An anonymous member of the TV Academy makes his case for 'Fargo' and 'Silicon Valley,' and explains why 'Atlanta' just "isn't funny, at least to an old white guy like me."
A version of this story first appeared in the Sept. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
I’m the only person I know who has hated House of Cards from the start. It’s always seemed pompous and too impressed with itself, and never has worked for me, but I dip a toe in every season to see if it’s gotten any better, and it’s like, “Nope!” I really tried with Westworld, but while I was watching it — which I did because my wife loves it and I’m a good husband — I kept thinking to myself, “This is pretentious bullshit.” I know I’m supposed to be wowed by The Handmaid’s Tale — I liked it, but it was a little too monotone for me, and everything after episode two felt like filling in time. I kind of wanted to vote for Better Call Saul because it hasn’t gotten the love that it deserves — it’s so well-written, so well-acted and not like anything else on television — but I didn’t. I loved Stranger Things — it was creepy and fun, you could just feel the passion that went into it and they really nailed that '80s sensibility and got some terrific work out of those kids. I loved The Crown even more. I’ve been an Anglophile since The Beatles showed up, and this show was so beautifully presented, like the old Masterpiece Theatre, that I just felt like, “Oh, my God, I’m right there with her.” But I voted for This Is Us because it was the most surprising of all of these. Every episode was great, everyone can relate to at least one of those characters, and it was the one show this year that we would rush home to watch and talk about; I mean, they just posted a teaser clip from season two and I showed it to my wife and I was in tears. Also, it’s a network show — which means having to make more episodes than any of the others and having many more opportunities to belly flop — and I like TV networks. There’s something about them that harkens back to the days of Ed Sullivan or Friends or M*A*S*H, when everyone across America watched the same thing. It made me feel good to see that happening again.
MY VOTE This Is Us (NBC)
I don’t regularly watch all of these, but I sampled them all. I’m very old-fashioned when it comes to comedies — I like them to be funny — and Atlanta is not funny. It’s very creative — I’m a big Donald Glover fan, I think he’s a huge talent and I wish that show nothing but success — but it isn’t funny, at least to an old white guy like me. I enjoy Master of None more in theory than I do in practice; it’s just a little too preachy and sanctimonious. Similar thing with Black-ish: it’s funny, but I always feel like I’m being scolded and educated, and while I don’t mind John Oliver educating me about obscure things, I don’t need that from a network comedy. It just got a little too up its own ass this year. Then there’s Modern Family, a show that I stopped watching this year because, once again, comedies have to be funny. I used to love that show — it was appointment TV for my whole family — and now you’re lucky if it provokes a smile once or twice. [Unbreakable] Kimmy Schmidt I love, love, love — it’s just so fresh and silly and funny, and I love [star Ellie Kemper] — and in another year I might vote for it. Veep was really good, but it wins every year [actually just the last two]. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley had its best year yet, so that gets my vote.
MY VOTE Silicon Valley (HBO)
I voted for The Daily Show in the nomination process because I’m so impressed with Trevor Noah, but he didn’t make it. Of what did, I must admit that I have a certain bias against the once-a-weekers, just because I think it’s so much easier to do one show a week than it is to do five. I enjoy Full Frontal and I feel like I have a duty to vote for it because the host [Samantha Bee] is a woman, but there’s a certain smugness about that show that doesn’t work for me. Bill Maher? I love that show [Real Time], and I’m tempted to vote for it just to push back against the oppressive political-correctness that he faced [after he used the N-word on one episode this season], but it hasn’t really had any growth or change. And John Oliver is tremendous and educational — what did I know about prison reform or mosquito abatement or whatever, before watching him? But again, those guys only do one show a week. I love [James] Corden [of The Late Late Show], and in some ways he’s the most creative of all the late-night hosts, from the music videos [“Carpool Karaoke”] to having all the guests come out at once. [Jimmy Kimmel Live!’s Jimmy] Kimmel is terrific and the only 11:30 show that tapes out here [in L.A.]. But I had to vote for [The Late Show’s Stephen] Colbert this year. I loved him on The Colbert Report and I like his redemption story: He was struggling, but he pulled himself together and made himself part of the conversation — and he’s just plain funny.
MY VOTE The Late Show With Stephen Colbert (CBS)
The first one out was Drunk History because it’s one-note, or one-joke, to me — by the way, I’m sober when I watch it. I’m a big fan of [Billy on the Street host] Billy Eichner and I enjoy his show, but he gets a little tiresome. Then there are the IFC shows, both of which I love. Portlandia is funny but a little too weird. Documentary Now! almost got my vote — I don’t know if it was this season or not because it all kind of blurs in my mind, but the one that makes fun of what’s-it-called, Honzu Dreams of Sushi? [Jiro Dreams of Sushi is sent up in the episode “Juan Likes Rice & Chicken,” which was part of the most recent season] —oh, my God, that one was so funny and clever! Tracey Ullman [on Tracey Ullman’s Show] was really funny, and in some years I might have voted for her, but this year I couldn’t not vote for SNL. It feels a bit like voting for your grandfather’s show, but SNL was right in the middle of the action this year and held its own.
MY VOTE Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Wow, this was a tough one. I saw at least some of all of them. The first one out for me was Feud [Bette and Joan] — great performances, but it just felt a little drawn out and probably should have been a TV movie. I wanted to like Genius, but it didn’t really hold my interest. Big Little Lies and The Night Of were both really good with beautiful performances, but HBO is like Goliath in this category and the TV movie category, and, in a case of all other things being more or less equal, I like to push back against that. I’ve loved Fargo in all three years, but it was just insanely good this year. I love the “macro-ness” of that series — we’re gonna do a TV series based on a Coen brothers movie that doesn’t have any of the same characters; it exists in the same “universe,” to use the in Hollywood term; but each season is completely different. What’s Obi-Wan’s name? [Ewan McGregor.] He was terrific! And I fell in love with Carrie Coon — she’s replaced Scarlett Johansson as my hall-pass with my wife, and she was just sensational. It all was just so smart and creepy in that Fargo way where things are really brutal and really funny and really weird.
MY VOTE Fargo (FX)
I did not watch Dolly Parton [Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love] — I just didn’t. The Wizard of Lies was fine, it just sort of seemed like a standard HBO TV movie and was not really exceptional. Sherlock was good, but I’m tired of it — one season too many, at this point. [The Immortal Life of] Henrietta Lacks? I didn’t finish it because it didn’t quite hold me. And besides, there was no way I wasn’t going to vote for Black Mirror, which I think was one of the greatest things on television in a long time and should have been up for best limited series, which is what it really is — it’s an anthology series, not a collection of individual movies. I actually thought “San Junipero,” the one they submitted, was one of the lesser ones, but the whole thing — the storytelling, the creativity, the imagination — is just spectacular.
MY VOTE Black Mirror: “San Junipero” (Netflix)
I didn’t watch all of these this year, but I have seen bits of all of them over the years. Top Chef? Is that the one with the cranky chef? [He’s referring to MasterChef’s Gordon Ramsay.] I don’t like him. Anyway, I’m a Food Network guy, so that [Bravo show] doesn’t work for me. Project Runway and RuPaul[’s Drag Race]? They’re a little too female, a little too gay for me — they’re fine, but not for me. The Voice? I was a big American Idol fan all those years, right to the end, and what bugs me about the rip-off shows is that they’re supposedly about finding the next big star, but none of them have produced anyone who actually went on to have a real recording career in the way that, say, Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood did. For me, it came down to The Amazing Race and American Ninja Warrior. I love The Amazing Race — it’s one of my bedrock shows, even in season 972, because I love aspirational stories, and they find ways to keep it fresh; this year it was strangers as teammates, rather than couples or something. Also, I love the travelogue aspect of it; as an internationalist, I love the not-so-subtle plug they do for multiculturalism, like saying, “OK, we’re going to go to Bangkok, and go to a temple there, and you’re gonna pray and try to figure out one of their dances.” I think it’s good for Americans to see that there’s life outside of Walmart. But American Ninja Warrior is phenomenon. It’s two hours of everyone doing the same course, and yet I can’t take my eyes off of it. It took them a few years to figure it out, but it just gets better and better.
MY VOTE American Ninja Warrior (NBC)