It never ends! This is the bad thing about not blogging regularly: I have a year’s worth of observations stuck in my brain, and only by barfing them out here can I get some rest. Seriously, I haven’t slept in about eleven months. I just sit in the spare room going, “Jon Hamm: very handsome. Zachary Quinto: seen enough of him for another year”. Hopefully our pain will end soon and I can either never blog again or at least change the subject. Maybe I’ll just start blogging about books I never normally do that.
Best Couple of the Year (According to me and not Daisyhellcakes): Raylan Givens and Ava Crowder – Justified
Before we get into a more technical appraisal of what makes Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) and Ava (Joelle Carter) the most interesting couple of the year, we have to accept that two very good looking and sexy people with immediate and startling chemistry are already well on their way to becoming fan favourites. One of the key moments of the pilot for FX’s Justified came when our hero — hunting his former colleague and now nemesis Boyd Crowder — turns up on the doorstep of his high-school sweetheart Ava. It’s a scene that Scott Tobias describes well in his review of the episode:
I loved the chemistry between Raylan and Ava, Boyd’s sister-in-law, played by an absurdly sexy Joelle Carter. Ava is on the hook for murdering her abusive husband, which obviously puts her in danger with Boyd and company, but she and Raylan know each other, too. Their greeting on her front porch is something else, like an attraction so electric that they lose any sense of social or professional politesse.
Much of the first season concerns them fighting their obvious desires in a pretty half-hearted manner considering how soon in the season they hop into the sack, which naturally puts Raylan’s job in jeopardy. What’s most amusing about that is that he doesn’t really seem to care: he’s so laidback and confident he just figures it will resolve itself without his intervention. Of course, he is eventually temporarily suspended, and the relationship falters not long after that, but only because Ava won’t listen to Raylan’s good advice about getting out of town to avoid the wrath of the Crowders. Maybe that’s the key to the relationship: both of them are smart but bull-headed, and so the tension in the will-they-won’t-they plot — which often comes across as contrived — is an extension of a very believable dynamic. They’re not kept apart by social convention or contrivance or even Raylan’s job (because for the most part he doesn’t seem to think he needs to cut off his relationship with Ava): they’re always on the brink of splitting up because they won’t back down from their core beliefs.
Nevertheless, as great as this couple is, there is another romantic sub-plot for Raylan to contend with. His ex-wife Winona (Natalie Zea, completely forgiven for her depressing stint in Dirty Sexy Money after her appearances in Hung and Justified) is also on the scene, and though she is now married and has had enough of Raylan’s dark side for one lifetime, he obviously still loves her and has a chemistry just as potent as with Ava. Because basically Timothy Olyphant is very good at this: his chemistry with Molly Parker on Deadwood was similarly smoking. What the hell is going on with him? He is like a walking sexual reactor, giving off Orgone radiation and turning all of his co-stars into glowing, sex-irradiated hottness sponges.
Anyway, the relationship with Winona runs through more traditional routes — she’s married, he’s pissed her off, he’s conflicted because of his feelings for Ava — but that doesn’t stop them getting together eventually. We lucky viewers get to see our hero find a partner and then lose her, as well as pine for a lost love and then slowly rekindle it. How lucky we are to have a show with two compelling romantic sub-plots: most shows can’t manage one. Of course, there’s always a possibility that you will root for one relationship over the other, and that’s what happened at SoC HQ. I’m a member of Team Ava, and Daisyhellcakes is resolutely on the side of Team Winona. I think we can both agree that this is a far more interesting choice than Team Edward and Team Jacob, especially as there is a good case for either Ava or Winona, whereas if you’re Team Edward you’re mad, as Jacob is at least not a murderous corpse with a bouffant. Ava and Winona are well-realised characters, well-played by two talented actresses, and when they are onscreen with Raylan your TV will start to ignite and then fire outwards like some Martian heat-ray. I’ll stick with them, thanks very much. (ETA: Hello Olyphant fans on LJ! Shades of Caruso is proud to be Team Raylan first and foremost, because he’s one charming son of a bitch.)
Most Tragic Couple of the Year: Dale Tomasson and Alby Grant – Big Love
When I nominate this relationship as being the saddest of the year, I have to note that it’s a depressing cliche to see two gay men come together, be miserable because they know they can’t be together, and then have one of them take their own life because they can’t take the shame of it. It’s nothing new, and it reinforces cultural belief that a gay relationship must inevitably come with such crippling emotional pain that it’s not even worth doing. That’s the bleakest possible read of the relationship. What makes this a coupling that is worthy of praise is the lovely and disarming work by Matt Ross (never better than here) and Benjamin Koldyke, who play the two men as innocents struggling to make sense of their feelings while weighed down with fear. It’s a new note for Ross to play, and he really goes for it: his love for Dale is simultaneously sweet, creepy, and horribly depressing. Koldyke is ostensibly the elder here, and should be more responsible, but he turns into an adolescent whenever Alby is near. It’s heartbreaking to watch.
At least two shows this year managed to show gay relationships that were normal: a bit of an event, really. Modern Family had Cameron and Mitchell, who were a cuddly gay couple with an adopted daughter, and represented one of the few things I liked about that abominable show, though as this excellent article points out (thanks to @werdsmiffery for the link), there are big problems with the way they are portrayed in the most non-threatening manner possible. Even more notable was Caprica‘s Sam Adama, who has a husband (yes, wingnuts, a TV show featuring a planet that has LEGAL GAY MARRIAGE fuck you, and if that hurts your ickle feelings my heart soars to hear it). We don’t see him much, but then that’s the beauty of it. Sam is a gay man married to another and they do fine and it’s no big deal. Except it obviously is a big deal, otherwise I wouldn’t mention it, but I have to say, after months of hearing hate-filled douchebags pretending that their opposition to gay marriage is a constitutional issue (when it’s actually revulsion and anyone smarter than a fungus knows that it’s revulsion), just seeing an acceptance of gay marriage on a TV show made me absurdly happy. Some more screentime for Sam’s husband would be nice (mentioning him and then not showing him except for a quick glimpse seems like a dodge just as bad as Cameron and Mitchell showing so little affection), but even this small detail on the show not only makes the world of Caprica more interesting, it also makes the TV landscape a little less homogenous, a little more inviting.
Best Reality TV Moment: So You Think You Can Dance – Alex and Twitch
Reality TV doesn’t really do it for me. Sure, I adore Top Chef — surely the highwater mark for reality TV: talented people doing amazing things under extreme pressure with personal bullshit kept to the minimum for the most part — and I still like America’s Next Top Model for the most part, usually whenever the models are obviously following orders to worship Empress Tyra, but the shows that take place on a stage leave me cold. I have no time for X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent or Strictly Come Dancing, even though I appreciate those shows do a great job of uniting huge audiences together in a shared experience, and at their best can give a lay audience an insight into the techniques of the participants and the experts brought in to advise them. Nevertheless, when this happened, I stopped what I was doing and watched in dumbstruck awe.
Yes, it’s not embeddable. Stupid Fox: if ever there was an advert for their show, that is it. A better-looking version of the dance is here, but context is all. As you may have noticed, Alex is a ballet dancer (a very good ballet dancer too) who is out of his depth in this situation. He has no experience of hip-hop dancing, and is paired with a former contestant who excels at it. It’s also a two-man dance, something that usually brings out Nigel’s dodgiest and most defensive comments. That he reacts the way he does in that clip (i.e. not screaming that he’s a MANLY MAN and he loves BOOBS and not COCK) says something about the artistry of the choreography and the execution. Sadly, not long after this Alex left the competition, having injured himself during rehearsals. He’s still recovering, but hopefully will be back dancing soon. Nevertheless, he did leave us this, and Shades of Caruso salutes him and wishes him well.
Best Live TV Moment of the Year: The opening sketch of the 2010 Emmy Awards
Okay, so only the last bit is live, but it’s still a potent moment, especially the quick glimpse of the gang rushing to their marks backstage, with Jorge Garcia looking simultaneously determined and scared. Perhaps the reason this made me so happy was that it came towards the end of a long year of TV watching, and felt like the capper on the whole damn exercise. It made me slightly like Glee a bit more, gave me a thrill to see Hurley giving it all he’s got, namechecked Lost and Community — two shows I love that didn’t get anything during the ceremony — and featured Jon Hamm backing it up in front of Betty White: when Twitter memes collide. Most surprising of all, it constituted yet another girder in the bridge being built between my Jimmy Fallon apathy and the increasingly possible Jimmy Fallon fandom. If he’s gonna rock the Springsteen like that, I can’t help but forgive him for Taxi. (But oh, the forgiveness burns as it leaves my fingers.)
Best Title Sequence: Human Target
It’s a perfect combination of rousing music — courtesy of Battlestar Galactica hero Bear McCreary — and fascinating imagery, referencing Christopher Chance’s comic book history without going the boring route of having a bunch of panels with speech balloons: the usual tedious choice. The show is uneven, but this stirring opener makes it look like the most confident action show around.
Worst Use of Music: The Vampire Diaries – Bloodlines
Gina Torres shows up in the CW’s hit Twi-lite teen drama, mostly to remind the audience they could be rewatching a Whedon show instead, but also to get murdered by Damon. She’s betrayed him, and so he’s inevitably going to rip out her heart. It’s not played sad: it’s brutal, and obviously meant to be a reminder that Damon might seem charming from time to time, but he’s actually mad evil (it’s not subtle character shading, but it is welcome considering how everyone else is sleepwalking through the show). The tune we hear playing over this horrific moment? The chorus from this fluffy nonsense…
A 100% tonal mismatch. It’s almost impressive. Nevertheless it begs the question: does anyone on the show involved with the music licensing even pay attention to the show?
Best Use Of Guest Stars: 30 Rock
The wide array of celebrities appearing on 30 Rock might be used as a litmus test regarding your tolerance for guest stars: it’s either a crutch, or a good “get” (sorry, I won’t do that again). It’s a testament to the show’s popularity in the creative community that they can attract the people they do: having Elizabeth Banks and Julianne Moore play recurring characters on your show is pretty impressive no matter how you look at it. Still, if they were just playing versions of themselves it would pall immediately, but 30 Rock has given them terrific characters to work with. In seasons past the sight of Al Gore racing off to save a whale, or Handsome Jon Hamm living in his bubble, or Elaine Stritch being the archetypal disapproving mother, has almost erased their other work from our memory: while watching the pilot of Boardwalk Empire we kept expecting Steve Buscemi to reach into his pocket to pull out a can.
The fourth season featured some of the show’s best guest appearances to date, with Banks and Moore both terrific as Avery Jessup and Nancy Donovan splitting Jack Donaghy’s attention, and a lovely appearance by a very goofy Matt Damon in the season finale (and the opener for season five, as well as the live episode broadcast this week), but it was Michael Sheen’s bravura performance as weedy Wesley Snipes that stole our hearts. As great as he is in pretty much everything he’s in (including the second Twilight movie, a feat we thought impossible), from now on Sheens’s appearance in a movie — no matter how dramatic — will be greeted by us with cries of, “Why is your face like that?” or “I don’t want to go back to England. I can’t suffer through the London Olympics — we’re not prepared, Liz. Did you see the Beijing Opening Ceremonies? We don’t have control over our people like that!” We want him on the show every week: that’s how you do guest appearances.
Worst Use Of Guest Stars: Modern Family
And this is how you don’t do them. To be honest, I’d stopped the show before the guest stars started arriving en masse, but I did sadly see them transform Elizabeth Banks into a cartoonish party-hard maniac who literally wishes Cameron and Mitchell would kill their adopted child so they could go drinking more often (before, of course, falling for the little darling in the mawkish final scene). Words fail me on that one, and then start working again when considering the crushingly unfunny appearance of Edward “Vaudeville” Norton as a member of Spandau Ballet, now so destitute he is reduced to performing in the homes of fans for a few dollars. His Cockney accent is the worst thing I’ve heard all year, and makes Julianne Moore — with her risible Boston accent — sound like Ben Affleck. Fucking show: from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!
New Favourite Actor: Joseph Fiennes – FlashForward
Joe F! I don’t think I shall ever see an actor hammier than thee. FlashForward was not a great show, and for most of its running time it wasn’t even diverting. Did anything interesting actually happen between the pilot and the insane gun-crazy finale? However, there was one thing that kept me glued to the screen: the towering display of eccentric enthusiasm from Joseph “Rather Handsome” Fiennes, who leapfrogged his brother to become my favourite Fiennes just through the use of one eyebrow. Photos barely do that eyebrow justice: you have to see it slowly creep up while his almost lipless (and yet still handsome) mouth gently parts in horror (or surprise, or joy, or intensity, or whatever) to get the Full Fiennes. No one on TV has ever given me such incidental joy since the Great Caruso first showed up as immobile scientist and deadshot Horatio Caine. As I’ve said before, it sounds like I’m just being mean, but I have such enormous affection for Fiennes and all of his metric tonnes of acting in this role that I wanted the show to continue simply because I knew I would miss him so much. And I do! His berserk energy was one of the highlights of the season (in the picture above he is throwing a phone across the room with all of his force. Yes! A backhanded throw! Where does he come up with these ideas?), and without it TV seems to be a paler place. Still, he is now working on Camelot, a Starz production seeking to pick up some of that Spartacus buzz. What makes that show even more promising? The showrunner is SoC nemesis Chris “Torchwood” Chibnall. There is a chance Camelot will make me spontaneously combust with mean-tinted joy. Let’s just hope any helmet he wears in the show has a gap so we can see his eyebrow. Speaking of which…
New Favourite Eyebrows: Ruth Wilson – Luther / The Prisoner
Her performances in Luther and The Prisoner are amiably mad, especially in the former, where she seems to be trying to channel every femme fatale in cinema history. It’s a delirious experience watching her flirt and pout while talking about murder in gallumphing, unsubtle dialogue that would sound impossibly stupid coming from any other actress. I doff my cap to her: she’s one of the things that made me like Luther even when I should have been despairing. She gets a bum deal in The Prisoner: Number 6 just rushes through her life, messing with her equilibrium, being so “sexy” (???) that she falls in love with him (or is that the special love-potion invented by Number 2?), and is then turned into a comatose speculative-universe-generating megabrain in the half-intriguing, half-nonsensical finale. But no matter what she is doing, and no matter how well she is doing it, it’s the eyebrows that drew me in. They are the Alpha and Omega of eye-mantelpieces, and I can’t wait to see what they appear in next.
Are these awards over? Can they be over? There’s still so much I had planned to say. ::sobs::