Gold Derby Emmy MVP: Voters need to save room for the women of ‘Parenthood’

I know it’s tempting to keep nominating Maggie Smith for her cutting one-liners on “Downton Abbey,” and I certainly wouldn’t deny defending Emmy champ Anna Gunn another turn for the great last season of “Breaking Bad,” but if Emmy voters want to truly represent the best acting of the season, they should reserve a few seats for the women of “Parenthoodin the Drama Supporting Actress race.

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It’s possible Monica Potter came close last year. NBC staged an aggressive campaign to bring attention to the actress, who had an emotional story arc in which her character, Kristina Braverman, battled breast cancer. The effort resulted in a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Drama Supporting Actress and nominations from the Golden Globes and the Television Critics Association, but Emmy voters, ever set in their ways, picked from their usual pool of dramas.

Potter was the most valuable player on “Parenthood” last year, and she was strong again this year as Kristina ran for mayor and then resolved to build a charter school for special-needs children like her son, Max (Max Burkholder), but this season was packed with strong storylines for the rest of the cast as well, and given the sheer size of the “Parenthood” ensemble, that’s no mean feat.

Relationships on the brink were a recurring theme this season, which ended last week, and in no character was this more evident than Julia Braverman, whose marriage fell apart when she had an emotional affair. Emmy voters should consider Erika Christensen‘s work as Julia because of how well she walked a fine line: self-absorbed but lonely, petulant but resilient, she made Julia a woman who frustrated and moved me at the same time.

It’s a credit to Christensen and the writers that they turned what could have been a transparent story gimmick – throw a wrench into a stable marriage for the sake of drama – into a genuine outgrowth of character.

Emmy voters should also consider Mae Whitman. She’s only 25-years-old, but she’s already given a few award-caliber performances in her career, including in FX’s “Thief” (playing the stepdaughter of Andre Braugher, who won an Emmy) and “Arrested Development” (you mean “Her?”).

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As Amber on “Parenthood,” Whitman embarked this year on an ill-fated engagement with an emotionally scarred soldier (“Friday Night Lights” alum Matt Lauria). What she played especially well was Amber’s ambivalence: we could see in her face the ongoing conflict between blind love and the recognition of warning signs she tried hard not to notice about her dysfunctional fiance.

Lastly, Emmy voters should consider Bonnie Bedelia. As family matriarch Camille, she didn’t have the kinds of emotional fireworks we see from her costars, but in her understated way she was equally affecting, showing us the breaking point of a woman asserting herself in her marriage for the first time. When she strikes out on her own to pursue dreams of art and travel, she becomes so vivacious that we can easily understand why her stubborn husband (Craig T. Nelson) gives in rather than risk losing her.

That’s four slots in one category, a lot to ask of Emmy voters – unless you’re, say, “Modern Family” – but nominating just two of those women would be a triumph. Heck, even one would be a major breakthrough for a show that has been airing under the TV academy’s radar for five seasons.

To date the only Emmy nomination for “Parenthood” was a surprise guest acting bid by Jason Ritter in 2012 – one nomination in one category in five years. None for writing, directing, casting, or acting. Suddenly four nominees in a category doesn’t sound like too much to ask after all.

So what are the chances for these Gold Derby Emmy MVPs?

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The show is about three generations of an affluent California family, arranged in traditional and nontraditional households – it’s basically “Modern Family” with feelings.

Given the emotional storylines, the actors shouldn’t have trouble picking out competitive sample episodes for Emmy judges.


It’s rare for a show to earn major nominations after being snubbed as long as “Parenthood.”

Success often counts at the Emmys, and the struggling drama has never been a ratings hit.

Sentimental family dramas are out of fashion at the Emmys, which currently favor gritty antihero stories; “Parenthood” would have been an Emmy shoo-in 20 years ago during the era of “thirtysomething” and “Picket Fences.”

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