A TV Blogger’s Lament: The Emmy Nominations

It’s been almost two weeks since the announcement of the 2014 Emmy nominations, and now that I’ve had an appropriate amount of time to heal (thanks summer vacation!), I feel ready to talk about my anger in an erudite and thoughtful manner—as opposed to the senseless rage that boiled up inside of me initially. So progress.

Here’s the thing. As we’ve discussed previously, the overwhelming amount of excellent television inundating us from all directions—including original programming streaming from sources like Hulu, Netflix, and even Yahoo (hurray Community!)—has a downfall: snubs become inevitable. There is virtually no conceivable way to shower accolades on all of the deserving series and performances out there, and I get that. However, what I don’t get is that—given the ever-deepening pool of contenders from which to draw—the Emmys decided to urinate directly into that pool like some kind of public miscreant, contaminating the waters with that most toxic of substances: laziness.

I’m not sure how or why I managed to delude myself into believing that this year’s nominations would flout the tradition of celebrating mediocrity that has become—with the occasional notable exception—the lifeblood of this awards show. But I went into this list of nominations with a heart full of hope, only for Downton Abbey to rip it, still beating, from my chest. Dammit, Downton Abbey!

Ever the pesky traditionalist, Emmy sought to highlight a predictable crop of honorees; fortunately, some actually deserving series– Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, True Detective, Fargo, Veep–wound up in the midst of the otherwise underwhelming crop. Also, apparently Emmy voters know Portlandia and The Spoils of Babylon exist! Color me surprised. But for every delightful shock, five eye-rolling choices followed. I’m no statistician, but those are craptastic odds.

Television is a rapidly changing medium, producing the most provocative and spellbinding storytelling you’ll find anywhere, and with these changes afoot, it’s high time Emmy stopped tinkling in the pool we love.  Jump in, swim around, and see what all the fuss is about.

Seriously, the water is good.

**Below, I’ve listed the nominations and will then sound off on a few things the Emmys got right as well as the heaping bucketful they did not.


2014 Emmy Nominations


Comedy Series

The Big Bang Theory


Modern Family

Orange is the New Black

Silicon Valley



Drama Series

Breaking Bad

Downton Abbey

Game of Thrones

House of Cards

Mad Men

True Detective


Lead Actress, Comedy

Lena Dunham, Girls

Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep

Melissa McCarthy, Mike and Molly

Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation

Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black


Lead Actor, Comedy

Louis C.K., Louie

Don Cheadle, House of Lies

Ricky Gervais, Derek

Matt LeBlanc, Episodes

William H. Macy, Shameless

Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory


Lead Actress, Drama

Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex

Claire Danes, Homeland

Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey

Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife

Kerry Washington, Scandal

Robin Wright, House of Cards


Lead Actor, Drama

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad

Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom

Jon Hamm, Mad Men

Woody Harrelson, True Detective

Matthew McConaughey, True Detective

Kevin Spacey, House of Cards



Supporting Actress, Drama

Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad

Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey

Joanne Froggatt, Downton Abbey

Lena Headey, Game of Thrones

Christina Hendricks, Mad Men

Christine Baranski, The Good Wife


Supporting Actor, Drama

Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones

Jon Voight, Ray Donovan

Josh Charles, The Good Wife

Mandy Patinkin, Homeland

Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad

Jim Carter, Downton Abbey


Supporting Actress, Comedy

Julie Bowen, Modern Family

Allison Janey, Mom

Kate Mulgrew, Orange is the New Black

Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live

Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory

Anna Chlumsky, Veep


Supporting Actor, Comedy

Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Adam Driver, Girls

Ty Burrell, Modern Family

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family

Fred Armisen, Portlandia

Tony Hale, Veep


Guest Actress, Drama

Dianna Rigg, Game of Thrones

Kate Mara, House of Cards

Allison Janey, Masters of Sex

Kate Burton, Scandal

Margo Martindale, The Americans

Jane Fonda, The Newsroom


Guest Actor, Drama

Paul Giamatti, Downton Abbey

Reg E. Cathey, House of Cards

Robert Morse, Mad Men

Beau Bridges, Masters of Sex

Joe Morton, Scandal

Dylan Baker, The Good Wife


Guest Actress, Comedy

Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black

Laverne Cox, Orange is the New Black

Natasha Lyonne, Orange is the New Black

Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live

Melissa McCarthy, Saturday Night Live

Joan Cusack, Shameless


Guest Actor, Comedy

Nathan Lane, Modern Family

Steve Buscemi, Portlandia

Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live

Louis C.K., Saturday Night Live

Bob Newhart, The Big Bang Theory

Gary Cole, Veep


Outstanding Miniseries

American Horror Story: Coven

Bonnie and Clyde




The White Queen


Outstanding Television Movie

Killing Kenedy

Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight

The Normal Heart

Sherlock: His Last Vow

The Trip to Bountiful


Lead Actress, Miniseries or Movie

Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor

Minnie Driver, Return to Zero

Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven

Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Coven

Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful

Kristin Wiig, The Spoils of Babylon


Lead Actor, Miniseries or Movie

Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: His Last Vow

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge

Idris Elba, Luther

Martin Freeman, Fargo

Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart

Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo


Supporting Actress, Miniseries or Movie

Frances Conroy, American Horror Story: Coven

Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Coven

Angela Bassett, American Horror Story: Coven

Allison Tolman, Fargo

Ellen Burstyn, Flowers in the Attic

Julia Roberts, The Normal Heart


Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie

Colin Hanks, Fargo

Martin Freeman, Sherlock: His Last Vow

Jim Parsons, The Normal Heart

Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart

Alfred Molina, The Normal Heart

Matt Bomer, The Normal Heart


Variety Series

The Colbert Report

The Daily Show

Jimmy Kimmel Live

Real Time with Bill Maher

Saturday Night Live

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon


Reality—Competition Program

The Amazing Race

Dancing with the Stars

Project Runway

So You Think You Can Dance

Top Chef

The Voice



The Bad

1) The House of Cards & Downton Abbey Effect

I dig both of these shows. Really, I do. But their inclusion in the Best Drama category is, simply, laughable. For the love of all that is Padmore, I recapped the fourth season of Downton on this site and will likely do so again for the fifth season this winter. But you know and I know: season 4 wasn’t very good. It just wasn’t. Using Anna’s rape plot as an excuse to descend into melodrama, this string of episodes deserves to be little more than a footnote in Downton’s otherwise excellent history, not yet another year singled out for alleged greatness. And Jim Carter? You’re a lovable guy and Mr. Carson is delight, but his plot about a doomed love from his actor past? Kill me.

And while we’re at it, can we just admit once and for all that we should like House of Cards more than we do? I mean for crying out loud did that show run in circles for the bulk of its second season. Raymond Tusk this, Raymond Tusk that, whoops fell into a threeway. Sure, the last shot of the season felt iconic and earned, but man was the journey a slog. Whichever way you slice it, this doesn’t belong within one hundred yards of the Best Drama Category, but good for Reg E. Cathey’s guest nod as Freddy—well-deserved.

Both of these shows are pure Emmy bait, and consider that bait taken and consumed. But two of the best dramas on television? Not a chance.


2) Homeland’s quality implosion

The third season of Homeland was a wretched, sloppy, manipulative, and nonsensical twelve episodes, so I’m glad it didn’t get its third consecutive best drama nod.  A display of common sense on the part of the Emmys. Go figure. Claire Danes did what she could, but Carrie Matheson has devolved into a parody of herself–seriously, we get it: Carrie goes off her meds, her eyes get wide, she stammers, no one believes her, she says, “Dammit Saul” and the whole gravy train keeps a-rolling.  Pass.

I love you, Mandy Patinkin.  I do.  I endured the first season of Criminal Minds for you, and if that doesn’t prove the depth of my devotion, then what would?  But, let’s face it: you’ve been better.  Look, I don’t blame you because the writing this season was–as previously intimated–horrendous.  Still, you didn’t deserve an Emmy nod, and that’s just a fact.


3) (Too Often) Name Recognition Trumps Deserving Talent

Don Cheadle.  Matt LeBlanc.  Melissa McCarthy.   Jon Voight.  Allison Janey.   Jeff Daniels.  Lena Dunham.  What do they all have in common?  The very mention of their names gets Emmy voters all hot and bothered, some for inexplicable reasons (ahem, Mr. Voight).  Melissa McCarthy is a hilarious woman, but does she need to be nominated for Mike and Molly?  You’re telling me the depth and breadth of her performance on a show built around fat jokes trumps Emmy Rossum’s dynamite turn on Shameless?  Or that Don Cheadle, usually spectacular but sleep-walking through the travesty that is House of Lies, delivered a more nuanced, multi-faceted performance than Chris Messina in The Mindy Project?  And don’t even get me started on Jon Voight wrestling Dean Norris’s Breaking Bad nod away from him just because the man, once upon a time, delivered the world’s best performance in Anaconda (I’m guessing that’s the rationale).  Allison Janey, you more than earned a nod for your fantastic work in Masters of Sex as a neglected wife learning the truth of her husband’s closeted sexuality, but did you need to double up for your work in bottom-of-the-barrel Moms?  Because I’ll tell you, no one made me laugh harder than Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s  Chelsea Peretti on this list, but no one knows who she is, so bye-bye hope and hello mundanity.  The one that hurts the most to admit is Jeff Daniels, whom I really love; the fact that he won last year for Newsroom for playing a thinly drawn character baffles.  That he found himself nominated again positively infuriates.

Thomas Middleditch.  Christopher Evan Welch.  Jeremy Allen White.  TATIANA FRIGGING MASLANY.  Annet Mahendru.  Melissa McBride.  Chris O’Dowd.  What do they have in common?  In addition to those slighted above, they form an ever-expanding roster of those snubbed due to Emmy’s borderline fetishistic obsession with tradition for one simple reason: none of them are household names.  A shame.  With Emmy’s help, they could’ve been.


4) The Americans shut out (almost)

Nope.  No, no, no, no, no, no.  How?  How?  How?  How?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Good for Margo Martindale scooping up the solitary nod for her role as devious handler Claudia, but again, it’s a safe way to reward a show on the cusp of popularity by offering a token nomination to a previous winner.  Boo.


5) The Good Wife shut out of Best Drama

This, to me, makes no sense.  Network drama’s finest twenty-two episodes of the television season gets pushed aside by a British soap that’s been so much better and an easy political drama that hasn’t figured out how to use Netflix to its narrative advantage?  While both Downton Abbey and House of Cards coasted in their respective seasons, The Good Wife brought in a demolition team to reimagine and reinvigorate a show that needed neither reimagining nor reinvigorating.  If the Emmys had credibility to begin with, then this might have hurt the award show’s reputation.  But let’s just call it another example of #EmmyIgnorance.  Get that trending!


6) The death of comedy, aka The Big Bang Theory

I know you like The Big Bang Theory and think I’m a communist or something, but–comedy being subjective–I find it eye-rollingly lazy, pandering, and fundamentally unfunny.  I don’t believe it belongs anywhere near the Best Comedy category, but others do.  I disagree, but fine.

But let’s chat about Jim Parsons, who seems like a nice guy and is not devoid of talent.  Apparently there was this television movie called The Normal Heart that had a deal of good acting in, and Parsons deserves recognition for his performance there.  Couldn’t we have left it at that?  Please?


7) Parks and Recreation doesn’t get the love it deserves.

I think Li’l Sebastian would be mighty disappointed by this turn of events, and as every Pawneeian knows (other than Ben Wyatt, of course), you never want to disappoint Li’l Sebastian.  Shame on you, Emmys!  You made the hologram of Li’l Sebastian cry.  Feel good about yourself?  Unbelievable…


The Good

Still, like an emotionally abusive partner, the Emmys know to give us just enough love and attention to keep us scrambling back year after year despite the dysfunctional dynamic that’s developed between the two of us.  For example:

1) Portlandia

Holy crap, I didn’t know those doling out Emmy nominations even knew IFC existed, let alone actually watched the wonderful parade of bizarreness that is Portlandia.  Armisen does incredible work bringing his characters to life, none quite as brilliantly as his overzealous feminist/book shop owner/Lady Moon worshipper, in a comic tradition very much borne of Monty Python–on acid.  Throw in an original song nomination and a nod for Steve Buscemi’s guest work and you have a weirdly hip string of nominations for the Emmy’s.  Nice!


2) The ladies of Orange is the New Black

Just when I go on a rant of the Emmys favoring name recognition, along come the newbies of Orange is the New Black to blow up my theory.  Kate Mulgrew and Taylor Schilling seemed the most likely to appeal to voters, but that Laverne Cox became the first transgender actress ever to receive an Emmy nomination made me bristle with hope and excitement.  And Uzo Aduba is a revelation as Crazy Eyes and more than earned her nomination.  Wouldn’t you agree, Dandy-Lion?


3) Treme

Thanks to the impenetrable classification system that comprises Emmy categorization, Treme could not submit its excellent final season as a drama due to a too-few episode order, leaving the mini-series category wide open.  And wouldn’t you know: there it is!  This little gem of a show has flown under virtually everyone’s radar, so this token recognition (and, make no mistake, this show, as great as it is, doesn’t have a chance in hell in winning) feels like a nice pat on the back, a comforting reminder that those of us who watched this excellent, unique series were–miraculously–not alone.

While we’re on the subject of mini-series, I’m so pleased that we have finally split mini-series and television movie into two categories.  Good looking out there, Emmy.


4) Fargo cleans up

This brilliant mini-series is going to win a slew of awards come Emmys night, and I hope Allison Tolman is amongst them.  Molly Solverson became such a wonderful character thanks to Tolman’s subtle, understated performance as the determined detective.  Also an unknown (dammit there she goes taking the wind out of my rant-soaked sails again), this talented young lady deserves all of the awards please.  In fact, Fargo deserves them all.


5) The highest quality does not get snubbed.

Breaking Bad.  True Detective.  Game of Thrones.  Fargo.  Veep.  Silicon Valley.  Louie.  Had Emmy ballots been devoid of these names over and over again, then the system really would feel broken beyond repair.  It’s not enough to excuse the myriad snubs listed above, but we have to pause and admit that perhaps this award show might realize it’s peeing into our TV pool but just can’t help itself.  Time for a change, Emmys.  You know some of the quality that’s out there, so now you need to stop relying on humdrum expectation and do like the best of television does: reinvent yourself.


Thanks for reading!

Dream Emmy Ballot: Best Series (Drama)

And now the moment that we’ve all been waiting for, the final prize: Outstanding Drama Series.  With so much excellent television populating our screens these days, settling on the six best dramatic series proved no simple task.

Then, to further complicate matters, some of my favorite dramatic television of the past year chose to submit under the mini-series category, including Fargo and Broadchurch.  It felt strange not including them on this final list, but when I set out on this blogging project, I chose to limit myself by submission choices.

So now, without further delay, here we go: my choices for the best drama series!


americans                                         breaking bad

The Americans                                                                   Breaking Bad


game of thrones                                        good wife

Game of Thrones                                                            The Good Wife


MASTERS OF SEX (SEASON 1)                                       detective

 Masters of Sex                                                              True Detective


Honorable Mentions: Parenthood; Person of Interest; Orphan Black; BansheeHouse of Cards


“Show your work…”

Look, you’ve heard me wax poetic about these series already, and if brevity is really is the soul of wit, then let’s see if I can convince you of the greatness of these shows in just one sentence each?  #ChallengeAccepted

The Americans: The insightful, confident, and exciting spy drama that Homeland wishes it could be turns into a probing exploration of identity and allegiance–both personal and national–that refuses to pander to its audience.

Breaking Bad: The finest dramatic series the medium has ever produced–SAY ITS NAME–signed off with eight of its best hours, including the all-time great gut punch of an episode that is “Ozymandias.”

Game of Thrones: To reduce this series to its genre classification–fantasy–is to undersell a dramatic series sure to enter the upper echelon of all time greats in its depiction of loyalty, family drama, and devious political maneuvering; plus, DRAGONS!

The Good Wife: Network television’s best drama revitalized itself not once but twice in its fifth season–first, the dismantling of the show’s central partnership and established narrative beats and second, the sudden death of a major character–to prove that the best series are never complacent with what’s been done but are eager to take on a new future.

Masters of Sex: An excellent historical portrait and character study of William Masters and Virginia Johnson that transcends the tropes of standard biopics, Showtime’s banner series is also one of the most relevant series of modern times thanks to Lizzy Caplan’s stunning performance that turns Johnson into a metaphor for the plight of contemporary women.

True Detective: The television event that galvanized its viewers in ways few series ever have by depicting a crime of almost mythical opaqueness that begged for speculation, analysis, and repeat viewing, anchored by stunning performances and labyrinthine plotting.


Well that completes my Dream Emmy Ballot blogging project!  #FollowThrough Thank you for reading, and don’t forget to check out the actual Emmy nominations posted later this week!

Dream Emmy Ballot: Lead Actress (Drama)

When it comes to delivering outstanding performances on a weekly basis, few have mastered it as confidently and assuredly as the six women listed below.  This stands as an even more incredible feat when you consider that all six of these characters went to pretty dark places in their respective seasons, from manipulating a personal tragedy for political gain to struggling with the grief of losing a loved one, and the darker the trails blazed, the more fascinating these women became.

All right, let’s get to it.  Here they are, the talented women who fill up my Dream Emmy Ballot for Lead Actress in a Drama Series!


Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex                                                   The Deep Web

Lizzy Caplan,                                                                       Julianna Margulies, 

Masters of Sex                                                                             The Good Wife


maslany                                                  Keri Russell in the Americans

Tatiana Maslany,                                                                        Keri Russell,

Orphan Black                                                                               The Americans


olivia                                                      cards

Kerry Washington,                                                                     Robin Wright,            

Scandal                                                                                               House of Cards    


Honorable Mentions: Diane Kruger, The Bridge; Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey


Show your work…”

Last year’s two breakout performances, Tatiana Maslany and Keri Russell, deserve recognition for their roles in the mind-bending Orphan Black and the powder keg drama of The Americans, if nothing else, because both women masterfully embody multiple characters.  As with her on-screen husband Matthew Rhys, Russell must make it clear that her character Elizabeth Jennings does the acting when it comes to meeting assets or exploiting desperate romantics in the name of gathering clandestine intelligence.  But what fascinates about Russell is the way she maintains Elizabeth’s focused sense of purpose and refusal to allow American beliefs and material goods to bastardize her own Soviet identity.  The contrast between her stoic certainty and Phillip’s conflicting opinions generates an interesting undercurrent in their marriage that adds further depth to this already fascinating portrait.  Oh, and homegirl can kick some serious tukus and looks mighty good doing it, her physical deftness revealing still another facet of Elizabeth Jennings.  Maslany, meanwhile, has the challenging job of playing multiple cloned versions of herself and creating distinctive personalities for each.  Miraculously, she does, and we almost forget it’s Maslany playing  Beth and Sarah and Katya and Allison and Cosima and…But then Maslany has to kick it into high gear and pull something right out of The Americans, as in the great season one episode when Allison impersonates Sarah in front of Sarah’s daughter.  The mind-blowing implications of Maslany having to keep so many characters straight in and of itself is a considerable feat; however, when she can impersonate one character through the eyes of another, I want to throw all the Emmys at her.  Oh, and homegirl can kick some serious tukus and looks mighty good doing it.  See a pattern here?

Two sides of the same coin, Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope and Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood both operate within the political sphere of Washington D.C. and manipulate it to their advantage–but often for very different reasons.  For Claire, her dubious nature is just a means to an end for the preservation of her own legacy through the legacy of her husband, Francis.  She’s not above turning a personal tragedy into a publicized plea for support or lying baldly to the American people, and Wright’s icy cool demeanor becomes the perfect conduit for this political dubiousness.  Even when House of Cards struggles to maintain consistent quality, Wright’s performance never falters and–that alone–should earn her a second Emmy nomination.  Meanwhile, Olivia Pope faced a morality crisis in the back half of Scandal‘s excellent second season as she struggled to come to terms with her involvement in the rigging of Fitz’s election.  For a woman known as the D.C. fixer capable of shoving aside her ethics when they interfere with her end game, Pope’s internal conflict became fascinating thanks to Washington’s stellar performance.  And, let’s be honest, Washington can spout off Shonda’s trademark million-mile-an-hour dialogue with the best of them without missing a beat, and that’s no easy task.

In The Good Wife‘s fifth–and best–season, Julianna Margulies’s Alicia Florrick had a ton of great material to sink her teeth into: branching out from LG and negotiating the anxiety and turmoil that result from building a new firm from the ground up, struggling with her grief in the wake of Will’s death, and essentially reducing her marriage with Peter to a political arrangement (and thus leaving him for all intents and purposes).  For any other show, any one of these plot lines would have been more than enough to suffice deepening characterization, but this is The Good Wife, network television’s best drama by a country mile, and Margulies keeps all of these plates spinning in the air without breaking a sweat.  And it’s the seeming naturalism of her performance, the apparent ease with which she delivers it, that demands Julianna Margulies garner yet another nod.  Like Bryan Cranston, Margulies uses each year of The Good Wife to turn in a slightly different performance because Alicia has developed into such a dynamic character who, with each passing season, further illuminates the ongoing irony of the show’s title.  And yet, my favorite aspect of her performance in season five has to be Alicia’s evolving understanding of how the law game works, culminating in her reaction to Diane asking if she’d always been so deceitful and cunning or if she learned to be: “I learned from the best,” she replies, words smooth as silk and lips curling into a wolf’s playful smile.  #GameSetMatch

The most prevalent criticism levied against Showtime’s Masters of Sex  is that Lizzy Caplan’s Virginia Johnson emerges virtually unscathed while the show never shies away from demonizing William Masters.  But this–I think–has more to do with Caplan’s riveting performance than a shortcoming or agenda on the part of the writers; it is her whole-hearted investment in the study of sexual response from a humanistic standpoint that clashes so clearly with Masters’s fixation on data.  She becomes the conduit through which we take in this world in all of its detail, and she shines brightest when revealing the double standards at play in the male-dominated medical field and the unavoidable irony of men dabbling very much in a woman’s world without involving any women.  Sound familiar?  That Caplan can take this famous historical figure and somehow turn her into a metaphor for the modern woman becomes her most impressive feat of acting in a season of television filled with standout moments.


Well, that about wraps up our forays into the dramatic acting categories!  Stay tuned for our final Dream Emmy Ballot, the one you’ve no doubt been awaiting with bated breath: Outstanding Dramatic Series!  ‘Til next time!

Dream Emmy Ballot: Lead Actor (Drama)

Don’t get me wrong, I like  dramatic television series as much as the next guy, but hot damn did the six gentlemen below do some heavy lifting to earn their hard-earned spots.  From crystal meth kingpin to pioneering sex researcher, from philanthropic billionaire genius to clandestine Soviet spy, and from one messed up homicide detective to another slightly less messed up homicide detective, these guys  brought their A games.

When a lead performer really carries a show, his (or her) presence on it becomes a defining mark of that series’ identity.  Could you imagine any other living human being playing Breaking Bad‘s Walter White?  Or some other stringy-haired jamoke depicting True Detective‘s Rust Cohle?  Of course you can’t because I’m right.  But more than that, we correlate a show’s overall greatness with the singular greatness of the central performance anchoring that show, and that’s exactly what we have on display here.

Without further delay, here are the men most deserving of hearing their names called for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series.


breaking bad                                      poi

Bryan Cranston,                                                  Michael Emerson,

    Breaking Bad                                                       Person of Interest


td                                     td2

Woody Harrelson,                                        Matthew McConaughey,

     True Detective                                                        True Detective


americans                                     masters

Matthew Rhys,                                                      Michael Sheen,

   The Americans                                                         Masters of Sex


Honorable Mentions: Kevin Spacey, House of Cards; Hugh Dancy, Hannibal; Jim Caviezel, Person of Interest


“Show your work…”

Matthew Rhys’s chameleonic turn as Phillip Jennings/Clark/long-haired hippy in FX’s phenomenal series The Americans positively scintillates.  In addition to the physical presence he brings to a scene–whether engaged in a fire-fight or approaching an asset–Rhys does a masterful job depicting the emotional tole his career as a Soviet spy living in America has taken on him.  Feeling trapped between two worlds, Rhys can take his character from calm, supportive father to a terrifying rage monster (note to self: don’t mention church around him, right Paige?) sometimes within a single scene.  While his precise handle on the range of emotions that might define a spy’s life impresses, it’s something far more subtle that makes his performance so miraculous:  even when he must adopt a disguise and persona in order to complete a mission, there still lurks the uncertainty and ambivalence that typifies Phillip’s emotional struggle.  In order words, Rhys makes it very clear that it’s Phillip playing these other roles, not Rhys the actor.  I’m not sure how this insanely talented actor manages to pull that high-wire balancing act off, but it catapults his uniformly outstanding performance into the upper echelon.

Time is a flat circle, and no matter where you stand on its continuum, you will not find a more electric partnership anywhere on television than the one between Marty and Rust in HBO’s brilliant crime series True Detective.  With the McConnaisance heading into stage two, Matthew McConaughey seems all but guaranteed to win an Emmy for his work as Rust Cohle.  And trust me, the inevitable accolade is well-deserved–his performance is a revelation, imbuing his enigmatic character with shades of hubris, arrogance, sadness, weariness, hope and cynicism in equal doses.  I can’t remember the last time a character’s redemption has felt so authentic, earned, and profoundly moving as that which Rust found.  Plus, the man does a great parlor trick with beer can origami!  #YouAskMeTheMcConaugheysWinning Despite the superlatives we heap onto McConaughey, it it no way detracts from Woody Harrelson’s work as Marty.  As this dark and winding season progressed, Marty became more difficult to like and even more difficult to understand, as his self-destructive path ultimately destroyed the relationships closest to him.  Harrelson didn’t shy away from the depths of rage that motivated Marty, and when he cut loose, the results were truly explosive.  Need evidence?  The scene of him resorting to physical  violence against his daughter after she returns home from a promiscuous sexual escapade perfectly captures Marty’s impotent rage.  It’s a humdinger of a performance and a reminder that we couldn’t have Rust without Marty.  Do you think the Emmy could just call it a tie already?

Michael Sheen’s depiction of sex pioneer Dr. William Masters, in Showtime’s preciously titled Masters of Sex, is one of the most engaging feats of acting on television.  His William Masters becomes a man of repressed urges, soaring ego, and insufferable arrogance, and Sheen does little to temper those uglier sides of his personality because he understands that they also illuminate the uncompromising depth of his genius.  Sheen, however, also allows us the occasional glimpses beneath his veneer of self-righteous pomposity; his “research-based” relationship with Virginia Johnson reveals a tenderness and vulnerability that Masters has snuffed out of his own bloodless marriage.  Sheen can accomplish a great deal with a contemptuous look or a truncated cry of “Virg–Jane!” to convey precisely what motivates Masters, and this gift–more than the words on the page–forces us to root for a man he doesn’t try to get us to like, simply to understand.

Michael Emerson’s Harold Finch, a reclusive billionaire with a helluva Machine, gives the world of Person of Interest its much-needed moral compass.  Beset on all sides by those who seek to use the Machine to satiate the most morally corrupt facets of human nature, Harold remains the devoted philanthropist undeterred by the likes of Decima Technologies and Samaritan.  You might argue that such single-mindedness would create a character (and performance) entirely myopic, but to suggest that would undercut the simplistic depth of Emerson’s work.  Even when bound to his sense of moral duty, Finch finds new ways to surprise us, unlocks new possibilities for selflessness and sacrifice.  You see, Emerson embodies Finch with character details (the limp, the almost robotic voice, the tech savvy) that specify his character, and the more specific he becomes, the more universally symbolic he becomes of the need for self-actualized goodness in a world determined to wipe it out.  Great stuff.

Over the years, the Emmys have garnered a reputation for awarding the same winner for the same performance several years in a row, including the likes of The West Wing’s Allison Janey, The Sopranos‘ late and greatly missed James Gandolfini, and Frasier‘s David Hyde Pierce.  As much as I adore all three of them (and the other repeat winners, like Aaron Paul, not listed here), at a certain point enough is enough.  I mean, how different was, say, Pierce’s Niles Crane from one year to the next?  I’d hazard a guess and say not different at all.  What I’m trying to say here is that I’m not a huge fan of the repeat winner, okay?  I’m sorry I’m not sorry.  But then along comes Bryan Cranston, who manages to take Walter White through so many iterations, so many transformations, that he seems as if he does give an entirely new performance each year.  And this, Breaking Bad‘s final season, found Cranston digging deeper than ever before.  One of the best pieces of acting to ever grace stage or screen, Bryan Cranston deserves the right to repeat his Emmy glory and make me look like a hypocritical such-and-such.  I can take it.  You’re welcome, Mr. Cranston.


That’s the end.  Stay tuned next time for the penultimate Dream Emmy Ballot: Best Lead Actress in a Drama!

Dream Emmy Ballot: Supporting Actor (Drama)

Not sure if you’ve heard the scuttlebutt, but there’s a heck of a lot of excellent television these days, and a great deal of it seems to flourish in the mystical land of drama.  Like my previous list of outstanding supporting actresses, I found this particular field of noteworthy gentlemen difficult to whittle down.  My first pass at this had a list of ten men who just had to make the final cut.   I know, I know #TVWatcherProblems.

But hey, before you climb up on your high horse and start pooh-poohing this arduous process, I’ll admit that having an overstuffed field from which to pluck possible nominees is a great problem to have.  We’re in the midst of TV’s Golden Age (forgive the dramatics, your honor), and the men listed below–not to mention the several other excellent performers that didn’t make the cut–all contribute to the preservation of that legacy.

Here we go, folks!  My dream Emmy ballot for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series!


Get A Room                                         lannister

Josh Charles,                                                                   Charles Dance,

The Good Wife                                                                 Game of Thrones      


lannister 2                                         dean

Peter Dinklage,                                                                  Dean Norris,

Game of Thrones                                                                 Breaking Bad


jesse                                         chalky

Aaron Paul,                                                        Michael Kenneth Williams,

Breaking Bad                                                                 Boardwalk Empire


Honorable Mentions: Jeffrey Wright, Boardwalk Empire; Walton Goggins, Justified; Pedro Pascal, Game of Thrones; Michael Kelly, House of Cards; Noah Emmerich, The Americans


“Show your work…”

When it comes to Breaking Bad, Dean Norris’s Hank and Aaron Paul’s Jesse played significant roles in maximizing the already outstanding quality in the show’s final season.  Few scenes floored me as much as Walt confronting Hank in the Schrader family garage in the season opener, and that sequence’s excellence has as much to do with Norris as Cranston; the man radiated anger and betrayal from every pore of his body, but his eyes allowed us a peak beneath the blow-hard bravado and at the bruised ego and terrifying powerlessness lurking there.  Meanwhile, Jesse’s sense of obligation to Walt clashed with his morality in fascinating ways, and Paul played those reversals and counter-reversals brilliantly.  But Paul’s best work came in his depiction of Jesse’s downward spiral, as this young man found himself subjected to such physical and mental cruelty that reduced him to a dehumanized shell of his former self, culminating in his gut-wrenching reaction to the death of a truly innocent bystander.  Needless to say, Breaking Bad had a banner year–did it ever not have one during the course of its run?–so you might as well get used to hearing its name called repeatedly in the drama categories come Emmy night.  Consider this a glimpse into the future.

There’s this other show on television, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it.  It’s called Game of Thrones?  Oh, you have heard of it because you’re a human being currently residing on this planet called Earth.  Gotcha.  Anyway, in addition to showcasing wedding massacres, this show also features one of the most upsetting father-son relationships on television in Charles Dance’s Tywin Lannister and Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister.  Despite their names’ passing similarities to one another, the two men could not be further apart.  This season, it was King Joffrey’s death that drove a larger wedge between the two; when Tyrion becomes the lead suspect in the regicide, Tywin sees it as his opportunity to fulfill his longterm goal of removing the member of his family he views as tainting it.  Charles Dance is the epitome of icy resolve, while Peter Dinklage absolutely spellbinds during Tyrion’s trial; his rant, wherein he vows he did not kill Joffrey but wishes he had, saw our favorite Lannister fed up with his almost universal mistreatment and adopting the persona expected of him.  Oh, and the way Dinklage performed the season finale’s big climax?  Happy Father’s Day!

In many ways, season four of HBO’s overlooked Boardwalk Empire is all about Michael Kenneth Williams’ Chalky White.  As the episodes unfold, it becomes increasingly clear that this is–in some ways–the story of Chalky’s personal tragedy as much as it is the story of Nucky’s criminal ascent.  Certainly, Chalky encountered his fair share of tragedy on multiple fronts this year, none as gut-wrenching as the accidental murder of his daughter in front of him.  Is there any performer on this list who so seamlessly vacillates between menacing rage and tender vulnerability with the ease of Michael Kenneth Williams?  Maybe, but Williams takes these moments that most would tackle with Acting (with a capital A, of course) and uses them as an opportunity to showcase his quiet subtlety, and that’s a decision that deserves recognition.

As if Josh Charles hadn’t blown our minds with his desk-clearing meltdown in The Good Wife‘s game-changer “Hitting the Fan,” he had to go and take Will Gardner deeper down the rabbit hole in the episodes that followed.  Will’s bruised ego, his sense of betrayal, his fratboy pettiness–they all rose to the surface.  But even more impressive is Charles’s showcase episode, “The Decision Tree,” wherein this talented actor did so much with the shake of his head or a wry smile as memory flashes revealed the undercurrent of Will’s facade: his continued fascination with (and dare I say love for?) Alicia. It would have been so simple for Josh Charles to play this entire arc with the dramatics of “Hitting the Fan,” but he wisely dialed back, revealing a more contemplative side to Will so that–even when he actively worked against Alicia, as in the scramble to claim the ChumHum account–we couldn’t help but root for the guy.  Josh Charles has been so good for so long, and his work in this season of this excellent show seems as good a time as any to reward him for that.  Plus, Will’s dead so it’s now or never, right?  I say now.  #CharlesInCharge


That wraps up this go around of my Dream Emmy Ballot!  Until next time, whence we dive into Best Actor in a Drama Series!  Hold onto your hat!