For a few minutes this morning, I felt such delight from this year’s Emmy nominations that I felt the voters responsible for them had executed their task perfectly. Master of None. The Americans. Mr. Robot. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. black-ish. Silicon Valley. Game of Thrones.
But then I went on Twitter, and my buzz faded as readers and my fellow critics reminded me of one “snub” after another. Show Me A Hero, Orange Is The New Black, Samantha Bee, Connor Jessup in American Crime, Caitriona Balfe in Outlander, and so many more. So no, the nominations are not perfect. They are, as usual, a mixed bag. Maybe more even evenly divided between “Way to go!” and “No way!” than past years, but mixed all the same.
A lot to rave about, a lot grumble about, a lot of wishing for something different. Here’s my quick-take, IMHO processing.
Outstanding Lead Actor, Drama
Kyle Chandler, Bloodline
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Rave: This was the first category announced this morning, and it got me overly optimistic that this year’s Emmys would be all about correcting some injustices and getting bolder. That didn’t really come to pass. Still, props to Emmy for saluting Rhys, so good at showing us what conflicted patriotism and manhood looks like in The Americans, and for plugging into Rami Malek for his mad, electrifying work in Mr. Robot.
Grumble: Spacey was very good in a just-okay campaign for Frank Underwood, except for the few episodes which he slept through… because Frank was in a coma. I love Schreiber – Spotlight was another proof that he’s one of our great actors, who can do so much with so little a part – but Ray Donovan doesn’t do it for me.
Swap Out: Spacey and Schreiber with Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen of Hannibal, a dazzling acting duet involving two richly demented characters and one of the most complex relationships in recent TV history.
Outstanding Lead Actress, Drama
Claire Danes, Homeland
Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
Taraji P. Henson, Empire
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
Keri Russell, The Americans
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Rave: Everything I said about Rhys, ditto for Russell. I’ll say one thing more: she should win. In an emotionally tumultuous year for Elizabeth Jennings – a near death experience, bonding and betraying a mission-turned-best-friend, breaking down and building back up – Russell was raw, real, and riveting. I also loved Wright in House of Cards this season, refining and perfecting diamond tough, ice-cold Claire Underwood as she seized power and her destiny.
Grumble: Messy sophomore seasons for How To Get Away With Murder and Empire make it hard for me to get too pumped about Davis (who won last year) and Henson even as they continue to do stellar, entertaining work. I can say something similar about Danes, and a teeny bit more so: Homeland continues to be good after recovering from a near-disastrous third season, and she continues to be the reason to watch. But the thrill is gone.
Swap Out: Danes with Eva Green of Penny Dreadful, the just-canceled Showtime creepshow, for her dynamic, elevating performance as satanically-tormented spiritualist Vanessa Ives. Her showcase – the mental institution bottle episode, “A Blade of Grass” – was a tour-de-force.
Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy
Anthony Anderson, black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth
William H. Macy, Shameless
Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent
Rave: It was a huge, justly deserved day for Master of None and Ansari, who also picked up writing and directing nominations. I love how Emmy has developed a taste for quirkiness, as demonstrated by Middleditch and Forte, honored for fine, focused character work in offbeat comedies.
Grumble: I can’t, really, though Macy falls in my IMHO hell of “I Like Him, It’s A Good Performance, But I Can Think Of Better.”
Swap Out: Macy with Chris Geere for his prickly-poignant, salty-sweet turn in You’re The Worst.
Outstanding Lead Actress, Comedy
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Ellie Kemper, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Tracee Ellis Ross, black-ish
Laurie Metcalf, Getting On
Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie
Rave: Kimmy Schmidt was a more flawed creation in season 2, and Kemper rocked it, while also nailing every comedy challenge thrown at her. She plays the peculiarities and tones of her broad character just right, so that she remains constantly winsome and never wearying. And what a year for Metcalf. Besides Getting On, an under-appreciated gem, and she’s nominated for her bravura guest turn in Horace and Pete.
Grumble: First, let me say I think sketch comedy performers should have their own acting categories. If they existed, I’d celebrate Schumer’s inclusion. She’s a vital and freakin’ funny comedy voice. That said, I didn’t think her work this season was as sharp as past years. Tomlin lands in my IMHO hell here: there’s stronger work out there to honor.
Swap Out: Schumer and Tomlin with the multi-talented Rachel Bloom, who makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sing and soar, and equally eclectic Maria Bamford, who grounds the gonzo of Lady Dynamite with humanity.
Outstanding Comedy Series
Master of None
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Rave: Highlighted by newcomer Master of None, the escalating greatness of black-ish and the trailblazing triumph of Transparent, this category does a respectable job of capturing the invigorating state of TV comedy as a whole.
Grumble: The diversity and richness of current TV comedy owes a big debt to Modern Family. But its power has been waning, while so many other worthy sitcoms blaze bright. Also, Emmy rules state that shows in this category must be less than 30 minutes or so in length, a really dumb rule that unfairly punishes greatness like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which belongs in this category more than it does drama.
Swap Out: Modern Family for You’re The Worst, TV’s wisest, randiest rom-com.
Outstanding Drama Series
Better Call Saul
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Rave: Thank you, Emmy, for finally watching The Americans and for championing Mr. Robot, my favorite show of 2015. Game of Thrones, the reigning Emmy holder in this category, fielded spectacular episodes and proved it didn’t need the guidebook of George R.R. Martin’s novels to be successful. With its emphasis on the oft-degraded female characters, the season finally made me a full-fledged fan.
Grumble: Damn you, Emmy, for your stubborn passion for Downton Abbey, Homeland, and House of Cards. I like them, too, but not as much as you, and your fixation with them continues to prevent brilliant shows – even better flawed shows – from getting their due. Among them: The Leftovers, UnREAL, Halt and Catch Fire, and more.
Swap Out: Downton Abbey, Homeland, and House of Cards for Hannibal, Orange Is The New Black, and Rectify, a fine gem crafted with thoughtful artfulness and luminous with humanizing power.