Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Whom would I nominate for Emmys? I'm glad you asked!

Hey, did you know the Emmys announce their nominations tomorrow? Because I sure didn't. But, guess what?! They do! So now is the time of year, I suppose, when I should share up what I think should be nominated in the ten categories people actually care about. Unlike the REAL Emmys, I've tried to limit myself to one actor per show, so as to spread the wealth around. So when I only have one Lost supporting player in my list, don't think it means I don't love you, Terry O'Quinn. You've just already won.

Best Drama Series
Battlestar Galactica
Big Love
Lost
Mad Men
The Wire

Mad Men was my ein true love last summer, and I'm anticipating its return to an almost feverish degree. After that, I wasn't AS taken with the final season of The Wire as I was with the preceding seasons, but that's, essentially, like saying, "You know? I'm not AS HUGE a fan of The Tempest." Jimmy and the gang closed things out in style, so they're the second, easy choice to go on the list. Then we have Battlestar Galactica and Lost, both of which came roaring back this year with terrifically paced seasons. Sure, each had a handful of weak episodes, but if we're playing by Emmy rules (i.e., your best handful of episodes), I'm hard-pressed to displace either.

So then we came to the last slot. I strongly considered Breaking Bad, but I want to see that show develop JUST a bit more. Dexter is a lot of fun on the first go-round, but it isn't quite as good the next time you watch it, outside of Michael C. Hall's performance. The second season of Friday Night Lights was hit-or-miss for me, and while I like House, I don't think it belongs on this list.

So I ended up going with Big Love, a show sadly ignored by Emmy shortlists and one that takes a frank, long, hard look at living as a religious fundamentalist in mainstream America. Also, it's a soap opera, but it's the religious stuff that keeps me coming back, and that's why I went with it for my final slot.

Best Comedy Series
30 Rock
Flight of the Conchords
How I Met Your Mother
The Office
Pushing Daisies

30 Rock was the no-brainer here. Even when the second half of its season (after the strike) wasn't QUITE as good as the first part, those nine episodes that opened the season were just fantastic, through and through, culminating in a November sweeps run that's one of the great comedy runs of any recent show. How I Met Your Mother pulled off essentially the REVERSE trick, with a kinda weak first half (save the excellent How I Met Everyone Else) followed by a very good back half (save for that weak-ass "Britney Spears returns!" episode). Pushing Daisies was, in some ways, all style while being very guarded about its substance, but the style that was there was so terrific that I figured I would go with it for now. And Flight of the Conchords may have made me laugh more than any other show not named 30 Rock on the list.

After that, things got kind of hit-or-miss. I was among the few critics who really liked the first half of the season of Ugly Betty, but it kind of fell apart after the strike, especially in that terribly forced finale. And while Desperate Housewives got a LOT better last season, I wasn't going to stoop that low, which also disqualified the wheezing Entourage. Curb Your Enthusiasm seemed a better bet, but I found that kind of hit-or-miss as well. Old reliables like Everybody Hates Chris and My Name Is Earl both staggered around like shells of their former selves, while The Big Bang Theory is some good performances in search of a better show, most of the time. I also almost tossed in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but something about that show keeps me at arm's length.

So if we were going to go with something hit-or-miss, I decided, we might as well go with a show where the characters are well-developed enough to carry me through the rough patches. Hence, The Office, where the season started out atrociously, but pulled itself together quite nicely by the end, especially in a warmly funny finale.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Dominic West, The Wire

Cranston was my first choice here, and he might be my choice for the win. His work in Breaking Bad quite simply elevates the show, and he's electrifying. Hamm, meanwhile, was the perfect choice for HIS show, and has just terrific movie star looks. He's the best casting discovery since James Gandolfini. After that, I went to Hall and West. Hall elevates his show in a fashion similar to Cranston's work, while going with West seemed like an excellent way to honor the huge, complicated ensemble of The Wire (because picking just one supporting actor from that cast seemed like a Sisyphean ordeal).

I initially thought next of Kyle Chandler, and I thought he was easily the best thing about Friday Night Lights (well, him and Connie Britton), but I also thought there might be someone better. Bill Paxton is similarly great (and underrated) on Big Love, but the women there kind of dominate him (heh heh). And while I've always liked Hugh Laurie on House, his show-y performance is the kind of thing I find myself gravitating away from more and more. I also thought about Matthew Fox and Edward James Olmos, but both were hamstrung with some awful material (remember that episode where Jack was in love with Kate in the future? Gah!). And I thought about David Tennant, but ... honestly?

So I ended up going with Gabriel Byrne, the rock-solid center of In Treatment, one of the quietest, yet most intense, dramas on the dial. His work as a therapist at the end of his rope was almost perfect in a very subtly shaded way. If the series ever makes it to DVD (I have no idea how they'll put it out), it's worth a look.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
Emily Deschanel, Bones
Mary McDonnell, Battlestar Galactica
Jeanne Tripplehorn, Big Love
Ally Walker, Tell Me You Love Me

It's a middle-aged-women-palooza in this category, with four very different takes on a woman looking at the latter half of her life starting to stare her in the face. McDonnell was my first choice here, for her simply astonishing work in this season of Galactica, from weeping over her dead mother to deciding to save the life of Gaius Baltar. I went to Tripplehorn next. As much as I love and worship Ginnifer Goodwin, particularly on Big Love, Tripplehorn's barely contained rage in last season of Big Love was the dramatic engine that drove the show. From there, it was an easy jump to Walker, on another HBO drama, showing the sheer acting chops she has as a woman in a lifeless marriage (I almost tossed Tim DeKay, as her husband, on the lead actor list, but I don't think any of you watched the show). Even if the show was a bit too slow-moving for some, the Walker scenes were terrific. And then there's Connie Britton, who's simply TV's best earthy, sexy mom.

From there, I thought about a host of options. Elisabeth Moss campaigned as lead at the Emmys, but I think she's still in essentially a supporting performance on Mad Men. I could have gone with any one of a number of Emmy favorites I don't find unpalatable, from Sally Field to Holly Hunter. Or I GUESS I could have taken leave of my senses and gone for Evangeline Lilly.

But I went with Emily Deschanel. And you know why? Not because I genuinely believe her performance is all that much better than most of the women above (though it is pretty great) but because Bones turned into a reliable time-waster in its third season, and those are few and far between, and Deschanel had a LOT to do with it. It's just a fun show, and I like to encourage fun.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords
Lee Pace, Pushing Daisies
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

Baldwin and Carell were my immediate first picks. At this point in their shows' runs, they're just so easy to pencil in. Carell lost it JUST A BIT in some of last season's early episodes, but he pulled it together well enough that I ended up not caring. After that, I knew I wanted one of the Conchords and pretty much just flipped a coin to land on Clement's terrifically droll work as the occasionally lunkheaded Jemaine. And Pace was one of the finds of the season as the lonely, longing Ned on Pushing Daisies.

So what then? Josh Radnor's a lot better than he was in season one, but he's still the weak link in the HIMYM cast (though, admittedly, not much of a weak link). I like Larry David well enough on Curb, but he's also something I'm kind of tired of. The same goes for everybody on Entourage and the whole gang over at USA, with its "We're moderately amusing!" Friday nights. And I found David Duchovny kinda loathsome on Californication.

So that left us with Jim Parsons, in a performance that does so much heavy lifting on his show that it almost makes even the series' weaker episodes palatable. As the season went on, you could sense the writers figuring this out and tailoring more and more material to Parsons as time went by, and the show was the better for it.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Jordana Spiro, My Boys

For all the talk of a comedy renaissance, man, there just aren't very many good comedies out there with female leads. I mean, this has always been the case, but think back to how even a show like Cheers always had time for a male AND a female lead. Kind of embarrassing, major networks! Anyway, I landed first at Tina Fey, who's really improved as an actress in her time on 30 Rock. From there, it was on to Ferrera, who remains the best thing about her show, even when it's flailing all around her. Louis-Dreyfus is always solid on Old Christine, perhaps the most reliable traditional sitcom left (since HIMYM is a blend of new-fangled and old-fangled). And Marcia Cross helped lead the way on a rejuvenated Desperate Housewives.

Beyond that, though, man. Slim pickins. I thought about going for Anna Friel, but she could be a little too pixie-ish on Pushing Daisies. I liked Back to You, but Patricia Heaton was in no way better than Kelsey Grammer on that show. And while I like Sarah Silverman's show, I'm not nuts about it. I could have gone with Mary Louise Parker, especially as I like HER more than her show, but I wanted to think out of the box a bit more than I had.

Enter Jordana Spiro, nominated here more for her work in this current season than last season, when she was enjoyable but never quite took off (same with the show). Now, the show has a veneer of confidence, and Spiro does too. She's an agreeable straight man to the Boys of the title, and I enjoy her performance every week.

And here are my picks for the supporting categories, in short order.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
James Callis, Battlestar Galactica
Michael Emerson, Lost
Vincent Kartheiser, Mad Men
Donald Sutherland, Dirty Sexy Money
Blair Underwood, In Treatment

Tough choices on Lost and BSG, where I like a LOT of the supporting cast, but Callis and Emerson were the most nuanced in very talented ensembles. I'm going to buck the John Slattery trend with Kartheiser, whose portrayal of a sleazy go-getter was also quite nuanced. Sutherland was the steady rock at the center of a show that was all over the place, and Underwood capped off a terrific year with a tremendously moving performance.

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Annabeth Gish, Brotherhood
January Jones, Mad Men
Yunjin Kim, Lost
Katee Sackhoff, Battlestar Galactica
Amanda Seyfried, Big Love

For all of the crowing about the return of TV drama, it continues to be rather female-unfriendly, insofar as the kinds of challenging shows that HBO or AMC do. Still, Gish is turning in mesmerizing work on a show no one is watching. Jones is better than I've ever seen her as a neglected housewife (what a cliche, yet how impressive the execution!). Kim is a perpetual nominee for me, but she gets points this year for screaming incredibly well (even if the show basically neglected her outside of that moment). Sackhoff played crazy well and then grounded some of the strong drama later on, while Seyfried went up against a patriarchy and scored points.

Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Hamish Linklater, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Chi McBride, Pushing Daisies
Tracy Morgan, 30 Rock
Michael Urie, Ugly Betty

Choosing between Harris and Jason Segel was something I didn't want to do, but I just think Harris had the goods more this season (I probably would have gone with Segel last year). Linklater's my dark horse pick, a goofily dry performance from a dopey kinda guy. McBride is a longtime favorite, turning in aces, understated work, while Morgan is over-the-top, all over the place and consistently hilarious. And while I don't like every storyline they've had for his character, I still like Urie's performance. (I tried to fit in someone from The Office, but all had their down moments this year, sadly.)

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies
Jenna Fischer, The Office
Becki Newton, Ugly Betty
Kristen Schaal, Flight of the Conchords
Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother

You either love or you hate Chenoweth, and I find her overstated performance a hoot. Fischer is pretty much the pathos injection in a person The Office turns to whenever things get too wacky. Newton remains the most underrated member of her cast, while Schaal's work as a creepy fan hung with me through a whole year without her show. Finally, Smulders is that rare thing -- a ridiculously gorgeous person who can be really funny. I hate to compare HIMYM to Friends, but Smulders is just one, good role away from being Jennifer Aniston (well, she has it right now, but no one is watching).

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