Still Mad about ‘Mad Men’

mad men

By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal ®

I’m still mad about Mad Men. No show pulls you in to its evocative world quite the way Mad Men does. At the end of the episode, I always feel a bit transported to another place and time. And no show quite devastates me the way Mad Men does. I’m still recovering from the way Joan was made partner last season.

But by now you’ve probably heard how we, as TV critics, are not supposed to tell you, well anything really, about the sixth season premiere of Mad Men (tonight at 9 p.m. on AMC).  My friend Mo Ryan wrote a great piece about it this week.

I have never been a critic to spoil big surprises for the viewers. I want you to have the almost same experience I have when you watch an episode. But if executive producer Matthew Weiner doesn’t want me to talk about new characters or new relationships, it’s impossible to review the premiere properly. I mean there’s only so many words I can devote to the state of Pete’s sideburns (they’re not good people, they’re not good).

Instead I thought I would give you six points to ruminate on while you watch the premiere.

  1. Mad Men gives good guest stars. There might not be an “Oh my God! Rory Gilmore’s on Mad Men” moment but there are plenty of surprising guest star turns that positively delighted me. One person looked so different that I had a very delayed reaction to figuring out who it was.
  2. After you watch Sunday night’s premiere, email me and let me know what clued you in to what year it is. I’m wondering if we will all pick up on the same thing. This revelatory type of storytelling of merely hinting at the month and year is quite effective. It truly gives the viewer the sense that we are dropping in on the characters’ lives versus they are telling a story to us.
  3. I’m so glad Peggy is still on the show and that her departure from the firm didn’t go the way of Sal Romano. I know it’s probably true to life that Sal would disappear from their lives but I still miss him on the show. Maybe this will be the season we finally get to see how Sal is doing. We’ve been able to check back in on so many other characters.
  4. Betty, who really didn’t get her fair amount of screen time last season, gets one of her more intriguing storylines in tonight’s premiere.  We see see her acting much more like a concerned and protective mother than we ever have.
  5. Mortality looms over the premiere. This has always been a recurrent theme on the series. Now it practically takes over in an absolutely not subtle way.
  6. I fear Don’s story arc is getting repetitive. I’ll be curious to hear if you feel the same way.

After you watch tonight’s premiere, email me through my contact page or post your comments below and let me know your thoughts.

My Favorite Shows of 2012


By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal ®

When I first started writing about TV, I could list my ten best shows of the year with confidence. Sure one viewer’s trash is another’s treasure (some think American Horror Story is brilliant, I find it rather laughable). Lists are always subjective and my opinion is just my opinion. But, back then, I had at least watched one episode of every show and felt I had given every series its fair consideration.

That, my friends, is no longer the case. Even if I did nothing else but watch TV, I don’t think I would be able to say I’ve seen everything the medium has to offer. There are way too many shows on the air. For example, I will admit to you that I’ve never seen a single episode of Justified. It’s been on my “I need to watch this show” list for years. There are other shows I liked –The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad among them – that for whatever reason I haven’t kept up with. The second season of Downton Abbey is just sitting on my desk waiting to be watched. Do spa/TV viewing vacations exist? Because that’s what I need.

My other issue is the rise of what I like to calls shows that are rated NFA – Not For Amy. For example, I can appreciate that Lena Dunham is creating something unique with a distinct point of view with Girls. However, from the opening moments, I couldn’t stand the show. I found the characters to be whiny, obnoxious and self-centered. And series such as Game of Thrones are also NFA.  With its gratuitous sex and violence, I didn’t even make it through the series premiere of Game of Thrones.

What I can offer you are my favorite shows of the year. The shows that have been consistently high in quality. Show that each week offered thoughtful, moving performances and strong writing. Shows that make me laugh, cry or both. Shows that are among the best TV has to offer. I have ranked them in terms of what I would choose to watch first on my TiVo.

1.Homeland (Showtime): So we’re all kind of in a fight with Homeland and I totally get that.  The show is cutting corners and sacrificing realism to advance the story and get the characters where they need them to be. I mean we’re going to have to ask Carrie more follow-up questions about how she escaped from Abu Nazir, right? An acceptable answer isn’t “I got lucky” when it comes to freeing yourself from the world’s number one terrorist. But all my quibbles aside, no other show surprises me and keeps me engaged like Homeland does.  Especially in season two, I never knew what the show was going to do next. Every time I lulled myself into believing I knew what was going to happen, the series zigged in a totally different direction.  But what really sets Homeland apart is the incredible acting. Clare Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin are breathtaking every week. They rise above the most inane writing and ridiculous plot twists.  Danes and Lewis have made me believe in TV’s most unlikely and unhealthy romance. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked forward to a show as much as I look forward to Homeland. And that means, despite the ridiculousness of late, the drama is doing a lot of things right.

2.Parenthood (NBC): This is the season Parenthood transitioned from a good drama into a great one.  I wrote about Parenthood being one of the best shows for Paste Magazine. You can read what I had to say here.

3. Southland (TNT): The best cop drama on TV. With gritty realism, Southland pulls the viewer into its world each week.  This past season the drama added Lucy Liu and, as much as I enjoy Liu on Elementary, I am really going to miss her on Southland. Her performance was transformative. I could write paragraphs about the brilliant acting that occurs each week on the show but I want to especially praise Regina King, whose Detective Lydia Adams is one of the strongest female characters on TV. Bonus points to the show for having C. Thomas Howell in its cast. When I was a girl, pictures of Howell adorned my bedroom walls. How wonderful it is to have him on TV. Some things that are gold can stay.

4. The Middle (ABC): This week Frankie (Patricia Heaton) woke up in the middle of the night to fight with Mike (Neil Flynn) and you know what I loved best about that scene? Frankie was in mismatched pajamas. That, my friends, is real life. (My biggest complaint with Homeland this season remains that Jess packed a negligee to go to a safe house). While Modern Family may be the show all the cool kids watch, The Middle is the show that truly captures the humor of family life. The comedy has the best teenage characters of any show. Each week Eden Sher and Charlie McDermott are perfect as the ever enthusiastic Sue and her older, slacker brother Axl. (For real fun, follow these two on Twitter to see how they interact in real life).  When people ask me what’s the one show they are not watching that that they should be watching, I always say The Middle.

5. Scandal (ABC): From her first power-suit strut into the office, I was all about Olivia Pope and her not-so-merry band of Gladiators. The show provides a juicy soap opera and intense mystery while, without making a big deal about it, has built a show around a successful woman of color. Plus nobody enunciates quite like Kerry Washington enunciates. I want to be a client of Pope & Associates just so I can hear Olivia say my name. Most of the time, I have no idea what the Huck the show is going to do next and I love that.

6. Parks and Recreation (NBC):  What other series could make local politics so utterly compelling? I literally love this show. Parks has the best ensemble cast on TV. There are no weak links. I adore every single character on it.

7. The Glee Project (Oxygen): The Glee Project is the only reality competition that is truly rooted in reality.  The audition process is grueling and, in the end, no matter how much the casting director, vocal coach and choreographer may love you, it all comes down to the executive producer’s capricious decision.  I love that this is a tough competition but one where none of the coaches are mean-spirited or nasty. If you’re not performing well, they will tell you but in a way that allows the performers to flourish. Bonus points to the show for 1):  Totally making up words.  We all need a little glee-ality and romanticality in our lives.  2): Giving me my new secret boyfriend Zach Woodlee. His proud papa face when he watches the kids perform makes me tear up every time.  3): Giving Glee Blake Jenner and Alex Newell. They’ve both been great additions to the series.

8. Mad Men (AMC): Not everything worked this season but when the show worked, it worked brilliantly. Joan finally telling her husband to get out. Peggy leaving the agency and coming into her own. Joan becoming a partner in the worst possible way. These are TV moments indelibly inked in my mind. Mad Men continues to create a world that is mesmerizing.

9. Awkward (MTV):  Yes I know I’m way too old to be watching this show. But what I love about Awkward is that although the technology has changed (no one had a blog when I was in high school), the experience of being a teenager hasn’t. Awkward takes me right back to the not-so-glory days of high school. But it’s not just nostalgia that makes me love the show – it is witty, hilarious, poignant and heart-breaking.  While I always rooted for Jake, the Jake/Matty/Jenna love triangle is one of the best ones out there.

10. New Girl (FOX): For a show ostensibly about a girl, it’s the men who have made this comedy flourish. The rapport between Schmidt, Nick and Winston is the stuff of TV magic. If Schmidt is the series breakout character, Nick is the sleeper breakout character. I still laugh every time I think about Jake Johnson’s “I give you cookie” diatribe.

Honorable Mentions:

The Good Wife (CBS): I adore this show. The only reason it isn’t part of my top ten is due to the mandatory “Nick is a bad husband” deduction. May we never have to see a fight involving raw eggs again.

30 Rock (NBC): As always, I want to go to there. In its final season, this smart comedy has enjoyed a greater and more hilarious freedom as it mocks its corporate parent and takes Liz Lemon through some major life changes.

Switched at Birth (ABC): Bunheads may be Gilmore Girls Redux but it’s Switched at Birth that has filled the hole Gilmore Girls left in my viewing schedule.

Go On (NBC): This comedy is doing exactly what a freshman comedy should be doing: It gets better every week as Ryan (Matthew Perry) continues to grieve his wife’s death with an unlikely support group. It can’t be easy to make a comedy about people continuing on with their lives after a great loss, but Go On is doing an excellent job.

Those are my favorite shows of 2012. What are yours? Talk about it below.

The Emmy Awards I Care About

Photo: Courtesy of SHOWTIME

By Amy Amatangelo, TV Gal®

The Emmys are my night of nights. My Super Bowl and World Series. Forget Christmas, this is the most wonderful time of year. I still love everything about the Emmys — the red carpet arrivals, the gushy speeches, the upset wins,the bad outfits and the questionable hairstyles.

But after years of trying to accurately forecast the Emmys and failing rather miserably, I’ve realized that no matter how hard I try, I am pretty bad at Emmy predictions.  Seriously, you so don’t want to take me to Vegas.  Therefore this year, I decided to talk about the six nominees that I would really like to see win.

Outstanding Drama: Homeland

I’m still recovering from the stress that was watching “The Weekend” episode. It was one of the finest hours of television I’ve ever experienced – surprising, nuanced, and brilliantly acted. In its first season, Homeland turned every convention about an one hour drama completely around.  It was impossible to play predict-a-plot with this series. Did you ever think that Brody and Carrie would sleep together? Did you ever think Brody would confront Carrie in the middle of the season? At the end of “The Weekend,” I was convinced (kind of) that Brody was innocent, but I had this lingering thought: “What if Brody is actually playing the long, long game?”   Any show that can make a viewer vacillate convincingly between two equally believable scenarios is pretty amazing and deserves to be recognized.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Claire Danes, Homeland

This isn’t just the performance of Danes’ career; it’s the performance of the season. There’s a palpable intensity to Danes’ portrayal of troubled CIA agent Carrie Mathison. You can feel that this woman is precariously teetering between sanity and the pull of her mental illness.  In her performance, Carrie’s mistakes (really should you sleep with your target? I don’t think so.) make perfect sense.  If the role of Carrie had been miscast, Homeland never would have worked as a series. Danes makes the series.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

For all the reasons I stated yesterday, Poehler deserves this win. Plus it’s really the only way to reward Parks and Recreation which was the year’s best comedy.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory

I didn’t watch the show every week until Bialik came along. She so wholly owns the character of Amy Farrah Fowler. Everything about Bialik’s performance — from the way she walks to the way she speaks — transform Amy’s funny lines into hilarious ones.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: Max Greenfield, New Girl

As I talked about earlier this week, this is the right role at the right time for Max Greenfield. But a character like Schmidt is so tricky because if an actor took the role too far, Schmidt would become a joke and a joke that the audience wouldn’t care about.  Greenfield makes Schmidt outrageous while still keeping him believable and vulnerable. One of the most interesting things that happened last season was how New Girl morphed from being about the adorkable Zooey Deschanel to truly being an ensemble comedy that often focused on the friendship of the three male roommates. Deschanel may have gotten most of the attention but Greenfield made the show.

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Christina Hendricks, Mad Men

Last season might not have been Mad Men’s best but it was definitely Hendricks’ best. Hendricks has been nominated twice before and this is the year she deserves to win. “The Other Woman,” which found Joan sleeping her way into a partnership was devastating and heartbreaking. Hendricks’ performance haunted me for days.

Those are the six awards I care most about this Sunday. How about you? Which Emmy award categories are you most excited about? Talk about it below.You can get a complete list of Emmy nominations here.

Also I’ll be tweeting during the Emmys so make sure to follow me on Twitter at @amytvgal and let me know what you think about the show.