It's July. It's hot. TV stuff continues to happen, despite my protestation months ago. Maybe it's about time this whole Golden Age of TV thing silvered up a bit; we're only halfway through the year, and I'm already starting to get a kid-in-a-candy-store-that's-closing-in-five-minutes panic over the sheer volume of television that's come out this year that I hear is amazing, and I haven't seen a single frame of. The dumbest thing I'll ever write (an award that changes ownership with exciting frequency) might turn out to be that doom 'n gloom forecasting for 2013 in did in my Best of 2012 list. I've done a rough draft of this year's version, and it's already got more than 25 nominees. It's not even fall pilot season yet, people!
The best evidence showing the critical mass of quality small screen entertainment being dumped on us is the Emmy nominations that came out today. Most of the major categories could have doubled their nominee list, and still realistically had people moaning on twitter about snubs and/or flubs. I love me some Oscars, but the Emmys have never held huge appeal to me, what with a voting record that makes the HFPA look like Deep Thought, and much larger commitment there is to fully viewing the possible contenders. Besides, in the words of a still Emmy-less performance that proves their inadequacy, awards are stupid...
...but they'd be less stupid if they went to the right people. Like Tatiana Maslany, for example. Any one of the roles she plays on Orphan Black wouldn't be enough to make much hay out of, but when four or five of those performances form up in the Voltron-like acting decathlon that the show is for Maslany, her exclusion becomes a real shame. As does the near dearth of nods for Justified and The Americans, though acknowledging how great the opening titles and Margo Martindale were on the latter helps make the lack of dues given to Keri Russell and Timothy Olyphant more tolerable. And while I'm complaining, hey Emmy voters: where's the love for Key & Peele? Variety or otherwise, this was a strong contender for funniest show of the year, no ifs, ands, or buts (give or take an ampersand in the title).
Whatever, there were still plenty of smart choices, and a couple of surprise nominations worth celebrating (Yay Top of the Lake! Yay Enlightened!). And who am I kidding, if Jonathan Banks wins for Best Supporting Actor, all will be forgiven.
But their will be plenty more time for bitching about the Emmys once they've actually happened, so let's focus on some more(ish) immediate distractions.
Under the Dome: This is the closest thing to a screener-review I've ever gotten to do, as most critics get to watch a couple episodes of a new show before giving their early verdict. Now four episodes in, here is a rough approximation of how my thoughts on the Stephen King-adapted miniseries have developed thus far:
Week 1: Hey, this is pretty good! The effects are alright, the premise is interesting, and Dean Norris is getting paid. Let's see where this goes!
Week 2: Well...that was unfortunate. But hey, sophomore slumps are commonplace in TV. They'll learn valuable lessons from the mistakes this week.
Week 3: Nope, school's out, there has been no learning. Oh god, and the ratings are still holding, so they'll probably pick this up from miniseries to a full series! Abort, ABORT!
Week 4: Has the plane finally levelled out, or was there just nowhere left to go but up? I guess you can feel pretty okay about a bland, tolerable cup of coffee as a palette cleanser when it followed a three course meal that cratered in quality from appetizers onward.
I'll be reviewing the remaining 9 episodes over the next couple months, but really hope this thing makes up its mind about how good it's going to be. Writing about TV that's exceptional, or exceptionally awful is easy; it's everything in between that gets difficult.
The Last of Us: As expected, I spent the better part of a week writing about how this one video game is, like, really good you guys. No really it, is! It's got a great story, well-realized characters, an incredible atmosph- and everyone's gone.
I don't have a ton of time for games anymore, but I like it when one like this comes along, and gives me an excuse to release more of the "Video Game Storytelling Sucks, and Here's Why" manifesto that's been rattling around in my brain for awhile now. The Last of Us is definitely the sort of game I feel no regrets in spending more time writing about than actually playing; that's probably as good an indicator as any that it's doing something right. Seriously, if you have a PS3, this is probably the best game you'll have the chance to play all year.
White House Kegger: Sadly, this is neither a show, nor a game (though has probably been the theme to numerous college parties). With the roommate out of town all week, I dedicated myself to beating the heat in three-pronged fashion: wearing as little clothing as possible, staying refreshed with minikeg of awful Canadian pale ale, and plowing through a pair of Washington-based series that will be up for "Best of" Consideration later in the year.
The first of which, House of Cards, definitely saw its "It" status confirmed by the Emmy nominations, welcoming Netflix to the big kids table with representation in Best Drama, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Direction categories (yet none for best effects, despite convincingly CG-ing Foghorn Leghorn to look like Kevin Spacey). While it's nice to see a new challenger to the old guard throwing their hat into the ring, I wish it was because of a better series than HoC. While it looks the part of a top-tier drama (David Fincher's "everything and everyone looks slightly sick" style does marvels in a political setting), it's a series in search of a reason for existing, beyond theoretically drawing in Netflix subscribers. It goes down easy, but is often lacking in urgency or purpose, bringing in and dropping plot threads hither and thither, while never finding a solid throughline to latch onto. For every component that worked exceptionally well, another would be altogether lacking (Kate Mara's reporter turned blogger rock star arc is best enjoyed by those who thought David Simon's lecturing about the death of journalism in Season 5 of The Wire was too subtle).
Similarly good, but not great, was Season 2 of Veep. Again, all the right elements are there. The talent in front of, and behind the camera is all-star material, and the executive branch is a comedic goldmine. But that just left me further confused as to why Veep would be consistently enjoyable, but never transcendent. Perhaps The Thick of It, with its more fanciful four-letter language, and less familiar setting, over-clocked my expectations for how Armando Iannucci's vicious wit would play on the other side of the Atlantic (I don't think I even finished Season 1, come to think of it).
Both shows have a good shot at squeaking into the back half of my Top 20 this year, but given the number of interesting freshman shows 2013 has had already given us, that's no guarantee. This weekend's likely going to be spent seeing if all the fuss about Netflix's newest series, Orange is the New Black, is justified. Here's hoping it is, because a Best of 2013 list dominated by newbies is something I'd really be happy to see (especially given how many buck the "White Male Anti-Hero" trend that's defined the Golden Age thus far. Check out Brett Martin's awesome new reflection on the WMA phenomenon, Difficult Men, if you get the chance).
That's all for now. Play me out, gag reel from New Girl-and-wait-I-forget-to-mention-I-finally-watched-New-Girl-which-is-thoroughly-enjoyable-and-I-liked-more-than-the-three-shows-I-just-talked-about-so-whoops-I-guess-I-buried-the-lede-on-this-one