Though there were a lot of locks for the main categories at the Emmys this year, the TV Academy still managed to surprise us here at Cinema Sentinel with some very deserving underdogs scoring nominations and equally shocking snubs. Though we would certainly never want to be in the position of choosing a few nominees out of this past year’s terrific crop, it’s always fun to dissect and disagree with the TV Academy’s picks. Let’s take it one at a time with the six main categories:
Outstanding Comedy Series
This year’s category is almost identical to last year’s, with FX’s Louie sneaking onto the ballot in place of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. Louie was certainly worthy of a nomination – no show still on TV does biting dark comedy as skillfully – but there were some equally deserving but unfairly snubbed candidates. NBC’s Parks and Recreation had a terrific season, far superior to, say, the latest season of Girls (debatably not even a comedy at this point). Parks and Recreation has even surpassed its stylistic muse, The Office, at this point by so completely involving the audience in the lives of its characters despite the documentary format, and it is about time that the Emmys recognize that after years of unfairly ignoring the show. And the total lack of love for FOX’s New Girl, which hit a real groove in its second season, is depressing, if not surprising given all of the deserving candidates this year. The characters on New Girl grew (though some more than others) from caricatures to legitimate protagonists, with strengths, weaknesses and quirks all their own. The scripts were also far better than in New Girl‘s first season, giving each actor time to shine individual while evolving all of the roommates’ relationships in exciting ways. With 30 Rock in the ground, maybe some fresher comedies will get a chance next year.
Biggest Surprise: Louie (FX)
Biggest Snub: Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Outstanding Drama Series
This field was the tightest of any this year, with so many brilliant dramas on the air, and so it’s difficult to argue with the nominees – in particular, AMC’s Mad Men, HBO’s Game of Thrones, and AMC’s Breaking Bad are all at the peak of their storytelling powers. Netflix’s House of Cards deserves a nomination not only for its terrific acting and plot, but also for its very existence. House of Cards is groundbreaking in that it is the first original online web television program to ever receive Emmy attention. If there’s any debating, it would be about SHOWTIME’s Homeland. The complex spy thriller had an undeniably weak second season, despite an extremely strong start. It’s safe to say that the TV Academy is honoring the first half of Homeland‘s second season, not the completely absurd Abu Nazir kidnapping twist of its last few episodes. However, there are other shows more deserving that, with careful restraint, avoided going off the rails in the way that Homeland did. FX’s The Americans had an exhilarating, almost flawless first season. Also on FX, Sons of Anarchy and Justified arguably had their best seasons yet. On HBO, Boardwalk Empire was conspicuously absent for the first time. And while the same channel’s drama The Newsroom turned a lot of heads, it’s likely that tough love from critics scared off the TV Academy. Meanwhile, SHOWTIME’s Dexter pulled itself out of a nosedive in grand fashion with one of its best seasons in years, to no avail, and AMC’s The Walking Dead also didn’t make the cut, despite its burgeoning popularity and rise in quality. Neither did NBC’s freshman drama Hannibal, which had a surprising amount of awards buzz behind it going into the nominations. In this writer’s mind, the biggest snub in this category would have to be BBC America’s Orphan Black, which succeeded in making sci-fi cool again, as well as smart, sexy and compulsively watchable. Despite the many fantastical aspects of the show’s plot (which are almost certainly what turned voters off), the drama was as gritty, well-acted and fascinating as anything on American television this year.
Biggest Surprise: House of Cards (Netflix)
Biggest Snub: Orphan Black (BBC America)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama
The heavy hitters are all there, though Jeff Daniels somehow snuck in despite The Newsroom‘s bad press and lack of nominations. This was such a rewarding season of television all around that there were many deserving actors who just didn’t make the cut. Timothy Olyphant was great in this season of Justified. Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter) both got the shaft this year after being nominated last year, allowing Daniels and Kevin Spacey of House of Cards to take their places. Neither Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones) nor Matthew Rhys (The Americans) stood a chance, though in weaker years they both would have been up for consideration. Hugh Dancy was truly outstanding on NBC’s freshman drama Hannibal as troubled criminal profiler Will Graham. And Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead turned in the most impressive performance on a show built on great performances, showing off his wide acting range this past season as his character sunk to new moral depths. All of them would have been nominated in a perfect world. Sadly, the TV Academy loves to show devotion to its favorite shows, so newcomers often get spurned in favor of mainstays like Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men).
Biggest Surprise: Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom (HBO)
Biggest Snub: Andrew Lincoln – The Walking Dead (AMC)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama
This category yielded some of the most surprising nominations in this year’s Emmys. Some of them were satisfying, like Vera Farmiga for her excellent work as twisted mother Norma Bates on A&E’s breakout Bates Motel. And some of them were a little frustrating, like Connie Britton on ABC’s Nashville, an uneven guilty pleasure show that went through some considerable growing pains. The category nominated seven actresses, as opposed to the standard six, which suggests the TV Academy struggled to narrow down the contenders, so there were likely many other actresses who were very close to receiving the nod that Britton ultimately (read: inexplicably) earned. Tatiana Maslany played not one but seven characters to perfection on BBC America’s Orphan Black, masterfully differentiating each performance with distinctive looks, styles, accents, and mannerisms. No one else on TV can claim to play both the protagonist and antagonist of their show, along with most of the supporting characters. Maslany’s omission, after her win at the Critic’s Choice Awards, was likely the biggest snub of any category at the Emmys this year. Other deserving candidates included Jennifer Carpenter for her increasingly terrific work on SHOWTIME’s Dexter, Lena Headey and Michelle Fairley of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and Keri Russell, the compelling center of FX’s The Americans. Julianne Margulies was also snubbed this year, though CBS’s The Good Wife had another strong season.
Biggest Surprise: Connie Britton – Nashville (ABC)
Biggest Snub: Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC America)
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy
Usual suspects Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory) and Alec Baldwin (30 Rock) again received nods, but the category also found room to recognize underdogs like Matt LeBlanc for his wonderful, self-aware role on SHOWTIME’s Episodes and Jason Bateman for being the best part of Netflix’s revived Arrested Development. Louis C.K. picked up another well-deserved nomination for his work on Louie, and Don Cheadle was also recognized for SHOWTIME’s House of Lies. The weak spot in that line-up is definitely Cheadle, who suffers from the reputation of his show, generally criticized for listless writing. However, the TV Academy clearly likes Cheadle on TV, as they also nominated him last year, to the surprise of many. As far as snubs are concerned, Jake Johnson should have picked up a nomination for his consistently hilarious acting on FOX’s New Girl. Johnson really came into his own as a romantic and comedic lead for the show this past season, delivering many of the show’s best lines and moments. Despite a greatly improved role, he suffered from the total lack of love for New Girl from the TV Academy this year. John Krasinski was the heart of The Office in its final season, but evidently the show wore out its welcome around the time Steve Carrell packed his bags. Finally, Jon Cryer was also snubbed for Two and a Half Men after the TV Academy gave him the award last year, suggesting the goodwill towards him after the show’s Charlie Sheen crisis has all but evaporated.
Biggest Surprise: Jason Bateman – Arrested Development (Netflix)
Biggest Snub: Jake Johnson – New Girl (FOX)
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy
This category included comedy juggernauts like Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), while still acknowledging the more subtle work of underdogs like Laura Dern (Enlightened) and Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie), in what was probably the fairest distribution of nominations this year. That said, many terrific actresses got shut out, which is particularly frustrating considering the Lead Actress in a Drama category had seven slots this year, while Lead Actress in a Comedy only had six. That seventh slot would have likely gone to Zooey Deschanel for her increasingly expressive and exciting work on New Girl. Deschanel really developed her character this past season, transforming Jess Day from the quirky weirdo of the first season into a fully formed, easily likable protagonist by taking bold risks and consistently humanizing her, particularly in her romantic storyline with roommate Nick Miller (Jake Johnson). Melissa McCarthy was also snubbed for her work on CBS’s Mike and Molly, likely just missing the cut. It’s possible that her lucrative film career overexposed her to voters, who instead opted for lesser-known actresses.
Biggest Surprise: Laura Dern – Enlightened (HBO)
Biggest Snub: Zooey Deschanel – New Girl (FOX)