If I Had an Emmy Ballot: The Best TV of 2011 to 2012
CHICAGO – So you’re an Academy voter who has put off filling out your ballot for the 2011-12 season. I understand. It’s been a ridiculously tough year for me to pick and choose my dream nominees for the major categories and my votes don’t even count. Maybe you want some help? We’re all about charity here. As someone who’s seen more TV in the last year than most people do in their lives, let me guide the way.
First and foremost, we need to recognize that it’s been an AMAZING year for television. It was one of the strongest in the history of the medium as great series and performances kept popping up out of nowhere. There’s not one category this season that will be as desperate for choices as it has been in the past. And some of them — Best Drama, Best Actress in a Comedy Series, Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series — are arguably more crowded than ever.
While some of the major nominees of year’s past (“Entourage,” “Glee,” “Weeds,” “The Office”) fell far enough down the creative ladder that they should be left out entirely, incredible new offerings took their place in TV’s circle of life. New shows eligible for the first time that should be able to put “Emmy-nominated” on their inaugural season DVD sets include “Veep,” “Girls,” “Enlightened,” “American Horror Story,” “New Girl,” “Suburgatory,” “House of Lies,” “Homeland,” “Smash,” and “Luck.”
How do you make these tough decisions without a little help? Let me do my best for 11 major categories…
Before you draft your email about the absence of Ryan Murphy’s brilliant “American Horror Story” from this year’s nominees, make sure to look at the movie/mini-series categories where I expect the show to deservedly DOMINATE. With the news that the program would have a fresh cast of characters every year, it technically qualified it as a mini-series instead of a drama. It should make stiff competition for HBO’s incredible “Game Change” and PBS’s brilliant “Sherlock.” Latex sex monsters, Sarah Palin, and Dr. Watson — it’s been a unique year for this category that should see some more fun nominees than usual. You’ll have to find a different time to take a pee break during the awards show.
“American Horror Story” (FX)
“Game Change” (HBO)
“Great Expectations” (PBS)
“Hatfields and McCoys” (History)
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Adam Driver of Girls
Photo credit: HBO
Last year, they might as well have just renamed this the “Modern Family” ensemble award. Eric Stonestreet won it in 2010 and Ty Burrell took the prize last year alongside three of his fellow cast members — Stonestreet, Ed O’Neill, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. I love “Modern Family.” You’ll see it throughout this feature. But, come on people, this category is too crowded with talent to allow one show to take up 2/3rds of it (especially since it wasn’t the program’s strongest season).
There are SO many great comedy ensembles on TV right now that it just doesn’t make sense to let one show dominate this coveted category. So, here’s my suggestion — pick one supporting actor. Spread the love. Pick ONE gentleman from “Modern Family” to represent the show. My pick? Eric Stonestreet had the strongest year, getting to play Cam’s adoption arc with a wonderful blend of excitement and fear.
With my suggestion of leaving Burrell, Ferguson, and O’Neill for next year and the fact that Jon Cryer has moved to Lead Actor, it leaves space for a ton of new blood. I would also axe Chris Colfer, a nominee for the last two years. While Colfer is arguably the best thing about “Glee,” the show has gone so far downhill and the comedy genre is so accomplished right now that it’s time to move on. Ryan Murphy will dominate the Movie/Mini-Series category with “American Horror Story” and that should be enough love for him. Let’s leave “Glee” behind.
Five new spots. Where do we look? The ensemble of “Community” is certainly one of the best on TV but I don’t think Danny Pudi, Donald Glover, and Chevy Chase had consistent enough seasons to make the difficult cut. There are similarly strong choices in the cast of “Happy Endings” (I’d be happy with Adam Pally or Damon Wayans Jr.) and the old standby, “30 Rock” (Jack McBrayer & Tracy Morgan). “The Office” was a mess this year but Rainn Wilson had some standout episodes in the second half of the season (especially in Florida). A nod for him wouldn’t be a crime. It’s a TOTAL pipe dream but anyone from FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” or “The League” would be fun. It’s never gonna happen. Finally, there’s the always-hysterical Garret Dillahunt of “Raising Hope.” He’s got no shot (and may be in Lead), sadly, but he’d be a wonderful surprise.
Who does this leave to join Stonestreet? The best comedy ensemble on network TV award goes to “Parks and Recreation” and I’d love to see any of the cast get nominated. (How great would it be if the four-peat nomination this year went to Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt, and Adam Scott instead of the “Modern Family” quartet?) I’ll just pick my favorite two from this stellar season — Offerman and Scott.
FOX’s “New Girl” went from a good show to an often-great one when the writers expanded the focus from their talented lead to the rest of the ensemble. While it first appeared that Jake Johnson’s Nick would be the obvious choice here (and he’d still be a good one), I think Max Greenfield is the way to go. Schmidt is arguably the breakout character of network TV this season.
That leaves two geniuses from HBO comedies, one we knew about and one who was a stunning new surprise. All of those who bow at the altar of Bluth knows that Tony Hale is amazingly talented. His turns in the “sneeze” episode and the Orioles episode of “Veep” were absolutely brilliant. Finally, there’s my true, more-than-anyone long-shot dream — a nod for Adam Driver, the most fascinating character on HBO’s “Girls.” He had the most impressive arc of the season, going from total creep to a fascinating character. He probably won’t make the cut but whoever from the “Modern Family” cast steals his spot should feel guilty.
Adam Driver. “Girls”
Max Greenfield, “New Girl”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
Nick Offerman, “Parks and Recreation”
Adam Scott, “Parks and Recreation”
Eric Stonestreet, “Modern Family”
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Julie Bowen of Modern Family
Photo credit: ABC
Many of the ensembles in the previous category should, of course, be represented here and I’d be happier with some repeats from last season than most categories overall. As easy as it was to pick Stonestreet as the best of the men from “Modern Family,” I just can’t choose between Julie Bowen’s election arc and the person who arguably has the best comic timing on the entire show, Sofia Vergara. They both will and should get nominated.
That leaves four spots. While I’ve been somewhat averse to the “Saturday Night Live” nominations in the past, this is the Academy’s last chance to nominate Kristen Wiig, one of the best cast members in the history of the show. They should take that chance.
We’re down to only three spots, which were occupied by Jane Krakowski, Jane Lynch, and Betty White last year. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if all six of the 2012 nominees were exactly the same as the 2011 nominees. But there are better choices.
The cast of “Community” is a fantastic one but, like the men, I can’t exactly argue that Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, or Gillian Jacobs deserve a nod over some of their competition. And, like Rainn Wilson, Jenna Fischer surely isn’t to blame for the downfall of “The Office” although she wasn’t nominated for superior seasons and so probably shouldn’t be considered here.
Finally, there’s the cast of the consistently funny “Happy Endings.” Any of the three women — Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert, and Casey Wilson — would be a lovely surprise. But none stood out enough to break through.
We still have three open spots. How about the three supporting actresses on “Girls”? I’ve argued against the “one show category domination” already so I’m going to pick a favorite to represent all three and suggest Allison Williams. Zosia Mamet was absolutely hysterical when she needed to be and Jemima Kirke was possibly the most interesting of the three but if Williams submitted the penultimate episode of the season for consideration, the one in which she finally told Hannah what she thought of her, this nomination should be a slam dunk.
Two spots left for two very different performers. I’ve loved the way that Aubrey Plaza has matured and developed on “Parks and Recreation.” She’s always had solid comic timing but she developed much more of a fully-rounded character this past season. She’s awesome. And then there’s the great Cheryl Hines, the best thing about “Suburgatory.” Her timing is a thing of beauty, getting laughs in every single episode.
Julie Bowen, “Modern Family”
Cheryl Hines, “Suburgatory”
Aubrey Plaza, “Parks and Recreation”
Sofia Vergara, “Modern Family”
Kristen Wiig, “Saturday Night Live”
Allison Williams, “Girls”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Louis C.K. of Louie
Photo credit: FX
Finally, a category with some space. While Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor are likely to look very similar to last year’s nominees, there’s going to be some change here. The great Matt LeBlanc didn’t have an eligible season of “Episodes” (but should be back here next year) and Steve Carell is no longer on “The Office.” And, hopefully, the Academy will realize that Johnny Galecki is merely good on “Big Bang” but not worthy of a nomination.
Three likely returning nominees are Alec Baldwin, Louis C.K., and Jim Parsons, three men who it’s difficult to have any argument with nominating. In fact, the first two did some of their best work in the 2011-12 season.
While most categories are tough to whittle down to six, this one is actually a little difficult to pump up. Jeremy Sisto is solid on “Suburgatory,” as is Will Arnett on “Up All Night” and even Elijah Wood on “Wilfred” but few would argue they’re Emmy-worthy. Danny McBride rocked on the last season of “Eastbound & Down” but the HBO show was inconsistent and I’ve given up on that suggestion. If you didn’t nominate him for one or two, he’s not getting in for three.
If Galecki is out, LeBlanc is ineligible, and Carrell is trying to seduce Keira Knightley, who’s left? Larry David is eligible again for the great eighth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and he’s a likely, smart decision. After that, honestly, this category is surprisingly bereft of choices — more so than any on this list. I could easily see the Academy going with Jon Cryer now that he’s reportedly submitted for Lead. Ashton Kutcher seems less likely and choosing Cryer wouldn’t be the end of the world.
If Cryer just misses out, it still leaves two open spots — Joel McHale delivered throughout the season of “Community” and it would be nice to see one member of the cast nominated as a representative (even if it is largely because he’s in the least-crowded category). Finally, there’s the great Don Cheadle on the average “House of Lies.” The show has some issues but his work is strong and any recognition this underrated actor can garner is fine by me. Certainly more so than Johnny Galecki.
Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock”
Louis C.K., “Louie”
Don Cheadle, “House of Lies”
Larry David, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Joel McHale, “Community”
Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory”
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Veep
Photo credit: HBO
On the other end of the talent spectrum from the comedy men is one of the most crowded categories in the history of the Emmys. I’m stunned by the unbelievable amount of choices here, enough so that one could easily field a group of runner-ups that would best most year’s lists of actual nominees. Want me to try?
Christina Applegate, “Up All Night”
Beth Behrs, “2 Broke Girls”
Zooey Deschanel, “New Girl”
Tina Fey, “30 Rock”
Patricia Heaton, “The Middle”
Laura Linney, “The Big C”
Not only do I expect more choices from the list above than from the list below to actually get nominated but I won’t be THAT disappointed. They’re all amazingly talented actress who only fail to make my cut by virtue of working in a great time for women in comedy. The group below those six runner-ups — Melissa McCarthy (a great star but please don’t let her win again), Kaley Cuoco, Krysten Ritter, Kat Dennings, and Mary-Louise Parker.— would be better than some year’s winners. Screw Adam Carolla.
Who rises to the top of this talented group? Well, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that cable comedy has been the most fertile playground for actresses. Linney and Parker have already been mentioned but even better are the stunning Laura Dern for HBO’s “Enlightened” and one of the best actresses in the history of television — Edie Falco on Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie”. They are both very likely, deserving nominees.
Dern shouldn’t be the only HBO nominee. Two of the most interesting comedies of 2012 debuted on the network in the stunning hour block of “Girls” and “Veep” and their stars deserve nods. Lena Dunham may not be the most talented actress in this category but she merits recognition for driving the most talked-about show of the season. Love it or hate it, Dunham is delivering something completely daring and original to the comedy scene. And Julia Louis-Dreyfus should win for “Veep” if she submits the right episodes. She only got better and better as the season went along, ending with her best performance to date.
This leaves two spots and they should be occupied by two of the reasons to still watch network television — Martha Plimpton & Amy Poehler. They rock. ‘Nuff said.
Laura Dern, “Enlightened”
Lena Dunham, “Girls”
Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Martha Plimpton, “Raising Hope”
Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation”
OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
Parks and Recreation
Photo credit: NBC
Let’s play the runner-ups game again. I’d be happy with any of the six shows below getting nominated and yet they just barely miss the cut for the 2011-12 season in my opinion:
“30 Rock” (NBC)
“Happy Endings” (ABC)
“New Girl” (FOX)
“Nurse Jackie” (Showtime)
“Raising Hope” (FOX)
Aren’t those better choices than “The Big Bang Theory,” “Glee,” or “The Office,” three shows more likely to repeat than anything above without a number in the title? There are even LONGSHOT nominees like the FX comedies “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Archer,” or “The League” that would be wonderful but they don’t have a shot in comedy Hell.
ABC’s Wednesday night lineup may seem like it’s just “Modern Family” but there’s more to it and it’s arguably been the most consistent night of comedy on TV in the last year. “Modern Family” is surely and deservedly in but “Happy Endings,” “The Middle,” and “Suburgatory” are better than most alternatives.
Which brings us to Thursday nights on NBC, long the staple of this category. “The Office” is out and the revolving door of “Up All Night” and “Whitney” isn’t showing up here. “30 Rock” had one of its strongest seasons but just misses out for me. It would be the 7th nominee if I could expand the category and that’s by virtue of stiff competition not because Fey’s show wasn’t spectacular. “Parks and Recreation” is the best comedy on network television and “Community,” while inconsistent in 2012, is still one of the most original programs on the air. I’ve given up on this actually happening, but I’m still hoping.
What’s left after you slot in “Community,” “Modern Family,” and “Parks and Recreation”? Turn to cable, Emmy voters. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has been nominated before for lesser seasons and should be so again. And then we have the two most daring, original comedies on TV in not just the last year but of the last several — FX’s “Louie” and HBO’s “Girls.” These two shows have more in common than you probably ever considered in that they’re both written/directed/starring the powerfully talented creative forces behind them. What’s the lesson here? Don’t write for committee or build shows around long casting sheets. Find good writer/actors and unleash their creativity on shows that interest them. And then turn them into multiple Emmy nominees.
“Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO)
“Modern Family” (ABC)
“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)