Sunday, December 25, 2016

Catholic Skywalker Awards 2016 - BEST IN TELEVISION

With 2016 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"

To reiterate:  the reasons for choosing a Superman statue as it's award, and not something from Star Wars are 3-fold:

1.  The Catholic Skywalker Awards will cover movies, television, and comic books.  Superman is an icon for all three.
2.  The pose he has here, revealing his inner hero, is symbolic of the revelation of truth and beauty that we should find in all good art.
3.  It's a statue I actually own, so I can use this photo on my blog.

(My appreciation and judgment of a TV show should not be taken as a recommendation. Choosing to watch any of these films is the reader's responsibility)

And now we here at Catholic Skywalker would like to celebrate the best in Television this year.

There are a lot of wonderful programs out there that, unfortunately, time has not permitted me to see6.

Shows we watch:

Big Bang Theory
Son of Zorn
Kevin Can Wait
The Great Indoors
The Middle
Saturday Night Live
Brooklyn 99
The Jim Gaffigan Show

Legends of Tomorrow
Stranger Things
The Flash
Luke Cage
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
Doctor Who
The Walking Dead
Pure Genius
This is Us
Amazing Race
Dancing with the Stars

Best Drama:

Stranger Things

A friend of mine said of Stranger Things: "It's like they went back in time and filmed my life!"

Of course that doesn't mean that he was on the run from a shady goverment agency has he hid an escaped psychicly powered young girl whom he befriended (as far as I know).

What he meant was that this show captured the feel of what average life was like in this era.  It was a time when we weren't all connected electronically and we needed to go out into the woods to explore, play, and let our imaginations run wild.  A lot of period pieces capture the aesthetic, and Stranger Things does this wonderfully.  Not only that, but it captured the tone and spirit of that age.  And the show works on three levels to match the three different storylines.

1.  The Kids - I often marvel at the movie ET, to which Stranger Things has many connections.  But one of the things that amazes me is how much that movie captures the adventurous spirit of childhood.  ET only works with a child, because only a child would be open to the magic of ET.  The same is true of Stranger Things.  Only children would be open to the magic and danger that happens when they befriend Eleven.  The world is scary when you are a kid, but it is also fun and full of magic, and this part of the show captures that.

2.  The Teens - My least favorite part of the show captures the tone of all the classic '80's horror films.  These scenes were filmed with subtle differences to make the show feel like Freddy Kruger or Jason Vorhees could jump out at any moment.  And even in this, they played with the tropes, adding depth to characters in places you would never expect.

3.  The Adults - Like something straight out of a John Carpenter movie, the dark and strange world in which the adults inhabit is just as terrifying as the children's world.  But for some reason, their world is almost scarier because of the fact that they cannot see the wonder, only the danger.  This also took some nice and not-so-nice unexpected twists of character that I cannot wait to see play out next season.

Stranger Things isn't just a film about 80's movies and science fiction.  It feels like it is a product of that era.  And that is a big compliment.

-This is Us
-The Flash
-Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Best Comedy
The Middle

The thing that impresses me more than anything about this show is that now its eigth season, a time when most sitcoms are flagging, the show is better than ever.

The lives of the Hecks have never been more complicated.  Or better to say, their lives are messy.  The show is messy because life is messy.  And just when it looks like some kind of normalcy will enter the picture, things get flipped upside down.  

And this is still the one sit com on primetime television that I would be comfortable watching with anyone of any age.  At the same time the show still brings the laughs.  In fact, this season has had more laugh-out-loud moments than any season so far.  And all of the actors bring their A-game to the show.  On top of that, the show has been really playing out multi-episode arcs and milking them for some pretty good laughs.  This season has been particularly heart-wrenching and funny to watch how the family has been dealing with Axel's ditzy girlfriend, all culminating with an insane chase through a Christmas yard display.

If they keep this up, The Middle might works its way higher in the list of greatest sitcoms of all time.

The Big Bang Theory
The Simpsons
The Middle
The Goldbergs

Best Actor in a Drama
Peter Capaldi - Doctor Who

After the Doctor regenerates, it usually takes me about a season and a half to get to like the new Doctor.  And Peter Capaldi was no exception.

His first season suffered from the fact that it focused more on his companion Clara than on him.  But this season got things back on track.  And by the middle of this season, Capaldi's power as an actor was on full display.  In the episode, The Zygon Inversion, the Doctor has the humans and the shape-shifting Zygons facing off against each other giving each the ability to potentially genocide the other.  And Capaldi's speech is an amazing feat of acting.  He is alternately flippant, sincere, tragic, comic, cynical, and hopeful without anything ringing false

But what put him over the top was the episode Heaven Sent which is primarily an entire episode with just Capaldi.  And his work is riveting.  By the end, my heart was filled with all kinds of emotions.

And the episode The Husbands of River Song was one of the most delightful of the entire series.  And dare I say that Capaldi's chemistry with River was better than any other Doctor.  I have watched that finale scene over and over again and delighted in it every time.

Capaldi has at least one more season in him as the Doctor and I cannot wait to see what he will do next.

Charlie Cox - Daredevil
Grant Gustin - The Flash
Mike Colter - Luke Cage
Andrew Lincoln - The Walking Dead

Best Actress in a Drama
Lauren Graham - Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

It has been eight years since Lauren Graham inhabited the character of Lorelai Gilmore and she hasn't lost a single bit of the magic.

It would be simple to play Lorelai as simply the smart and sassy one.  But she is too layered and complicated for that.  Lorelai is constantly fighting her own worst enemy: herself.  She has never lost her rebellion from her childhood and because she hasn't been able to let it go she hasn't been able to embrace the real goodness in front of her.  Graham shows us the heartbreaking inability that Lorelai has to get beyond her parental issues.  It is infuriating and tragic.  All the while Lorelai cracks wise, but Graham shows us that her wit is her armor; she hides behind her clever words.  And this creates emotional distance to those closest to her.

And watching those walls break down is stunning.

But when she is finally able to get beyond all of that, Graham shows us not just with her words but with every tool in her acting arsenal.  Watching her react to Sutton Foster's heart-breaking ballad might be one of the most emotional things I've seen on TV this year.

I think that Lorelai Gilmore is one of the all-time great TV characters and that is largely thanks to the skill and talent of the great Lauren Graham.

Millie Bobby Brown – Stranger Things
Chrissy Metz- This is Us
Jenna Coleman - Doctor Who
Alexis Bledel - Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Jon Berthnal - Daredevil

There have been a number of actors who have played the role of Frank Castle aka The Punisher.  And some have been better than others, not all of them bad.  But Jon Berthnal's performance moves past them all.  And I will never forget what it was that locked me in to his interpretation: it was the way his character drank coffee.

As strange as it sounds, this was such an important key for me to unlock what Berthnal was doing.  For him, Castle was a man on a mission, yes.  But the pain, the anguish, the violence, and the death were all now just another day at the office.  This was a man for whom blood and pain were as commonplace as brushing his teeth or sipping a cup of coffee.

And Berthnal infused Castle with a quiet manly stoicism.  He made him sympathetic but always a little dangerous.  He could snap to the dark side at any moment because he hangs on that edge.  But Berthnal uses every look and gesture to draw you in with his charisma and break you with his pathos.  His monologue in the graveyard alone earns him this place on the list of best of the year: he holds back so much so that you can feel the emotion he isn't showing you.  Excellent performance.

Scott Patterson – Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
Jesse L. Martin - The Flash
David Harbour- Stranger Things
Jeffrey Dean Morgan - The Walking Dead

Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Kelly Bishop - Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

One of the things that I have always greatly appreciated about Gilmore Girls is that they never turned Richard and Emily Gilmore into caricatures.  While their ways of high society were strange, even sometimes alien, the show always presented their common humanity.

And in this revival, Kelly Bishop has given her best performance as the character.  As the newly widowed Emily, Bishop gives a tour-de-force study in grief from a character that has spent her entire life exercising control of her emotions.  Emily is lost and doesn't know how to be lost.  Without Richard she has no pillar to lean on.  And when Lorelai rubs salt into that wound, Bishop shows us the pain percolating behind her refined exterior.

And Bishop also uses this exterior to extract some of the best laughs of the show.  The simple act of  walking around in a t-shirt and jeans is shocking because of the formal nature that Bishop has built up for Emily.

And it is her emotional journey during this revival that was the real heart of the show.  I have never cared more about Emily Gilmore because of Bishop.

Mandy Moore - This is Us
Emily Brett Rickard - Arrow
Deborah Ann Woll - Daredevil
Melissa McBride– The Walking Dead

Best Actor, Comedy
Neil Flynn - The Middle

Mike Heck has often been the silent, stoic member of the Heck clan.  And that in and of itself has not changed.  But Neil Flynn has a fantastic job this season of showing the funny and touching side of even the most stoic of fathers.

My favorite moment was the time when he tried to charm the bursar at Sue's college.  It was a goofy side to Flynn that we haven't really seen.  And the juxtaposition of this performance to the rest of his interpretation of Mike is hilarious.  

And at the same time, Flynn brought even more depth to Mike.  His frustration after the bursar scene is palpable and then when he simply says, "I'm your dad, I should know how to fix this and I don't know how," is heartbreaking.  So far this year, Neil has done some of his best work on television.

Jim Parsons - The Big Bang Theory
Johnny Galecki - The Big Bang Theory
Kevin James - Kevin Can Wait
Jeff Garlin - The Goldbergs

Best Actress, Comedy
Patricia Heaton - The Middle

Frankie Heck is one of the most infuriating mothers on TV because she embodies all the foibles of suburban moms.  She is constantly a person who thinks the grass is always greener on the other side.  She builds up family events in her head more than they should.  And she never gives 100% of her effort to anything.  

And what makes Heaton's performance so wonderful is that despite all of this, we love her.  She gives Frankie a real relatable heart.  All of her faults are only exaggerated versions of the faults that most of us lower-middle class Americans experience.  

And unlike her character on Everybody Loves Raymond, Heaton has wild mood swings and is the unstable one in the family.  This season has been particularly fun watching her twist inside as she seethes about Axel's dim-witted girlfriend and then ride the emotional seesaw of her fractured relationship with him.

At a time when many actors in sitcoms begin phoning in their performances (I'm looking at you Jason Segel in How I Met Your Mother), Heaton is just hitting the gas.

Wendy McLendon-Covey – The Goldbergs
Kaley Cuoco – The Big Bang Theory
Cheryl Hines - Son of Zorn
Melissa Fumeto - Brooklyn 99

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Kunal Nayar - The Big Bang Theory

Raj is infuriating and pathetic.  We should either abandon him to pity or disdain him.  But Nayar makes us see his vulnerable side and exploit it for laughs.  Watching him try to juggle a relationship between two attractive women until it ultimately blows up was like watching a slow train wreck, all the while Nayar turns a slow-motion tragedy into a hilarious piece of television.

Stephen Fry - The Great Indoors
Tim Meadows - Son of Zorn
Terry Crews - Brooklyn 99
Simon Helberg - The Big Bang Theory

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Eden Sher - The Middle

Sue Heck in college is one of the most delightfully dorky things to watch.  The cynicism of college life is hard to overlook and yet Sue brings her adorkable spirit to even the most disaffected corners of college.

Sher makes sure to give Sue an innocence without her coming off as stupid.  On top of that, she has become a brilliant physical comic who uses her entire body to sell a joke.

And she also has shown some touching range.  One of my favorite moments in the entire series is when she reaches over to her best friend Brad and says with a reassuring smile, "I know."  It was simple, subtle, and heart-warming in the way that Sher has done for years as Sue.

Haley Orrantia - The Goldbergs
Melissa Rauch - The Big Bang Theory
Chelsea Peretti - Brooklyn 99
Mayim Bialik - The Big Bang Theory

Stay tuned next week for the CatholicSkywalker Awards for Best Movies of 2016

1 comment:

  1. So I've only watched the first half of Stranger Things but all of what you've said rings true for what I've seen so far. It's a little like a good old style Stephen King novel.