It’s almost a given that the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences—the voting body for the Primetime Emmy Awards—doesn’t always get it right. The 2011 Emmy nominations were announced very early this morning in Los Angeles, and much praise was heaped onto some very worthy subjects, including Mad Men (which walked way with 19 nominations total), Parks and Recreation, Modern Family, The Good Wife, Friday Night Lights, and newcomers Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire.
As for what the TV Academy did right this year, there’s the deserving Outstanding Drama nomination for the swan song of the now-concluded tearjerker drama Friday Night Lights, and the embarrassment of riches that is the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Margo Martindale, Michelle Forbes, Archie Panjabi, Christine Baranski, Christina Hendricks, and Kelly MacDonald, a superlative set of nominees.
Kyra Sedgwick, who won last year for The Closer, failed even to earn a nomination this year, while Kathy Bates—she of the critically reviled Harry's Law—somehow elbowed her way into the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama category. And Neil Patrick Harris, a four-time nominee in comedy’s supporting actor category for How I Met Your Mother, was overlooked. But, as always with oversights, some are more egregious than others.
Outstanding Comedy Series: Community
While NBC’s Parks and Recreation was very thankfully nominated here (or I would be even more up in arms), it’s the exclusion of the supremely imaginative and innately brilliant comedy Community that stands out here as a major snub, given that Glee gets a nomination that turned off many critics and viewers and squandered the potential of the musical “comedy.” Dan Harmon’s meta comedy Community has always perhaps been more of a critics’ darling than an audience one, but it’s also consistently the most challenging and thought-provoking comedy on television, one that tests the elasticity of the American sitcom form. Boasting one of the very best comedy ensembles working in television today, the show manages to be both heartbreaking and hilarious, combing both high and low culture for its steely and accomplished gaze, whether it’s a send-up of My Dinner With Andre or a zombie apocalypse at the fictional community college where the show is set. This is death-defying comedy television on a weekly basis, and it’s just wrong that the industry shut it out so callously.
Outstanding Drama Series: Fringe
Let’s be honest: the Emmy voters don’t often like genre shows, and HBO’s worthy Game of Thrones seemed to steal the spotlight from Fox’s emotionally resonant science-fiction drama Fringe, which plunges into the mysteries of the universe and those of the human heart with equal gravitas. The show’s third season provided some of its most heady plot twists yet: alternate-universe doppelgangers, Doomsday devices, and dystopian divergent futures, yet also some of its most realized in terms of character development, pushing its core cast into tighter and tighter emotional hoops this year. Despite the fact that Joshua Jackson was on hand to announce the nominations, there was no love for his Fringe costars Anna Torv or John Noble. With its move to Fridays this fall (sigh), Fringe could have used some Emmy cred in order to make the scheduling change a little more dignified, but fans are well aware of the genius of this compelling and gut-wrenching drama. In an alternate reality, Fringe’s producers are sitting pretty.
Outstanding Drama Series: Terriers
Cancelled after just one season, FX’s gutsy private-eye drama Terriers found itself once again pegged as a unkempt outsider, despite the underappreciated show’s dazzling genius, nuanced performances, and the truly cracking plotting of executive producers Ted Griffin and Shawn Ryan. An examination of the down and out, the downtrodden, and those affected by the economic reality of the world we live in today, Terriers was unlike anything on television, at once funny, cruel, and capricious, blending humor, violence, and mystery together into something that was both political and domestic at the same time. But it looks like this dog won’t get its day.
Outstanding Drama Series: Justified
I can’t fault the nominees in the Outstanding Drama category (which manages to represent some of the brightest and best that drama has to offer right now), but FX’s Justified was more than ready to join their pantheon after a truly sensational second season. While the individual actors—including Timothy Olyphant, the divine Margo Martindale, and Walton Goggins—walked off with their own nominations, the show itself failed to receive recognition in the main drama category. And that’s a shame, given the beauty and grace of this past season, which raised the stakes, the tension, and the violence to new levels and gave Martindale the role of her life in steely Mags Bennett. But if the Elmore Leonard-inspired Justified had walked away with an Outstanding Drama nomination? I’d be even more willing to raise a glass of Mags’s apple pie to that.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Peter Krause, Parenthood
While I’m thrilled that Jon Hamm, Timothy Olyphant, Kyle Chandler, and Steve Buscemi received nominations here, I’m also saddened that the Academy chose not to bestow any Emmys love onto NBC’s superlative family drama Parenthood, which is a worthy successor to the three-hanky weeper Friday Night Lights, which had also been overseen by executive producer Jason Katims. Peter Krause’s heartrending performance as Adam Braverman this season, as he dealt with feeling out of place at work (as Adam loses his job after failing to fall in line under his new juvenile boss) and at home, as he tried to find a way to communicate with his Asperger’s son. A children’s birthday party, a family argument, a painful conversation about his son’s neurological condition all become emblematic of larger struggles, deeper pains, richer joys. Krause’s performance is subtle and hauntingly real, making Adam a beautifully realized character in whom it is only too easy to recognize ourselves.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation
While Parks and Rec walked off with a nomination for Outstanding Comedy and one for series lead Amy Poehler, I was gobsmacked that no one gave Nick Offerman praise for his brilliant performance as Ron Swanson. While Poehler’s Leslie Knope is the heart of the whip-smart comedy, it’s Offerman’s Ron who is its caustic, breakfast-obsessed, libertarian id, a bureaucrat who relishes the inefficiency of local government. Likely, there are showier performances to hang a nomination on, but the exclusion of Ron Swanson is just plain wrong.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: John Noble, Fringe
Even if Fringe would get shut out of the main race, I would at least have loved to have seen John Noble get some organized recognition for his stellar turn as Fringe’s Walter Bishop, particularly as Noble this year played not one but three versions of Walter throughout the third season. Heartbreaking, irrational, and gifted with flights of absolute genius, Noble’s Walter Bishop is a man who is out of control of his own mind, at a loss from his own memories, unable to trust his first impulses. On the flip side, his Walternate was ruthless, unemotional, and completely mercenary, a secretary of defense willing to sacrifice everything—including his estranged son—to save his universe. One day, one has to hope, this amazing actor will get his due.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones
While Peter Dinklage’s nomination for his stirring performance as Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones was a lock, the lack of nomination for his costar Emilia Clarke—who plays Daenerys Targaryen, one of the series’ most fascinating characters (and the one who likely undergoes the greatest transformation over the course of the freshman season)—is staggering. Clarke delivers a gorgeous performance as the exiled princess, who is sold to a warlord as a piece of chattel in exchange for an army so her mad brother can retake the throne that is rightfully his. Over the course of 10 episodes, Clarke’s Daenerys transforms herself from pawn to player, as she finds the inner strength she never knew she had within her, awakening the true dragon within. While her character may be one of television’s best examples of Stockholm syndrome, Daenerys’s journey shows the underpinnings of original novelist George R.R. Martin’s feminist leanings. Weak-willed and naive, Daenerys becomes one of the series’s most powerful entities by the time the season ends and the searing final shot of Season 1 lurks over Clarke’s form emerging from the fire with a troika of dragons entangled around her. While still a newcomer, her work this season was a tour de force, one that won’t soon be forgotten.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: Danny Pudi, Community
Community’s Abed Nadir might just be one of the most inventive and loveably weird characters to grace the small screen in some time, and Danny Pudi delivers a scene-stealing turn that’s at once incredibly nuanced and remarkable, yet seems utterly effortless. Pudi’s performance is never caricature but instead rings incredibly true, whether he’s narrating a stop-motion animated Christmas episode, looking for a pen thief, or recreating the restaurant scene in My Dinner with Andre in order to have a “real” conversation that itself explores the innate artificiality of theatrical constructs—and that of performance and art in general—via his obsession with Cougar Town. Even as he plays Abed as Abed-playing-Andre-Gregory, there is immense tension and drive here, a purpose behind the performance, an intellectual debate on the frivolity of theatrical constructs, even as Pudi takes on yet another performance within a performance. Meta? Absolutely. But there’s also truth in his words and in the show’s handling of fourth wall-breaking Abed. In omitting Pudi (and costar Joel McHale) there’s a real sense that the TV Academy screwed up here big time.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Chloë Sevigny, Big Love
While, yes, this category is absolutely perfect the way it is (each of the nominated actors is supremely deserving), I do wish we could have seen some awards love for Chloë Sevigny’s consistently amazing work on HBO’s now-retired Big Love, where she portrayed polygamist Nicki Grant with a white-hot intensity that never wavered over five seasons. In the final season of the gut-wrenching family drama, Sevigny’s Nicki assumed more responsibility with the Henrickson clan, just to have her dreams of being First Wife brutally dashed by the series’ end. But to witness the innate grace of her unforgettable performance, one need only watch the emotionally laden joyride in the series finale to see the conflicting, confusing series emotions that play across Nicki’s face—her moroseness transitioning to jubilance—symbolizing the eternal struggle within her hard-edged exterior. Sevigny is an actress who is always pushing herself beyond her limits, into uncomfortable territory, and she manages to do so with an ease that’s both nimble and profound.