The Coin-Toss Emmys

Slate's Culture Blog
July 8 2010 3:35 PM

The Coin-Toss Emmys

We all know that the only awards show people care about is the Oscars, so kvetching about Emmy nominations is like moaning about the seeding at the Bank of the West Classic or the casting of Seattle Opera's production of Tristan und Isolde : strictly a niche affair. Still, this morning's announcement of the 2010 nominations is worth a moment's attention.

For years, people have confused the Emmy nominators with a stuck clock—they maintained their affection for shows like Monk and Entourage or, before that, Boston Legal and Everybody Loves Raymond , long after the spark of creativity had burned out. This time around, hits like Glee and Modern Family scored a shopping cart full of noms in their first seasons—almost guaranteeing that 2010 won't be the year the networks are completely shut out of the major categories—and shows with a relatively small but rabidly enthusiastic following, such as Breaking Bad and Burn Notice , got their due.

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For me, there are two categories that show off the nominators' smarts. How on earth will the voters decide among the supporting actress in a drama series nominees? I suppose Sharon Gless is the equivalent of Judi Dench's Oscar nomination (and win) for Shakespeare in Love —she doesn't have a lot of screen time in Burn Notice , but she's consistently awesome as burned spy Michael Westen's chain-smoking mom. I don't watch Damages , so I can't comment on Rose Byrne's performance, but she's been nominated before, which says something—I just don't know what. Then we get to the vote-splitting "two nominees from one show" couples: From the divine Mad Men , Christina Hendricks (Joan Holloway) and Elisabeth Moss (Peggy Olson), and from the only network show in the category—CBS's The Good Wife —Christine Baranski and Archie Panjabi. Panjabi's Kalinda Sharma was my favorite new character of the season—and the show's creators obviously love her, since she is the key to solving the legal mystery in pretty much every episode—but Joanie was used sparingly and with such style last season. I couldn't possibly choose between them.

And then there's supporting actor in a comedy series . There's a pleasant surprise in the form of Glee 's Chris Colfer, who plays gay-fabulous Kurt. He does a little too much acting with his lips for my taste, but that's just a quibble. I found Barney, the How I Met Your Mother character who got Neil Patrick Harris his nom, to have been grossly misused in the most recent season. (And I think my colleague at the How I Met Your Mother Shame Index would agree.) Jon Cryer in Two and a Half Men ? Whatevs—that spot should've gone to Donald Glover,* Danny Pudi, or even Ken Jeong for their turns in Community . The other three nominees are all part of the Modern Family ensemble, which means that at least two coin tosses will be necessary. The only thing that could've made this category even more difficult to judge would've been if Ed O'Neill, who, as Willa Paskin points out , "is pretty much the show's anchor," had also gotten the spot he deserved.

One final observation: Nothing aggravates me more than seeing all those categories for "miniseries or special events." Why don't they just use the term everybody else does: "shows that nobody watches"? These categories have one purpose and one purpose only: to provide the E in a movie star's EGOT .

*Correction: This post originally misspelled Donald Glover's first name.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section.