A Few Not-So-Brief Thoughts on the 2012 Primetime Emmys

I don’t honestly know why I watch awards shows anymore. Originally, when my interest in TV and movies first peaked, awards shows were these massive, iconic events. They challenged which movies I thought were the best. They were a celebration of everything that I was fascinated with in life. It felt like they were catering directly to me, and I reciprocated in kind, memorizing nearly every Oscar winner I could by date and category.

I’m an adult now (technically, I guess), and I still watch those same awards shows, yet my childlike glee has long been replaced with sheer, limitless apathy. At this point, I don’t watch them to see who wins, but to see which handful of winners won’t make me want to yell something obscene at the TV. Honestly, I didn’t even watch the Emmys this year, having gotten fed up with my own cycle of frustration, impatience, occasional relief and rage that leads to turning off the television and storming out of the room before heading right back in about twenty seconds later. It’s become cemented in my mind that my own opinions have little to no representation at these kinds of things, and that the opinions that do have representation are completely baffling to me.

I can remember reading this article at last year’s Oscars and not really identifying with it. I remember thinking that awards shows were akin to the World Series or the Super Bowl or any other big, season ending sporting event- a fun competition between everyone’s favorites, but not really a representation of everyone’s tastes as a whole. Just like an average sports fan (which, as you can probably tell from how I describe sports, I am not) would still root for his or her favorite team despite them not winning (or even entering) the Super Bowl, the average film fan is still going to cling to his or her favorite films of the year despite them not winning any Oscars. Also, McWeeny wanted Star Wars to beat Annie Hall and I’m of the exact opposite camp, but that’s not really important.

But I have the feeling that I may end up, with a few more years (or potentially decades) of awards shows come and gone, just like Drew McWeeny. Seeing as my own tolerance for these things has plummeted in the last few years alone, I can’t really see that reversing any time soon. Or maybe venting about them now will get all the animosity out and I’ll be able to relax in upcoming years. Who knows.

But for now, all I really want to do is pick apart everything I didn’t like (and the handful of things I actually did). So let’s get to that.

I’ll just get this out of the way first- I thought that Bryan Cranston deserved to win his fourth Emmy this year.  It’s hard to fault the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences for picking Damian Lewis, considering that he too gave a terrific performance this year, and it’s difficult to go into depth here without this whole piece degenerating into a rabid fan ranting about Bryan Cranston. Yet his performance on Breaking Bad offers something completely unique to the medium. Ever since the advent of television, everything we’ve seen on the small screen has revolved around the total absence of change. You sit down each week to watch the shows you like, the characters you like, the situations you like, specifically staying with one show or another because you know it won’t drastically reinvent itself from one week to another. To actively throw all this out the window, as Breaking Bad does, and transform its protagonist from a loving husband and father to a psychotic, degenerate drug lord is something you just can’t find anywhere else on TV. It also helps that the change we’ve seen over the last five years has hinged completely on Cranston’s unbelievably great performance as Walter White. It’s a combination of uniqueness and pure, unadulterated talent that deserves heaps and heaps of recognition.

Yes, I know that Breaking Bad has received those heaps of recognition, and I know that Bryan Cranston already has three of these trophies under his belt for this role, but this is something that calls into question the whole point of the Emmys to begin with.

Did Cranston’s performance decline when compared to his last three? Was Mad Men‘s fifth season substantially weaker than the four that came before it? Or is the answer really that the Emmys needed a little new blood to liven things up? This is just wild, rampant speculation, but some tiny little thought in the back of my mind keeps telling me that awards shows just aren’t as interesting when the same shows win year after year after year. No one’s going to want to tune in to a competition where it’s all but guaranteed that every winner from last year will take the same prize this year.

But much of the time, that’s the way television works. When you have a show like The Sopranos, or Seinfeld, or Breaking Bad, something that revolutionizes the TV landscape and far outclasses the other shows around it, that show should probably end up winning the same awards year after year. So what do you do, if you’re an Emmy voter? Do you go for what’s truly the best contender for long stretches of the same show and risk sounding like a broken record? Or do you shuffle the order around to give everyone a turn, and not truly give credit where credit is due?

I’m of one who votes with the former, but that’s also because I’m one of those people who’d give Bryan Cranston the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress if it meant showering him with more praise.
Ok, with that out of the way let’s move on to the comedy awards.

Now, with the drama categories, I’m more nitpicking than anything else, but it’s here that I actually have some serious grievances to air. First and foremost: I don’t have the slightest idea what criteria are used to pick the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. When looking at this year’s winner, Jon Cryer, I can’t figure out what it is about his performance that makes him more eligible for this award than the other nominees in the eyes of those doing the voting. Is it based solely around who can elicit the most laughs from the audience?

A little bit of basic research seems to prove that this isn’t the case. Cryer won this year for an episode called “Frodo’s Headshots,” a much more somber episode (by Two and a Half Men‘s standards, anyway) where Cryer’s character deals with the death of his brother and with the potential destruction of his own life. Yet, the episodes that Jim Parsons won for the two previous years are both much more lighthearted. In 2011 we have “The Agreement Dissection,” a Big Bang Theory outing that seems to be somewhat more romantic than usual, but is otherwise no different from your standard Big Bang fare. And 2010’s winner, “The Pants Alternative,” ends with Parsons’ character removing his pants onstage while giving an acceptance speech at an awards show.

From these three examples, there’s no clear common denominator in the slightest and there doesn’t seem to be any basis at all for why anyone is winning anything. Yet I have so many other questions as well. Why are actors and actresses only allowed a single submission episodes when truly great TV stars are those who can be consistently great week after week? Why do broad, network comedies sweep the awards every year, while the Lead Actress in a Comedy category repeatedly pulls its winners from premium cable? Why is Cryer even getting nominated when he’s playing the straight man role on his show and nearly every other actor nominated in this category is playing the funny man?

(Note- in a comedy duo, the “straight man” is the reasonable one and the “funny man” is the goofy, out-of-control partner- for example, Cryer plays the straight man to Charlie Sheen/Ashton Kutcher’s funny man on Two and a Half Men. There’s also Leonard/Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, Dwight/Jim on The Office, or Michael Bluth and any other Bluth in Arrested Development. It’s a pretty common pattern in comedy).
Unless I somehow end up an Emmy voter in the next sixty years, I seriously doubt I’ll ever know the answer to any of these things. Yet, after slaving away at this long-winded rant that doesn’t have even the slightest chance of changing a thing about the Emmys, I think I can safely say that I will, in fact, keep watching these awards shows which frustrate me so.

If I don’t, what’ll I have to blather on about?


11 responses to “A Few Not-So-Brief Thoughts on the 2012 Primetime Emmys

  1. The Emmys have no respect from me. Just the fact they picked Jon Cryer for Best Actor (which should have gone to Louis C. K.) ruins any bit of respect I had left for them, though to be fair Jon Cryer wasn’t too happy that he won. Though I would have preferred Breaking Bad to win, I wasn’t unhappy to see Homeland prevail. And The Daily Show and Louis C. K. had completely deserving wins.

    I was annoyed Modern Family won pretty much every award it was nominated in. I used to like it but now I think it’s pretty overrated.

    • On the one hand, I think that Modern Family is obscenely over-represented at the Emmys. Every single adult actor on that show has been nominated for a supporting actor/actress award for every year the show’s been on the air (save for Ed O’Neill, who was only nominated the past two years), and that’s so baffingly unfair to every single other comedy on television that I can’t wrap my head around it.

      But Modern Family winning the Outstanding Comedy Series award is something I’m actually starting to appreciate. While it’s not my favorite show, I think it’s consistently funny and well-written, and considering that the Emmy voters’s tastes include The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, and I’d prefer to see a show I like but don’t love win over a show I actively dislike.

  2. Since the Emmy’s were on ABC, I couldn’t watch them but after reading who won this year, I don’t think I missed much. Jon Cryer? Like, are they serious? I stopped watching TaaHM after season 7 because I was so done with the whole show and now they get an Emmy for it?
    I never watched Modern Family so far but I know that I liked it better when 30 Rock was winning all the awards. Also, Tina Fey’s acceptance speeches were the best!

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