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Awards

Column: Golden Globes: Surprising nominations reflect the impossibility of shortlisting great TV

‘Game of Thrones’

Emilia Clarke appears in a scene from HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best television drama series.

(HBO via Associated Press)

As if determined to avoid the “do any of you even watch TV?” reaction that inevitably accompanies the Round Up of Usual Suspects known as the Emmy nominations, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. produced a jaw-dropping list of Golden Globe nominees on Thursday. 

And while it continues the long-standing tradition of Golden Globe wackiness, the list also rather bravely reflects the virtually unmeasurable nature of modern television.

It is simply impossible to quantify television in any meaningful way beyond personal preference or particular intent.

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I say this with some authority, having just dutifully put together several end-of-year lists: There is just no way to acknowledge all the quality shows and performances in groups of 10, much less five or six, even if you divide them up, as the Globes do, into comedy and drama.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. clearly wanted to steer attention away from certain award franchises, notably “Mad Men,” for which only Jon Hamm was nominated, and broadcast comedies of any name, often in favor of shows that may not show up on any other list of any sort, and kudos to them.

The broadcast networks, with their 23-episode work horses, some of them consistently terrific, were mostly ignored in favor of “trophy television” -- those newer, sleeker, 12-episode series served up by streaming services whenever and wherever you desire, which is kind of depressing. But with the exception of “Flesh and Bone” for miniseries (really, Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., “Flesh and Bone”?) there isn’t a nominee without merit, and the surprising nature of the lists is, in itself, refreshing.

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“Game of Thrones” is the sole survivor from last year’s best drama list, and this year’s includes “Narcos” (Netflix) and “Outlander” (Starz), along with the less surprising “Empire” and “Mr. Robot.” I think it is safe to say no one was talking about “Narcos” as an awards contender, and though “Outlander” debuted with strong buzz and continues to have a captive audience, it seemed to fall off the top-picks radar, for no better reason than there are far too many top picks.

Both “Narcos” and “Outlander” appeal to non-American audiences, and provide an important reminder that the Television Renaissance is not just an American experience. Eighty-five percent of “Narcos,” which follows the exploits of Pablo Escobar, is in Spanish, and, according to some polls, it is the second-most-watched show in the U.S. and the U.K. (after “Game of Thrones”).

“Outlander” is about a British woman magically transported to 18th century Scotland, and though it debuted strong last year, it failed to win any awards -- something the Globes may rectify, with nominations in the actor and actress category as well.

The comedy side was a bit less surprising: “Transparent” (Amazon), “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix) and virtually-mandated-by-law nominees “Veep” and “Silicon Valley” (both HBO).

But instead of filling the remaining slots with broadcast favorites (“black-ish,” “Fresh off the Boat,” “Brooklyn Nine-nine”), the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., God bless it, went with “Casual” (Hulu) and “Mozart in the Jungle” (Amazon). Both of which are very good shows, which now might actually be watched by people and possibly, though probably not, considered for Emmys.

The acting categories are a safer mix of obvious choices -- Emmy winners Viola Davis and Hamm, breakout stars Tariji P. Henson (“Empire”) and Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”) -- and celebrations of the underrecognized -- Eva Green (“Penny Dreadful”), Maura Tierney (“The Affair”) and Rachel Bloom, singing star of the valiant but struggling “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”)

Many great shows, established (no “Good Wife”) and outlier (no “UnREAL”?) were not acknowledged because, quite frankly, that is now the way it is with these awards. Television has become too vast, disparate and discrete to categorize in any way. During awards season, then, there is much to be said for simply spreading the love around.

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