Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Year-End Round-Up: Top 25 TV Characters of 2014

My Annual Top 25 TV Characters of the Year list (last year's list can be found here):

1. Andy Daly as Forrest MacNeil in "Review"-In his tragically misguided (and quite hilarious) quest to push the boundaries of human understanding, Forrest turned himself into the ultimate human punching bag: He got institutionalized, suffered the heartbreak of divorce, developed an addiction to cocaine, committed manslaughter, awkwardly made his way through an orgy, and came to the realization that he might have had pedestrian racist tendencies. On the flipside, he saw space (with the corpse of his late father-in law in tow), enjoyed a brief marriage to Maria Thayer, and rediscovered how important his family was to him. 

"Review" was one of the year's most enjoyable roller coaster rides and Forrest's discombobulation  was disturbing, shocking, cringe-worthy and incredibly fun. Andy Daly, who has carved an admirable career for himself in straight man and supporting roles, has really found his niche here.

Source: HollywoodReporter
2. Richard Jenkins as Henry Kitteridge in "Olive Kitteridge"-With the more downbeat Olive front-and-center, the show’s tone would reach Ingmar Bergman-like levels of depression if not for Richard Jenkins’ kind-hearted Henry acting as a counter balance. Jenkins’ presence here is enormous. The kind and gentle nature of Henry Kitteridge shines through so powerfully, that his absence is acutely felt whenever he's not in the room.

3. Stephen Colbert as Stephen Colbert (with a silent t) in "The Colbert Report"-Colbert's epic cameo-saturated swan song capped off a nine-year run in which he was second to none at the intersection of comedy and politics. Brash and ambiguously oppositional, Colbert used his whip-smart improv ability with chief political and academic figures of the era to produce some of the most memorable, hilarious and insightful interviews of the past decade. Because he was on every night, it was easy to take the Colbert Report for granted, but we can be thankful that Colbert and his prolific team has produced a Fort Knox's worth of comedy gold on reserve.

4. Nick Sandow as Joe Caputo in "Orange is the New Black"-Although he might have morally erred in the series finale with Fig, Caputo stepped up at Litchfield to become a hypothetical source of hope among the administration that Piper (and the audience) thought would never happen. It remains to be seen whether he will be trampled by the system like his predecessor, but for now Caputo is riding high and in a show like Orange is the New Black which tugs at the viewer's emotions, Caputo's ascension and (mostly) noble intentions were cathartic this past season.

5. Vera Farmiga as Norma Bates in "Bates Motel"-The mercurial woman whose son will grow up to become the iconic knife-wielding serial killer. In the second season, Norma pulled a "House of Cards" on us and slowly crept her way up the social scene of White Pine Bay. Although we know that Norma will eventually become her son's toy skeleton, the relationship between the two is so interesting to watch because there are only hints of dysfunction underneath that we know will grow.  The unexpected surprise of "Bates Motel" is that "Psycho" was never a character piece and this show is such a slow simmer.

6. Clive Owen as Dr. Thackery, The Knick- Owen's brilliant portrayal is not particularly removed from Hugh Laurie's curmudgeonly doctor on "House" except Thackery's backstory or emotional complications don't get any analysis. What fascinates me about Dr. Thackery is that he's not so much a hero or an anti-hero as he is just a crusty opium addict who happens to be in charge.

7. Chris Parnell voicing Cyril Figgis in "Archer"-Cyril finally developed some backbone in standing up to Archer and briefly ran a Central American country more efficiently than the dictator who came before him. Attorney, accountant, field agent, military strategist, is there anything this guy can't do?

8. Karen Gilliam as Eliza Dooley in "Selfie"-The cancelled-too-soon show had a great pairing at its center in Eliza Dooley and Henry Higgs. Together, the two personified the changing landscape of etiquette in the media age with Dooley and Higgs occupying extreme ends on the spectrum between too much or too little reliance on your cell phone. Naturally, the social media obsessive is the more fun character and Karen Gilliam goes to town with the role. Brushing aside the questionable plot hole of how Eliza managed to amass such a strong twitter following so quickly, Gilliam hits the perfect notes as an aloof millennial with an inflated ego and all the requisite vulnerabilities of a TV romcom lead. She also has some of the best dialogue of any TV character this year.

9. Katja Herbers as Helen in "Manhattan"-I've always felt that "Manhattan" is about outsiders at heart and Helen is no different. She's a woman in a man's club and is (secretly) Dutch, but she mixes that peripheral sense with a swagger that makes her stick out in a good way. She has a no-nonsense demeanor that allows her to cut through the BS (a trait that's useful for a drama set in the repressed '50s) and is unapologetic about her sex life.

10. Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot in "Gotham"-In its first half-season, "Gotham" has had its share of flaws for such an ambitious comic book adaptation, but the show deserves a lot of credit for bringing back a potentially campy character and fleshing him out. Ultimately, you could see Robin Lord Taylor's Penguin fitting in with one Batman's better adaptations. Taylor's performance is rich with nuances from the physical to the tics that slyly hint at a sociopathic mindset.

11. Yael Stone as Morello in "Orange is the New Black"-We came in to the season thinking of Morello as the sweet but impressionable romantic and soon learned that she was Litchfield’s own version of Kathy Bates in Misery. And yet, even though we knew the other side of the story, it was hard to stop seeing her as a sweet well-intentioned character. The show challenges us to take a close look at societal miscreants and reassess whether they really are bad apples to society and Morello’s storyline really fell into the middle of all that with heartbreaking poignancy.

Source: ABC/Bob D'Amico
12. John Cho as Henry Higgs in "Selfie"-John Cho is rapidly climbing up the list of most underrrated TV actors and "Selfie" is another home run for him. As Eliza's other (platonic) half and counterpoint in the culture wars, Cho's Henry Higgs (like Eliza Dooley, he's modeled after a Pygmalion characters) isn't just a straw man for stodgy old luddites who are unable to get with the times. Higgs is a thoughtful man with a critical eye towards the latest app and an old-school sense of etiquette and style. He might even be classified as suave. Cho deserves a lot of praise for breaking the mold of Asian-American stereotypes as well.

13. Jim Jefferies as himself in "Legit"-Jefferies and his sitcom fall under the category of "Goshdarnit, I like this guy!"Jefferies doesn't do much of anything except hang out and fuel the moral depravity of his two roommates but he has an amicable style that wins me over because the show is so tonally congruent with the show and its characters. The show's second season saw Jefferies grapple with death, friendship and love a little more than the first, while still hinting at a slow evolution. 

14. Ramon Franco as Fausto Galvan in "The Bridge"-With his sloppy casual attire and his penchant for buying boats, Fausto Galvan does not conform to the typical image of a mob boss but he's a brilliant tactician and knows how to intimidate an enemy. As a childhood friend of Detective Ruiz, Galvan is also an ever-present reminder of the direction Ruiz's life might have taken in the show's morally ambiguous world. I, for one, enjoyed the show's more Fausto-centric view of Juarez.

15. Mark Feuerstein as Dr. Hank Lawson in "Royal Pains"-Even if "Royal Pains" isn't one of the most respected shows on TV, Hank Lawson deserves praise for being such an uplifting and relevant character. He's just a desperado concierge doctor equipped with a scalpel, lightning-quick diagnosing abilities and the mysterious ability to constantly be around some of the rarest medical emergencies ever recorded. He was my #2 character last year (although I pretty much copied and pasted his entry).


16. Ashley Zukerman as Charlie Isaacs in "Manhattan"-It was partially due to a strong cast of characters that "Manhattan" made its way onto my viewing schedule this year and Charlie Isaacs is the hot-shot alpha male of the bunch with his dashing good lucks, smoking hot wife and (considering this is Los Alomos) his brains. Because my basis of comparison for this show is the 1989 film "Fat Man and Little Boy" and there are inevitable comparisons between Charlie and the John Cusack's character who was heavily colored by 80's conventions, I see Charlie as a rebellious bad boy of sorts. Charlie was also an interesting character this season in that his character seemed destined for adultery and that whole plotline was sidestepped (his marriage fell apart and his wife cheated first) making him, in essence, an individual of "good" character.

17. Annaleigh Ashford as Betty DeMilo in "Masters of Sex"-The practical-minded ex-hooker was a curious foil to Michael Sheen's Dr. Masters last season as he only paid her begruding respect despite his supposed sexual tolerance. Nonetheless, DeMilo dealt with Masters with swift resolve and dangled the use of her brothel as a bargaining chip. In an expanded supporting role this season, DeMilo provided some of the heart-reaching ups and downs as her marraige fell apart while she succumbed to the temptations of Sara Silverman's Helen (Sara Silverman in a 1950's accent certainly would be hard to resist) and showed a touching solidarity with Dr. Masters by continuing to show up for work as his new hire.
18. Olivia Cooke as Emma Decody in "Bates Motel"-The first season left me wanting to see more of Emma Decody's POV. She is quietly drawn to the tumultuous Norman family but it's clear that she exists on the periphery of their trials and tribulations. The show's second season gave us a better glimpse inside Emma's world. It showed us a character who's relatively comfortable in her own skin as a disabled teenager but who's also self-aware of her desire to belong. Her relationship was also one of the sweetest examples of teenage romance on television.

19. Kat Dennings and Beth Behr as Max and Caroline in "2 Broke Girls"-Part of what keeps "2 Broke Girls" among the most comfortable shows on Television is the chemistry between Max Black and Caroline Channing. They're rat-a-tat dilaogue is a stylistic throwback to the days of vaudeville. Caroline lobs the set-up and the acerbic Max hits it out of the ballpark. The humor isn't necessarily the most sophisticated on TV but the chemistry between the two best friends of circumstance is immense.

20. Kristen Schaal voicing Mabel Pines in "Gravity Falls"-Between "Bob's Burgers", "BoJack Horseman" and this (not to mention the countless voiceover work she's doing that I'm not watching), Schaal deserves all the praise she's getting and more as a voice-over actor. She has a unique voice that creates a recognizable comic personality when you hear it (in this case, the overexcited child) and has has shown enough versatility with it to create three memorable and different comic characters. Mabel Pines' never-ending positivity is just infectious on "Gravity Falls" and visually, her sweater designs and stickers are the Easter eggs of the show.

21. Emily Rios as Adriana Mendez in "The Bridge"-Daniel Frye, Adriana's partner-in-crime, occupied a high spot on last year's list and while that entry was a way of honoring the touching Frye/Adriana relationship, I didn't anticipate that Adriana would become so much more fleshed out this year. While the Frye/Adriana pairing was still one of the underrated crime-fighting duos on television, Adriana was an interesting character in her own right. Adriana also gave us one of the dramatic high points as she was victimized by Galvan's goonies to show that no one was really a passive spectator to this conflict. It also helps that I have a soft-spot for reporter characters.

22. Megan Stevenson as AJ Gibbs in "Review"-Stevenson does so much with every facial reaction and stilted smile. The result is a a very mercurial character that makes a very strong impression with very little screentime. With "Review" renewed, the increased presence of AJ Gibbs as sole host of the show is on the top of my anticipation list for this coming year in television. 

23. Aaron Paul voicing Todd in "BoJack Horseman"-In satirizing the empty lives of the Hollywood rich and famous, "BoJack Horseman" is largely about characters going nowhere and repeating the same patterns, and no one is staying still faster or as consistently hilariously as Todd. His massive ADD ensures that nothing will ever get done as long as he's around. Todd also bounces off others with supreme comic ease as evidenced by his teaming up with Quentin Tarantulino to produce a movie that morphed into a bimonthly snack subscription followed by his business partnership with Mr. Peanutbutter that produced some of the most hillariously ridiculous ideas ever to hit animated TV. It is also Todd's childlike need for approval from BoJack that keeps the tone of the show positive.

Source: Yahoo Screen
24. Cecily Strong as The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation with at a Party in "SNL"-As someone who is generally sober in situations where other people are drunk, I know the experience all too well of being around someone who thinks they're the most interesting person in the world in a space where you're both on different planets in terms of how much fun you're having and your definition of interesting conversation. So yes, this character certainly resonates with me on a personal level. A shout-out here to my other Weekend Update favorite: Kate McKinnon's economically depressed Russian version of a Borsch Belt comedian.

Source: NY Post
25. Eliza Coupe as Nina Whitley in "Benched"-Cope is the rare stunningly beautiful actress who can dive into the part of a flawed woman so thoroughly that you actually believe they would have trouble getting a date. Coupe charms her way through the series in a way that makes you forget that Nina Whitley's role has been done before in many screwball comedies before and after her. It is also through Nina Whitley's slow learning curve at adapting to the upside-down world of public defending, that I am learning more about the nuts and bolts of the legal system and its shortcomings than so many boring legal dramas.

Aimee Carrerro as Lucia, The Americans; Alison Pill as Maggie Jordan, The Newsroom; Andre Holland as Dr. Algernon Edwards, The Knick; Barbara Rosenblat as Rosa Cisneros, OitNB; Damien Bichir as Marco Ruiz, The Bridge; David Harewood as Saperstein, Selfie;  Famke Potente as Elanor Nacht, The Bridge; Frances McDormand as Oliver Kitteridge, Oliver Kitteridge; Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein as Toni and Candice, Portlandia; Kate McKinnon as Olga Povlatsky, SNL; Keegan Michael Key as Mark, Playing House; Kimiko Glenn as Brook Soso, OitNB; Leslie Bibb as Dakota, About a Boy;  Minnie Driver as Fiona, About a Boy; Natasha Lyonne as Nikki Lyons, OitNB; Olivia Munn as Sloane Sabbath, The Newsroom; Parvesh Cheena and Hong Chau, Dinesh and Lora, A to Z; Sara Silverman as Helen, Masters of Sex; Zoe Kazan as Betty, Oliver Kitteridge

Here's a list of all shows I watched this year, for reference (that aren't in my Top Ten):
About a Boy (NBC) , Americans (FX), American Dad (TBS), American Horror Story (FX), America's Got Talent (Fox), Awesomes (Hulu), Bad Teacher (CBS), Bad Judge (NBC), Black Box (ABC), Blacklist (NBC), Broad City (Comedy Central), Brooklyn Nine Nine (FOX), Benched (USA), Crazy Ones (CBS), Chicago PD (NBC), Comedy Bang Bang (IFC), Conan (TBS), Colbert Report (Comedy Central), Daily Show (Comedy Central), Deadbeat (Hulu), Family Guy (Fox), Finding Your Roots (PBS), Flash (CW), Fugget About It (Hulu), Gotham (Fox), Glee (Fox), Gravity Falls (Disney), Ground Floor (TV Land), Hannibal (NBC), Houdini (History), Halt and Catch Fire (AMC), House of Cards (Netflix), Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central), Key and Peele (Comedy Central), Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel (NBC), Late Night with Seth Meyers (ABC), Larry King (Hulu), Librarians (TNT), Louie (FX), Marry Me (NBC), Mulaney (Fox), Madam Secretary (CBS), Mindy Project (Fox), Modern Family (ABC), Mother Up! (Hulu), Mysteries at the Museum (History Channel), NCIS: LA (CBS), Newsroom (HBO), New Girl (Fox), Nathan For You (Comedy Central), Playing House (USA), Portlandia (IFC), Red Band Society (Fox), The Strain (FX), Saturday Night Live, Tonight Show (NBC), Turn (AMC), Under the Dome (CBS), Video Game High School (YouTube), Veep (HBO), Vikings (History Channel), The Voice (NBC), Web Therapy (Showtime), The Wil Wheaton Project (SyFy), Welcome to Sweden (NBC)

Additionally, my top 12 TV shows can be found at this year.
They are:
1. Archer, FX
2. The Bridge, FX
3. Orange is the New Black, FX
4. Review, Comedy Central
5. The Knick, Cinemax
6. Manhattan, WGN
7. Olive Kitteridge, HBO
8. Selfie, ABC
9. Late Night with John Oliver, HBO
10. Quick Draw, Hulu
11. Masters of Sex, HBO
12. Silicon Valley, HBO
Runner-Ups: 2 Broke Girls (CBS), A-Z (NBC), Bates Motel (A&E), Bojack Horseman (Netflix), Crossbones (NBC), Finding Your Roots (PBS),  Legit (FX), Portlandia (IFC), Royal Pains (USA), Suburgatory (ABC)

Additionally, I had the honor of participating in Cory Barker's end-of-the-year round table at TV Surveillance, where I contributed thoughts on the best performances in 2014 on TV, the best new TV show, the worst TV show and the best performances.

I also have just been hired at TV Fanatic and contributed to all their year-end slideshows including best plot twist, most underutilized character, best breakout character, and several more.

In short, I've now analyzed 2014 in TV to death at this point, but being included on Cory Barker's year-end roundtables and TV Fanatic's year-end polls have been a goal of mine for four years so I'm quite pleased. Some people want to build mountains or create great paintings and I just want to watch a lot of TV and discern obscure categories within that medium.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Blast from the Past: Breakout Stars of 2007

Here's a sample of a piece I submitted to a humor website back in 2008 involving the break-out stars of that year:  Casey Affleck, Ellen Page, Seth Rogen, Tilda Swinton, Marie Courtillard, Jonah Hill, Jason Bateman, Shia LeBouf, Michael Cera, Keri Russell, Emile Hirsch and Nikki Blonsky

Jonah Hill:
Before 2007: Jonah Hill was a walking contradiction to the old Hollywood adage that you have to be at least moderately attractive if you want to be a movie star. Despite looking more like an amorphous blob of playdough than Cary Grant, Hill had managed to find work upon arriving to L.A. in small roles starting with bit roles in I Heart Huckabees, Click, and The 40-Year Old Virgin culminating in the Justin Long comedy Accepted, where Hill started to get major screen time as a portly sidekick who's benefit to Justin Long's character is a naive willingness to follow him along on his crazy schemes (think of the Zach-Screech relationship on Saved by the Bell).

In 2007, Hill had a great year playing the portly sidekick designed for comic relief, once again, in Knocked Up  before transitioning to starring in his own film in Superbad. This was not only a major step up for Hill in terms of screen time, but also, in Superbad, he gets to play a character who doesn't completely repulse women. He even gets a love interest and while she didn't respond favorably when he tried to kiss her when he was drunk at a party, she didn't slap him and scream "Ewwwww, get away from me, fatso!" which is what would have previously happened in a scene with a Jonah Hill character. On top of that, Hill managed to score some extra cash and provide comic relief for playing a suck-up assistant in "Evan Almighty."

What does Hill's future look like? Because Hill has had the fortune of appearing in two very funny movies, the public is temporarily forgetting about how he doesn't exactly look like Cary Grant or even Jason Alexander but they are bound to come to their senses eventually. Hill, is playing it smart, however, by working on a screenplay however and the general rule of that in Hollywood is that if you write the screenplay you can cast yourself in it, regardless of how ugly you are, so Hill's career should be able to stay afloat through at least one more movie.

Ellen Page:
Before 2007: This spunky Canadian had her first gig in the Canadian TV series "Pit Pony" (your guess is as good as mine) and dabbled in the Canadian film industry (the Canadian film industry consists of approximately 7 people in Halifax with hand-held cameras looking to fill their spare time since being cut from the club hockey team) before being cast as Shadowcat in X-Men 3. Being somewhere around the 11th most important character in a very, very crowded story, Page
didn't get a whole lot of notice and they probably couldn't even find a seat for her at the premiere. 

2007: Paired up with a screenwriter who matches her spunk, Ellen Page becomes the star of the year's biggest Indie hit "Juno." Critics are won over because, in all honesty, they don't comprehend what the characters are saying and decide to just give the film a good review for fear of looking stupid and Page goes onto win a prestigious Oscar nomination.

What's her future looking like?
Page's biggest obstacle to becoming filthy rich and being in lots of movies is that she seems to be somewhat picky. According to her imdb profile, Page "Considers herself to be a Feminist and tries to steer clear of the 'stereotypical roles for teenage girls' because she finds them to be 'sexist'" which disqualifies her for 98% of what Hollywood has to offer, so unless she wants to make Juno 2 there might not be too much work for her.

Casey Affleck:

Before 2007: Casey was best known as Ben’s little brother. Ben even managed to score Casey apart in Good Will Hunting and gave a shout-out to him in his Oscar acceptance speech.  Casey’s greatest accomplishment aside from sharing a set of parents with Ben has been appearing in the Ocean’s 11 series. If you’re going to respond to this last sentence with, “Huh? I had no idea that Casey Affleck was in the Ocean’s 11 trilogy and I’ve seen all the films,” don’t worry about it. I’m sure Brad Pitt and George Clooney were too busy giving charming and witty interviews and admiring themselves in the mirror to even learn the names of their costars as well. But after 2007, not only will Pitt and Clooney know Affleck’s name but they might even be willing to invite him into their trailers because………

In 2007: Affleck became a movie star. How did he accomplish this? Sheer nepotism. Ben Affleck made his directing debut which he used as a chance to help little brother out with a starring role in Gone Baby Gone. You know, however, that you've made it when someone who isn't related to you casts you in a movie as was the case with The Assassination of Jesse James where Affleck received an oscar nomination.

What's the forecast for Affleck's future? Let's just see that when Ocean's 14 comes around, Pitt, Clooney, and Damon will be carrying Casey's luggage on the film's press tour. In all seriousness, however, Affleck should be able to use his Oscar nomination to land more film roles because in Hollywood, the promotion department always wants to be able to put "Starring Oscar nominee" in front of an actor's name as long as he doesn't make the mistake of dating J-Lo or doing movies with Michael Bay.

Tilda Swinton:
Before 2007: Tilda Swinton was not really anyone. She had a few lines in Adaptation and played the wicked witch (or possibly the good or mild-tempered witch, I didn't see it) in Chronic-what!-cles of Narnia Part I. In 2006, I would have probably had an easier time getting a cab than Tilda Swinton.

In 2007: Tilda Swinton has an Oscar, bitches. Even better, she got out without having to suck up to Paula Abdul or weather verbal abuse from Simon Cowell, like last year's Supporting Actress winner Jennifer Hudson. She did have to effusively compliment George Clooney on the press circuit and do a weird scene in a mirror where she stared at herself while running her finger along the outside of her bra.

What's the forecast for Swinton's future? Swinton will be competing on American Idol in hopes of getting 7th place. No but in all seriousness, Swinton is next appearing in a dramatic movie by the writer of Forest Gump where Brad Pitt ages backwards in time and falls in love with Cate Blanchett who's aging forwards, so at both ends of the timeline, one of them will be a pedophile. Not sure what Swinton's role is but let's hope she's not going to be having to have sex with any old people or babies.

Jason Bateman:
Before 2007:  Bateman was the brother of one of Michael J Fox's sisters on "Family Ties" who broke out in Arrested Development which lasted three seasons because goddamnit, no one else was watching it. Also, Bateman decided to use his newfound fame to give his sister an acting gig on Arrested Development that included his sister trying to make out with him. Weird.

In 2007: Bateman seems to be on track to being a character actor and will just show up to any film as long as they have a craft table whether it's "Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium" or "The Kingdom." His big breakout role was Juno where he acted alongside his Arrested Development son and gave some pretty hilarious interviews. 

What's the forecast for Bateman's future? Bateman will continue his quest to randomly show up in as many films as possible and endlessly talk about Arrested Development's possible return to torture the 6-10 people who watched the show on the first run.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

How many Oscar winners are on TV in 2014?

TV is truly in a Golden Age right now. Can you imagine TV would be this great 10 years ago. It was in the 2004-2005 school year that I declared a minor in film studies with aspirations to gobble up everything I could about film. TV wasn't even in my radar and rightfully so. It was a wasteland at the time.

The only shows I watched at the time were "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" because I thought David Spade and James Garner were both pretty interesting additions, "Arrested Development" which was constantly on the verge of being cancelled and "Conan O'Brian" because, hey, I was in college. Occasionally I caught "CSI: Miami" and "Monk" and that was about it.

2004 was a year in which "Friends" and "Frasier" went off the air with "Everybody Loves Raymond" on the way and the attempts to replace it were pretty lackluster with the exception of programs on HBO. Nowadays, when a great show ends there's hardly reason to worry as there are dozens of great shows right around the corner. The last time I mourned a show's departure was "The Office" but "Sillicon Valley," "Go On," "Review" "Broad City" and "Archer" quickly filled that void.

When "Frasier" and "Friends" went off the air, NBC filled the void with "Joey" and the animated "Father of the Pride" both of which were terrible. Nowadays, Matt LeBlanc's comeback vehicle is "Episodes" (nurtured on a network like Showtime which allowed for the proper creative freedoms) and comedies thrive on networks such as Adult Swim, FX, and Fox's animation block where they are encouraged to be offbeat and quirky.

 2004 was a year in which reality TV was threatening to take over programming. "The Apprentice," "Survivor" was as strong as ever, "Fear Factor" had been added to the mix, and there were dating shows galore. Behind the scenes, the WGA was pushing for more inclusive credits for writers on reality TV shows as if those writers were never gonna get their names on scripted shows and it was the best they can do.

These days, reality TV is an afterthought except for a few established brands. There's little fear of good TV being programmed out.

Pretty soon, things would change as a couple of the 2004-2005 hits started to grow "Entourage" "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" and this was followed by great shows. "Desperate Housewives" the ratings darling of 2004-2005 might not be that memorable in retrospect but it did have a star-studded cast and was jumped time shifts.

Also of note, the talent is going to television now. In 2014 alone there were 17 Oscar-winning actors and actresses who had won the highest honor filmdom can bestow and were acting on TV in either a recurring guest role, a miniseries, or a full-fledged credit. They are: 
Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Marcia Gay Harden (The Newsroom), Jane Fonda (The Newsroom), Frances McDormand (Olive Kitteridge), Halle Berry (Extant), Jessica Lange (AHS: Freak Show), Kathy Bates (AHS: Freak Show), F. Murray Abraham (Homeland), Adrian Brody (Houdini), Robin Williams (Crazy Ones), Matthew McConaughey (True Detective), Anna Paquin (True Blood), Marlee Matlin (Switched at Birth), Chloris Leachman (Raising Hope), Geena Davis (Gray’s Anatomy), Linda Hunt (NCIS: LA) and Octavia Spencer (Red Band Society).

Monday, December 15, 2014

My annual thank you list

Getting an actual job is about putting your resume in a box and hoping someone in HR picks it up. What I do (journalism/blogging/public relations) involves the help of a lot of other people hiring me, inspiring me, collaborating with me, and pointing me in the right direction and the least I can do is devote a blog post to them every year.

So my annual thank you edition starts with a guy named Noel Murray. He’s a TV critic and writer who I spontaneously messaged on Facebook four years wondering how I might go about becoming a TV critic from him. He was nice enough to point me I the right direction and give me some guidance for a while. I know that seems small but my high school graduation speaker (true story: Thisguy writes for Jimmy Kimmel now. Don’t ask me how he pulled off that career trajectory) once said never underestimate the potential impact of a single kind at, and I contacted Noel at a juncture in my career where I had no idea what I wanted to do next so who knows what would have happened if he didn’t pull me in that direction.
So as previously mentioned, I first applied to be a TV critic in October 2010. It took until November 2014 until I got hired as one. That’s right kids, it will take exactly 4 years, 1 months to accomplish your dreams so be prepared for the wait. Speaking of which, I’d like to give a big thanks to the person who eventually hired me. Her name is Carissa, she’s pretty tough on me, but in all fairness, she’s done two wonderful things for me: 1) Hire me and 2) Not fire me (at least not as of yet), so thanks Carissa.

Which brings me to the part where I thank everyone who's published me over the past 12 months: Scott and Neil at Film School Rejects, Scott at InsideNova, Jenny at Arlington Mag, the guy who hired me several years ago at where I just resumed my column, Erin at Mental Floss Magazine, Steve at Nostalgia Digest, Brendan at CBS TV, Haley at CollegeHumor, the folks at Cracked, and Lynn at Northern Virginia Magazine.  Thank you for taking a chance on me. I’d also like to thank anyone who gave me money to do anything for honoring me with your money, because I’ve come to learn over the years that having money is better than not having money. And remember folks, if you or someone you know is spending an inordinate amount of time writing about movies or TV, chances are that person is poor too, so remember to give them money as well.
I also have to thank someone named Liz Shannon Miller from Indiewire, who did not accept my submissions but gave me all I could ever ask for: A couple lines of advice on how to improve my pitches and left the door open for some day in the future. That makes a big deal and 95% of editors don't do that, so big props to the 5% of editors who do something that nice. which in this case is Liz.

Similarly, I’d like to thank all the people who cooperated with me in writing stories by being interviewed and the people who gave me credentials for events. There was a showrunner in Hollywood who was very cooperative on an interview with me and his entire family cooperated with me. The lovely Emily Jefffers, who I've now known for something like 20 years (wow), eventually let herself be interviewed (or rather, eventually let the interview go to press). Also, thanks to the people at Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Maryland, for example, gave me all kinds of swag and a seat next to some of the most prestigious journalists I’ve ever met. I never watched the Spelling Bee before and  would have never guessed it was interesting but I'm totally hooked.

I’d like to thank James Madison University’s School of Media Arts for inviting me to appear on a journalism panel. That was one of the highlights of my year and allowed me to briefly feel  important. I also went to that school and it hit me as I was back there: Hey, my alma mata isn’t that bad of a place!
From that conference, I met someone named Taylor Hudson who partnered up with me in my PR business and I’d like to thank her for having the confidence in me that I could somehow get her work (I did get work but after she already found another job) and I’d recommend her for a job if anyone actually listens to me for that stuff.

I’d also like to thank a guy named Dennis Perkins who is a TV critic and works at a video store (in Dennis’ own words “Shut up!”) He helped me through my creative lows a couple times this year and I’m happy he’s finally doing his thing with the AV Club.
Cory Barker deserves a shout-out for inviting me to participate on his TV roundtables. I used to read his blog quite frequently and thought it was one of the better things out there and he can now be read at, and now I’m part of the cool kids club.

My friend Adam Spektor deserves a big shout-out for running the DC Cinema Lounge in DC that meets to discuss films. It's a great time and it wouldn't happen if he didn't facilitate it. I get a lot of inspiration for my writings at those meetings.

I have an acquaintance on twitter named Christy Admiral who I once contacted when I was feeling down about my writing and she gave an opinion on my blog when I asked her. The thing is that she did this late last December so I've been waiting for 350-something days to include her in my next annual issue and I finally can get that big thank you out. See Christy doing her thing on twitter right here.

I have to give credit to all the people who are big in the world of TV criticism who treat the little people like me as equals and discuss stuff with us like Kenny Herzog, Emily Nussbaum and Matt Zoller Seitz. Nussbaum in particular is like a tweeting superhero.

As always, Christine Becker deserves special mention for looking out for all the little people (I suppose, technically, the big people benefit from her too, but let's call that an unintended consequence) in the world of TV film criticism. Christine can be found at @crsbecker and her News for TV Majors site can be found at---don't be lazy, check your twitter feeds.

There's also a guy named Jim Ciscell who  co-wrote an article with me at Cracked a while ago and is a great tipster and sounding board. @jimCiscell.   Speaking of Cracked writers, Eddie Rodriguez helped me get back in Cracked's good graces and there's a moderator there named The Pendant who is the only moderator there who's ever gone out of their way to be nice to me. I don't really  know a single thing about that person and I'd love to plug them but I have nothing to work with.

There’s also Will Harris who at this point is the MVP of my career this year. He has spent countless hours guiding me through the business and being a bouncer off of advice.  I can't possibly thank him enough or pay forward  everything he's done. Witness Will's generosity in person at the twitter handle @nonstoppop

The other MVP is a friend of mine who I've also known a gazillion years since middle school named William Marlow (it's funny because I know him as Brian) and I have no idea how he did it but he's always been pretty bright (come to think of it, literally everyone I went to high school with was ridiculously bright, it was highly annoying) and started his own company where he does big things for people. I can't even understand how big these things are, but he's been kind enough to let me in his great big world a little so I could learn, and I'm eternally greatful. Check him out

Lastly, I’d like to thank my lovely sister Yasmine for deciding two years ago she would no longer read my blog. That is wonderful news as I am no longer obligated to read her blog which is really boring. No, but in all seriousness, thanks for the support Yasmine.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What do movies have to offer these days that TV doesn't already have?

What exactly do the movies have to offer these days that TV doesn't already have? This isn't a grandiose introduction to an essay but rather a public exercise in self-reflection as I struggle with this.
I have a great amount of appreciation for the democratic nature of movies and how the medium allows supporters to directly fund the movies they like through ticket sales. The good news is that movies seem to be doing fine without me. The question is what do movies have with me.

I didn’t always have a love affair with the movies. I grew up in a household with a slightly restrictive set of rules on TV. Up until I was about 16, TV or film wasn't one of my main intellectual interests or hobbies: It was just my favorite activity in the world. Nothing gave me greater joy in my youth than finding a way to sneak in more TV than whatever loose quota my parents set for me (usually an hour or a half-hour). 

My parents usually only used TV to watch news and believed too much TV would "rot your brain" unless you were watching educational television which was erroneously defined as Channel 26 or PBS. Of course this isn't true: Breaking Bad is a master's course in chemistry, CSI teaches you about DNA, the Americans teaches you about Cold War History, and Turn is a great way to get acquainted with the Revolutionary War. Deciding to use part of my parent-funded-college education on a film studies minor was, in fact, a form of rebellion. Before that I would often spend my time arguing with them about whether TV was a brain rotter. 

My family and I went to the movies in what I imagine was a regular capacity and I often would argue, "Hey. You watch a two-hour movie, what's the difference?" My dad would argue that a movie is different. [Editorial note: Not sure whether to pull this down two sections] More on that later.

At some point, movies became a hobby. The summer I turned 16, I came across a list by the American Film Institute of the 100 greatest movies ever and was fascinated by the fact that I had seen so few of those movies. I went to the library and spent that summer checking out films like "The African Queen," "Roman Holiday," "Palm Beach Story," "Bridge on the River Kwai," "All About Eve," "Network" and many more. A few summers later, I was out of school for a semester and kept myself busy writing user reviews on IMDB which prompted eventually morphed into a great determination to write better reviews (declaring a film studies minor when I returned to college) and watch more movies. I excitedly went to the movie theater all the time, even by myself (which for some reason was and is a taboo), and would soak up bad and good movies alike. The bad ones were great because as any film critic can tell you, there are few things more cathartic to do with the written word than rip on a bad movie.

I kept track of how many films I watched and rated them all on a four-star scale like Roger Ebert did. I usually watched about 30 films in a calendar year by the time December (or maybe January/February) rolled around. 

These days that number is significantly less. I've only watched seven films in a movie theater this calendar year (Lucy, Begin Again, X-Men Days of Future Past, A Million Ways to Die in the West, Grand Budapest Hotel, Interstellar, Gone Girl) so far this year at a theater and haven't found anything on my last stop at the Redbox to pique my interest. Granted, a lot of films from one year I catch in the following calendar year. In 2014, for example, I've watched the following 2013 films: "12 Years a Slave" I watched on the morning of the Oscars, "Nebraska" I watched in early January, "Philomena" I caught on Redbox, "Man of Steel" I saw on pay cable, "White House Down" I saw on Redbox, "Frozen" I saw on Itunes.

What's taken the place of movies these days for me is TV. Serialized dramas, the occasional escapist procedural and multi-layered comedies have so much to offer these days. I often say this is the Golden Age of TV and Oscar-winners like Halle Berry (Extant), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Dustin Hoffman (Luck), John Voight (Ray Donovan) Octavia Spencer (Red Band Society), and Jane Fonda (Netflix's upcoming series) are flocking to the small screen in droves. I love the idea of leaving my home to support and experience the arts (I would be a proponent of viewing parties although I've never facilitated one and have very very rarely been invited to such a thing. On another note, please invite me to more viewing parties), but these days, I'm going the path of Berry, Spacey and Voight and finding more richness in TV.

Back in the days when I would have a running argument with my dad over why movies were considered a more acceptable activity, he would argue that movies are different than TV because they are a communal activity.

Personally, I long ago decided that movies don’t function as a social activity considering talking during the movie can now get you kicked out of theaters. Of course, most of the talking and conversation happens after the film.

Now imagine if you could constantly talk during the movie as the storyline plays out without disturbing the people in the theater. That’s essentially what TV has become nowadays. As serialized dramas unfold and as procedurals and comedies tweak their formats on a week-to-week basis, people have rich and detailed conversations through twitter, on message boards, and through professionally written week-to-week reviews. The progress of ongoing TV shows is also a great social conversation topic and it’s far more engaging of a process to talk about a story as it’s unfolding. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Newsroom Review

At best, there's a love-hate relationship with Sorkin's stubborn insistence on sticking to the same tropes for every TV show of his: Characters that have three conversations at once talking 50 miles a minute, male protagonists with godlike egos, characters indistinct from each other in their level of intelligence and temperament, romantic relationships and flirting based on an intellect (even when the participants are friends with benefits), and the list goes on and on.

If people are still watching Sorkin, however, there are things to love: If there's anything that dramatically hooks the viewer, then the stakes and tension can get high. The dialogue itself can be grating but there can be something majestic at times about watching intelligent people passionately go toe-to-toe with each other.

But there's a big catch here: At some point, Sorkin will wear thin. Around "Studio 60," Sorkin's inflexibility with writing even a single character different from the standard Sorkin prototype reached a boiling point and he suffered backlash before moving on to success with films such as "Charlie Wilson's War", "Social Network", and "Moneyball" (one suspects the greater control allocated to directors in filmdom tempered Sorkin's voice).

In "The Newsroom," Sorkin essentially recreates "Studio 60" with a climate more appropriate--a cable news channel--to Sorkin's voice where characters don't look out of place walking around with a sense of urgency and spouting off facts about economics.

The end result hardly looks less ridiculous and at this point, I'm at my Sorkin saturation point. On the plus side, the cast is amazing and in the two episodes I watched (the first two of the third season), this show has the potential to launch some meaningful discourse on various news issues (which I'm a sucker for as a journalist). In one episode, for example, Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) overhears a conversation by a government official and considers using it as breaking news. This is the kind of ethical dilemma that one hopes the public actively thinks about in order to appreciate the news.

However, as previously mentioned, there's so little differentiation between them. And it's a shame because that's all I'd need to consider the show watchable. Throw in a janitor or someone walking around scratching his head and going "huh?" into the mix and that would do miles for this show.

What baffles me most is that if you make a list of some of the most interesting stars who I never would have guessed were available on the TV market-Olivia Munn, Alison Pill, Emily Mortimer, Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterson, Dev "Slumdog Millionaire" Patel-you could not do better than the "Newsrooom" cast and that's not even counting Jane freakin' Fonda, Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden, and 2 Broke Girls' Kat Denning doing double duty in guest star roles. I'm sure someone like Emily Kapnek or Greg Garcia could use these actors and they don't write such hackneyed dialogue.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Directoral Progress Report

New Additions in Bold:
Within each number I rank the directors in order of how ashamed I am of having seen them with the most ashamed being on the bottom.

18 Alfred Hitchcock-Family Plot, Torn Curtain, Rebecca, 39 Steps, North by Northwest, Saboteur, The Wrong Man, Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, Topaz, The Birds, Psycho, Lifeboat, Spellbound, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much (both versions), Rear Window

14 Stephen Spielberg-Color Purple, Raiders of the Last Ark, Jurassic Park, Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade, The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can, Schindler's List, Hook, ET, Jaws, War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Saving Private Ryan

14 Woody Allen-Hollywood Ending, Curse of the Jaded Scorpion, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Small Time Crooks, Sweet and Lowdown, Mighty Aphrodite, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Melinda and Melinda, Midnight in Paris, Sleeper, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, Bullets Over Broadway

10 Billy Wilder-Spirit of St. Louis, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Irma la Douce, Double Indemnity, Sabrina, Ace in the Hole, Major and the Minor, 1,2,3, The Front Page

9 Joel and Ethan Coen-Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Ladykillers, Man Who Knew Too Much, Intolerable Cruelty, Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading, True Grit
9 Mike Nicholls-Primary Colors, The Birdcage, The Graduate, Working Girl, Charlie Wilson’s War, What Planet Are You From?, Postcards from the Edge, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff, Regarding Henry

8 (1/2) Clint Eastwood-Mystic River, Unforgiven, Bronco Billy, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Invictus, Gran Torino, White Heart Lonely Hunter, Play Misty for Me (Trouble with the Curve) (Clint Eastwood wasn't credited as the director but some say he directed it)

8 Martin Scorsesee-Color of Money, Age of Innocence, Goodfellas, Aviator, The Departed, Gangs of New York, Shutter Island, Hugo
8 Howard Hawks-Sgt. York, Bringing Up Baby, Big Sleep, Ball of Fire, Rio Bravo, His Girl Friday, Gentlemen Perfer Blondes, Monkey Business
8  Rob Zemeckis-Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future I-III, Contact, Romancing the Stone, Flight

7 Vincente Minelli-Meet me in St Louis, American in Paris, The Pirate, Brigadoon, The Band Wagon, Kismet, The Sandpiper 
7 Rob Altman-Mash, McCabe and Mrs Miller, California Split, Buffalo Bill and the Indian, The Player, Dr. T and the Women, Prairie Home Companion
7 Steve Soderbergh-Erin Brockovitch, Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, Full Frontal, Good German, Ocean’s 13, Informant
7 Ivan Reitman- Ghostbusters, 6 Days 7 Days, Old School, Space Jam, Fathers Day, Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd, Ghostbusters II
7 Jay Roach-Austin Powers I-III, Meet the Parents, Mystery Alaska, Dinner for Schmucks, The Campaign

6 Frank Capra-It Happened One Night, Arsenic and Old Lace, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Mr Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe, It's a Wonderful Life
6 Stanley Donen-Take Me Out to the Ballgame (most sources insist that he really was the director, not Bugsy Berkley), On the Town, Singing in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Charade, Bedazzled
6 Stanley Kramer-Defiant Ones, Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Wold, Ship of Fools,  Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
6 Terry Gilliam-Time Bandits, Brazil, Fisher King, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brothers Grimm, Baron Munchhausen
6 Barry Levinson-Tin Men, Rain Man, Sleepers, Good Morning Vietnam, Man of the Year, Wag the Dog
6 Mel Brooks-Spaceballs, High Anxiety, Young Frankenstein, The Producers, Blazing Saddles, History of the World Part I
6 Ron Howard-Apollo 13, Beautiful Mind, Da Vinci Code, Frost/Nixon, Angels and Demons, The Paper
6 Bryan Singer-Usual Suspects, X-Men, X2, Superman Returns, Valkyrie, X-Men Days of Future Past
6 Roland Emmerich-ID4, Stargate, The Patriot, Day After Tomorrow, 2012, White House Down
6 Tony Scott- Enemy of the State, Déjà Vu, Crimson Tide, Top Gun, Taking of Pelham 1,2,3; Unstoppable
6 Rob Reiner-Stand and Deliver, Princess Bride, Rumor Has It, American President, Ghosts of Mississippi, Misery
6 Gore Verbinski-Pirates of the Carribean 1-3, Weatherman, The Mexican, Rango
6 Brett Ratner-After the Sunset, Rush Hour 2, Family Man, X-Men 3, Red Dragon, Tower Heist
6 Frank Oz-Bowfinger, In and Out, Stepford Wives, The Score, What About Bob, Housesitter
6 Peter Segal-Naked Gun 33 1/3, Tommy Boy, My Fellow Americans, 50 First Dates, Get Smart

5 Orson Welles-Citizen Kane, Lady of Shanghai, Othello, Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil
5 John Ford-Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Hurricane, How Green was my Valley, The Whole Town's Talking
5 George Lucas-Star Wars I-IV, American Graffiti
5 Peter Weir-Witness, Dead Poet’s Society, The Truman Show, Master and Commander,Year of Living Dangerously
5 Christopher Nolan-Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Interstellar
5 Blake Edwards-A Shot in the Dark, Pink Panther, Return of the Pink Panther, Great Race, What Did You Do in the War Daddy
5 Wes Anderson-Rushmore, Royal Tannenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Darjeerling Limited, Grand Budapest Hotel
5 Johnothan Demme-Silence of the Lambs, Melvin and Howard, Manchurian Candidate, Married to the Mob, Rachel Getting Married
5 Sydney Pollack-Sabrina, Out of Africa, Tootsie, The Interpreter, Slender Thread
5 Tim Burton-Batman, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Charlie and the Chocolate Factor, Alice in Wonderland
5 Adam McKay: Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, The Other Guys, Anchorman 2
5 Robert Rodriguez-El Mariachi Trilogy, Spy Kids and Lava Girl, Sin City
5 Curtis Hanson- LA Confidential, Wonderboys, In Her Shoes, Lucky You, 8 Mile
5 Barry Sonnenfeld-Men in Black I, II, Wild Wild West, Big Trouble, MiB III
5 Cameron Crowe-Almost Famous, Jerry MaGuire, Vanilla Sky, Elizabethtown, We Bought a Zoo
5 Joel Schumaker-Time to Kill, 8 MM, Batman and Robin, Batman Forever, The Client
5 John Glenn-5 Bond films
5 Tom Shadyac-Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, Evan Allmighty, Ace Ventura
5 Chris Columbus-Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone, Home Alone 2, Stepmom, I Love You Beth Cooper
5 John Lynn-Whole Nine Yards, Trial and Error, Sgt Bilko, Trial and Error, My Cousin Vinny
5 Peter and Bobby Farrelly-Kingpin, Dumb and Dumber, Fever Pitch, Shallow Hal, Osmosis Jones
5 John Lasseter-Lady and the Tramp, Toy Story 1, Cars, Toy Story 2, Cars 2
5 Jon Favreau-Elf, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Cowboys and Aliens, Chef

4 Sidney Lumet: Network, 12 Angry Men, Murder on the Orient Express, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
4 David Lean-Lawrence of Arabia, Bridge on the River Kwai, Passage to India, Summertime
4 John Huston-Beat the Devil, Key Largo, African Queen, Man Who Would be King
4 Alexander Payne-Election, Sideways, Descenants, Nebraska
4 James Cameron-Terminator, Terminator 2, Titanic, Avatar
4 Terrence Young-Wait Until Dark, 3 Bond films
4 Harold Lloyd-Safety Last, Feet First, The Freshman, Kid Brother
4 Guy Hamilton-4 Bond movies
4 Kevin Smith-Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Dogma
4 Penny Marshall-Awakenings, Rennisance Man, Big, League of their Own
4 Christopher Guest-For Your Consideration, Mighty Wind, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman
4 Sam Raimi-Spiderman 1-3, Oz: The Great and Powerful 
4 Ernst Lubitsch-Shop Around the Corner, Ninotchka, Merry Widow, Trouble in Paradise
4 Lasse Holstrom-What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Hoax, Cider House Rules, Shipping News
4 Michael Moore-Roger and Me, F 411, Sicko, Capitalism: A Love Story
4 James Mangold-3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line, Kate and Leopold, Night and Day

4 D. Herek-Mr. Holland’s Opus, Three Musketeers, Mighty Ducks, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures
4 Sam Weisman-George of the Jungle, Dickie Roberts Former Child Star, Out-of Towners, Mighty Ducks 2
4 Dennis Dungan-Happy Gilmore, Beverly Hills Ninja, Big Daddy, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
4 Spike Lee-Do the Right Thing, Bamboozled, 25th Hour, School Daze