Introducing 2012 Emmy Watch: Nominations I wish we'd see

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Image Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

The Emmy nominations are being decided even as I write this. Members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences must hand in their ballots by June 28; the nominations will be announced on July 19. Why don’t we help out these folks and suggest worthy candidates?

That’s the thinking behind the long, carefully reasoned, highly passionate, sometimes stubbornly flukey list that follows. As EW’s TV critic, I tend to have some opinions not shared by the majority of official Emmy voters. I also suspect, however, that you, the EW.com reader, share some of my passions — such as Fringe, Girls,  and Community — that the Academy is unlikely to nominate. Which is one reason to agitate for them, right?

Over the next couple of weeks, the entire EW.com staff, a hardy band I would dub The Emmy Watch Wizards, will be interviewing actors, producers, and writers from the shows on the list below. The Emmy Watch brigade will also post clips of their best work as part of this great project.

I’m using the Emmy committee’s eligibility period (June 1, 2011-May 31, 2012) and you’re going to notice immediately that I exceeded the number of nominations possible in most categories. Why? Because it’s a wish-list, and I wanted to expand these things here and there, to get in favorites, long shots, and, simply, the deserving. All of which is going to drive some of you nuts, I know, but that’s part of the fun, I hope: Respond, argue, vote, and offer your own ballots for these categories. My wish-list begins below, deserving nominees in no order of preference — it’s the democratic free-for-all way!

• Comedy Series: Emmy Watch wish-list nominees: Community, Modern Family, Louie, Girls, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, Enlightened, Happy Endings, How I Met Your Mother, The Middle

With Girls, Enlightened, Louie, and Community, it’s difficult to recall a season in which there were more major network (broadcast and cable) sitcoms that reshaped the genre the way these four have, each in a distinctively different manner. But I also think it was a very strong year for the mainstream sitcom — and just a few years ago, many readers would think I was stretching it to call brilliantly eccentric shows such as 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation mainstream. But headed up by Modern Family, whose mastery of both middle-American sitcom conventions and mass appeal outreach shows so signs of exhaustion, this is a list that suggests the sitcom is in robust health.

• Drama Series: Emmy Watch wish-list nominees: Breaking Bad, Homeland, Mad Men, Justified, Fringe, The Good Wife, Sons of Anarchy, Revenge, Game of Thrones, Parenthood

For me, Homeland is the show to beat. No, Breaking Bad is. No, Justified is… you see the “problem” here: We’re living in a new Golden Age of Drama! (A Platinum Age?) (A Twitter Age?) Add to this shows that don’t have a prayer of getting nominated, led by Fringe and tailed by the artful trash of Revenge, and you’ve got an amazingly diverse range of possibilities. In another era, one not so dominated by cable, series such as Parenthood and The Good Wife would, I would assert, have won multiple Emmys already.

Comedy Actor: Emmy Watch wish-list nominees: Joel McHale, Louis C.K., Jim Parsons, Alec Baldwin, Rob McElhenney

In contrast to other categories, this one yields the least number of nominees I am enthused about. (Which is worth a post of its own: How did sitcoms become so dominated by women as their central characters?) But I like the opportunity to give a nod to a very good actor in a mediocre series (that would be Jim Parsons/Big Bang Theory), as well as the chance to remind readers that Rob McElhenney has been doing excellently buffoonish work on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. And of course I’m really pulling for Louis CK.

• Comedy Actress: Emmy Watch wish-list nominees: Amy Poehler, Laura Dern, Lena Dunham, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, Zooey Deschanel, Patricia Heaton

What a formidable group of performers we have here. Poehler took Parks and Rec‘s political-campaign storyline and invested it with strong emotion as well as assiduous hilarity. You might call Lena Dunham’s portrayal of Hannah in Girls minimalist or mumble-core-y; I’d call it marvelously sly. And Laura Dern: Holy cow, she turned Enlightened into a showcase for comic acting that carried the weight of the most riveting drama. Plus, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is giving a great performance in a show, Veep, that hasn’t quite lived up to its initial promise. A fascinating category by any measure.

• Drama ActorEmmy Watch wish-list nominees: Damian Lewis, John Noble, Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Timothy Olyphant, Dustin Hoffman, Steve Buscemi

The formidable trio of Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, and Damian Lewis ought to be joined by John Noble, whose work on Fringe is fully the equal to the trio’s, and I would definitely include Dustin Hoffman for his work on Luck, despite the fact that the abrupt cancellation of that daring series did not allow for what would doubtless have been the full flowering of what Hoffman had planted in his first season’s labor.

• Drama Actress: Emmy Watch wish-list nominees: Claire Danes, Julianna Margulies, Elisabeth Moss, Katey Sagal, Elizabeth McGovern, Anna Torv

This category is comparable to what I was saying in the Comedy Actor segment: There aren’t as many first-rate showcases for lead women as there are for men in dramas. That stipulated, I believe Anna Torv’s various shadings of the multiple-universe Olivia Dunhams in Fringe was highly Emmy-worthy work. I also think that Elizabeth McGovern has been somewhat overlooked in all the praise for Downton Abbey — her lovely approach to her character is a model of restrained yet highly effective acting. Whether or not this proved to be Elisabeth Moss’ swan-song on Mad Men, her performance was remarkable, as she moved Peggy from dutiful, imaginative agency cog to a wise-verging-on-cynical woman who you can bet deserved that kiss of fealty Don Draper bestowed upon her hand. And all that said, Claire Danes is the one to beat, I’d wager.

Supporting Actor Comedy: Emmy Watch wish-list nominees: Ty Burrell, Danny Pudi, Donald Glover, Ed O’Neill, Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Max Greenfield

This is the category in which Emmy voters really need to widen their field of vision. If you don’t grant that Danny Pudi and Donald Glover in Community, and Chris Pratt and Aziz Ansari in Parks and Recreation, are doing some of the most adroit acting on television, well, it’s time for a revolution, comrades! And Ed O’Neill got some wonderful showcases for his fully fleshed-out creation in Modern Family this season.

Supporting Actor Drama: Emmy Watch wish-list nominees: Giancarlo Esposito, Mandy Patinkin, John Slattery, Peter Dinklage, Aaron Paul, John Ortiz, Stephen Lang, Joel Kinnaman, Michael Pitt, Walton Goggins, Dax Shepard

Yes, this is one loaded-up list. But there’s no one I could not suggest for nomination here. The suggestions of Slattery, Patinkin, Esposito, Dinklage, and Paul are all no-brainers. (In the case of Esposito’s Gus Fring, it’s literally a half-brainer.) But look at the rest of my picks. Joel Kinnaman frequently carried The Killing through its weaker episodes this season on his skinny frame. Dax Shepard made a leap in his acting when presented with some juicy subplots on Parenthood. (Except for that romance with Cello Girl, that is.) And John Ortiz was — I agree with a remark producer-writer David Milch made to me — “the soul of Luck.” My left-field selection here, or so it might seem to you, is Terra Nova‘s Stephen Lang, but I would argue that his pumped-up, out-size performance was the best thing about that over-inflated, ultimately disappointing series.

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Image Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Supporting Actress Comedy: Emmy Watch wish-list nominees: Julie Bowen, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Eden Sher, Casey Wilson, Allison Williams, Kristen Wiig

As in the corresponding male category, new blood is needed here. Alison Brie and Gillian Jacobs in Community, Casey Wilson in Happy Endings, and Eden Sher in The Middle all deserve to be recognized for their varying approaches to wackiness. And as reader-divisive a figure as Saturday Night Live‘s Kristen Wiig can be (I know from my time recapping SNL that there’s no quicker way to provoke a deluge of comments than to bring up, say, Gilly), she merits a spot here for her final-season, post-Bridesmaids relentless work ethic-plus-talent. Finally, Allison Williams’ work on Girls might actually be underrated by her casting as the sad-pretty-girl contrast to roommate Hannah, but she really pulled off a tricky role with deftness.

Supporting Actress Drama: Emmy Watch wish-list nominees: Madeleine Stowe, Maggie Smith, Christina Hendricks, Archie Panjabi, Anna Gunn, Natalie Zea

Here is the most enjoyably motley group of nominees. While Hendricks and Smith are sure-things for official Emmy voters, I would add the firm swagger of Natalie Zea in Justified, the hip-swiveling heinousness that Madeleine Stowe projects in Revenge, and Anna Gunn’s Breaking Bad performance, which only increases with controlled intensity every season.

So EW’s Emmy Watch begins. Be on the look-out for our exclusive interviews with wish-list nominees starting next week.

And of course, send me your own, below.

Twitter: @kentucker

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