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.
Tonight the fifth network presents a too-obviously-themed two-hour block of otherworldliness with the return of Supernatural and the unveiling of The Vampire Diaries. Finding myself at a crossroads – one being the road I’ve been traveling down, with a pre-disposition to avoid most things on The CW; the other being one that leads me towards a natural attraction to stories involving spooks, spectres and all things supernatural, particularly ones having the creative talent with a resume that includes working alongside Joss Whedon – this one-two punch seems tailor-made for me to enjoy. Unfortunately I’m at a loss in my commitment to either offering served up for my viewing pleasure, especially on Thursdays, a night that already has a number of contenders vying for coveted DVR space.
The Vampire Diaries will grace the small screen for the first time with the hopes to lure those who can’t get enough of glamourous, gorgeous creatures of the night…or rather the not-direct-sunlight. Taking a cue from the popularity in adapting young adult novels featuring beautiful, blood-sucking fiends, Vampire Diaries is based on a series of books first published in the early-’90s. The premise (small-town girl in a love triangle with two brothers) reads very similar to any number of teen dramas so it’s fitting that Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson is at the helm of this sexy sudser. Being a Creek geek back in the day (although my attention waned in the latter part of the series) I enjoy the idea of Dawson with fangs, but also having a high bar set from other well-played, vampire-centric TV I’ll need more than just a little sexual tension (which I’ll consider chaste in comparison to anything-goes-on-HBO True Blood) and teen angst to retain my viewership.
With Supernatural,I’ve already got a big handicap to overcome: not having kept up with the previous four seasons worth of exploits from the (hot!) demon- and all-other-manner-of-evil-hunting Winchester brothers. Not wanting to completely discard a show that sees frequent episodes written by the amazing Ben Edlund (he behind one of the single best hours of television ever with Angel‘s fifth season puppet-filled masterpiece “Smile Time”), all seasons are sitting at a comfortable place on the queue, but after reading the synopsis for the latest season’s opener, “Sympathy for the Devil,” intrigue might get the better of me and they’ll quickly be moved to the top. While the first couple of years concentrated more on monster-of-the-week stories, a canny creative took the reins mid-way through and started to really develop a strong mythology, which any genre aficionado will attest is the backbone of these types of series.
SET YOUR DVRs
8/7c – The Vampire Diaries, The CW (series premiere)
A sucker for a good awards show – although they quite often leave me underwhelmed well before the final winner is announced – the Emmys will kick off the season in September with golden bar standard, and personal fave, 30 Rock leading the nominee pack (record-setting 22 for a comedy series – who says women aren’t funny!?) and while anxiously anticipating how many statues Fey & Co walk away with, the real category of intrigue is one that I, admitting with great shame, had no idea was even a part of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences – Outstanding Main Title Design.
Perhaps this is one of the “technical” (aka, snooze-worthy-so-let’s-sex-it-up-with-this-year’s-It-starlet-announcing-the-winners) awards they give away prior to a telecast, but please TV Academy let’s give some primetime credit where credit is due to a category with an amazing history of well-deserved winners, most recently last year’s Mad Men.
Its return with the third season premiere on Sunday reminded me how a brilliantly-executed title sequence can immediately capture the mood of show. Here the orchestral, Hitchcockian music and style/color design and most poignantly the use of a faceless man endlessly falling Vertigo-style through era-specific advertisements that feature a bevy of scantily-clad women, tumblers of drinks and a final image of the “perfect” nuclear family that sets the stage for vice-indulging, secret-keeping ’60s family/ladies/ad man Don Draper. Those MADison Avenue men are proud.
Being a research-loving fact-finder, I’ve discovered that the Main Title Design’s category inception was in ’97 and since then the Academy has bestowed wins to a number of shows that top my personal list of favorite opening sequences (yes, such a list does exist along with favorite font — for the record give me something in a serif any day). In 2002 a little network called HBO received its first win in this category with Six Feet Under.
Haunting theme music from Thomas Newman and artful images (love those chiaroscuro hands) that highlight preparation for one’s eternal dirtnap (thank you HBO for showing me the embalming process) encompasses the juxtaposition of beauty and decay found in death, and life, that the series so adeptly captured.
For a series focusing on the cause in addition to the effects of death, Showtime’s Dexter has a title sequence befitting its dark yet playful world — turning the mundane, morning routine of cop and serial killer Dexter Morgan (the amazing Michael C. Hall’s 180 degree turn in character from his David Fisher on Six Feet Under) into a menacing montage.
Finally, jumping back to HBO/Alan Ball collaborations and the jewel of this year’s Title Design noms, True Blood‘s opening sequence is an amalgam of dirty, swampy, sexy, fire-and-brimstone imagery coupled with twangy rockabilly song “Bad Things” (by Jace Everett, a decent alternative to Chris Isaak) that encapsulates the soapy, southern gothic nature of the supernatural saga.
See the complete list of this year’s Emmy nominees here .
Personally I never lost faith in the phrase “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.” While the loss of seminal shows The Sopranos and Sex and the City in 2006 and 2004, respectively, seemed to create doubt that HBO could keep the “groundbreaking, critically-acclaimed, smash hit” original programming train rolling along, they’ve hit another one out of the park this past year with my, and many other fan(g)s, newest obsession True Blood.
Steering away from the heavy, dramatic themes of his first HBO series Six Feet Under, Alan Ball’s latest is treading neck-high in the blood-soaked waters of the vampire mythos. Pulling from Charlaine Harris’s sudsy, southern gothic series of books and riding the waves of that other supernatural sensation concerning creatures of the night (who walk around during the day — really?) TB is leading the way in making HBO’s Sunday night line-up appointment TV and Monday morning watercooler talk again. In its second season premiere, TB received ratings that had not been seen on HBO since The Sopranos series finale, and continues to keep viewers hungry for more with nail-biting, jaw-dropping cliffhangers every week.
With vampires all the rage it’s not surprising the network that gave us a girl with all the gossip and a rebirth of the most well-known zip code in the country would follow the trend with their own adaptation of a living dead novel series as this fall The CW gives us the toothy(less?) Vampire Diaries.
Not to naysay on themes/storylines I find myself inherently mesmerized by — thank you Joss Whedon for giving me snarky vamps and wry werewolves — but try as they may The CW has not yet turned me to the dark side with its oh my guilty pleasure Gossip Girl or the resurrection of Kelly & Brenda on the new 90210. On this track record and seeing theTwilight re-hash sneak peeks I find myself incredulously investigating what appears less like a delicious spin on blood-sucking fiends and more a cliched weekly appeasement to Twi-hard tweens looking to tide themselves over until said movie series is back at their local multi-plex.
Make every effort to catch up on True Blood if you haven’t already been bitten – season 1 now available on DVD and iTunes, all previously-aired season 2 episodes now playing on HBO On Demand and new episodes every Sunday at 9PM Eastern/8PM Central until September. Jury’s still out on any tune-in worthiness of Vampire Diaries.