TIME Television

As TV Keeps Changing, the Emmys Stay a Few Steps Behind

Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany BBC America

There were some pleasant surprises in this year's nominations, but it looks like Emmy voters still have a big DVR backlog to get through.

Thursday morning’s live announcement of the Emmy nominations began with a statement about how dramatically the business of TV is changing. And it’s true–Emmy nominees can come from broadcast TV, premium cable, basic cable, streaming and public TV. I watched the announcements on Yahoo TV, which next year could be a (theoretical) contender with the sixth season of Community. In December, a live-action drama, Powers, will premiere on a video game platform, the Sony Playstation Network. It was almost quaint that the major awards nominations were announced by Mindy Kaling and Carson Daly, two broadcast TV personalities.

But have the Emmys kept up with it? The awards opened the books to some deserving new shows and performers this year–Fargo, Orange Is the New Black, Silicon Valley–but overall the inclusions and omissions in the major categories suggested that Emmy voters have a two- or three-year DVR backlog they’re still catching up on.

So the doors were open, happily, for some new faces (yay, Lizzy Caplan! alright alright alright, Matthew McConaughey!). But there are also a number of series and actors returning seemingly on the forces of momentum. House of Cards had an absolutely zooey second season, but Emmy still regards it as a top-quality drama because it has all the outward trimmings of one. Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom is up for best actor against McConaughey and the departing Bryan Cranston–and if history is a guide, he could actually win. It’s been a year of fresh comedies like Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Broad City and Review, yet Modern Family will have a permanent home in the comedy category long after it’s become Antique Family (speaking of which, Downton Abbey apparently has the same sinecure in Best Drama).

The best possible spin on the situation is that, in a strange way, it’s a side effect of how much TV has grown and how much quality TV there is to judge today. If Emmy voters were too overwhelmed to consider everything back when they gave David Hyde Pierce a permanent trophy in the 1990s, it’s that much harder now to expect them to keep completely current. So the Emmys will probably keep advancing in fits and starts, having the occasional breakthrough year for new talent, who then become the new guard of usual suspects for a few years. The more things change in TV, the more likely that one is to stay the same.

That’s the big picture. Here, in no particular order, are some of my biggest grievances, joys, and general observations:

* Orphan Black‘s Tatiana Maslany was robbed. Every one of her.

* The Americans had arguably–that is to say, I’m arguing it–the best season of TV so far this year, but except for Margo Martindale, the spies were left out in the cold. (Give Matthew Rhys Daniels’ slot and Keri Russell Michelle Dockery’s.)

* As for Masters of Sex, I’m half-happy because of Caplan’s well-deserved honor, but I had actually talked myself into believing its publicity blitz might have gotten it a best drama nod. (Sub out House of Cards or Downton, easy.) Maybe saddest, though, is Michael Sheen not being acknowledged for best actor as the achingly repressed William Masters, because apparently male performers have to bellow and blow a dramatic gasket to get Emmy’s attention.

* Of course, as usual, many of my grievances are not really surprises. One that genuinely was a surprise was The Good Wife, after its best season, since it had actually been nominated as Best Drama before.

* OK, let’s say something nice! I’m happy for Fargo, for Julianna Margulies (up for best actress despite The Good Wife‘s snub), and for even the flawed seasons of Game of Thrones and Louie. And here’s a usual suspect that actually deserved it: it would have been easy to ignore Mad Men this time out, since it aired a half-season and will get another shot next year for its finale. But it packed a lot of emotion and resonance into its seven episodes–especially the last two–and I have my fingers crossed for Christina Hendricks. (Jon Hamm? Nominated, but history shows that we could learn that he was also secretly playing Sally and Joan, and he still wouldn’t win the category.)

* I’m happy that Silicon Valley–by no means perfect but one of the season’s pleasant surprises–got a best comedy nomination. I’m perplexed, though, that Christopher Evan Welch didn’t get a posthumous nomination for the last performance of his life; if anything, I thought he’d get named and the show itself overlooked.

* In general, HBO shows again that it knows how to get Emmy nominations–not just for True Detective and Game of Thrones (which had the most of any series) but even for the final season of the underrated Treme, which snuck in with a nomination because HBO put up its shortened season in the miniseries category.

* Maybe the best-deserved Emmy nomination that Orange Is the New Black is up for is casting; the show put together a murderer’s row (so to speak) ensemble full of lesser-known actresses. It’s only too bad that TV’s best platform for actresses of color saw none of them nominated in the big categories, though Taylor Schilling and Kate Mulgrew were. (Uzo Aduba and Laverne Cox–as well as Natasha Lyonne–were nominated as “guest actresses,” because of the intricacies of the crediting and submissions process. Better than nothing.)

* But is OITNB really a comedy? I can’t say I really care. A lot of TV’s best shows are both dramatic and hilarious, and it’s just one of those things that doesn’t fit the dualistic comedy/drama model we’re stuck with. If I’d rather see Andy Daly as comedy actor than Ricky Gervais, for instance, it’s because he gave a better performance, not because Derek was maudlin.

* And I’ll stop here, though I’ve barely scratched the surface–the full Word document of Emmy nominations runs 43 pages, making it amazing that it’s even possible to snub anyone. But there is plenty more to parse–and a little over a month to do it before the unusually early Emmy ceremony in August. Maybe I’ll have finished reading the nominations list by then.

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