Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Time to Think Bigger: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird of the 2015 Emmy Nominations

It's hard to complain about an Emmys that finally nominates Tatiana Maslany.

Look, the Emmys are never going to “get it right.”  You’re taking the opinions of thousands of voters, many of whom don’t watch much television because they’re too busy making it, throwing them into a blender and praying that something resembling sanity comes out.  There are always going to be snubs.  What was this year’s outcries about The Americans and Jane the Virgin were the cries of The Wire before them. 

The rending of garments and gnashing of teeth on Emmy morning has only gotten worse in recent years as the number of shows has proliferated.  In the 1979-80 television season there were only about eighty scripted shows aired on all of television.  This year?  240 scripted series submitted themselves in the Outstanding Drama, Comedy, and Variety Sketch Series categories.  There are three times as many scripted shows on as there were thirty years ago and yet the number of Emmy slots has only expanded from four or five to six.  This makes the competition all the more fierce and triples the likelihood that a deserving actor or show is going to get left out.

My suggestion?  Open wide the gates.  In the last several years the television academy has expanded the Outstanding Series nominations from five to six and now to seven.  The acting categories went from five to six in 2009 and occasionally have hit seven due to ties.  Hell, this year the comedy supporting actress category has eight nominees and I haven’t heard anybody complaining about it.  All I’ve heard is how nice it is to see Gaby Hoffman and Niecy Nash getting to join the other six actresses who are all category regulars at this point.

So let’s open all of the acting categories up to eight nominees.  Sure, it’s still not going to please everybody, and we’re as likely to get more repeat nominees like Jim Parsons and Jon Voight as we are to get spurned newcomers like Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys.  But the Emmys are a celebration of television and I’ve never heard complaint of too many people at a great party.

That single suggestion aside, the Emmys are what they are for another year and, at least in 2015, the nominations weren’t that bad.  Sure, the academy has a few bizarre hang-ups but, overall, every category has at least a few names worth rooting for.  So let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the weird of the 2015 Emmy nominations.

Good – Nay, great!  Tatiana Maslany earns a surprising first nomination for Lead Actress in a Drama.  It would have been nicer had it come for a season that didn’t still have four episodes sitting on my DVR, but no matter how crazy Orphan Black has gotten in the last couple of seasons, Maslany has been doing amazing work, so it’s nice to see her finally get some recognition.

Bad – Jeff freakin’ Daniels.  I mean, seriously?  I watched every episode of The Newsroom and while I could appreciate it for its Sorkiny goodness, not once did I ever turn on an episode and think that Daniels was the best thing on it.  He’s mostly just a white, male bloviator lecturing the audience on all of the wrongs of the world.  Then again, maybe that’s exactly what the voters want to see.

WeirdUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt pulling in three major nominations but none for Ellie Kemper.  I mean, I like Titus Burgess and Jane Krakowski, but that show lives on the specificity and believability of its title character, so to see her left out is strange.  And it’s not like the comedy lead actress category was particularly strong to begin with.  If you’re going to give a nomination to Lily Tomlin for the far inferior Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie, you should find a way to get Kemper in there as well.

Good – The overall diversity of this year’s nominees was a welcome sight, especially compared with the blinding whiteness of the Oscar nominations.  Six African-American actors and actresses locked down lead nominations while ten actors of color drew supporting nods.  It would be nice to see some of that diversity transfer to the Outstanding Series categories, where shows like Empire, black-ish, How to Get Away with Murder, and Fresh Off the Boat were all shut out, but this is a welcome improvement, not least because it emphasizes the diversity of performances on television, as opposed to the Best Actor Oscar nominations, which were mostly just variations of “troubled white man overcomes adversity to do great things.”

Bad – The continued presence of Downton Abbey.  Look, I’ve watched every episode of Downton and have written about it quite a bit.  But this hasn’t been a great show for a few years now.  It’s a good show, certainly, but not one of the seven best shows on television.  And, while Jim Carter is perfectly fine, he’s about the third or fourth best supporting actor on that show.  Thankfully, we’ve only got one more year of the series taking Emmy slots from (hopefully) more deserving shows.

Weird – The love for Better Call Saul.  Maybe this isn’t that weird.  Saul was a really good show, after all.  But for all the apprehension there was surrounding the idea of a Breaking Bad prequel, for the show to land Emmy nods for Outstanding Series, Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, and Writing (the fifth-most major nominations for any series), it’s just a little strange – great, but strange.

Good – The splitting of Outstanding Variety Series into “Talk” and “Sketch” categories.  The category was dominated for years by Saturday Night Live and an array of late night talk shows.  By splitting the category in two we get some recognition for the Inside Amy Schumers, Key & Peeles, Drunk Historys, and Portlandias of the world.  More is almost always better, and this provides a new venue for deserving shows.

Bad – No Nick Offerman.  Ron Swanson is one of the iconic comedy characters of all time and yet we’re going to go seven years without Nick Offerman receiving even so much as a nomination for the part.  It really is a shame.  It really is hard to think of a more deserving actor to never receive an Emmy nomination.

Weird – The Stunt Coordination nominees.  I have nothing against the nominees in this category, but to leave out shows like Banshee, Strike Back, or Arrow just seems crazy.  I mean, just watch this scene from Banshee and tell me that this is not some of the best stunt coordination of the year (and cinematography and makeup work and a host of other things).  Or the Daredevil one shot?  

There was some amazing stunt work on television this year.  Unfortunately, most of it didn’t get nominated.

Good – Manhattan, Halt and Catch Fire, and Daredevil all being nominated for Main Title Design.  This is always a weird category that rarely makes sense, but these three shows all had great opening credits and any would be worth of victory.

Bad – The Amazing Race.  I loved The Amazing Race.  It was the only reality show I watched for a very long time.  But in the last few years, the show seems to have lost the meaning of “Race.”  It’s now just a collection of obstacles spread throughout the world.  Combined with a relatively lackluster collection of contestants this past year, I just can’t support the show anymore in its run for Outstanding Reality – Competition Program.

Weird – Alan Menken somehow failing in his EGOT attempt.  He wrote thirty songs for Galavant and somehow failed to get a single one nominated for Outstanding Music and Lyrics.  Granted, I don’t know that they were particularly great songs, but it was surprising nonetheless.  With Galavant’s somewhat stunning renewal, however, he’ll get another shot next year.

Overall, it was a really good year for the Emmys.  Sure, I can nitpick here and there, but there are a lot of new faces and new shows, deserving names being nominated, and, really, the only thing I would ask for would be “more” – more nominees spreading the love around to more television.  It’s a vast and diverse world out there and it’d be nice to see more of that represented.

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and an amateur television critic.  You can reach him at TyTalksTV AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.