The annual announcement of the Primetime Emmy Award nominations is generally one of the most contentious events of the year for anyone who works in, writes about or cares about television. Nomination Day usually falls right in the middle of the annual July Television Critics Association tour, so for the last few years it has begun with me sitting alone in a Los Angeles hotel room processing the honors and oversights, then getting increasingly aggravated by the latter, and then heading off to one of the hotel's ballrooms to exchange my thoughts with dozens of similarly disgusted critics. But with the summer TCA pushed to a later start date this year (July 28), I'm alone at my desk with the nomination list -- and, much to my surprise, I'm not nearly as upset as I normally get.
Maybe it's because there are now six nominees in each acting category and seven in the categories of Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series. Maybe it's the many delightful surprises in the mix (see below). Maybe it's the overriding fact that there is so much terrific television to be enjoyed these days (if one can afford to purchase it) that all the good work can't possibly be acknowledged in one swoop.
There may be some oversights, and some of them may be whoppers, but as I scan the lists of nominees in each category it occurs to me that there are few (if any) that do not deserve to be included. Still, it wouldn't be Nomination Day without some significant griping, so let's get it out of the way. I'm not surprised that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has once again failed to honor two of television's top dramas, Friday Night Lights and Battlestar Galactica. I gave up hope that it would do so a long time ago. What it has against these two extraordinary shows will always be a mystery. The very idea that BSG stars Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell raised the bar for dramatic television acting for four seasons without once being acknowledged is appalling. Similarly, the realization that Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton, Adrianne Palicki, Jesse Plemons, Taylor Kitsch and Gaius Charles can work the wonders that they do on FNL without benefit of Academy recognition is so disheartening it hurts.
My other big gripe is the Academy's failure to find room for The Shield among the nominees for Outstanding Drama Series and series star Michael Chiklis among those for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Because Chiklis won an Emmy for the long-ago first season of this show I might be okay with these oversights had Walton Goggins copped a nom for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. With all due respect to the six actors nominated in this category, Goggins didn't simply deserve a nomination here, he deserved the damned award itself.
As always, the real Emmy excitement is located in the Drama and Comedy Series categories. So here are my thoughts, pro and con, beginning with the Drama:
Moving past the egregious snubs of Friday Night Lights, Battlestar Galactica and The Shield, the seven series nominated for Outstanding Drama Series are all good choices. The big surprise here is that HBO didn't muscle True Blood into the mix. Wait until next year.
As distressed as I am by the exclusion of Walton Goggins among the nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actor, I'm thrilled to see Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad on the list. He was galvanizing this season and I hope he takes home the award.
I find it strange that William Shatner and Christian Clemenson of Boston Legal were recognized in this category while series star James Spader was passed over for Outstanding Lead Actor. Spader has three Emmys for his work as Atty. Alan Shore and his work was just as fine this season as in previous years (as was that of Shatner and Clemenson, both previous winners). I'm not sure Simon Baker of The Mentalist deserved a nod over Spader . For that matter, I would have bumped Baker in favor of Denis Leary of Rescue Me or the aforementioned Michael Chiklis.
It's nice to see Big Love score a nomination as Outstanding Drama Series, but I wish that the eternally mesmerizing Chloe Sevigny had landed on the Outstanding Lead Actress list. I would have chosen her over Sally Field of Brothers & Sisters and Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, just as I would have picked January Jones over her Mad Men co-star Elisabeth Moss and Mary McDonnell of BSG over Holly Hunter of Saving Grace. All that said, this category is basically a two-woman contest between Glenn Close of Damages and Kyra Sedgwick of The Closer. I'm predicting Close but I'm rooting for Sedgwick.
I have no complaints with the nominees for Supporting Actress, but I wish Katherine Heigl was on the list with her Grey's Anatomy co-stars Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson. That said, Heigl already has an Emmy and the other two ladies do not, so unless Dianne Wiest of In Treatment makes it two for two, maybe Oh or Wilson will finally receive some long overdue love from Emmy voters.
Moving on to the Comedy categories:
The biggest shock of all is the Academy's failure to nominate The Big Bang Theory as Outstanding Comedy Series, without question the funniest sitcom on television. What a strange category this has turned out to be: Entourage had a wildly uneven season and The Office seems to be on the decline, but they were both nominated. Family Guy landed here while the superior The Simpsons and South Park are sitting on the Outstanding Animated Series list. The weirdness that is HBO's Flight of the Conchords was recognized, but IFC's similarly funky Z-Rock was not. Weeds and 30 Rock both deserve their nods, but I find it odd that How I Met Your Mother scored a nom over its Monday night line-up mates Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. Lastly, it would have been nice if the Academy had found the collective heart to nominate the one-of-a-kind wonder that was Pushing Daisies.
Strangely, I'm 100 percent good with the nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress, even if poor America Ferrera was left in the dust for the suddenly (and unfairly) not-hot Ugly Betty. Among the Lead Actors, I would have gone with James Roday of Psych and Lee Pace of Pushing Daisies over Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords, Charlie Sheen of Two and a Half Men or the already much-honored Tony Shalhoub of Monk. But this category is another two-person race, between Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory and Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock. I'm pulling for Parsons.
With three-time winner Jeremy Piven of Entourage surprisingly off the list (what's that about?) there is a new sense of excitement around the competition for Outstanding Supporting Actor. It will be a huge night for Emmy host Neil Patrick Harris if he finally receives a much-deserved award for his consistently fine work in How I Met Your Mother. I used to root for Piven's co-star Kevin Dillon, but I think he had an off year. (Still, if he wins, I'm good.) I wish room had been made for Michael Urie of Ugly Betty. Urie is always on when Betty is having an off-episode.
As for the Outstanding Supporting Actress category, I'll be happy to see any one of the six women nominated receive a much-deserved award. There were no significant oversights here, though I'm surprised that Jean Smart of Samantha Who?, the winner this category last year, didn't make the cut.