Adjusting to a World Where the Emmys Get Almost Everything Right

Slate's Culture Blog
July 18 2013 11:56 AM

These Days, the Emmy Nominations Get Almost Everything Right

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Aaron Paul, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum and Neil Patrick Harris announce the nominees for the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards

Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Once upon a time, not that long ago, the Emmy awards were consistently infuriating, with a bias toward network TV shows and a refusal to acknowledge the existence of a series as good as The Wire. But those crazy-making, wildly unhip days are gone: The Emmys, which announced nominations this morning (listed below), no longer have terrible taste. Instead of blood-boiling snubs and head-scratching selections, there are lots of reasonable determinations—out go John Cryer and Boardwalk Empire; in come Jason Bateman and House of Cards—and polite differences of opinion. If I had to pick a stubborn blonde for the Best Supporting Actress in a Drama category, I would have gone with Hayden “I can really sing” Panettiere in Nashville instead of Emilia “dead eyes” Clarke in Game of Thrones, but I’m not feeling murderous about it. The new, totally reasonable Emmys are a side effect of television’s ever-growing bounty: With so many good options, it is harder for anyone—even a once-reflexively conservative voting body—to make flat-out wrong choices. As TV gets better, so does its award show.

Willa Paskin Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.

The Emmys may not have the taste of a deep TV nerd-aesthete—Tatiana Maslany of BBC America’s Orphan Black really was robbed—but this is a body that gave a Best Comedy nomination to FX’s Louie, recognized Adam Driver’s work in Girls, and gave zilch to TV’s biggest series The Walking Dead, whose grotesque zombies were not even nominated in the effects category. Not everything makes sense in Emmyland: The voters snubbed Mad Men in the writing and directing categories, overlooked New Girl’'s Schmidt one year after anointing him, inexplicably nominated Scott Bakula instead of Rob Lowe and his stunning plastic surgery face for Behind the Candelabra, recognized Homeland’s lackluster Morena Baccarin over Parenthood’s tear-jerking Monica Potter, and has not broken up with Downton Abbey despite that series’ thing for haphazardly killing off nice characters it can not keep under contract. But the Emmys’ choices are those of a recognizably dedicated and serious TV watcher: someone who really loves Veep, despised the Kalinda husband plot on The Good Wife, appreciates Top of the Lake and Mandy Patinkin and Louie C.K., adores Connie Britton in perpetuity, knows Scandal is buzzy, and has yet to get around to watching Parenthood or The Americans (but probably intends to). The Emmys are a person you could talk TV with at a dinner party.

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Going into the nominations, one of the major questions was how successful Netflix would be. Kate Mara, House of Cards’ very own amoral Slugline employee, was supposed to announce the nominees with Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, but portentously couldn’t make it because her plane got stuck in New Mexico. Netflix ended up doing well—“better than any broadband network ever,” as the press release nonsensically put it; there has never been another one—but not as well as it might have hoped. Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright Penn, David Fincher, and House of Cards were nominated, but other than Jason Bateman, Arrested Development did not get much love. (The one Netflix actor who most deserved a nomination, House of Cards’ Corey Stoll, who played the tragic Congressman Peter Russo, was overlooked, but that’s because the Best Supporting Actor in a Drama category is more stacked than a Jenga game fresh out the box.) If Netflix didn’t destroy the competition, it probably single-handedly kept FX’s new and superior The Americans from getting any nominations—except for Margo Martindale in a Best Guest Actress slot—and did better in the Best Drama category than all of the major networks TV combined. ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox got shut out.

TV’s so good these days that previously irrelevant categories now overflow with people you’ve heard of in parts you might even remember. The guest actor categories are brimming with great performances: Martindale, The Good Wife’s Nathan Lane and Carrie Preston (who plays TV’s best space cadet, Elsbeth Tascioni), and maybe my two favorite nominations of the whole awards, Melissa Leo for not-quite raping Louie and Scandal’s Dan Bucatinsky. Meanwhile, the miniseries and movie category, which just three years ago looked like it should be retired—2009 and 2010 both saw just two nominees—is now beyond robust, including Sundance’s Top of the Lake, FX’s American Horror Story, and HBO’s Behind the Candelabra. Emmy still has a hard-on for movie stars, and it’s in the miniseries acting categories that it pleasures itself: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, Helen Mirren, Jessica Lange, and Sigourney Weaver are all nominated here. But if the Emmys do as solid a job picking winners as they did nominees, Elisabeth Moss will win for Top of the Lake, all these sparkly movie stars will add glamour to the big night, and the Emmys will continue transforming itself into an awards show that can’t just be scoffed at.

Emmy nominations in major categories

OUTSTANDING DRAMA
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
Homeland
House of Cards
Mad Men

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Connie Britton, Nashville
Claire Danes, Homeland
Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey
Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Kerry Washington, Scandal
Robin Wright, House of Cards

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Damien Lewis, Homeland
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Bobby Cannavale, Boardwalk Empire
Jonathan Banks, Breaking Bad
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Jim Carter, Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Morena Baccarin, Homeland
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA
Margo Martindale, The Americans
Diana Rigg, Game of Thrones
Carrie Preston, The Good Wife
Linda Cardellini, Mad Men
Jane Fonda, The Newsroom
Joan Cusack, Shameless

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA
Nathan Lane, The Good Wife
Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife
Rupert Friend, Homeland
Robert Morse, Mad Men
Harry Hamlin, Mad Men
Dan Bucatinsky, Scandal

OUTSTANDING COMEDY
30 Rock
The Big Bang Theory
Girls
Louie
Modern Family
Veep

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Laura Dern, Enlightened
Lena Dunham, Girls
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Louis CK, Louie
Don Cheadle, House of Lies
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Jane Lynch, Glee
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
Anna Chlumski, Veep

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Adam Driver, Girls
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Ed O’Neill, Modern Family
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live
Tony Hale, Veep

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY
Molly Shannon, Enlightened
Dot-Marie Jones, Glee
Melissa Leo, Louie
Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Elaine Stritch, 30 Rock

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY
Bob Newhart, The Big Bang Theory
Nathan Lane, Modern Family
Bobby Cannavale, Nurse Jackie
Louis C.K., Saturday Night Live
Justin Timberlake, Saturday Night Live
Will Forte, 30 Rock

OUTSTANDING MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Behind the Candelabra
American Horror Story: Asylum
The Bible
Phil Spector
Political Animals
Top of the Lake

OUTSTANDING ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Asylum
Laura Linney, The Big C: Hereafter
Helen Mirren, Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake
Sigourney Weaver, Political Animals

OUTSTANDING ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra
Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra
Toby Jones, The Girl
Benedict Cumberbatch, Parade’s End
Al Pacino, Phil Spector

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Asylum
Imelda Staunton, The Girl
Ellen Burstyn, Political Animals
Charlotte Rampling, Restless
Alfre Woodard, Steel Magnolias

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
James Cromwell, American Horror Story: Asylum
Zachary Quinto, American Horror Story: Asylum
Scott Bakula, Behind the Candelabra
John Benjamin Hickey, The Big C: Hereafter
Peter Mullan, Top Of The Lake

OUTSTANDING REALITY SHOW COMPETITION
The Amazing Race
Dancing With the Stars
Project Runway
So You Think You Can Dance
Top Chef
The Voice

OUTSTANDING REALITY SHOW HOST
Ryan Seacrest, American Idol
Betty White, Betty White’s Off Their Rockers
Tom Bergeron, Dancing With the Stars
Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, Project Runway
Cat Deeley, So You Think You Can Dance
Anthony Bourdain, The Taste

OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PROGRAM
Bob's Burgers
Kung Fu Panda: Legends Of Awesomeness
Regular Show
The Simpsons
South Park

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