If it weren't for Netflix's House of Cards making the drama races a bit more interesting, while opening the door to a brave new world of out-of-the-box content for future years' consideration, this year's list of Emmy contenders (see the major categories here) would be most notable for its numbing lack of imagination and vision. The list predictably singles out so many shows and stars from past seasons — many of them deserving, of course, but allowing precious little room for new blood.
Maybe CBS should start double-running The Good Wife on Showtime to confuse Emmy voters into thinking it's a cable series. That show's omission from the best-drama ranks (especially in light of an erratic Mad Men season), as well as that of star Julianna Margulies, is inexcusable. And maybe FX should try to convince the TV Academy that all of its drama series are actually miniseries in disguise — see: the overrated and way over-represented American Horror Story: Asylum, with a pack-leading 17 nominations — because snubbing such terrific dramas as Justified and especially the bold new The Americans (and their respective stars) is just a pity.
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Other heartbreakers: Many of us had hoped that the buzz surrounding BBC America's protean discovery Tatiana Maslany, bringing to life all of those wonderfully disparate clones on Orphan Black, would have paid off with a star-is-born nod, but no such luck. Where's the second-season love for New Girl and its co-stars Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield? All dropped off the Emmy radar, so it's not such a shock that Jake Johnson would also be passed over for his winning work in the Jess-Nick romantic arc. And ignoring Monica Potter's brave and affecting performance as a cancer survivor on Parenthood last season? Makes me want to cry all over again.
While I have no beef with the voters' love for PBS' Downton Abbey — there should be at least one show on the best-drama list that doesn't make the viewer want to consider suicide — the acting nominations can be a puzzlement. Maybe not so much with Maggie Smith, who's always a delight, but a discerning viewer would have singled out Rob James-Collier in the supporting category for his terrific work as Thomas, the victim of O'Brien's malicious manipulations.
Is there an upside to a year when a creatively depleted 30 Rock can still earn the most comedy nominations in its final season while more deserving and still-growing shows like the invisible-to-Emmy The Middle and Parks and Recreation go begging? Here's a quick stroll on the bright side:
The year's most intriguing category by far is drama lead actress, with guilty-pleasure divas Vera Farmiga and Kerry Washington joining Nashville's beloved Connie Britton and Cards dynamo Robin Wright in the race against front-runner and last year's winner Claire Danes. That's four new contenders out of seven, and even with that expansion, there wasn't room for Margulies (who I would swap with Downton's Michelle Dockery). Double nominee Elisabeth Moss, one of the best things about Mad Men this season, has her fifth consecutive bid as Peggy Olson — but is much more likely to win as the driven New Zealand detective in Sundance's riveting Top of the Lake miniseries.
In the movie/minis field, despite Asylum's robust tally, Jane Campion's Lake shares bragging rights with HBO's Behind the Candelabra as the projects to beat — and there's no doubt that Michael Douglas's bravura impersonation of Liberace will guarantee him the sort of full sweep of the awards circuit that we saw Claire Danes (Temple Grandin) and Julianne Moore (Game Change's Sarah Palin) enjoy in recent years.
As for newbies of note to cheer, besides the thrilling Cards: FX's Louie, long overdue to join the top comedy tier; in supporting categories, Veep's Anna Chlumsky and Tony Hale (also a high point of Netflix's mostly shunned Arrested Development reboot); and Girls' Adam Driver for comedy; in drama, Game of Thrones' majestic Emilia Clarke and Breaking Bad's Jonathan Banks (first time since Wiseguy in 1989) for his unforgettable swan song; and in the guest categories, Harry Hamlin for his droll Mad Men turn and Good Wife's delightful Carrie Preston, part of a great field alongside The Americans' Margo Martindale, Thrones' imperious Diana Rigg and The Newsroom's formidable Jane Fonda.
Let the handicapping begin.