Road to Avonlea Review: Thursday’s Child

avonlea thursday's child

Episode Summary: Sweet little Cecily is diagnosed with tuberculosis, the same disease that killed her Aunt Ruth many years ago. Everyone in town reacts in horror, afraid that they will catch this potentially deadly disease. Felix is suspended from his job at the White Sands. Feeling useless, Felicity decides to do more research on the disease, realizing she no longer wants to go to teacher’s college; she wants to be a doctor. Janet takes the burden of tending to Cecily herself out of guilt for all the times she’s ignored Cecily in the past in favor of the other kids in the household. After it becomes clear that Cecily is only getting sicker, Janet listens to the doctors and agrees to send Cecily away to a sanitorium. All anyone else can do is hope that Cecily will survive this ordeal.

Directed by Harvey Frost, Written by Heather Conkie, Music by John Welsman

My Grade: Season 5 is defined by two episodes: “Memento Mori” and “Thursday’s Child.” Both episodes deal with death. In the former episode, Hetty mourns the loss of her mother. In “Thursday’s Child,” the possibility of death comes again with Cecily’s sickness. In 1900, tuberculosis was the second leading cause of death in the United States, just behind pneumonia. Tuberculosis also had the possibility of being passed on to other people. So, Cecily being diagnosed with this disease was a big deal. When Hetty’s first told about Cecily’s diagnosis, her mind immediately goes to her sister Ruth. Overall, during this time period, tuberculosis was seen as a death sentence. Think of HIV/AIDS in the ’80s. Think of stigma AIDS patients had in the 1980s. Much of that can be compared to tuberculosis patients from the 1900s. The show does a great job of truly showing how terrifying and concerning a tuberculosis diagnosis is. Not trying to defend how the town reacts to Cecily’s issue or how they treat the King family. There’s very little Christian understanding and compassion going on. Even Olivia is kind of horrible in this episode. (“I WILL NEVER FORGIVE JANET IF ANYTHING EVER HAPPENS TO MONTGOMERY!” bish, sit down). But, their behavior is certainly not out of the norm. Tuberculosis was scary. It still is. We don’t get it anymore because of vaccines, but if someone does, then it is a serious matter. (So, uh…vaccinate your people, please).

Besides all that culture science mumbo jumbo, “Thursday’s Child” is a genuinely wonderful episode. It’s what I like in an Avonlea episode. It’s emotional. It’s dramatic. It’s realistic. The music is perfect. The performances are uniformly great. It’s an episode that features most of the town and doesn’t rely on any stunt casting. And, it’s a really sad, heartbreaking episode. The episode tells us that sometimes doing the right thing isn’t the easiest action. Take Janet. She places so much blame on herself for Cecily getting sick. Cecily is definitely taken for granted (on multiple levels and realms). When Alec and Janet are showing more concern for Sara Stanley or the latest drifter to show up randomly in their barn than their youngest daughter, then that’s a problem, fam. Regardless of what Janet should have done in the past…well, it’s the past. There’s nothing that can be done to change prior events. Janet can’t let her guilt get in the way of fully understand what’s best for Cecily and the family. Keeping Cecily in the house to only get worse, with the potential to getting more people sick, is not the best course of action. Janet had to make the difficult decision to send Cecily away. It’s a weird irony. Mrs. King does not feel like she paid enough attention to Cecily, and now she’s sending her away to New York to a sanitorium. But, ultimately, it has to be done. (A+)

Favorite Performance and Scene: Speaking of Janet…while this episode features most of the main cast, and a variety of different emotions and performances from the actors, this episode really belongs to Lally Cadeau. Cadeau is perfect on this show, literally since the beginning when Janet was more of a pithy comedic relief than a fully fleshed-out character. During the first season, when the show was more focused on Sara, the kids, and the quirky guest star of the week, Cadeau took a couple scenes and a line here and there and did more than any ordinary actress would do. That’s why she was nominated for a Gemini for the first season when her character had very little to do. That’s why Cadeau was given heavier themes and storylines to tackle ever since. “Thursday’s Child” is Cadeau’s magnum opus on the show. The episode represents all the reasons we love Janet and how Cadeau makes that possible.

The range Lally Cadeau practices in this episode is one of a kind. In the beginning, when Janet admits to Cecily she never had the chance to finish her baby quilt she’s like “Oh golly gee! Shucks! Oh well!” After Cecily’s prognosis, Janet’s like “What have I done? I’m a horrible mother.” And then she goes nuts: “That’s my baby, and I will take care of her as I see fit!” In the end, after the trip to the sanitorium in New York when Janet takes Cecily, Janet displays a mixture of fear, sadness, hope and…relief. She’s relieved that Cecily’s still alive, of course. But she’s also relieved that someone better equipped will see Cecily through this ordeal. She’s relieved that in a couple weeks, she’ll be able to go back home to Avonlea. And, hopefully, with Cecily gone, things can go back to normal for everyone. It’s relief…but it’s a guilty kind of relief. She’s not sure if she’s doing the right thing…but, at this time, it works for everyone. All those conflicting emotions come through on Cadeau’s face.

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This is also a standout episode for John Welsman. Welsman received a Gemini nomination for this episode, while his rival Don Gillis received one for “Memento Mori.” These are the two best episodes of the season. Once again, the music plays such a pivotal role in the success of this show. Welsman ended up winning this round. It’s a shame that neither one of them was nominated for Emmys for their work here. In any case, I probably would have cast my vote for Gillis, because the music for “Memento Mori” is so iconic. However, the very first time I watched this series I thought the opposite. Welsman’s score is at its most distinct and dramatic during the scene when Janet is walking home from the general store. She hears a baby scream from inside the house. Janet freaks out and runs through the slippery winter snow to the house. The camera shows Janet’s back as she makes this brief, yet painful trek towards the house. The music is this intense fast violin sound that I don’t think has ever been featured on the show before. When it turns out that Baby Daniel only coughed up an accidentally swallowed button, Janet still can’t help but hold on to him and sob further. This is the turning point for Janet. This is when Janet realizes she has to do anything for her family, even if means sending someone away for a while.

John Welsman’s score is obviously also special because it incorporates Alec King’s (Cedric Smith) rendition of “All Through the Night.” Alec tenderly sings this song trying to get Baby Daniel to sleep; however, it’s really a lullaby in honor of Cecily. His voice reaches every corner of the house, allowing for each member of the family to take a moment and reflect on the important things in life. This is another special scene in the episode. In fact, when all is said and done, it’s probably one of the most memorable scenes of the entire series.

Final Thoughts: While this episode belongs to Lally Cadeau, we obviously have to pay tribute to Harmony Cramp, who played Cecily faithfully and dutifully for five seasons. Where should I begin with this? Cecily will come back in season 6, looking different because she’ll be played by a new actress. I won’t get into that now because…well, we’ll have plenty of time during the season 6 reviews. But, I do have some thoughts on Cramp’s exit.

While I do continue to stand by season 4 being a transitional season in regards to character development and the kids growing up, season 5 is a transitional period in relation to the actual cast dynamic. Sara(h) is gone (although she’s coming back in “one week” according to Olivia). Gema Zamprogna (Felicity) has one foot out the door, and only appears in 9/26 episodes in the last 2 seasons. And every other young character from the first 3 seasons is gone. We are left with Felix as the most visible representation of the show’s younger cast. The show desperately needed a young woman to replace the gaps that will be left by Sara and Felicity’s absences. Cecily was old enough to be a suitable replacement for both, and, finally, be given her own storylines and agency. But, according to various sources, including Harmony Cramp herself, the show’s producers didn’t feel the actress playing Cecily at the time had enough stage presence to take on the challenge. So, Harmony Cramp out, different actress in.

Look, I get it. But I also don’t get it. And I think the blame lies solely on Sullivan and the writers. Harmony Cramp would have been ready for the increase in screentime and dramatic heft by season 5/6 had she been given stuff to do during the first 4 seasons. In other words, if you want a kid actor on a long-running TV show to successfully transition into adult storylines later in the run, he or she has to be given the experience to fully grow. Cecily really became a nothing-character by season 2. In season 1, Cecily is a great character. Yes, she isn’t given a spotlight episode like Felicity or Felix (or even Peter), but she at least has some presence. She’s the best thing about “Proof of the Pudding.” She’s cute. She’s nice. She’s naive. And, in the show’s first episode, she’s one of the first people in Avonlea to actually defend Sara Stanley and treat her kindly.

A common complaint regarding Cecily is that she’s nothing like the “actual” Cecily in the books by LM Montgomery. That is very correct. Cecily talks more in the books and isn’t so much a perfect sweet angel like her television doppelganger. In my opinion, I think TV Cecily’s characterization works. The Book Cecily is a little too similar to Book Felicity (who is just like TV Felicity). In the books, Cecily is still the least interesting character. OK, Beverly is actually the worst. But then I’d place Cecily above him, and only him. Beverly does not transfer to the show. If the producers insisted on keeping Cecily on, then I wish they had actually used Cecily more. In the TV show, Cecily’s cute persona gives her space not occupied by any of the other characters. Unfortunately, the producers had no idea (or, more likely, no interest) in doing anything with Cecily’s sweetness. So, alas, by season 5, Cecily in its current form simply cannot fill the void left by the likes of Felicity and Sara. Cecily needed an “upgrade.” And, she needed a new actress playing her.

In the books, Cecily also dies of tuberculosis. I don’t know anything else about this switch. I don’t know if this episode/story arc was created with the sole purpose of making the transition easier to swallow (LOL, it doesn’t). I don’t know if this was a decision made after the season ended. I don’t know how “Thursday’s Child” plays into this decision. What I do know is that this is Harmony Cramp’s farewell. And it makes the episode even sadder because we don’t see this Cecily anymore. Cecily, as we know her, is dead. I will say I have no hate for the newer actress or even her performance as Cecily. You’ll see, when I get to that episode in season 6, I’m not going to be as harsh as others are. But…as a general philosophy, I do not approve of recasts, especially when it’s against the original actor’s will. I would rather see Harmony Cramp awkwardly tackle dramatic content (“Fathers and Sons” features her one big angry line and even that’s not that great) than a new actress taking over. It just affects the (any) show’s realism. I only accept that crap from daytime soaps and Dr. Who.

Harmony Cramp retired from acting after this episode. This was her first and last big break.

Also, one more thing about this: Road to Avonlea can be strangely meta sometimes. Cecily’s heath in the episode perfectly represents her character development in the show. “Give the character a chance! Let Molly Atkinson take over before she turns to dust!”

Heather Conkie wrote this episode (and “Memento Mori”) and was not nominated for a Gemini for garbage reasons probably. On the other hand, Gema Zamprogna was nominated with this episode being submitted on her behalf. This was a very strange choice, considering “Otherwise Engaged” existed. Even the actress herself was surprised by the choice of episode, but felt her character’s development and realization of her career goals made the whole thing understandable.

 

 

Road to Avonlea Reviews: Race/Stranger/Believe

avonlea horse

Episode Summaries: The Great Race – After a freak riding accident, Felix isn’t sure if he is ready to literally get back on the horse. With encouragement from his mother, who also went through a similar accident when she was eight, he finds the courage to compete in the steeplechase against Mr. Pettibone. Stranger in the Night – A mysterious stranger named Caleb Stokes (Gemini winner Bruce Greenwood) starts to work as a hired hand for the King Family. However, after an out-of-towner spots Caleb and angrily confronts him, the Kings, particularly Alec, are distraught to learn that their helper spent time in jail for fraud and embezzlement. Despite Caleb earning the family’s trust again with a reasonable explanation for his past troubles, he decides to leave town out of concern for the people about which he’s grown to care. Someone to Believe In – Corrupt politician John Hodgson (Gordon Pinsent), with his daughter Adeline (Laura Bertram), visits Avonlea to drum up support for his campaign. Although both Alec and Felix are charmed by the father and daughter respectively (for different reasons of course), they soon realize that looks are in the eye of the beholder. After Felix catches Adeline stealing from the White Sands Hotel, Felix does the right thing and exposes her, even if that means losing the girl of her dreams.

“The Great Race” is directed by Stephen Scaini and written by Rick Drew, with music by Don Gillis. “Stranger in the Night” is directed by Allan King and written by Janet Maclean, with music by John Welsman. “Someone to Believe In” is directed by Eleanore Lindo and written by Avrum Jacobson, with music by Don Gillis.

My Grades: We’ve now reached the “so-so” mid-section of an otherwise strong season. (Although we are one more episode away from the season’s worst episode so hold on to your bootstraps). The two Felix-heavy episodes are “The Great Race” and “Someone the Believe In.” For season 5, both Sarah Polley and Gema Zamprogna asked for less screentime. Sara’s absence is very obvious because…well…where has she been? (With her Nanny Louisa of course.) But Felicity’s decreasing screentime won’t become apparent until the final 2 seasons. This season, Felicity still appears consistently throughout. In fact, she pretty much appears in all the episodes. But, she’s only given the central storyline in one episode, “Otherwise Engaged.” Considering how Felicity (and Gus)-heavy season four was, it’s a little jarring to see how much in the periphery she’s in for this season. In any case, the lessening of her screentime in season 5 only makes her long absences in season 6 and 7 more easily digestible. On the other hand, Sara leaving is just a huge punch in the gut (especially if she’s your favorite character, like me!).

That was a long tangent. The point is, with Sara, Felicity, and Gus out of the way, Felix really sets himself as a major figure for the rest of the series. And this dense Felix run of episodes is our first major proof of that. Both “Race” and “Believe” get (A-)‘s in my book. “Someone to Believe in” is a fine episode that feels simpler, less contrived, more heartfelt than the majority of the White Sands-centered episodes. Meanwhile, “The Great Race” is good. But I can’t shake the feeling that “The Great Race” is just “Felix and Blackie” with a dash of “Moving On.” (Both episodes are also among the best of the series receiving perfect scores from me.) Also, does it make sense that Felix would develop such PTSD from his riding accident after the events of “Felix and Blackie?” Once again, character development is secondary to the story. Obviously, still a great episode.

“Stranger in the Dark” is a favorite among fans, particularly because of guest star Bruce Greenwood’s award-winning performance as the mysterious Caleb Stokes. I think Bruce Greenwood is fine, but his character lacks the earnestness of Peter Craig and the charm of Gus Pike. In other words, Greenwood (or his character, I dunno) is a bit too staid to truly stand out. I think the episode has a good lesson in not judging anyone from surface-level facts. The King family’s feelings on Caleb shift with every new act of this story. He’s bad. He’s good. He’s bad. He’s good. It’s a fun bit of irony if you think about it. However, the way I feel about this episode is similar to how I feel about the show’s second episode “Story Girl.” This episode would have, at least, seemed better had it led to something further. But since this is Caleb’s only appearance (and, as far as I remember, only mention), I can’t help but ask “So what?” There’s a weird sense of dignity and unearned importance placed on this “one-off” character that comes across as superficial. There have been a lot “one and done” characters on this show. Peter Coyote’s Romney Penhallow comes to mind. But, unlike Stokes, Penhallow had a big enough personality and an interesting backstory relevant to one of the main characters that his presence in this one episode alone was enough to be a classic. With Stokes, I understand the character is supposed to be mysterious and hard-to-read and good, but I personally have never been all that captivated by him. A couple more appearances to really develop the character would have made this episode better in retrospect. As it stands, it’s a staid (B).

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Spotlight Performances: I think the actors who make up the King Family gave the highlight performances for these three episodes. Lally Cadeau once again proves why season 5 belonged to her, even as a supporting performer in “The Great Race.” In “Stranger,” Cedric Smith does so much with so little as a conflicted Alec King grapples with the reality that the young man he almost considered to be a son might be a criminal. And, of course, when past Daytime Emmy nominee Zachary Bennett (“Believe”) is given the chance to grapple with dramatic content, he shines. We’re officially done with “fat-boy not actually fat” antics from the earlier seasons.

Favorite Scene: Despite my reservations regarding “Stranger in the Dark,” the hay harvesting scene (where Caleb proves his usefulness to the family) is still pretty thrilling. Maybe, thrilling isn’t the right word. There’s just something great about the moments where the family truly comes together, gets its hands dirty, and gets sh@# done before the sky turns pink.

Final Thoughts: Musically, season 5 is interesting because, more than the last 2 seasons, there seems to be some sort of tension between the Don Gillis scores and the John Welsman motifs. We will not see both composers credited together until season 7, so this season, the episodes go back and forth between their two very different styles. The whole vibe and mood in the show changes based on which score is used in an episode. Don Gillis’ music (featured in both Felix-centered episodes) is bolder, more melodramatic than Welsman’s (“Stranger”), which, frankly, seems closer to the type of music that would be played in a northern small town during that era. Both great in their own ways. However, music from Don Gillis will start to have a bigger role in the later seasons, and of course, his stuff will be used in every other Kevin Sullivan production after Avonlea. It’s worth noting, though, that a slower version of “King Family” score, which dominated seasons 2 and 3, is heard once again during the harvesting scene. Besides the opening credits, is this the last time we hear it? We shall see…

Remember when the show was more known for the pretty flowery music from Hagood Hardy (another prominent composer during the first 2 seasons) that played while the kids were running through the meadows? I feel like that’s officially been replaced by Don Gillis’ western theme played any time a character rides a horse.

“Race” is the first episode directed by Stefan Scaini. Surprisingly, he only directs three more episodes before directing the reunion movie. He received a Gemini nomination for the reunion movie, along with another one the year before for Sullivan’s “Under the Piano.” He also directed the reunion movies for Kevin Sullivan’s other two famous series. He’s directed for nearly every Canadian show, most notably Degrassi, Heartland, Street Legal, and Beachcombers. He won his first Emmy in 2016 for his work on the PBS show Odd Squad. “Believe” is also Eleanore Lindo’s first episode. She’ll only direct two more, including Sarah Polley’s farewell next season. She is also prolific, having directed episodes for Degrassi, Heartland, Street Legal, and…uh…Beachcombers. She won a Gemini for her work on Degrassi. “Believe” is also the Avonlea debut for Avrum Jacobson, who would later produce the Canadian hit ReGenesis.

Finally, Gordon Pinsent and Laura Bertram will end up having guest roles in Sullivan’s next show Wind at My Back. Pinsent will have an important recurring role that will lead to a Gemini nomination. Bertram will appear in the season 1 finale, playing a much nicer character than the one in “Believe.”

 

 

 

Road to Avonlea Review: Strictly Melodrama

lally cadeau janet king

Episode Summary: It’s that time again for the annual drama competition. Perennial director and writer Hetty is so determined to beat her arch-rival Eleanor McHugh (Corinne Conley) that she bets the recipe of her famous cranberry pie. Meanwhile, Janet, who has never been given a role in the past, vies for any small role. Despite Hetty’s reservations, Janet is given the leading female role after Muriel Stacy drops out and an afternoon of disastrous auditions. The world-famous stage actress Isabelle Carrington (Linda Sorensen) is staying at the White Sands Hotel after a scandal that took place during her last production. Without any regard for Janet’s feelings, Hetty offers the leading role to Isabelle. Throughout the rehearsals, Isabelle proves to be a very difficult and demanding performer; all the while, Janet is perfectly compliant in her role as prompter, until she is so pushed to the edge that she leaves. When Isabelle insults the script, Hetty realizes her short-sightedness and begs for Janet to take on the leading role again. The play is a success at the competition. Hetty and the Avonlea community wins, with Janet getting the most praise for her performance.

Directed by Allan Kroeker, Written by Yan Moore, Music by John Welsman

My Grade: This episode isn’t popular with a lot of die-hards. And I get the complaints. For one thing, Hetty made it very clear in earlier episodes (most notably “It’s All a Stage”) that she does not care for theatre. And Hetty hardly seems like the kind of person who’d get starstruck over an actress. One could make the case that Hetty’s writing career has allowed her to appreciate the theatre arts more. However, Hetty only became an author literally a year earlier, and this episode explicitly implies that Hetty has been the main force behind Avonlea’s participation in this drama competition for years. So…I guess that argument doesn’t check out. On top of the fact that Janet seems a little too nice and accommodating for the bulk of this episode, it just seems like “Strictly Melodrama” is an episode that was written in a bubble, with very little regard to what happened in previous seasons. Actually, that may have been the case. This is the only episode Yan Moore wrote for this show. (Although he worked as a “story editor” for all of season 5).

Any show that lasts longer than 5 years has trouble with continuity. So, I don’t expect long-running shows to be perfect in that regard. But, still, I get it! However, because every episode of Avonlea feels like a well-produced feature film,  more so than a lot of other shows, it’s easy for me to judge episodes individually, instead of in relation to others. In short, despite the major inconsistency, I can still enjoy this episode immensely. I’m a sucker for episodes that involve the entire town, with all the prominent recurring characters (Sara is missing RIP) appearing. It’s a busy, crazy episode, with a lot of laugh-out-loud funny moments that get me every time. (“And so, with that, our play is done. We hope you’ve all had loads of fun! And, so, until we meet next year, we wish you all the best good cheer!” “Best good cheer? Now that’s drivel.”) This episode probably features the best Hetty/Janet moment of the series, which is when Hetty swallows her pride, apologizes to Janet and “finally” gives her the respect she deserves. Let’s pretend season two’s “It’s All a Stage” never happened and give this one a solid (A).

Spotlight Performance: While Jackie Burroughs kills it with “Memento Mori” and Stockard Channing gives a world-class performance for the two-part finale, season 5 belongs to  Lally Cadeau. And this episode is half the reason why. Yes, Janet, in my opinion, is a little too obliging towards Hetty during the first 3/4’s of the episode. Cadeau still does a great job with Janet’s slow realization that she wants to be the leading actress, her growing annoyance towards Isabelle Carrington, and Janet’s ultimate triumph in her performance – good enough for community theatre, but not actually “Lally Cadeau” good. In other words, Lally does a great job giving Janet a great performance that still seems realistic. Cadeau beat Jackie Burroughs at that year’s Gemini Awards for Leading Actress in a Drama for this episode. After three years of being nominated in the Supporting categories, this is Cadeau’s first nomination in the Leading Category for this show (she received 2 Lead Comedy Actress nominations for Hangin’ In before Avonlea). Despite the win, it will also be the last time she’ll be nominated at the Gemini’s.

Actors, at least on Avonlea, had no say in regards to what episode they could submit for consideration. Based on various things I’ve read, it seems like it’s just something the producers did on the actors’ behalf. Lally gives a better performance in “Thursday’s Child.” Regardless of submissions, Cadeau deserved her win, more so because of her overall work this season.

Favorite Scene: I’ve mentioned a few I’ve liked so far. Again, this episode is so funny because Jackie Burrough’s has crazy good comedic timing. There’s a weird, sort of contemporary essence to some of Burrough’s line readings. I think, at the end of the episode after Avonlea won the drama competition, they are taking a bite at the apple strudel of the famous recipe they won from their main rival; it doesn’t taste quite right. Hetty quickly realizes that Eleanor had “altered the recipe. Of all the underhanded tricks.” The way Hetty says that with a mixture of disgust but also “of course she would do that, of course” is just so perfect and subtle and hilarious all the same. Then, afterward, with that disappointment swiftly set aside, Hetty still remembers to give a final toast and props to Janet for, essentially, saving the day with her talent and grace.

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Final Thoughts: This episode was surprisingly well awarded during its time. It was nominated for four Gemini Awards. Along with Lally Cadeau, “Strictly Melodrama” was also nominated for Guest Actress, Writing, and Costume Design. Linda Sorensen received the Guest Actress nomination. She is a Canadian actress that, like most of her contemporaries, had starring roles in Canadian television productions and films and notable guest roles for American shows. She was also a prominent voice actress, even performing the voice of Hetty King in the animated Anne of Green Gables series also produced by Kevin Sullivan. Yan Moore, who wrote this episode, is more known for his work on the Degrassi saga, writing episodes for the 80’s series, and receiving a “created by” credit for The Next Generation, even long after he ceased having a direct role on the show’s operations after season 4. And the costumes in this episode were done by Madeleine Stewart, who is finally being recognized after her amazing work through the first 3 seasons. She didn’t win the Gemini, but she won an Emmy for her work in this episode. The nomination came as a huge shock, and the win was an even bigger shock. Stewart didn’t attend the ceremony, believing she wouldn’t win, a regret she had after the fact. Nowadays, he mostly takes on supervisory roles, most notably for the movie Hairspray.

This is Corinne Conley’s first appearance on the show as Eleanor McHugh. She will appear a couple more times in season 6. She also had a recurring role on Wind at My Back and recently appeared in an episode of Anne with an E. This is also the first official appearance of Elbert Werts, played by Marc Marut. The actor seems to have had a small role in a season 3 episode but wasn’t credited with an actual character name. Elbert will be appearing pretty consistently for the next 3 seasons as Felix’s friend. He’ll even have a very small role in the reunion movie. Marc Marut was a recognizable face in the ’90s, premiering in a slew of other shows and movies, most notably The Paper Boy for which he has the starring role. Finally, this episode is scored by regular composer John Welsman. His famous “Home Movies”/”A Friend in Need” score is used in this episode as well. Yes, I am keeping count.

One last note: I do want to give this episode credit because the storyline seems to be a small (maybe unconscious) critique at Disney. As you all know, Disney Channel, aka The Walt Disney Company, co-produced this series with Sullivan films. The reason the show had high production values was that it had a high budget supplemented by Disney’s involvement. It’s also the reason the show could run for 7 seasons when most Canadian shows during that time could run half as long and still be considered a success. However, Disney Channel also demanded that some episode slots be reserved for famous American guest stars (or, at the very least, Canadian actors who were well known in the United States). Some of these episodes are genuinely great (Peter Coyote, Stockard Channing, Treat Williams). Others, not so much (Christopher Reeve, Faye Dunaway, Ryan Gosling). These guest stars also allowed for the show to be recognized at the Emmys. Disney Channel has literally not had a show with as many Primetime Emmy nominations since RTA. However, the show is at its best, when it solely focuses on the town and its regular characters without the burden of a stunt cast.

So, it’s funny how this episode (which features Linda Sorensen, whom I’m assuming is not a Disney-approved choice) makes fun of the idea of a vainglorious outsider, coming into an already successful repertory company and making things worse with her high demands. I don’t think Isabelle Carrington represents a particular guest star. From what I have seen, the famous guest stars seemed to enjoy working on this little sweet Canadian show, away from the stresses and temptations of a Hollywood production. However, this episode makes a very pointed critique: Support the people who are always there, not the stars who drop in once and never come back. Wind at My Back is not a better show than Avonlea, but at least Kevin Sullivan was finally able to make a show his own way without comprising too much. (Although a Disney-like sponsor would have probably prevented the show from ending on a cliffhanger, just sayin’ #stillbitteraboutthat #nevergetoverit).

Road to Avonlea Review: A Friend In Need

avonlea a friend in need

Episode Summary: Davey is always getting himself in trouble, especially at school. Sara Stanley believes Davey is utterly hopeless, until she finally realizes why Davey acts up so much: he can’t read! In the end, she decides to help Davey learn to read and become a better student. Meanwhile, Izzy Pettibone is popular with the boys because she’s good at sports and doesn’t act like the typical “girl.” Izzy doesn’t own any dresses. When Olivia discovers that Izzy has tried on one of the dresses she was sewing for Cecily, Olivia and Mr. Pettibone decide to gift Izzy her very own dress. Izzy discovers she can still be a tomboy and look pretty while doing so.

Directed by Allan Kroeker, Written by Marlene Matthews, Music by John Welsman

My Grade and Spotlight Performance: Not only do I think this episode is very much underrated, I would also consider it to be one of my favorite episodes of all time. From the surface, “A Friend In Need” does seem like an “ordinary” episode. Nothing big or dramatic or even life changing happens. However, there are little pockets of character development that’s sewed onto the show’s fabric. Izzy starts wearing dresses. She transitions out of her somewhat asexual tomboy phase into…let’s say the kind of girl that Felix would fall in love with (spoiler alert!). After a season long absence, Davey and Dora are now officially recurring characters on the show. We’ll be seeing more of them, especially Davey. The Lawsons leave town to run a new general store in New Brunswick. As a result, Muriel Stacey, who never says no to a challenge, decides to run the store herself. So “nothing happens”…but a lot happens at the same time.

But, really, this episode is about Sara(h). It’s hard to watch episodes like this, knowing that Sarah Polley has one foot out the door. This is Sara Stanley’s last episode until the two-part season finale. Frankly, the character misses a lot of important moments during this season. The common excuse will be that Sara is in Montreal, visiting her Nanny Louisa. It almost becomes sort of a joke the number of times the show makes excuses for Sara’s absence. According to an interview Polley gave while shooting this episode, she admits that she asked to appear on the show less so she would have more time to attend school, which is ironic, considering Polley dropped out of school to focus on activism, and then started acting full time again after shooting The Sweet Hereafter before finally becoming a full time Oscar nominated director and screenwriter. But, at the time, Polley, suffering from scoliosis, definitely lost interest in the show. So, this isn’t exactly Sara’s last episode, but, after this episode, we, as an audience, have to get used to an Avonlea without its leading star.

Sara’s main role on the show is not only that of a “matchmaker,” but she’s also a good hearted helper. She’s pure and perfect, and always find the good in everyone she meets. She’s kind of like Anne Shirley, except without the body dysmorphia. However, this episode is great because Sara sort of loses her way. She is too quick to cast Davey aside. When she asks Davey to grab the bag of sugar, and Davey, not being able to read, grabs the salt bag by mistake, Sara automatically assumes that Davey planned on pulling a prank. She doesn’t give Davey the benefit of the doubt. She, like the rest of the town, believed that Davey was nothing more than a troublemaker. Sara’s literally too mean to Davey for the bulk of the episode.

However, Sara snaps out of it, and probably does one of the nicest things anyone has done on the show. She made herself look bad to prevent Davey from fully humiliating himself in front of the class. She realizes that Davey can’t read. And, from there, she decides to help him; and, I’m sure she did before she went off to Montreal to be with her Nanny Louisa and vast inheritance. Sarah Polley gives one of her best performances on the show when her character finally confronts Davey and tells him it’s never too late to learn to read. It’s a sweet scene, played nicely by both Polley and Kyle Labine. It’s not most earth shatteringly original premise, but Marlene Matthews (part of the holy trinity that makes up Suzette Couture and Heather Conkie) livens it up with her script, and adds some real heart to it. Yes, this episode is in my personal top 10. Yes, it’s gets an (A+)

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Favorite Scene: I’ve mentioned this many times on this site, but one of the treats from this show are the end credits for every episode. Whether it’s a continuation from the scene prior, or an exterior shot of one of the homes, or repurposed stock footage, I usually can’t help but stick around and watch the end credits to its entirety. That’s also mostly due to the musical score used during the end credits. It’s usually a score that’s been played throughout the episode. For the longest time, many end credits featured the famous “King Family score,” last used for the season four finale. This episode re-uses a motif that was first heard during season four’s “Home Movie.” It’s kind of this humble sounding old-timey score that represented the small simple town of Avonlea during that episode. For season five, the score is resurrected and used as sort of a theme song for Davey. We’ll hear it at least once more during this season. I wish the score was used more, although maybe it’s good that Kevin Sullivan showed some restraint with it ;). In any case, the score is well used here, particularly at the end of the episode when Izzy proves to the boys she can wear a dress and still kick their butts in sportsball. And then the music continues on as we see Sara, Davey and Dora walk towards the shore. Were doubles used during that scene? Who knows? Probably. It’s still a nice scene…a scene that makes me a little sad since Sara doesn’t spend too much time with the other kids after this episode.

Final Thoughts: Like I stated before, there are a lot of comings and goings in this episode. The Lawsons have packed up and moved to New Brunswick. Muriel Stacey will run the store for a while. Izzy Pettibone’s brother, Morgan, is now in military school, although he’ll appear later in the series. Muriel Stacey and Mr. Pettibone have their first scene together. The chemistry is very obvious, just saying.

This episode is directed by Allan Kroeker. This is his first of two episodes. He also directs the next episode, which is “Strictly Melodrama.” The two episodes are pretty different, so I can’t exactly pin a “style” on him. But I think his direction for this episode, on top of the screenplay, certainly elevated a storyline that could have been forgotten and standard. He’s a pretty prolific Canadian direction. As of this writing this post, his latest credit is the Oprah Winfrey produced primetime soap Greenleaf. 

Road to Avonlea Review: Modern Times

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Episode Summary: Hetty King is worried about her sister Olivia, and her hit-or-miss inventor husband Jasper. Jasper’s lack of steady work is causing them to have very little money and, most importantly, food for their baby. Hetty finds a job for Jasper in the bank. However, after Hetty purchases an old, decrepit cannery, to prevent it from turning into a distillery, Jasper finds himself running it, using new technological methods inspired by Henry Ford. Although, at first, Jasper and Olivia are on the verge of losing their house, with the help of the rest of the King family, Jasper is able to successfully complete his first order. In the end, Olivia and Jasper purchase the cannery from Hetty, and begin their new lives as business owners.

Directed by F. Harvey Frost, Written by Charles Lazer, and Music by John Welsman

My Grade: Overall, this is a pretty good episode. It’s mostly a “set-up” episode, as it mostly establishes Jasper’s place in Avonlea. For the longest time, the big mystery was, “How does Jasper make money?” It turns out, he does not. Now the writers have given Jasper a real job, and another setting for the show. So, yes, not a lot happens in this episode, but it sets the scene for the rest of the season. I think this is one of the better “Jasper episodes” from the series. (A-)

 

 

Spotlight Performance: Again…this is a “Jasper episode,” so, obviously, the winner here is RH Thomson. This episode doesn’t have a lot of “drama,” so I wouldn’t say any performance in this episode wowed me. But, Thomson is so impressive with all the stuttering, that even an “ordinary” performance from him is “extraordinary.”

Favorite Scene: The ending credits. I know that sounds mean, but I’m not trying to be! I just like the image of Olivia and Jasper walking hand and hand, near the shore, with Jasper’s music score playing in the background. Is there another show, besides Veep, that consistently puts work into their ending credits?

Final Thoughts: The most notable thing about this episode is that it’s Elva Mai Hoover’s final episode. She has played Mrs, Lawson, clerk for the Lawson convenience store, since the the second episode of the series, and had appeared consistently throughout the series until this episode. Mr. Lawson, played by Les Carlson (who passed away in 2014) stopped appearing after season two. I always wonder why Hoover stopped appearing. Maybe the actress wanted to move on. Hoover is still acting. She didn’t retire. It’s just strange that the character left without a trace.

Both Sally Potts and Jane Spry are referenced in this episode. Jane Spry is pretty much longgone at this point. And Sally Potts won’t make an appearance until the season 6 finale. They were mentioned by Janet King, who was trying to help a bored Felicity with friends she can visit. There is a small subplot in this episode which centers on Felicity’s dissatisfaction with Gus always working. The main purpose of this plot is simply to further illustrate Felicity and Gus’s relationship. They’ll have more meaningful episodes of course.

This is Lionel Lester’s first episode. He’s a worker for the cannery. He’s not exactly a big character, but the “Lesters” will be an important family later during the show’s run. They’re sort of a lower class family, especially compared to the Kings. He’s played by Canadian actor Richard McMillan. He also had small roles in Anne 3 and Wind at My Back. He passed away last year.

 

Road to Avonlea Review: Memento Mori

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“Measure your life, not by what you do…but how you feel.”

Episode Summary: Hetty’s 50th birthday is not going as planned, for both Hetty herself and her family. While her family is tirelessly trying to prepare for a surprise party for Hetty, Hetty is told by her publisher that her contract has been terminated, because her books lack excitement and “exotic” locations. Hetty begins to feel regretful over her safe life, worrying that she wasted 50 years doing nothing of note. On top of that, memories of her mother and her untimely death flood Hetty’s head. After a health emergency, Hetty realizes that she is loved by her friends and family, and that her life does have meaning. On the shore with Sara, despite not having the support of a publisher, Hetty decides her next book will be about Avonlea.

Directed by Don McBrearty, Written by Heather Conkie, Music by Don Gillis

My Grade: “Memento Mori” may not be every fan’s favorite episode, but it’s definitely at least in everyone’s top 10, including mine. The episode is also one of the show’s more rewarded episodes. It received three Gemini nominations, one for Lead Actress Jackie Burroughs, one for Don McBrearty’s direction, and another for Don Gillis’s music score. The episode also received multiple CableACE nominations and wins (when that was still a thing). This episode is clearly to Avonlea as “Ozymandias” is to Breaking Bad. And that’s because, not only is this episode high quality, with gorgeous visuals, great cinematography and editing, poignant script, and classic performances by the whole cast, but this episode is also a game changer. Up to this point, “Memento Mori” is arguably the most “adult” episode of the series. The kid cast plays such a minimal role in this episode. And the plot of this episode is sort of the story that would mostly appeal to an adult, especially an adult over the age of 50. The show is  very much still family-friendly. But, during the earlier seasons, the show’s largest audience was young girls. And many of the episodes and storylines appealed to that demographic. This episode does not. During the later seasons, Sullivan and co. tried a lot of different things. They kind of had to. Sarah Polley was no longer a main character. Not all the things that were tried were successful. But this episode certainly was. A triumph, really.

But more than the directing and the performances, this episode also has a really great message. And I love that quote I have above, which is spoken by Hetty’s mother. I think that quote is even more relevant today. So, in a about a year, it’ll be 10 years since I’ve graduated high school. And I’m at a point when every time I go on Facebook (which is rare), the first status I see on my wall is a former classmate of mine making some big humblebrag announcement: “I just got engaged!” “I just got a job with Disney!” “My book has a publisher!” “I got accepted into Harvard Law!” And these posts have, like, a million hearts or smiley faces or whatever (it’s actually been a while since I’ve been on Facebook). And these posts can really depress me because I don’t feel like I’ve done anything post-worthy: “I was just hired full time with benefits!” I’m still pretty young, but sometimes I do feel like there’s a ticking clock over my head. If I don’t accomplish something big in 10 years, then I’m officially a failure in life, right? I watch “Memento Mori” to remind me that what’s most important is that I live my best life with as much happiness as possible. If I do that, then it’s a life well lived. If I spend my life constantly worrying about my regrets or lack of success, then it certainly won’t make my life seem better. Success begins and ends in the heart. Everything else is just extra. A small cherry in an already delicious sundae. This episode is simply timeless, 1903, 1993, or 2018, this episode will always be relevant. (A+)

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Spotlight Performance: Look, this is obviously a big episode for Jackie Burroughs. Arguably, technically, her best performance. But I’ve given her this honor many times, and I want to put a spotlight on the actress who plays Hetty’s mother in this episode. The actress is Seana McKenna. She’s a Canadian actress that’s mostly known for her stage work, particularly the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. She doesn’t have a lot of screen credits, but she’s lately been appearing in a lot of filmed Shakespeare productions, for which she was nominated for a Canadian Screen Award last year. She also won a 1997 Genie Award for her role in The Hanging Garden, an LGBT-themed movie that also featured Sarah Polley. She also had a role in the kiddie TV movie Handel’s Last Chance the year before. Her role in this episode is small, but pivotal. Apparently, the original cut of this episode was supposed to feature longer, clearer flashbacks. In the episode as it is, the flashbacks are very brief and dreamlike. It’s certainly a decision I respect, but I find McKenna’s presence in this episode so strong, yet calming and reassuring, that I wish there was more of her. Also…did we ever learn why Hetty’s mother died? It seems like she was sick, like with a terminal illness, and she knew she was going to die. That’s a scene we could have had, and it would have given McKenna more to do. Anyway, her performance in this episode is still golden, and the actress is pretty much Canadian royalty. She was recently interviewed by RH Thomson (Jasper Dale who is absent in this episode).

 

Favorite Scene: There are so many wonderful moments in this episode. Hetty, right before collapsing, having a flashback memory of her mother telling her that she might die always brings a tear to my eye. But, I think the big scene is the last scene. It’s when Hetty and Sara go to the beach, and Hetty proclaims that her next book will about Avonlea. It’s mostly the music. Don Gillis scored this episode; and this is the first episode that uses the famous “Wind at my Back” score. I call it “Wind at my Back” because the score played in literally every episode of the show (and I’m not just talking about the opening credits). It’s also a score that’s played in every Sullivan production since then. But when it came to Avonlea, Sullivan showed a surprising amount of restraint. Off the top of my head, I think this scored only played again during the very last episode of the series. If it played anywhere else, then it was still rarely used. And that’s nice because, in the context of Avonlea, it’s a very special score only used for special occasions. So the very last scene of this episode is special. The shots of Avonlea. Hetty’s rousing voiceover. This could have been the very last episode of the series and it would have been OK (I’m glad it wasn’t though because we still have some great moments ahead!)

Final Thoughts: This is also a really great episode because it features the full main cast, and there are no special guest stars. Those episodes are usually the best IMO. Interestingly enough, neither Jasper nor Gus are in this episode. That’s weird because Jasper is married to Hetty’s sister and he should be there. Maybe he’s at some inventors’ conference in Montreal or something. Even though Gus and Felicity aren’t official, considering how much Gus looks up to Hetty, wouldn’t he want to be a part of this birthday celebration as well? I know the actors were only always “recurring,” but this is an episode they should have appeared in, right? Well, anyway, it’s fine, one only notices their absence if you’ve seen the episode 10 times. Someone who does appear in this episode is Marilyn Lightstone, who plays Muriel Stacey. Believe it or not, this is the character’s first appearance since season 2; and she only appeared in a couple episodes that season. She announces in this episode that she’ll be staying put in Avonlea after traveling across the world. And that is true. Lightstone is pretty much a supporting character up until the final episode. Welcome back!

In weird casting news, actress Megan Kitchen plays “Young Hetty” in the episodes’ flashbacks. But Mairon Bennett, sister of Zachary Bennett, plays the voice of Young Hetty. In my ZOOM Fannee Doolee voice “Why do you think that is?” Young Megan Kitchen certainly looks like she could be a younger version of Jackie Burroughs, certainly moreso than Mairon Bennett during that time. Bennett is an actress. Kitchen doesn’t have a lot of credits on IMDB. I’m going to assume that Bennett was the better actress but Kitchen looked more the part. Again, the flashbacks in this episode are “dream sequence-y,” so they can get away with doing this and no one would notice…unless you’ve watched the episode 10 times and have watched through the ending credits.

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This episode is also the first appearance of Dr. Snow, who plays Avonlea’s token doctor until the end of the series. He’s played by Graham McPherson. He appeared in quite literally every Canadian series and TV movie through the 80’s and 90’s, his last role being a recurring role on Wind at My Back (he played Benjamin Kendrick, I honestly don’t remember who that was. It’s been a while since I’ve watched the series). He seems to have retired and disappeared after 1999. I can’t find any information about him, and it’s especially difficult since he shares the name of a famous British rock singer.

Stock Footage Alert: During Hetty’s memories of childhood, we see clips of Anne and Diana from AOGG and clips of the kids from the first season of Road to Avonlea.

Why am I Doing this? (2018 Emmy Nominations Category Review) – UPDATED

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Last year (roughly 3 posts ago), I started a post where I would review all the major Emmy categories, and then some. However, midway through, citing lack of interest and fatigue, I gave up. I kept the post up, but with only about a third of the categories I had planned on reviewing posted. At that point, I realized that maybe I had lost interest in reviewing the Emmys. Watching all the episode submissions and formulating thoughts on them did take a lot of time and work. And since I’m not being paid for this work (and since not a lot of people are reading my blog anyway), I thought maybe that was the end of that. Fast forward a year later and…well…let’s see if I can actually follow through on something…:/

i done.

Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Special: I’ve actually grown to like this category these last few years. I genuinely enjoy watching TV documentaries, particularly of the Netflix variety. However, it’s a bit disappointing that this category is filled with “celebrity biographies;” 4/5 of the nominees is of that variety. And, frankly, after a while, they all seem to look the same/sound the same. PBS produced their own one hour Mister Rogers documentary. It’s OK. I’m sure the theatrical film that will be released later this year will be better. HBO’s Spielberg is really comprehensive; the issue is that Steven Spielberg is so popular and unproblematic. It was pretty much a greatest hits scroll. Any small moment when Spielberg was wrapped in controversy (ie, his direction of The Color PurpleMunich) is glossed over or pushed aside. What I’m saying is…I don’t think this documentary did or said anything about Spielberg that I didn’t already know. HBO’s other nominee is a documentary about the late Garry Shandling. I liked this documentary more because it was more willing to stretch out the rough edges of Shandling’s life. Judd Apatow really took advantage of the wealth of resources he had (diary entries), but the doc is still longer than it needs to be. If a celebrity doc has to win, it should be Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, a weird, yet insightful, documentary about the making of Man on the Moon, the Andy Kaufman biopic starring Jim Carrey. However, the documentary that I think should and will win is Icarus, the Oscar winning film about Russia’s state sponsored doping scandal. Overall, sorrynotsorry, Netflix is documentarying better than HBO.

Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Series: Ultimately, the obvious front runner is Netflix’s Wild Wild Country, and I agree with that consensus. The docuseries centers on a weird controversial psychedelic “cult” from the 80’s founded by Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and run by his personal assistant, Sheela, who pretty much takes center stage in this documentary. She is passionate. She is frightening. She is captivating. As is the entire series. I don’t really think “docuseries” that focus on one story (The Defiant Ones) should compete against anthology series (American Masters). With the rise of the one-story docuseries, I could see the rules changing in the near future. Right now, it’s like, how do I compare the two? Anyway, American Masters aired a really compelling documentary on Lorraine Hansberry this season. For that, it is second in my ranking.

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series: So many great things about this category. I’m glad Pamela Adlon wasn’t punished for Louis CK’s past sexual assault and received a well deserved nomination for the second season of Better Things. She’s my personal choice for the win, especially for “Eulogy,” the episode she submitted for consideration. In the episode, her character, feeling underappreciated, demands that her kids and friends eulogize her as if she was dead and they’re at her funeral. Adlon is heartbreaking, but she shows quite a lot of range in her episode, and really throughout the season. Look, voters, no one has a chance in hell at beating JLD when she returns next year, so please give Adlon the Emmy this year because this is probably her lost chance before hurricanes JLD and Candice Bergen come back and dominate the category. Honestly, the whole category is great. Rachel Brosnahan (Mrs. Maisel) seems to be the front runner; she would be thoroughly deserving as well…but I’ll have a tiny bit of disappointment in my heart if anyone but Adlon wins.

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series: Donald Glover (Atlanta) wasn’t exactly my first choice last year (he was maybe third behind Anthony Anderson and Aziz Ansari), but this year, I am completely team Glover; mostly for the episode he submitted. In “Teddy Perkins,” he paints himself in “whiteface” and plays a…well, I’m not even sure how to describe him. He’s like a ghost: a creepy, sad, lonely villain who holds Darius hostage. If it wasn’t for this episode, Glover again would find himself more in the middle of my ranking. However, this episode (extra long special episode) and his fearless performance in it puts him to the top. Very close behind is Bill Hader for the first season of Barry, a show about a hitman turned actor who constantly finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hader has proven himself as a real, dramatic actor before (he was fricken Oscar worthy for Skeleton Twins). With this show, he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves. Anthony Anderson is officially overdue after his fourth nomination, so him winning would also be great (and he’s like really funny in this episode and it’s the comedy category). Believe it or not, Bill Hader technically already has an Emmy.

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series: There are pretty much only two choices I feel pretty “meh” about. I love Leslie Jones with all my heart, and she does great work on SNL…but she’s not exactly the strongest actress on the show. I guess I just would have preferred that Cecily Strong, a real seasoned performer, get that nomination instead. Betty Gilpin is certainly a surprise, and it’s a nomination that made a lot of people happy. I’ve only seen the first season of GLOW, the season the show is nominated for, and, so far, I don’t particularly like Gilpin’s character, and I don’t feel much from her performance. Otherwise, this is a very nice category. I have soft spot for two time Emmy winner Megan Mullally. I was so sad that the rest of the cast of Will and Grace couldn’t get their respective nominations like the olden days, but Karen has always been my favorite character, and Mullally represents the show well. I’m rooting for either Mullally or Zazie Beetz, who had a big impact in the four episodes of Atlanta she appeared in. (PS, she was eligible for guest, but chose to compete in supporting anyway. So glad the risk paid off!) She chose a great episode for consideration, “Helen,” which revolves around her character attending a German culture festival with Earn. So my top two are Mullally and Beetz, but some of the others, including incumbent beast Kate McKinnon, would be “deserving” as well.

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series: Alec Baldwin is still a lot of fun as Trump, and he deservedly won last year. At this point, it just seems like he’s sleepwalking through the role. He shouldn’t get another Emmy for this. I for-real can’t decide between Louie Anderson, Tituss Burgess, Kenan Thompson, and Brian Tyree Henry. Henry had a few great choices for episode submissions this year for his work on Atlanta. He chose “Woods,” but he also could have chosen “Barbershop,” which is probably a funnier episode and performance, but “Woods” gets real deep in the end so I understand the choice. Kenan Thompson was longtime overdue for an acting nomination, and I’m so happy he finally broke through. Tituss Burgess is straight up overdue for a win. He literally should already have at least two Emmys on his shelf at this point. He submitted an episode that features a lot of singing and a lot of Titus acting vain and selfish before doing the right thing at the very end of the episode — my two favorite Kimmy Schmidt traits! Ultimately, I’d be happiest if Burgess won. However, as someone who doesn’t watch Baskets regularly, I was completely touched by Louie Anderson’s submission episode “Thanksgiving.” It was like a short film. I found it poignant, despite not knowing much about the show or character. It’s like my brain and every other part of me is saying that Tituss Burgess deserves a friggin’ Emmy before his show ends…while my heart wouldn’t mind if Anderson won a second Emmy for his beautiful work…(also Sean Hayes should be here shhh)

Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series: This is a touch category! Elisabeth Moss is an absolute beast on Handmaid’s Tale, and she was even better this year than she was last year. But considering how stacked this category is, I hope someone else wins. The same goes for Tatiana Maslany, who surprised the world two years ago with her very deserving win. Sandra Oh is crazy good in Killing Eve. I’m so happy that Oh is finally given the leading role she deserves, and the recognition she deserves as well. I only wish Jodie Comer, her onscreen nemesis/frenemy, could have been nominated as well. The last season of The Americans is all about Keri Russell; I only wish she had taken Matthew Rhys’s lead and also submitted the series finale. There isn’t a better acting moment from her this season than her silent reaction to her character’s daughter during the train scene. But, she’s always great and would be thrilled if she won. However…I think I’m rotting most for Claire Foy. I also don’t agree with her choice for her episode submission (she chose the Kennedy episode when I would have gone with “Marionettes”), but she still gives a strong, confident, assured performance in the episode, as she has done for both her seasons of The Crown. It’s going to be hard to accept another actress as The Queen, but I will give Olivia Colman a chance. In the meantime, Foy has won every other award imaginable for her performance. Let’s add an Emmy to her trophy case!

Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series: Sometimes, before I go to bed, I kneel down, hold my hands together, and thank God for giving us Sterling K. Brown. Many times, when an actor gives a great performance, a lot of it has to do with being given a great script and a great character. I’m not saying that’s not necessarily true for Brown. Randall Pearson of This is Us would be an actor’s dream. But Brown truly rises above what he is given. In the hands of a lesser actor, Randall could have very well disappeared. And that’s almost how I felt after the show’s pilot. Initially, I found the storylines from the other two Pearson siblings to be the most interesting. But, somehow, Sterling K. Brown turned this role into gold. That is why the second season was all about Randall, and that is why Brown is on track to winning a second Emmy. I will say, though, that I hope Matthew Rhys (The Americans) somehow squeaks by, pulls a “Kyle Chandler” and wins for his final season. His big scene with Noah Emmerich (snubbed btw) is so tense and thrilling. Rhys has always been fire, but his quieter work during the series finale is probably his finest performance yet. Another honorable mention goes to Ed Harris as The Man in Black, aka William. He has some great scenes with onscreen wife Sela Ward (also snubbed #justsayin).

Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series: This is a very strong category. The three actresses from The Handmaid’s Tale absolutely kill it. Ann Dowd is plain evil in her episode submission (season 2 premiere), but she’s also great in episodes later in the season when we see a more human (or at least, less sadistic) side of Aunt Lydie. I’m not sure if it made much sense to have Emily or “Ofsteven” show up again after her big arc from season one, but Alexis Bledel still gives a great performance, with her freckled face, big eyes, full of pain and sorrow. She submits the episode “Unwomen,” where we get flashbacks of Emily’s life before she became a handmaid, and scenes of her beautifully poisoning Marisa Tomei. On the other hand, I’m so happy Yvonne Strahovski got recognized this year, because, behind Moss, she was the standout of the season. However, as great as these actresses are, my personal pick is Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret for The Crown. She has the perfect episode submission, “Beryl,” aka “The bare shoulders scandalous picture episode.” The nomination itself is a pleasant shock, after being snubbed for season one. Kirby is excellent throughout the season, but, after rewatching all the episode submissions for this category, I realized how much she truly stands out in her own.

Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series: There are really only two performances in this category I truly love and would want to see win. Matt Smith as Prince Philip didn’t do much for me during the first season of The Crown (maybe too overshadowed by some of the other actors on the show like John Lithgow, Jared Harris, and Alex Jennings); however, for season two, he somehow impressed me more. I don’t exactly think he should be competing in this category (Hey! If he’s going to be paid like a leading actor, he should compete in Leading Actor, right?), but since he’s already here, I can’t help but root for him anyway. He submitted “Mystery Man,” the season 2 finale where Philip gives a passionate speech to Queen Mary about his love for her. I probably would have submitted “Lisbon” (episode where Philip becomes a “Prince”), because that was the first time I truly realized how magnificent Smith was. Joseph Fiennes is the other actor in this category I really like. Wow! To think, a couple years ago, he was slathering on whiteface to play Michael Jackson for an unaired TV comedy program! Anyway, I was afraid Fiennes would never be recognized because his character in The Handmaid’s Tale is so irredeemably terrible. But it’s not “Best Goodest Character” it’s “Best Actor” and Fiennes is frighteningly good (almost too good) as Commander Waterford. There’s a quiet, almost childlike, chilling intensity to his performance. Easy to overlook. But, since the show is so popular with voters, Fiennes deservedly got swept up for the ride and received a nomination. Hopefully, it’ll turn into a win.

dass it

Road to Avonlea Review: Fathers and Sons

fathers and sons avonlea

“You’re only young once. And you’re old for a long time.”

Episode Summary: Almost unexpectedly, Felix has become an adept and dedicated worker for the White Sands Hotel, much to the chagrin of his father, who would prefer Felix to focus more of his energy on the farm, especially since, according to tradition, Felix is supposed to inherit the farm. However, Felix has other plans. He wants to own and operate his own tea room. Felix and Alec are at a standstill. While Felix, with the help of a particularly crotchety White Sands guest, played by Paul Soles (Spider-Man), realizes that he can’t let anything get in the way of his close relationship with his father, Alec King realizes that he can’t force an uninterested Felix to take over the farm. Some traditions are meant to be broken.

Directed by Otta Hanus, Written by Heather Conkie, Music by John Welsman

My Grade: Another solid season premiere for the show. Considering that Felix loses all interest in the hospitality business being his main source of income by the next season, I think this episode, in hindsight, represents the fact that we’re not supposed to be fourteen and be tied down to future obligations. Even though Alec really wants Felix to inherit the farm, like all the King men before him, he has to learn that he can’t put that kind of pressure or expectation on Felix. And if, by age 18, Felix decides he wants nothing to do with the farm, Alec has to support his son anyway…and maybe allow Cecily the farm. As central as the “mother/daughter” story is to the show (because Sara and Hetty were the main characters for the past four seasons), the “father/son” episodes also play a big role in the spirit of the series, and I don’t think there’s another episode that really focuses on the complexities of that relationship as much as this one. (A)

 

Spotlight Performance: Emmy nominee Zachary Bennett is so good on this show. He’s great at doing the “Leave it to Beaver” sort of cutesy comedy he’s mostly given during the first couple of seasons, and he’s excellent with the more dramatic stuff he’s trusted with the older he becomes. I don’t think Bennett ever gives as great a performance on the show than he did in “Felix and Blackie.” But he comes close a few times. This is one of those times.

Favorite Scene: There are a lot of great scenes in this episode. I think the one that’s the most memorable is the scene where Felix explodes at Alec for giving him too many responsibilities in the farm. And then the scene right after where Felix reveals to his father his plan at opening his own tea room is beautiful. Again, that scene would probably carry more weight if Felix had continued to have this aspiration after season 5, but it’s a very nice scene because Felix is able to speak out and have a goal that’s divorced from what his father (or even his family as a whole) expects of him.

 

Final Thoughts: This is the season premiere so there are a few. First, let’s get this out of the way: this is Otta Hanus’s final episode. He only directed two other episodes, including the season 4 finale. I write a small bio about him for the review of “Lady and the Blade.

Second, I believe this is the first episode where Sara, Hetty and Olivia don’t appear altogether. And, it’s certainly the first season premiere that doesn’t have those characters. In fact, it’s the first season premiere that doesn’t feature all the main characters. It’s interesting that TPTB chose this episode to be the premiere. In Canada, this episode aired along with “Memento Mori” as a “two-hour premiere,” so, I suppose, the people who watched the episode when it first aired may have not fully noticed those absences. In the United States, on the Disney Channel, where episodes frequently aired out of order, “Memento Mori” was deemed the season 5 premiere, and “Fathers and Sons” didn’t air until later. I’m not sure why we have episodes where the full cast doesn’t premiere. I know why Sara isn’t there. If Sarah Polley had no interest in leaving the show, she probably would have appeared in every episode. But Hetty and Olivia? Maybe it represents a dramatic shift in the show. Or…maybe it had to do with the actors’ schedules. Or maybe it was a budgetary thing (as in, the show couldn’t afford to have all the main actors appear in every episode). In any case, especially after Sara officially leaves, for the rest of series, new characters will be added, and there’ll be fewer episodes that focus exclusively on the “King family.”

 

Cedric Smith was nominated for a “Gemini Award” for his performance in this episode. When he was interviewed by the Toronto Star regarding the nomination, he actually threw some shade towards the series. He said, “The character [Alec King] is great. But a part of me wonders what kind of guy I’m playing now. We’ve seemed to move away from the farm to the lah-de-dah of the White Sands hotel.” I do not disagree. And this was after they shot season 6. It literally gets worse in season 7. There are TOO many “hotel episodes.” Great opportunity for Disney-approved famous guest stars, but still too many nonetheless.

Lastly, this show has seven seasons and, amazingly enough, it has 7 different opening sequences. And the one they use for season 5 is actually my favorite. I just love it for some reason. Sarah Polley in her famous polka dot dress, first billed, even though she only appears in 4 episodes (who are they fooling with that?). The transition between Jackie Burroughs and Mag Ruffman, and then the transition between Zachary Bennett and Gema Zamprogna. I like that the music is fast. I like how it goes from dancing to horse racing to ice skating. I don’t know, sometimes when I watch an episode from season 5, I have to rewind and watch the opening a couple more times.

I wonder if Cecily will actually inherit the farm when they grow up. These are the questions that could be answered if they did a reunion movie! Make it happen, CBC!

 

2017 Primetime Emmy Categories Reviews

 

Cast members Dern, Kidman, Woodley, Kravitz and Witherspoon pose at the premiere of the HBO television series "Big Little Lies" in Los Angeles

The nominations for the 2017 Emmy Awards are out! And, even though after every award season I vow never to review the nominees again because this is all bullshit…I always end up back here a year later, reviewing the nominees. So that is what I am going to do, again. I’m going to try review as many categories as I possibly can. I pride myself in reviewing categories that most other television reviewers don’t touch; however, unlike last year, I actually have a full time 40-hour a week job, so it’s going to be tougher. But, again, I’ll try!

However, there’s something different I am doing this year. For many of the performance and program categories, each nominee submits an episode that is supposed to be representative of their best work. While I would usually watch those episodes again (even if I’ve already watched the show’s season) and rank the nominees primarily based off those episodes, this year I’m not going to do that. While I think there are benefits to the episode submission rule, I don’t truly believe voters watch all of them. I think voters only watch the episode submissions of shows that they don’t watch. So that’s pretty much the direction I am going in. I’ll mostly be giving a general ranking of the actors and programs in the categories. If I run across a show that I do not watch regularly, or I have not watched the episode, I’ll watch the submission and make a note of that in the review, and hope that I can be fair in my rankings. Otherwise, the tapes are irrelevant to me this year.

Note #1: These are NOT predictions. These are my subjective picks as to who I think should win each category. I’ll probably write another post closer to ceremony where I actually attempt to predict the winners. But, for right now, this is more of a “If I was an Emmy voter” sort of situation.

Note #2: I will be continuously updating this page, adding categories throughout the summer. Bookmark this page and check back every week. Use the “Find…” link to search for your favorite categories. Categories are ordered by “importance.” This message will be deleted once I have finished and reviewed all the categories I wanted/can. I may still be reviewing categories after the winners have been announced.

I have decided to prematurely end editing this post. I’m happy that I got to review some of the categories, particularly the documentary categories, Drama Series and Comedy Series among others. But, frankly, my interest in this year’s Emmys has waned. In many of the categories remaining, I don’t have strong favorites. It’s not a knock against the nominees this year. This has been a very exciting year for the Emmys. I’m just too busy, and, frankly, I’d like to get back to the Avonlea reviews soon (+ other posts focusing more on children’s media). So, I hope you’ve enjoyed the post as is. And, maybe next year, I’ll try to think of an even more time efficient way of doing these (or maybe I won’t even try next year).

*For a full list of the nominees, go to Emmys.com (or wikipedia 2017 Emmys).

Outstanding Drama Series: I actually watched five of the nominees when they first aired (or were first posted). I binge-watched Westworld and The Crown after both shows received a bunch of nominations. Westworld, in particularly, has about half their episodes represented in this year’s nominations, so I figured I’d trudge through the entire season, even if the initial premise didn’t really draw me in when it premiered last fall. Anyway, let’s rank this from the bottom to the top. In 7th is House of Cards. I recently tweeted that this show is comfort food. The plots are fairly easy to follow, and Frank and Claire’s relationship is infinitely fascinating. But the storytelling in the show is a bit inconsistent and lopsided. Storylines unnecessarily span multiple episodes and then, like, don’t end…but they end, you know? It’s the weakest of the 7 nominees, but I love it, and I’m definitely watching the next season. Westworld is NOT comfort food. I only caught about 15% of the show. But, objectively, the show is well-made, the world is engrossing, and, hey, that twist involving Bernard tore my wig off, so that’s enough for me to at least put it above HoC. I thoroughly enjoyed the other show I binged for this post, The Crown, about Queen Elizabeth’s early years. It’s like a less soapy, more restrained, Downton Abbey, but the posh accents, sister sibling rivalry, and equestrian competitions are still there.

Stranger Things, more than anything, gives me hope that high quality, dramatic television can star…kids! What an awesome risk Netflix took. It’s a new generation’s ET. Better Call Saul will always be really good, and, at some point, it will have to win in this category. If it won this year, that’d be great…but I don’t think the show has hit the “peak” Gilligan has definitely been anticipating since AMC greenlit this Breaking Bad spinoff. I’m not necessarily waiting for Walter White to show up, but, clearly, there’s a switch in Jimmy’s life that has not happened yet. That leaves two shows that are very different from each other. NBC’s breakout hit, This is Us, has been the surprise hit of the season. Shows like this (and Empire) prove that new non-procedural network dramas can still make an impact, “post-Good Wife.” I did not think This is Us would get nominated for Drama Series. I thought it would more likely get a writing nomination for the mind blowing, excellent pilot. Ironically, the show received no writing or directing nominations, but it was represented nearly everywhere else. I’m happy for the show’s success because it’s not the most intense or intellectually clever show out there. But the show does what it sets out to do really well. I’m with the crowd, I love the show, and I am crazy excited for the second season. However, I’m rooting for The Handmaid’s Tale, one of the best shows of the season, and probably even the best drama in general. Adapted from a Margaret Atwood novel, the show is set in a dystopian where women, by law, are subserviant to men as a result of dropping fertility rates. It’s scary but (and, yes, others have said this) unfortunately plausible. Hulu is officially on the map with this show, and deservedly so.

Outstanding Comedy Series: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt remains my favorite comedy on television so, yah!, it remains my top choice for an Emmy. However, with no writing or directing nominations, I don’t think it has a chance, so I’m just glad it keeps getting nominated. One day it will win. It took Veep four seasons before it started winning, right? Anyway, I just love how zany, crazy the show is. It takes risks. It doesn’t play it safe. When it wants to go at 10, it goes to 100, and y’all have to appreciate that. More likely to win is Master of None, which had a gloriously deep second season, which featured standout episodes like “Religion,” “Buona Notte” (season finale), and “Thanksgiving,” which, I truly believe, is the best individual television episode of the season. Newcomer Atlanta would almost be as deserving. More times than I’d like, the show was a bit too…well…sub-dued. I preferred when the show was actually really funny and outrageous, like “B.A.N.” But Donald Glover’s vision is fresh, and I think the show is Veep‘s closest challenger for the win.

Even though I didn’t watch all 22 episodes of Black-ish this year (actually, I probably only watched half a dozen), I’d still rather see it win than Veep and Silicon Valley. Sometimes, Silicon Valley seems to be only written for people are actually really connected or familiar with the tech world. That is to say, many times I couldn’t fully follow everything that was going on. I don’t know, this season just seemed more far removed from my consiousness than earlier ones. Meanwhile, I always love Veep, and this season gave me a lot of LOL moments, but not nearly as much as past seasons. This was the weakest season for the show (even weaker than season 1). But, hopefully, next season, which looks like it will follow both Selina and Jonah’s presidential campaign, will be more focused and stronger. I don’t think having all the characters do different things works for this show. It’s truly a strong ensemble that works best when they’re together. I don’t think the show deserves a third Emmy for this season, however. I also don’t think Modern Family should have received an eighth Comedy Series nomination. Look, the show still gets high ratings but, not unlike Big Bang Theory or any other show on CBS, it’s just kind of irrelevant, critically and culturally. There are better comedies on ABC itself. Why can’t the Emmys show love for The Goldbergs? I’d even accept a Speechless nomination. At this point, Modern Family‘s nomination seems like a lazy waste of a slot. I know that sounds mean. It’s still a good show. It’s going to get at least 10 seasons. And I’m glad a show like this (y’know, one that feaures a loving, yet complicated gay couple) seemed to have found success with middle America.

Outstanding Limited Series: Limited Series and miniseries are on the rise, and this year’s Limited Series category definitely supports that claim. The best thing to come out of “peak TV” is executives and producers and executive producers realizing that satisfying stories can be told in one season. Anyway, this is a strong list of nominees. Fargo will always be a fascinating, thrilling ride. But I don’t know if I’ll ever like a season as much as I enjoyed the first. The first season was a revelation (and I’m proud to say I was one of the few who immediately preferred to True Detective), but these next two seasons have just been good. The first season of Genius centered on the life and achievements of Albert Einstein. This series seems like a really great, definitive screen adaptation of Einstein’s life (OK, maybe, Einstein: Light to the Power of 2 is more definitive.) I particularly enjoyed Johnny Flynn’s performance as the younger Albert Einstein. A part of me wishes American Crime could have received one more nomination for its last season, but I think the above mentioned programs are better.

However, from my perspective, this is really between The Night Of, Big Little Lies, and Feud: Bette and Joan. If any of these three series won, I would be 100% satisfied. Big Little Lies simply took me on a journey. Honestly, the day-to-day lives and small, petty rivalries of upper class parents of 10 year olds was more fascinating than the “whodunnit” murder case that loomed over all the episodes. That’s not a knock against the “whodunnit;” it just shows how rich the show’s world is. Feud is everything I love about Ryan Murphy’s joints. It’s campy. It’s trashy. It’s classy. It’s big, bold, and sans nuance. It’s perfect. But it’s also a great exploration into the lives (and pains) of women in Hollywood. If I had to make a choice, it would be The Night Of, which still remains the most thrilling, nail-biting edge-of-my-seat program of the season, in my opinion. OK, I lied a little before. If Feud or BGL wins, I’ll be satisfied. If The Night Of wins, it’ll be the greatest thing since NBC renewed Will and Grace for a 10th season. More than an examination into our justice system, it’s also a series about a young man, and how prison can really harden someone, and alter his or her humanity, especially the wrongfully accused. I am so glad (unlike with Show Me a Hero), the Emmys did not forget and ignore this late summer gem.

Outstanding Television Movie: I think the only possible outcome for this category that would annoy me is if Sherlock: The Lying Detective wins, because it’s not a movie. It’s just an episode of a TV series that only produces three episodes a year. At this point, the Emmys needs to change its rule and allow it (or force it) to compete as a Drama Series. Or a Comedy Series! I don’t care! I just don’t think it belongs here…even if it is 90 minutes of solidly good television and John Watson coming to terms with his dead wife made me tear up a bit. Otherwise, this is strongest set of nominees this category has had in years. For once, HBO has two great movies (usually, I think there’s one that’s great and one that, well, isn’t). The Wizard of Lies is a really comprehensive look at George Madoff’s lies and deceptions and the harm he caused his family and, more significantly, the hundreds of people and organizations who trusted him. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a story about the daughter of Henrietta Lacks, Deborah, writer Rebecca Skloot, and their uncovering of Lacks, and the cancer cells her doctors extracted from her in the 50’s, without her permission, for further (decades of) research into the disease. The movie features great performances by Oprah and Rose Byrne, both who should have been nominated.

Seeing the Dolly Parton Christmas special that aired on NBC get a nomination was a pure delight, because I thought voters would simply vote for another stodgy British period piece in its place. It’s an inspired nomination; and I feel Dolly Parton and co. really fought for it, so go them! I think the first special deserved a nomination even more, but seeing it win this year would almost be like giving both specials the Emmy. However, if I had to pick a winner, I’d go with Black Mirror: San Junipero. Was this my favorite Black Mirror episode? No. Personally, Shut Up and Dance and Nosedive were the two strongest episodes of the season. Honestly, I thought Black Mirror would be eligible as a miniseries, but I guess I can understand why it wasn’t. Each “episode” is its own story with its own cast. “San Junipero” was really popular with fans, so I can see why the producers chose it to represent the series. This episode, about a time traveling couple who have to make an important decision regarding their future, is as poignant and sweet as it is thought provoking. Even if it’s not my favorite Black Mirror special, it shows how great Black Mirror is that a “middle of the pack” episode could still beat all the nominees. I hope it wins. I think it might have a chance.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie:  This is probably the buzziest performer category of the year. And, look, I love all these actresses. But, before I get to my ranking, I just want to pull a Kanye and say that Bryce Dallas Howard for Black Mirror gave the best leading actress performance of the year! And that I probably would have nominated Lauren Graham and even Oprah Winfrey over any of the other nominees. Nonetheless, I’m of course very pleased with the nominees, mostly because of the co-star match ups. So, Witherspoon vs. Kidman? Nicole Kidman’s performance is certainly more dramatic and intense as the wife of an abusive animal. But, Reese Witherspoon is a fierce “comedic” relief  for the show. It’s an understated performance, but Witherspoon could actually bring it to life. Lange vs. Sarandon? Susan Sarandon certainly bares a resemblance to Bette Davis (those Bette Davis eyes). And I originally thought Sarandon should have straight up won a Grammy for her rendition of the infamous “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” song. But Joan Crawford was truly a tragic figure, and Queen Jessica Lange just straight up kills it as the actress, particularly for the Oscars episode and the finale. I think many of us, during the season, switched back and forth between Lange and Sarandon; but, at the end of the day, it has to be Lange (cough cough if Bryce Dallas Howard or Lauren Graham couldn’t get nominated cough). If Felicity Huffman gets a “goodbye Emmy” for three great seasons of American Crime, that’s be a’ight. And Carrie Coon…I’ll mostly pretend this nomination was for the one she should have received for the first season of The Leftovers.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie: Although this category isn’t nearly as exciting as Lead Actress, I still have conflicting feelings as to who I think will and should win. For me, it has to be between the two The Night Of boys. John Turturro, as the complicated, yet morally good defense attorney, almost evokes Atticus in the scene where he gives his final speech to the court. Right now, I think he’s the front runner (Goldderby would say otherwise, but whatever). However, my heart wants Riz Ahmed to win, as the seemingly innocent, yet hardened college student fighting for his life, in the courts and in prison. It’s not a perfect performance (because the role itself is not perfectly written or even characterized). But Ahmed has enough memorable moments and scenes, moreso than the other nominees, that he stands out in my eyes. As talented and legendary as they, I don’t want to see dinosaurs Robert De Niro and Geoffrey Rush win (although this would, surprisingly, be de Niro’s first Emmy). And Cumberbatch shouldn’t have even been nominated here. The other actor who I think could stand next to the TNO boys is Ewan McGregor, who plays twins in the third season of Fargo. It’s a flashy, impressive performance, probably technically stronger than the other performances in the category, but it didn’t touch me like Ahmed’s and Turturro’s.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie: I’m going to be completely honest: I genuinely do not have a favorite in this category. This is neither shade, nor a compliment. This is just kind of a solid category, filled with good performances that are at 5. Seriously, I do not have a ranking. Fine, I’ll just bolden Alexander Skarsgard, because you rarely see evil characters win Emmys. Wait. Walter White. Nevermind. OK, I’ll go with Alfred Molina as director Robert Aldrich for Feud. Molina does a nice job going between the feuding legendary actresses and fellow nominee Stanley Tucci as the ruthless Jack Warner. Also, Molina’s just an overall underrated actor. You think someone like him would have shelves full of awards, but he rarely ever wins. He didn’t even win the Tony for Red, when literally everyone else involved with that production won something. Anyway…let’s move on.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie: Yeah, this catergory not only contains performances that I’m actually passionate about, but it’s also easier to rank. Get with the program, Supporting Actors! Regina King has won the last 2 years for American Crime, mostly due to so-so competition (and, of course, two unique strong performances). But this year’s performance is her weakest, and the competition this year is by far her strongest. So, I’ll kinda riot if she wins a third Emmy. Michaelle Pfeiffer plays the sympathetic, yet almost strong-willed, wife of financial fraudster Bernie Madoff. Judy Davis is delicious as the brassy and gossipy Hedda Hopper. But, lez be real, 90% of the performance was the hats. I preferred Jackie Hoffman as Joan Crawford’s loyal assistant Mamacita. However, I think one of the Big Little Lies women should win. Shailene Woodley is warm, yet fiery. Earnest, yet troubled. Her scenes with Young Sheldon are wonderful. However, crazy cry-face Laura Dern, whose character isn’t so different from the one she played on Enlightened, was my favorite thing about the series. Dern is so expressive and wild, and her role as a misguided overly protective mother is tailor-made for her.

Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special: This is a strong selection of television documentaries. My favorite of the bunch would have to be Ava DuVernay’s 13th, which was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year. The documentary has a clear thesis which is, “Even though the 13th Amendment made slavery illegal, our police and prison culture still enslaves and targets many people of color today.” I actually already knew a lot of the points this documentary was making before watching it, but it’s still an engrossing and all encompassing look at this country’s racism problem, from Reconstruction, to right this second. The Amanda Knox documentary is chilling and beautifully shot, and proves that no country has a perfect legal system. The Vice special, A House Divided is a really informative look at how/why this country became so polarizing that someone like Donald Trump could be elected president. However, I think, in trying to be “fair,” the special did not go far enough in admitting how much racism (against our country’s first black President) affected our polarization. In any case, I abhor pretty much all the Republican members of Congress, and this documentary certainly didn’t change my mind. LA Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later has some interesting insights and stories (particularly one of the daughter of the Korean shop owners whose business was burned down by the rioters), but The ESPN OJ Simpson documentary and 13th cover a lot of the same ground more poignantly. And the final nominee is Ron Howard’s Beatles documentary, which is cute and fun…but I’ve sort of resented it ever since it beat Beyonce’s LEMONADE at the Grammys for Best Music Film. #sorrynotsorry

Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking: I have read the rulebook for the Emmys many times, and I still don’t quite understand the difference between this category and the other Documentary Special category. I want to say this category features Oscar nominees, but then Ava Duvernay’s Oscar nominated 13th is nominated in the other category. As far as I know, the producers have to attach a written word statement with their submissions. Also, it’s a juried award, so…there may not be a winner this year? I doh-no! Shrug emoji! In any case, what we have are five more exceptional and thought-provoking documentaries. In any case, the clear winner is the epic, Oscar winning OJ: Made in America masterpiece miniseries. It’s like 3 documentaries in one. It talks about OJ Simpson, the person, the clown car that was trial, the racial tension during the early 90’s, how Soon Ja Du got away with murder. It’s crazy. It’s messy. It features all sides. It should pretty much win all its categories. Not that the other movies aren’t good in their own right. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds is funny, touching, and heartbreaking to say the least, particularly the scene where a vibrant, yet clearly senile Debbie Reynolds accepts her SAG Lifetime Achievement award with Carrie by her side. LA 92, another documentary about the LA race riots is almost poetry. It features no current interviews or narration. It just plays the harrowing footage of the riots and newsreels during that time. The Oscar winning White Helmets is a 40 minute short film about brave volunteer aid workers in the heart of the Syrian Civil War. The PBS special about the Oklahoma City bombing is a very informative look about the dangers of the NRA, COUGH sorry, white supremacy. It’s very good, but it’s not as artistic and creatively made as the other four nominees in the category.

Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series: I think all the nominees are great, and there isn’t a choice that I’m particularly passionate about. I think if I had a real choice, I’d vote for The Keepers, because, unlike the other nominees, it’s more of a miniseries that tells one story with a beginning, a middle, and conclusion. The documentary is a gripping story about a nun schoolteacher whose murder in 1969 remains an inconclusive mystery. The documentary, similar to the Oscar winning movie Spotlight, is an exploration into the abuse and sexual exploitation young people are subjected to by Catholic priests and other religious leaders, and the Archdiocese attempt at covering up these offenses. It’s chilling, and it’s incredibly depressing. I wasn’t as moved as I was with Netflix’s 2015 documentary series Making a Murderer, but both documentaries do a very good job of exposing the dark crevices of our American justice system. The other nominees are more anthology series, akin to 20/20 and Dateline*, except with a higher budget per episode, and more artsy. If I had to choose between 30 for 30, Chef’s Table, Planet Earth II, and American Masters, I’d choose 30 for 30, because the documentaries are genuinely interesting and unique from each other (and I say that as someone who only watches sports on TV when it’s the Olympics).

*I learned something today! 20/20 and Dateline don’t submit for the Primetime Emmys. They submit their broadcasts for the “News and Documentary Emmys.” So between all the categories the Primetime Emmys offers, and the other award specifically for news broadcasts and cable news special reports, the Emmys gives plenty of honors for nonfiction television……I wish it did the same for youth media.

Outstanding Informational Series or Special: I dunno ’bout you, but these nominees seem to either be talk shows or…more documentary series. Anyway, I don’t watch any of these shows regularly, but, for each nominee, I sort of picked and chose an episode that seemed most interesting based off its title and two sentence summary. I don’t even know why I bothered with this category. All the programs are OK. The one show that was the most intriguing, and that almost made me want to watch a second episode was Leah Remini’s Scientology takedown. But, like, honestly, I feel like I already know so much about this “religion.” I’m skeptical that I’ll learn any more watching the other 9 episodes from the first season, but I may consider it for the future. Anthony Bourdain winning again wouldn’t bother me, because his travels are entertaining and informative. And the two episodes of Vice I watched (Fastfood in Kuwait/Nollywood and Trans Youth) were mostly well done (although, as a Nigerian, I wish Nollywood wasn’t relegated to 15 minutes. So much more could have been said about the industry).

Outstanding Music and Lyrics: I always hesitate when I suggest a new category should be added (because, frankly, the Emmys already have enough categories), but I sort of wish there were two separate “Music and Lyrics” categories, one for dramatic songs, and the other for comedic. Because, how can I possibly compare Common’s Black Lives Matter rap anthem for Ava DuVernay’s 13th to the five other funny songs nominated. I feel especially bad because, even though the lyrics are deep and the melody is tight…it is not my favorite nominated song. It’s like a solid third. Not bad…but I still feel bad. Anyway, the other nominees below that are good in their own right. Jimmy Kimmel’s “The Ballad of Claus Jorstad (Devil Stool)” is funny, but considering its low view count on Youtube, it didn’t make much of an impact when it first premiered. “Jing a Ling a Ling” from the Mickey Mouse Christmas special is cute, but conventional. I’m SO happy Rachel Bloom could get another nomination this year for Best Song. Lead Actress would have been preferable, but I’ll take this! She, along with her co-songwriters were nominated for “We Tapped That Ass” (which, to date, is Santino Fontana’s last performance on Crazy Ex Girlfriend). It’s a funny song, but there were better songs from this season, Like, at least ten better songs. I was personally hoping “Love Triangle” would get nominated. I don’t know if Rachel Bloom and co only submitted this song for consideration, or the voters decided that “We Tapped That Ass” was the most worthy. Someone did something wrong. If “Love Triangles” had received a nomination, then that would have been my top choice. If  “We Tapped That Ass” gets the win, I’ll pretend it is for “Love Triangles.” Humph!

My number two choice is SNL’s “Last Christmas,” which was Kenan and Chance the Rapper’s tribute to Barack Obama. It’s funny. It’s dope. It’s sentimental. It is important. Man, watching the video from time to time still tears me up. I miss you, Obama…….Anyway, my top choice, by a mile, is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s “Hell No,” which was pretty much a parody of Beyonce’s “Hold Up.” Frankly, the beat and the lyrics are better than “Hold Up.” That drinking Sprite instead of water line always gets me. Tituss Burgess is a genius on the show, and the Lemonading episode might end up being his magnum opus. But, let’s give credit where credit is due. Jeff Richmond is the best music composer and producer on television, and anytime he gets a nomination for his music, my chest becomes too small for my heart. I hope he wins. He needs to win. I will riot if he does not (or at least bust someone’s car window).

Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series: I made this same point last year: I really like this category, but I don’t like how it’s practically taken over by “webisodes” of traditional length television series. I think they should either have their own category, or compete in the “Interactive” television category. I think this category should only be reserved for original, independent series. So, my top pick is Brown Girls, which is a seven episode webseries about the love lives of a gay Indian young woman and her African American best friend. The show is going to be adapted into an HBO series, so I’m guessing the large block of HBO voters probably pushed for this nomination to give the title some buzz before its television premiere. But it’s certainly deserving a nomination, and, given the competition, a win. Hack into Broad City is always fun, and it’s nice that Jacobson and Glazer are “Emmy nominees” since their actual show gets no support. Los Pollos Hermanos Employee Training is funny and quicky and a nice companion to Better Call Saul. Fear the Walking Dead: Passage and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: Slingshot seem like regular episodes of their series, but just cut up in 5 minute chunks, but they’re well-made nonetheless. But, like Children’s Program, I don’t think voters care much about this category and it shows in the nominees.

Best Choreography: Lemme be real with you…I used to be OBSESSED with So You Think You Can Dance. The first season I watched was the third season and it was my jam for, maybe, five seasons after that (I think Melanie Moore winning was the last full episode I watched). And then I just…stopped…watching. And I haven’t been able to watch since then. I don’t want to get into why I don’t like the show anymore. But, I will say, that those artsy fartsy, metaphorical Mia Michaels-cloned contemporary dances don’t do anything for me anymore. So all the routines from both SYTYCD nominees (Mandy Moore and Travis Wall) that I watched specifically for this post are just sort of “meh.” I also didn’t really much care for Derek Hough’s “Kairos” routine for Dancing with the Stars. Great dancer. Great showman. But his other routines for the show have been better. So, it’s really between Lala Land‘s Mandy Moore and Fred Tallaksen. Yes, Mandy Moore is nominated twice. I generally like Moore’s choreography because it’s relatively simple, accessible, and it’s easy to dance to (at least, it looks that way). Her “On Top of the World” routine, which opened season 23 of Dancing with the Stars is lively and a lot of fun (although the aerial cinematography for the outdoor portion helps.) Ultimately, my choice is for Tallaksen, who was nominated twice before for Malcolm in the Middle. This year he’s nominated for three short routines he choreographed for The Real O’Neals. The routines mostly showcase the dancing skills of the show’s star Noah Galvin. One is a gay Superbowl dream sequence. Another is a West Side Story-inspired wrestling round. And the last is another dream sequence to the original song “Boyfriend.” The choreography serves the overall plot of the episode well, and, in cases like these, the choreography is sufficient enough for a win. Frankly, I encourage voters in the future to look beyond DWTS and SYTYCD because there’s great, creative, fun choreography everywhere, and it’s not all that interesting when those two shows dominate the category. (In fairness, neither of those shows won last year, but still!)

Outstanding Commercial: Seriously, take 10 minutes out of your day to watch all the commercials nominees. It’s fun! I think this is a nice category in theory, I just feel like so many of the nominated commercials are “pro-social;” and, this year, 4/5 of the nominees fit that bill. Usually, there’s, at least, more variety. I don’t think I needed the mediocre women’s march commercial to be included (Oh, look! They’re all standing in front of a white screen, answering a “Why do you do this?” question with “Because…” so original). Or another “Year in Review” Google commercial (seriously, are voters gonna nominate this every year??) Those could have been replaced with commercials that are actually selling stuff (gasp!) However, the other three commercials are fine. The John Malkovich Squarespace commercial is cute and funny. And I also really like the Ad Council’s “We Are America” spot featuring John Cena. I think those two commercials were perfectly cast, with the right famous lead actors for the jobs. My personal favorite would have to be the John Cena spot, just because I think it’s a great, well-written, thoughtful message in a simple package, and John Cena (considering his base) was brave to participate in the commercial. However, Ad Council’s other nominated commercial, “Love Cam,” and all its tearjerking glory, would be a worthy understudy for the podium.

The Best of Children’s Television Not Represented at this Year’s Emmys

anne with an e

Yep. The article is the title. You’re welcome.

OK, seriously, I’ll go further. Last Thursday, the nominations for the 2017 Primetime Emmys were released. Obviously, like any other year, there were varied reactions. While many people celebrated the diversity among the acting nominees, others were, of course, upset that their favorites (The LeftoversInsecure) weren’t nominated. And then there’s me, who went straight to the Children’s Program category and, for the second year in a row, felt utter disdain for the nomination list.

The nominations for Children’s Program somehow manage to lower the bar further than last year’s list. Let’s go through them, shall we? Girl Meets World (although this third and final season wasn’t as strong as the first two) deserved its nomination. As did School of Rock. I expected those two shows to get nominated again this year. However, I was hoping the other three spots would really represent what kids are watching and genuinely quality programming. That is not the case. The voters opted for an NBC airing of the Thanksgiving Parade. A parade. OK, a “90th Celebration” of a parade, but a parade nonetheless. Sesame Street received a nod for its Christmas Special. Somehow, HBO found some weird loophole that allowed Sesame Street to compete; but, unless something changed recently, a show cannot compete at both the Daytime and Primetime Emmys. And Sesame Street definitely competed at the Daytime awards this year. I know I know, “Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas” was probably billed as a “special,” but it’s not much different from a regular episode. There are just maybe more celebrity guests than usual. But, still, this nomination is a disservice to actual primetime programming and the streaming shows that have exclusively chosen to compete at the Primetime Emmys.

Here’s a fun fact I learned from the “How an Emmy is Won” info-graphic posted on the official Emmys website: All 22,000+ members of the Academy can vote for the nominees of all the “Program” categories, that includes “Children’s Program.” Now, I’m assuming, many voters choose to opt out of voting in the Children’s Program category because they either don’t care, or don’t feel they know enough about the programs to vote for them. I’m sure there are some voters who are genuinely invested in Children’s programming and vote earnestly in the category. But, based off these nominees, I’m gonna guess that the majority of voters looked through the ballot, thought “Oh Star Wars! My grandniece loves that movie!” And voted for Star Wars Rebels. I know the show is very popular, but this is a baffling choice, mostly because, generally, animated shows compete in the Animation category, even the children ones. Why did the producers decide to compete the show in this category? Because they knew that voters cared so little about this category that that they could get away with (frankly) category fraud.

So these are our Children’s Program nominees. And, maybe this sounds selfish, but I am entitled to my opinion, and I think this overall list is massively disappointing. This category has always been wonky. But, I feel like the 2016-2017 season did children’s television better than last year…so why are the nominees worse? Why do voters refuse to acknowledge genuinely great, emotional and inventive television, and instead nominate a freaking parade? Let me go through the snubs. 1.) Amazon. Amazon has given us a lot of great children’s programming these last couple of years. The American Girl specials, at less than one hour each, are clear throwbacks to the days of Afterschool specials. And one of them (particularly DGA winner Melody 1963: Love Has to Win) should have been nominated. Along with Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, which I hope will be better appreciated in the future, because it’s truly one of the best children’s series in the history of the medium, but was sadly ignored by both the Daytime and Primetime Emmys at one point. Amazon submitted a couple other really great series for consideration. The fact that Amazon is absent from this category is a shame.

Netflix’s absence from the Children’s Program category is also bad, to put it bluntly. Back in the mid 1980’s, Kevin Sullivan’s landmark Anne of Green Gables won in this category. More than three decades later, Moira Walley-Becket’s wonderful interpretation of the story, despite unanimously positive reviews, is skunked. Goodness. If lazy voters are going to name check, they at least could have name checked “Anne of Green Gables.” And it’s just a shame that Degrassi is pretty much off the Emmy radar without ever winning in this category. They should have won seven years ago when they submitted the Peabody award winning episode “My Body is a Cage,” but they were beaten by an HBO special where famous people recorded themselves reading poetry during their off times so I don’t know why I ever have faith in this category!

And then there’s Andi Mack‘s snub. Look, I admit, my top choices are from streaming platforms, and maybe they’re a bit niche-y. But Andi Mack is a genuine hit. Good ratings, strong Twitter presence, a lot of buzz, especially concerning the big twist that’s revealed during the pilot episode. Why was it left off? I guess it doesn’t benefit from being part of a multi-billion dollar franchise.

Overall, youth media was underrepresented at this year’s Emmys. As problematic as the show was, teen drama 13 Reasons Why struck a chord with many young fans, yet received 0 nominations. If this show aired on ABC and it was the 1987, the show would have dominated. But, in the era “peak TV,” there is no room for teen dramatic television. Other shows received a few nominations here and there. Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love received a surprise nomination for Best Television Movie. I didn’t like this installment of the film series as much as the first one, but I’ll take it! KC Undercover received a nod for Cinematography. Kiddie versions of Masterchef and So You Think You Can Dance also received nominations. The only genuine victories for youth media came from NBC’s airing of Hairspray (the first NBC live musical to receive a nomination for Special Class Program since Sound of Music) and Stranger Things (which, among many others, received nods for Drama Series and for its young star Millie Bobby Brown). This is Us also received a lot of nominations. It’s a great show that’s appropriate enough for the family, but, in my opinion, it’s not a “family drama” in the same vein of 7th Heaven or The Fosters, because the young characters don’t have as much agency and as big of a presence. They’re just cute little tykes that primarily serve to further the story lines of the adult characters.

A Series of Unfortunate Events, even though the show is clearly aimed towards children, was not submitted for consideration in the Children’s category. It was submitted as a Comedy Series.* Maybe the producers thought Neil Patrick Harris was a big enough star to get away with it. I’ve thought since the ballots were released that this was a huge mistake. It’s a Children’s series! But producers, and the voting body as a whole, do not take the category seriously. It’s seen as a “lesser category,” because children’s television isn’t taken seriously, because young people aren’t allowed to experience quality television, which is why “peak TV” does not include or consider children’s programming, and which is why a parade and an extra long episode of a daytime preschool series and an animated show are included in the Children’s Program category.

*(A Series of Unfortunate Events only received one nomination for music composition, which is crazy because it’s one of the most visually stunning shows of the season. If the movie from 13 years ago can get 4 Oscar nominations, then I don’t understand why the more the faithful series can only manage one Emmy nomination. What an oversight!)

This long is rant just confirms what I’ve always believed should be the case: there should be a separate Emmys for Children’s Programming. A “Children’s Emmy.” We have Emmys for Sports programming, for news programming (local and national), even for International shows (aka, the International Emmys). I think another type of Emmys should be created exclusively for Children’s programming, where the best directing, writing, producing, performances, and other technical crafts associated with children’s television are awarded. The Primetime Emmys only devote one category for Children’s television. The Daytime Emmys are better, they actually have separate categories for direction and writing, even a category for Best Performance in a Children’s Series. They even had those categories for “Children’s Specials” (TV Movies), before daytime children’s specials became extinct by the mid 2000’s and those categories were retired. This sort of arrangement made sense for a while, because during the 80’s and 90’s, most television for children played during the daytime, mornings for preschoolers, and after school for young adults. Nowadays, there are as many (if not more) children’s television shows playing in primetime as there are in the daytime. And with so much children’s programming premiering on streaming platforms, the line between daytime and primetime is getting blurrier. And, now, since Sesame Street is allowed to compete at both awards, is it really worth attempting to split children shows by daytime and primetime?

All the “children’s” categories from both the Daytime and Primetime Emmys should be removed and a new Emmy group for Children’s television should honor all the children’s shows airing jointly. Of course, there would be multiple categories: Outstanding Preschool Show, Outstanding Children’s Series, Outstanding Teen/Youth Series, Outstanding Animated Series, Outstanding Non-Fiction Program, Outstanding Special. Categories that honor direction, writing, performance, and creative arts would also be recognized. Voters would actually be professionals who work in children’s television, or at least have enough passion for it to take the voting seriously.

Youth media is special. It’s different from adult television. It deserves to be considered and recognized, not pushed aside and forgotten in the “Creative Arts Awards.” Having a separate Emmys for Children’s television would allow producers of programs like A Series of Unfortunate Events, one of the DCOMs, or any the programs on Freeform to submit for these awards, because the shows would actually be given a fair shot. Generally, a show nominated in “Children’s Program” aren’t nominated elsewhere, in any of the other categories. A Children’s Emmy would actually allow the technical achievements of children’s series to be considered and recognized. Because, frankly, Anne with an E, had some of the best cinematography and editing of the season…but as a “kiddie show,” it will barely be given a look by voters who have a hard enough time keeping up with the adult series.

Until this actually happens, or until there’s some overhaul as to how how nominees are chosen, I can’t help but believe that the Directors Guild and Writers Guild awards more accurately represent the best in children’s television than the Primetime Emmys. In all other cases, the Primetime Emmys would be the hallmark, the glass ceiling, of quality television. But, when it comes to youth programming, I don’t think the Primetime Emmys have much authority anymore. They blew it this year. Maybe next year will be better, but I won’t hold my breath.