AMC certainly can’t complain. The cable channel’s “Mad Men” won 17 Emmy nominations Thursday, the most of any drama this year. And if the show wins best drama at the Sept. 15 ceremony, after four previous wins, it will break the record for most best-drama statues.
Also not able to complain: PBS, whose “Masterpiece” series won 37 nods, 16 of them for “Downton Abbey,” and HBO, which won a whopping 87 nominations. Showtime, too, can’t grumble: “Homeland” took the most nominations of any new series — nine, including best drama. Indeed, the cable TV industry as a whole, including FX, whose “American Horror Story” got 17 nominations in the miniseries categories, really can’t whine, having pushed the major broadcasters even further from awards prominence. Even CBS’s “The Good Wife,” one of network TV’s best dramas, failed to win a nomination for best drama this year, although Julianna Margulies did get a nod for best actress.
I, however, can complain. Griping about the Emmy nominations is one of July’s best sports, after griping about the heat and the Red Sox traffic.
First of all, on what planet is “Parks and Recreation” not among the best comedies of the last season? The NBC show, featuring one of TV’s sweetest and funniest ensembles, was almost entirely ignored. No Aziz Ansari, no Aubrey Plaza, no Adam Scott. And no Nick Offerman? Offerman’s Ron Swanson may be one of TV’s most cleverly written and acted characters right now. Only star Amy Poehler got a deserved significant nod.
Also conspicuously missing from the best comedy list: “Louie,” “Enlightened,” and “Community,” three of the richest series TV has to offer right now. Yes, “The Big Bang Theory” has its wacky charm, and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” continues to drop classic half-hours in between filler – but as best comedy nominees, they are stale.
Other comedy minuses: The absence of “Community” cast members; the absence of Laura Dern, who is a knockout on “Enlightened”; and the absence of any “Happy Endings” actors, particularly the endearing and sharp Adam Pally, Eliza Coupe, and Casey Wilson. The kneejerk Emmy love for the “Modern Family” cast – they got half of all the supporting nominations in comedy – squeezed out too many good performers.
Fortunately, the voters did manage to let go of the much-diminished “Glee” and “The Office” and find room for “Girls” and star Lena Dunham for best comedy and best actress, respectively. Dunham and her show are amusing and culturally shrewd, as they deconstruct myths of being young and living in the city. The voters also saw fit to give nods to “Veep” and the brilliant Julia Louis-Dreyfus, although the best comedy nomination is a stretch – I loved the show, but, like many young comedies, it needs time to develop.
Other comedy pluses: finally, a nod for supporting actress Merritt Wever , who is the lovably self-conscious Zoey on “Nurse Jackie.” Better really, really, really late than never. And Max Greenfield as Schmidt on “New Girl” got his due. He makes the over-acknowledged show worth watching.
The analogy to “Parks and Recreation” on the drama side is “Justified.” The FX show, based on the work of Elmore Leonard , is extraordinary, and so is its star, Timothy Olyphant. Why it was thoroughly ignored this year – even with memorable supporting work by Neal McDonough – is just another one of those weird Emmy twists. I can’t imagine preferring nominee Michael C. Hall in “Dexter” to Olyphant. Hall is fine, but the scripts have pushed him into a very inconsistent portrayal.
Perhaps in drama the voters were blinded by the sight of the popular “Downton Abbey,” which moved from the miniseries to the drama categories this year. The PBS soap filled the acting slots, and took a best drama nod, too. I can’t argue with the list of “Downton” names, though, particularly Michelle Dockery as the tragic, brave Mary and Brendan Coyle as Mr. Bates. Nor can I argue with the love for “Homeland”; the show, Claire Danes, and Damian Lewis are definitely among the finest things on TV.
But still: This year’s Emmy list loses relevance without “Justified.” I’ve complained about the fact that the Academy ignores “Shameless” and its gonzo lead performance by William H. Macy. But I understand why, I think; “Shameless” is too working class, too concerned with substance abuse, and too politically incorrect for the voters. “Justified,” on the other hand, has been nominated before, making this year’s slight more peculiar.
“Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” were rightly honored for best drama and for their top-notch acting. They remain psychologically layered and intelligently written. The unforgettable Giancarlo Esposito on “Breaking Bad” got a full supporting nomination, despite his Gus having lost half his head, and, at long last, so did the remarkable Anna Gunn. Gunn has been exceptional in the difficult role of Walt White’s wife for years now, but, as with Wever, at least the voters finally redeemed themselves.
There was no final opportunity for Hugh Laurie, who finished his run on “House” this season, and Kelsey Grammer won’t get to add to his Emmy pile from “Frasier” with a nod for “Boss.” Joel Kinnaman, the only reason to watch “The Killing,” and Michael Pitt, so complex on “Boardwalk Empire” – sorry guys, no chance. Your membership to the club has been put on hold.