Without interesting characters there can be no compelling storytelling, and for me the most interesting characters are those with serious flaws. Some are repellent yet intriguing, some are absolutely villainous but possess such charisma that you can’t help but be enthralled and others live in a world where difficult decisions must be made and you can’t fault them for sometimes choosing the morally ambiguous action.
There were a lot of amazing characters on television this past year, but the ones below resonated the most and elevated their respective shows to a higher echelon of scripted fare.
Kenny Powers – Eastbound & Down– Played with delightful mullet-ed bravado by Danny McBride, Kenny “Fuckin'” Powers possesses the rare qualities of being boorishly self-deluded while also endearing with the ability to garner sympathy for his continued back-slide into life’s lowest points, even though his own actions are always the catalyst. Constantly inappropriate, whether in the halls of the middle school in season 1 or this past year when his tactless behavior found its way south of the border, he’s his biggest fan and is never afraid to show it with a flair all his own.
Russell Edgington – True Blood – The third season of HBO’s Southern Gothic vampire series brought in the most nuanced and entertaining villain currently on television. Kudos to Denis O’Hare for imbuing depth into such a character who could’ve been written off as more flamboyant than fierce, his vampire King of Mississippi Russell Edgington was at turns a gentleman – most notably his entrance atop a beautifully groomed horse dressed impeccably as if on his way to a dressage – who could morph into a monster in a split second as seen near the end of the season when interrupting a news broadcast to announce his evil machinations to the world.
Gemma Teller Morrow – Sons of Anarchy – As matriarch of outlaw motorcycle club the Sons of Anarchy, Gemma holds court with the kind of strength and ferocity found in a Shakespearean leading lady thanks in large part to the stellar work of Katey Sagal. As the family drama of the show is loosely based on the plot found in Hamlet, she is at heart Queen Gertrude, but time and again she demonstrates the cunning, cutthroat personality of Lady MacBeth especially when it comes to matters involving her family. In season three’s antepenultimate episode “Bainne,” Gemma digs deep into her badass repertoire and goes so far as to hold a gun to an orphan baby’s head to extract information out of the nun who knows the whereabouts of her grandson. A shocking display that further cements her as someone not to be trifled with and never underestimate.
Honorable Mention: Ensemble – Party Down (RIP) – The cancellation of this brilliant Starz comedy from Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas was heartbreaking as the exploits of this ragtag group of Los Angeles cater waiters looking for their big break in Tinseltown quickly became my favorite part of Friday night television. It was always hard to decide which character was the strongest in the bunch until I realized it was the combination of all the players that gave the show such verve. Even with the small cast change between its first and second year (losing Jane Lynch but gaining Megan Mullally!) everyone congealed in a way that made this series shoot to the top of my Brilliant But Cancelled list.
After the announcement that Jane Lynch will pull hosting duties on Saturday Night Live this fall, it’s now been disclosed that current Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston will also be among the honored guest hosts in the sketch comedy show’s 36th season.
This bit of news is filed in the “It’s About Time!” category as anyone who was there during Cranston’s days on Malcolm in the Middle will attest to his phenomenol prowess in the comedy department. It finally seems he’s getting the lion’s share of recognition that’s always been deserved coming off a third straight Best Actor Emmy win, albeit in the drama category where he’s proven his amazing acting range. The seven seasons on Malcolm he did prior to his current series had some of the best moments in sitcom history – witness such a moment here from its first year:
As stated in a post regarding last year’s Emmys, me and awards show have a love/hate relationship – I love them and they seem to hate me, or rather me and the collective viewing audience. Uninspired would best describe them of late, but Academy of Television you actually kept my rapt attention this year. It might be because I didn’t watch them live, but the pace overall for the Emmys telecast was brisk, peppered with many worthy laughs and filler moments that weren’t completely eyeroll-inducing. I credit a lot of this to the stellar hosting job executed by current Late Night helmer Jimmy Fallon. From the amazing Glee-ful opening with four of the hot show’s stars, Tina Fey, Jon Hamm, Joel McHale and more joining him in belting out a Springsteen classic, through his moments introducing the various genres with the help of nominees Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert and Julianna Margulies in the audience and even the “Shows We Lost” montage he never failed to entertain.
Naysayers can say nay about his time on Saturday Night Live – his were never peek performances like Will Ferrell, usually breaking character first and unable to deliver most of his lines laugh-free – but I was always a fan and thought he had his best years behind the Weekend Update desk. It also didn’t hurt he pulled duty next to my Fey-vorite.
He’s also no slouch when it comes to the melding of music and comedy, which seems to be all the rage these days thanks to belle of the TV ball Glee. My first memory of Fallon was his dead-on impersonation of Adam Sandler, another SNL alum known for wacky comedic songs, and a couple of years into his stint on the seminal sketch show he released an album with a track I still frequently revisit, “Idiot Boyfriend.” Just try not to smile at the hilarious video below co-starring then-up-and-coming-now-It New Girl Zooey Deschanel.
Knowing Jimmy had the ability to MC as shown by the success of his talk show’s first year it wasn’t a surprise when he was tapped to take the reins of the Emmys hosting gig, but I had further confidence he would deftly lead the telecast by the sheer merit of his work back in 2002 at the MTV Video Music Awards. That opener still sticks out as one of the most memorable beginnings to an awards show of all time and had yet to be topped on my list of favorites until Fallon, Fey & the Glee gang’s “Born to Run” performance.
The buzz and ratings after Sunday both suggest that Neil Patrick Harris and Hugh Jackman aren’t the only song-and-dance men to call on if you want to have a successful live show telecast.
Not to forget about the awards part of the show, Glee took home a couple of high-profile wins with Jane Lynch nabbing Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy and Ryan Murphy getting Best Director for the top-notch pilot episode. Mad Men continued its drama domination with their third-straight year of trophies for both series and writing, and freshman favorite Modern Family went away a big winner with Best Comedy and Writing for its pilot as well as a pleasant surprise with Eric Stonestreet taking home a Supporting Actor in a Comedy trophy for his phenomenal work as Cam in the ensemble sitcom. An additional surprise win in an acting category went to Aaron Paul getting a much-deserved statue for his supporting role along-side fellow winner and co-star Bryan Cranston for AMC’s needs-to-get-more-recognition drama Breaking Bad.
Major category winners:
OUTSTANDING COMEDY Modern Family
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie)
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Jane Lynch (Glee)
OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Betty White (SNL)
OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Neil Patrick Harris (Glee)
OUTSTANDING DIRECTION IN A COMEDY
Ryan Murphy (Glee)
OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A COMEDY
Christopher Lloyd and Stephen Levitan (Modern Family)
OUTSTANDING DRAMA Mad Men
OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife)
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A DRAMA
Erin Levy and Matthew Weiner (Mad Men – “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”)
OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
John Lithgow (Dexter)
OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Ann Margaret (Law & Order: SVU)
OUTSTANDING DIRECTION IN A DRAMA
Steve Shill (Dexter)
Variety, Music or Comedy
OUTSTANDING VARIETY, MUSIC, OR COMEDY SERIES The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
OUTSTANDING DIRECTION IN A VARIETY, MUSIC OR COMEDY SPECIAL
Bucky Gunts (The Winter Olympics)
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A VARIETY SHOW
Dave Boone and Paul Greenberg (The 2010 Tony Awards)
TV Movie, Miniseries or Dramatic Special
TV MOVIE Temple Grandin (HBO)
MINISERIES The Pacific (HBO)
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A TV MOVIE, MINISERIES OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Al Pacino (You Don’t Know Jack)
OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A TV MOVIE, MINISERIES OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Claire Danes (Temple Gradin)
OUTSTANDING DIRECTION IN A TV MOVIE, MINISERIES OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Mick Jackson (Temple Grandin)
OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A TV MOVIE, MINISERIES OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
David Strathairn (Temple Grandin)
OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A TV MOVIE, MINISERIES OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Julia Ormand (Temple Grandin)
OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A TV MOVIE, MINISERIES OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Adam Mazer (You Don’t Know Jack)
After its long hiatus the best thing about tonight’s all-new Glee was the last 3 minutes pimping next week’s Madge-centric episode. A gloriously multi-pop-culture-layered vision of Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester as Madonna. Don’t just stand there, let’s get to it!
This line, delivered with haughty tone and dramatic storm-out-of-a-room flair by choir (gold!) star Rachel Berry, aptly sums up why Glee has struck a chord (owning that pun) and is firmly at the top of my Must Watch list for the 2009 season. Equal parts musical, absurd comedy, underdogs-realizing-their-potential and coming-of-age high school stories, the mantra of the show is all about, as the definition of “glee” shown in the pilot states, opening yourself up to joy.
And what a joy it is. This is a show that deftly moves between campy (the use of a glee club sung instrumental score – “Flight of the Bumblebee” is especially amazing), wrongly hilarious (just after Rachel finishes narrating her many self-proclaimed exceptional accomplishments she gets a “drive by” slushie to the face) and sincere (embodied by protagonist teacher Will Schuester), and is instantly quotable, particularly anything coming from Jane Lynch (“You think that’s hard? Try being waterboarded, that’s hard!”) as coach of winning cheer squad the Cheerios and nemesis to our intrepid group of songsters. Most importantly it’s a show that cares enough to make its high school characters, most of which at first glance seem cherry-picked from the cliched outcast student roster – a big, sassy diva; the effeminate boy obsessed with fashion; an over-achieving prissy girl; the kid in a wheelchair – actually show signs of depth and potential for more than what they appear. There are moments where I cringed one second and felt endeared the next when introduced to each member of the ragtag group of singing misfits.
Originally premiering the pilot episode after the season finale of American Idol in May (a brilliant move with its core audience being amongst the rabid viewers to one of the biggest nights on television), I was worried that Glee would soon be forgotten, considering the next episode wasn’t set to air for another three months. However, FOX really surprised (and won major points with me, someone still smarting from un-nurtured, gone-before-their-time FOX shows like Arrested Development, Firefly and Wonderfalls) by deciding to heavily advertise throughout the summer, offer songs and videos from the show on iTunes and build a strong interwebs presence. Not stopping there, we’re also getting two encore presentations of the pilot this week, with a special Director’s Cut and a “tweet-peat” (Twitter synergized) episode. With Glee‘s official new episode return set for next week, Wednesday September 9th at 9/8c, it now stands as the most highly-anticipated and talked-about new show this Fall.