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Let’s Take a ‘Glass Half-Full’ Approach to This Year’s Emmy Nominations

5 minute read

I am delighted with you, Emmy nominations! I am sorely disappointed in you, Emmy nominations. How did you manage to recognize my new favorite, Emmys? How could you keep nominating this old retread, Emmys?

You could cut-and-repaste some variation of this for every summer’s Emmy nominations, and to some extent that’s exactly what we do. In the past few years, Emmy voters—notorious in the past for choices that suggest they watch no TV other than last year’s Emmys—have opened the books just enough to ensure a mix of refreshing choices, autopilot renominations, and infuriating screwjobs. There are trends in each year’s Emmys insofar as there are trends in TV at large: this year, note the continuing rise in streaming services and primetime’s improvement in diverse casting. But really, the overarching message is always, simply: there sure are a lot of awards, and yet there’s even more deserving TV.

What you take from the Emmys, then, is a reflection of your personality as much as anything. So in an attempt at self-improvement, this year I’m thinking positive. Not for me to moan about the Emmys still ignoring The Americans (which has joined The Wire‘s “It’s an honor just to not be nominated” club), or overlooking Constance Wu’s sparkling work on Fresh Off the Boat, or stiffing Timothy Olyphant his last season on Justified, or what the hell, Downton Abbey again, over Empire, seriously? (Though I’m just passive-aggressive enough to sneak those complaints in there.)

Instead, in the hope that the Emmys respond to praise, here are some of the things they got right:

* Sometimes, Emmy does the right thing in a way you’d expect it to. There was no way it could have not rewarded Mad Men in its final season, but the show deserved it–and in particular Jon Hamm, who deserves to finally take home the hardware for his essential portrayal of Don Draper. After having had so much wonderful dialogue to deliver over seven seasons (eight, depending how you count), he sold the show’s final moments with his eyes closed, the minutely shifting emotions on his face and a resonant “Om.”

* And sometimes, Emmy does the right thing when you were sure it wouldn’t. That Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt got a nomination is not just deserved but a welcome statement: that there’s a payoff for outlets like Netflix to invest in shows so idiosyncratic that the likes of NBC would cast them off.

* Three cheers too for the supporting nomination for Kimmy‘s Tituss Burgess, who not only made scenes like Titus Andromedon’s local-TV meltdown endlessly rewatchable, but played off others well in the ensemble. (That there was no nomination for Ellie Kemper’s show-making performance in the title role is—wait, I’m being positive! Jon Hamm got a second nomination as Rev. Richard Wayne Gary Wayne!)

* Also, sometimes Emmy does the right thing slightly after it should. This convoluted season of Orphan Black was a comedown, but Tatiana Maslany’s multitudinous performance was no less virtuosic, and she picked up a drama actress nomination after last year’s cries of social-media anguish. Turns out the Internet works!

* It’s worth remembering that acting nominations are just that: not a verdict on the writing or the show as a whole. I wasn’t a fan of Netflix’s Bloodline; nonetheless, Ben Mendelsohn’s prodigal Danny Rayburn was one of the best things I’ve seen on TV this year, and Kyle Chandler also opened my eyes in a role that steered him into choppy waters leagues away from Coach Taylor.

* Comedy actress is a jam-packed category, and one with a lot of veterans. (I don’t care how funny Nurse Jackie is, Edie Falco killed it in the title role.) But I’m glad it opened up a chair this year for Amy Schumer. As much attention as she’s getting for her writing and her feminism and her attitude, her versatility as a performer makes the show.

* As for supporting, HBO’s darkly funny end-of-life medical comedy Getting On gets too little attention–including, frankly, from me–which is why I’m not just happy but damn impressed that the Emmys nominated Niecy Nash, who’s been giving a rich performance as overstressed nurse Didi.

* No one will ever be entirely happy with where any awards show categorizes Orange Is the New Black–especially as shows increasingly submit themselves strategically–but it was among the best comedies and dramas on TV last season. The more-dramatic second season landed in drama, and rightfully got a nomination.

* And while we’re on the subject of I-don’t-care-how-funny-it-is: Transparent and Jeffrey Tambor won television in 2014, even if they were on Amazon Prime. Win or lose, the Pfeffermans are a more modern family than Modern Family‘s.

* Maybe Empire, like Maslany, will get its nomination the second time out, but Taraji P. Henson basically kicked TV’s door down this winter. Whether she wins or not, I’m glad that–as erratic as Empire could be–there’s some recognition for the value of risk, excitement and fun in TV drama this year.

* Likewise, as up-and-down-and-back-up as Last Man on Earth was, few performances were as essential to an episode of TV last year than Will Forte’s in its pilot.

Is it all happiness and justice in Emmyland this year? No! But life is life and the Emmys are the Emmys. This once, in the spirit of Don Draper, I’m going to try to close my eyes, chant “Om,” and be content with what is.

Just nobody get me started on The Knick not getting nominated for Best Score.

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