The Emmy Award nominations are out. Unleash the hounds!
What new outrages have the TV Academy committed? Who have the voters overlooked? How can the process ever be taken seriously again after, well, insert your favorite oversight here?
Other than being announced this year at a less-ungodly hour, the annual unveiling has assumed an element of predictability in the digital age. Early-morning phone calls extending congratulations to and soliciting thoughts from the nominees, almost immediately followed by peals of righteous indignation on behalf of the deserving souls who are not, alas, among them.
Both of these are legitimate pursuits, but neither really tells the full story – or, for that matter, exhibits much perspective about the expanded roster of options now available and the increased viability of niche-oriented programming, which can survive on prestige longer than was once feasible in the days of ad-supported broadcast networks and a couple of premium channels. So since the second phase of the process is to skewer the Emmys for what they got wrong, let’s jump ahead to the third iteration, and point out 10 things that the voters got right:
Limited series. The category formerly known as “miniseries” produced an extraordinarily strong field of contenders, one that embraced ABC’s challenging “American Crime” as well as HBO’s splendid “Olive Kitteridge,” PBS’ sumptuous “Wolf Hall,” SundanceTV’s “The Honorable Woman” and FX’s customarily florid “American Horror Story” franchise. The acting nominations are similarly impressive, offering a terrific glimpse of the breadth of first-rate work being done across a variety of channels.
“Empire”/Taraji P. Henson. Although it will be popular to call the omission of “Empire” as best drama series a “snub,” given that several other terrific shows were left out of that field, who exactly would people bump to make room for it? The Fox hit was a force of nature, yes, but hardly a breakthrough drama, with its most salient element being Henson’s work as the quotable Cookie, and she, of course, earned a well-deserved nomination.
Comedy Central. A consistent complaint about the Emmys has been that the TV Academy skews older, and thus has a bias against youth-oriented shows. So the spate of nominations for Comedy Central’s sketch fare, such as “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Key & Peele,” reflects a bit of growth on that front, even if it’s offset, to a degree, by the exclusion of the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.”
Diversity. Despite some rather glaring oversights – Constance Wu and Gina Rodriguez, you was robbed – the Academy did expand its recognition of minority performers. Beyond Anthony Anderson’s nod for “Black-ish,” that included several choices in the supporting categories, as well as the loud splash “Bessie” made in the movie arena.
Variety series. Win or lose, David Letterman and Jon Stewart will each get to take another bow, while sharing the stage with newer voices like John Oliver, not merely providing an element of nostalgia but capturing a moment of generational change in latenight comedy.
Tatiana Maslany. “Orphan Black” is not a great show, but the actress turned her multiheaded work playing a small army of characters into more than just a gimmick, one that cried out for at least some recognition for this BBC America drama.
“Better Call Saul.” Despite the good will that “Breaking Bad” had accrued, this prequel was a much different animal. So it took a bit of imagination, and sticking with it as the series developed and evolved, to honor not just the show but stars Bob Odenkirk – brilliantly stepping outside of his comedy turf – and Jonathan Banks.
Documentary/nonfiction series. What often feels like one of those sleepy categories populated by the likes of “American Masters” has a couple of spectacular, high-profile standouts in its ranks this year, with HBO’s “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” going up against Ken Burns’ “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.” If the former wins, the producers should deliver their acceptance speech on a hot mic in the bathroom.
“Boardwalk Empire.” Something of an afterthought, no doubt, and ignored in several key races, it was still welcome to see this landmark HBO drama recognized with a total of 10 nominations, including Timothy Van Patten for directing the series finale.
A banner year for streamers. Amazon’s breakthrough with “Transparent” shouldn’t obscure how Netflix solidified its foundation at the Emmys, including major nominations for “Bloodline” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as well as stalwarts “House of Cards” (a show, frankly, whose inclusion as best series is questionable) and “Orange Is the New Black,” which established its ability to remain a player even when reclassified into the more suitable (and competitive) drama field. And with those outlets now established players, the Emmy pack becomes that much more crowded, meaning the hits – and the “snubs” – will just keep on coming.