Nothing But Memory
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I’m a Better Host Than Jimmy Kimmel, Too

Being a sucker for awards shows, naturally I watched the Emmys on Sunday night. The Emmys, I have to say, are one of my least favourite awards shows. It’s hard to take a group that claims to honour the best in television seriously when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was never nominated in a major category except one time for writing, and that writing nomination came for an episode with almost no dialogue (an excellent episode, to be sure, but still). Also, it did not win.

This year’s Emmy telecast was particularly unsatisfying for me as the one show I do love that I can usually count on to make me feel better about these things, Mad Men, didn’t even win. For once, Bryan Cranston didn’t win, yet somehow, neither did Jon Hamm. I was annoyed. As soon as I went to bed, I started plotting out my own version of the Emmy awards, which I am calling the Memmy Awards, to recognize the best in television as perceived by me. Here are my nominees.

Note: Community is the only sitcom I watch, so I’m not bothering with a separate category for comedy because it would just win everything. I bet that would be super, super annoying and predictable.

Best Supporting Actor

Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones. I wasn’t that impressed with season two of Game of Thrones, but one thing I did love about it was Charles Dance’s outstanding performance. The scenes between Arya and the Lannister patriarch were certainly the highlight of the season for me. Dance plays Lord Tywin with great strength and menace, ably showing viewers the forceful paternal influence that made Tyrion, Cersei, and Jaime who they are.

Jared Harris as Lane Pryce on Mad Men. Frankly, he deserves this nomination just for that time Lane punched Pete Campbell in the face. I also loved the crazy scene where he gave Joan some, er, business advice. But as amazing as those moments were, there was much more weighty stuff to Lane’s arc and Jared Harris’ performance this season. So very English, suffering in silence as everyone else went on with their lives, never suspecting the depth of his problems.

John Noble as Walter Bishop on Fringe. John Noble’s omission is one of the things that bothers me the most when I see the Emmy nominations every year. He plays Walter’s messed up mental state with a mix of flat-out weirdness and fragility that can go from hilarious to incredibly moving in just a few short words. He also shows his vast range in his scenes as Walternate, where we see the cold and calculating person the lovable Walter we know might have become.

And the Memmy goes to … John Noble, because for heaven’s sake, someone’s got to give this man an award!

Best Supporting Actress

Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris on Mad Men. Season five was a very big year for Joan: she finally dumped Dr. Rapist, she came back to work after her maternity leave … oh yeah, and she whored herself out for the good of the company and was made partner in return. The moment when she told her awful husband he’s not a good man actually made me cheer. It was a satisfying, if uncomfortable, season for Joan’s character development, and Hendricks played it all beautifully.

Jessica Paré as Megan Draper on Mad Men. Whatever you think of Megan (personally, I like her), Jessica Paré was a force on Mad Men this season. Her youthful exuberance challenged Don to contemplate moving with the times, Peggy to re-evaluate her career, and Betty to take a long look at her own maturity level. (Possibly.) Paré started the season off with a bang (Zou Bisou Bisou!) and went toe-to-toe with Jon Hamm in some very intense scenes.

Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey. Maggie Smith’s wonderful readings of Julian Fellowes’ funny and sometimes outlandish dialogue are very probably the best thing about Downton Abbey. This is simply a case of a brilliant actress doing a brilliant job in a brilliantly-written role. I watch her every moment she’s on screen: every gesture and facial expression is unmissable.

And the Memmy goes to … Christina Hendricks. In most years I would be more than happy to see Maggie Smith take home the trophy, but man, Christina Hendricks killed it this year.

Best Actor

Jon Hamm as Don Draper on Mad Men. Don tried hard to evolve this season and Jon Hamm portrayed his transformation with typical smoothness. It’s amazing to me that he has so far failed to win an Emmy. Don Draper is without doubt the most iconic character currently on television and a big part of that is due to Hamm’s personal charisma. If you think Mad Men will stand up in 25 years as an example of great TV, which I do, it will seem ridiculous that he never won.

Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan on Dexter. This is more of a lifetime achievement Memmy nomination than anything else because I think Dexter’s best days are definitely behind it. But MCH’s awesomness hasn’t faded, and by my count he should have about nine Emmys by now (five for the five seasons of Six Feet Under and one each for the first four seasons of Dexter). Strangely, he doesn’t have a single one.

Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody on Boardwalk Empire. I came across this article about shows that have the wrong lead character the other day and was happy because I have always thought Nucky was one of the least interesting people on Boardwalk Empire. Jimmy was far more interesting, especially in season two: his attempts to unseat Nucky, his grief at Angela’s death, his disturbing backstory. Michael Pitt’s deep, quiet, intense, sad performance was outstanding.

And the Memmy goes to … Sorry, Jon Hamm, but: Michael Pitt, for a performance that stayed with me long after the show ended. It’s shocking that the actual Emmys overlooked him.

Best Actress

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones. I find Cersei to be one of the more interesting characters in the series. She’s a woman trying not just to survive in but actually dominate a man’s world. This has made her ruthless, cunning, and just a little bit crazy. Lena Headey has captured Cersei’s rage and the fear underneath it in a way I really enjoy. Her scenes with Sansa throughout the season and especially during the battle were marvellous.

Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. Alicia has really grown since we first met her in season one, developing more and more moral ambiguity. She’s still a good person at heart, but she has her moments of slipperiness. Julianna Margulies shows Alicia’s conflicted feelings about her job very well. Plus, I love it when she lays out Jackie with a good rant. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.

Anna Torv as Olivia Dunham on Fringe. I think what impressed me most about season four was the way she actually made Walter (and me) like Altlivia, who had until then been pretty much a villain. But, like Michael C. Hall’s Best Actor nomination, this one is a kind of overall achievement award, rather than related to anything specific Anna Torv did this season. Her performance has been amazing since Fringe started and she’s only getting better.

And the Memmy goes to … Anna Torv. Why do you hate Fringe, Emmy voters?

Best Series

Boardwalk Empire. I liked season one but wasn’t totally convinced it was going to turn out to be a great show. The excellent second season paid off a lot of what was set up in season one and made me very eager to see season three. This series also has stunning HBO-financed production values and is just plain nice to look at.

The Good Wife. An exceptionally well-written legal drama/nighttime soap populated with a large cast of excellent characters, played by great actors, including a series of really notable guest stars.

Mad Men. Somehow, this show has managed to get better every season so far. Season five was possibly the most difficult yet, featuring a lot of developments that made me squirm as the characters went through some major changes. As uncomfortable as I might have been, though, I couldn’t look away.

And the Memmy goes to … Mad Men. I can only imagine Homeland must be the greatest show since Buffy in order to have beaten it for the Emmy.

A final award: instead of doing a bunch of awards for writing and directing, the Memmys just go whole hog and give you …

Best Single Episode of Any Show

Community 3.04 – “Remedial Chaos Theory.” Jeff tosses a die to determine which of the gang must go downstairs and pick up the pizza they’ve ordered, in the process creating six different timelines, each of which is played out in the course of the episode. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed as hard at anything I’ve seen on TV as I did at The Darkest Timeline.

Community 3.14 – “Pillows and Blankets.” The battle between Troy’s blanket fort and Abed’s pillow fort turns serious and all of Greendale is drawn into the conflict. A dead-on parody of a Ken Burns documentary, showing how social media posts and text messages would become the archival sources for historians of tomorrow. I enjoyed this episode so much that I watched it twice in a row.

Mad Men 5.04 – “Mystery Date.” Set against the backdrop of the Chicago nurse murders, the episode explores humans’ potential for violence and distrust of each other, mainly in the context of men’s sexual violence against women. Particularly disturbing are Don’s dream sequence and Sally’s fear after watching the news with her grandmother. This was chilling stuff. Plus, Joan dumps her stupid husband and not-so-subtly reminds him of that time he raped her. Awesome!

And the Memmy goes to … “Remedial Chaos Theory,” because I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe.

All Is Quiet, on New Year’s Day

The beginning of a new year always makes me feel like doing random things in the name of having a fresh start; for example, this morning I flipped all the cushions on my couch, which I would probably never think of doing on any other day, but hey — it’s a new year! I also refilled my salt shaker, opened up a new toothbrush, and started rereading the Harry Potter books again.

Now a brief look back on 2011. I did some good things: went to England, managed the HPreread. Got to know my toddler niece as she developed her personality. I rewatched The X-Files. This may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but I’ve tried to do that three or four times before and have never made it past the first half of season six. In 2011, I did all nine seasons plus both movies. It felt like an accomplishment! I also did a good job of getting myself back in the habit of reading every day, and as consequence I read 65 books. To be fair, many of those were short and some were things I’d read before, but I’d count about 30 of them as solid new books. I think I managed my personal life fairly well. I had surgery to fix up a health problem I’d been dealing with for a while and took advantage of the fact that I have dental coverage through my job to get some much needed work done on my teeth. I paid all my bills and knocked a fairly big chunk off my student debt. I did well at my job. I tried to make smart decisions about how I spend money and on what. All in all, it was a good year.

I also took in some good culture. Here are a few best and worst of 2011 picks:

Music

I liked Florence + the Machine‘s debut album enough that I was really looking forward to the followup, Ceremonials, which turned out to be one of my favourite albums of the year. My picks for the best tracks: “What the Water Gave Me,” “Heartlines,” “Leave My Body,” “Only if for a Night,” “Never Let Me Go,” and “Shake It Out.”  But my most listened album of 2011 is undoubtedly Born This Way by Lady Gaga. It’s not perfect, but there are some truly great songs on there. The best, in my opinion, are “Heavy Metal Lover,” “Bloody Mary,” “Born This Way,” and “Hair.” “Hair” was easily my favourite song of the year. It’s so stupid, but so much fun.

My biggest musical disappointment of the year was Radiohead‘s King of Limbs. I never thought we’d reach the day when Radiohead made a bad album, but unfortunately it seems we have. It’s still possible King of Limbs will grow on me in the future. I hope so.

Movies

I was underwhelmed by the cinema of 2011 until July when I saw The Tree of Life, and I still think it was probably my favourite movie of the year. As I wrote at the time, I totally get why so many people hated it, but it really, really worked for me. I thought it was beautiful and brilliant, and it stayed with me for a long time after I saw it. Another movie that has stuck with me is the haunting Martha Marcy May Marlene, starring Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman who joins and then leaves a cult, but finds that she may never truly be able to escape. I’m not sure why this movie isn’t getting more awards buzz. Speaking of which, The Artist is just as good as people say. I found it very charming. In terms of more mainstream fare, I thoroughly enjoyed Captain America — everyone seems to have a preference between Cap and Thor and, while I enjoyed Thor, I think I was more drawn in by Captain America‘s period setting. I thought the filmmakers pulled that off very well. Plus, Chris Evans was wonderful, and Hugo Weaving made a terrific Red Skull.

Movies I didn’t like: The Descendants, which I am officially naming the most overrated movie of 2011, was just as boring and pretentious as I expected it to be given my hatred of Sideways and my general dislike of George Clooney in serious movies. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 annoyed me so much the first time I saw it that it almost put me off ever watching any of the HP movies again. Then I saw it a second time and liked it more, but I still have to say that the series was overall pretty disappointing — apart from the absolutely excellent casting.

Books

I think the only 2011 releases I read were The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin, both of which were great but fell just short of being truly outstanding. I read Martin’s entire Song of Ice and Fire series for the first time in 2011, and the third volume, A Storm of Swords, was most likely my favourite “new” (to me) book of the year. A low point in 2011 for me and probably for the world: I read all four Twilight books. Breaking Dawn created a whole new level of bad.

Television

The good: Fringe, The Good Wife, and The Vampire Diaries are the best things on television right now. I was overjoyed — overjoyed, I tell you! — by Smallville‘s series finale, which made me feel that the 10 years I spent watching that show were actually worthwhile. The second season of Boardwalk Empire also wrapped up in spectacular fashion.

The bad: I was disappointed when I heard One Tree Hill and Weeds, two shows that have really gone downhill, were being renewed. I finally stopped watching House.

The sad: No Mad Men.

People in the opening credits aren’t supposed to die.

It’s been interesting reading what people are saying online today about last night’s episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones.  The episode, entitled “Baelor,” is the penultimate episode of Thrones‘ season, and featured the death of a major character. (Don’t worry: I’ll warn you before I spoil anything more than that.) Reactions are passionate and very mixed, ranging from “It was absolutely brilliant! This is the best show on TV!” to “I’ll never watch that show again and also, I’ve cancelled HBO.”

All this fuss about the death of a character brings to my mind Joss Whedon’s famous line about the writer’s duty to give the audience the story it needs, as opposed to the story it wants, or thinks it wants. Talking about how his fans’ reactions to his work affect him, Whedon said:

It always affects me. At the same time, I need to give them what they need, not what they want. They need to have their hearts broken. They need to see change. They hated Oz, and then they hated that he left. These things are inevitable. If people are freaking out, I’m good. If people are going, “Hmmm…well, that was fine,” I’m fucked. (Source.)

There’s no doubt here that Joss Whedon is a master at breaking fans’ hearts. I remember watching the first season of Angel and being absolutely devastated by Doyle’s death, so much so that I think I even stopped watching the show at that point. (I picked it up again during season three.) Doyle was in the opening credits, and was positioned as a main character on the show. He was featured in all the promotional material. He was given backstory. Most of all, he was a nice guy and the audience liked him. And then, in episode nine, he died. People were not happy: this article published at the time that sums up the reactions to Doyle’s death.

You could basically take that article, switch out “Doyle” for the name of the deceased Game of Thrones character, and get an accurate recap of the reactions to this most recent TV death. It seems that not much has changed in the 11 years since Joss Whedon killed off Doyle. (Sidenote: I can’t believe it’s been that long.) To paraphrase Zap2it’s TV Gal (Amy Amatangelo), you don’t kill people who are in the opening credits! It just isn’t done! TV Gal wrote this in reference to the shocking death of a major character in the first season of 24:

Didn’t they know the rules? People in the opening credits aren’t supposed to die. We now take it for granted that those who come in contact with Jack Bauer often don’t live to tell the tale. But in the show’s first season, it was a brave and risky move that proved no one is safe in Jack’s world and there would never be such a thing as job security on the popular FOX series. (Source.)

Looking at the anger the producers of Angel and Game of Thrones have faced over killing off major characters … well, yeah. Apparently axing an important and well-liked cast member is just about the bravest and riskiest thing a TV showrunner can do.

I understand being distraught and/or enraged about the death of a favourite character, but I’m no longer inclined to stop watching something just because a person I liked died, as I did back in the day with Angel. I don’t mind a little darkness in my stories. I don’t expect everyone to live happily ever after. Sometimes character death pushes a story forward in really fascinating ways. Angel (a different death), Six Feet Under, and Dexter come to mind. Having read the novel on which Game of Thrones is based, I know for sure that last night’s death was necessary.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! Behind the jump, the name of the character who died on last night’s Game of Thrones is revealed.

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