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Emmy Nominations Recognize Present Excellence and Rectify Past Mistakes

The Americans Emmy Nominations
Courtesy of FX

A strange feeling overtook me as Emmy nominations were announced today: Pure, unadulterated joy. It’s not as if I’ve never experienced that emotion before, but only very rarely on Emmy day.

The Emmys not only recognized worthy work in the present — today’s nominations rectified some past mistakes.

Tracee Ellis Ross, Constance Zimmer, Courtney B. Vance, Sarah Paulson and Sterling K. Brown are not newcomers to the industry, of course, but it’s very gratifying to see that they were recognized for their stellar work on “Black-ish,” “UnReal” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” “Game of Thrones” is a genuine phenomenon at this point, but it’s gratifying to see Kit Harington and especially the ferociously talented Maisie Williams join the show’s other nominees. And it’s never sad to see truly gifted performers on lower-profile shows do well, which was the case with Tatiana Maslany (who got another nod for her “Orphan Black” work), Olivia Colman (the amazing anchor of the spy series “The Night Manager”) and Louie Anderson, who plays a protective mother on the oddball comedy “Baskets.” 

Social media would have melted down — and hackers might have crashed the entire world banking system — if Rami Malek had not been nominated for his outstanding work in “Mr. Robot,” but fortunately potential online disasters were averted with his much-deserved nomination. The nice surprise was that the show itself was also nominated in the best drama category.

There’s a perception that Emmy voters tend to cast their ballots based on name recognition, and there is a good deal of truth to that. But it’s worth noting that Christian Slater, who is much more famous than Malek, did not get a nod this year. (With any luck, next year, his very good work on the USA drama will result in a nomination.) 

To see so many performers and shows break through early in their runs is truly gratifying, especially for shows that have covered new and important ground. Programs like “Black-ish,” “Master of None,” “The People v. O.J.” and “Transparent” aren’t just entertaining, they’re engaging with ideas and issues that matter to people; they’re not afraid to challenge both themselves and their viewers. 

But of all the good things that transpired on Thursday, the five “Americans” nominations inspired the most mental happy dances. As the nominations were being announced, I actually felt, at one point, as if I were in an alternate universe. This wasn’t a dream sequence or a fantasy with dragons or zombies, but for a moment there, I was in a realm in which some of my fondest TV wishes were actually coming true.  

If one chose to be snippy, one could note that “The Americans” should have begun receiving Emmy nominations years ago. But let’s let bygones be bygones. The nominations the FX series got were long overdue, and perhaps the joy was all the more intense on Thursday for being delayed.

Given that I recently wrote a column begging Emmy voters to recognize the show and its cast, allow me to luxuriate in the nods “The Americans” received: Leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys and guest actress Margo Martindale received recognition, as did executive producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, who wrote the most recent season finale. The cherry on this dark, dense Russian cake: A best drama nomination for “The Americans.”

Every year, a subset readers inform me in no uncertain terms that entertainment-industry awards and all forms of hullabaloo associated with them are silly and don’t matter. Well, compared to curing cancer or solving other major world problems, I understand that who gets a nomination for this or that award is not hugely consequential. In the grand scheme of things, these snubs, surprises and victories won’t end up in the history books that will be written (or downloaded) decades from now.

But the stories the entertainment industry tells do have an impact on the world, and to see a story that is so judiciously told, so intelligent and so compassionate be recognized is unequivocally a good thing. Many of the nominations send important signals to the TV industry about social relevance and the needs for all kinds of stories from all manner of actors and creators.

It’s not just about who ran a good Emmy campaign. Of course, there are shows and actors I wish were on these rosters (speaking of rectifying mistakes, “Rectify” deserves some Emmy recognition — someday, I hope). But these nominations are generally smart, relevant and recognize substantial work. Many of these shows and stories do have a real impact on people — even if it takes a little while for Emmy voters to understand that. But it’s never too late to send the message that quality counts. 

Two of my favorite Emmy wins of recent vintage came late in their respective shows’ runs. Jon Hamm finally got an Emmy last year for his tremendous work on “Mad Men,” and a couple of years earlier, Kyle Chandler won for his performance on “Friday Night Lights” — a show that was not expected to run for five seasons, let alone garner major attention and awards. 

Sometimes, as we learned on the playing fields of Dillon, Texas, the best team wins. There’s no telling who will win at September’s ceremony, but in a way, it doesn’t matter. Looking at these Emmy nomination rosters today, well, it feels a lot like a win.