I don’t understand television, or, Why the Emmys suck

First, I have to congratulate my friend J who labored SO HARD on a cable project which ended up landing a small pile of nominations. Triumph! And my condolences to our other friend B, who’s toiled for years on a fine TV show which, once again, got no real nominations. Chin up, B.

I hate the Emmys. Why? Because I don’t understand them. Judging TV is very easy to me. You have, week in and week out, a chance to form/enhance/change your opinion on something. With a movie, it’s possible to get swept up in the immediate reaction. For instance, when something opens and has overwhelming buzz and you love it, then you re-watch it later and realize it wasn’t actually that good (Saving Private Ryan). Or when you hated a movie but a later viewing showed you just how genius it really is (Zoolander, Tropic Thunder). So much of my problem with the Oscars stems from that—everyone gets caught up in a couple movies for a year, often excluding better work for the popular picks of the day. But the Emmys have multiple chances to figure it out. They have 12-22 hours of opportunity a year. Yet somehow they almost always mess it up.

For the complete list of nominees, go here. We’re not reviewing each category because I really don’t care about Best Background Actor or Most Effective Use of Product Placement. No, we’re here to focus on the snubs because when it comes to the Emmys, the snubs are always more interesting than the actual nominees. Although, this year the Emmys did correct their gross oversight of Ed O’Neill (Modern Family), and Walton Goggins finally got an acting nod, though it’s for Justified and not The Shield. I guess I should say, to be fair, that this year I was happy to see some long-deserved recognition come down for Friday Night Lights (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton both got nods). So I guess before we complain, we should be glad for who did get recognition.

Justified got three acting nominations, for lead actor Timothy Olyphant, supporting actor Goggins, and supporting actress Margo Martindale. Parks & Recreation picked up a Best Comedy Series nod and Amy Poehler got her second Lead Actress in a Comedy nod. The FNL nominations are long overdue and well deserved and they picked up an Outstanding Drama Series nod. Downton Abbey is all over the Miniseries/Movie categories, with a writing nod for Julian Fellowes, Lead Actress for Elizabeth McGovern (Countess Cora), and Supporting Actress for Maggie Smith (Dowager Countess Violet). The BBC’s Sherlock got some technical nominations but was shut out of the major categories. So the 2011 Emmys aren’t without deserved picks, but the bad still outweighs the good.

I think my biggest problem with the Emmy nominees are all the retreads. In all the major series categories, past nominees dominate the landscape. 30 Rock, Mad Men, The Office and Dexter are all multiple nominees again. Which isn’t to say that they’re bad shows, just that maybe, given how long TV shows can run, there should be some kind of nomination cap? I’m not sure how to do that and keep it fair, but with the Emmys, it feels like the same three shows get nominated every year. The new crop of dominators are also out in force—Glee and Modern Family chief among them. And then there are the utterly predictable nods for Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones clogging up the Drama Series categories.

Left to me, I’d nominate Steve Buscemi from Boardwalk Empire and the costume and art departments and call it a day. That show is boring and badly paced and terribly overrated. I’m fine with Game of Thrones’ laundry list of nominations because it’s actually an engaging show to watch with characters you care about. But Boardwalk Empire? I’d rather give myself a pedicure with rusty pliers than sit through more episodes of that. Ditto for the miniseries The Borgias which was such a snoozefest. Did anyone really even like that show? And while I think Berry Pepper’s acting nomination for The Kennedys is deserved, I think that because he was the ONLY good thing about that miniseries—Greg Kinnear should not be on the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries/Movie category. Give that spot to Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch. Another nod that baffles me is The Cleveland Show for Outstanding Animated Series. Do people actually watch that? And like it? It’s terrible! Why not Archer? Archer is the best animated show on TV right now. Yes, even over South Park.

But where the Emmys get really egregious is in the complete oversight of HBO’s Treme. Last year at least they got some cursory nods for directing and music. This year, when the show has really hit its stride and come into its own? Nothing. Shut out. It’s actually embarrassing. It’s embarrassing that something as good as Treme is happening on television and the Emmys ignore it in favor of The Good Wife. And I know you’ll all yell at me for saying that, but while the acting is very fine in The Good Wife and it’s a satisfying adult soap, it is nothing compared to Treme. Nearly as obnoxious is the near-shut out of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Here’s an idea. Take every nomination for The Killing, which was so unsatisfying from start to finish that watching the whole first season was like eating glass, and give them to The Walking Dead.

My television buddies told me, long ago, that the six episode season for The Walking Dead was going to be problematic come Emmy time. It’s too short, not enough to judge. And it’s zombies, so there’s a genre prejudice in effect. My response? 1) The Walking Dead’s huge ratings—clearly people like zombies so the Emmys just need to get over themselves, and 2) The Walking Dead accomplished in six episodes what 98% of shows can’t accomplish in 12-22 episodes. It was engaging, engrossing, scary, tense, and well made from start to finish. Remember the six weeks The Walking Dead was on the air? It wasn’t just me in love with the show. EVERYONE was absorbed with it. My mom’s boss is obsessed with zombies now, thanks to that show.

Their comeback to this logic? THEY DON’T HAVE ONE. Because there isn’t one. The Walking Dead stretched what television can be and yet the Emmys barely toss it a bone with three technical nominations. And not even major tech categories like cinematography or art direction, but instead they placate with a minor makeup category. Other gross oversights include the shutout of NBC’s Community (easily better than Glee and The Big Bang Theory) and FX’s Sons of Anarchy. The Emmys are always cause for complaint. I don’t understand how, with so much to judge by, pretentious crap like Boardwalk Empire and The Borgias, or bore-fests like Mildred Pierce and The Killing can be so honored when the consistently best shows on TV get ignored. Oh well. At least with all those Empire nominations the odds are good we’ll get to see Paz de la Huerta be a total disaster at the show. That’s always worth watching.

7 thoughts on “I don’t understand television, or, Why the Emmys suck

  1. Heidi

    Sarah, I totally agree. I love the Office and even I was surprised at the nominations it received and, I’m sorry, 30 Rock as well. Great show but this year it wasn’t better than Community. I don’t get the Glee obsession at all.

    Don’t even get me started on The Walking Dead…

    1. Heidi

      Oh yeah, I was VERY happy to see that Timothy Olyphant received a nomination for Justified, however, I think the show deserved a Best Drama nod.

  2. Emma

    Goodness me, that is a very white list! What is going on? I can’t believe Treme got no love again this year. It’s an amazing series, it deserves some recognition. Khandi Alexanders performance as LaDonna was a revelation. Shame!

  3. Gabs

    Community deserves more love. That show is so great and yet Glee gets more hype (ugh!). They should have nominated it instead of 30 rock for the 5th time.

  4. I think the Emmys have improved over where they were 10 years ago. Last I recall, the best Buffy could do was a writing nomination for Joss on “Hush.” Shows like True Blood or Games of Thrones have now been nominated for Best Drama. Slowly but surely it is improving.

    Although they really could have forgone Mariska Hartigay’s annual nomination…

  5. brooke

    I love you Sarah. Found your site from Lainey’s. I love that you said The Killing was awful. The undercover cop that passes out joints to get information… just silly! I only made it through two episodes but every second was boring and unbelievable. I don’t mind plot twists if they makes sense, but it was clear that show as going to throw them in every other scene. Nothing was good about that show. And Treme is such a beautiful show. It’s very hard to watch. Maybe that’s why it got overlooked. I will admit, it does take me awhile to get to Treme. But I have to be ready to cry. So I save it for binge watching. I know this is an older post but I wanted to let you know I appreciate you recognizing some wonderful shows. Quick question, why do you call the Walking Dead farm people cannibals?

    1. Because they’re such Southern Gothic/horror movie cliches that all that’s missing is some Deliverance-style buggery and/or hill people cannibalism. Secret’s in the sauce!

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