From Netflix’s Rise To The Burglary Of FX, Six Thoughts On The 2013 Emmy Nominations

The 2013 Emmy nominations were announced this morning, and while you can read the full list here, I came away from the announcement with six main thoughts.

1. Obviously, this is a big day for House Of Cards and Netflix. But that’s not a good thing: Netflix made history for an alternate television provider, scoring nominations for Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor, Outstanding Lead Actress, Outstanding Direction, Outstanding Casting, Outstanding Cinematography, Outstanding Single-Camera Editing, Outstanding Musical Composition, and Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music for House of Cards, Outstanding Lead Actor, Outstanding Single-Camera Editing, Outstanding Music Composition for Arrested Development, and Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music and Outstanding Special Visual Effects for Hemlock Grove. That’s a great performance for Netflix as it ramps up its investments in original programming, as opposed to material it’s licensed from other providers. But that Netflix scored its nominations for this set of programming doesn’t exactly speak to a bold, original new future for online content providers.

House of Cards is a remake of a British series. Arrested Development is an extension of a show that ran on Fox for three years. Hemlock Grove was the only series truly original to Netflix that got Emmy nominations, and those were for music and special effects, rather than for acting, directing, or anything else. In other words, Netflix got its foot in the Emmy door by carefully replicating material that had been successful elsewhere, rather than winning Emmy viewers over with shows that were innovative for their content, their structure (the much-vaunted ability to watch the Arrested Development episodes out of order turned out to be less interesting than promised, and more a result of juggling the cast members’ schedules than anything else), or their visuals. Let’s hope that next year, Jenji Kohan’s Orange Is The New Black racks up a bunch of nods, at least suggesting that online distributors can succeed by making stories about the kinds of characters who don’t show up on traditional networks.

2. Thank goodness for Laura Dern’s nomination for her performance as Amy Jellicoe in Enlightened: Speaking of those sorts of characters, I’m thrilled to see Laura Dern get a nomination for her turn as a post-breakdown corporate-executive-turned-whistleblower on Mike White’s Enlightened. Dern’s performance was utterly lacking in vanity. But she gave Amy a surprising amount of dignity as someone who, however self-important, was often right, and who was struggling to live a life in accordance with her principals, even when she was up against obstacles like the incredibly low wages available to non-profit workers, or her debt from time at a rehab facility. Enlightened never had the ratings to survive long-term, but it’s wonderful that HBO gave it two seasons, and a fitting ending.


3. Kerry Washington is the first African-American woman to get a Lead Actress In A Drama nomination since 1995: If Dern’s nomination is a victory for artisanal television, Washington’s nod for her lead performance in Scandal is a victory not just for racial equality on television, a goal that remains an enormously long way away, but for recognition for soap operas, a female-skewing form that is often used as a derogatory term for plot-heavy television that the user of the term finds less than substantive. Scandal is one of the sexiest, most outrageously entertaining shows on television, and Washington carries an unusual amount of the burden of making it so.4. Other networks should really start playing more in the original movie and mini-series space, if only to give HBO a run for its money: HBO swept the Outstanding Lead Actor nominations for Miniseries and Movies, with nods for Behind The Candelabra, The Girl, Parade’s End, and Phil Spector. Other networks did better in the Lead Actress category, with Laura Linney getting a nomination for her work in the final, shortened season of The Big C, Jessica Lange for American Horror Story: Asylum, Helen Mirren for Phil Spector, Sigourney Weaver for Political Animals, and Elisabeth Moss for Top Of The Lake. But cable has the category overwhelming locked up, with HBO at the head of the pack. Given how miniseries and movies appear to be producing much more interesting roles for women than are typically available, it would be nice to see more networks try to get in the game, as CBS has this summer with Under The Dome.

5. The Good Wife’s approach to guest roles is something special: Anyone who watches the show knows that The Good Wife does an exceptionally good job developing roles for guest actors, giving them multiple episodes in which to flesh out characters, and to establish relationships between the guests and the regular characters. This year, the show’s scored nods for Carrie Preston’s wonderful, nutty turn as Elsbeth Tascioni, Nathan Lane as Clarke Hayden, and Michael J. Fox as Louis Canning. Plenty of shows have fun bringing in a guest actor for an episode or two, particularly for a role where they play against type. But The Good Wife does something deeper and more interesting, to the benefit of the show itself, and the actors who spend a little time there.

6. The Americans was robbed: I’m glad to see Margo Martindale get a nomination for her performance as Grannie, the Ms. Pac-Man-playing, stunt-driving, secretly romantic handler assigned to married KGB spies Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, if only to remind everyone what a shonda it is that she’s going to be playing a farting grandma in The Millers on CBS this fall. But the show deserved much more credit than it got from Emmy voters this year, from its outstanding use of popular music of the period, its excellent costuming, and the outstanding performances by not just the lead trio of Kerri Russell, Matthew Rhys, and Noah Emmerich, but the show’s exceptionally good child actors. I’m not one to encourage Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter’s vendetta against the Emmy voters, but I do wonder if FX shows are systemically undervalued in some way, or if Emmy voters feel that because they love Louis C.K. so much, they don’t need to reward any of the network’s other programs.