Television

Speaking of the Emmys…

I’ve been watching Succession (late to the party) and I truly hope Emmy voters don’t forget this summer show for next year’s awards. I particularly hope they recognize Matthew Macfadyen in the weirdest, yet thoughtfully fleshed-out performance as Tom and Nicholas Braun as innocent and well-intentioned Greg (who will also answer to Craig). And when the two of them are in a scene together, they make one another shine.

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The 70th Annual Emmys

Just as the telecast opened with a tepid show tune-style number poking fun about how the most-diverse body of Emmy nominees ever had fixed racism and prejudice in the television business, we were then made witness to white person after white person winning the first several categories—yes, we clearly have a long way to go. It says one thing when diversity can be recognized, but it says something more when a voting body is still afraid to actually vote for those voices and negates the nominations in the first place. We get it, Academy—you love Jeff Daniels! It wasn’t until Regina King won—deservedly so—as we got into the Limited Series portion of the night that a person of color received an award. And after that only RuPaul and Thandie Newton went home with statues. I don’t say this to take away from those who did win tonight (Yay, Henry Winkler!), and there was indeed more diversity in the winners at the Creative Emmys last week (including Tiffany Haddish and the cast of Queer Eye) and tonight there was some LGBTQ representation and a woman (Amy Sherman-Palladino) won for writing and directing in comedy. However, the opening song ended up being way too accurate in its satire. And this just set the course for a weird vibe all night. Let’s go through the lows and few highs that were able to cut through the “NBC legacy”-laden ceremony.

Hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che

Highlight:

Michael Che’s prerecorded “Reparations Emmys,” which gave some familiar faces of African-American TV history recognition and credit for their contributions to pop culture.

Lowlights:

The opening monologue was the equivalent of a shrug. Not terrible, but nothing exceptional.

Their bit with Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen. I adore both, and here we had a major SNL mash-up, but it fell flat from the beginning. Fred saying “we good?” made me chuckle at first, but it wore on. I like the idea on paper, but not in execution.

Presenters

Highlights:

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Will Ferrell walking. He committed to the bit and it worked.

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Hannah Gadsby made me laugh more than anyone else in this entire show and I think she was on stage for maybe thirty seconds. Gotta love an awkward exit!

I don’t know why Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, and Benicio del Toro presented together, but Benicio’s line delivery and I-don’t-give-a-fuck-I’m-just-here-for-the-gift-basket vibe was oddly funny. We are all Benicio in that moment.

Blink and you miss it: Mozart played as Sarah Paulson strutted to the microphone and her dress billowed in the wind and it was three seconds of perfection.

Did not expect Aidy Bryant and Bob Odenkirk to present together, nor did I expect the tongue-and-cheek banter to be that funny.

Winners

Highlights:

Henry Winkler wins his first primetime Emmy for what I think is the best part of the entire season of Barry.

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The Americans’ Matthew Rhys finally wins for playing quite possibly the saddest man to ever exist in a television show or real life.

Thandie Newton being real and admitting she doesn’t believe in god (but if she did god is a she), plus just the fact that she won. I don’t watch Westworld but love Thandie Newton and she looked genuinely shocked to win. Legend.

Lowlights:

Atlanta not winning anything. Two words: Florida man. Two more words: Teddy Perkins.

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How do you not give this an Emmy? I’m starting my #JusticeForKeri campaign now.

A mediocre season of Game of Thrones won over the stellar last season of The Americans. People love them some dragons, I guess. I’ll just count my blessings that This Is Us didn’t win instead.

Overall Lowlights

That this was on a Monday night (or late afternoon if, like me, you’re on the West Coast). Thanks a lot, NBC. I hope I don’t get fired when work finds out I was live streaming the red carpet from my desk!

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This tweet is a real mood. And yes, I’m still not over Keri Russell not winning.

‘So You Think You Can Dance’ is Strong as Ever

Typically you might expect the fifteenth season of a show to be worn out and overdone, but that hasn’t been the case for the fifteenth season of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD). The show has had its ups and downs—its downs mostly being the changes in judges and formatting and the best-to-forget “junior” season—but this year it is busting at the sequined seams with a stellar roster of contestants and choreographers (the latter including returning favorites and exciting newcomers). What blows me away most though, is how reliably entertaining and pure it is. More than other dance-based reality shows, there is something very genuine about SYTYCD in its love of this art form. Yes, it’s a competition, but most if not all of the dancers competing audition for this show because of their love of dance. Nearly all of them are bound to be professional dancers, usually by the mere fact that they are talented enough to be selected for the show, but it never seems that anyone here is for money or fame per se—it’s for the love of dance. And because of this, the show soars in bringing unique dance styles to a national stage and giving creative freedom (or at least it appears this way) to the choreographers. Sometimes the routines are simply fun and entertaining, other times so emotionally raw it can give you literal chills. Here a just a few examples of the breadth of what is delivered, often found in a single episode:

Cerebral Creativity

Sure, season in and season out SYTYCD needs to present fresh ideas. Props and concepts can run the risk of being gimmicky, but a simple idea or storyline executed in the right way can do wonders.

Art for Change

Dance with a social message, especially something you haven’t seen done before, can be breathtaking when you have the care and respect that choreographer Travis Wall and contestant Darius bring to this piece. When is the last time you can say you saw representation like this on broadcast TV?

Good Ol’ Fashioned Fun

The personalities of this group number shine through, and the result is a highly infectious hip-hop number.

Emotional Therapy

There are many moving contemporary pieces every week of the show, but then you get something like this group number that is simply joyful. Props to choreographer Mia Michaels for sneaking some Vivaldi into primetime television.

From krumping and contemporary to African jazz and Broadway, the dance styles are as diverse as the dancers dancing them. I suppose that’s the other thing—while the contestants all have dance as their common interest, they come from such different backgrounds and life experiences. Luckily for the viewers, this is reflected in what we see on stage, bringing a welcome display of unique perspectives for all of us to enjoy and learn from.

2018 Emmy Nominations – Gut Reactions

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-Yay for The Americans + Keri Russell + Mathew Rhys! If Keri doesn’t win for this train scene then I will have lost all hope in the system.

-Happy to see GLOW in Best Comedy Series, and Betty Gilpin get a nomination — but no love for Alison Brie or Marc Maron? Zoya better have some destroyin’ to do next year.

-Go, Sandra Oh, go!

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-Love that Larry David will spar against Ted Danson in the Lead Actor Comedy category.

-WTF. How does This Is Us get a Best Drama Series nomination over Killing Eve?

-I like things about Barry, but wanted to like it more. But yes, give all the noms to Henry Winkler.

-Will Kenan Thompson retire from SNL now that he has an acting nomination?

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-Pamela Adlon in Better Things — please give this woman an Emmy for this show!

-Can Sandra Oh and Keri Russell both win in a tie? This is the only way I see this ending well.

-How is Fuller House getting nominated? This is rigged!

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-Shaking my head at no Survivor nominations, not even for the great host, Jeff Probst. He’s still killing it out there.

-Go, Jesse Plemons, go!

-So, should I be watching The Crown then?

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-Happy to see Atlanta getting lots of deserved love.

-Tony Shalboub is back to his usual bullshit…of getting lots of Emmy nominations! (I’ve heard he’s very good, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Monk.)

-So many Handmaids, not enough Emmys.

-I love that Patton Oswalt’s tragicomic special Annihilation got some love.

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-Cinematography for Blue Planet II, baby! Because how beautiful is that?

-Anthony Bourdain gets a posthumous nod. (*Cries to self.*)

-Y’all, Ricky Martin is now an Emmy nominee.

-This: anemmyformegan.com.

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-LOL at American Vandal being an Emmy-nominated show for writing — but I mean that LOL earnestly. #whodrewthedicks

‘Wild Wild Country’ Is Truly Wild

Netflix’s new documentary series, Wild Wild Country, explores a wild era in the 1980s when an Indian guru named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh asks his inner circle of followers to create a new community in rural Oregon. What happens next is unprecedented and unpredictable, as the followers of Rajneesh (called Rajneeshees) buy land and start building their perceived utopia next to a retirement town of only dozens of mostly older, socially conservative Oregonians. But perhaps the most surprising part of all for me was that I had never heard any of this before—and I’m guessing I’m not alone. After finishing the six hour-plus episodes, I have some thoughts on both craft and content. Minor spoilers ahead.

Topics of intrigue:

Contradictions galore. I’m fascinated by the contradictory nature of the Rajneesh movement, which was about free love and finding spiritual nirvana, among other things. Yet, Bhagwan and his followers encourage commerce and therefore materialism, are willing to physically harm non-followers and intimidate them with weapons, and even criticize many aspects of the U.S. government while also using and finding loopholes for political gain and to commit marriage fraud (!). And that’s only some of it. Color me shocked.

This guy. A man after my own heart for going through the town’s trash in hopes of discovering cult secrets. I’m all in.

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My personal hero  (Netflix

Outdated media terms. Flabbergasted by the fact that the media seemed to have an official term for people living in poverty in the 80s and that term was “street people.” Seriously. Every time I heard it used I shuddered in embarrassment. That makes it sound, you know, as if the people chose to live on the street.

What defines a cult? Several Rajneeshees ask this question, wondering why the locals and media were so quick to label them as a cult. They bring up a good point of asking why some religions like Catholicism and the Mormon Church aren’t considered cults. Something to leave us thinking about.

Pain points:

The unreadable font. Come on, producers! Yes, Jay and Mark Duplass, I’m talking to you two. Viewers have to be able to read your font! I’m fine with this font choice for the main title card of ‘Wild Wild Country,’ but using this hard-to-read script font for people’s names and names of towns just doesn’t work in the short time you have text on screen. This is especially tricky when so many people are using their Rajneeshee name, and thus names that are unfamiliar to many viewers and harder to guess.

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Wait, who is this?  (Netflix)

Whodunit? There’s a turning point between the locals in Oregon and the Rajneeshees that escalates matters—a bomb goes off in a Portland hotel that the Rajneeshees have bought and operate. The documentary goes on making us think that perhaps a local had set it off (luckily no one was seriously injured), but it doesn’t confirm either way who had done it. From internet confirmation, I now know that it was carried out by an Islamic terrorist group instead. I suppose that wasn’t convenient for the narrative of the Rajneeshees’ point of view in this fight or for the documentary. Oh well.

What’s your name, again? For the uninitiated, all the different names and terms for Bhagwan and his followers are confusing. Is it Bhagwan, Rajneesh, or Osho? People in present day refer to him as Osho from the start of the documentary, but it isn’t until toward the end of his life does he ask his followers to call him Osho. Others have Rajneeshee names in front of their given name, like Ma Anand and Ma Shanti. Still waiting for them to tell us what that means.

Give me more background. I wish the series delved into more of the actual teachings of Bhagwan. It jumps too quickly into the story of what happens in Oregon before having a better grasp of what was really driving the Rajneeshees to be so enamored with him in the first place and then be prepared to plan malicious acts in his name.

All in all, Wild Wild Country is so wild you have to say it twice.

Take It From Me: You Don’t Have to Be Religious to Appreciate Jesus Christ Superstar

I’ll admit, I’m not a religious person so sometimes just hearing the words “Jesus Christ Superstar” together isn’t necessarily going to grab my attention in a positive way. However, I am a person peripherally aware of a lot of culturally relevant works of art, so hearing those words in that order is something different altogether. Even though I’ve never seen the play or original film, created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, I’ve definitely heard the “Superstar” song because it’s one of the greats (or so I’ve been told) among musical numbers, and I was also really into Cats as a child. Therefore, I listened to a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber compilation CDs in the 90s and you can’t forget those goose bump-inducing chords and chants at the beginning of that song. Yet, as a church-going but skeptical child (and an even more skeptical and non-church-going adult), I didn’t fully delve into this musical because I assumed it would be preachy, and even at a young age I was not about being preached to.

Obviously, I was wrong. The rock opera isn’t so much about “religion” or “Jesus” but about a story of people, relationships, points of view, choices, consequences, guilt, and acceptance. You know, a story about life. But even if you’re not interested in the morals of it all, you can still come for the fantastical musical set pieces and softly sung, yet deeply human melodies. My curiosity for turning on NBC’s live rendition of Jesus Christ Superstar really fell into the latter category—and I wasn’t disappointed. Granted, I had it on more for the sake of checking in to see how this live production stacked up against the others (perhaps only Grease and Hairspray beat it for me) and of course the fear of missing out on Chrissy Teigen’s live tweets (what I’m officially deeming FOMOOCTLT…rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?).

From a newcomer’s perspective, the show was energetic, heartfelt, and had Alice Cooper in it. What’s not to like?! All kidding aside, I actually came away from it with much more appreciation for the show, its cast (talking about you, Brandon Victor Dixon!), and the fact that it’s great to see live musicals on television in this age. But the most important moral lesson for me, because I suppose it doesn’t hurt to have some sort of moral takeaway on Easter Sunday, was that I shouldn’t have ever judged this show by its name alone. So, I’m glad that a modern production of a 70s musical starring John Legend wearing an extremely deep-v shirt helped me realize that you have to give everything a real chance before you can judge it. Plus, Chrissy Teigen’s tweets were pretty entertaining, too.

The New Queer Eye is Absolutely Fab (And the Perfect Family Affair)

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Queer Eye (Netflix, 2018)

The first time I saw a billboard in Los Angeles for the new Netflix reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (now more aptly called just Queer Eye), I was skeptical. I was also tired, for this seemed like the 1,456th old show to be brought back to life—I’m worn out on that trend. But then I heard the conversations swirling around in person and online who had watched it and said it was actually really good, and earnest, and groundbreaking in its own way. Fine, I’ll watch!

And yeah, it was pretty great. It’s actually really fabulous and I loved nearly every moment (more on that later). I was in high school when the original series debuted and it was something that my mom, sister, and I loved to watch together. Perhaps that was my hesitation, that I was worried it would somehow mar my experience with the previous Fab Five. Well, I should have had more faith in Netflix because it didn’t.

The new Fab Five are equally fun-spirited as the OGs, but the new show has found five men that reflect an even more global and diverse world, being more inclusive and reflective of how people from all sorts of backgrounds (religion, race, nationality) can also be gay too (gasp!). Antoni, Bobby, Jonathan, Karamo, and Tan also bring earnestness to the show that is so welcome in 2018. The men that they makeover are also a diverse bunch, including a gay African-American man struggling to come out to his stepmother, all within the city and suburbs of Atlanta. This aspect is perhaps the most contrived part of the series, as it’s clear the producers tried to find makeover subjects that might have political and social differences from the Fab Five (yes, we see a MAGA hat in the third episode) as a means to create meaningful conversations. But most of the time when you can tell this is the case, it pays off. I say most because there’s one moment that still feels a bit off-kilter, and that is also in the third episode when the guys are pulled over by a cop while the one black castmate, Karamo, is driving. Of course, this immediately puts the Fab Five and viewers on edge due to recent incidents of police violence against black men and women as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. Lucky for them, this cop is the best friend of the man (and cop) they’re about to make over, so it’s just a joke and no one gets hurt! Ugh, that was extremely awkward. Now, the episode does lead to Karamo and the makeover subject talking about police brutality from both perspectives, and the two do seem to have a sincere conversation and appreciation for each other’s openness in that moment—so although it felt a little weird and warrants some side-eye toward the producers, this time it ultimately seemed to do more good than harm.

I think the great improvement to this show is the Fab Five’s genuine focus on self-care and building the confidence to be the best version of yourself. It’s not just about cutting off some hair or rearranging the furniture in your living room—these guys are here to help the subjects find something that’s already there, to bring it out and improve their well-being (which oftentimes means improving the well-being of those around them). Whether it’s something as simple as giving a stand-up comedian who lives with his parents a better space at home where he can feel more independent or encouraging a husband and dad of two to take his family out on the town more often, they’re really all about helping some strangers out. However, it’s not always so serious—they find plenty of time to have lots of laughs along the way (hello, Jonathan!). But that’s not to say that you won’t need some tissues handy, because every episode got to me at some point.

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Jonathan! Queer Eye (Netflix, 2018)

Once I was one episode in and knew that this was indeed a great show, I knew I had to get in touch with my mom and sister and let them know (none of us live in the same city at the moment). Well, my mom happened to be visiting my sister and they watched an episode together. Then the following weekend I was back in my hometown with my mom, and we watched two episodes together. And THEN, the weekend after that I was with my sister and we watched three more. Somehow, after nearly fifteen years of watching the original together, either coincidence or serendipity (whichever you prefer) brought us together to share this new version. I can’t quite express how lovely that was, except to say thank you to the Fab Five for being a part of it.

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Queer Eye (Netflix, 2018)