Time to continue my picks for nominees and winners for the past year of television, as though I actually have the ability to grant awards. If you missed it, here’s the first post of the series picking the Comedy Acting categories.
Here’s the ground rules: to qualify for nomination, a show must have aired most of its season in the 12 months between May 31st, 2011 and May 31st, 2012. I used the Emmy ballot to decide which category a show belongs to, so if it submitted itself as a comedy even if its not particularly funny, that’s where I considered it.
Outstanding Comedy Series
The nominees are…
Parks and Recreation
This it the category where my adherence to where shows submitted for the Emmys gets in my way. It’s a necessary rule to frame my conversation alongside the Emmy discussion at large (even if I publish long after people stopped caring) and it allows me to avoid making hard decisions myself. But for the past two years, I’ve wanted to break my rule here because the best animated comedies don’t choose to submit in the comedy category (instead taking their chances in Animation). Were I to ignore the rule, then you’d definitely see Archer nominated here and Bob’s Burgers would contend. But I decided that fake rules are rules, so here we are.
This opened a spot for Nurse Jackie, the definite sixth nominee and one I initially missed when first putting my lists together. I still wouldn’t call it a must-watch great show, but this past season was easily the series’ best, and I felt that earned it some recognition. Even more deserving of recognition is how it was able to turn its fourth season into its best: by responding to seemingly every criticism ever leveled at the show and correcting the problems identified (well, other than its terrible opening credits), which turned it from a show I was pretty sure I had seen my fill of after season three to one of the year’s most pleasant surprises.
Happy Endings also contends with Nurse Jackie in the pleasant surprises division. Released in 2011 amongst a slew of post-millennial Friends clones that have since been quickly forgotten, I paid no attention to Happy Endings at all. Then it started to get a bit of “this show isn’t that bad” buzz to finish its first half-season off, followed by a small-but-fervent bandwagon after it got a surprising second season pickup that lead many to catch up on the show over the summer. I didn’t catch up on it until I got the first season DVD for Christmas, but when I did it quickly replaced Cougar Town as my favourite hangout show on TV (subsequently replacing Cougar Town as a nominee here as well). There’s a bit of an underdog spirit to this show that’s hard not to like once you give it a chance, particularly when it comes to the terrific chemistry of its cast. It’s still a step behind the great shows on this list, but at times can easily be one of the most enjoyable.
It took me awhile to figure out how I felt about Girls. But then things clicked and the brilliance that all the critics over-hyped the show to make everyone hate it started to seep through. Once everything clicked, Girls quickly became one of my most anticipated viewings each week. It’s not easy to mine humour from the insufferability of young people without becoming insufferable yourself, but Lena Dunham and crew managed to do so (and, yes, I recognize that many would disagree with that statement. Get your own blogs). The result was a comedy that slowly and satisfyingly dug into its characters better than any on this list. Plus, it was damn funny when it needed to be. If you don’t think “Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident” was one of the funniest episodes of TV last year, then we might not be able to be friends.
Controversial opinion alert: in a way, the network struggles Community faced this past year, from having its second half delayed post-Christmas to Dan Harmon’s firing to the new delay of season 4 recently announced, may have worked in its favour. Before it started to look like we may never get any more of it, the rumbles had begun that season three wasn’t as good its predecessors. But once its incredibly vocal fans started to feel like they were being wronged by network decisions, all doubt was erased and the legend of Community grew. I love Community. At its best, it is unlike anything on television, ever, delivering comedy tailor-made for a certain type of media-driven obsessive (like, for instance, the kind of person who would write a blog where he gives out fake awards). And that best was definitely on display for portions of season three, like “Remedial Chaos Theory”, “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps”, “Documentary Filmmaking: Redux”, and “Virtual Systems Analysis”. But, if I’m truly honest, there were stretches where it often surrendered to its worst impulses, losing the emotional core that made all its meta explorations resonate. The characters were changing so much so rapidly to meet the story demands of a given episode that, at times, nothing they did had meaning. It was problematic enough that I don’t find myself among the fans who believe that the show can’t go on without Harmon. He delivered three great seasons of television, but was in real danger of getting lost in his own head.
After being named my Top Show of 2011, Parks and Recreation finished its fourth season strong with Leslie’s run for city council. So how does a show go from the best on all of TV in 2011 to runner-up in comedy in this awards? Easy answer is that each list judges a different timeline (2011 vs the 2011-12 TV season), but the more important answer is that the fourth season of Parks and Rec was an ever-so-slight step down from the third. Meaning, that the show went from greatest to “merely” great, which is normally not a distinction worth discussing, unless you’re some obsessive dude doling out fake internet awards. No show on TV balances the hysterically funny with the poignantly sweet like this one, making it both a critical darling AND a great hang out show. Sometimes shows have to choose between “clever” and “adored”. Parks and Rec gets to have it both ways. Remind me again why no one watches this show?
It takes an incredible show to keep this award from the fourth season of Parks and Recreation, and the second season of Louie was just that. It was thrilling to tune in each week and see someone constantly redefining the possibilities of TV as a medium. Given the demands of the medium, you simply don’t see the level of experimentation and auteurism displayed by Louie, a level that has more in common with independent film or the jazz that soundtracks much of the series than it does with any other show on TV. But with the unique arrangement between Louis CK and FX, they found a way to do TV differently, and the result was one of the truly great seasons in the history of television. You don’t turn into Louie to find out what will happen next, you tune it to discover just what exactly he’ll do next, as an artist more than as a character. Look at this list of episodes and try to reconcile that the same show did each of these episodes, in the same season no less. The panic of “Pregnancy” mixed with the peculiarity of “Bummer/Blueberries”, or the heartbreak of “Subway/Pamela”, or the tension of “Oh, Louie/Tickets”, or the sadness of “Doug”, or the sentiment of “Duckling”? That shouldn’t be possible. But it was. And it was amazing.
Stay tuned for Drama Acting, and Drama Series.