Emmy nominations: Daniel Montgomery’s good, bad, and ugly

I’ve noticed that most years at the Emmys seem to be a predictable roll call of familiar names and shows, but once every few seasons there is a significant sea change: the last major one was four years ago, when upstart shows “Mad Men,” “Dexter,” and “Damages” swept through to become the first non-HBO cable shows nominated for Best Drama Series.


This was another year of surprises, but while Emmy voters avoided extreme embarrassments (remember when “Boston Legal” beat “The Wire” for a Best Drama Series bid – twice!), the nominations weren’t without a few significant disappointments.

When Emmy experts predicted major nominations for “Sherlock: Scandal in Belgravia,” I was skeptical; after all, its only major nomination last year was for writing. So I was shocked and delighted this year to see nominations for actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as well as a bid for Best Movie/Miniseries and another writing nomination for Steven Moffat, who for my money is the best writer currently in television; his “Doctor Who” also deserves Emmy nominations, but isn’t eligible.

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Also satisfying is the recognition for “New Girl,” which I feared would skew too young for Emmy voters. Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield earned well-deserved nominations, though I would also have included Jake Johnson for his subtler but no less excellent work.

Perhaps my favorite acting nomination in any category was for Anna Gunn, who should already have an Emmy for her evolution from mild-mannered wife and mother to criminal conspirator on “Breaking Bad,” and she had her best season to date. The show as a whole had a banner year, and easily deserves to win Best Drama.

Community” finally earned its first competitive Emmy nomination (it won a special animation prize last year), for its “Remedial Chaos Theory” script. Is this just the tip of the iceberg? Will “Community” sweep the nominations next year? Probably not, but its nomination continues the trend of the writers’ branch of the TV Academy showing superior taste; they also nominated “The Wire” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in years past.

Also gratifying were the writing and directing nominations for “Portlandia” and another Reality Series nomination for the undervalued “MythBusters.”

The worst I can say about “Girls” and “Veep” is that they’re overrated, but they are, and their nominations for Best Comedy Series are premature. It is certainly cause for celebration that male-skewing Hollywood nominated two female-driven shows, but if they were going to do so, they should have picked “Parks and Recreation” and “New Girl,” which were both more consistent than “Girls” and less mean-spirited than “Veep.”

For that matter, if they were going to go in a different direction, why did they pass up the opportunity to honor “Louie“? They clearly like the show (it’s nominated for writing, directing, and lead actor), and on its worst day it’s better, funnier, and more innovative than most of the nominees at their best.

I’m ambivalent about the snub of “The Hour” in most categories (it picked up a writing nod). I think it was the most underrated program of the last year; it had the period elegance of “Mad Men,” but with a more sinister, conspiratorial tension. On the other hand, it wasn’t by any definition a miniseries and should never have been allowed to compete as one. The Emmys need to reestablish their standards for what qualifies as longform programming, because this year there were no standards.

If Emmy were to retire Best Reality Host, it would be four years overdue. The category once had promise – award-worthy work is done by many reality hosts – but the nominees have been, and it seems always will be, the hosts of competition shows whose roles are limited to introducing contestants, explaining rules, and announcing eliminations.

The sole exception this year: Betty White, who is nominated, let’s be honest, for being Betty White and not because anyone in the TV academy has much affection for her prank show, “Off Their Rockers.”

Meanwhile, there was still no love for the “MythBusters” stars, Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, whose hosting requires not only on-screen charisma but also technical expertise.

And that’s the main problem: it doesn’t require much skill to do what the nominated hosts do. The problem is especially egregious because the Emmys eliminated Best Variety Performance a few years ago and next year will get rid of the longform supporting categories, yet they still feel the need to honor Phil Keoghan (“The Amazing Race“) for explaining the difference between a “Detour” and a “Road Block.”


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