Emmys 2016 Review: A Night of Surprises

Televised award shows can often be painful to sit through, but thankfully, there were enough surprises in the 2016 Emmy Awards to balance out the inevitable second consecutive wins for Veep and Game of Thrones. The potent combination of deserving first-time winners, moving speeches, and diverse voices at the podium made the night feel spontaneous and exciting. At its best, these Emmys, indeed, felt like a true celebration of what television has to offer, and many of the outcomes delighted me.

Master of None’s “Parents” was awarded the Emmy for Writing for a Comedy, an episode that focuses on two first-generation Americans asking their parents to tell the stories about their lives before coming to America. As a child of immigrant parents myself, this story hit straight to the heart. The episode brought me to tears and immediately after, I called my mother. *cue awwww* Awards aren’t the be-all and end-all, but it does feels good to know that this award reinforces the notion that these are stories worth telling. Even better was writer Alan Yang’s acceptance speech, which emphasized the need for more Asian-American stories:

There’s 17 million Asian-Americans in this country, and there’s 17 million Italian Americans. They have The Godfather, Goodfellas, Rocky, The Sopranos. We got Long Duk Dong, so we’ve got a long way to go. But I know we can get there. I believe in us. It’s just going to take a lot of hard work. Asian parents out there, if you could just do me a favor, just a couple of you get your kids cameras instead of violins, we’ll be all good.

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Kate McKinnon’s win for Supporting Actress in a Comedy for her work on Saturday Night Live was also a delight. She had a banner year, thanks to Hillary Clinton, and sketches like The One Where She Was Abducted By Aliens And Ryan Gosling Couldn’t Keep It Together. McKinnon’s humble shout-outs from Hillary Clinton and Ellen Degeneres, to her writing partners, the now co-head writers Sarah Schneider and Chris Kelly (watch his new film Other People!), to her late father who pushed her to watch SNL as a child, were particularly moving.

Director Jill Soloway, who won for Transparent, gave a particularly rousing acceptance speech, with a passionate plea to “topple the patriarchy.” Soloway centered the storytelling of queer and trans women in her acceptance speech:

When you take women, people of color, trans people, queer people, and you put them at the center of the story, the subjects instead of the objects, you change the world, we found out. This TV show allows me to take my dreams about unlikeable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them the heroes.

Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor’s won Actor in a Comedy for his thoughtful portrayal of Maura Pfefferman, and his speech concluded with a heartfelt plea of his own: a call for greater hiring of transgender talent. Witnessing diversity in storytelling from a pioneering show like Transparent be richly rewarded was a step in the right direction.

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American Crime was one of my favorite television shows of the year. The anthology drama couples superb acting with powerful and provocative discussions about race, class, and sexuality. It was gratifying to see Regina King be recognized two years in a row for her magnetic work as a mother of a high school basketball player team accused of assault.

Although I was rooting for the cool threat that was Bookeem Woodbine’s Mike Milligan from Fargo, I was happy that the award went to Sterling K. Brown’s understated performance as Christopher Darden in The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. The thrilling wins for Courtney B. Vance and Sarah Paulson, who played Johnny Cochran and Marcia Clark, respectively, proved the stellar casting for Ryan Murphy’s series. These three captivating actors took on historical figures familiar to the American public, and breathed new life into their narratives, making their portrayals deeply sympathetic and human. Paulson was one of the locks of the evening, and her win was long overdue.

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On the flip side, yes, The People vs O.J. Simpson was excellent television, but I’m disappointed that Fargo’s remarkable second season was shut out in the process, coming up empty-handed in every category it was nominated in. Was this season too left-field for voters? Too bleak or violent? Too wrapped up in Midwestern quirk, and mysticism? Sigh.

Grease Live was a fine technical feat, with swift and precise direction by Alex Rudzinski and Hamilton‘s Thomas Kail. The live broadcast navigated multiple indoor and outdoor sets, live crowds, inclement weather, and more, but the conceit has been done before, even if it was the best of this new generation of live musicals. Beyoncé’s Lemonade was an artistic achievement like no other. Queen B should have won Directing for a Variety Special and taken one more step closer to EGOT status.

Rami Malek’s performance as Elliot Anderson was a singular triumph on Mr. Robot. Malek tackled such an intense character plagued with drug addiction, social anxiety, and mental illness, but always found ways to humanize him. We don’t often see characters on television like Elliot, much less see their performances rewarded, so this win for Lead Actor in a Drama felt important. Plus, bae looked good in a white Dior suit.

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Host Jimmy Kimmel joked in his opening monologue that “the only thing we value more than diversity is congratulating ourselves on how much we value diversity.” As the night went on, the more this notion seemed true. However cynical Kimmel’s quip was, it was refreshing to see the stage visited by African-Americans, Asian-Americans, queer women, an Egyptian-American, and sure, a couple of white men here and there too.

At last weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s took home two trophies for Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy and Choreography. How it lost Main Title Theme Music to Jessica Jones (?!?!?!) is beyond me. One is a sunny, catchy earworm that jabs at sexism, while the other is a bland jazz number. The winner is completely obvious to me, but I guess the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that. Regardless, just let the words “Emmy Award-Winning Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” sink in. We’re so #blessed!

The best show on television, The Americans, was woefully ignored, after being finally being invited to the party in its fourth season. When Character Actress Margo Martindale’s won for Guest Actress at the Creative Arts Emmys, for a role with seemingly less than ten minutes of screen time, I was hoping that the award boded well for the show’s Emmy chances come Sunday night. Alas, the night was not for The Americans. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, your time has yet to come. Next year, Game of Thrones will air outside of eligibility for the 2017 Emmys, leaving a dragon-sized void in the race. With the HBO juggernaut out of the mix next year, could The Americans finally emerge victorious?

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[gifs courtesy of giphy.com and outofficial.tumblr.com]

What I’m Watching/Ditching in the Fall 2014 TV Season

Ah, fall. As with pumpkin spiced everything, this glorious season ushers in a whole new crop of television shows. Here are the television shows I will be tuning into in the coming months and the ones I’ll be tossing out the window. Click to see my previous lists of fall 2012, 2007, and 2006. #consistency.

What I’m Watching:

Play It Again, Dick – New series debuted 9/16 on CW Seed

The first of the series I’ll be watching this fall won’t even air on television. Play It Again, Dick, the latest chapter in the Veronica Mars saga, debuted on CW Seed, The CW’s home of original digital series. The webseries is a meta-explosion, starring Ryan Hansen playing a heightened version of himself, attempting to make a Veronica Mars spinoff based on his character, the lovable douche Dick Casablanca. Ryan Hansen as Ryan Hansen attempts to wrangle in the ‘ol gang of Veronica Mars actors that will be playing themselves and/or their characters. Or both. Even though the movie was ultimately disappointing in its extreme fan service, the tone of this meta-romp is perfectly pleasurable.

Survivor: San Juan del SurBlood vs. Water – Returning 9/24 on CBS

Survivor brings back the successful Blood vs. Water twist in its 29th installment. Expectations were low when the twistreturning players competing with their loved oneswas introduced last fall, but the season surpassed fan concern when it delivered new dynamic layers of gameplay infused with powerful raw emotion. But can lightning strike twice with a cast of all-new players? By all accounts, Survivor is an individual game, so the casting of brand new pairs will be crucial for the season’s success. Unfortunately, we’ll have to deal with the disgusting and despicable John Rocker, the racist and homophobic former MLB player. There are a few bright spots in this cast, however, and I’m rooting for the married couple of Val and Jeremy, the police officer and firefighter.

How to Get Away with Murder – New series debuting 9/25 on ABC

I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t watch the white-hot Scandal. I know. I KNOW. I aim to rectify this lack of Shondaland in my life by tuning in to How to Get Away with Murder, executive-produced by Shonda Rhimes and helmed by Viola Davis as a merciless criminal-law professor. The show promises to be sexy, suspenseful, and full of vengeful and attractive young co-eds. Sign me up for this crash-course in pulpy primetime soapiness!

The Legend of Korra – Returning 10/4 on Nick.com

Poor, poor Korra. The titular character of The Legend of Korra spent this past summer watching her third season be wildly mistreated by Nickelodeon. Book Three: Change was originally planned to air this fall, but for whatever reason, the channel hastily released it during the summer instead. Nickelodeon began promotion only one week prior to the season premiere and subsequently burned off two episodes every Friday night. Ratings were understandably weak, and Nickelodeon pulled the final five episodes from the airwaves and released them exclusively online.

What a damn shame. Change was nothing short of REMARKABLE: a near-perfect blend of breathtaking action, intelligent social consciousness, and nuanced character development. (You can stream Book Three online here.) Among the many praiseworthy aspects of the season include the deepening friendship between Asami and Korra outside of their relationships to their former boyfriend, Mako (Alison Bechdel would be beaming), the masterful character work and backstory of Lin Beifong and her sister Suyin, and a quartet of baddies who were all at once terrifying and awe-inspiring.

Thankfully, we don’t need to wait very long for Book Four: Balance, the series’ final season, to witness how Korra’s world will achieve a rightful balance in the aftermath of Zaheer’s destruction.

The Flash – New series debuting 10/7 on The CW

In a television season stuffed with comic book shows (the returning Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the new Gotham and Constantine), what makes The Flash stand out? This superhero series knows it’s here to have fun. I couldn’t help being won over by the exceedingly charming Grant Gustin as Barry Allen. With a strong identity claimed in its appealing earnestness and sincerity, I’m willing to give The Flash a shot.

American Horror Story: Freak Show – Debuting 10/8 on FX

How can you watch this trailer and NOT be overwhelmingly giddy with excitement and anticipation? Kathy Bates as a bearded lady. Angela Bassett as a three-breasted woman. Sarah Paulson as conjoined twins. Patti LaBelle as who cares, she’s Patti LaBelle. All this, PLUS a killer clown?! I mean, come on.

Creator Ryan Murphy has stated that the tone of American Horror Story: Freak Show, set in Jupiter, Florida in 1952, will be closer to that of the troubling darkness of Asylum, rather than the campy gloss of Coven. This direction is particularly promising, as Coven was a hot mess (not in the fun way). And we mustn’t forget that Freak Show will be Jessica Lange’s swan song with American Horror Story. As with every clusterf*ck season of this anthology series, I can’t wait to have my every expectation turned on its twisty head.

The Affair – New series debuting 10/12 on Showtime

The story of an illicit love affair told from the dueling perspectives of the man (Dominic West) and woman (Ruth Wilson). This intriguing examination also explores their respective arduous marriages to Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson. This Rashomon-esque storytelling structure is especially intriguing. Layers upon layers upon rich character drama. Life, and narrative, is all about perspective.

What I’m Ditching:

Utopia – New series debuted 9/7 on FOX

Utopia has lost more than half of its viewers since its first airing. And I am one of those viewers. While the concept of this reality series is fascinating (What happens when 15 people attempt to create a functioning society in isolation?), Utopia‘s execution has been simply atrocious, thanks to some poor casting decisions.

With no competitions to offer inherent drama, it seems the producers cast extremely volatile personalities to more than make up for conflict. Each and every conflict blew up into uncomfortable shouting matches. In just the first three days, we were privy to medical evacuations due to alcohol poisoning, threats of physical violence, and several instances of misogyny (offhanded sexist remarks, unwanted passes, a man yelling at a woman to “shut the f*ck up”). While the final moments of the premiere episode offered up a glimmer of hope, I vowed never to returned to the unpleasant and unwatchable Utopia.

The 2014 Oscars: Big Night for Lupita Nyong’o & Adele Dazim

Let’s face it. We will always complain about the Academy Awards telecast. The awards ceremony will either be too crass (Seth MacFarlane), too toothless (Billy Crystal), too WTF?! (Anne Hathaway and James Franco), and in this year’s case, too boring. Sorry, Ellen DeGeneres, but this year’s Oscars was a flat and endless flop, save for one funny monologue joke aimed at Jennifer Lawrence and her many stumbles: “If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.” As a whole, the winners were predictable, but who would have predicted that the reliable DeGeneres would have brought such a muted, disruptive tone.

Five years now, we’ll remember how Oscar night came down to a race between Gravity and 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture, and everything else will become a boring blur. When we look back to this year, we’ll fail to recall Kim Novak’s awkward appearance with Matthew McConaughey. (Jacqueline Bisset, you’re off the hook!). We’ll overlook the umpteenth salute to The Wizard of Oz (seriously, it feels like there’s one every year). We’ll forget, but not forgive, the endless parade of montages: Animated films! Heroes (guys, guys, Jennifer Lawrence, and more guys)! These old movies! Those old movies! On a classy note: Fortunately, the producers muted all applause for the In Memoriam segment and gave all those featured equal screen time. Unfortunately, Bette Midler flapped. her. wings. at the end of “The Wind Beneath My Wings.”

So what will we remember from these ceremonies? What moments will leave a profound mark in our pop culture memory banks? Probably not much.

The morning after, without a doubt, the biggest meme to come out of the night was John Travolta’s hilariously horrible mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name as “ADELE DAZIM.” What the actual f*ck, John Travolta?!

Adele Dazim was the name that launched a dozen fake Twitter accounts. Think of the mishap as this year’s Angelina Jolie Leg from the 2012 Oscars. The mispronunciation unfortunately upstaged Menzel’s show-stopping performance of Frozen‘s Oscar-winning song “Let It Go,” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and EGOT winner Robert Lopez. But what followed wasn’t Menzel’s best showing either. Perhaps it was nerves that got the best of Menzel’s stiff physicality, as she and the orchestra fell out of sync, and ended with strained final notes.

Pharell Williams’ soulful performance of Despicable Me 2‘s “Happy” was also memorable, not only for the return of The Grammy Hat, but for the celeb dance-offs, started spontaneously by 12 Years a Slave‘s Lupita Nyong’o. The song delivered a much-needed jolt of energy to the snoozy proceedings. Who knew that all we ever wanted to see was Pharrell bring Nyong’o and Amy Adams to their feet in joyous dance and get Meryl Streep to shimmy? What an infectious performance that perfectly complimented the cool stylings of the #1 song in America.

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The theme of this year’s Oscars was “Heroes in Hollywood,” but night came across as “Celebrities Are Just Like UsOnly Better!” They eat pizza! They take selfies! They carry cash on them! DeGeneres’s drawn-out self-involved shtick found her strolling down the aisles of the theater time and time again, casually chatting it up to nervous audience members. These bits could have been organic and fun, but they never took off the ground. Typically, award show hosts disappear mid-way through the night, but DeGeneres simply refused to let the night go undisrupted by her antics, which were more entertaining on paper than they were in execution.

Early in the evening, DeGeneres asked the celebrities if they were hungry and wanted pizza, to which the somehow still-pregnant Kerry Washington cutely raised her hand immediately in support. In a surprising bit of continuity, the delivery guy showed up later with three pizzas and we watched semi-amusingly, as the slices distributed to the likes of Harrison Ford, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Julia Roberts. (But how endearing was it that Brad Pitt was distributing napkins?). Uma. Oprah., meet Pizza.

But nothing came close to the Selfie Seen ‘Round the World.

In a bit of shameless plugging of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, DeGeneres enlisted the help of Meryl Streep to break the record of most retweets. They were soon joined by Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and other A-listers. (Don’t wave, Angelina Jolie, this isn’t a Vine!) Again, what could have ended up as cute and spontaneous, ended up feeling forced. At any rate, the selfie beat out President Obama 2012’s victory tweet, with 2 million retweets and counting. So… hooray? Celebrities love themselves and need us to love them back; we get it. Just icky and pandering.

Speaking of celebrity fandom, where was Oscar presenter Andrew Garfield? My favorite celebrity was sadly a no-show. Producer Neil Meron had stated, “Andrew Garfield is going to be part of what we hope is a very moving moment in the show… He is going to induct a new superhero into the fraternity of superheroes.” Instead, we got the “talented Chris Evans.” Yawn. A Garfield appearance wouldn’t have saved the telecast by any means, but it would have been nice to see him.

[UPDATE 3: Phew! So as it turns out, the appearance was confirmed by the Academy to be cut “due to the logistics of production.” In fact, Garfield spent time with Batkid at Disneyland. That’s my Andrew! UPDATE 2: According to Page Six, Garfield “refused to go by the script… He had a tantrum. He stormed off.” Yikes. UPDATE: Andrew Garfield’s appearance was with Batkid! The two even rehearsed together the night before. How could the producers cut out Batkid, of all things?! And there was still time for THREE of Ellen’s pizza bits?! That makes me dislike this year’s Oscars even more.]

To end on a positive note, we will remember the emotional acceptance speeches, from 20 Feet from Stardom‘s Darlene Love basking in her spotlight and singing a line from “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” (Go out and watch 20 Feet, an insightful, stirring look at gender and racial politics in music.), to Dallas Buyers Club‘s Jared Leto sweetly giving tribute to his mother, to Lupita N’yongo’s beautiful and moving words of encouragement:

When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.

The night simply belonged to N’yongo. We were witnessing her Hollywood coming-out party, from her exuberant “Happy” dance, to her and her brother goofily taking part in the selfie and pizza payment. Already a red carpet fashion icon, the 12 Years A Slave star blossomed before our eyes. And what a narrative for Hollywood to latch on to: chase your dreams, kids. Play us off, incongruous Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory music!

The Naughty and Nice of 2013 TV

Welcome to my third-annual Naughty and Nice of TV list! Yes, I realize that Christmas is long over, but Starbucks still has their holidays drink menus. Your argument is invalid.

You can take a look at my 2012 Naughty and Nice list here and my list from 2011 here.

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TV on my Nice List:

Breaking Bad’s “Ozymandias”

Without question, Breaking Bad sits atop the pantheon of the best television series and “Ozymandias” was the show’s finest hour. The soul-crushing and emotionally dark climax to the series left its audience reeling from devastating moment after devastating moment. Moments that built upon a rich, detailed history of the past fifty-nine hours. Moments like Hank’s final stand. Moments like Walter White kicking Jesse while he was down with the ultimate truthbomb. Moments like the knife fight between Walter and Skyler White. The episode pushed the notion of “family” to the breaking point and left me sick to my stomach and not to mention, wanting more. What an emotionally gripping hour of television.

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Survivor: Blood vs. Water

On paper, the 27th of Survivor should have been a train wreck. Devoted fans such as myself were wary of the seemingly endless parade of twists: A tribe of returning players versus their loved ones; An immediate vote-off before the game even began; The return of the controversial “Redemption Island”; Loved ones getting the decision to take the place of their partners who have been voted out. RUPERT. COLTON. But guess what? It totally worked.

What kept the twists humming were the layers upon strategic layers that no one saw coming: voting someone out as a punishment to their loved ones on the opposite tribe; voting someone out in hopes their loved ones would switch out; voting someone out to knock out players on Redemption Island. Emotions were also at an all-time high, building up to Ciera Eastin voting to eliminate her own mother, Laura Morett.

In Ciera and Big Brother champ Hayden Moss, we got two underdogs who just would not give up the fight (I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw either of them again because of their fire). With his back against the wall, Hayden proved his strategic worth and fought tooth and nail to convince Ciera to force a voting tie, something that has only been seen once before in Survivor‘s 13-year history. It was an epic and historic Tribal Council that epitomized one of the best seasons since Heroes vs. Villains.

Mad Men’s Bob Benson

In an ultimately disappointing sixth season, Mad Men set the internet ablaze with the question: Who is Bob Benson?

This charming and handsome SCDP employee played by the charmingly handsome James Wolk raised more than a few eyebrows as to what his motives were. How many secrets did this genial man hold? Why was he around every corner in the office? What was the nature of his friendship with Joan? What was with his infatuation with Pete? Was he a government informant? An undercover reporter? Pete and Peggy’s time-traveling love child?

The slow-burn of a mystery unfolded itself in his Don Draper duality and opposition to Mad Men‘s previous gay employee, Sal Romano. While Bob Benson’s homosexuality reveal may not have been as out-there a theory for some, for me, it was a perfect stroke of subtle storytelling. And of course, who could forget those shorts?!

Ok, so in all honesty, I may or may not have put Bob Benson on my list solely because I love me some James Wolk. I debated between placing Bob Benson on the Nice list or the sweet relationship between Peggy Olson and Stan Rizzo. Ultimately, thanks to Tom & Lorenzo’s mightily impressive analysis of Bob Benson and gay culture in the 1960s, I went for the short shorts.

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David Brown on Jeopardy!

My friend David Brown (@iamdavidbrown) made a killing on Jeopardy! on an entertaining three-episode run this past summer. It’s an intelligent and fabulous performance that has to been seen to be believed. Way to go, David! #FatDwarfNumberThreeFTW

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TV on my Naughty List:

Breaking Bad’s “Felina”

These are but minor quibbles on the legacy of Breaking Bad, but count me in as one of the people who felt that its finale had too neat of an ending. Granted, this is the only way the show could have ended; Breaking Bad wouldn’t have left any loose threads hanging (Huell’s Rules not withstanding). The show took a Lostian approach in its twisted nostalgia trip to find its closure, and like Lost, expectations for this finale reached perhaps unattainable levels.

Breaking Bad‘s ending was earned and effective, but it eschewed surprise and transcendence for efficiency. Of course, it could only be Walter White who could orchestrate such a risky and mechanical plan with nary a hitch, with the entirety of the series leading to the deployment of ricin and a machine gun. As Jesse Pinkman once said, Mr. White is smarter and luckier than anyone. However, I felt as though Walter White received a redemptive and almost triumphant sendoff that went against the moralist nature of the show.

And speaking of Jesse, the show could have done better by him in the final eight episodes. As the world narrowed in on Walter White, Jesse faded into the background and presence in the finale was sorely missed.

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American Horror Story’s race problems

I absolutely LOVED American Horror Story: Asylum. It was a disturbing roller-coaster of madness that surprisingly surrounded a bloody, beating heart. Coven keeps the crazy flowing, but falls short of making you actually care about its characters. In Asylum, we rooted for Lana and Kit to escape the terrifying clutches of Briarcliff. In Coven… everyone dies and is resurrected. Yay?

Coven has been able to take horrifically vile characters, like Kathy Bates’ Madame LaLaurie, and transform them into more sympathetic creatures. However, these transformations seem only applicable to its white characters. Not much screen time has been devoted to fleshing out its black characters. Angela Bassett’s Marie Laveau is a force to be reckoned with and is hands-down the best part of Coven, but she is nothing more than a force of vengeance and anger. The same goes for Gabourey Sidibe’s Queenie who has seemingly sacrificed herself in the wake of a white male terrorist in the mid-season finale.

For a show that has woven itself in the tapestries of historical racial divides of Salem witches versus voodoo witches, it’s unclear what Coven is saying about race relations in America, or even wants to say. There are only four episodes left in this scatter-shot season, building up into the two witch lineages teaming up to defend against the patriarchal Corporation. Here’s hoping the streamlined plot narrows the home stretch, while revealing the larger picture.

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Saturday Night Live’s race problems

SNL made headlines this fall, not for insightful and pointed political skewering or for gut-busting humor, but for its lack of diversity in its casting. Lorne Michaels hired six new featured players this season, five men and one woman. What should have been celebratory for these six turned controversial, as the hiring of six white cast members did nothing but highlight the cast’s lack of diversity.

This past fall, important questions entered the cultural conversation: Where are SNL‘s black women?! Why hasn’t there been a black woman in the cast since Maya Rudolph? How can a cultural institution such as SNL not have someone portray icons such as Oprah and Beyoncé? Unfortunately, the hosting job by the talented Kerry Washington merely winked at the problem, without making any solutions or statements at all. Comments from cast memebers Jay Pharaoh and Kenan Thompson certainly didn’t help either.

And now here we are, with an impending announcement of a single black comedienne joining the cast. Did you catch that Lorne Michaels “did not want to add too many women at this time because the cast already includes five”? Hah. But man, this actress will be under so much scrutiny while fighting an uphill battle to prove her comedic worth. Godspeed, single black comedienne! Good luck carrying the weight of every single expectation ever.

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Big Brother’s race (and homophobia and misogyny) problems

Big Brother also made headlines this year, not for its riveting gameplay, but for the bigoted and racist comments from its houseguests. Following a heated exchange when former model Aaryn Gries flipped the bed of African-American houseguest Candice Stewart, CBS began prefacing each episode with a disclaimer. And while CBS did acknowledge some of the controversy, focusing on throwing Aaryn under the bus and aired an assortment of her bigoted outbursts, other houseguests made racist, homophobic, and misogynist comments that never made the CBS telecast.

The fact that none of these comments were brought up during the live finale, especially when member of the final three made these statements, places more shame on CBS. In the end, in the midst of rampant bigotry, Big Brother crowned its first gay winner this year. Congrats, Andy Herren! I admired your gameplay and your fashion sense.

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The cancellation of Happy Endings

Simply put, I will miss my punny, fast-talking friends from Chicago. Not cool, ABC. Not cool.

The Naughty and Nice of 2012 TV

Welcome to my second-annual Naughty and Nice of TV list!

In the spirit of Christmas, I have named the aspects of this year’s television that I’ve deemed gift-worthy and ones that deserve a lump of coal. To view “The Naughty and Nice of 2011 TV,” click here. And just for the record, my favorite television series of 2012 are Breaking Bad, Girls, Mad Men, Louie, Parks and Recreation, Survivor, Community, 30 Rock, American Horror Story: Asylum, and Billy On The Street.

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TV on my Nice List:

Parker Posey on Louie

Parker Posey breathed a thrilling and dynamic life into Louie and her turn in “Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 1” and “Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 2” was an absolute joy to behold. At the end of a magical, haunting, whirlwind date, which included Posey’s Liz coercing Louie to try on a dress, providing a homeless man shelter for a night, and a near-orgasmic smoked fish tasting, the two end up at the top of a building. Liz is sitting on a ledge, and we, along with Louie, are thrown off-balance by her entrancing nature. What happens next, Liz’s soliloquy on the merits of living, took my breath away:

But the only way I’d fall, is if I jumped. That’s why you’re afraid to come over here. Because a tiny part of you wants to jump. Because it would be so easy. But I don’t want to jump; So I’m not afraid. I would never do that. I’m having too good of a time.

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Liz’s lust for life sharply contrasts Louie’s fearful approach to the world around him. She opens him up to the possibility of living outside one’s comfort zone and continue’s Louie’s education in empathy. Though their encounter is fleeting, the impact he has on his life is profound. As the episode ends, the camera widens to reveal the vast New York City skyline. There is a world out there beyond Louie’s own pain, waiting to be explored; there are people out there waiting to have their stories shared. It is a truly beautiful moment.

The casting of Survivor: Philippines

Survivor lives and dies by its casting and a truly successful season gives us people to root for and people to root against. Thanks to its vibrant casting, Survivor: Philippines delivered in spades with its strongest edition since Heroes vs. Villains. Denise. Malcolm. Lisa. Skupin. Abi-Maria. Penner. These were people who were, to various degrees, here to play. The combination of a savvy and likable group of survivors who made both smart and stupid moves along the way made for thrilling television.

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Malcolm Freberg, on Abi-Maria Gomes

The final four players were the strongest final four in Survivor‘s history and all four overcame the odds as underdogs in their respective tribes. In Denise Stapley, you have a strong physical and mental winner who went to every single Tribal Council (a series first!) and emerged victorious. Her partner-in-crime, Malcolm Freberg, was the golden boy of the season, an über-fan whose likability factor was off-the-charts, both with the players on the island and with viewers at home.

Lisa Welchel (Blair from The Facts of Life) had one of the most complete character arcs on any show this fall, scripted or otherwise, overcoming her struggle for approval and acceptance that haunted her in her years since her teen stardom. Lisa transformed from an outcast suffering a #SurvivorBreakdown, into a player who ultimately realized she was playing a game and needed to make cutthroat moves to do so. Her bosom buddy, Mike Skupin, retuned to the game after famously falling into a fire in Australia, and proved to be no less accident-prone today.

Abi-Maria Gomes was a fully-formed villain, hilariously and frustratingly unaware of her own obnoxiousness. Jonathan Penner made the most of his third time on the show, playing with every ounce he had and playing with the meta-ness of it all, deftly manipulating Lisa to position herself as a creator of her own narrative, asking her, “What story do you want to tell?”

And then there’s Carter Williams. What Carter lacked in loquaciousness, he made up for with the Survivor quote of the millennium:

Penner, what do you want to do – [vote for] Katie or Penner?

Survivor: Philippines struck casting gold this fall and we can only hope for more contestant treasures in the spring with Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites. See you there, Malcolm!

The music of Nashville

Upon first glance, ABC’s new primetime soap boils down to the dueling country divas: the hot, young starlet Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) and the respected veteran Rayna James (Connie Britton). However, in its first eight episodes, Nashville presented an increasingly rich landscape inhabited by numerous characters with complex relationships. While not everything has worked (every scene related to the snoozy mayoral campaign tempted me to fast-forward my DVR), the strongest thread by far, the vibrant country music, has made the trip to Nashville worth it every week.

One particular standout closes out the show’s pilot, the smoky and seductive “If I Didn’t Know Better,” performed by Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio):

The series’ addictive musical tapestry is executive produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett, who weaves a taut sense of history for each of the characters through the music they sing. Add to the mix, songwriters such as Elvis Costello and The Civil Wars, and you have a soundtrack worth spinning, from the Underwood-esque “Telescope,” to the acoustic singer-songwriter ballad “No One Will Ever Love You,” to the epic kiss-off duet between Rayna and Juliette in “Wrong Song.”

Mad Men‘s visual set-pieces

Put a gun to my head (please don’t) and ask me what is the most memorable scene on television in 2012 (please do), and I will respond immediately with Mad Men‘s Jessica Paré singing “Zou Bisou Bisou” in the show’s season premiere. The hypnotic image of a sultry Megan Draper performing for her new husband in front of all of his colleagues, instantly trended for fans around the country and the catchy tune became unforgettable. This moment was a coming-out for Megan and established the generation gap dynamic between her and her new husband, setting the tone for a darker, more visceral season of Mad Men.

This season was a Mad Men filled with so many indelible images: Peggy embarking on her new journey as The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” blared; Don peering into an open elevator shaft and into a deadly void of the unknown; Joan taking out her frustrations on a model airplane; Betty sneaking a bite of an ice cream sundae; Roger’s LSD trip. These were powerful images that masterfully spoke volumes about these troubled, unsatisfied characters.

Retta on Twitter: @unfoRETTAble

One of my favorite people I follow on Twitter is Retta, the QUEEN of television tweeting. Her live-tweets amassed such a fervent following that art imitated life: her character, Donna on Parks and Recreation, live-tweeted the fictional movie, Death Canoe 4 in an episode this past fall. Here are three of Retta’s hilariously choice tweets about Smash, Mad Men, and Girls:

In fact, Girls multi-hyphenate Lena Dunham has just asked Retta to live-tweet the upcoming season two of Girls:

Seriously, Retta is one to follow.

— — —

TV on my Naughty List:

The wasted potential of The Mindy Project

I was really looking forward to Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project. And I gave her FOX comedy a shot. I really did. But after six episodes, I deleted it off my DVR for good. The lead, Mindi Lahiri, was a wholly unlikable character, who conveniently revealed a beating heart at the end of each episode, illustrating how she’s “growing” as a character. The supporting characters were thinly veiled strings of amusing quips at best and the Danny/Mindi relationship was at times too mean-spirited to watch comfortably. The tone of the show varied wildly and its pieces never amounted to a stable whole. I checked back in at the Christmas episode only to find an unappealing Elie Kemper ruin a perfectly good gingerbread house. No thank you. Best of luck to the future of The Mindy Project, especially in the midst of all its head-scratching casting changes: Anna Camp downgraded! Stephen Toblowsky out! That Jersey secretary out! That crazy nurse from episode two promoted! In hindsight, The Mindy Project‘s original title seems way more apt: It’s Messy.

Michonne on The Walking Dead

This year, I give my “Most Improved” Award to The Walking Dead. The AMC zombie drama recovered immensely after its horrific second season doldrums. This past fall, the show found a strong footing with a string of episodes that never broke its sense of forward-moving momentum. The didactic and dreary dialogue was excised in favor of higher stakes action, and there was a welcome shift from the threat of zombie violence to the threat of fellow human survivors. The stakes in the show have never felt higher.

However, The Walking Dead dropped the ball with the new character of Michonne. A full library of scowls and looks of disapproval does count as being a fully-developed character. And a staunch refusal to talk doesn’t make someone any more intriguing either. My main problem with The Walking Dead remains: I still don’t care about the characters (save Glenn and Maggie). The show expects us to care about the relationship between Michonne and Andrea (see: the face-off between the two in the mid-season finale, post-Governor brawl), but we as viewers know next to nothing about the eight months these two spent together on their own. And since we have no sense of history between these two women, it’s extremely hard to care about them or their falling out. We also know next to nothing about Michonne’s motivations, so her actions are neither heroic nor damnable. Michonne’s shroud of mystery is a frustrating aspect in an otherwise respectably solid run of episodes. Alas, a character cannot merely skate by on badass katana wielding alone. When I being to care about the characters, I’ll start to care about the show.

TWD_Michonne_Andrea

And while we’re discussing Michonne, The Walking Dead has GOT to work on its racial character tropes. It’s greatly disconcerting that the show kills off T-Dog, its one black male character, who barely had any speaking lines to begin with, in the same episode that it introduces Oscar, another black male character. And The Walking Dead does it again in its mid-season finale: introducing a fan favorite from the graphic novels, Tyrese, while killing off Oscar in the same episode. Greatly disconcerting.

The series finales of Desperate Housewives and Weeds

Kudos to Tina Fey and 30 Rock for ending its run on an extremely high note. This final season of 30 Rock is as strong as ever and not only has brought tons of classic one-liners (“My whole LIFE is thunder!”), but has worked in resonant emotional moments as well, such as Liz’s wedding and Colleen’s funeral. It’s a shame that Desperate Housewives and Weeds limped along past their expiration dates and went out with a whimper instead of a bang.

Desperate Housewives rode off so unmemorably into the sunset that I honestly don’t recall much about the final season at all: Tom and Lynette reconciled. Susan lost Mike. Bree was tried for murder, but wasn’t convicted. Gaby… became older? In the end, there was a cheesy epilogue that showed the women living happily ever after. What a disappointing and tedious final season. As for Weeds, I went into full-detail into its awfulness here. In a nutshell, Weeds implausibly jumped seven years in the future and there were hologram cell phones. Sure, why not.

Smash in all its hate-watching glory!

Golden-Globe Nominee Smash. Just let the ridiculousness of that sentence sink in for a moment. Get all those belly-laughs out. Good.

Where to even begin with this trainwreck of a show that we can’t stop devouring? The battle for the most annoying character on television? The seemingly endless parade of vapid love triangles? The stilted and hokey dialogue (“I CAN’T! I’M IN TECH!”)? The embarrassingly bad musical numbers both fantasy (Bollywood: need I say more?) and reality (Karen singing “Shake it Out” at a bat mitzvah while the teens in the audience literally SHOOK THEIR ARMS OUT)? Or how Katharine McPhee’s Karen is heaped praise upon like she’s the second coming of Christ (COME ON. Megan Hilty’s mom is Bernadette Peters, for crying out loud!)?

There’s a new showrunner at the helm for season two, who has promised that the creative wrongs have been righted, with Ellis, Leo, Frank, and Dev kicked to the curb, along with Debra Messing’s scarves, but this fragile bombshell could implode at any minute. And I’ll be there every week with popcorn eagerly awaiting that to happen.

Smash_Times_Square

Here’s to 2013!

— — —

And because I just can’t get enough of Retta, I’ll leave you with one last tweet:

What I’m Watching/Ditching in the Fall 2012 TV Season

With the 2012 Emmy Awards behind us, the 2012/2013 television season officially begins this week. Here’s a look at what I’ll be tuning into this fall and what I have already deleted off of my DVR. (Last season, I said goodbye to The Office and The Amazing Race.)

What I’m Watching:

Survivor: Philippines – Returned 9/19
Survivor is unabashedly one of my favorite television series of all time. I love the intense competition, the high drama, and the sheer chaos of it all. After the premiere episode of its 25th(!) season, this fall proves to be no exception. Survivor: Philippines features a solid cast of big personalities (including The Facts of Life‘s Lisa “Blair” Whelchel and baseball MVP Jeff Kent) and an interesting twist. The contestants are split into three tribes and each tribe features a returning player who were medically evacuated in their previous seasons. It’s fascinating to see how well or how poorly these men have integrated into the tribes. I’m keeping my eye out for Mike Skupin, who famously fell into a fire in Survivor: The Australian Outback. I’m also a fan of Denise, the sex therapist, who brings a leveled-head to the game and formed an unlikely alliance with Malcolm, the hunky bartender.

Parks and Recreation – Returned 9/20
All hail network television’s best comedy! And while we’re at it, all hail Amy Poehler, who has been robbed the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress two years running! There simply is no show on television with a greater love for its characters and the world they inhabit, and in today’s television landscape, this love is a breath of fresh air. This season promises great opportunities for transformative moments true to these characters (Ben in Washington D.C.! April as his intern! Andy as a policeman?!) and I look forward to taking the journey with all of them.

The Mindy Project – Debuted 9/25
Mindy Kaling stars as Mindy Lahiri, a thirtysomething OB/GYN, a woman obsessed with romantic comedies, wrapped up in a romantic comedy of her own. “I’m basically Sandra Bullock!” Mindy proclaims in the absurdly charming pilot. This FOX comedy has great potential with its zippy writing and refreshing characters, especially in the winningly abrasive Chris Messina as her foil and fellow doctor (Will they? Won’t they? Cliché?) And seriously, who doesn’t love Mindy Kaling?! Hers is a distinct voice sorely needed in today’s television environment.

30 Rock – Returning 10/4
30 Rock’s sixth season was one of its strongest to date, fully redeeming itself from the staleness that had pervaded the show in the couple of seasons prior. As Liz Lemon grows older, she even begins to grow wiser. The show’s narrative focus became sharper last season (even giving Kenneth a worthy storyline), as did the levels of absurdity. And now we’re now primed to enter the final season with grand sendoff. Plus, JONATHAN’S BACK!

Nashville – Debuting 10/10
I’m really looking forward to this country music drama. Connie Britton as a struggling country legend versus Hayden Panettiere as a feisty up-and-comer? I am so there for this battle of the divas.

The Walking Dead – Returning 10/14
The Walking Dead made my naughty list at the end of last year thanks to its spinning narrative wheels and lifeless, bloated dialogue. But as with 30 Rock, the last couple episodes of the season showed some promises of a return to form, raising the stakes immensely and excising dead character weight. Now with the upcoming introductions of the characters of The Governor and Michonne, I’m back on the zombiewagon.

American Horror Story: Asylum – Debuting 10/17
I can’t handle scary stuff for the life of me, but I’m inexplicably excited for the second iteration of FX’s scarefest. Nazis, and nuns, and aliens. Oh, my! As with any Ryan Murphy creation, there is bound to be a whole universe of crazy to explore, especially one that deals with Murphy’s favorite thematic touchstone of religion. American Horror Story: Asylum also heralds the acting debut of Adam Levine, which alone could be worth the price of a season pass.

Community – Returning 10/19
This summer saw Community undergo a fundamental and life-altering change: the firing of its creator and showrunner, Dan Harmon. Whether or not Community will survive the shakeup with its comedic integrity intact in this truncated (and possibly final) season remains to be seen, but there is no doubt I’ll be tuning in to support the Greendale students, and of course, Dean Pelton.

Top Chef: Seattle – Returning 11/7
Top Chef: Texas was the reality show’s weakest season, so I’m a bit hesitant to put it on my to-watch list. The most recent season featured too many formulaic episodes with challenges emphasizing unnecessary twists that got in the way of actual cooking. Top Chef: Seattle promises to reverse this trend and go “back to the basics.” I sure hope so, or I might have to tell the series to pack its knives and go.

What I’m Ditching:

Glee
At the end of last season, my co-workers and I made a pact to never return to the world of Glee. Thankfully, we are all still honoring this pact. There is no more need to complain about the extremely whiplashed nature of its storylines the next morning. No more need to eyeroll at characters whose wildly inconsistent behavior serve only plot function, not character development. No more need to suffer through moments of alternating overbearing meanness and saccharine sermons. No more.

Modern Family
Yes, Modern Family walked away from the Emmys with its third straight award for Outstanding Comedy Series, but I have simply had enough of this show. The first season was uniformly excellent: the acting was sharp, and the writing even sharper. But now after its uneven third season, it’s the writing that I have the most problems with. I simply don’t feel like I’m watching characters anymore, but rather mouthpieces for the Modern Family writers, who constantly shout for attention, “Look at how clever we are!” The wittiness of the show is now tiresome and has become too on-the-nose by half. In addition, the writers have seemingly written the same character beats over and over again. I feel like I know the extent of what the characters can say or do. It’s been a hilarious time well spent, but it’s time spent enough with the Pritchett-Dunphy clan.

Jofum’s TV Week in Review: A Couple of Goodbyes

In the past week, a couple of television series said goodbye to notable faces. So please take note of this SPOILER ALERT!, as I take a brief look back on three of the week’s television offerings…

The Walking Dead

Goodbye Shane! – This season, The Walking Dead has seriously tried my patience. Hershel’s claustrophobic farm sucked all the energy and tension from the series. Without a clear antagonist, the show has simply meandered along at a glacial pace. Rick Grimes and the rest of the thinly characterized company have fought to survive the zombie apocalypse, without really accomplishing anything other than stay alive. Sure, zombies are still out and about, but they have just acted as mere roadblocks for the characters to fight through rather than against. But recently, Shane (as brash and annoying as his character can be at times) stepped up to the plate to become the villain that the show so desperately needed.

Shane’s transformation from jealous best friend and lover to vengeful would-be-and-has-been-one killer has been one of the series’ most successful character arcs, though granted, there haven’t been that many to begin with. His clashes with Rick about the nature of leadership have been more compelling than any of the repetitive and heavy-handed philosophical musings on life and death. The climactic standoff between Rick and Shane, though inevitable, proved to be quite suspenseful and engaging. And even more interesting, is the reveal that anyone who dies can turn into a walker, not just someone who comes into contact with a zombie. As the series heads off into its final episode of the season, Shane’s death brings a clearer focus to Rick and the gang, who now have to fight off the oncoming herd of zombies and deal with the nearby human survivors. It’s sure to be a bloody finale with a high body count.

Desperate Housewives

Miek Delfino (James Denton)

Goodbye Mike Delfino! – When it was announced that this year would be the end of Desperate Housewives, I looked forward to the possibility that the series would with a bang. Unfortunately, this final season has been an overall disappointment, fizzing out over the course of the year. The major through-line for the season, the Wisteria Lane gang dealing with the fallout of the murder of Gabrielle’s step-father, has gived the housewives ample opportunities to clash against each other and strengthen their bonds, but has been sullen and dour as a whole.

The whole loan shark storyline, which ultimately became the demise of Mike Delfino, has been tedious at best. Past Desperate Housewives villains have at least been interesting, if not flamboyantly devious (see: Edie Britt’s psycho husband, Katharine Mayfair’s psycho ex-husband), but this loan shark is downright cartoony. As for Mike’s death itself, the shooting in broad daylight was certainly unexpected, but it didn’t carry much emotional impact for me. As Wisteria Lane pays respect to Mike Delfino in the episodes to come, I hope the series doesn’t wallow too much in despair. In the past, Desperate Housewives has been the most successful when deftly blended a sense of whimsy with the threat of violence. Here’s hoping the final hours can rekindle some of that excitement that endeared America to these housewives in the first place.

American Idol

Goodbye Gentle Giant Jermaine Jones and Shannon Magrane! – I must say, I could not be happier with this Top 10, who have earned a spot on the summer tour. This is a really well-rounded crop of finalists, quite possibly the most evenly matched group the show’s seen. In these past two weeks, the three clearly weakest and least versatile singers in the competition were thankfully sent home: syrupy balladeer Jeremy Rosado and the aforementioned disqualified felon GGJJ and the in-over-her-head, tries-too-hard, “I only missed one note” Shannon.

However, only Shannon was eliminated by receiving America’s vote. Based on this week’s bottom three of Shannon, Elise Testone, and Erika Van Pelt, I highly doubt Jeremy (who was sent home by the judges) received the lowest amount of votes over Elise. This now-familiar voting trend of sending women home before the men is highly disappointing. Here’s hoping the self-proclaimed “old ladies” can connect with the voting public. So Elise, that means that you cannot not be happy when your competition makes it though! We know you’re disappointed and bitter, but America wants to see lightheartedness and support from its contestant! Enough with the sour faces! Onward to Billy Joel week we go!

Sorry-Grateful: Desperate Housewives To End May 2012

I know what you’re thinking: “Desperate Housewives is still on the air?!”

Once you find out the answer is “Yes,” you immediately ask, “Who’s still watching that show?”

The answer to that query would be that last year’s seventh season averaged 11.9 million viewers, a far cry from its 23.7 million viewers in its first season back in 2004/05. So that audience of Desperate Housewives would consist of all those millions of viewers. And me.

This past Friday, ABC announced that Desperate Housewives would end this upcoming May, after eight seasons. Eight seasons of high drama, low slapstick, cat fights, and an ever-rotating line-up of lovers for Bree Mason/Van de Camp/Hodge. Eight seasons of  supermarket shootouts, tornadoes, crowded club fires, plane crashes, and neighborhood riots (and that’s just for November sweeps). Eight seasons of episodes titles inspired by Stephen Sondheim songs and lyrics (hence this post’s title, drawn from Company).

The cast of "Desperate Housewives"

Anecdotally, it would seem that those who once tuned into this soapy series gave up at one point or another. Even I sat out on the latter half of season three, when Mad Men’s Roger wooed Eva Longoria to win the Hispanic vote on his quest to become mayor of the Eagle State. (Where does Desperate Housewives take place, anyway?) And to be sure, Desperate Housewives will never again be the cultural zeitgeist it once was. I still remember the Good Morning America segment airing after the eighth episode of the series, after a worn-out Lynette experiences a mommy meltdown and fantasies about killing herself due to the stresses of motherhood.

But something in the series still strikes a chord even today. How many television series can we point to that feature an ensemble of seemingly well-rounded female characters? And how many series have attempted and failed at recreating Desperate Housewives’ signature blend of zingy, sassy one-liners (cue Eva Longoria!), tense and often violent crises, and heart-wrenching emotional moments? That is Desperate Housewives at its effortless best: pure campy fun.

Before we look to the show’s future, I’d like to quickly look back and acknowledge a strength of its past. I think it’s fair to say that a majority of Desperate Housewives’ emotional weight lies squarely on the shoulders of Tom and Lynette Scavo. Perhaps it’s the every-couple aspect to Tom and Lynette Scavo that so resonates with the audience and has become the emotional cornerstone of the series. Perhaps it’s that Emmy Award-nominated Felicity Huffman acts the hell out of her dramatic pleas and confrontations. I will always consider one of the show’s shining moments to be in the fourth season finale. Tom confronts a cold-footed Bob and Lee on the merits of commitment, and in the process reaffirms his love for his wife. That despite a tornado tearing up their home, a secret lovechild, cancer, and everything else the show has thrown at them, nothing can tear them apart. I may or may not have shed a tear during this incredibly moving speech.

Now onto the upcoming season wherein Tom and Lynette have since split. (Oh, the perils of long-running serialized television!) I must admit, before the news that this would be the final season, I had my reservations about returning Desperate Housewives to my weekly rotation. At the Television Critics Association press tour this past weekend, showrunner Marc Cherry stated:

I wanted to go out when the network still saw us as a viable show and doing well in ratings. I’ve worked in TV for 23 years and I’m very aware of shows that overstay their welcome. I wanted to go out in the classiest way possible… Harder than creating a hit show is knowing when to end it, especially when you have such an amazing cast.

And just like that, I am returning to Wisteria  Lane one final time this fall. I was reeled back in: hook, line, and sinker. Bravo, Cherry and ABC.

True to form, there will certainly be a fair number of intriguing mysteries worth investigating in this farewell season:

  • Will Tom and Lynette reconcile and get back together?
  • Will Desperate Housewives see a ratings boost? While this is the final season, the series faces a formidable time-slot opponent in CBS’ The Good Wife.
  • Will there be a new ABC series to take the soapy reigns once Desperate Housewives leaves the tv landscape? Calling Good Christian Bitches Good Christian Belles G.C.B.!
  • Will Brenda Strong (Mary Alice) win an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance? Yes, Desperate Housewives is nominated in a category long-dominated by animated series.
  • And most important of all, will Vanessa Williams get a halfway-decent story line?