As easy as it is to knock television, we probably are living in one of the best eras of scripted television. Just because the number of outlets have increased does not take away from the large amount of very good programming on the air. We can even get easy access to foreign shows through the likes of BBC America and Netflix Instant View (such as Steven Moffat’s terrific take on Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman giving performances as Holmes and Watson that easily surpass what Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law do in their franchise).
Liking television should no longer be a stigma against one’s taste, unless the program in question is a reality show.
On Thursday, July 14th, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences will announce their nominations for the 2010-2011 Emmy year. This Listicle features our ideas on if we nominated the nominees.
There are a number of potential people I’d like to see nominated and, for my list, I decided to select persons and programs previously unacknowledged by the Emmy committee, or those without a likely nomination (sorry Game of Throne‘s Peter Dinklage). To this end, I’ve divided my choices into two sets of three- comedy and drama with sections for pay cable, basic cable, and network TV.
COMEDY- PAY CABLE: Party Down for Outstanding Comedy Series
With the eligibility period running from June 1, 2010 until May 31, 2011, Starz’ original series Party Down cuts it close, having shown the final four episodes of its second and final season from June 4 until June 25 of last year. Created by Veronica Mars’ Rob Thomas and starring Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, and Ken Marino, Party Down was a funny show about the lives of losers working a crappy catering job while trying to make it in Hollywood/Los Angeles. Constraining each episode to the catering of a different event, Party Down combined hijinks and misery to show mid-20s to early-30s ennui. Hardly ever optimistic or hopeful, the well-drawn characters of Party Down were just trying to make the best out of go-nowhere existences while trapped in the background of the lives of far more successful people. Despite having something of a small but devoted fan base, Starz canceled the series after only two seasons.
Honorable Mention: The never-nominated Danny McBride as ex-major league pitcher Kenny Powers in Eastbound & Down, one of the few comedy characters to become iconic almost from the start.
COMEDY- BASIC CABLE: Louie for Outstanding Comedy Series & star/writer/director Louis C.K. For Everything He Can Get
I’ve recently written about the greatness of FX’s Louie, and Louis C.K. and Louie deserves every accolade they’re eligible for. Although playing essentially “himself,” Louis C.K. brings remarkable nuance to his role, complementing every situation, no matter how realistically depressing or humorously over-the-top, perfectly. It comes across as a very natural performance, and for anyone asking “he’s just playing himself- how hard could it be?” watch celebrity cameos on any show, including the increasingly terrible Entourage. Two episodes into the second season, Louie continues to exist in its different realm from most everything else on television with amazing darkness, incredible direction (from C.K.) that captures a wide variety of emotions, and a willingness not to subscribe to any single rule or concept of comedy.
Honorable Mention: Fellow FX stalwart, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Never nominated for any Emmy, the show had an incredible string of episodes last season starting with “Mac’s Mom Burns Her House Down” and ending with season finale “Dee Gives Birth,” which worked around main actress Kaitlin Olson’s pregnancy brilliantly and gave us the Denim Shorts Speech. Writing, series, any of the five main actors- they all deserve some recognition.
COMEDY- NETWORK TELEVISION: Nick Offerman as Parks & Recreation‘s Ron Swanson for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
After a weak first season, Parks and Recreation returned for its second and third seasons as the strongest show on the NBC line-up. Today, the show resembles something more akin to a cable series where ongoing storylines, subtle humor, and character development take precedence over the quick fix of the individual episode or easy joke.
Originally criticized as a Michael Scott clone, Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope emerged as a powerful lead character, optimistic and energetic without being stupid while the rest of the supporting cast rounded out quite nicely themselves by avoiding the pitfalls of caricature. However, the standout of the show is Director of the Parks Department, libertarian Ron Swanson. Despising big government and loving breakfast food, whiskey, and woodworking, Swanson is one of the greatest characters currently on television. Perfectly deadpan, Offerman can accomplish more with a sly look or a single line than most actors on any show- comedic or drama. Swanson’s non-pretentious intelligence and wisdom is a rarity on television, and the relationship between him and Knope is written and acted remarkably well, based on mutual respect between two people rather than two characters.
Here are some of Ron’s best moments that I can find on YouTube before they’re removed:
Honorable Mention: Anyone from Community who isn’t Betty White. But if the paintball episode from last season didn’t get a nomination for Outstanding Direction, it’s doubtful that any of its accomplishments from this year will.
DRAMA- PAY CABLE: Michael Shannon as Agent Nelson Van Alden in Boardwalk Empire for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Practically everyone on Boardwalk Empire deserves acknowledgment for their acting- Michael Pitt, Michael Stuhlberg, Steve Buscemi, Michael K. Williams, but Michael Shannon’s portrayal of Michael Shannon as prohibition Agent Nelson Van Alden provides one of most intimidating and chilling performances I’ve ever seen on TV. Not the Elliot Ness of The Untouchables fame, Van Alden shows the blackness in the heart of “Good v. Evil” Rex Banners everywhere. The taciturn and God-fearing Van Alden has no patience for the easy acceptance of alcohol, bribery, and sin in 1920s Atlantic City, and he will go to any effort to stop it. Even looked down upon by his fellow officers, Van Alden throws himself into his crusade body and soul with scenes of self-flagellation and a baptism that makes him the most dangerous man in a show populated by characters like Al Capone, Johnny Torrio, and Arnold Rothstein. Shannon’s performance in this show makes his selection as General Zod in the upcoming Superman movie the best news of the upcoming reboot.
Honorable Mention: Steve Zahn as Davis McAlary in Treme for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Zahn’s performance as the ever hopeful, New Orleans-loving, wannabe musician serves as a nice counterpart to the pain facing the rest of the characters in David Simon’s excellent ensemble drama.
DRAMA- BASIC CABLE: Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett in Justified for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
After an okay freshman year, Justified upped its game considerably for its second season. Even star Timothy Olyphant’s performance of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens upgraded as the character became more interesting, funny (in a human way), and less of a “cowboy.” However, Margo Martindale’s performance as Mags Bennett brought the last season to a new level of excellence, and it ranks with Jacki Weaver’s Oscar-nominated criminal matriarch in last year’s Animal Kingdom.
The leader of a family of pot farmers, Mags wears the facade of the sweetest person in the world but destroys anyone who dares to hurt her sons (Jeremy Davies and Brad William Henke) or her business, all the while maintaining her caring demeanor. Living in Appalachian Kentucky, Mags showed an ability to wrest control of over most situations (from a dispute in the sticks to a business contract worth millions) while trying to maintain the centuries-old traditions that define her people. For a show that promoted itself with quick draw action from an expert marksman, the quiet and peaceful way her story ended was just another example of how Justified grew in its second year.
Honorable Mention: Donal Logue in Terriers as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. FX’s underrated (and now canceled) private detective show was a unique character drama for the genre, where actions had consequences that lasted from week to week and severed relationships needed time to repair. As recovering alcoholic Hank Dolworth, Logue showed a true depth and his relationship with former crook/partner Michael Raymond-James’ Britt Pollack was filled with a chemistry worthy of a wider audience and second chance.
DRAMA- NETWORK TELEVISION: Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House in House for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
I think House is the only network drama I watch so… I wouldn’t mind Hugh Laurie getting a nod. He’s more than decent, and House (both House and House) has improved since he and Cuddy broke up. So Hugh Laurie for best actor? Yes, I know he’s been nominated before. This is not an easy sub-category.
Honorable Mention: Amber Tamblyn as Masters? The guy who plays Taub? Is NBC’s Chuck a drama? Adam Baldwin? This is not an easy sub-sub-category.
Modern Family for Outstanding Comedy Series
Every once in a while a sitcom shows up with that extra special little something. Many agree that Modern Family has exactly that. I cannot recall such a a fuss since the monumental success of Arrested Development, itself a zany ensemble series about the ups and downs of extended family.
Whereas Arrested Development reveled in the delightfully bad antics of the spoiled and dysfunctional, Modern Family flips the coin over on an equally wacky but much more lovable group of suburbanites. Ed O’Neill, legendary as the leading man of Married… With Children, returns as Jay Pritchett, a mellowed out answer to Al Bundy with a sexy young wife (Sofia Vergara) and precociously philosophical stepson. His own children (Julie Bowen and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) have carved out households for themselves, and all of them are constantly intersecting one hilarious disaster after another.
In terms of format, there is nothing new here, but the writing and character work are absolutely stellar. Even the kids are working overtime to make us laugh. From school dances to construction accidents, neighborhood activism to fear of amusement parks, Modern Family spins a howling farce around every daily crisis middle America can conceivably face.
Oliver Platt as Paul Jamison in The Big C for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
The Big C is bold, even for a Showtime original series. Chronicling the hard and often bewildering decisions of Cathy (Laura Linney), a cancer patient determined to make her numbered days count, the show follows her and her loved ones through whimsical heights and crushing lows. Cathy is torn between living for herself and drawing her family close, and her reluctance to share the whole truth of her condition makes it rough going.
As Cathy’s diagnosis came in the midst of a marital dispute, she has an especially hard time breaking the news to her husband Paul (Oliver Platt), a slovenly but big-hearted guy who still cares deeply for his wife, whether or not he knows how to tell her. At first, Cathy treats him harshly to snap him out of self-pity and think about others for a change, but as she herself becomes more self-involved (understandably), he agonizes over what he could have done to bring about such a drastic change in her. Paul is sad in a very funny way, and it takes a great deal of comical skill to pull that off.
Modern Family alone has plenty of worthy candidates gunning for this nomination. Eric Stonestreet and Ed O’Neill are popular favorites, but I say the one to watch is Ty Burrell as blissful featherbrain Phil Dunphy. He or one of his fellow cast members make it very difficult for anyone else to get a look in when award time actually comes around. However, I am backing Oliver Platt all the way. He has the opportunity to display a full emotional spectrum in The Big C and delivers the goods every time.
The Kennedys for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie
The British have got us on the run this year, given all the buzz around Downton Abbey. Mildred Pierce, starring Kate Winslet, fills out the need for a classic adaptation, and people seem to be mad about it.
Let us not forget the wayward stepchild, whose close shave with airing on the History Channel doubtless made a lot of difference in how many people have actually seen it. The Kennedys, which chronicles the struggles of the titular clan to carve its legacy on the face of the world, is a gripping and well produced piece of work. Revolving primarily around the relationship between John F. Kennedy (Greg Kinnear), his brother Robert “Bobby” Kennedy (Barry Pepper), and their tirelessly ambitious father Joseph P. Kennedy (Tom Wilkinson), The Kennedys may or may not be good history, but it by-gosh has all the scandal, obsession, and anguish of good television drama.
Gliding back and forth between the real-time events of Kennedy’s presidency and a fragmented series of flashbacks, the series gives context to the various milestones of his career in office. Supported in strong times and weak by his stylish wife Jackie (Katie Holmes), the president felt the weight of his own legacy just as strongly as that of the Western world upon his shoulders. While not the sordid fantasy epic that Oliver Stone offered us in JFK, this show definitely presents a version of history selected for maximum dramatic impact. Believe it or not, brother Teddy is nowhere to be seen. Tell me with a straight face you aren’t disappointed. Nonetheless, Greg Kinnear does the most amazing imitation of JFK you ever saw, while simultaneously playing him with exceptional depth and grace. For my money, though, Barry Pepper runs away with the whole series as stalwart advisor and Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. As the man behind the man, he feels the pitfalls and tragedies of his brother’s presidency with magnified force.
The whole cast is marvelous, with the exception of an underwritten and laughably miscast Marilyn Monroe. How hard could it be to get that one right? Nonetheless, if you are not too picky about absolute historical fact (the accountant’s truth, if you will), you will find their portrayals of American icons deft and deeply moving. Though you may only find it on DVD right now, give The Kennedys a peek and see if you don’t agree.