Emmys 2013: A big day for 'House of Cards' and 'Game of Thrones' as voters struggle with the quality glut
We are in the middle of a massive glut in quality scripted television. Every other week, it seems, some new channel — or, in the case of Netflix, some new content delivery service — gets into the original programming game, and starts churning out product that at least merits awards consideration.
So you can look across the 2013 Emmy nominations list and be outraged by all the quality performances and series that weren't included. (And, on occasion, by the sorts of people and shows that were.) Or you can look at it as the Emmy voters just trying to keep their head above water and recognize what they could, even as they knew they wouldn't come close to covering everyone who deserved recognition.
So Netflix, for instance, had a very strong Emmy debut with nine nominations for "House of Cards," including for drama series, Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and director David Fincher. But those nominations bumped HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" out of several major categories where it had previously been nominated, and left little room at the inn for FX's "The Americans," which got only two nods for theme music and guest actress Margo Martindale.
So last year's Emmy-winning drama "Homeland" got even more nominations for its bumpier second season — including a richly deserved nod for Mandy Patinkin, as well as a posthumous nomination for writer Henry Bromell, whose episode "Q&A" was one of the best hours of dramatic TV anywhere this season. And HBO's "Game of Thrones" expanded into new categories where it hadn't been before, with Emilia Clarke joining Peter Dinklage as a nominated actor, but deserving supporting actor nominations for Patinkin, Dinklage, "Breaking Bad" co-stars Aaron Paul and Jonathan Banks and others meant there was no room for TV's best dramatic performance of the year: Michael Cudlitz on TNT's "Southland." (The canceled series got a lone nomination for stunt work.) "Justified," which has had strong nominating years in the past, didn't get any this year.
Netflix had a great debut with "Cards" (though the revival of "Arrested Development" got only three nominations, and only one major one for star Jason Bateman), but other newbies had to wait their turn. Sundance Channel got 8 nominations for its brilliant miniseries "Top of the Lake," but none for its equally brilliant new drama "Rectify." Tatiana Maslany, who brilliantly plays a half-dozen different roles on BBC America's "Orphan Black" (including times where one clone impersonates another), couldn't get nominated for drama lead actress even though that category included seven nominees; ultimately, being an unknown actress on an obscure channel on a science fiction series was too much to overcome, especially when there were so many other worthy choices in more recognizable destinations. ("Scandal" star Kerry Washington, for instance, was one of those seven nominees.) NBC's riveting "Hannibal" wasn't nominated at all.
"Mad Men" had its usual big day (12 nominations in all), but the series that once had four of the five writing nominations didn't get any, as "Breaking Bad" finally cracked the writing field with two nominations, to go along with "Q&A," the fourth episode of "Downton Abbey" season 3 and the "Game of Thrones" episode with the Red Wedding.
With "Arrested" failing to make much of an impression in its return, the glut wasn't quite as bad on the comedy side, but worthy work was still overlooked. That one year where "Parks and Recreation" was nominated for comedy series turns out to have been an anomaly, rather than a breakthrough; its only nominations were the usual one for Amy Poehler, plus sound mixing. And after a relatively strong rookie showing at last year's Emmys, FOX's "New Girl" — which made a huge creative leap in its second season and was perhaps the best comedy on network TV this season — was completely shut out.
But even some Emmy comedy favorites couldn't make the list this year. Two-time Emmy winner Eric Stonestreet was the only adult "Modern Family" actor not nominated this year (perhaps because the Emmy voters are as tired of what the writers have turned Cam into?), and among those in his place was the strange, fascinating performance by Adam Driver on "Girls." HBO's "Veep" added to last year's modest nomination total with nods for co-stars Tony Hale and Anna Chlumsky to go along with the inevitable one for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but that meant there wasn't room for any of "The Office" co-stars like Jenna Fischer and Rainn Wilson to return to the field for their strong work in the final season. ("30 Rock" got a few nostalgia bumps, and might have a shot at one last comedy series win for its terrific farewell year.)
Looking over the list, there's a lot I'm happy with. There's also a lot I'm unhappy with, whether great work being ignored or, on occasion, shows I don't like ("Episodes," "The Newsroom") taking the place of ones I do. But you always have to remember this about the Emmys: the people who work in television have very little time to actually watch television, and as more and more outlets get into the original series game and do interesting work, it becomes even harder for them to keep up. (My only job is to watch and write about TV, and even I can't keep up with it all right now.) Given that, these aren't the exact nominees I'd have chosen, but it's a far less egregious list than we've had in some other years.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com