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September 2016

‘Mr. Robot’ and ‘UnREAL’: A Tale of Two Sophomore Slumps

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Screenshot by Jenn Murphy

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…or it might have been just the worst of times, if you’re solely looking at the critical response to the second season runs of USA’s “Mr. Robot” and Lifetime’s “UnREAL.” In the eyes of critics, both shows seemed to have suffered from the all-to-familiar sophomore slump: a seemingly sub-par follow-up to a beloved first season. It’s a challenge that many critically-lauded TV series face; the hype surrounding the show and its first-season success gets so big that it becomes close to impossible to live up to growing expectations.

 

(I would like to note though, that I thought the second season of “Mr. Robot” was great. Sure, it had its weak moments, but at the end of the day it was just as fascinating and engrossing as the first season. “UnREAL” is a different story, but I’ll get to that later.)

 

The similarities between the trajectories of both “Mr. Robot” and “UnREAL” are hard to ignore, especially now they that both seem to find themselves in a similar predicament. Both shows debuted on networks that weren’t necessarily known for inventive and interesting programming. USA was the home of suave men in suits (like on, say…”Suits“) and Lifetime was all about TV movies where women were in peril (and “Dance Moms“). “Mr. Robot” and “UnREAL” both signified a shift for their respective networks ; USA wanted to get a little more artsy and Lifetime wanted to get a little more empowered. Both shows grabbed attention early on for their unexpected presence and unique story lines and while they might not have been bringing in the viewers like a “Big Bang Theory” or a “Grey’s Anatomy” does, they were definitely considered some of the biggest TV success stories of summer 2015.

 

Cut to summer 2016, where the success stories seem to have changed. Both shows, riding on the high that their critical darling first seasons provided, decided to go big. “UnREAL” brought the always hot (and always challenging) topic of race into the series with the reveal that the suitor on ‘Everlasting,’ the dating-show-within-a-show, would be black, something that their real-life counterpart, “The Bachelor,” had yet to do. They also chose to focus more on the personal lives of the people that make “Everlasting” tick, an element that seemed to only be on the periphery of the first season unless it directly involved the making of the show. “Mr. Robot,” on the other hand, decided to widen its focus, delving more into the complicated lives of the people surrounding Elliot and how those lives intersected and linked into the bigger, mysterious overall plan for the show. There was even an entire episode that was Elliot-free, shocking given how closely the first season followed its leading man.

 

The decisions made by both shows were certainly risky and paid off (or didn’t) in varying degrees. “UnREAL” was heavily criticized (and rightly so, if you ask me) for bringing a topic like race into the discussion to only really use it as a vehicle for its white main character’s internal turmoil. The show had been known for its clever and thoughtful commentary on society and the lack of that in its second season, despite having a storyline rife with it, was disappointing. Equally disappointing was the fact that the focus on the personal lives of the characters instead of their work on ‘Everlasting’ caused the show to devolve into the kind of campy, overly soapy content that Lifetime had been known for prior to this breath of fresh air. By the season finale, viewers and critics alike felt fatigued and betrayed. It seemed as if “UnREAL” had hurdled off a cliff, much like two of its characters in one of the more ridiculous moments of the second season finale.

 

Feelings of fatigue and betrayal seemed to also play a role in the response to “Mr. Robot’s” second season, although in not as dramatic of terms. Once it became evident early on that all was not as it seemed (again) in Elliot’s world, viewers and critics became concerned that there was going to be another big plot-twisty reveal similar to the first season, something that could easily run the risk of feeling repetitive and tired. And then it happened (almost exactly as some had predicted) and the response was more “I knew that” than “whaaaaat?!?” Some also seemed to grow tired of the shift in focus to the other characters, although it made some sense following the second season’s big reveal. Put all of that together with an increasingly dark, confusing and mysterious story line (that only looks like it will get more dark, confusing and mysterious in season three) and you appear to get a group of fans and followers that don’t know how much more they can handle. (I, for one, love the confusion and mystery but I also have a lot of free time to sit around and try to piece things together.)

 

What was it that caused both of these shows to fall out of the good graces of the critics and viewers that gave them so many accolades last summer? It seems as though the pressure to continue to churn out brilliance got to be a bit much and as a result some things fell apart. That being said, it’s also near-impossible for the expectations of a viewer to completely match up with the plans of a writer or showrunner. Now that we live in a world where predictions and theories have become so ever-present, it can be difficult at times to separate what people want to see versus what is actually part of the show.

 

In terms of a possibility for recovery, I think “Mr. Robot” has a much better chance than “UnREAL.” While writers and fans definitely found some faults with “Mr. Robot’s” twisty second season, the consensus still seemed to be in most circles that the show is worth keeping around. “UnREAL,” on the other hand, dug itself into a bit of a whole that will be pretty difficult to get out of. It will definitely be interesting to see how both shows maneuver life after a sophomore slump. If only we didn’t have to wait until next summer to find out!

 

What did you think of the second seasons of “Mr. Robot” and “UnREAL”? Think they’ll be able to move past a sophomore slump? Concerned that my blog is slowly becoming a “Mr. Robot” blog? No worries. Now that the season is over, I’ll find something else to become overly obsessed with. Before I leave you to emotionally prepare for tonight’s presidential debate though, don’t forget…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

The 5 Best Wins of the 2016 Emmy Awards: Dreams Really Do Come True!

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My Emmy night Ballot, full of check marks noting what I wanted to win, what I thought would actually win and what actually did win. Sometimes they were three different things entirely! Photo by Jenn Murphy

While the 2016 Emmy Awards certainly had its fair share of predictable moments, like “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” winning in the Outstanding Drama and Comedy Series categories, there were also a wonderful number of surprises, like Louie Anderson winning Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his role on FX’s “Baskets,” an award that was expected to go to “Veep’s” Tony Hale. The night seemed like somewhat of a turning point; now that longtime winners like “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” and “Modern Family” have either gone off the air or gone down in quality, the door has seemingly been opened for a group of new, interesting and diverse shows to take their place. Jimmy Kimmel, the night’s host, did, at least in my opinion (I’m not usually a big fan of his), a surprisingly good job. For once, I left my viewing of the Emmy’s telecast genuinely happy and hopeful for the state of TV. Here are what I consider to be the best (and most deserved) wins of the night. Turns out my dream predictions from last week weren’t too far off.

 


 

1) Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for “Master of None” episode 2, “Parents

While I didn’t get into the writing categories in my predictions last week (my hands felt like they were going to fall off after all that typing so I had to call it quits), I had high hopes that Ansari and Yang would be honored for this excellent episode of their brilliant show. The episode delves into what Dev (Ansari’s character) and Brian (Dev’s friend, played by Kelvin Yu) dealt with when coming to America as immigrants. In a time when immigration is a consistently hot topic, this episode felt incredibly relevant and was done in a fresh way that felt both humorous and heartfelt. In their acceptance speech, Ansari and Yang (well, really Yang; they got played off before Ansari even got to speak) made a call for the diversity talk that seems to prevalent in TV these days to extend to the Asian community, a request that needed to be heard by the network head honchos that filled the auditorium that night. It was one of the first awards given that evening and it really set the tone for the night.

 

2) Kate McKinnon, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for “Saturday Night Live

The award that seemed to so frequently go to Allison Janney for her role on CBS’s “Mom” was instead to given to the incredibly deserving Kate McKinnon, who is currently one of the biggest stars on “SNL.” She was only the fourth “SNL” cast member to win an Emmy (the previous three were Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner and Dana Carvey) and was only the second woman to win. It was very smart of the Emmy voters to give her the prize this year; her star is seriously on the rise, so who knows how much longer she’ll be on the venerated long-running sketch series?

 

3) Sarah Paulson, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie for “The People vs. O.J. Simpson

After seven Emmy nominations, last night was finally the night for Paulson, who won for her excellent portrayal of Marcia Clark. This one wasn’t necessarily a surprise, she was considered the front-runner pretty early-on, but it was a delight nevertheless. Paulson brought Clark as her date and spoke highly of her in her acceptance speech. Last night was a big night for “The People vs. O.J. Simpson;” in addition to Paulson’s win the show received four other Emmys, including equally deserved wins for Paulson’s wonderful co-stars Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown, who both used a Jay Z lyric as an epic acceptance speech shout-out to their wives.

 

4) Rami Malek, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for “Mr. Robot

In another move that wasn’t exactly a surprise but was still super-awesome, the always great Rami Malek took home one of the biggest awards of the night. Despite many critics and writers saying that he was the one to beat, I still got a little nervous at the swell of applause that came when Malek’s fellow nominee Kevin Spacey‘s name was called in the list of nominees. Luckily though the award went to Malek, who has continued to kill it in the role of troubled hacker Elliot Alderson in the show’s current second season. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were many more Emmys in Malek’s future.

 

5) Tatiana Maslany, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for “Orphan Black

One of the biggest surprises of the night was also one of the best moments; Maslany, who has flawlessly played at least 11 different roles on the BBC America Series about cloning, FINALLY won an Emmy. I’ve been rooting for her to get recognized since “Orphan Black’s” first season and this win, completely unexpected by many, was absolutely perfect. It proved that the Emmys can actually have truly unpredictable moments, moments that really showcase the wild and wonderful world of TV. My only question is: does Maslany get an Emmy for each different character she plays?

 


 

Well, there you have it, my best moments of the 2016 Emmy Awards. It was full of unpredictable delights. And hey, apparently “Game of Thrones” won’t be eligible next year due to it’s later production start date for the next season. With that in mind, who knows that wonderful surprises will occur next year? I, for one, can’t wait to find out.

 

What did you think of the 2016 Emmy Awards? Have some favorite wins of your own? Want to make some way too early predictions on what will happen in a “Game of Thrones”-less 2017 Emmys? Share it all in the comments. And before you go back to prepping for the onslaught of fall TV premieres this week, remember…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

The 2016 Emmy Winners – If I Were In Charge

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Photo by Jenn Murphy

The Emmy Awards, aka the night meant for celebrating the best and brightest on TV (Or, at least, the best and brightest according to a specific group of people) is coming up this Sunday, September 18. It seems a bit redundant to say it at this point, but I am very excited. There’s nothing I love more than a good award show, especially one that highlights my best friend, TV.

 

Since the big night is truly right around the corner, I thought it would be the perfect time to make my dream predictions. Please note that I didn’t just say predictions, I said dream predictions. I don’t necessarily think my picks are all in line with who and what will actually take home the trophies on the 18th (unfortunately). As I’ve shamefully admitted before, there are plenty of things I haven’t quite gotten around to watching yet, so I can’t make definitive decisions based on a full range of viewing experiences. Instead, I’m going to pick who I like from what I actually watch. If the world was fully in sync with my views, (and if it was, Jimmy Kimmel would not be hosting the show) the following bolded names would be the sitting pretty in the winning envelopes that always seem so difficult to open. (I’m also only doing the biggest awards, because ain’t nobody got time for the whole shebang.)

 


 

Best Drama Series

The Americans

Game of Thrones

House of Cards

Downton Abbey

Better Call Saul

~”Mr. Robot“~

Homeland

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Mr. Robot” is currently one of the best shows on television. The first season was completely inventive and incredible and despite a few small missteps, the currently airing second season has been just as great. This category (and the other ones within the dramatic genre) seem to always be run by a few specific shows (think “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones”) but I’m really hoping the television academy will do like they did in the comedy category last year and break from the monotonous tradition. What better way to do it than with the most game-changing show on TV?

 

Best Comedy Series

Veep

Transparent

Silicon Valley

Modern Family

Master of None

~”Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt“~

Black-ish

I’ll admit, this was a much more difficult choice than the drama category since there are several shows nominated here that I truly love. Thankfully, the curse of “Modern Family” was broken last year by “Veep” winning, which opened the door for more shows to actually have a fighting chance of winning. I picked “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” because it has a brilliant way of being unfailingly cheerful despite the show’s somewhat dark plot. In an era where the lines between comedy and drama are regularly blurred, it’s nice to see something that’s still so bright and fun. That being said, I definitely wouldn’t be devastated if “Master of None” or “Black-ish” took home the big prize.

 

Best Actor in a Drama Series

Kyle Chandler (“Bloodline“)

~Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”)~

Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”)

Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”)

Liev Schrieber (“Ray Donovan“)

Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards”)

Malek’s performance on “Mr. Robot” is a true masterclass in how to make creepy endearing. Despite Elliot’s many nefarious acts, you find yourself rooting for him to succeed and much of that has to do with Malek’s stellar acting skills. This is one that I’m really hoping will pay off on the big night, since Malek has already received a lot of recognition from other awards shows.

 

Best Actress in a Drama Series

Viola Davis (“How to Get Away With Murder“)

Claire Danes (“Homeland”)

Taraji P. Henson (“Empire“)

~Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black“)~

Keri Russell (“The Americans”)

Robin Wright (“House of Cards”)

In case you don’t know, Maslany has played at least 10 different characters over “Orphan Black’s” 4 already-aired seasons, each as individual and unique as the last. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been watching the show and completely forgotten that a large majority of the people on screen were being played by the same person. If that isn’t enough to earn someone an Emmy Award, then I really don’t know what is.

 

Best Actor in a Comedy Series

Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”)

Aziz Ansari (“Master of None”)

~Will Forte (“The Last Man on Earth“)~

William H. Macy (“Shameless“)

Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”)

Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”)

Will Forte has been consistently great on the consistently under-appreciated “Last Man on Earth.” Funny in a way that never feels forced, he never been afraid to truly go for it, going as far as to shave half of his face of a bit on the show. Dedication like that definitely deserves some Emmy love.

 

Best Actress in a Comedy Series

~Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”)~

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”)

Laurie Metcalf (“Getting On“)

Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”)

Amy Schumer (“Inside Amy Schumer“)

Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie“)

Ellie Kemper has a way of making her character child-like and cheerful without getting too grating or annoying, a true skill in my book. She’s so incredibly funny and carries the series in a way that seems almost effortless. I’d be so happy to see her win, but I also wouldn’t be upset in Tracee Ellis Ross’ name was called. But oh, who am I kidding, we all know Julia Louis-Dreyfus is gonna win.

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Jonathan Banks (“Better Call Saul”)

Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”)

Kit Harrington (“Game of Thrones”)

~Michael Kelly (“House of Cards”)~

Ben Mendelsohn (“Bloodline”)

Jon Voight (“Ray Donovan”)

As President Underwood’s deeply disturbed Chief of Staff, Michael Kelly brings the creep factor and brings it well. Much like Rami Malek’s work on “Mr. Robot” you want Kelly’s Doug Stamper to succeed even when what he is doing is truly awful, as it often is. It also helps that I once spoke to someone who worked with him and she said he was very nice, proving even more his true acting skill.

 

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”)

Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”)

Maggie Smith (“Downton Abbey”)

Maura Tierney (“The Affair“)

Maisie Williams (“Game of Thrones”)

~Constance Zimmer (“UnREAL“)~

In her role as the cunning and vicious showrunner of a “Bachelor”-esque dating show, Constance Zimmer brings the fire. While I would have loved to have also seen Zimmer’s “UnREAL” co-star Shiri Appleby nominated for her equally excellent work on the show, Zimmer’s much-deserved nomination will have to do (for now). A win for her would be a great reminder of how excellent the first season of “UnREAL” was, especially because the show’s weak second season didn’t do anyone any favors.

 

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

Louie Anderson (“Baskets“)

~Andre Braugher (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine“)~

Ty Burrell (“Modern Family“)

Tituss Burgess (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt“)

Tony Hale (“Veep“)

Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele“)

Matt Walsh (“Veep”)

There are so many things to love about the delightful “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” but I thing I love the most is definitely Andre Braugher. The fact that his serious and straight-laced character is often the funniest part of the show says a lot about his skills as both a serious and comedic actor. Captain Holt is definitely my favorite, and Braugher deserves all of the awards for making that happen.

 

Best Supporting Actress in A Comedy Series

Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”)

Gaby Hoffmann (“Transparent”)

Allison Janney (“Mom“)

Judith Light (“Transparent”)

~Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live“)~

Niecy Nash (“Getting On”)

Since she joined that cast of “SNL,” Kate McKinnon has proved to be a seemingly never-ending fount of silly, quirky and just straight-up weird original characters. She’s also carried on the challenging task of playing a very real and prominent figure in the world, Hillary Clinton. Both tasks she’s taken to excellently and work like that definitely deserves an Emmy win.

 

Best Limited Series

~”American Crime“~

Fargo

The Night Manager

The People vs. O.J. Simpson

Roots

This one was really hard. I LOVED “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” but it was impossible to ignore “American Crime’s” brilliant second season. Unflinchingly covering one of the most taboo and challenging topics of our time, “American Crime” never stayed away from the more upsetting moments and was all the better for it. And to think it aired on ABC! That surprising fact alone should earn the series a much-deserved Emmy.

 

Best Television Movie

~”A Very Murray Christmas“~

All The Way

Confirmation

Luther

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

I’ll be honest: the only one I actually saw on this list was “A Very Murray Christmas” and I am unabashedly a huge lover of Christmas. Plus, I don’t understand why “Luther” and “Sherlock” are in this category since last time I checked they are both multi-season series. So yeah, “A Very Murray Christmas.” It’s great. Get into it.

 

Best Actor in A Limited Series or Television Movie

Bryan Cranston (“All The Way”)

Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock: The Abominable Bride”)

Idris Elba (“Luther”)

Cuba Gooding Jr. (“The People vs. O.J. Simpson”)

Tom Hiddleston (“The Night Manager”)

~Courtney B. Vance (“The People vs. O.J. Simpson”)~

Vance was excellent as Johnny Cochran, holding his own amongst a who’s who of stars and Ryan Murphy favorites. In a particularly great mini-series, he was one of the shining stars. I also saw him in a play a few years ago and he was very good and Steven Spielberg was sitting four rows in front of me. That was fun.

 

Best Actress in A Limited Series or Television Movie

Kirsten Dunst (“Fargo”)

Felicity Huffman (“American Crime”)

Audra McDonald (“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill“)

~Sarah Paulson (“The People vs. O.J. Simpson”)~

Lili Taylor (“American Crime”)

Kerry Washington (“Confirmation”)

Hands down, no competition – Sarah Paulson is the most deserving of an Emmy this year. She’s been deserving of one for years now really as the steadily great presence in a series of sub-par seasons of “American Horror Story.” As Marcia Clark, Paulson cements her status as an incredible actress truly worthy of any role she wants. Barring some sort of unforeseen circumstance, this awards is pretty much hers for the taking.

 

Best Supporting Actor in A Limited Television Series or Movie

~Sterling K. Brown (“The People vs. O.J. Simpson”)~

Hugh Laurie (“The Night Manager”)

Jesse Plemons (“Fargo”)

David Schwimmer (“The People vs. O.J. Simpson”)

John Travolta (“The People vs. O.J. Simpson”)

Bokeem Woodbine (“Fargo”)

To be honest, I had never even heard of Sterling K. Brown before “The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” but he ended up being one of the parts of the show that stuck in my mind the most after it ended. He’s also starring in NBC’s mysterious fall series “This Is Us,” which I fully intend on watching for both him and the gorgeous Milo Ventimiglia.

 

Best Supporting Actress in A Limited Series or Television Movie

Kathy Bates (“American Horror Story: Hotel“)

Olivia Colman (“The Night Manager”)

~Regina King (“American Crime”)~

Melissa Leo (“All The Way”)

Sarah Paulson (“American Horror Story: Hotel”)

Jean Smart (“Fargo”)

While it would be super fun for Sarah Paulson to win two Emmys in one night, her character on “American Horror Story: Hotel” was one of the most irritating in a generally irritating season. Regina King was excellent on the first season of “American Crime” (earning herself an Emmy) and continued that trend in the second season all while playing an entirely different character. I would love to see her win again.

 


 

Well there you have it, my full list of dream Emmy predictions. How many will come true? Who can never be sure? All I know is I will definitely be watching on September 18 to see how it all plays out. But trust and believe, if freakin’ “Modern Family” somehow wins Best Comedy Series I will RIOT.

 

What do you think of my Emmy dream picks? Have any dream picks of your own? Want to fight about the best “American Horror Story” season? I think it’s season 1: Murder House. Sharing is caring, especially in the comments. Now, before I go ice my hands (that was a lot of typing!)…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

Spend Your Labor-Less Labor Day Watching ‘Junketeers’

I will never understand why today is known as “Labor Day.” I mean, I get why it exists, but the name just seems wrong. Schools are closed, people are off-work; is anyone really laboring? I guess I shouldn’t complain too much, since the day off allows for time to get invested in yet another new series. Or, in the case of “Junketeers,” a new web series.

 

Co-created by Josh Horowitz (host of the Happy Sad Confused podcast that I’ve written so lovingly about several times before), “Junketeers” follows several entertainment reporters (some with very strong personalities) as they make the rounds on a series of movie press junkets. Horowitz has plenty of experience in this world given his tenure at MTV News, and it gives the show a more realistic and grounded feeling amidst the insanity of the characters and their actions.

 

Also contributing to the realism? The fact that when these characters get into an interview situation, they’re interviewing actual movie stars, like Josh Duhamel (as seen above in the first episode), Gillian Jacobs and a whole slew of others. The show even went to an actual red carpet event for “The Boss“, which resulted in some buzz of its own. (It may or may not have just been early promo for the show, but hey, it worked!) If you have a habit of going down a press junket interviews rabbit hole on YouTube (more than you’d care to admit) like me, then this web series is perfect for you.

 

It’s also great it you want a little blast of entertainment without committing to a full-on series, something that can occasionally seem daunting even if it’s a simple half-hour program. The whole collection of episodes, eight in total, is a little under 50 minutes, making it a perfectly fun time-killer. If you haven’t yet found something to do instead of labor on this Labor Day, give “Junketeers” a chance.

 

Have you already seen “Junketeers”? Have something else you’re watching on this Labor Day? (Like “Superstore,” which I’m finally watching and loving.) Have something else you’re doing on Labor Day that doesn’t involve watching TV or movies? …Really? Why? Let me know in the comments. And before you dig into your Labor Day cake (Is that a thing people do? I don’t know.), remember…

 

Stay classy.

Jenn

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