TV Feature: If I Had an Emmy Ballot 2013

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CHICAGO – With Emmy ballots due this Friday and the natural human tendency to procrastinate, I’m betting a lot of you Academy members are still sweating some tough decisions this year. Let me help.

Last year saw the hazing of a number of new dramas and comedies into the Emmy frat, including “Veep,” “Girls,” “American Horror Story,” “Homeland,” “New Girl,” and more. I expect less new blood this season as 2012-13 wasn’t as strong as the year before in its freshman class and some of the programs that really did deliver did so in ways that could net them a single nod or maybe two but are doubtful to make them major players. In fact, comedy newcomers are almost non-existent. The biggest game-changer in those categories is technically a program that isn’t a newcomer although wasn’t eligible last year or most of the decade before it — Netflix’s “Arrested Development.” The biggest story could be the new players in the Emmy game — Netflix & The Sundance Channel, both deserving of multiple nominations.

For Drama, I’d love to see FX’s “The Americans,” A&E’s “Bates Motel,” Sundance’s “Rectify,” and NBC’s “Hannibal” get some love. I’m getting ahead of myself. Category by category with details for comedies and dramas and just the dream picks for movie/mini-series & guest performers.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Chris Pratt of Parks and Recreation
Chris Pratt of Parks and Recreation
Photo credit: NBC

I’ve toyed with suggesting this in the past but this year I’m going to beg — please give someone else a chance before they rename this category The Modern Family Award. I like the guys on ABC’s overrated sitcom. They’re all very talented and often elevate the increasingly repetitive writing of that program. If you have to pick one, go with Ty Burrell. Let the other three guys take a year off from prepping speeches and secretly wishing loss on each other. They will thank you and it wil allow some of the other talented comedy ensembles a representative or maybe even two.

Is there another show that deserves more than one Supporting Actor nominee? Funny you ask. The comedy ensemble of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” is the best on TV. No contest. While snubs articles have been toplined by Nick Offerman’s absence in the past, I think Ron Swanson should be joined this year by Chris Pratt, who seems to improve his comic timing with every episode. He had a fantastic season. (I’d be happy with Aziz Ansari too but let’s be reasonable).

That’s two spots down for the “Parks” guys, four to go. I like Donald Glover and Danny Pudi on “Community” quite a bit but the show was so off its game in its Dan Harmon-less fourth season that you won’t find it in any category this year. NBC needs to be punished for that decision and it would be downright silly for “Community” to get its first acting nod for its worst season. Other ensemble stand-outs whose show misses the cut altogether include Max Greenfield for “New Girl,” Neil Patrick Harris for “How I Met Your Mother,” John Pankow for “Episodes,” Mike White & Luke Wilson for “Enlightened,” and the great Adam Pally from the too-soon-cancelled “Happy Endings.”

We still have four spots to fill. Netflix is submitting everyone but Jason Bateman and Portia De Rossi in the supporting categories for “Arrested Development” and Will Arnett, David Cross, or Jeffrey Tambor would make an excellent choice. I’d go with Cross but be just as happy with Arnett. The only cast member not submitted by Netflix for “AD” is the great Tony Hale, excellent as Buster Bluth but even better on HBO’s “Veep” (and so he asked to not be submitted for both shows as to not compete with himself).

Last year, I railed against the exclusion of the great Adam Driver of “Girls” but I actually think his co-star, Alex Karpovsky, was more interesting this season. He’s great.

Finally, we really should say goodbye to one of the more talented “Saturday Night Live” stars of the last two decades in Bill Hader. The temptation may be strong to nominate Jason Sudeikis or Fred Armisen as well, as they are both departing, or even to jump on the Seth Meyers bandwagon but Hader is the most talented of the four gentlemen whose departure makes Lorne Michaels cry on a nightly basis.

David Cross, “Arrested Development”
Bill Hader, “Saturday Night Live”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
Alex Karpovsky, “Girls”
Nick Offerman, “Parks and Recreation”
Chris Pratt, “Parks and Recreation”

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Jessica Walter of Arrested Development
Jessica Walter of Arrested Development
Photo credit: Netflix

Of course, it’s tempting to just work from the category above and offer the female counterparts to those talented gentlemen. However, I’m going to start with a reversal. Maybe it’s because they only take up a third of the category instead of a majority of it but I would cast votes for both “Modern Family” ladies, the performers who I think had the best season overall this past year on the show. Whatever one may say about the writing on ABC’s juggernaut, Julie Bowen & Sofia Vergara are great in it.

It leaves us with four spots and this category needs some shaking up. Let’s go with four new nominees. Who does that exclude who is at least worth a “runner-up” mention? The ladies of “The Big Bang Theory” (Mayim Bialik & Kaley Cuoco) are the best reason to watch that program nowadays, I’d be fine with a Jane Krakowski send-off for “30 Rock,” and Cloris Leachman rules on “Raising Hope.” None had quite strong enough seasons this year.

Two spots for the “Modern Family” stars, still four spots left. The sad thing is that a lot of great performances in this category are on shows that just don’t get Emmy attention — Katie Aselton carries “The League,” Cheryl Hines rocks on “Suburgatory,” and Merritt Wever rules on “Nurse Jackie.” All three ladies on ABC’s cancelled “Happy Endings,” especially Elisha Cuthbert, deserve consideration, but don’t quite make my list.

If the writers at “SNL” knew how to use them better, Kate McKinnon & Cecily Strong would make good choices here. They’re both incredibly talented and future late night stars. They’ll get nominated in the future if the writing improves.

We have to include a star of “Girls,” HBO’s breakthrough comedy. Last year, I suggested Alison Williams but this year I’d go with Zosia Mamet, a young actress who brings a different energy to comedy.

Speaking of different energy, the most underrated sitcom on television is ABC’s “The Middle,” a smart comedy that has reached “Roseanne” levels of capturing middle-class life around the family dinner table. With her fearless work as Sue Heck, Eden Sher deserves to represent the entire ensemble with a nod.

That leaves two spots, one for a newcomer and one for a veteran returning to her form. Jessica Walter can do more with a withering glance than most actresses can do with an entire script. And then there’s Laura Benanti on the too-soon-canceled “Go On.” The show was far from great but she really grounded it in the second half of the seaon. There’s no way she gets a nod in real life but this is a dream ballot. Let me dream, dammit.

Laura Benanti, “Go On”
Julie Bowen, “Modern Family”
Zosia Mamet, “Girls”
Eden Sher, “The Middle”
Sofia Vergara, “Modern Family”
Jessica Walter, “Arrested Development”

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

Jason Bateman of Arrested Development
Jason Bateman of Arrested Development
Photo credit: Netflix

Once again, a little space. So many great recent comedies have become driven by ensemble or actresses that the days of the male-driven comedy show seem to be coming to an end. Carell is gone. This is Baldwin’s last shot at a nod (and he deserves one). While some categories this year produces literally dozens of worthwhile possibilities, this is actually a tough category to fill.

First, I’m not on board with the consistent adoration levied at the CBS guys and so let’s take a pass at Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, and Jon Cryer. All good, none great. Heck, I’d be happier to see Josh Radnor here as he had an excellent year on “How I Met Your Mother”. But he doesn’t make the cut either.

Quality comedy actors to consider from cable include Jim Jefferies for “Legit,” Elijah Wood for “Wilfred,” Don Cheadle for “House of Lies,” and Matt LeBlanc for “Episodes.”

Other than Baldwin, who should return from last year? When I suggested Louis C.K. demanded nomination for “Louie,” I had my doubts that it would actually happen and was so pleasantly surprised when it did. He should get in again this year.

While his episodes may not have been the best, “Arrested Development” is grounded by the work of Jason Bateman. He needs a nomination.

Three open spots — I like Joel McHale on “Community” but the show didn’t work this season. Adam Scott had his best season on “Parks and Recreation” and Matthew Perry deserved longer to develop “Go On.” I’d nominate ‘em both. Finally, Jake Johnson has been moved from supporting to lead for “New Girl.” Last year, they nominated Schmidt. This year, let’s give Nick a shot.

Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock”
Jason Bateman, “Arrested Development”
Louis C.K., “Louie”
Jake Johnson, “New Girl”
Matthew Perry, “Go On”
Adam Scott, “Parks and Recreation”

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Veep
Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Veep
Photo credit: HBO

While Lead Actor is slight, Lead Actress is stacked with talent. Too bad so much of it is on shows no one watches. While I think Beth Behrs & Kat Dennings are good on “2 Broke Girls,” they’re not given the material to work with to merit an Emmy nod. And they’re the only ones in here really getting the ratings.

FOX has produced a very strong string of Lead Actress candidates in Zooey Deschanel (“New Girl”), Martha Plimpton (“Raising Hope”), and Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project”). In lesser years, I’d be fine with all three of those. Not this year.

Jane Levy has improved on “Suburgatory,” a send-off nod to Mary-Louise Parker for “Weeds” is worth considering, and I thought Krysten Ritter was easily the best thing about ABC’s cancelled “Don’t Trust the B——”.

Those runner-ups excluded, it leaves seven very strong candidates. I wish I could expand this category by one to make room for Patricia Heaton, a comedy actress with perfect timing on “The Middle.” Next year she can take the spot from Tina Fey, who deserves one final nod, or Laura Dern, who should arguably win this category for what she did this year on HBO’s last season of “Enlightened.”

Dern’s closest competition for not just the deserved nod but the deserved win is her network-mate, the amazing Julia-Louis Drefyus. She won last year for “Veep” and she was better this season. Another HBO actress, Lena Dunham, will and should join her for the breakthrough work she does on “Girls.”

Dern, Dunham, Fey, and JLD — two spots left. Edie Falco should be nominated every time she plays a role. I’m not really kidding. In any conversation of the best actresses in TV history, Falco must be present. And finally there’s the always-great Amy Poehler, who drives the best comedy on network TV.

Laura Dern, “Enlightened”
Lena Dunham, “Girls”
Edie Falco, “Nurse Jackie”
Tina Fey, “30 Rock”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation”

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES

Enlightened
Enlightened
Photo credit: HBO

(Note: The series categories actually allow for 10 votes but that’s a bit unfocused. You don’t have to vote for 10 so I’m just going to suggest the big 6 that I hope get nominated here and in drama and movie/mini-series.)

For years now, the best dramas have been slowly moving to cable but comedy has remained a strong weapon in the networks’ arsenal. Sure, AMC had “Mad Men” and HBO has dominated drama for over a decade but NBC and ABC carried comedy categories with shows like “30 Rock,” “The Office,” and “Modern Family.” Times they are a-changin’. Even comedy now is swinging to cable as only 2 of my dream 6 nominees come courtesy of the big 5 broadcast nets. Emmy voters, try to get ahead of the curve. Notice that comedy writing is better than network drags like “The Big Bang Theory,” “Glee,” “Two and a Half Men,” or “The Office.”

It’s not to say that there aren’t worthy runner-ups on the nets although many of those are disappearing as well. “30 Rock” should get a final nod but it will be gone next year and NBC canceled “Go On” and ABC made the title of “Happy Endings” ironic before either smart program could develop an audience. ABC has strong contenders in the great “The Middle” and the good “Modern Family” while FOX has “New Girl” and “Raising Hope,” both underrated programs.

In the world of cable, Showtime has “Episodes” and “Nurse Jackie” to consider and I’d be very happy if HBO’s “Veep” gets a nomination but it’s not the best HBO comedy. It’s not even second best. “Enlightened” and “Girls” deserve nods more and there’s just no room for three HBO shows.

Few shows defy genre expectations more than “Louie,” the program that not only deserves a nod here but should win. If you don’t nominate it, I can give you a sneak peek of the #1 for my “Biggest Emmy Snubs” piece.

There is one great network comedy left — NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” a program that just gets smarter and funnier every season.

Finally, there’s proof that perhaps it isn’t cable that will house the best comedies of the future but something new — Netflix’s “Arrested Development.” No matter what you think of the results, the team behind “AD” challenged expectations, turning their very form on its head by messing with its structure. They’re doing something new in comedy. The networks need to pay attention. And so do Emmy voters.

“Arrested Development” (Netflix)
“Enlightened” (HBO)
“Girls” (HBO)
“Louie” (FX)
“Parks and Recreation” (NBC)
“30 Rock” (NBC)

Go on to Page 2 for the drama categories…

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