EW critics Jeff Jensen and Melissa Maerz weigh in

By Jeff Jensen and Melissa Maerz
Updated July 16, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix; Lewis Jacobs/AMC; Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC; Chuck Hodes/Fox

The 2015 Emmy nominations were announced this morning, giving us the usual mix of deserving nods and stunning snubs, plus some surprises — and more nominees than ever before — as a result of some smart and dubious rule changes and category additions and expansions. What did Emmy get right and what did Emmy get wrong? EW’s TV critics Melissa Maerz and Jeff Jensen offer their perspectives.

JEFF JENSEN: The 2015 Emmy nominations got so much right and so much wrong at the same time. A television year remarkable for racial diversity was recognized with deserving nods for excellent work, including Viola Davis in How To Get Away With Murder, Taraji P. Henson in Empire, and Anthony Anderson in Black-ish. Tatiana Maslany finally got a Best Actress nomination for her multiplicity of tour de force performances in Orphan Black. And the comedy snubs I was dreading the most didn’t come to pass: Parks and Recreation, which wrapped its final season earlier this year, is contending for best in show, and Amy Poehler has a chance to win a Lead Actress trophy.

But the Outstanding Drama category is madness, and not because Mad Men got a nomination. Despite expanding the field to seven contenders (one more than last year), Emmy somehow gave us more of the same. Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, and House of Cards join Mad Men as returning nominees, though I’d argue only Mad Men deserves it. The three newcomers don’t feel “new” at all: Orange Is the New Black, which migrates over from Outstanding Comedy only because of a silly new rule saying that comedy nominees can’t be more than 30 minutes in length; Homeland, a previous winner coming off a comeback season; and and the Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul, which evolved into a worthy piece of work over the course of its rookie season. Left out in the cold: The Americans, the best drama of the past season (it’s never been nominated, so hey: consistency!); Empire, the TV year’s buzziest soap and most important pop sensation; Justified, which did the comeback thing better than Homeland and fielded the year’s strongest, best-realized finale season; and The Good Wife, which didn’t have the greatest season, but its expression of flawed excellence was certainly superior to Downton Abbey and House of Cards. Heck, Melissa, I’d even take the artful, polarizing hot mess of The Leftovers — produced by my good friend Damon Lindelof (so yeah, I’m biased) — over half of this largely dull field.

MELISSA MAERZ: Maybe it’s just that I have low expectations for Emmy voters, but I actually felt more excited about this year’s nominations than I have in a while. Am I disappointed that Empire didn’t get a nomination? Absolutely. Emmy voters too often snub shows that they deem too soapy, and Downton Abbey, which is one of the soapiest shows on TV, somehow gets a pass because the actors all speak with British accents that somehow make it seem highbrow. Was I sad that Outlander, Hannibal, The Mindy Project, The Americans and other worthy series got snubbed? Sure. But for the most part, I was so excited to see love for underrated shows and performances, especially since the Emmys so often fail to take risks. Not many people watched season 2 of The Comeback, but Lisa Kudrow’s turn as a B-list actress who’s playing an unflattering version of herself in an HBO series is one of the most layered, nuanced performances I’ve seen in years, and not just because of the show’s “meta” premise. She deserves that Lead Actress in a Comedy Series nod. I think Emmy voters love dark satires about their own industry, so it makes sense that they love her, too. I was thrilled to see Niecy Nash recognized for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy for her role as a nurse in a geriatric ward on Getting On. She’s heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time. Yes, Maslany was nominated for the wrong season, but who else out there can say that they’ve played a clone who’s playing a clone? That’s a whole new level of acting. Better to be honored too late than never.

I’ll also disagree with you on Outstanding Drama. I think Mad Men, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Orange Is the New Black all deserved nods, and I actually think it’s exciting that Orange is now the first series that has been nominated in both the Outstanding Drama and Outstanding Comedy categories. It just shows that the way we define those categories can be more fluid and more creative than it has been in the past. After all, both Jane the Virgin and Shameless successfully campaigned to enter their shows in the Outstanding Comedy category and won, only to be snubbed in that category. And, for me, Better Call Saul was definitely new. It’s the ultimate anti-spin-off, proof that you can take characters from another series and create a totally different, original show. Where Breaking Bad was about watching Mr. Chips evolve into Scarface, Better Call Saul is gripping precisely because it’s about a guy who really, really wants to be good but circumstances won’t let him stay that way.

I was very excited about the Outstanding Comedy Series nods. Yes, Modern Family has been rubber-stamped in there yet again, possibly setting it up to beat Frasier for the most all-time wins. But we also saw Transparent, my favorite show of 2014, nominated alongside Silicon Valley and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. What did you think of the comedy fields, Jeff?

JEFF JENSEN: The Outstanding Comedy category feels correct and reflects the boldness and freshness that we see in television comedy in general; the collective honors its genre the way the Outstanding Drama category should and could but doesn’t. I’m thrilled for my favorite binge of 2015, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — an energetic, every-line’s-a-punchline riot elevated by a stellar cast (kudos to Tituss Burgess, nominated for supporting actor) and sharp media satire — and Silicon Valley, which transcended mere satire and rebounded from the death of Christopher Evan Welch to become one of our very best and wisest comedies. I wish Jane the Virgin was represented, but I’m really not sure which nominee I would swap out for it.

Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor, nominated for Outstanding Actor, should start prepping his acceptance speech now. Did you see that field of Outstanding Actress nominees? Poehler, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lily Tomlin, Edie Falco, Lisa Kudrow, and Amy Schumer, continuing her pop culture takeover, and justifiably so: Inside Amy Schumer (nominated in the newly created and needed Outstanding Sketch Series category) is having a dynamite year. (I’m hoping the Emmy telecast does some kind of comedy bit involving all of these actresses.) And I was pleased to see Will Forte, creator and star of Last Man on Earth, score nods for Outstanding Actor and Outstanding Writing for the pilot episode, which was truly one of the most original half hours of TV this past year.

Can we make some predictions? Here are mine for the major series categories. Drama: Mad Men. Actor: Jon Hamm, who’s iconic turn as Don Draper is long overdue for a victory. (Never won. Unbelievable.) Actress: Henson, in a squeaker over Elisabeth Moss and Maslany. Comedy: Too close to call, but today, I say Parks and Recreation, purely out of sentiment. Actress: Poehler. Actor: Tambor. Final thoughts and predictions, Melissa?

MELISSA MAERZ: Drama: Mad Men. Actor: Jon Hamm. Actress: Either Henson or Davis, though it’s a shame that they have to compete against each other, considering they just made history together. (This is the first time that two black women have earned an Emmy nomination in the same year in this category. It’s about time!) Comedy: Transparent, though Parks and Recreation could win as a send-off gift to a great show. Actress: Schumer. As for predictions, I have one humble request: Somebody please let Tituss Burgess perform “Peeno Noir.” With Roseanne Barr.

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