Road to the Emmys 2012: The Drama Nominees

The 2012 Emmy Awards will, of course, go down in history as the first ceremony in which no ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC program was nominated in the category of drama series.

Whether this will prove to be a gamechanger in the category or simply an anomaly remains to be seen, but the TV Academy clearly preferred to honor sophisticated and adventurous programming this year as opposed to audience pleasers: None of the nominated series managed even 10 million viewers in their original airings; some charted a mere 2 million or 3 million (one-hundredth of America’s population).

CBS’ “The Good Wife” was the sole broadcast show nominated in 2011, but along with now-retired “Friday Night Lights” and Showtime’s “Dexter,” dropped out of this year’s race. First-time drama contenders “Downton Abbey,” “Homeland” and “Breaking Bad,” returning to air after a hiatus, replaced them.

“Boardwalk Empire”
HBO
Season two pitted Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) against his former protege, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), over control of Atlantic City’s lucrative corruption.
Highlights:
• Richard (Jack Huston), deformed during World War I and lamenting an unrequited love for Jimmy’s wife (Aleksa Palladino), ventures into nearby woods to kill himself. When he puts his gun in his mouth, a dog runs off with his facemask, interrupting his suicide attempt in a darkly comic fashion.
• Chalky (Michael K. Williams) strives to maintain his dignity and power during his time in jail, with “David Copperfield” playing a noteworthy part.
• Jimmy accepts his death for betraying Nucky. Nucky shoots him in the face, but it doesn’t kill him immediately. Nucky finishes off the job.

“Breaking Bad”
AMC
The tension ratcheted up in the deadly chess game played between Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and drug lord Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito).
Highlights:
• Walt offers a glimpse of his impending ruthlessness when he informs wife Skyler (Anna Gunn), “I am not in danger. I am the danger.”
• Gus topples the Mexican drug cartel by poisoning them, along with himself and Mike (Jonathan Banks). Jesse (Aaron Paul) desperately rushes them to a nearby clinic Gus prepared for in advance.
• Walt prevails over Gus when Hector (Mark Margolis) detonates a bomb in his nursing home. Gus emerges from the room, his face half missing, straightens his tie and collapses.

“Downton Abbey”
PBS
World War I brought a host of challenges to both the privileged residents and the servant class of the upper-class British estate, while the romantic intrigue continued apace.
Highlights:
• Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle), having fallen in love with Anna (Joanne Froggatt), sees his not-yet-ex-wife (Maria Doyle Kennedy) show up at Downton Abbey and blackmail him into abandoning Anna and returning to her.
• The Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), overreacting as only she can to a flu outbreak, snootily declares, “Wasn’t there a masked ball in Paris, when cholera broke out? Half the guests were dead before they left the ballroom.”
• Oops! After Bates marries Anna, his ex turns up dead, and he’s convicted of murder.

“Game of Thrones”
HBO
The drama had to forge ahead without its iconic season-one hero, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), and broadly expanded its already considerably sprawling world.
Highlights:
• Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) drolly explains the difference between a threat to the king and mere education.
• The spectacular Battle of the Blackwater. Tyrion helps save the day and doesn’t lose his nose, as he did in George R.R. Martin’s book — the confrontation escalating to almost unprecedentedly epic levels by TV standards.
• Hundreds of reanimated corpses, including a zombie horse, under the control of the White Walkers, march upon the Fist of the First Men in the season finale, promising a truly apocalyptic opening for season three.

“Homeland”
Showtime
In 2011-12: CIA Agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) races to prove that former captive Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) has been brainwashed and is preparing a terrorist attack while battling her own encroaching madness.
Highlights:
• Carrie elects to continue her ill-considered affair with Brody even after she realizes he’s capable of lying on a polygraph.
• Tom Walker (Chris Chalk) — the Marine whom Brody believed he had murdered to save his own life — turns out to be alive and in fact plotting a terrorist attack.
• Carrie is injured when she’s unable to prevent the attack after Walker recruits a homeless man to take a bomb into a public square.

“Mad Men”
AMC
Season five found Don (Jon Hamm) and Roger (John Slattery) struggling to maintain their mojo in an increasingly youth-dominated culture, while Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) spread her wings.
Highlights:
• Megan (Jessica Pare) treats Don at his 40th birthday party with a sexy performance of “Zou Bisou Bisou,” hinting at how she’ll cagily manipulate him over the course of the season.
• While tripping on acid, Roger and his young wife Jane (Peyton List) finally agree on something, deciding to get a divorce while taking a bath together.
• After being instrumental in helping land the Jaguar account and getting fired by Don for embezzlement, Lane (Jared Harris) tries to commit suicide in his new Jaguar, but is foiled when the car fails to start. He then offs himself in his office.

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Drama Nominees
Death becomes a story point | Creators refuse to take one for the theme | The drama nominees: Views to their thrills are limited
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