The Television Academy announced Thursday its nominations for the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards and, looking at the list, you may be forgiven for thinking that every single member of the casts of Downton Abbey and Modern Family had walked away with nominations. (It just seems that way.)
AMC’s Mad Men and FX’s American Horror Story tied for the most nominations, with 17 apiece, while PBS’s cultural phenomenon Downton Abbey—which shifted from the miniseries category into Best Drama this year—grabbed 16 nominations (tying with History’s Hatfields & McCoys), including many in the acting categories. Also getting a lot of love this year: Game of Thrones, Homeland, Modern Family, and Sherlock. Not getting a lot of love: network dramas.
Once again, the dramatic categories are fierce competitions, including the actress races, which boast Julianna Margulies, Michelle Dockery, Elisabeth Moss, Kathy Bates, Claire Danes, and Glenn Close for Lead Actress and Archie Panjabi, Anna Gunn, Maggie Smith, Joanne Froggatt, Christina Hendricks, and Christine Baranski for Supporting Actress. But for those shows that managed to score a bounty of nominations, there were those that were shut out in the cold altogether.
Hugh Laurie, an Emmy mainstay, failed to get a nomination for the final season of Fox’s House, while Justified didn’t get any love as a show or for its stars, Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins. (The show scored only two nominations overall, none in the main categories.) With Downton Abbey in the best drama series mix, CBS’s The Good Wife didn’t score a nomination, and the comedy list, heavy on HBO contenders, failed to include Community, Louie, and Parks and Recreation. (Speaking of which, will Parks’s Nick Offerman ever get a nomination at this rate?)
Some oversights, however, are more egregious than others, and the nominations this year had their fair share of surprises as well. Here are some of the biggest snubs and most shocking surprises of this year’s Emmy nominations…
SNUB: Parks and Recreation (NBC)This year’s Best Comedy category boasts no less than three HBO shows—including two newcomers in Girls and Veep, and returnee Curb Your Enthusiasm—leaving little room for much else to break through. The rest of the positions went to 30 Rock, Modern Family, and The Big Bang Theory, all of which have proven over the years to be irresistible catnip to Emmy voters. But to leave out Parks and Recreation, which had one of its best and most nuanced seasons to date, is particularly myopic. Revolving around the campaign of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler, who was rightly nominated), Season 4 was tremendous, examining the hope and optimism of one political candidate against whom the odds were stacked, thanks to a spoiled candy-company offspring (Paul Rudd) and his manipulative campaign manager (the ubiquitous Kathryn Hahn). Omitting Parks from the list of nominees is a slap in the face given just how deserving this show is of some awards recognition.
SNUB: Community (NBC)Likewise, the final Dan Harmon season of Community was also shut out of the awards process. Putting aside the fact that none (none!) of its commendable actors managed to secure nominations in their respective categories, the gonzo and wildly imaginative comedy was also denied a Best Comedy nomination, despite the fact that this season proved to be one of its most absurd and inventive yet, delving into chaos theory, the mystery of a murdered yam (presented as a Law & Order episode), a Civil War parody, 8-bit videogames, and a scathing Glee takedown. Perhaps Community is simply too good for the Emmys; perhaps it belongs not to awards committees, but rather to the people instead: to those individuals who appreciate and understand the warped genius of this show.
SURPRISE: Max Greenfield, New Girl (Fox)It’s a happy surprise to discover that Max Greenfield walked away with a nomination for New Girl’s preening ball of neurosis Schmidt, one of the 2011-12 season’s breakout characters. In the hands of Greenfield, what could have been a formulaic pretty boy emerges instead a mass of contradiction, insecurity, and a winning mix of alpha-male rhetoric and effeminate traits. His burgeoning romance with CeCe (Hannah Simone), teetering as it did on the cusp of adulthood, proved that he wasn’t all flash, allowing Greenfield to further mine the character for hidden depths. Alternately, outrageously crass and deeply sensitive, Schmidt is an anthropological goldmine, and I’m not the only one curious to see where creator Liz Meriwether and Greenfield take his beloved and original character next.
SNUB: The Good Wife (CBS)In a particularly fierce drama series category—which saw Downton enter the race, along with Showtime’s thriller Homeland—it was a given that one show would be chucked out of the competition, but I didn’t think it would be CBS’s sophisticated and sharp Good Wife. After a rocky start to Season 3, The Good Wife quickly found its sea legs once again, delivering a compelling season of change and transformation, political intrigue, and boardroom-and-bedroom negotiations. The absence of The Good Wife reveals just how far out of the race the broadcasters are these days, with the slots all occupied by cable and PBS now. But to omit The Good Wife is to turn away from the intense quality of this gifted network drama, which consistently delivers biting dialogue, stunning character work, provocative legal cases, and an insightful (and incisive) exploration of contemporary society.
SURPRISE: The cast of Downton Abbey (PBS)It was no surprise that the much beloved Downton Abbey would enter the Best Drama race, but what was surprising was just how many of its cast members scored nominations in their respective categories, with Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, and Jim Carter all grabbing nominations. For a show with such an expansive cast, it’s impressive to see six nominees emerge from the war-torn country manor this year (though the omission of Dan Stevens, who plays Downton heir Matthew Crawley, is strange). With six nominees—including several competing against each other—it will be interesting to see just how their individual races play out. Given the pivotal role that the Anna/Bates storyline played this season, I’m especially happy to see Froggatt and Coyle both receiving individual nods, and I feel that it’s time for the Academy to recognize the aura of nobility and honor that Bonneville brings to his role as Lord Grantham.
SNUB: Regina King, Southland (TNT)I’m actually shocked that Regina King, always fantastic as Detective Lydia Adams on the TNT police drama but especially stellar this season, didn’t manage to score a nomination after a season that found the tough-as-nails cop grappling with an unexpected pregnancy and conflicted feelings about motherhood. In a series that’s as full of gunfire and car chases as Southland, the poignancy and palpable fear embodied by Lydia’s storyline this season was a kick to the sternum. In the hands of King, Lydia ricochets between terror and acceptance, her belly growing as large as her figurative guts. This is one performance that more than warranted a nomination. (Also: Where is Lucy Liu's nomination for her staggering and career-defining guest-star turn this season?)
SURPRISE: Betty White, Betty White’s Off Their Rockers (NBC)Surprise: America loves Betty White, and the Academy apparently loves her so much that she’ll be competing for Best Reality Host alongside Cat Deeley, Phil Keoghan, Ryan Seacrest, and Tom Bergeron. Nothing against White, but really?
SNUB: Emmy Rossum, Shameless (Showtime)Showtime’s criminally underrated Shameless scored only one nomination overall, and sadly it wasn’t for the show’s stellar Emmy Rossum who delivers a courageous, brutal, and heartbreaking turn every week as Fiona Gallagher. In the series’ second season, Rossum silenced the naysayers with a wrenching performance, particularly in scenes with her errant mother, Monica (the similarly great Chloe Webb), whose bipolar disorder took a turn for the tragic, as she attempted suicide in the kitchen while the family ate Thanksgiving dinner. It was the scene in which Fiona attempted to scrub the kitchen, cleaning up the rivulets and puddles of her mother’s blood, when Rossum shines, her reality a far cry from the plans that Fiona had previously had for herself: a GED, a well-paid job, a chance at happiness. Sometimes we can’t escape our pasts or our presents, a fact that Rossum makes all too painfully real.
SURPRISES: Ashley Judd, Missing (ABC) and Missing (ABC)ABC’s little-watched thriller Missing was canceled earlier this summer, yet the show turned up all over the miniseries categories. Can an axed ongoing drama really be considered a miniseries? Apparently, it can, as Missing has proven. Both the show and its lead, Ashley Judd, scored nominations in the incredibly shrinking miniseries and movie category. While a win for either could be considered a long shot at this time, it proves just how incredibly canny representatives and networks have become when awards season rolls around, subtly chipping away at the definition of miniseries. Even more surprising: that the ho-hum Missing appears to have stolen the spot earmarked by HBO for its own canceled, well-reviewed Luck.
SURPRISE: Merritt Weaver, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)A very pleasant surprise, in fact. Weaver’s Zoey is, in many ways, the heart and soul of Showtime’s acerbic comedy Nurse Jackie: a nurse in kiddie scrubs whose overflowing enthusiasm and optimism provided a counterpoint to the darkness within recovering addict Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco, also nominated). Weaver’s subtlety and grace—embodied this year in scenes of domesticity after moving in with Jackie and wandering around the house in a kimono—are welcome additions to the bloody aesthetic of Nurse Jackie. In her hands, Zoey is both whimsical and emotionally solid.
SNUB: Justified (FX)Where’s the love for Justified, Academy voters? Perhaps proving that last year’s appreciation of the Elmore Leonard–inspired U.S. marshal drama was a fluke, the Academy this year chose not to bestow a Best Drama nomination on Justified and didn’t single out series lead Timothy Olyphant or the insanely incredible Walton Goggins for praise, either. While their respective categories were tough ones to crack, the sweeping oversight is troubling, given the strength of the show and the continued chemistry between best friends/adversaries Raylan Givens (Olyphant) and Boyd Crowder (Goggins). While Season 2 gave us Mags Bennett and finally made a star out of Margo Martindale, Season 3 was another crackling thrill ride through the meth-ridden Kentucky hollers of Justified, presenting a fractured family of equally violent criminals and lawmen. This show deserves a tin star.
SURPRISE: Lena Dunham, Girls (HBO)Given the outcry surrounding the highly polarizing show, I’m glad to see that Dunham scored a nomination for her incredible turn as selfish, self-absorbed Hannah Horvath in HBO’s incredible Girls. Dunham does more than reveal her flesh in this outstanding performance, but by embodying Hannah also strips away the layers to reveal her soul as well, whether she’s giving a public reading, traveling home to visit her parents, or jogging through the streets with her body-conscious boyfriend. While some have made a point of reveling in the character’s nudity, that’s missing the point: it’s the bravery in making Hannah someone who can be both sympathetic and loathsome, selfish and yet bracingly naïve, cloistered and bottoming out. As played by Dunham, Hannah is a character I can’t look away from and whose future I can’t wait to watch unfold.
SNUB: Louie (FX)I’m in shock that Louie, FX’s unabashedly offbeat comedy, failed to secure a nomination after a masterful second season. While series creator/star/executive producer/writer/director Louis C.K. did get a nomination in the Best Actor comedy category, I’m depressed that the show itself wasn’t nominated for a Best Comedy. Original and acid-tongued, Louie is a rare bird among tired sitcoms. It has a strong point of view, it wants to open your eyes and, at times, even trouble you, and it is brutally funny, even when it tackles unsavory or upsetting issues. What other show features its star painfully swallowing when his 5-year-old daughter tells him that she loves mommy more and then giving her the finger when she turns around?
SURPRISE: Kathy Bates, Harry’s Law (NBC) Let it not be said that the Academy is nothing if not predictable. I just didn’t think that they’d single out Bates—whose show was unceremoniously canceled earlier this year—for a nomination, but her nod here, for a show that attracted a decidedly older crowd, may point toward some clues about which Emmy members participate in voting.
SNUB: John Slattery and Vincent Kartheiser, Mad Men (AMC)After a fifth season that swirled around issues of mortality and morality, it’s a surprise that two of Mad Men’s best performances this year—that of John Slattery and Vincent Kartheiser—went unrecognized altogether by the Academy. As Slattery’s Roger Sterling went on a flower-strewn acid trip and Kartheiser’s Pete Campbell tried to hold on to his waning masculinity, we were treated to a journey through the minds of the male creature in the mid-1960s, each struggling to retain their sense of value and purpose, each faltering in their personal relationships. These were virtuoso performances in their own inimitable way, each of the characters facing the unknowable ahead of them: an open window or a leaky faucet. Never has indecision, infidelity, and insecurity seemed quite so tangible.
SURPRISE: Mark Margolis, Breaking Bad (AMC)Ding ding ding! Proving that the Academy can sometime shine a light on a deserving journeyman actor (I'm thinking of last year's deserving win for Margo Martindale), one of today's most pleasant surprises was the guest actor in a drama series nomination of 72-year-old Mark Margolis, who plays Don Hector "Tio" Salamanca on AMC's Breaking Bad. It's no easy feat to play a mute character, particularly one as filled with venomous rage as Tio, a former Mexican kingpin turned prisoner in his own body. Trapped in a wheelchair and unable to enact the vengeance he desires so desperately, his face twisted and contorted by an impotent fury, Margolis imbues the character with almost animalistic pain and righteous indignation. With a performance as brutal and intense as this one, it is no surprise that bells are ringing everywhere for Margolis today.