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An embarrassment of on-screen riches but so little Emmy gold

In a big year for dramatic performances, it's tough to think about what'll get left on the award show floor.

June 08, 2009|MARY McNAMARA

Well, it's a good thing I'm not in charge of the Emmys. If I were, this year's telecast would probably be five hours long (and then I'd review it and kvetch about how boring it was). But how could it not be long? In dramas alone there were just so many great performances this season that I feel like the nominee list should be doubled, a few special awards thrown in and an explanation given for why the winners were chosen.

Otherwise, how are we supposed to make sense of a winner who emerges from choices as diversely terrific as "Big Love," "Gossip Girl," "The Shield," "In Treatment," "Lost," "Rescue Me," "Damages," "Mad Men," "Boston Legal," "Battlestar Galactica," "Breaking Bad" and "House"? Seriously, how do you pick a best show from a list like that? Each and every one is an outstanding drama in its own right, and most have specific reasons to win this year: best season ever on curiously overlooked "Big Love"; bang-up finale of "The Shield," "Battlestar" and "Boston Legal"; remarkably great second seasons of "Damages" and "Mad Men"; while "Lost" and "House" continue to come back from a variety of brinks.

Even harder, how to choose a top actor and actress, since many of these shows have more than their fair share of talent? "Big Love" alone could pretty much fill the lead actress category: Chloe Sevigny had a remarkable season as the damaged, compound-raised Nicki, but Jeanne Tripplehorn keeps the show miraculously anchored in reality with her Everywoman turned sister-wife Barb. Alison Pill, Hope Davis and, of course, Dianne Wiest (who won supporting actress last year) were all superb on "In Treatment"; "Mad Men" has January Jones and Elisabeth Moss, while Glenn Close, who won last year, rocked "Damages."

It seems impossible that Katee Sackhoff will remain Emmyless after creating the remarkable Starbuck in "Battlestar," and I don't care what anyone says, the women of "Lost" were great this year, particularly Evangeline Lilly as Kate and Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet. Oh, and Blake Lively and Leighton Meester of "Gossip Girl" pulled off a high-wire act of high camp and acid commentary. Why shouldn't they be nominated? Meanwhile, Jill Scott of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" was a radiant and unexpected gift to television.

The men are just as impossible to sort out. Hugh Laurie has kept "House" going through thick and thin, and if he doesn't win an Emmy, he should be knighted or something. On "The Shield," Michael Chiklis, who won in 2002, reinvented the antihero and kept us loving his Mackey and hating ourselves for it, right to the bitter end. Denis Leary pulled "Rescue Me" out of the fire with a Tommy Gavin who is heartbreaking and hilarious and relentlessly recognizable as human, while Kiefer Sutherland gave us an even more tormented Jack Bauer, capable of kicking butt while afflicted with a bioweapon and a Senate investigation in "24." Then there are Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn of "Lost" (O'Quinn won in 2007), who at this point have both played hero and villain and every shade in between with remarkable facility. This is also the last chance to honor the "Boston Legal" team of James Spader and William Shatner (although Spader's already got three and Shatner two, so maybe that's enough). And just because I cannot let it go, Damian Lewis deserves it for "Life," NBC's cancellation of a great show notwithstanding.

How do you choose between these folks and, of course, the many other fine actors who had great years but who aren't on this list because, you know, I had to stop somewhere? The answer, of course, is you don't. Not really. In a year like this, virtually every nominee deserves to win, and many who don't make the final six deserve to be nominated.

More curious, then, is how so many people (you know who you are) can still look me straight in the eye and say, "There's nothing good on TV." Nothing good? I could fill five hours handing out awards for good work, and I wouldn't even need the comedic talents of Ricky Gervais and Steve Carell to do it. But that would be terrible television, which, this being the Emmys and all, is pretty much beside the point.


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