Delightful Emmy nomination surprises: ‘The Americans,’ ‘Master of None’ & more

07.14.16 1 year ago 69 Comments

The Leftovers, which I think is the best show on television, got zero Emmy nominations today. Alan Alda didn’t get nominated for the performance of an immortal career, and nearly everyone else he worked with on the amazing Horace and Pete were also ignored by the TV Academy. HBO’s amazing miniseries Show Me a Hero also got shut out, with even Oscar Isaac being ignored in favor of the less impressive likes of Cuba Gooding Jr. (who was one of the ships lifted by the rising tide that was The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, the year’s second-most-nominated show after Game of Thrones).

This all disappoints me, as does the TV Academy’s continued clinging to certain security blankets like Modern Family, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, and Homeland. And yet every time I’m on the verge of being annoyed by those choices or many others (say, John Travolta being nominated for whatever he was doing on People v. O.J. over American Crime‘s great Connor Jessup), some new unexpected delight hurtles forth from the list of nominations, and I’m too happy to be sad.

Start with the absolute stunner that was The Americans – long one of TV’s very best dramas, but largely ignored by Emmy throughout its first three seasons – having a huge day with nominations for Oustanding Drama Series and stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. When a show gets consistently snubbed for as long as The Americans was previously, it usually means the Academy is never going to recognize it. But coming off its best season, and with some breathing room from the departure of Mad Men, it will finally have its case heard by the full Academy membership.

Nothing else was quite so shocking in aggregate, though Netflix’s wonderful Master of None had an unexpectedly big day, with nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series, and Aziz Ansari for acting, writing (with Alan Yang) and directing(*). And after netting only one nomination a year ago for star Anthony Anderson, the superb second season of black-ish added nods for comedy series and Anderson’s co-star Tracee Ellis Ross.

(*) When the producer credits are determined, Ansari will likely have a fourth nomination, counting the series one. Ditto Keegan-Michael Key, who was also nominated for acting in and writing Key & Peele, as well as for his voice work on Crackle’s SuperMansion. But the most impressive multiple nominee of the day is probably Laurie Metcalf, who got recognized for performances on three different shows: Getting On(comedy lead actress), Big Bang Theory(comedy guest actress), and her astonishing work on Horace and Pete(drama guest actress).

But the nominations were filled with so many isolated pockets of wonderfulness that they suggested that somehow, some way, the TV Academy membership had actually managed to keep up with a lot of what’s great about Peak TV.

Take Louie Anderson, for instance. He’s doing remarkable work on FX’s low-rated oddball comedy Baskets – in a role (as Zach Galifianakis’s mother) that should be a gimmick, but that Anderson plays entirely straight – and got rewarded for it with a supporting actor nomination today. Or Constance Zimmer, who tore into the role of a lifetime as the scheming reality show producer on Lifetime’s UnREAL, and made it into the heavyweight drama supporting actress category (despite the presence of three different Game of Thrones actresses and Dame Maggie Smith). Amazon’s marvelous romantic comedy Catastrophe somehow got noticed enough to get a writing nomination. Bokeem Woodbine gave arguably the best performance of Fargo season 2 but could have easily been ignored in favor of his more famous co-stars, but he got in.

Rami Malek was no sure thing for his riveting work as the star of Mr. Robot, but not only did he get nominated, the series broke into Outstanding Drama Series, and got a writing nomination for the pilot episode. The CW’s super-fun Crazy Ex-Girlfriend didn’t break into the major categories, but it got two songwriting nominations(*), for its catchy expository theme and for the great old time Hollywood ballad “Settle For Me.” And while Horace and Pete should have gotten many more nominations, that a show distributed by got recognized at all is a notable achievement.

(*) One of the Emmy nominating rule is that writers can’t submit twice in the same category unless they are working with a different partner on each submission. (Ditto for directors, which is why Steven Soderbergh is only up for one episode of The Knick, why Miguel Sapochnik was nominated for “Battle of the Bastards” but not also the GoTfinale, etc.) Since the same songwriting team does all the Crazy Exsongs, only one was going to be nominated; the theme song is in a separate category. Similarly, Fargo was able to get two writing nominations this year instead of one because Noah Hawley didn’t receive sole script credit on all the episodes like he did in the first season.

In the age of Peak TV, there are always going to be many more shows than there are available nominating slots, even as the Academy has expanded the total a bit (there are seven nominees for comedy and drama series, for instance). Even if every spot was filled by a worthy show or person, there would still be plenty of remarkable work going un-nominated. That’s just the way the math works. So even though I lament Isaac and Alda and Carrie Coon and Patrick Wilson and anyone from Rectify and a bunch of other would-be nominees, and roll my eyes at some of the rubber-stamped veteran nominees, thinking of The Americans or Louie Anderson or a bunch of these other choices puts too big a smile on my face.

The nominations aren’t perfect. They’ll never be perfect. But they got some things very, very right.

Some other specific thoughts:

* The one good thing about Isaac’s snub is that it means I don’t have to wring my hands over whether he should beat Courtney B. Vance from The People v. O.J. in that category, or vice versa. Vance was incredible, and I expect him and that show to have a very big night.

* Because HBO has such a huge voting bloc, and because the Emmys opened up final voting to the full membership rather than the blue-ribbon panels, Thrones is likely a heavy favorite to repeat in the drama series category. What will be interesting is whether the sheer number of actor nominees – Peter Dinklate, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, and Maisie Williams – eat into each other’s votes in their respective categories and let someone else sneak in.

* Not a single nomination for either The Daily Show with Trevor Noah or The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, though Late Late Show with James Corden got three nominations, including Outstanding Variety Talk Series. That certainly won’t quiet any of the people clamoring for Corden and Colbert to swap timeslots (not that I expect it to happen).

* Tough days for some former Emmy darlings. Orange Is the New Black (up for its less-heralded third season, rather than the recent fourth, which will be eligible next year) and True Detective each got one nomination apiece, for, respectively, casting and sound mixing.

* Coming off perhaps its best season, Veep got a whopping 17 nomination, adding Matt Walsh to its usual acting nominees (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky), plus two guest star nominees (Martin Mull, Peter MacNicol), two directing, and three writing.

* If Jane the Virgin could only get one nomination, and that nomination wasn’t going to Jaime Camil for playing Rogelio, then I’m very happy it was for Anthony Mendez’s indelible work narrating the action. (Mendez was nominated last year, too, and somehow lost to Peter Coyote for The Roosevelts.)

What did everybody else think of the nominations? You giddy? Mad? Somewhere in between? And is there a nominee you’re particularly rooting for when the ceremony happens on September 18?

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