Emmy Nominations 2015: A List with Good and Bad Qualities

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Generated by IJG JPEG Library

It’s impossible to have a unified “take” (hot or otherwise) on the Emmy nominations. Anyone who says differently is lying or deluded. This year’s nominations are not only good or only bad, only surprising or only disappointing. Some of the biggest “disappointments” can be read as disappointments only if you expected the Academy would radically alter its modus operandi this year. Some of the biggest pleasant surprises are probably more accidental than intentional. As with every year, the Emmy nominations are a list to be plundered, commented upon, regarded from a safe distance and with a reasonable proportion of salt grains.

With that perspective in mind, here’s a list of my thoughts on the Emmy nominations, in no particular order and with varying degrees of sophistication and seriousness. (And here’s my list from yesterday of wish-list nominees. A few made it to the actual list!)


1. Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Honourable Woman is righteous. I haven’t seen the five other nominees in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries category, but I’m pulling for her unfairly anyway.


2. Just when you think the Emmys have no interest in nominating new people: three new Best Actor in a Comedy contenders (Anthony Anderson, Will Forte and Jeffrey Tambor); three new Best Actress in a Comedy contenders (Lily Tomlin, Amy Schumer and Lisa Kudrow); and three new Best Actress in a Drama contenders (Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis, Tatiana Maslany). (The Best Actor in a Drama field also has three new contenders, but that’s by design – Bryan Cranston, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson all dropped out of contention this year.) That’s a lot of turnover.


3. Related to that: no one’s talking about the fact that only two of the six Modern Family supporting actors were nominated. Both of them – Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen – have won already. For the sake of everyone else, nominated or spectating, I hope they don’t repeat.


4. The Outstanding Drama Series category makes me roll my eyes. House of CardsDownton Abbey and Homeland are all ridiculous choices for different reasons, especially with The AmericansMasters of SexJustifiedRectify and Empire waiting in the wings. (Some of those are much further into the wings than others.)

5. The Outstanding Comedy Series category, on the other hand, is delightful. It’s much easier to swallow the Emmys’ blind adoration of Modern Family when it’s recognized alongside the varied delights of LouieParks and Recreation, Silicon ValleyVeepTransparent and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

(Note: I haven’t watched Modern Family in at least two years. Whenever I rail against it in these Emmys discussions, I do so with the understanding that I’m an outside observer. But it’s hard for me to imagine that the show has suddenly become radically different, and therefore worthy of renewed acclaim, with each passing season, especially at the expense of newer and more daring shows.)


6. I didn’t expect Gaby Hoffmann to get nominated for her excellent work in Transparent, but I certainly won’t say no, even if it means that the glories of Judith Light went unrecognized this year. Hoffmann was also nominated for guest-starring on Girls. Playing the kid in Sleepless in Seattle gets you places!

7. Another note on that category: quite a lot of ties! It’s rare to see seven nominees in a field designed to be six deep, but eight nominees is almost unheard of.


8. Checking in on Saturday Night Live: lots of love for the anniversary special, including a truly spectacular list of credited writers. Louis C.K. and Bill Hader are this year’s beneficiaries of the rule that allows hosts to be nominated for Guest Actor in a Comedy. And Kate McKinnon gets her second consecutive richly deserved nod. Next year at this time, she’ll be doing press for her impending leap to big-screen stardom in the Ghostbusters reboot.


9. Speaking of Guest Actor in a Comedy, what a wonderfully odd cross-section of contenders. C.K. and Hader are up against Bradley Whitford’s wonderfully subtle turn as Maura’s cross-dressing friend Mark/Marcy on Transparent; Mel Brooks playing himself on FX’s The Comedians; Paul Giamatti for starring in Amy Schumer’s 12 Angry Men reboot; and Jon Hamm’s triumphant turn as Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (that name alone!) on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I’m not the first to point out the possible irony of Hamm winning for this but losing one last time for Don Draper. But that’s irony at its finest and harshest.


10. A random omission that disapponts me: Hugh Laurie for Veep. Though it’s possible he may be a victim of the rule that requires guest actors be in less than half of a show’s season. On the bright side, Anna Chlumsky and Tony Hale, both previous winners for these roles, are in the running once again. If only Timothy Simons, Kevin Dunn, Diedrich Bader, Gary Cole or Sam Richardson had joined them.

11. Veep‘s Armando Iannucci got proper attention for the marvelous feat of its format-busting episode “Testimony.” The nomination is also a nice parting gift for Iannucci, who is moving on from showrunner duties after four seasons. A win for Outstanding Comedy Series would be an even better parting gift, of course. But it’s unwise to bet against Modern Family.

12. It’s also unwise to point out a racially diverse group of nominees and then add “Problem solved!” So I’ll do the former, not the latter. This year’s nomination pool is far more diverse than last year’s, reflecting a stated commitment to increased diversity from several of the broadcast networks this year. Last year, only four nonwhite actors appeared in the Lead and Supporting categories for Drama and Comedy. This year, that number rose to ten. More stats like that, please. And better ones too!


13. Wonderful shows without a single nomination from the Academy: TogethernessBroad CityRectify. Wonderful shows with only one nomination: Jane the Virgin. Wonderful shows with only two nominations: The Americans. And one of those nominations is for Margo Martindale, who appeared in one episode this season and did nothing notable enough to merit recognition. Was it too much to ask for any of Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Noah Emmerich, Annet Mahendru, Lois Smith or Frank Langella to get a nod? Yes, it was. Silver lining: “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” got a writing nod, which means there’s an Emmy-nominated episode of television entitled “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” And that’s priceless.

Last mNa

14. The category for Comedy Series directing might have my favorite list of contenders. For one thing, the list includes Han Solo spinoff directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller for their excellent work on the pilot of Last Man on Earth. As mentioned above, Iannucci was recognized for Veep. Jill Soloway is nominated for directing my favorite episode of Transparent, the hallucinatory, flashback-heavy “Best New Girl.” Mike Judge absolutely deserves recognition for his work on Silicon Valley, even though I’m partial to Alec Berg’s work on “Two Days of the Condor,” the breathtaking season finale. And reliable nominee Louis C.K. rounds out the category with “Sleepover,” which aired on my birthday.

16. Drama series directing is not nearly as interesting for me, because I haven’t seen any of the nominated episodes. It is nice to see retired filmmaker Steven Soderbergh recognized for his television-making on The Knick. But I’m baffled by the omission of Mad Men here. It would have been nice to see previous acting nominee Jared Harris recognized for directing the superb “Time & Life.”

17. I’ll defer to Amy Poehler for a reaction to two nominations for the excellent final season of Parks and Recreation.

18. It would have been nice to see lots of things that aren’t on this list. But an Emmy list that reflects my tastes wouldn’t necessarily reflect yours. It’s not the Emmys’ job to tell you how to think, and it’s not your job to agree with everything it tells you. These lists are fun to talk about, and they often bring greater recognition to shows both on and off the list, but the conversation should start, not stop, with the Emmy nominations. Like what you like, and if the Emmys agree, great. If not, agree to disagree, and move on.

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