Thursday, July 10, 2014

2014 Emmy Nominations: Second Verse, Same as the First

This morning, the Television Academy announced the nominees for the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, which will be broadcast Monday, August 25 on NBC (why Monday? Because football.). The thing with the Emmys is that, more than any other awards show besides the Grammys, it's very easy to end up disappointed by the nominations. Because television is a recurring medium, with shows stretching on for years, the same shows and performers are often eligible year after year. Compare this to the Oscars, where a film is only eligible for one year, meaning that each year will offer new nominees. The Emmys, on the other hand, have a tendency to recognize the same things over and over, with newcomers often having to fight their way in. This isn't necessarily a bad thing when those recurring nominations are worthy, but with so much truly incredible television out there right now, it often feels like a nomination for, say, Downton Abbey is more of a default mode than an actual recognition of merit. There's no real solution to this, other than to remember that these are arbitrary awards decided by a relatively small group of people and therefore not a be-all, end-all decree of what's "best."


This year, Game of Thrones led all series with 19 total nominations, while Fargo led the way for miniseries with 18. In terms of networks, HBO led for the 14th consecutive year with 99 total nominations, while Netflix topped both AMC and FOX with 31 total nominations. Below is a list of the nominees in the drama series, comedy series, and miniseries/TV movie categories, complete with analysis.

BEST DRAMA SERIES

Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Mad Men
True Detective

True Detective

No surprises here: five of the six nominees were nominated last year (with Breaking Bad the defending champ), and True Detective was a shoo-in from the moment it was announced to be entering the drama series race. It's more than a little disappointing that the Emmys haven't been more adventurous in this category, ignoring acclaimed dramas outside the usual suspects (FX's The Americans, Sundance's Rectify, ABC's Scandal) and excellent genre fare (FOX's Sleepy Hollow, NBC's Hannibal). It's also disappointing that previously-nominated shows that had fascinating seasons, such as CBS's The Good Wife or Showtime's Homeland, didn't pick up any nods either. This isn't an argument that the nominated shows aren't great - they are, for the most part - but that there are other options out there. Interestingly, though, if either True Detective or Game of Thrones wins, they would be only the second HBO drama to win this category, following The Sopranos.

BEST COMEDY SERIES

The Big Bang Theory
Louie
Modern Family
Orange is the New Black
Silicon Valley
Veep

With 30 Rock gone, there was space for some newcomers in this category, with one wholly expected (and a possible winner) and another rather surprising. Orange is the New Black had no trouble earning a nomination here, and it could end up being the show that ends Modern Family's four-year reign in this category (though should Modern Family prevail, it would join Fraiser as the only shows to ever win five series Emmys). Silicon Valley, on the other hand, was a bit more unexpected. Creator Mike Judge's influence has made its way through the television landscape over the past decade-plus, so maybe it's not so unusual. However, this comes at the expense of nominations for Golden Globe winner Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX), Parks & Recreation (NBC), New Girl (FOX), Girls (HBO), and Community (NBC), which will likely sail into the sunset (maybe) without a series nomination.

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Claire Danes, Homeland
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife

Washington

After last year's super-sized category (seven nominees), the line-up snaps back to six with mostly the same women intact. The new addition is the very deserving Caplan, who, as William Masters' (Michael Sheen) assistant Virginia Johnson, was the true heart and soul of Masters of Sex. It's a little surprising to not see Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) here, though, as it seems that the Emmys' love for her show continues to slip with each passing year.

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Lena Dunham, Girls
Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black
Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep

After disappearing for a year, McCarthy is once again nominated for her performance on Mike & Molly, which, from my limited viewing, is the best part of the show. Naturally, Schilling is nominated for the breakout success of OITNB, and she joins a recurring group of nominees in this category. Given the show's surprising snub in the Comedy Series category, it's good to see Dunham recognized for her terrifically nuanced performance on Girls.  The big question is: will Louis-Dreyfus win a third consecutive Emmy for Veep?

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective

When HBO announced that True Detective would be competing as a drama series rather than a miniseries, Harrelson's and McConaughey's nominations here were essentially sealed. As a result, they've prevented former nominees Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), and Damien Lewis (Homeland) from scoring nods, as well as leaving Michael Sheen (Masters of Sex) and Matthew Rhys (The Americans) out in the cold. As for the non-True Detective men, they were all nominated last year, though this will be Cranston's final nomination for Breaking Bad.

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Ricky Gervais, Derek
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Louis C.K., Louie
William H. Macy, Shameless

Gervais

Shameless making the move from drama to comedy has already proved successful, with Macy earning a nomination for the tasteless, drunken lout at the show's center, Frank Gallagher. I personally still don't understand the appeal of Episodes, but LeBlanc continues to be a consistent nominee for his performance on the show. Louie aired its first episodes of its fourth season in early May, just barely squeaking into the eligibility period, and it will be interesting to see if he wins anything for this very polarizing season. The most stunning nomination, though, is Gervais' for Derek. I don't believe anyone was predicting this one, given that the raconteur's performance as a sweet, mentally-impaired man trying to do good received mixed notices, yet here it is.

More after the jump.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Joanna Froggett, Downton Abbey
Lena Headley, Game of Thrones
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife

The only newcomer in this category this year is Headley, who's recognized for her work as monster mom Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones. She's the second actress from the show to earn a nomination, after Emilia Clarke last year. On a whole, though, there's nothing really surprising here, which is becoming a recurring theme through these nominations.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Allison Janney, Mom
Kate Mulgrew, Orange is the New Black
Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Another sign that the Modern Family stranglehold on the comedy categories may be coming to an end: Sofia Vergara was left out of the nominations, despite being cited in almost all of the previous four years as a potential winner. As such, both Janney and Mulgrew have made their way into the category for great work in their respective series (both were potential antagonists given great depth and interiority). Saturday Night Live has been regularly producing nominees in the supporting categories in recent years, and this year it's breakout McKinnon who reaps the nom.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan
Josh Charles, The Good Wife

Voight

Despite being critically reviled for the most part, Ray Donovan manages to score a major Emmy nomination for Voight, though his performance is often cited as the best part of the Showtime series. I'm personally happy to see Patinkin nominated again for his soulful performance as Saul on Homeland. I'll willingly admit to being a huge defender of the polarizing show, but Patinkin is a reliably human anchor to the espionage, and this past season put Saul through the ringer with Patinkin always delivering. If Paul were to win this year, he would become the first actor in Emmy history to win three times in this category. Should Dinklage win, he would join Paul, Michael Conrad (Hill Street Blues), Larry Drake (L.A. Law), Stuart Margolin (The Rockford Files), and Ray Walston (Picket Fences) as the only actors to win twice.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Adam Driver, Girls
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Fred Armisen, Portlandia
Tony Hale, Veep

Yet another sign of the end of Modern Family's reign of (humorous) terror: for the first time since the show's premiere, less than half of the nominees in this category are from the show. That it's Burrell and Ferguson is no surprise, but that Eric Stonestreet has been excluded yet again seems to indicate that his schtick isn't quite working for them anymore. Instead, we get terrific return nominations for Driver and Hale, the latter the defending winner who had some of his best moments yet this past season. I'm personally thrilled to see Braugher's deadpan performance nominated from the season's best new comedy. Though I'm a little confused as to whether it's a true "supporting" performance, I am glad to see Armisen recognized for his work on Portlandia. But where's Carrie Brownstein's nomination for the show?

BEST GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

Diana Rigg, Game of Thrones
Kate Mara, House of Cards
Allison Janney, Masters of Sex
Kate Burton, Scandal
Margo Martindale, The Americans
Jane Fonda, The Newsroom

Surprisingly, Martindale - who won this category in 2011 for her chilling performance on Justified - remains the only actor to be recognized for The Americans, one of the most critically acclaimed shows on television. It's not unusual for the Emmys to stick to their old favorites instead of acknowledging other shows being championed, but their continued ignorance of The Americans is puzzling. That being said, the inclusion of Mara is a little odd too, especially given her character's arc in her show's second season. Thankfully, they did take the time to nominate Janney, who was absolutely stunning in her arc on Masters of Sex.

BEST GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Natasha Lyonne, Orange is the New Black
Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black
Laverne Cox, Orange is the New Black
Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live
Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live
Joan Cusack, Shameless

Cox

It's easy to forget that, for the first season of Orange is the New Black, Lyonne, Aduba, and Cox weren't series regulars yet. Either way, it's fantastic to see them nominated, though really the entire cast of that show deserves Emmys for their work. Fey and McCarthy's appearances on SNL were two of the show's best-receieved episodes this season (though, naturally, those two are terrific presences regardless). And Cusack's annual nomination for Shameless makes the move to this category, though at this point, how is she still considered a "guest"?

BEST GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

Paul Giamatti, Downton Abbey
Reg E. Cathey, House of Cards
Robert Morse, Mad Men
Beau Bridges, Masters of Sex
Joe Morton, Scandal
Dylan Baker, The Good Wife

The increase in acting nominees from the show this year seems to indicate that the Emmys may be warming to Scandal more, though given the soapy nature of the show it may not break through to the series category. Speaking of increasing nominees, I am glad to see the Emmys spreading more love to the House of Cards cast, especially Cathey, who's been terrific as the barbecue shop owner that Frank (Kevin Spacey) regularly visits. The most surprising nomination, to me, is Giamatti, mostly because I wasn't even aware he was on Downton Abbey (I clearly don't keep up with the show).

BEST GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Bob Newhart, The Big Bang Theory
Nathan Lane, Modern Family
Steve Buscemi, Portlandia
Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live
Louis C.K., Saturday Night Live
Gary Cole, Veep

The two nominations I'm most pleased by are Buscemi for Portlandia (a hilarious sketch show; if you're not watching, you should) and Cole for Veep. Cole had a terrific year, in particular, getting some of the saltiest lines in a show clogged with them. Otherwise, Newhart gets a chance to win for the second year straight, while Fallon and C.K. are honored for their returns to SNL.

BEST DIRECTOR, DRAMA SERIES

Boardwalk Empire, "Farewell Daddy Blues"; directed by Tim Van Patten
Breaking Bad, "Felina"; directed by Vince Gilligan
Downton Abbey, "Episode 1"; directed by David Evans
Game of Thrones, "The Watchers on the Wall"; directed by Neil Marshall
House of Cards, "Chapter 14"; directed by Carl Franklin
True Detective, "Who Goes There"; directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga

There are a number of fantastic achievements here. Particularly, Fukunaga being recognized for perhaps the best-directed episode of True Detective (you know, the one with the impressively long tracking shot), Marshall - best known for The Descent - for directing the action-packed penultimate episode of the fourth season of Game of Thrones, and Gilligan for putting an exciting, satisfying button on Breaking Bad. Even if the show only gets recognized for Van Patten's direction (and it should - he's perhaps television's greatest director of the moment), I'm glad to see Boardwalk Empire still earning nominations.

BEST DIRECTOR, COMEDY SERIES

Episodes, "Episode 309"; directed by Iain B. MacDonald
Glee, "100"; directed by Paris Barclay
Louie, "Elevator, Part 6"; directed by Louis C.K.
Modern Family, "Vegas"; directed by Gail Mancuso
Orange is the New Black, "Lesbian Request Denied"; directed by Jodie Foster
Silicon Valley, "Minimum Viable Product"; directed by Mike Judge

Yes, believe it or not, Glee is still on the air, and the directing category is just about the only major category it gets recognition in. Apart from that, the biggest names in this category are C.K., who's surprisingly not won a directing Emmy for his show (he directs every episode, in addition to writing, starring, and editing), Foster, who has done great work with OITNB, and Judge, who's finally recognized by someone other than the Internet for his work (Judge is best known for Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill, Office Space, and Idiocracy).

BEST WRITING, DRAMA SERIES

Breaking Bad, "Ozymandias"; written by Moira Walley-Beckett
Breaking Bad, "Felina"; written by Vince Gilligan
Game of Thrones, "The Children"; written by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff
House of Cards, "Chapter 14"; written by Beau Willimon
True Detective, "The Secret Fate of All of Life"; written by Nic Pizzolatto

Like the directing category for drama, there are some really incredible works nominated in this category. "Ozymandias" and "The Secret Fate of All of Life" - the latter containing the infamous "time is a flat circle" speech - are two of, if not the, best episodes of the past television season. I am surprised, however, to not see The Good Wife episode "Hitting the Fan" here, given what a game-changer that one was for the series. Surely it was worthier than the great-but-patchy "The Children."

BEST WRITING, COMEDY SERIES

Episodes, "Episode 305"; written by David Crane & Jeffrey Klarik
Louie, "So Did the Fat Lady"; written by Louis C.K.
Orange is the New Black, "I Wasn't Ready (Pilot)"; written by Liz Friedman and Jenji Kohan
Silicon Valley, "Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency"; written by Alec Berg
Veep, "Special Relationship"; story and teleplay by Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche, story by Armando Iannucci

I've been saying Veep deserves recognition for its strong writing since it debuted, so I'm glad to see it finally earn an Emmy nomination in this category. This category tends to favor pilots more than anything, so it's nice to see that the only pilot nominated this year is "I Wasn't Ready" (though the first season of OITNB had better-written episodes). Still, I'm boggled by the appeal of Episodes, especially when it comes at the expense of "Beach House," the Girls episode that was not only that show's best this season but was one of the finest structured episodes of comedy this season.

BEST MINISERIES

American Horror Story: Coven
Bonnie & Clyde
Fargo
Luther
Treme
The White Queen

American Horror Story: Coven

The good news: the decision to once again separate miniseries from TV movies did not result in that awful Rosemary's Baby remake getting a nomination here. However, there are still a few dubious choices. Treme's final season was pitched as a miniseries, apparently, and True Detective moving to drama series probably helped it pull a nomination here. Bonnie & Clyde wasn't particularly well-received, and The White Queen was quietly appreciated but not exactly a nomination favorite. And I have made my feelings known about the disappointment that was AHS: Coven. Still, there are good things here, particularly Fargo and Luther.

BEST MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIE

Killing Kennedy
Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight
The Normal Heart
Sherlock: His Last Vow (Masterpiece)
The Trip to Bountiful

What, no Flowers in the Attic? I'm kidding, but this year didn't have too many marquee television movies, so I'm not surprised that the category is a little sparse. With the miniseries and TV movie category split this year, there was a question of which way Sherlock would fall. Going with the series as a collection of TV movies is a wise move, but that's essentially negated by choosing the worst episode of a somewhat disappointing season. Though it's foolish to predict anything this early, I would say this is The Normal Heart's to lose.

BEST ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR TV MOVIE

Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Coven
Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor
Minnie Driver, Return to Zero
Kristen Wiig, The Spoils of Babylon
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful

It's not surprising to see Lange and Paulson here, as they've both been nominated repeatedly for their roles on American Horror Story, and once again taking the lead for Coven gave each an acting showcase. Lange, in particular, is hopefully nominated for this line reading. Nor is it surprising to see Tyson nominated, given that she's reprising her Tony-winning role from The Trip to Bountiful. However, it is a pleasant surprise to see Wiig recognized, especially since The Spoils of Babylon is IFC's parody of the kind of miniseries that dominate the Emmys.

BEST ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR TV MOVIE

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Martin Freeman, Fargo
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo
Idris Elba, Luther
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: His Last Vow (Masterpiece)


With True Detective in the drama categories (it was originally projected to compete as a miniseries), this category in particular has benefitting the most, allowing performances that may not have otherwise been nominated finding their way in. In particular, the twin nominations for Freeman and Thornton are a nice treat, though really none of these are all that surprising. Up until now, I had completely forgotten about the blink-and-you-missed-it final season of Luther, so it's good to see Elba nominated once again for that show.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR TV MOVIE

Frances Conroy, American Horror Story: Coven
Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Coven
Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Coven
Allison Tolman, Fargo
Ellen Burstyn, Flowers in the Attic
Julia Roberts, The Normal Heart

Naturally, AHS: Coven dominated this category as well, having stacked an impressive cast for its third season (even if many of them weren't given much to do). But it's great to see Tolman, a relative newcomer, score a nomination for her role in Fargo (which was essentially the Marge Gunderson of the miniseries). And, of course, Burstyn ensures that Lifetime's batty Flowers in the Attic has a major Emmy nomination.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR TV MOVIE

Colin Hanks, Fargo
Jim Parsons, The Normal Heart
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Alfred Molina, The Normal Heart
Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart
Martin Freeman, Sherlock: His Last Vow (Masterpiece)

Impressively, the category is dominated by The Normal Heart cast members (with the notable exception of Taylor Kitsch), and for good reason - all of them get at least one major moment to shine with a monologue or reaction. Freeman was to be expected, but it's interesting to see Hanks (son of Tom) pick up a nomination for Fargo.

BEST DIRECTOR, MINISERIES OR TV MOVIE

American Horror Story: Coven, "Bitchcraft"; directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Fargo, "The Crocodile's Dilemma"; directed by Adam Bernstein
Fargo, "Buridan's Ass"; directed by Colin Bucksey
Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight; directed by Stephen Frears
The Normal Heart; directed by Ryan Murphy
Sherlock: His Last Vow (Masterpiece); directed by Nick Hurran

It's fascinating that this year only one of these directors is best known for his theatrical film work (Frears). Generally, this category is dominated by film directors making the brief leap to television. But this year was a really good one for television by long-time television creators, so perhaps it's not all that surprising.

BEST WRITING, MINISERIES OR TV MOVIE

American Horror Story: Coven, "Bitchcraft"; written by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck
Fargo, "The Crocodile's Dilemma"; written by Noah Hawley
Luther; written by Neil Cross
The Normal Heart; written by Larry Kramer
Sherlock: His Last Vow (Masterpiece); written by Steven Moffat
Treme, "…To Miss New Orleans"; written by David Simon and Eric Overmeyer

How strange that the final, truncated season of Treme, David Simon's New Orleans-set follow-up to The Wire, finally earned the series Emmy recognition, only as a miniseries rather than a dramatic series. Apart from that, there's nothing really unexpected here, through it should be interesting to see if Kramer can continue to win awards for the play he wrote nearly 30 years ago.

A full list of nominees can be found here.

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