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Emmy Nominations 2014: The Good, The Bad and The Snubbed

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It’s that time of year, the time for television fans to indulge in righteous indignation as a new slew of Emmy nominations are revealed. Each year we tell ourselves that the Emmys don’t really matter, that their attempts to recognize the absolute best of television are misguided and that the nomination process is seriously ineffective and ultimately produces frustrating results (check out Todd VanDerWerff’s fantastic nomination breakdown here). The Emmys famously snubbed The Wire year after year, but that didn’t stop it from becoming one of the most revered television series in recent years, in fact, the academy’s dismissal of the drama has become a kind of badge of honor in the series’ mythology. It’s the academy that comes off looking sheepish and nearsighted for overlooking a masterpiece and fans of the show can boast of their superiority and pat themselves on the back for recognizing the value the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences failed to see.

Similarly we can criticize the academy for failing to recognize the brilliance of Tatiana Maslany’s performance in Orphan Black, or for being unaware that comedies (Community, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) other than perennial winner Modern Family actually exist and are doing much more interesting and bold things. But when the Emmys do get it right (Bryan Cranston for his flawless portrayal of Walter White, last year’s surprising but awesome win for Tony Hale, Anna Gunn’s long-awaited recognition for playing one of the more (irrationally) hated characters in television, and more) we are right there cheering on and commending the academy for its astuteness.

We love it when our favorites get recognized and forget past grievances. And, admittedly, the Emmy awards can positively impact a television series; it’s doubtful whether 30 Rock would have reached its seven-season run without all its award love, same for cult hit Arrested Development. Networks like tacking on the “prestige” label on their shows, winning Emmys gets you there quickly, so they aren’t necessarily going to give up on the ones that manage to win them. Consequently, it is a love/hate relationship we have with the Emmys (as well as any other awards show, really) and despite our inevitable outrage each year (with nominations and eventual winners alike) we can’t help but get pulled back into the award frenzy time and time again. It is frivolous fun after all. On to some high and lowlights.

 

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The Good

How awesome is all the Orange is the New Black love? Unquestionably one of the best shows of the past year, it has the biggest chance of dethroning Modern Family of its Outstanding Comedy Series streak, as it should. Not only did the series get the big nom, but Taylor Schilling, Kate Mulgrew, Natasha Lyonne, Uzo Aduba and Leverne Cox all got individual acting nominations, a directing nod for Jodie Foster and a writing nomination for creator Jenji Kohan and Liz Friedman. Yes to all of this. Yay!

The recognition for the FX miniseries Fargo was great to see, but the standout nomination from that group is definitely Allison Tolman’s supporting nod. A fantastic debut performance that deserves all the praise it has gotten. This is one of those cases in which a nomination is quite significant (regardless of award show validity or whether she wins or not) since it definitely will raise Tolman’s profile and hopefully does wonders for her career. Someone give her her own show!

We all know that the latest season of American Horror Story was an utter mess, however it did contain some of the most fun, over the top, scenery chewiest performances from various talented actresses. My unabashed favorite is Angela Bassett’s fabulous turn as Marie Laveau in which she stole every scene she appeared in and gave the show life. Her line reading of, “What the head said!” is a revelation.

Finally, the academy recognizes Game of Thrones’ Lena Heady for her portrayal as the deliciously evil Cersei Lannister. Heady has been giving a tremendous performance since the show’s beginnings but has been somewhat overlooked what with the fantastic debut performances from Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams and the like. But Heady has quietly been one of the strongest performers on the show imbuing the character with the appropriate amount of vulnerability and complexity. Even if you love to hate Cersei, or just hate her, there is no question that she is a fully realized character, and Heady deserves much credit for that.

Other positive standouts: Fred Armisen for Portlandia, Kate McKinnon for SNL, Silicon Valley love

Also positive: a record eleven Black performers nominated and the first transgender nominee, Laverne Cox.

 

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The Bad

Look, we all love Downton Abbey; it remains a perfectly adequate period soap despite the slip in quality over time. Michelle Dockery continues to play Lady Mary with great charm and charisma blah, blah, blah. I love the show; I can’t wait for the next season to premiere, but I also know that it is not one of the six best drama series on television. Top 20? Sure, but certainly not top 6. This is an example of voting stagnancy, and it’s incredibly frustrating especially because the show (regardless of the time passed or cast changes) hasn’t really evolved much in its course. Mad Men has been a staple in the Outstanding Drama Series category longer than the PBS show, but that is a show that manages to surprise its audience and reach new levels of emotional resonance and engagement. Can’t say the same about Downton. What is Jim Carter doing in him performance to make grant him a spot next to Peter Dinklage and Aaron Paul and Mandy Patinkin? I have no idea. I don’t think the voters do either.

It is expected for Modern Family to be back in the Comedy Series race we begrudgingly accept that, but do we have to accept The Big Bang Theory’s presence in this list?

Oh, and, academy? There is no need to keep validating Maggie Smith for her performance in Downton Abbey. She knows she is fabulous; she’s a dame for crying out loud. She could care less about your little award, she already has three of them (and three Golden Globes and two Oscars and a whole bunch of other stuff) and she hasn’t bothered to come to your little show in forever, so just stop.

Jeff Daniels. Why? Just why?

More eye-rollers: Modern Family acting nods, Jim Parsons for The Big Bang Theory, Kevin Spacey for House of Cards

 

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The Snubbed

Snubs in awards shows are inevitable, particularly for television, given the inordinate amount of outstanding material being produced. There is a lot of good television out there, many great performances and it is virtually impossible to nominate them all. Naturally, some of our favorites will be overlooked, we know this, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany gives, arguably, the best performance by a female actor in a drama series currently airing and yet, girl can’t catch a break. It’s incredibly frustrating because if she were to attain a nomination, then she would be an obvious frontrunner because then voters are required to actually watch an episode of the show. Her talent is undeniable (even in the uneven season two) and I’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive and/or challenging performance than what she is given to do on Orphan Black. However, I’ve accepted that this is just not going to happen, BBC America is not a network voters care for, and Orphan Black might be too obscure and genre specific to appeal to members of the academy. She can be critically lauded and win as many critics’ awards as humanly possible, but the Emmys won’t notice. Shame.

While I had accepted that a Tatiana Maslany snub was a tragic inevitability, I was not ready for the absence of Elisabeth Moss in the Lead Actress category. What? My dear Pegasus. We have grown accustomed to seeing her lose year after year, along with all her Mad Men co-stars, how could this be? Moss’ performance continues to improve and grow and she and the series have made Peggy Olson one of the greatest female characters of our time, seeing her name drop off the list breaks my heart.

The total lack of recognition for FX’s The Americans is another serious blunder. This was an incredibly impressive year for the series and its stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys whose performances never wavered. Outrage was strong for these two, but I’d like to extend it to supporting players Noah Emmerich and Annet Mahendru who are amazing in their respective roles and as deserving of the recognition.

Finally, I have my issues with Modern Family, but for the academy to once again recognize Julie Bowen (who has won twice) for Supporting Actress and dismiss Sofia Vergara, who has always been the more deserving performer, is ridiculous. Vergara, while managing to get nominated, has never been given credit for her wonderful comedic timing and overall ability; she is not just a funny accent in a tight dress.

The 66th annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the NOKIA Theatre on August 25.

Did your favorites make the cut?

Read the full list of nominees here.

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