Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Notes on Pop Culture: Emmys (FNL! Mad Men!), Cheers for Character Actors, 'Blue Valentine' Haunts

Awards & Awkwardness at the Emmys

The Emmy broadcast on Sunday was one honkin’ strange bit of TV. While I really did not like most of what the awards show folks presented to us under the guise of "entertainment," I did like the decisions the voters made.

What I hated: The Emmy Tones (unnecessary, uninspired), the feckless scripts written by people who are apparently severely lacking in the humor department, the cheesy “In Memoriam” segment where the smoke was swirling around the feet of the people butchering the song Hallelujah and the SNL musical montage that included the ditty about a "three-way" (but at least my kids, who’d been watching the awards show with me, had already gone to bed so I didn’t have to field questions about three-ways).

What I adored: Friday Night Lights getting much belated though much deserved accolades including an Emmy for the writer of the series finale (which hit just the right notes without being too saccharine) and for Kyle Chandler who keenly his testosterone-laden role of football coach Eric Taylor with a sensitive side where he was a family man who loved his wife and daughters and would be willing to move thousands of miles away from the great state of Texas to pursue her dreams; Mad Men getting the best drama nod for an exquisite season and Modern Family’s tsunami of justly earned awards for their big hearted, snarky and smart reinvention of the family sitcom.

The single best moment, however, was the one above, where all the nominees for best comedic actress took to the stage and clasped hands in a beauty pageant bit from the creative mind of Amy Poehler. For those who say women aren’t and can’t be funny, they can stuff it, that bit seemed to say. And to have Melissa McCarthy win, after all the garbage she put up with a year ago when Mike & Molly premiered, was just the cherry on top of the Sunday.

Image credit: NBC.

Cheers for Character Actors

This past weekend, I was intrigued by the piece by Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott in the Sunday’s New York Times about character actors who “endow the make-believe of movies with personality.” A love letter to the likes of Paul Giamatti, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Judy Greer and Steve Buscemi, it extolled the virtues of those actors and actresses whose craft feels real when you watch them embody their characters, unlike what oftentimes happens when you’re watching a BIG star and you’re acutely aware that you’re watching a BIG star playing a role.

“A star imports outsized individuality into every role, playing variations on a person we believe we know,” they wrote. “A character actor, by contrast, transforms a well-known type into an individual.”

This got me to thinking about character actors who pop up on numerous TV shows, shows which sometimes air at the same time, who always seem to deliver.

The man who first popped into my mind was Zeljko Ivanek. Not exactly a household name. You may think you have not earthly idea of who this guy is just by looking at his name, but when you see his face (see photo above), you’ll say, “Oh yeah! THAT dude!” He’s been on so many TV shows in so many different roles it’s thoroughly impressive. He’s been on The Event, The Mentalist, True Blood, Damages, Big Love, Heroes, 24, Homicide: Life on the Streets, on one episode of House, two episodes of the John Adams miniseries, one episode of Lost, three episodes of The Practice . . . the list goes on and on. And no matter when and where he appears, he's always good.

Image credit: AMC.

Another actor whose face immediately came to mind was Anne Dudek’s. Again, you might not know her name, but you’d know her face which has appeared as a series regular on Covert Affairs, Big Love, Mad Men and House, and has also appeared on How I Met Your Mother, Castle, Bones, Invasion, Desperate Housewives and Six Feet Under.

As I was thinking about Dudek as Betty Draper’s best friend in 1960s Mad Men, I remembered Mark Moses who not only had a stint on Mad Men (as the alcoholic ad man Duck Phillips) but enjoyed a one-episode excursion on Covert Affairs as an astronaut this season. He too was on Desperate Housewives (an on-again, off-again role as Paul Young) and appeared in a ton of other TV series for one episode, everything from NYPD Blue to Malcolm in the Middle.

Then there’s another Mad Men cast mate whose name I never knew: Audrey Wasilewski. Seriously, I had never even heard of her name until I looked it up for this blog entry. But you’ll know her once I tell you that she plays Peggy Olson’s sister Anita in Mad Men. She was the Henricksons’ neighbor across the street, Pam (the one who asked Margene to be a surrogate for her and whose estranged husband killed Bill Henrickson) on Big Love. She’s been on Grey’s Anatomy, The Middle, Bones, Monk, Private Practice, Gilmore Girls and Six Feet Under. Believe me, you know her face when you see it.

Who are some character actors on TV today who you seem to see everywhere?

Blue Valentine Haunts

I was battling a head cold over the weekend so that gave me the perfect excuse to don some comfy clothes, grab a warm blanket and sack out in front of the TV to catch up on a couple of flicks while my husband took our three kiddos to their sporting events. I finally got the chance to screen the indie darling Blue Valentine and the mind-bending crowd pleaser Inception.
I found them both entertaining but, by far, Blue Valentine resonated with me and has had me thinking about it for days. Its portrait of the disintegration of a marriage, coupled with the gritty, bone-depth needy performances of Ryan Gosling and the put-it-all-out-there Michelle Williams reminded me of a non-ironic, dark version of 500 Days of Summer. Blue Valentine may bill itself as a “love story,” but in reality, it’s about the sticky course of an unlikely relationship forged out of opportunity, desperation and physical attraction that runs aground ugly like a rudderless boat in a dingy river.

Inception, meanwhile, took a lot more work on my part to enjoy because I had to suspend a whole lot of questions and thoughts like, “Wait, if they can imagine a train running down the middle of the street, why can’t they imagine they’re in a bulletproof car? Why can’t they imagine that they can fly away? It’s their dream!” in order to roll with it. Once you do that and you suspend you’re inclination to say, “This makes no sense!” you can find yourself able to follow Leonardo around and cotton to his personal backstory, because that was what I found most interesting about the film, the story about Leo and his dead wife, not the loads of special effects.

Image credits: NBC, AMC.

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