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From ‘Broad City’ to ‘Game of Thrones,’ an Emmy Nominations Wish List

From 'Broad City' to 'Game of Thrones,' an Emmy Nominations Wish List

When the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences doles out Emmy nominations each summer, I often wake to the announcement like a naughty kid on Christmas Day: staring down a lump of coal. In that spirit, here’s a wish list of gifts I hope to find under Emmy’s tree Thursday morning in the major categories. I promise I’ve been very good this year.

Outstanding Comedy Series: “Broad City”/”Trophy Wife”

In a strong field of energizing drama/comedy hybrids (“Girls,” “Louie,” “Orange is the New Black”) and HBO’s bracing political satire, “Veep,” two series deserve recognition for their assured use of comic structures that defy prestige sensibilities. ABC’s sorely neglected “Trophy Wife” mined the moribund sitcom format for warm irony, pitching the blended family at its center as a lighthearted team of rivals; Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” ballsy and bawdy, transformed the sketchy humor of its web series origins into a hilariously impolite portrait of modern friendship.  

Wish List Nominees
“Broad City” (Comedy Central)
“Girls” (HBO)
“Louie” (FX)
“Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
“Trophy Wife” (ABC)
“Veep” (HBO)

Outstanding Drama Series: “Masters of Sex”

In the murderers row of dramas poised to dominate this category, several series might qualify for the final slot: “The Good Wife,” “Scandal,” “Hannibal,” and “Boardwalk Empire” all come immediately to mind, with the much improved “Bates Motel,” the declining “Downton Abbey,” and the uneven “Orphan Black” peering in from the margins. But if I may be so bold, let me stump for Showtime’s deliriously great 1950s period piece “Masters of Sex,” which follows William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) as their pioneering studies of human sexuality expose unforeseen shoals in an Eisenhower-era university town. Nuanced, novel, and beautifully wrought, it more than stands up to its brasher dramatic brethren.

Wish List Nominees
“The Americans” (FX)
Breaking Bad” (AMC)
Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Mad Men” (AMC)
“Masters of Sex” (Showtime)
True Detective” (HBO)

Outstanding Lead Actor (Comedy): Jonathan Groff, “Looking

As I wrote in March, following the season finale, “Looking” struggled in the early going to discover a structure with enough space to maintain its loose pacing and enough focus to develop its central trio of gay men in present-day San Francisco. But with the exceptional fifth episode, “Looking for the Future,” the series stumbled upon bumbling, strait-laced Patrick (Jonathan Groff) as the prism through which to view the other characters’ peaks and valleys, and thereby forged an affecting portrait of the blind spots that prevent us from seeing ourselves clearly. The underrated Groff ably navigates the tension between desire and expectation that thwarts Patrick throughout the season’s accomplished second half, capturing the quiet vulnerability of an otherwise privileged young man learning to be comfortable in his own skin.

Wish List Nominees
Louis C.K., “Louie”
Jonathan Groff, “Looking”
Chris O’Dowd, “Family Tree”
Chris Messina, “The Mindy Project”
Andy Samberg, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”
Bradley Whitford, “Trophy Wife”

Outstanding Lead Actor (Drama): Please, No Jeff Daniels

My wish list of nominees assumes that Emmy voters will wise up and leave out several former favorites: Hugh Bonneville, dreadfully boring as “Downton Abbey” patriarch Robert Crawley; Kevin Spacey, merely adequate as “House of Cards” schemer Frank Underwood; and Damian Lewis, scarcely present as “Homeland” turncoat Nicholas Brody. But first among snubbed equals should be Jeff Daniels, whose preening, shrill performance as cable news anchor and Sorkin cipher Will McAvoy on “The Newsroom” somehow defeated both Bryan Cranston and Jon Hamm last year. To my mind, ditching Daniels entirely is the only acceptable apology Emmy voters can offer for such a farce. 

Wish List Nominees
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”
Woody Harrelson, “True Detective”
Michael Sheen, “Masters of Sex”
Matthew McConaughey, “True Detective”
Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”

Outstanding Lead Actress (Comedy): Dolly Wells, “Doll & Em”

I’m trying to be realistic here — Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the (worthy) favorite in this category for her uproarious, razor-sharp turn on “Veep,” and I can’t fathom nominating either Abbi Jacobson or Ilana Glazer, of “Broad City,” without the other.  So I decided to throw my good vibes behind Dolly Wells, whose performance opposite Emily Mortimer in HBO’s awkward, low-fi Hollywood satire “Doll & Em” steals the show from her real-life best friend at every juncture. As a personal assistant-turned-supporting actress, Wells (with faint echoes of Lisa Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish) offers a canny depiction of a woman who imbibes the prospect of fame even though she knows better, and ends up holding the bag.

Wish List Nominees
Malin Akerman, “Trophy Wife”
Lena Dunham, “Girls”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep”
Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation”
Taylor Schilling, “Orange is the New Black”
Dolly Wells, “Doll & Em”

Outstanding Lead Actress (Drama): All Six of ‘Em

In what has quickly become the Emmys’ most competitive category, all I can say about leaving Kerry Washington (“Scandal”), Julianna Marguiles (“The Good Wife”), and Robin Wright (“House of Cards”) out of my top six is sorry, not sorry. I dearly love each of the performances here — even Danes, the weakest link, redeemed the disappointing third season of “Homeland” with troubled CIA analyst Carrie Mathieson’s fence-climbing grief at Brody’s execution. Caplan, at once winsome and ferocious, is positively startling in her gorgeous rendition of “You Don’t Know Me,” from the penultimate episode of “Masters of Sex.” Russell found new domestic and professional registers in Elizabeth Jennings on “The Americans.” Vera Farmiga sang, too (“Maybe This Time,” from “Cabaret”), and brilliantly reinterpreted one of the cinema’s most notorious mothers as a woman dangerous in her desperation. “Mad Men” stalwart Elisabeth Moss, in a delicate, searching two-step with Jon Hamm, made “The Strategy” the finest hour of television so far this year. And then there’s Tatiana Maslany. Effortlessly versatile, traversing accents, costumes, and genres without losing a modicum of emotional complexity, her electric turn as multiple clones on “Orphan Black” is the best performance currently on television.

Wish List Nominees
Lizzy Caplan, “Masters of Sex”
Claire Danes, “Homeland”
Vera Farmiga, “Bates Motel”
Tatiana Maslany, “Orphan Black”
Elisabeth Moss, “Mad Men”
Keri Russell, “The Americans”

Outstanding Supporting Actor (Comedy): Christopher Evan Welch, “Silicon Valley

The late character actor Christopher Evan Welch is a sentimental favorite — Welch died of lung cancer in December, midway through filming the freshman season of “Silicon Valley” — but that’s not to suggest his knockout performance, as oddball tech magnate Peter Gregory, is anything less than superb. Against competitors buoyed by talented ensemble casts, Welch’s daffy genius singlehandedly elevated Mike Judge’s satire to new absurdist heights. Indeed, Welch’s absence from the season’s second half left “Silicon Valley” flailing. Without his dreamy voice to remind us of the Valley’s pie-in-the-sky possibilities, the petty battles within Pied Piper capsized the proceedings, and the extended masturbation gag in the season finale became an objective correlative of the series’ sharp decline. 

Wish List Nominees
Fred Armisen, “Portlandia”
Adam Driver, “Girls”
Tony Hale, “Veep”
Kyle Mooney, “Saturday Night Live”
Christopher Evan Welch, “Silicon Valley”
Parker Young, “Enlisted”

Outstanding Supporting Actor (Drama): John Slattery, “Mad Men”

It sounds daft to have the four-time nominee on a “wish list,” but I fear that Slattery’s Roger Sterling, the most reliably hilarious character on a series that doesn’t receive enough credit for comic chops, has fallen out of the Academy’s favor. Yet “The Monolith,” in which Roger heads upstate to retrieve daughter Margaret from a blissed-out commune and ends up reckoning with the consequences of his own neglectful parenting, merits a nomination on its own. As Roger’s instinct for avoiding conflict increasingly comes up against SC&P’s fraying edges, Slattery’s ability to move among the dissolute, the charming, and the resigned mirrors the key development “Mad Men” has been moving toward all along: the changing of the guard. 

Wish List Nominees
Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”
Noah Emmerich, “The Americans”
Dean Norris, “Breaking Bad”
Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”
Aaron Paul, “Breaking Bad”
John Slattery, “Mad Men”

Outstanding Supporting Actress (Comedy): Taystee and Poussey

For the “OITNB”-obsessed, Anna Chlumsky and the trio of forceful sketch comediennes I hope will complete this category are mere icing on the cake. After Taystee and Poussey, whose tumultuous friendship is the heart and soul of the Netflix dramedy’s sophomore season, nothing much matters. Brooks’ Taystee is bold and snappy, learning to massage her C.V. with a few quick-witted revisions; Wiley’s Poussey is sly and initially unsure, balancing her principles against the evolving reality of Litchfield’s internal politics. It’s in tandem, however, that the pair shines, and to nominate just one would be a shame. As Joan Didion once wrote of her own novel’s romantic protagonists, “I want those two to have been together all their lives.”

Wish List Nominees
Danielle Brooks, “Orange is the New Black”
Carrie Brownstein, “Portlandia”
Anna Chlumsky, “Veep”
Kate McKinnon, “Saturday Night Live”
Amy Schumer, “Inside Amy Schumer”
Samira Wiley, “Orange is the New Black”

Outstanding Supporting Actress (Drama): Youth Movement

Two of my favorite screen moments in the first half of 2014 involve actresses whose combined age (31) is lower than any other woman on the list below, with plenty of room to spare (Monaghan, the next youngest, is 38). In “A Day’s Work,” Sally Draper (Kiernan Shipka) explains her understanding of identity to Don in a gas station diner. “I’m so many people,” she says simply. In “Mockingbird,” Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) explains her understanding of death to a man she’ll kill out of mercy. “Nothing,” she says, “is still nothing.” In both cases, a shrewd young performer crystallizes the arc of an entire on-screen adolescence with the delivery of a single line — a reminder of the precocious skill required to transform two of television’s most compelling female characters from children into fledgling adults.

Wish List Nominees
Anna Gunn, “Breaking Bad”
Lena Headley, “Game of Thrones”
Christina Hendricks, “Mad Men”
Michelle Monaghan, “True Detective”
Kiernan Shipka, “Mad Men”
Maisie Williams, “Game of Thrones”

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