With the overall quality and quantity of television at an all-time high, it couldn’t have been easy narrowing down the field of this year’s Emmy nominees.
The TV Academy’s picks, announced Thursday morning, give us reason to both grouse and grin.
Here are the Top Five head scratchers, followed by the Top Five surprises worthy of a slow clap:
1. Does Tatiana Maslany have to personally go to voters’ houses and do an eight-clones-in-60-seconds routine in their living rooms? Because she could. She’s that good. And yet, for the second year in a row, you still refuse to recognize this “Orphan Black” star’s brilliance. I’m convinced the Television Academy, which isn’t exactly known for loving genre shows — “Game of Thrones” being the notable exception —simply isn’t watching this BBC America sci-fi drama. For shame.
2. “The Good Wife” pulls off that rare feat in television, enjoying a creative renaissance in its (mostly) stellar fifth season. But that’s still not good enough for voters, who can’t shake their bias against broadcast when it comes to drama. (See: “Hannibal,” “The Blacklist,” “Ironside.” Threw that last one in there just to make sure you were paying attention.)
3. FX usually fares quite well in the Emmy department — just ask “Fargo,” whose 18 nods trailed only “Game of Thrones” for the most recognition. (Shout out to “Fargo’s” Chicago comic Allison Tolman for her first nomination.) But for some reason, the excellent Cold War spy thriller “The Americans” might as well be a stealth missile with voters. Yes, Margo Martindale got a high five for her guest role as Claudia. But star Matthew Rhys belongs in the running for best actor. Speaking of, last year’s surprise winner Jeff Daniels is inexplicably back in the mix for the sophomore season of “The Newsroom.” If he wins again, I will cut you.
4. The fourth season of “Downton Abbey” was weaker than Lady Mary on a bench press. (The contrived Anna Bates rape arc will forever stick in my craw.) But voters couldn’t bear to break up with this British soap, instead rewarding its sub-par season with one of the precious few coveted slots for best drama series. And another outstanding supporting actress nod for Maggie Smith? Ever hear of Bellamy Young (“Scandal”)? Or here’s a thought: Melissa McBride, from this obscure little show called “The Walking Dead.” Watch her (spoiler alert) have to kill little Lizzie last season in the gut-wrenching episode “The Grove” and then tell me a few zingers from the Dowager Countess trump that.
5. I go back and forth on this one, but surely it qualifies as a snub: Elisabeth Moss didn’t make the cut for lead actress in “Mad Men.” Don’t worry, I’m sure she’s slow dancing somewhere with Jon Hamm.Plenty of folks (myself included) didn’t care for Peggy’s petulant behavior at the start of season, but Moss has continued to prove she can act with the best of them. And I continue to be befuddled as to why the show that won four straight Emmys for best drama series has yet to snag a single win for any of its performances — especially when it comes to Hamm. Maybe AMC should hire Don Draper to spearhead next year’s “For Your Consideration” campaign.
1. Matthew McConaughey’s soulful turn as everyone’s favorite pessimist, Rustin Cohle, was a gimme for an Emmy nod. Far less certain was whether McConaughey would be reunited with his “True Detective” partner, Woody Harrelson, in the race for best actor. Harrelson’s role as a flawed family man and cocky cop wasn’t nearly as flashy, but the former “Cheers” star played it to perfection. It’s nice to see him share the limelight with McConaughey. Extra bonus: Both men will split the “True Detective” vote, allowing the rightful winner, Bryan Cranston, to take home the top prize for his “Breaking Bad” swansong.
2. While I would have liked to have seen the drama-to-comedy category hop work in favor of Showtime’s under-rated “Shameless,” at least Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” and HBO’s freshman show “Silicon Valley” were up to snuff. The unconventional prison-set dramedy “OITNB” did especially well with voters, snagging the most nods — 12 — of any comedy, adding a much-needed dose of diversity to the awards ceremony.Laverne Cox and Uzo Aduba are just a few of the “OITNB” actresses up for Emmys. Raise your hand if you want to see Crazy Eyes on stage in a fancy dress, clutching some shiny new hardware?
3. The “Shameless” shift from drama to comedy did bear fruit in one area: lead actor. Finally, William H. Macy is getting kudos for his singular portrayal of the human race’s biggest hot mess, Frank Gallagher.
4. Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen make a formidable pair as real-life sex researchers Virginia Johnson and William H. Masters in Showtime’s critical darling, “Masters of Sex.” At least one of them — frankly, the most deserving of the two — was recognized with a nom. Caplan, previously known more for her comedic work (“Mean Girls,” “Party Down”), is the sole rookie in drama’s uber-competitive lead actress category. (A category that has a gaping hole in the shape of Tatiana Maslany. OK, I’m done griping now.)
5. How sweet the poetic justice of Kristen Wiig being nominated for outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or movie for her role in IFC’s satirical “The Spoils of Babylon,” a hilarious take down of the melodramatic TV miniseries of yore.