Last night, the Broadcast Television Journalists Association (BTJA) awarded their fifth annual Critics’ Choice Television Awards in a ceremony that aired live on A&E. The winners offered up many surprises, re-affirming their declared intent to shine a spotlight on candidates they deemed deserving of Emmy attention here in the weeks leading up to the Emmy voting period (June 15 through June 26). In fact, they moved their awards ceremony a full three weeks earlier than last year (2014 awards were handed out June 19). Clearly, they’re moving their mentions into a position of influence. But how far will that influence extend?
You can’t really call many of the recipients “surprises,” per se, given the early surprises of the original set of nominees. This was clearly an awards-granting body with an agenda. Gone were perennial Emmy nominees Modern Family, House of Cards, and Mad Men (which hasn’t really factored, oddly enough, into the Critics’ Choice Awards in years). Instead, a wild array of brilliant left-field choices took their places, some even winning. There were some expected mentions that only helped solidify the recipients’ path forward to the Emmys. Transparent‘s Jeffrey Tambor and Bradley Whitford will likely repeat in their categories. So will Olive Kitteridge and its three wins. David Oyelowo’s win in Nightingale against the more subtle (re: critic friendly) work of Richard Jenkins (Olive Kitteridge) also feels like a repeatable win at the Emmys.
But who gained the most from the recognition last night? There were a lot of stars in the room who generated a lot of publicity and, like it or not, this is the kind of publicity that pushes your screener to the top of the pile. Publicity is what these contenders sorely need, especially considering the wealth of options for Emmy voters. Best Drama winner The Americans won’t factor on my list because, even though it won, it had a history with Critics’ Choice – each of its three seasons was nominated, winning for the third. It has yet to receive any major Emmy nominations outside of guest performances, and I’m still suspect that winning a Critics’ Choice TV Award will push it into the highly competitive top seven dramas given the Television Academy’s history of ignoring it.
But here are five candidates that I feel did benefit from their wins.
Silicon Valley‘s first season was unexpectedly rewarded with a Best Comedy nomination despite having received no acting nominations for the ensemble piece (it did pick up mentions for direction and writing, however). Their second season, in my opinion, is even stronger by relying less on story momentum and more on old school, character-driven situation comedy. Their win in the Best Comedy category wasn’t fully a surprise – only Veep or Transparent could have beaten it realistically – but T.J. Miller’s win in the supporting category gives the show a now award-winning performance to anchor their campaigns around. It gives the show’s cast the attention they need to illustrate that the show isn’t just a showcase for Mike Judge’s comic sensibilities.
Amy Schumer‘s win in the Best Actress in a Comedy Series category for Inside Amy Schumer is another feather in the cap of this meteorically rising comic actress. Aside from the buzzy skits that are highly consumable in various Internet outlets. Aside from the high-profile Entertainment Weekly cover. Aside from the upcoming heavily buzzed, Schumer-penned Trainwreck. The win seemed to solidify what my Awards Daily TV cohorts called out months ago, and there is definitely a precedent for her inclusion. Remember when Melissa McCarthy shocked everyone by winning Best Actress in a Comedy Series at the Emmys? She was riding a similar tidal wave of publicity thanks to a little film called Bridesmaids. Schumer, in my opinion, will similarly benefit. The Critics’ Choice Award is just the start.
Better Call Saul has always been a question mark for Emmy consideration. There was little doubt that Jonathan Banks would receive recognition thanks to his fantastic performance in the Mike-centric episode of the series. But would the Emmys recognize the series in the shadow of its more-compelling predecessor Breaking Bad? The Critics’ Choice seemed to consider that question too and awarded not only Banks but also star Bob Odenkirk. These wins help the Saul case in two ways. First, it legitimizes Odenkirk as a dramatic actor, something he even questioned in early interviews for the series. Second, it helps the overall series stand on its own for Emmy voters, even if it notably failed to receive a series nomination. The Emmy push this year may be more for the acting than for the series itself, which the Critics’ Choice TV Awards clearly reflected.
Taraji P. Henson‘s win in the Best Actress in a Drama Series category over some incredibly stiff competition (ahem, Vera Farmiga) represents what we were all feeling about her status in the Emmy race. She will factor in the final six slots alongside Viola Davis and maybe Kerry Washington (but that’s not likely). Still, the Critics’ Choice couldn’t get behind Empire in any other category, not even in the dubious Most Bingeworthy Show category for which it seemed a shoe-in (that “honor” went to AMC’s The Walking Dead). Clearly, the soapy nature of the show prevented it from winning against much more serious-minded competition. I still believe the Television Academy will recognize the overall series at least in its first year, but Henson’s win ensures her placement in the same Emmy category.
Sadly, through all of Orange is the New Black‘s multiple nominations for its second season, Lorraine Toussaint‘s terrifying performance as “Vee” was mostly ignored by voting bodies. Audience favorite Uzo Aduba seemed to take center stage, picking up an award at the SAG Awards. The Critics’ Choice was having none of that, failing to nominate Aduba in any category. Instead, they put their weight behind Toussaint, awarding her Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and putting her name back in the awards conversation where it truly belongs. Placement of the series in the Drama Emmy category will only help as category placement confusion could have impacted her given her extraordinarily dramatic character arc. That coupled with the win last night pushes her name forward in her Emmy category.
In my opinion, those award recipients will likely see their Emmy fortunes greatly increased by attention at Critics’ Choice. Again, the Critics’ Choice TV Awards aren’t high profile enough to guarantee any of these five slots come nomination morning, but, again, what matters most is being a part of the conversation. Events like this for the Emmys, unlike the Oscars, are fewer and far between, so any awards attention will only help. If these things can insert any new blood into the Emmys, then more power to them.