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.




March 25, 2020

THE ‘THIS IS US’ FINALE: PEARSON DRAMA AT ITS BEST, RANDALL PEARSON AT HIS WORST

Spoiler alert: Read on only after you’ve seen the season four finale of THIS IS US, or if you don’t care about spoilers


“I’m sick of chasing ghosts,” said Kevin, as he went back into the house to tell Madison that he was ‘all in’ to be a dad to his unborn children that she was pregnant with. And I couldn’t help but feel a little relieved to hear someone say that, or something to that effect, on this show, where everyone seems to live a little too much in their past. Yes, it’s a show set across numerous timelines, and how those timelines inform each other, but sometimes the narrative should just leave the timelines of the past to tell us, the audience, what happened back when…and not be a means for the characters in the present to constantly mull over. It’s unhealthy and unreal, and it just takes away from the moment sometimes. It should be for the audience to reflect on the past, having known these characters for a while, knowing how events of the present might make them feel. Instead the show constantly forces the audience to confront the past every time a little detail in the present has even a slight connection with what’s happened before in their lives.

However, yes, it’s true that many of us carry our past as baggage, as it weighs down on everything in our present. If that starts to be a problem, there’s obviously a need to deal with what’s gone, and move on from it. Clearly, Randall Pearson has had that problem for a while now. He’s been unable to shrug off the feeling that he failed to save his father, as well as the grudge he apparently still holds against his mother for keeping his biological father—William—a secret from him. He confronted both these things with therapy, yet dealt with it all in probably the worst way he could have. On the one hand, he said that he wasn’t going to ‘re-litigate’ the whole issue of William with Rebecca, claiming that he didn’t want to jeopardize his relationship with her. And then he goes and emotionally blackmails her with exactly the same thing, to use as leverage against her to make her participate in the clinical trial that she’d already told him she didn’t want to do. If he had simply asked her to know all about the trial before turning it down, or if it had been a terminal illness that she was refusing treatment for, it would have been understandable. But he completely disregarded her wishes and is making her sacrifice probably the best nine months she has left in her life, which she’s doing out of a misguided feeling of guilt or remorse. And as we saw in the finale, even Beth doesn’t approve of this, proving to us again that Randall doesn’t deserve her. Still, when Randall tells Kevin in the finale that in the future they’d regret not doing what he was doing now, in order to have more than just those nine good months with her, I did for a second think from Randall’s perspective. But then I remembered, Rebecca is clearly in her 70s (she was most probably in her mid-30s when her almost-40-year-old kids were born), so every minute of lucid happiness with her family means the world to her, and Randall is not even willing to see that from her perspective.

And then to make things worse, Randall spews such venom on Kevin, it left me despising Randall more than I ever have (and I’ve never been a fan of Randall at any age, except for maybe sometimes liking kid-Randall). Kevin may not have assumed a sense responsibility towards the family like Randall did over the years, but that doesn’t mean he’s been absent or unavailable for his family. We’ve seen Kevin come through for his brother during Randall’s anxiety attacks more than once. He’s been Kate’s person. He’s helped Rebecca in his own ways. And he’s even been an awesome uncle to Randall’s kids. What has Randall ever done for Kevin aside from looking down on his career choices and personal life! And now he has the nerve to tell Kevin that their dad died being ashamed of Kevin… Firstly, Jack could never have been ashamed of any of his kids. Secondly, this is just Randall at his worst—trying to prove a sense of superiority by hurting his brother and dishonoring the memory of the father he wishes he had saved. And what Kevin said about the worst day of his life being the day Randall became a part of their family was clearly him lashing out at Randall trying to hurt him back. And one could see that it pained Kevin to have brought their quarrel down to that, while Randall had looked on with contempt from his high horse all along.


From a finale point of view though, their showdown was executed extremely well. It was intense without becoming hysterical, and the restraint really amped up its impact, as it highlighted the depth of the animosity. One thing was seriously lacking though—the absence of Kate in all of this. Of course she’d have something to say about all of it, and she was a part of the conversation before she took off with Toby and little Jack to the hospital. Yes that subplot was important, and eventually Kate’s reaction to the brothers’ conflict is surely going to be explored next season. But to not have her there, to mediate, take sides, or just be caught in the middle, was a missed opportunity for Pearson drama, especially considering that her relationship with Rebecca has been so good lately, and that she didn’t even get a chance to weigh in in New York.

Aside from that, it was quite a finale, despite Jack and Rebecca’s unnecessary and unrealistic seeking of emotional support from their OB/GYN. It was severely indulgent but still sweet. What was a total waste of time though was showing us Madison’s OB/GYN trying to train his horse and have a moment with his daughter (do we really care?!). I mean, there has to be a limit on how much they can delve into the individual stories and conditions of characters who are at best peripheral in the main cast’s lives (especially since the show is limited to six seasons, and just 18 episodes per season). It’s what made the season opener so frustrating, but thankfully in the finale it was far more limited than in the premiere. If they had used the time instead to involve Kate in the brothers’ altercation or at least make her a witness to it, I think the finale would have been perfection. Without it, I suppose there’s even more to look forward to in season five than there anyway would have been. There are so many unanswered questions, about Rebecca’s condition, the future, Kevin’s wedding ring in the future, Nicky in the future, Kevin and Randall’s tense-yet-optimistic body language towards each other in the future, and so much more. And let’s not forget, Kevin and Kate still don’t know exactly how Randall made Rebecca agree to the clinical trial. I do hope we see their reactions to how low Randall stooped to get what he’s sadly mistaken to believe is the best for the family.

March 7, 2020

WHY ALEX KAREV’S EXIT STORY WAS THE PERFECT FAREWELL, DESPITE ITS FLAWS

A lot of people hated it, and felt it was ‘out of character’, and—worse—that it was lazy writing that ruined his growth and so on. Here’s why I strongly believe it was none of those things, and why it was a beautifully-written episode that did the best that it could, all things considered

Spoiler alert: Read on only if you've seen this week's GREY'S ANATOMY, or if you don't care about spoilers

“There’s really no good way to say goodbye,” said Meredith Grey, closing the Alex farewell episode of GREY’S ANATOMY, in which we finally found out how the show was closing the Alex Karev chapter. It was only after I finished watching it and started reading the numerous comments online did I realize how differently most people felt about it than I did. I honestly felt that it was the perfect way to write out his character from the show, especially considering that the actor was not available—for more than a voice-over—for them to be able to do more with the storyline. Were there ways to make it seem more believable? Could it be more justified if we’d seen how it played out rather than just hearing about events that supposedly took place off-screen? Could the end of his marriage to Jo have been better handled? Of course I’ll say yes in answer to all these questions. But was it uncharacteristic of Alex for things to have turned out this way? Certainly not.


Now I have always been a huge fan of the Alex-and-Izzie romance. They go back to a time when ‘ship names’ weren’t even a thing. They had the makings of a classic romance from being antagonistic, to flirtatious, to realizing their deep connection, to facing tragedy, then illness, a dream wedding, and then the unfortunate end of their marriage. It was an exciting ride with highs and lows, light moments and intense phases. The dynamic was definitely far more interesting than any other romance we’ve seen on this show, ever—and definitely far more interesting than the tiresome and highly overrated Mer-Der. So when Alex and Izzie did split, it was heartbreaking to say the least. Moreover, there was no closure for a satisfying end, even when she returned that once after ghosting him for so long. So it’s not just because I’m a fan of the couple that I was extremely glad to know that they did end up together. It was because it did feel completely natural for him to reconnect with her, even after all this time. Yes, she was horrible to him, but that also means that there was a lot unresolved between the two and it was completely understandable for them to have found it in their hearts—after years of distance and perspective—to finally address what went wrong, and find their way back to each other. In an ideal world, it would have been great to see that happen first-hand, to see them dissect all the horrible things she did, and why he didn’t find it in himself to forgive her before. It would have been great to actually see them move past those problems and realize that underneath it all, they were still two people who were very much in love with each other. That would have been great—but only possible in an ideal world where both the actors were available and willing to have the show tell us the story in entirety. So considering that this story was to be told without the actors in the picture, this was the best possible way to tell this story.

Yet, I’ll admit, telling this story meant that Alex would have to turn out to be a jerk to Jo, and leave her without so much as saying goodbye in person. It was the one thing that most people had an issue with, and understandably so. Most feel that after his growth over the last 16 seasons, he would never betray Jo the way he did. I disagree with the absoluteness of that assumption—that he would never do this. His feelings for Izzie were always extremely intense, and before we saw the last of him, there was no way to know what he might have done should he have actually had the opportunity, in some other scenario, to resolve his relationship with her and be with her. Besides, there are some things that make a person who they are, and even with their growth (and character development) there are things that can bring back sides of them that were seemingly entirely behind them.

Still, the writers tried hard to convince us that it was all about the kids of his that Izzie had with the frozen embryos. They did this through Alex trying to convince Jo that being an available parent to the kids meant that he absolutely had to get back with Izzie as well. He could continue to be married to Jo and still be a father to them in every possible way. The logistics of long-distance, or convincing Jo to move to Kansas would have been a huge hurdle, but definitely not the sole reason why he had to become romantically involved with Izzie in addition to being a father to their kids. So yes, he did effectively cheat on Jo, by getting involved with his ex-wife while he was still married to Jo, whether or not there were any kids in the picture. But was it absolutely impossible for the Alex of today to have cheated on Jo? With anyone else, it would have been close to impossible, but with Izzie, it wasn’t unlikely at all.


If the writers had written it in such a way that Alex admitted the extent of his betrayal to Jo, rather than try to spin it as it being all about the kids, it would have perhaps rang truer. However one could always assume that he was in denial about (or was simply trying hard to rationalize) the betrayal, convinced that being with Izzie was the only way to be a parent to the twins. This need for assuming Alex’s denial or rationalization was literally the only real flaw in the Alex sendoff, in my opinion. In all other ways, it was near perfect (factoring in the non-availability of actors).



Using ‘Dear Jo(hn)…’ letters was convenient and obvious, but it was the effort taken to do justice to everything the character would want to convey to the people who were most important to him in Seattle that made it moving and as real as the goodbye could get. And let’s face it, knowing Alex, he would have never been as articulate in person about his feelings towards all of them. His letter to Meredith was the best, obviously. Just like Cristina told Meredith, before leaving, that Derek wasn’t the sun, she was, even Alex told her that she didn’t really need a person, she was her own person. “A freakin’ force of nature!” he called her. It was gut-wrenching to know that we wouldn’t see their friendship anymore, but it was so beautiful to hear things about their bond expressed so well. His letter to Miranda was also spot-on, in that he thanked her for pushing him to be better, as a person and as a surgeon. She did raise him to become worthy of being the chief in her absence from the office, and that relationship was paid tribute to perfectly. The Richard side of it was conveyed without Alex’s voice-over, but it was a wise choice, as it offered us a different perspective of the teacher-student relationship than Bailey and Karev’s. Of course, it was brilliant and essential for an acknowledgement of Alex’s peds mentor Arizona’s role in his growth as a person and a professional. In fact, if she’d still been around, she would’ve definitely received a letter as well.


It was also essential to see all those moments of Alex Karev from the internship days, right up until his last appearance on the show. It showed us the evolution of Alex, and the depth of the bonds he’d forged that impacted the show and us viewers, even those who may not have liked him (though I doubt there’s anyone who didn’t like Alex). Moreover, the effort taken to find all the right visuals, montages, dialogues and exchanges, to interweave with the present-day narrative at just the right moments, was indeed admirable. The sheer wealth of the characters’ backstory that this show has was utilized to the fullest—with moments such as Alex opening up to Meredith about the embryos and Izzie’s illness, and Alex telling Jo what he imagined Izzie’s life to be like. It was rich with character moments and nuggets from the past that tremendously informed why and how Alex ended up where he did. And it couldn’t have been easy to put together and make it so heartfelt. It was far from being ‘lazy writing’, which a lot of the viewers felt it was. It was a perfect farewell to the best character that the show has given us, all things considered.


Farewell notes:
  • For the cynics… If Justin Chambers’ exit was in fact the result of some messy conflict that made him leave so abruptly (as many of us have speculated), having him get back with Izzie could also probably have been the show’s way of just shipping off the bad sheep together (since Katherine Heigl’s exit was controversial as well).
  • A lot of people really believe that Jo is now going to be paired with Link, speculating that Amelia’s break-up with Link over her baby-daddy drama has been designed to free him up for Jo. Firstly, Link and Amelia are too good for them not to be endgame. So I sincerely hope that we haven’t seen the last of them as a couple. Secondly, why can’t best friends just stay that way! These friendships that go a long way back are such beautiful relationships to explore. Just look at how amazing Meredith and Alex were (*sniff*)! I found it completely unnecessary for Owen and Teddy to become anything other than platonic. So I would very much appreciate it if Jo can just continue to have Link as her person, rather than him being a romantic interest.
  • I look forward to seeing Jo grow as a character without Alex. Her reaction to his revelations was heartbreaking, but she was so strong about it. In a way, it was because she’d already accepted that he’d left her, in the previous episode, even without closure. Now that she’s heard from him, I look forward to see how she moves on. She’s never been among my absolute favorite characters, but I’ve always liked her. And I’d like to see her as just her. So I hope they don’t pair her up with anyone too quickly, and certainly never with Link. Eventually, eventually, maybe she and DeLuca might be good together. They did have some chemistry before Alex beat him up.
  • Alex’s farewell was a nice way for Miranda and Ben to address their differences about adopting Joey. It was simple, but effective.
  • I think we all need to be concerned about Richard. He’s not been doing well with the collapse of his marriage (I do hope he and Catherine work out their problems and get back together though). Moreover, his interaction with the patient who posed as a resident last week, and how he encouraged her to do the procedure, raises questions about his ability to perform surgery (because it was more than just a ‘teaching moment’). And this week, after his share about Alex during his AA meeting, his hand seemed to tremble a bit. I think he’s going to spiral, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

February 10, 2020

‘PARASITE’ MAKES ACADEMY AWARDS HISTORY, AND OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF THE 2020 OSCARS

The 2020 Oscars were a cut above recent editions of the event, in terms of presentations, performances, general pace of the show, and the satisfying set of results, including Parasite’s historic win. Here’s why

Photos, courtesy: AMPAS

That the Oscars will be a grand affair—where the biggest names from the year of films gone by show up in their finest to celebrate each other, with positivity, encouragement and hope—is a given. If we don’t at least get that, then something would be very wrong. What makes all the difference are the little things—how the nominees are showcased, how the presenters liven up the giving away of the awards, what the winners say in acceptance, and the details that make the show a spectacle. There are always things to complain about, and this year had a few. For instance, the opening number felt a little forced, a few presentations were a little dull, and the absence of introductions for a few performers, such as Chrissy Metz and Randy Newman, felt a little disrespectful. (This felt especially odd considering that, in some cases, presenters were brought in to introduce other presenters. George Mackay even made fun of this when he presented another presenter from the balcony.)

Still, this year, there were a lot more positives than negatives, so I’m going to be more positive, encouraging and hopeful. This is why I feel inclined to do so…


A TRULY INTERNATIONAL EVENT
In a world that’s become so small, where we get access to content from all over the world, in all languages—all on our smartphones or smart TVs, and almost simultaneously worldwide—film and television really have become an international phenomenon. And it couldn’t have been more serendipitous that the year the Academy decides to rename ‘foreign language film’ to ‘international feature film’ is the year when a film not in English is named best picture for the first time ever. The historic win is really a reflection of how cinema really is a global phenomenon, and while language is crucial, what transcends literal ‘foreign’ languages is the language of humanness, which is something that speaks to all of us. 


This is something that was so beautifully conveyed with the performance of ‘Into the unknown’ from Frozen II, by Idina Menzel and all the other women who sang in their own languages, really speaking to the global impact of Hollywood and cinema in general. The Oscars have to evolve to stay relevant, at times when people really question whom the Oscars are for and why they matter, and this certainly is a step in the right direction.


PRESENTERS WHO REALLY HELD THE SHOW
Speaking of evolution, this is the second year that the Oscars have gone without a host. Yes, it seems like they might have missed a host last year, which is why they brought in Steve Martin and Chris Rock to deliver an opening dialogue, if you will, despite having had a big opening number. Yet, it felt right, because honestly, for the most part, a host’s job is just to open the show and close it. The SAG Awards even brought in ‘non-hosts’ Eugene Levy and Dan Levy to do just that—open the event and sign off. So it was good to have Martin and Rock open the show for us. Of course, their material wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own without that opening number, but they did elicit some solid laughs. What I particularly found funny was when Rock said that he’d enjoyed ‘the first season of The Irishman on Netflix’, making a dig at the almost tedious duration of the movie.

Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig’s presentations for production design and costume design, acting out their presentation to ‘impress the directors in the room’ was absolutely hilarious, especially the singing of fashion-related songs to introduce costume design. And I say this despite not being a fan of any other awards presentation of theirs that I’ve seen. The singing of a halftime recap of the show, by Utkarsh Ambudkar, who apparently even wrote the ‘song’ (between the beginning of the show and that moment, one would assume), was quite impressive.

What was also impressive was seeing Sigourney Weaver, Gal Gadot and Brie Larson—superheroines extraordinaire—presenting the Oscar for original score, with excerpts from the nominated soundtracks performed by the orchestra conducted by a woman. And then for the award to go to a woman composer—Hildur Guðnadóttir, for Joker—was just the icing on the cake.


However, the best presentation of the evening was Olivia Colman’s, who was just as delightfully uninhibited as she’s been at all the awards shows we’ve seen her at—be it for The Favourite or The Crown. “Winning an Oscar ages you,” she said, just as I was wondering why she’d bleach-dyed her hair! And then she spoke of how when she won last year, it was the best night of her husband’s life! She was just hilarious and endearing, and it was everything to have her back on the Oscars stage. I hope we see a lot more from her and of her.


ACCEPTANCE SPEECHES OF THE NIGHT
Olivia Colman presented the Oscar to Joaquin Phoenix, who delivered probably the best speech of the night. He spoke first of how entitled the human race is to assume superiority, as a species, over the rest of the planet. And then he said something that came from a place of maturity and humility, thanking all of those who’d given him a second chance, even though he’d been ‘cruel’ and ‘a scoundrel’, and when he’d become hard to work with. “I think that’s when we’re at our best: when we support each other—not when we cancel each other out for our past mistakes—but when we help each other to grow, when we educate each other; when we guide each other to redemption,” he said. And then he concluded by quoting a lyric by his late brother, River Phoenix, “Run to the rescue with love and peace will follow.” It was extremely poignant.


Bong Joon Ho quoted someone in the room while accepting one of the four Oscars he went up for. Accepting his Oscar for directing, he said, “When I was young and studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart, which is, ‘The most personal is the most creative.’ That quote is from our great Martin Scorsese.” Now it’s not uncommon for winners to thank their fellow nominees these days, but this seemed completely sincere, as did his mention of Quentin Tarantino, whom he thanked for helping getting American audiences to notice his work. It was these two speeches that I found really moving.

THE FINER TOUCHES
And ultimately, I come back to the details that made the show a spectacle. I like the return of the behind-the-scenes visuals of sketches and drawings, for production design and costume design, and script excerpts, for writing, presented when the nominations were being announced. This is something that’s been lacking in recent years, and I was happy to again catch these little glimpses of what goes into all this Oscar-nominated work. Additionally, the show-reels for the acting nominees, packaged as consolidated presentations, were outstanding. It just spoke to the depth and the impact of those performances, and it surely must’ve added value even for those who hadn’t seen all the nominated performances. So it really was the little things like this and the set of the stage, and finer touches that made me enjoy the show. It definitely had what makes the Oscars an event worth looking forward to. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good.


ALL THE WINNERS
I got 19 out or 24 predictions correct, which isn’t bad at all. Even though I really wanted to see 1917 win the big ones, I can’t grudge Parasite for winning and making history—it really was a great film.

These are the Oscar winners for 2020:

Best Motion Picture
Ford v Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once upon a Time...in Hollywood
Parasite

Achievement In Directing
The Irishman | Martin Scorsese
Joker | Todd Phillips
1917 | Sam Mendes
Once upon a Time...in Hollywood | Quentin Tarantino
Parasite | Bong Joon Ho

Performance By An Actress In A Leading Role
Cynthia Erivo in Harriet
Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story
Saoirse Ronan in Little Women
Charlize Theron in Bombshell
Renée Zellweger in Judy

Performance By An Actor In A Leading Role
Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory
Leonardo DiCaprio in Once upon a Time...in Hollywood
Adam Driver in Marriage Story
Joaquin Phoenix in Joker
Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes


Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role
Kathy Bates in Richard Jewell
Laura Dern in Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson in Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh in Little Women
Margot Robbie in Bombshell

Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role
Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes
Al Pacino in The Irishman
Joe Pesci in The Irishman
Brad Pitt in Once upon a Time...in Hollywood

Adapted Screenplay
The Irishman | Screenplay by Steven Zaillian
Jojo Rabbit | Screenplay by Taika Waititi
Joker | Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver
Little Women | Written for the screen by Greta Gerwig
The Two Popes | Written by Anthony McCarten

Original Screenplay
Knives Out | Written by Rian Johnson
Marriage Story | Written by Noah Baumbach
1917 | Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Once upon a Time...in Hollywood | Written by Quentin Tarantino
Parasite | Screenplay by Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won; Story by Bong Joon Ho

Achievement In Cinematography
The Irishman | Rodrigo Prieto
Joker | Lawrence Sher
The Lighthouse | Jarin Blaschke
1917 | Roger Deakins
Once upon a Time...in Hollywood | Robert Richardson

Achievement In Film Editing
Ford v Ferrari | Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland
The Irishman | Thelma Schoonmaker
Jojo Rabbit | Tom Eagles
Joker | Jeff Groth
Parasite | Yang Jinmo

Achievement In Costume Design
The Irishman | Sandy Powell and Christopher Peterson
Jojo Rabbit | Mayes C. Rubeo
Joker | Mark Bridges
Little Women | Jacqueline Durran
Once upon a Time...in Hollywood | Arianne Phillips

Achievement In Makeup And Hairstyling
Bombshell | Kazu Hiro, Anne Morgan and Vivian Baker
Joker | Nicki Ledermann and Kay Georgiou
Judy | Jeremy Woodhead
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil | Paul Gooch, Arjen Tuiten and David White
1917 | Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis and Rebecca Cole

Achievement In Music Written For Motion Pictures (Original Score)
Joker | Hildur Guðnadóttir
Little Women | Alexandre Desplat
Marriage Story | Randy Newman
1917 | Thomas Newman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker | John Williams

Achievement In Music Written For Motion Pictures (Original Song)
‘I can't let you throw yourself away’ from Toy Story 4 | Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
‘(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again’ from Rocketman | Music by Elton John; Lyric by Bernie Taupin
‘I'm standing with you’ from Breakthrough | Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
‘Into the unknown’ from Frozen II | Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
‘Stand up’ from Harriet | Music and Lyric by Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo

Achievement In Production Design
The Irishman | Production Design: Bob Shaw; Set Decoration: Regina Graves
Jojo Rabbit | Production Design: Ra Vincent; Set Decoration: Nora Sopková
1917 | Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales
Once upon a Time...in Hollywood | Production Design: Barbara Ling; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
Parasite | Production Design: Lee Ha Jun; Set Decoration: Cho Won Woo

Achievement In Sound Editing
Ford v Ferrari | Donald Sylvester
Joker | Alan Robert Murray
1917 | Oliver Tarney and Rachael Tate
Once upon a Time...in Hollywood | Wylie Stateman
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker | Matthew Wood and David Acord

Achievement In Sound Mixing
Ad Astra | Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson and Mark Ulano
Ford v Ferrari | Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Steven A. Morrow
Joker | Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic and Tod Maitland
1917 | Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson
Once upon a Time...in Hollywood | Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler and Mark Ulano

Achievement In Visual Effects
Avengers: Endgame | Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken and Dan Sudick
The Irishman | Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser and Stephane Grabli
The Lion King | Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Elliot Newman
1917 | Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler and Dominic Tuohy
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker | Roger Guyett, Neal Scanlan, Patrick Tubach and Dominic Tuohy


Best International Feature Film
Corpus Christi | Poland
Honeyland | North Macedonia
Les Misérables | France
Pain and Glory | Spain
Parasite | South Korea

Best Animated Feature Film
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

Best Documentary Feature
American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
Honeyland

Best Documentary Short Subject
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You're a Girl)
Life Overtakes Me
St. Louis Superman
Walk Run Cha-Cha

Best Animated Short Film
Dcera (Daughter)
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

Best Live Action Short Film
Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors' Window
Saria
A Sister