Unpopcult at the Emmys 2014 Part 1: Outstanding Drama Series

Ordinarily, we’d kick off our Emmy coverage with posts about the acting categories first, but I can’t really sit on my rage for 4 posts, so I’m calling shenanigans on the Outstanding Drama Series category before I burst. What do you MEAN The Good Wife is not nominated?!?!

One of the two best programmes on tv (and the other one, Parks and Recreation, isn’t eligible for an Outstanding Drama nom yet didn’t score an Outstanding Comedy nom either – ARGH) TGW had a revolutionary season, burning its own house down with plotting as brave and risky as it was intelligent and devastating, and still managed to be both insanely entertaining and funny as all get-out. And yet DOWNTON ABBEY gets the nod again instead?! What is WRONG with the people nominating for this thing?

It’s not as if they aren’t watching TGW – they must be, since it scored big in the acting categories but that’s a post for another day – so the Orphan Black explanation (niche programme on a niche channel with miniscule ratings where the acting and tech work are much better than the show itself – it was never going to be nominated) doesn’t apply. But one thing OB and TGW have in common, besides not being nominated for a Drama Series Emmy this year, is that they’re both fronted by complex and powerful female characters.

TGW is about a woman striking out on her own and refusing to be defined by her marriage. OB is about a group of women coming together and refusing to be defined by the circumstances of their birth. There are important male characters – more crucially in TGW where Will was a massive part of the story and Peter, Cary and plenty of others are hugely significant – but, for the most part, Alicia and the clones are the ones driving the main plots along. The shows revolve around these women, the challenges they face and the choices they make, often exploring and subverting stereotypes and sexism along the way. (And that’s without even mentioning characters like the magnificent Diane). How many of the shows which were nominated this year can you say that about?

I suppose, on one view, Downton Abbey is all about Lady Mary, the Dowager Countess and their corseted chums, but ITV’s cosy chocolate-box period drama subverting stereotypes and sexism? If you watch it and I’m wrong, tell me, but till then I reserve the right to spit chips.

Especially when I look at some of its fellow nominees. At least Downton Abbey actually has central female characters. The nomination of the misogynist True Detective, a modern show with a defiantly period attitude to women, is hardly a surprise given the praise lavished on it, the undoubted talent (behind and in front of the camera) involved in it and HBO behind it. And in fairness, it looked beautiful and packed an almighty punch. But it also relegated women to entirely agency-free roles: they existed as wives for the men to wrong, mistresses for the men to wrong, prostitutes for the men to wrong, murder victims for the men to…. and so it goes on. Sex objects and victims, whose sole purpose is to suffer at the hands of the male anti-heroes. So, yes, True Detective’s many nominations are not surprising and, on one view (not mine, I hated it) entirely deserved, but they are also utterly depressing.

The domination of the male anti-hero doesn’t stop there, either. Mad Men (long past its best) and last year’s winner Breaking Bad both, in fairness, include (I’m told – I don’t watch the latter) fascinating female characters but they play supporting roles to the central focus: a man who’s bad, often mad, but very exciting to know. Which isn’t a bad thing at all; it can often make for fantastic drama. It’s just a very obvious contrast when set against TGW.

The last two nominees, House of Cards and Game of Thrones, are a bit trickier to pigeonhole, however. I don’t watch House of Cards but opinions on the role of the main character’s wife, Claire Underwood, are both interesting and divided. I do watch Game of Thrones though. Its gender politics can be deeply suspect – the copious amounts of gratuitous female nudity, the disturbing rape-scene-that-wasn’t-meant-to-be-a-rape-scene etc – but its sprawling cast includes anti-heroes, anti-heroines and juicy, complicated roles for everybody. And I love it. But it’s not going to win, is it? Sigh. At least it was nominated. I don’t know who’s going to win this category, but I’m all ranted out, so I’ll take a guess at Breaking Bad since it’s the final, final season and leave it there.

11 thoughts on “Unpopcult at the Emmys 2014 Part 1: Outstanding Drama Series

  1. Snoskred July 12, 2014 / 6:05 am

    Totally with you on the rage against The Good Wife not being nominated here, and have been sitting here dumbfounded that Downton is nominated. Again.

    The bottom line is this – and it has been said in many places these past couple of days – the Emmy system is broken. How can you have a show that made 7 mediocre episodes or a show that made 8 excellent episodes competing with a show that made 22 for the most part excellent episodes? It is so much easier for the emmy people to watch 7 or 8 episodes of something and call it good.

    There needs to be different categories for different kinds of shows. There should be a less than 10 episodes, and an over 10 episodes category. Or perhaps the number ought to be 12, or 14. That is going to be the only way competition starts to become fairer these days.

    Because it does not matter what the shows are – comparing something with 7 eps to something with 22 just cannot be done.

    I think the only thing any of us humans not involved in this process can do is sit back and say – this thing is broken. Yay for those who win, yay for those nominated, yay for those who do not win, yay for those who are not nominated.

    All we can do is celebrate what we love however we can do that. If a show we love is not nominated, then you by just writing about it here are celebrating it.

    Then again, maybe we are all winners just based on the fact that there is so much excellent tv out there that there is too much to nominate in tiny categories like these.

    I think you guys deserve an award for what you do here. The posts you make live on and when people like me decide to watch a show we can use your posts to follow the series (like I just did with TGW) and we can enjoy what you wrote about it.

    Still sad you do not have mad love for my Breaking Bad CJ – the show was epic and me personally I believe Jesse Pinkman was one of the best tv characters ever created, not to mention Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantrout. And that is not even going near the White family.

    I see Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman) is nominated against Josh Charles for best supporting – happy to give the win to Josh this time. They did not give Aaron too much to do in the final 8, sadly, especially after his brilliant and somewhat epic runoff character growth from the end of s3 to mid s5. But I will always love these two actors for giving us such wonderful characters.

    Breaking Bad FTW on this one for me – the last 8 were so beautifully done.

    That said, If The Good Wife were nominated in this category I would have to say it should win.

  2. CJ Cregg July 12, 2014 / 4:46 pm

    Aw thanks for your kind words Snoksred 🙂 I’m so glad you joined our TGW fan club! And I agree with you – the current system is a mess and it just can’t cope with all the excellent tv out there.

    I agree totally the categories should be split by number of eps and the rules completely overhauled and simplified, especially given the amount of manipulation that goes on. Even setting aside the TGW injustice and the problems in judging 22 ep shows against 7 or 8 ep ones, everything about the Emmy categorisation is completely wonky. It is ludicrous for instance that Luther and American Horror Story (both in their third seasons) and Treme (in its fourth and final one) can and do legitimately compete as mini-series (come ON!) as can Fargo which has more eps than True Detective. What?! If it has more than one season, it ain’t a mini-series in any meaningful sense. And if it’s ten or twelve eps, there’s nothing “mini” about it. I understand all the arguments about different casts etc but, first of all, that’s ridiculous and second of all, they don’t even apply to Luther and Treme, so it’s all just idiotic.

    And Sherlock competing as a movie? Come ON now. Yet it’s within the rules as well.

  3. Tim July 13, 2014 / 1:04 am

    I can’t comment on TGW (I know, I know, I’m an idiot for not watching it) but I am still seething over OB’s exclusion, not so much from this category but for its acting and technical work.

    Frankly, I’d have settled for a single nomination for Best Actress in a Drama, but Tatiana Maslany could conceivably have been nominated four times over for her individual performances as Sarah, Cosima, Helena and Alison. Not to mention Sarah-as-Cosima, Rachel-as-Sarah, Sarah-as-Alison-as Donnie … Anyone who has ever watched an episode of OB will surely be scratching their heads over TatMas’s exclusion – a clear case of a brilliant but unknown actress on a niche show not being mainstream enough.

    Grrr. The amount of ‘flexibiliity’ within the Emmy rules is simply farcical. It smacks of ‘we’ll make it up as we go along so our pet favourites always get nominated’ – probably because that’s exactly what happens.

    • CJ Cregg July 14, 2014 / 12:03 am

      ‘Twas ever thus, Tim. #Buffy

      I’ll do a post on the leading ladies noms in a few days, but I suppose at least TM did win two thoroughly well-deserved Critic’s Choice Awards in a row and a Golden Globe nom. By contrast, I always thought Tricia Helfer deserved a load of big mainstream awards for her multi-character turn in Battlestar Galactica (which I think was a far better show than OB, much as I like it) but it never happened.

      • Tim July 14, 2014 / 12:15 am

        There are a lot of parallels between OB and the truly magnificent BSG – cloning, minority audiences and strong female roles. Helfer was great (as was all the female cast) but Mary McDonnell was always my favourite.

        • CJ Cregg July 14, 2014 / 12:26 am

          Ah, Katee Sackhoff was my favourite, Tim – her Starbuck was fantastic. (And on the shipper front, I’m still sore that she and Apollo didn’t end up 2gether 4ever 😦 )

          And now I think of it, she didn’t win or get nominated for Emmys either. Hurrumph.

          But there was only one Starbuck so it’s Helfer who reminds me the most of Tatiana Maslany – all the Sixes were so different. They weren’t my favourite characters but TH played them brilliantly.

          I’m now getting all nostalgic about BSG. What an absolutely incredible show that was. Never mind the Emmys, let’s break out the box sets!

  4. Snoskred July 13, 2014 / 9:22 pm

    If you head over to Hitfix Alan Sepinwall has a very interesting post titled – Press Tour: Emmy chief will look at category problem, do nothing. – the most interesting part possibly being this quote –

    “Over and over, Rosenblum used the phrase “we don’t want to respond to criticism, but we will respond to issues.””

    Ohhhkay then. That seems like a great plan. How can these people in charge of the Emmys tell the two apart? I’m guessing they can’t.

    So, things will remain the same. 😦

    • CJ Cregg July 13, 2014 / 11:54 pm

      Good shout Snoskred – I just read it. I suppose at least the TCA gave him a really hard time. But yeah, things are going to remain the same. At least till broadcast tv itself ceases to exist and everything is streamed….

  5. Jed Bartlet July 14, 2014 / 12:44 am

    Two issues here for me, so I’ll split them into two comments. First, format.

    Although there is a category for best miniseries, it seems that the Emmy rules, bizarrely, allow shows (and actors) to submit themselves in whatever category they like. (Famously, for example, the Modern Family cast has a pact to submit themselves only in Best Supporting categories.) HBO decided to put True Detective in for Best Drama – presumably because it’s more prestigious than Best Miniseries – meaning that its eight episodes are theoretically up against The Good Wife’s 20-plus. (And Fargo, with 10 eps, is in Miniseries, while TD, with 8 is in Drama.)

    Except, of course, they aren’t up against The Good Wife. Which brings me to my real point: the Emmys themselves were surely designed for an era when there was a limited amount of good TV and everything was on one of three network channels. Today, of course, there’s more great TV than any one person can watch, and a proliferation of other outlets – even cable channels are being challenged by streaming.

    At random, I decided to go back 15 years. The 1999 Emmys had five Best Drama nominees: two from ABC (The Practice, which won, and NYPD Blue); two from NBC (ER and Law and Order); and one from HBO (The Sopranos). Across Best Drama and Best Comedy’s ten nominees eight were network, and only two cable (Sopranos and Sex and the City, both HBO).

    In 2014, on the other hand, all six Best Drama noms are non-network (2 HBO, 2 AMC, one PBS, one Netflix) and across that and Best Comedy only 2 out of 12 are network shows (Big Bang and Modern Family).

    It seems to me that the big divide here is between network and non-network shows, which are aimed at different audiences in a way which is unfair to the network shows: they need to get as many people inside the tent as possible. Has the time come to split the categories between network and cable/streaming shows, I wonder?

    • CJ Cregg July 14, 2014 / 1:11 am

      The Practice beat The Sopranos AND Carter/Ross/Hathaway/Greene era ER? How did that happen?!?! I mean, I quite liked The Practice but how bizarre.

      I still like Snoskred’s time-based split, but I think if they were to follow your suggestion and have separate categories for network and cable, Jed, they should probably just go back to having separate awards shows for network and cable. There was a separate non-Emmy one for cable years ago, but if they can have two Emmy shows (Daytime and Primetime) they could have three – Daytime, Primetime Network and Primetime Everything Else. Although it might well mean devaluing the Network stuff even further if it gets shunted off into its own less prestigious awards ceremony. This year for instance, the Daytime Emmys were just streamed online rather than being broadcast on tv.

  6. Jed Bartlet July 14, 2014 / 12:49 am

    Part 2: the candidates.

    Well, of course The Good Wife should be in there, and the award is devalued by its absence. At least, though, it got some love in the acting categories.

    I’ll come back to this later on, but in my view The Americans has been more shoddily treated than either TGW or OB: a truly great season, two towering central performances and at least three nod-worthy supporting performances, all ignored. (I would like to have seen Masters of Sex in here as well.)

    Breaking Bad will probably win, unless True Detective convinces enough voters that looking like a great show is the same as being a great show. Having said that I liked it, although after the knifing it got from The Good Wife I’m not sure I can now take it quite as seriously.

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