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

Emmy-nominations-preview-spacey-house-of-cards-july-2014

 

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

 

Emmy-nominations-preview-kerry-washington-july-2014

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

 

Emmy-nominations-preview-oitnb-red-july-2014

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?

Hangman Is Comin’ Down To The Hangar And I Don’t Have Very Long

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“If you think you know Hollywood Week … think again!” said Ryan Seacrest at the outset of the first night of the process by which American Idol trims its successful auditioners down to a more manageable group for viewers to eventually start voting on.

But did we see a Hunger Games-style fight to the death? A game of HORSE? Did the contestants race with J-Lo’s luggage? Well, not really. Except for one element at the beginning of the night, the first night of Hollywood unfolded about the way we could have expected. Once again, we got reminders of the existence of some of the singers who seemed to get particular attention in the auditions (thought the major pimping jobs of the past were basically done away with in Season 13′s audition round — no Lazaros this time around), we heard from some folks who hadn’t really been featured before now but look like they might be worth remembering, others who looked like real contenders in their audition were dispatched with barely a notice, and some who seemed questionable all along enjoyed what proved to be a short visit to SoCal. Much shorter than ever before, in fact.

The night begins with shots of young hopefuls pulling their luggage through the snow, saying goodbye to their pets etc., as they prepare for the journey west (or south, in the case of singer/songwriter David Luning). everyone seems to arrive at LAX at about the same time — don’t ask me how — and are piled onto buses for the trip to their … oh wait. They’re not going to the hotel. They are being driven to an empty hangar. Is this some sort of joke? Are they about to be executed by Iranian spies who have cleverly been disguising themselves as Jennifer, Keith, and Harry all along? This might actually help those ratings!

The purpose of this hangar trip is a new round of the Hollywood process, though one which only applies to those the judges consider the most marginal ticket-holders. Certain contestants are going to have to sing for their lives in front of the judges, without having had any prep time or notice that anything would be expected of them today. (Some reports suggested that those singing in this round would be the singers who advanced to Hollywood by a 2-1 vote, but this was not said explicitly.) The 212 are seated, a judges’ table is put in place, and then the judges re-introduce themselves. Everyone stands and cheers. Oh yeah, now you’re cheering. Just you wait!

The judges spell out the rules of the day, with Harry Connick Jr. throwing in the news that there will be some cut as a result of their performance. The first one called forth is Johnny Newcomb from the Salt Lake audition, who the judges originally felt had been putting on an unnaturally gruff voice. he does “Pumped up Kicks” this time around — with guitar; I suppose all the guitar kids were allowed to retrieve their instruments for the occasion — and he’s better than the first time we heard him, though still a little faux-intense on the chours. Mostly, I’m just surprised Idol allowed someone to sing about a school shooting in primetime.

The judges aren’t going to be offering any comments to the singers, though they have plenty to say to each other. Harry’s succinct remark on Johnny is “I don’t feel like I want to see that,” but Keith sticks up for the caliber of his voice, if not his good judgment. Next up is Connor Zwetsch, a young woman I don’t recall seeing in Atlanta, who croaks out a version of the already croaky “Let Her Go.” There’s a flashback to Atlanta where Harry told her he doubted she had a strong enough voice; this time the judges all seem pleased. Ali Jane Handerson, yet another teen with a guitar, managed to impress despite hauling out the now-completely -cliched acoustic reinvention of Britney Spears’s “Toxic” (can it still be a “reinvention” if we’ve hard a billion versions of this on other shows?).

The first obvious, no-questions-asked disaster of the night came from statuesque teen Caitlin Johnson, who delivered a take on “Only Girl in the World” that was so bad, other contestants were agape. She admits to stage fright later, a small problem in a would-be American Idol. “I don’t know what we saw in her,” says Harry, who to be fair did vote against her in San Francisco. Well, I know what it was: she’s a hot blonde. A quick montage of three other overmatched contestants at least shows that Caitlin wasn’t the only one who couldn’t rise to the occasion.

Adam Roth, the “sound healer” from San Francisco, is next to perform. His yellow ticket seemed like a gimmick all along, so this ought to be where the ride ends, so to speak. He’s the first tonight to use a keyboard, and his effort on “Radioactive” reminds me why I didn’t really like him originally — the angsty bellow tapering down to a fey falsetto. topped off by a lot of off-key moaning at the end. Harry seemed peeved that Adam didn’t know the chord changes, and Keith Urban pointed out that he can barely play the piano. Jennifer, however, seemed ready to fight for him: “I feel like at least he has something going on!”

Tristen Langley is asked to sing next. The 15-year-old son of Season One contestant Nikki McKibbin probably needed that hook to be put through in Austin, and he sounds here pretty much like he did then — a nice kid who is at least several years away from truly being ready for this show. Like several singers so far, he admits to having been nervous, and it’s apparent that the judges’ whispers to each other after the performances are unnerving. Morgan Deplitch, the Boston teenager who put Harry in Dad Mode over her cover of the racy Grace Potter song “Paris (Ooh La La)” in her audition, completely tanks on Sara Bareilles’s “Brave.” Harry calls it “extraordinarily weak,” and the girl covers her face as if she knows how bad it was.

Stephanie Petronelli, the New England Patriors cheerleader, unwisely tries her hand at “Whipping Post,” a song she’s not remotely believable performing. A country crooner named Rich Lafleur is nasal and extremely nervous. His performance kind of peters out, and it seems to be what prompts Keith and Harry to interrupt the proceedings with a plea to please take this seriously and not phone it in. After having scared the hell out of everyone, Harry then grins and says, Good luck to the next contestant!” That next contestant is Eric Wood, the oil worker from the Boston auditions, who sounds appropriately impassioned on “She Talks to Angels.” Alyssa Siebken, whose Omaha audition won Harry’s disdain for her attempt to do an acoustic Waka Flocka Flame, is none too interesting trying to sing straight. Multi-year auditioner Neco Starr always sounds to me like a weaker version of about 20 other singers, but his take on Bruno Mars’s “Gorilla” showed off a little charisma.

The last of the 52 asked to sing in the hangar was Khristian D’avis from the Detroit auditions, she of the disappearing and reappearing accent. She’s enough of a character that I think she would have been OK had she shown anything at all, but her performance is really unpleasant with its exaggerated vibrato and little runs at the end of literally every line. “She’s like really into the sound of her own voice,” notes Keith.

At thus point, the judges dismiss the singers who were not asked to sing — they are safe, and will be taken to the hotel in order to prepare for their opening night. The judges pore over the other contestants and call out yeses and nos. Harry points to a photo of Khristian and simply says he’s changed his mind about her, which doesn’t sound good from my perspective. Finally, the 52 singers are put into two different groups, for two different buses: the lucky ones will head to the hotel, while those who failed will be taken right back to the airport ticket counter to head home. Everyone in the group with Caitlin Johnson — including Khristian, Tristen (whose mom is also there), Johnny Newcomb, and Rick Lafleur — has to feel pessimistic. The other group includes Neco, Eric Wood, Connor, Morgan (who was terrible), and M.K Nobilette, the butch singer from San Francisco who sounded like a soul mamma in her audition.

The buses leave separately. Caitlin is already in tears; she knows how badly she had done. But the main emotion is nervousness, since no one has been told yet which group is which. Those on the bus with Caitlin and Khristian  can see they are nowhere near Hollywood, and the signs for LAX soon confirm that they are heading back to high school or whatever coffeehouse they crawled out of to come to Idol. Caitlin is still making excuses for her nerves, when she ought to be thankful she wasn’t cut at the audition. Those on the other bus — only 20 of the 52 who sang at the hangar were kept, and amazingly, Matt Roth was one of them — are given the good news before they arrive at the hotel.

On to Day 2 in Hollywood for some, which is Day 1 for others. From here things go the way we’ve seen so many years in the past — the singers come out in groups of 10, one by one perform a song a cappella or with an instrument, the judges confer, and then cuts are made. Ryan Seacrest provides viewers with a little history lesson on the Dolby Theatre and Idol. Always good to see Taylor Hicks again!

First up to sing is the singer who went by Majesty Rose in Atlanta, and is now calling herself Majesty Rose York. She seems a little less like a busker waif than she did before, though she’s still awfully soft-spoken for an Idol wannabe, and suggests she’s about to cry when Ryan talks to her. She starts out nervously on Feist’s “1, 2, 3, 4″ and seems distracted by her own guitar playing, but she eventually hits a nice groove, even showing off some power notes near the end. Also in this group are Samantha Calmes from Salt Lake, who is still fashion-challenged but sounds pretty good; and John Fox, the worship leader who was spotlighted at the start of the Austin episode. His face is alarmingly red by the time he finishes, which I don’t quite understand. Repeat Hollywooder Brandy Neelly is a little overwrought on “Stars,” but certainly good enough for this round.

The judges subdivide this group into two smaller groups; Samantha seems angry when she sees she is not in with Brandy, Majesty, and John. And she was right: she and a few others are heading home. She wistfully says she should have relied more on her voice than on the guitar. Well, yes.

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Spencer Lloyd, the hottie from the Austin audition, sits at the keyboard and pounds out a decent “Say Something,” a song I suspect we’re not done hearing this season. Jennifer seems charmed, not surprisingly. Keith notes that Spencer seems aware of who he is as an artist, which is always a good thing. He’s advanced, and is apparently so awesome we never even see anyone else from his line. Can you tell idol is invested in Spencer just a little bit?

Austin Wolfe is up next, sounding maybe a little more bitter than she wanted when she announces that she “more than anything, I want to perform in front of people that actually want to see me” (to which Harry responds, “I’ll explain what that’s like later, Keith”). Her Adele cover is pretty solid, as she tries to pull off with phrasing what she can’t quite with pure pipes. We also hear from Bria Anai, she of the dazzling lipstick, who I’m not sure knows what restraint means. Her big voice can be a potent weapon on this show — the judges rarely call anyone out for going too far — but it’s exhausting to hear her sometimes.

The last person up in this group is Selena Moreno, who tried out with her twin sister in San Francisco and had to hold back her joy when she was the only one sent through. Sis Sierra is there for moral support, but Selena is shaky throughout, and after one particularly wonky off-key section, stops in frustration. After encouragement from Sierra and the judges, she tries again, has another false start, then finally does finish, none too impressively. Austin and Bria keep on truckin’, while Selena is not surprisingly reunited with her twin. We also learn more here about two  haven’t heard yet today: the pride of Slapout, Jessica Meuse, is through to the next round; while Lauren Ogburn, she of the star-spangled attire, is heading back to face the wrath of Fancy’s mamma.

Several of the better auditioners show up in the next few minutes, led by Sam Woolf, the talented teen from the Boston auditions with the doting grandpa. Sam sings “Waiting on the World to Change,” which makes sense since John Mayer seems to be a touchstone for a lot of the WGWGs, and shows off more of his potential — though he might still be a little half-baked for the judges to like him this much. The little bit we hear of Detroit’s Keri Lynn Roche reveals deep layers of soul — she wins the Adele-off with Austin Wolfe. Ayla Stackhouse, who moved to L.A. to go into showbiz before going back to Detroit to audition, oversings a bit but still looks like a frontrunner for the “young Beyonce” role this season.

Guitar-picking soul-country guy C.J. Harris gets called “baby” by Jennifer, and then launches into Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble,” which is strictly in his wheelhouse. C.J. is no glamour boy and may be too old-school to catch on with America, but his deep feeling can’t help but resonate with viewers. After he’s first told to stand with those who will later be told they are going home, C.J. is put through from this line, along with Keri Lynn and Sam. Ayla is rather shockingly sent home — after her strong audition, would have thought she could survive a merely OK performance in this round.

Alex Preston and his weird assortment of faces kicks off the next line. His guitar work is undoubtedly excellent, up there with the best ever on Idol, but his decision to reinvent the idiotic will.i.am/Britney Spears collaboration “Scream and Shout” is a risk. The roots-blues thing disguises the essential dopiness of the lyrics, but the judges do want to hear actual singing at some point. Up next is Columbus teen Sydney Arterbridge, who is a little more flat than we heard her in Detroit. Austin alternachick Jesse Roach stays firmly in her pocket with a heartfelt “Angel From Montgomery.”

Clean-cut country boy Brian Watt, who Harry facetiously compared to superman in the auditions is decent but exhibits virtually no star quality aside from his teeth. “He had me and then he lost me,” Harry muttered at the end.  Jesse and Alex are safe from out of this group, while Brian and Sydney are history. Sydney is in tears afterwards, but philosophical about having more chances since she’s just 15. In a stunner, Jade Lathan was also sent home from this group — hers had been one of the more highly touted auditions, but she was cut here without us ever getting to hear her sing again.

Heading into a commercial, Idol plays a snippet of the performance by Madelyn Patterson, and asks us to guess if she’s staying or leaving. It’s a pretty good take on “Already Gone,” and this means she is staying. Good for her. Sweet young thing Kenzie Hall appears at first like she’s going to try a cliched acoustic version of Mackelmore’s “Can’t Hold Us,” but she doesn’t just do the chorus — she also raps while she strums. It’s one of those “moments” people will remember from out of this round, maybe the biggest one. Quaid Edwards, the college student whose mom had gigged with Keith in the day, is nasal and obviously over his head. Kenzie pretty obviously survives, while Quaid equally obviously does not.

The judges pause to tell Ryan that these are some tough cuts they are making. Now, it’s onward to a collection of guitar-playing boys. Tennesseean Ben Briley, eyes hidden by baseball cap, seriously underwhelmed with “Stars,” but the judges beamed as if pleased, and they’re a little more important here than I am. Briston Maroney, the teen who plays his great-grandfather’s old guitar, sounded weirdly petulant on “Royals,” as if he was stomping his feet while singing it. America is not going to back this kid. They might, however, like country boy Dexter Roberts, who looks the part, as long as the part involves being Southern and doing Southern things. Keith really liked him, and his request for Keith to play his guitar for him is the sort of thing that will endear him to voters. (Keith knows what he’s doing with a six-string, but the way.) All three men — well, two men and Briston — made it through.

Racehl Rolleri got a chance to show the judges she’s changed since her eye-rolling almost derailed an otherwise good San Francisco audition; she solved that problem here by singing with her eyes shut most of the time. Fathers Casey Thrasher and Maurice Townsend are in this group too; Idol obligingly reminds us about their kids so that we’ll love them more. Maurice does pretty well with Impossible,” while Casey clears a pretty high bar with “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Jennifer says “Heartbreaker!” to the latter, as if she had never heard it before. Sigh. These three advance, and we hear snippets of several others who are moving on. I don’t think we herd George Lovett’s audition, but he survives; as does Tiquila Wilson (interesting gospel take on “The Climb”), Emily Piriz, and Malcolm Allen.

After a little time-killing segment, we re-acquaint ourselves with someone we met in the season premiere, Munfarid Zaidi, the guy that Harry picked up in his arms for reasons I can’t quite recall now. He might have to watch that he isn’t seen as a novelty, because his performance of “Proud Mary” came off as hammy and unserious. Boston WGWG Ethan Thompson sounds mediocre, though the song he picked might have something to do with that. Austin Percario, the teen who said he was hoping to leave his stage mom at home when he came to Hollywood, is still overwrought and Gleeish. None of these three are really noteworthy, but all advance.

Three more success stories in the next line! Caleb Johnson, the returnee with the booming RAWK persona, gives “Sympathy for the Devil” a brand new melody for some reason. Boston teen Stephanie Hanvey, who I seem to recall was just fair in her audition, is a little more impressive this time. Kristen O’Connor gets a little more time than either, as she delivers a strong guitar-aided  vocal. She’s more conventionally “hot” than most of the guitat girls, which could be an aid to her going forward. These three are all moving on as well.

Campy Emmanuel Zidor says he wants to be the next American Idol because he’s better at this than at his regular job (he works at the Atlanta airport). He says he’s going to be supremely fierce, but his “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is mostly just bizarre. But it’s early, he’s memorable, and the judges think he’s a hoot, so he survives also.

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We’re nearing the end! Returning Hollywooder Briana Oakley shows off her rare combination of power and pitch control, while all-night gas station attendant Jesse Cline goes the “backwoods haunting” route. Both make it through. Next up is a montage of People Who Failed, highlighted by one d-bag in a green scarf who tried singing “Come Sail Away.”

I didn’t really think Keith London deserved to get through; his audition was a little too mannered for my taste. But after saying he didn’t want to be just another face in the crowd, he set about making a name for himself. He began singing Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy,” which visibly bugged all the judges — the song choice, not the fact that he was again singing it rather poorly. “It doesn’t impress me. It is bizarre,” Jennifer muttered to Harry.  When he was finished, Harry told him the song choice was a big distraction (that, and having an out-of-tune guitar). Keith told them he was trying to send a message not to be judgmental, but the judges asked him to sing something else so they could get the heebie-jeebies out of the air … whereupon he began doing the sung portion of “Same Love.” I don’t think you have to be Perez Hilton to figure out here that the kid was trying to send a message about his sexual orientation, but the judges were apparently born yesterday. At any rate, Keith is both still not very good and in the competition. (Don’t ever play White Towns’s “Your Woman” for them, or their heads may simultaneously implode.)

One more line before we move on to the joy of groups! There’s a keyboard now on stage, and we’re about to hear some folks we remember playing it. Exuberant teen tuba player Malaya Watson’s inexperience shows at times, but her Alicia Keys cover is nice and fierce. Jena Asciutto brought her considerable lungpower to a song that doesn’t really need it,  “Video Games,” but she impressed Keith to the point he vowed to look up the original version. Savion Wright, who showed such great musicality in Austin, dedicates his performance to his brother, who died only a few weeks before; his oriignal song isn’t bad, but more to the point, it’s sung with passion.

These three move on to complete the group round lineup. 160 had to face the music at the Dolby Theatre (those who sang at the hangar did not have to go again); 104 remain. I can spot Marialle Sellers and Carmen Delgina as auditioners I recall who weren’t featured singing.

The judges now give the rundown for how groups will work. They will have to form groups of three or four, and pick from a song list. Jennifer says they want to see choreography and harmony, as well as “unique performances.” What follows is a montage of the upcoming drama, leading into commercial.

In years where the first Hollywood solo round was divided into 2 days, Idol instituted a rule saying that groups had to be made up of people from both days — this to prevent any groups from getting a headstart, and also to insure the continuation of the time-honored drama of group selection. There’s always someone who can’t find a home, someone who starts out in their group well enough but gets kicked out, and someone who torpedoes a group with bad work ethic, insistence on sleep, etc. What will happen this time??

Casey Thrasher, Dexter Roberts, and Ben Briley are obvious competitors down the road, but for Group Day, it makes sense that these like-minded country boys work together, and they buddy up in a hurry. Malaya Watson is asking in vain if she can keep her group of five together. Four people who all met in Austin  – Savion, Madelyn Patterson, John Fox, and Ryan Clark — have teamed up, named themselves the Rangers, and are the first to meet with the vocal coaches. Other groups quickly form a logjam behind them waiting to be coached.

A group made up of Clark King, Matthew Hamel, and Jessica Meuse is having some issues. Clark is having problems with his voice, and Matthew, who frankly seems a little, um, “slow” in this segment, can’t seem to understand the harmonies. Jessica, who even in her audition talked about the struggles of working on your own as a musician, is not a-meused. By midnight, folks are getting tired and nerves are frayed. Malaya’s group has kicked out its token male; she, Christina Collins, Queen Bulls, and Olivia Diamond are calling themselves Loud & Fierce; two girls who aren’t Malaya seem to be arguing  a lot.

Both Carmen Delgina and Terrica Curry are having trouble finding a group, but end up being taken in by Emmanuel Zidor and M.K. Nobilette, who had been in another quartet but bailed in frustration. Three of them appear happy about the new arrangement; Terrica still seems surly about something.

Jessica Meuse’s group is still all askew, as she is fighting tears over her frustration with Matthew’s inability to understand how to sing harmony. “You don’t understand how hard it is like to be a broke-ass musician,” she whimpers. She’s worked to ohard in too many dives to be deprived of this chance by some dopey kid! For his part, Matthew is sitting around, claiming that he’s ready to work and “the girl in my group” is off crying somewhere. Jessica is openly talking about finding another group when the ailing Clark reveals that his voice isn’t improving, and he’s going to have to decide whether or not to quit. He asks Jessica what the right move is, and she says well, leaving emotion out of it, it’s probably for the best. This whole segment is really torpedoing Jessica in the eyes of the fans, if she gets to the voting rounds.

There’s no way Jessica is going to stay teamed with Matthew as a duo looking for a third — she says it would be best if they just split up now, he readily agrees, and both go off in search of new group homes. The problem both face is that most groups are now happy and well into their rehearsal, and not in the mood to add a new voice who doesn’t know the song or the dance moves. Jessica tries to join up with her fellow Southerners, Casey, Dexter, and Ben, in the group now calling itself the Backstreet Cowboys, but they give her the bum’s rush. Matthew actually has better early luck, linking up in a group starring C.J. Harris and Caleb Johnson, the Freedom Breathers.

Some groups are calling it quits for the night by 3 A.M., but others are keeping the drama going. Emmanuel and M.K. had taken in Carmen and Terrica in a group called Love’s Angels; now Emmanuel and Carmen have bonded, but m.K. has decided to bolt (the second group she has left that night), and Terrica has just plain disappeared.

As the sun rises over Hollywood, some young singers are a little slower to awaken than others. That’s normal group drama, but what’s not normal is Emmanuel and Carmen having to search for Terrica mere hours before they’re supposed to perform, in order to determine if they even still have a valid group. Emmanuel claims Terrica had told them she was going to get her phone, and then just didn’t come back. Finally, they head to her room; Terrica lets them in and wanders about as Emmanuel in essence asks her “Um … what the hell is going on?” He finally asks flat out if she intends to perform with them, and her answer is :”I mean, y’all don’t have anybody else?” Carmen and Emmanuel just look stunned. A producer (behind the camera) asks Terrica if she thinks she has inconvenienced the others, and she denies it. Emmanuel says he’s satisfied to let Terrica think she won the argument — I didn’t even see an argument — rather than extend the bizarreness into precious rehearsal time.

The groups begin their final rehearsals, and the vocal coaches are still finding much to criticize. Madelyn Patterson is in tears, which can’t encourage the rest of her Rangers. The drama queens in Loud & Fierce are running through “I Want You Back,” and while there are some decent harmonies, remembering the lyrics looks like it’s going to be a major struggle. One of the girls chews out the others after the rehearsals, saying that they had wasted too much time learning the choreography. “I want us to smash this!” she says in conclusion. Malaya, as usual, finds it all amusing.

Other problems here and there: Sam Woolf feels lost without his guitar and feels self-conscious learning to dance. Alyssa Siebken is concerned about her group’s work ethic. Someone else is still learning lyrics. One girl offers up some good advice, saying that you can’t let unprepared group members throw off your performance.

Jessica Meuse has finally found a new home, in a girl group called Sparkles. But it’s filled with younger, pop-and-dance oriented girls (Nica Nishae, Carol Watson, and Stephanie Hanvey) that she doesn’t mesh easily with. Jessica gripes that they keep changing the dance moves while she’s still learning the words. Another problem is that the mom of 16-year-old Stephanie is lurking and very eager to offer constant advice. “I’m 23, and she keeps treating me kinda like I’m 16,” says Jessica, who is in too deep now to try switching groups again.

One last bit of drama as the time to perform nears, and it comes from a new source, a group featuring Munfarid, Jena, and some female redshirt. A fourth member of their group, named Sikenya, has decided she’s not feeling well enough to sing, and is going to appeal to the judges to take the day off. Oh sure, this should work. She actually writes out a long explanation for Jena to read to the others. Sikenya agrees to wait to make a final decision on performing or not until just before they take the stage, but in the meantime, the other three have to rework the song, just in case she isn’t there when it counts. Joy!

Will Sikenya make it? Will Jessica and M.K. finally stay put? Will the dopey sound healer finally get put on a plane? We’ll find out when Hollywood resumes!

Going To The Mattresses

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While The Walking Dead certainly puts the “popular” in popular culture, the greatest work of apocalyptic art so far this century is undoubtedly Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. There is love at the very center of that tale — a father’s desire to teach his son the lessons he will need to keep going after his own death, despite the unlikelihood that long-term survival is at all possible — but overall, McCarthy’s world is one where any other surviving human is presumed an enemy or at least a competitor, where the weak are kept as slaves or consumed as food. As the character played by Alexander Skarsgard in the Iraq War miniseries Generation Kill put it, “All religious stuff aside, the fact is people who can’t kill will always be subject to those who can.”

The Walking Dead has not exactly ignored the idea that even in the midst of the existential threat posed by the walkers, the real enemy is still our fellow man. Intergroup tension has been a part of the show since Merle Dixon was left on that Atlanta rooftop in Season One. The surviving inmates at the prison had the opportunity to show that their convictions were not exactly unmerited. Rick and Hershel came across some scary characters at the bar in Season 2, in what proved to be a kill-or-be-killed situation. And of course, while the Governor might have started out with the sincere intention of finding a cure for the zombie plague in order to bring his daughter back, at some point he turned into a tyrant.

“Claimed” hinted at an intriguing new direction for the show: the idea that in the zombie apocalypse, the more ruthless you are, the greater your chance of surviving. Or another way of saying the same thing, that those who treasure the notion of goodwill toward one’s fellow man will face the choice between living up to those ideals and dying, or learning how to kill those who aren’t dead yet.

The hour begins with the sight of walkers trying to reach for a snagged piece of fabric on top of a sign reading “Crook Rd.” The camo truck we saw at the end of last week is motoring along. Inside the bed of the truck, Tara is writing the street name on her hand with a Sharpie — why she had a Sharpie with her, considering her day began with the Governor’s raid on thee prison,  is anyone’s guess. There are more things written, so she’s been at this for a little while. It’s also left up in the air whether she is along for the ride willingly, or a prisoner — the guy who addressed her last week sounding a little ominous.

On the opposite side of the road, Tara sees an abandoned truck that had run into another vehicle and pinned a walker in the process. There are other walkers on the road, attracted by the noise. The truck pulls to a stop, which seems to alarm Tara a bit. As a trio of the undead grasp the back of the truck in a vain effort to pull it open, Tara prepares her rifle … when the Fu Manchu-wearing leader of the pack orders her not to fire. He gets out of the driver’s seat, chuckles at the sight, and takes a crowbar to the walkers, one by one. “Oh honey, look at you,” he laughs a female walker. “You’re a damn mess, ” he says as he finishes her off, with a little difficulty this time.

By now, Tara has gotten out of the truck bed, and the man asks for her rifle, so he can bash the woman and another walker already on the ground with its butt. Fu Manchi tosses it back to Tara with instructions on where to find rags to wipe it off. She just stares at him, and he asks what’s the matter. “I’ve never seen that before,” Tara says, which the man doesn’t buy, considering he came upon her in the process of beating a walker’s brains in. She clarifies: she has never seen anyone smiling as they took down the walkers (recall Rick in the pilot telling the doomed woman in the park “I’m sorry this happened to you” before shooting her in the head). The man laughs one more time and explains himself: “Well, I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” He then asks for help clearing the cars away from their current roadblock.

So. Villain? Hero? Off-kilter survivalist type like Daryl? I guess we’ll see soon enough!

The action now shifts to the house where we left Rick , Carl, and the newly arrived Michonne two weeks back,. Carl is eating cereal, and Michonne presents him with a couple of bottles of water to wash it down with, milk being in scarce supply in this day and age. She is wearing a white shirt that has apparently been liberated from someone’s closet, and he seems to find her appearance amusing. Michoone pours out a little cereal for herself — Carl didn’t leave much — and muses that she’d really like a little soy milk. Carl can’t believe it. He talks about a friend of his who had a dairy allergy and brought soy milk to school — he had tried it and nearly thrown up. He and Michonne are laughing as he recounts all the things that aren’t as gross as soy milk — powdered milk, Judith’s formula — oops. At the mention of his sister, who he believes is dead though she isn’t, all the laughter stops. and he abruptly gets up from the table.

Michonne walks into the kitchen, where Rick, no longer looking half-dead, seems to be rummaging through drawers. He thanks her, acknowledging her role in making Csrl laugh again. He tells her that he can’t be both a father and a friend to Carl, so he’s going to rely on her for that part. When Rick says she can let him know if she needs a break from that kind of responsibility, she sets her jaw and responds, “I’m done taking breaks.” That’s the Michonne we know!

Michonne now asks a pertinent question: is Rick thinking this house might make a new semi-permanent home, or is it just a short stop on the way to … something? Rick, looking a little shaky, says he figures they can stay until they “figure it out.” She decides against asking for more specifics, and says she will take Carl on a hunt for supplies. Rick volunteers to go too, and Michonne demurs, reminding him on his state just the previous day (answering our question about how much time has passed). You need to get your strength back, she insists. At least for one more day.

The two of them set out with a couple of empty canvas bags. Michonne says their canvassing shouldn’t take long. Rick hands his gun over to Carl — it looks like he can barely lift it — and reminds him to do what he’s told. Noticing Carl still seems down, Rick asks if he’s OK, and Carl responds that he’s just tired. They head out. Once back inside, Rick pushes the couch back into place behind the front door, which is about as much effort as he can exert. He goes upstairs to rebandage his wounds, and lays down with a book, ready to nap.

Michonne and Carl leave a house, both with bulging bags. As they walk down a woodsy path, she asks if he founds anything good: “Candy bars? Comic books? Crazy cheese?” She pulls out a can of aerosol cheese and agrees to let him have “first pull,” be the still sullen Carl turns it down. She wants to know what’s wrong, and he says he’s just tired. Her response is to fill up her mouth with the cheese and moan like a walker — the first time we’ve ever seen her do anything that could remotely be described as silly. Carl is not amused.

As they approach the door of the next house, she apologizes, saying that she isn’t good at making boys his age laugh. He claims that he was laughing, on the inside. Michonne, who has been rapping on the door as a zombie-check, informs Carl that toddlers find her funny, a reference that puzzles him since he can’t recall her interacting with kids that age. This is where she tells him that she had a three-year-old son, and he found her extremely funny. This revelation puts them on a similar level — he’s lost a sister, but she’s lost a son — and that’s something she can use.

Michonne cautiously enters the house, reminding Carl of the need for food, batteries, and water. She starts going through drawers, but Carl just wants to talk about this toddler: Why hasn’t she mentioned this before? What was his name? Was she married? Were there other children too? She makes a deal: she can ask him one question at a time, one per room, and only when the room has been cleared.

Back at the temp home, Rick is fast asleep with the book on his chest (Jack London’s short stories), and we hear the sound of unfamiliar voices. There are at least three, making the sorts of rambunctious noises young men on the loose will make. Rick’s eyes twitch as if he’s trying to wake up, but the sound of someone falling and others laughing (as if they had caused the fall) finally jolts him into alertness. Who the hell are these people?

Rick knows he won’t have much time. He reaches for his gun, before remembering it’s with Carl. He grabs his watch instead, though it’s hard to guess what good he thinks it will do. To the clomp of footsteps ascending the stairs, he rolls off the bed and peers around the entrance to the room. A man holding an automatic weapon opens the door to another bedroom. Breathing very heavily, Rick runs back to the bed, grabs the book, and crawls underneath — the bed, not the book. He begins to make a move back out, but then scurries underneath again when he hears Machine Gun Guy back in the hallway. The man enters another room, and we then see what Rick had tried to do earlier, as he grabs his half-consumed water bottle off the dresser.

Footsteps. The man enters, pauses in front of the bed. He kicks Rick’s stuff away from the closet door, opens it, then seems to pause and think some more. Rick is trying to hold his breath. The intruder seems to stand right in front of Rick for the longest time, then finally drops down onto the bed. Rick remains undiscovered, but he ain’t goin’ anywhere.

Back at the house where we know the intruders aren’t maniacs, Michonne stares at a painting of cute bunnies on a wall. Carl pops in and abruptly asks what her son’s name was. She tries to put him off, saying the room hasn’t been cleared, but he informs her that he fulfilled the bargain in the room next door. So she spills: his name was Andre Anthony. Michonne then tells Carl to look for cookies in the drawer before she heads out, refusing to answer his question about whether she had any other kids until after he’s done with that drawer, and by extension the room. Out in the hall, she tells him that no, she had decided that one child was enough, “and Andre was a handful, like you.”

He wants to know if clearing the hallway counts as a room, and she says sure, if he finds something useful. But all he finds is a painting that’s been wrapped up. He brings it over to Michonne anyway, and she accepts it, since one senses she’s been looking for an opening to talk about this with someone. Carl asks her how long it’s been (euphemism), and she answers indirectly as well: “It happened … after everything happened.” In response to the next question — she’s slipping! — she tells Carl that she hasn’t told Rick about this, or anyone else. Carl promises to keep her secret, and she denies that it really has been a secret. In a sense that’s true: till very recently she hasn’t had much to say about anything at all.

Carl enters another room, with weapon drawn just in case, and Michonne decides to unwrap the painting he had given her. She is startled to see the portrait of a young woman that has been defaced with stains that look like blood, and what may have been an attempt to make it look like a walker. She stares back down the hall at the closed door the painting had been sitting in front of, and starts walking towards it. She puts one hand on her sword, and opens the door with the other. Michonne enters a bathroom, walks through the door at the other end, and sees a child’s bedroom, seemingly undisturbed. There’s another door inside this room, and she walks into another bedroom, this one all in pink.

The sight here is less cheerful. There are four corpses on two beds, laid out as if the deaths had been prearranged. It’s hard to tell if all the dead were children, though it appears so. Michonne fights back tears, and then sees another body in a chair facing the beds, with a telltale bullet hole through the back of its skull. The sight of a family that died together, presumably in a murder-suicide, is more than she can take, and she backs out of the room just as Carl enters the adjoining bedroom looking for her. Noticing she’s agitated, he asks/states, “There’s a baby in there.” Michonne says no, it’s just a dog. Carl looks down — you can tell he’s not buying it — and has a secret of his own to reveal. “My dad let me name her,” he says of Judith, adding, “maybe her and Andre are — are together somewhere.” She composes herself, then hustles him out of the room, saying that it’s almost noon, the time they had originally agreed to return to home base.

That home base is still looking a little precarious from Rick’s point of view, which remains under a bed, atop which a man with a big gun is snoring away. He makes a move to scoot out, when once again, footsteps are heard coming up the stairs. A new man enters, sarcaastically asking, “Yo! Comfy?” The man in bed, annoyed, asks if he woke him up just for that question. The newcomer says he’d like to lie down himself, and the first man directs his attention to the other rooms. “Them’s kids’ beds. I want this one,” the intruder says, to which the awoken responds, really surly this time, “It’s claimed” (episode title!).

Inevitably I suppose, a scuffle breaks out; both Rick, and us, can see only feet scooting about, One of the men is dropped, then slugged in the jaw, then put in a chokehold in what has now become a fight to the death — we’re getting an idea of how these folks have been living since the apocalypse came. The man being choked has had his head turned towards the underside of the bed, and he sees Rick — but doesn’t have the breath to say anything. Rick merely watches with wide eyes. It was the second man in the room who wins the fight, and he hops onto the newly claimed bed, while Rick’s problems have just multiplied — if the guy on the floor dies, he’ll be a walker before long; and if he wakes up …

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Glenn! We hadn’t seen him during the opening to the episode, but he’s been riding along in the back of the truck with Tara all along, after having been passed out when the one-truck convoy showed up. He comes to, notices he’s in a moving vehicle. Tara sees he’s awakened and offers him a little water. Glenn asks what the hell is up, and it answers one big question: whether or not she came willingly or was somehow captured. “The back of the truck’s a little safer than the side of the road,” she tells him. Glenn, of course, had been on a mission to reunite with Maggie, and has been assuming she got on to the bus, which we know didn’t happen.

He asks if she saw the bus, and when she answers yes, she hesitates when he demands to know what she saw. Finally, she admits that everyone she saw there was dead. Glenn wonders how long ago that was, and she says three hours (how long is this day, anyway? I thought all this was happening the same day as the attack on the prison). Glenn bangs on the window to the cab and starts yelling, and gets a middle finger from the driver as a response. He bangs some more, now joined by Tara, as they demand to stop. Finally, Glenn gives the window a rap with the butt of the rifle, cracking the glass. THAT gets their attention.

The truck finally stops, with an annoyed looking Fu Manchu and his compatriots getting out. Even though the effort of hitting the glass just about exhausted Glenn again, his first reaction is to climb out the back, grab his gear and his rifle, and start walking in the direction they just came from. Fu Manchu calls after him; when ignored, he gets out in front and roadblocks Glenn, stating that this “mission” is time-sensitive, and he needs to get back in that truck NOW. Glenn demands he step aside.

Fu Manchu is about out of patience now: “It seems like neither one of you has been paying close enough attention to the hell on earth we’ve been living in. So let me tell you how to best avoid winding up just another dead-alive prick. You find some strong,  like-minded comrades and you stay stuck together like wet on water.”  The woman watches with interest, while the beefy dude with the mullet is keeping to himself. He says they need each other — that even though Glenn thinks he’s well-equipped, he won’t last the night alone. Glenn disagrees, and now Fu Manchu says he’s not going to let him leave, because “the fate of the whole damn human race might depend on it.”

Now Glenn is interested. He asks Tara who these folks are, and Fu Manchi introduces himself to Glenn, and to us. He is Sgt. Abraham Ford, the young woman in the come-hither shorts is Rosita Espinosa, and the guy with the mullet is Dr. Eugene Porter. The three of them are headed to Washington, because Eugene, a scientist, allegedly knows what caused the zombie apocalypse.

Glenn, naturally, wants to know what is, and Eugene says that it’s classified. Sgt. Ford adds that they had been in contact with the “muckety mucks” in the nation’s capital via satellite phone, but that no one has been on the other end for a couple of weeks, which doesn’t sound too promising. If true, this is the first indication we’ve had that there might be some sort of functioning government still — the CDC sure looked abandoned way back in Season One. Abraham says that they noticed how  the two of them handled the walkers earlier, and that they will come in handy. Glenn seems to think about it briefly, then simply says “Sorry” and begins walking away.

Tara follows, finally getting a chance to explain how they wound up in the truck. She says the road was too dangerous, especially since he was passed out and they were out of bullets. She says she wrote down directions on how to get back to the bus, and he says he’s going to go looking for Maggie “where she’d go to find me” — that is, on the bus (of course, we know she has already been there). Abraham and Rosita have been following, not ready yet to give up on these two, and the sarge tells Glenn that Tara had informed them what happened, and that he’ll never see Maggie again, alive or dead. Glenn stops, and Abraham tells him that there’s no need for him to die too — “get back in the truck; do something with your life.”

Michael Cudlitz is about twice the size of Steven Yuen. So it’s a little surprising, if not the most implausible thing to ever happen on a show that features dead people walking about, that he turns and decks the sarge with one punch.

“She’s alive, and I’m gonna find her,” says Glenn, gathering his things again. Abraham  obviously isn’t going to let things lie; he chases after him and tackles him. Tara  rushes to Glenn’s aid, and abraham tosses her aside like a dishrag. Rosita is trying to break it up too, unsuccessfully. Abraham soon gets the upper hand and puts Glenn in a chokehold. Eugene, still back at the truck, looks on with mild concern, which turns to mild alarm when a walker, attracted by all the noise, comes out of the woods. He yells to get the attention of the folks in the melee, but he’s unheard.

Tara finally manages to get Abraham to back off, but Glenn charges him yet again, suicidally. Meanwhile, Eugene, who is on his own here, has grabbed a rifle out of the truck, and fumbles with it like he’s either very nervous, or has never used it before, or both. As Abraham continues to whale on Glenn, more walkers emerge from the cornfield, and Eugene is just about surrounded before long. It’s amazing these people aren’t more savvy at this point, a good two years after all this began. The be-mulleted one finally figures out how to fire the gun, but he ends up spraying bullets everywhere — at the ground, at the truck, and very occasionally, at the zombies.

So much for the fight. everyone rushes back, with Abraham yelling at him to stop wasting their precious ammo. But given the numbers, there isn’t time for him to get his crowbar, or for anybody to do anything except grab their gun of choice and clear the area of the undead. Soon enough, the threat is extinguished. And there’s another casualty too: as Abraham discovers that in his panic, Eugene shot a hole in the truck’s gas tank. “Son of a dick!” he mutters, and I can’t say as I blame him,

In more immediate trouble is Rick Grimes, still hiding under that bed. Hearing the man in bed snoring above him, he scoots out oh-so-gingerly, nearly bumping into the shoe dangling over the side. Besides the sleeping man and the loser of the fight on the floor, there are other folks in the house as well; their conversation and random banging can be heard as Rick finally gets to his knees and then to his feet. He looks down at the man in bed, a young, bearded fellow. When a voice calls up from downstairs to alert the other guys, Rick scoots into the hallway. The banging sound is being made by a guy tossing a tennis ball against the wall, and he’s heading up the stairs, wondering why the others aren’t heeding his call.

Rick heads into one of the kids’ bedrooms, then backs around the corner into the room next to it as Tennis Ball Guy approaches. He throws his ball against the outer wall while he stands in the doorway, just barely unable to see Rick standing there. The man moves off, and Rick exhales. He heads to the windows, but is unable to budge any of them.  A voice calls out “I’m trying to sleep!” at the man who has just come upstairs, and who has made a discovery: there’s a woman living in the house. The other men are on the move upon hearing that news, but the voice says that the woman isn’t actually there; he just found the shirt she had washed earlier in the morning. Rick has grabbed a trophy off a dresser, which might be able to knock out anyone who comes in the room.

Two men walk downstairs; the man who had originally been in bed is still lying on the floor, and there’s a rifle in the now-vacated bed. One voice says that the woman wouldn’t have bothered washing a shirt she was going to abandon, and someone else “calls first” for when she gets back. Rick makes a move for the gun, but a man is coming back upstairs, and he barely has time to back out and duck into the bathroom before being discovered. He closes the bathroom door, turns … and sees a middle-aged man sitting on the toilet. A lot of good that’s gonna do, pal — it’s not like the plumbing works.

Rick has no time to think. He slugs the guy in the gut with the trophy he’s still holding. The man leaps up — I guess he was using the bathroom with dropping his pants? — and pushes Rick against the sink. Rick is able to wriggle out of that and tighten the belt holding the man’s machine gun around his neck. They struggle, bang against the wall, knock crap all over the floors, and generally make a LOT of noise that no one notices. The man tries to reach for a pair of scissors, but it’s in vain, and soon, Rick has one gun he didn’t have a minute before, and a new answer to his famous question, “How many people have you killed?” Here’s my question: how does a man who was basically in a coma the previous day win this fight? It’s not like he’s Jack Bauer.

Rick manages to open the bathroom window, though he cracks the door again before leaving. He throws his jacket onto the roof — awfully convenient it was in the bathroom all along — and crawls out with his gun. The mission now: getting down. He dangles briefly from the gutter before landing on the back porch. Realizing no one heard him land, he scrambles down the stairs and edges around towards the front of the house, gun at the ready. He’s just below the front porch, keeping one eye on the road for any sign of Michonne and Carl coming back, when the door opens. It’s the guy bouncing the tennis ball again.

Before we see how this all plays out, we have to find out what becomes of Glenn, Tara, and their new friends. Abraham is under the truck trying to mend it, telling old war stories about a boy and his vehicle, as everyone else tries not to look annoyed. Rosita, in particular, looks like she’s heard all this before, many times. The point of Abraham’s story is that this truck has been to hell and back, so how could Eugene have managed to render it a hunk of metal? “A fully amped-up state and an ignorance of rapid-firing weapons,” Eugene says, unhelpfully.

Rosita hands Glenn the photo he took of himself and Maggie, which fell on the ground in all the hubbub. Glenn hands the rifle back to Abraham, says he’s sorry about the truck, and that he hopes the mission to Washington is successful. He walks away, like he tried to do before. Tara likewise hands her gun back and calls after Glenn to wait up. Rosita considers the situation for a second, and makes the part of two a threesome. “Well, what the hell else are we gonna do?” she asks with annoyance. Abraham, losing the battle, yells after her, “Go to Washington! Fix the whole damn world!”

Eugene finally takes some initiative that doesn’t involve killing the truck, pointing out that they know the way they just came is clear, so they might as well follow, at least until they can find a new vehicle. Abraham looks unsure, and Eugene responds with extreme confidence, “Trust me. I’m smarter than you.” Big words for a man who is the entire reason they’re all on foot now. Methinks Eugene is hiding something about his true nature, but we’ll see soon enough. The men grab their gear, and the five of them head back down the lonesome road.

Rick is still waiting for the potential future rapist with the tennis ball to get the hell off the front porch. He keeps taking anxious glances, knowing Michonne and Carl are if anything now a little overdue. The guy (who we can now see is played by Jeff Kober, who has been in all sorts of things but will always be a Chian Beach alum for me) spits over the rail and parks himself on the rail of the porch, as he eats out of a can. Rick looks like he’s contemplating having to shoot the man, especially when he notices the others coming down the road at last. But just as he’s about to spring up with his gun, he and Tennis Ball hear a walker, shouts, and a gunshot. “Son of a bitch!” the man mutters, as he goes after whatever it is that has caused the commotion (presumably, it’s the man Rick killed, who is now un-killed). Rick takes advantage of the coast being clear to race across the lawn and mutter “Go!: to the other two. Michonne, Carl, and Rick retreat, laving behind some bad guys wondering what the hell happened.

Ther other group on the road has changed its configuration a little bit, with Rosita now walking just behins Glenn, Eugene in he middie, and Tara hanging back with the sergeant. “Gotta hand it to him — he’s a persistent sumbitch,” Abraham tells her. He says he knows she’s the loyal type, and he likes that, but the mission he is on is simply more important. And even if he does find Maggie, nothing matters in the long run unless Eugene gets to Washington, he adds.

Tara asks if he can tell she’s good just because she’s following Glenn, and he chuckles and says he knows she’s good. Tara insists he can’t know that, just like she knows nothing about him. She knows why Eugene wants to go to Washington, and she knows that Rosita will follow him anywhere, but what’s in it for him? Abraham seems surprised Tara would question his eagerness to save the world, but she’s about had it with self-appointed Good Guys after the Governor. “You don’t have to tell me why. Just don’t like to me,” she tells him.

Finally, we see Michonne, Carl, and Rick walking the railroad tracks, apparently heading out of town. Carl offers Michonne some of the “crazy cheese,” but Rick’s attention is drawn elsewhere,. The three of them all look at something, and Michonne asks what he thinks about it. “Let’s go, ” says Rick, as they walk down the tracks and away from a sign proclaiming the existence of Terminus, hanging from an abandoned boxcar.

So! Everything seems to be heading towards an eventual meetup in Terminus again, with perhaps a slightly smaller main cast (every transition on this show is accompanied by a death or three). The fleshing out of personalities, especially Michonne’s, is welcome; but is this show’s massive audience going to hang around for character development devoid of the threat of zombies munching on people? This was one of the most walker-free episodes of The Walking Dead ever; the “attack” on Abraham, Glenn and co. wasn’t really very threatening.

But ramping up the human threat — not via the cliched “Big Bad” but via the type of criminal gang that almost certainly would flourish in a civilization-free world — has some real promise.