On July 19, the Emmys will announce their nominations for the 2011-2012 awards. As always, there will be surprises and disappointments. In this article, I will discuss some of the shows and the actors that I want to see honored by the TV Academy.
There are not enough good words to describe Louis CK’s FX show Louie. Possibly the most artistic show on television, Louie is a brilliant series that changes how one perceives the television comedy. Employing all sorts of humor from the severely dark to the broadest slapstick, from the intensely personal to the embarrassingly cringe worthy, Louie is unlike anything else on television in the best possible way. Last season’s episode “Eddie” featuring Doug Stanhope as one of Louis’ contemporaries who never made it was one of the best episodes of any series last year and showed just how powerful and honest Louie can be.
The FX comedy lineup is probably the best on television, but Wilfred was a definite stand out during its freshman season, and it seems to be maintaining its off-beat quality during its currently airing second year. While the premise of a depressed man (Ryan, played by Elijah Wood) getting life advice from a dog whom he sees as a man dressed as a dog (Wilfred, played by Jason Gann in a cheap dog costume) doesn’t sound like it could last the length of a SNL skit, not only does Wilfred work, it’s also one of the funniest and smartest shows currently on television. Although the chemistry between the two leads is integral to the show’s success, particular credit needs to go to Gann, who co-created the series and played the same role on its original Australian incarnation. As a potential Best Supporting Actor, Gann’s mixing of calculating malevolence with the hyper excitement and childlike wonder of a dog makes it one of TV’s most memorable performances.
While I don’t doubt that Parks and Recreation will get some recognition, preferably for Nick Offerman as Best Supporting Actor and Amy Poehler as Lead Actress for a second time, NBC’s other fan favorite Community deserves some long overdue attention. Ready and willing to go in unexpected directions every week, Community takes chances that pay off more often than not.
It would be nice to see Dan Harmon, the show’s unfortunately ousted showrunner and creator, receive his due for giving us a season that produced “Pillows and Blankets” (a Ken Burns The Civil War parody), “Basic Lupine Urology” (a spot-on spoof of Law and Order), and “Remedial Chaos Theory” (which gave us the darkest timeline).
Curb Your Enthusiasm
With only 10 episodes approximately every two years, it’s easy to forget that Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of TV’s best comedies. Remarkably, the most recent season, Season 8, where Larry moves to New York to avoid a charity engagement, was one of the show’s greatest seasons yet. Applying his unique style of humor to issues such as race relations, the Middle Eastern crisis, divorce, and domestic violence, social assassin Larry David slyly maneuvers his way through some of society’s most taboo subjects like the expert craftsman he is. I also wouldn’t mind seeing JB Smoove (Larry’s housemate/sidekick Leon) or Susie Essman, who has shockingly never been nominated as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Larry’s foil Susie Greene, getting some accolades.
Beavis & Butt-head
When it comes to animated series, there are strong contenders. South Park had one of its most biting and funniest half seasons in years this spring, which is high praise for a show that could legitimately be considered the best comedy on TV for over a decade straight. The most elegant Archer has disappointingly never been nominated for Best Animated Series. Futurama continues to be beautifully animated while striking a great balance between heart and zaniness.
But the most remarkable achievement probably came from Mike Judge who brought back Beavis and Butt-Head after nearly 14 years without a new episode. Despite being away from the boys from Highland for nearly a decade-and-a-half, it felt as though Beavis and Butt-Head never left. Continuing to riff on MTV programming and remaining oblivious to the life that goes on around them, it was a pitch perfect return to one of the most definitive shows of the 1990s.
Eastbound & Down– Danny McBride is never better than as the destructive and self centered baseball player Kenny Powers, and Steve Little as his devoted lackey Stevie remains one of the show’s strongest parts. Jason Sudeikis and Will Ferrell also turned in excellent guest actor turns.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia– Never nominated for any Emmy despite its strong cast and consistently good writing, IASIP closed out its seventh season with the hilarious The High School Reunion two-parter.
In this section, I will try to avoid the most obvious shows to be nominated. We know Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones will get some honors, as well they should. Although I’m not far enough into Homeland to fully judge its credentials, I’d be very surprised if Claire Danes and Damien Lewis aren’t honored. And if Sherlock can be awarded, it should be.
Damages has never received the public acclaim it probably deserves, and the move from FX to DirecTV further hurt its accessibility. Nevertheless, the Glenn Close/Rose Byrne-starring legal drama has always been well acted, well made, and remarkably complex with its narrative, themes, and characters. Moreover, it probably handles longer-term mysteries better than any show in recent memory with the exception of Breaking Bad. Reveals are doled out methodically and intelligently, and its often tragic solutions rarely feel like a cop out.
This season, which dealt with a botched military mission conducted by a Blackwater-esque company, wisely avoided too much political heavy handedness and humanized the two main “bad guys” by giving them motives behind the cover up other than pure evil and greed. And it is these two “villains” who most deserve the attention from the TV Academy. The ever-reliable John Goodman evoked menace and sympathy as Howard Erickson, the head of the company. But it was Happiness‘ Dylan Baker as company clean-up man Jerry Boorman who elevated the show to a new level. The underrated Baker, who played the Dr. Curt Connors in the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and new Gwen Stacy Emma Stone’s father in the short-lived Drive, gave an intense and nuanced performance that allowed the show to rise to its best.
The second season of Justified rocketed the FX federal marshal show into one of the best series on television, and the third season showed that what had once seemed like a better-than-average procedural had found its footing as a remarkably clever serialized show. Despite existing on a smaller scale than cable’s epic dramas like Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, Justified nevertheless covers many of the same issues such as politics, corruption, family history, and organized crime with as much talent and complexity.
With Neal McDonough’s Robert Quarles as this season’s “big bad,” Justified continued to develop fascinating criminal underworlds both with the highfalutin Detroit mob and the “in the sticks” Kentucky gangsters like mob boss Boyd Crowder (a superb Walton Goggins). It also understands the value of populating a series with recurring side characters such as Jere Burns’ Wynn Duffy, Jeremy Davies’ Dickie Bennett (a character whom I was happily surprised to see return in season 3), and Damon Herriman’s Drewey Crowe.
Another thing that makes Justified stands out is its humor. It’s possibly the funniest drama on television with remarkable comedic subtlety both in performances (particularly Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens) and in writing.
Although Boardwalk Empire won multiple technical awards for its first season and will likely be nominated for bigger awards again this year, it still comes across as a dark horse candidate. (Though definitely not as unlikely as HBO’s Treme.) Despite Steve Buscemi being the lead, the Prohibition-era drama never feels as though we’re only watching Nucky Thompson’s story. It’s equally Chalky White’s story, Jimmy Darmody’s story, Nelson van Alden’s story, etc., and they each have their own cast of characters and issues to deal with. While their universes might intersect, they all have their own spheres giving the world of Boardwalk Empire a genuine richness. Although it may seem as though Boardwalk Empire has too many plates in the air as it tries to cover emotional drama, criminal conspiracies, and history, it always manages to pull it off with suspense and class.
Boardwalk Empire received Emmy nominations for Buscemi (as Best Lead Actor), Kelly MacDonald (as Best Supporting Actress), and Best Series during its first year, but its extremely talented group of supporting actors unfortunately were left without credit. While last year’s stand out was Michael Shannon as the fanatic G-man Nelson van Alden, this year it was Michael Pitt as Jimmy Darmody who commanded the screen. His death at the end of the season finale was disappointing because of how strong his character became, and we have to wait until September to see whether its impact will be worth the loss.
Sons of Anarchy
Maligned by the Emmys, Sons of Anarchy has only received a nomination for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music in all of its five seasons. While some of its decisions last year seemed a bit…questionable (The CIA’s behind it all!), one is willing to look past its missteps due to the strength of its cast and the not unreasonable belief that it knows what it’s doing. At the very least, show creator Kurt Sutter allowed us to remain in Charming throughout the entire season rather than shove everyone off to another country. And an Emmy nomination for Katey Sagal’s outstanding performance as Gemma Teller is long overdue.
The dark comic firehouse drama Rescue Me ended its run this year kind of disappointingly. After spending an entire series following Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) combating his alcoholism, his family, and his all-encompassing death wish, to have the series conclude with him getting everything felt a bit weak. You have a new baby! And your family loves you again! And you can continue to fight fires! And your ghosts are fun! It was a disgustingly happy ending for a show that spent its existence headed for anything but.
Nevertheless, as the final season showed, there’s one person who really deserves special recognition for his hard work over the past seven seasons- John Scurti as Lieu. Playing Tommy Gavin’s best friend, Scurti provided the show with its emotional core and many of its funniest moments. The first scene of the final episode (see above), where Lieu gives a eulogy as the final survivor of Ladder 62, was quite possibly the best and most powerful scene in the show’s history. Too bad it turned out to be a dream.
I want to give special recognition to Desmond Harrington as Quinn in Dexter Season 6. His grade school performance of a lush somehow managed to stand out as especially heinous in an insulting-the-audience’s-intelligence season that was probably the worst thing put on television last year.
At that level of intoxication, he probably took a sip every time Dexter said “dark passenger.”