The Age of Louie


It takes a lot to start a new wave of television. You have to be expressive, influential, and most importantly, hold meaning and relevance for those watching. Our most recent wave of great TV has been the “golden age” of cable dramas with antiheroes at their forefront. However, the age of the antihero is over. Or at least is getting there. Instead of clinging to the past, it’s time for TV to move forward. And it already has.

FX’s Louie has sparked the next wave of great television. This might sound like a surprise because based on its description alone (Louis C.K. plays a fictional version of himself in this series that follows the comedian through the lows of being an awkward single dad in New York.), Louie sounds like a “normal” show. And it is! Louis C.K. is an ordinary everyman telling everyday stories in ways that are unusual for television. Because, at its core, Louie isn’t about plot, characters, or even being funny, but is instead about the nature of being human.

Humanity is an incredibly hard thing to explore in any medium, but Louie does it with thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Through its transformative ways of storytelling, Louie strips down everything we know about regular storytelling, and offers a revealing look at what it’s like to be human. In Louie you can find the raw truths about life, the bizarre experiences of being human, our fears of rejection, humiliation, and loneliness, what personal victories, fulfillment, and self-discovery feel like, and what human connection really is. All of this in one 21 minute episode of television.

That’s the thing about Louie. One five-minute segment can be the most loving and profound scene you’ve seen all year, and the next as strange as a David Lynch filmLouie has been transcending normal storytelling for years in a very low-key way. The show takes its time to explore the small ideas that really matter, and the end result is unbelievably meaningful television. This is our new wave of great television: Low Key-TV.

The most obvious example of Louie’s influence on TV is HBO’s new era of dramedies. Picking up Girls and having Lena Dunham in a creatively auteur-ish position (she writes most episodes but has a writing staff, also directs occasionally) was an obvious response to Louis C.K.’s creative control over Louie (he writes and directs every episode, has edited most, and sits in with the musicians). Each episode of Enlightened, HBO’s best (albeit cancelled) dramedy was written by creator Mike White. And HBO’s new dramedies, the so-so Getting On and the wonderful Looking, are creator driven shows that have distinct visions. More importantly, each of these shows embody Louie’s low-key type of storytelling. They all tell small stories that end up having big impact emotionally, and are all incredibly resonant.

But low-key TV isn’t just half hour shows. Orange is the New Black takes a step back in every episode to examine how humanity binds each character together in their community. Sundance’s first original series Rectify is a thoughtful examination of how we view our lives and why they matter to us. And Showtime’s Masters of Sex is, ironically, the most intimate show on TV outside of Louie, telling very small stories.

However, the argument can be made that low-key storytelling has been present in television for years. Mad Men has always been a short story show disguised as an anti-hero one. Showtime’s network defining dramedies have always been blurring the lines of genre and storytelling. Even Freaks and Geeks employed a certain type of storytelling that was small, yet emotionally rich.

Still, this type of storytelling has been crystalized by Louie. It’s the main reason Louie’s the most ambitious and distinctive show on TV. You won’t find any other show on television that devotes 21 minutes to a conversation between two friends, with one who says he’s going to kill himself. There will never be a show that has its protagonist unknowingly bring a duckling into Afghanistan. Or any other episode that details a man’s escape from depression which ends with him connecting with a random family in China.

Thanks to Louie’s sheer ambition and expressiveness we have our next great wave of television. And hopefully we’ll be able to feel thankful for years to come.


The Top 10 Television Shows of 2013



This is a bad list. Its badness isn’t necessarily the list’s own fault, but it is still pretty bad. For example, sitcoms and half hour shows in general are poorly represented. There is only one of them, and even if its episodes were 30 minutes, it is practically a half hour drama program. I wanted to illustrate how great television was in 2013, but really all this list does is show how great hour-long programs were. Also, none of the shows that appear on this list aired on broadcast television. There are many, many great shows that air on CBS, ABC, FOX, and NBC, but there just wasn’t enough room, and because of this, the list implies that cable television is the best kind of television. But all of this is simply because this list is just a list.

Lists have always been designed to make people angry and cause uproar. Their very foundation is so contrived and so stupid, and in the end they hold no meaning whatsoever. But for some reason they are just so fun to make, so here it goes.

The ten shows that make up  this list truly represent the greatness of television in 2013, but there are at least 10 more shows that could do the same. Any one of the 10 shows (and some of the next 10) could make the bid for “the best show of 2013.” This really speaks to how great of a time it is for television. It seems that in 2013 in particular each and every week a new, great show popped up and became the best show on TV. So don’t say that the golden age is ending because Mad Men and Breaking Bad are over, because right now television is ready to prove that will always be golden.

10. Orphan Black


With Orphan Black, Tatiana Maslany rocketed from actress with a cool sounding name to actress giving the best performance on television. In Orphan Black‘s first season, Maslany proved herself a star, giving the performance of a lifetime. Playing not just six, but seven different characters who eventually become acquainted with each other as clones, Maslany bested the Cranstons, Hamms, and Danes of the televerse in 2013’s best performance. But it’s not just Maslany’s sublime starring role that makes Orphan Black so great. The series’ whip-smart writing and twisty and speedy pace helped Orphan Black position itself as one of the best new shows of 2013. At its best Orphan Black was fast, funny, thrilling, and all around fantastic, and it helped that it remained remarkably consistent throughout all 10 episodes.

9. Les Revenants (The Returned)


When any type of art tries to cover the subject of death it’s bound to be tricky, and when it’s bad it’s really badLes Revenants, however, showed how good death can be portrayed when it’s executed right. Even if most of Les Revenant‘s main characters are the living dead who have returned to life, they aren’t the flesh-eating kind who have no brains. And even if the living characters freak out about their family/friends/acquaintances who have returned to life, they don’t respond with guns or katanas. Yes, it’s the thinking that connects these characters and what makes their journeys so compelling. (And being impeccably scored by Mogwai doesn’t hurt either.) Les Revenants doesn’t dwell in death, but rather flourishes in it. There is thought, reaction, connection, and experience through death, contrary to what its genre might suggest. The best thing about Les Revenants is that it never manages to get caught up in its concept, or the abundance of questions it doesn’t answer. Les Revenants was supernatural, moody, and even beautiful at times, and managed to reprioritize not only how we think about death, but how we watch television.

8. Orange is the New Black


At first, Orange is the New Black seemed like a mistake. In 2013 Netflix had been 0-3 for original programming (in terms of qualitative success) leading up to Orange‘s release date, and it’s not like the world needed what looked like an inessential perspective of prison told from an upperclass white woman’s point of view. But it eventually turned out that Orange is the New Black was one of the most surprisingly great series of 2013. As the series expanded its point of view and told stories that had nothing to do with Piper Kerman (the show’s main character) Orange is the New Black proved that it was one of the most powerful shows on television. Whether it was the story of Tricia, the tragically fated addict, or Sophia, who seems to be television’s first real and complex transsexual character, Orange is the New Black made it clear that it had stories worth telling. Even if by episode 7 you had no idea what the track star’s name was, you knew that her story was affecting and important television, and that Orange is the New Black had multitudes more to tell.

7. Rectify


By all counts Rectify was the best new series of 2013. It’s impossible to watch Rectify and not be taken aback by the show and everything it embodied. Rectify is practically 100% different from everything else on television. It’s an intimate look into one man’s new life after spending 19 years on death row, and it manages to find beauty in everything. It’s the little things that count in Rectify. In “Plato’s Cave” Daniel Holden, the show’s main character, spends a substantial part of the episode in a Walmart, mesmerized by everything around him. In “Drip, Drip”, Daniel finds a random man and ends up wrestling him in front of a statue of a crossbred goat-woman. Even if it is the slowest moving and most bizarre show on television, everything about Rectify is meditative, entrancing, and rewarding. Aden Young is magnetic as the series’ leading man, and supporting performances from Abigail Spencer and Adelaide Clemens round out one of the best acted shows of 2013. There is beauty and resonance everywhere in life, and Rectify makes that simple fact known.

6. Mad Men


It pains me very much to have Mad Men stand so low on this list. The sixth season of this veteran AMC Drama was dismissed by fans and Emmy voters alike, which may be the worst crime any television viewer committed in 2013. Mad Men wasn’t boring, repetitive, or unnecessary in 2013, because it turns it was absolutely essential to what the show is becoming now. The entire arc of season 6 didn’t really click until the last episodes of the season, but once it finished its run, Mad Men clocked in with one of the most fully realized seasons of television since when The Wire was on TV. Somehow Matt Weiner managed to bring more depth, profundity, and grandeur to one of the best shows of the 2000’s, and really showed what we’ll be missing come 2016.

5. Justified


In 2013, Justified flew by at what seemed like the pace of a speeding bullet, and the most entertaining show on television became even more entertaining. After a slight misstep in 2012 (due to following the impeccable season 2), Justified managed to successfully reboot its format by introducing an intriguing season long mystery. And it worked spectacularly! The mystery managed to stay interesting throughout the entire season, even more supporting characters were added and fleshed out, and the show continued on as slick as ever. And even in its own reinvention, Justified still remained to be what it once was. None of the charm, thrill, emotional affection, or simple fun was lost in the process, as Justified somehow managed to accomplish what seemed impossible: make itself even better than what it already was.

4. Breaking Bad

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If Justified flew by at what seemed like the pace of a speeding bullet, then the final episodes of Breaking Bad flew by at the speed of a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. (Sorry.) But seriously, to say that those last eight episodes were fast paced would be the year’s biggest understatement. In its final days, Breaking Bad delivered some of its strongest individual episodes anyone had ever seen, which make up one of the strongest final seasons of all time. The episodes weren’t just mechanically fast, but they were thrilling, affecting, and often times emotionally defeating. The writing was smart, the direction awe-inspiring, and the performances better than ever. There were intense standoffs and interrogations, hypnotic dream-like sequences, heartfelt character moments, breathtaking action sequences, and above all, desolate beauty. Even if I wasn’t too happy about its endingBreaking Bad left us with one of the most incredible runs of episodes ever, and a great final arc to one of the best dramas of all time.

3. Game of Thrones

game of thrones

Throughout the entire run of Game of Thrones‘ third season, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss demonstrated how great their trademark sustained storytelling could be. By ditching the 1 book per season rule that was established in the first two seasons, Game of Thrones got to relish in the details, and elevated from the best fantasy show on television to the best drama on television period. Each episode wasn’t as sporadic as previous ones were, even though the season covered about as much ground as every other series on TV did combined. There were also significant improvements from book to screen (which is quite remarkable considering A Storm of Swords is the best book of the series to date), the most notable being the development of Margarey Tyrell as an actual character. Game of Thrones has always been (and will always be) a thrill to watch, and with season 3 it showed that it could be truly astounding television.

2. Top of The Lake


Top of the Lake didn’t really feel like a television show, but rather a 6 hour movie. Nothing that aired in 2013 was more atmospheric or more engrossing than Top of the Lake. (And that’s not just because it was visually stunning.) Top of the Lake was structured around one upsetting case of a pregnant and missing 12-year-old in a small New Zealand town. Heading the investigation was Robin, a former native of the town (played rivetingly by Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss), and as she reacquainted herself with the town, Robin and viewers realized why she left the godforsaken place. In the end, Top of the Lake was bold, disturbing, saddening, yet completely absorbing, and left us with some of the best television we’ll never see again.

1. Enlightened

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The best kind of television is the kind that makes you feel something. And in 2013, no show was more emotionally affecting than Enlightened. The experience of watching Enlightened had always been different from most television throughout its 2 year run, and in 2013 it might have been the most powerful viewing experience of the year. Enlightened told the story of Amy Jellicoe (played magnificently by Laura Dern), a woman who saw herself as an “agent of change.” Amy had far-reaching aspirations (season 2 centered around the takedown of an entire corporation), but it didn’t matter if she achieved them or not, because it was the trying that really mattered in the end. In 2013, everyone who watched Enlightened had the pleasure of seeing of seeing Amy and others try to make a difference in their lives, and understand the essence of change. Enlightened could be funny, tragic, poignant, and inspirational in any given episode, and demonstrated how brilliantly constructed a half hour of television could be.

In just 4 hours, Enlightened told the best story of 2013. Each of the 8 episodes deemed themselves as necessary viewing, ranging from universe expanding perspectives (“Higher Power”, “The Ghost is Seen”) to brutal and honest conversations (“All I Ever Wanted”, “Agent of Change”). But in the end, HBO cancelled Enlightened. Even if it is gone now, Enlightened will always stay with those who watched it. There was no story more moving than Amy Jellicoe’s, no examination of humanity more beautiful than Enlightened‘s, and no more profound viewing experience than this 8 episode 2nd season. I won’t ever forget Enlightened, and chances are if you watched you won’t forget it either. Enlightened was the best show of 2013.

2013 Emmy Nominations: Emmy Voters Remind Us That They Can Be Cool, That They Are Still the Worst

The 2013 Emmy Nominations were announced today, at 5:35 AM PDT, and nothing has really changed. Yes, the Emmy voters showed us that they are the same old guys who are able to nominate awesome and deserving things (like Adam Driver for Girls), and still be idiots at the same time (House of LiesEpisodes and Modern Family aren’t going anywhere!). However, it wasn’t all the same old, same old, as a new player emerged and dominated in most of the fields.

Emmy voters really liked House of Cards. Like really liked it. Despite it being a traditional and fairly boring “cable” drama, it earned 9 nominations, making history by becoming the first program to not air on actual TV, but still score top nominations (such as Best Drama, Actor, Actress, Writing, and Directing). Netflix really lucked out with HOC, but unfortunately the same didn’t happen on the Comedy side. Surprise, Netflix’s rebooted fourth season of Arrested Development only scored 1 major nomination (Jason Bateman for Actor) and 2 others (Editing* and Original Score). This fact probably won’t bother Mitch Hurwitz, the show’s creator, because he’ll probably tell the voters they’re resisting change. Regardless, Netflix’s newfound dominance within the Emmys is a major thing, and will hopefully pave the way for Orange is the New Black, which will win all the Emmys in 2014.

*Seriously?!?!? The Emmy voters choose to honor the editing of AD‘s fourth season? What was once the best thing about the show in its original run became one of the worst aspects of the new season, in the overstuffed and overlong episodes.

Despite HOC‘s dominance, there are still great things happening in the Drama side of nominations. Breaking Bad earned 13 nominations (some include Best Drama, Actor, two Supporting Actors, Supporting Actress, Directing, and two writing noms!) and it seems like this is the best year yet for the scuzzy, southwestern, anti-hero-centered drama. Despite its dominance (two writing nominations!!!) BB seems like the show that will never win Best Drama, and that’s okay because its fifth season wouldn’t be my choice for best drama. (Despite being Breaking Bad, the fifth season seemed like a step down from its outstanding fourth season, but in reality, it was still really great television.) Even though I may seem down on BB, this is the year for Anna Gunn to win, and I know I’m going to love her acceptance speech. Same goes for Jonathan Banks.

Accompanying Breaking Bad is Game of Thrones. GOT earned 16 deserving nominations for its best season yet, which is the most of any drama this year. Among the most deserved are Best Drama (obviously), Emilia Clarke for Best Supporting Actress (you truly cannot say no to Daenerys ‘Dracarys’ Targaryen in this scene), Best Writing for “The Rains of Castamere”, and Best Casting (seriously, I don’t know how they do it). Don’t get too excited, the Emmy voters managed to screw up somewhere GOT related, and this year it was Directing. Season 3 of GOT, seemed like it was the best directed show on TV (The Red Wedding, the previously mentioned Daenerys scene), but a nomination is nowhere to be found. Despite this, 2013 seems like the year for GOT to win it all, so here’s hoping it does.

Now, things aren’t all that great in the Drama field of nominations. Voters still found the need to nominate Downton Abbey which has been rapidly declining since the end of season 1. Downton scored 12 nominations, which is still far too many for this import drama. There is really nothing good I can say about this. Instead of submitting the heart-wrenching episode 5, the fairly forgettable episode 4 was submitted and scored writing and directing nominations.

What Downton Abbey is to the Dramatic categories, Modern Family is to the comedy categories. After winning three consecutive Best Comedy Emmys (which compares it to the likes of The Dick Van Dyke ShowAll in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Taxi), MF is back with only 12 nominations. This is a step down from past years, which is only a good sign, because no one wants Modern Family to be compared to the greatness of All in the Family. In fact, there is a rather hilarious (funnier than Modern Family, I promise!) slip that the show experienced this round of nominations. Last years winner, Eric Stonestreet (who I would’ve called one of the best performers on TV three years ago, but is now insufferable) was NOT nominated this year. Again, things can only get better.

While I like might to dwell some more about the negative things on the comedy side (House of LiesEpisodes, even more Modern Family rage) there is actually some really great stuff happening. As previously mentioned, Adam Driver was nominated for his performance on Girls! Laura Dern was nominated for Best Actress for Enlightened! Merrit Weaver was nominated again for Nurse Jackie! (the performance is good, the show… not so much.) Lena Dunham got a directing nomination for directing one of the best half hours of TV in the past decade (“On All Fours”)! Louis C.K. scored a whopping, 9 individual nominations (ranging from producing, directing, writing, editing, and acting)! Things are really, really great on the comedy side.

But best of all is the love for 30 Rock. 30 Rock earned 13 nominations for its beautiful swan song of a last season, which was a true triumph of TV in the past season. Among those are 2 writing nominations for “Hogcock!” and “Last Lunch” which combined create one of the best television finales of all time. In truth, because they are both nominated, votes will be split and Louie will win again, but that’s not a bad thing. Another deserving nomination that 30 Rock deservedly received was for Best Original Music and Lyrics for “The Rural Juror.” This song is truly an outstanding accomplishment in television, and will rightly win the Emmy. Because it is its last year, and has garnered many nominations, there is another comedy that actually stands a chance at dethroning Modern Family, so here’s hoping its 3o Rock.

The Comedy and Drama nominations aren’t all that are important. Yes, there is a lovely field of contenders in this year’s Miniseries/TV Movie categories. Among the top of them are Top of the Lake, and Behind the CandelabraCandelabra earned 15 nominations for Steven Soderbergh’s first foray in television. Top earned a bevy of nominations, and rightly so, though Holly Hunter was snubbed of a nomination for her wacky and confounding performance. Both nominees are equally deserving of their nominations, and I couldn’t be happier with the competition between the two.

Even if there are great things getting nominated, there are still less deserving nominees that exist. For instance there’s Jeff Daniels of The NewsroomVice being nominated for an award with the word “Outstanding” in front of it. There are also far to many snubs to count. The guest actress categories strike a particular chord with me. Parker Posey did not get nominated for her profoundly beautiful performance in Louie, but I guess the nominations of Melissa Leo and Molly Shannon for Enlightened  make up for it. The Americans was also shut out of most major categories, but voters proved they watched it by nominating Margo Martindale. In the guest actor categories Patrick Wilson was shut out for his performance in one of the best episodes of Girls ever. David Lynch and F. Murray Abraham were not nominated for their equally hilarious roles (especially Lynch) in Louie. However, Harry Hamlin managed to get nominated for his particularly great role in Mad Men. But, in return Mad Men (one of top shows of the year) earned no writing or directing nominations. The dramatic actress category is a particularly confusing one. Seven women were nominated, but none of them were Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black (10 more times!), Keri Russell for The Americans, or former winner Juliana Margulies for The Good Wife! The only “reasonable” explanation for all of these snubs would be to blame it on House of Cards. Fuck House of Cards.

I could go on and on complaining about the snubs from the Emmys. I didn’t even mention Mike White, the New Girl shutout (I’m calling conspiracy!), or Rectify! But in the end, it just turns out that Emmy voters can be stupid. They like stupid things for stupid reasons and nominate them in stupid categories. That’s why fucking House of Cards has nine nominations and Rectify has zero. But it turns out Emmy voters can be cool to. Whether its nominating awesome performances (I can’t get over Adam Driver!), great writing (“The Rains of Castamere”) or great directing (Louis C.K. for “New Years Eve”), Emmy voters can sometimes get it right.

And in one particularly moving case, the Emmy voters got it on the nose. Henry Bromell passed away tragically from a heart attack at the age of 65 back in March. Before he died, he wrote one of the best episodes of the television season, Homeland‘s “Q&A.” Now the nominations are out, and guess who is nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series? This is a profound and moving sentiment by the Emmy voters, and in the end, they seem like they’re alright.