Why ‘Downton Abbey’ drama trumps ‘Walking Dead’ zombies at Emmys


Emmy voters can’t get enough of “Downton Abbey,” having just added another dozen nominations to the tony soap’s already towering haul. “The Walking Dead,” meanwhile, may be a hit with viewers, but it’s dead to the academy, receiving but a single nomination for ... makeup. Time to protest or perhaps applaud a showing of good taste. Times television critic Mary McNamara and Times awards writer Glenn Whipp draw the battle lines.

Whipp: I appreciate, Mary, that you’re gravely upset that the undead can’t find a little love with Emmy voters. But must you go the reverse-snob route and take out your frustrations on the poor denizens of “Downton”? Really, haven’t they been through enough over the years? Besides, I’d argue that “Downton” delivered moments this past season that were just as shocking and heart-wrenching as anything “The Walking Dead” mustered. And I’m not even talking about the Dowager Countess’ running stream of cutting remarks toward poor Edith.

McNamara: Edith, the burgeoning journalist? She’s like an Edwardian blogger, which makes her my new favorite character. Look, I’m Irish, and I’m still a fan of “Downton,” long may it stand (on the blood and sweat of the underclass), but don’t tell me this was a great season. Recycled plots — oh, dear, can Downton be saved? — with ridiculous resolution — well, yes, by this unexpected inheritance — the lather was so high Sybil’s death was something of a relief if only because at least it bore a tiny resemblence to (A) reality and (B) drama. I wouldn’t begrudge Maggie Smith a nomination even if she Skyped her performance, but don’t tell me Andrew Lincoln isn’t acting the hell out of Hugh Bonneville, and I’d put “The Walking Dead’s” Danai Gurira as Michonne against Michelle Dockery’s Lady Mary any day, if only due to level of difficulty.


GRAPHIC: ‘Downton Abbey’ vs. ‘The Walking Dead’

Whipp: Yes, the Bonneville nomination is baffling. I could draw up a list of a dozen actors I’d put in ahead of him, and Lincoln would be near the top, right behind “Justified’s” Timothy Olyphant. But picture me shooting you one of Dame Maggie’s withering looks if you underestimate just what Dockery brings to “Downton.” You want degree of difficulty? Dockery has to negotiate the hairpin turns of all those melodramatic plotlines. Up one moment, devastated the next? No problem. She sells it and grounds it.

McNamara: You are right about that — she is consistently the best thing about the show, in large part because she has been allowed to retain her original and deliciously complicated astringency. Everyone else has grown either completely evil (poor old O’Brien) or 21st century tolerant. But “The Walking Dead” is much braver in its attempt to explore the shaky contructs humans throw together in times of social change, the queasy dilemmas people face as they realize their fight for survival is not just a physical one. Which makes the performances much more nuanced and powerful than the grime and zombie guts suggest. No nomination for Norman Reedus as Daryl? Or even David Morrissey for his Shakespearean turn as the Governor? Come on.

Whipp: As I’ve made a case for Morrissey previously in print, I can’t argue there. But I understand why people like Jim Carter as head butler Mr. Carson. It’s always fun to watch Carson fight against a changing world. And his grief over Sybil’s death was quite moving. But, you’re right, compared with the Governor and his little girl? Sybil’s not chained up in a cage in one of Downton’s unused parlors, is she?


McNamara: I’m happy that the academy is embracing period drama — genre of any sort that doesn’t revolve around some broken white guy waving around either a gun or a bottle is hard to sell as “prestige” these days. And kudos for the “Game of Thrones” nods — a big step in the right direction. It’s just time Emmy voters get over their prejudice for the living and recognize that “The Walking Dead” isn’t just a great zombie show, it’s a great show, period. Or as they would say at Downton, a grand show, full stop.