Emmy nominations never get it all right
By Matt Roush -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/18/2004 8:00:00 PM
This year's Emmy Award nominations have the one feature we've come to expect by now: They're illogical. They leave unheralded a basketful of deserving shows and performers. But the nominations honor, as they always do, the usual suspects. Sometimes that's dandy, as when Emmy notices the superb efforts at HBO. Sometimes it's ridiculous, like when the nominations virtually ignores Nip/Tuck and completely ices The Shield. The only thing more predictable than the list of perennial Emmy nominees (was Stockard Channing even on The West Wing last season?) is the umbrage taken by those of us who, for some reason, still attempt to care. Hoping that all of the year's best and boldest will earn Emmy validation is among the most crushing of pipe dreams.
It's also apparently too much to ask for the membership to penalize past faves whose quality has noticeably slipped (four-time winner The West Wing and Will & Grace, most notably). Let's let Dr. Kevorkian vote! Lots of times!
And yet there are moments of triumph. It's terrific that the TV academy has included Fox's ratings-poor Arrested Development among the best-comedy candidates, with well-deserved nominations for writing and directing. If ever a show needed the boost and exposure, it's this ironic, farcical gem that is smart and innovative enough to be on HBO.
But if it were on HBO, you can bet it would have chalked up more than a single acting nomination—for HBO vet Jeffrey Tambor (The "Hey there" sidekick on The Larry Sanders Show). Jason Bateman, Jessica Walter, Portia di Rossi, David Cross, guest star Liza Minnelli— all were amazing. All, sadly, are MIA from the Emmy list.
Perhaps the most startling and aggravating oversight in this year's Emmy roster happened to cable upstart FX, widely championed as the basic-cable equivalent to HBO. Maybe FX's shows push the envelope a little too feverishly for the academy membership's timid sensibility. Or maybe there's just no room left after the Emmys are done worshiping at HBO's altar, where a total 124 nominations dwarfed all contenders.
For whatever reason, FX's The Shield, the dark police drama that has earned major nominations in seasons past and even snagged a surprise best-actor win for Michael Chiklis two years ago, was completely shut out. And this was arguably its finest and most harrowing season yet, with remarkable ensemble work from a cast including CCH Pounder, Jay Karnes and Benito Martinez that deserved more recognition. FX's graphic, appallingly entertaining plastic-surgery saga Nip/Tuck also deserved better. It got a directing nomination, but its flashy cast and ferocious writing got no nominations. The only freshman series that made it into the best-drama category was CBS's family-friendly, and refreshingly offbeat, Joan of Arcadia. A safe choice, maybe, but a good one.
HBO, once again, is the deserved front-runner in nearly every format: comedy (Sex and the City, Curb Your Enthusiasm ), drama (The Sopranos), movie (And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, Something the Lord Made) and miniseries (the spectacular Angels in America, leading all entries with 21 nominations). But even being on HBO doesn't make one immune from the Emmy jinx of inexplicable cluelessness.
The tragic HBO crime drama The Wire, was completely ignored. And consider the fate of the profane Western Deadwood, favored by many handicappers to fill the best-drama slot left open by Six Feet Under. It earned 11 nominations, the most for any new series, but failed to make the cut for best drama. Even more puzzling was the snub of breakout star Ian McShane as the town's foul-mouthed villain and of Keith Carradine, who distinguished the first four episodes with his performance as the doomed Wild Bill Hickok. (McShane, incidentally, won a Television Critics Association award over the weekend for his performance.)
The Emmys are nothing if not inconsistent. While it's refreshing to see Comedy Central's Chappelle's Show break into the variety-comedy series category, pushing out Jay Leno's Tonight Show as an added bonus, Dave Chappelle was not nominated in the performance category. In fact, only one minority actor—James Earl Jones in a guest role on Everwood—is represented in any of the series acting categories.
Among the more pleasantly ironic surprises was the comedy-actress nomination for Bonnie Hunt, whose Life With Bonnie was mysteriously axed by ABC, apparently for daring to be funny and a wee bit different from that network's stubbornly tone-deaf comedy norm. Hunt took a spot many predicted would have been filled by another of the Friends stars.
Only Jennifer Aniston and Matt LeBlanc were singled out from the Friends cast, and the show's blockbuster final season was a surprise no-show in the best-comedy category. Another legendary farewell act, Frasier, which made Emmy history for winning consecutive best-comedy trophies in its first five seasons, was passed over for its creatively resurgent final year, but much-honored stars Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce each got one last nod.
So what's going to win? If you look at the numbers, the odds obviously favor an HBO hat trick: The Sopranos (four of five writing nominations, two for directing, five for acting), Sex and the City (two writing bids, all four cast regulars nominated) and, of course, Angels in America, which could and should sweep all four acting categories.
Hard to argue with these choices. But, as usual, hard not to stifle a yawn.
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