Emmys preview: Our take on bad habits, bright newcomers, ‘Modern Family’

Emmy nominations arrive Thursday morning, so it’s high time to gather The Envelope’s Buzzmeter panelists — USA Today’s Robert Bianco, TV Guide’s Matt Roush, Entertainment Weekly’s Melissa Maerz, the Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara and Glenn Whipp, and Gold Derby’s Tom O’Neil — to discuss this year’s most intriguing races.

In the first of two parts, the group debates the dominance of “Modern Family,” makes a case for some comedy newcomers and offers Television Academy voters some advice on breaking bad habits.

“Modern Family” has now won the comedy series Emmy five years running. Make it six? Retire the category? Or is it time to salute a new show? If the latter, nominate one.


Maerz: Are voters even watching “Modern Family” anymore, or is “Modern Family” just automatically rubber-stamped onto the ballot? It’s time to nominate a new show — and I’d suggest “Broad City,” one of the most innovative comedies on television right now. There are so many things to love about it: its over-the-top (and yet somehow totally accurate) portrayal of how weird New York can be, the lovable minor characters (Jaimé!), the fact that it somehow got Comedy Central to greenlight a non-judgy episode [about a sex act]. But my favorite thing is the relationship between Abbi (Abbi Jacobson) and Ilana (Ilana Glazer), which is one of the most realistic female friendships on TV, despite the fact that they Skype each other during sex.

Full Coverage: Emmys 2015

McNamara: Of course it’s time to honor another show. It’s been time to mix this category up for years. “Modern Family” is great, but so are lots of shows. I’ve given up hope “The Middle” will ever get the honors it deserves, but maybe “Transparent” or “black-ish” can break the “Modern Family” brainwash.

Bianco: As much as I love and admire “Modern Family” and think it deserves another nomination, five wins straight is enough. And as much as I’d love to see “Louie,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Veep” or “Silicon Valley” — all of which have been waiting in the wings — finally take home the Emmy, this season belonged to “Transparent.” Singlehandedly, it made Amazon a contender while anticipating a welcome trend of acceptance and inclusion.

O’Neil: “Veep” has increased its number of nominations each year. If it finally gets its first bid for best director, watch out: “Veep” can win this Emmy election.

Roush: I wouldn’t object to “Modern Family” being nominated -- there were some excellent episodes (including the one that took place entirely on Claire’s computer screen, which deserves a writing nomination at the very least), and along with “Big Bang Theory,” there’s no shame in being popular and funny -- but there are fresher options for the win, including either of HBO’s hilarious spring combo of “Veep” and “Silicon Valley,” or Amazon’s transcendently moving “Transparent.” It is time to crown a new winner.

Whipp: Backing “Modern Family” these days is like rooting for the Yankees in the ‘50s. If you’re not on the team, you’re probably hoping somebody else will win. Keeping with the underdog theme, I made the case for “Broad City” here. I’d be ecstatic (not to mention amazed) if it’s nominated.

Timeline: Emmy winners through the years

Most deserving lead acting comedy newcomer: Gina Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Jeffrey Tambor, Constance Wu or Tracee Ellis Ross? (Or someone else?)

Bianco: It’s hard to think of Jeffrey Tambor as a “newcomer,” but if he falls within that category, then he takes it. He took a character who at one time would have been an object of cheap ridicule and imbued her with dignity, pathos, humor and life. It was a transcendent performance.

McNamara: All of the above. Seriously. Everyone on that list should be nominated. I refuse to pick one.

O’Neil: Gina Rodriguez gives one of the greatest comedic turns on TV, but, unfortunately, her network is an Emmy virgin. No star of the CW has ever been nominated by voters for acting.

Maerz: Gina Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Jeffrey Tambor and Tracee Ellis Ross all deserve an Emmy. But my vote goes to Constance Wu as Jessica Huang, the Taiwanese mother who moves her family to the Florida suburbs on “Fresh Off the Boat.” Another actress might’ve played that character as a cringe-inducing stereotype — she’s described in the script as a proto-Tiger Mom — but Wu plays Jessica as a woman who’s so genuinely baffled by NASCAR, tuna casserole and other strange American institutions she makes you wonder why the rest of us aren’t more baffled by them too. Thanks to Wu, “Fresh Off the Boat” isn’t just another fish-out-of-water comedy about immigrants who don’t fit in with their neighbors. Constance isn’t an outsider. She’s the one we relate to, precisely because she’s not the sitcom-perfect, all-American, tuna-casserole-baking mother that we so often see on TV.

Whipp: I’m partial to Rodriguez for the compassion and courage she brings to her show’s title character, a young woman possessing a strong sense of self-identity and cultural belonging. It’s a groundbreaking turn.

Video: Emmy contender live chats

Emmy voters are notoriously creatures of habit. What habit do they need to break?

Maerz: Emmys voters are way too risk-adverse. Last year, all of the main awards went to people who’d won before: Bryan Cranston, Julianna Margulies, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jim Parsons. Each year, the same shows are honored over and over again, even when they no longer deserve a nomination. (See also: the “Modern Family” question above.)

We live in an era when your average TV viewer is discovering new shows at almost the same rate as TV critics. The Emmys are supposed to reward that level of TV geekery. It is a little embarrassing that even the Golden Globes, which used to be famous for their puzzling nominations, now recognize great new series and breakout performances before the Emmys.

O’Neil: It’s time to trip up “The Amazing Race.”

Bianco: Voting without watching. And yes, we know you do.

McNamara: As someone who watches lots of television, I would say that if a voter finds themselves voting for the same group of people and/or shows year after year, he or she is just not paying attention. There is so much terrific television on that turnover seems all but mandatory, yet we keep seeing the same names, not just as nominees but winners. It’s absurd.

Also, it is absolutely time to get over the sci-fi/fantasy-phobia. For the academy to not honor performers like Tatiana Maslany and, indeed, the writers and supporting cast of “Orphan Black,” or the many stars of “Walking Dead” or “Game of Thrones” is just embarrassing.

Roush: The tonnage of nominations the increasingly incoherent “American Horror Story” gets every year, in part a reflection of the weakness of the movies-minis field, has become embarrassing. Enough already. (Although I’d concede Sarah Paulson as the fascinating two-headed heroine deserves notice, and one last shot for Jessica Lange, if only for her killer rendition of “Life on Mars.”)

Whipp: If “Downton Abbey” is nominated over “The Americans,” this. Or this. Just enough.

Twitter: @glennwhipp