July 29, 2020

THE FIVE BIGGEST SURPRISES AMONG THE 2020 PRIMETIME EMMY NOMINATIONS

The 2020 Emmy nominations were announced yesterday, with a lot of buzz surrounding the record number of minority nominees and so on. While that was expected, considering the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter movement and the slow-but-sure awakening, there were a lot of other interesting things to note about the Emmy nominations this year. For one, this is the first year of the Primetime Emmy Awards after the end of GAME OF THRONES and VEEP—both of which won the big awards multiple times. More significantly, with these series out of the running, a lot of nominee slots opened up, particularly in the supporting acting (drama) categories.

Emmy Nominations 2020

Moreover, with up to eight nominees per category, there was so much Emmys love to go around. And that’s why we’ve seeing not just two, but up to three nominations for a series within a category. For example, there’s SUCCESSION with three and THE MORNING SHOW with two nominations in supporting actor, drama; there’s BIG LITTLE LIES with two supporting actress, drama, nominations; and THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL with two nominations each in supporting actress and actor, comedy. And with THRONES and VEEP out, there’s also a wave of first-time contenders for outstanding series, especially in comedy, including DEAD TO ME, INSECURE, THE KOMINSKY METHOD, and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (THE MANDALORIAN is the only first-timer in drama).

One can talk endlessly about the shows and performances that were snubbed, especially since there are up to eight nominees in several categories this year. But with the number of series that are produced in this day and age, it’s impossible to do justice to everything, even for a Television Academy full of people. Yet, I do want to talk about the five biggest surprises, for me, among the main categories:

1. STRANGER THINGS for outstanding drama series:

Emmy Nominations 2020

STRANGER THINGS was a thrilling and exciting series, with endearing doses of friendship and camaraderie. While the latter has been true for the series through all three seasons, it’s still not been enough to hold up the quality of the show. The mystery, action and so on have actually become increasingly campy and ridiculous since the first season. While it’s still engaging, I’d say it’s as much of a popcorn entertainer as, say, a slasher film is, and certainly doesn’t qualify as high-quality, compelling television. It’s definitely not something that deserves to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of THE CROWN and SUCCESSION.

2. KILLING EVE for outstanding drama series:

Emmy Nominations 2020

Another series that had a stellar first season, KILLING EVE even lived up to the hype in its second season, as it interestingly unraveled facets of the characters that we knew existed but hadn’t seen on the surface. However, season three, which is in contention this year, was a sheer drag. Even over-exaggerated plotlines couldn’t excite enough, considering how they were too incoherent. They took whimsy to a level beyond the absurdity of heightened reality. It didn’t tie in together quite so well, and left me wanting it to end soon. There was some excitement in the finale, but it was too little too late. It was a wasted season, and definitely didn’t deserve to earn an outstanding series nomination like the show’s previous season had.

3. Steve Carell, THE MORNING SHOW, for outstanding lead actor in a drama series:

Emmy Nominations 2020

Yes, he’s an A-lister, he’s one of the three faces of the show and so on, but he’s far from being a protagonist, and hence it’s odd that he was entered as a lead actor. He was really good, and even made us despise Mitch Kessler, and would have been a shoo-in for a supporting actor win, considering he plays a supporting character with such a big impact and with such conviction. Perhaps they didn’t want to pitch him against costars Billy Crudup and Mark Duplass, who are both nominated for supporting actor, but Carell certainly isn’t one of the leads of the show. And that’s going to work against him. A win for him now would be a shocker for sure.

4. Kerry Washington, LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, for outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie:

Emmy Nominations 2020

Now Kerry Washington can act. She’s done some really good work in the past. But she tends to overdo it at times, with the excessive facial acting—the extreme frowning and unnatural lip movements during dialogue delivery. These are things that emerged most prominently during her SCANDAL days, and they sure were in overdrive in LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, making several parts of the performance seem gimmicky. Still, I wouldn’t question the Television Academy’s subjective opinion of her performance, if it didn’t come at the cost of a nomination for Reese Witherspoon for the same show. Witherspoon was exceptional as Elena and overshadowed Washington without a doubt. So here is one snub I will hold against the Emmys.

5. Jeffrey Wright, WESTWORLD, for outstanding supporting actor in a drama series:

Emmy Nominations 2020

Jeffrey Wright may be a good performer. I don’t recall any of his other work that I’ve seen. However, in WESTWORLD, he’s an immense bore. Watching scenes featuring Bernard is like watching paint dry. Agreed, he’s a host, and expressionlessness works to his advantage at times, but most of the times, he just exists on-screen, with little or no presence. I would agree that that may be in the job description of this role, but does such a role and performance deserve a nomination for one of the top television honors? I think not.


April 29, 2020

THE ‘HOMELAND’ SERIES FINALE: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Spoiler alert: Please read on only if you’ve watched the series finale, or if you don’t mind spoilers

Last week’s series finale of HOMELAND didn’t exactly tie everything up in a neat bow, but it did give us closure and satisfaction. Here’s a take on how things went down, as the world discovered the truth about how that helicopter went down


When season seven of HOMELAND ended two years ago, it hinted at a poetic final season. It seemed as though the swansong might explore the idea of prisoner of war Carrie Mathison having turned and become a spy, just like prisoner of war Nicholas Brody was suspected of it in the original premise of the show. It was the perfect little teaser, leaving us to anticipate how things would go when Carrie would be the subject of suspicion after being released by the Russians. It was the idea of the show coming full circle in its final season that made its onset so thrilling.

In the beginning of the final season, there was suspicion from various ends, the most prominent form of it being from Mike and Jenna at the CIA station in Afghanistan. While their mistrust might not have been completely unfounded, we knew it wasn’t completely warranted either. Yet, Carrie seemed to be waving red flags all over the place, mainly owing to her questionable friendship with Yevgeny Gromov. Based on the time that Carrie lost when she was in Russia and the things about her that Yevgeny knew, it wasn’t unfathomable that she might have been recruited by him as an asset. Now, lucid and aware, Carrie was doubtful of it herself, but her intentions were clearas clear as the faith that Saul still had in her. She was hell-bent on doing what it took to prevent disaster, even if it meant going rogue, and against Saul’s cautionary instructions. She took it on herself to retrieve the one thing that it came down to—the flight recorder. She would do anything—perhaps even betray Saul. It wasn’t completely unimaginable. After all for years, we’ve been hearing her say it in the opening credits: “I missed something once before. I won’t…I can’t let that happen again.”

So off she went, risking her life, relying on dubious people, throwing herself into risky situations, et al. It might have seemed reckless for most people, but not for Carrie. She’d earned the reputation of being unhinged, whether or not she was on her medication. She had even done the responsible thing by letting her stable sister raise her daughter. Yes, she was unhinged, but not without a cause. Over the seasons, she’d learnt to find method in her madness. She knew what she was doing and what she was risking for it, and she did it anyway. Saul saw that and relied on her to never do anything untoward, even if he didn’t agree with her methods. He had taught her too well to not compromise and to squeeze out all she could from an asset. She did this even if there was a chance that Yevgeny would turn on her the moment he had the chance to. It made sense. Turn on her he did, as he stole the flight recorder, and it was clear as day where the loyalties were. But it did leave her in a tight spot—eventually being arm-twisted into turning on Saul. Carrie did consider it, and knowing how unhinged she was known to be, I’m sure we all had our moments of doubt, thinking that she might actually do what it would take. It would be ‘the cost of doing business’.

In a way, it did all come down to whether Carrie would ‘turn’, but it wasn’t her country that she’d be turning against; it was her mentor. The show did come a full circle, but in a much bigger way. Right from the beginning, the one thing that formed the essence of the show was the relationship between Carrie and Saul. From the Brody seasons to the complete reinvention of the series in season four, it was essentially about these two and their formidable partnership. So it was fitting for the finale to upend all of it. Yet, since they had made a great team before, I was hoping that the finale would be about how they’d turn the tables on the Russians together, as they'd find a way to save Saul’s asset and get the flight recorder to prevent the mother of all wars. Still, the finale didn’t disappoint.


Without trying to create the most explosive scenarios we’ve seen, they did present to us the most explosive conflict that the show could give us. Carrie almost did betray Saul, even if she never had the intention to go all the way to killing him. The asset had to be sacrificed from a storytelling point of view, but it didn’t go that way without all efforts being made to avoid it. It gave us one of Mandy Patinkin’s most gut-wrenching performance moments, when he heard the gunshot that killed his asset and friend. Carrie had done the unforgivable, and we didn’t think he would begin to accept that the end justified the means anytime soon. It was devastating really to see the core relationship of the show destroyed. That’s why I found the epilogue to be the perfect ending. The only way Carrie could make up for what she had done was to at least give Saul a reliable asset, if not bring back his friend. And when it came to protecting America, the one person he could rely on, despite her betrayal was strangely Carrie herself. The moment we saw her in Moscow, I knew what she’d used those two years to do. She had built a network of sources to put together her ultimate gift to Saul—now packaged neatly in a book, addressed to Professor Rabinow. And when he opened the package and discovered what it was, those smiles on Saul’s and Carrie’s faces, thousands of miles apart, were everything.

Farewell Notes:
  • I wasn’t entirely sure of what the relationship between Carrie and Yevgeny was at the end. Of course, they seemed to be romantically involved. But we know that Yevgeny wouldn’t be a part of her network of sources. He had used her and thrown her under the bus, so there’s no way he would turn on his country and work for her, and it also made me wonder if and why Carrie even trusted him. And if the relationship was a farce—to what end could that have been? Also, could Yevgeny trust Carrie? I don’t believe that even two years would make them truly start trusting each other and be in a genuine relationship. I just think the show could have done without implying that the two of them ended up together. Carrie could have still been in Moscow, and as a spy even.
  • Carrie’s book about why she’d betrayed her country did however indicate that her alliance with the Russians and what she’d done had become public knowledge, and she was now a pariah for America. It explained why certain Russians would trust her, which might have helped her in developing her network of sources in Moscow.
  • I didn’t see the need for Carrie and Yevgeny to flee from Israel the way they did, once the asset was killed. I don’t believe Saul would have turned her in, despite what she’d done. And at that point, the authorities didn’t know what Carrie had done, only Saul did. Even without that bit, Carrie could have still ended up in Moscow two years later.
  • Speaking of the asset, it would have been far more impactful if they had sown the seeds of this secret asset over the last couple of seasons. It wasn’t unbelievable that Saul had had this extremely crucial asset for decades, but it did come up quite suddenly.
  • Similarly, John Zabel also appeared quite suddenly, and I wasn’t quite sure why he felt so stubbornly motivated to throw the country into war. A little background to the character might have helped. Also, I was hoping to see Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy share the screen, so I was disappointed that it didn’t happen. But I do understand that the narrative didn’t demand it.  
  • It was sad that Carrie didn’t reunite with Franny, but it was also very true to her character. She had done the right thing in letting Maggie raise her. Yet, I would have liked to see her at peace with Maggie, just like Saul was finally on good terms with his sister.
  • Jenna was a surprisingly interesting character this season. When she was disillusioned and ready to give up everything towards the end, I could almost see the makings of a spinoff—with Jenna being the new Carrie, as she might eventually come around to understanding the good that could come out of a job that otherwise made her feel miserable.
  • If there’s a reboot miniseries or TV movie, which has become de rigueur these days, I wouldn’t mind getting an explanation as to what the Carrie-Yevgeny relationship was, if and why they trust each other, and other things that went down for her to become the spy that she did.
  • RIP Max...It wasn't as devastating as Quinn, or even Brody, but it was heartbreaking still.  

April 10, 2020

A MODERN FAREWELL TO A MODERN CLASSIC—FIVE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE ‘MODERN FAMILY’ SERIES FINALE

Earlier this week, we bid a ‘modern farewell’ to the Pritchetts, Dunphys, Tucker-Pritchetts and Delgado-Pritchetts. The end of MODERN FAMILY was a bittersweet end, even as it left me wondering why they couldn’t just go on! Here’s a look at ‘Leave the porch light on’, who moved out and how they all moved on


The thing about the MODERN FAMILY farewell that made it perfect was that in a lot of ways, it was just like any other episode of the show. Yes, a lot was changing for everyone, but the episode was still very true to what it’s always been, with the regular banter between characters, situational goof-ups, out-of-context misunderstandings, and the characters just being themselves, unapologetically, as they always have been. But in a lot of ways, it bookended the series, and gave us a picture of the last 11 years. Here are the major highlights of the farewell.


1. A FAREWELL TO THE RELATIONSHIPS
In their own way, all the relationships that made the show what it was for 11 years got their moments to shine. Of course there were the three main couples. Claire and Phil were frustrated by the chaos in their house, and then reminisced about it all less than an hour later. Jay and Gloria reflected on their relationship and defined their role-reversal, with Gloria being the full-time career person now. Cam and Mitch explored what was important to them as they prepared for the next chapter of their lives, while welcoming a new member to their family. However, it was good to see that even the sibling bonds that have formed such an integral part of the show being given their moments—the Dunphy kids pranking each other and getting emotional about going their separate ways, Joe pranking Manny, and of course, the most important sibling bond—Claire and Mitch—was done complete justice to. There were nods to even the other important relationships, such as Cam and Gloria (even though Gloria trivialized it a bit), Manny and Luke, and of course, Jay and Phil adding to the awkward moments that have been pure gold since Jay flew that model plane into Phil’s face back in season one. It was all quite well done, squeezing as much as they could into the two-part finale.

2. THE FAREWELL BUILD-UP
Speaking about Jay’s model plane ‘accident’, we saw them revisiting that incident earlier in the final season with Dylan joining Jay and Phil. Phil, still craving approval and affection from his father-in-law was upset with Dylan getting special treatment, only to eventually understand why Jay was so mean to him back in the day. It was all really a part of the entire season building up to the finale—a season-long farewell in the making. Through the final season, they’ve even had episode titles such as ‘The last Thanksgiving’ and ‘The last Halloween’. The latter was also a subtle bookend, with Gloria feeling conscious about her age when someone correctly assumed she was Jay’s wife, which was a reference to the series premiere in which someone mistook her to be Jay’s daughter. Other big changes were building up as well—Claire quitting her job at Pritchett’s Closets, Jay saying goodbye to a retiring Margaret, Cam exploring the big job opportunity in Missouri, etc. In fact, in ‘The last Christmas’, in which they all get together for Christmas dinner at Mitch and Cam’s, was almost like a finale in itself, as was the final family vacation in Paris, which ended with an emotional moment in a restaurant that overlooked the Eiffel Tower. The entire season was a big finale event, and it was just the nicest way to do it, all the while never changing what the show was always about.



3. THE GROWING MODERN FAMILY TREE
It was sweet that the ever-growing family got their final member before we stopped following their lives, in the form of Rexford Tucker-Pritchett. And it didn’t feel gratuitous, because several seasons ago, Mitch and Cam had contemplated adding to their family. It wasn’t something that came out of the blue only in the last couple of episodes. So Rex joining the other new entrants to the family—Poppy, George, even Dylan, and Joe—who weren’t a part of the tree in the beginning, was a nice little nod to the evolution of this modern family.


4. THE MODERN FAMILY THAT MOVES ON
Of course, while staying true to the essence of the show, there had to be some major changes that would close the chapter of this family’s lives that we’ve witnessed. It started with Mitch and Cam deciding to move to Missouri, then Alex finding out about moving to Switzerland, Luke declaring that he'd be moving out for college, Manny's plans to travel the world, and finally Haley and Dylan deciding to get their own place with the twins. It was all just bittersweet and perfect, showing everyone’s evolution. A lovely touch was having Haley and her family move into her uncles Mitch and Cam’s old house, keeping all three scene-starter houses in the family.

5. THE FAREWELL FRAMES
The final moments of a series are always so important. It’s almost like a show that’s over is only considered to be as good as its finale. And the last few shots and frames are those that can leave a lasting impression for years—quite like the last shot of the iconic gold frame on Monica’s purple front door in FRIENDS. What MODERN FAMILY chose to do was probably as good as that, closing the episode with the exterior shots of lights going off in the three houses that started most episodes over the last 11 years. The final epilogue then showed us family photos in each of those houses, the last frame being the big season one family photo of them all dressed in white. It was all very nostalgic, emotional and symbolic. 


Of course when the Dunphys kept that porch light on for their kids who might return home, I couldn’t hold back those tears. It’s the end of an era. One of the best series ever—a modern classic—has come to an end. This is a family that will be sorely missed.