Hope for upsets nearly vanishes
Hooray — the Emmys are less than two months away!
For the nominees, it’s a whirlwind. For television fans … is it a shrug?
It took some time for it all to sink in, a few days of monkish contemplation following the whirlwind of the July 18 Emmy nominations announcement to understand why enthusiasm for the Sept. 22 awards ceremony had so quickly dissolved into ambivalence.
And then it became clear as a freshly sparkled window at Downton Abbey — the nominations themselves are almost entirely what’s fun about the Emmys.
The pre-nominations period is primetime television’s version of March Madness. Favorites and fringe underdogs, comeback stories and upstarts, all with a sporting chance of making it to the finals. The TV Academy doesn’t make many off-the-wall choices, but it offers just enough crazy to tantalize, so you never know which potential nominee will sink the Hail Mary three-pointer from downtown, sending fans into hysterics.
It’s another reason why it makes so little sense for the Emmys to continue to sell short their nominations revelation with a pre-dawn announcement, for which half the audience is on its way to work or school and the other half is in bed. For most of those in television, a nomination really does qualify as a potential “One Shining Moment.”
In particular, the Emmy drama field is so crowded with greatness that when you say that it’s an honor to be nominated, it’s far more than a cliche. It meant something for fans of the show that “Friday Night Lights” finally broke through in the drama nominations in 2011, just as it rankles that such shows as “The Wire” never made it.
Was it naive to think academy voters would recognize the tour de force of Tatiana Maslany, not only for taking on seven different characters in BBC America’s “Orphan Black” but also for absolutely nailing them with an improbable level of distinction? Or to think that this would be the year, even if the show itself had no chance for a series nomination, that someone from “Treme” would finally be recognized for a level of writing or acting that few can dream of touching?
Maybe so, but naivete is a lot more fun than resignation, which is where many TV fans have been left, whether the personal favorites were “The Americans,” “The Walking Dead,” “Justified” or a host of other series and their talent.
It’s not that the academy can or should please everyone with the nominations. One look at the disappointments and pet peeves shows the impossibility of that task. You won’t find two TV fans whose wishlists were exactly alike.
That’s the reality. But reality has its consequences, and most of those wishlists have been tossed aside. Dreams died left and right.
That the 2013 nominations are practically devoid of surprises doesn’t really help. Yeah, history was made with Netflix’s entry into the game, thanks mainly to “House of Cards,” but by the time the nominations came out, that was anything but a shock. Meanwhile, every other eligible comedy or drama series nominee from 2012 except for “Boardwalk Empire” repeated this year.
This level of conformity envelops many categories, and as a result, diminishes the passion for the awards. I have seen every episode ever made of all but two of the comedy/drama nominees, so it’s not as if I’m not invested. There’s a nominee in each category I’d absolutely like to see win.
But in none of those cases will I get more excited about someone winning than I would have about a pet favorite getting nominated. It might sound bizarre, but it’s true.
So where do we go from here? Though many of the potential thrills are gone, there are some meaningful races to keep an eye on.
Emmy drama offers an elite competition, featuring a defending champion in “Homeland” that some say struggled to maintain its level in its second season, against a trio of returning critical darlings in “Breaking Bad,” “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones” that are still awaiting their first wins, the veteran past champion in “Mad Men” and the brother from another mother, “House of Cards.”
Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom”), Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright (“House of Cards”), Kerry Washington (“Scandal”), Jonathan Banks (“Breaking Bad”) and Mandy Patinkin (“Homeland”) are among the non-2012 nominees who will spice up this year’s acting races, while there are also big showdowns in writing and directing.
Comedy has an interesting horse race. Rumors of “Modern Family” vulnerability after three years on top might be exaggerated, but nevertheless, its winning streak is in some amount of jeopardy. What’s interesting is what might step in — the white whale that is “The Big Bang Theory” or guppies like “Girls,” “Louie” or “Veep.” Or does an eminence grise like “30 Rock” take one for the road.
And miniseries-movie offers its usual mashup of late, with “Behind the Candelabra” and “Phil Spector” the apples to the oranges of “American Horror Story: Asylum,” “The Bible,” “Political Animals” and “Top of the Lake.”
Without a doubt, it’s all very, very interesting, even if the merry madness of Emmy nominations season is gone.