I’ve learned to care about the Emmys a little less each year. One maddening win after another does much to weaken your resolve, but since such awards are the closest a sportless weirdo like me will get to enjoying professional competition, I can’t help but be curious when the nominations come in. On days like today I can’t help but join my fellow industry watchers in cheering the little victories and crying foul at the usual lazy selections and narrow-minded thinking.
The Emmys are particularly galling in that, unlike the Oscars, the same poor choices can recur year after year out of misplaced loyalty or voters ticking the usual suspects on their ballots. Prime examples are the continued focus on the now rushed and forgettable 30 Rock and the perpetual nominations for Monk star Tony Shalhoub despite nothing else for the show itself, ever. More infuriating is the snubbing of incredibly worthy shows so that average ones can steal their thunder because they’re more palatable. The Academy’s resolute refusal to even nominate widely acknowledged modern classics like The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, and The Shield except in occasional token fashion so that House and Grey’s Anatomy can be propped up is a stupendous feat of narrow-mindedness. These are shows adored by critics and by much of the industry yet the Emmy voters hold up a crucifix. Since the Emmys are composed of huge numbers of industry professionals, the rest of the industry must have the deciding vote.
But alas and bygones – let’s look at this year’s nominations, which can be viewed here.
- Friday Night Lights scores shocking nominations in major categories for the first time, and the most clamoured-for ones of all: Best Actor and Actress for Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton (above), responsible for the more natural, compelling, and believable marriage on TV. They’re utterly convincing, down to the slightest gesture. Does this pave the way for FNL to finally score a Best Drama nom for its forthcoming final season?
- Lost was not shunned in the major categories despite a major storyline involving an ancient smoke monster with mummy issues. Not only did it score a Best Drama nod – and any show that makes that work without jumping the shark deserves to win – and more noms for Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson, but Matthew Fox was finally acknowledged in the Best Actor category. Fox has always copped flack because his ostensible hero character was intentionally unlikable much of the time, but his poignant work – particularly in the finale – as a shattered man who found his reason for living was truly affecting; that final scene haunted me for days. But what a crime that Nestor Carbonell wasn’t given the nod for his gobsmacking, intense work in Richard’s spotlight episode! I would much rather he and Josh Holloway get recognition than past winners Emerson and O’Quinn.
- Entourage and Jeremy Piven were finally booted from the party. I’ve seen the first two seasons but remain baffled as to why this pointless, arrogant, and unfunny show has consistently been so rewarded. Emmy finally saw sense and rewarded another HBO comedy instead: Curb Your Enthusiasm and the immortal Larry David.
- I’m not a big True Blood fan and don’t think it warrants a Best Drama nod, but the presence of two genre shows in the Best Drama category may be unprecedented. Perhaps the category needn’t be just for the meaningful shows though – no show does gripping popcorn entertainment like True Blood. I usually dislike watching large quantities of TV at once, but I downed season 2 in two days – it’s relentlessly entertaining despite being fairly hollow and not living up to its potential (we got a glimpse of it in that amazing rooftop scene with Eric and Godric…).
- Mad Men and Breaking Bad delightfully remain in play, although that’s not surprising. And while I’ve yet to see Nurse Jackie, it comes with high praise and its nom for Best Comedy is a pleasant underdog victory.
- Voters truly stuck it to NBC by nominating The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien in four categories including Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series, rather than with Jay Leno, despite NBC naturally not spending one cent campaigning for it. It’s rare for an Emmy nomination to make such a pointed political statement.
- The absurd dominance of the writing categories by Mad Men and 30 Rock mercifully lessened this year with only two apiece, leaving room for Friday Night Lights, Lost, and The Office to squeeze in. Come on voters, watch FNL next season too!
- The mini-series nominations are typically far less surprising, due to less options and a couple of productions usually standing way out in front, so The Pacific scoring the most noms for any show is to be expected, although the lack of overwhelming critical adulation could have led to an upset and may yet (I don’t see BBC import Return to Cranford besting it though). I’m saving The Pacific for Blu-Ray at my own pace, and I’m curious to see if I’ll concur with the ‘great, but not masterful’ critical consensus.
- 30 Rock!! The opening episodes of season 4 proved that this once engaging comedy is now just churning out product, as filled with lazy non sequiturs and inconsequential plotting as Family Guy. The show now coasts on Alec Baldwin deadpanning and showing everyone how it’s done and Kenneth being naive and kooky, yet a-bloody-gain. From what I hear, it didn’t improve much, yet it still attracts massive guest stars – Matt Damon! I swear they’ve heard how cool the show is but haven’t actually watched it since season 1.
- I want to like Modern Family, but the first three episodes quite shamelessly crib The Office‘s style, humour, and characters. It’s like a spin-off made by the same documentary crew who hunted the family equivalent of Dunder Mifflin. Naturally I would give it more time to see if the acclaim applies to later episodes, but since the industry was falling over itself to call the pilot a masterpiece I sense we’re on different wavelengths. I’m shocked by how Ty Burrell’s character is essentially Michael Scott as a married father, and by how the documentary with interviews technique doesn’t just rip off The Office‘s format, but each interview replicates the same gags and observations. This is one of those massive success stories that I don’t quite understand. Ditto Glee, but I hate musicals so don’t hold the show any ill will.
- The Emmys recognising a large number of new shows is laudable though, which makes the lazy voting all the more irritating: Mariska Hargitay for Law and Order: SVU, again, seriously, after a decade on the air?! That nom should have gone to Katey Sagal for Sons of Anarchy, by all reasonable accounts.
- The snubbing of Sons of Anarchy is potentially irritating to me as well. I’ve only seen the first few episodes and haven’t reached the pants-wettingly good stuff yet, but I love The Shield – creator Kurt Sutter’s last gig – and trust certain critics that this is in my wheelhouse. It’s still frustrating because the Academy has a larger problem with grimy shows that have the temerity to show life as it actually is for some people, which explains the lack of love for The Wire, The Shield, and now Sons despite every objective criteria stating that they are of the same quality as their more shiny peers. Amusingly, it’s not FX that’s getting dissed – their slick shows like Damages get hugs and flowers. But if your main characters look shady, then game over (also known as the Sopranos/West Wing-The Practice effect).
So despite all of that, I must confess that I have little reason to tune in to watch the broadcast and wade through the glitz and lame gags and self-congratulation. I’m curious to see if Kyle and Connie pull a surprise win though. And what if Lost wins the big gong? And Conan winning would be too sublime… OK maybe I will be watching it. But I’ll hate every minute, I promise.