The Politics of the Critics’ Choice Television Awards

There’s something satisfying about having the Critics’ Choice Television Awards nominations come out the morning after the MTV Awards. I appreciate anything that gives Emma Stone and Ellen Page much-deserved love, but it’s always sort of amusing to see the generational clash between one voting pool that rates The Twilight Saga: Eclipse as the best movie of the year and another that’s determinedly beating the drum for very different kinds of art.

Of the best dramas on the Critics’ list, two are about charismatic criminals (Boardwalk Empire, Dexter), four are about highly unusual law enforcement officers or law enforcement officers in highly unusual situations up to and including zombie apocalypse (Fringe, Justified, The Killing, and The Walking Dead), one’s about a cheating politician’s wife (The Good Wife), one’s a skeptical look at coastal cultural elites (Mad Men), and another’s an anthem to middle-American values (Friday Night Lights). Moral complexity’s a good thing, particularly when it lets critics beat themselves up a little bit and mythologize the core audiences for the shows they write about.

In comedies, quirk rules too. Having NBC’s Thursday comedy block shows competing against each other is no big surprise. Actually, none of the nominations feel particularly shocking, from industry-favorite Louie, to crowd-pleaser Glee. It would actually be interesting to have a smaller pool of nominees to see how some of the more similar shows in the pool stack up against each other. Do people think Indiana-based The Middle, a family sitcom based around a couple who manage a quarry and work at a car dealership, is a better show than Modern Family, which features much wealthier families, but also works hard to normalize a gay couple? How do the nerds of The Big Bang Theory stack up against the pop-culture riffers of Community? Something like Louie or Archer doesn’t really exist in the same universe as Glee (though thank goodness both universes can exist simultaneously), and these awards shows are as much a weird way to single out expressions of values as they are to reward artistic merit.