‘I want to control my fate’: The Good Wife is network TV’s best drama

Josh Charles and Julianna Margulies in 'The Good Wife'. CBS Broadcasting, In.c

Josh Charles and Julianna Margulies in ‘The Good Wife’. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

By Jake Pitre

Elevators. It has always been elevators with Will and Alicia. Missed connections, conversations had and conversations abruptly silenced, and of course, passions ignited. Opening and closing doors are a pretty perfect metaphor for their relationship, since their timing was never quite right. It wasn’t ever going to work. Was it?

With the possible exception of NBC’s Hannibal, The Good Wife is the best drama series currently on network television. I give the edge to TGW, though, because it is in its fifth season and how many shows are not only still strong this far into their lifespans, but are also in the midst of their best season yet? The show has always been rather fantastic, but this season has propelled it to new heights and it has been thrilling to watch. And then, The Thing happened on Sunday night. Spoilers follow, obviously, up to and including this Sunday’s episode. Go watch all of TGW, first. I’ll wait.

Done? Great. I have been awestruck in the last couple of days at the amount of digital ink spent on The Good Wife. Maybe I just follow too many TV critics on Twitter, but the amount of conversation this legal procedural in its fifth season has generated is impressive to say the least. This is a show that has been quietly brilliant for years, and is now blowing up as more people begin to realize what an enigma it is. It is often, perhaps understandably, dismissed because on the surface it does look like just another law procedural, dealing with a case per week and never really taking any risks. The difference, quite simply, is that The Good Wife takes plenty of risks.

Margulies and Matt Czuchry. Photo: David M. Russell. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Margulies and Matt Czuchry. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Actually, that’s only one difference. There are many things that make this show stand out. Some background, then. Its showrunners, Robert and Michelle King, are not only extremely talented writers, but they also care deeply about their show and their characters. Its actors, from Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick, our good wife, to Alan Cumming as Eli Gold or Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart, are all superb and at the top of their game. The massive roster of rotating guest stars is staggering and particularly rich, including Michael J. Fox as a rival attorney, Carrie Preston as oddball lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni and plenty of unique and charismatic judges, such as Jeffrey Tambor. The topical, ripped-from-the-headlines cases are always handled with nuance and insight (especially when it comes to technology – this is your first reminder that this show is on CBS). The pace is crazily quick, and the dialogue is witty and often sassy. The typical 22-episode network season is excruciating and creatively draining for any show, but almost every episode of The Good Wife manages to be wildly entertaining and fulfilling, which is something that cannot be said about any other 22-episodes per season series.

That is all very impressive, no doubt. Then, in the fourth season finale, an unbelievably exciting thing happened: Alicia and Cary Agos (played by Matt Czuchry) decided to leave their somewhat struggling law firm, Lockhart/Gardner, and start their own. The show’s central premise was effectively upended (in a move rather ingeniously deployed this season by Archer, as well), and the fifth season began with excitement far higher than what came with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce or The Michael Scott Paper Company. The shit hit the fan, as it were, in the season’s fifth episode, “Hitting The Fan”, which aired in October. Will Gardner (played gracefully with smarminess and charm in equal measure by Josh Charles) bursts into Alicia’s office once he discovers that his former lover had betrayed him and is leaving (not to mention stealing clients), sweeping her desk clean with aggressive power in a scene filmed with kinetic energy unusual for the show. It was a horrifying and impossibly satisfying moment, because this was the peak of more than four seasons of building tension.

The Good Wife is the unparalleled master of the slow burn. For four seasons, we had watched Alicia struggle with her relationships with her disgraced politician husband, Peter (Chris Noth), and her boss, Will. We had also watched Alicia (and Cary) rise in power, and her ambition followed suit. This development was the tipping point for everyone involved. The rest of the season, until this past Sunday, has been about the fallout (the next three episodes were called “The Next Day”, “Week” and “Month”, respectively). The catharsis of that episode (as heart-wrenching as it was), made all the more powerful because of all we’ve come to know about these people in the past few years, kicked the show into a gear unlike anything it had been in previously. In short, this procedural legal drama on CBS took a gigantic risk and it has paid off with a truly phenomenal run of episodes.

Alan Cumming and Margulies. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Alan Cumming and Margulies. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

The Kings weren’t done, though. On Sunday, in a move that rocked viewers, they killed off Will Gardner, Alicia’s will-they, won’t-they love interest and the primary male star of the series. What seems to have angered many viewers is the way it was handled: a completely sudden, unforeseen random act of violence. Will is killed by his client in a courtroom by a stray bullet. Everything slows down. We’re at the hospital. One shoe is missing. Someone needs to call Alicia.

On a purely formal level, the scene is directed with great skill by Brooke Kennedy, who has been with the show since the second season. It is a scene more suited to an action-centred crime procedural, and it is directed in a way that builds a massive amount of suspense in a short period of time by choosing its angles carefully and using sound design and clever camerawork to its advantage. Many initial reviews of the episode failed to notice or mention this, which is just the latest example of the show being dismissed as little more than a procedural (the comparisons made to latter-day Grey’s Anatomy for this episode feel especially offensive).

The Kings and Josh Charles were immediately upfront online about how this shocking twist came to be: Charles informed them that he wanted to leave the show, Margulies suggested he stick around for half a season to be written out in a strong way, and Charles and the Kings obliged. Contractual obligations can drag a show down or come off as overtly obvious or trite (the Kings, in a letter addressed to Good Wife fans about the episode, made reference to George Clooney’s character on ER being sent “off to Seattle”). For this reason, I understand why some viewers were uncomfortable with the sudden act of senseless violence being their resolution to Will’s story on the show. In many ways, it feels like the obvious way to do it in this age of television where this kind of thing happens so often. I’m not so sure.

This is far different than if a lesser character on the show had asked to leave. This is Will Gardner. For many, the Alicia/Will romance was the foundation of the show (I disagree – more on that in a moment). The Kings had every reason to appease their audience and give Will his own kind of off-into-the-sunset/Seattle farewell. This would allow for potential future guest spots, and would keep the will-they, won’t-they on the back of viewers’ minds in Alicia’s decisions. The possibility (even, say, in the series finale) of a rekindled relationship would be ever-present. The Kings decided to answer once and for all: they won’t. Will is gone. Will is dead. Will is not coming back. There were other choices, and they boldly shut those doors.

Margulies and Charles. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Margulies and Charles. CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

That said, there is a little of having their cake and eating it going on here. The Kings have this strong justification, while also giving the audience something shocking and the network something to heavily promote. Only, beyond telling us something BIG was going to go down, this was held under wraps. No foreshadowing. No promos promising a “SHOCKING DEATH”. This was one of the most legitimately shocking episodes of TV I have ever seen (this was on CBS, by the way), even though I saw some comments on Twitter beforehand warning of something crazy happening. Plus, it was absolutely sudden. It is settled very quickly that, yes, he’s dead. No deathbed final words. It’s over. Alicia’s phone rings.

Setting aside the fact that such a major plot twist was kept secret in this day and age, without even a hint of a major death, I also welcome this for its clear-eyedness. For me, the Will/Alicia romance long ago lost its inherent power, and I think the same happened for the Kings. They split them up, then made great entertainment from their rivalry between law firms. And finally, in choosing to definitively kill him off when they could’ve sent him into the sunset, it reminds us what this show has always been about: Alicia. Or, as the Kings wrote in their letter, “the Education of Alicia Florrick”. How will Alicia (and the other characters – this death affects them all, not least of which Peter with his election-stealing investigation that Will was key to) react? What are the consequences? The Kings could still screw that all up, and this gut-punch could be the beginning of the end, but I am intensely interested in finding out – and I have faith in them.

Mark Harris, a writer for Entertainment Weekly and Grantland, summed it up nicely on Twitter: “Thrilled that a year-5 twist on a network drama has sparked real debate over what the whole series has been about.” I think its clear that the show has always been about Alicia, and Will’s death only cements that. For a long time, this choice – between Will and Peter – has been crucial to Alicia’s character. She has never wanted to come firmly down on one side or the other, preferring to keep both options relatively open, but this choice has partly defined the show (and, to some, completely defined it). What this episode seems to be saying, in a way that rings true, is that sometimes in life, you don’t get to make that choice. We will not know what Alicia’s choice would have eventually been, because Will is gone, and now the show is faced with what to do without that choice. Luckily, there’s much more to The Good Wife and to Alicia than just Will. If you were watching and thought their relationship was the most important thing about it and that the show will be nothing without it, I think you may have been watching it wrong. I don’t like to tell someone that they are watching something wrong, but if you don’t think that The Good Wife is about much more than Will and Alicia, you should rethink. Which isn’t to say that Will is not wholly significant. Now we will see how Will changed her, how his death will change her, and how she undoubtedly battles through. She wants to control her fate, after all.

However you feel about Will’s death, whether that it happened or how it happened, it was an admirable risk, and one that is only in keeping with the show’s long history of ballsy risks (albeit a little more showy). This season of The Good Wife has been more entertaining than most other things on television, and it’s time for it to stop being ignored by non-TV-critic folk (and old people who fall asleep with the TV on after The Amazing Race). This recent rush of discussion has been invigorating to watch and read through and participate in, and I hope it continues. So often, we waste endless thinkpieces and essays on TV shows that simply don’t deserve it, and the stuff we should be paying attention to passes us by. The Good Wife is doing something different, and succeeds partly by subverting those expectations laid on it. It did something, just this week, totally unlike itself and caused a firestorm of debate and conversation. This is only one part of a fifth season that has been on fire since the beginning, and will hopefully continue to be. Alicia now needs to figure out how to define herself without that relationship. How much does she let the loss, and the man, define her? How does it change those around her? How much will she be able to control her fate, when the world tells her you can’t? I don’t know, but I’ll be watching.

Not Like Anything That You’ve Seen Before, Ever: An Interview with Matt Zoller Seitz

MZS portraits-10

Matt Zoller Seitz is a busy man. He is the TV critic at New York magazine, he is the editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com, and he is the author of an upcoming book being published by Abrams in October called The Wes Anderson Collection. As you might have guessed, it is a sort of compendium on the filmmaker, with loads of content sure to delight any Anderson fan. Seitz is one of the most trusted and insightful critics working today, always having something unique to say and with a wonderful way of saying it, too. I had the excellent pleasure of speaking with him over the phone about Wes Anderson, the book, Netflix, Breaking Bad and more. It was a great conversation and Seitz was very nice, despite the early hour. Check it out.

////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Arbitrary Analysis: I’m pretty groggy right now.

Matt Zoller Seitz: Yeah, me too.

AA: Okay. I guess the first thing, why Wes Anderson? I was looking at the Amazon page for the book, and it talks about how he’s an auteur with all his aesthetics and everything, is that what drew you to doing a whole book about him?

MZS: No, it’s a little more complicated than that, I mean, for one thing I think he’s a major director. I think he’s as stylistically unique a director as Hitchcock or Scorsese, so there’s that. But on top of it there’s this whole personal backstory, which is that I met him in 1993 when I was a film critic for the Dallas Observer, just starting out, and he was a filmmaker just starting out. Nobody had heard of him, nobody had heard of me. His short film, Bottle Rocket, was in the USA Film Festival in Dallas and I was writing about the festival and they gave me a stack of VHS cassettes of all the films that they were gonna show and I watched them all, and the one that really stood out was Bottle Rocket.

I singled that one out for praise in the little capsule that I wrote, and if I remember correctly I think I wrote mostly about Bottle Rocket and the other films were kind of an afterthought. That turned out to be the first review that he got of anything he’d ever done as a filmmaker, and I don’t remember if he got in touch with me or if I got in touch with him, but that film got into development at Columbia Pictures as a feature film. And I just thought he and Owen Wilson were really, really talented guys, and I was constantly looking for local people to write profiles of, so I wrote a profile of them a few months later, I think it was when they had gotten the greenlight to develop this thing as a feature. Then I wrote a cover story about the making of Bottle Rocket [the feature version] where I followed it from beginning to end, and that was published in September of 1995. I think that was the longest cover story that had ever been published at the Observer at the time, it was almost like a little book it was so long.

Wes Anderson, on the set of 'Moonrise Kingdom'.

Wes Anderson, with actor Jared Gilman, on the set of ‘Moonrise Kingdom’.

And then I stayed in touch with him, you know, when I moved to New York and he moved to New York, we’d have lunch occasionally and I interviewed him a few more times, him and Owen Wilson, but always for subjects that had something to do with things they were obsessed with. It was like with the 30th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas, I did a piece on that and interviewed them, and when Charles Schultz retired I interviewed them for that. Schultz is a gigantic influence on Anderson’s films. I did a video about the influence of the animated Peanuts TV specials on [his films], I do some side-by-side comparisons to the films and those cartoons.

So we just had all these personal sort of connections, I guess you’d say. When The Royal Tenenbaums came out, weirdly enough, Wes shot some scenes from that on the street where I was living in Brooklyn, and my house is in the movie. The scene where Gene Hackman and the grandkids are running around by the schoolyard there’s a shot where they throw water balloons at the gypsy cab and the cab comes to a full stop right in front of my house. I knew they were shooting on my street but I didn’t know they were shooting on my block, since the day they did I was at work in Newark and my wife was working as a secretary in the basement of the church which is in the background of the shot. That was a big surprise to me and I didn’t find out about it until I was watching the movie in a screening at the New York Film Festival in the fall of 2001 and when the cab screeched to a halt in front of my house, I actually pointed at the screen and yelled, “That’s my house!”, and the other critics in the room said, “Shhhh.” [Laughs]

There’s all these weird personal connections and affinities but over and above that I just love the guy’s movies. He’s a unique director and one that people imitate, often badly. He’s made an impact. I did a series of video essays in 2009 that studied his style and it was called “The Substance of Style”. Wes saw them, I hadn’t spoken to him in many years at that point, he saw them and wrote me a really nice note, saying “Hey, thank you for taking the time to study my movies this closely, I liked the series a lot, let’s get together some time”, you know. Not too long after that, Abrams Books called me up and an editor there, Eric Klopfer, said “we’re looking to do a book about Wes Anderson and I just watched the series of video essays so what do you think about writing a book about Wes?”. So that’s the long version of how the book came about, and that’s an epic answer, but that’s it.

ggg

The cover. Click to enlarge to see it in all its beauty.

AA: So what exactly can we expect to find inside the Collection, is it an assortment of goodies from Anderson’s films, pictures and that kind of thing?

MZS: It’s built around a book-length interview with Wes. So it’s me talking to Wes about his artistic development over 20 years, and we go back to his childhood and adolescence a little bit, but mostly it starts with the Bottle Rocket short and feature and then we just work our way forward through his films. It’s also heavily illustrated with screenshots from the movies and behind-the-scenes stuff, some of which has never been seen before anywhere. We commissioned a lot of illustrations that are sort of tangentially related to Wes’ movies, like the cover of the book, for example, isn’t from any Wes Anderson movie, that’s sort of meant to represent the totality of Wes Anderson’s universe, and we have some other things in the book that are like that. Interspersed among this book-length interview are critical essays by me about each of [Anderson’s] seven films, and those are basically reviews, I guess you would say, of his movies and that’s also new because this is the first time I’ve published reviews or critical examinations of [his films]. So that’s the book.

It’s somewhat of a weird book, honestly, because it’s very analytical and gets pretty deep into his influences and how they manifest themselves in his films, but there’s also a lot of personal anecdotes. And we wander off the beaten track a lot, like there’s parts where we’re really not talking about his movies, we’re just talking about movies, or we’re talking about fiction, or music, or weird personal stuff. Like in the Darjeeling Limited chapter, he goes on for quite a long time about the experience of traveling abroad and how that sort of opened his horizons as a filmmaker, and we don’t get to Darjeeling Limited until fairly deep into the chapter. At that point, it’s mostly about his development as a person. So you can kind of tell as you’re reading it that this is a book by a guy who actually knows the director personally and [they] have been acquainted for a while. There’s a degree of comfort here that maybe you might not get if I was just walking in cold.

AA: So it’s more of free-wheeling conversation type of thing.

MZS: Yeah, definitely. In some ways, maybe a little too free-wheeling. [Laughs] That’s part of the charm of it. We go off on a tangent for like three or four pages about the use of music in movies which is kind of fun. And that’s basically just two guys talking, and there’s other things in the book like that.

Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman in 'The Darjeeling Limited'.

Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman in ‘The Darjeeling Limited’. Courtesy: Fox Searchlight.

AA: I want to ask about Anderson’s critics, because you obviously love the guy, but a big criticism of Anderson is that he has no inventiveness as a filmmaker and how every movie is kind of the same, at least stylistically, so what would you say to that?

MZS: I don’t really know what people want from a guy. That just seems dumb. [Laughs] Honestly, because what great filmmaker or artist can you not say that about? All his movies look the same? Well, I kind of feel like all of Kubrick’s movies look the same. All of Orson Welles’ movies kind of look the same. The directors who make movies that look completely different from one film to the next tend to be hacks that have no style, that’s been my experience. If somebody has a strong personality that comes out in everything that they do…I think what throws people about Wes is that his style is so simple. There’s maybe like 15 or 20 shots that he does, over and over, and there’s particular moods and modes that he has that he shifts into that you see again and again. But to me, that’s simplicity, that’s like when you read Ernest Hemingway and there are few adjectives. Wes doesn’t overcomplicate things, and that’s one of the things that makes him stand out. And all you have to do as far as I’m concerned to appreciate Wes’ uniqueness is to watch his films and then to watch Juno or Garden State, which could’ve been called, “Wes Anderson Called and He Wants His Style Back.”

AA: [Laughs] Yeah. I think we’ll switch gears away from Wes just for a second. There’s this big debate in TV criticism right now about Netflix, like I was reading the recent article in Time about Orange is the New Black where it talks about how this way of distributing TV seasons all at once is liberating but also causes this confusion over how you talk about these shows. I want to get your take on whether this is a good shift, a bad one, or just something new?

MZS: Well, I think it’s a good thing. I don’t think that every TV show needs to be made in the way that Netflix is making shows but I really like the way they’re making shows. Although I should say, to be specific, that I like the fourth season of Arrested Development and Orange is the New Black, because those are shows that are not TV shows that happen to appear on Netflix, they’re shows that were clearly made with Netflix in mind, and the way they’re telling the story is very unique, in that they’re jumping back and forth amongst different characters, and in the case of both of them, through time. And they’re doing them at a greater length than they would do if it were just airing on television, because they would be afraid that they would lose the thread of the story, and confuse the audience. The reason that they’re able to make those shows in that particular way is because they know that people are gonna be watching, sitting there with their remote control in hand, and be able to watch 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 episodes in the same sitting.

Taylor Schilling and in 'Orange is the New Black'. Credit: Jessica Miglio/Netflix.

Taylor Schilling and Yael Stone in ‘Orange is the New Black’. Courtesy: Jessica Miglio/Netflix.

AA: And just binge.

MZS: And they’ll remember what happened because they’re not waiting a week. That’s kind of major. Shows that air on a traditional broadcast network or cable channel, they have to split the difference, they can do complicated storytelling but they can’t do so complicated that when they pick up a thread that they dropped four episodes ago, the audience goes, “Who’s that guy?” or “Where are we? I’m confused,” and you can’t have that. So I think it’s an evolutionary advance, at least if you’re doing it right.

AA: Okay. So what has been some of your favourite TV of the year so far?

MZS: Arrested Development. Orange is the New Black. I’d be shocked if Breaking Bad wasn’t on there [once it’s finished], because it’s been on there every season since its been on. [Laughs] Behind the Candelabra, the Soderbergh film. Justified, probably. The Americans is tremendous, that’s the best new show to come along in a while, I think. Rectify on the Sundance Channel, I really liked because it was so quiet and subtle and almost like a stage play, which is unusual for television. Top of the Lake I thought was great. It’s a really good year, in fact I would say this is the best year for scripted television since I became a critic. I mean, there’s so much stuff. In a year where I’m wrestling with whether or not to put Mad Men in my top ten, what does that tell you?

AA: I kind of have to ask this. What would be your favourite Anderson film?

MZS: My personal favourite Wes Anderson film, the one I think about the most, is The Life Aquatic. I find it almost overwhelmingly powerful. It’s so strange, it’s such a strange mix of tone. To some degree all of his movies are, at least since The Royal Tenenbaums, which was the first Anderson film that veered between comedy and tragedy. I think the swings are even more extreme in The Life Aquatic, and the story is a little more focused on one thing, which is mortality. The climax with the jaguar shark on the bottom of the ocean floor is tremendous, that’s still my favourite ending of any Anderson film.

Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray in 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou'. Courtesy: Beuna Vista Pictures.

Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray in ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’. Courtesy: Beuna Vista Pictures.

I like all of his movies. I think The Darjeeling Limited might be his most structurally perfect film, and I think not too many people would agree with that, but if you really study that thing and you look at what every scene does, it’s kind of a marvel of precision. And then, of course, Rushmore…I mean, hell, man, I could talk about his movies all day, that’s why I wrote a book about him. [Laughs] He’s made I would say three or four films that I would consider perfect, which is a pretty great batting average, and the ones that are less than perfect are not like anything that you’ve seen before, ever.

AA: So how did Michael Chabon get involved? [Chabon wrote the book’s introduction] He’s one of my favourite authors so I was curious about that.

MZS: Well, as it turns out, I wanted to find somebody to write an introduction, and I don’t know why I thought of him. I didn’t know if he liked Wes’ films, I just knew from his fiction that he seemed like the kind of guy that would. And it turned out I was right about that. Wes didn’t have anything to do with it, so it was kind of a wonderful coincidence that it turns out that he and Chabon kind of know each other. So I said, “Hey, guess who’s writing the intro to the book,” and he goes, “Oh I know that guy!” [Laughs]

AA: So my last question: How’s Breaking Bad going to end?

MZS: I don’t know, I’ve been debating that with my daughter for the last two months. I don’t know if Walter’s going to die or not, I’m starting to feel like he has to die because the show is a tragedy and in a tragedy things don’t end very well for the hero. I just can’t see it suddenly reversing course and then he somehow saves himself and everybody forgives him. And since this is the kind of show where people who do bad things tend to be punished. So I feel like it’s kind of the end of Walter’s suffering. I’m not exactly sure what that means but, it’s going to be painful.

Bryan Cranston in the final season of 'Breaking Bad'. Courtesy: AMC.

Bryan Cranston in the final season of ‘Breaking Bad’. Courtesy: AMC.

AA: Okay, well on that note…

MZS: [Laughs] I wouldn’t be surprised if they went in a direction like The Shield, which is to say maybe more of a whimper than a bang. But a bang wouldn’t surprise me either because it’s Breaking Bad and things blow up. In any event, I think that it’s going to be a good ending. It won’t be disappointing, I know that. I have enough confidence to know that. They give you what you didn’t expect, but it’s equal to what you did hope for. You sat there all day fantasizing about what they’re going to do next, and then you see it, you go, “that’s better than I imagined”. There aren’t a whole lot of shows or movies that you can say that about, usually what you come up with on your own is more interesting than what they give you. That’s the hallmark of a really great show.

The Wes Anderson Collection comes out October 8. Pre-order it on Amazon here.

– Jake

Best of 2013 (So Far)

As the halfway point of 2013 has come and gone, it is customary to take stock of all the entertainment we’ve encountered so far and determine what’s worthwhile. We decided to have some AA writers pick one thing from a list of categories (Film, TV, Album, Song, Video Game) as their favourite of the year so far, tell you why, and maybe mention some other notable things. Take a look, share your own, enjoy, don’t enjoy, see if I care.

FILM

Jake

My favourite of the year so far is, without question, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. In some ways, it was very misunderstood. tumblr_mpwkdxOHcr1rrsipro1_500Based on the marketing and the general vibe of “Disney girls gone wild”, expectations were shattered for many filmgoers who went to see it. I can’t help but feel like this was by design, at least partly because Korine just enjoys fucking with people. The actual movie is a surreal and hypnotic masterpiece of social commentary paired with obnoxious glorification, willfully presented as a collection of ideas not necessarily organized in any way and intended to disturb, entertain and interpret however you see fit. Korine himself succintly described it as a “pop poem”, and it’s a beautiful one at that (horrifyingly beautiful, really). Also well worth noting is Shane Carruth’s long-anticipated follow-up to Primer, the cerebral and sublime Upstream Color. You don’t have to get it completely (you won’t), you have to just give in and let yourself experience it (multiple viewings are recommended). A science-fiction film that’s less about answers and more about what brings people together and what identity actually means. With the gorgeous cinematography and muted but nuanced performances, it’s absolutely essential viewing. I was also pleasantly impressed with giallo homage Berberian Sound Studio, James Wan’s terrifying and atmospheric The Conjuring, and Rob Zombie’s continuing quest to make his music career obsolete with The Lords of Salem.

Kevin

WARM-BODIES_510x317

Warm Bodies: Even though this film didn’t get particularly good reviews, I thought it was a unique and thoughtful rethinking of traditional genre films. I enjoyed seeing how the comedy was derived from the problems associated with mixing romantic comedies and zombie films, because it made the film feel self-aware and intelligent. It was pretty well-acted (especially by Nicholas Hoult, who played the lead) and well shot, with some pretty funny moments sprinkled in throughout. Aside from the film being a bit predictable, I thought it was a very enjoyable 97 minutes of cinematic fun.
Monsters University: I thought this was a great movie (in comparison to average Hollywood films), but only a decent Pixar movie. What I mean by this is that it was very enjoyable to watch and I never really felt bored, but looking back on it, I realized that nothing unexpected or particularly original ever happened, compared to other Pixar movies. The whole film essentially just followed a typical coming-of-age film’s plot, and then added in a bunch of monster themed stuff (which was awesome, funny, and heartwarming). Overall, I enjoyed watching this movie, but I think it should have been better. Billy Crystal and John Goodman were still perfect in their characters (Mike and Sullivan).

Duncan

627

2013 has been a solid year for film thus far. Yes, the hollywood blockbusters may have been especially bad this year, despite surprise favourites Iron Man 3, and the funnest film of the year so far, Fast & Furious 6. But the real star of this year has been the independent releases, where the lovely Frances Ha, and not fully accomplished but still haunting, The Place Beyond the Pines have stood out. But for my money the best movie of the year, hell the last 3 years, is Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. Following up on two fantastic predecessors, Midnight is the strongest and most engaging in the “trilogy”. I don’t think I’ve ever been so involved in the lives of two characters before. I’m ecstatic when they have their amazing sequence long conversations, and I’m heartbroken when it begins to fall apart. There’s room for people to call the film a gimmick and exploitive, but frankly I don’t care. If Linklater broke some unwritten rule when he produced this film then so be it, I don’t want to watch movies in a world with rules that keep films like this from me.

TV

Jake

Orange-is-the-New-Black

I’m going to ignore my own rule because there’s just too much great TV. For pure entertainment value, nothing beats Game of Thrones, which probably just had its best season yet and delivered one of the deepest gut punches any piece of entertainment has ever given me with the Red Wedding. I’m not quite finished it yet, but Netflix’s Orange is the New Black is phenomenal and will hopefully reach even more people than House of Cards did, with its stellar writing and diverse ensemble cast, making it ridiculously addictive. I was skeptical when I learned that Netflix ordered a second season before even putting the first one on their service, but now I totally get it. They probably just wanted to see more, like everyone else. Then there’s Hannibal, which is easily the best show to premiere outside of cable in years with its stellar cast led by Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, beautiful imagery, mood and atmospherics, and great writing thanks to creator and dark mastermind Bryan Fuller. Girls avoided the sophomore slump with a messy but overall fulfilling season including great, glorious scenes like this one (“She’s too self-involved to commit suicide.”). Enlightened was cruelly cancelled after being cruelly under-watched and the whole thing still just makes me sad so that’s enough about that. Also, 30 Rock‘s final few episodes in January put the show out on top, providing an emotional but hilarious farewell; Archer remains the most under-appreciated comedy on television; Justified continued its solid run of clever dialogue, great performances and killer storytelling; Mad Men‘s sixth season left some feeling unsatisfied but I think it worked wonderfully, and deserves to be mentioned if only for finally giving us this; and New Girl was great and funny all season but especially deserves recognition for the expert handling of The Kiss. And despite its many flaws, damn it was nice to have Arrested Development back.

Kevin

55

Game of Thrones: I was a late bloomer to the amazingness that is Game of Thrones, but in the last two months I’ve watched all three seasons, leading me to conclusively say that this is the best show on TV right now. Acting? Better than most films I’ve seen. Directing? Excellently shapes the many story lines into one fairly understandable package. Cinematography? Beautiful and rich. Red Wedding? Horrifying beyond belief. It is no surprise that Game of Thrones has received 16 Emmy nominations for season 3.
The Voice: Considering how many reality TV shows there are about singing, and how many of those have become quite terrible (*cough* American Idol *cough*), The Voice is really surprisingly good. I loved Usher and Shakira as judges, especially compared to Christina Aguilera, and I think their charisma and actual understanding of the modern music industry helped the show out immensely. Though I was unhappy with the results, I thought the level of talent on the show, as well the show’s format, was better than anything of its genre I’ve ever seen.
MasterChef: I’m a sucker for cooking-competition shows, and I think that MasterChef is the best of its kind. In this program, Gordon Ramsay is far less of an unapologetic dick, and actually lets his food do the talking sometimes. I think the contestants that the producers bring on the show tend to be more appealing and likeable, to the point where the viewer would actually want to see them succeed rather than fail. Season 4 continued to impress me with its original challenges and captivating story lines (which are admittedly somewhat formatted by the producers, and then relayed to the contestants).

Duncan

5454

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to talk about the strength of a year of television over another. With the majority of shows coming out in a year being renewals of the previous season, there’s pretty good insurance of a year’s quality of programming. I certainly haven’t been keeping up with enough television to fairly make this judgment, but I’ll do so anyways. This year has seen the return of a few heavy hitters, Game of Thrones in particular just came off a very strong season. I ask you to look past all the hype of the big dogs, sorry Mad Men, for the show that has been the strongest this year. This is a little bittersweet considering the show’s untimely cancellation, but I believe it needs to be celebrated regardless. Enlightened delivered a season early this year with more narrative direction, as well as emotional strength. The show has a weird charm to it, and feels different than anything else on the air. Forget about Tony Soprano, never has a character made me feel so divided than Laura Dern’s Amy Jellicoe. This season also took the time to follow the supporting men in Amy’s life by spending episodes following Mike White and Luke Wilson’s (who was robbed of an Emmy nomination) characters. Screw the overpraised Girls, White and Dern have created the most consistent and powerful show in HBO’s line up, and nobody noticed.

ALBUM

Jake

Obsidian_album_coverMy favourite album of the year so far changes at least daily, if not hourly, so I thought that instead, like the TV section, I would mention a few that I really love. Baths are a band (or rather, person – Will Wiesenfeld) that I missed the initial buzz on, back in 2010, and only discovered a short time before the new album, Obsidian, dropped in May. But while Cerulean, the debut, was a collection of great electro-pop songs, Obsidian is Baths’ fully-realized vision. With deeply personal lyrics and a more expanded but refined sound environment, it is the type of thing practically made with my enjoyment in mind. Austra followed up on their excellent debut, 2011’s Feel It Break, an album that is very personal to me, with Olympia, a more collaborative and optimistic group of songs. Led by Katie Stelmanis’ beautiful opera-trained voice, their music still feels gloomy, it’s just surrounded by some more great beats this time. Then there is Yeezus. Kanye West‘s new album is that rare breed of “mildly disappointing only because it’s not perfect”, but then, that imperfection seems intentional. So despite the occasionally lazy lyrics and misogyny (and those two things are definitely intertwined), it’s still miles ahead of pretty much everything else. I’ve fallen out of love with some of this year’s “comebacks”, like Justin Timberlake and Daft Punk, but one that I still connect with is The Knife‘s Shaking the Habitual. Acting simultaneously as a feminist manifesto and experimental electronic album, it is full of ideas and good beats, too. I’ve also really liked the new albums from Vampire Weekend, Savages, Phoenix and Sigur Rós.

Kevin

WFTDWaiting for the Dawn – The Mowgli’s: This whole album (and the greater collection of work by this band) is pure joy. The Mowgli’s are an extremely positive band, with a very full sound (they are an 8-piece after all) and a tendency towards interesting instrumentation. I love that they have a guy who plays the melodica in a lot of their tunes because that’s just the kind of band they are (the weird kind). I also love that they are named after a character from The Jungle Book. Great band, uplifting album.
The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake: As I’ve said before, this album is good, but not great. I stand by that, though it is still one of my favorite releases of the year. Timberlake shows a lot of his tendency to experiment with his music and sample beats and melodies from various cultures and countries, while still creating music friendly to American top 40 radio audiences. I love that he’s not scared of putting several eight-minute songs on the album, and that he truly shows a lot of variety in the style of his tunes. I just wish every tune was as good as “Mirrors”.
In a Tidal Wave of Mystery – Capital Cities: Capital Cities is a really fun indie pop duo who definitely generated some good press with the release of their EP in 2011, which featured, “Safe and Sound,” a completely dancey dance track. The band’s debut album is a collection of songs that are both catchy and intricate, leaving the listener grooving and thinking at the same time. “Kangaroo Court,” Is my favorite track from the album. The tune (and many of the other tunes on the album) features a prominent trumpet counter-melody, which is a nice surprise to see coming from a pop duo. This band will be big in the future (I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing…).

SONG

Jake


It is incredibly hackneyed by now to claim that any buzz band is “the next big thing”, but I really hope that CHVRCHES start to get a lot of attention when their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, drops in a couple months. Every song they put out, from The Knife-inspired “The Mother We Share” to the delightful earworm that is “Gun”, I love them more. But my favourite of the released singles and of the year so far is “Recover”, the type of song that you can listen to over and over and never get sick of it (trust me). This is electro-pop perfection, people. “No Eyes” is the standout track for me from Baths’ Obsidian, with its personal story of sex addiction and infectious beats. “Full of Fire” is perhaps The Knife’s greatest achievement yet. “Blood on the Leaves” may mix Nina Simone with a tale of alimony, but Hudson Mohawke’s beats and Kanye’s impassioned delivery make it the highlight on Yeezus. “Latch” is truly wonderful, but is also indicative of how great Disclosure’s debut album, Settle, is in its entirety. Others worth noting: “Hannah Hunt” + “Diane Young” by Vampire Weekend, “Play by Play” by Autre Ne Veut, “Hurt Me Now” by Austra, “Now I’m All Messed Up” + “Closer” by Tegan and Sara, “Attracting Flies” by AlunaGeorge, “Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore, “Black Roses” by Charli XCX, “Get Lucky” + “Giorgio by Moroder” by Daft Punk, “The Real Thing” by Phoenix, “Human” by Daughter, “Warm in the Winter” by Glass Candy, “She Will” + “Husbands” by Savages, “I’m Waiting Here (feat. Lykke Li)” by David Lynch and “Slasherr” by Rustie.

Kevin


Say It, Just Say It – The Mowgli’s: I already wrote about how much I like the album, and this tune is probably the highlight for me. It perfectly summarizes their tendency towards group-sung choruses and really happy sounding instrumentals (major chords FTW). It’s high energy, well sung, and well written. Though I’m unlikely to hear this one on the radio anytime soon, I’d definitely call it my top summer song, and hopefully the band can gain a bit more of an audience because they certainly deserve it.
I Want Crazy – Hunter Hayes: Yeah that’s right, fuck you, Jake.
Centipede – Childish Gambino: Donald’s back and clever as ever. “Centipede” is inventive, catchy, and experimental. It’s maybe one of his most ambitious tunes yet. Gambino’s singing sounds better than I’ve ever heard it before and his rap is definitely impressive. What I love most about this tune is that it shows a progression in his work. This is a different side of the guy we came to know in Camp, and after just one song, I think I like it.

GAME

Jake

thelastofus-600x333

Admittedly, I haven’t played too much from this year. But two that I have played are perfect examples of extremes in the gaming industry. On the one side, you have Bioshock Infinite, a mainstream, big-budget game that proves how good blockbuster games can be. Although it has its issues (including a major narrative problem with the Vox Populi), it is thoughtful storytelling complemented by beautiful visual aesthetics and a real emotional connection that develops between the player and Elizabeth, your companion. And on the other end of the spectrum is the indie point-and-click Kentucky Route Zero. Although only two Acts out of an eventual five have been released (the first in January, the second in May), the first two have been enough to impress me substantially with this quiet but gripping tale of a truck driver trying to make his way through the mysterious Route Zero in order to make a delivery. Even working on such a small budget, the game manages to create a beautiful and enigmatic atmosphere, along with a focus on Lynchian storytelling, strange sense of humour and all. I’ve also just finished The Last of Us and really enjoyed it, despite how much it borrows from other franchises, particularly in terms of gameplay and combat. There’s also the fact that such an adult, depressing, deliberately paced and engrossing narrative must be coupled with a high head-count in order for it to be a blockbuster game, a quality shared by Bioshock Infinite (the games also share a deep bond between the two main characters, and you get very emotionally involved with both). In the end, though, this game’s shortcomings are beyond forgivable because of how production values and outstanding execution (not to mention a top-notch story with a perfect ending) can make all the difference. If I had to choose, it would be my favourite of these three.

Kevin

TempleRun2-1

Temple Run 2: I can’t tell if this pick is going to come across as a troll or not, but I legitimately love Temple Run 2. The original was a game changer (semi-pun?) for mobile gaming, and I think the sequel stepped up and delivered some key improvements, while maintaining the game’s original vibe.  It’s still chaotic and still frustratingly difficult, but now it’s far more visually appealing and offers several new obstacles. I’m stoked to see what they’ll come up with for Temple Run 3.

The Last of Us: I’m going to preface this pick by saying that typically most of the years best games come out closer to the end of the year (for Christmas and such). However, The Last of Us was great. Like, really, really, really great. The game is intelligent, violent, and heart stopping. My only gripe is that it sometimes feels a little linear, but that’s okay because it’s FUN.
Side note: Journey was the best game of 2012 because REASONS.

 

Emmy Predictions, Because Why Not

Following the long tradition of writing things because why the fuck not here at Arbitrary Analysis, these are my Emmy predictions. The nominations will be announced Thursday, July 18th.

Outstanding Drama Series

608

This, the biggest category, is pretty much anyone’s guess at this point. Mad Men won four years in a row, until Homeland beat it last year. The second season of Homeland was more divisive and left many unfulfilled, and ditto for Mad Men‘s sixth season. Due to this, it’s more or less up in the air, but it definitely leaves things open for Breaking Bad to win for the first time. Either way, those three are locks to be nominated, as is Game of Thrones considering its solid standing as the cultural phenomenon of the moment. Beyond that, it gets hard to call. Downton Abbey, despite its comparably poorly received third season, is likely to take the fifth spot, but the last spot is totally up for grabs. I would put my money on Netflix’s House of Cards – everyone (at least on my Twitter feed) was talking about it and the new ways to do television (along with Hulu, Amazon, etc.), so that’s what I’m going with. Boardwalk Empire (which had its best season yet but the Emmys typically ignore it), The Good Wife (the only broadcast network show even in the running anymore) and newbie The Americans are all also contenders.

The Nominees

  • Mad Men
  • Breaking Bad
  • Homeland
  • Game of Thrones
  • Downton Abbey
  • House of Cards

Unless…

  • Boardwalk Empire
  • The Good Wife
  • The Americans

I Wish…

  • Hannibal
  • Justified

Outstanding Lead Actor – Drama Series

627

Another three-way battle between Homeland, Mad Men and Breaking Bad – or rather, Damian Lewis, Jon Hamm and Bryan Cranston, respectively. I can’t speak towards Cranston’s season five performance, but he appears to be the overall favourite to win. In any case, Kevin Spacey is a lock for House of Cards, but then it gets tricky. Matthew Rhys for The Americans and Steve Buscemi for Boardwalk Empire are good bets to round out the nominees, but there are several others on their heels.

The Nominees

  • Damian Lewis, Homeland
  • Jon Hamm, Mad Men
  • Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
  • Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
  • Matthew Rhys, The Americans
  • Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire

Unless…

  • Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
  • Timothy Olyphant, Justified
  • Michael C. Hall, Dexter
  • Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey

I Wish…

  • Hugh Dancy, Hannibal
  • Joel Kinnaman, The Killing

Outstanding Lead Actress – Drama Series

45

This category, unlike the other big drama awards, remains unchanged from last year. This is Claire Danes’ to lose, and she deserves another win for her brilliantly erratic performance on Homeland. Julianna Margulies and Michelle Dockery are good bets, and especially after this last season, as is Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss. I would then put Keri Russell in, and the last slot could go to anyone but there has been a surge of online support being thrown towards the underdog, Orphan Black‘s Tatiana Maslany. And I like an underdog. Kerry Washington is the dark horse here ready to spoil, though.

The Nominees

  • Claire Danes, Homeland
  • Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
  • Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
  • Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
  • Keri Russell, The Americans
  • Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black

Unless…

  • Robin Wright, House of Cards
  • Connie Britton, Nashville
  • Kerry Washington, Scandal

Outstanding Supporting Actor – Drama Series

67

This is an extremely packed category, one of the hardest to call. Peter Dinklage and Aaron Paul are really the only definite locks. Mandy Patinkin was, outrageously, snubbed last year, but his added presence to Homeland‘s second season should secure him a spot. Corey Stoll held his own against Kevin Spacey’s more showy performance on House of Cards, and  Sam Waterston was probably the most bearable person onscreen during The Newsroom. Most are giving the last spot to Jonathan Banks for Breaking Bad, but I’m going for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for his standout role in the third season of Game of Thrones.

The Nominees

  • Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
  • Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
  • Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
  • Corey Stoll, House of Cards
  • Sam Waterston, The Newsroom
  • Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones

Unless…

  • Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad
  • Noah Emmerich, The Americans
  • John Slattery, Mad Men

I Wish…

  • Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal
  • Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
  • Walton Goggins, Justified

Outstanding Supporting Actress – Drama Series

56

Just give the fucking thing to Maggie Smith already.

The Nominees

  • Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
  • Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
  • Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
  • Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
  • Monica Potter, Parenthood
  • Morena Baccarin, Homeland

Unless…

  • Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
  • Kate Mara, House of Cards
  • Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey

I Wish…

  • Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
  • Jessica Pare, Mad Men

In a Just World…

  • Michelle Fairley, Game of Thrones

Outstanding Comedy Series

43

Even though no new comedies really managed to give any lasting effect, this category is still packed with worthy contenders. Modern Family is a sure thing if there ever was one, but I sincerely hope it doesn’t win again. Girls and Louie will be nominated but will not win. The Big Bang Theory will continue its general domination of our culture, and Veep may be beaten out by Arrested Development‘s Netflix experiment (or will it be ignored?). But 30 Rock will get its final hurrah with at least a nomination (and, if it were up to me, a win).

The Nominees

  • Modern Family
  • Girls
  • Louie
  • The Big Bang Theory
  • 30 Rock
  • Arrested Development

Unless…

  • Veep
  • Parks and Recreation
  • New Girl

I Wish…

  • Enlightened
  • Archer

Outstanding Lead Actor – Comedy Series

23

Despite his recent, er, publicity issues, Alec Baldwin is a lock for 30 Rock. Jim Parsons, duh. Louis C.K., of course. After that, well. We can assume Jon Cryer will be there, for whatever fucking reason. Following that, I’m going for Jason Bateman and (fingers crossed) Jake Johnson for his breakout year on New Girl. But Don Cheadle is likely to take Johnson’s place, for some shit called House of Lies? What even is that? Does anyone watch it?

The Nominees

  • Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
  • Louis C.K., Louie
  • Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
  • Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
  • Jake Johnson, New Girl

Unless…

  • Don Cheadle, House of Lies (what)
  • Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
  • Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory

I Wish…

  • Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation (who is, weirdly, considered a lead)

Outstanding Lead Actress – Comedy Series

15

If there is any right left in this world, Laura Dern will get a nomination. She won’t win, that’s okay, I accept that. But a nomination. Please. Otherwise, this is Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ category. Her titular role on Veep is just the kind of thing Emmy voters love. And if Laura Dern can’t win, I would give it to Tina Fey – not only for a great performance on 30 Rock‘s final season, but also as testament to that show and to her for bringing it to us. But really, it would be okay if Amy Poehler won, too. Or Lena Dunham, my beloved Lena! Zooey? You can clap politely for one of these other women, but take solace in a job well done.

The Nominees

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
  • Lena Dunham, Girls
  • Tina Fey, 30 Rock
  • Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
  • Laura Dern, Enlightened
  • Zooey Deschanel, New Girl

Unless…

  • Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
  • Melissa McCarthy, Mike and Molly 
  • Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope

I Wish…

  • Portia de Rossi, Arrested Development

Outstanding Supporting Actor – Comedy Series

12

I don’t fucking know which but someone from Modern Family is going to win, until everyone in the cast has at least two.

The Nominees

  • Ty Burrell, Modern Family
  • Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
  • Ed O’Neill, Modern Family
  • Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
  • Will Arnett, Arrested Development
  • Max Greenfield, New Girl

Unless…

  • Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development
  • Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live
  • Simon Helberg, The Big Bang Theory

I Wish…

  • Adam Driver, Girls
  • Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation
  • Aziz Ansari, Parks and Recreation
  • Tony Hale, Veep/Arrested Development

Outstanding Supporting Actress – Comedy Series

11

Fucking Modern Family.

The Nominees

  • Julie Bowen, Modern Family
  • Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
  • Jessica Walter, Arrested Development
  • Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
  • Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
  • Allison Williams, Girls

Unless…

  • Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory
  • Merritt Weaver, Nurse Jackie
  • Betty White, Hot in Cleveland

I Wish…

  • Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation
  • Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Oh and Behind the Candelabra gets ALLLLLLLLLL the miniseries/TV movie awards.

4

– Jake