The 2015 Oscar Liveblog: The Theory Of Near-Everything

8:30 PM Welcome to the 12th anniversary of the release of Chicago! (That joke will never get old. You probably disagree.)

8:33 PM I can take or leave the Crystal-y musical opening. Even from the likes of NPH.

8:37 PM That Oprah joke was briefly very, very awkward.

8:38 PM Lupita had far too quiet a 2014 after she won her Oscar.

8:41 PM J.K. Simmons is Best Supporting Actor. It just goes to show that being a Nazi prison rapist doesn’t foreclose all your dreams.

8:48 PM Every clip I’ve seen of American Sniper makes Sienna Miller’s role look awfully … um, thin?

8:49 PM Hi Dakota! It wasn’t personal.

8:50 PM Jesus, I turn on the TV specifically so I can avoid Maroon Five.

8:56 PM Shouldn’t that teacher-sex-stalker movie have disqualified J. Lo from appearing within 500 miles of this show?

8;57 PM Costume Design to The Grand Budapest Hotel, to the surprise of no one.

9:01 PM Budapest also walks off with Makeup/Hairstyling. In related news, Wes Anderson’s hair is damn weird, like everything else about the man.

9:06 PM Not sure about Neil Patrick Harris so far. It’s all been pretty cornball. Maybe we can get Jack Black and Anna Kendrick to co-host in 2016? I miss them.

9:10 PM Ida (Poland) wins Best Foreign Language Film. But how cool is it that a film from Mauritania was nominated? I can’t imagine a place on earth more far removed from Hollywood.

9:13 PM Shirley MacLaine, close personal friend of Richard Linklater. (Rent Bernie!)

9:16 PM So no mass selfie tonight? They need a do-over for poor Liza.

9:19 PM So the Lego thing was different! I swear I’m not even halfway through my beer.

9:25 PM Best Live Action Short: The Phone Call. These guys better not get any thoughts of pulling a Polish director with this speech. Folks be crackin’ down.

9:28 PM Best Documentary Short to Crisis Hotline. So basically, if your short film didn’t involve a telephone, you were SOL this year.

9:32 PM OMG LIAM NEESON HAS COME TO KILL MAUREEN O’HARA

9:34 PM NPH is officially flailing now. Oh great, and now Gwyneth Paltrow is here because things aren’t self-important enough.

9:37 PM Tim McGraw ought to dedicate “Live Like You Were Dying” to Harris, who really is.

9:43 PM I would have preferred Margot Robbie in her undies, but that was still a decent bit.

9:47 PM The Sound Mixing Oscar to Whiplash. Pretty sure it means nothing in the long run, but that’s now 2 wins for Whiplash head-to-head with Birdman.

9:49 PM Sound Editing to American Sniper; this is the one I figured the movie was most likely to win.

9:51 PM We have now reached the Patricia Arquette portion of our evening. BTW, did we really give Jared Leto a dang Academy Award?

9:54 PM Patricia Arquette, coming to CSI: Cyber this week! Nothing could possibly say more about the lack of good film roles for 40ish women.

10:03 PM “Ansel Elgort” was the name of the Chess Club president at my high school. I assume.

10:04 PM Best Visual Effects goes to Interstellar. Funny, after McConaughey lost all the awards he was supposed to get for True Detective, his popcorn movie wins an Oscar.

10:06 PM Best Animated Short to Feast, which I assume had someone phoning someone in there somewhere.

10:10 PM Best Animated Feature: Big Hero 6, avenging the sad fate of the first five Big Heros.

10:18 PM Feel free to play off the Academy president.

10:21 PM Felicity Jones sure is cute. Who wins an Oscar first, her or Emma Stone?

10:22 PM The Grand Budapest Hotel wins for Production Design, where it didn’t have any serious competition.

10:25 PM Whew, they got through “Dick Pope” with no problem.

10:26 PM Emmanuel Lubezki is Best in Cinematography again this year, assuring Birdman won’t win just the one award.

10:33 PM People died this past year, not just on this stage.

10:37 PM So is Jennifer Hudson now our national griever-on-call? And did Garcia Marquez have something to do with movies other than watching them?

10:43 PM Pretty broad support for Whiplash, which wins for Editing (Tom Cross). By the time this night is over, it could be that every Best Picture nominee except The Imitation Game will have won something. Not bad.

10:45 PM BTW, Twitter: I could absolutely not care less that Joan Rivers was left out of the roll call of the dead. She wasn’t primarily a film star. Drop it.

10:46 PM Um, does Terence Howard know he’s only pretending to have ALS? What the hell is this?

10:50 PM Best Documentary goes, not surprisingly, to Citizen Four. Those who thought the ceremony was already too political are gonna love the hell out of this! Laura Poitras made her reputation directing Flag Wars, about Columbus.

10:57 PM Octavia Spencer finally gets to do something non-humiliating tonight, introducing the John Legend-Common song that’s going to win an Oscar in about five minutes.

11:04 PM Travolta and Dazeem, together again!

11:05 PM “Glory” wins Original Song, as if the staging for that performance wasn’t enough of a giveaway. And John Legend  Stephens becomes the second massive Buckeye fan to win tonight. It’s our damn year!

11:14 PM A salute to The Sound of Music? Jesus, Zadan and Meron keep pulling this crap in the middle (or past middle) of an already bloated show.

11:15 PM Oh, and now Lady Gaga is on to impersonate Julie Andrews. Just a wild guess, but I imagine Twitter is voting thumbs down to this bright idea?

11:19 PM So that was a long setup to introduce Julie? Almost worth it.

11:22 PM Best Score to Alexander Desplat, for Budapest. Wes Anderson’s impish little heart must be gratified.

11:30 PM Best Original Screenplay: Birdman beats BoyhoodBudapest. I just wanted to write it like that … and damn, Keaton is working that gum.

11:35 PM Wow, The Imitation Game wins for Adapted Screenplay. So if Redmayne wins Best Actor as expected, none of the Best Picture nominees will go home empty handed.

11:36 PM Graham Moore with a brief but highly impactful acceptance speech.

11:39 PM Is this the longest we’ve gone overtime on the Oscarcast in recent years, or is this just the part of the night where I start thinking that every year?

11:42 PM And if there was still any suspense about Best Picture, that probably ends it: Alejandro G. Iñárritu wins for Achievement in Directing … I suppose what puzzles me about the kudos for Birdman is the number of people I know who really didn’t like it much, which isn’t common in a Best Picture winner.

11:50 PM Redmayne wins Best Actor Who Played Someone With A Disease. Not that he wasn’t real good, but it’s the easiest way to win one of these, isn’t it?

11:56 PM In a similar vein, once I heard that the oft-nominated Julianne Moore was playing someone with Alzheimer’s, I basically stopped giving any thought to this year’s Best Actress race. But hey, she’s been awesome for years.

It’s damn midnight and NPH is determined to run this envelope bit clear to the core of the earth.

12:04 AM And Sean Penn plays us off with Best Picture, which goes to … Birdman. I’m not the first to point this out, but this makes three Best Pictures in the last four years to be won by movies about people who make movies, which merits of the films aside, strikes me as maybe a sign that Hollywood is a little insular? Shocking, I know!

12:08 AM Good night, if you’re still reading, and even if you’re not. Join me next year when something other than Star Wars VII wins Best Picture, and another previously respected host torpedoes his career!

Bonus Film Talk: Fifty Shades Of Grey

FiftyShades

After a few years of wishin’ and hopin’ and hypin’, the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey has finally arrived, and it is, as promised, porn, catering to all manner of bizarre tastes.

It had skyscraper porn, and automobile porn, and aircraft porn, and immaculately-tailored-suit porn. There was enough conspicuous consumption on screen to make Gordon Gekko himself tumescent with envy. And to be fair, enough happened during the movie’s innumerable naked parts to qualify as a sort of traditional porn as well; though anyone coming to the movie fresh, whose familiarity with E.L. James’s characters is limited only to what she has gleaned from pop culture, might be wondering what the scandal is all about. One would have to be fairly sheltered to find the content of this movie shocking, and extraordinarily easy to please to find it titillating. This is kink with training wheels.

James’s book began life as Twilight fan fiction, and somehow became a phenomenon despite the utter amateurishness of her prose and the cliched nature of her lead characters, both of whom would have to grow a dimension to be one-dimensional. The need to adhere to the bestseller probably ended any chance this movie had to be much good, but those involved made a game effort. And despite the warnings of folks like the Catholic Church — which, I have to admit, I don’t often consult when in the cinema-choosing mood — regarding how damaging Fifty Shades of Grey is for women, the makers of the film deserve some credit for giving us a female heroine who doesn’t seem like a complete dope. Maybe the flogging beat some sense into her, who knows.

Our story commences with Anastasia Steel (Dakota Johnson), a soon-to-graduate college senior in Portland, doing a favor for her sick roommate. The college newspaper has been granted a short interview with Christian Grey — God, these names — a young Seattle tycoon who is set to deliver the commencement address. The roommate hands the job to Ana, even though she doesn’t seem to work for the paper and hasn’t prepared for the interview at all (though she manages to score a primo parking space right in front of the zillion-story building, because this happens all the time in big city downtowns). Grey isn’t all that helpful or forthcoming, but something about Ana’s haplessness piques his interest. For her part, the student is psyched out by the stalker-y staring of this rich older man, even though women on Planet Earth who look like Johnson usually don’t make it into their 20s without attracting nearly constant interest from the male of the species. The flustered Ana stumbles out of the building and into a downpour, getting drenched and loving it. Yes, it’s that subtle.

Before long, Christian is showing up in Portland for no apparent reason, buying rope from Ana at the hardware store where she works, agreeing to impromptu photo sessions for the school, dragging her out of clubs when she gets tipsy — you know, like billionaires do, in the spare time they always have. She’s savvy enough to realize this is all very weird, and has enough self-respect to find Christian’s bossiness insulting … and yet, she’s intrigued by the dashing newcomer in her life. To be fair, you’d have to be Mother Teresa to not be swayed some by Grey’s flashes of wealth, including giving Ana first editions of Thomas Hardy. Yes, I’m as surprised to mention Hardy is conjunction with this story as you are.

Eventually, Christian gets to the point: he’s a sexual dominant, and is interested in exercising his dominance over young Ana, complete with a contract which details her obligations to him (the language of the deal at least allows the new submissive to say “hell to the no” to certain activities/positions/modes of insertion ahead of time; going over this list was the funniest the movie got, at least intentionally). This is all complicated, at least for about three seconds, by the fact that Ana is a virgin, but it’s not long before he relieves her of that burden, and then shows her around his highly-appointed “playroom.” Ana is in the age group of people who can’t remember never being online, and yet literally everything he introduces her to here comes as a complete shock. There’s naive inexperience, and then there’s just unrealistic to the point you can’t suspend your disbelief, even if you’re suspended upside down while wearing leather underwear.

Christian is in the power position in this “relationship” — that’s not a word he believes in — in every conceivable way: man vs. woman, wealthy vs. new college graduate, sexually experienced vs virgin. And yet, Ana doesn’t just roll over for Grey — whether out of a sense that coyness could help bind him to her or out of a legitimate need to assert herself, it was hard to say. But this reluctance of hers makes some sense, because frankly, Christian is a bit of a stiff, pun not at all intended. The man has literally no personality aside from imperious evasiveness, and there are only so many helicopter rides that are going to make up for that. As created by James, Christian was always little more than a stand-in for a certain twinkly vampire, and the film can’t really solve that fatal flaw. Star Jamie Dornan was no help. Dornan has received some praise for his work on the BBC show The Fall, but he brings nothing to Christian other that the sort of bland blandiness that usually spells “daytime soap” or “Lifetime Movie about a single dad who can’t buy Christmas presents for little Maddie.”

The second half of the movie seems to go on forever — if you’re bored watching two attractive people having sex, occasionally with the aid of floggers, restraints, and what appeared to be gymnastics apparatuses, the problem may not be with you! The repetitiveness becomes tiresome: the last hour seemed to be half chatter about that damned contract, and half scenes of Ana waking up in bed. The pattern becomes rote: Christian demands to “go there” with Ana; she pretends to resist, but only momentarily; she wants to know why she can’t touch him or sleep in the same bed with him; he bellows “BECAUSE THIS IS THE WAY I AM!” sounding more like Ed Sheeran in mid-whimper than some kind of badass dom. Seriously, from what I know of d/s relationships, and I assure you it ain’t much, he sure does seem to allow a lot of backtalk and negotiating. Christian’s age is an almost insurmountable barrier to this plot being taken seriously — he probably needed to be a good 15 years older, or at least not so damn boyish (think Last Tango in Paris here). As it stands, Christian is just the latest in a long cliched line of wounded bad boys.

The sheer romance-novel excess of the plot becomes comical after a while. Christian isn’t just rich, he’s a billionaire — despite being only 27, and despite the fact that he spends all his time following a college student around like an imprinted duckling instead of doing actual work. Ana’s roommate isn’t just smart, she’s a valedictorian. His parents and her mother are also, from what we can tell, very wealthy as well. Christian has somehow found the time in between whipping and chaining to learn how to fly a helicopter and play first-rate piano — he’s not a cuddler, so he spends his post-nookie time tinkling the ivories like the Quasimodo of Seattle.

As far as being even a semi-realistic depiction of this type of sexual relationship … uh … well … director Sam Taylor-Johnson was clearly limited by the need, which I assume was more in the nature of a demand, to bring Fifty Shades of Grey in with an R rating. Because of this, there were a few activities you might expect take place in a real-life Master-Slave thingie that we don’t see here, because they can’t really be depicted in a R.  Most of the nudity in the film comes from Ana, which I’ve seen plenty of grumbling about, especially considering both the book and the movie are told exclusively from her point of view. But if you’ve seen sex scenes in movies before, there won’t be a thing here you’re going to find transgressive — it’s more the sheer amount of the boinking rather than any particular boink. However, I didn’t come away really believing that Ana was a convert to being a submissive — it simply seemed that it was something she went along with because her first sex partner insisted on it.

Having said all this, Dakota Johnson acquits herself well. I wouldn’t call her the movie’s saving grace because it wasn’t saved, but she’s more than a doormat here. Whether she has a future in films that will require her to do more than bite her lip and get spanked is anyone’s guess, but she has much of the same “girl next door with edge” appeal her mother Melanie Griffith had thirty-something years ago. And it’s not easy or natural to spend this much of a movie unclothed.

Fifty Shades of Grey was the first book in a trilogy, but future films were to depend on the success of this one (notice there have not been any successors to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as of yet). That seems a sure thing now, thanks to all you filthy dirty people out there. But the uncertainty of a sequel prompted the film towards a definitive ending, rather than the “to be continued” ending popularized by the Twilight and Hunger Games sagas. That conclusion might not be what the usual consumers of fan fiction wanted to see, but it made logical sense here, and those who made the movie need to be applauded for that.

Now, if only they can dare to be less safe next time around.

The 2014 Emmys Liveblog

8:01: No opening “bit?”

8:04: Yeah, maybe we needed a bit. Seth Meyers is getting as many genuine laughs at the average 12:30 sketch on SNL.

8:06 He’s improving.

8:09: Getting the obvious winners out of the way with the obligatory Modern Family win for Best Supporting Actor. Ty Burrell is awesome, but the Academy is on autopilot with this particular award.

8:17: Louis wins the Comedy Writing Emmy for That Monologue. I’m going to do a bang-bang in his honor.

8:19: NBC can’t be happy that Jimmy Kimmel is upstaging their host right now.

8:21: Emmys love them some Allison Janney. Imagine if she was on a show people watched. (In all seriousness, Mom is pretty good. Amazing she now has more wins for this show than Neil Patrick Harris ever got for playing Barney.)

8:30: Well, after that weird Allison Janney interlude, we’re back to honoring Modern Goddam Family.

8:35 Thanks to Billy Eichner for waking folks up after Gail Mancuso forgot she was a director and did weird-ass improv up there.

8:38: Jim Parsons says he doesn’t believe he won Best Actor in a Comedy? Dude, Taylor Swift thinks you’re insincere.

8:44 Julia Louis-Dreyfus wins yet again; while Amy Poehler is way overdue, this is a hard one to argue. Bryan Cranston becomes the latest to upstage Meyers with that kiss.

8:47 The Amazing Race wins again? Right?

8;48 Right. Jesus, this is a dull night. And what’s with BVM saying he wasn’t expecting the win? TAR will win the Reality Competition Emmy ten years after it’s cancelled.

8:57: That bit with the audience asking dumb questions amused me, though I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it.

8:58: Sherlock wins the Movie/Miniseries writing Emmy, which I had just assumed would be Larry Kramer’s.

9:00: Kathy Bates wins for Supporting Actress for playing the occasionally disembodied villain on AHS: Coven. She has an Oscar, so it’s not as shocking a triumph over Julia Roberts as one may have thought.

9:06 Colbert might have been a little obscure for the room there.

9:08: Dang, Sherlock is cleaning up. Martin Freeman is good, though. All the nominees from The Normal Heart must have cancelled each other out, because Parsons had seemed like a big favorite.

9:10: Colin Bucksey (Fargo) wins for direction in a miniseries/movie. Good call; I thought that was the most impressive episode of a terrific season.

9:17: Seth and Amy, tossing off punchlines again like in the old days.

9:18: McConaughey and Harrelson: half-baked or totally baked?

9:20 Benedict cumberbatch continues the hella good night for Sherlock.

9:26: Jessica Lange, again. She’s totally slumming on AHS, but she never gives less than 100% and that’s important.

9:28: Weird Al doing lyrics to today’s lyric-less themes. I think this was a better idea in theory — in fact, it really had to be,

9:33: Fargo wins best Miniseries, and was the only logical choice. Not that logic has ever counted for much in Hollywood or with Hollywood awards.

9:39: Weird that Sherlock won the key “component” awards, but Emmy decided The Normal Heart was the Best Movie. What did I just say about logic?

9:41: Glad to see Larry Kramer is there — a prototypical outsider on the Emmy stage.

9:43: Ricky Gervais back where it all began, trying to salvage a sinking awards show with a mid-show bit.

9:45: Huh? Sarah Silverman winning up against that competition? I am stunned. (This was Writing for a Variety Special, not for Most Gratuitous Cleavage.)

9:52: Key and Peele with a protracted introduction of the accountants. I am so lost right now.

9:53: Oh great. Now they’re mad at the Internet! Wait till they read what we’re all saying.

9:54 The Emmy for directing a variety special goes to Glenn Weiss (the Tonys), who is also directing this show, for which he won’t win an Emmy in 2015. Unless it renames itself Sherlock.

9:56 Adam Levine reppin’ for weed! Not that it shows up in his music ever.

9:56 The Colbert Report may have permanently dethroned The Daily Show  — that’s two straight wins for Best Variety Show. And Jimmy Fallon is accepting for Colbert, as Colbert. Nice to see the current and future timeslot rivals getting along.

9:58: At least Gwen Stefani won’t be reading off cue cards on The Voice.

10:05: Well, the audience just cheered for Sofia Vergara’s butt. That was not a great idea.

10:08 Aaron Paul wins his third Emmy, even though Jesse had relatively little to do last season. Such is the awesomeness of Breaking Bad. And this was the big award I was least confident the show would win.

10:10 Bring out yer dead!

10:15 Startling to be reminded how many TV types have died in the last 12 months.

10:19 Billy Crystal remembers Robin Williams. A tough task well done. You could just run his talk show appearances for two hours and never not have a dull moment.

10:24: Cary Joji Fukunaga wins Best Director/Drama for True Detective, for that episode with the long-ass tracking shot.

10:26 Anna Gunn wins Best Supporting Actress again. Easy choice, really.

10:33 “Emmy winner Katherine Heigl.” Yes, this is something that happened.

10:34 The Emmy for drama writing goes to Moira Walley-Beckett for “Ozymandias,” the episode of Breaking Bad where all hell broke loose once and for all. Any one of about six BB eps could have won this.

10:38 Julianna Margulies wins Best Actress for a show airing on something called “CBS.” What’s that?

10:39: Seriously, on a night where so much has gone according to form, the voters deserve credit for noticing The Good Wife upping its quality.

10:46: Best Actor in a Drama — the great duel is won by Bryan Cranston. His Emmy win after the short, little-watched first Breaking Bad season really gave it a boost. BTW, is he in Chicago right now? What’s up with the ‘stache?

10:48 I notice that the supporting actor/drama nominees got short film clips, but no one else has, presumably because they’re long.

10:49: But damn, McConaughey and Harrelson were amazing. Let it not be forgot.

10:50: Modern Family wins Best Comedy, because of course. These voters haven’t turned a TV on since 2011, have they? 

10:56: One last Breaking Bad reunion, onstage at the Emmys after winning Best Drama for a second time in a row.

10:58: Eh, not a great telecast, but except for the weird blind spot having to do with all things Modern Family, the awards themselves weren’t that bad.

10:59: I’m going to do some meth to celebrate! Until next September!

 

Emmy Nominations Preview: Best Comedy And Best Drama

Emmy Nominations Preview: Best Comedy And Best Drama

And at last, a look at what comedies and dramas might be getting tapped by the Emmy wand when nominations are announced.

 

Best Comedy

Last Year’s WinnerModern Family

Last Year’s Other Nominees30 RockThe Big Bang TheoryGirlsLouieVeep

Changes From Last Year30 Rock ended its run. Given the lack of new comedies that both had staying power and any sort of critical praise, the holdover nominees in this category seem unusually safe.

Leading Contenders: Well, I’d begin with Modern Family, which has won this Emmy every season it has been on the air. Some grumble that it’s not what it used to be, and I am one of those grumblers, but is there any way it can totally fall out of the nomination race? No, there isn’t.

Both Girls and Veep have received nominations in each of their first two seasons, and both seem poised to repeat. Veep is probably in a slightly stronger position given the two Emmys for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Tony Hale joining her last year, but I don’t see Girls as especially vulnerable. Yet. The Big Bang Theory has been nominated three straight years, and its status as the biggest half-hour hit in captivity sure isn’t hurting it. Expect a repeat. And while Louie certainly had a controversial season, and one which just barely touched on “comedy,” Louis C.K. is a certifiable Emmy favorite and it would be stunning to see him bounced.

That leaves one spot, and the heavy favorite to fill it is Orange is the New Black, the first of the Netflix shows to really become a phenomenon from the bottom up — which is not to say lots of people are watching, because Netflix doesn’t reveal that info. My reservations about it stem mostly from its cast of near-unknowns. Brooklyn Nine-Nine comes from the producers of Parks and Recreation, and Emmy voters have been inexplicably immune to the charms of what has pretty clearly been the best comedy of the 2010s, all things considered. Nine-Nine would be the most likely beneficiary of Emmy resistance to Orange is the New Black

The reclassification of Shameless as a comedy could be the factor that allows it to get serious Emmy attention for the first time. I think the odds are against a nomination — some voters might consider the move to be pandering — but is it one of the six best shows in this field? I believe it is. The other shows that I can see getting a real look at slot #6 are the new HBO shows, Silicon Valley and Looking. I don’t know that either one had the buzz or the numbers that would point to a nomination, though.

PredictionsThe Big Bang TheoryGirlsLouie, Modern FamilyOrange is the New BlackVeep

 

Emmy-nomination-preview-true-detective-july-2014

Best Drama

Last Year’s WinnerBreaking Bad

Last Year’s Other NomineesDownton AbbeyGame of ThronesHomelandHouse of Cards, Mad Men

Changes Since Last Year:Everyone is back, though this will be the final time on the ballot for Breaking Bad, a four-time nominee that finally broke through with its first win in 2013.

Leading Contenders: Breaking Bad still seems like the most likely winner in this category, after a final run of eight episodes that met some of the highest expectations in television history — and turned the onetime niche show into a genuine hit for the first time. What’s strange is that Breaking Bad is the only show in the category I feel fully confident about — there are solid reasons to feel skeptical about all the other holdovers in the category.

Mad Men, for example, won the Emmy in this category four straight years, before slipping behind Homeland and Breaking Bad these last two. But it has been leaking awards momentum for a while now — its failure to get a single nomination for writing a year ago was a complete stunner — and it is only because its concluding couple of episodes were so strong that I’m listing it as likely to come back for a seventh straight year. I also expect Game of Thrones to go four-for-four in getting a Best Drama nod; its still-growing ratings make it difficult to ignore. And I think House of Cards will be back, despite a second season no one seemed enthusiastic about — just too much starpower associated with it.

I’m going to predict Homeland and Downton Abbey will be bounced (though I’m probably making a mistake in the case of Downton). Homeland has never been a true hit, and the potshots it took for its third season were truly withering. Downton Abbey has some of the same issues, though less severe — its advantage over Homeland is that its fanbase might still be growing.

After skipping a year in 2013 (following nominations in its first three seasons), look for The Good Wife to return to the field this season. What we saw this season was something extremely rare from a network show in its fifth year of life, one that has never had especially good ratings: increased buzz and respect. (I expect this slot for The Good Wife will wreck the chances of Scandal to be nominated; it’s hard to imagine a second major network show getting a nod in this day and age.)

I also look for True Detective to get nominated — and to be the subject of a lot of controversy, due to those who think it rightfully ought to be in the Movie/Miniseries category like American Horror Story and Fargo, two other “series” that do not have casts and storylines that recur from year to year. It’s hard to knock HBO for deliberately choosing the tougher road, though, since there’s no question True Detective would have laid waste to Movie/Miniseries. True, the ending didn’t quite live up to what came before, but with its two unforgettable leads and its uncanny sense of place, this is the one show that truly threatens Breaking Bad next month.

This will leave no spot, unfortunately, for The Americans, which had a better season than Mad Men or Game of Thrones; or for the intriguing Masters of Sex; or for the always interesting Justified (though this wasn’t its best season); or Boardwalk Empire, which is as good now as it was when it was nominated twice; or Dexter, which has been nominated several times before; or Hannibal, low-rated and often disgusting (that guy ripping out his full-body stitches … Jesus), but unlike anything else on the tube. But man, it’s a tough category. I’m just hoping for The Americans — everything else I can forgive.

PredictionsBreaking BadGame of ThronesThe Good WifeHouse of Cards, Mad MenTrue Detective

Emmy Nominations Preview: Lead Actors/Actresses

Emmy Nominations Preview: Lead Actors/Actresses

 Continuing my preview of the pending Emmy nominations with a look at the lead actor and actress categories. Cue your outrage.

 

Best Actress: Comedy

Last Year’s Winner: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep

Last Year’s Other Nominees: Laura Dern, Enlightened; Lena Dunham, Girls; Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie; Tina Fey, 30 Rock; Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

Changes Since Last Year: Dern’s and Fey’s shows were disappeared, so we’re guaranteed to have a little turnover.

Leading Contenders: Louis-Dreyfus seems like a safe place to begin, given that she has been nominated for an Emmy in 14 of the last 15 years she’s had a regular series gig (the only year she missed was her one season on Watching Ellie, which I bet none of you even remember. She’s a solid favorite to win again, if not prohibitive. The other returning nominees all seem likely to repeat. Dunham’s show is more polarizing than ever, but there’s little sign that the Hollywood creative community is sick of her. Poehler is the one person associated with Parks and Recreation that the Emmys will even acknowledge exists, so she’s safe too. Falco might not be quite as convincing a lock, given that Nurse Jackie is virtually buzz-less at this point. But she has four straight nominations with one win, and like Louis-Dreyfus, there seems to be a sense that if Falco has a show on the air, it’s more or less obligatory she get nominated. True,it’s neither a funny part nor a funny show, but that hasn’t stopped the Emmys so far.

That leaves two spots, and one of them is very likely to be filled by Taylor Schilling, protagonist of sorts on Orange is the New Black. The virtual unknown has received respectful reviews, and while she didn’t get a Golden Globes nomination, the Globes also regarded OITNB as a drama, so it was a much tougher field.

That sixth nomination is harder to predict. There are four former nominees in this category whose shows were still airing last season: Lea Michele, Zooey Deschanel, Martha Plimpton, and Melissa McCarthy. Of these four, McCarthy is probably the most likely to return, since she’s a former winner (in 2011). There’s the small matter, however, of people  possibly not realizing Mike and Molly is still on the air.

Other than Schilling, it’s hard to come up with plausible nominees from new series, save for Anna Faris on Mom, who is likely to get some benefit from acting opposite likely Supporting nominee Allison Janney. Also, CBS Monday night comedies have done surprisingly well over the year when it comes to nabbing nominations. This is also the place to mention Emmy Rossum, who has spent the four seasons of Shameless doing some of the best work on television. She’s never really been pushed by Showtime or the critical community, though, and she and the show have been completely ignored. But Shameless has now been reclassified as a comedy — it’s at least as funny as Nurse Jackie — and this just might give Rossum the break she’s been looking for.

Predictions: Dunham, Falco, Louis-Dreyfus, McCarthy, Poehler, Schilling.

 

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Best Actor: Comedy

Last Year’s Winner: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

Last Year’s Other Nominees: Jason Bateman, Arrested Development; Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock; Louis C.K; Louie; Don Cheadle, House of Lies; Matt LeBlanc, Episodes

Changes Since Last Year30 Rock ended its run, and Arrested Development didn’t have new episodes in the eligibility period, so there’s a little turnover here too. And man, is this a weak field. No disrespect to LeBlanc, but the fact that Episodes gets serious Emmy attention proves that this is not a Golden Age of the Sitcom.

Leading Contenders: Having said that, Parsons is really, really good, fully deserving of his copious Emmy love (five straight nominations in this category, with three wins). He’s safely back in the field. The other three holdovers — Louis C.K., Cheadle, and LeBlanc — have each been nominated every year their shows have been on the air (three for Louis, two for the others), and seem likely to repeat if for no other reason than inertia. Louis has just been through what was clearly the most polarizing season in the run of Louie, but it’s hard to imagine that working against him. 

A fifth nomination slot seems practically gift-wrapped for Andy Samberg, the surprise Golden Globe winner for his work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He’s basically just doing his familiar shtick here, but the show is always entertaining and frequently hilarious. He might have to carry the load on Emmy night for an excellent supporting cast and writing staff that is less likely to be acknowledged.

The sixth spot is a tough one. William H. Macy, moving over from drama with the rest of the Shameless gang, is certain to get more attention here than he ever did competing against Bryan Cranston and Damian Lewis. I haven’t always been a fan of the way Macy has chosen to portray Frank Gallagher, but he’s a certifiable Big Name in a category lacking in obvious nominees. Two other Names have to be mentioned here too, even though their shows won’t come back for a second season: Michael J. Fox (The Michael J. Fox Show) and Robin Wiliams (The Crazy Ones).

You can never count out HBO, so Jonathan Groff could sneak into the field, despite the lack of boffo ratings for the first season of Looking. And remember those zany years that Johnny Galecki got nominated for The Big Bang Theory, and Jon Cryer actually won for Two and a Half Men? Both those shows are still on, you know. Finally, the academy might give in to sentiment and nominate David Duchovny for the last season of Californication HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA OMG I knew I couldn’t get through that with a straight face.

Predictions: Louis C.K., Cheadle, LeBlanc, Parsons, Samberg, Williams

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Best Actor: Drama

Last Year’s Winner: Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom, and no, it still doesn’t make a damn bit of sense

Last Year’s Other Nominees: Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey; Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad; Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Damian Lewis, Homeland; Kevin Spacey, House of Lies

Changes From Last Year: All the nominees are back this year, though Lewis was a greatly diminished presence on Homeland, something that really should have an impact on his nomination chances in what is shaping up as an unusually brutal year, even given that this is traditionally the toughest of all acting categories.

Leading Contenders: You have to start with Cranston, who had already given one of the most indelible performances in television history, and most honored in Emmy history, before the stunning last half-season of Breaking Bad (interesting, however, that he is now four years removed from his last win in the category).This may have been his greatest work ever — ironic that the brilliant “Granite State” aired opposite last year’s Emmys, which featured Cranston somehow losing — but he’s not a lock, and may not even be the favorite, because …

… HBO decided to submit True Detective in the Drama Series category, rather than as a miniseries a la American Horror Story and Fargo. That brings Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson into the mix, which is bad news for everyone else in this loaded category, even the mighty Cranston. McConaughey’s Oscar campaign more or less coincided with the airing of True Detective, but a nomination for him wouldn’t be just another case of the Emmys falling over themselves to honor a film star who lowered himself to do TV — this was a role and a performance that became iconic in a mater of a few weeks. The question here is whether Harrelson will get to join in the nomination fun, and I think he will. In many ways, he had the tougher of the two roles, in that he was hiding a lot more– he didn’t announce himself as a weirdo instantly Harrelson and McConaughey went toe-to-toe for eight episodes, and it would be silly to nominate one and not the other.

Hamm and Spacey seem likely to return, though both their shows got increasingly mixed reviews. In particular, Mad Men is clearly losing Emmy momentum after seven years. But while at least two holdovers will have to go to make room for Woody and Wooderson, I don’t see it being either of these two. Bonneville comes from a series that has also been waning a bit in critical appeal, and Grantham isn’t nearly as important to Downton Abbey as Don Draper is to Mad Men. I suspect he’s out, and I imagine Lewis is also, after a Homeland season where he simply wasn’t around much. You hate to count Lewis out completely after two nominations and one win, but it’s a numbers game.

Might Daniels get nominated again, despite the disdain his win last year received? I don’t see why not: the voters obviously respond to “name” stars delivering Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue. If the voters liked him well enough last year to actually give him the win, and he came back this past season doing the exact same stuff, how does he drop out? He probably doesn’t, right?

But let’s look at some of the people we have to leave on the sideline in this scenario:

  • James Spader, who won three Emmys in a four-year stretch for playing the same guy on The Practice and Boston Legal, and is basically the only thing that makes The Blacklist watchable
  • Matthew Rhys, who brilliantly depicted his character’s fraying psyche in Season 2 of The Americans, which is now clearly one of the best shows on television
  • Michael C. Hall, nominated five times for Dexter — granted, everyone hated the final season
  • The new guys from Showtime: Liev Schreiber in Ray Donovan and Michael Sheen in Masters of Sex
  • Steve Buscemi, nominated twice before for Boardwalk Empire

I tell ya, it’s a brutal, brutal existence.

Predictions: Cranston, Daniels, Hamm, Harrelson, McConaughey, Spacey

 

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Best Actress: Drama

Last Year’s Winner: Claire Danes, Homeland

Last Year’s Other Nominees: Connie Britton, Nashville; Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey; Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel; Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men; Kerry Washington, Scandal; Robin Wright, House of Cards

Changes Since Last Year: None, which is certainly bad news for the voters, especially given that there seven nominees in 2013 rather than the usual six,

Leading Contenders: There’s a sense that the waning critical love for Homeland likely won’t rub off on Danes, and certainly not to the point where she’s at risk of not being nominated. But it was certainly interesting that she went totally unnoticed by the Golden Globes this past year, after having won the previous two. So there’s the slightest little warning sign. The person who did win that Globe was Wright, and there’s a growing sense that House of Cards is giving her the best role in what has been (partially by choice) an uneven career. She might even be a safer bet to be re-nominated than her co-star Kevin Spacey, who merely has two Oscars.

Moss and Washington have to be strong bets to be re-nominated. The main thing working against Moss is the brevity of this past Mad Men season, which seemed to leave every character but Don Draper underserviced. But Peggy had huge moments near the end of the season, and I think that will mean a sixth nomination in this role (both here and as a supporting actress). Washington and her amazing expanding uterus had another solid year on Scandal; the lurid goings-on need her to ground everything. 

Julianna Margulies had never not been nominated for any season of ER or The Good Wife in which she appeared ….until last year. Typically that loss of momentum would be curtains for ever coming back (as seems to be the case for Mariska Hargitay, nominated eight times for Law & Order: SVU, but not since 2011), but then The Good Wife changed things up, killed off folks, and had its most buzzed-about season ever, almost on a Scandal level. I would be surprised if she’s not able to come back.

Needless to say, it’s going to be tough for holdover nominees Britton, Dockery, and Farmiga to put in a return appearance. Dockery is hampered by the size of her ensemble cast, and Britton by the fact that Nashville is basically just a soap, albeit one she elevates (she’s been nominated for three different shows the previous three years, which ain’t easy).I don’t think the voters will be able to find room again this year for Farmiga, but I kind of hope they can manage, because she’s done an amazing job making an objectively terrible person and mother seem almost pitiable. If the voters see the episode where she belted out “Maybe This Time,” she’s going to be hard to keep out of the final 6/7.

Among those in new series or who haven’t been nominated before, the best chance of breaking through likely belongs to Lizzy Caplan from Masters of Sex. She’s the only major contender who has had to play any scenes naked, and acting opposite Michael Sheen’s cold fish of a character is a particular challenge. Keri Russell continues her fine work on The Americans, but it’s hard to pick her for a nomination without solid evidence that the Emmys are aware of the show. That’s the same problem faced by Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black, who is being asked to do things that aren’t being asked of any other actor on television. Her receiving a Golden Globe nomination might be a sign of changing times.

Predictions: Caplan, Danes, Margulies, Moss, Washington, Wright.

Emmy Nominations Preview: The Supporting Acting Categories

Emmy Nominations Preview: The Supporting Acting Categories

 

 Yes, I am writing again. It’s been a disruptive first half of 2014, but the impending Emmy nominations (Thursday) has shaken me out of my slumber.

I’m going to start off my preview of some of the major categories with a look at the supporting acting awards, for both men and women and for both drama and comedy.

 

 

Best Supporting Actor: Comedy

Last Year’s Winner: Tony Hale, Veep

Last Year’s Other Nominees: Ty Burrell, Modern Family; Adam Driver, Girls; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family; Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live; Ed O’Neill, Modern Family

Changes Since Last Year: Hader is no longer on SNL. And no, this probably doesn’t mean there’s finally room for Nick Offerman.

Leading ContendersModern Family is now clearly past its ratings peak, but I’ve gotten tired of predicting that the Emmy community will surely begin to spread the wealth one of these years, In fact, with the end of 30 Rock and the decline of former contenders like How I Met Your Mother (it’s now four years removed from the last nomination for Neil Patrick Harris), it’s possible that ABC’s 800-pound gorilla is poundier than ever when it comes to this category (fourteen out of a possible 24 nominations over the last four years).

Modern Family has landed nominations for all four of its adult male stars twice, in 2011 and 2012. Burrell and Ferguson, the only two actors who have never skipped a year, seem like the safest bets to return; and Eric Stonestreet, a two-time winner, could have an advantage over O’Neill.

Could Hale go from having no nomination after the premiere season of Veep  to winning the Emmy to having no nomination again? It could happen, despite the overall weakness of the category. A problem is that Gary was more peripheral this season; a bigger issue is that Timothy C. Simons’s Jonah simply got a lot more laughs. There’s also the matter of Hale not getting any bounce from Arrested Development  this time around. 

I have some doubts that the Emmys are going to rally round Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The academy hasn’t always been kind to Fox’s live action comedies, and it has almost totally ignored Mike Schur’s previous series, Parks and Recreation (see the Offerman comment above). But Andre Braugher has had a knack for getting nominations for shows that were little-watched (Homicide, Gideon’s CrossingMen of a Certain Age — but not The Last Resort; he’s not a miracle worker, after all), and I expect that his deadpan, and his awesome hair in the flashbacks, will land him a nod — and who knows, a possible win if the Modern Family dudes cancel each other out.

Predictions: Braugher, Burrell, Driver, Ferguson, Hale, Stonestreet

 

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Best Supporting Actress: Comedy

Last Year’s Winner: Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie

Last Year’s Other Nominees: Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory; Julie Bowen, Modern Family; Anna Chlumsky, Veep; Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock; Jane Lynch, Glee; Sofia Vergara, Modern Family.

Changes Since Last Year: The end of 30 Rock eliminates Krakowski, which is just as well since there were seven nominees a year ago, and there’s substantial new competition on the horizon (waves at Netflix).

Leading Contenders: Let’s start with Bowen and Vergara. Two-time winner and four-time nominee Bowen is probably the field’s safest lock, but I always have a sense that Vergara is more vulnerable than the other adults on Modern Family. She’s probably never again going to have as good a storyline as the one that didn’t get her a trophy last year (the pregnancy), and this is a category prone to surprise nominations and even wins. I sense she is vulnerable.

Wever has always been the comic heart of Nurse Jackie, but she didn’t get her first nomination until 2012, and her win a year ago (complete with hilarious acceptance speech) came totally out of the blue. The show’s profile has waned, but this has been the case for a while and she still pulled out a victory, so expect a return trip. Also likely safe is Bialik. For some reason, Emmy voters have decided that only she and Jim Parsons are worth nominating from TV’s top comedy, and I expect that’s going to continue.

The outlook is cloudier for Lynch and Chlumsky, the other holdover nominees from a year ago. Lynch’s problem is that no one at the academy even recalls Glee is still on the air, and from what I saw of last season, Sue Sylvester isn’t all that funny anymore. Chlumsky is helped by being the one female supporting character on Veep, and like all of her co-stars, she has her share of memorable NSFW dialogue. But in the absence of a true showcase episode, I think she’s going to be aced out by all the new competition.

A significant part of that competition comes from Allison Janney, of Mom. This would not ordinarily be an Emmy-bait kind of show, but Janney has three things in her favor: her boatload of wins for The West Wing; the fact that she plays against the type she established on that show; and the Very-Special-Episodey-ness of much of the first season. If Mom had somehow made it onto Showtime, where voters are accustomed to seeking out dramadies, I think Janney would be an airtight lock, but she’s still a reasonably safe bet.

That leaves Orange is the New Black, a woman-dominated series that has four of its actresses seeking nominations in this category. The kudos for House of Cards last year seemed to have answered doubts about whether the academy would consider Netflix “television,” and the release of OITNB Season 2 as ballots were going out certainly couldn’t have hurt. My guess is that Kate Mulgrew has the best chance of breaking through: thanks to Star Trek: Voyager, she’s the most familiar face in the cast; and it’s a pretty flamboyant part.

Predictions: Bialik, Bowen, Janney, Mulgrew, Vergara, Wever.

 

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Best Supporting Actress: Drama

Last Year’s Winner: Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad

Last Year’s Other Nominees: Morena Baccarin, Homeland; Christine Baranski, The Good Wife; Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones; Christina Hendricks, Mad Men; Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey

Changes Since Last Year: Everybody is back, but this is a weird category nonetheless. Two of the actresses, Gunn and Hendricks, were in shows that aired seasons of eight and seven episodes, respectively; Baccarin is still submitting in this category even though the storyline for her character was infinitesimal. And Smith and Clarke are part of sprawling casts where it’s easy to get lost — well OK, Maggie Smith doesn’t really get lost, ever.

Leading Contenders: While it seems strange to say this about someone who had to wait a good long while before her first nomination (following Breaking Bad Season 4), Gunn may be the single biggest favorite to win in any acting field. No one in this category had a showcase remotely resembling her work in “Ozymandias,” the most talked-about television episode of this past season. Maggie Smith will keep getting nominations here (and not showing up for the awards themselves) as long as Downton Abbey is on the air, and possibly beyond. A third lock is Baranski; the general rule is that if she’s working, she’s getting an Emmy nomination (11 in her past), and she was central to the machinations on The Good Wife as never before. 

Hendricks is something of a rote nomination at this point (four straight years), but she was hardly central to the goings-on during this past season of Mad Men — a problem, I might add, that extends to every actor on the show not named Jon Hamm, due to the brevity of the half-season. There’s also the undeniable fact that the show has been losing luster when it comes to the Emmys. She’s not a sure thing. Clarke may be more apt to get a nod, given that the profile of Game of Thrones is still on the rise. But Dany had little to do in Season 4, and wasn’t especially sympathetic when she did it. At some point the deep thinkers decided that Clarke was going to be the showcase female from GoT, but Michelle Fairley (jn years past), and Sophie Turner/Lena Headey (this season) have given more vital performances.

Assuming there’s no way Baccarin returns in this category, who might replace her? Betsy Brandt has never been nominated for playing Marie on Breaking Bad, and I don’t really see it this time around either, but she had some key emotional scenes and she can’t be discounted. The higher profile for The Good Wife could work to the benefit of Archie Panjabi, a three-time nominee who won four years ago. While it’s rare that any network show other than Panjabi’s gets serious Emmy drama consideration these days, the still growing profile for Scandal could work to the benefit of Bellamy Young, who like many of her co-stars gets to chew a lot of scenery.

Two actresses from new series deserve mention. I suspect the drama field is going to be too crowded for anyone from Masters of Sex to break through, but if I’m wrong, Caitlin Fitzgerald could have a real shot. But I think Michelle Monaghan probably has a better chance for her work (brief though it was) on True Detective. The male leads got all the attention, but as the only significant female character on the show, Monaghan couldn’t help but stand out a little.

 

Predictions: Baranski, Clarke, Gunn, Headey, Monaghan, Smith.

 

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Best Supporting Actor: Drama

Last Year’s Winner: Bobby CannavaleBoardwalk Empire

Last Year’s Other Nominees: Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad; Jim Carter, Downton Abbey; Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones; Mandy Patinkin, Homeland; Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad

Changes Since Last Year: Banks’s character was memorably “sent to Belize” on Breaking Bad, and Cannavale won’t have the chance to defend his Emmy for the same reason.

Leading Contenders: This is a curious category, because with the exception of Paul and I suppose Dinklage (four and three past nominations, respectively), it’s never easy to guess which ensemble roles are going to click with the voters. I’m still not sure how Carter has managed to stand out in the sprawling Downton Abbey cast, or why John Slattery stopped getting nominations for Mad Men, or why Cannavale struck such a chord last season, even though Boardwalk Empire has had trouble getting attention for its actors not named Steve Buscemi.

Even though Paul and Dinklage spent large portions of their past seasons in captivity, both actors had individual moments (Paul’s reaction to the murder of his former girlfriend; Dinklage’s bitter courtroom monologue) that guarantee both will need a tux again this year. And even though he’s never been nominated before, I’m going to throw in Paul’s former co-star Dean Norris as a fellow lock. Hank Schrader began Breaking Bad as a virtual buffoon, but the final half-season saw the end of his long struggle to figure out who was making the blue meth — and also the end of his life, which as Cannavale could tell you is never a bad thing for awards season. Norris has not had many great roles over the years (witness Under the Dome, or better yet, don’t), so I hope his work was not ignored.

Patinkin is still doing excellent work on Homeland, even though critics have mostly moved on from the show itself; he’ll probably get a second straight nomination. So I’m pretty sure about four. The other two are tough.

There’s a sense out there that Jon Voight is likely to get a nod for Ray Donovan, and yes, he did win a Golden Globe. The Emmys don’t care much about the TV Globes and vice versa, but it says something that he was noticed even though he gave a typically late-period Voight-y performance, and even though the show wasn’t a huge hit. Charles Dance has always done a wonderful job of making the amoral Tywin seem highly reasonable on Game of Thrones, and while I wouldn’t want to ruin things for the unspoiled, let’s just say he’s nominated this year or never.

Speaking of which: Josh Charles has been nominated just once in the run of The Good Wife, and that was three years ago. It’s rare that actors and roles regain favor with the academy after dropping off the radar, but I suspect the way his storyline ended attracted enough chatter that he could be the exception. Finally, I should probably mention Jeffrey Wright, who could inherit the Boardwalk Empire slot vacated by Cannavale. My suspicion is that there’s just too much talent on the show for the voters to unite behind one performance (there are an insane nine people on the ballot from Boardwalk Empire in just this category).

Predictions: Charles, Dinklage, Norris, Patinkin, Paul, Voight.

The ‘Too Close’ Olympics

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The Season 13 version of Group Hysteria on American Idol offered few of the highlights of previous years. There were a few highly touted prospects who were left by the wayside, but there weren’t as many cuts as usual. There was no one group that was so amazing we’ll be talking about them for years, and I’m not sure anyone we weren’t already pretty well sold on really came to the fore. There was drama, but a lot of it happened offstage. If the episode was auditioning, it would have gotten a “not your best effort today” from Harsh Charlie. Still, even a lackluster Group Night has its wicked appeal.

The hour begins with a welcome reminder of Group Rounds past. Ah, the unhappy memories. Even Phillip Phillips, Candice Glover, and Scotty McCreery (who was famously dissed when trying to find a group to take him in) had their struggles! I can’t get enough of that one Brittenum brother in Season 5 with his “I. Don’t. Do. Groups!” pronouncement.

Fortunately for lovers of Idol drama, this bunch looks to have numerous potential train wrecks. Ryan Seacrest even informs us that “many groups who clicked the previous evening are quickly finding the harmony is short-lived.” Hooray! Emmanuel Zidor is openly hoping his chances are not sunk by someone who sucks; I’ve heard the guy and I am sure his group-mates are thinking the same about him.

The first group to go is called Three Mo’ Days, a name possibly having to do with the  fact that its members — Sarina Joi Crowe, Tony Foster Jr., and David Oliver Willis — have all been to Hollywood before. David even made it to the top 40 last year, and thus takes advantage of a rule change that allows someone who gets to a voting round to try out for Idol again, as long as they haven’t reached the single-elimination finals. They seem loose and confident ahead of time, but David also believes they will be judged more closely because they’re veterans. The three black singers upend expectations slightly by doing the modern rock “Too Close,” and it’s a little ragged in spots, albeit with some good harmonies. One thing they do here is something I’ve suggested before: basically ignoring choreography on the grounds that no one really cares, or will be cut because they can’t dance.

Jennifer Lopez says she loved the harmonies, but notes that there wasn’t much stage presence — which means I may have been wrong above. After announcing that about half the singers will be cut in the round (there are 104 left), the verdict is in: Tony is out, while Sarina Joi and David stay. Tony asks, not in anger, if he can have a reason why he was cut; J-Lo answers in generalities but Harry Connick gives him a specific critique: the performance was too introverted and he spent too much time staring at the floor. Tony seems satisfied to have had an actual reason, though it’s obvious he’s disappointed, and even wondering if he made a mistake partnering up with two very good singers (thus making it less likely he’d survive if the judges were reluctant to keep all three).

Next up is the three Southerners with country leanings who make up the “Backstreet Cowboys,” Casey Thrasher, Ben Briley, and Dexter Roberts, all attired in unflattering plaid. Their gimmick was in doing an actual Backstreet Boys song, “I Want it That Way,” and it worked out wonderfully since the judges were completely in the tank. Truthfully, though, it wasn’t very good, with all the guys sounding unpleasantly nasal and Ben throwing in runs for some reason. They were fortunate that none of them had Tony’s problem, but in the long run, these three are all natural competitors, so it will be interesting to see who the last one standing will be.

Several of our “favorites,” as Ryan likes to call people we’ve seen in the auditions, are namechecked quickly in the ensuing segment. Neco Starr, who sang Bruno Mars in his hangar performance, is part of a group singing “Treasure” along with the possibly superior George Lovett. It’s solid and the group seemes drama-free and well-rehearsed. Paula Hunt, the Air Force vocalist, has a much more youthful image now than when she auditioned; she and Andrina Brogden lend an edge to The Band Perry’s “Done.” M.K. Nobilette, who had so much trouble finding a group to stick with, did O.K. with “Royals,” but one of her co-singers, Briana Oakley, seemed to choke a bit, putting ill-advised runs into the tune. Don’t force it, Briana! This shouldn’t be hard for you.

The two of them, the unnamed other girl in the group, Andrina, Paula, Neco, and George all moved ahead in the competition; as did three others we didn’t hear sing at all: Brandy Neelly, Kenzie Hall, and Emily Piriz. One of Emily’s partners was Jesse Cline, and he’s still in it as well.

Hottie McHotterson Spencer Lloyd has wound up partnered with Megan Miller, who we haven’t heard from since her audition; and Alyssa Siebken, who sang in the hangar. Spencer steered the others into choosing a song he already knew, “Best I Ever Had” by Gavin DeGraw. It’s a little wordy and not exactly “Royals” when it comes to ubiquity, so the ladies needed rehearsal time (recall Alyssa complaining the previous show about certain people not wanting to practice with her?) that Spencer was unwilling to provide. When it came time to perform, the results were predictable: Spencer sounded assured, Megan completely blanked on her verse, and while Alyssa was a little better on recall, she just looked annoyed even as she was singing.

Megan remembered enough to pull out some big notes on the last bit of harmony, which may have been key for her. After Jennifer told Megan not to cry (she already was), she chided the group members for not trying to help each other. Alyssa insisted they had actually gotten better, which probably didn’t help. Keith Urban told them that one thing th group round measured was how you can stand out in the midst of chaos, which might explain why Megan and Spencer were spared, while Alyssa got cut. She didn’t take the news well at all, suggesting that “hidden agendas” were at work. Megan, for her part, said truthfully, “Thank you Jesus — I did not deserve that.”

Several others we’re familiar with who fell in groups are mentioned at this point: Madisen Walker, who really needs more time to develop into something other than a Carrie Underwood imitator;  Stephanie Petronelli, who still has the New England Patriots; Austin Precario, whose mom will be glad to see him again; and Adam Roth, who has the sound healing to fall back on. Also leaving is Keith London, who made Idol history of sorts with the most frank acknowledgement of one’s homosexuality the show has ever had, not that that’s saying a lot.

Tiquila Wilson didn’t even make it to her group performance. She came onstage to tell the judges that she had decided her heart was in singing gospel, so she was leaving of her own volition. I guess Harry’s question about whether her congregation would be happy with her singing secular music hit a nerve? At this point, Harry joked that he was leaving american Idol because he doesn’t like the other judges, and flipped the panel off as he was walking offstage. Don’t tease us like that, Connick! You’ve been a solid addition.

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Will the saga of Matthew Hamel have a happy ending? He went searching for a new group overnight when one member got too sick to perform and Jessica Meuse got sick of him. He wound up in a more chill pack, the Freedom Breathers , with Tyler Ahlgren, C.J. Harris, and Caleb Johnson. They might have been a little too chill. Tyler started out singing “Too Close” with the famous lyrics, “I don’t know the words ’cause I forgot them/But I’m gonna keep singing for y’all.” Mathew did a little better, though he was mumbly in some areas, possibly due to words he didn’t know either. Only Caleb, who had a mike stand befitting his front-man-of-a-band-in-1976 look, really stood out in any way.

Harry cited an old bit of Henry Mancini wisdom when he called Caleb “next to closing,” i.e., really good. He said C.J. wasn’t at his best, but was still way better than Tyler and Matthew, who he claimed made a smart move leading into Caleb and C.J. instead of following them: “You couldn’t hang with them today.” Tyler took the news of his ouster in stride, but Matthew wasn’t pleased, insisting he had “killed it.” Score one for Jessica’s good judgment.

Now, it’s  a return to the drama that broke out at the end of the previous episode. The group Clarity — Munfarid Zaidi, allie Odom, and Jena Asciutto — is hanging around and not even rehearsing, waiting to see if the under-the-weather fourth member of the group, Sikenya Thompson, will be able to make it or not. She had talked about asking for a day off to rest her voice and body, but that obviously can’t happen. Finally, by midafternoon, Sikenya looks and sounds a little better, and is ready to rejoin society. To the camera, she claims she doesn’t care if the others will be mad at her, but they all seem happy to see each other again anyway.

Before they begin, Sikenya mentions having been sick, which Harry suggests wasn’t a good idea to admit. When she tries to answer, Munfarid steps in so that she won’t strain her voice, and vouches for her having really been in distress, which is nice of him and possibly good for all of them. When the song begins — another damn  version of “Too Close” — Jena sounds great, while Sikenya sounds …fair. Not to mention she blanks on the words here and there. But the judges give her  props for both showing up to begin with, and for not giving up when she ran into problems n the lyrics. For reasons I didn’t quite get, Allie is the one leaving out of this quartet. Maybe she needed the flu? Sikenya came up to hug J-Lo (with Harry joking he didn’t want to catch what she has), while she tried to soften the blow to Allie by saying she would get her front-row seats for the tour. Something every just-cut singer wants to hear!

The four Austin auditioners who teamed up after the solos seemed like an unbeatable group, but John Fox, who was singled out for special attention in that episode, was so clunky on “Royals” yhat they basically had no choice but to bounce him, with Harry saying, correctly, that it’s hard to see how he can possibly get more comfortable. Colleague Savion Wright, still reeling from the recent death of his brother, is inconsolable afterwards.

It’s time, at long last, for the end of the saga of Jessica Meuse. I think circumstances have borne out that she may have been in the right when it came to her dissing of Matthew Hamel, but she’s not helping herself by continuing to be snippy regarding the new group that took her in late. Her issues with the buttinski-ness of the mom of Stephanie Hanvey are ongoing. Before they begin performing, Jessica admits she’s “kinda struggling” with the song due to her joining the group so late, which sounds like a cop-out ahead of time. Stephanie and Nica Nishae graciously say that Jessica has been a great addition, and off we go.

The song is “Single Ladies” — really Jessica? You don’t know this song at all? Nica is very good, Stephanie is energetic but a little garbled, and Cara Watson is decent. Jessica doesn’t seem to be contributing to the harmonies, and when it’s time for her solo, she ends up relying on the others to cover for her (especially Nica, who must be a great person outside of Idol). Jennifer winces at the solo, but Jessica seems a little more comfortable by the end, and she at least covered her agony like a pro. Stephanie’s mom is confident.  After Jennifer praises the girls for looking out for each other, and Jessica in particular for hanging in there, it’s judgment time: Nica, Cara, and Jessica get to stay; while Stephanie is leaving.

Momma calls out from the audience that Stephanie is great, and a future superstar, while Harry tries to soften the blow by saying everyone getting cut at this stage is really very talented. The good feelings are about to end. Offstage, the mom says that the judges didn’t see what happened behind the scenes, and the bad attitude Jessica brought in. She also dings her for not learning the lyrics, which is hard to deny. Jessica sticks up for her effort and walks away, claiming later that “drama follows me everywhere!” Stephanie is prevented from giving her full final statement because her overbearing mother doesn’t want her to cry on camera, but she’s probably on to something with her appraisal of Jessica’s chances going forward: “America’s not gonna pick her.” I think she’s really promising in her own genre, but it’s true, she’s probably mud with the voters now.

Two groups left! Love’s Angels had the drama surrounding the weird behavior of Terrica Curry, who wandered back to her room without giving a reason and basically had to be coaxed into coming back. The bad news here is that the song choice, “Say My Name,” fit the sensibility of Emmanuel Zidor almost to a T, but not so much Terrica or Carmen Delgina. Terrica in particular sounded both flat and too slow throughout. There was decent harmony at the end, but all in all it was a mess. Harry dinged them for picking a bad song with no melody (no comment), but said that Emmanuel at least had the potential to be something special. So he survives.

The sight of Malaya Watson’s stretching means that it’s almost time for our last act of the night, Loud & Fierce. These four had trouble with lyric retention and Olivia Diamond’s tendency to give loud obnoxious lectures. But in the ensuing few hours of rehearsal, it sounds like they nailed down “I Want You Back” pretty nicely, though Christina Collins to me was a bit shaky (did Michael Jackson put runs into the verse of this song? Why no, he did not). Malaya comes in for particular praise regarding her command of pitch. Jennifer scares them a bit by saying the performance contained “some good, some bad,” but all four — Olivia, Malaya, Christina, and Queen Bulls — end up advancing.

77 out of 104 survived the groups, which is a lot more than the half J-Lo said would make it. Maybe “the dreaded group round” has lost a little of its fearsomeness over the years?