News Column

Emmy Awards 2013 nominations: The good, the overlooked and the surprises

July 18, 2013

YellowBrix

July 18--The biggest shock in the 2013 Emmy Award nominations isn't who got snubbed, and who was included. It's the fact that, overall, this is an impressively strong field of mostly deserving nominees, with exciting newcomers replacing some tired perennials.

The biggest news, of course, is the strong showing made by "House of Cards," which wasn't aired on any TV channel, but streamed via Netflix. This must be sending waves of panic through the offices of cable and broadcast networks, already worried about viewers defecting to digital viewing.

Also sure to cause grief for the big four broadcast networks -- ABC. CBS, NBC and Fox -- is another paltry showing in the major categories. The only broadcast series to earn a Best Drama nod was "Downton Abbey," on PBS. The others were all on cable: AMC ("Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men"); HBO ("Game of Thrones"); Showtime ("Homeland"); or Netflix ("House of Cards.")

(A list of the 2013 Emmy Award major category nominees)

The Best Comedy Series category used to be dominated by the big four networks, but this year, CBS' "The Big Bang Theory," NBC's "30 Rock" and ABC's "Modern Family" are competing against HBO's "Girls" and "Veep" and FX's "Louie."

For viewers, though, this year's crop of nominees is a reminder of how much quality programming there is to choose from. Enough so that, again, there wasn't room for shows that are overdue for Emmy recognition, such as AMC's "The Walking Dead," or fast-out-of-the-gate freshmen, like FX's "The Americans."

The Good:

--"House of Cards": No matter where it was viewed, on a TV set or a computer, the U.S. adaptation of a British series was compelling, sophisticated storytelling. It's a pleasure to see the Washington, D.C. political drama in the pack, with major nominations including Best Drama, Best Actor in a Drama (Kevin Spacey, in good from as a cunning politican), and Best Actress in a Drama (Robin Wright, as his wife).

--HBO's "Behind the Candelabra": The made-for-TV film about the ill-fated affair between the flamboyant pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas) and a much-younger man (Matt Damon), was a fascinating blend of over-the-top theatricality and intimate character study, directed with panache by Steven Soderbergh. He deserves his nomination, as do screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, and Douglas and Damon for their performances.

--Jason Bateman: The Netflix streak didn't extend to snagging a Best Comedy nod for its new season of "Arrested Development," but Bateman earned a nomination for Best Comedy Actor. As far as I'm concerned, Bateman deserves to win anything and everything he's nominated for.

--Mandy Patinkin prevails: Even though "Homeland" had a banner year in 2012, winning for Best Drama, and leads Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, Patinkin's essential work as a veteran FBI agent wasn't even nominated. I'm glad to see that oversight addressed this year. Especially since Season 2 of the Showtime series suffered a drop in quality -- which made Patinkin's unshowy support more necessary than ever.

--Connie Britton: It's true that ABC's "Nashville" veered into soap opera territory as it wrapped its first season, but Britton was, as always, grounded and convincing as a veteran country music star dealing with domestic problems and career pressures. Her Best Actress in a Drama nod is a nice coda to an uneven, but highly entertaining, first season of the show.

--Vera Farmiga: The A&E series "Bates Motel" is an oddity. Set in a fictional Oregon coastal town called "White Pine Bay," it's a modern-day prequel to "Psycho," showing young Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his mother, Norma (Farmiga) trying to get that creepy hotel up and running. In its first season, the show's plotting was ragged -- how many times was Norma going to have to contend with a murderous attacker? -- but Farmiga, nominated for Best Actress in a Drama, was a marvel. Her Norma was selfish and loving, a survivor and a trouble-magnet. And no matter how outlandish the story, Farmiga made her believable.

--Kerry Washington: While "Scandal" is a buzzed-about hit for ABC, it doesn't have the gravity that Emmy voters often go for when selecting Best Drama series. So, it's particularly refreshing to see Washington win a Best Actress in a Drama nomination for her role as a super-competent Washington, D.C., scandal-"fixer" -- especially since minority nominees are still in short supply.

The Overlooked:

--"The Walking Dead": After a season featuring one of the most wrenching hours in recent memory ("Killer Within"), and a propulsive mix of heartbreak and terror unlike anything on television, the AMC show gets overlooked in the major categories again. Are Emmy voters so afraid of the word "zombie" that they aren't even watching?

--"The Americans": The FX freshman show was sensational from the get-go, but maybe it's just too new to earn Emmy love in the major categories. At least Margo Martindale, a previous Emmy winner for "Justified," earned a nod as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series.

The Surprises:

--"Boardwalk Empire": The HBO period crime drama got bumped out of the Best Drama and lead drama actor categories by "House of Cards" and Spacey. Which is no great loss, as "Boardwalk Empire" has been holding on to a nomination spot well after passing its creative peak. This season's live-wire guest star, Bobby Cannavale, won a Best Supporting Actor in a Drama nod for his turn as a hot-tempered mobster with kinky habits.

--Adam Driver: As with "Homeland," Season 2 of HBO's "Girls" suffered a sophomore slump, with a few standout episodes and plenty of aimless wandering. It's unexpected, then, to see Emmy nominators salute Driver, effective though he is, as a Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy nominee.

--Julianna Margulies: The star of CBS' "The Good Wife" wasn't nominated for Best Actress in a Drama, which may be a sign that Emmy nominators took the show's uneven season into account.

--Christine Baranski: If that's the case, however, how did Baranski, who plays the co-head of the law firm in "The Good Wife," earn a Supporting Actress in a Drama nod? Maybe it's because voters didn't nominate Archie Panjabi this year. Are they blaming Panjabi for the season's dreadful storyline involving her character, Kalinda, and her creepy ex-husband? At any rate, Baranski is a pleasure to watch no matter how weak the script, so it's nice to see her included.

--"American Horror Story: Asylum": Once again, the FX series is bizarrely included in the Miniseries or Made-for-TV-Movie category, which is the only explanation for its Emmy-leading 17 nominations. If forced to compete with "Mad Men" or "Breaking Bad," for example, the shock-for-shock's-sake fiasco would be left in the dust. But clumped together with actual miniseries such as Sundance's "Top of the Lake" and History channel's "The Bible," it racks up nominations. Talk about insane.

--"Liz & Dick" gets an Emmy nomination: Yes, the ridiculous Lifetime movie starring Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor is nominated -- for Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie.

Local Heroes:

--"Portlandia": Once again this year, the filmed-in-Portland comedy earned two nominations, for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series (Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein, Jonathan Krisel and Bill Oakley) and Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series (Krisel). The show didn't win last year, but who's to say what will happen this year?

--Ty Burrell: Also winning another nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy for "Modern Family" is the Oregon native and bigtime University of Oregon Ducks fan. Among his competition are his co-stars Ed O'Neill and Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Burrell grew up in Southern Oregon, and graduated from Southern Oregon University with a major in theatre arts in 1993, before earning an MFA at Penn State University. He has been nominated for his role as Phil Dunphy in the hit ABC sitcom in 2010 and 2012, and he won in 2011.

What do you think? Who deserves to be nominated? Who and what got left out, in your opinion?

-- Kristi Turnquist

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(c)2013 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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