The second in a series of four articles covering the 2014 Emmy Awards, this will look at the nominations for comedic series. Earlier this month was a review of the nominations for dramatic series; later in the summer, there will be both a preview of the ceremony as well as a review posted here at The Rock. A list of the nominations, as well as some background information about the awards is available here.
The nominations for the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, honoring the best of the 2013-2014 television season, were announced this month by Carson Daly and Mindy Kaling, who unfortunately had to stand and read the nominations for Best Actress, only to discover that she’d been snubbed (though she handled it better than I would have at 5 in the morning). My last article said that the nominations for dramatic series prove that dramatic television is in a “Golden Age.” Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the comedy nominations. The nominations for comedic series serve to prove not only that Emmy voters play favorites and don’t like change; if not, television comedy is in a downward spiral.
The nominations for Best Comedy Series do contain some genuinely funny shows: Louie, which is a hysterical and oftentimes overly accurate portrayal of life, and Veep, which I unfairly did not name as one of the best shows of 2013, are both nominated this year, and have more than earned their nominations. These are two shows that consistently produce quality episodes, feature some kind of character development, and aren’t afraid to tackle big issues in life.
And yet, they are forced to be displayed next to The Big Bang Theory, which is somehow the most popular comedy in America. I should state that I personally do not care for “Theory,” but my reasons for not liking it are the same reasons I question why it should be considered one of TV’s best. The show features no development of the characters, they are almost exactly the same as they were seven years ago, maybe with one major difference to try and prove that the show changes (or, in the case of Sheldon accepting a girlfriend, to feature actress Mayim Bialik more frequently). The show is poorly written, with almost all of the jokes still being based around the concept of, “These people are nerdy and the girl is a dumb blonde!” which is the same formula they began with. And, worst of all, those jokes aren’t very funny. The show is filmed in front of a live studio audience, and yet the breaks between jokes are not filled with the audience’s giggles, but rather a laugh track, since “Theory” apparently fails to do the one most important thing a comedy should do: make people laugh. Not to discredit people who like The Big Bang Theory because everyone has their own taste (and there are nearly 20 million viewers every week), but in terms of true story-quality and what “Golden Age” television should be, there are multiple other shows that should have been nominated before “Theory” (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Parks and Recreation, Girls, and The Mindy Project, just to name a few).
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I can focus on the show that has won the award for Best Comedy four years in a row: Modern Family. While Modern Family is still a solid show, the fifth season was the weakest in a downward trend that began with the third season in 2011. With only about two standout episodes, the show has a strong chance of ending its winning streak. The two instances of fresh blood in the category come from HBO’s Silicon Valley and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. “Valley” is a very funny show with some clever writing, but it’s still nowhere near as strong as some other nominees, though it’s great to see it get some recognition.
OITNB, while experiencing a surge in popularity with its tremendous sophomore season, cannot be judged on any of those episodes. Due to the scheduling rules of the awards, OITNB will be judged on its first season. The second season may prove to be beneficial in its chances of winning the top prize (as voters may choose to ignore the rule and honor the show as a whole), or it could destroy them (voters will instead negatively compare the first season to the second season). Plus, many voters are still skeptical of the trend of comedy-dramas (hereafter referred to as “dramedies” because it’s easier for me to type) being entered as straight comedy because it’s easier to win awards. To sum up, look for Modern Family to lose the crown, and for a new show, most likely Veep, which delivered the biggest and best laughs, to win the top prize and become the first non-broadcast comedy to win since 2001.
As much as I don’t care for The Big Bang Theory, credit must be given to Jim Parsons’ work as Sheldon Cooper. Writing-wise, he isn’t given much to work with, but his quirky portrayal has single-handedly made “Theory” the most popular comedy in America, and has successfully earned him three Emmy Awards. That number, though, will most likely jump up to 4 later this month. This has been the case for a few years, but Parsons will again face light competition in the category. Showtime finally decided to submit its dramedy Shameless as a comedy (ironic, given that this past season was its most serious), and it finally earned a nomination for lead actor William H. Macy (also ironic, given that this was his weakest season and he was overshadowed by Emmy Rossum). Showtime also earned a nomination for its show House of Lies thanks to Don Cheadle, though he suffers from the show not being a hysterical comedy or an interesting dramedy. It’s really just ‘a show.’
Matt LeBlanc is nominated for his sixth Emmy Award for Lead Actor, this time for Episodes, in which he plays a fictionalized version of himself (his first three noms, though, were for his now-legendary work as Joey Tribbiani on Friends). Episodes is pretty funny, and LeBlanc is definitely the funniest part of the series, but the show never really seemed to stand on solid ground. It almost seems as if the creative isn’t always in agreement on what kind of show they are (similar to House of Lies), which can only hurt LeBlanc.
Internet powerhouse Netflix gains a nomination here thanks to Ricky Gervais’s Derek, a nomination that came as a surprise to just about everybody (including Netflix and Gervais). Finally, Louis C.K. is nominated for playing a fictionalized version of himself in Louie. Although he is a comic genius, he’s hurt by the fact that he does everything on his show, and he is better at writing, directing, producing, and editing than he is at acting (he’s also publicly stated that if he could stop doing one, it’d be acting). Look for Parsons to take this category, with a little bit of competition from C.K. [Editor’s Note: Both C.K. and LeBlanc hail from Newton, MA–let’s root for the hometown boys!]
Lead Actress is a collection of amazing performances. Edie Falco, nominated for Nurse Jackie, is a strong actress, but she’s hurt simply because Nurse Jackie isn’t that funny (it’s actually considered to be one of the shows that started the movement of ‘dramedies nominated as comedies’). Lena Dunham, nominated for Girls’ best season thus far, is hurt if only because the Girls obsession that plagued America two years ago has faded. Melissa McCarthy, a surprise winner for Mike and Molly a few years ago, is again nominated, though it’s safe to say that she presently has no chance of winning. This is actually due to her burgeoning movie career: the more she plays weird characters that bear similarities to her other characters, including Molly, the more she seems like a one-trick pony (a problem Jim Parsons faced this year when he was criticized for a poor performance as Saturday Night Live’s guest host).
Taylor Schilling is nominated for Orange is the New Black, though she’s hurt due to both OITNB’s more dramatic tone in her story arcs, as well as her being overshadowed by her fellow castmates. Next is BC’s pride and joy: the star of Parks and Recreation, Amy Poehler. Her energetic performance has failed to win her an Emmy Award, and while she may get some love, it will be tough given that many critics found the story arc for her character to be more of the same this year. This leaves the reigning champion: Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Louis-Dreyfus is the most-nominated comedy actress of all time with 15 noms (two more than legend Lucille Ball) and the only woman to win an Emmy award for three different comedy shows (Seinfeld, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Veep). This year, Louis-Dreyfus is going for a new accomplishment: the three-peat, having won the award for Veep in 2012 and ’13. Right now, this award is hers to lose.
The supporting categories this year are almost a wash. Usually flooded with nominations for Modern Family, this year only three actors are nominated: Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. While Eric Stonestreet most likely did not submit his name for consideration (he did not last year after winning his second Emmy on his third nomination in this category in 2012), the lack of nominations for Ed O’Neill and Sofia Vergara come as a shock to many. But, it did open up the field a little bit. For the men, newcomers include Fred Armisen for Portlandia and Andre Braugher for Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Adam Driver is again nominated for his work on Girls, and last year’s winner Tony Hale is nominated for Veep. Hale is the strong favorite now, but look out for Braugher and Ferguson: Braugher is the biggest nomination for an under-appreciated show that is drop-dead hysterical, and Ferguson is this year’s only Modern Family nominee without a win in this category. All this adds up to a tight race between a few dark horses.
For the women, alongside the five-time nominee and two-time winner Bowen, we see Mayim Bialik and Anna Chlumsky nominated again for The Big Bang Theory and Veep, respectively. Kate McKinnon, who has quickly risen to the top ranks of SNL stars, is nominated for her work on the show, though it likely won’t pan out (SNL actors rarely win awards like this, especially against this kind of competition). Allison Janney, who won four Emmys for her work on The West Wing is nominated for the show Mom, although she realistically has no shot at winning (not that she’s not good, the show just has no momentum). The biggest newcomer this year is Kate Mulgrew, nominated for her performance as Red in Orange is the New Black. Coming off of a big win at the Critic’s Choice Awards, Mulgrew is the top dog in this category, with her commitment to her character’s heart-breaking past, as well as seriousness in delivering humor (see: the chicken episode) making her a juggernaut. Look for Mulgrew to take the award, with Chlumsky and Bialik right on her heels.
Directing will most likely provide Modern Family with its biggest award. Nominated for the episode “Las Vegas,” which was unquestionably the best episode of the season (and potentially the best since 2011), the direction was perfect. The best episodes of Modern Family are those that are farcical and goofy, and the lively direction made the already-farcical “Las Vegas” even better. Writing-wise, I’d like to see a little Emmy love get thrown in the direction of Louis C.K. He’s a funny man and a talented writer, and this award would be very well-deserved.
To sum up, there are a lot of funny people and shows nominated this year, and some less-than funny ones. There are also way too many funny shows not nominated. The list of snubs for comedy is endless: Nick Offerman and Parks and Rec, Andy Samberg and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Mindy Kaling and The Mindy Project, the entire supporting cast of Veep, the actors of Silicon Valley. I could go on, but if I do I’ll get carpal tunnel. While these nominations do highlight some brilliantly talented people, they can’t show it all. But maybe that’s a good thing. Television comedy may not be in the same “Golden Age” that drama is, where there would be side-splitting, asthma attack-inducing laughter on every channel. But, there’s still enough out there to make us laugh, enough out there that our laughter still can’t be contained to a group of six select nominees. And even if we can never have enough laughter, it’s comforting to know that there’s still more out there than you might think.