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Most TV critics don’t need much prompting to point out what’s truly deserving on the small screen. Top-tier series and performers separate themselves from the merely good not long after a season begins. This year was no exception. Here’s my list of drama actors and actresses who deserve an Emmy, followed by my list of drama series. I’m assuming AMC’s Mad Men will be nominated again, and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire should snag one for its first season. After that, all bets on rewarding quality are off.
Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Bean knows how to bring gravitas to a role, and he needed it as Lord Eddard Stark, the honest and loyal soldier of the realm. He’s an actor so good, in fact, that a twist in the storyline has fans absolutely gutted. Meanwhile, in a cast littered with quality performances, Dinklage has managed to make his spoiled-but-tormented son of royalty be funny, poignant and compelling.
Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman
The Killing (AMC)
Enos’ quiet power (and pain), combined with Kinnaman’s bold swagger (hiding pain), has made The Killing riveting even in its slowest moments.
I’m worried that when (and it better not be if) Justified is feted at the Emmys, Goggins might get lost in the adoration that is likely to go to Timothy Olyphant and Margo Martindale. But Goggins has sunk himself into one of the most memorable TV characters. He’s gone from outwardly defiant to an inner calm that’s as gunpowder-dangerous as they come.
Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James
So what if the series was canceled? That doesn’t implicate the chops of these two actors, who gave the kind of best-buddy performances that masked the ambitious and literate goals of the series, which also deserves a nomination. They had a rare kind of chemistry, and it’s a shame to look back on it and know we’ll see it no more.
Lights Out (FX)
Just a wonderful performance all around as a damaged boxer, loving father and conflicted bad-ass. It’s a shame that Lights Out didn’t draw a bigger audience, but that takes nothing away from McCallany’s incredible work.
Wendell Pierce and Khandi Alexander
The whole of Treme is criminally underappreciated at the Emmys, but these actors especially are at the top of their craft (and have been for some time). Season two has allowed them to expand their impressive range (from vulnerability to pain), and it’s time the Emmys took notice.
Men of a Certain Age (TNT)
His could be the most underappreciated performance on this list. Few comedians have been able to go from comedy to convincing drama like Romano has done here, infusing his laconic character with existential malaise and tentative hopefulness. Yes, Ray Romano did that.
This was one of the most stunning seasonlong performances by an actress I witnessed this year. Rossum was the spark of humanity — fierce pride and hidden vulnerability — that held together the outrageous doings on Shameless.
It was impossible to take your eyes off of Martindale, and if, by some quirk of stupidity, she doesn’t get nominated, my outrage is going to be loud and long. Martindale, in a tour de force that should be studied by all actors, played one of the most memorable small-screen villains ever.
Friday Night Lights (NBC)
It was one of the greatest shows in the past decade (save for season two), so why would anyone expect the Emmy voters to finally recognize the work done on the little show that could? FNL has quietly survived and has, with dignity, told numerous touching stories. It might be similarly touching to send it off with some hardware.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Epic, well-written, well-acted and densely involving, this series came to the screen fully formed. Outstanding.
Here’s a series that went from very good to great this season as it deftly balanced drama and humor and one very riveting storyline.
The Killing (AMC)
Atmospheric and absorbing, this series, despite drawing out the red herrings, put together a story arc that kept viewers coming back each week in anticipation. Fans’ frustration with the finale shouldn’t hurt its chances.
Lights Out (FX)
Series that are canceled stand little chance of being rewarded, but this is a deserving nominee nonetheless. Its tone was unique, the writing strong. The tragedy here is that, in its final episode, it blossomed into a show with even more potential for bittersweet storytelling.
Men of a Certain Age (TNT)
Age was ignored in its freshman season, though it was the most surprisingly adult, poignant and witty creation in ages. Season two hasn’t flagged a bit and is deserving in several categories, including best series.
In a landscape where the cop drama has been done so many times as to be cliche-ridden and done to perfection at least twice (The Wire, The Shield), who knew a series that failed on NBC could be saved and nurtured by TNT into something really marvelous?
Ignored in its first visceral and passionate season, Emmy voters could make up for that wrong by rewarding the even stronger, more personal and cathartic storytelling of season two.
The Walking Dead (AMC)
A short season and, well, the fact that zombies populated it might hurt the potential for this series to get nominated, but so few dramas had the kind of edge-of-the-seat worry that Dead cranked out each week.
Emmy, what say you?
Other veteran TV critics offered their opinions on the crucial shows and performances in danger of being overlooked by Emmy.
Friday Night Lights
“I might ask Emmy to finally give a best drama nomination for Friday Night Lights after an 80-yard touchdown drive of a finale — but why ruin a perfect record?” – James Poniewozik, Time
“The Emmys tend to have a blind spot when it comes to the fantasy/sci-fi genre, especially when they struggle in the ratings like the regularly mind-blowing Fringe. The show is coming off its best season, flipping regularly between warring parallel universes but never losing sight of the emotional stakes of its key characters.” – Matt Roush, TV Guide
“No drama in years did a better job of combining art and entertainment — exploring social and class issues rarely touched on in American televi0sion, particularly as they pertain to the rural poor. All while telling an intense yet often surprisingly witty story that kept you guessing up to the end.” – Robert Bianco, USA Today
The Walking Dead
“In a mere six episodes, Dead created a bleak and terrifying portrait of a world turned upside down by a zombie pandemic. Unrelenting and uncompromising in its graphic terrors, I wonder if it’s too much for the often timid Emmy voter. I hope not.” — Roush
“If this cult comedy is passed over in favor of a played-out 30 Rock, it will just be another sign of Emmy inertia.” — Roush
“The best new show of the past season will not get nominated as best comedy, but it should for being an incredible distillation of one creator’s vision — surreal, full of heart and, in Louis C.K.’s words, ‘Balls funny.’ ” — Poniewozik
The Middle (ABC)
“Somewhat lost in the shadow of Modern Family’s brilliance, this very relatable and funny family comedy hits much closer to home for many viewers, who identify with the reality that it’s impossible to keep a tidy house or one’s kids in line or to be able to have or do it all.” — Roush
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
“Parks and Recreation is not only the best comedy eligible but a serious contender for best series eligible. It does everything The Office used to do so effortlessly, only with stronger levels of warmth that never feel shoehorned in the way they do on some other sitcoms.” – Alan Sepinwall, Hitflix.com
Raising Hope (Fox)
“It wasn’t a great year for freshman network series, but the one exception was the raucous Raising Hope, which nicely balanced crass and sweet.” — Roush
Michael Imperioli, Detective Louis Fitch in Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC)
“I’d like to see Imperioli recognized, not only because he earned it but because it will give some recognition to a [canceled] show that was not given the respect and support it needed.” — Bianco
John Noble, Walter Bishop in Fringe
“The character of Walter Bishop is played to the poignant hilt of endearing madness and self-tormented regret by Noble. His performance has only grown
richer and deeper as we spent more time with his sinister doppelganger, who’s as cold and cunning as our Walter is vulnerable and childlike. It’s a classic supporting performance: You always want more of him, and there’s a sense of constant surprise.” — Roush
Nick Offerman, Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation
“It would be awfully nice if the funniest performance on television got recognized.” — Sepinwall
Ed O’Neill, Jay Pritchett in Modern Family
“While Modern Family will deserve every nomination it gets and more, this year, let’s see to it that one of those nominations goes to Ed O’Neill, who brilliantly serves as the show’s emotional center.” — Bianco
Walton Goggins, Boyd Crowder in Justified
“More likely to be ignored is Goggins’ sly supporting work as reformed (but not really) bad seed Boyd Crowder, whose tangled history with the show’s hero always keeps us off balance about Boyd’s intentions and loyalties.” — Roush
Michelle Forbes, Mitch Larsen in The Killing
“For an Emmy-worthy performance from a series that has not quite reached that level yet, Forbes offered a wrenching, embittered portrayal of grief.” — Poniewozik
Martha Plimpton, Virginia Chance in Raising Hope
“I’d love to see Plimpton unseat one of those mopey Showtime heroines with her truly comic work as the spitfire mom who bullies her brood but would also
kill for them.” — Roush
Margo Martindale, Mags Bennett in Justified
“Martindale earned the season’s most unanimous raves for her towering performance as the murderous matriarch who cloaks her ruthlessness in a dowdy down-home demeanor — just watch out for that apple pie moonshine. If she is somehow overlooked, that will be seen as the year’s most grievous oversight.” — Roush
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