Welcome to Part Two of the Eighth Annual Spunky Awards! We gave out a lot of awards last week, but we’ve still got a whole shelf of trophies, including Badass of the Year, Best Cliffhanger, Biggest Tearjerker and our top honor, Entertainer of the Year.
We know we’ve kept you waiting in your formal wear for a week, but once this is done, you can go back home and clean up, we promise.
And now…. the Spunky Awards!
Best Cameo – We’re going old school here, as our winner comes from the show that practically invented the modern day cameo: Will & Grace! Not every new ep this fall had one, but there was one with a storyline about Jack having a grandson. If you watched the original run, you know that Jack was a sperm donor to make money, and that created his son Elliot. He didn’t raise him, but they got close. In the redux, Jack’s grandson, who he had no idea even existed, comes to NY because his parents want him to go to a gay conversion camp to “fix” him. It turns out Elliot married some far right chick from Texas (natch) and Jack hasn’t spoken to him since before the wedding. The kid goes to the camp, but Will & Jack follow to “save” him. Here comes the cameo: Jane Lynch and Andrew Rannells play the married Camp Directors, who are obviously converts themselves. The laughs follow, especially when Andrew Rannells and Eric McCormick kiss. The best thing about cameos on this show is how much fun the actors are obviously having, and this is the best example of that in 2017.
Great Moments in Metafiction – When Last Man on Earth did a six month time jump this year, it was easy to see why. Melissa’s recovery didn’t exactly present a lot of opportunities for comedy. And with the way time moves fairly slowly on the show, Erica and Carol were going to be pregnant for four seasons. And usually when a show does a time jump, there’s some exposition or a flashback to let you know what you missed. Instead, they jumped straight to Todd and Melissa’s wedding. As officiant, Tandy talked a lot about those six months (“They were probably the most eventful of our time together….”) without telling us anything. Because, you know, everybody there already knew so there was no need to get into it. It was a funny way to get around potentially awkward exposition while also trolling the audience.
The Brock Samson Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Improvised Weaponry – HBO’s Vice Principals featured a lot more weaponry than you usually see in a comedy, including a sword hidden in a cane. But for us the big moment was in the finale when Ms. Abbott attacked her rival in the bathroom with a handicapped parking sign. Oh, and Abbott was wearing a bridal gown at the time. It was pretty great.
Best Quinceanera – Years ago, we established a Spunky for Best Bar Mitzvah. We usually don’t have much trouble finding at least one of these festive occasions in a pop culture year. But 2017 was different in a lot of ways, and this is yet another. Instead of a Bar Mitzvah, we are awarding the work done on Netflix’s One Day at a Time reboot. The entire first season of the show led up to the Quinceanera of Elena, the daughter of the show’s matriarch, Penelope. While Elena, who is confused about both her sexuality and her feelings about old fashioned traditions, bristles at the very idea, Penelope is torn between her daughter’s angst and her mother’s desires to have this blessed event. Her mother is played by the legendary Rita Moreno, and she is incredible, both at the quinceanera and throughout the season. But it’s Elena who shines brightest here, as it should be. She graces the party in a stunning white pantsuit and does an incredible dance routine that envelopes all her close friends and family. It’s a bit heartbreaking when her father, who does not support her decision to come out as a lesbian, does not stay at the party. But it is her family, along with surrogate big brother/dad Schneider, who perk up the teenager and ends both the evening and the show’s first season on a very high note.
Best Kittycat – We try to give this award to actual real animals because we like the idea of petting them when they come up to accept their award. But BoJack Horseman’s Princess Carolyn was so good this season that we have to honor the character (and voice actress Amy Sedaris). Her character, BoJack’s manager, began as the most competent person on the show, but over the years she’s been through a lot. She broke from her agency and started her own, lost BoJack as a client and possibly as a friend, and this year she started a healthy, loving relationship with a mouse, which his racist family ruined. And all season, they struggled with fertility. And just when it looked like she was never going to have the baby she so desperately wanted, we got the episode “Ruthie”, with a framing sequence starring Carolyn’s great-great-great-granddaughter. It was the only ray of light in a devastating episode for her and it gave us this hope that at least things would work out. Except that at the end, Princess Carolyn explained that when she has a bad day, she likes to imagine it as a story told in the future by one of her descendants. There was never a Ruthie.
The “Who’s a Good Boy?” Award for Best Dog – Was there a dog better than Last Man on Earth’s Jeremy? The poor little guy spend years in a bunker with Kristen Wiig’s Pamela Brinton as she slowly went insane and tried to force him to talk. (He just couldn’t learn to say “milk”.) She opened the door to prove a point and that dog ran as fast as he could. Somehow she got him back, but every time he had the chance, he’d run away from her. Even when she was holding him, he managed to look annoyed. This dog is one heck of an actor!
Badass of the Year – Only one person could win this honor while never leaving her chair. In her final appearance on Game of Thrones Lady Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) faced her impending death with stoicism when Jaime Lannister showed up. He mercifully allowed her to drink a quick-acting poison for a painless death, so in her final seconds, Lady Olenna admitted that she was the one who killed his son, Joffrey. And her final words to the shocked Jaime – “Tell Cersei. I want her to know it was me.” Facing death without batting an eye and flipping the middle finger as you go? That’s pretty badass.
The Worth the Wait Award – We have been actively stumping for semi-obscure but awesome Batman villain Professor Pyg to show up on Gotham ever since that first season trailer showed somebody in a pig mask. It took three and a half years, but Pyg finally came to town (played by Michael Cerveris) and even though is gimmick was different, his theatricality was intact. He actually performed a musical number before forcing the wealthy of Gotham City to literally eat the poor. We got amazing deathtraps, an awesome meat cleaver fight, and a payoff that was completely surprising even to those of us who’ve watched and read every appearance of Professor Pyg to date. There were times over those years when we lost faith, but we finally got our Pyg and it was better than we could have hoped.
Best A.I. – D’arcy Carden’s Janet has been a standout on The Good Place from the beginning and she got to do so much this year. We’ve seen the glitchy Janet after a forced reboot, we’ve seen the trashy Bad Place Janet. We’ve seen the Janet who’s programmed to beg for her life every time Michael starts over. And best of all, we’ve seen the increasingly self-aware Janet after upgrading with every new start. She has more emotional range and feelings for Jason – feelings that led her to try and create a new boyfriend who drove her crazy. Janet is getting more and more interesting while still possessing all the knowledge in the universe. She’s the best case scenario for Siri, basically.
Best Comeback – Thirteen years after Samurai Jack left Cartoon Network, the series returned on Adult Swim for a grand finale. And while the actual final episode was pretty divisive, the miniseries was a blast. An old and bitter Jack wandered the world sans sword simply trying to survive. Along the way he battled the Daughters of Aku, dealt with the guilt of killing a human, found love, traversed bizarre landscapes, rallied just about every character who appeared on the original series, and finally killed Aku and set the world right.
Best Cliffhanger – Since Better Call Saul is a prequel, we know that Jimmy McGill, Mike Ehrmentraut, Gus Fring, and several other characters have to survive to appear in Breaking Bad. And over three seasons, the show has made us care about new characters like Kim Wexler and Chuck McGill just as much, and we have no idea where they end up. And that’s why the most compelling cliffhanger of the year had Chuck, deep in the throes of a breakdown, kicking over one of his kerosene lamps and we watched as his house burst into flames. It seems like something really bad has to happen to push Jimmy fully into his Saul Goodman persona, and this might be that thing.
Golden Pipes Award for Outstanding Vocal Performance – In a show as full of great voice actors as Bob’s Burgers, it’s tough to single anybody out. But also? How great is John Roberts as Linda Belcher? The way Linda can turn anything into a song or how her boundless enthusiasm sprouts out of nowhere or the thousand different emotions that Roberts can express with variations on “All right” – it’s all just dynamite.
The Twinsies Award – This year’s new fun thing is actors playing identical twins. This year we saw Zach Galifianakis returning to the roles of Chip and Dale Baskets on Baskets, Ewan McGregor as Emmet and Ray Stussy on Fargo, James Franco as Vincent and Frankie Martino, and in an afterlife episode of The Leftovers, Justin Theroux as The Most Powerful Man in the World and His Identical Twin Brother. And of course you have Ollie and Andy Pesto on Bob’s Burgers, and even though they’re voiced by two different people (Sarah and Laura Silverman), we love them and need them to be on this list.
Best Show Within a Show – So, BoJack Horseman thought he was making his big return to TV when he was invited to appear on FHBA: LA. Sounds like a procedural, right? Well, turns out he was serving as a judge on Felicity Huffman’s Booty Academy: Los Angeles. It was originally Felicity Huffman’s Future Leaders of America, but the network had notes. Huffman, BoJack, and Sir Mix-a-Lot (who, after all, can not lie) judged…. you know, booty.
Best Commercial Within a Show – We could tell you about how great this bit from Better Call Saul is, but you might as well just watch it and marvel at the star wipes.
Best Hairpiece – It wasn’t the weirdest or most elaborate, but we’re big fans of Boyle’s hair turning completely white from stress in the Brooklyn Nine-Nine season finale.
Biggest Tearjerker--Obviously, This Is Us makes virtually every one of its viewers cry every single week, so picking the biggest tearjerker from that show is difficult. We decided to go with perhaps the most surprising one. In this fall’s trio of episodes that re-lived the same pivotal day in the both the present and the past for each of the Big Three, we were surprised at how affecting Kevin’s story was for us. It’s always been easy to sympathize with Kate and Randall, who have had pretty obvious and significant challenges to overcome in their lives. And when they continue to triumph, we always get choked up. Kevin, it appeared, had everything handed to him on a silver platter, so for him to squander things seemed to be his own damn fault. But while he was an arrogant teenager, riding high on his popularity and football success, he paid a pretty big price when a knee injury stole his ticket to a full scholarship and left him adrift. We discover that this was the beginning of where Kevin is today, and why his pill addiction is not just another run of the mill celebrity drug addict story, but one of true heartbreak and pain that has been building for decades. No moment was more shattering than when Kevin, having tried to steal a script for Vicodin from a young doctor (and former classmate) whom he slept with, stood on her lawn, begging with a broken, exhausted voice to please be let back in to get his necklace that had come off while they were gettin’ it on. It had been a gift from Jack, given on the night of his football injury, and the last piece of anything he has of his dad. The sheer anguish in his voice as he pleads with her was the best acting of Justin Hartley’s career.
Biggest Tearjerker (Non-This Is Us Division) – There were some devastating moments on TV this year. Virtually every episode of Handmaid’s Tale would have something to destroy you, and when BoJack Horseman decides you’re going to cry, brother, you are going to cry. But in honor of the recently regenerated, how about Peter Capaldi’s speech from “The Doctor Falls”? It’s actually a pretty great message to carry with all of us into the New Year.
“I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, or because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works, because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that. Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live – maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, maybe there’s no point in any of this, at all. But it’s the best I can do, so I’m going to do it. And I will stand here doing it until it kills me. You’re going to die too, someday. When will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help a little. Why not, just at the end, just be kind?”
Best Credit Listing – One episode of The Leftovers (“It’s a Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt World”) took place almost entirely on an orgy boat. You need to know this so you can understand why one featured extra is credited as “Vigorous Handjob Guy”. And if you watch the episode, you’ll be able to pick out exactly who that is.
Best Character Name – Since the villains on Legion are manifestations of different concepts, their names tend to be pretty wild. But there is no name that makes us happier than The World’s Angriest Boy in the World. Holy smokes, that is good. We recoil with horror whenever he appears, but it is a very good name.
Best New Character – He doesn’t have a name and he appeared onscreen for only a second, but in the DuckTales episode “Daytrip of Doom!”, there’s a bit where the ducklings get kicked off a bus in the bad part of town. We see a montage of shots to convince us that it is, in fact, dangerous. And it’s capped off with a guy spraypainting the word “Flatulence” on a wall. It’s an amazing joke, and on the list of funniest Disney characters, this guy is already tied with, like, Goofy.
Best Catchphrase – It’s hard to pull of a catchphrase in 2017, but Jon Glaser is our man. On Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter, he has a habit of replacing random words with a Creole-sounding “Heyomp”. This season, it went far enough that the opening narration calls the show Neon Joe, Werewolf Heyomp. It’s really catchy and we recommend peppering it into your own daily heyomp.
Netflix Scumbag of the Year – As far as we can tell, Rich Sommer is a lovely man. He’s always funny on podcasts and in interviews, he’s very nice on social media. Heck, one of us even met him at a media event, and he was a hell of a nice guy. But somehow Netflix has made him their go-to for scumbags, He reprised his role as one of the rich kids from Camp Tigerclaw on Wet Hot Summer: Ten Years Later. On Love, he played an ex of Mickey’s who wasn’t willing to let go and got really creepy. And on GLOW, he was Debbie’s cheating husband who instigated the main conflict of the series. You put Rich Sommer on a Netflix show, he’s going to be a bad man.
Most Pleasantly Surprising Performance – We’ll be honest – we thought the casting of Nicole Richie on Great News was a publicity stunt. Best remembered as Paris Hilton’s sidekick, she hadn’t evidenced any comedic talent or anything. And you know what? She is very funny. As co-anchor and trendy young person Portia Scott-Griffith, Richie skewers her own image and revels in the heightened reality you get from a Tina Fey/Robert Carlock show. A recent episode really made us laugh with her repeated use of the word “panopticon” and her dorky dancing. We are 100% on board and were wrong to doubt her.
Mother of the Year – On I’m Sorry, Andrea Savage is fantastic as comedy writer / mother who can’t stay out of awkward situations. We love everything about the show, but her scenes with daughter Amelia (Olive Petrucci) really sing. Whether dealing with her daughter’s newfound racism, identifying a porn star mom, accidentally sending the school an obscene picture, treating Santa Claus like an elaborate gaslighting, or explaining that the villain from Harry Potter (Voldermort) isn’t real but the villains from The Sound of Music (Nazis) are, we love watching her skirt the edge of disaster but still pull it through with only slight emotional damage.
Father of the Year – We have to give it to real life (and TV) dad of the My Brother, My Brother & Me brothers, Clint McElroy. His appearances throughout the series are wonderful (and the deleted scenes are even better) and he’s an actual good dad who raised three fine sons. Also, our own EJ saw him in person a couple of months ago but couldn’t bring himself to say hello because one time he dreamed that Clint told him he was proud of him and then EJ woke up crying and that’s not something you can just inflict on an actual person who’s walking around in the world. Point is, Clint is the best.
Outstanding Achievement in Playing Oneself – A three-season running gag about Perfect Strangers on The Leftovers culminated with Mark-Linn Baker, the only cast member not to disappear on Departure Day, showing up to put Nora in touch with a couple of scientists who could possibly help her find her family. The longtime Cousin Larry did an amazing job of striking the balance between paranoid weirdo and guy who might have it all figured out. As a bonus, the episode actually opened with the Perfect Strangers theme played over the Leftovers opening titles.
Best Episode – Drama – The “Memphis” episode of This Is Us was easily the most relatable and devastating episode of 2017. While many TV shows can make high drama that transports you to a place you never thought you’d be, a show like This Is Us takes experiences that all of us go through at some point or another and provides a catharsis. When Randall and William took a glorious road trip to his hometown of Memphis–where he eventually passed away–it was a thing of true human beauty. Randall stopped at Jack’s grave to introduce the two most important men in his life. And he also got to know more about his father’s roots and no doubt feel more connected to his own heritage than at any other point in his life. William’s death was so poignant and lovely, especially the part where Randall told him to breathe. The boy with high anxiety was now using the technique his adoptive father had used to calm him down in order to guide his biological father into the great beyond. To say it is poetic is not quite doing it justice. It was simply perfect. (Myndi)
It seems like a lock that this would be an episode of The Leftovers, but the question was, which? And sure, there were episodes that were sadder or crazier, but nothing that hit our hearts like the series finale, “The Book of Nora”. After a gorgeously acted opening segment that had Matt and Nora preparing for her departure, we caught up with a much older Nora and a much older Kevin. First they both lied about who they were and why they were there but eventually Nora detailed what happened over the years, including a beautiful and sad reveal about the Departed, and whether they could rebuild their relationship. This crazy show ended with a very long conversation about relationships and it was perfect. Turns out we had been watching a love story all along. (EJ)
Best Episode – Comedy – So, the “Finding Frances” episode of Nathan For You nearly won this, but we decided it was a documentary and that means we can honor Andy Daly’s Review one last time. The series finale, “Cryogenics, Lighting, Not Reviewing”, was hilarious and sad and completely unexpected. “Life Reviewer” Forrest MacNeil (Daly) had been on a bad path of increasingly dangerous reviews and when cryogenic freezing didn’t kill him, he sought out his ex-wife Suzanne (Jessica St. Clair) to tell her he still loved her. And for the final segment, the viewer suggestion came from Suzanne. In a video submission she tearfully asked him to review the act of never reviewing anything again. If he could do that, they could fix their relationship and things would be OK. And that’s all Forrest wanted, until his producer convinced him that he could do more for the world by continuing his reviews. So Forrest gave up his one shot at happiness and vetoed the review. Next up “Being pranked”. And the show was cancelled while he was waiting to be pranked, so Forrest assumed that was the prank. There’s the tragedy of Forrest MacNeil and the comedy of Review, all laid out right there. (EJ)
Smack in the middle of Master of None’s stellar second season, there was a bottle episode called “Thanksgiving” and it was a masterpiece. We got to see just how long Dev and his friend Denise have been hanging out, and how deep their relationship is as well. It turns out Dev was the first one to learn Denise was gay and helped her come out to her mom and grandmother, a process that took a lot of time and patience. Like, years of patience. But the results were all good and we learned that Denise is happily in a relationship and that her grandmother was cooler and hipper than anyone gave her credit for being. It’s a testament to how difficult it can be to come out, but also to just how important it is for everyone involved to show love and understanding. That’s all anyone wants, after all. Plus, Aziz Ansari playing a teenage version of himself is hilarious! (Myndi)
Entertainer of the Year – 2017 turned out to be the Year of Terrible Dudes, so we have to do our part to turn things out by honoring a couple of women who bring only joy into our lives. Our Entertainers of the year are Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham. These real-life friends and collaborators have been favorites for years.
We’ll get to the big reasons in a bit, but let’s just hit on a few of the other things they did this year. They each appeared on Bob’s Burgers (not in the same episode). Jessica returned to the final season of Review as Suzanne, Forrest MacNeil’s long-suffering ex-wife. She brought a lot of humanity to a crazy show and her desperate plea to Forrest in the finale is one of the year’s most memorable moments. Jessica also turned up in Bajillion Dollar Propertie$ and American Housewife, while Lennon reprised her role on Lady Dynamite, made a very funny appearance on Ghosted, and had a great role in The House which included a hilarious and brutal fight with Andrea Savage. And the pair returned to their Womp It Up! Podcast as Marissa Wompler and Miss Listler. It’s a hilarious podcast and we’re all better off for listening to it. They did great work in good stuff.
But the most important thing to talk about is Playing House. We are huge fans of the show from Day One. Or Day Minus One, really, since we were on board for its predecessor Best Friends Forever. Playing House was a sweet and funny show about best friends raising a baby. It was silly and smart and relentlessly creative and too good for this broken world. Earlier this year, Jessica announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and talked about her treatment in a blog post.
When Playing House returned this season, it dealt with her real life diagnosis. We’ve talked at length about the episodes in question, so we’ll just say for now that Season Three is essential viewing. Those episodes were devastating but warm and so full of hope. Reportedly, much of it was based on real experience, down to Lennon picking out Jessica’s new breasts. These episodes were about standing with your friend and staring down cancer and how scary it all can be. Sure, there were jokes. Funny jokes. It’s still Playing House after all. But it also hit powerful emotional notes. And through it all, Lennon and Jessica were giving the performances of their lives.
Playing House was a standout show when it was about friendship and babies. But this year, the show and its stars did something impressive and important. We saw so many testimonials on Twitter from cancer patients talking about how it helped them through hard times and others who were encouraged by Jessica’s story to get a breast exam. As much importance as we give TV around here, there aren’t many shows that can do so much tangible good for people who need it so much.
In a dumb postscript, USA cancelled Playing House later this year. And none of us are happy about that, but we’re also so excited to see what these two are going to create next. Whatever it is, we’ll be there. We’re Jammers for life, baby!
After a year with so much terrible, we can’t think of anybody we’d rather honor than Lennon and Jessica. They made us laugh and cry and sometimes cry-laugh, and they did good things for the world. Who else could we possibly pick as our Entertainers of the Year?
Thanks for a great year in TV, everybody!