Critic’s Notebook: Emmys 2014: Deaths, weddings: Additional categories for this year’s awards

Critics Notebook Emmys
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in “Breaking Bad.”
(Ursula Coyote / AMC)

Any group of awards bestowed by one group of humans on another will inevitably be considered arbitrary, political, meaningless, myopic or absurd (unless, of course, you win one, at which time they become shiny symbols of wisdom and insight).

The Emmys are no different. For years, the decisions of the television academy evaded the sort of heated reactions sparked by the Oscars, Grammys or even Tonys mainly because no one cared that much.

That has begun to change. Although the Emmy telecast still does not draw the audience of the Oscars, the critical and public outcry over perceived Emmy snubs intensifies every year, as do the Emmy campaigns that now precede and follow the announcement of nominations.

Yet even as the newfound artisanal nature of the medium has made the Emmys more important (hey, Vince Gilligan matters, people, and in a larger sense), its ever-increasing diversity and sheer volume make the awards process even more random: How on earth do you compare an eight-episode, hard-R cable show to a 23-episode, censor-overseen broadcast series?


Many people (myself included) have offered half-hearted suggestions about how to make the process more “fair.” Creating subcategories in both comedy and drama based on episode number is a popular solution. But even that misses the bigger point: The television academy seeks to reward the very best in television without actually watching television. Or at least, without watching series the way an audience does, which is to say in their entirety. Virtually all the judging is based on a few, or even one, episode, which is like judging a film based on its trailer.

That may be a situation impossible to rectify, but perhaps the academy could create a few awards that reflect the realities particular to television. A few suggestions:

Outstanding sad and untimely death of a major character



Will Gardner (Josh Charles), “The Good Wife” (Et tu, “Good Wife”?)

Ygritte (Rose Leslie), “Game of Thrones” (Sure, she was a ruthless Wilding, but Jon still loved her, and so did we.)

Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), “Breaking Bad” (Because Walter White had not done quite enough damage to the universe already?)

Madeline Westen (Sharon Gless), “Burn Notice” (That’s what a mother does, Michael. She sacrifices.)

Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy), “The Walking Dead.” (I still can’t talk about it.)

Outstanding death of a major character we could not wait to see go


Walter White (Bryan Cranston), “Breaking Bad” (I know, I know, awesome performance, but honest to God, what a horrible, selfish, weak, narcissistic guy.)


Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), “Game of Thrones” (I think we all agree he did not suffer nearly enough.)

Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), “Homeland” (We loved you too well, and too long, I fear, and the series suffered for it.)

The entire cast of “American Horror Story: Coven” (If only to see how they would all resurrect.)

The thank-you-for-not-being-exclusively-about-a-troubled-white-guy-even-though-it-clearly-limited-your-Emmy-chances achievement award


“Orphan Black” (Multiple strong female characters, many of whom are played by single actor, no Emmy nominations. Coincidence?)

“The Good Wife” (You are an outstanding drama, with twice as many episodes and the confines of a broadcast network.)

“The Americans” (Now that’s a working marriage.)


Most creative use of an iconic literary character


“Sleepy Hollow,” Ichabod Crane (The timid schoolmaster’s metamorphosis into resurrected super spy may have Washington Irving spinning in his grave, but then so is Washington, George.)

“Sherlock,” Sherlock Holmes and company (Suddenly our schoolgirl crushes on the master detective make all sorts of sense.)

“Elementary,” see above (More bristly and twitchy than his BBC compatriot, this Holmes explores the real dangers of a soaring mind.)

“Penny Dreadful,” Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein, possibly Dracula (For mash-up points and sheer hubris, “Dreadful” is hard to beat.)

“Hannibal,” Hannibal Lecter, Will Graham (Liberties are taken, as liberties often are, but the hypnotic effect of the world-famous cannibal remains.)

The Sigmund Freud achievement award for proving the importance of parent issues to writer’s process award


“Bates Motel” (Which came first, the psychopath or the psycho-mom? What we really need to see is Norma Bates’ own mother.)

“American Horror Story: Coven” (When Ryan Murphy names a character “Goode,” well, don’t expect a lot of French toast and self-esteem building.)

“Scandal” (Apparently, people with loving parents do not go into politics.)

“Pretty Little Liars” (Or high school.)

“Game of Thrones” (Being sent away from King’s Landing is the best thing that could have happened to Cersei’s daughter.)

Outstanding use of verbiage in an American drama or comedy


“True Detective” (Oh, those metaphysical monologues.)

“The Big Bang Theory” (Oh, those physics-geek observations.)

“New Girl” (No one describes a situation like Schmidt.)

“Veep” (A paean to creative profanity.)

“Parks and Recreation” (Two words: Ron Swanson.)

Outstanding return to concept of a non-Red Wedding:


“Modern Family” (Mitchell and Cam)

“Bones” (Bones and Booth)

“Grimm” (Monroe and Rosalee)

“Castle,” sort of (Castle and Beckett)

“30 Rock” (Liz and Criss)

“How I Met Your Mother” (Barney and Robin)

Annual WTH (Heck, as this is a family newspaper) award


“Sleepy Hollow” (For scene of headless horseman with automatic weapons.)

“The Blacklist” (For scene in which James Spader’s Red Reddington kills Jane Alexander. She may be playing a corrupt politician, but that’s Jane Alexander, Red!)

“Scandal” (For any scene in which Cyrus’ husband, James Novak, was portrayed as an actual journalist. With White House access.)

“Sharknado” (For existing.)

In the end, it’s the ultimate quality problem. Finding outstanding television of every sort these days is simple; it’s just choosing what’s “best” that’s difficult. Even in these ridiculous categories, it’s pretty much a toss-up.

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