It’s the most wonderful time of the year—Emmy nominations are here! And like Christmas, some will be unjustly ignored for their goodness, and some despicable children will be praised. But that’s why I’m here. I’ve checked the ballot, I’ve checked it twice. And I’ve determined which performers, shows and writers were naughty or nice. Although, it’s confusing, because some of the nicest performances were arguably the naughtiest. Television is a morally grey environment where Santa would be ill-advised to tread no doubt.
A few stipulations before we begin. I do review television shows. I watch a considerable, and possibly unhealthy amount of shows. But I can’t watch them all. There a quite a few popular or critically-acclaimed shows that I haven’t been able to watch yet. For example, I bet there would be quite a bit of shuffling around if I had watched Sundance’s Rectify or NBC’s Hannibal before producing my ballot. Critics I respect like Alan Sepinwall assure me they’re brilliant and insightful shows with dynamite performances. Hell, it seems like a cardinal sin as a Wire superfan that I haven’t seen a single episode of Treme. But this is the reality. I’m a fallible being. And as a purveyor of pop culture justice, I can’t in good conscience add names to my nominations based on hearsay. By all means, protest my decisions in the comments. I would love to hear that there’s even MORE great television that awaits me. Or, you could just be wrongly suggesting a show or actor’s greatness, and I will throw all of my analytical powers down upon you until you see reason (I’m only mostly kidding).
I’ll be covering the performance, program and writing categories in TV dramas and comedies. Sorry cinematography buffs and miniseries junkies—although, let’s be real, just give everything to Top of the Lake for the miniseries categories and call it a day. Keep in mind, this list is based on entries from June 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013. That means, any programs that aired between those dates are eligible. Even if the episode aired after May 31, that can be included as a submission episode if the season premiered before May 31.
Again, the official nominations will be announced on July 18, and the awards ceremony will air on September 20 on CBS—hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
But for now, I am ruler of the universe, AND I DEEM WHO IS WORTHY!
Let’s keep it light, shall we? The kings and queens of comedy!
Jenna Fischer as Pam Halpert— “The Office” (NBC)
Zosia Mamet as Shoshanna Shapiro— “Girls” (HBO)
Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate— “Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
Amy Schumer as Amy Schumer— “Inside Amy Schumer” (Comedy Central)
Alia Shawkat as Maeby Funke— “Arrested Devlopment” (Netflix)
Allison Williams as Marnie Michaels— “Girls” (HBO)
This is a surprisingly thin field for me, considering I had room for a lifetime achievement nomination, Ms. Jenna Fischer. With Steve Carell’s departure, it became clear Pam Halpert neé Beasley, is the heart and soul of Dunder Mifflin Scranton. She was always the one who was sacrificing or pursuing her dreams, and she literally found her family there. And for her consistency for nine seasons, I would like to see her rewarded.
For Girls, I have the same two nominees as last year. Shoshanna got a even bigger part this year surrounding her relationship with Ray, which ended in a blaze of glory. Marnie had one of the most memorable scenes all season with her cringe-worthy a cappella rendition of Kanye West’s “Stronger” dedicated to her ex-boyfriend Charlie’s app success.
Amy Schumer breaks into the field with her sketch show. She’s the sharpest comedienne on television (Sorry Whitney Cummings) and she doesn’t have the added benefit of a partner like Key and Peele—although, Tig Notaro has had some inspired guest spots where she uses her breast cancer diagnosis to lay the guilt trip on her friend.
Alia Shawkat as Maeby was one of the bright spots in an otherwise gloomy return for Arrested Development. Don’t misunderstand, it’s still better than most of the swill we’re forced to swallow as comedy on network television. But as arguably one of the best sitcoms of all time, it fell short of that considerable hype. I was happy to welcome back Maeby, however, and delighted in her travails through the movie industry and her manipulations of the male species.
Aubrey Plaza, criminally underappreciated. Granted, Amy Poehler is the only cast member of Parks and Recreation properly recognized, but Aubrey Plaza especially has shown her versatility in the fifth season. She started off on her sideshow with Ben Wyatt in Washington D.C, and then returned to Pawnee to support Andy and his ambitions to be a cop. Lest we forget her added responsibilities at the parks department in lieu of Leslie’s duties as councilwoman. Her deadpan delivery has always impressed, but her skill in subtly revealing her deeper affections has been superb.
Should Win… Aubrey Plaza
Would Win… Jenna Fischer. Nobody else stands a chance at entering the field, so the Emmys’ tendency to award for lifetime achievement gives her the best chance at breaking through the field.
Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford— “Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
Will Arnett as Gob Bluth— “Arrested Devlopment” (Netflix)
Adam Driver as Adam Sackler— “Girls” (HBO)
Max Greenfield as Schmidt— “New Girl” (Fox)
Bill Hader as Various characters— “Saturday Night Live” (NBC)
Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson— “Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
This category is a bit more competitive. I had to leave the principals of Key and Peele to make room for Bill Hader. Another lifetime achievement award. Although, he earned it simply for Stefan and his Vietnam veteran puppet. Seriously. For his years of service (Hader, not the puppet), the academy should show their support. And sketch stars are not shut out. Kristen Wiig got the nod four years straight.
New Girl was celebrated for entering the stratosphere of greatness by delicately handling the romance between Nick Miller and Jessica Day, but Max Greenfield’s Schmidt has been nothing short of epic from day one. The spotlight shone on him less, but when he was beneath it, he rocked it. In particular, I laughed crazily when he was demonstrating his knowledge of female anatomy to Jess’ gynecologist friend Sadie.
Another Arrested cast member who rescued the fourth season from the doldrums was GOB Bluth. His magical reenactment of Christ’s resurrection for Ann’s church was comedic gold, and his bromance with Ben Stiller’s Tony Wonder sang to my sense of humor. Will Arnett was nominated for the role once and could easily be shown the same respect (they’ve showered him with nominations in the guest star category since), and he would deserve it for carrying the standout episodes.
In Girls’ second season, the boys played a substantial role, and while Adam Driver wasn’t called upon to play dark and brooding more than funny, he brought the self-destructive and creepy like a pro. How he was able to “perform” in his skin-crawling sex scene in “On All Fours” is a mystery, but if he doesn’t play his part with sincerity, that stellar episode falls flat. Bravo, Mr. Driver. You get my hypothetical nomination for the second year running.
Primarily known for his standup, Aziz Ansari is one of the less-praised members of the cast. I think this is partly due to his lack of material. He’s usually only asked to play a whiny, materialistic nincompoop. This season, he got serious about something—Rent-A-Swag. His venture last season, Entertainment 720, was a total economic bust. And that failure has lit a fire under his ass to take life more seriously. And despite his bad influences like Jean-Ralphio, he has heeded the advice of Ron Swanson and others and built up a business on his own. And not only has the character matured, but the performance as well. While others would point to Chris Pratt’s endearing Andy, I feel Aziz fleshed out his character in a more sophisticated fashion.
Ron Swanson: the man, the myth, the legend. He is an icon beyond the Parks universe for his man’s man code of honor and pyramid of success that includes the importance of consuming obscene amounts of meat. And he continued to provide a bellyful of laughter this season. Whether he was resisting Tammy 2, gushing at a woodworking awards banquet, testing the uncharted waters of fatherhood or punching Leslie’s enemies, he reigns supreme as the funniest character in the biz.
Should Win… Nick Offerman
Would Win… Will Arnett. The Emmys love to nominate him, regardless of what he’s doing. A return to GOB would be the prefect occasion for them to seal the deal with a trophy.
Zooey Deschanel as Jessica Day— “New Girl” (Fox)
Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath— “Girls” (HBO)
Tina Fey as Liz Lemon— “30 Rock” (NBC)
Mindy Kaling as Dr. Mindy Lahiri— “The Mindy Project” (Fox)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer— “Veep” (HBO)
Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope— “Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
Remember when Zooey Deschanel was supposed to be too “adorkable” and unable to carry a sitcom? Yeah, that’s pretty far in the past. She’s proven that she has more shades than cutesy. She’s a complicated heroine with a lot of fears and doubts, in addition to that unmistakable clumsy charm. Playing opposite Jake Johnson, she was convincing as a woman both smitten and scared. But the passion was undeniable, as was her commitment to the role.
She’s probable the most influential comedic writer/performer of the last decade, and her show’s run has come to an end this year. Sounds like a shoe-in, right? Yeah. Me too. Liz Lemon will live on in infamy, and so should Tina’s Fey turn as the woman obsessed with work, but even more obsessed with finding love. We all fell for her pretty easily, and there’s no reason she shouldn’t be decorated for her influence on the form.
If there’s anyone who the academy will celebrate no matter the show she’s on, it’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Whether she’s on Seinfeld, a show no one’s heard of, or her current series Veep, she’s showered with accolades. And I can confirm, she deserves it. As Selina Meyer, she’s asked to play a prickly politician who lives for insulting her subordinates, but this season she gave us reason to sympathize. Whether she is held responsible for a soldier’s injury, or being poked and prodded about her personal life, it’s rough out there for a veep. But it’s smooth sailing for Dreyfus, who makes that added depth look seamless.
She’s always been a respected behind-the-scenes gal, but with her own show, Mindy Kaling was thrust into the forefront of our consciousness. I wasn’t sure the experiment would work, if America would rally behind her spunk and ambition. And lo and behold, she steered this ship through the storm of cancellation, one of only two network comedies to do so (along with The Neighbors). I didn’t catch all of the episodes, but there was a confidence about the show, and the ensemble jelled as the season progressed. And with a lynchpin like Kaling, it’s no wonder those around her fed off that energy.
At least the Emmys have the good sense to keep nominating Amy Poehler who effortlessly embodies the driven and sweet Leslie Knope. While she didn’t have an arc like her campaign for city council, she survived some major obstacles including a referendum on her election. But she also enjoyed ultimate bliss with her engagement and marriage to the man of her dreams. And Poehler made us feel every single emotion with the same intensity as Knope, which means we were utterly overwhelmed.
Lena Dunham IS Girls. It is her vision, for better or for worse. And this season was even more divisive than the last. It flirted with self-indulgence at times, and provoked controversy at every turn. Was it too personal and not relatable? Was it crossing the line? I thought the risks paid off, especially in Dunham’s performance. She had to accurately portray the onset of OCD symptoms, and she did so with grace and fearlessness. From what I hear, Dunham suffers with OCD herself, and that just says it all. Whether literally or figuratively, Lena is naked for every frame of Girls, and whether you jive with its point of view or not, you can’t knock the hustle.
Should Win… Lena Dunham
Would Win… Julia Louis-Dreyfus because they just throw trophies at her.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy— “30 Rock” (NBC)
Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth— “Arrested Development” (Netflix)
Louis C.K as Louie— “Louie” (FX)
Jake Johnson as Nick Miller— “New Girl” (Fox)
Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper— “The Big Bang Theory” (CBS)
Adam Scott as Ben Wyatt— “Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
He said some incendiary homophobic slurs on Twitter recently, so perhaps we shouldn’t be awarding him. But if you separate his performance from his off-screen persona, there’s no doubt he belongs on here. Like Tina, he cultivated an iconic character, Jack Donaghy. He was arrogant, and steadfastly conservative, but also a supportive mentor to Liz. So while a part of me doesn’t want him to be awarded after continuously bad behavior in public, as an indelible comedic presence for seven seasons he should be remembered fondly.
Another perennial favorite, Jim Parsons, just continues to execute his character. While I don’t think The Big Bang Theory is one of the best sitcoms on TV, I’ll admit it’s popular as hell. And Parsons is part of that appeal. He nails his eccentric, somewhere-on-the-autism-spectrum Sheldon Cooper by making him both insufferable and lovable. And that is no easy feat. While it helps by simply having the ensemble, Parsons does the heavy lifting by giving slivers of insecurity to Sheldon, showing that he isn’t just some robot. He has feelings, he’s just more confident in the academic realm than in social circles. And it never feels like a showy performance per say, it’s a calculated one with a sharpness that catches you off guard. Whatever the formula, it works.
Ben Wyatt became Leslie Knope’s fianceé and husband this season, and he proposed in one of my favorite episodes all year. Adam Scott can do endearing in his sleep, and he won me over in “Halloween Surprise.” But he is more than sweetness and charm. He has an absolutely vicious wit. I mentioned this last year, but it bears repeating. He can deliver the most mundane line and make me burst out laughing. And his reaction shots even rival John Krasinski’s from The Office. In his three seasons on the show he’s become an integral piece of the Pawnee puzzle, and for making Leslie’s life brighter, as well as my television set, I hope he’s honored.
He is the straight man of Arrested Development, but I liked what Jason Bateman was able to do with Michael Bluth’s decline in season four. While some may have been deterred by Michael’s behavior, I thought it was a bold turn by Bateman, to make one of the only redeeming characters, just as hateful as the rest. Not only does he intrude on his son’s life by crashing in his college dorm, but he tries to obtain signatures from all his family members so he can make a movie about their lives. While it was painful to watch this all-time low, Bateman’s execution hit an all-time high. Check out the scene where he’s voted out of the dorm if you don’t believe me. Bateman nailed this sudden sad sack.
Last season, Max Greenfield’s Schmidt was the clear MVP of the male cast members, but I always had an affection for Jake Johnson’s pathetic portrayal of Nick Miller, a law school dropout with little motivation, but a lot of feelings. This season he upped the freaking ante. He stepped out of his comfort zone a million times over (the actor and the character) to resounding success. Between his attraction toward Jess, his attempts at advancing his status—becoming more career-focused and innovative as a bartender—and dealing with the loss of his dad, Johnson gave Nick some serious dimension. And best of all, dude was flat out funny. He laid it all on the line, wore Nick’s emotions on his sleeve and just dove headfirst into some ridiculous physical comedy. If not for my next nominee, he would be my hands-down pick. And I would argue he was the funniest actor on TV this season. So if the category were for Outstanding Comedic Performance, the award would belong to Jake Johnson, but…
The award is for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. And that was Louis C.K. Louie has always been the show that you can’t fit in a box. It’s not a drama, or a comedy. It’s 13-episode slice of a man’s life that is equal parts absurd, miserable, exhilarating, and confusing. And C.K. took himself and his character literally everywhere. Whether he was becoming enraptured by Parker Posey, being assaulted by Melissa Leo, coached in the trade of late night talk show hosting by David Lynch, or trying to befriend a handsome man in Miami (btw, how about those guest stars, huh?) it was honest, it was raw, and it was riveting. And Louie conveyed every bit of it with complete artistic integrity. He had something to say and he said it, gorgeously.
Should Win… Louie C.K.
Would Win… Alec Baldwin. I said the same thing last year and guessed wrong, but with it being the end of 30 Rock, there’s the sentimental vote that gives him the slightest of edges over Parsons, Emmy’s other darling.
“Arrested Development” (Netflix)
“New Girl” (Fox)
“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
Should Win… Louie. For all the reasons I mentioned before with Lead Actor, and because every week it’s tells a beautiful and enigmatic short story about what one struggling, insightful man grapples with in his mind, but presents them as if he’s living it. I love everything this show stands for, in terms of what art does (whatever the hell you want it to), and it never fails to make me feel something. Whether that’s amusement, or sadness, or ecstasy. I’m riding the waves with Louie in Miami, and I’m feeling the disappointment when he doesn’t get The Late Show. And anything that takes everyday life and makes it extraordinary deserves to be exalted.
Would Win… Girls, only because Modern Family is nowhere on this list, and the Emmys love them some HBO. It wouldn’t be a bad choice, although I personally would have New Girl as my #2 behind Louie. I just don’t see that being a show winning the big one. But with the industry love for Dunham, why not. Though it’s probably too divisive. Basically, none of these would win in this universe, but I gotta pick one. There ya go.
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
“Girls” for On All Fours (HBO)
“Louie” for Daddy’s Girlfriend: Part 1 (FX)
“New Girl” for Cooler (Fox)
“Parks and Recreation” for Halloween Surprise (NBC)
“Veep” for Hostages (HBO)
Should Win… New Girl. For the moment depicted to the right. Damn, that was a doozy when I saw it live. I’ve never been so flustered by an on-screen kiss. Plus, I thought there were better written episodes of Louie than the one they submitted, which is overall the best written comedy. But because it is based on one episode, gotta give it to “Cooler.” I’m really baffled about why C.K only submits one episode, and continues to pick ones that aren’t the strongest. “Daddy’s Girlfriend: Part 1” is better than last year’s submission “Pregnant.” But I would have gone with “Late Show: Part 3” or “New Year’s Eve.” Those were transcendent.
Would Win… Louie. It’s weird to acknowledge that this show, which gets so much mileage off being non-conventional, is probably the favorite to win. But, the show won for writing last year with a weaker episode, so…REPEAT! And it looks super hypocritical of me to be rooting for that to happen while not picking it above, BUT that’s the paradox that is Chris Peck.
Now, we descend into darkness…
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen— “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Anna Gunn as Skyler White— “Breaking Bad” (AMC)
Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris— “Mad Men” (AMC)
Monica Potter as Kristina Braverman— “Parenthood” (NBC)
Kiernan Shipka as Sally Draper— “Mad Men” (AMC)
Mae Whitman as Amber Holt— “Parenthood” (NBC)
These next two categories have DEEP fields. It was extremely difficult to narrow it down to six. Among the casualties were, ironically, the ladies of Game of Thrones. Only one actress made it into my final six and there were three others I felt were worthy of recognition—Natalie Dormer as Lady Margery Tyrell, Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark. Dormer had a killer combo of charisma and scheming, Headey continues to play the conniving villain with a tortured past and Fairley chewed some scenery with guilt-ridden monologues and died an epic on-screen death.
Also landing just shy was Kate Mara, who played Zoe Barnes on House of Cards. While I found her performance captivating, her arc was butchered on the show. They took an interesting woman and made her a glorified plot device. Plus, she fell into the archetype of the reporter who sleeps with sources. And Annet Mahendru impressed playing Nina on The Americans where her loyalties were tested, and she held her own opposite Noah Emmerich in the parallel spy couple.
For those who did make my list, we have two pairs from ensemble dramas with deep benches. In our first pair we have multiple nominee Christina Hendricks. I thought she was ripe for a win last season after she was asked to endure a great deal in season five. Alas, the academy couldn’t deny a Dame Maggie Smith. And while Joan Harris wasn’t as prominent, she brought a vitality to the scenes she was in. Whether she was wheeling and dealing to secure her own account, yelling at Don for firing Jaguar after she sacrificed for their business or she was enjoying the company of Bob Benson, she has a screen presence that not many can match.
Also from Mad Men, is the teenager Kiernan Shipka. She’s extraordinarily bright for her age, and brings a maturity to Sally Draper. She was scarred by her father this season and played her contempt for daddy dearest with wit and sensitivity. She also has mastered the power of a look at a young age, ending the season with a look at her father that said volumes.
As I mentioned, I didn’t give Lena Headey my Game of Thrones spot, so who earned it? Last season, her arc was a weak point that involved whining and screaming WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?! Reunited with her fire-breathing babies, Daenerys Targaryen came into her own as a conqueror, and Emilia Clarke gave the most compelling performance. Watch the end of “And Now His Watch Has Ended” and tell me she doesn’t look supremely badass as her dragons burn down the city around her and she looks on menacingly. She orchestrated the sacking of Astapor with serious gravitas and took control of her destiny. Similarly, Clarke took some kick-ass material, and followed through.
Playing the wife of Walter White reaps little rewards. Many on the message boards will brand you a “bitch” for getting in the way of her husband’s meth empire. Seems a little strange considering I interpret Walter’s ascendence as a tragedy, but that’s for another piece. Anna Gunn got some of the season’s most eye-popping moments like walking into the pool in an attempt to drown herself, and she continues to display the weight of her fear, anger and dread while not taking a back seat. She is holding her own with one of the most iconic performances of a generation. And that deserves major kudos.
I promised a second pair of castmates, and these ladies play strong women on Parenthood. Mae Whitman has long been my favorite actress on the show. Her character Amber Holt has always had a charm about her, and a wisdom, but between her daddy issues and a tendency for trouble, she’s like a diamond in the rough. In season four, she rose above her past and started earning her own way. Plus, she got an arc where she falls in love with an Afghanistan vet played by Matt Lauria that had me reaching for the Kleenex.
An obscene amount of tears were shed because of Monica Potter’s Kristina Braverman. A cancer arc can be manipulative because it’s been done a million times, and if the character has been well developed, it’s impossible not to feel the grief. With Kristina though, she’s been known as a shrill character, and not a fan favorite. So I was wary about how I would feel. And Potter just blew me away. Part of it is the writing, but she acted every angle authentically. Whether she was mad at not being seen as beautiful by her husband, frightful of starting chemo, or triumphant about embracing her bald head, I was irrevocably invested in her process of accepting and persevering.
Should Win… Monica Potter
Would Win… Monica Potter. The buzz is tremendous, and it would be an absolute travesty if she didn’t win. Hell, if she doesn’t get nominated I’m protesting the entire affair.
Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut— “Breaking Bad” (AMC)
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jamie Lannister— “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman— “The Americans” (FX)
Vincent Kartheiser as Pete Campbell— “Mad Men” (AMC)
Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson— “Homeland” (Showtime)
Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman— “Breaking Bad” (AMC)
Remember how I said the last category was deep? OY. I could fill out another entire ballot of names here and be just as satisfied. I could go on for days talking about all the remarkable men of this category, but I’ll just rattle off names for the sake of time, and it’s your responsibility to check them out if you haven’t already: Jordan Gavaris (Orphan Black), Corey Stoll (House of Cards), Max Burkholder (Parenthood), Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), Chip Esten (Nashville), Dax Shepard (Parenthood), Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), John Slattery (Mad Men) and Navid Negahban (Homeland). To all of the aforementioned, you are all worthy, but there can only be six.
You have noticed I left out a former winner, Peter Dinklage. That’s how deep this freaking category is. He remains as impressive as ever, but I felt there was another performance that warranted recognition over a repeat offender. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was the villain for the first couple seasons. He pushed an innocent boy out a window and strangled his own cousin. We learned of his notorious title of Kingslayer for breaking his oath and stabbing the Mad King in the back. But boy, was there a whole bunch we didn’t know. Like the wrestling he did with himself before he did betray that king. How he was forced to choose one oath over the other, an impossible task to take if you want to be a man of honor. And he also had his livelihood stripped away from him with one hack of a carving knife. He, like Emilia Clarke, had a glorious arc and he didn’t just coast to the finish. He grinded out a meaningful and grueling path to victory.
Another usurper of a perennial nominee is Vincent Kartheiser. Mad Men has historically been represented in this category by John Slattery (also Jared Harris last year). And while Slattery still can deliver a punchline like a champ, he had a diminished role. Whereas Pete Campbell, was a season-long punching bag. He lost his wife, his mother and his pride over the course of 1968. And yet, he was a joy to watch. He rivaled Slattery’s delivery with an exasperated “Not great, Bob!” after news of his mother’s possible murder. For a while, I’ve admired how despicably Kartheiser portrayed Campbell, but this season I realized how much I actually enjoyed him.
With the abundance of love for Homeland, I wouldn’t be surprised if they righted a wrong and Mandy Patinkin was awarded for his work as Saul. As Carrie’s champion he was asked to do a lot of emotional heavy lifting this season, particularly when he visited a domestic terrorist in prison, and when he thought Carrie was dead in the finale. And while you could see his undeniable love for Carrie, his indignation toward her behavior with Brody was damaging to behold. When he listens to surveillance as she sleeps with the converted terrorist, his agony is plastered on-screen. He’s long been an acting treasure, and he maintains that notoriety here.
Newcomer Noah Emmerich established himself early on as a contender on The Americans. As the neighbor of a spy couple, you run the risk of him seeming stupid for not putting the pieces together. Emmerich played him as uber competent, but just as susceptible to indiscretions as other characters. He also brings a backstory to the character that isn’t completely fleshed out on paper, but when you watch him work you see the weight of the past bearing down on him. His loyalties and his values are apparent and his struggle to uphold them is a welcome sight in this drama where right and wrong is blurred across enemy lines.
On to the Bad men. I was a little shocked, but not disappointed to see Aaron Paul hoisting another trophy. Season four was a trying one for character Jesse Pinkman. In the aftermath of a murder he shuts himself off from the world. Then he is manipulated by Walt and Gus in a battle for his soul. Paul played Jesse with the usual sympathetic streak, but brought a level of anguish that was hard to ignore. In season five, he had different emotions on display, but his entrenchment in Jesse’s journey was never more apparent. He parts with Walt after seeing the toll their business has taken and as we approach the final stretch, it’s hard not to hope for Jesse’s redemption.
Jonathan Banks occupies the space Giancarlo Esposito left. He too got an unforgettable death, but for the episodes preceding, we watched the wary Mike warn Jesse and Walt himself about how Walt was a ticking time bomb, but at the same time obligations and misjudgement forced him to remain within the blast radius. For his steely and sharp performance as “The Cleaner” he better clean up at the awards shows.
Should Win… Jonathan Banks.
Would Win… Aaron Paul. I don’t see anyone else running away with it. And Emmy voters loves the known commodity.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Connie Britton as Rayna James— “Nashville” (ABC)
Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison— “Homeland” (Showtime)
Tatiana Maslany as Sarah, Beth and others— “Orphan Black” (BBC America)
Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson— “Mad Men” (AMC)
Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings— “The Americans” (FX)
Robin Wright as Claire Underwood— “House of Cards” (Netflix)
While I’m sure someone will tell me I’m missing somebody (Kerry Washington from Scandal, and Emmy Rossum from Shameless), I feel pretty good about this list of powerhouse women. First, Robin Wright is an actress who has a serenity about her. No matter what level villainy she’s playing, it’s calming to see her up there. As Claire Underwood, she was asked to play second fiddle to her husband, but in a way that gave her room to assert her individuality. It seemed like her clean water nonprofit was always bumping up against an interest of her husband’s or her husband’s donors. Also, she had some contemplative work that required her to show us that she feels like her life of political climbing has cost her soul. Whether by straying from her “give back” mentality or by showing that she has foregone passion to be by Francis’ side. While she is probably the weakest of my nominees, she’s a formidable foil for the over-the-top Spacey.
She’ll always be Mrs. Coach to me, sorry Nashville, but Connie Britton’s turn as Rayna James is worth consideration. When I heard she would be playing a grizzled country star I was extremely excited. She plays wisdom well, and the prospect of her butting heads with Hayden Panettiere was tantalizing. While the show was too soapy for my taste, it was grounded by Connie’s enchanting southern twang, and her authenticity in playing a woman divided between family and stability, and her desires and ambition.
Elisabeth Moss’ best performance this year was as Robin on Top of the Lake, but I’m not about to deny her brilliance as Peggy. While she’s had juicier material, she played an integral role in Don’s descent and the sixth season. After the episode “The Suitcase” she has felt comfortable calling Draper on his shit, and while she thought she was done with his condescension and undermining, like Pacino in The Godfather Part III, he pulled her back in. After the merger sent her back to Don, she also struggled with her feelings for new boss Teddy Chaough. By season’s end, she seemed THIS close to control, but realizes when Teddy chooses California that she never had a choice in the matter. Her fate continues to be decided for her for better or for worse. And no one drives home that complexity like Moss.
Right off the bat, I knew Keri Russell as a Russian spy was the most inspired casting choice since Cranston as a meth cook. Felicity kicking ass? Sign me up. And while there’s that initial thrill of seeing Russell sexually servicing sources and swiftly deposing of Americans, she is asked to do something way more difficult. How do you take someone who is fundamentally un-American and make an audience root for her to succeed? Russell pulled it off by showing that beneath her espionage and resolve was a woman whisked away from her own life, and wedged into this one. She’s trying to be happy with just honor and duty, but where does she fit in all of this except as a soldier? These are fascinating questions that Russell poses throughout the show’s stellar first season.
Claire. Danes. The name strikes fear in the hearts of dramatic actresses the world over. When it came time for the Emmys to crown one last year, all quivered at their goddess, because they were merely mortal women. But in all seriousness, it was a foregone conclusion. I’m unsure of the certainty this time. I’ll explain next why another actress was asked to execute a higher degree of difficulty and succeeded. As for Danes, she continued to portray Carrie Mathison’s anguish with an authenticity that was downright frightening. Whether we’re watching the spool of her sanity unravel, or groaning as her faith in a doomed love costs her her freedom, she took us on a wild ride, and I was more than willing to surrender to its punishing twists and turns.
The gushing was plentiful among TV snobs in the know. Tatiana Maslany gets an Emmy nomination or we riot! But what the hell was all the fervor for? How do I put this? Of any actress on the small screen, more was demanded of Maslany than any other. Not only did she have to believably pull off multiple, distinguishable characters, but she had to pretend as one character to impersonate another character. It’s like Inception, but with clones. It fucked with my head just imagining the complexity. Her knowledge of each separate personality appears innate, and in a sci-fi show where I’m asked to suspend my disbelief about the very existence of human clones, all I found myself questioning was, HOW THE HELL DOES SHE DO THAT? Whether you want to quibble with where this whole fangled mystery is headed is beside the point. Tatiana Maslany makes the inconceivable achievable. She is in many places at once, not to mention brilliant and distinct in each of them.
Should Win… Tatiana Maslany
Would Win… Claire Danes. Because why would they dare upset their deity by worshipping false idols?
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Bryan Cranston as Walter White— “Breaking Bad” (AMC)
Jon Hamm as Don Draper— “Mad Men” (AMC)
Peter Krause as Adam Braverman— “Parenthood” (AMC)
Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody— “Homeland” (Showtime)
Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings— “The Americans” (FX)
Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood— “House of Cards” (Netflix)
A two-time Oscar winner is gonna garner some love from Emmy voters. It’s inevitable. The question is, has Kevin Spacey given a performance worthy of accolades. I’m reluctant to say he’s one of the six best performances around, but he’s one of the six best I’ve seen. As I mentioned, I’ve heard through other critics that the male leads in Hannibal and Rectify (Hugh Dancy and Aden Young, respectively) are upping the ante, but I can’t acknowledge them solely because of what I’ve heard through the grapevine. Writers for this very site (I’m calling you out Allyson Johnson!) have implored me to watch the mastery of Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes.
Based on what I’ve seen, Spacey wouldn’t be undeserving of decoration. While the role of Francis Underwood is not a subtle one, watching such a charismatic star chew scenery is glorious. He’s basically Richard III (and a little bit of Othello’s Iago) as a United States congressman. He’s always scheming, a Machiavellian sort of fellow who delights in backstabbing and backing others into corners. And while there was little depth, beyond a trip to his alma mater, I enjoyed his antics a great deal. He gets what he wants, without a lot of fuss, because he knows what buttons to push. And don’t we all wish we could coast through life without obstacles. He’s a voyeuristic indulgence, but an artful one nonetheless.
Parenthood is not popular with Emmy voters, which is puzzling because it seems right up their alley. It’s a guaranteed tearjerker, there’s a talented and deep ensemble, and it’s earnest in its depiction of family. Monica Potter is probably their only shot at an award, but Peter Krause, a TV veteran went toe-to-toe with his powerhouse pretend wife. He spent every waking moment supporting her, grieving for her or trying to make her days easier. It’s not as if life was a picnic before Kristina’s diagnosis, but Adam Braverman answered boldly when his number was called. And I can undoubtedly say the same for Krause.
Damian Lewis was a longshot to beat Cranston last year. When Cranston was ineligible, Kyle Chandler took advantage, but Lewis was a worthy nominee who would be overshadowed by the behemoth Walter White. And yet, he took home the trophy? Why? Well, Emmy voters DUG them some Homeland, but mostly, he was strikingly good as Nicholas Brody. I bought every single emotion, every hesitation, every internal conflict, because it was displayed vividly on Lewis’ face. This season, he wasn’t flawless. He took a wide-eyed, crazed route with some of his more audacious scenes and it contradicted the nuance of the previous season. But his gradual breaking down in “Q+A” was like watching a cruise liner sink. It was slow, it was grand, and it was magnificent. I think the adoration dies down a bit from a year ago, but I was still amazed in spots.
One of the most intriguing moments in the pilot for The Americans was the reveal that Philip Jennings was truly in love with his arranged wife Elizabeth, but he was pretending he was just as distant and professional about their situation as she was. So when they make love after dumping a body (so romantic, right?) it really felt monumental. And when later on we find him listening to her recordings as she pleasures a potential informant, I was completely immersed in that moment, easily empathizing with his longing and insecurity about how “real” their love was. That’s the magic of storytelling. And Matthew Rhys was a magician for 13 episodes. Moreso than with Russell even, he convinced me I should care about their marriage. It’s easy to grip an audience with spies and secrets and sex. Where Rhys does the grunt work is in the quieter, contemplative moments where he makes us understand him without saying a word.
In Mad Men’s first season, Don Draper was the essence of cool. He had many secrets, many women, and many men who respected him. The drastic emotional shifts he has undergone from dapper to depressed, powerful to pathetic can all be credited to Jon Hamm’s adaptability. Early on, adoring critics would say he easily flipped the switch from Dick Whitman (his previous identity) to Don Draper. In this bizarre season, he melded the two with an impressively smooth transition that saw him go from destroying his reputation to saving his soul. After the finale In Care Of especially, I felt the deepest reverence for how he transformed a man who built up a wall of lies to one who just maybe will break them down. After a Bryan Cranston-less year came and went and his mantel stayed empty of Emmys, I don’t believe he’ll be awarded. BUT he’s worthy of mention and your attention.
Like Claire Danes, this man is otherworldly. Once a mild-mannered sitcom father, he is now a ruthless murdering meth cook. And he’s giving the best performance of my generation. The conceit of the show—a man going from Mr. Chips to Scarface—is brilliant on its own. And with Bryan Cranston conveying the subtleties of an emasculated chemistry teacher’s moral deterioration it is fascinating, tragic and spectacular. All of the aforementioned men have mesmerized me, but Bryan embodies everything I love about actors. They take the words soaked in empathy and splash them onto their faces with zero hesitation about how they appear. He might be simultaneously the most pitiful and despicable man ever conceived and Cranston looks like he is truly living it.
Should Win… Bryan Cranston. Because you will remember his name.
Would Win… Bryan Cranston. Emmy voters aren’t dummies. They know the chemistry MUST be respected.
Outstanding Drama Series
“The Americans” (FX)
“Breaking Bad” (AMC)
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)
“Mad Men” (AMC)
Should Win… Breaking Bad. While I thought quality-wise that the first half of season five was less stellar then season four, it was undoubtedly the best show on television. I’d say it was responsible for four of the most intense, sophisticated and thrilling hours of television this year, and that comprises half the season! And because we’re nearing the end of its run, I’m going to advocate for this oppressed masterpiece. If it sticks the landing, it just my be my candidate for GOAT (Sorry, The Wire).
Would Win… Homeland. It’s the defending champion, it’s timely, it’s zeitgeist-y. It’s got everything going for it. Sure, every critic who praised it previously, teased it for its plausibility/plot issues, but it wasn’t drastically different than the show that pulled the rug out from under Mad Men’s potential record. I feel in my gut that a new reign has begun.
“The Americans” for Pilot (FX)
“Breaking Bad” for Gliding Over All (AMC)
“Game of Thrones” for The Rains of Castamere (HBO)
“Homeland” for Q+A (Showtime)
“Mad Men” for In Care Of (AMC)
Should Win… The Americans “Pilot” because while TV is a long-form narrative—so there are chances aplenty for reentry—first impressions still matter. The series premiere was drenched with inspired and period based (the 1980s) music choices that set the tone for the connection between the Cold War and espionage and relationships. Whether it was using “Tusk” by Fleetwood Mac during a chase sequence or “In the Air Tonight” for a sex scene, the parallels smacked you in the face like you had been awoken from a long slumber. And while there’s certainly going to be critics claiming a retread of Homeland’s topics, I felt it established itself as something totally original from the word go. And it starts and end with crafting genuine characters, cultivating a rich setting, and possessing a voice that screams “I need to be heard.” This pilot stills echoes in my consciousness.
Would Win… “Q+A.” Even with its three nominations in the same category, Mad Men was overtaken by Homeland for writing. I personally thought its episode “The Weekend” was its strongest episode due to cutting, gripping dialogue. Instead they rewarded an admittedly strong pilot. And this year, “Q+A” was its best episode of the season, possibly the series. We were taken through the grueling, manipulative process of watching Carrie Mathison break Nicholas Brody and build him up again, but loyal to an opposite cause. It was heartrending to witness this man be put through the wringer, and it was also titillating to see these two characters get to the root of who they are, what they want, and why they’re so damaged. In a season that left me scratching my head at times, I felt every single word like it was my own insecurities and fears projected on screen. It was a stunning accomplishment, and if the Homeland love holds, it takes the gold. And while I’d love to see the new spy show showcased, I’ll give credit where it’s due.