Emmy nomination morning is such a bittersweet moment for a television critic, like watching a wild assortment of essentially terrific high school seniors collectively discover the results of their college applications. Some of it is predictable — oh, look,"Mad Men"breaks another record! Some of it is patently absurd — really, no"Parks and Recreation,"no “Walking Dead?” And much of it feels vaguely arbitrary, the inevitable result of too much competition for too few slots.
Still, there are always a few standout happy/sad/I don’t get it moments, and here are a few of them, starting with the good stuff:
Let’s hear it for “Hatfields & McCoys": With 16 nominations, ladies and gentlemen, it is just one away from the two toppers, “Mad Men” and “American Horror Story.” Not only did the first original dramatic miniseries from the History Channel restore our faith in Kevin Costner, who should certainly win the lead actor in a movie or miniseries category in which he and costar Bill Paxton were nominated (sorry, Bill, you were fabulous too) but it also brings a new and unexpected player to the Emmy table. Keep it up, History. Consider “Hatfields & McCoys” your “Mad Men” and you’ll become the next AMC.
All the lovely new girls: The much-touted Year of the Woman brought us dramatic leads — Claire Danes (“Homeland”), Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”) — and comedic ones — Zooey Deschanel (“New Girl”) and triple threat (nominations for acting, writing, directing) Lena Dunham for"Girls.” Though the publicity for Deschanel and Dunham at times threatened to overshadow their actual shows (Dunham, especially, seemed to have been preordained for Emmy-dom by some secret cabal of HBO marketers and East Coast critics long before the show even premiered), both delivered the goods and that’s all that matters. Although not technically female, Max Greenfield (“New Girl”) also got his much deserved due in the supporting category, as did “Nurse Jackie’s” Merritt Wever.
All the lovely not-so-new girls: Kathy Bates, we love you, please don’t let the cancellation of “Harry’s Law” sour you on television. Maybe you can hook up with Dunham at the ceremony — her nude scenes are nothing compared with yours in “About Schmidt.” And welcome back, Julia Louis-Dreyfus; critics are divided on “Veep” (unlike the television academy, which nominated it for comedy series) but never in their appreciation of you. Still, where, oh where, is Laura Dern (“Enlightened”) and Martha Plimpton (“Raising Hope”)? And if any of these comedic upstarts wins before Amy Poehler (“Parks and Rec,” which managed the baffling feat of getting a lead acting and two writing nominations and yet no place in the comedy category), I may have to storm the stage.
“Game of Thrones": A second best drama nomination solidifies the power of this action fantasy and offers hope that other genre bigotry will soon disappear as well.
The British boys: “Luther” and “Sherlock” got acting nominations for titular stars Idris Elba and Benedict Cumberbatch, respectively, as well as for movie or miniseries, proving that you can do a lot with a little (“Luther” had four episodes, “Sherlock” three), while “Homeland” gave us not only one of the best dramas on TV but also a regular dose of Damian Lewis, who was righteously nominated for lead actor in a drama.
Unlike his countryman Hugh Laurie, which brings us to the inevitable sorrow of Emmy nomination morning — the folks who didn’t make the cut.
Laurie’s omission may be understandable — male lead in a drama is always a very crowded field — but it remains unforgivable. Despite the enormous influence, popularity and consistent greatness of his “House,"Laurie has never won an Emmy, which is just plain wrong. He is in good company, however: “Justified’s” Timothy Olyphant and Kelsey Grammer (“Boss”) didn’t make this year’s list either.
“The Walking Dead"should have been included in drama series and it wasn’t, which is just absurd, and “Louie,” like “Parks and Rec,” got a nomination for its star but none for comedy series —"30 Rock"and not “Parks and Rec,” “Veep” and not “Louie”? Come on. And there should have been space for “Enlightened,” along with its writer-star Dern, simply because it was one of last year’s best new shows.
Likewise, “Modern Family’s” decision to not have a lead actor means it occupies far too much real estate in the supporting actor in a comedy category. Of course, all the guys are great, but can’t we send Ed O’Neillto the lead category to make room for “Parks and Rec’s” Nick Offerman?
The networks in general were very noticeably absent from the proceedings — for the first time ever, the major networks were not represented in the drama series category. “The Good Wife,"which was the networks’ best shot, did not make it, though star Julianna Margulies did. And this year, cable expanded its fiefdom from drama to comedy with HBO grabbing half the comedy slots. There is no perfect way of addressing this longtime conundrum unless the academy splits the big categories into two subsets, the way bestseller lists divide along popular and literary fiction. They could even split it up by length of show — 10 to 12 episodes versus 22-plus, say, but frankly, that’s probably not going to happen.
Categories brings us to the confusing aspects of this year’s nominations, underlined by the strange case of “American Horror Story.” It was the biggest shocker of the morning, tying “Mad Men” with 17 nominations, mainly because it was entered in the miniseries and movie category.
This is a bizarre and troublesome category to begin with, the result of a recent decision to double up when it became clear that no one does real miniseries any more. Last year, “Downton Abbey” was nominated as a miniseries with creator Julian Fellowes explaining that his original vision ended in one season. “American Horror Story,” though always conceived of as a continuing series, found a different loophole — because each season will deal with a different horror, complete with a new location and a largely different cast, it apparently fits the academy guidelines for miniseries. A rather calculated move, perhaps, but one that paid off.
And if “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” which was roundly and rightly panned, can get multiple nominations, well, it’s Emmy morning after all; anything is possible.