The 2011-2012 television season came to a close last week with the end of May sweeps, so now it’s time for me to honour the best of what I watched with my annual fake awards show. The only problem is that it’s proving to be a little more difficult than last year.
You see, I’ve never gotten around to watching a lot of the “great” cable dramas, such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, or Justified. This is a personal oversight of mine, and though I keep intending to correct it, I never end up doing so. (Every summer, I promise that I’m going to get caught up with Breaking Bad, but I never keep that promise.) So, most of the drama or dramedy I’ve watched has been of the less prestigious network variety. Last year, when it came to giving out awards, there wasn’t much difficulty, because network drama had had a particularly good season. (RIP The Chicago Code.) But this season, with promising new shows crashing and burning (e.g. Smash), long-running procedurals getting bogged down in stupidity (e.g. Castle), and other network dramas getting crushed under the weight of their ambition (e.g. Fringe), there’s not a whole lot that I want to honour. Pickin’s are slim, my friend, at least when it comes to drama. Comedy, though, has been pretty solid this year. With that it mind, let’s kick off the show.
Best supporting actress, comedy
Runner-up: Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother. I wasn’t always a huge fan of what HIMYM chose to do with Robin this season. (Seriously, Kevin?) But I can’t deny than whenever the writing for her character faltered, Smulders was there to pick up the slack. Robin Scherbatsky endured heartbreak after heartbreak this season, and Smulders made each one feel like a punch to the gut.
Winner: Busy Philipps, Cougar Town. Playing Laurie Keller must be no easy task. Without the right combination of sweetness, pluck, goofiness, ignorance, vulnerability, and enthusiasm, Laurie would be insufferable. But Philipps nailed it this season, in each and every episode. She has already won the Critics’ Choice Award for playing Laurie. What will it take for someone to hand her a golden statuette?
Honourable mentions: Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock; Lauren Lapkus, Are You There, Chelsea?; Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert, Happy Endings; Hannah Simone, New Girl; Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation; Anna Chlumsky, Veep.
Best supporting actor, comedy
Runner-up: Timothy Simons, Veep. If I ever need someone to play an insufferable asshole, I know whom to hire. Simons has been a hoot as the boneheaded Jonah, and he keeps getting funnier. Simons is relatively unknown at the moment – he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry – but I predict bright things in his future.
Winner: Reid Scott, Veep. Is it cheating to pick two actors from the same show? I hope not, because Scott has been incredible on Veep. It’s hard to commit to playing a slimy douchebag like Dan, but Scott does it so well, you’d think he were that kind of person in real life.
Honourable mentions: Alphonso McAuley, Breaking In; Brian Van Holt, Cougar Town; James Van Der Beek, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23; Adam Driver, Girls; Damon Wayans, Jr., Happy Endings; Jason Segel, How I Met Your Mother; Max Greenfield, Lamorne Morris; New Girl; Brandon Johnson, NTSF:SD:SUV::; Matt Walsh, Veep.
Best lead actress, comedy
Runner-up: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep. Everybody knows that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a funny lady, so it was no surprise to see her delivering a side-splitting performance on Veep. Whether unleashing a stream of profane verbal diarrhea on her subordinates or clutching in a case of actual diarrhea, she has been absolutely fantastic as America’s first female vice-president, Selina Meyer.
Winner: Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation. Whatever complaints I’ve had about the fourth season of Parks and Recreation, I can’t deny that Poehler continued to deliver a stellar performance. Leslie Knope did a lot of crazy things on the campaign trail this season, but Poehler sold each and every one of those moments.
Honourable mentions: Beth Behrs, 2 Broke Girls; Amanda Peet, Bent; Courteney Cox, Cougar Town; Dreama Walker, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23; Kathryn Hahn, Free Agents; Lena Dunham, Girls; Christina Applegate, Up All Night.
Best lead actor, comedy
Runner-up: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock. Baldwin has always been reliably great on 30 Rock, and this season was no exception, with Jack Donaghy saving Kabletown by building couches, while falling for his mother-in-law. The moment of the season finale when Jack realized that Liz was in a better place in life than him was a sublime moment of acting from Baldwin – one of many, in fact. With 30 Rock probably ending next year, Jack Donaghy will be leaving us soon. But I’m pretty sure that Baldwin will be appearing again in this very spot, if not the one above it, next year too.
Winner: Josh Radnor, How I Met Your Mother. Ted gets shat on a lot by the Internet commentariat, and rightfully so; he can be kind of a douche, I won’t dispute that. But for some odd reason, that hate has been projected onto Radnor, and I cannot, for the life of me, understand why. In HIMYM’s seventh season, Radnor delivered his best performance yet, whether it was demonstrating his adeptness at physical comedy, trying to articulate Ted’s complicated feelings for his ex-lover Robin, or just being really fucking funny. Radnor will probably never be recognized for his work in any official capacity, so the best I can do is to honour him here. Long live Ted Mosby! Well, he’s kind of a douche, but you know what I mean.
Honourable mentions: David Walton, Bent; Will Arnett, Up All Night. And that’s it. I’m just realizing now how few male-led comedies I watched this season.
Runner-up: Happy Endings. It was a toss-up between this show and Veep, but Veep is a young show that will almost certainly be appearing here in the future. Moreover, I wanted to recognize Happy Endings’ growth from its questionable beginnings as the worst of last season’s “relationship sitcoms” to its current status as the flat-out funniest show on TV. Wall-to-wall hilarity can be hard to achieve, but Happy Endings‘ second season managed to pull it off for most of its 21 episodes. Tapping into Adam Pally’s ability to play emotional material and Elisha Cuthbert’s talent for playing sweet but dumb, the show managed to be consistently great. I can’t wait to see what these six Chicagoans get up to next season.
Winner: Cougar Town. I’ve already written about Cougar Town’s third season here, but I just wanted to say that no other show on television managed to blend humour and heart quite as well as Cougar Town did last season. This was perhaps the show’s most consistently fantastic season (lower highs but much higher lows), and though only a handful of people watched, I’ll remember it as one of the best seasons of comedy I’ve seen in a while.
Honourable mentions: New Girl; NTSF:SD:SUV::; Veep.
Best supporting actress, drama or dramedy:
Runner-up: Karine Vanasse, Pan Am. I eventually gave up on Pan Am because of it descended too far into soapy territory. (No aviation-related pun intended.) But throughout the eight or nine episodes I watched, French-Canadian actress Karine Vanasse was a consistent bright spot, often outshining her more famous colleagues.
Winner: Parminder Nagra, Alcatraz. I think I’ve been the Internet’s lone supporter of Alcatraz, but that’s fine. It’s too bad that so many people missed out on a great performance from Parminder Nagra, who had to be equal parts sympathetic and scientific in the dual-role-that-wasn’t-really-a-dual-role of Dr. Sengupta/Dr. Bannerjee.
Honourable mentions: Debra Messing, Smash. God, this is a shitty category.
Best supporting actor, drama or dramedy:
Runner-up: John Noble, Fringe. It’s unfortunate that Noble will probably never be recognized for his amazing work as Dr. Walter Bishop on Fringe. Noble has been able to navigate through numerous shifts in time and dimension, and in every instance, he nails it.
Winner: Mandy Patinkin, Homeland. We often recognize the loud performances, the ones with big speeches or impressive moments of physicality. The quiet, understated performances are the ones that tend to slip under our radar. It’s all the more important, then, for us to acknowledge the work that Mandy Patinkin did on Homeland this season as the soft-spoken CIA agent Saul Berenson. Quiet performances often have a tendency to feel lifeless, but Patinkin imbued every word, every gesture, and every movement with meaning.
Honourable mentions: Jonny Coyne, Alcatraz; Ryan Cartwright, Malik Yoba, Alphas; Adam Baldwin, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Chuck; David Harewood, Diego Klattenhoff, Homeland; Michael Mosley, Pan Am; Christian Borle, Jack Davenport, Smash.
Best lead actress, drama or dramedy:
Runner-up: Yvonne Strahovski, Chuck. In the last couple of episodes of the series, Sarah Walker lost all her memories of the past five years. However, her soul remained intact. Strahovski demonstrated her skill as an actress with brief moments of hesitation that broke through her façade of deadly assassin and showed that no matter what her brain remembered, Sarah Walker had been permanently changed by her time in Burbank.
Winner: Claire Danes, Homeland. There’s really no dispute here. Danes will win every award in existence for her role as Carrie Mathison. She might as well win this one too. Intense, riveting, and unafraid to be unlikable, this was a performance for the ages.
Honourable mentions:Emily Deschanel, Bones; Anna Torv, Fringe.
Best lead actor, drama or dramedy:
Runner-up: Joshua Jackson, Fringe. Yeah, I surprised myself too by putting Jackson here. It took him four seasons to do it, but he finally won me over. Jackson had the difficult job of playing a confused traveller in a new timeline, and he pulled it off with aplomb. Unlike the other actors on the show, he only plays a single role, but that just means he shoulders the incredible responsibility of keeping everything around him anchored.
Winner: Damian Lewis, Homeland. Playing a role where the character has more information than the audience is a tough balancing act. You have to let viewers know that you know something they don’t, without inadvertently hinting at what that something might be. Lewis had to do that almost all season long on Showtime’s Homeland, and on top of that, he delivered a raw, emotional performance. Expect this guy to take home lots of awards.
Honourable mentions: David Strathairn, Alphas; Zachary Levi, Chuck.
Best drama or dramedy:
Runner-up: Chuck. The fifth season of Chuck didn’t reach the heights of the first three, but it was solid in its own right. In a regular season of television, it would probably be deserving of only an honourable mention, but like I said earlier, this wasn’t a great season for drama or dramedy. So, Chuck is here. Deal with it.
Winner: Homeland. However, I feel no shame in giving top honours to Homeland, which was probably the best new show of the season. Homeland was a psychological thriller, a political tale, and a character study, all wrapped into one, and somehow, it worked. A fantastic cast, sharp writing, and a twisty plot made this my favourite drama of the season.
Honourable mentions: Maaaaybe Fringe. It had a few fantastic individual episodes, such as “And Those We’ve Left Behind” and “The Consultant,” but I simply can’t endorse the season’s overarching storyline. So let’s call this half an honourable mention, alright?
Well, that does it for the 2011-2012 Refrigerator Rants end-of-season awards. Hopefully, next year, we have a better roster of drama contenders.