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.

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

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 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 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.

20 Best The Wonder Years Episodes (The Half Hour Drama)

wonder years

If someone put a gun to my head and asked, “Which country produces better youth television content: Canada or the United States?” I’d quickly and confidently say, “Canada.” Did I mention that this gun is a super soaker? This is not a hard question, people! In terms of television as a whole, United States has the budget and support and audience to call itself the best in the world. Unfortunately (although the situation is getting better) with all those resources, American television producers still give youth media the short end of the stick (…or whatever the expression is). For some reason, Canadian youth television (although past its peak) is more willing to take risks, be bold, and provocative than its Southern neighbors.

I think the biggest reason Canadian television does children’s television better is because of their commitment to the “half hour drama.” Although these shows are usually targeted towards teens, the length of the episodes and easy to digest plot lines allow them to appeal to younger audiences. I was ten when I first watched and enjoyed Canada’s ultimate half hour drama, Degrassi, and it took me about a decade before I realized that I was probably out of the show’s demographic and “too old” to obsess over it like I used to (although I still never miss an episode). Along with all the incarnations Degrassi, Canada has produced a multitude of critically acclaimed half hour dramas, like Edgemont (which starred Kristin Kreuk and Dominic Zamprogna), renegadepress.com (which featured Tatiana Maslany), Ready or NotStraight Up, and Madison (the latter two are impossible to find and I have not personally watched them, unfortunately), and even Hillside, which aired on Nickelodeon as Fifteen, but was still very much Canadian. These weren’t teen sitcoms like Saved by the Bell; they weren’t speculative like the otherwise beloved So Weird, and they weren’t 44 minutes like popular American teen dramas like 90210 and The OC. Those hour long dramas, although had/have their merits, sometimes can alienate younger viewers who are still trying to transition from That’s So Raven to “That’s so Real.”

That’s why I wish half hour dramas had become more of a standard in the United States. Currently, we have the Saturday morning show The Inspectors, Disney’s Andi Mack, and, although speculative, Gortimer Gibbon‘s was the most real children’s series of 2016. I think streaming giants like Amazon and Netflix are, at least, making an effort to produce more dramatic television for children. And Disney, still recovering from the rise and fall of Girl Meets World, seems to not want to appease the “One Million Moms” crowd so much anymore, and put all their eggs in the “Andi Mack basket.” I do consider Andi Mack to be a drama, because, right now, it doesn’t seem like the show is trying to be funny. It’s more focused on setting the scene, telling the story, and creating new twists. But the humor is even softer than that of the show’s spiritual older sister, Lizzie McGuire.

Still, we could be doing more to commit to the half hour drama. With adult dramas like, Girls, Transparent, Divorce, and Mozart in the Jungle seem to be doing, at least, mildly well, it’s clear that audiences want dramatic shows where they can be really invested in the characters, without having to commit 1/24 of their day’s time to do it. And that can also apply to young audiences as well.

However, there was one popular half hour drama that appealed to teens that the United States produced. And that was The Wonder Years. The show lasted for six years from 1988 to 1993. Set during the Vietnam War, the show follows Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage), and his suburban middle class life with his dorky best friend, Paul, his childhood crush, Winnie, his hippie older sister Karen, his hip breaker older brother, Wayne, and his housewife mother Norma, and his overworked grumpy father, Jack. The show was mostly told through Kevin’s point of view, with an older Kevin peppering the show with voice over narration. The show follows Kevin from 7th grade through high school.

For the purposes of awards, the show was considered a “Comedy.” In fact, it won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series for its first season. And the show aired on primetime on ABC, so it wasn’t exclusively targeted towards young people. It was for families. I suppose the adults who watched the show focused on the cringe humor, and it allowed them to look back at their own similarly awkward childhoods. However, for the kids who watched The Wonder Years, whether during the late eighties, or later when the show was rerun on syndication, this show was sometimes too real for it to be too funny. In fact, it was our first exposure to dramatic television. We’re drawn in because the show has a kid protagonist and the stories are told from a young person’s perspective. But we can relate to it the same way that adults can relate to hour long dramatic programming. So, yes, I can be generous and call The Wonder Years one of America’s few “half hour drama” triumphs.

Now that I am finished with my little soapbox, I can actually get to the main point of this article which is to rank the 20 best, most memorable episodes of The Wonder Years, out of the 115 that were produced. The Wonder Years is truly one of my favorite shows of all time, and, especially since it was a “period” piece, it’s a show that will probably never get dated, and die. It’s a show that proves that regardless of whether it is 1970 or 2017, the problems and issues that teens go through in all eras are universal and relatable for all audiences. It’s a show that I plan on showing my kids, when I get some of course! And there are some episodes that are perfect, little nuggets of art. If this show was an hour, many of the story lines and resolutions would have been drawn out. The half-hour length allows us go back and easily revisit our favorite episodes and moments. There is currently no show on American television that is quite like The Wonder Years. ABC does have “look back” shows like The Goldbergs and, to a lesser extent, Fresh off the Boat. Both shows are great, but they’re too comedic and broad for it to truly be a real successor to The Wonder YearsThe Wonder Years was made during a time when networks still cared about dramatic content for young people. Even though the cancellation was premature, I’m glad we have six seasons of this gem. Now, let’s quickly go through this list, starting from the bottom and going up!

20. Separate Rooms (season 4): With Karen out college, Kevin and Wayne squabble over who gets Karen’s room. A classic sitcom premise that, like most episodes, ends with a lot of emotion and a lot of heart.

19. Carnal Knowledge (season 5): In the midst of trying to sneak into an R-rated movie, Paul reveals he lost his virginity, making Kevin very jealous. Paul and Kevin’s friendship is one of the most memorable facets of the series, but this is the episode where their innocent relationship, built on mutual nerdiness, begins to change.

18. Walkout (season 2): Kevin and his peers decide to plan a walkout to protest the Vietnam War and our involvement. Imagine if something like this (in the context of the wars we’re currently involved in or, even more controversial, BLM) aired today!

17. Mom Wars (season 3): Kevin and his mother butt heads over him playing tackle football with his friends. This might be the first full episode of the show I ever watched, so I might just have a sweet spot for it!

16. Daddy’s Little Girl (season 3): Karen and her father also butt heads; this time over her plans for after high school. This won’t be their last fight on the show, but it shows that, no matter how bad things get, Mr. Arnold will always support and love his daughter.

15. Private Butthead (season 5)/14. Homecoming (season 6): The Wonder Years is one of those shows that did a really honest and thoughtful job of telling stories related to the Vietnam War. And there are definitely more on this list. These two episodes, in particular, are truly heartbreaking. The first episode revolves around Wayne deciding to enlist in the Army, against his father’s wishes. While he is unable to pass the physical, his friend, Wart, does, and is shipped to Vietnam two months later. In the next episode, the season premiere, Wart comes back, clearly suffering from PTSD. It is at this moment, Wayne has to realize that his friend has changed, and has to offer support any way he can.

13. Independence Day (season 6): If The Wonder Years had to get cancelled, at least it got to end with such an emotional and memorable finale. And this finale is truly one of the best in television history, particularly the final 5 minutes where voice over Kevin reveals the fates of all the characters, most notably the fact that he and Winnie don’t end up together (and that his stay-at-home mother becomes a successful businesswoman. Go women’s lib!)

12. Pilot (season 1): The show not only had one of the greatest series finales ever, it also had one of the greatest pilots. Very few series come out of the gate so perfect; The Sopranos and Breaking Bad and Freaks and Geeks and Cheers are other notable examples. Most other series have understandably dusty premieres. But The Wonder Years achieved the impossible. In this episode, Winnie and Kevin share their first kiss after it is found out that Winnie’s brother died in Vietnam.

11. The House That Jack Built (season 4): This is also the episode that built David Schwimmer. Anyway, in this episode, Karen reveals that she has a live-in boyfriend, angering her father, and severing their relationship, forever (well at least for half a season).

10. Square Dance (season 2): This is one of those “too real” episodes for me. Kevin befriends the school’s resident weirdo, Margaret. However, not wanting to be made fun of by his peers, he breaks off their friendship. The episode reveals that Margaret grows up to become very successful, professionally and personally. This episode beautifully confirms two things: 1.) High school is only “for now,” and who you’re branded as in school doesn’t have to be carried with you for the rest of your life. And 2.) The best revenge is your success. And, it’s comforting that this show is not afraid of unambiguous endings, because what makes this episode truly a treat is that, in the end of it all, Margaret gets her own last laugh.

9. Glee Club (season 3): I believe this must be the second episode I ever watched, so I also have a sweet spot for it. Also, this episode is the best case for the show being considered a comedy, since it’s definitely the most hilarious of the series. The title itself says it all. It’s about a disastrous school glee club led by the overly optimistic Miss Haycock.

8. Good-Bye (season 3): We’re approaching the “classic episodes” portion of this list, and this is certainly one of the most memorable. It involves Kevin’s relationship with his strict math teacher, Mr. Collins, before Mr. Collins unexpectedly (well, to everyone but Mr. Collins himself) passes away from a heart condition. Kevin gains perspective into Collins, his relationship with his teacher, and his own academic success. Be nice to teachers, because most of them really do care.

7. Poker (season 6): Remember earlier when I said Kevin and Paul’s friendship changes over the course of the series? Well, this is the episode that most explicitly acknowledges this. Something strange happens in season 6. Paul appears in only half the episodes, while Kevin spends most of his time with another friend, Jeff. In this episode, during poker night with a few other friends, Kevin and Paul come to the realization that they’ve changed, and so has their friendship. It’s a “half-goodbye” since they’ll always care for each other and be friends. It’s a sad episode, especially considering this is the final season, and the last time the two appear together until the finale, but it’s also very real, since I’ve lost contact with many of my friends from highschool, even in this connected, social media world.

6. The Accident (season 4): Winnie and Kevin was such a saga, and it reaches its peak in this episode. The two still not on speaking terms after an earlier fight, Winnie gets into a car crash. Kevin secretly visits a bandaged Winnie in her room (through the window, outside), where they tearfully mouth “I love you” to each other. I dare you to find a better use of “We’ve Got Tonight.”

5. Brightwing (season 2): In this episode, one of the rare Karen/Kevin storylines, Kevin discovers that her sister has been skipping school to hang out with other “hippies.” Kevin soon starts joining them, worried that they’ll soon get caught. Although Karen wishes to be free and independent, especially from her iron father, she gets a dose of reality when she tries to run away from home. As a younger brother to an older sister myself, that dilemma between wanting to be the cool little brother and doing the right thing hits close to home.

4. Pottery Will Get You Nowhere (season 2): Norma and Jack confront each other over how little they feel the other appreciates his/her work for the family. The scene with the their three kids silently listening to them argue in the other room is one of those moments that stays in your head every time you even think of the show.

3. Our Miss White (season 2): The show centered on a white family in a mostly white community in California, so it couldn’t logistically do a lot with the Civil Rights movement. However, I think this episode, although isn’t the most raw depiction of Civil Rights on television, really does a nice job of showing the main character’s honest feelings and reaction to the subject. The main plot of the episode is Kevin’s infatuation with his English/Drama teacher. However, the ending, which is set during a performance the class gives on the Civil Rights movement and important figures during the time (MLK, Kennedy), really puts Kevin’s feelings over his teacher and this play she wrote and this whole Movement into perspective. He was too young to fully understand the Civil Rights Movement, but seeing how much passion his teacher had for the subject helped him gain further understanding of the world he was living in.

2. Angel (season 1): Season 2 was probably the show’s peak, but the abridged first season gave us the show’s two finest moments. First is “Angel” which is centered around Karen bringing her new boyfriend Louis (played by John Corbett) over for dinner. During that scene, Louis gets in a really heated argument with Jack over the Vietnam War, with Louis being a pacifist, while Jack believing that his anti-war thoughts are un-American. It’s the sort back-and-forth we still have today. Somehow, being anti-war is equivalent to being anti-vet or not “patriotic” enough. But, at least in this specific instance, one can take both arguments seriously, and realize they both come from a place of shared pain and fear. In the end, Louis reveals that he is 1.) being drafted, and 2.) cheating on Karen, thus we never see him again after this episode. For some reason, maybe because she appears the least out of all the other main characters, Karen episodes seem extra special and emotional, particularly because they involve Jack, one of the most complicated TV dads. I am writing this post on Memorial Day, and this episode makes me realize that even though the threat of being drafted is so far removed, our discourse on war still remains complicated and ideologically mixed.

1. My Father’s Office (season 1): Yeah, Mr. Arnold really is one of the most complicated fathers on TV. He’s not a smarmy know-it-all like Dr. Huxtable, but he’s also not a complete dunce like Archie Bunker. He is not particularly likable, but we, as an audience, sympathize with him anyway. And this episode is probably the biggest reason why. When Kevin finally visits his father’s work, Kevin finally learns why his father is always in such a grouchy mood. While he rules his home with an iron fist, he has very little power in his actual workplace. Does this excuse his behavior with his family? I mean, I wouldn’t say Mr. Arnold was particularly abusive. He’s, for the most part, a good, caring father. But if you feel the father was too mean to his wife and children, then I don’t think this episode completely absolves him. It just allows us to see another side of him. Like a lot of people, I never visited my parents’ workplace. I never got to see that side of them. I wish I had, because maybe I’d get that second layer of my parents’ psyche that Kevin gained with his father. This episode is wonderful, and probably the best case for the show being only half an hour. All the power and urgency, yet simplicity, would have been sucked dry with a longer run time. This episode, like all the episodes on this list, and all the other episodes that didn’t make it, are a perfect slice of Americana, all through the eyes of a teenager. This is why The Wonder Years is one of the best youth series the United States has ever produced.

 

Adaptation Studies: We Were the Mulvaneys (+ Emmy Flashback 2002)

mulvaneyThis is a post I’ve wanted to write for a long while. This is kinda nerdy, but I am fascinated by adaptations, particularly from book to film. I know many people have strong opinions regarding certain film adaptations. “The book is better” has become the unofficial mantra for most bibliophiles. Personally, when I approach an adaptation, I try to appreciate what the screenwriter (many times the author himself…with the help of a dozen film and studio executives) was trying to convey, even, if some of the details from the book are different or entirely removed. I understand that it can be tough to fit even the shortest novels into a two hour film (which is why, honestly, most books should be adapted into miniseries but that’s another discussion for another time). It’s also easier for me to accept an adaptation if I haven’t read the book. That might have been the case with We Were the Mulvaneys.

As someone who enjoys watching made-for-television movies, particularly ones for or about the family, I stumbled across the movie We Were the Mulvaneys about a couple years ago on Youtube. The movie first aired on Lifetime in 2002. It stars Blythe Danner and Beau Bridges. In short, the movie is about a happy wealthy, prominent upstate New York family who is pretty much torn to shreds when the daughter, Marianne (played by Tammy Blanchard) is raped after a high school dance. Despite the fact that Marianne refuses to press charges (because she claims she cannot bear false witness since she was drunk and does not exactly remember all the details from that night), the town still shuns the Mulvaneys, and they practically become social outcasts.  From then on, the members of the family, which also includes three brothers, slowly break away from each other. The father, having become depressed, alcoholic and unemployed, dies at the very end of the movie. However, it’s his death that brings the rest of the family together after years of being apart.

The storyline, performances, and music score all drew me in. I thought the movie was wonderful. I still think that, even after reading the original book by Joyce Carol Oates. However, even when I first watched the movie, it was obvious that certain plot elements and story lines were either condensed or cut. It’s a very swift movie, where there aren’t many scenes or moments that are really given the time to breathe. It’s obvious why that is. The movie is 90 minutes, without commercials. The book is about 450 pages. The somewhat choppiness of the movie was, obviously, made more clear to me when I actually decided to read the book, since I was captivated with the story in the first place. And, again, while the movie is my go-to destination for an easy overdue cry, after two reads, the book has become one of my absolute faves.

So what are the differences between the book and the movie? The truth is, the movie is really just a Cliffnotes version of the book. From my perspective, the movie is technically “faithful” to the movie. All the supposedly major landmarks of the book are, at least, mentioned or even portrayed in the movie. The book is narrated by the youngest member of the Mulvaney family, Judd. While most of the action in the book takes place while Judd is a child to young adult, the narration itself is from when Judd is an adult, recalling the past. The movie has a similar set up; it is narrated by Judd, but the young actor who plays Judd (Tom Guiry) is also the narrator, so there’s very little sense of time passing between the action and the telling of the story. The book is split into four massive parts, plus an epilogue. Those parts are, in one way or another, represented in the movie. The movie is simply a condensed version of the story. If you want the basic story, but can’t read 400+ pages of black ink text, then clearly the movie is for you.

But, if you don’t read the book, in my opinion, you’re missing so much. I’m not usually a huge fan of overly descriptive writing. Just tell me the story without all the flourish and clever wordplay and oh-so impressive metaphors. And Oates’s writing in this book pretty much fits into that category. And, to be frank, if this book is 450 pages, I still think, like, fifty pages could have been cut. But, for the most part, I appreciate all the attention to detail here, because I feel like I could simply melt into this story. We get such rich descriptions of this family, their personality, their routine, their rituals, their farm estate, and really the town as a whole where they lived comfortably for so long. The book is set in the 70’s, but the story feels modern because 1.) rape culture and victim blaming is still thing in 2017, and 2.) because Oates doesn’t simply depend on cultural references and easy callbacks to set her scene. The writing is just so rich.

But I think the biggest difference between the book and the movie is that, in my opinion, while the movie centered on the rape, the book, while the rape plays a big central part because it is the catalyst that causes the family to break apart, at the end of the day, is centered on the family, and Judd’s complicated relationship with each member of his family, particularly his older brother Patrick. Both book and movie end with a family reunion. However, one of the final “non-montage-y” scenes in the movie is a very emotional scene between mother and daughter, as mother apologizes to Corinne for how she responded to her rape, and the daughter forgiving her back. That scene is sweet…but we don’t really get anything like that in the book. The truth is, both the book and movie seem to be a “What Not to do when a member of your family gets raped” manual. Because how Marianne is treated by the town and, most regrettably, her family is almost unforgivable. Each member (save for Judd, who is too young to fully understand what exactly is going on) really thinks of himself before considering Marianne’s feelings or needs. Because Marianne refuses to testify (which is very unfortunate, but, ultimately, her right), her father cannot even bear the sight of her. Thus, Mrs. Mulvaney sends Marianne away, and builds a tall brick wall between her and the rest of the family. Marianne’s life spirals downwards before she is able to come to terms with her troubles on her own.

So, yes, the movie gives us a nice succinct scene where, after the father’s death, Mrs. Mulvaney is able to try to explain her choices and show some regret for her actions. And, maybe, the audience is able to find the justification for Marianne coming back to the family that shunned her. However, the book isn’t that easy. And as I was reading the book, I felt like I was waiting for that scene between mother and daughter…but it never really came, at least not as explicitly as the movie. And, at first, it was almost disappointing, because Marianne never got to truly express herself to her family. She doesn’t even really forgive her family…because, in her eyes, there’s nothing to forgive. Sweet Marianne, who always puts everyone else’s feelings before her own. It’s weirdly upsetting.

But, I came to realize that the main character in the book isn’t Marianne. It’s Judd. And Judd is telling his own story. And even if he acts as an omniscient narrator for the bulk of the book, recounting many scenes where he isn’t in the room, the story is still about him. He just didn’t have the same direct hardships as some of the other members of his family, so his story, voice, feelings are almost muted. But the very last scene in the book, is one between him and Patrick. I don’t want to get too into plot points here, but at the climax of the novel, Judd almost risks his life, his future, for his brother. Patrick returns the favor by abandoning Judd for almost fifteen years. The book ends with the two brothers, reunited, with Judd still feeling resentment for his absent brother, someone he had always looked up to. He realizes that some day, in the future, they’ll have to talk about why Patrick abandoned him. But, for how, Judd is just glad to see Patrick have that same face he had…when they were the Mulvaneys.

The book has a rape. The book spends a lot of time on that rape. But I don’t think it’s a book about rape. I think the story is more about a crumbling family from the eyes of its youngest member, who only got to experience a handful of years when the Mulvaneys were “happy” before, well, sh#t hit the fan. A ninety minute movie on a network that’s known for its “problem child” or “women in peril” movies just can’t fully convey that. Director Peter Werner and the screenwriters try, but, with the time constraints (and audience consideration), they can’t truly convey what the book is wholly about.

We Were the Mulvaneys the book was first released in 1996, to good reviews. However, the book certainly didn’t receive the awards and buzz that some other Oates novels had received, particularly with the Pulitzers and National Book Awards. It wasn’t until January of 2001, when it became an Oprah Book Club pick, that the book sales soared and it became a bestseller. The Oprah endorsement is most likely the catalyst that led to the TV movie adaptation being produced for Lifetime.

The movie starred Bridges and Danner as the parents, Michael Sr. and Corinne, with Jacob Pitts and Mark Famiglietti as their two older sons, Patrick and Mike Jr. The movie received three Emmy nominations in 2002. Both Beau Bridges and Blythe Danner received Emmy nominations for Lead Actor and Lead Actress respectively. In the Lead Actor side, Bridges competed against James Franco (James Dean), Michael Gambon (Path to War), and Kenneth Branagh (Shackleton), with Albert Finney winning for his portrayal as Winston Churchill in The Gathering Storm. Besides Mulvaneys, it’s been a little while since I’ve watched all these movies. The only performance that remains memorable and stands out is James Franco’s. Bridge’s program was the only one in the category to not get a nomination for Best Movie or Best Miniseries.

Danner, on the other hand, receiving her first Emmy nomination before she’d win a couple for the TV series Huff, lost in her category to Laura Linney for her emotional and explosive performance in Wild Iris, about a single mother who struggles to raise her son after her husband had committed suicide. Angela Bassett for The Rosa Parks Story, Vanessa Redgrave as Clementine Churchill, and Linney’s on-screen mother Gena Rowlands were also nominated. I don’t think Bridges and Danner were technically my top choices for their respective categories, but I certainly think they were deserving of their nominations.

In fact, I wish the movie had received more. Multiple Emmy award winning composer Patrick Williams (who also received an Oscar nomination for one of the greatest sports films of all times, Breaking Away), received his last Emmy nomination for his work in the movie. However, I certainly would have also given a nomination to Tammy Blanchard as the distraught abused daughter, Marianne, and, despite its faults, the movie as a whole. I just think this is the kind of quality, dramatic family made-for-television movie that are rarely made anymore (unless it’s some overly sentimental faith-based movie for Uptv.) It’s the kind of the movie that can bring me to tears and give me hope and inspiration all at the same time. It’s truly one of my favorite TV movies of all time.

Like I mentioned earlier, I think most books should be turned into miniseries. And, if by some miracle, the novel is adapted into a longer, deeper limited series that really gets to all the crevices of the original story, then that would be wonderful. Maybe Oprah can give the book another shout out so it can land on the Best seller’s list again. Maybe some executive from HBO or Netflix can bring the story back to life again. But, hey, I’m already satisfied with the book itself and the Cliffnotes movie that we got!

 

Road to Avonlea Review: Hearth and Home

kay tremblay

Episode Summary: Janet’s Aunt Eliza unexpectedly comes to Avonlea for a visit (maybe a month. Maybe 2). However, her controlling and stuck-up ways start to get under Janet’s skin. One night, when Aunt Eliza overhears Janet talk to Alec about this, Eliza decides to leave, despite it being a very cold winter. When Janet finds her, the two forgive each other and begin anew. Meanwhile, Sara and Felix use light bulbs they find in Jasper’s mail, in order to warm the barn to save a few newborn lambs.

Directed by Otta Hanus, Written by Deborah Nathan, Music by John Welsman

My Grade: Although I think “Home Movie” would have made a stronger statement as a season finale, “Hearth and Home” is still a very nice episode in its own right. The last scene is especially nice, seeing new technology (light bulbs) not only save lives of animals, but also heat up the family is great. I’m sure I could come up with some really thoughtful, profound metaphor or something but…you get the idea. Light indicates new hope. Light bulbs indicate new insight and understanding. And that last scene is a symbol of light, warmth, hope, and further understanding. See? I did it, sortof. Anyway, I think the problem with this episode is that it’s a bit plotless and lacks focus. But as a showcase for the Great Aunt Eliza character, it works, since she has a meaningful scene with at least every member of the King family (except Cecily…#poorCecily). (A-)

avonlea hearth and home

Spotlight Performance: Speaking of showcase, this is of course a nice showcase for Kay Tremblay, who plays the role of Eliza. She’s played the role since the beginning of season two and will continue to play the role in a recurring status until the Christmas reunion movie. Although she was born in Scotland, she’s pretty much mostly had a career in Canadian television and film. She died in 2005. She’s mostly remembered for her role on Avonlea, but she also received recognition for a recurring role on Night Heat. And guest starred on many youth television programs, including Are You Afraid of the Dark, Goosebumps, X-Men, Santa Who?, and a very crucial guest role in Kevin Sullivan’s other series Wind at My Back (which I hope I’ll get to before I turn 30!)

Favorite Scene: So, this episode was scored by John Welsman. I’ve obviously written at length about Welsman’s music and his contribution to this show. It goes without saying that some of the best motifs for this show was composed by Welsman (which is why it’s frustrating that there isn’t really an effective, appropriate soundtrack for this show. I mean, there are a couple but…they’re unsatisfying, one is only available if you purchase the season 6 DVD). However, after season 4, although we hear Welsman’s music until literally the final episode of the series, there’s sort a shift. The other major scorer for the series Don Gillis starts to have a significantly larger presence. That means this season 4 finale is the last time the ending credits are scored with “The King Family” motif. It was probably the show’s most prominent motif for the first four seasons. It’s springy, it’s royal, it’s lively, it’s fancy, it’s sprightly. It’s the kind of score that reminds you of home, but could have probably been played during a fancy dinner on the Titanic. It was first using in “Felicity’s Challenge” in season 1. And then it was used again for the season one finale. And then it almost became the standard closing score for the two seasons afterwards. So, what I’m trying to get at, the very last scene, where Mr. Pettibone and Alec are carrying a now warm Aunt Eliza out of the barn, with Hetty and Janet happily following to the end credits score we’ll never hear again after this…is my favorite scene of the episode.

avonlea kids

Final Thoughts: So, this is the end of season 4. It took me over a year to finish this season but…I finally got it done! And I’m definitely going to continue on…it’s just going to take a while. Thank you to everyone who has been subscribing and reading these posts. Doing something like this is actually kind of difficult. Writing a review can take a chunk of time, believe it or not. The guys at AV Club make it look so easy (although that is their full time job.. I have another full time job that pays the bills so I don’t always have a lot of time to blog).

Is there anything more to say about the season as a whole? Season four is a season that doesn’t have any “bad” episodes. No episode received lower than a B-. But…there are a lot of mediocre “hotel episodes.” But for every hotel episode, there’s a quality episode that shows Felicity, Sara, Gus, and Felix growing up. And I think that’s what makes season four so memorable. It’s a linking season. The first three seasons show the wonder and excitement of childhood. However, the next three seasons after season 4 are more dramatic, and have the characters going their separate ways (Sara to France. Felicity to school. Gus to a sailing expedition. Cecily to a sanitorium.) The show will not be the same after this season. Sara will have a much smaller role (and that will certainly be discussed at length during my reviews of season 5). New characters will come into play (after a season long absence, Davey will sort of come in like a wrecking ball). Older characters will confront their imminent mortality. Some fans do not like these changes. Some fans even claim the show “jumps the shark” after “Memento Mori.” Hogwash, I say! The show is just changing (I mean, I would have preferred Sara staying but, she is literally one of a dozen interesting main characters on the show). The times are changing. And I think the next few seasons, for the most part, do a nice job of showcasing that.

2017 Guild Awards Honor Children’s Television

gortimer gibbons

It’s awards season! In terms of literature, the Youth Media Awards just announced the best YA books of the year. And the various guild awards, particularly the Writers Guild Awards, the Producers Guild Awards, and the Directors Guild Awards, have respective television categories dedicated to children’s television. The only major Guild award to not have a special category for children’s media is, of course, the relatively bare bones Screen Actors Guild Awards. Let’s take a quick at the nominees for each award group.

Compared to the other guild awards, the PGAs are relatively new at recognizing children’s television. I’m not exactly sure when the separate category for children’s television was inaugurated, but I’m pretty sure the category hasn’t been around for as long as the ones for the WGAs and the DGAs. Last year, I was pretty hard on the group’s nominations. This year, with the inclusion of Girl Meets World and School of Rock, the list is a little more promising although, as we will see, not nearly as exciting as the other two award groups. Rounding out the nominees are last year’s winner Sesame Street, Spongebob Squarepants (a show that’s been around since I was eight, but it is apparently only in its 10th season), and some show called Octonauts, which I’m guessing is about octopus astronauts. Am I right? Am I really correct here? It would be nice to see Girl Meets World get a goodbye hug here, but if the voters are as lazy choosing a winner as they are choosing the nominees, then Sesame Street will most likely win again (can they just have a separate category for preschool shows? How can a show for preschoolers be compared to a show written for the 10-16 age group?)

The WGAs are always a little weird. They have two separate categories: one for regular series and the other for one-off TV specials; however, the latter category has rarely been used the last decade or so. Sometimes, they are no winners or nominees in that category. Last year, the only nominee was Disney’s The Descendants. Presumably, that movie won. This year, however, in the longform category, there are three nominees. This category has not had competitive “nominees” since 2011, and at least three of them since 2009. Oh happy day! The actual nominees themselves are, overall, mediocre, in my opinion, however. Youtube Red’s Dance Camp (the summary of the movie is the title pretty much) would be my pick for the win. However, I think, clearly the Sesame Street Christmas special with the all star celebrity cast has the best chance at winning. Daytime Emmy winner RL Stine’s Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls rounds out the nominees.

The WGAs also have a children’s television category for episodes of regular series. Last year, the WGAs (rightfully) filled the category with episodes of Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. This year, the show has a chance at repeating with “Mel vs. The Night Mare of Normal Street;” an episode where Mel tries to come to terms with her mother’s death from last season. It is the best overall show in the category, and this episode is most deserving of the win. But, this is a very solid category. Amazon’s other series, Just Add Magic, is nominated for “Just Add Mom,” along with Sesame Street for “Mucko Polo, Grouch Explorer” and Girl Meets World’s “Girl Meets Commonism,” an episode that actually (gasps!) argues against communism. This is Girl Meets World’s third year being nominated here, and it’ll probably be its last (unless voters remember the cancelled show by December of this year). Again, like the PGAs, I could see voters wanting to honor an unrewarded show that’s ending; but, as I’ve learned, industry award voters aren’t usually very sentimental. Again: Mucko Polo, Grouch Explorer is nominated.

The DGAs, like the PGAs, only have one category devoted to Children’s television. Individual series episodes have to compete against TV Movies and Documentaries. When it comes to its nominations, the DGAs usually lean towards the movies. A “DCOM” is always guaranteed a slot. This time around, the channel’s 100th DCOM, Adventures in Babysitting, received a nod for its director John Schultz. He’s probably the favorite to win. Hallmark Channel’s A Nutcracker Christmas received a surprise nod here. I believe this is the first time a Hallmark movie has a received a nomination in this category (at least one that first aired on the channel). A Nutcracker Christmas is about a former ballerina (Amy Ackler) who reluctantly allows the daughter of her deceased sister join a prestigious dance troupe for their annual performance of The Nutcracker. It’s actually a really good family movie and I’m impressed that it got recognized here.

But I hope any one of the other nominees wins. I already wrote about American Girl’s Melody 1963: Love Has to Win. It’s one of the best specials of the year. The script is a bit half baked, but the period drama is certainly shot perfectly. Once again, Gortimer Gibbon’s received a nod here, this time for the season 3 premiere where Gortimer magically becomes skilled in every activity he tries. Every episode of that show has top notch direction that rivals any adult show out there. But…it is a little disappointing that Luke Matheny couldn’t also get a nomination for the touching series finale. But, the DGAs, unlike the WGAs, are pretty strict when it comes to the number of nominees; usually, there are no more than five. And it’s absolutely wonderful that the fifth spot went to the pilot episode of The Kicks, Amazon’s newest high quality children’s series about a struggling soccer team. Overall, I want Gortimer Gibbon’s to win a DGA, but the Amazon programs, as a whole, clearly rule this category. C’mon, voters! Think outside the box for once!

I also want to quickly mention that the Humanitas Prize announced its finalists for their “Live Action” children’s category. Once again, Melody 1963 received a nomination, along with Degrassi’s #TurntUp (an episode that deals with mental health) and Girl Meets World’s “The Forgiveness Project,” which would have been a better representation for its WGA nod. Truly, one of the more emotionally satisfying episodes of the series. Any of these programs could win.

Although, I have to say, it’s very disappointing that the Saturday morning CBS drama The Inspectors was snubbed across the board. Do voters even realize this show exists? That’s the only explanation I can think of for these snubs. At least a writing nod would have been appropriate. Well, hopefully, the Daytime Emmys will come through again!

The winners will be announced at various times. I will update this page when they are.

Top 10 Best TV Specials for/about Youth from 2016 (Also, what is “Youth Media?”)

girl in the river

I have a relatively loose definition of “Youth Media.” Most people would describe it as any book, TV program, movie, music, etc. that’s created for and targeted towards children or teens (like any Newbery winner, Pixar movie, CW teen drama, or Nickelodeon program). Some would expand it to include “family viewing” (like 7th Heaven, the standard Hallmark romcom, or anything related to religion). Some books and their respective film adaptations like The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Secret Life of Bees weren’t originally advertised exclusively for “young people,” but young people, some time down the line, have created a strong connection with these stories. I’d include all those in my own personal definition of youth media…and go even one step further. I think youth media should also include any medium (within reason) that features youth characters, with the intention of offering some sort of profound and educational lesson or insight. So…Endless Love (I’m talking about the wonderful, original book by Scott Spencer), with its graphic sexual details? Youth media. Kids? That movie starring a young Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson with its unflinching, raw look into the AIDS epidemic? The movie that’s NC-17?Youth media. And, frankly, with supervision and guidance, I think it’s a movie that’s still relevant for older teens.

In any case, that opening is my way of preparing you for some of the unexpected choices I have on my list. I watched a lot of TV movies this year, a lot of it targeted towards kids and families. Everything from celebrity filled Sesame Street specials, to the Lifetime movies featuring rebellious daughters. But, frankly, it’s the unexpected choices that really makes me proud of this list, and excited for the future of youth television. We no longer have Afterschool specials anymore. HBO and Showtime no longer produce high quality dramatic content for young people. If you want truly profound television for the youth of America, sometimes you have to find it in unexpected places. So, read this list with an open mind, and realize there’s youth television beyond Disney Channel…

10. The Swap: Speaking of Disney Channel…the cable network, after a marathon featuring DCOMs from a better era, only released two original movies this year, both with record low ratings. One movie was a reboot of a still popular theatrical film from the 80’s. The other was this. The Swap is the better movie of the two, and, to my surprise, one of the best of the year. The storyline is pretty much Freaky Friday, except, this time, it is the girly rhythmic gymnast (Peyton List) who switches places with the stressed sensitive hockey player (Jacob Bertrand). Although the initial premise didn’t draw me in (not exactly original), the TV movie’s exploration into distant parents and high school pressures kept me from switching the dial. That and Naomi Snieckus’s hilarious performance as Coach Carol.

9. He Named Me Malala: This movie had an Oscar qualifying theatrical run before airing on Nat Geo last March. Although the movie failed to nab an Oscar nomination, it was nominated for several Emmys, including one for Davis Guggenheim’s direction. The documentary focuses on teen Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who was gunned down by a member of the Taliban as a result of her activist work promoting education for girls. Although it’s not the most put together documentary, Malala is such a compelling and inspiring figure, that her story is enough for me to recommend this movie. And the animated sequences are gorgeous.

8. American Experience: The Perfect Crime: This PBS documentary discusses the famous murder of a 14 year old in the spring of 1924 by two wealthy, privileged college students: Leopold and Loeb. The two committed the “crime of the century” because…well…just because, really. It’s true that some rich people just think they can get away with anything they want. The documentary discusses their motivations, the buzzy trial, and the implications as a result of the verdict. Ultimately, what made the trial so fascinating is that it shattered the myth that young, rich, white people, with all the potential and opportunities in the world, can’t possibly be monsters inside.

7. Melody 1963: Love Has to Win: Amazon is currently the best producer of children’s television media. Between Gortimer Gibbon’s, Just Add Magic, and The Kicks, there’s no television network, online or traditional, that creates better original children’s series than Amazon. This year, with American Girl (another notable youth media producer), the streaming site essentially produced two dramatic specials, each under an hour (so, “Afterschool special” length). Their Christmas special starring Maryellen (featuring a memorable score by Sasha Gordon) is great in its own right, and is probably number 11 on this list. However, Melody 1963: Love Has to Win, a special starring Blackish’s Marsai Martin about life in Detroit during the Civil Rights Movement, is truly the kind of thing that’s missing from youth media nowadays (I know I am beating a dead horse about this, but still!). It’s not the most groundbreaking children’s special about racism (that title would go to The Color of Friendship thankyouverymuch), but it’s still certainly the kind of media we need in 2017.

6. 30 for 30: Fantastic Lies: There’s a lot I could say about the 2006 Duke lacrosse rape charges (charges that, after an intense court battle, were found to be completely false). Some people would probably find my thoughts on it controversial. So I won’t get into it (OK, I will say that I don’t particularly feel bad for the accused men, there I said it #sorrynotsorry!). But, this documentary is a compelling, fascinating and honest look at college sports culture, our thoroughly flawed American justice system, and our societal need to come to conclusions and get out our pitchforks as quickly as possible. The look into college life, in particular, is essentially what qualifies this ESPN special to make this list.

5. A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness: This short documentary about an eighteen year old Pakistani girl who survives an honor killing by her own father aired on HBO right after it won an Oscar for best Documentary Short. It’s probably the most infuriating thing I watched all last year. USA is not in a great place right now, but at least this isn’t a country where killing your own daughter is not only accepted and nearly revered, but also as close as legal as possible. This girl is almost killed by her father, and literally everyone around her either excuses the act, or justifies it. It’s disgusting and wrong, and it’s one of those cultural norms that I would never accept or normalize. The film’s director, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who also won an earlier Oscar for a film on acid attacks in Pakistan, is simply one of the bravest filmmakers of today; and A Girl in the River is about a young woman who must realize that “honor” trumps love in her father’s eyes.

4. Grease Live!: Like everyone else in America, I came into this program with low expectations. This seemed like FOX’s way of trying to duplicate the success NBC had had with their live musicals. At one point, FOX even seemed to be having trouble finding a semi-high profile cast for the risky project. But, again, like everyone else in America, I was pleasantly surprised by how well this production turned out. The cast was perfect (particularly Keke Palmer, with her sultry rendition of “Freddy My Love”). The live audience, for the most part, actually worked. The sets were gorgeous, particularly the carnival themed final number. But the best thing about this live production was the photography. A part of me still thinks the gym dance scene was pre-shot using single camera. FOX really pushed the limits and changed the game with this production. The next two musicals (neither of them really “live”) FOX attempted afterwards last year were misfires, but hopefully soon they will return back to form and give us another memorable night.

3. Hairspray Live!: Technically, Grease Live! was better directed than NBC’s effort this year (Alex Rudzinski directed the FOX special with Hamilton‘s Thomas Kail, while he also directed the NBC musical with directing genius Kenny Leon); however, the truth is, Hairspray Live! gets more points from me because the original source is better than that of Grease’s. The songs are better. The story is better. The characters and costumes are quirkier. But the production itself is great in its own right. It’s a pleasure actually having Harvey Fierstein’s performance as protective mother Edna preserved on non-bootlegged video (I love John Travolta but this role simply belongs to Fierstein). Jennifer Hudson absolutely murdered “I Know Where I’ve Been.” And while the roles of Velma and Amber Von Tussle usually don’t give the actresses who play the characters much notice or praise, Broadway Quen Kristin Chenoweth and Disney Princess Dove Cameron practically breathed life into the roles. Like the Melody movie, a television special about prejudice in the 1960’s can still teach lessons for a 2016/17 audience.

2. Black Mirror: Shut Up and Dance: Black Mirror is an anthology series that streams on Netflix that features stories, usually metaphorical dystopian parables, centered on technology. This particular episode is unique because, unless I missed something when I first watched it, the story is set in the present and everything that happens in the episode could presumably happen in real life. It’s about a British teenager (The Imitation Game’s Alex Lawther) who is blackmailed into committing random, sometimes illegal, acts, after he is secretly filmed…well, doing something bad. Unless he follows the mysterious hacker’s directions, video of him committing the “bad” act will spread and he will be exposed. Black Mirror is an overall amazing series, but this episode, and the season three premiere “Nosedive” which couldn’t make my list here, are my two favorite episodes of the season. Hopefully the next season will feature another episode starring a young, confused character

1. American Crime (season 2): The first season of American Crime was incredible, but this second season gave me ten of the most thrilling, exciting, thought provoking weeks of watching television I had ever experienced. The second season of this anthology series focuses on a young teen boy (Connor Jessup) who accuses the popular basketball player (Joey Pollari) of raping him. Lili Taylor also gives an amazing, Emmy nominated performance as the young teen boy’s conflicted mother. The season reaches its climax when Jessup’s character obtains a gun and takes it to school, killing one of the members of the basketball team. There’s another plot involving a black principal and his complicated relationship with his racially diverse students. There are simply so many layers to this story. So many great performances. So many issues that are handled expertly, mostly regarding high school life: sex, drugs, rape, sexuality, sports, and depression. In the 80’s and 90’s, Afterschool Specials that covered all these topics, would have been produced by ABC. Those times are unfortunately behind us, but at least the topics can be thoughtfully acknowledged in this anthology series. Whether or not the third season can be considered “youth media,” even by my loose standards, I am still very much looking forward to it, because it is underrated television that will be regarded as landmark television in the years to come.

I mentioned a couple specials already that just missed the cut. I’m thoroughly confident with this top ten, but I am a little surprised that the new Anne of Green Gables (that aired on PBS here in America during Thanksgiving) couldn’t make the cut. The truth is, it’ll be hard for me to fully judge this adaptation until the full story is covered (it looks to me that only the first of three planned movies has aired). Right now, it’s just…no Megan Follows. No Kevin Sullivan. #sorrynotsorry. Although I believe Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day is one of the greatest picture books ever written, the new animated adaptation by Amazon was an unfortunate disappointment for me. (Peter’s excitement for mac and cheese was just…too much…and bordering stereotypical). On the other hand, I was this close to putting A Bad Lip Reading’s Disney approved interpretation of High School Musical on the list…but, as hilarious as I found it, it just didn’t seem right (and there are no proper credits for the special anyway).

Let’s hope this year pushes the limits for youth media even further.