Same as last year, these are limited to my own personal preferences (as I’m not a professional critic) are just for fun and a place for me to laud what I loved and rant about what made me mad over the past year.
As I was composing this post, I noticed it was becoming very long, and also that it was being dominated by television categories, so I decided to split it into two posts. This week I’m concentrating on television only. Next week will be Part Two of the awards, which will cover movies, books, music, and other entertainment topics.
1. The Television Episode That Kicked The Ass Of Anything In The Movies Award:
Ozymandias, Breaking Bad
The other two contenders this year, The Rains of Castamere, Game of Thrones, and Goodbye Daddy Blues, Boardwalk Empire, are also exceptional episodes (and I’ll pay tribute to them in other categories). But Ozymandias blows them away, mainly because, beat for beat, it’s about as close to perfect as an episode of television gets.
The episode is bookended (sort of) by two phone calls by Walter to his wife. The first one is a flashback to that infamous first cook in the desert from the pilot episode. It’s the first time Walter lies to Skyler about cooking meth. Standing in the desert in his tidy-whities and lying to her about where he is, the call is mostly innocuous but the beginning of a year-and-a-half pattern. Then the episode returns to the present day where the shoot-out between Walter’s white supremacist cohorts and his DEA brother-in-law Hank and his partner Gomez is taking place.
From that moment on, Ozymandias chronicles the complete collapse of Walter White’s Heisenberg persona and empire. Everything we both feared and expected—including some things we didn’t expect—happens. Hank’s death. Walter cruelly confessing to Jesse the true circumstances of Jane’s death. Jesse’s capture and enslavement by Todd into cooking meth. Walter, Jr. finally finding out the truth about his father. Skyler making a final break with Walt that devolves into shattering violence. Walt’s desperate escape with his baby daughter Holly. When the child calls for her mother (it is now part of the show’s legend that the child actress did this unscripted) Walt decides to call Skyler.
That second phone call and Walt’s intent will be debated by viewers for a long time to come. He probably knew Skyler had the FBI at the house and that they were listening in. His monomaniacal rant against Skyler could have been lifted off Breaking Bad message boards. (I’m convinced that was partially intentional; a slap at the misogynist Skyler-haters.) Was he giving her an alibi? Taunting the cops? Showing her his inner Heisenberg? Trying to justify his actions to himself? Probably a bit of all those things and much more.
There have been other great episodes of television this year—and I’m sure people can make valid arguments for their favorite choices—but Ozymandias really does stand head and shoulders above everything else. So much so that some viewers argued it should have been the last episode of the series. This isn’t just the best of this year—it’s one of the best episodes of television of any year, and we’re unlikely to see anything surpass for quite some time.
SIDE NOTE: As I was writing this up, the Writer’s Guild Awards were announced, and although Breaking Bad received four nominations, Ozymandias was NOT among the nominated episodes. Which inspired me to create a whole new category:
1a. The Writers Guild Awards Suck Award: The Writers Guild
Clearly, someone at the WGA found a stash of Walter’s meth and then forgot to nominate the best written episode of the year.
2. The Emmys TOTALLY Robbed You Award: Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark, Game of Thrones
It must be tough to be on the committees that decide Emmy nominations these days. The drama categories in particular are incredibly competitive. Not only are there great dramas on the major networks and premium cable stations, you’ve got original programming coming from basic cable, foreign countries, services like Netflix and Amazon, and probably someday soon your Aunt Mabel and Uncle Fritz’s garage (no, not THAT kind of programming).
So it’s not unusual for many deserving actors to get snubbed every year. But this year, it was absolutely absurd that Michelle Fairley was not nominated for The Rains of Castamere. Especially considering that her cast-mate Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell) was nominated.
This is not a slap at Natalie—she’s great. But it can’t be overstated how much was riding on Michelle’s performance in those scenes. Almost everything was done in her point of view, which meant she became the surrogate for the audience. Even more difficult to pull off considering she was playing a character most audience members disliked intensely.
She not only pulled it off, she made you feel every bit of Catelyn’s fear, desperation, anger, grief and ultimate acceptance of her fate. She is a big part of the reason viewers ended up crawling on the floor in agony.
Emmys, you messed up. Maybe Lady Stoneheart needs to pay you a visit. (She can go visit the Writers Guild while she’s at it, because The Rains of Castamere wasn’t nominated by them, either.)
3. The Best Character Send-Off Award: Richard Harrow, Boardwalk Empire, Farewell Daddy Blues
I wrote extensively about the episode here, so I’ll just say that Richard Harrow’s final scenes in Farewell Daddy Blues were like his face: at once horrifying and achingly beautiful. After the episode ended, I wrote on Twitter that I felt like the show had cut out my heart with a rusty spoon. Which is as it should be, because from the first moment we met him, he was a great tragic figure. They broke our hearts, but did the character justice. It’s the most we could ask for.
4. The Actor Least Likely To Be Snubbed By The Emmys Next Year Award: Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
For my money, Orphan Black is the best new show of 2013. Ever since it first aired it has continued growing its reputation. Some critics and celebrities, such as Patton Oswalt, even campaigned this year to get lead actress Tatiana Maslany an Emmy nomination. When she was not nominated for her multiple role tour-de-force performance, many people were incensed.
Unlike the case with Michelle Fairley, the snub is slightly more understandable. Orphan Black airs on BBC America, which is not a premium cable station, so it doesn’t have a behemoth like HBO behind it to toot Maslany’s horn to Emmy voters. Also, it’s not unusual for new shows and previously-unknown actors to be skipped over. (Besides, Maslany is Canadian, so, there’s THAT. Maybe if she was British…)
She’s picked up a couple of other awards since then, so it’s going to be difficult for the Emmys to ignore her next year. Even if they do, her star is definitely on the rise. We Clone Clubbers can’t wait to see what she’s going to do next, both on Orphan Black and in other projects.
5. The Americans Really Need To Get Over Their Aversion To Subtitles Award: The Returned (Les Revenants)
This French horror TV series has been running on The Sundance Channel and if you haven’t seen it, you are really missing out.
Some are calling it the “Anti-Walking Dead” but that’s not an apt comparison at all. It’s not even in the same genre. The Walking Dead is a post-apocalyptic story where the world as we know it has completely collapsed because of zombies. The Returned takes place in one small French town where only a handful of dead people suddenly return one day. They’re hungry all right, but they don’t want to eat people (well, except for the one guy who was a cannibalistic serial killer when he was alive) they just want to eat a lot of sandwiches. They don’t remember how they died and at first don’t even realize they’re dead. They go looking for their loved ones and try to resume the lives they were leading before they died.
Not surprisingly, their returns upset the lives of the people closest to them. One guy ties up his wife, burns down their house and jumps off a dam in response to her return from the dead. Relationships are tested, people are forced to face things about their past they thought were long buried. Others begin to wonder if they are dead, too. The creepy factor is very subtle at first, and then increases with each episode. The mystery increases as well, and you begin to wonder if this phenomenon is limited to the one town or is happening everywhere.
As good as some American scripted television dramas have been the past few years, it’s great to see something that takes a familiar genre in a different direction. It’s well worth putting up with subtitles, I promise you.
If you get The Sundance Channel on your cable or satellite service, they do marathons of previously broadcast episodes every now and then, so check your listings. If not, episodes of the show are available for download on iTunes.
6. The Sometimes It Pays To Be The Nice Guy In Reality TV Award: Luca Manfè, MasterChef; Tate Steinsiek, Face-Off; Alexander Weiss, MasterChef Junior
Reality shows have long had a reputation for showing the worst of human nature, and this year Big Brother in particular got super-ugly, with some contestants not bothering to hide their racism. Even the competition shows can get mean on occasion, with bullying and a lack of sportsmanship rearing their ugly heads more often than they should.
This year, three contestants went against the grain and proved that you can be a good person, a good sport and even a winner. Luca Manfè, who had failed to make it into a previous season of MasterChef, qualified this year and won over viewers with his sweetness and kindness. More than once when a competitor lacked a critical ingredient—including in the finale—he shared it with them. And he still won the title.
Tate Steinsiek didn’t win this season of Face-Off, he came in second, but not because he was a nice guy. He was defeated only because winner Laura Tyler was a little bit better in the final challenge. But several times over the season he took time to help his competitors out of difficulties—something other competitors criticized him for. He refused to listen to them and he still made it into the finale. I think Laura more than deserved her win, but wish Tate could have won something, too.
Most impressive of all was 13 year old Alexander Weiss, who competed in the first MasterChef Junior season. All the kids who competed – aged 8 to 13 years old – were amazing, not only for their astonishing skills in the kitchen (judges Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich spent most of the season looking like someone hit them on the side of their heads with a pasta machine) but for their exceptional attitudes and good natures. This is especially remarkable when you consider that they did many challenges that were identical to those done in the adult version of MasterChef.
During the finale, Alexander’s competitor Dara Yu began hyperventilating. Alexander stopped cooking, went over to her and rubbed her back to help calm her down. He waited with her while she drank water (he drank some, too) and didn’t start cooking again until she was ready to cook.
I tear up just thinking about it. Alexander won his title and a place in the hearts of the viewers. When I hear people bemoan the state of the world and kids today, I think about those kids on MasterChef Junior. Maybe the future won’t be quite as bleak as we fear.
Listen, Judgy Judgersons, before you get all JUDGY:
I know, I know, here I am scolding people for not wanting to watch shows with subtitles. And, YES, when I accidentally bumped into the initial broadcast of Sharknado on Syfy while channel surfing, I was all like, WTF, just like everybody else. And, WHAT is going on with Syfy, has it become the receptacle for space refuse? And, maybe I should sit down and write a 90 page piece of garbage script and submit it to them, because, clearly, they will put anything wrapped around a rock and thrown through their window into production.
Then I went on Twitter and checked out the #Sharknado hashtag.
And I couldn’t stop laughing.
I mean, deep, deep belly laughs.
I wanted in on that.
So when the movie was rebroadcast, I was ready at the computer.
Oh, man, I was on FIRE. My wit was rarely this razor sharp. I was getting a lot of favorites and retweets for my caustic commentary on all the Sharknado doings.
Then a REALLY funny thing happened.
I “got” Sharknado.
No, there’s nothing deep about the movie. But on the other hand, no one made it thinking it was really possible that sharks could be sucked up from the ocean by tornados and attack people on dry land.
What we were watching was a parody of Speilberg’s Jaws. My favorite ding was the one against Quint’s famous U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue (the heroine hates sharks because they killed her parents, of course).
I always appreciate balls to the wall storytelling, even when it’s to the point of nonsensical ridiculousness. At least this is someone going for it, rather than shooting for the middle with stale mediocrity. I’ll take bad over that any day, even when it’s totally, completely, someone-get-the-net insane.
Imagine the writer’s room conversation for the most notorious scene in the movie:
“Hey, how about we do THIS: let’s have the hero deliberately jump INTO one of the sharks!”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s good, but check this out: how about if he has a CHAINSAW when he does it?”
“YEAH! And while he’s INSIDE THE SHARK, HE CHAINSAWS HIS WAY OUT!”
“That would be super-awesome! Hey, I’ve got an even better idea!”
“When he chainsaws his way out, the chick who fell into a shark from a helicopter happens to be IN THAT SAME SHARK and he rescues her!”
“That’s totally sick! Let’s do that!”
Let’s be honest. Is that scene THAT much more absurd than Brody blowing up the shark and Hooper popping up alive at the end of Jaws?
Well played, Sharknado-writers.