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Golden Globes’ Supporting TV Categories Create Unfair Races (Column)

This year’s Golden Globes fields for supporting actor and actress in a series, limited series or TV movie are as diverse — and as overstuffed — as the names imply.

Recent Emmy honorees — comedy winner Alex Borstein (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), drama winner Thandie Newton (“Westworld”), drama nominee Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), and limited series nominee Penelope Cruz (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”) — join Patricia Clarkson, whose limited series “Sharp Objects” will be eligible for the Emmys next year and so is getting her first awards look here.

Great competition is exciting, but Clarkson could be forgiven for looking forward to next September more than she is to Jan. 6 at the Beverly Hilton. At the Emmys, she’ll be competing against her peers; at the Golden Globes, she’s in the thick of a race characterized by an odd unevenness.

The Globes merge supporting categories on both the television and film sides of the ballot, a way to streamline an evening full of actors’ acceptance speeches. In film, dramatic and a comedic supporting actor differs in function but not in exposure; both get the same amount of screen time. But a supporting actor on an ongoing television series is able to craft a performance that deepens in impact over time and, often, one that has the luxury of more episodes.

This year, “The Handmaid’s Tale” aired 13 episodes of its 23 overall run thus far, and “Westworld” aired 10 episodes of its 20 so far; those turns have given us more familiarity with the characters Strahovski and Newton play than we got of Clarkson over her eight episodes of “Sharp Objects.”

Clarkson, like Cruz in “Versace,” had to create a character who burned brightly and quickly, without the familiarity of history, the assurance that some mysteries would be explained later or the luxury of a few more episodes to spread out.

The divide is even more striking in this year’s supporting actor field, in which Ben Whishaw, who appeared in all three episodes of “A Very English Scandal,” is up against actors from ongoing series “The Kominsky Method,” “Succession” and “Barry,” as well as longer limited series “Versace.”

The results of the Globes bear out that the system is not necessarily unfair to actors in limited series or TV movies — recent winners come from “Big Little Lies” (Laura Dern and Alexander Skarsgard), “The Night Manager” (Olivia Colman and Hugh Laurie) and “The Normal Heart” (Matt Bomer). But it is placing into competition actors doing different sorts of work, in genres that share only the fact that they all come through your TV set (and that is assuming you watch series on Hulu through an app, rather than in a browser). Colman’s work at quickly crafting a sharp and memorable character in “The Night Manager,” for instance, was laudable and utterly worthy of an award; she beat performers including Lena Headey, whose more gradual work on “Game of Thrones” had come to show us exactly who Cersei Lannister was in a crescendo lasting several years. The oddity of pitting actors in different formats — some in artworks contained within a year, some in works we see a chapter at a time — against one another cuts in both directions.

It’s worth being sensitive to how long awards ceremonies can run — to many, the distinctions between supporting actors on TV are, if not blurred, negligible enough to bypass on their way to categories higher on the marquee. But if the Golden Globes are going to have TV awards (ones that are creative and flexible enough to, for instance, honor Whishaw and Clarkson for refreshingly daring turns, as well as to beat the Emmys to rising talents), they should do their performers justice, and place them in fair fights. Better still, a few more stars might end up in a ballroom already crowded with them; Clarkson might be up against a field including “Maniac’s” Sally Field, and Whishaw against not only “Versace’s” Edgar Ramirez but also Ricky Martin.

A ceremony that has earned its reputation on wattage — and one whose ratings are, relative to other awards shows, unassailable given the alchemy of stars sharing tables and bottles of Champagne — seems to be leaving money on the table by declining a fairly intuitive choice to allow both even competition and a few more artists in the room.

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