Friday, July 20, 2007

In which I halfheartedly complain about the Emmys because that's what TV fans do

Meet the cast of Boston Legal, one of the FIVE BEST DRAMAS on TV.

Were you under the impression that its throwback speechifying, its weird, shaky-cam vibe and its stagey, hammy performances could be all right under extremely specific circumstances but paled next to, say, The Wire or Friday Night Lights or even The Riches? Did you think the David E. Kelley train had left the station years ago? Well, you were wrong.

To a very real degree, I've given up on complaining about the Emmys. It's just pointless. The entire system, particularly in regard to dramas, is broken and unable to judge the serialized dramas that have revolutionized the television landscape in the wake of The Sopranos (even though the mobsters themselves continue to make the list, probably because they're just so darn unimpeachably good). The Emmys are always going to be out of touch, and last year, I decided maybe it was time to stop caring. I've read so many pieces this morning by critics who write about how they feel like Charlie Brown racing toward Lucy, only to have her yank the football away. It's really better when you just don't care and realize we live in a world where the Emmys refuse to make a lick of sense.

But, oh well, complaining is so much fun! Let's do a little bit of it for old time's sake. I'm only going to cover the ten categories we did for the SDD Emmys, but if you want to check out the rest of the categories, go here. The writing and directing categories (where I was thrilled to see Battlestar Galactica, Lost and Friday Night Lights), in particular, are better than the major categories.

Best Drama Series:
Boston Legal
Grey's Anatomy
The Sopranos

The Sopranos, of course, belongs here, but aside from that, this is the weakest drama slate in recent memory. Heroes is probably my second-favorite here, and I found that deeply uneven in its first season. I don't have a problem with Grey's or House being here, as they're the two monster drama hits of the moment, but couldn't it have been one or the other, after both had rather uneven and problematic third seasons? And Boston Legal? The less said the better.

The problem is that this new panel system just isn't equipped to look at serialized dramas. You swap out any of these shows (except Sopranos) for The Wire or Friday Night Lights or even Lost, and you've got a much better lineup instantly. But the panels can't just watch an episode of these shows (even the FNL pilot, which is miles more ambitious than the Heroes pilot) and know what's going on. I don't know the solution to this problem, so I'll just move along.

As far as predictions go, this is The Sopranos to lose. If it does lose, I guess Heroes is the dark horse.

Best Comedy Series:
30 Rock
The Office
Two and a Half Men
Ugly Betty

Now this list isn't so bad, simply because a comedy, even one with serialized elements like The Office, isn't as hard to break down into a single episode as a drama. Funny is funny, and that makes this a more natural fit for the panel system. The only two here that wouldn't make my list are Entourage and Two and a Half Men. Even I liked the Entourage episode that show submitted to the panels (the one where the boys made a trip out to the Valley to see Aquaman, before the show disappeared into its own self-love), and I don't personally like Two and a Half Men (How I Met Your Mother would be a better traditional sitcom), but I can see where it gets credit for being the last multi-camera show standing. This list isn't perfect, but its defensible, so I can go with it.

I think this race is probably between 30 Rock, The Office and Ugly Betty. I'll take Betty for the win, as I think ABC wants it enough to shore up their nearly floundering hit in the ratings on a tough night.

Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series:
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos
Hugh Laurie, House
Denis Leary, Rescue Me
James Spader, Boston Legal
Kiefer Sutherland, 24

Another poor drama list, though not as poor as the series list. Gandolfini and Laurie (who, perhaps surprisingly, hasn't won yet -- I'm starting to get a Martin Sheen in The West Wing, "I'll never win" vibe from him) will probably face off for the win, but Leary and Spader are potential spoilers. Of the list, Spader's the only one I actively dislike, even though his performance used to be fun. Sutherland was the best thing about 24's lackluster sixth season, and Leary's still electrifying, even when the scripts he supervises let him down. Still, it's just not a very exciting or unexpected list, and the absence of Ian McShane, who will now never win for his Al Swearengen work, is well-nigh unforgivable.

I think Gandolfini beats Laurie, but it'll come down to which tape each submits.

Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series:
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
Ricky Gervais, Extras
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men

Just like the series list, three of these guys (the first three) would make my list. Eventually, I'm just going to accept that Tony Shalhoub is the new Kelsey Grammer and that he'll get in for his uneven, hammy work every year. Not a huge fan of Sheen, but he rides that "I'm on a big hit" thing for all it's worth, and he IS on a big hit, the only one of the five here that can claim that.

It's Carell vs. Baldwin here, I imagine. I know the easy money's on Baldwin, who has swept everything, but I'm going to go with Carell, who will probably have a tape where he feels more stereotypically like a lead and does something sympathetic (addictive to Emmy voters).

Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series:
Patricia Arquette, Medium
Minnie Driver, The Riches
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order SVU
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

One of the peculiarities of the Emmys is that they let in additional nominees not in the case of an exact tie, but in the case of shows being within a certain number of votes of the top five. This is why you'll see categories with six, seven or even eight nominees, unlike at the Oscars or the Tonys, where you need an exact tie for the fifth spot to make it in (something that the Oscar nomination process makes very difficult indeed).

That said, let's look at this list. I'm as surprised as anyone Arquette won a couple of years ago, so I guess this nomination is a re-affirmation. I thought Driver was one of the things keeping me from wholly embracing The Riches. Falco, of course, is unimpeachable, and I really like Sally Field's borderline comedic work in Brothers & Sisters too. Hargitay, last year's winner, and Sedgwick round out the category as two tough-laced female detectives, proving the Emmys still have an infatuation with the type. It's not the list I'd come up with, but at least it feels a little riskier than the other two drama categories so far.

I'm guessing that Sedgwick will take this, but Falco could win as part of a Sopranos sweep (she didn't have as much to do this season as she had in the past). And I think Field has an outside shot too. She's a Hollywood legend in a comeback role. Catnip for awards voters.

Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series:
America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds

Weirdly, this is the only actress category with only five nominees. It's also probably the strongest acting category overall. Huffman's the weak link here, and when you can say that, it's a damn fine category, because she's good even when her show is letting her down. Ferrera, Fey, Louis-Dreyfus and Parker all made the SDD Emmys list, so we're not going to complain about much.

As far as predictions go, I still think this is Ferrera's to lose, and if she submits the pilot, she'll likely win. I think Louis-Dreyfus and Parker are the runners-up, though you could make a case for Fey, who I think will be too subtle.

Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series:
Michael Emerson, Lost
T.R. Knight, Grey's Anatomy
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Masi Oka, Heroes
William Shatner, Boston Legal

This is probably the runner-up in the acting categories for overall strength, losing only because Shatner's a far weaker link than Felicity Huffman is. Emerson and O'Quinn were both great on this season of Lost, and it's nice to see that show back in the acting races. I would have gone with Jack Coleman over Masi Oka from Heroes, but Oka was such a fun presence from the start of the show that I can work with it. And Knight wasn't my favorite in Grey's third season, but I liked him a lot in the prior two years, so I'll just consider this a make-up nom for those seasons.

I'm going to predict O'Quinn for the time being, but it seems far more likely that the Lost guys split the vote and Shatner dances to yet another win. Only needing to submit one episode will help him the most of all.

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series:
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Kevin Dillon, Entourage
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Rainn Wilson, The Office

Seeing Neil Patrick Harris made the nominee list almost made up for all of the disappointments I felt when I read the list this morning, but it wasn't quite enough to fix things like Jon Cryer. I don't mind Cryer, but this is blatant category fraud (he's a co-lead), and that's never fun. I like Dillon far less than everyone else, but I get that he's a big part of the appeal for many Entourage fans. Piven's a far better choice from that show, even if the character's getting old. And I'm glad The Office cracked this category, but I would have rather it wasn't Rainn Wilson alone. John Krasinski's the soul of that show, and Wilson's work is good but often the thing that ruins the show's illusion of pseudo-realism.

I think Piven's going to win this category for years and years until we all get tired of him. Insofar as a runner-up, let's go with Harris, who has a host of great tapes to submit, even if he's on a show that's completely under the radar (let's hope it pulls an Everybody Loves Raymond and finally gets recognized in season three -- both by the general public and the Emmys).

Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series:
Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos
Rachel Griffiths, Brothers and Sisters
Katherine Heigl, Grey's Anatomy
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Aida Turturro, The Sopranos
Chandra Wilson, Grey's Anatomy

This always felt to me like one of those years where a show (Grey's Anatomy) gets a bunch of undeserved acting nominations in the supporting categories, and here you go. Strictly speaking, though, I'm not sure they were undeserved, outside of Heigl, who's the black hole of that show. A lot of people have complained about Bracco making it, but she probably did for that scene where she threw out Tony, and she's worthy for that. I'm not as sure about Griffiths, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. Turturro was fine on Sopranos, but barely in the final season (outside of Sopranos Home Movies, which she must have submitted).

I think Chandra Wilson or Lorraine Bracco win, but there's an outside shot for Sandra Oh, especially if she submitted the finale.

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series:
Conchata Ferrell, Two and a Half Men
Jenna Fischer, The Office
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
Jamie Pressly, My Name Is Earl
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
Vanessa Williams, Ugly Betty

The Two and a Half Men two were the biggest surprise to Libby when she read the list, but they've both gotten in at the same time before. Hopefully, they split the vote and Taylor doesn't rise to the win, but I'm afraid she will. I would have preferred Becki Newton from Ugly Betty, but Williams was fun for most of the season. And I have no problem with the other three nominees, who were all great.

I'm going to predict Pressly for now, but I have a secret fear that Taylor will come up along the outside and win. Fischer probably should win for the last five minutes of the finale alone, but subtlety is not the friend of the Emmys.

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