Emmy noms play it safe

EntertainmentTelevisionCelebritiesTelevision IndustryHBO (tv network)Edie FalcoElections

What would an award show be without a ridiculous omission?

The Emmy nomination that didn't go to Edie Falco of "The Sopranos," decorated in past years for her work, is nevertheless a pretty glaring snub.

I mean, really, I'm as outraged as I can be on behalf of a millionaire actress working on a hit series for a network owned by Time Warner Inc.

And yet, Emmy, I'm heartened that you saw through the Maxim and Stuff girl to the comedian that exists inside of Jaime Pressly, nominated as a supporting actress for her work on the NBC comedy "My Name Is Earl."

The whole Emmy voting system remains curiously obtuse, although I'm fairly certain awards are based on individual episodes. Evidently, people in the TV business are too busy to watch all of a TV season; that's your job, at home.

But even the episode that HBO submitted on Falco's behalf is undeniable — Carmela Soprano in the hospital as her husband clings to life. She's as rich a character as they come. Geena Davis, by contrast, who never conveyed much more than the fact that she was indeed Geena Davis, was honored for her work on ABC's "Commander in Chief." Ditto Allison Janney, who was good but no longer surprising, even when stretching to an emotional reckoning in her final season of "The West Wing."

TV acting remains stuck on the downside of a sliding scale: The movie actor flirts with TV long before he/she deigns to do it, the fearful implication being that the movie offers ran dry so the actor opted for the stability of the small screen.

That describes actress nominee Kyra Sedgwick's arrival on TNT's "The Closer" or Davis' on "Commander in Chief."

But Falco, a New York actress handed the role of a lifetime, has arguably done more to raise the bar for the kind of performance you can wrench out of a TV series than anyone nominated in the category.

In her hands, TV acting becomes a rich craft, not a matter of hitting the same beats, and hitting them extremely well, week after week after week. On "The Sopranos," Falco's character is self-deceiving, in flux; you don't know, scene to scene, what side of her is going to win out. She's at war with herself — a nouveau riche New Jersey mob housewife and mother who is also a devout Catholic, who in turn battles the side of her that is attracted to life as an accomplice in her husband's criminal enterprise. Meanwhile, she longs for a more legitimate business success of her own. All of this makes her unfinished business, just the sort of character that most TV series, built on the illusion of creating intimate familiarity, tend to avoid.

Falco has already won the Emmy for Carmela, and it's been noted enough she's brilliant in the role, although this season she seemed particularly strong. The love-hate she feels toward Tony reached a kind of crescendo in the episode submitted by HBO, called "Join the Club." Acting-wise, these scenes were not just carried but entirely sustained by Falco, whose costar James Gandolfini, after all, was busy occupying a fugue state, a breathing tube down his throat as he lay in a coma.

Nominations — Emmys, Oscars or otherwise — tend to go to the comprehensible story, if not the overly familiar. Persons-in-progress are tough fits for awards and make the executives squirm. The category includes the considerable performance of Frances Conroy in HBO's "Six Feet Under," a more standard female narrative: that of the repressed housewife set emotionally free in later life. It's easier to bring across this character's entirety in a clip or an episode. That's true too for Pressly, who plays a grasping redneck beautician on "My Name Is Earl." She steals any scene she's in, even if that's all she threatens to be — grasping ... redneck ... beautician.

Still, it felt good that the Emmy voters saw fit to honor her, a bombshell actress, even if, in another context, they left wonderful work on the cutting room floor.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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