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Emmy Nominations 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Surprises

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Friday Night Lights: one last chance for the underdog. / NBC

The Emmy Awards are a big ocean liner that turns very slowly, and this year’s nominations, announced this morning, were no exception: a lot of familiar faces and a few new (or old but underrecognized) entries. So there were a slew of nominations for Mad Men, Modern Family and [Insert Name of HBO’s Big Movie/Miniseries of the Year Here].

But let’s focus on the newbies and the pleasant surprises first. It was also a good morning for HBO’s newcomers, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones (the latter well-deserved but a mild surprise in the best-series category). And while clear eyes and full hearts definitely can lose, they can at least get nominated: Friday Night Lights finally got a richly earned Best Drama nomination for its final season.

The nominations are always a big info dump to process (see the Emmys website to download a complete list of nominations) and I’m sure that there are insights/outrages that will occur to me later. But here are some off-the-bat reactions:

* With Breaking Bad out of eligibility this year, there was a little more room in the drama categories (especially actor, which Bryan Cranston had won three years running). I assume this year is Jon Hamm’s turn (though I can’t count out Buscemi), but I was also happy to see Timothy Olyphant pick up an open slot. Yes, Justified should have been nominated–I’d sub it for Dexter–but given that nomination, Walton Goggins’, Jeremy Davies’ and especially Margo Martindale’s, I can’t complain too much. (I will complain, again, about John Noble’s omission, and the snubbing of Fringe in general.)

* Speaking of drama, The Good Wife seems to have the permanent One Nominated Broadcast Drama slot now (I’m not counting FNL); also, nominations for not only Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi, but Christine Baranski, Josh Charles and Alan Cumming. Sorry, Chris Noth.

* As I remind myself every year, awards shows in general are silly and not worth getting worked up about. To the extent that Emmys do matter, though, it can be giving a lease on life to good low-rated shows, convincing their networks to keep them on for prestige. This year, TNT’s excellent Men of a Certain Age is looking for help, but while Andre Braugher’s nomination is deserved, I suspect the show could have used more than that.

* OK, comedy. I guess Community is now officially in The Wire’s role of “show whose renegade status is honored with a lack of nominations,” or something. Making up for that: nominations for Parks and Recreation (should win but won’t) as best comedy and Louis CK for both acting and writing. Making up for that in turn: the omission of Nick Offerman, for whom I would have made room with one of Modern Family’s four[!] supporting actor nominations. (Delighted to see Sofia Vergara acknowledged for a great season, though; she was the series MVP this year.)

* Also in that category: yes, Glee got a nomination, but dig down into the list (beyond Chris Colfer and Jane Lynch) and I don’t think Emmy was any more wowed by season 2 than the rest of us.

* I generally take Movie and Miniseries even less seriously than any other Emmy group, because there are so few to compete in the category anymore. Even at that I was surprised that Reelz’s sluggish The Kennedys picked up nominations as a miniseries and in the acting category. I’ll guess Mildred Pierce to win, though I’d personally give it to Downton Abbey this year. (And fingers crossed for Idris Elba in Luther.)

* As others have noted, there may be sort of a generational shift going on in the late-night comedy competition: neither David Letterman nor Jay Leno’s shows were nominated as series, with nods going to Conan, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Maher, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Saturday Night Live. (OK, that last: maybe not so much evidence of a generational shift.)

* Lest you think I’m only interested in crowing about the nominations for my favorite shows credit where due to Melissa McCarthy and Martha Plimpton for actress noms in two sitcoms (Mike and Molly and Raising Hope) that are not on my must-watch list. But I’m still rooting for Amy Poehler. On the other hand, Kathy Bates is a great actress, but she has no business being nominated for Harry’s Law, a show which only permits overacting.

* Also in the deserved-nomination-for-a-show-I-rarely-watch: Cat Deeley, as host of So You Think You Can Dance. I’m serious! I don’t know if she has a chance in the category, but she’s an underrated host, pulling off the tougher-than-it-looks job of bringing personality to SYTYCD without making it about her.

* Finally, I know there’s a big Game of Thrones contingent at this site: the show had a good freshman year at the Emmys, but it’s interesting to see where it got its nominations. It got a series nod but only one major acting nomination–Dinklage, natch–which, not to diss anyone, seems about right for a series in which the story was the star, despite several strong ensemble performances. On the other hand, I’m a little stunned it didn’t get a theme-music nomination, though it deservedly got recognized for its title sequence, which I assume will crush Boardwalk Empire’s flood of whiskey bottles.

And with that, I am tired of typing. Bring on your cheers and grievances, and place your bets!