The Primetime Emmy Awards are probably, year by year, an even more reliable source of viewer rage than their spring counterpart, the Oscars. The awards, honoring achievement in primetime (and this year, online) television, are as well known for what they get right as what they get wrong: innovative favorites like Buffy and The Wire, to use the two most oft-cited examples, never received a single statue, while shows like Frasier and NYPD Blue continued to be plied with awards long past their sell-by date. But we dutifully watch and report every year, with the hope that this particular blind squirrel will find some nuts. The 2013 nominees, announced this morning by host Neil Patrick Harris and nominee Aaron Paul, boast the usual mixture of nice surprises, oddball picks, and befuddling exclusions; let’s take a look at each major category.
BEST SERIES (DRAMA) Breaking Bad (AMC) Downton Abbey (PBS) Game of Thrones (HBO) Homeland (Showtime) House of Cards (Netflix) Mad Men (AMC)
Not many surprises in here, though right up until this morning’s announcement, there was some question about how eagerly Emmy voters would embrace the idea of nominating and awarding Netflix shows (that’s mighty futuristic for an organization that gave John Lithgow so many awards for 3rd Rock!). The stellar showing for House of Cards here and in the acting categories seems to put those worries to rest. More interesting is the fact that not a damn one of these shows airs on any of the Big Four networks; some prognosticators were predicting love for CBS’ popular The Good Wife, but no such luck. Also left out: Boardwalk Empire, Justified, The Americans, Sons of Anarchy, Parenthood, and this viewer’s favorite new drama of the season, Rectify. Oh, and Bunheads! (Bunheads was on this season, right? It seems so long ago…)
BEST ACTOR (DRAMA SERIES)
Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) Damian Lewis (Homeland) Jon Hamm (Mad Men) Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
Again, all pretty safe bets, though the critical dislike for Newsroom made Jeff Daniels far from a shoo-in, and Bonneville is a bit of a dark horse. Missing in action: Steve Buscemi for Boardwalk Empire, Timothy Olyphant for Justified, and The Walking Dead‘s Andrew Lincoln, who was up for this prize at the Critics’ Choice Awards.
BEST ACTRESS (DRAMA SERIES)
Connie Britton (Nashville) Claire Danes (Homeland) Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel) Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) Kerry Washington (Scandal) Robin Wright (House of Cards)
A few more surprises here. Farmiga and Britton are both great actresses doing fine work on shows that not everyone is wild about, in genres — horror and soap — that don’t always get respect, so hats off to them. Washington has become a full-on phenomenon, so her nomination wasn’t exactly a surprise, but still welcome. A few eyebrows have raised at Wright getting her nod here (was that a lead or supporting turn?) and Julianna Margulies getting bypassed, but the real shocker is Tatiana Maslany’s snub for Best Actress, acting up a storm in six roles on Orphan Black. (Presumably it’s just a case of not enough people seeing it?) Ah well, Danes is gonna win anyway.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (DRAMA SERIES) Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) Bobby Cannavale (Boardwalk Empire) Jim Carter (Downton Abbey) Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) Mandy Patinkin (Homeland) Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
The nicest surprise here is easy: the great Jonathan Banks, whose work as the grizzled, no-nonsense Mike became a more vital component of Breaking Bad‘s astonishing effectiveness this season. This guy’s been grinding it out as a utility player for decades now; cheers to this effective send-off. Also nice to see some love for this season’s Boardwalk Empire MVP Bobby Cannavale, whose arrival was like an electrical current through that occasionally stodgy program. That said, wouldn’t have minded a nod for House of Cards‘ startlingly good Corey Stoll.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (DRAMA SERIES)
Morena Baccarin (Homeland) Christine Baranski (The Good Wife) Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad) Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Viewers started whispering “Emmy” the moment Anna Gunn’s glassy-eyes Skylar stepped into that backyard pool, and this feels like it could finally be her year. Baccarin is probably the biggest surprise of this bunch, and her nomination may be why there’s bupkis for the great Monica Potter, whose tear-jerking season-long cancer arc of on Parenthood was, truly, award-worthy.
BEST TV MOVIE OR MINI-SERIES
American Horror Story: Asylum (FX) Behind the Candelabra (HBO) The Bible (History) Phil Spector (HBO) Political Animals (USA) Top of the Lake (Sundance Channel)
Pretty much the usual suspects in this category, though Parade’s End seemed like a pretty sure thing as well (it netted Benedict Cumberbatch an acting nomination) and the fiercely divided critical response to Phil Spector makes its film and acting nominations a bit of a surprise. Thankfully absent: HBO’s loathsome The Girl, though it did pull two acting nods.
BEST SERIES (COMEDY)
30 Rock (NBC) The Big Bang Theory (CBS) Girls (HBO) Louie (FX) Modern Family (ABC) Veep (HBO)
In the name of all that is good and holy, what in the hell does it take to get Parks and Recreation a Best Comedy nomination? Especially over the over-applauded Modern Family and inexplicably popular Big Bang Theory? Let’s just hope the former’s three-year streak ends in 2013, either for Louie (TV’s best comedy) or the vastly improved Veep, though 30 Rock could get a sentimental win for closing out its run so elegantly. On the other hand, sentimentality didn’t get The Office into the running this year; also, in spite of the same kind of leaps-and-bounds second season bounce that bolstered Veep, New Girl was shut out entirely this year. What the hell, Emmys?
BEST ACTOR (COMEDY SERIES)
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) Louis C.K. (Louie) Don Cheadle (House of Lies) Matt LeBlanc (Episodes) Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Bateman’s acting nomination was the only major nomination for the revamped Arrested Development, which is a shame (if understandable in such a crowded field; the show’s spotty, slow-burn excellence didn’t endear it to all viewers). Cheadle is nominated for the second year in a row for a show that no one seems to like much, which would be fine — I’m all for giving stuff to Don Cheadle — were it not for the unforgivable snub of New Girl‘s charm machine Jake Johnson, who dug deep into Nick’s melancholy and longing this season and came up with one of the most compelling protagonists in TV comedy. Also, nothing for Adam Scott?
BEST ACTRESS (COMEDY SERIES)
Laura Dern (Enlightened) Lena Dunham (Girls) Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie) Tina Fey (30 Rock) Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep) Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation)
Dern’s nomination should please the Enlightened fans who are bummed that its (unfortunately) final season didn’t pull a Best Series nod, and Poheler’s nomination (as usual, the only major one for Parks) is lovely. Dern, in fact, was the only real surprise here, and it may well have come at the expense of New Girl‘s Zooey Deschanel. JLD won this one last year, and may very well pull it off again, though (again) a farewell Emmy for Tina Fey isn’t out of the question.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (COMEDY SERIES)
Ty Burrell (Modern Family) Adam Driver (Girls) Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family) Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) Tony Hale (Veep) Ed O’Neill (Modern Family)
Well, we got one less Modern Family guy in there than last year, so that’s progress, maybe? Again, nothing against a perfectly serviceable and likeable sitcom — but this is the category with the most angering admissions, the most infuriating of them the snubbing (yet again) of the amazing Nick Offerman as Parks and Rec‘s Ron Swanson. THE MAN IS REDEFINING TELEVISION COMEDY, PEOPLE. Also inexplicable: no nomination for New Girl‘s Max Greenfield, who was nominated last year, for God’s sake. Also MIA: Parks‘ Chris Pratt and Rob Lowe, Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett and Jeffrey Tambor, and (if you’re singling out SNL guys) Jason Sudeikis. And as bumpy as Community may have been this year, Danny Pudi never wavered.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS (COMEDY SERIES) Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory) Julie Bowen (Modern Family) Anna Chlumsky (Veep) Jane Krakowski (30 Rock) Jane Lynch (Glee) Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) Merritt Wever (Nurse Jackie)
The invaluable Anna Chlumsky is the surprise entry in this field, and good for her — she’s one of the sparkiest cogs in the Veep machine. But is anyone actually glad to see Lynch get yet another nomination for the well-past-its-prime Glee, particularly at the expense of, oh, Jessica Walter? For that matter, this viewer would’ve preferred some love for Girls‘ Zosia Mamet, who has gingerly transformed Shoshanna from a hilarious stereotype to, in many ways, the battered soul of that show.
BEST SERIES (VARIETY)
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central) Jimmy Kimmel Live (ABC) Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (NBC) Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO) Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Yes, yes, very nice. They just hand this one to The Daily Show automatically, right?
BEST SERIES (REALITY/COMPETITION)
The Amazing Race (CBS) Dancing with the Stars (ABC) Project Runway (Lifetime) So You Think You Can Dance (Fox) Top Chef (Bravo) The Voice (NBC)
Yes, yes, very nice. They just hand this one to The Amazing Race automatically, right?
So there’s our first impressions of the nominations — what are yours?