Outstanding Drama & Comedy Series
August 29th, 2010
Despite being the biggest awards of the evening, I’ll admit that this is one of my least favourite categories to analyze: yes, this is where things should become even more interesting, but more often than not this is where the complacent power of inertia kicks in worst of all. While a good actor being killed by a bad submission has nuance, and a great submission can truly change the nature of a category, there is a sense with the Series awards that the episodes themselves are more or less irrelevant. If they submit tapes that resemble the series’ cultural influence, then it will be enough to make this a race of hype vs. hype rather than actuall quality.
Of the legitimate competitors for these awards, there is nothing that would cause me to become outraged or anything – while there are certainly some contenders which I would prefer, it’s more a question of which series have the quality to go beyond the hype, and whether or not the voters will actually see through those layers to find the actual most outstanding series on television.
Outstanding Drama Series
- True Blood
- Breaking Bad
- The Good Wife
- Mad Men
On the Drama side, the race comes down to three series, but in reality it should probably be four: while I thought Dexter’s fourth season still had many of the problems which have plagued the show since Season Two, it also had a tour de force performance from John Lithgow and Michael C. Hall elevating his game in a subtle but substantial fashion. And yet, everyone is counting the show out because of the fact that it aired exclusively in the Fall: while the network series aired until May, and Mad Men, True Blood and Breaking Bad all aired either new seasons or the end of their eligible seasons in the summer months, Dexter is plagued by “out of sight, out of mind.” I’m not so quick to throw it out, but I do think that Lithgow and Hall are more likely beneficiaries than the series itself.
You could say the same for Breaking Bad, a show which is undoubtedly the most deserving in this category: while Mad Men’s third season was strong, and I really do appreciate The Good Wife for its blend of storytelling methods, the fact remains that Breaking Bad was simultaneously the most confident and the most unhinged drama series of the year. However, shooting outside of Hollywood means that the series doesn’t have a great deal of mass support, which is all that really matters here: if shows are of similar standing (like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, both airing on AMC, for instance), it is intangibles like shooting location or previous award recognition which will tip the balance.
For me, this really does come down to Mad Men against The Good Wife, which is a really interesting battle – while Mad Men has a strong set of episodes, a great deal of momentum, and the cable mystique which has done well in the past, The Good Wife is positioned as the sort of white knight of the network drama. While Mad Men would win for what it is and what it’s done in the past, a win for The Good Wife would be more about what it could mean for other dramas of its kind. For those who question whether these two shows even belong in the same category, I think that we need to remember that serial and procedural are not necessarily on a hierarchy: there is just as much craft and skill within a series with less intense serialization, and while I still think that Mad Men is the superior show I think a win for The Good Wife would be deserving recognition of a really well-crafted first season.
As for Lost, which is certainly the third horse in this race, I think it comes down to whether or not anyone actually watched the sixth season, and what voters who tuned in for the finale thought about it. In the case of Mad Men and The Good Wife, the episodes are largely irrelevant, there to simply remind voters of why the series was nominated in the first place; by comparison, Lost’s episodes are potentially divisive, the science fiction and religious elements of the series potentially turning off voters. Boiled down to its highlights, Lost’s sixth season is a fitting end to a great series, and the focus on character in each of the tapes will provide the show a legitimate chance of riding its final season to its second win – however, personally speaking, I think that the plot will be just confusing enough to turn voters away, which is only fair when you consider that the AMC shows unquestionably had better seasons.
Outstanding Comedy Series
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
- Nurse Jackie
- Modern Family
- The Office
- 30 Rock
On the comedy side, meanwhile, it’s a three-horse race that really boils down to what’s beneath the hype. As a result, shows without hype (Nurse Jackie, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office) are not going to be a factor here – yes, Curb should probably be a contender for its Seinfeld season, but its hype was so limited to that sort of 90s nostalgia that the more modern and gleeful forms of cultural cache are going to be a much larger factor here.
The big question for Glee is whether the hype is enough to overcome the sense that the show lacks substance: it is unquestionably a cultural phenomenon, but how long is it going to be able to last based solely on its musical components? However, while this is my concern, the voters didn’t seem to agree, considering that they nominated four members of its cast and two of them have a pretty good shot of walking away with an Emmy. On the series level, though, I think that voters might be more careful: if Glee wins, as it did at both the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, it will be for its huge cultural footprint rather than for its comic expertise, and there’s something about that which might not sit well for some voters (especially those older members of the Academy who don’t get the series’ youthful spirit). FOX’s last winner in this category, Ally McBeal, was similarly a breakout hit with a slightly offbeat tone in its first year, but it didn’t actually win the award until its second season – the voters showed caution in that first year, sticking with perennial hit Frasier, as if they were waiting to see whether McBeal would stay strong into the future.
This uncertainty about Glee’s longevity is what leads me to give the edge to Modern Family, if only because it seems like the safer bet. While Glee would win because it is like nothing voters have ever seen before, Modern Family would win because it is very similar to what voters have seen before and yet feels decidedly (dare I say it) modern. The show is a “Return” series, capable of heralding the “Return of the Family Sitcom” in a way that voters will be attracted to. It helps that the show is actually quite funny, and it too was showered with acting nominations (five in total). Modern Family and Glee have two different levels of hype, but both were huge demographic hits, so it’s not as if Modern Family is the “Old” nominee compared to Glee’s youth. In fact, I think that Modern Family’s cross-generational appeal is what ultimately gives it the edge, remaining both new and old in a way which Glee simply can’t compete with.
And yet, can we really count out 30 Rock? The show has won for three straight years, the longest streak since Frasier won five in the 90s, and while it had an uneven season it was an uneven season which was comfortably within the kind of series that voters want to see. They love the showbiz satire, and they love Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey, and if they decide the reject the popular hype and buy into their own intelligence instead it would be easy to stick with what they know. In the end, I feel that voters are ready for a change: with 30 Rock, one felt as if they were giving it Emmys in order to elevate it beyond its station, which is actually what kept the show alive in the early days, but now they have a chance to be part of a larger trend, and I think they’ll find that more attractive this time around.
Outstanding Drama Series
Predicted Winner: Mad Men
Biggest Threat: The Good Wife
Should Win: Breaking Bad
Outstanding Comedy Series
Predicted Winner: Modern Family
Biggest Threat: Glee
Should Win: Parks and Recreation (Yeah, I went off-ballot – deal with it)
- For my looks at the acting categories, check out my Lead Acting Comedy, Lead Acting Drama, Supporting Acting Comedy, and Supporting Acting Drama posts.
- Outstanding Reality Competition Program: The Amazing Race
- Outstanding Variety Program: The Colbert Report
- Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: Mad Men – “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”
- Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series: Modern Family – “Pilot”
- Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series: Jack Bender (Lost – “The End”)
- Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series: Ryan Murphy (Glee – “Pilot”)