So Long, Dear Friend

The death of Valerie Harper this week got me to thinking about TV characters and the people who love them.

This is Us.

You see what I did there.  Even in writing about television a TV reference sneaks in.

For those too young to remember, Valerie Harper played Rhoda Morgenstern, Mary Richards’s talky, funny, Jewish best friend forever neighbor on the famed Mary Tyler Moore Show in the 1970s.  She was so popular she was later spun off as the star of her own show, Rhoda, where she was given a fuller life, less catastrophic dates and, finally, a hunky man who became her husband in one of the highest rated episodes on TV at the time.

Picture Perfect

Of course, television being what it was/is, she eventually had to get divorced (Note: for no good reason, in my opinion) so the whole cycle of jovial unhappiness could begin again.

I grew up with Rhoda and she meant a lot to me, mostly because I knew her.  In the seventies there were 0.0 young Jewish New Yorkers on hit television shows and certainly none as instantly recognizable and human as Rhoda.  We all not only knew her, we were her on any given day.

And who wouldn’t want to be?

The head scarves alone!

Rhoda joked about her life being a mess but she wore vibrant colors, had perfect one-liners for every occasion and was smart.  Moreover, she was a survivor.  You always knew Rhoda would be okay and even if you couldn’t literally be her or have her physically in your life you wanted her to at least be in your living room or bedroom or wherever you watched television, with you, whenever possible.

Much of this was due to Valerie Harper’s ability to embody a well-written sitcom role, take her beyond the laughs and make her feel real.  It was just impossible to believe that in real-life she wasn’t Jewish, didn’t speak with a trace of a New York accent and had never appeared in a TV comedy before she became Rhoda.  But she wasn’t, she didn’t and she never had.

Yes way! #acting

Certainly, you don’t have to be a Jewish New Yorker to play one but back in the 1970s, and even now, many performers become so obsessed with playing us that they get the accent and the mannerisms exactly right to the point where they are not playing anything else.   They (nee we) become wawking, tawking hand-waving neurotics ready to mow down anything and anyone that gets in our way.

Okay, sure, we are all of that.  (Note: See Larry David on any given day, even though he long ago transplanted to L.A.).  But there are times when we also do color outside our given lines.  Rhoda always did that and without a very special episode where a beloved relative gets hit by a car and she has to deal with it seriously.  Or one where she’s chastised by everyone around her for making a bad joke about the accident. (Note: See Larry David again).

See? Relatable.

Of course, this phenomenon stretches across all ethnic, sexual and religious lines.  As a gay man I’ve cringed, ranted and left the room numerous times over the years as some straight actor badly pretended he was a certain type of homosexual male and then went on to win an award for said performance.

What? Who? #shade

Name your minority group and I bet you could, too.

Meaning, we all need our Rhodas.

Luckily times have changed and, with it, the level of writing, especially on what is now broadly considered to be contemporary television.   Given where cable and streaming series have taken us, it is not unusual in these times for many actors to transcend their actual selves and portray believable niche characters that bear little relation to whom they truly are in real life.

But they exist in a 2019 world where the roles are a lot deeper and niche is the new…Black? Asian? Jewish? Gay? Hispanic?

…or if you’re Andre Braugher: Black, Gay, and a Police Captain for the NYPD

It is also a world where, ironically, the brilliant work Valerie Harper did might today almost be required to be done by a New York, Jewish actress.  See if that gets you to thinking a whole host of non-PC as well as PC thoughts.

This is exactly the point where, for me, television comes in handy.  Every time things get too heavy or confusing in my life I know l can feel comfort in being able to wander onto the couch – or if it’s really bad, a bed – and spend minutes or hours with a whole host of non-existent people who, in those moments, are as real to me as anyone I’ve ever met.  By my count over the years:

Lucy Ricardo’s determination made show business not seem all that bad.

 Murphy Brown allowed me to hold out hope that in the end journalism would get the last  laugh, and word.

Let’s just not talk about the reboot, OK?

 Olivia Benson on the street reinforced to me that on balance there is someone to protect those of us who somehow managed to survive against all odds.

 Don Draper shamed me back to the gym for fear we (or the actor playing him) happen to meet on a busy NYC street (or preferably empty stuck elevator) during one of my yearly trips.

working on my time machine right now

Walter White scared me into always protecting myself by reminding me there can still be great danger around the corner because anyone could break bad.  

Liz Lemon made me feel sane and well adjusted, by comparison.

Jack Pearson helped me imagine a world where I really did want to spend time with every member of my extended family, and

Midge Maisel made me laugh, cringe and sometimes cry at seeing all of my dead relatives and their friends on the small screen in ways that I could never have imagined in the days when I first met Rhoda.

What is it about funny ladies in good headwear?

RIP good friend.

I will still miss you even though I can see you tomorrow and every day of the week for the rest of my life.

Rhoda Opening / Closing Credits Season 1 

Auntie Emmy

Why is it the Emmy Awards telecast feels like something only your old auntie would watch in real time so she can root for her shows?

  1. Because it is?
  2. Because there is too much TV to have a favorite show if you’re under 90?
  3. Because there are too many award shows and none of them carry much weight?
  4. Because who wants to watch anything except the slow disintegration of the country?

Notice there is no all of the above choice.

At 70 years of age Auntie Emmy is a bit quaint.   She’s sort of the equivalent of a pop culture painting of Elvis on a velveteen blanket or arriving with a box of Fannie Mae chocolates for the beau you’re taking to the church social.

nuff said

Of course, the Chair has never been to a church social, purchased a box of Fannie Mae anything or really knows if there is such a thing as a velveteen blanket, much less one with Elvis painted on it.

Still, it sounds right, doesn’t it?  Something that used to be frivolous, fun and fiercely IMPORTANT now feels almost dull, superficial and, well…unpatriotic to spend any spare time on.

Except….

We Are Americans.

The only thing we love more than competition is…

TELEVISION!!!!!!

Lest we forget COMPETITION TELEVISION #ChoppedAllDay

So who am I/we kidding? We’ll be watching, tweeting, DVRing, reading, dishing and paying some sort of mind – even if it means going out of our way to proclaim both the show AND awards never entered our minds.

This became apparent to me about 10 years ago when I ran into a show biz guy I knew who had just been nominated for an Emmy at a trendy brunch spot that morning and, upon congratulating him, he synthetically replied:

Oh really, were those today? 

Well, yes, that’s why you are in the trendiest show business watering spot in town, you fake, I replied knowingly.

Okay, of course I didn’t.  I mean, I was there too.

Still, those were the days when Emmy was not an auntie and we were both A LOT younger so what does it matter?  He is no doubt still denying he cares as he grudgingly watches, along with the rest of us, silently cheering, or perhaps audibly jeering, for or against his shows.

Which is why every year from now until the end of our republic we will feature:

THE CHAIR’S EMMY CHEAT SHEET:

DRAMA SERIES

Nice try but I will NOT shut up about this show #BlessedBetheFruit

The Handmaid’s Tale
Game of Thrones
This Is Us
The Crown
The Americans
Stranger Things
Westworld

Sadly, there is nothing more timely than The Handmaid’s Tale.  Don’t say you know, but it’s too depressing to watch.  You owe it to your country to be forewarned.  Or at least keep up with current events by way of Gilead.

Yes, all of the aforementioned nominees have their merits, and yes The Americans is all wrapped up and sure Game of Thrones has won twice before and wasn’t up last year when The Handmaid’s Tale won the first time.  So what? Stranger Things and Westworld are audience favorites too and yes, This Is Us could sneak in because it’s the one network show critics, industryites and audiences all love.  But we’re going with the Zeitgeist.

LEAD ACTOR DRAMA

SO. MUCH. PLAID.

Jason Bateman, Ozark
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Ed Harris, Westworld
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us

Jeffrey Wright, Westworld

Trusting our gut here.  The season long tease of Jack’s death on This Is Us gave Milo Ventimiglia all season to be the 70s Dad, man, hottie (NOTE:  NOT all three at once, step back) of our dreams.  Prognosticators don’t give him a chance but sometimes ya get a feelin’.

LEAD ACTRESS DRAMA

Dare I say… SLAY!

Claire Foy, The Crown
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Keri Russell, The Americans
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld

You’re gonna bet against OfFred?  Really?  No, really?  We didn’t think so.  And if one more person tells you Keri Russell gave the performance of the decade or that Sandra Oh’s win will make history ask them if their characters could endure sub freezing temperatures in the suburban wilderness nine months pregnant and then give birth by themselves in the middle of  drafty house with only the fireplace to light their way.  Please.

SUPPORTING ACTOR DRAMA

Wait.. I thought only Harry rocked the beard! #JusticeforHarry

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Joseph Fiennes, The Handmaid’s Tale
David Harbour, Stranger Things
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Matt Smith, The Crown

Tough category and all of these actors deserve the honor.  But in any other year The Crown could win best series and best actress.  So it’s Matt Smith here – an actor who somehow managed to make a younger Prince Phillip sympathetic and sort of sexy while not shying away from him also being a lying, priggish philanderer and full on abusive father.  That alone is award-worthy.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS DRAMA

Let’s hope this Serena isn’t robbed. #stillnotoverUSOpen

Alexis Bledel, The Handmaid’s Tale
Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things
Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Vanessa Kirby, The Crown
Thandie Newton, Westworld
Yvonne Strahovski, The Handmaid’s Tale

One of the only sure thing categories.  I myself find Serena the most heinous character on television so it’s amazing to see an actress who is actually able to make us believe she’s human.  Don’t know what that means because you haven’t watched the show?   Then WATCH IT!!!

COMEDY SERIES

Emmy’s Darling

Atlanta
Barry
Black-ish
Curb Your Enthusiasm
GLOW
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

There has never been a pilot episode of a television series less likely to break through as both an audience and critics TV favorite as much as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  As I said to my sister, who first turned me on to the show:  This is the most Jewish thing I’ve ever seen, I can’t believe anyone but us and our family is watching it!!

It will be a close race with the depth of storytelling in Atlanta and the sheer originality of Barry but count on Mrs. Maisel for bringing us an escape from reality by way of late 1950s Greenwich Village.

LEAD ACTOR COMEDY

Make more room on the shelf Donny! #thatsuittho

Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
Ted Danson, The Good Place
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Donald Glover, Atlanta
Bill Hader, Barry
William H. Macy, Shameless

Donald Glover will deservedly and rightly win.  Everyone else in the category is good but he’s doing something different and real here we haven’t seen before – and doing it consistently in between his tasks as its creator and sometime writer.

LEAD ACTRESS COMEDY

Oh don’t worry Midge, we’ll be there. #Catskills #Season2

Pamela Adlon, Better Things
Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Allison Janney, Mom
Issa Rae, Insecure
Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie

The other sure thing category.  It’s Midge in a w.a.l.k.  And when you watch Rachel Brosnahan being interviewed and see how far she is in real life from the character she portrays, well….it’s Midge in a w.a.l.k.

SUPPORTING ACTOR COMEDY

No shark this time

Louie Anderson, Baskets
Alec Baldwin, Saturday Night Live
Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta
Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live
Henry Winkler, Barry

Henry Winkler was first nominated for an Emmy 42 YEARS AGO and has never won.  Five nominations and – bupkus.  This guy was THE FONZ!  Plus, his work as a deluded yet somehow effective acting teacher on Barry is heartfelt, fresh and more than deserving.  Not to mention, in real life he’s the nicest man.  Don’t mean to name drop but…..

SUPPORTING ACTRESS COMEDY

Never better #notalternativefacts

Zazie Beetz, Atlanta
Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Aidy Bryant, Saturday Night Live
Betty Gilpin, GLOW
Leslie Jones, Saturday Night Live
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace

A REALLY tough call.  Alex Borstein should win for being laugh out loud hilarious as Mrs. Maisel’s snide, baked beans eating manager and Megan Mullally has made Karen Walker one of the most popular female supporting characters in the history of TV.  Still, in the 24/7 world of politics Kate McKinnon playing the clown from It as Kellyanne Conway is so frighteningly…something that it trumps all else.

LIMITED SERIES

Welcome to Miami

The Alienist
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Genius: Picasso
Godless
Patrick Melrose

There was something so revolting and alluring about the Assassination of Gianni Versace that it’s hard to imagination it not taking the honors here.  It felt doubtful that this lurid tale warranted an American Crime Story show at all until we watched it use the tale of a twisted killer of one of fashion’s legends as a way to tell  an American tale of class and sexual repression at the turn of this past century.

LEAD ACTOR LIMITED SERIES/MOVIE

Werkin that serial killer lighting like a pro.

Antonio Banderas, Genius: Picasso
Darren Criss, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Melrose
Jeff Daniels, The Looming Tower
John Legend, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
Jesse Plemons, U.S.S. Callister (Black Mirror)

Darren Criss played Andrew Cunanan as the boyish serial killer next door and against all odds it worked.  Criss never fell into psycho cliché or gave us outsider gay sociopath 101, which made his presence all the more disturbing and riveting.  It was hard to turn away even though, honestly, there were spots where you had to turn away.  Perhaps he was too much of an awful thing for some voters, which could shift the trophy to the equally good Benedict Cumberbatch – but probably not.

LEAD ACTRESS LIMITED SERIES/MOVIE

OK fine, this is Dern in Pretty Little Lies but like… Renata forever.

Jessica Biel, The Sinner
Laura Dern, The Tale
Michelle Dockery, Godless
Edie Falco, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders
Regina King, Seven Seconds
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Cult

An odd category this year with no true standout.  Still, in the #MeToo era Laura Dern deserves the credit for a smart portrayal of a difficult character – a woman who must delve back into her past in order to save herself in the present.  She made the transitions between the adult self and the other actresses who played the younger versions of her character seamless, which elevated the material far beyond where it could have landed.

SUPPORTING ACTOR LIMITED SERIES/MOVIE

I mean.. OK sure.

Jeff Daniels, Godless
Brandon Victor Dixon, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
John Leguizamo, Waco
Ricky Martin, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Edgar Ramírez, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Michael Stuhlbarg, The Looming Tower
Finn Wittrock, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

Not going to lie.  This is a guess based on prognosticators.  But EVERYONE agrees it’s Jeff Daniels and the more you read his reviews the more you will also agree.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS LIMITED SERIES/MOVIE

But also kudos to hair and makeup because this is late 90s perfection.

Sara Bareilles, Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
Penélope Cruz, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Judith Light, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Adina Porter, American Horror Story: Cult
Merritt Wever, Godless
Letitia Wright, Black Museum (Black Mirror)

The majority of critics believe it’s going to be Penelope Cruz but I could only understand half of the words she said through all the episodes and that’s being generous.  Besides, there is only one Donatella Versace and that’s Maya Rudolph.  Heck, they even once shared the stage in matching evening gowns at the VH1 Fashion Awards.

However, Judith Light brought a new level of denial as the successful and privileged businesswoman wife of a closeted gay man.  It was a strange yet real type of character we don’t see much on television and she could easily get the Emmy for it if it doesn’t go to Merritt Wever or Lettia Wright.  Meaning, we’re not sure but we’re going with Judy.

VARIETY TALK SERIES

We seriously cannot forget about Marlon Bundo. #thebest

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee
Jimmy Kimmel Live!
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
The Late Late Show with James Corden
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert

Every single show is worthy.  It really depends on what their producers submitted.  But Last Week with John Oliver feels like the gold standard here and the rightful successor to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, especially after his win last year.  Though what do we know, we and everyone else we know voted for #HILLARY.

VARIETY SKETCH SERIES

This happened!

At Home with Amy Sedaris
Drunk History
I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman
Portlandia
Saturday Night Live
Tracey Ullman’s Show

Until Trump gets impeached it’s Saturday Night Live.  Never has there been a more perfect match of time, material and talent (Note: The White House being the exception).  Though it’s safe to assume SNL would gladly make a deal to give up the honor if they could get him out.  ……Wouldn’t they??

REALITY COMPETITION SERIES

DVR IS SET

The Amazing Race
American Ninja Warrior
Project Runway
RuPaul’s Drag Race
Top Chef
The Voice

The awards are on a MONDAY night this year and desperately needs some sashay. Besides, I’ve watched every season of The Voice and this last one sucked.  Gurrrrl…

Sissy That Walk – RuPaul

 

Stay tuned for the Chair’s recap of the Emmys! Follow along during the show using #NotesfromtheEmmys … hopefully it will be MARVELOUS (like I could resist).