Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker applauds the Academy for recognizing some newbies, but wonders why some categories remain so stale

By Ken Tucker
Updated September 14, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Emma Thompson, Angels in America

Emmy nominees: surprises and let-downs

From the holy to the unholy: Any Emmy Awards that includes Amber Tamblyn (heroine of the talkin’-to-God series ”Joan of Arcadia”) and James Spader (a morally questionable lawyer on ”The Practice”) as drama nominees is doing a pretty good job of paying attention to its industry. Tamblyn and Spader give stylistically opposing performances: She’s quiet and subtle; he’s flamboyantly weird. It’s a gratifying range of actorly art for the Emmy nominators to acknowledge. Here are the other nods worth noting:

SIGNS OF ‘DEVELOPMENT’ The biggest surprise among the nominees for the 56th annual Emmy Awards is the presence of freshman series ”Arrested Development,” an exceedingly worthy nod of recognition to a terrific sitcom with slim ratings. ”Arrested” displaced ”Friends” in a list that included more predictable nominees: ”Everybody Loves Raymond,” the final spurt of ”Sex and the City,” ”Will & Grace,” and the gloriously cranky ”Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

HONORING THE DEARLY DEPARTED The late John Ritter’s presence in the best actor in a comedy category is more a sign of how much the charming comic actor is missed than of how good his show, ”8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” is. And who woulda thunk Bonnie Hunt, star of the abruptly canceled sitcom ”Life With Bonnie,” would get a nod? This was most likely a case of Academy of Television Arts & Sciences members rewarding someone they think was dissed by her network (ABC).

‘FRIEND’-LY COMPETITION Before the announcement, readers had written me asking whether I thought Courteney Cox Arquette would finally get nominated for ”Friends” in its final season, and I thought she would. But nope: Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc got the ”Friends” nods — not that they don’t deserve them. These two actors helped ”Friends” sustain its comic momentum at a point when it could have coasted.

VARIETY PACK The most culture-clashy nominees are to be found in the best actor in a TV-movie/miniseries categories. There you find, among others, James Brolin (for ”The Reagans”), Mos Def (for ”Something the Lord Made”), and Al Pacino (for ”Angels in America”) up against each other.

HARK, THE HERALD ‘ANGELS’ I doubt that ”Angels in America” is going to lose in any category it’s nominated, since it was so clearly the standout TV-movie event of the year. But things could get a tad exciting in the best TV-movie/miniseries actress category: ”Angels”’ Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson are both nominated, and only one can take the statue.

WHERE’S THE DRAMA? In the best-drama category, ”The Sopranos,” ”CSI,” ”24,” and ”The West Wing” were predictable (why no ”Without a Trace?”), with ”Joan of Arcadia” the only surprise newbie. I don’t think ”24,” ”CSI,” or ”Wing” had their best seasons, though, and unless there are a lot of voters who lean toward smartly written, delicate-hearted network fare over cable TV’s most brutal bit of brilliance (and that’s always a possibility, folks), ”The Sopranos” should win.

REALITY CHECK Finally, in the reality-competition category… ”Last Comic Standing”?!? Surely the nominators jest. ”Comic” joins ”The Amazing Race” (last year’s winner), ”American Idol” (no, kids, you can’t phone in and elect the winner yourself for this one), ”Survivor,” and ”The Apprentice.” You cannot tell me the Academy voters are going to pass up a chance to give an Emmy to Donald Trump, if only to see which makes it to the stage first: his hair or his ego. And Emmy Awards host Garry Shandling probably has 17 better Trump jokes than that already written for the Sept. 19 ceremony. Can’t wait.