Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My thoughts on TRANSPARENT

Emmy voting has begun.

TRANSPARENT is a wonderful show. It is filled with rich characters, novel situations, tremendous heart, superb performances, inspired writing, and it courageously tackles a delicate subject with compassion and conviction. It’s far and away the best new show of the current season.

But I’m not voting for it.

Why?

Because it was submitted as a “Best Comedy” candidate.

I’m sorry, but TRANSPARENT is not a comedy. There are humorous touches, but it is a deeply affecting drama. It’s like a rightfielder winning the Cy Young Award for Best Pitcher because he’s got a good arm and throws accurately from rightfield. He’s not PITCHING. Or a girl from Italy comes to the U.S. on a work visa and wins Miss America.

If TRANSPARENT was vying for “Best Drama” I would vote for it in a second. I would cheerfully vote for it over MAD MEN. And sorry Jon Hamm, but I would vote for Jeffrey Tambor. I’d also vote for Amy Landecker, but not if I have to judge on the basis of comic chops.

Just because TRANSPARENT is a half-hour doesn’t make it a comedy.

The objective of a comedy should be to make people LAUGH. And yet, that goal is viewed as being almost unimportant. Comedy again gets no respect. It’s lightweight, frivolous. Anybody can do comedy. So to gain respect, comedies must now be dramas disguised as comedies.

Here’s the dirty little secret: Anybody CAN’T do comedy. Writing comedy is HARD. Getting genuine laughs is HARD. Filling a half hour with them, telling a compelling story with them, conveying truths with them, reflecting society with them – that’s FUCKING HARD. And those few who can do it really well deserve an Emmy category to honor them. There used to be one. It was called “Best COMEDY.”

Again, nothing to take away from Jill Soloway’s (pictured: left) writing on TRANSPARENT. I’d vote for her over Matthew Weiner were her show in the Drama category. And it’s unfortunate that it falls somewhere in between Comedy and Drama. Perhaps there should be a Dramedy category, although, who are we kidding? The Emmy Awards are too long with too many categories as it is.

TRANSPARENT won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy, but that’s the stupid Golden Globes. They mean nothing. I hope TRANSPARENT wins every Pulitzer, Peabody, GLAAD, you name a prestigious prize. It’s a revelation. But it’s not a comedy in the strict sense. Maybe I’m in the minority but I’m going to vote for comedies the fit the definition of the word.

UPDATE:  The Academy designates comedies and dramas by whether they're half hours or hours.  So TRANSPARENT would essentially be trapped in the Comedy category although it really isn't a comedy.   But reader RockGolf provided a link that shows the Academy will make exceptions.  Here's the link.    TRANSPARENT could have been submitted as a Drama if they had applied for a waiver. 

And that brings up another question.  Since they did have a choice, did they submit as a Comedy because they strategically felt they had a better chance of winning?   Something to think about. 

28 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

Ken, I suspect they'd have submitted as a comedy no matter what, but under the new Emmy rules (30 minutes = comedy, 60 = drama), they basically had no choice but to submit in this category. You going to penalize them just because the TV Academy leadership has no clue how to handle these shows that blur the category lines?

Oat Willie said...

It'll be a real slap if she writes a play and wins a Tony for Best Comedy By A Writer Who's More Known For TV Sitcoms.

Stephen Robinson said...

The series is not a comedy by the classic definition or even practically (its goal is not humor). I can't vote for a Chinese restaurant as best pizzeria, even if ai love their fried rice.

VincentS said...

Perhaps they put it in the comedy category so it wouldn't have to compete with MAD MEN. Here's an acting secret along what you're saying, Ken: It's EASY TO PLAY A MENTALLY CHALLENGED PERSON. Good thing Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Hanks didn't mention that when they took home their Oscars.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Unfortunately, the Academy does not define "comedy" by the number of laugh it gets but, as Alan Sepinwall said, by the length of the show. I agree it's not fair to penalize the show for the Academy's rules. I urge you, Ken, to reconsider. Your vote for some other show will not convey to the Academy what they're doing wrong. Send a letter, rant in Hollywood Reporter, attend meetings and demand changes in the rules. But gems should be rewarded.

wgg

Igor said...

Ken, I haven't seen this show, but...

Wondering if you could start a "Get Off My Lawn" score for posts like this.

IOW, I'm not sure if this somewhat passionately-styled post is an "Oh, what the TV world has come to" kind of post, or if it's plain-old analytical. And you've struck me as someone who's (pardon the phrase) self-aware enough to know the difference.

So if you like this suggestion, maybe you could use a scale of 1-5 lawnmowers - with 5 mowers being a total "Get the ******* **** **** off my lawn!"

Igor said...

PS: Ken, I'd be happy to cobble together 5 lawnmower graphics (1 to 5 mowers in each) for you to post.

Anonymous said...

There aren't that many laughs in Dante, either...

(Well, unless you find inverted-gavity naked Devil-giant navels hilarious and, let's face it, who doesn't?)

Graham Powell said...

As Rex Harrison is said to have said, "Any fool can play tragedy, but comedy is a damned serious business."

Ken Levine said...

Alan,

First off, I LOVE the show. But as someone who spent many lonnnnng nights for 35 years sitting in rooms trying to make my comedy shows as funny as possible, "comedy" is a priority. Why should the writers and producers of actual comedy shows be penalized because a hot zeitgeist non-comedy happens to only be 30 minutes?

If the Academy changed the categories to Best Half Hour and Best Hour I would vote for TRANSPARENT and campaign for it openly in my blog. I don't mean to penalize them because of the Academy, but I think it's worse to penalize all the many shows and staffs that do legitimately qualify in the category.

And to Igor (who I love, by the way), please realize that anytime I rant about anything a case could be made for "Hey you kids, get off my lawn." So that's just a given.

RockGolf said...

While the Emmy rules now default 30 minute shows as comedies, they will grant exceptions!

Jane the Virgin, a 60 minute series, won the right to be listed as a comedy in the Emmys. So did Shameless and Glee. Transparent should easily have been able to get the same kind of exemption.

http://www.tv.com/shows/the-primetime-emmy-awards/community/post/emmy-2015-comedies-jane-the-virgin-shameless-glee-142662884357/

Ken Levine said...

Thanks, RockGolf. I have updated the post to include this.

Tony said...

Even the 30-minute Emmy rule doesn't always apply. I recall the hilarious Eddie LeBec funeral episode of Cheers losing to the heartfelt but laughless "very special episode" of The Wonder Years which ended with a tragic death. Now that's comedy.

JEM said...

I thought Transparent started out great but that the series lost focus as it diverged from Maura's story of transformation to the details of the sexual hang-ups and intimacy issues of her incredibly annoying, self-centered family.

Stephen Robinson said...

I don't know why they have trouble defining comedy and drama (episode length sure isn't a good method). But even Woody Allen had that problem. He kept wanting to make dramas, but his supposed comedies were structured like classic tragedies but with humor. In other words, he had already achieved his goals with ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN.

There was a strange sensibiltity from some that if a show is too funny, it's not "good." Comedies must be dark or edgy, so you wind up with something like GIRLS, which many people find humorless.

Anyway, I know people who legitimately laugh harder during GOODFELLAS or GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS than any outright comedy, but I will always fight this push to define either as "black comedies." They are very funny tragedies.

Gregg B said...

This is probably all new territory for Amazon. Do they have executives who understand the byzantine rules of the Emmys? Not an excuse just probably a fact.

Jean Penaso Gabao said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chris said...

My first memory of this as an Emmy voter was with the premier season of "Desperate Housewives." For some reason I missed the nominating round that year and was surprised to find when I was viewing for my actual vote (Best Comedy Series, writing) that the producers (network?) had submitted it as a comedy. That was a real head-scratcher. A comedy? It read as nothing more than a blatant attempt to win an award. I rated it dead last, as I have with "Orange is the New Black" (an often wonderful show but not a comedy), "Nurse Jackie" (which in no way is a comedy) and the truly unfunny "Girls." I'm just one voter, but perhaps I'm not alone considering their lack of wins. Producers, take note. Apply for the waiver.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Wasn't Ally McBeal nominated for a best comedy series Emmy, back in 1999? That was an hour-long show.

Ironically, that show also employed writer/producer Roberto Benabib, who's now launching the divisive HBO show The Brink.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,
This might be a Friday question. I have tried writing comedy (did some monologue work for a local late night style show here) so I agree with you that writing comedy is hard. Any writing is hard but trying to write a joke that lots of people will laugh at, not easy at all.
Have you ever heard of a writer in a writing room just getting up and walking out, giving up mid-season?

Also, very minor obscure question, when they show on camera a hand writing a note, do they have a list of people with various handwriting abilities, or do they just pick the person on staff who has the best handwriting? Just one of those silly little questions that has been in the back of my mind.

Many thanks!
Dave

MikeK.Pa. said...

I'm nominating Jeff Francoeur for the NL Cy Young. He has a great arm in RF (although a spotty bat, hence his position on the bench most games) and he's already pitched two innings in a blowout loss. Curious what your thoughts are of THE BRINK. Saw the first episode Sunday and Tim Robbins looks like he's having a ball chewing up the scenery with a wink to the audience. He's even out-hamming Jack Black.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I had no idea GLEE was supposed to be a comedy either. Or GIRLS. Or DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.

Conversely, based on promos and William Fricken Shatner, I got the impression BOSTON LEGAL was a comedy.

Margaret of Memphis said...

I never thought MONK was a comedy, but Tony Shalhoub won multiple Emmys as Best Actor in a Comedy. Funny must be in the eye of the beholder.

Hamid said...

I'm shocked at the tragic death of James Horner. He was an amazing composer and the work he did on James Cameron's films was beautiful.

Incidentally, Rita Wilson paid tribute to him on Twitter and mentioned he did the music for Volunteers.

Barry Traylor said...

There have been than a few times in my life (darn it) that I have needed comedy much more than drama. The ability of people like yourself to get a laugh out of me and cheer me up a bit is gold.

Michael said...

Friday question: When actors on hit shows renegotiate their contracts, is it common for them to request some say in their character's story lines? I'm wondering if this could explain how on BIG BANG THEORY, Penny went from unsuccessful actress/incompetent waitress to successful pharmaceutical sales rep practically overnight.

chuckcd said...

I have been watching "Full Circle" on the Audience channel,
and even though it's a half hour, it's a drama.

jbryant said...

I'm a little late to this party, but what strikes me in the never-ending debates about the Drama and Comedy categories is that no one has ever come up with a good way to solve the problem. When Ken mentioned Half-Hour and Hour categories off-handedly, I thought for a second that might be the way to go. But obviously, the first time the categories were won by two comedies or two dramas, the uproar would be deafening. The only compromise that might make sense is the creation of Dramedy categories, but as Ken says, no one wants another couple dozen Emmy categories.

So it seems to be a literally unsolveable problem.