Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My Emmy Ballot: Outstanding Comedy/Drama Series

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston in "Breaking Bad"

In finishing up my continuing series looking at the Emmy nominations ballot and laying out who I’d nominate (if I had a vote obviously), today I’m looking at the categories of Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series.  One of the complaints I often see is that there are simply too many good television shows.  While I doubt I’d say there are “too many,” there is a lot of good television on these days.  And a wider variety of channels seem to be putting on these shows.  It used to be that the broadcast networks were the only players in the game, but then HBO got involved and they were followed by Showtime.  Then basic cable started picking up nominations with FX and AMC.  Drama reached a turning point last year when, for the first time in Emmy history, not a single broadcast program was nominated.  This season has seen the field expand even further with networks like Sundance, BBC America, and even Netflix all having reasonable chances to score their first Outstanding Series nominations.  More and more channels are putting on original programming and a lot it is really very good.  That means there is no shortage of shows for this list and, I expect, no shortage in the future either.

Again, the usual caveats apply.  First, I’m working from the actual Emmy Program Ballot, so I can’t put continuing series that submit as miniseries (The Hour, American Horror Story) in their proper categories, nor can I nominate a show that didn’t submit itself (sadly, Bunheads).  Also, I’m only including shows that I watch regularly, so if The Good Wife, Shameless, and Enlightened aren’t here, that’s why.

Outstanding Comedy
Jake Johnson and Zooey Deschanel in "New Girl"
I mentioned this in my Lead Actor post, but comparing The Big Bang Theory now with the pilot that aired six years ago is just remarkable.  It’s amazing how things can change so much in television.  Six years ago, How I Met Your Mother was the critically-adored CBS comedy, nabbing an Outstanding Series nomination in 2009 and a pair of Supporting Actor nominations for Neil Patrick Harris.  Now it’s The Big Bang Theory which, though probably not as loved critically as HIMYM was six years ago, is pulling down all the nominations and, in Jim Parsons’s case, all the awards.  And it’s been well-deserved.  The opening of the show’s world (most notably in the introduction of more female characters like Miayim Bialik’s Amy and Melissa Rauch’s Bernadette) has made the show deeper, funnier, and more flexible.  This isn’t a “the most popular show on television should be nominated” nomination.  This is a legitimate, “this show is good” nomination.

Look, I don’t enjoy watching Girls.  It just holds little interest for me.  But there is no doubt that this is one of the best-written, best-directed, best-acted shows on television.  And when it’s telling stories I find interesting, like the Patrick Wilson episode, it really is a great show. 

It’s unfortunate that Louie is taking a year off but it seems like their schedule will allow them to be eligible for both the 2013 Emmys and the 2014 Emmys (since they aired episodes in August 2012 and are on pace to return in May 2014.  That’s important because Louie really is a fantastic show and it deserves to be recognized for its brilliance.  Like Girls it is often more dramatic than hilarious, especially in this year’s “Daddy’s Girlfriend” episodes and while it didn’t have the brilliant standout episode like it had in 2011 with “Duckling,” I found the third season to be much more cohesive, thanks largely to the three part story where Louis auditions for The Late Show.  Louis CK controls every bit of this show, from the acting to the writing to the directing and it shows, as Louie is the clear result of turning auteur television (which we’ve seen work so well in Drama) to the comedy realm.

I’ve mentioned multiple times in these Emmy recaps that I believe New Girl made The Leap this past season.  It was a show that really struggled to find itself in its first season but, in its sophomore followup, discovered its characters and how they relate to each other.  New Girl is a show that can be funny and romantic all at the same time.  The only piece they really haven’t figured out yet is Winston, but even he gets to be hilarious occasionally, even if there isn’t a great deal of cohesion.  This was a fantastic show this season and it only looks positive moving forward.

The Office was a legitimately bad show last year.  They didn’t quite know how to navigate Michael’s departure and everything involving Andy was just dreadful.  The final season still had too much of dreadful Andy, but pretty much everything else made a nice turn toward quality.  There were a few hiccups along the way (the Twittersphere collectively losing its mind about Brian in a completely unwarranted fashion is one such example), but for the most part, the show returned to its heart: Jim and Pam.  Their relationship was thrown for a loop throughout much of the season, but they came out stronger in the end.  In the middle was a touching, funny season of television.

While The Office, perhaps, emphasized its heart this season, 30 Rock finished out an amazing seven season run by maintaining its mile-a-minute joke pattern in what may have been its funniest season yet.  Liz Lemon gets the romantic storyline she always wanted (and ends up adopting a mini-Tracy and mini-Jenna).  Jenna briefly becomes a superstar.  Jack becomes CEO of GE.  Kenneth gets to run the network.  Everybody gets a happy ending and we get the promise of Grizz & Herz.  A fabulous final season that capped an all-time comedy run.

Others meriting consideration: Arrested Development, Cougar Town, Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, Happy Endings, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation (which I’m immediately regretting leaving off and probably should have replaced Girls), Community

Outstanding Drama
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie in "Game of Thrones"
I debated on how to kick this category off and ultimately decided to begin with my favorite show on television last year: Game of Thrones.  It was easily the show’s best year to date and had the most talked about moment on television with the Red Wedding.  While the show had George R.R. Martin to thank for giving it great material to work with this year, the producers also made some good choices in how they paced the storylines that made the show feel a lot smoother and made the disparate characters seem a lot closer together.  It’s unlikely Game of Thrones will actually win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama, but it certainly merits strong consideration.

Mad Men had four straight wins under its belt before finally falling to Homeland last year.  It’s still one of the best shows on television, though, even if some people felt the sixth season was Matthew Weiner returning the "Don’s familiar neuroses" well one too many times.  Even if you feel that way, Mad Men was still one of the most riveting series on television.  It’s not common for a show to win an Emmy after it stops winning Emmys (in the last 25 years, The Sopranos is the only show to win non-consecutive Outstanding Drama Emmys), but this show is certainly strong enough to break that trend.

I’m a little worried about Breaking Bad’s chances this year.  Its followup to what may have been the best season of television ever was great, but not as strong.  The show hasn’t aired an episode in 10½ months and is going to go more than eleven months between airings.  And it only aired eight episodes last summer.  I have little doubt that the show will be nominated, but this series really does deserve to win an Emmy at some point and it’s down to its last two chances.  Those questions aside, Breaking Bad is still one of my two favorite shows on television and this past season was fantastic, if for no other reason than that Walt and Jesse rob a train.

Homeland is probably the last sure thing on this list.  The show won this award last year and, though many critics complained about its sophomore season, the show was still pretty great.  There were some problematic spots (pretty much anything with Nazir in the US) and I have questions about how the show is going to handle the Brody character moving forward, but Q&A was a fantastic episode of television and there were so many great character moments throughout the season (not least Carrie’s and Saul’s smiles bookending the first and last episodes) that I’m willing to forgive the hiccups.

Justified peaked in its second season.  I’m not going to deny that.  The show was brilliant, creating a season-long storyline anchored with a pantheon villain performance from eventual Emmy winner Margo Martindale.  Its last two seasons haven’t been able to match the greatness of that second, but they’ve still been fantastic.  Justified is made or broken (usually made) by its casting and this year had some of the best.  Ron Eldard, Gerald McRaney, Patton Oswalt, and Mike O’Malley all gave great performance (some more significant than others) that served to perfectly accent the always wonderful Timothy Olyphant, Walton Goggins, and Jere Burns.  The season-long mystery left a little something to be desired, but it culminated in a pair of great episodes at the end of the season.

The one freshman drama to grace this list is the marvelously moody Hannibal.  I fully expected this show to be terrible when it aired, but it surprised me completely in every way.  The performances are great, especially Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen.  The season-long storyline was effectively spooled out and came to a thrilling, horrifying conclusion.  Even the “monster of the week” stories were, if not always narratively deep, still visually stunning and appropriately terrifying.  It’s not like a large audience is a prerequisite for an Emmy win (Homeland and Mad Men both had audiences roughly the size of Hannibal), but Hannibal would be, by far, the lowest rated network show ever nominated for an Emmy (though that’s mostly because it’s also one of the lowest-rated network shows ever to not get immediately canceled).

Others meriting consideration: The Americans, Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Orphan Black, Person of Interest

If forced to choose among this group, I'd probably choose New Girl and Game of Thrones

So thoughts? Questions?  Just want to call me an idiot or tell me my blog sucks?  Let me know in the comments or hit me up on twitter @TyTalksTV

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