Breaking down the Emmy nominations

Even though the ceremony is two months away, the Emmy nominations present an opportunity to look back at television’s last season. Here is a breakdown of the top-line awards, minus a few categories I’m woefully ignorant about. Also, I’ll leave off writing and directing awards and use the series awards as a proxy.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
  • Dexter (Showtime)
  • Friday Night Lights (The 101 Network/NBC)
  • Game of Thrones (HBO)
  • The Good Wife (CBS)
  • Mad Men (AMC)

While Sons of Anarchy‘s Kurt Sutter ranted on Twitter about his show’s lack of nominations, the real missing piece is his network neighbor Justified, which went from guilty pleasure to required viewing in its second season. Otherwise, these are all deserving shows, with the exception of Dexter, which seems to be skating by on reputation after a disappointing season. The Good Wife and Friday Night Lights have the right balance of critical and fan appeal, but neither CBS’ slowburner or The Little Show That Could are serious contenders.

HBO spent big on Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones; as for capturing the public’s imagination like The Sopranos or The Wire, the latter outpaced the former. Game of Thrones was consistently compelling, the perfect blend of low-brow and high-brow. However, it would be an upset if Mad Men didn’t take home a fourth consecutive trophy.

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • 30 Rock (NBC)
  • The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  • Glee (Fox)
  • Modern Family (ABC)
  • The Office (NBC)
  • Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Two comedies that challenge the sitcom-as-disposable entertainment formula didn’t make the cut, nearly rendering this category meaningless. Louis CK’s Louie is certainly too surreal (in the strictest sense, not how 30 Rock‘s cartoonish universe is surreal) for the Emmys. And while three quarters of NBC’s Thursday comedy bloc is nominated, the best show is left out. Community‘s second season was a groundbreaking meta examination of the medium; Dan Harmon is starting to look like the next Mitch Hurwitz.

Glee‘s inclusion here is surprising, since it’s more of a dramedy and the second season was a step back. Big Bang Theory will have to settle with being TV’s highest rated comedy. Parks and Recreation has clearly surpassed The Office and 30 Rock, and it has the best chance of preventing Modern Family from receiving the award – something I doubt it will do. Modern Family continues to leverage its hilarious ensemble cast, with enough heart to make up for a few unbalanced episodes.

Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series

  • The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
  • Conan (TBS)
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
  • Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (NBC)
  • Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)
  • Saturday Night Live (NBC)

SNL in 2011? Really? The Daily Show has won every time since 2003, and if The Colbert Report hasn’t done it by now, I can’t imagine it will this year.

Outstanding Animated Program

  • The Cleveland Show – “Murray Christmas” (Fox)
  • Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III (Cartoon Network)
  • Futurama – “The Late Philip J. Fry” (Comedy Central)
  • The Simpsons – “Angry Dad: The Movie” (Fox)
  • South Park – “Crack Baby Athletic Association” (Comedy Central)

Archer is arguably the funniest comedy, animated or otherwise, on television, and its absence is inexcusable. To a lesser degree, American Dad earned a spot as well. This is a snub that won’t make headlines but should. Anyway, South Park and The Simpsons usually trade off this award; I bet The Simpsons wins for an episode about awards ceremonies (seriously).

Outstanding Lead Actor, Drama

  • Steve Buscemi as Enoch “Nucky” Thompson on Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
  • Kyle Chandler as Eric Taylor on Friday Night Lights (The 101 Network/NBC)
  • Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan on Dexter (Showtime)
  • Jon Hamm as Don Draper on Mad Men (AMC)
  • Hugh Laurie as Gregory House on House
  • Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens on Justified (FX)

Here are six men that are extremely happy about Breaking Bad‘s hiatus, which forced the show out of consideration and gives someone else a chance at Bryan Cranston’s award. The easy pick is Jon Hamm, for a season that saw him push Don Draper farther than ever before. It’s a category full of very qualified actors, but this is Hamm’s year.

Outstanding Lead Actress, Drama

  • Kathy Bates as Harriet “Harry” Korn on Harry’s Law (NBC)
  • Connie Britton as Tami Taylor on Friday Night Lights (The 101 Network/NBC)
  • Mireille Enos as Sarah Linden on The Killing (AMC)
  • Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC)
  • Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife (CBS)
  • Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson on Mad Men for the episode “The Suitcase” (AMC)

Did you know that Mariska Hargitay has only won this award once? I always assumed it was more than that. Other than fun facts, I have nothing to offer here; of these, I only watch Mad Men, embarrassingly enough. Something tells me Julianna Margulies will finally win as the titular Good Wife.

Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy

  • Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock (NBC)
  • Steve Carell as Michael Scott on The Office (NBC)
  • Louis C.K. as Louie on Louie (FX)
  • Johnny Galecki as Leonard Hofstadter on The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
  • Matt LeBlanc as himself on Episodes (Showtime)
  • Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

If the Emmys don’t have the balls to nominate Louis CK’s show, will they actually hand him the statuette? Why isn’t there a “comedy auteur” category for this situation? I could see Carell finally winning, to cap his final year on The Office. Anything but a Big Bang cast member would suffice.

Outstanding Lead Actress, Comedy

  • Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton on Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
  • Tina Fey as Liz Lemon on 30 Rock (NBC)
  • Laura Linney as Catherine “Cathy” Jamison on The Big C (Showtime)
  • Melissa McCarthy as Molly Flynn on Mike & Molly (CBS)
  • Martha Plimpton as Virginia Chance on Raising Hope (Fox)
  • Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation (NBC)

Automatically categorizing “dramedy” as “comedy” leads to a game of apple and oranges. Edie Falco and Laura Linney are doing something different than Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (with Melissa McCarthy and Martha Plimpton in another box entirely). The meteoric rise of Parks and Rec is all about Leslie Knope; “should” and “will” might converge in this category.

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Drama

  • Andre Braugher as Owen Thoreau Jr. on Men of a Certain Age
  • Josh Charles as Will Gardner on The Good Wife
  • Alan Cumming as Eli Golding on The Good Wife
  • Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones
  • Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder on Justified
  • John Slattery as Roger Sterling on Mad Men

Two strong performances highlight another lesson about the Emmys. Peter Dinklage and Walton Goggins are both captivating, stealing scenes all season long on Game of Thrones and Justified, respectively. But this category tends to be won by “big” performances, and Goggins’ might be too subtle for the nod: Tyrion Lannister is anything but subtle and could walk away with this one.

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Drama

  • Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart on The Good Wife
  • Michelle Forbes as Mitch Larsen on The Killing
  • Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris on Mad Men
  • Kelly MacDonald as Margaret Schroeder on Boardwalk Empire
  • Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett on Justified
  • Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma on The Good Wife

Like the lead actress category, I’m not sure about this one. Margo Martindale easily outpaced the eye candy on Justified, but she’d be a dark horse to win. Joan Harris didn’t loom as large in the last season of Mad Men, so my money is on Archie Panjabi repeating last year’s win.

Outstanding Supporting Actor, Comedy

  • Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy on Modern Family
  • Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel on Glee
  • Jon Cryer as Alan Harper on Two and a Half Men
  • Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell Pritchett on Modern Family
  • Ed O’Neill as Jay Pritchett on Modern Family
  • Eric Stonestreet as Cameron Tucker on Modern Family

Modern Family is a fantastic show, but dominating this category like this is a waste. Where are Neil Patrick Harris or Jason Segel, or more importantly, where is Parks and Rec‘s Nick Offerman? As Amy Poehler put it, “it’s a hot load of bullshit” that Offerman wasn’t nominated for his performance as meme-machine Ron Swanson. The Emmys needs to create an ensemble category and prevent this from happening again.

Outstanding Supporting Actress, Comedy

  • Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy on Modern Family
  • Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney on 30 Rock
  • Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester on Glee
  • Sofia Vergara as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on Modern Family
  • Betty White as Elka Ostrovsky on Hot in Cleveland
  • Kristen Wiig as various characters on Saturday Night Live

Random thoughts: Sofia Vergara may get more eyeballs, but Julie Bowen’s Claire is more essential to Modern Family‘s success. Someone playing various characters hasn’t won in over fifty years, but Kristen Wiig could capitalize on the Bridesmaids buzz for an upset. Also, how does Jane Krakowski keep getting nominated? And does anyone watch Hot in Cleveland?

These questions and many more will be answered on September 18. The 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards will air on FOX; the hilarious and talented Jane Lynch will host.

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