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by Brandon Nowalk
June 26, 2012 11:45 AM
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An Emmy Wish List: Our Ten Most Wanted Nominations for 2012

'Breaking Bad,' 'Happy Endings,' 'Parks and Recreation,' 'Mad Men,' 'Luck'

Every year the Emmys nominate their usual favorites and a few surprises to the yawns and complaints of the audience, but it’s genuinely impressive how much wheat is in that chaff: “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Louie,” “Friday Night Lights,” the list goes on. Still, rooting for “Mad Men” to get a nomination for Best Drama is like rooting for Meryl Streep to score more Oscar nominations. So here’s a list of nine series and performances that have never been nominated by the Emmys and one that has that’s better than ever, all of which deserve serious consideration from any awards body promoting excellent television. For your consideration, our top ten most wanted Emmy nominations for 2012.

10. Best Supporting Actor in a Drama: Giancarlo Esposito, "Breaking Bad"

2010 winner Aaron Paul is sure to be invited back, but the Emmys also ought to make room for the season’s standout, Giancarlo Esposito. Mild-mannered fried chicken mogul by day, razor-wielding meth kingpin by night, Esposito’s Gus Fring looms over the fourth season like the supervillain on the cover of a comic. It’s a performance of such careful calculation that it almost seems mechanical, but Esposito isn’t going through the motions. He’s playing it as cool as possible for as long as possible, the better for his hot moments -- the escape from Mexico or the final showdown -- to bear the force of a splash page. Esposito memorably reconciles these poles, the humdrum and the chaotic, in a flashback origin story that’s as harrowing for its events as it is for Gus’ unguardedness, suggesting his entire journey to merciless samurai stoicism with that one formative expression of terror.

9. Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Eden Sher, “The Middle”

The Emmys’ favorite good, old-fashioned American family sitcom will likely take up every nomination in the comedy categories and some on the drama side, but right down the block from “Modern Family” is the funnier, messier, more honest “The Middle.” Nowhere on television is financial anxiety as palpable as it is for the Hecks (and most Americans), but the show is powered by an essential optimism embodied in middle child Sue Heck. Sue has always radiated cheerful determination, and if it seemed a little naive, well, she was a tween. But this season Sue is hitting adolescence hard, and the challenge of maintaining Sue’s basic Sue-ness while learning to rebel has made Eden Sher’s performance more moving than ever. She punishes herself for sneaking into an R-rated movie, she buys a possibly too flattering shirt in place of her usual kidswear, she’s as bratty as her brothers in cutaways, and still she can wake up to a last-minute thrown-together birthday celebration and appreciate it. She’s the shining spirit of a great American sitcom, not to mention a powerful antidote to television’s sullen teen epidemic, and long overdue for Emmy evaluation.

8. Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy: Casey Wilson, "Happy Endings"

The funniest comedy on television deserves consideration for most of its ensemble -- not least Adam Pally’s thoroughly lazy Max -- but if only one breaks through, it ought to be Casey Wilson’s hapless Penny Hartz. Dubbing this the Year of Penny, she’s the least lucky and most determined of her friends, which accidentally positions her as the one everyone’s rooting for, the center of a centerless show. As one of the most detailed performers on television, Wilson makes the most of her role. What she does with her vaguely English catchword “amahzing” would enrapture Henry Higgins. In any given scene Wilson is furiously working for laughs -- as when she goes from vocal affectation to sad-face to eye-roll in the course of three lines when a boyfriend she can’t stand breaks up with her first. Wilson’s animated detail captures the essence of Penny, tirelessly striving for success in not just one of the funniest but one of the best performances on television.

7. Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy: Adam Driver, "Girls"

Inasmuch as “Girls” is about the slow awakening of growing up, a journey postponed for most of the characters by privilege, Adam Driver’s Adam represents Hannah’s, and by extension the audience’s, most compelling case study. What starts as a strange cardboard sex buddy -- beneath the mannered behavior, a stereotypical guy -- becomes a full human being with a rich psychology informed by his history. Adam didn’t suddenly spring to life; Hannah’s perception of him expanded. Driver’s genius is in making it all feel seamless, like the guy who agrees to become Hannah’s boyfriend is the same guy who seemed to just want her for sex. Adam is also the one character who never succumbs to the cartoonish flights of the writing, thanks mostly to the way Driver grounds his more absurd moments in his specific peculiarity. He’s the most watchable character on the show, a weirdo surrounded by types, and Driver’s naturalism is one of the most powerful components of “Girls.”

6. Best Guest Actress in a Comedy: Kathryn Hahn, "Parks and Recreation"

Just as the campaign subplot on “Parks and Recreation” needed a jolt, along came Kathryn Hahn’s Jennifer Barkley, high-powered Washington campaign manager for the dumb, entitled rich kid with daddy issues. Hahn is hilarious as a ruthless mastermind of political strategy who considers herself totally above the fray of a local election in some podunk Indiana town, going from authentic appreciation of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) in person to saying “Leslie Knope is everything that’s wrong with politics today” on a local news show. Her feigned aloofness about the problem with voting machines sponsored by her campaign speaks to her brilliance. It’s crucial that she’s smart, funny and good at what she does, the perfect foil for Leslie. The moment when she crumples as the recount postpones her return to civilization sums up in one quick gag how Pawnee and all it represents is her Kryptonite. Finally, there’s an engaging mystery to Jennifer that electrifies her scenes. Until the credits rolled after the finale, you couldn’t be sure her respective offers to Chris and Ben weren’t tactical. Maybe not even now.

4 Comments

  • piglet | June 28, 2012 7:04 PMReply

    Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath Girls

    Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton Nurse Jackie

    Kathy Bates as Harriet Korn Harry's Law

    Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick The Good Wife

    Gabriel Basso as Adam Jamison The Big C

    Peter Facinelli as Dr. Fitch Cooper Nurse Jackie

    Andre Braugher as Owen Men Of A Certain Age

    Kevin Dunn as Marcus Luck

    Ian Hart as Lonnie Luck

    Christopher McDonald as Tommy Jefferson Harry's Law

    Zosia Mamet as Shoshanna Shapiro Girls

  • Alessandro Machi | July 4, 2012 8:05 AM

    Men of a Certain Age kept getting better, any of the three leading men could be nominated, as well Owen Thoreau Sr., Manfro, and even some of the women and their roles were fun to watch as well.

  • Adrien | June 26, 2012 3:07 PMReply

    I couldn't agree more for Casey Wilson. She is great and Happy Endings is a brillant show.
    Moreover, I'd to see Community among the Best Comedy nominees (and Happy Endings as well, but I'm sure it's impossible).
    Nick Offerman deserve an Emmy for being Ron Swanson on Parks & Recreation. But the best supporting actor category will be occupied by all the Modern Family Cast, boo. MF is great as well but these 4 men doesn't all need to be here. Ty Burrell and Eric Stonestreet are the best and that's it. And I'd love to see one of the Community actor to be here as well (Danny Pudi or Donald Glover).

    Anyway, this year was so amazing that it's impossible for every show to be present.

  • John | June 26, 2012 1:17 PMReply

    Completely agree about Dern. I thought she was just phenomenal on "Enlightened" (it's a pity it's been mostly ignored). The category is tight this year, but she should get nominated.

    Great list. Although "Louie" and "Luck" mightn't be my favourites, they'd definitely be on my nominations if I had a ballot.