There really is no down time on TV anymore. The networks pounce on every inch of the year, constantly providing product to viewers like pizza deliverers to a frat house, scheduling shows during midseason, mid-midseason, and mid-off-season. The last time someone asked me if I had a chance to relax during summer reruns, I was speechless. The whole idea of “seasons” on TV has quickly lost meaning.
But the networks certainly continue to pay very close attention indeed to the dates of the Emmy eligibility period, which ends on May 31. Those dates are the brackets of TV power and prestige. They are immutable. Beginning June 1, voters will be tasked with coming up with a list of nominations to be announced on July 10 and a list of winners for the Aug. 25 Emmycast on NBC, and the networks will be pitching their best chances in ads and late-night appearances throughout.
So as the Emmy conversation begins, I’d like to throw out a few names and titles that deserve some kind of nomination acclamation. These are the ones that don’t fall into the auto-nom category, the worthy (“Breaking Bad”) and the less worthy (“Downton Abbey”) that seem to have reserved seats at the table.
HBO’s “Veep” has gotten plenty of Emmy love, with two statues for Julia Louis-Dreyfus and one for Tony Hale. Her acceptance speech last year, with him behind her whispering instructions, was one of the telecast’s best moments. This year, though, the Television Academy voters really need to take note of Timothy Simons, the lanky guy who plays Jonah the creep. On a show filled with zinger flinging, he’s the driver of the clown car, the guy who invents cockeyed insults such as this classic: “You take that chicken soup and you shove it up your soul.”
Last year, the Emmy voters mostly ignored FX’s “The Americans,” one of those casual embarrassments that they are so good at. I will be raging if they make the same mistake this year; the show is one of the most entertaining dramas in a field already crowded with “Breaking Bad” (which is up for its last half-season), “Mad Men,” and “Game of Thrones.” The show itself ought to be nominated for best drama, and then a number of cast members have earned distinction: Matthew Rhys is grim and electric and Keri Russell is a chill wind as the Russian spy couple undercover in suburban America, and, as the manipulated FBI secretary, Martha, Alison Wright is the embodiment of pathos.
I can’t say great things about Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”; it’s an uneven show marred by character-motivation issues and spotty Southie accents. But I can only say great things about Jon Voight on “Ray Donovan.” He delivers a comet-like turn as a thuggish father who always seems to be spiraling down into trouble. He makes the show well worth the time. Likewise Demian Bichir, the lead actor on FX’s “The Bridge.” The show, which started out promisingly and then lost a little momentum, is patchy. But Bichir, as the Mexican homicide detective with a weakness for women, is beautifully weary and wise.
Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is one of the few new network series that has flourished creatively. It’s a warm, wacky police-station sitcom led by Andy Samberg, who is charmingly boyish. But the more subtle notes come from Andre Braugher as the gay captain who is less mysterious than everyone thinks. Braugher steals scenes with little more than a carefully deployed deadpan. He has done strong dramatic work over the years, most notably on “Homicide.” But the looser acting style he’s been cultivating since “Men of a Certain Age” has been really enjoyable.
Thomas Middleditch is turning into a star on HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” as the neurotic, bumbling brains behind a startup. He’s the perfect Mike Judge hero, a geek straight man surrounded by egotistical nutjobs. His face, with its wide eyes, reflects all the absurdities of the tech world. If you watched the show with no sound, you’d still know exactly who his character is and what he’s thinking. A nomination, perhaps, now that there’s a slot left open by Alec Baldwin of the canceled “30 Rock”?
There are a number of standout performances on Showtime’s 1950s period piece “Masters of Sex,” including Michael Sheen’s tightly wound Bill Masters and Lizzie Caplan’s poised, adventurous Virginia Johnson. Both ought to get some due. But I’m hoping Allison Janney gets noticed, too. As the lonely wife of a closeted gay man, she gives a quietly heartbreaking performance.
FX’s “Fargo” has been a treat so far, not least of all thanks to Martin Freeman’s exquisitely painful turn as Lester Nygaard, an insurance salesman who has been stuffing down his anger all his life. Freeman brings all the halting and dodging and discomfort that William H. Macy brought to a similar role in the movie version. It’s riveting.
And speaking of Macy — yes, now is the time that I once again send up my praise for “Shameless,” hoping it will fall on some voters’ heads. The Showtime series had one of its most effectively dramatic seasons so far — which is ironic, because Showtime is nominating it in the less crowded comedy categories this year as a last-ditch chance to round up some nominations. It’s ridiculous; “Shameless” is a drama with comedic elements, not a comedy. But equally ridiculous is the Emmys’ rejection of the series and its awesome performances by Macy, Emmy Rossum, and Jeremy Allen White.
Netflix is taking the same approach with “Orange Is the New Black,” nominating it as a comedy even though it is surely a drama. I hate this kind of manipulation, but I nonetheless hope to see “Orange” get some love. There is an awful lot of good acting on the show, but my hopes go most of all with Laura Prepon, who made the drained but charismatic Alex far more sympathetic than expected.
Who else? Laurie Metcalf was laugh-out-loud funny on HBO’s morbid comedy “Getting On.” John Oliver has been ablaze on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.” And History’s “Vikings” and its star Travis Fimmel had an extraordinarily rich second season; they’re both Emmy worthy for sure. Don’t make them pretend to be a comedy, Emmy.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.