My Radio Debut!!!!

My Boardwalk Empire obsession finally paid off yesterday 🙂

I was interviewed by Evening Anchor Dimitri Sotis on the Washington, D.C. radio station WTOP about the HBO series’ upcoming finale this Sunday, October 26. Thanks again, Dimitri — I had a blast!

Emmys 2014: ‘Orange’ and Blue Sky Color the Nominations, While Red Is Left Out in the Cold (War)

My thoughts on today’s Emmy nominations…

1. WTF, The Americans (or rather, lack thereof)?

Now more than ever, there are endless television options to choose from, between broadcast, basic cable, premium cable, streaming services, etc. But I still have to call foul on the Television Academy’s decision to almost completely snub FX’s Cold War series The Americans. With so many popular serial dramas ending (Breaking Bad, Mad Men) The Americans poised itself, especially in its recent stellar second season, to be the Great White Red Hope of smart, riveting television. I found it to be a colossal fail that the show was not nominated for Best Drama Series, and even more so that Matthew Rhys was left out of the running for Best Actor in a Drama. I’ve been campaigning for the Welsh actor to score an Emmy nod since April, and should you need any further convincing of the Academy’s grave error in sending The Americans to the awards gulag this year, please feel free to read any of my Americans coverage for RollingStone.com. 

Yes, I’m pleased to see Margo Martindale be recognized for her work as matronly handler Claudia in the Guest Actress category, but that in no way excuses the Academy’s decision to nominate Downton Abbey over one of the best shows on TV right now. I am as devoted a Downton fan as they come, but I also have a discerning enough eye to know that Season Four was a weak one (come on, resorting to embroiling the Crawleys in intra-palace intrigue and a possible scandal with the Royal Family? I know you can do better than that, Julian Fellowes). There is no question that The Americans had a better season than Downton Abbey: Second-generation teenage KGB operatives that don’t flinch when they kill their parents vs. Mr. Bates killing Anna’s rapist? I’m with the Russians on this one.

Ultimately, my money’s on True Detective to take the Best Drama prize, as it was the only worthy breakthrough show of the five nominees, and it’s still fresh in people’s minds thanks to McConaughey fever. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones and House of Cards, while all deserving of recognition, fall into that most awful of categories: Most Predictable Drama Series to Be Nominated. Too bad The Americans won’t even have a chance to play the dark horse card, because it’s the upsets that make all these awards shows bearable.

2. Orange Is the New Black FTW!

My Americans disappointment was quelled only by the announcement that a show set in a women’s prison might just knock America’s perfect politically correct clan off its pedestal. Look, I enjoy Modern Family as much as the average flyover state resident, but hasn’t it been honored enough? For those keeping track, it’s won Best Comedy Series a whopping four years in a row. We get it. It’s a funny show. But let’s move on and start celebrating the future of television cough streaming services cough. Orange Is the New Black picks up the torch from House of Cards and proudly marches Netflix alongside TV behemoths HBO, AMC, ABC, CBS and NBC — and I think it’s got a real shot at sending the Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker family down to SHU. OITNB was also honored with a slew of acting noms (Taylor Schilling for Best Actress in a Drama, Kate Mulgrew for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama — although, it was their Season Two performances, not so much their Season One work, that are Emmy-caliber), most notably for audience favorites Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox — making history as the first transgender Emmy nominee, and Natasha Lyonne each picking up nods for Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. Next year, I want to see Aduba, Yael Stone, Lorraine Toussaint and Samira Wiley duke it out in the Supporting Actress category.

3. The Normal Heart deserves it all

The Best TV Movie win is a given, and I would be perfectly fine with a four-way tie between Alfred Molina, Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons and Joe Mantello for Best Supporting Actor in a TV Movie or Miniseries. But, the edge has to be given here to Bomer, who was the cause of most viewers’ waterworks as he bravely showcased the agonizing deterioration of a New York Times reporter who slowly succumbs to AIDS, going so far as to drop an emaciating 40 pounds for the role. Much as I adored Parsons as “Southern bitch” Tommy Boatwright, he already has three Emmys on his mantle for The Big Bang Theory (and, no, I don’t think he needs to win for that show this year, either).

4. Who got hosed?

Matthew Rhys: I don’t care if he won the Best Actor in a Drama award last year, but Jeff Daniels does not deserve what should rightfully be Rhys’ spot in the 2014 roster.  News flash, Mr. Anchorman, The Newsroom crashed and burned, and it’s ending this season, whereas The Americans still has a bright future ahead of it. Rhys’ performance this season was absolutely electrifying — whereas Daniels’ Will McAvoy can’t even turn on a light switch without an intern close by. Regardless, and with love to Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm and Woody Harrelson, I think we can safely say that we should prepare for another round of “Alright, Alright, Alright.”

Jeffrey Wright: Considering Bobby Cannavale’s win last year for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama for his villain-of-the-season performace on Boardwalk Empire, I’m quite baffled at the Academy’s decision to not honor the actor who almost single-handedly turned the struggling HBO period piece into a captivating hour of television. Hey, I enjoyed gazing at Carson’s porcelain-white legs in that final scene at the seaside, but exactly what else did he do this season at Downton to garner Jim Carter another Emmy nom?  Tough race between Jesse Pinkman’s triumphant escape, Tyrion Lannister’s make-or-break trial speech, or Will Gardner’s death.

Elisabeth Moss: What sort of snubbery is this? No inclusion in the Best Lead Actress Drama category? Which parts of Mad Men did the Academy miss this year? Was it Peggy’s impassioned Burger Chef pitch?  That time she and Don danced tenderly to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”? The entire seventh season (Part 1)? You people are idiots.

Scandal: Everything is not coming up Mellie, it seems. No love for Bellamy Young in the Best Supporting Actress Drama category, despite her stealing every scene this season. The ABC political soap opera also came up short in the running for Best Drama, but with Breaking Bad and the Harrelson/McConaughey version of True Detective taking their final/only bows this year, it could allow Olivia Pope and Associates to slip right through to the front in 2015.

Overall, the 2014 nominees were the same predictable, institutional choices the Emmys are famous for. However, I applaud the Television Academy for opening its air-tight doors ever-so-slightly to the next generation of television (OITNB, True Detective, Fargo — Allison Tolman!!!!). As hard as it is to say goodbye to beloved favorites Breaking Bad and Mad Men, their nearing departures from the Emmy circuit will undeniably force the Academy to start recognizing deserving shows like The Americans and flying-under-the-radar actors like Tatiana Maslany.

 

 

 

RIP, Alcide. But You Won’t Be Missed

He was loyal, he was protective and he was hunky, but even those admirable qualities couldn’t save Joe Manganiello’s Alcide Herveaux from True Blood’s Dead Club. Yes, it was a shocker and yes it crushes the dreams of those fans who remained #TeamAlcide, but in terms of narrative and development, Alcide’s death is the best thing to happen to True Blood in three seasons.

“Fire in the Hole” was an improvement on the first two episodes of Season Seven. However, in no way is the show all of a sudden good again, but it gives me hope that it’s now building up to an ending that will make all former and present fans happy. So while Alcide’s death — and to an extent — Maxine Fortenberry’s, lift a huge amount of dead weight off the show (literally and figuratively), I hope the writers continue the bloodbath. For two reasons: 1. It will never reach the intensity and audience devotion of Game of Thrones, but the death factor is what got True Blood fans excited about the story in the first place. i.e. Who’s going to die next? 2. The good news on that front is there are still plenty of characters that need to go: There’s self-proclaimed new mayor Vince (he’s a good stand-in for your average gun-rights-Tea Party crazy, but raise your hand if you care what happens to him next. He’s fulfilled his purpose in riling up the people of Bon Temps), Violet (I admire her warrior-woman qualities — immediately offering to help protect a human or wash Hep V blood off Sookie — but her relationship with Jason is beyond annoying), Arlene (stop fucking screaming over vampires already! How long have you lived in Bon Temps?), Holly (unless you really can pull off some Harry Potter shit you’re of no use to your friends or to the viewers), Nicole (please mention in the comments if you even know who this character is — no one would blame you if you didn’t. I don’t even think Sam remembers who she is), and, much as it pains me to say it: Willa. I had so much hope for this character last summer, but even though she was promoted to main cast this season, I have been quite disappointed in the writers’ lack of interest in her. Also, unless James and Lafayette get together and the relationship sticks, the vamp needs to go — much as I enjoy looking at him. He’s gay, Jessica is a woman (and we all want her back with Jason anyway), so it’s time for this forced relationship to meet the true death. Same goes for Adilyn, Wade and Rocky. As long as Sookie still has her faerie light, Adilyn can spend the rest of the season making out with Wade on the faerie plain, for all I care.

It’s no secret that the goal of this season is to bring Bill and Sookie back together, and the death knell was ringing for Alcide for a while now. He had settled into domesticity with Sookie (remember when that happened with Jessica and Hoyt? Didn’t turn out so well, did it?), despite the two having zero chemistry. Especially in last night’s episode, Alcide had devolved into pure caricature — going all Incredible Hulk once realizing Sookie went off with Bill to set a trap for the Hep-V vamps (he lost his shirt, his wolfie eyes lit up and he went berserk. Am I missing anything here?). The sad truth is, as much as we all liked looking at him, Alcide was always a peripheral character — he wasn’t even in the opening credits the third season, which was his only really worthwhile appearance. The writers didn’t even know what to do with him for Seasons Four-Seven, most of the time casting him in a D-level subplot that had nothing to do with the rest of the storyline. For heaven’s sake, Sookie’s flirtatious banter while BILL WAS UP IN A TREE had more heat than any skin-on-skin contact she ever had with Alcide.

Alcide’s presence was so unnecessary and irrelevant to the storyline that Sookie literally snuck out on the man she supposedly loved with her ex-boyfriend. If your boyfriend is a WEREWOLF and you’re opting for your bloosucking ex for protection, then, yeah, you really don’t need him around. Sorry, Al.

But, I was pleased with the way he went out. 1. We SAW him die (very, very important). 2. No closing-credits music, just mournful silence. Sookie, despite admitting to Bill that perhaps she didn’t love Alcide the way he deserved to be loved, appears genuinely shattered over his death, collapsing over his lifeless body in whispered weeps. But I think the most respectful thing she did for Alcide in that moment was to reject Jessica’s offer to turn him.

Which brings me to Alcide’s death vs. Tara’s death: I still believe the writers have something big in store for us regarding Tara, even if it’s in some spooky afterlife form. My theory is based on the most prosaic of factors, but I stand by it: Rutina Wesley’s name is still in the opening credits. Yes, she appeared in a ghostly form in last week’s episode, but despite not appearing at all in “Fire in the Hole,” there she was, plain as day, appearing after Ryan Kwanten’s name. In order to promote the is-he-or-isn’t-he-dead question, Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd’s name was left out of the opening credits in the season premiere (Answer: Eric’s alive, albeit infected by Hep V). If Joe Manganiello’s name is missing from next week’s credits then that is proof positive that we’re going to be seeing Tara again. Especially if Lettie Mae finds more gullible vampires like Willa. There are plenty of other body parts for her to singe.

Did True Blood’s Tara Meet the True Death? Truly?

There is no way I can write about True Blood without it devolving into clichĂ©: As is the case with so many fans and critics, my relationship with the campy HBO drama has been like a bad marriage. I was infatuated throughout Seasons One and Two, the steamy gothic romance between small-town waitress Sookie Stackhouse and debonair Civil War-era vampire Bill Compton making me giddy in my lady parts. But by Season Three I started to notice something going sour, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time (the answer was were-panthers). Season Four was that last-ditch effort to hold on (amnesiac Eric) to what we had before, and by Seasons Five and Six things had just deteriorated into full-on disgust. There were too many new characters (everyone in the Authority, Scott Foley, Warlow) and too many unnecessary and cumbersome subplots (“Billith”; Joe Manganiello pretty much starring in his own sitcom called Alcide’s Adventures — That No One Gives a Shit About). But now that the seventh and final season of True Blood is here, it feels like the divorce proceedings are under way, and it’s going to be an amicable outcome. I’m tired of railing against how bad the show has become, worn out from bemoaning the loss of a smart, sexy, thought-provoking series that originally intended to shed light on American political hypocrisy and LGBT themes. So, while I can’t entirely sit back and just let the show take its course — not after all the recaps and articles I’ve written on the subject, both for RollingStone.com and on Tumblr — I am at peace with the majority of its mistakes and wrong turns.

I applaud showrunner Brian Buckner’s decision to bring the narrative not only back to Bon Temps, but to refocus the story on the core characters. However, at this late stage, the damage to the show has already been done, and from what I’ve seen of the first two episodes of the season (full disclosure: I have already viewed the episode airing Sunday, June 29), True Blood is little more than a hollow shell of its former self. There is no better example of this fact than an early scene from this coming Sunday’s episode, in which two popular male characters engage in what can best be described as the ultimate fantasy of any person with some semblance of a libido. Unfortunately, True Blood has been there, done that so many times that the aforementioned scene just comes off as anticlimactic (in more ways than one). See also: Violet and Jason up against a car.

Other than remaining genuinely invested in Jessica and Pam — the only characters left with the ability to steal scenes — the only plotline I’m still interested in is that of WTF happened to Tara? And that’s only because what’s going on with her is — no pun intended — making my blood boil. Within hours of Tara’s ostensible, offscreen staking, actress Rutina Wesley was making the press rounds, confirming that her character was indeed dead. Now, any fairweather True Blood viewer knows that “dead” doesn’t necessarily mean dead. Vampire elf Godric appeared more as a personification of Eric’s conscience than he ever did as actual flesh-and-undead-blood. Plus, Tara does show up in this Sunday’s episode — but given TB’s penchant for flashbacks, dreams and apparitions that should hardly qualify as a spoiler.

My issue with Tara’s supposed death comes from what went down last season, in which Buckner told me, “One of our principal characters will not make it all the way through the season.” And with all due respect to Todd Lowe (whom I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing twice during his TB tenure) and his dreamy, puppy-dog eyes, devoting almost an entire episode to mourn Terry Bellefleur while Tara — who has always been more of a “principal” character than the USMC vet — is disposed of offscreen just seems downright disrespectful. That and, after Tara spent six seasons as Bon Temps’ unluckiest resident, dodging maenad possession, grieving a murdered boyfriend, being terrorized by a sociopathic vampire, and getting shot in the head by a vengeful werewolf only to be turned into a vampire — she was killed off without so much as a moment of reflection from her friends and family? Instead of crying his eyes out over his cousin, Lafayette spent more time listening to hippie-generation vampire (and new love interest) James talk about how the peace, love and understanding Sixties really meant baseball-bat beatdowns if you were gay. It just doesn’t add up. If any character in the True Blood universe deserves to be at peace, it’s Tara Thornton. And so far, I don’t see her spirit being laid to rest anytime soon.

So that’s why I believe Rutina Wesley’s comments to the press are all part of a grand red herring. The writers must have something real special in store for Tara, because offscreen deaths just aren’t how True Blood rolls. We all saw Eric Northman and his Viking penis go up in flames at the end of Season Six, but wiping Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd’s name from the season-premiere credits doesn’t even come close as an acceptance of his character’s true death. Spoiler/not-really-a-spoiler alert! You’re gonna see him again Sunday. Also, whether she really is a pile of goo, an apparition or just taking a TruBlood break, remember, Tara has been”dead” for two seasons now — she’s a vampire!