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The 2014 Emmy Awards, Episode 1: Dramatic Series Nominations

The first in a series of four articles covering the 2014 Emmy Awards, this will look at the nominations for Dramatic series.  In the next few days there will be an article discussing the nominations for Comedic series.  Later in the summer there will be both a preview of the ceremony as well as a review, both posted here at The Rock at Boston College.  A list of the nominations, as well as some background information about the awards is available here

On the morning of July 10th, the nominations for the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, honoring the best of the 2013-2014 television season, were announced.  These nominations come in the midst of what many critics and members of the television industry are calling a “Golden Age,” a period in which television has never been better.  And for the most part, the nominations prove that dramatic television has reached a high point.

Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in 'True Detective'The nominations for ‘Best Drama’ received a little excitement this year from the appearance of  HBO’s True Detective.  For all intents and purposes, “Detective” is a miniseries: each season is a different chapter in an anthology, with new characters and a new story every year, similar to FX’s American Horror Story.  But, in their attempt to legitimize the show as a top-tier drama, HBO opted out of the “Miniseries” category (where the show and lead actor Matthew McConaughey were guaranteed to win) and entered themselves in the ‘Drama Series’ categories.  While it may prove to be fatal in the quest to earn an actual Emmy for the whole show, it does serve to prove that a miniseries with just 8 episodes can actually play with the reigning kings of television.

Those reigning kings, though, are nothing really new, as the other five nominees were all nominated last year (Showtime’s “Homeland,” coming off a mediocre season, is the only drama not nominated again in this category, due to the far superior True Detective).  AMC earned two Best Drama nominations for Breaking Bad and Mad Men.  This comes as a surprise to literally no one, as they have both been strong players in the category for many years.  Mad Men won four awards from 2008-2011, and Breaking Bad took the top prize home last year, just after completing its series run with the best set of episodes the show had yet to produce, which are honored this year due to the Emmy Awards’ rules on scheduling.  HBO also gained another nomination with the disgustingly popular Game of Thrones, which also had the highest number of nominations for any show this year, earning 19 total noms.  The show has definitely been looked down upon in the past for being based in fantasy, and likely won’t win the award against the stiff competition, but it has earned a very well-deserved nomination.

Netflix proved again that the Internet is no laughing matter, as House of Cards was nominated for Best Drama for its second season, even if some of the final episodes were a little melodramatic and untamed.  PBS’s Downton Abbey is the only drama on a broadcast network that received a nomination this year.  But, many (including myself) feel that the show, which cannot really compete with the other nominees and just finished its weakest season, should have been dropped in favor of CBS’s The Good Wife, a strong drama that just finished what was unquestionably its best season.  But alas, The Good Wife doesn’t carry the same clout in some circles as “Downton,” which was likely nominated as an ‘old favorite.’

mad_menThe nominations for lead actor in a drama series offered no surprises.  Jeff Daniels, fresh off a surprise victory last year for his work in The Newsroom, was again nominated this year, although the odds of him winning are slim to none due to both his win last year and The Newsroom’s weaker season this year.  Jon Hamm received his seventh consecutive nomination for Mad Men, although it comes as a surprise to many that he has yet to win the award.  Sadly, though, this will not be his year, so look to see if they honor him in 2015 after Mad Men’s series finale, as a tribute his work on the whole show.  Woody Harrelson was excellent in an understated way in True Detective, and Kevin Spacey was again triumphant in House of Cards as the sinister Frank Underwood.  But, all these men have two things in common that will stop them from taking home the Emmy: Matthew McConaughey and Bryan Cranston.

McConaughey has the potential to become the first man to ever win the top acting prize at the Oscars and the Emmys in one year.  His performance in True Detective was potentially the biggest reason for the show’s success, as his work not only overshadowed the excellent Woody Harrelson, but was also haunting and troubled.  Cranston has won three Emmys for his portrayal of Breaking Bad’s Walter White, the man who truly started the trend of ‘leading male anti-heroes’ that take up arguably every single nomination slot this year.  The final season of “Bad” only gave him material and screen-time to help him elevate his performance to a new high.  This is the last chance for voters to elect Cranston the winner, and it’s both the first and last chance for them to honor McConaughey.  For now, I’ll say that this trophy is McConaughey’s to lose, but get ready for a battle.

The nominations for Lead Actress in a Drama Series are interesting this year.  Lizzy Caplan represents the under-nominated Showtime series Masters of Sex, and Michelle Dockery reps Downton Abbey, but these ladies don’t have enough power going forward to take the trophy home.  The other four actresses, though, will be in a footrace for the prize from now until August 25th.  Claire Danes, who has won the Emmy in both of the last two years for her performance in Homeland, gave an amazing performance, but is hurt by both a very weak season of Homeland, as well as many viewers seeing just more of the same in her character.

houseofcardsThe Good Wife’s Julianna Marguiles gave a stellar performance this year that changed many’s perception of her character, giving her a nomination this year after she was locked out in 2013 (even though she won in 2011).  Kerry Washington, who many feel was snubbed last year when she didn’t win for Scandal’s second season, has a strong chance of winning this year, though like many of her colleagues she is hurt by a less-than stellar season for her show as a whole.  This leaves House of Cards’ Robin Wright, who was so brilliant at times she almost overshadowed her co-star Kevin Spacey, even if her character’s psyche still has more to be explored.  Ultimately, I think it will become a battle between Washington and Wright, with Wright currently ahead by a nose.

The nominations for both Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress almost remind us of the prominence of the lead characters.  Dramas based around ensembles are difficult to manage without it becoming too surface-based and melodramatic, so they are often based around one or two key characters to keep things tight and nice.  Downton Abbey, one of the two most obvious exceptions to this, earned three of the twelve Supporting Actor/Actress nominations, with Maggie Smith being the only real contender here.  The other exception, Game of Thrones, earned two nominations, one for each gender, but the ensemble nature of the show, combined with Peter Dinklage’s previous win and the apparent longevity of the show makes it seem unlikely either will win.

The Good Wife also earned one nomination in each category, though only Josh Charles has a fighting chance for Supporting Actor, even if it is small.  While many seem to want Christina Hendricks to finally get some well-deserved and overdue recognition for her role in Mad Men, the frontrunners in both categories are both from the same show: Breaking Bad.  Anna Gunn, who won the Supporting Actress prize in 2013 has the best chance at winning but still faces strong competition, mostly from Hendricks.  In the Supporting Actor category, Aaron Paul, a two-time winner, gave a heartbreaking and captivating performance in “Bad’s” final season, so it seems difficult to imagine right now that anyone else will take the prize from him.

I’d analyze the directing and writing categories but, quite frankly, up until about a week before the ceremony, it’s a crapshoot.  They’re all excellent, and the people behind them are the truly talented visionaries behind the so-called “Golden Age”: the people behind Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, True Detective, House of Cards, Downton Abbey, and Boardwalk Empire.  These awards are often used to offset injustices in other categories, so really anything can happen.

the-normal-heart-hboAnd the miniseries/movie awards are damn near impossible to analyze, because quite simply, this year, they’re all amazing.  Plus, unlike many nominations for any type of pop culture award, the frontrunners in the Miniseries and Movies categories are actually the ones of highest quality.  The Normal Heart and Sherlock’s season 3 finale, “His Last Vow,” lead the Best TV Movie charge, earning acting nominations for all of their principle actors.  Fargo leads the Best Miniseries group, also earning nominations for many of its principles.  In addition, Luther, a longtime British favorite, finally received its official U.S. premiere (having been available on Netflix for a little longer than BBC America, but in an official or award-qualifying capacity) is trying hard to make a big splash.  BBC would kill to have this and is campaigning extremely hard for this, especially as it faces competition from its own shows broadcast not on its American channel, but rather PBS, the United States’ public television channel (can you smell the irony yet?).

The nominations in key categories this year are packed with an absurdly large collection of talent.  Each year, nominations in the drama category become increasingly tougher to gain, and many excellent shows were snubbed: Masters of Sex and The Good Wife for Best Drama, Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany for Best Actress, and The Americans is, in my eyes, the biggest disappointment, as it was shut out of all the major categories.  Still, I can hardly view them as “snubs,” since the nominees that took their place are by-and-large very deserving nominees.  And while obviously only one nominee can win the award, they all band together here to prove that dramatic television is not just good: it truly is better than ever.

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