Tuned In

The Emmys: Finding New Ways to Reward Mediocrity

  • Share
  • Read Later

Julia Louis-Dreyfus after the announcement of the nominees for the 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Thursday, in Hollywood, California.

This was the year the Emmy nominations were going to be different. Thanks to a new voting process–in which panels of specialist judges picked the nominees from shortlists of ten–the process was supposed to be more open to new talent and less likely to rubber-stamp whichever shows and actors had been nominated the previous year.

And they’re… umm… different. But "different," much like when you use the adjective to describe the habanero-pepper cranberry sauce your Aunt Bess makes to liven up Thanksgiving dinner, does not always mean better. There are some new names and faces in the major categories–but many of them are simply old faces in newer, mediocre shows. (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Charlie Sheen, I’m looking at you. And sorry, but Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni? Did Law & Order: SVU suddenly become freaking Shakespeare after seven years?)

Worst of all, Emmy has made room for the "new" faces not so much by booting old, past-their prime shows (like gold-watch recipients The West Wing and Will & Grace) but much more deserving newer series and actors. Fine, I’ll forgive Battlestar Galactica, which was about as likely to get a Best Drama nomination from the sci-fi-averse Emmys as the Earth was to be invaded by Cylons. But Lost? Wildly creative television phenomenon Lost? Winner of last year’s drama Emmy Lost? I’m sorry–there is no planet on which Lost is inferior to Grey’s Anatomy or The West Wing, and I defy anyone with sight and a functioning brain to argue otherwise.

Let’s be charitable, though, and look at what went right. Lisa Kudrow probably got nominated for the wrong reasons–big-name actress in a showy vehicle–but deserved it for her unsparing, discomfiting portrayal of Valerie Cherish in the underrated The Comeback.  Jaime Pressly, who pops not just out of her outfits but off the screen as the venal, gum-snapping Joy in My Name Is Earl, should win supporting comedy actress.And 24 may partly be coasting on goodwill, but Gregory Itzin earned his spot as sniveling President Logan in this increasingly actor-driven show, as did Denis Leary for Rescue Me. The Office was a welcome comedy nominee, as to a lesser extent was Scrubs. (But Entourage should have gotten the flagging Curb Your Enthusiasm’s spot.)  And Desperate Housewives, overrated in its superior first season, deserved the snubbing for its inferior second one.

But as for the oversights: good God, where do I start? Big Love, the best series vehicle for actresses in years, was pretty much shut out. (Ironically, it got a casting nod–apparently not for casting any actual actors, however.) How I Met Your Mother lost out to the inferior Two and a Half Men, probably for a lack of boldface names. (Neal Patrick Harris, get Denise Richards’ phone number, pronto!) And not to overpraise the perfectly fine House, but how can it be nominated for best series but Hugh Laurie–whose performance is essentially the entire show–get stiffed as best actor? As for Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars–hey, same old song, different verse.

And apparently no new process can shake Emmy out of one old habit: nominating excellent actors and actresses in less-than-excellent roles. Stockard Channing, who would get an Emmy nomination if she were gagged, covered in papier-mache and forced to play a boulder, was rewarded for overacting in CBS’ not-forgettable-enough Out of Practice. (Likewise Geena Davis on the embarrassing Commander-in-Chief and Blythe Danner for her caricatured role in Huff.) And the star-laden but stiflingly dull miniseries Into the West somehow became the most nominated show of the night.

In the end, though, these are just Emmy nominations, and if they weren’t disappointing every year, they wouldn’t be as fun, I’d like to thank the academy, at least, for giving me a few different things to grouse about this year. And for the producers of Lost, a bit of advice: sign up Stockard Channing.