So, The Emmys. These are hard ones to write about, and especially so this year, because we’re dealing with a very small number of shows. I would love to do some research into whether the pool of television shows nominated for these things is, in fact, getting smaller every year. There’s so much more television, you’d think that there would be more than four things in every goddamned category. Maybe I’ll put together some numbers in my spare time. All I can say is that this year the pool of nominees seems oppressively small, y’know? I think it’s not helped by the fact that a lot of these shows are veterans – there’s a couple of new ones, but mostly it’s things that have been on and Emmy-nominated for years, and I’ve written about them, by the time we’re getting here, several times over.
I dunno, guys. The categories are as good (more or less) as they are for any awards show – there aren’t really very many things that are outright inexplicable (although, seriously, The Affair?), it’s hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and thus might even be kind of fun to watch?
The upshot of all this is, I clearly (since you’re reading this) went into the breach to pick some winners, because it’s what I do here, but man, this was a tough one.
Outstanding Writing for a Series, Movie or Dramatic Special
I mean, the second season of Fargo was better than the first one, but I feel like The People vs. O.J. Simpson deserves some credit for having writers that managed to file down Ryan Murphy’s….general Ryan Murphyness, and create something that’s dramatically compelling and, like, linear and stuff. That’s not nothing, let me tell you.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”
Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special
Man, this is one seriously difficult category. They’re all good, really I mean, the last couple of years will go down as banner ones for Amy Schumer, certainly. Especially if the Emmy’s1 are a part of the record, but I think there’s better work here. John Mulaney’s The Comeback Kid was good. I have nothing bad to say about it. Tig Notaro’s Boyish Girl Interrupted suffers by being graded on the curve of Tig Notaro material, which makes it seem relatively slight, if still terribly funny. Triumph’s Election Special 2016 was an excellent return of a character that, frankly, I’ll always love. But I really think Patton Oswalt took this one. Talking For Clapping is bound ineluctably to the tragedy of his wife’s passing, but I think over time, as it becomes easier to watch with distance, it’ll be remembered as a high point in his stand-up (which is really an awfully high high point).
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Patton Oswalt, Talking for Clapping
1 she’s up for even more, see below
Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series
I think it would be cool if we stopped pretending that the writing was a reason to like Game of Thrones. I know I’ve come down on it fairly hard in the past, but honestly – the cast is appealing, the direction is good, the set decoration is great, but the tv show’s writing2 is….well, it’s like a manly soap opera. With dragons. Enough already. Downton Abbey’s writing is similarly nonspectacular (although it used to be a lot better), so we’ll throw it out also. I feel like UnREAL is surprising more than it is good, and is being graded on a curve here. The Good Wife is almost certainly getting the nod solely because it ended. The Americans is genuinely an achievment in excellent writing.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Americans, “Persona Non Grata”
2 this has basically nothing to do with the books, which are fine as a piece of writing, and aren’t to my taste for a number of other reasons.
Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
Lots of great stuff here. Silicon Valley had their best season yet (about which see below), Veep put up another great season. Catastrophe certainly existed. But Master of None’s “Parents” was a fantastic piece of writing, working around the nonactors (or, well, technically I guess they are at lest temporary actors now) of Aziz Ansari’s actual parents. Hard to top that.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Master of None, “Parents”
Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special
This is mostly Fargo, The Night Manager and The People vs. O.J. Simpson again3, but where tPvOJS impressed with their ability to get their story told through the creative lens of one of our wackiest directors, the direction on the show itself is workmanlike. So is that of The Night Manager and, I’m sad to say, All the Way. But Fargo, man. That’s some directin’.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Noah Hawley, Fargo, “Before the Law”
3 albeit with mostly different episodes – only tPvOJS’s “The Race Card” is double-nominated
Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special
Man, this category is all over the place. The director of the Kennedy Honors (Glenn Weiss) had to put together a dignified awards show program that airs on public television. Lemonade was a video album directed by its singer/writer and Kahlil Joseph. That alone creates two poles that you could pretty much hang anything between, directorially speaking. It is impossible for me to say who did a better job, or if the impressive (if slight) Grease: Live deserves it, or the concert film Adele: Live in New York City, which kind of has some stuff in common with the Kennedy Honors, except with a slightly more static situation. I just don’t know.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Seriously, I have no idea. This category is crazy.
Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series
I guess when I was being mad at Game of Thrones for being nominated for writing, I didn’t really take into account the directing. This is probably because I find it hard to pay much attention to the directing. That said, “The Door” did some really impressive things visually, and handled a bunch of moving parts well. So, for that matter, did “Battle of the Bastards.” I mean, not as well, but well. Given that they’re up against the straightforward Ray Donovan, the visually distinct but, at this point, old-hat direction in Homeland, and the still-just-a-period-piece Downton Abbey, there isn’t much else to compete. The Knick is pretty good, but I don’t know how much of that is the direction itself, Stephen Soderbergh notwithstanding4. So that brings us back to “The Door”.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Game of Thrones, “The Door”
4 although it brings the number of things that Stephen Soderbergh has directed that I’ve liked up to 4, so it’s nice to not be disappointed for a change.
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
I feel like Amazon’s offerings (Transparent here, Catastrophe elsewhere) are kind of short-shrifted, but also, they just aren’t as good as HBO’s comedy stable (which is genuinely, between Silicon Valley and Veep, as strong as it could be), or even Netflix’s (whose Master of None is represented again here). What is interesting, however, is tha teach of the three shows here are marked by a genuinely worthy visual style, each of which is distinct from the other ones. Master of None less so. Transparent and Silicon Valley both do an excellent job of building the world around the insane things their people are doing, but really, I refuse to believe they didn’t learn at least some of their tricks from Veep.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Veep, “The Morning After”
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
See, now American Horror Story doesn’t go for writing Emmys. That’s because the writing barely exists – it’s one-liners and Rube Goldberg machines for scenery-chewing setups. It’s difficult to judge against, say, Jean Smart in Fargo (although not difficult to judge against Melissa Leo in All the Way. Blech.) Regina King continued to do a good job in American Crime, but did she beat a kid to death while screaming “I MATTER”? No, no she did not. That was Kathy Bates. And whie Sarah Paulson was pretty good in the same show, she didn’t make me want her to abandon the show and start her own road trip show with Dennis O’Hare. So, again, that was Kathy Bates.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kathy Bates, American Horror Story: Hotel
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Can we have a moment to imagine what it would be like if you told somebody in, say, the year 2000, that Ross Gellar, John Travolta and the kid who played Paul Walker’s little brother in Varsity Blues would all be up for the same acting award? Because that would be a weird thing to try to reconcile, let me tell you.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bokeem Woodbine (who is none of the people mentioned above), Fargo
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
I mean, Maura Tierney is still getting nominated for The Affair? I like Maura Tierney. I really do. I used to watch Newsradio compulsively, and I’ve seen Liar, Liar more than I care to admit. Hell, I was even still watching ER when she was on it. At least for awhile. I think. Anyway. Come on with The Affair already. The rest of the candidates here are from the four dramas that are getting nominated for anything, and I like Lena Headey the best of those.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
You know, all of these are good performances. Like, there’s nothing wrong with any of them. But as with the supporting actress category, I feel that I have very little to say about it. Good job, good support, good good good. Nobody is setting me on fire with their performance, nobody is disappointing. This is why the Emmys are, in my estimation, the least entertaining of the major awards shows.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
I mean, I know it happens a lot, but is “various characters” really something you can get an Emmy for? I get that it’s a way to acknowledge that Kate McKinnon (who really is very funny) does great work on a sketch show, but I still don’t really feel like that’s how the Emmys work, y’know? This category is heavy on straightwoman types (although not necessarily straight woman types), and rarely do most of the nominees actually carry the comedy itself5. I am thus inclined to go with Niecy Nash, who has never been anything less than very funny in anything in which I’ve ever seen her.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Niecy Nash, Getting On
5 I realize this is a parsing problem – it’s the best supporting actress in a comedy series, which is not at all the same as saying that it’s the best comedic actress, but I still feel like it should be considered.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
There was never even a contest. It was never going to be Ty Burrell. As much as Louie Anderson was loopily enjoyable in Baskets, it was never going to be him, either. Neither of the Veep performances would get in on their own – both Matt Walsh and Tony Hale are really doing great ensemble work, just not great individual work. “Various characters” continues to be kind of cop-out, right? Andre Braugher gave the second-best performance of the year, certainly, and one to be enjoyed by all forever6. But really. Titus Andromedon.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tituss Burgess (and I just noticed that the character’s first name is totally spelled differently from the actor’s first name by dropping that final “s”), The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
6 I mean, nobody in this category except Ty Burrell is actually bad, and he’s only bad because Modern Family has been shambling along zombie-like for far too long.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
I do think that it is crazy that there are enough of these anthology series that they all count in this category. I furthermore think it’s weird that American Crime and American Crime Story both get to use the same name. I furthermore think it’s weird that Fargo was adapted into an anthology series, as much as I genuinely like it. Anyway, Kirsten Dunst is very good at acting.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kirsten Dunst, Fargo
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
OK, this is a bad category. I said in my intro that the categories were generally pretty good? This category is why I had to say “generally.” To save some word count and avoid dwelling on this too long, let’s just cut to the chase.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Idris Elba, Luther
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
This is what I will say: I have often mentioned that conventional dramatic movies leave me absolutely cold. There’s a fairly weird reason for this that has to do with my basal opinions about movies8, but it leads me to say this – there was an oft-said witticism (more common a couple of years ago) that goes something along the lines of “the best films are all tv shows now”. I don’t agree, for reasons that would require another wrong footnote, but I can see where they’re all getting it for this reason: there really aren’t a lot of dramatic series that I have any kind of time for. And so, once again, this category is boiled down to Taraji P. Henson (who, let’s be honest, is also just doing the same thing for another year as Cookie) or Tatiana Maslani9, as it did last year. And again, Tatiana Maslani is doing more acting, so she gets the award, because that seems like a good enough reason to get an award to me.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tatiana Maslani, Orphan Black
8 it starts, sort of, with a decidedly nonstandard take on what I like about acting, which is that I prefer it performative and artificial rather than naturalistic. Since so much of the classical thought about what is “good” and “bad” is actually talking about “naturalistic” vs. “non-naturalistic”, it is hard for me to talk about, or even make known my feelings about, most acting without hitting the wall of the standard definition. I may write more about this someday, but the point I’m making here is that I do not value certain things that are awarded at awards shows, and it makes the process of writing about awards shows somewhat difficult.
9 with an aside to point out that The Americans is a fine show, and Keri Russell gives a fine performance without it being any great shakes, acting-wise. I mean, she’s better than Robin Wright, certainly.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
I think House of Cards has officially become the Modern Family of this category – it started out strong, and there were reasons to keep with it, but at this point those reasons don’t really exist. And, honestly, is Kevin Spacey really that good in it? I submit to you that he isn’t. Anyway, I speak at least once a year about not giving awards to actors that basically give one performance year in and year out10, so that rules out Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan and, unfortunately, Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill11. Rami Malek is fine on Mr. Robot, Coach Taylor is fine on Bloodlines, I still really like The Americans.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Matthew Rhys, The Americans
10 this is a position that I go back and forth with myself about whether or not is actually tenable, but also at this point it’s useful for weeding, and it’s a rule of these writeups, so it’s handy to just support it. Besides, next year I might be all the way back behind it. Who knows?
11 who I would like to suggest be called “Srs Frasier.” Thank you for assisting in this new name.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
You know, Getting On never really got it’s due. And now it’s over, and it’s not going to get it’s due here, either. Sorry, Laurie Metcalf. You did a great job. Amy Schumer and Lily Tomlin are both nominated here for playing, basically, themselves in comedic situations. That’s fine (and they’re both fine performances), but it’s not really enough. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss is still doing great work as Selina Meyer, but it’s still an ensemble show, and it’s still the same performance it’s been for several years now. Tracee Ellis-Ross is great on Blackish, but really, this year I have eyes only for Kimmy, comedically speaking.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Ellie Kemper, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Let’s see. Anthony Anderson is doing a good job of playing a fairly stock sitcom dad, so that’s not really the sort of thing to encourage getting awards (although he is very funny). Will Forte is fine. William H. Macy has been playing Frank Gallagher the same way for a long time, so he’s out. Thomas Middleditch and Jeffrey Tambor could beat just about anybody in any other year, but I really loved Aziz Ansari in Master of None.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Aziz Ansari, Master of None
Outstanding Reality Competition Program
This category is really starting to fray. People used to be deeply invested in The Amazing Race, and it often won this award – it played to the “reality” aspect better than the “competition” aspect, but the competition framework was what held it together. In this way it’s similar to Top Chef, which inverted the competition/reality aspects and also won a bunch of emmys. But both shows are, frankly, well past their prime12. Project Runway is in a similar boat, but I never liked PR’s leaning so heavily on the gimmicks of their contestants, so it was barely in the race in its prime. Dancing With the Stars is, I’d imagine, no worse now than it’s ever been, but really, this is at least trying to be a serious award, so it’s hard to really consider it either. The Voice is fine. American Ninja Warrior is a joy to watch, and is genuinely about people being good at stuff, and then doing it with other people to see who’s better at it. That’s what I’m looking for out of a reality competition show, and that’s what it grants. Bully for American Ninja Warrior.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: American Ninja Warrior
12 I do still watch Top Chef, but I am no longer comfortable making an argument that it’s still good in any meaningful sense of the word.
Outstanding Television Movie
At the end of the day, the question here is: do I prefer Luther or Sherlock? Truly this is a huge and borderline-unanswerable question. It’s hard to choose. I guess I’ll say Luther, since it’s a rarer occasion that I get to say it.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Luther
Outstanding Limited Series
So, taken as a whole, is American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson better than Fargo? I maintain that it is not.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Fargo
Outstanding Variety Sketch Series
Do you suppose it’s any consolation to Scott Aukerman that, even though Comedy Bang! Bang! Isn’t nominated here, they did, in fact, answer his (and, as a result of his piece in Variety, a bunch of other peoples’) call to separate out the variety series Emmys into talk and sketch? I wonder. Anyway, if this wasn’t such a strong category, I’d be more upset that CB!B! didn’t make it. Portlandia hasn’t kept up the first-season greatness13, which is hardly something to fault it for, except that it’s not good enough to be the best of this field. Saturday Night Live had an ok season, but also it’s not going to win either. Inside Amy Schumer and Drunk History are each, in their way, making the world better, and are becoming Comedy Central institutions, which is great. Documentary Now! is phenomenal, and I look forward to seeing it go to a bunch of cool places comedically. But Key & Peele just ended and, really, it was the best. The damn best.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Key & Peele
13 I mean, I love Fred Armisen, but he does have a tendency to overwork things. I’m hopeful that Documentary Now! doesn’t fall to the same fate.
Outstanding Variety Talk Series
I mean, it’s all pretty boring outside of John Oliver? And the best parts of two of these are basically just people doing stuff in a car? Right? Talk shows, man. Yuck.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Outstanding Drama Series
Throwing out House of Cards and Downton Abbey outright – they’re way outgunned here – we’re still left with a lot of good choices. Well, three good choices, because it’s not Homeland (which, like House of Cards, is well past its prime) or Game of Thrones. And, well, it’s probably not Better Call Saul, either. So two good choices. But they’re two really good choices. And it isn’t Mr Robot.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Americans
Outstanding Comedy Series
I mean, having to choose between Silicon Valley, Master of None and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt may seem very difficult, but actually it isn’t. Maybe the casts of Silicon Valley and Master of None (and probably Veep, the other close contender, albeit not as close) can get together and vandalize the sets of Modern Family, which really has absolutely no place up here anymore. It might be the only way to stop them.
THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt