'There's so much TV out there that novelty and discovery have become just as important as quality'
Credit: KC Bailey/Netflix

The nominations for the 2016 Golden Globe Awards were announced Thursday morning. Entertainment Weekly critics Melissa Maerz and Jeff Jensen discuss the highs and lows of the list.

Melissa’s take:

Everyone likes to make fun of the Golden Globes — it’s always been the Emmys’ slightly drunk cousin — but people also take it seriously, especially since it tends to champion newer, cooler shows that the Emmys typically ignore. When the list of nominees were announced Thursday morning, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association continued to honor some eccentric picks, as it has in the past, but this time, that list also reflected the difficulty of reaching any form of consensus in this age of peak TV.

Forced to consider an intimidating number of strong series made available through broadcast, cable, and digital outlets, the HFPA came up with some idiosyncratic choices in the best comedy and drama series categories. Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle, which was ignored by the Emmys and disliked by EW’s own Jeff Jensen, was a puzzling choice for both comedy series and comedy actor Gael García Bernal. Outlander earned a well-deserved but still surprising nod for drama series, considering that this fan favorite pulls in less than two million viewers. Netflix’s Narcos and Hulu’s Casual, two very good shows competing in drama and comedy, respectively, no doubt reach smaller audiences than perennial Globes favorites (and current series snubs) Homeland, Mad Men, and Downton Abbey. Starz’ Flesh and Bone — an over-the-top ballet drama that I enjoyed but many others panned — edged out HBO’s critically adored Show Me a Hero in the miniseries category. In fact, this year marks the first time in at least a decade that HBO didn’t lead the nominations.

The best actor and actress categories mostly went to worthy nominees, along with some typical Globes concessions to veteran actors on popcorn shows (Jamie Lee Curtis on Scream Queens, Rob Lowe on The Grinder). I’m particularly happy to see so many newcomers, including Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rachel Bloom, and Bloodline’s Ben Mendelsohn on the list. Clearly, peak TV isn’t just creating a long-tail effect with viewers — it’s affecting voters that way, too.

Granted, to claim that any show ranks among “the best” of any given year has always been a more ridiculous idea than the Hollywood Foreign Press — or critics like me — would like to admit. Obviously, there’s no scientific way to judge television. It’s more accurate to say that certain series rank among “the favorites” of the highly subjective individuals who choose the honorees. So, in the past, the Golden Globes didn’t just reflect which shows were the most watchable that year, but also which shows people actually watched. Now, by championing smaller, more polarizing series, they’re finally acknowledging that this is an impossible task. There’s so much TV out there that novelty and discovery have become just as important as quality. That’s a fitting trend for television in general, since it’s a genre that caters to short attention spans. And it’s probably a good thing for the Globes, which loves to shock its audience by calling unexpected names onto the stage to tearfully accept their statues, mid-martini, giving this year’s host, Ricky Gervais, more to joke about.

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Jeff’s take:

I appreciate Melissa’s gracious framework for the Golden Globes. The grumpy-pants that I am, I often default to “The Globes are meaningless!” harrumphing, a cynical posture shaped by years of reporting about the curious practices of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and nominations as flighty as a Butterfly. (A deep cut of Golden Globs madness there; sorry I’m so old.) It’s not all their fault. Hollywood studios often manipulate the group’s vulnerabilities and flawed processes to push their own agendas. See: Fox successfully lobbying to get The Martian in the movie musical-or-comedy category. I’d like to see Matt Damon “science the s—” out of that puzzler. Is this the first time a nomination implicitly ruins a movie? It was a sci-fi Castaway tale of life-or-death survival — and we’re saying that’s a comedy? I get it, Ridley Scott’s thrilling fiction is, at heart, a celebration of Right Stuff ingenuity, optimism, and global cooperation, and it meets the classical reductive definition of comedy, but the journey deserves its suspense. The nod should come with a Spoiler Alert.

But we’re here to talk television, aren’t we? The Golden Globes always land awkwardly in the (increasingly less traditional) fall-to-summer TV watching year. They either seem too late, re-celebrating old triumphs (this year: Game of Thrones, the sitting Emmy champ for Best Drama, which aired its season in the spring), or too premature, rewarding freshman performances that have barely fielded a respectable sample size (this year: The Grinder’s Rob Lowe, nominated for Best Actor in a musical or comedy).

Still, the Golden Globes can be a welcome, valuable disrupter to the cultural conversation about TV. Two seasons ago, the HFPA’s seemingly premature veneration of Brooklyn Nine-Nine shined a spotlight on a fledgling sitcom that (lucky timing!) was about to go next-level great. Since then, Andy Samberg’s screwball policier has grown even more into that Globe and become one of TV’s funniest comedies. And I do like how the group often winds up championing quirky, fringy, or marginalized quality that needs the profile boost. Last season, the HFPA justly honored Gina Rodriguez of Jane the Virgin as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. They’ve nominated her again this year, although weirdly, they’ve apparently forgotten what she looks like, as they confused her for Superstore’s America Ferrera on Thursday morning during the announcements. Embarrassing.)

This year, I’m most grateful for three nominations given to Mr. Robot, Sam Esmail’s engrossing psychological thriller about a disturbed hacktivist (the mesmerizing Rami Malek) and his mysterious partner in cyber-terrorism (arguably the best use of Christian Slater ever). I’m biased, of course: I just picked Mr. Robot as 2015’s best show. But the summertime cult fave wasn’t widely watched, so I hope the nods generate more interest, and I’d love to see Malek (who was just nominated for a SAG Award, too) get an Emmy nomination next year.

Other nominations that I’m grateful for: Casual. Hulu’s poignant low-fi comedy improved as it went along to become a true gem. Nominated for Best Comedy, the series isn’t the equal to other streaming sensations like Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (both of which failed to get a nod in this category), but I’m glad it got recognized. And besides, Aziz Ansari was nominated for Best Actor in a comedy for his work in Master of None. And while I’m bummed that Ellie Kemper and the entire Kimmy crew was completely ignored by the Globes, I’m elated that the wildly talented Rachel Bloom was nominated for Best Actress in a comedy, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I’m not surprised that Fargo scored a handful of nominations for its second season, but I’m impressed all the same that Patrick Wilson was honored for his powerful, deep performance of old-school heroism challenged by modern madness. Finally, I’m glad the Globes got behind the sexy and rough period drama Outlander in a major way, giving Caitriona Balfe, so nuanced and raw, and Tobias Menzies, in a mesmerizing, unsettling performance of human evil, the recognition that their bold, exposing work deserves. Gimme your martini, Ricky! A toast to all.

What did you think of this year’s nominations? Sound off below, and vote with your predictions for TV here and for movies here.