dies that much more heartbreaking.

Runners up:

The Six Feet Under gals (Lauren Ambrose, Rachel Griffiths & Frances Conroy) for carefully adding much needed estrogen to the boy-ruled household. Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica) for making Six a more complex and interesting cylon than most human TV characters this decade. The Damages pair: this show really works Rose Byrne and Glenn Close for all their thespian power and in the process we get two lawyers with more characterization than a mere procedural would ever require.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Walk on the Education, or How I'm Seeing Double

I have no idea what this Diane/Viggo movie is about but while Netflix suggested I take a look at it, I couldn't help but think back to the An Education poster - don't they look alike?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

TV in the 2000s, or How let's name ABND's Best Comedy Actress

Best Performances (TV Comedy) Part 2

Narrowing the performance/actor categories was HARD. But I went with two things:
1. Do I like the actor/actress?
2. Do I like the performance?
Okay, maybe that didn't help 'em narrow them down at all. But I do have a crazy math system in the back of my head. Just don't make me explain it to cause I'm sure it would blow you away with its awesome and accurateness.

Best Performance by an Actress (Comedy)

Lauren Graham - Lorelai Gilmore (Gilmore Girls)
"How beautiful are we talking? Catherine Zeta-Jones or the weird looking Hilton sister?"
If there was ever a TV character that could convince me to have kids, it'd be Lauren Graham's Lorelai Gilmore. Here was a cool mom who (implausibly, maybe) had a great relationship with her teenage daughter built on pop culture, fast-paced dialogue and an almost obsessive will to eat. In the hands of Lauren Graham, Lorelai became for me the type of person I wanted to sound like: no one rambles and rants and raves and meanders better than Lorelai Sr and while her diatribes might have made for a flat, unrealistic character, Graham's warmth and likability (not to mention her hair!) made her endearing, flawed and relatable. I suffered through her relationships, her economic hardships and her family woes, but to me the moments where Graham shined was when she was at her comic best - rat-tat-tatting references from Paul Anka to Robert Downey Jr that few people other than Rory fully got.

Megan Mullally - Karen Walker (Will & Grace)
"I thought, finally. A man who can make a woman feel like a girl. And who can make that girl feel like a slut. And who can make that slut feel like a woman."
What can be said about Karen Walker (and Megan Mullally) that has not been said before? I mean, here is a gay icon for a generation: she's a powerful, drunk, pill-popping, bad-mouthed white rich woman with a great rack. What else have gay men ever needed? And while it might be the one-liners that everyone remembers ("I love Stan. Stan loves ham. Ham I am!") or the way she always put down Grace for her outfits ("Oh honey, I thought we had talked about that blouse..."), the reason Karen was such a strong character for me was because Mullally did such a good job of keeping her grounded. For every zinger she got, Mullally knocked a dramatic (or a musical, or a serious) scene out of the park (her episode where she's alone in a prison cell talking to a camera about Stan is brilliant on all these levels, for example). Karen, despite her offensive outlook on life (including poor worker benefits for her maid Rosario and a poor work ethic at Adler designs) remains a character that we like because of the vulnerability with which Mullally played her ???

Jennifer Aniston - Rachel Green (Friends)
"Oh my God. I've become my father. I've been trying so hard not to become my mother, I didn't see this coming."
Her character may be best known for her early season hairstyle, which took the world by storm, but Jen Aniston's breakout role of 'Rachel Green' is one of the funniest and most well-rounded female characters to grace television this past decade (and yes I know, that means only the latter part of Friends makes the cut, but I truly believe it is her work on Season 8 when she was pregnant that really showcased her comedic chops). Rachel may have started as a spoiled brat running away from a marriage that was bound for disaster (as the 'What If' episodes showed us) but the series saw her grow into a professional in the fashion world with a child and of course, an on and off relationship with Ross. Aniston's comedic timing was always perfect - whether she was being cranky over not having delivered Emma yet, or frustrated over her feelings for Joey (a storyline I never cared for). She made Rachel feel 'lived in' and while off-putting at times (I mean, every Friends character had their moments of "just stfu ok?") she made me laugh whenever she was onscreen, whether she was making a beef-infused Thanksgiving dessert, or hitting on her younger assistant, or having the 'we were on a break!' conversation with Ross, or - my favorite - bickering with her sister over who's more spoiled.

Kristen Wiig - Assorted characters (SNL)
"George Washington is my natural father. I'm on the dollar bill, too. That's my eye in the pyramid." (Penelope)
Suze Orman. Penelope. The Target Lady. Kathy-Lee. Gilly. Judy Grimes. These are just a couple of the uproariously hysterical characters Ms Wiig has been amassing during her past couple of years at SNL as MVP (this coming from someone who despises sports metaphors). She is the one person who, even when the skit is horrid (most of the ones this past season, for example) she'll make me smile and sometimes guffaw so much I spill my drink. Most of her staples are crazy people and to see Wiig let go - of her vanity, her composure, her body, is a feat in it of itself. Yet, for all the crazy shenanigans of her characters (Kathie-Lee's drinking, Gilly's violence, Grimes's nerves, Penelope's one-upping monologues) Wiig never feels like she's mugging for laughs (as most of her co-stars do from time to time ::coughAndySambergcough::). For making SNL a joy to watch (even in the non-Palin skits episodes) this past decade, I had to commend her with this inclusion.

Tina Fey - Liz Lemon (30 Rock)
"Hey nerds! Guess who's got two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn't cried once today?"
Tina Fey is a triple threat: she can write, she can act and she can make more sandwich-centered jokes than anyone else on television. Liz Lemon is probably a great character because it is based on Fey herself, but the exaggerations are so crazy (her Leia costume to get out of jury duty, her love for bull-semen enhanced snacks) that one can't simply say Fey is playing herself. Over the past four seasons, Fey has managed a good mixture of zaniness, physical comedy and a knack for churning out great catch-phrases ("I want to go to there" being everyone's favorite of course but "nards!" "What the what?" "by the hammer of Thor" are also classic). Lemon's helplessness and cluelessness of course wouldn't be anything if they were not paired with Baldwin's Jack. Here's one of the greatest comedic duos of the decade. Fey may have said that she felt like the hat rack to Baldwin's Astaire, but she has proven that she can dance right along, albeit in a way that gives Elaine's dance from Seinfeld a run for its money.

Runners up:

The Sex and the City girls (Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall & Kristin Davis) for making female archetypes the norm when deciding what kind of NYC gal you are (I'm a Carrie, if you must know). The Desperate Housewives gals (especially Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman) for humanizing what would otherwise be walking cliches in a soap-tastic show whose camp is only matched (and sometimes upped by): Vanessa Williams's 'Whilemina' in Ugly Betty - whose one-liners and eyebrow-raising have been a staple of the (albeit flailing) show. And last (but not least) the other SNL MVP that now has a brand new comedy on NBC: Ms Amy Poehler whose Palin rap will rank amongst the greatest SNL moments in the history of the show and whose Leslie Knope (Parks & Recreations) is slowly becoming a character to watch.

Friday, December 4, 2009

30 Rock, or How Hi-Def is HARSH

Last night's 30 Rock might have given us the best sight gag since Kenneth/Jack/Tracy's view of the world.

Behold, the power of Hi-Def cameras:

Liz looks horrid.
Pete looks old (and shirtless?)
Kenneth looks like a muppet (!)
& of course Jack looks younger.