The Emmy Awards

Of Awards and Underdogs

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The 68th Emmy Awards came to a close the previous Sunday night (Monday morning, for you and me), pulling the curtains down on an another year of television based glitz, glamour and predictability. While most of the awards went to the same people and shows it usually did (Julia Louis-Dreyfus picked up her fifth straight Emmy), there were a few notable moments from the Awards ceremony.

Rami Malek took home the Emmy in the Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series category for Mr.Robot, in a ‘surprise’ win that felt obligatory. There’s no denying that Malek was excellent in his performance as the neurotic hacker, Elliot, but it felt unfair to me because some of the other actors in his category (and by some, I mean Matthew Rhys) had given better performances over a longer span of time. Mr. Robot’s second season is already far less impressive than the first, so although the Emmys took the apparently unconventional route with this winner, it didn’t come across as deserving. The Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series was also a surprise, albeit more meritorious – Tatiana Maslany, after three years of being snubbed, took home the award for playing multiple characters in Orphan Black.

mr robot, rami malek, emmys 2016, emmys 2016 rami malek

Aziz Ansari also took home an Emmy, although it wasn’t in the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series category. Instead, Ansari, along with Alan Yang, won the award for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series for Master of None. While Ansari didn’t get to talk much (the orchestra began playing before he could even finish his thank-yous), Yang made a comment in his speech about how there are 17 million Asian Americans in the United States, and about the same number of Italian Americans. He went on to say that the Italians have The Sopranos, The Godfather, Rocky and Goodfellas, whereas the Asians have Long Duk Dong (an Asian exchange student in the 1984 film Sixteen Candles, known for his bizarre behavior and over the top clumsiness). Yang also asked Asian American parents to get their kids “cameras instead of violins”. Yang’s speech was definitely one of the more dramatic ones that the evening saw, but it comes at an important time, after all, it has taken till 2016 for Asians and South Asians to be portrayed with nuance and depth, and not as inhuman parents constantly preoccupied with their children’s grades or bumbling owners of grocery shops.

The final hour of the Emmy’s was as predictable as the final hour of most masala movies – surprise winners notwithstanding, everyone knew who the winner was even before their names were announced. People vs OJ Simpson, which was nominated in a whopping 22 categories, took home the Outstanding Limited Series award. The Outstanding Drama Series went to Game of Thrones. Veep won Outstanding Comedy Series for the second year in a row. Now, People vs OJ Simpson, Veep, and Game of Thrones, are without doubt, studies in television excellence which deserved to win – but why does disappointment linger? Maybe it’s because from time to time, we want a David toppling a Goliath. Maybe it’s because we watch far too much television, for if we didn’t, we would know that underdogs hijacking spotlights doesn’t really happen in the real world.

The Guessing Game

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I suppose the easiest way of explaining the Emmy awards is to say that they’re like the Oscars, but for Television. There is a Television Academy in Los Angeles, similar to the Motion Picture Academy, which honours the best of Prime Time Television. The awards are determined in an identical manner as well, through peer voting. The Emmy awards differ from the Oscars however, in the manner in which the votes are cast. Unlike the Oscars, where every voting member of the Motion Picture Academy (which is roughly about six thousand member strong) gets to vote in all the categories, the members of the Television Academy are split into groups based on the expertise. So in essence, actors vote for acting categories, writers for writing categories and so on, automatically making the voter group smaller, and the awards, very competitive. As if that’s not hard enough, the quality of television these days ensures that the difference between an Emmy and second place would have only been the barest of margins.

The nominations this year have been mostly predictable, like Game of Thrones finding itself nominated in a whopping twenty three categories, but with a few surprises, like Aziz Ansari being nominated in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category, as well as his show Master of None, being nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series. If Aziz Ansari wins, he will be the first of South Asian descent to win an Emmy in the lead comedy actor category (he’s the first to even be nominated), but faces stiff competition with the likes of Jeffrey Tambor (who plays a woman, Maura Pfefferman, in Transparent) and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) also vying for the honour.

bienne of tarth gifs, brienne of tarth, shut up gif, shut your mouth gif

The Night Manager found itself in the honours list as well, with the show being nominated for Outstanding Limited Series, and its leads, Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman nominated for acting honours. It’s hard to say if they’d win though, because non-Americans haven’t really had the greatest runs in the Emmys, and also because People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story is in the same category. People vs OJ Simpson scored twenty two nominations, making it second only to Game of Thrones with respect to the volume of nominations, so while I have a great deal of love for The Night Manager, I won’t be putting my money on them.

This year also saw The Americans finally being given the nominations it deserved after three years of being in the Emmy snub list. The show has been nominated for Outstanding Drama, and the leads, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys have both been nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actress and Actor in a Drama Series categories. Keri Russell is up against some stiff competition with Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder), Taraji P Henson (Empire) and Robin Wright (House of Cards), and so is Matthew Rhys, who is competing with the likes of Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot).

better call saul, better call saul gifs
I hope The Americans win an award this year, not because the performances and writing were better than that of their fellow nominees’ (I mean, did you take a look at that list? They’re all impeccable), but because The Americans deals with a subject matter that is complicated, and uncomfortable – it makes you empathise with your enemies, and turns your perceptions of the bad guy on its head. It is intense, for me, has taken over the spot which was filled by Better Call Saul as the best drama series on television at the moment. So could this be the year of the Emmy underdogs? Or will it be just another year where the rest of us television nuts wax lyrical about our deserving, off-beat favourites, but Game of Thrones and House of Cards split all the awards between themselves?
Probably the latter.

Casting For Change

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

The 67th edition of the Emmy Awards, which recognises and honours excellence in primetime television wrapped up the previous Sunday. I watched the Emmys with more interest than I usually would primarily to see if any of the shows I’d written about in this column so far would win an award – Wolf Hall, Brooklyn 99, Better Call Saul and Empire were all nominated, but unfortunately, none of them won.

The Emmys this year had its moments, but the most important moment of them all was Viola Davis receiving the award for best lead actress in a drama, an award which she picked up for her starring role in the series, How To Get Away With Murder. Viola Davis was the first African American woman to win this award, and she quoted Harriet Tubman, one of the most important African-American humanitarians who worked tirelessly for abolitionism during the American Civil War, in her emotional acceptance speech. “In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can’t seem to get over that line.” Davis went on to say that the only thing separating women of colour was opportunity, and that you couldn’t win Emmy awards for roles that were “simply not there”.

viola davis, viola davis emmys 2015,

Viola Davis’ rousing speech on the lack of lead roles for coloured women comes at a time when Priyanka Chopra is poised to make a leap from Bollywood into American television as the lead in Quantico, a brand new series that premieres this weekend. Priyanka Chopra plays Alex Parrish, an FBI Agent who is half Indian and half Caucasian. Right from the time that news came out about Chopra’s new project, she raved in all her interviews about how this role was perfect because it was the kind where her “Indian-ness” didn’t matter, and that it could’ve just been played by any actress, irrespective of race. There are a number of actors in the industry, like Archie Panjabi, Mindy Kaling and Kal Penn to name a few who are doing roles that have nothing to do with them being Indian, but the fact that this role landed to an Indian actress from India, and more specifically, Bollywood, isn’t something that happens often, or at all.

The trailer for Quantico made its way out a good couple of months ago, and save for Chopra’s supposedly American accent, looked quite promising. The premise of the show is laid out entirely in the trailer itself – Alex Parrish is a patriotic young FBI recruit with a mysterious past, and when 9/11 happens, she is named a chief suspect. Earlier this week, the first eight minutes of the the first episode was “leaked”, and I managed to catch it before it was taken off the internet again. These eight minutes gives you a solid idea about the kind of person Alex Parish is – she’s strong, she’s intelligent, she keeps secrets from her mother, she’s sexually liberated and isn’t against the idea of getting it on with a random guy she sits next to on the plane – the actual sex “scene” though, is very carefully shot, there’s no nudity, there’s a flash of leg, and it’s mostly just sound, no doubt an effort made by Priyanka Chopra to keep things as Sanskaari as possible.

It’s too soon to judge if Quantico will be a hit (there’s a lot of talk comparing it to Homeland, which I find ridiculous) or if it will dramatically change the way Indians are cast in American television. From what I saw of the the show, it is not ground breaking, nor is it going to be the next big thing in American crime drama, but it was thoroughly entertaining, and that, is as good a start as any.