Call Me Emmy 2014: Series and Lead Performances

Matthew McConaughey

Presenting the second half of my mock ballot for tomorrow’s Emmy nominations. I’m looking forward to seeing the majority of my hopes crushed in favor of mediocre or unsurprising choices. But that’s the game Emmy fans play. Check out the first part of my ballot for my thoughts on the supporting categories.

Without further ado, the nominations are…

Ozymandias

Outstanding Drama Series
Breaking Bad
True Detective
Mad Men
The Americans
Hannibal
Sleepy Hollow

The most surprising choice on this list might be Sleepy Hollow over classier contenders like Parenthood or Orphan Black, but I stand by my choice. NBC’s family drama had a bumpy season, with some storylines that worked spectacularly (Hank coming to terms with his social limitations, Max dealing with school bullies) and others that worked in fits and starts but often felt unnecessarily stretched to fit the 23-episode order (Joel and Julia’s marital troubles, Zeek and Camille’s real-estate contemplations). Orphan Black, meanwhile, coasted on the charm and skill of Tatiana Maslany without fully delivering on the fantastical kick of the first season. Meanwhile, Sleepy Hollow came out of nowhere with a ludicrous premise and questionable long-term viability, but it proved to be a marvelously engaging blend of fantasy mysticism and emotional suspense, anchored by two fantastic performances from Nicole Beharie and Tom Mison.

My other five choices are far more conventional: Breaking Bad ended its run in a magnificent blaze of intense glory, Mad Men ramped up for its 2015 curtain call with some of its most poignant episodes yet, and Hannibal improved upon its excellent first season with a darker, weirder, scarier set of artful, abstract episodes.

The wild card here is HBO’s True Detective. I found the show remarkable for its first five episodes, and slightly less so for its final three. I was partially convinced by the arguments that the show sacrificed the complexity of its supporting characters for a relentless focus on its two superstar leads, and I was even more convinced by the argument that the show was ultimately more proficient than profound. Nonetheless, McConaughey and Harrelson’s magnetic performances speak for themselves, and the bravura filmmaking on display made this series consistently immersive. It deserves a place on my list, even if it’s not the second coming of The Sopranos or the dawn of a new golden age of television.

Orange is the New Black

Outstanding Comedy Series
Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Enlisted
Louie
Looking
Orange is the New Black
Review with Forrest MacNeil

It seems strange to include Orange is the New Black and Louie on this list, as they’re two of the least traditionally funny comedies on television. But they’re also two of the best shows, with unique approaches to exploring characters and themes, and distinctive visual styles that complement their narrative goals beautifully. That these two shows, which differ in length, production values and even the platform on which they’re viewed, can be considered in the same category is a testament both to the silly Emmy rules and to the remarkably diverse era of television in which we live.

I could say the same for HBO’s Looking, which rarely made me laugh out loud but nonetheless gripped me with its unfussy depiction of homosexual love in modern San Francisco. The fifth episode in particular took a fairly common structural departure that paid off in spades. Almost nobody watched this show, and it’s not perfect by any means, but it’s the kind of show that could really take off in its second season.

It will take a major miracle to get any nomination love for Review with Forrest McNeil, but I’d argue that this show delivered bigger laughs and deeper pains than any half-hour on TV this season. Moreover, the show accomplished quite a bit with an unusual structure and a willingness to take its enticing premise to its illogical extremes.

I filled out the remaining two slots with two freshman network sitcoms that quickly fulfilled their potential with deep ensembles, witty storylines and emotional depth. Sadly, only one of these three – Brooklyn Nine-Nine – will return for a second season. But don’t let that keep you from seeking out Enlisted if you haven’t already. (Similarly, ABC’s charming Trophy Wife just missed my list, but it’s worth a look despite its cancellation.)

Also considered: Community, Parks and Recreation, Raising Hope,
Silicon Valley, Suburgatory

Andy Daly

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Louis C.K., Louie
Andy Daly, Review with Forrest MacNeil
Jonathan Groff, Looking
Jake Johnson, New Girl
Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation

Daly, Groff and Samberg would all be first-time nominees – only Samberg has a legitimate shot, but all three are worthy. C.K. continues to do excellent work playing a version of himself on his provocative stream-of-consciousness series Louie, and Jake Johnson emerged from this flawed New Girl season largely unscathed. My final slot goes to the perpetually underappreciated Adam Scott, who got to go wacky with the Cones of Dunshire and the drunken escapades this season, as opposed to a valuable but subtle member of the show’s comedy arsenal. He’ll never get nominated, but he ought to.

Also Considered: Matthew Baynton,“The Wrong Mans; James Corden, The Wrong Mans; Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley

Bryan Cranston

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Hugh Dancy, Hannibal
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Woody Harrelson, True Detective
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Matthew Rhys, The Americans

Also Considered: Demian Bichir, The Bridge, Tom Mison, Sleepy Hollow, Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal

It pained me to remove Mads Mikkelsen from this list, since I think his performance on Hannibal is utterly riveting and wholly original, an impressive achievement considering the shoes he’s filling. But the six actors on my dream ballot are essentially unimpeachable. Much of the runaway success of the first season of True Detective is owed to the fantastic two-man team at its center, and Harrelson and McConaughey delivered substance beyond their inherent star power in the instantly indelible characters of Marty Hart and Rust Cohle. Bryan Cranston took a monumental performance to new heights in the final episodes of Breaking Bad. Matthew Rhys demonstrated that TV’s leading men don’t need to be dark, brooding antiheroes in the traditional sense in order to be compelling. And Jon Hamm…well, is the eternally worthy nominee who has never won and probably won’t win this year either.

Taylor Schilling

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Malin Akerman, Trophy Wife
Zooey Deschanel, New Girl
Jane Levy, Suburgatory
Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black

My difficulties filling the two Lead Actress categories come from two places. One, I unfortunately haven’t done a good enough job of balancing my TV diet with shows led by strong women, and some of the most buzzed-about potential nominees (Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Lena Dunham, Emmy Rossum) because I haven’t seen their shows. Nonetheless, I’m satisfied with this group of six, featuring five stars of network comedies that flailed in the ratings to varying degrees, and one not-really-a-comedy that took the TV world by storm when it dropped on Netflix unexpectedly last summer. Schilling is my pick to win this category, even though some of the biggest strengths of her performance are dramatic. But the rest have merit as well.

Elisabeth Moss

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Nicole Beharie, Sleepy Hollow
Diane Kruger, The Bridge
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Keri Russell, The Americans

I had even more trouble with this Lead Actress category, so much so that I couldn’t even fill the six open slots. I’m sure I would have been happy to put Kerry Washington, Julianna Margulies or Robin Wright on this list, but I haven’t seen their shows. Nonetheless, I’d be thrilled to see any of these five women get nominated for complex, multifaceted performances on shows that treat women as characters with flaws and multiple dimensions. Maslany’s remarkable balancing act on Orphan Black was tempered somewhat by inconsistent plotting this season, and Kruger’s performance on The Bridge was too polarizing for people to realize that it was actually quite meticulous and effective. Russell and Moss are harder to dispute, and Beharie accomplished the daunting task of anchoring a ridiculous network show with a comfortalbe, engaging presence who had palpable chemistry with co-star Tom Mison. I’d be happy to see any of these women on the nominations list come Thursday, though I worry that few of them will make the cut.

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