Emmy nods full of surprises, suspense

17 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

At nomination time, Emmy seems blind to many shows’ virtues, no matter how outstanding.

This year, as always, a favorite game for viewers is identifying Emmy’s snubs, and it’s an easy game to play. Thursday’s nominations for the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards offered a snapshot of an industry stirred by crosscurrents of change, reflecting some of the growing racial diversity in casting, network experiments with ambitious programming and the rising clout of streaming TV providers.

Emmy’s judges are all too susceptible to the safe, the familiar, and grinding repetition. (Item: “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with three wins in a row, is nominated again. TV aficionados’ relationship to the Emmys is kind of like a rebellious high-schooler’s relationship to the school principal: you know, inexplicably, he’s an authority and that’s so unjust you have to fight it to your very last spitball.

Item: “Modern Family,” named best comedy series for five years straight, is nominated again.) Without the right blend of buzz and ratings, an actor or a show faces steep odds breaking in with Emmy. HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which topped all individual programs with its 24 nominations, and PBS’s “Downton Abbey” appeared as familiar names in the category of outstanding drama series. The Emmys are no longer quite the out of touch, network-obsessed joke they once were (the principal now wears jeans and thinks loving Louie is enough to make him cool), but they are still trying to tell us what to think and feel—and that just can’t stand.

To get Emmy attention, the program’s quality must hitch a ride on squeaky wheels, which explains those noisy look-at-me campaigns that target judges every Emmy season. And “Mad Men,” a show that helped usher in the ongoing wave of original cable programming when it premiered in 2007, received an eighth consecutive drama-series nomination. This morning, Emmy watchers furiously deleted their tweets about yet another Tatiana Maslany snub—the Orphan Black actress was finally nominated for Best Actress in a Drama, meaning she can no longer be the Emmy snub célèbre—and, after savoring her anointing for a millisecond, got infuriated at all of the Emmy’s other mistakes: ignoring The Americans, Jane the Virgin, Timothy Olyphant, Tracee Ellis Ross, and many more. The Academy also anointed a successor to last year’s winner in that category, “Breaking Bad,” with a nomination for AMC’s spinoff series “Better Call Saul.” The rising profile of actors of color last season was somewhat represented in the nominations. Also snubbed: freshman hit hip-hop-family drama “Empire,” which was left out of the best drama series category, and series star Terrence Howard, who failed to get a best drama actor bid.

In one sense we get it – the Dunham demographic and the voting members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences have little crossover – but seriously, either get it right, or give it up. Behind the camera, there was a 60% increase in the number of women writers and directors nominated in the comedy, drama and long-form categories compared to last year, the Academy said. Other top awards are “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” with 19 nominations; TV movies “Olive Kittridge” and “Bessie,” with 13 and 12 bids, respectively; and “House of Cards,” ”Mad Men” and “Transparent” with 11 nominations. Along the way, Emmy has stretched and added categories in a desperate attempt to keep up. (Is Emmy doomed to become a TV version of the Grammys?) One big-tent category this year somehow harbors Zach Galifianakis’ online “Between Two Ferns,” the Adult Swim cable channel’s “Childrens Hospital” and NBC’s Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show. Broadcast networks, which have been largely shut out of major categories in recent years, took some bigger swings with unorthodox programming last season, but were rewarded with only a smattering of nominations.

Davis and Henson headlined the two biggest shows of the past year, and their deserving inclusion reflects TV’s long-awaited and increasing diversity. Set in a small Georgia town, it focuses on a native son who, after 20 years’ imprisonment for rape and murder, is exonerated and returns home, where he is received less than warmly by the locals.

For example, Will Forte, the “Saturday Night Live” actor who starred in “The Last Man on Earth,” a risky Fox series that can be summed up by its title, was nominated for lead actor in a comedy. No commercial broadcast network drama made the cut for best series, with cable, streaming service Netflix and non-commercial PBS dividing up the spoils instead. There is no doubt the outstanding drama category is filled to overflowing, and in fairness it’s tough to see what might be cut in favour of Empire (Downton Abbey and Orange Is the New Black, now that you mention it), but this is a staggering oversight.

David Letterman, who retired from “Late Show,” and Stephen Colbert, who left “The Colbert Report” to succeed Letterman this fall, both received variety talk show nominations for their former shows. At least, that would explain its aversion to Starz’ “Outlander,” whose romance-fantasy trappings are given gravitas through solid storytelling and a trio of splendid actors: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies as one of TV’s most nuanced blackhearts.

Gina Rodriguez landed the Golden Globe, though the Globes’ voting bloc, largely journalists, are more responsive to trends than the older, slower-moving Academy. Kyle Chandler, Liev Schreiber, and Bob Odenkirk were all nominated in new roles, but that is a far less inspiring trio than Davis, Henson, and Maslany. Odenkirk’s inclusion is a really nice surprise, but Chandler and Schreiber, nominated for Bloodline and Ray Donovan respectively, are the kind of new nominees who immediately feel old and stodgy: they are good actors in not great parts.

And the transgender dramedy “Transparent” got a boost from high-decibel buzz and impeccable timing to score a remarkable 11 nominations for its fledgling online service, Amazon Instant Video. VIA 0.93 % ’s Comedy Central) will compete with the soon-ending “Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” along with the late-night shows of Jimmy Fallon (NBC), Jimmy Kimmel (ABC) and John Oliver (HBO). Macy from “Shameless.” Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who’s won as best comedy actress for “Veep” three consecutive times, is competing with current movie and TV’s It-Woman Amy Schumer for “Inside Amy Schumer,” Lily Tomlin for “Grace and Frankie,” Lisa Kudrow in “The Comeback,” Edie Falco of “Nurse Jackie” and Amy Poehler from “Parks and Recreation.” The Emmys will be presented Sept. 20 at the Microsoft Theater in L.A and broadcast on Fox.

Both actors feast on multiple roles as their characters go undercover, and they shine — as does Noah Emmerich playing the beleaguered FBI agent who lives across the street. As you go through the nominees, it’s all like this: the good, the bad, the inexplicable, the change that feels like change, the change that feels like stasis, and the no change at all. Jim Parsons and Big Bang Theory were not nominated this year, making way for Transparent and the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt—but, sigh, Modern Family and Downton Abbey still were. In truth, this was a case of shelf space, with several new shows pushing in (Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and a previously much-overlooked series, Parks & Recreation, getting a “final season” nomination from a sentimental Academy. There is sometimes a consolation prize to be found in a lesser category, but The Walking Dead doesn’t seem to be anywhere. (Admittedly, we gave up on page nine of what seemed an unending list of nominees.) The Emmys have a mortal fear of genre shows, aside from Game of Thrones, which leaves shows like The Walking Dead and Warner Bros’ suite of comic book adaptations, such as particularly sharp The Flash, out in the cold.

Both delivered sucker-punch moments in this series, about two women left to restart their lives when their husbands leave them for one another, particularly Fonda, whose not-as-perfect-as-it-seemed marriage to Martin Sheen was played perfectly by the septuagenarian icon. Julianna Margulies’ turn as Alicia Florrick has been layered, brilliant and slow-cooked from raw to so well done it simply defies common sense that it isn’t recognised. This is, without a doubt, the single largest blight on the Academy’s record, and a powerful, and concerning, signal that the voters don’t know what they’re doing. Sons of Anarchy ought to be there, not just for being a brilliant show, but for delivering a brilliant final season that smashed us to pieces emotionally.

The only consolation is that the honour roll of Emmy snubs goes on and on, peppered with so many great shows and actors that it’s almost an honour to be overlooked.

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