Sunday, September 23, 2007

"...Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."

The Preseason Fine Fifteen

A semi-regular feature....

A reminder that this list is limited to current shows, in primetime (sorry, Daily Show, Colbert Report, and World Poker Tour), and excludes sporting events, otherwise my top five would be as follows:
1. PTI
2. NFL Sunday Ticket in high def
3. late season (5 through 9) Seinfeld reruns
4. Jeopardy
5. Watching Notre Dame get pasted by...whomever they're playing on that particular Saturday

Others receiving votes (from least votes to most votes):

Bionic Woman (while I was unimpressed with the pilot, this show does have a fair bit of potential. It's either going to self-destruct---and, given that the showrunner just left due to "creative differences," the second one, I believe, to do so, and there were rumors that they'd shut down production, this is a distinct possibility--or become a big hit), Gossip Girl (my brother really enjoyed the pilot; I've yet to see it), It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (maybe just a little too mean for its own good), The Sarah Connor Chronicles (solid enough pilot, no clue if this has staying power...or if FOX will give the chance to prove same), The Real World: Sydney (it's already in a holding pattern after four episodes, which is rarely a good sign; but it's also the first RW season that's taken place in a city I've actually lived in, so I find it virtually irresistible), Dirty Sexy Money (I’m excited about it, but haven’t been able to track down the pilot), The Wire (obligatory mention, one day I’ll get to this one), Kid Nation (I have to say, although I had a terrific To Catch a Predator/Kid Nation crossover joke all lined up, the first ep of KN was surprisingly watchable--who knew that you could be so verbose at age 10?; though, for a hilariously unprofessional review of the show by a critic who may actually be ten years old, check this out. Good times.), ER, Entourage (just as Shuk jumps on the bandwagon, I'm getting off. I'll keep watching, but the pre-Entourage Sunday night excitement is long gone), Friday Night Lights (I found the first season to be somewhat plodding, but I'm hearing enough buzz (Simmons, my brother) that I may need to jump back in), Back to You (early signs are promising--yay, Fred Willard!--but I thought it'd be a bit better), Kitchen Nightmares (first episode = surprisingly riveting), Cold Case (underrated--it might be her hair, which most girls--if Carrie is any indication--seem to despise), CSI (it'll always be good, but it's no longer appointment TV for me), Chuck (too soon, but I loved the pilot), Prison Break (if I may: Prison Break when everyone is in prison? Good. Prison Break when everyone is out of prison? Not so much. (It's right there in the title, you guys!) Ergo, Season 3--set in a Panamian prison which doubles as Thunderdome--should be good. We'll see.), American Idol (in my defense, I held off for a looooooong time, but those audition episodes are twice as addictive as crack—just guessing here—and make perfect drinking game fodder. True, it’s a bit of a slog once you get down to the final 12—and a two-hour finale for something that should rightly take eight seconds (“Jordan, you’ve won. Blake, go home”) is borderline unforgivable—but, all in all, it’s good TV. Add me to the growing list of people that have underestimated Ryan Seacrest. Carson, he is not. But he gets it done.), Ken Burns’ The War (based on what I’m hearing, this might very well crack the top 5 by mid-next week, though, given it’s a limited run documentary series, it’s unclear if I should even include it on the list. Screw it.)

By network: NBC (5), Fox (3), ABC (2), CBS (1), Bravo! (1), HBO (1), Showtime (1), MTV (1), SciFi (1), Comedy Central (1), CW (1)

By genre: dramas (8) comedies (8), reality (2)

(Yes, I know there are 18 shows on this top fifteen list. Cut me some slack--the season is just starting.)

T15. 24 (FOX, entering Season 7, returns Jan. 2008)
Last Season's Best Moment:
as soon as the end-credits began to roll after the season finale, wrapping up the god-awfulest 24 season in history.
Last Season's Worst Moment: every single second prior to the best moment. Yikes.

T15. The Hills (MTV, Season 3 underway)
Best Moment:
Not a lot to pick from this season. I think I have to go with "Brody Jenner nearly crying like a little bitch upon returning to his own party after injuring himself in a touch football game on the beach." ("You guys, can't you see I'm sensitive about my appearance?!")Bonus points because he was injured by Lauren. That was thoroughly enjoyable. High marks also go to the after show, which is surprisingly entertaining.
Worst Moment: I'm tempted to put the entire lacklustre (thus far) 3rd season in this category. So far, it's been a confusing (so Heidi and Spencer are engaged, but no one in Heidi or Spencer's family is aware of this fact? Also perplexing: I'm fairly certain they hate each other), repetitive (see Lauren lamenting the loss of Heidi's friendship, see Heidi adamantly stating that she doesn't want to talk about it, repeat) mess. It's gotten to the point where they're actively manufacturing storylines at this point: witness the episode where it appears as though Heidi has "backstabbed" Elodie by secretly seeking out a promotion that she was perfectly entitled to go after in the first place. As I say to Carrie every episode, I can describe what this show desperately needs in two words: more Whitney.

T14. Reaper (CW, entering Season 1, Sept. 25) Both the premise (boy's parents sell his sould to the devil) and the ads for this new show sounded/looked terrible to me, but after watching the pilot (directed, interestingly enough, by Kevin Smith, who, I assume, took time off from his busy schedule of appearing in supporting roles in shitty Jennifer Garner movies), I'm a believer.
Best Moment: I don't really want to spoil anything from the flat-out funny pilot. One thing I really enjoyed is that when Sam finds out his soul has been sold and when he tells others the same thing, it's treated as completely plausible. No eye rolling, no laughing, no needless subplot where the best friend and/or love interest steadfastedly refuses to believe our hero only to be convinced at the last possible second, etc. For whatever reason, I found this very refreshing.
Worst Moment: apparently, Sam's love interest in the leaked pilot I watched, Andi (as played by Nikki Reed), has since been recast, with Missy Peregrym taking over the role. I hate shit like this. Reed was no slouch in the looks department, but Peregrym (who played Candice the illusionist on Heroes) is runway model good looking (on account of her being a runway model). This seems totally unnecessary to me.

T14. Pushing Daisies (ABC, entering Season 1, Oct. 3)
Best Moment:
I've talked about this at great length a few weeks ago, so I won't subject anyone to a re-hash. Suffice to say, it's full of great moments.
Worst Moment: Me coming across this passage in my Entertainment Weekly fall TV preview:

Bottom Line...the most divisive new drama on TV, if the debate among EW staffers is any indication: Daisies is either a charming bit of whimsy or too precious for its own good.
The hell? Is "precious" Hollywood insider code for "original"?

13. My Name is Earl (NBC, entering Season 3, Sept. 25) Despite a strong season, I do feel like this show is spinning its wheels a little bit. Others will no doubt disagree. I'm hopeful that the "Earl in jail" storyline--which is supposed to last for a few episodes, at least--will help mix things up a little bit.
Best Moment: The Cops episode. Great stuff. I'm also partial to the line in "Born a Gamblin' Man," when someone accuses Earl of having a gambling problem:

"I'm not losing. So its not a problem. Thats like saying Michael Jordan has a basketball problem; or Def Leppard have an awesomeness problem. So, why don't you pour some sugar on that!"
Worst Moment: While most guest stars brought something to the table (Beau Bridges, John Leguizamo, Norm MacDonald, and the always-amusing Giovanni Ribisi), there were guests that fell flat for me (Roseanne Barr and, especially, Christian Slater).

12. Scrubs (NBC, entering Season 7, Sept. 25)
Best Moment:
I didn't love the musical episode as much as some did (except for "Guy Love," which cracked me up). Truth be told, not much else stands out, though I did like the ep where Ted had hair ("Their Story") and whenever Felicity showed up.
Worst Moment: the oh-so-forced finale. I don't think that J.D. and Elliot are going to hook up (again), but the whole storyline was/is so, so unnecessary.

T11. Heroes (NBC, entering Season 2, Sept. 24). Ah, Heroes. I'll be honest, I think it's sort of fallen prey to the whole "lots of super cool build up leading to a fairly tame climax" syndrome. That said, I'm pretty excited about the addition of David Anders (SARK!) and Kristen Bell to the cast.
Best Moment: Loved, loved, loved the episode set five years in the future. Also, anything involving Hiro and Ando was uniformly excellent.
Worst Moment: The tremedously disappointing confrontation ("battle" seems completely inappropriate) between Peter Petrelli and Sylar in the season finale. So, let me get this straight: Peter and Sylar spend the entire season "acquiring" other-wordly powers like so many Pokemon, yet, when they fight--i.e. the thing the whole season has been building up to--we're treated to two punches each and a vigorous shove? Weak.

T11. American Dad (FOX, entering Season 3, Sept. 30) Aside from South Park, this is the funniest animated show on TV by a wide margin. Translation: it's wayyyyyyyy better than Family Guy (seriously, what the hell happened to FG? I caught part of a newer episode last month that featured a two minute bit about the opening credits for Mama's Family--I'm not making this up) and The Simpsons (I don't even want to talk about it). Here's the description for the season premiere:

When Francine discovers that all of their family vacations have been artificial memories created by the CIA so that Stan could ditch the family, she demands a real vacation. Meanwhile, Roger makes a desperate effort to be the greatest actor who ever lived.
COME ON! Tell me you wouldn't watch this...
Best Moment: all of "Lincoln Lover," where Stan tries being gay.
Worst Moment: some pretty big swings and misses ("Bush Comes to Dinner," which was limp, and "Black History Month," which was dreadful).

10. Top Chef (Bravo!, Season 3 underway)
Best Moment:
Not sure if anyone is watching (or, for that matter, reading this), but we've already seen the first 11 episodes of the third season, while FoodTV has only aired three, so I'll avoid specifics. One thing I really like about the show: it's satisfying to know that the judges' decisions are reached based on how the contestants cooked, and not on how well they argue their case after the fact.
Worst Moment: unlike S1 (Tiffany and, to a much lesser extent, Stephen) and S2 (Ted, Marcel, or Betty, depending on your outlook), Season 3 doesn't have a true villain, which is a little disappointing.

9. House (FOX, entering Season 4, Sept. 25). [Shakes head] Not too sure what happened here, but this was not a strong season. The boring/pointless disgruntled cop arc, Wilson turning into a big baby, Foreman's dragged out departure, the ketamine cure--it all added up to...pretty much nothing. Throw in a season finale that went more or less nowhere and you have a season that is probably best forgotten. The season 4 gimmick--House hires a group of 40 doctors, from which he'll pick one--could revitalize the show...or crush it. On the plus side, the show's ratings have never been better. Also, Hugh Laurie is still the star, so you know it'll be worth watching.
Best Moment:
standout episodes included "Half-Wit" (the Dave Matthews episode), "Lines in the Sand" (the screaming autistic child episode), and "The Jerk" (the chess prodigy). Other than that, a quiet season.
Worst Moment:
How much time do you have? OK, I'll just go with one. In "Words and Deeds," the docs determine that the Patient of the Week (POTW), a firefighter, is suffering from "broken heart syndrome." Essentially, he's desperately in love with his brother's fiancee, but since he knows he can never be with her, his infatuation is killing him. Accordingly, it's decided that the best course of action is to shock his brain to the point where his memory is erased. This seemingly severe procedure is deemed a success, as the patient no longer remembers his brother or his fiancee. Except that it turns out that the brother isn't engaged; isn't, in fact, even dating the girl that the patient adores. It was all a fabricated memory. The team promptly discovers what is actually causing the firefighter's health problems (some sort of spinal tumor) and they fix him up. And...that's it. As far as I can recall, the consequences of the unnecessary memory wipe aren't even discussed, nor (predictably) is the implausibility of no one bothering to confirm that the brother is actually engaged before proceeding with this incredibly extreme procedure ever addressed. Granted, later in the season, a bad decision leads to the death of the POTW, and Foreman is grief-stricken for several episodes, but, if anything, this is even more maddening, since it exposes the show as wildly inconsistent with its characterization.

8. South Park (Comedy Central, Season 11 resumes Oct. 2)
Best Moment:

Mrs. Cartman: What is the picture of, Eric?
Cartman: Last time, when Butters stayed the night, I was being really nice to him, and I was gonna take a picture of him for his mom to have...
Mrs. Cartman: Oh, that's nice.
Cartman: But then, right when I took the picture, Butters got really hot, so he pulled his pajama bottoms down, and then I tripped and fell down and my mouth landed right on his penis, and then I thought of something funny so I smiled up at the camera and gave, like, a thumbs up, and then Kyle took the picture from me and he's gonna show it to everybody and make them think I'm gay!
That whole episode ("Cartman Sucks") is hysterical. Poor, Butters. Other highlights include Randy Marsh on Wheel of Fortune and "Night of the Living Homeless" ("Chaaaaaange?").
Worst Moment: Having to wait several months for the second half of season 11 kinda sucks, but it's a small price to pay. Also, the 300 parody wasn't the best, but it did give us Ms. Garrison "scissoring," which was shockingly funny.

7. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, Season 6 underway). Now, is this the same show that it was in its prime (seasons 2 and 3)? Clearly not. But Larry David remains the master of the awkward situation.
Best Moment:

Larry: So your last name is Black?
Loretta: Yes.
Larry: That's like if my last name was Jew—Larry Jew
...and "revenge masturbatory payback." Need I say more? Pretty, pretty funny.
Worst Moment: I still feel kind of ill when I think about the atrocious S5 finale. With regards to this season, the plots don't seem to be developing as naturally as they used to. Would Larry, the excuse king, not see the huge hole in his plan to show up to a party a day late in the hopes of defraying any lingering tension from them not showing up the day before? Surely, he would. Having fallen victim to his own plan, would he be dumb enough to try the exact same thing the next night? Absolutely not. And yet, this is what happens in the season premiere. I get why (it's convenient), but I do expect a little more from this show.

6. Battlestar Galactica (SciFi, entering Season 4, Feb. 2008) I know, I know, I'm dork. But seriously: frak off. This show is terrific. When I mentioned how much Carrie and I were enjoying the first season to Ryan, he rolled his eyes and said "I just don't like space programs." And, really, that's a fair point. But, as I tried to explain to Ryan, it's really more of a political show with a scifi setting, my exact words were "The West Wing in space," I believe--which I stand behind. We're only four episodes into Season Two, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say: this is the smartest show on TV. (Note: this title once belonged to House, until it chose to shit the bed last season).
Best Moment: Boy! The S1 cliffhanger, Starbuck interrogating the captured Cylon, virtually every scene featuring Baltar (James Callis) and Number Six (Tricia Helfer)...
Worst Moment: Not really a "worst moment," so much as a potential problem for the show. In the BSG Universe, there are 12 different cylon (machines created by humans, that can look like humans, and are intent on destroying humanity) models. Meaning that cylons can take one of 12 human forms. So far (again, this is early season 2), we know what 4 of them look like, leaving 8 to be determined. Additionally, some cylons might not even know that they are cylons--meaning: they'd behave like a regular human. In my weaker moments, I worry that the writers, having boxed themselves into a corner, might (indeed, likely will) resort to "unveiling" main characters as cylons. Now, don't get me wrong, this does add an element of suspense to nearly every scene, but I don't want it to become a cheap tactic. Knowing this show, it won't.

5. 30 Rock (NBC, entering Season 2, Sept. 27)
Best Moment:
Anything involving: Dr. Spaceman, the Beeper King, Tracy's entourage (oh, Grizz and Dot Com), and Jack trying to act ("I'm going to need two mugs").
Worst Moment: It really didn't finish as strong as I would like (the Black Crusaders, in particular, felt flat to me). Aside from that, no complaints.

4. How I Met Your Mother (CBS, entering Season 3, Sept. 24)
Best Moment:
Without a doubt, this goes to "Slap Bet." It's such a funny premise and so unbelievably well-executed than I'm hesitant to reveal anything to non-viewers (although I did here--call it a moment of weakness). Also great: Robyn misinterpreting the gift policy at Lily’s bachelorette party, with hilarious consequences. And: Barney on The Price is Right. And Barney’s play. And…you get the point.
Worst Moment: Hmmm...I'll get back to you.

3. The Office (NBC, entering Season 4, Sept. 27)
Best Moment:
Probably a tie between "The Coup" (Dwight going over Michael's head to Jan with hilarious consequences) and the Season Finale (which was as close to perfect as an hour-long sitcom can be--nary a wasted second).
Worst Moment: I kind of thought it dragged in stretches this season.

2. Lost (ABC, entering Season 4, Feb. 2008--dammit)
Best Moment:
Virtually every second of the brilliant two hour season finale ("Through the Looking Glass"), but if forced to be more specific: the flash-forward reveal at the very end. I was in daze for a solid three hours after this ended. Arguably, Lost was slightly (or very) over-hyped when it debuted. But now? Way (way, way) underhyped. As the finale proved, this is the most consistently inventive show on TV. Roll on, February.
Worst Mo--: the episode where they explained Jack's tattoo. Jesus God! What did we do to deserve that pile of garbage? Thankfully, the writers pretty much knocked every one of the subsequent 13 episodes out of the park (with a handful--notably "Expose," the outstanding "One of Us," "The Brig," "The Man Behind the Curtain," "Greatest Hits," and the aforementioned finale--that are among the show's very best).

1. Dexter (Showtime, entering Season 2, Sept. 30)
Best Moment:
The 100% return rate on people that I recommend the show to (and who actually go out and watch it—damn you, Misha!!)—what can I say? I like being right. I think a lot of people haven't seen this gem, so I'll steer clear of plot points. The review I read for this show before it came out last year described it as a cross between CSI and Silence of the Lambs. While that's an intriguing idea and not entirely inaccurate, in hews much closer to Frailty with a dash of Heroes. If you're not watching it, do. You will not be disappointed.
Worst Moment: The second that the season one credits began to roll and it dawned on me that I had no idea if and when the show would return. Too much of a copout? OK, fine. Oddly, I was not blown away by the pilot (which was too gruesome, too soon, to the point where my dad—who I think would really like the show—never came back to it, which is kind of too bad). But, after that, it was lights out television.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Whatever the mess you are, you're mine, okay..."

2007 U.S. Open Recap
Note: yes, I realize this ended a week ago. What do you want from me? I'm pretending to go to law school here! Stay tuned for my World Series preview in December.

I wanted to come up with some Esquire-"Dubious Achievement Awards"-inspired witty titles, but, to be honest, that takes a lot of work, so let's just go with "Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down."

Thumbs Up: Roger Federer. I think we're all running out of superlatives year. I purposely avoided doing a running diary for the men's final for fear that would end up as follows:

4:05 - Federer walks out onto the court. Science Dammit is he stylish!
4:12 - Ohwhatabeautifulshot
4:14 - Ohwhatabeautifulshot

And so forth. (You know how I know you're gay?) True, it wasn't the most compelling of finals, as Federer--aside from his serving, which was magnificent--seemed a little bit off, but watching him on even a so-so day is better than watching pretty much anyone else at their best.
Thumbs Down: The Women's Final. Fun fact: the last U.S. Open Women's final to go three sets was...1996, when Graf beat Seles 7-5, 6-4. [Pumping my fist.] Since then, the runner-up has managed to win an average of 6.6 games in the final. This year, Svetlana "All these zeros on this oversized cheque are real, right?" Kuznetsova, who played a solid tournament but was, let's be honest, just happy to be there, managed to drag that number down, winning just 4 games against Henin. Ouch. Remind me again why the women's final airs on Saturday night? At least Dr. Quinn had some suspense. (Note: starting next year, it's moving back to its original afternoon timeslot between the two men's semis).
Thumbs Up: Justine Henin. I really didn't think she had enough weapons to win in New York this year. I was, of course, dead wrong. Thanks to what seems like an improved serve (110+ on the radar gun), her always reliable killer backhand, textbook volleying, and the fact that she's--by far--the best tactician on tour, Henin cruised to her second U.S. Open title. There was a bit of scare against Venus in the semis, but she managed to prevail. She's had a terrific summer.
Thumbs Down: Serena's classless remarks.
Can a girl be a douchebag? If so, I would definitely describe Serena as such. Here's the quote in question, coming on the heels of her straight set loss to Henin: "I just think she played better. I just think she made a lot of lucky shots, and I made a lot of errors." Now, I won't belabor the point since she's already been (justifiably) excoriated by the media, except to say: grow the fuck up.

Thumbs Up: Novak Djokovic. This kid--who is only three months older than my brother--is the real deal. He's gone 19-4 in the slams this year, with all four losses coming from Nadal (two, one due, at least partly, to injury) and Federer (the other two). He capped this off with an impressive run at the Open. He didn't always look his best, but, even when he wasn't in top form, he still managed to gut out a couple of tough wins (see the epic 4:44 5-setter against Stepanek in Round 2 and a gritty four-set win against Juan Monaco in the Round of 16). He then crushed Moya (who beat him in Cincinnati), hammered Ferrer in the semis, and, really, could've beaten Federer in the finals (Taylor swears that he should have won). Plus, he's dating Sharapova to boot. All in all, an impressive year. I'm still a bit concerned about his net play (generally weak) and the way he played all those set points against Federer (in a word: tightly; it looked to me like he was waiting for Roger to make a mistake, to which I say: don't hold your breath. To borrow a boxing analogy, you need to knock the champ out, and I didn't see that killer instinct last Sunday), but his strokes are top-notch and he's going to be a force to be reckoned with for a long time to come.
Thumbs Down: Crap Seeding. How is it that Federer, the top seed, played Roddick (the 5 seed) in the quarterfinals, while Djokovic (the 3 seed) was slated to play Tommy Robredo (the 8 seed)? Why doesn't the seeding committee use the standard 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5 formula? This is a question that has always bothered Taylor and I. Turns out, the unofficial answer is: we want to avoid the same top seeds playing each other in the same round every tournament. Well, I'm just bored enough to investigate this. In the previous ten grand slams, the top eight seeds haven't been identical once, thus negating the ATP Tour's argument. This really isn't that big of a deal (Fed would've won regardless), but it does strike me as somewhat silly. And also, as for the original argument, here's something that would never come up in an NFL meeting: "hey, isn't everyone tired of Pats-Colts in the playoffs?? Let's mix it up!!"

Thumbs Up: HD Tennis. In a word: ohmygod. So, so sexy. If it were socially acceptable, I would take my brother to court in and sue for full custody of his new television. Consider yourself on notice, Taylor.
Thumbs Down: TSN's Maddening Schedule. Back to back nights in week two were interrupted for the ridiculous Super Series (who was even watching this? Couldn't they have cancelled the rest of the series after Canada won? What's the deal with playing in different provinces on consecutive nights? Pace yourselves, lads. Even Misha--the biggest hockey fan I know--could barely be bothered to pretend to be interested.) As a result, I missed all of the V. Williams-Jankovic match (arguably, the only great match of the entire tournament on the ladies side) and most of Roddick-Federer. Speaking of...

Thumbs Up: Andy Roddick. I know, I know, he's now 1-14 against Federer all-time, but he played Roger tough in the quarters. Truth be told, the outcome never really seemed in doubt, but at least he made Federer work for the win.
Thumbs Down: Andy Roddick. I didn't see his post-match interview (though I imagine it involved Andy banging his head against the podium repeatedly) but, my God, this has to be deflating for him. At least in the past Andy had something to hang his hat on (I could have served better, I need to improve my backhand, he's mentally tougher than me, etc.), but now? I really don't know. He played a (fairly) terrific match (notably: a 71% first serve percentage, 77% of first serve points won) and still got fucking clobbered. I'm bummed for him and he's made over $12,000,000 in prize money in his career. Federer is just too good. Which brings up an interesting (at least, I think it's interesting) question: is he happy being world class (he hasn't been out of the top 10 in years) but, compared to Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, decidedly second-tier? I mean, it's conceivable (in fact: more than likely) that he'll never win another slam, which has to be disheartening for him. And yet, he can probably go on winning two or three non-majors a year for another six years. There's certainly no shame in that, is there? For a much more sophisticated meditation on the whole "being mind-boggling good at something, but far from the greatest" issue, seek out David Foster Wallace's brilliant essay on Michael Joyce, then the 79th-ranked men's tennis player in the world, now Maria Sharapova's (at this stage, I'm guessing embattled) coach.

Thumbs Up: Ana Ivanovic. Carrie says that, once a year, I'm allowed to call one other women "gorgeous" with impunity. So...even though we've got about 100 days to go in '07, I'm using up my "get out of jail free" card right now. Goddamn...she's hot!
Thumbs Down: to the impending postponement of our nuptials. But, baby, you said you were cool with this...

Thumbs Up: Men's Tennis. What with Federer's absolute dominance on grass and hard courts, Nadal's superior clay court play, the emergence of Djokovic as a legitimate rival to both, and a series of riveting matches at the Open (Blake-Santoro, Blake-Haas, Djokovic-Stepanek, Nalbandian-Ferrer, and Nadal-Ferrer to name a few), it's just a really exciting time to watch men's tennis. Yes, it's cyclical and, yes, the women's game is bound to get hot again, but, in the meantime: let's just enjoy the ride.
Thumbs Down: Women's Tennis. Part way through a rather dull early round Serena Williams beatdown, USA Network announcer Ted Robinson casually mentioned to Tracy Austin (the color commentator) that, while he was completely in favor of equal prize money for the men and the women (a recent change), he wondered if it wasn't time to consider reducing the women's field from 128 to 96 players. His reasoning--though unstated--seemed to be: Tracy, these early matches are soooooo boring. I'm as likely to sprout wings and flap out of this booth as Serena is to drop this match. Whaddya say we blow out of here and get some KFC?
Austin (not, um, my favorite sports personality) was, predictably, mildly offended, and replied that, why, just yesterday Hantuchova (the 9 seed) and Santangelo (the 23 seed) had both lost, in essence, replying: Ted, you fool, can't you see that upsets are a regular occurrence? Thinking the segment over, I just shook my head, but, amazingly, Robinson retorted that pointing to the defeat of two seeded players that absolutely no one thought were threats to win the tournament doesn't exactly prove that the women's draw was deep. And he's exactly right. If anything, it seems to prove the reverse: how bad is women's tennis if Daniela Hantuchova, a perfectly serviceable player who, nevertheless, is prone to mental breakdowns during her matches (to the point where I've actually witnessed her cry while serving), who is most known for having the longest legs on tour (this is true), and who has never advanced beyond the quarterfinals in a grand slam event (and not past the 4th round in the last four years--wtf?), how depleted are these fields that she's the 9th seeded player in this year's U.S. Open? (To prove that I'm an equal opportunity hater, it also strikes me as insane that James Blake-whom I'm happen to really like--was the 6-seed in the Open, despite only making it to two grand slam quarterfinals in 23 tries.) Another excellent example would be Martina Hingis. Hingis, who was once #1 in the world, retired, at the age of 22, due to injury in 2002, only to return three years later and play her way back into the top 10 by year's end. This is made all the more impressive when you consider that she serves like someone who has severe osteoporosis and a possibly life-threatening aversion to sweating.'s my solution: seed the top 12. If, for some reason, the Williams sisters are not among that group, they should be made the 11 and 12 seeds. As much as I dislike them, there is, at no point, more than 10 women on the WTA Tour better than these two. Trust me. Those 12 seeds get a first round bye. The first round will then consist of the remaining 104 players playing for 52 spots in the second round. From that point on, it's a six round tournament (just like March Madness, except with more grunting!). This reduces the field from 128 to 116 and would, invariably, lead to stronger early round matches.

Still not convinced about my lack of depth on the women's tour argument? Hot off the presses: in her comeback tournament, 31 year old (that's roughly 285 in tennis years) Lindsay Davenport defeated Hantuchova in the final of the Commonwealth Bank Tennis Classic in Bali today. She also beat Jankovic (the 3-seed in the U.S. Open), in the quarters.

Oh, wait, I forgot to mention: she gave birth to her first child 95 days ago.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Was this year’s Dundies a success? Well, I made Pam laugh so hard, she fell out of her chair and almost broke her neck. So I killed, almost..."

Emmy Awards Preview - Part Two: The Comedies

My Four Biggest Problems With the Emmy Process:
4. The Voters Are Old. I'm don't necessarily mean geriatric, just generally old. First example: The Golden Girls won Outstanding Comedy Series in 1985 and 1986. Was Family Ties not on the air? Cheers on hiatus?? If there was a voter under 40 on the panel, he or she would have quit on the spot. Second example: the following category...
Outstanding Animated Program (for Programming Less Than One Hour)
Avatar: The Last Airbender • City Of Walls And Secrets • Nickelodeon
Robot Chicken • Lust For Puppets • Cartoon Network
The Simpsons • The Haw-Hawed Couple
South Park • Make Love, Not Warcraft • Comedy Central
SpongeBob SquarePants • Bummer Vacation / Wig Struck • Nickelodeon

Should Have Been Nominated: Sigh...what a profoundly misguided category. I've never even heard of Avatar (and I refuse to look it up). Robot Chicken, while disturbing and funny (usually: in that order), is, if I'm not mistaken, a 15 minute show, and doesn't really belong here. And, as for SpongeBob: look, I like it as much as any guy who isn't a nine-year old girl, but does it really hold up against The Simpsons, or South Park...or American Dad? Speaking of: where the hell is American Dad? I find it hard to believe that they couldn't have found room for either "Lincoln Lover" (where Stan tries being gay), "Of Ice and Men" (where Stan's secret fascination with figure skating is revealed), or "Four Little Words" (where Stan's boss "accidentally" stabs to death Francine's friend, forcing Stan to cover up her death so that he won't have to say "I told you so"--hence the title). AD has more hard laughs per minute that any animated show not called South Park. Additionally, I truly believe "Go God Go!" (the two-part episode where Cartman can't wait for the release of the Wii, freezes himself, and wakes up in an athiest-run war torn future) to be much funnier than "Make Love Not Warcraft," but so it goes.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: South Park, though, again, it should be for a different episode. No matter.
Will Win: The Simpsons. Just because.

30 Rock • "Tracy Does Conan" written by Tina Fey
30 Rock • "Jack-Tor" written by Robert Carlock
Extras • "Daniel Radcliffe" written by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant
The Office • "Gay Witch Hunt" written by Greg Daniels
The Office • "The Negotiation" written by Michael Schur

Should Have Been Nominated:
Let the How I Met Your Mother campaign begin! "Slap Bet," (written by Kourtney Kang) by virtue of being the funniest 22 minutes I've seen on TV this year, absolutely, positively needs to be here. From the premise (Marshall and Barney have a bet on whether Robyn is afraid to go to the mall because she's been married before or because she's done porn in the past, with the winner getting to slap the loser 10 times consecutively or dole out 5 surprise slaps over the rest of their lives--admittedly, it loses a bit of its lustre in translation), to the twist (they're both wrong--she's afraid to go to the mall because she once was a Canadian pop idol whose hit song was "Let's Go to the Mall") to the selling of said twist (an absolutely tree-mendous cheesy 80s video) to the payoff (Marshall's first slap), this epsiode makes virtually everything else pale in comparison. As far as I'm concerned, Kang should win for this one. Alas...

I'm also at a loss as to why the extremely average "The Negotation" (with the only, as far as I can recall, stand out scenes there being Darryl making fun of how little Michael makes and Darryl teaching Michael phony black slang--the latter being much better done in the NewsRadio ep where Phil Hartman was shilling for Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor), made the cut but the vastly superior one-hour finale ("The Job") did not. My one complaint about hour-long Office episodes (or, really, hour-long episodes for any sitcom that isn't the British Office) is that there's a wholllle lot of filler. But with the finale, there was nary a wasted moment, to the point where I actually wished it were longer.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: well, aside from Schur's episode, this is a very strong category, with all four remaining nominees legitimate threats to win it. For 30 Rock, "Tracy Does Conan," where, I believe, we meet Dr. Spaceman for the first time, is probably funnier from start to finish than "Jack Tor," but "Jack Tor" clearly has the better scene (where Baldwin, as Jack Donaghy, goes through some 120 takes--edited down to about a minute and a half for the viewers--to film his GE promo, which was just riotously funny). The Radcliffe Extras episode is great, but not as strong as the McKellen episode, so I feel like I need to knock it down for that. (Of course, if I'm being fair, I really should criticize "Gay Witch Hunt"--the awkwardness rating was through the roof on that one--for the same thing.) I guess I'll go with "Tracy Does Conan," but this is a tough one.
Will Win: "Tracy Does Conan"--as they'll want to give something to Fey tonight.

Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Kevin Dillon, Entourage
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Rainn Wilson, The Office

Should Have Been Nominated:
Aside from the truly unfortunate inclusion of Cryer (fine, I’ll say it: Nielsen families, I’m officially befuddled, why is this program so popular?) this category is truly first rate. Wilson and Harris (see below) are both tremendous. Piven always brings the funny, though, of late, it’s more or less the same thing every time. Try this one next season, take a shot every time Ari: talks to Lloyd without making some sort of derogatory gay remark; talks to Dana Gold without mentioning that he defiled her in the past; talks to his wife without being a sexist prick (post-prickish remark apologies do not apply); or talks to anyone other than Lloyd (or a client) in his office without screaming at them. This is a drinking game even a Mormon could love. The same goes for Dillon as Johnny Drama. He is pretty funny, but it’s gotten to the point where Drama is so predictably pathetic week in and week out that I’ve lost virtually all interest in his storylines. To that end, I’d dump Dillon and Cryer and replace them with Stephen Merchant (Agent) from Extras and one of the following: Jack McBrayer (Kenneth the NBC Page) from 30 Rock, John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox) from Scrubs, John Krasinski from The Office, and, most improbably (as it will never, ever, ever happen), Jason Segel from HIMYM.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: This one, for me, comes down to Wilson and Harris. It warms my heart that Wilson decided to actually submit his strongest episode of the year—more on people and shows opting not to do this in a sec—going with “The Coup” (where Dwight, at Angela’s behest, goes behind Michael’s back to Jan to get his job). But NPH manages to trump him with his absolutely hilarious performance in “Showdown” (aka, the one where Barney is absolutely unstoppable on The Price is Right). I’m genuinely torn here. Both performances are pitch-perfect and both episodes are top-notch. I think the slight edge has to go to NPH because there should be a degree of difficulty component for what he did on TPIR—his asides during the Big Money spins (“the wheel really isn’t my strong suit, Bob”) and the Showcase Showdown (after seeing the first—unimpressive—“no trip and no car? I’ll pass”; after his opponent bids: [stage whispers] “overbid”) were almost like easter eggs for longtime TPIR viewers. This, along with the show’s always stellar editing, really sealed it for me. NPH is the pick.
Will Win: Brad Garrett! Whoops, sorry. Force of habit. I must have been thinking of last year. Or the year before that. Or the ten prior to that. It’ll be Piven or Wilson, but I’ll pick Wilson.

3. I'm Pretty Sure The Voters Don't Even Like Television.
Don't believe me? Here's a fun game...put the following comedies in order of most outstanding series Emmys to least:
Ally McBeal, The Larry Sanders Show, Everbody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld, and Will & Grace.
1. Raymond (2)
T2. Ally McBeal, Seinfeld, Will & Grace (1 each)
T5. The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm (zero).

Wanna play again? Which program is on the odd one out of the following: Cagney & Lacey; Picket Fences, L.A. Law, The Sopranos, Mission: Impossible, and The Practice?
Answer: The Sopranos. Every other show on the list has won at least two consecutive outstanding drama awards (The Sopranos has won once, in 2004). More on this in a minute.

Conchata Ferrell, Two and a Half Men
Jenna Fischer, The Office
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
Jaime Pressly, My Name Is Earl
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty

Should Have Been Nominated:
Lots of omissions here. Ashley Jensen on Extras (though, in fairness, Maggie’s role is essentially a leading one), the always-underrated Sarah Chalke on Scrubs (this show never gets anywhere close to enough respect and now it’s about to end. So it goes…), and Colbie Smulders (Robin) on How I Met Your Mother. Of those three, I’d have to pick Smulders as the overall winner. Scoff if you will (I hear you scoffing!), but pulling off the mannerisms of an 80s Canadian pop star (as Smulders—who happens to be Canadian but not, so far as I can tell, a pop star—so adeptly did) is probably more impressive than anything anybody else did this past year.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Comes down to Pressly or Fischer. For as great a character as Joy is on MNIE, she's fairly one-dimensional. Fischer's Pam also has a tendency towards that (that dimension: sad-sacky), but I thought she really came out of her shell this year--in particular with her shocking, but hearfelt harangue on the beach in the season's penultimate episode). Fischer's the pick for me.
Will Win: Sigh…Williams.

Beau Bridges, My Name Is Earl
Martin Landau, Entourage
Sir Ian McKellen, Extras
Giovanni Ribisi, My Name Is Earl
Stanley Tucci, Monk

Should Have Been Nominated:
I love Landau, but his turn on Entourage wasn’t anything special and I’d of preferred Adam Goldberg (the money man) here. Chris Parnell (Dr. Spaceman!) on 30 Rock, a positively filthy Radcliffe on Extras, and Norm MacDonald on MNIE could all be here as well. Nothing would please me more than to include Will Arnett on 30 Rock here, but I was rather disappointed with guest spot. Hopefully when he's on this season, he'll be a bit more, um, GOBy.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: hey hey! Some love for Extras! Nice. McKellen is brilliant as…well, himself (or, more accurately, an exaggerated version of himself) and should win solely on the basis of the scene where Andy (Ricky Gervais) auditions for a part in his play. Beau Bridges is very good as Earl’s dad, but was better last year. And Ribisi, perpetually in danger, it seems, of being typecast as a dirtbag, was quite funny in the ep where Earl drunkenly slept with his (Ribisi's, that is) mom. But nothing tops McKellen.
Will Win: Landau or McKellen. Let’s go with McKellen.

Dixie Carter, Desperate Housewives
Salma Hayek, Ugly Betty
Judith Light, Ugly Betty
Laurie Metcalf, Desperate Housewives
Elaine Stritch, 30 Rock

Should Win (or Should be Nominated):
Jesus God, this is a lean year for guest actresses, no? That is the same Dixie Carter from Designing Women, right? I don’t even have a joke here. Let’s throw everyone out here and go with: Marlee Matlin on My Name is Earl, Keri Russell on Scrubs, a much-more- memorable/deserving-than-Stritch Isabella Rossellini on 30 Rock, Carla Gugino on Entourage, and…the “I’m not even quite sure how she’s eligible but somehow is” Rashida Jones (Karen) on The Office. Even with those picks, this one is fairly forgettable. Matlin was funny as Joy’s lawyer, but I’d have to give this to Rossellini, if only for the scene where she throws down with Tina Fey.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Good Lord, this one is a disaster!! I heard Metcalf was great on DH, so let's go with her and move on swiftly to the next category.
Will Win: Hayek. Just because.

The Amazing Race
American Idol
Dancing With The Stars
Project Runway
Top Chef

Should Have Been Nominated: I’ve got nothing. I’d lobby for The Apprentice, but I’m pretty sure that Shuk, Carrie (captive audience and all), and I are the only ones watching at this stage, so what’s the point?
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Top Chef, baby! This show is surprisingly addictive. Great food, interesting characters, reasonable boardrooms, and (generally) sound judges decisions (I’m looking at you, Trump re: those last two points).
Will Win: The Amazing Race. I’ll bet my non-existent house on this one.

2. The Neil Patrick Harris Rule. Here's NPH in a New York Post interview:
NPH: We went through and the other one was when Barney revealed his apartment for the first time, but the nomination specifics dictate that you have to edit together every scene that you're in in the show. They have to be edited together and that's presented to this committee. So we did that with a few shows and sort of looked at the run of scenes in a row. That's a different dynamic because our show is an ensemble show, so it's like the funny scenes take place in between other funny scenes, so when they're all smashed together it's a different vibe. We just thought that "Showdown" worked well, Bob Barker's got some buzz right now and I had a ball improving with him.

So....let me get this straight: watching a full 22-minute episode is too physically taxing for the voters? How much time are they actually saving here, like 9 minutes? Why in the world would they do this? Don't you lose the entire feel of a show if you only watch a bastardized version of it? Is that how they determine Pulitizers now, too? ("500 pages! But I've got a squash game in 30 minutes and these nominations are due tonight! Just read me every 75th page.") This. makes. no. sense.

The Colbert Report
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
Late Night With Conan O’Brien
Late Show With David Letterman
Real Time With Bill Maher

Should Win (or Should Have Been Nominated): Truth be told, I only watch TDS and TCR. I’m also way happier than I should be that Leno wasn’t nominated. Letterman, I’ve never really gotten. Conan, I used to watch but gave up a few years back, and I’ve only downloaded Maher a couple of times. Include me among the people—I’m not alone here, am I?—that think that TDS, while still amusing, has dropped off considerably of late. Stewart et al., for whatever reason, have fallen in love with JS doing (an admittedly fairly funny, but by no means earth-shattering) impression of Bush, which has become quite tedious of late. Also, sending Riggle to Iraq for a week (like, for real) was significantly more disturbing than it was amusing. Seriously, was that necessary? Of the correspondents, I absolutely love three of them (John Oliver, Dmitri Martin, and John Hodgman—but the latter two are only on once a month, if that), moderately like two (Asif Mamvi and Rob Riggle, both of whom don’t seem to possess much in the way of range), and detest one of them (Samantha Bee; whom I swear used to be funny, but is now just painful to watch). On the other hand, Colbert continues to slay me on a nightly basis. True, his interviews are brutal (Stephen, I love you, but, for Science’s shake, shut the hell up and let people talk), but he nails absolutely everything else. I’ll be honest, when I heard Colbert was leaving TDS, I was disappointed, and when I heard he was going to do an O’Reilly Factor send up, I thought it wouldn’t last six months. Let me now go on the record: I was dead wrong. Should Win out of Those Nominated: Colbert.
Will Win: Colbert, if for no other reason than: he fucking lost to Barry Manilow last year! Come on!!

America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Felicity Huffman,
Desperate Housewives
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Mary-Louise Parker,
Should Have Been Nominated:
Wait, wait, wait...only one DH lead? They do realize that they're are still four leading ladies living on Wisteria Lane, don't they? I feel like I should notify someone. It's not too late! Looking over the (admittedly weak) list of official submissions, I can't really complain about any omission. Couldn't they have included Leah Remini for her riveting work as Stacy Karosi on Saved By The Bell: Summer Season at the Beach as kind of a lifetime achievement sorta thing? Any takers? Also, am I correct in assuming that SBTB was altogether ineligible for the Emmys in its heyday? If so, that seems kind of unfair. It wasn't a soap opera, so it couldn't have competed in the Daytime Emmys, which, I guess, only leaves the Teen Choice Awards (and, let's be honest, there's only room for so many decorative surfboards in Mark-Paul Gosselar's trophy room...).
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Tina Fey. By quite a wide margin. But, hey, why should that matter?
Will Win: Ferrara. Meh. Much to my disappointment, it appears to Ugly Betty's world, and we're just living in it. Wake me up when they decide to seriously contest categories like this one. My best guess? 2010 or so.

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
Ricky Gervais, Extras
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men

Should Have Been Nominated:
Zach Braff, Scrubs; Jason Lee, My Name is Earl--is this because they're Scientologists? Braff isn't, you say? My bad.
Should Win Out of Those Nominated: Monk's still on the air? Wow. Who knew that a near-crippling case of OCD could be mined for so much comedy? My thoughts on > 2 Men are well documented, so I'll leave it alone here. So, again, the field can be immediately narrowed to three. If my source (link) is to be believed, Baldwin--somehow--did not submit his sensational turn in "Jack-Tor" (This scene is just too good), instead opting for a fairly forgettable performance in "Hiatus," one of the weaker episodes of the year. Disconcerting. First, Baldwin is given back his cell privileges leading to the whole "rude pig" incident (People, if I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times, he's not to be let near the phone--he's got no impulse control!), then he tries to get out of his 30 Rock contract, and now this. Sounds to me like it's time for a Team Baldwin shake-up. Carell also managed to undersell himself this year, submitting the good-but-not-great "Business School," instead of, say, "Gay Witch Hunt" or "The Job." Only Gervais--one of those clever Brits--managed to submit the right episode (the aforementioned "Sir Ian McKellen"). Based on the ridiculous "one episode rule," this would have to go to Gervais, but who should win? Even though I think his character kind of tapered off as the season wound down (which isn't his fault so much as the writers'), Baldwin as Jack Donaghy gets my vote this year.
Will Win: Because they'll want 30 Rock to have something to show for this night (face facts: it's going to get clobbered by Ugly Betty everywhere else), Baldwin might get it here, but I get the feeling that they'll throw this one Carell's way. For some reason, I thought he won last year (he didn't--must have been the Globes--it went to Shaloub for the second consecutive year), so this can serve as a make up.

1. They Make Remarkably Poor Decisions on a Yearly Basis. This isn't so much a beef with the process as a statement of fact. When I thought that voters looked at a single episode of each series before making their picks, I had a whole rant prepared to the effect there's absolutely no way that any sane/remotely humour-inclined person would put five sitcom episodes ahead of HIMYM's "Slap Bet," that the whole nomination process was just an elaborate sham before the usual suspects were trotted out as the actual nominees. Now that I've done some research (turns out that you need to submit
six episodes for the first round of voting. Then the ten shows that are shortlisted submit one episode for the second round, where the five nominees are selected) I...still think it's a sham. If anything, the six episode rule should weed out inferior shows that got lucky with a single gem. (Case in point, I once caught an episode of "The Shield" about a captured serial killer--it was called "Strays," I think--that was absolutely mesmirizing. I couldn't believe how good the writing was. But, any other episodes I've watched since then--a handful at most--have been fairly ordinary. How can that be? Well, it turns out that the episode was a once-off guest written by the one and only David Mamet, thus accounting for the cerebral quality of the script.) And yet HIMYM didn't even fucking make the first cut! I'm not even sure what to say about that egregious error--it's just bad judgment.

The Office
30 Rock
Two and a Half Men
Ugly Betty

Should Win (or Should Have Been Nominated): For once, I'll be diplomatic: they got it 40% right here. 30 Rock and The Office definitely belong; good riddance to the rest as far as I'm concerned. In their place: HIMYM (which deserves to win), Extras, and Scrubs or My Name is Earl. Inexplicably, MNIE submitted one of the few outright clunkers of the year ("Robbed A Stoner Blind"--featuring Christian Slater in full "you are actually paying me for this, right?" mode), instead of a more charming episode (like the Norm MacDonalrd ep) or the brilliant COPS! ep. I'm going to have to crib Bill Simmons' VP of Common Sense idea here--couldn't these shows, like, hire a consultant to tell them what might give them an edge? This seems like a no-brainer.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Again, I don't watch Betty--but, not to worry, I find the idea positively adorable (isn't she just the sweetest thing? Awwww.). Entourage is seriously stumbling and I'm not the only one to notice. So far as I can tell, each episode follows this exact formula:

[Minute 1 - 20] Crisis situation introduced, potential disaster looms
[Minute 21] Everything is miraculously resolved by Ari/E/Dennis Hopper's Assisant Failing to Place a Bet, everything seems fine
[Minute 22] The But what if everything ISN'T FINE??? moment
[Minute 23] Credits.

The only episode that I can recall that does follow this convention was the exceedingly shitty season finale, which introduced the following wrinkle:

[Minute 22.5] Everything is not, in fact, fine.
[Minute 22.75] Ahaha, that's hilarious. Let's go watch Drama make awkward love to his new girlfriend on the beach--can you believe this guy? He's a machine.
[Minute 23] Credits.

Needless to say, this was unsatisfying. The Office and 30 Rock, on the other hand, delivered the goods week in and week out. Of the two, I'd say that 30 Rock was a bit more consistently funny (though the last third of the season definitely did not match the A+ rating the first two-thirds of the season got). Because of that, it gets the nod from me (although both are clearly deserving ).
Will Win: come on, you know just as well as I do that it'll be...Ugly Betty.

Wow...I actually thought that would be way more fun.

Friday, September 7, 2007

"Finally, I want to thank God, because God gave me this Dundie, and I feel God in this Chili's tonight..."

Emmy Awards Preview, Part One: The Dramas (Sunday, September 16th)

Oh, I'll just come right out and say it: these people are idiots. Absolute morons. That said, apparently this award show--which, I swear to God, gave more nominations to According to Jim (one) than The Wire (zero)...Google it if ye doubt the claim--is still relevant, so I shall preview it.

James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Hugh Laurie,
Denis Leary,
Rescue Me
James Spader,
Boston Legal
Kiefer Sutherland,

Should Win:
With apologies to Matthew Fox, who was, once again, excellent on Lost, the clear winner here is: Michael C. Hall, Dexter. The best actor on TV hands down on what also happens to be the best show on TV. He's smart, he's funny, he's creepy, he's believable, he's got range, and he actually makes you sympathize with a serial killer. This one isn't even close. Next category.

Wait, what? He wasn't even fucking nominated?? How is that even possible? In what world is James Spader's performance on Boston Legal recognized over MCH's dazzling work? Science Dammit! That's impossible. Seriously, how senile do you have to be--how utterly mentally addled are you--to ignore a performance that is so incredibly riveting on a week to week basis that it makes every other actor look embarrassingly pedastrian? Fuck!! Forget it, I'm out. This is too stupid.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: I'm sorry. Seriously, watch one episode, just one episode of Dexter and tell me that he's not the best actor on TV. You can't. Every single person I've recommended this show to has become instantly hooked. Unbelievable.
OK, ok. Let's move on. 24 was dreadful this year, so Kiefer is out. And I don't watch RM or BL. So it comes down to Gandolfini and Laurie. I love Hugh Laurie and House is one of the most consistently well-written shows on TV, but this season felt a little flat to me and Laurie, while still great, was slightly too one-notey for me (I get it, you're a misanthrope!). That makes Gandolfini the pick.
Will Win: It makes sense for the Emmys to give it to JG since this was the final Sopranos season. Still, I get the feeling that it'll go to Laurie, since they're suckers for the Brits (and his speech is bound to be better than Gandolfini's).

Boston Legal
Grey's Anatomy
The Sopranos

Should Win (or Should Have Been Nominated):
Dexter. Also, snubbing Lost here is as inexplicable as it is unforgivable. Moving on...
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Groan...The Sopranos, I suppose.
Will Win: The Emmys--not unlike the Grammys (see: the year when the Oh Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack won Best Album. Yes, that did actually happen)--has a habit of trying to show how cool they are when they hand out awards. Note: this should not be confused with the nomination process, where the goal seems to be as lame as humanly possible. Anyway, this usually manifests itself with a new and "hip" show winning best series, typically in its first season. This, of course, means Heroes here. And, I have to say, if they insist of flexing their cool muscle, they could do a lot worse than this category. I really do enjoy Heroes. Even if the finale was wildly disappointing (the last ten minutes in particular) and even if the story advances. just. a. little. too. slowly. for. my. liking, it's still a very ambitious and (generally) impressive show. Plus the magic words: Kristen Bell joins the cast for Season 2! Heroes is the pick in what I'm nominating as the most hopelessly misrepresented category of the year.

Battlestar Galactica • Occupation/Precipice written by Ronald D. Moore
Lost • Through The Looking Glass written by David Lindelof and Carlton Cuse
The Sopranos • Kennedy And Heidi written by Matthew Weiner and David Chase
The Sopranos • The Second Coming written by Terrence Winter
The Sopranos • Made In America written by David Chase

Should Win (or Should Have Been Nominated): Hey, hey, it's only taken 3 categories for the Emmys to actually get something right! Through the Looking Glass (aka the season finale) was, hands-down, the best two hours on TV all year. It was so good that it actually improved the entire series, allowed me to forgive it for some lesser episodes (the one where we learn about Jack's tattoo, the one about Hurley and the van, the one...), and put it on a super-cool track for the final 48 episodes (hurry, February). Any number of Dexter episodes could and should have been nominated, along with the "Five Years Gone" Heroes episode.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Lost.
Will Win: Way too logical for the show that deserves to win to actually win, so let's throw Lost out right now. That leaves 4. I don't watch BG--although I continue to hear great things and may have to watch it on DVD--so I can't really comment, but the episode that's nominated is the two-part season premiere. Let's be honest, this is a "we're just happy to be here" nomination--they have no chance of winning. So it comes down to one of the three Sopranos episodes. Now...don't get me wrong, I love the show, but am I really supposed to believe that the show is worthy of 60% of the writing nominations? Really?? They couldn't have added a sixth nominee? I hate when they do stuff like this. That said, here's the breakdown (spoilers): Kennedy & Heidl is the one where Tony kills Christopher after the car crash. The Second Coming is the one where A.J. tries to off himself. Made in America is the polarizing series finale (you know, the one where the show didn't so much end as just...stop.) MiH is absolutely out of the running for me because I think it was a perfect example of lazy writing. Make up your fucking mind, David Chase! Oh, you're worried that no matter which ending you pick, some people will be upset? That's too damned bad. (By the way: what are you, 8?) I'm sure your millions and millions of dollars will comfort you. The brother of one of my co-workers put it to me this way: "look, if a really famous writer closed his masterpiece with 'and the verdict is' and just ended it there, would he be hailed as a genius? No way. People would want to murder him." And that's totally true. (Fun fact: David Foster Wallace actually did this--see The Broom of the System). My other major beef with the finale is that Chase wasted so much time following storylines that no one cared (or could ever care) about: stupid AJ and his girlfriend, Meadow's boyfriend's parents (wtf?), that mysterious stray cat (we get it, it's Adrianna--when did this show turn into Ghost Whisperer?). So, that's a no for me. Turning to K&H, as amazing and as jarring as the opening scene was (you kinda got the feeling that Christopher was going to get it, but like that? No way), the rest of the episode was surprisingly weak, especially the entirely needless segment with Tony in Las Vegas. If I ever need to watch someone get fucked up on peyote, I can always rent Fear and Lo--scratch that, I'm never going to need to watch that. That leaves The Second Coming--which was, admittedly, awesome--which I'm fine with.

Patricia Arquette, Medium
Minnie Driver, The Riches
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

Should Win (or Should Have Been Nominated): Hmmm...I really liked Connie Britton's work on Friday Night Lights (though the show itself is a bit plodding, to the point where I kind of gave up on it. Kathryn Morris from Cold Case is also underrated, as is the whole show. It's a cool concept and the episodes are uniformly strong. Even the theme episodes (Dylan music only, Springsteen only) which, in lesser hands, could be very lame, are generally very well done. And, of course, Kristen Bell from Veronica Mars. I won't pretend that Veronica, the character, is even remotely likeable at this stage (nor is there any sense in denying that the show dropped off considerably in its third and final season) but no one can dispute that Bell acted the shit out of that role. For her not to be recognized once (no, Saturn Awards don't count) is almost monstrous, but also completely predictable.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Yikes! I've caught a little bit of The Riches (maybe it's supposed to be surreal, but I have another, better description for it: "unrealistic"; plus, I've always kind of hated Minnie Driver), The Closer (good enough), SVU (not my thing), Brothers & Sisters (my mom swears by this show), and heartly mocked Medium on numerous occasions, but, aside from The Sopranos, I don't regularly watch any of these shows. But I'm not going to let that stop me from passing judgment. Falco submitted the aforementioned "The Second Coming" for her nomination, which makes sense, as the episode contains an epic knock-down-drag-out between Carmela and Tony, rivalling their all-time best fight in Season 5, which was the one time I actually thought that Tony was going to hit her. That scene alone is probably worthy of a statue.
Will Win: Kristen Kreuk, Smallville. Just kidding! Almost assuredly: Falco.

Michael Emerson, Lost
Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos
T.R. Knight, Grey's Anatomy
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Masi Oka, Heroes
William Shatner, Boston Legal

Should Win (or Should Have Been Nominated):
Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond on Lost) should absolutely have been nominated for "Flashes Before Your Eyes" (the ep where he re-lives his life with Penny) and, in my books, is the clear winner. Other than that, no real complaints. I'm tempted to throw an honorary nomination Michael Rosenbaum's way. Smallville has definitely fallen off quite a bit, and Lex now seems to go swirly in Lana even looks at him the wrong way, but, once upon a time, his portrayal of a damaged and conflicted super-villain-in-the-making was both chilling (because we knew what he was bound to become) and heartbreaking (because he didn't). Oh, Smallville. How did you go so catastrophically off the rails? Also, Peter MacNicol was pretty good (Powers Boothe, too) on 24 this year, but, given that that whole season is best forgotten altogether, I refuse to get worked up about any sort of perceived snub. Finally, Enrico Colantoni as Keith Mars was first-rate, as ever, this season, but, again, wasn't even among the 100 or so actors that submitted a tape--ditto for Jason Dohring as Logan. Have some respect for yourself, CW Network!
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Hmmm...good category. Knight and Shatner are both out--I have my reasons. So it's really a four horse race. There's no denying that O'Quinn acts the shit out of everything he's in, but this season Locke strayed a bit too far from the "man of faith" angle and a bit too close to "I'm a creepy psycho" territory, so I don't think this is his year--though the episode he's nominated for is outstanding, as was his performance. Oka deserves a lot of credit for pulling double duty in his submitted episode--"Five Years Gone"--as he plays young and goofy Hiro, as well as older and jaded Hiro with aplomb. Imperioli has always been great, and this year was no exception (his seething conversation with Carmela in his chosen ep, along with all the Godfather parallels, made it one of the season's best), but I feel like he's kind of done this before, so he gets few points for originality. Emerson's Ben, moreso than any of the other nominees, is a character you just love to hate (if you didn't cheer when Jack beat the hell out of him in the finale, you should just stop watching TV altogether). He's just so delightfully unsettling in his role that I think he takes it here. Oka, however, would be a close second.
Will Win: Emerson. I think they might actually get this one right. Or it'll be Shatner--that's equally as likely.

Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos
Rachel Griffiths, Brothers & Sisters
Katherine Heigl, Grey's Anatomy
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Aida Turturro, The Sopranos
Chandra Wilson, Grey's Anatomy

Should Win (or Should be Nominated): Again, Lost gets totally jobbed here. Elizabeth Mitchell (Juliette) is leaps and bounds ahead of everyone by virtue of her work in "One Of Us." I'm quickly running out of synonyms for "silly" and "crazy" here. Lisa Edelstein (Dr. Cuddy) also deserves some recognition for her solid work on House. And, since I really dislike who has been nominated, let's throw in Hayden Panettiere from Heroes.
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Oh, come on!! This is a terrible category. I won't even deal with the GA crew, since I think it's so dumb that three of them were nominated from what was, by nearly every account, a subpar season. I liked Griffiths' work on Six Feet Under (though I hated Brenda), but, not being a regular viewer of B&S, I'm not sure what to make of her nomination--care to weigh in, mom? However, the one that makes me angriest is Bracco's nomination. What year is this? I'll admit, at first her therapy scenes with Gandolfini were excellent (and the episode where she gets raped but somehow resists asking Tony to retaliate--"Employee of the Month"--is an example of the show at its very finest). But now? Now? The therapy scenes are bland and uninspired, and--were it not for Bracco's evidently truly prodigious food intake off-camera, thus resulting in, I assume, a contractual stipulation that the craft services tent be less than ten paces from her trailer--I would suspect that she was literally phoning her lines in. She's like a shell of her former self, provided that shell is wrapped in blubber. Tuturro as Janice, on the other hand, always delivers the goods, and I think she's the most deserving here.
Will Win: No clue. One of the Grey's girls would be my guess. Let's go with Heigl, since I enjoyed her in Knocked Up.

Tim Daly, The Sopranos
Christian Clemenson, Boston Legal
John Goodman, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
David Morse, House
Eli Wallach, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
Forest Whitaker, ER

Should Win (or Should Have Been Nominated):
Tough one, as there are so many potential nominees. I would probably leave off Clemenson, Morse, Goodman, and Wallach, and throw in George Itzen as President Logan on 24, Kevin Tighe as Anthony Cooper (aka Locke's villainous father) on Lost, Macolm McDowell as Linderman (also evil) on Heroes, and Paul Rudd as washed-up rocker Desmond Fellows in the superb "Debasement Tapes" ep of Veronica Mars. (Inexplicably, this also wasn't even submitted by the show for consideration. To put that into perspective, Law & Order: SVU had 11 guest actor submissions.) Tighe, by virtue of his truly chilling performance (dude pushed his own kid out of a third story window!), would get the nod if it were up to me. Alas...
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Morse, who is a terrific actor, was unfortunately stuck with a rather one-dimensional character and an utterly tedious storyline that took six episodes to resolve itself and accomplished absolutely nothing. So...not him. Goodman was grating, Wallach unnecessary, and I know nothing about Clemenson. That leaves Daly and Whitaker. There's no doubt that Whitaker is technically superior, but I enjoyed Daly's performance more. He's the pick.
Will Win: Whitaker. I'm almost certain here.

Kate Burton, Grey's Anatomy
Leslie Caron, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Marcia Gay Harden, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Elizabeth Reaser, Grey's Anatomy
Jean Smart, 24

Should Win (or Should be Nominated):
Totally drawing a blank here. I scanned the list of 50 or so submissions for this category and couldn't find anything noteworthy. Annabella Sciorra was pretty good as a terminal patient on ER, but if you gave me 100 chances, I couldn't guess her character's name, which isn't the best of signs...
Should Win out of Those Nominated: Smart, I guess. Again: who are these people?
Will Win: Um....MGH? I liked her in Pollack. Seriously, they may want to strongly consider discontinuing this category.

If you can bear it, stay tuned for Part Two (The Comedies), which will include my three biggest beefs with the Emmy process.