The real Emmy nominations got announced a couple weeks ago, of course. But for the last few years, I've ventured to offer my own choices for the best TV of the year (check out my ballots in 2009, 2008, and 2007). I'm going to pretend like I have a say-so and present my own pretend ballot. I've got the dramas up today, look for the comedy categories on Wednesday. Please do hit up the comments and offer up your own choices.
Friday Night Lights
United States of Tara
So, to address the biggest piece of weirdness, yes, I classified United States of Tara as a drama despite it competing as a comedy at the Emmys (and despite my having classified it as a comedy last year). The Showtime "comedies" tend to be thorny hybrids anyway, but basically, I decided that Tara behaves like a drama with comedic elements, while shows like Weeds and Nurse Jackie function as comedies with serious elements. Honestly, it's a whole big grey area, but here I am. And here Tara is, because no matter how I classify it, its second season took a show I was already fond of and made it utterly indispensible.
As for the other nominees, the positive qualities of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Friday Night Lights should, by now, be pretty well evident. For a guy who didn't bother with Treme, these are the three best hourlong dramas you can find. I watched the entire back half of Fringe's second season over one weekend and was over the moon for how character-focused it allowed itself to be while steamrolling ahead to a truly crackerjack two-part finale.
I was most torn about which show to throw into that last slot. Despite really enjoying the Lost finale (while acknowledging how unsatisfying it was in many ways), I was generally down on its final season, mostly due to a sideways universe that I found extraneous even before it was confirmed to be so in the finale. But it's not like Dollhouse was a perfect show either. The beginning of the season was a regression to the kind of problematic standalones that failed to satisfy in the first half of Season 1. But the run-up to the finale managed to bring every positive element of the show into brilliant light, from the thorny moral issues at the center of the plot to the ever-more-compelling supporting cast. Any season that could perform the total 180 that it did on a character like Topher deserves many props. At the end of the day, my thrill at seeing what Dollhouse could become bested my frustration at seeing what Lost wasn't living up to.
Runners-Up: Lost; True Blood; Dexter; Parenthood
BEST ACTOR - DRAMA
Kyle Chandler - Friday Night Lights
Bryan Cranston - Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall - Dexter
Jon Hamm - Mad Men
Timothy Olyphant - Justified
Aaron Paul - Breaking Bad
Bumping Aaron Paul up to Lead status here, despite his Emmy classification, because there's just no reason to say he's not at least the co-lead of the show. Fact is, I don't think there was a better lead performance on a show this season, and if he can't even win the Emmy for supporting, it'll go on Emmy's looooong list of shames. As for the others, Chandler, Hall, and Hamm are all here again, and now that I've finally caught on to Breaking Bad, I can say I should've nominated Cranston last season too. Olyphant bumps Bomer for the "blazing hot hottie in a cable series that I find pleasant but not crucial to my life" slot.
Runners-Up: Matt Bomer (White Collar); Tim DeKay (White Collar)
BEST ACTRESS - DRAMA
Connie Britton - Friday Night Lights
Toni Collette - United States of Tara
Ginnifer Goodwin - Big Love
Anna Gunn - Breaking Bad
Chloe Sevigny - Big Love
Jeanne Tripplehorn - Big Love
The crossover of Toni Collette and the ascendance of Anna Gunn kind of squeezes the Mad Men ladies out of the group. Because, for all the things about the fourth season of Big Love that were brutally awful, the acting of its three central women went a long way to salvage it. I'm continually amazed at how Connie Britton is able to muscle out a corner of the Friday Night Lights universe despite having increasingly less and less to do with the big season arcs. But here she is again, the most compelling thing onscreen and possibly the most aspirational character on TV. Who DOESN'T want to be her?
Runners-Up: January Jones (Mad Men); Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men); Anna Torv (Fringe)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR - DRAMA
Giancarlo Esposito - Breaking Bad
Kier Gilchrist - United States of Tara
Zach Gilford - Friday Night Lights
Enver Gjokaj - Dollhouse
John Noble - Fringe
Terry O'Quinn - Lost
This one's the most stacked category of them all, despite the fact that almost none of my favorites even came close to an Emmy nomination. No matter; I'm happy to sing the praises of Esposito's exquisitely composed kingpin, Gilchrist's post-gay search for identity, Gilford's much-ballyhooed episode of heartbreaking loss, Gjokaj upping the chameleonic ante, Noble pushing at the harrowing limitations of mental illness and poor choices (and throwing in some sublime comedy too), and O'Quinn funneling all of John Locke's uncertainty and desperate faith into an entity who despised both. It's a brilliant collection of performances, and I could throw out six more and then some (check out the runners-up below).
Runners-Up: Nelsan Ellis (True Blood); Dean Norris (Breaking Bad); Josh Holloway (Lost); Michael Emerson (Lost); Walton Goggins (Justified); John Lithgow (Dexter); Fran Kranz (Dollhouse).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS - DRAMA
Jennifer Carpenter - Dexter
Rosemarie DeWitt - United States of Tara
Lauren Graham - Parenthood
Christina Hendricks - Mad Men
Mae Whitman - Parenthood
Deborah Ann Woll - True Blood
Man, I've been holding on to this recognition for Jennifer Carpenter since early fall. To me, while John Lithgow was great and all, the biggest story to come out of the fourth season of Dexter was the great leap forward Carpenter made. Part of it what her character incrementally getting her shit together, but Carpenter was more sure of herself too, and in most episodes, she was the best thing going. Nobody doesn't love Joan Holloway, and Hendricks once again made the sad-yet-capable office manager the one character you'd like to know in real life. Less lovable were the complicated ladies played by DeWitt and Woll, each one sharp as a thorn in the main characters' side, but also wrestling audience sympathy as if by force. And then there's Parenthood, where Graham and Whitman are the unquestioned shining lights in a show I fully expect to come into its own next season. Graham and Whitman's mother-daughter act is already where the rest of the show wants to be.
Runners-Up: Amanda Seyfried (Big Love); Michelle Forbes (True Blood); Olivia Williams (Dollhouse); Blair Brown (Fringe)
BEST GUEST ACTOR - DRAMA
Keith Carradine - Dexter
Mark Margolis - Breaking Bad
Tom Noonan - Damages
Michael O'Neill - Grey's Anatomy
Jason Ritter - Parenthood
Michael J. Willett - United States of Tara
Carradine played the wise, driven, and ultimately doomed mentor on Dexter; Margolis the impossibly perturbed elderly former kingpin; Noonan's trademark unsettling calm made what amounted to mere framing scenes crackle with menace; O'Neill made the very most of his impassive Sam Elliott face as a hospital stalker; Ritter was hot as blazes as a Lauren Graham love interest; and Willett took what I figured would be a one-time and one-note flamer (the "gayble"-leading Lionel) and made him a genuine counterpoint -- and then a genuine character, one we'd be rooting for -- in the span of a half-dozen episodes. Indelible brief impressions, all of 'em.
BEST GUEST ACTRESS - DRAMA
Joey Lauren Adams - United States of Tara
Viola Davis - United States of Tara
Famke Janssen - Nip/Tuck
Elizabeth Mitchell - Lost
Mary Kay Place - Big Love
Lily Tomlin - Damages
Here's where you can find some of my very favorite actressing on television. Certainly few performances give me as much giddy pleasure as watching Mary Kay Place stomp Adaleen up and down the dusty compound roads on Big Love. Her season arc was as fucked as any I can remember in recent memory, and she still almost sold me. Similarly, Famke Janssen gets credit for being the only thing that made my returning to Nip/Tuck for the final season worthwhile. Famke kept Ava's edge, but she's always had more lurking behind various cracks and crevasses, and the show was kind enough to let her bring that out before all was told. And we've all been through my multi-season love affair with Lost's Juliet. That one appearance at the finale...that fateful meeting at the vending machine...that's all it took. Not to slight the other three performances -- Adams grounded Buck's infidelity subplot and Davis made for an intriguing garage artist on Tara, while Tomlin made for the unexpected heart and guilty conscience of the Damages season -- but it's hard for me not to give all my love to Famke, Lizzie, and MK.