Most Abrupt Transition: This Is Us
With everything going on these days, it was always inevitable that many shows, especially medical dramas and soap operas, would address real life situations, including COVID-19 and the pandemic that rocked the world in 2020. I don’t necessarily have issues with producers looking into how their characters would react to the pandemic, however, unlike A Million Little Things, which gradually brought the pandemic into the world of its characters, This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman made the choice to reveal the pandemic in a way that felt extremely abrupt and shoehorned into the narrative. The premiere episode picks up directly after the events of the season finale, and though there wasn’t any inkling of any virus hinted at last season (which is to be expected as the season wrapped filming prior to any shutdowns in the U.S.), all of a sudden everyone is invested in wearing masks and social distancing, and are talking about it as if it had been going on for weeks or even months. The way the show utilized the pandemic worked fine overall and didn’t impede the viewing experience, I just wish they would have done a much more subtle job in preparing us for the introduction to the virus.
Best Special Effect: The Mandalorian
Throughout all of season 1, The Mandalorian was able to mix some fantastic practical effects and puppetry with visually stunning new ways to explore computer graphics and effects. So it’s no surprise that the team behind the show would continue to showcase its excellent talents in the sophomore season (with the exception of one major misstep; see Part 2 for more). It didn’t take long, either, as in the first episode, we got one of the most mesmerizing effects on the show to date. As Mando (Pedro Pascal) seeks out a possible Mandalorian on Tatooine, he winds up in a small outpost to find that Sheriff Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant) is not a Mandalorian, he simply stole (or bought from Jawas) a suit of armor previously owned by Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison). Just before killing him to get the suit back, a Krait Dragon flows through town using the sand as cover to devour an unsuspecting Bantha. What was most stunning about this particular scene was in the way the creature swam through the desert as if it was it’s very own ocean. What looks like sand at one point becomes as malleable as water as the Krait Dragoin swims by. If the artwork and the character design of the creature itself wasn’t stunning enough, the way he traveled was the tip of the iceburg of a spectacular opening episode.
Most Poignant Moment: Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) Reading Mr. Miyagi’s Letter to Daniel (Ralph Macchio)
Since Cobra Kai debuted, it has been a smorgasbord of nostalgia. Whether it’s returning characters, references to iconic moments, the return to the All-Valley Karate tournament, or simple objects (like Daniel’s (Ralph Macchio) winning trophy), viewers get a kick out of all the easter eggs. In season three, producers decided to head back to Okinawa to revisit, in my opinion, the weakest chapter in the original trilogy of movies. I wasn’t that excited for what may come from this story line, however, one of the most poignant call-backs to the original films comes from this arc. It’s not a wink and a nod back to the nose honk, or seeing Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita) returning; no. It’s the moment that Kumiko reads Daniel a letter that Mr. Miagi (Pat Morita) left Daniel before he passed away. Listening to the letter is one thing; watching Ralph Macchio react to the words didn’t simply bring back beloved memories of the two of them together on screen, it was almost an existential moment for Macchio as he paid loving tribute to what I can only assume was a great friend in real life.
Best Debate: Hondo (Shemar Moore) and Deacon (Jay Harrington), S.W.A.T.
In a political atmosphere where a lot of writers only present one side of a debate as if it’s the unquestionable truth, S.W.A.T. pulled off one of the most respectful debates I’ve seen on a hot topic in a long time. No matter what side of the defunding police debate you’re on, the writers did a great job of handling both sides in a respectful way. In the episode, Deacon (Jay Harrington) argues that the call to defund the police is neutering the way police are allowed to do their job; they risk their lives every day and are given no respect. Hondo (Shemar Moore) understands this point, but also asks Deacon to look at it from the shoes of someone who has been victimized by the police. Neither man tried to shut down the debate or demean the other person, they simply voiced their opinion and showed respect for the other’s voice in the matter, then moved on to help one another continue the case they were working. If more people (I’m looking at you Twitter and Facebook) would respect the opinions of others instead of shutting down debate because you don’t like what someone says, discourse in this country might be just a little more favorable, allowing things to actually find a way to change for the better.
Most Original Song: Madilyn Bailey, America’s Got Talent
When trying to become famous on YouTube, no matter how good you might be, there are always going to be haters, detractors, trolls and other negative people harassing you for no other reason than to make themselves feel better. Some people can easily ignore the negativity, others internalize it and allow it to infest them and tear their dreams apart. Madilyn Bailey, though, did something amazingly original with these negative comments — she used them to write her own song with nothing but comments off of her YouTube channel. The outcome was a very funny, toe-tapping ditty that gave us all (well, except maybe Heidi Klum) a warm and excited feeling for Madilyn’s future. Whether these were actually real comments, or just a way to add zing to a song is beside the point; what Madilyn was able to do was give all the haters out there something to sing about. It’s a shame she lost that snappy originality in subsequent rounds of the competition.
Oddest Accessory: Grey’s Anatomy
With shows that integrated COVID into their shows, some worked well, while others felt like they were simply doing so to push the propoganda (as their COVID rules were all over the place). Some aspects of these story lines were organic, while others left you rolling your eyes. But it was Grey’s Anatomy that put the cherry on top of one of the oddest integrations of the pandemic this season. In order to stay as true to COVID protocols as they could, but keep the actors’ faces in the spotlight without having to cover their nose and mouth in every scene, producers gave the characters Hazmat-style suits with clear visors. The odd thing about this wasn’t the suit itself; it was the microphone that is blatantly sticking out in everyone’s suit. I would assume it was a way for the sound department to capture the actors’ voices without having to do any post-ADR, since having them in these suits would leave their voices incredibly muffled. But, to have them setup they way they did, and visible in every shot, it felt more like a distraction than anything else. In the context of the characters, they are useless. Unless it was a way to communicate with others also in the suits, since there was nothing visible to show how this sound might be amplified for the benefit of the patient. There had to be a more creative way to apply the COVID protocols than to stick them in a suit and play it off like it was just another prop.
Fastest Rollout: Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous
Whether or not the creators of Netflix’s animated Jurassic World spinoff created all 26 episodes at the same time, or they produced them season by season, the rollout of the first three seasons of Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous was the fastest rollout of any Netflix show I’ve seen to date. After releasing season 1 at the end of summer 2020, season 2 came on quickly in February of 2021, to be followed by an expanded season 3 in late May. Given that Netflix usually doesn’t get a second season of a show out for at least a year or more, regardless of number of episodes, seeing three seasons of one show in the span of one year’s time is mind-boggling. At this rate, in just two years, they will have had more seasons than most shows will ever see!
So Much Potential Award: Saturday Night Live
I am not one to pull punches when it comes to the current state of Saturday Night Live. Although I continue to watch the show, I tend to find each new episode to be more grating and less funny than the one before, especially with the current cast and writers. I am a big fan of the original cast, as well as the cast of the nineties, led by Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Chris Farley and David Spade. Both of these casts were no stranger to improve and they did it well. It seems the longer the show goes on, though, the more reliance the actors become to using cue cards for every word, leaving no room for a spontaneous moment that could add new juice to the proceedings (see my request for SNL to do just one show without cue cards). The reason I bring this up is because Dave Chappelle proved the show could reach great heights if the cast would sometimes just let loose and do what they can to make their peers laugh and break character. In a relatively decent skit about Aunt Jemima and others being “fired” from their respective products, Chappelle played the All-State man, who at one point made a joke about Count Chocula’s (Pete Davidson) lips being huge. He then turned to the audience and said, “Seriously, look at Pete’s lips.” This one moment was funnier than the rest of what SNL had to offer the rest of the season because it was real, it was spontaneous and it was just absurd enough to give the skit a life it was missing.
Worst Missed Opportunity: Debris
The premise of Debris — alien artifacts crash land all around the world and cause strange things to happen when around them — was ripe for mystery and fresh excitement. Like Fringe before it, Debris was poised to be a game changer in the sci-fi genre if they took a modicum of a chance to break free of the cliché restraints and ignite fresh new ideas into the genre. Alas, the producers of Debris copped out and chose to consistently play it safe, missing two incredible opportunities to make a name for itself. The first was the moment they found out someone was trying to transport half of Manhattan to a new location. Had the team failed, this would have changed so much and caused quite a stir, not only for the show, but for the fan base. The writers decided to thwart the objective though, and keep the show from reaching new heights. They had another chance to shock fans and make noise during the two-part time-travel/time-loop episode by completely altering the partnerships and relationships (which, from my perspective, weren’t working that well to begin with). But, once again, they played it safe and reverted everything back to the way it was before the episode happened, wiping the memories of the main characters to boot. Let’s just say, I’m not surprised it was canceled.
Epic Fail Award: American Idol
Just days after American Idol producers removed Caleb Kennedy from this year’s competition because of some stupid photo his friend posted a few years ago made the rounds on social media, Laine Hardy was given a chance to return to the Idol stage to promote his new single — and they didn’t even let him sing, shunning Idol‘s Season 15 winner and his fans. (Producers instead gave his time to guest mentor Finneas and judge Luke Bryan.) Idol – there’s no point bringing back past contestants (especially winners) if you’re not going to give the audience a great performance along with it. In other words, give your alumni the appropriate time to shine!
And thus concludes the 2020-2021 television season. Come back next year for more wonderful chaos in the world of television!