The Hollywood Foreign Press Association — which, as The Week’s Scott Meslow pointed out in January, consists of “88 people [you’ve] never heard of” — is notoriously, uh, eccentric when it comes to handing out nominations for the Golden Globes. Though any TV critic worth his or her salt looks askance at awards ceremonies (yes, that means you, too, Emmys), I once again find myself simultaneously pleased, dismayed, and baffled by this year’s television categories. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of this morning’s nominations.
Best Television Series (Musical or Comedy): For all the flack the HFPA receives when it nominates unfunny, unmusical movies in this category on the film side (remember “The Tourist”?), voters’ taste in comedic television seems almost radical. The last two winners, “Girls” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” were worthy newcomers, while the Emmys may as well rename the category “‘Modern Family’ versus ‘The Big Bang Theory.'” Indeed, by snubbing those rather moribund network stalwarts this year, the HFPA illustrates just how wide-ranging TV comedy can be. Though I’d quibble with “Silicon Valley,” the inclusion of a critically acclaimed telenovela (“Jane the Virgin”), Lena Dunham’s uncomfortable, inventive “Girls,” and two groundbreaking digital series (“Orange is the New Black” and “Transparent”) suggests that the HFPA isn’t so square after all.
Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television: This is about as unimpeachable as awards categories get. Though I was seemingly the only person on Earth to pan HBO’s “Olive Kitteridge,” I recognize its sorrowful, shopworn appeal, and the other four nominees are at least as deserving. Especially gratifying is the inclusion of Starz’s “The Missing,” which transcends its familiar child-endangerment narrative by shifting deftly between past and present in the service of a multilayered mystery. Underrepresented on critics’ year-end lists, one hopes the nomination for “The Missing” will draw new viewers into the miniseries’ web. It’s not too late: the fifth episode airs this Saturday.
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Best Television Series (Drama): In contrast to the Musical/Comedy category, the nominees for Best Drama are largely a disappointment. With the exception of “Game of Thrones” and “The Good Wife,” which grow stronger each season, the list seems to focus more on the perception of quality than the real thing. I regret the rave review of “The Affair” I wrote on the basis of the pilot, for instance — the “Rashomon”-like structure once seemed a daring approach to questions of memory and perception, but it turns out to be a bit of prestigious gimmickry designed to goose up an otherwise boring marital drama. “House of Cards” remains a slick, vicious portrait of American political ambition, but the second season can’t hold a candle to “Mad Men,” “The Knick,” “Masters of Sex,” or “The Americans,” all snubbed. Most frustrating of all is the presence of “Downton Abbey,” nominated as though it were still 2010. The decline of the sparkling, upstairs/downstairs period piece into a gloomy, grueling melodrama is convincing evidence that those who vote for television awards sometimes do it by rote.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series (Drama): “The Blacklist”? One whiff of James Spader’s rococo performance is enough to send me into convulsions. The other nominees include Clive Owen’s effective but unremarkable performance in “The Knick,” which is Steven Soderbergh’s series anyway; Kevin Spacey’s grating turn on “House of Cards”; and Liev Schreiber (“Ray Donovan”) and Dominic West (“The Affair”), whose work hews close to their respective series’ limited portraits of modern masculinity. Here, HFPA, I fixed it for you: Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”), Freddie Highmore (“Bates Motel”), Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”), Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”), Michael Sheen (“Masters of Sex”). Much better.
Best Performance by an Actor/Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television: These unwieldy categories, in nominees and in name, reflect a bygone era in which movie stars had pride of place at the Golden Globes. Michelle Monaghan (“True Detective”) up against Alison Janney (“Mom”)? Matt Bomer (“The Normal Heart”) competing with Jon Voight (“Ray Donovan”)? Just as Emmy voters return to the well of tradition year after year, the Golden Globes’ decision to sew up comedy and drama in three formats into one Frankenstein’s monster of a category is nothing but rank, retrograde fear of change. The snubs this year are legion: Julia Roberts (“The Normal Heart”), Noah Emmerich (“The Americans”), basically the entire casts of “Orange is the New Black” and “Mad Men,” to name a few. There’s far too much worthy television to keep shoehorning all this talent onto the JV squad. In short, stop trying to make “Best Performance by an Actor/Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television” happen, HFPA! It’s not going to happen!