In this new Golden Age of TV, where great shows are available in abundance, only no one has time to watch them all – least of all the people who actually work in television, and thus vote for the Emmys – the only way to look at each year’s Emmy nominations is to treat them like the theme song from “The Facts of Life.” You take the good, you take the bad, you take ’em both, and there you have this year’s Emmy nominees list.
So there were pleasant surprises, like Tatiana Maslany finally getting into the lead drama actress field, and “Parks and Recreation” making its way back into the comedy series category for its triumphant final season after only being nominated there once before.
But there was also the usual rubber stamping of past nominees(*), like “Downton Abbey,” “Homeland” and “House of Cards” taking up three of the seven drama series nominations – spots that could have gone to “The Americans” (which at least wrangled a writing nod and one for Margo Martindale’s guest spot, but which is clearly doomed to Emmy irrelevance), or “Justified” (completely shut out for its great final season), or “The Knick” (which at least got some technical nominations, plus the inevitable directing one for Steven Soderbergh), or “The Leftovers” (unsurprisingly ignored, as a long-ago and divisive entry into the field), or any of a wide swath of shows doing far better work in the eligibility period.
(*) Oddly, though, perennial Emmy favorite Jim Parsons didn’t even get nominated in a comedy lead actor field that, thanks to ties, had room for seven people.
There are the usual oddities, like Keegan-Michael Key being nominated (and as a supporting actor in a show that has his name in the title) and Jordan Peele not, and other stray bits of excitement, like “Transparent” doing as well as it did, and “Better Call Saul” getting almost all (save a directing nod?) the nominations you might have hoped for from a debut season.
But rather than look for trends in a huge field in which it’s hard to find some, I’m going to pull out a bunch of the big categories and offer a mix of analysis and predictions, starting at the top.
OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES: “Better Call Saul,” “Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones,” “Homeland,” “House of Cards,” “Mad Men,” “Orange Is the New Black.”
“Orange” season 2 didn’t grab nearly as many nominations as it did a year ago competing on the comedy side, but it managed to get a seat at the biggest table here. This is a wide-open field, since “Breaking Bad” is gone. Can “Mad Men” get a “Sopranos”-esque batch of farewell wins, or has the Academy moved on? Will “Saul” just pick up where “Breaking Bad” left off? Or is “Homeland” somehow the favorite as the most recent winner in the field?
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES: “Louie,” “Modern Family,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Silicon Valley,” “Transparent,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Veep”
This is as tough a field as “Modern Family” has ever faced, but I will keep assuming it wins here until proven otherwise. “Veep” has been building Emmy momentum for a while, and “Transparent” is the hot new thing (and got a bunch of other nominations, suggesting broad-based support.
DRAMA LEAD ACTOR: Bob Odenkirk, Kyle Chandler, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Liev Schreiber, Jeff Daniels
I’ve made peace with the idea that the Emmy voters just don’t like what Hamm is doing, but if not him, who? Daniels and Chandler have both won (albeit Chandler in a more beloved role), and Spacey remains a multiple Oscar winner, not that that helped him in the previous two “Cards” years. It may come down to the submission episode.
DRAMA LEAD ACTRESS: Taraji P. Henson, Claire Danes, Robin Wright, Viola Davis, Elisabeth Moss, Tatiana Maslany
Maslany getting in here after two seasons of being ignored isn’t quite a miracle, but it’s perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the whole list. Henson has the zeitgeist behind her, but is there a single “Empire” episode that’s quite as strong a showcase for her, as, say, the “How to Get Away with Murder” episode where Annalise took her wig off?
COMEDY LEAD ACTOR: Anthony Anderson, Matt LeBlanc, Don Cheadle, Louis C.K., William H. Macy, Will Forte, Jeffrey Tambor
Again, seven nominees, and no Parsons. Given how many of these guys are from comedy/drama hybrid shows (even Forte’s best stuff on “Last Man on Earth” had more to do with the despair of his situation), Tambor seems among the bigger favorites in any category.
COMEDY LEAD ACTRESS: Lily Tomlin, Amy Schumer, Edie Falco, Amy Poehler, Lisa Kudrow, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
As I said when I wrote up my own fake Emmy ballot, everyone but Louis-Dreyfus is playing for second place. Good to see Schumer get recognized (and in the proper category), and Falco just tied Angela Lansbury for the most lead actress nominations ever, at 12.
Other Emmy errata:
* Number of Nick Offerman nominations ever for playing Ron Swanson? Zero. Number of “Dog with a Blog” nominations ever? Two, including one this year for Outstanding Children’s Program. I know this is apples and oranges, but I like typing “Dog with a Blog.”
* The Golden Globes didn’t turn out to be a great Emmy predictor in a lot of ways. “The Affair” got zero nominations, and Gina Rodriguez from “Jane the Virgin” couldn’t crack that comedy lead actress field.
* For that matter, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” got several nominations, yet Kimmy herself, Ellie Kemper, also couldn’t get a spot for comedy lead actress. Tough tough category.
* Vince Gilligan’s former assistant Gordon Smith got the lone “Better Call Saul” writing nomination, for the powerful “Five-O.” Also, “Mad Men” got two writing nominations, for “Lost Horizon” and the series finale.
* Comedy supporting actress wound up with eight nominees, including some unlikely choices like Niecy Nash from “Getting On.”
What did everybody else think? Which nominations most excited you? Which ones infuriated you? And which non-nominees did you most wish could be on the list somewhere?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org