The only thing I care about less than the Emmys is the Oscars, firstly. The only awards that signify to me are the Golden Globes — and that’s not for any reason we need be concerned with here. It’s the drinking, obviously. But on the other hand, Americans like to be told what to think, and the Emmys are a convenient yearly way to do that from the server-side without anybody getting suspicious, and that interests me highly.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Harris takes one of the all-time cartoon caricatures and raises it so far past merely human that you can’t take your eyes off him. My favorite character on the show is Robin, but Barney takes a strong, close second: these two performances are what got me back into conventional sitcoms. I can’t say enough about this show, and Harris’s masterful — and hilarious — mix of vulnerability, bravado, and knowing self-critique keeps Barney always at the edge of boiling over into inanity, but never crossing the line. Even better is the way that Harris’s portrayal has affected the writing staff, giving them each demi-season more notes and facets to play off. He deserves the acclaim that he’s gotten for this role, and then some. I just wish the rest of the talented cast were as celebrated. God, I love this show.
Jeremy Piven, Entourage. To be fair, for the exact reasons named above, namely, that he takes someone written almost entirely without unique characteristics, and twists them into the only watchable performance in an otherwise utilitarian industry handjob of a show.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Michael Emerson, Lost. There’s playing multiple layers and then there’s Ben, who’s playing multiple layers … some of which don’t exist yet. It’s a fascinating Schrödinger-esque trip through the Method, as Emerson plays every scene as almost limitless with future possibilities. In this exploit he’s joined by nearly all the cast, to be sure, although the only actor who matches his brilliant and subtle complexity is Elizabeth “Juliet” Mitchell, who takes his anything-could-happen-next vibe to an entirely new and careening level. I wish she had received at least a nod for rehabilitating the show from the brink of stupidity, but I understand she’s as polarizing as this last season has been. (For the record, it’s the first time I’ve actually looked forward to the show on a weekly basis, and the majority reason for that is Juliet — just as Emerson’s Ben’s “Henry Gale” last year kept me watching at all.)
Michael Imperioli, The Sopranos. For “Walk Like A Man,” if nothing else. I think it’s deserved for a consistent and evolving performance, especially considering the way his character’s always been jerked back and forth across the relevance line. As a culmination Emmy — which they usually are, which I quite like — it’s a good year to give it to him. Christopher was maddening, relatable, pathetic (but never subsisting on bathos), and could do contained angst like nobody’s business.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Jaime Pressly, My Name is Earl, or Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds. Both very broad characters who manage to transcend their material (see NPH above), but both of which seem fully inhabited at all times. Pressly, particularly, has found her niche. I could happily watch her play Joy for the rest of my life. Perkins, on the other hand, needs to do some work in Weeds‘s upcoming third season to redeem what was — for her character and her craft especially — a very uneven sophomore outing. She’s on this list because of holdover goodwill from Season 1, and we all know it.
Jenna Fischer, The Office. Almost entirely for the firewalk and ensuing freakout in the “Beach Party” episode. Which was certainly nothing to sneeze at, no moreso than her simmering performance all season — by turns rageful and mourning — but there are few standout moments through the season. The first and second seasons of the show, you could easily name five Emmy moments, but this year? Not so much. This might hurt her, come to think of it.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Sandra Oh, Grey’s Anatomy. And not for the eyeball-busting, heartbreaking season-ender, but for doing a consistently compelling job with the most boring, back-and-forth, place-holding storyline imaginable. It’s like they asked, “What’s more boring than Meredith and McDreamy’s relationship? Let’s go with that.” Difference being, Oh’s skills are up to the challenge. Oh, hell. Yang’s finale moment was Emmy material and we all know it.
Rachel Griffiths, Brothers & Sisters, or Sandra Oh, Grey’s Anatomy. Griffiths because she needs the encouragement to stay on network TV, and because her brittle, good-hearted big sister character is the secret glue that keeps the show running. She doesn’t have the glitzy angst or the high-dudgeon political storylines, but she does get most of the key emotional moments (for this viewer, at least). Her angst over her daughter’s diabetes, and reconnection with youngest brother Justin over it, provided one of the heartbreaking high points of this vastly impressive show’s first season.
And then there’s Sandra Oh. I don’t care what she wins it for, or in fact what she’s winning: I just want her to win. I’ve been in love with her since 1998’s Last Night. That’s ten years of loving somebody intensely. And the moment, of course, we can’t forget that. A roiling, volcanic mass of fear, loneliness, relief, vindication, bereavement, self-indictment, guilt, anger and transcendent joy. The most emotionally complicated moment in the series since “17 Seconds,” and perhaps on television since Caprica snapped that baby’s neck in the Battlestar miniseries. And Oh — of course — nailed it.
Outstanding Lead Actor on a Drama Series
Hugh Laurie, House. I’m a recent convert, so I don’t have quite the insane stars in my eyes that some do, watching the show, but I can say that the so-unformulaic-it’s-formulaic storylines and casually cold emotionality of the show’s landscape is perfect for highlighting Laurie’s ability to be not just a lovable bastard, but a bastard with whom you fall in love, for reasons having nothing to do with his bastardy, or indeed anything on the page at all.
James Gandolfini, The Sopranos. Which is fine. Before he gives in and has the triple myocardial once and for all. It’s all been said, this is his last chance, it’s a foregone. Culmination Emmys are what keep everybody’s quotes so darn high, and God knows I’d watch him in anything.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Steve Carell, The Office. I feel like I’ve been talking about this forever, but it still wins true. Carell seems to have made it his life’s work to describe, in word and motion, exactly what’s going on with American men that makes them so fucking hard to deal with — and makes things so hard for them to deal with. His depiction of the male interior as a physical place — constantly assailed by fears, attacks imagined and real, and overall desperate confusion — around which his persona and machismo are stretched, light and thin as paper, is never harder to watch than when it’s got a mirror pointed at it. There’s a commonality and transcendent humanity in his work, and a devilish humor, that accomplishes his intention — to indict and comfort with the same awkward hand — brilliantly, and has inspired the next generation of truth-seeking satirists. I’ve had a huge crush on this man since the early days of the Daily Show, but I had no idea how far he was going to take it. His performances are like My So-Called Life II: The Secret So-Called Life Of Boys; if anything, he’s the emotional successor of the ’90s hit Once & Again, a statement I don’t feel the urge to qualify further. He’s got an eye for the weak spots.
Steve Carell, The Office. Because duh.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Minnie Driver, The Riches. She’s a barely tamed feral beast, caught between the woods and the temptation of simplicity. I haven’t been a huge Driver fan in years — years — but (as with Pressly’s Joy) they’ve found her something so challenging, so outrageous, so complex and full of possibility that for once she seems fully engaged. Every line is a barely suppressed scream for freedom, even when she’s at her smirky, smart-ass best. This is one of the best shows to hit the scene in a long time, and Driver is a huge part of that. She certainly could beat Izzard’s phoning-it-in gift-of-gab sleazeball shtick with one hand tied behind her back. Mostly I’m just impressed by the turn because it represents such an about-face for a career I’ve thought was coasting for its majority.
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters. Because she’s Sally Field, because she’s the overt seeming center of the family, because Emmy voters haven’t noticed the new trend toward subtlety, because she does Sally Field better than anybody in the world, because she’s still gorgeous, because it’s a triumphant return to TV after a bunch of ER-type bullshit. Her continual breakups and reconciliations with daughter Ally McRepublican ground the series’ emotional and political scope wonderfully, and she’s never better than when playing a slightly dotty, overinvested mother type — without playing “type.” Harder than it looks.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Tina Fey, 30 Rock, and Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds. Mostly because I am a lifetime member of Team Parker, one of the great actresses of our time. Unless her tics bug you, and then she’s the worst thing since Andie McDowell. I find there’s nothing as satisfying as watching a truly technical actress — and genius-level intellect — work through the emotional vectors of a scene; it’s why my favorite actresses also include Paltrow and Roberts, and please don’t bug me about that either. Tina Fey, because the character she’s created is as real as Fey herself, if slightly less grounded, and thus a sexy, joyous thing to watch unfold. Also because Mean Girls is probably the best movie I’ve seen in ten or twenty years.
Tina Fey, 30 Rock. Managed to find the middle ground between Entourage-style winks and Old Christine-style dignity in humiliation, while always seeming new and fresh and credible. Deserves it if for nothing else than proving that there’s life after Arrested Development that doesn’t necessarily tread on the improvisational atmosphere of that show or The Office, and for building a show that seemed destined to “Brilliant But Cancelled” status before it even aired. A true hero on the scene, and one with only the best intentions, without ever seeming preachy.
Outstanding Comedy Series
30 Rock, for actually making it work in an era of quick cancellations, drawing in an audience with true quality rather than buzz, and making humans of monsters — and vice versa. Every scene is a technical illustration of Chemistry & How To Work It, and the jokes aren’t bad either. Lovable, awkward and real: The Office created the recipe, but only Fey could add these particular sprinkles on top.
The Office, or Entourage. Which is fine, in the case of the former: it’s time for The Office to get its culmination propers, if only for reviving the sitcom genre and NBC’s Thursday Night lineup. Admit it: you missed Thursdays with NBC. An uneven season, in some ways, but one which proved transformational in so many ways — for the characters, the basic setup, the power relationships in the first two seasons — that it will be looked back on with considerably more appreciation. The latter, because everybody likes a happy ending, especially industry types, on the massage bed that the Emmys represent.
Outstanding Drama Series
The curiously nomination-lacking Friday Night Lights. (Of the nominees, Grey’s, but nobody could possibly vote that way and feel good about it, could they? This year, of all years?) Friday Night Lights is often, loudly and obsessively touted as the best thing since sliced bread. And why? Because it is. A truly magical, heartrending confection of deeply felt relationships, strongly defined and complex characters, and the kind of sincerity that can rescue even a seemingly paint-by-numbers “class and race issues” subplot with seemingly infinite ease. If you think you’re not up for a show about small-town high school football, I feel confident telling you that you have no idea what you’re talking about, and you’re doing seriously bad things to yourself.
The Sopranos. Could not care less. I lost interest in the series after season three, and only recently found myself queuing up episodes again without a feeling of dread. At least my goodwill lasted longer with this one than with Six Feet Under, and after all: it’s the show’s last chance for a Best Series Emmy. They ended strong, and should be rewarded — just not in a year where it could make a difference for FNL, man!
On Writers & Writing
The Emmys for writing are, of course, the ones I obsess over the most, because writing is what I watch for. Of course, the same cannot be said of the Academy, so you get a weird mix of “that was good” episodes, and “that was ambitious” episodes — neither of which necessarily translate to good writing for its own sake. I’m always disappointed by the nominees, but I watch for them most closely every year.
Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series
Extras, “Daniel Radcliffe,” by Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant
I have no opinion. I think you have to have watched The Office to get more than a temporary hit off the genius of this show, and while this episode is great, it gives me no more of the powerful hit of joy or reaction than any other episode I’ve seen.
The Office, “Gay Witch Hunt,” by Greg “Toby” Daniels; “The Negotiation,” by Michael Schur.
For a season opener especially, the former does best what the show’s all about. As a valedictory entry in a series that generally hovers between brilliant and sublime, it’s more than equal to the other episodes on shout this year. The latter has its moments — Dwight producing his many weapons and Toby collecting them sweetly, the always excellent chemistry between Michael and Daryl — but it’s mostly shock tactics and holdover jokes from other, better episodes.
30 Rock, “Jack-Tor,” by Robert Carlock; “Tracy Does Conan,” by Tina Fey.
The former is one of my favorites — Jenna’s threats to “use her sexuality” are incandescent and character-defining — but doesn’t extend any of its three storylines beyond what’s expected from the outset. A technical masterpiece, but there’s nothing in it to make one sit up and take notice. The latter is not a favorite of mine, as it relies too heavily, in my opinion, on the characters’ history. Ten minutes of Tracy Jordan wigging out produces some high comedy — unless you’re not familiar with Tracy Jordan, in which case it becomes a repetitive, silly, and sometimes cruel joke at the expense of the mentally ill. A very good episode in context, but not a feat of writing when compared to tighter, funnier episodes.
Mostly I resent having to switch between thinking of Fey as a writer, then as a brilliant actor, then a writer again … Can’t we just give Tina Fey something like Outstanding Motherfucker Of A Human Being and call it a day? And then can’t she go out with me on a date and then get married?
Outstanding Writing For A Drama Series
The Sopranos, “Kennedy And Heidi,” by David Chase and Matthew Weiner; “The Second Coming,” by Terence Winter; “Made In America,” by David Chase
All of these episodes of The Sopranos share the distinction of being episodes of The Sopranos.
Battlestar Galactica, “Occupation/Precipice,” by Ronald D Moore
Obviously my favorite of the lot — those episodes still pack a hell of a punch, even considered as part of the season, or the entire series. The palpable sense of loss and fear with which we enter the third season — not to mention the sheer pleasure of the two-parter’s few moments of greatness, hope, and joy — showcase everything wonderful and timely about the show, light and dark. You get a sense of the unbelievably large cast, what’s at stake for each of them — both in their factions and individually — without ever feeling pulled over by the Narrative Police. Even a new viewer would be able to identify with these all-too-human characters, even the robot ones, which means even a new viewer would be able to mourn and celebrate with them. In a perfect world, Moore would be recognized as the TV and genre writer par excellance that he is, and elevated to the Abrams/Whedon/Schwartz level of television luminary heaven. As it is, too many missed hits and a diffuse branding message keep this show in the very sci-fi ghetto it was created to defy.
Lost, “Through The Looking Glass,” by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof
One of the more exciting episodes in a season full of hits. I never, ever talk or write about this show, because I have nothing to add, but I have really loved it this season. I’ve only enjoyed the Desmond character twice (his focal episode earlier this season, and the season premiere in which he was introduced) and this was one of the times he wore thin for me pretty quickly … but luckily, it wasn’t his story. It was Charlie’s, a character for whom I have a verboten fondness verging on obsession.
Monaghan (speaking of Jacob’s embarrassing obsessions) manages to clear-cut three years’ worth of ill will in a few minutes, redeeming his character in ways which his storyline never could. Charlie’s heroic resistance to the Looking Glass Babes and their interrogation — even coming, as it partly does, out of a romantic focus on Turniphead and Claire — speaks volumes about the depth of his strength and soul, and even makes believable his (at one time apparently pat) victories over addiction earlier in the story. In his acts before dying, Charlie proves himself worthier of being called a hero than anyone on the island I can think of — an effect created almost entirely by the honor, the gorgeous defiance and magnificent resistance in Monaghan’s eyes. A beautiful character moment creating an amazing episode, but not due to the writing: it’s what’s not said that makes this one a masterpiece.