Television

The Alternative TV Awards of 2013

Also known as “Please watch these shows soon”

– By Qijian E.

“The Americans”
The “Homeland” award for espionage by two spies who love each other

The Americans

Espionage is hot again — the first season of “Homeland”, with ex-Marine Nicholas Brody flitting between war hero and undercover terrorist, was a terrific debut. “The Americans” , with its leads Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell playing Cold-War Soviet agents undercover in American suburbia. Unlike in “Homeland” where plot events have become more and more implausible in the later seasons, “The Americans” builds to its powerful season finale with a confidence far beyond its freshman years.

Part of this is down to the show’s focus on Rhys and Russell as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, whose marriage is creaking under the strain of spying for the Soviet Union. They are being hunted down by Stan Beeman (played by Noah Emmerich), an FBI agent who is also their neighbour. As the first season of “The Americans” progresses, Philip and Elizabeth struggle with their relationship even as Stan gets closer and closer to blowing their cover. However, Stan is caught in his own fiddle as he gets romantically involved with Nina (Annet Mahendru), a KGB officer.

“The Americans” does all this with a fantastic music soundtrack suited to the 1980s time period the show is set in, along with absorbing performances by Margo Martindale and other supporting characters, and perhaps the finest collection of wigs on TV.

“The Americans” returns this February.

“The Borgias”
The “House of Cards” award for political scheming, sex and murder

The Borgias

If “House of Cards”‘s Francis Underwood aspires to become president of the United States, he should take notes from Rodrigo Borgia. In the Showtime series “The Borgias”, Rodrigo uses his financial and diplomatic power to buy the papal election and become Pope Alexander VI . The meat of the series, however, is how the new Pope maintains his grip on his papacy against a medley of enemies, both within feudal Italy and outside.

Emmy and Golden Globe winner Jeremy Irons is cast as Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander VI; the theatre-trained actor taking on the role with a flourish. Pope Alexander VI is deliciously evil and pompous, and yet he has a soft spot for his wife and children, whom he regards as both pawns and beneficaries in his mission to keep power. Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia in particular become important players in the Borgias’ play for power in a crowded arena, played skilfully by Francois Arnaud and Holliday Grainger.

The costumes and sets were stunning, and the Borgia family drama was engrossing. Look out for historical figures too, from Cardinal della Rovere (Colm Feore) — who would [SPOILER] go on to become Pope himself, Niccolo Machiavelli (Julian Bleach), Caterina Sforza (Gina McKee), King Ferdinand of Naples (Mathias Varela) and King Charles VIII of France (Michel Muller).

The series was cancelled after its third season, sad to say, but consider this a historical prequel to what “House of Cards” offers.

“Hannibal”
The “Game of Thrones” award for book adaptations that draw you in and punch you in the gut repeatedly

Hannibal

“Game of Thrones”, from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novel series, is currently the most popular book-to-television adaptation. But Martin’s fantasy saga is not as famous as the Hannibal Lecter series written by Thomas Harris which, after five films in two decades, has been given a new lease of life in the form of a TV adaptation of the legendary doctor-cannibal’s story.

In a reversal of previous Hannibal Lecter adaptations, criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) becomes the focal point of “Hannibal” instead of the title character Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen). The relationship between these two characters is magnetic; Dancy and Mikkelsen are accomplished actors who give understated but brilliant performances. They are supported by a talented cast, including Laurence Fishburne, Gina Torres and Gillian Anderson.

“Hannibal” approaches its subject matter with a cold and starkly beautiful perspective — its cinematography can compete with the most expensive TV series out there. It entices viewers with Hannibal’s delectable food spreads, then makes them squirm with acts of sick violence. It is disturbing, really, that a TV series can be so violent and yet so exquisite; so haunting and yet so elegant.

The second season of “Hannibal” premieres in February.

“White Collar”
The “Suits” award for the guilty pleasure of watching gorgeous people in suits talk a lot

White Collar

Does anybody even hate Harvey Spector? The best “fixer” in town talks fast, dresses sharp and exudes more confidence than a roomful of Mr Universe contestants. His law firm has many more people who dress good and look even better — Rachel Zane, Mike Ross and Donna Paulsen have to be the most glamourous law firm staff in town. However, even Harvey cannot carry a TV series like how Neal Caffrey has carried “White Collar”.

Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is a ‘criminal informant’ attached to the FBI’s White Collar division, His unique status comes from being incarcerated for numerous art forgery crimes but deemed valuable enough to advise the FBI on white-collar crimes related to art. His handler and boss, Special Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay) is naturally mistrustful of him, but they grow to forge a close relationship — except for the numerous times when Neal pursues his own agenda and betrays Peter’s trust.

Matt Bomer is one of the best-looking men in Hollywood, and “White Collar” is pretty much an excuse to trot him out in tailored suits and fedora hats. It is a darned good excuse though, as “White Collar” is all about watching Neal Caffrey charm his way past people to help the FBI or for his own means. That Neal’s romantic interests look as good as he does is a bonus. How superficial, and what a pleasure to watch.

The fifth season of “White Collar” resumes this January.

“Veep”
The “Parks and Recreation” award for a female politician who just cannot get anything done right

Veep

“Parks and Recreation”, itself inspired by “The Office”, is hilarious partly because of its inactivity despite all that its well-meaning characters try to do. Leslie Knope, all-able city official, is constantly thinking of ways to improve her city but she gets opposed from all corners — from evil corporations, to members of the city council to even members of the public. Yet, Leslie has found her happiness in her group of co-workers in the Parks department. United States Vice-President Selina Meyer of “Veep” is far higher up than Leslie in the political food chain but with far fewer friends.

Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) cannot get anything done right — from her Clean Jobs initiative which has to be saved by the president, to making a fool out of America’s allies when singing at a charity dinner. She is helped, or perhaps hindered, by her staff in the VP office, and a POTUS who never contacts her, much less give her any help. Her personal affairs are not much better off, as she has a strained relationship with her daughter Catherine and an on-off affair with her ex-husband.

“Veep” is a riot, partly because of the sterling work by Louis-Dreyfus and supporting actors like Tony Hale (who was Buster Bluth in Arrested Development), Anna Chlumsky and Timothy Simons. It is stunning in its vulgarity — a legacy of “The Thick of It”, the series that “Veep is based upon — and it is chock-full of gags that a viewer will only grasp upon paying close attention. At its best, “Veep” is a satirical portrayal of politics that is too funny, and perhaps too close to how politics actually happen in real life.

The third season of “Veep” will premiere this year.

Special Mention: Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”
The Bryan Cranston award for acting so good, nobody else needs to be on screen

Tatiana Maslany

We all know Bryan Cranston as the man who played Walter White in “Breaking Bad” so well that he will have to look for work in Hollywood again after the show reached its finale this year. Who on earth, then, is Tatiana Maslany?

That question is what the world asked after “Orphan Black” aired on BBC America. There are at least seven answers to that question — Maslany played at least that number of characters in the science-fiction TV series that has become one of the sleeper hits of 2013.

Maslany, in “Orphan Black”, put in perhaps the singular acting effort of any TV actor in Hollywood in the past year. In a plot where clones of a particular person abounded, Maslany had to play all these clones and imbue them with their own personalities. Furthermore, these clones had to interact with each other, meaning for the majority of “Orphan Black”, Maslany was acting with just herself.

And it worked. Maslany pulled it off; she carried the show with at least five magnificent performances. These performances were for characters who were as different as they looked alike. With every episode and every scene, Maslany literally and figuratively dominated the screen with her extensive range of emotions and acting ability. As the plot grew more and more tense towards the end of the season, viewers, including myself, got on the Maslany train as all her characters just grew stronger and stronger. What a performance. What an actress. There is no doubt: “Orphan Black” is Tatiana Maslany.

“Orphan Black” returns in April.

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2 thoughts on “The Alternative TV Awards of 2013

  1. The fight for more “The Borgias” is not over! The show has been OFFICIALLY picked up to be championed by new internet platform SMGO, manned by business insiders and among others, a Netflix alum!

    Please, don’t forget to vote to bring a “The Borgias” continuation a step closer, using and spreading the new shortened link:

    bit.ly/14Akz5R

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