Emmys 2012: Hooray, this critic says, but here’s my problem

Los Angeles Times Television Critic

I am writing this on the eve, or rather the very early morning, of the release of the Emmy nominations. It is 12:24 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time and soon -- soon enough that many nominees will be awakened with the news -- the names of the finalists will be made public.

I am writing this now, as a pre-announcement non-reaction, because it doesn’t matter to me who is nominated for an Emmy or is not nominated for an Emmy. One can, to be sure, make sometimes interesting generalizations about the direction of the medium from who the voters are noticing this year, as when premium cable and then basic cable programs began to be nominated, presaging their growing importance in the big picture that is television.

And being noticed is the main thing, of course, in nominations; it is usually a matter of being good, as well, but it isn’t always, and plenty of fine performances aren’t noticed because they’re in the wrong sorts of shows, and plenty of shows aren’t noticed because they’re on the wrong networks (and are the wrong sorts of shows). And much is not noticed simply because there is too much television, even too much Emmy-possible television, to comprehensively evaluate, even if it’s your full-time job to do so.

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One reason I don’t take the Emmys seriously is because I take television seriously -- more seriously, perhaps, than that mass of academy voters that tends to nominate a relatively few people in a relatively few shows year after year and to put a check next to big-name TV events regardless of their quality. I take television seriously because I think it is hard to do -- to write a sitcom with jokes no one has heard before, or at least can remember hearing; or to make a detective show whose outcome may not be mathematically deduced from its first five minutes, or to create anything original in a business that likes a sure thing. Whatever I might have to say critically about any particular show, I tip my hat to anyone who can get something even remotely good on the air.

I also have enormous respect for actors: Even ones who are said to be only playing themselves, or to be playing the same character every time out, are doing something that is as good as magic to me. (It surprises me to hear people say, for instance, that Jon Hamm, of “Mad Men,” is a limited actor -- and people say this, I might add, in spite of his many awards and nominations -- when he is so perfectly Don Draper, or that Jessica Paré is not good, when she is everything that Megan needed to be.) And the great ones, who not only provide good or amusing company but move us and shake us and remind us what it is to be human -- I can’t imagine how we would get along without them. It seems wrong to pick a handful to celebrate above all others. (The winners will tell you as much in their acceptance speech.)
Once the nominees are named -- they will have already been announced when you read this -- the game will begin again (among casual and professional critics alike) of declaring who was wrongly chosen and who wrongly was not chosen: who was “snubbed,” in the usual construction, as if it were a matter of not being asked to the junior formal or as though a decision had been made by a vengeful elite in some secret room deep within the academy to ignore this actor or that show runner, just because. That is not a game I find interesting, or even possible, to play.

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At the same time I have no problem, I should say, with the Emmy Awards themselves -- the television spectacular, that is -- which can be good or bad, and is usually both. It gives people a chance to dress up, to thank those who matter to them and remember the dead, and to celebrate the thing that they do. The stars get a big night out, the press has a field day, and the world gets to watch. Everybody goes home, or stays home, happy. The trophies are attractive too; and they do unarguably connote recognition, which is not necessarily the same thing as excellence, but nothing to sneeze at.

So congratulations, nominees, I hope you all win, whoever you are. And to everyone who wasn’t nominated, I hope you win too.