For Your Consideration

There are those names on the television that are pretty hard to forget, or shake off, with regards to potential Emmy nominations in the Lead Drama categories. The same can be said for Comedy. And “potential” might not be the right word either. Names like Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Julianna Margulies, Jon Hamm, Claire Danes,  are household names now – that might be five slots taken already. Recent juggernauts riding a popularity wave include Viola Davis, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Bob Odenkirk, and Kyle Chandler. Is that another five slots filled?

If that is the case, though nothing is set in stone, then with six slots apiece for Drama Actor and Actress, only one more from each can make the nominations list. Are we saying that Ruth Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, and Taylor Schilling can not all possibly be nominated? That Jeff Daniels, Clive Owen, and Dominic West will not share the list in the Actor category?

Go to that corner of your mind, you know the place, it is where you are given the freedom to think “but what if…”. That tiny chance, a window of opportunity, that choices might not go exactly the way we expected. That a Vera Farmiga or a James Spader could sneak into the mix at the last minute. Emmys breed familiar more often than not though, even with the winners. So you may have to dig really deep for that rabbit’s foot or horse shoe. You don’t have to go far though for alternatives to the so-called obvious.

They love the British over in the States don’t they (fans of Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys will be hoping they like The Americans too)? I mean, BAFTA winner Olivia Colman would likely make my own personal ballot – Michelle Dockery though, would not. I have also seen Hugh Bonneville’s name a couple of times, but as good as Downton Abbey has been I just don’t think it can keep up here. “Has been” may be the appropriate phrasing there. Will Emmy follow suit? Even fellow Brits Michael Sheen and Andrew Lincoln have little chance at all as I see it.

Step up to the plate then, Gillian Anderson (raised in England) and Jamie Dornan (actually from Northern Ireland) from The Fall. We all know both of those names for very different reasons. Due to the show’s success simmering rather than bubbling over the surface, their names are not so much synonymous with this gritty detective drama. The Fall is close to excellent, one of the very best series I have personally seen in the last twelve months. It’s gripping narrative is lean and to the point, and throws punches without warning. Had it not been for the barrage of quality drama this year, then who knows, maybe The Fall could have peered it’s head further from the ground.

Gillian Anderson’s Superintendent Stella Gibson is a rough-around-the edges but magnetic woman. A good woman, who tries hard to hide her own personal insecurities by projecting herself as a no-nonsense police detective. A damn good detective. Anderson does vulnerable and ruthless extremely well, and knows exactly when to glide between the two here. As well as lugging around her various emotional baggage, she allows her face to do a lot of the work. There are countless examples of this, but one I have touched upon before is when her watery eyes tell us that she is completely focused on her work and the people at risk, but also that she has a heart and is deeply moved by the circumstances of a potential victim. Emmy know Anderson well from her skeptical-of-aliens days, and with The Fall, some twenty years later, her acting and presence on the screen have also clearly, and mercifully, matured.

Jamie Dornan is Paul Spector, the mouse to Gibson’s cat, and a seemingly remorseless tormentor and killer of women. A far cry from that performance he made thousands sit through in Fifty Shades of Gray. I am still not sure if the undeniable contrast between these two very recent roles is a hindrance or a light-shiner. Dornan in The Fall is simply extraordinary, and I mean that as a big fat compliment. You are never going to admire a character like this, who does these awful things, and with method. Even with his role as a husband and father to contend with as an audience member. But you remain glued to this twisted murderer. Dornan makes your stomach curdle at times, but you can’t take your eyes off him (sure, he is handsome I suppose, but that’s not what I meant). Spector is a casual character, his body language and engagements with others would suggest he has no guilt whatsoever for what he has done. Even when in danger of being gunned down by thugs, caught by the police, or sussed out by his family, he remains eerily calm.

Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan, then, are two names that should have been in the midst of much more conversations than they have been – and because of The Fall. Two compelling, strong, yet very opposing performances, from terrific actors doing some of their very best work. I will keep my fingers crossed for two such outsiders come Emmy nomination time, likely in the same vain I did for Jenny Slate and Tom Hardy prior to the Oscar nominations.

Oh well, the underdog game is one I enjoy playing.

 Kudos to the PR team behind Jane the Virgin. No idea if it will work, but it’s definitely buzz-worthy. 


Remember Christine Cagney and Mary Beth Lacey?

Rhetorical question to emphasize solid, prominent women on television. I mean, between them they won about thirty Emmys in the ’80s. Then there was Dana Scully, the level-headed, grounded FBI special agent with a scientific brain. Emmy liked her too (more than her male partner). Good actresses win Emmys, sure, but I see strong women winning Emmys. They liked that Manhattan police detective Olivia Benson. And that super-smart fact-finder from the Los Angeles police Brenda Leigh Johnson. They were also a fan of that psychic lady Allison DuBois. And that mafia boss Tony’s wife Carmela. Women and performances of influence and awe.

What about Sarah Manning from Orphan Black then? She is an underdog, she is gritty and determined. She is street-wise and smart – even in the midst of ultimate danger. Doesn’t she fit the bill? She goes head-first through all manner of obstacles you or I could hardly imagine, but you buy into it. Sarah is a female protagonist with grit between her teeth. In fact she crunches it up and spits it out. Sure, she had a tough upbringing, raised by her foster mother with her little brother Felix. Sarah also has a little girl. That’s right, she is a mother too. A single mother. She has neglected her daughter somewhat, due to circumstances perhaps out of her control, but by God is she ruthlessly firing on all cylinders to make up for that now. Her character is not over-the-top, it is just that she runs faster than our eyes can see. She has too.

Some of those character traits run right through those other leading ladies in Orphan Black. Have a look at the enigmatic Cosima Niehaus. She brings sexy back to science and nerdville. She is a hell of a lot more than that though. Cosima wears her freshly broken heart on her sleeve while still working with the very woman she loves – neither able to completely trust her or be with her. Ouch. That pain shows, all the while hanging tight, trying desperately to brush over the day-to-day severity of her own could-be-fatal biological illness. Hang in there Cosima.

Consider Alison Hendrix too, Orphan Black‘s most humorous and subtle acting brilliance. A model-family woman who lives in the suburbs, organised and highly-maintained, her life is anything but ideal or simple any more. Hey, her own husband was her monitor. And after letting her “best” friend die, she heads for rehab herself. Whether it is mending her marriage, conducting narcotics deals, or burying a dead body correctly, Alison remains conservative and longs for order – even as the falling dominoes start to scatter chaotically out of line. Vote Alison.

And how can you possibly ignore the illustrious Helena? A ferocious, fearless, bushy-haired cuckoo. I am, of course, being too harsh, she may be the sanest one of all. You are at first made to believe she is the enemy, and then grow to admire her. You have no choice in that. For the record, Helena is the character in Orphan Black I love the most. Her up-bringing was also a sheltered one – she appears to be a prisoner whether locked inside a cell / box / bunker or not. As an adult now she is a spontaneous, vengeful woman, she would beat up and slice up anyone who would even mention hurting those she loves. And so she does. But her heart is in the right place, truly.

The most amazing and compelling aspect of Orphan Black (as if you did not know by now) is that all of those incredible characters, and a few others, are portrayed by the majestic Tatiana Maslany. That fact alone warrants strong recognition and admiration. The potent and virtuoso way Maslany executes these roles, in all their variations and mimicking of one another, is a feat of astonishing bravura. After three seasons, my relentless marvel and opinion has not altered. Not for one single episode, a scene, or moment. And I know I am not the only one. The performances in bringing Helena, Alison, Cosima, and Sarah to the screen are all worthy Supporting Actress contenders in their own right. This is one actress, though, doing work like nobody else. Anywhere. An accomplished actress proving herself worthy of the mantel “Best” over and over.

Bravo Tatiana Maslany, Emmy should have been considering you long before I wrote this.

I’d always enjoyed Lisa Kudrow’s performance on Friends as the looney and lovable Phoebe Buffay. A show widely praised for its comedic ensemble, Friends benefitted from Kudrow’s off-kilter aura and infectious charm. She didn’t have to carry the show, so she could basically effortlessly float in her own orbit around the rest of the more studied cast.

It wasn’t until HBO’s first season of The Comeback way back in 2005 when I realized that Kudrow was indeed a brilliant comedic actress and was capable of far greater things than the confines of Phoebe Buffay. Entering into The Comeback in a close partnership with Michael Patrick King, Kudrow created the incredible character of Valerie Cherish, a former minor sitcom star who was clawing her way back to relevance on a mediocre show. All of this was captured in a mockumentary style perfected by Christopher Guest, The Office, and Parks and Recreation. Kudrow’s performance was immediately slapped with the “brave” label because she willingly put a face to the television industry’s penchant for chewing up actresses and spitting them out. Always overlooked for the younger, hotter cast members, Valerie’s optimism and lust for complete control over her own image made for a fascinating and often hilarious case study. Emmy noticed and improbably rewarded Kudrow with a nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. She lost, though, to Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

But all of that seems but a preamble to Kudrow’s blisteringly amazing comic work in The Comeback Season Two. Emmy should again pay attention. We’ll talk nomination for now, but I’m thinking long term. Lisa Kudrow should win.

The second season premiere kicked things off in much the same vein as before, and I grew a little restless with the direction. Were they really going to rehash everything we’d seen before about the character? She’s still controlling her public persona. She’s still trying to claw her way back to relevance – this time by promoting herself on a Bravo-based Real Housewives show. As the pilot closed, however, Kudrow and the series made an important and vital left-turn for the character of Valerie Cherish. Using her at-home camera crew (consisting of an untrained nephew), she barges into HBO’s offices to protest the filming of an HBO series based on the making of the show detailed in Season One. Valerie Cherish would never allow a word to be written about her that she didn’t rewrite herself.

I knew the series was going to a different, darker place when Valerie is partially conned with a repulsed yet flattered air into reading for the role based on her on-and-off-screen antics. Kudrow’s delivery in the scene is comic perfection as she performs a cold reading of what appears to be an insulting and damaging portrait of an aging actress. Any self-respecting person would turn away from the experience, but Cherish could not. It’s the beauty of the series and Kudrow’s genesis of the Valerie Cherish character that she willingly puts herself into these insulting and degrading situations. Cherish, something of a prude, is forced to spout vulgar language, and Kudrow’s performance of the scene is at once hilarious, haunting, grating, and wildly uncomfortable.

It’s exactly what she intended it to be. And it set the stage for what turned out to be Kudrow’s crowning achievement as an actress, culminating in a perfect season finale.

The season finale, “Valerie Gets What She Really Wants,” gives Kudrow multiple comic beats to hit, and she nails them every time. Valerie has received an Emmy nomination in the show, and she’s basking in the glory she has so persistently craved. She’s basking alone, though, as her husband Mark has abandoned her, weary of her constant need to be on-camera. Her confidant and hairdresser Mickey (the great Robert Michael Morris) is suffering silently from cancer (well, silently to Cherish as she refuses to acknowledge his mortality). As she attends a pre-Emmy party, she bumps into an old friend Chris (Kellan Lutz) who we later discover has an eternal burning flame for her. Kudrows first great moment of the episode is her polite, tempted, but firm rejection of Lutz’s advances. His many, many persistent advances.

Later, prepping for the Emmy ceremony, Cherish is further stressed by Mickey’s failing health. After sending him home in her limo with a bleeding nose, she is faced with exploding sewage pipes, resulting in a garage full of what her Hispanic housekeeper calls “caca.” On paper, it feels like a standard sitcom gag, but they somehow never play it that way. The comedy is real and intense. Life literally hands Kudrow’s Cherish a garage full of shit, and yet she pushes forward.

Merely replaying the notes of Valerie Cherish doesn’t make Kudrow’s Season Two performance a work of art. It’s the fact that she changes. She evolves. Kudrow’s Cherish has always put her career in front of everything else, and her personal life, in return, falls apart. Gradually, Kudrow reveals the cracks in the facade through the season just as quickly as she cements them. The season culminates in Kudrow’s finest screen work to date. Torn between a potentially dying Mickey and being seen on-camera (and potentially winning) at the Emmys, Cherish decides to put her career on the back-burner for once in her life and run to Mickey in his moment of need. The agony and torment on Kudrow’s face as she comes to the conclusion of what she must do and what she has to give up in exchange is amazing and heartfelt. I argue that few comic actresses could have handled the transition so deftly, so subtly, as Kudrow managed.

Kudrow’s Season Two work as Valerie Cherish is a tricky performance from start to finish. She acknowledges the ugly truth about Hollywood, about men and women, and (most tellingly) about actresses themselves. Her transformation from reality star to human is stunningly realized as the final scenes of the season transition from hand-held camera to more traditional filmmaking. Valerie Cherish grew as a human being over the course of the season, and Lisa Kudrow grew as an actress as a result.

Lisa Kudrow has also evolved: from Good to Great. And Emmy has to recognize this remarkable transformation.

It doesn’t feel like I should be talking about The Affair again.

Not after writing about it weekly here on Awards Daily TV. Not after going on and on about it on Awards Daily TV’s Water Cooler podcast. Not after I’ve taken every opportunity I could to sing its praises to anything and anyone who would listen for half a second. Even looking at the title and author of this article, I’m sure there’s someone, somewhere sighing in exasperation. Here he goes. Again.

But I didn’t think I’d have to be pushing for Showtime’s freshman drama. Not after its successful run last fall with critics and audiences alike. Not after its surprise win for both its accomplished lead actress Ruth Wilson and for the series itself. How could a show that beat Game of Thrones or House of Cards need a helping hand into the Emmy Drama Series race? Yet, it was snubbed at the SAG Awards and again, recently, at the Critics’ Choice TV Awards as well as with the Television Critics Association. Suddenly, improbably, its Emmy futures seem bleak.

So here I go again in what will be my last words on Season One. Hope they count.

Showtime’s The Affair is, like life itself, a complex story. On the surface at its most simple, it’s about a middle-aged married man who cheats on his wife with a younger woman. There’s also the gimmick of each episode split into two parts – his and hers competing versions of the affair – and a murder mystery in which both parties are somehow entangled. But, honestly, it’s themes flow so much deeper, so much richer, than its surface would have you believe. Being a long-time married man with children of his own, I don’t have to have personally lived the experiences documented within the show to know that it speaks volumes of truths.

The Affair is a story about family, and the constant, thankless struggle it is to be a parent. It’s about the unspoken disappointments in living ordinary lives. It’s about the loss of loved ones that come and go as you live that life. It’s about letting go and learning to live for yourself in the shadow of grief. Ultimately, it’s about taking a chance at new happiness, succumbing to your desires, by realizing that life is very short – death is all around you – and true happiness is elusive. That theme of justified selfishness is, I believe, The Affair’s boldest stroke, an unwritten truth behind which it stands firmly.

Stars Dominic West and Ruth Wilson burn with chemistry, and their scenes together are intensely physical and deeply felt. West’s role as Noah is more consistently defined as it is that of the man who largely dominates the story and the relationship. It may be unpopular, but, despite the season’s perspectives that are split between the West and Wilson characters, it’s mostly his persistence and domineering air that drives the titular affair forward. That doesn’t mean Wilson’s Alison is a passive participant. In her variation of the story, she struggles with monumental losses that nearly crush her. The earlier death of her child. The later death of her grandmother. The death of her marriage. Struggling against such impossible events, she takes her life into her own and makes her own choices, ultimately to run into the arms of the married man she loves. It isn’t a popular story, but it feels true. That daringness to explore the unpleasant truths of live is the central core of what makes this show great.

The Affair is a beautiful show, one that basks in the summer glow of its Montauk setting. The cinematography catches sunlight dancing on the waves, and you’re lost in the glow as much as any of the characters – particularly the shattered Alison. The writing and direction of the series are both of high calibre as well with celebrated television director Carl Franklin lending his deft hand to two of the ten episodes. Series show runner Sarah Treem maintains her original thoughts through the entire series, allowing the characters’ relationships develop the dramatic action. Finally, the acting across the board is fantastic with leads Ruth Wilson and Dominic West turning in career-best performances and supporting players Maura Tierney and (most surprisingly) Joshua Jackson making mountains out of what could have been stereotypical roles.

This is a show that steamrolled me. It is something of an old-fashioned story (the illicit affair of a rich man and poor woman) mixed with modern twists (the dual, conflicting perspectives), but it consistently drew me in week after week. Audiences reacted in kind as the ratings doubled by season’s end. It is a show that demands patience, that demands you gradually unfold its beauty. The Affair, in this man’s opinion, is the best drama that aired this Emmy season. It is a series that the Academy needs to recognize as it tells stories and provides perspectives we don’t often see on television.

It is, ultimately, an unconventional and daring series. But only if you choose to look close enough to see it.

Ed O’Neill seems like the kind of guy that my dad would like to hang out with. A sort of grizzled, respected national treasure, Mr. O’Neill has been quite the presence on television his entire career. His career has been bookended by two very different roles with a lot of guest actor work in between. Most shocking of all, the man has never won an Emmy, and that needs to change.

The tide seems to be slightly turning against Modern Family. People are waiting for it to fail at the Emmy Awards (imagine those snarky headlines when/if that happens), but it’s still a strong comedy. I suspect that people are tired of seeing it take the stage year after year at awards show after awards show—not unlike the kid in algebra who always does well, is a suck up, and it totally likable.

While many of its stars have been nominated over the years, O’Neill is the one actor who constantly is overlooked when the envelope is opened. Julie Bowen and Eric Stonestreet have both won while Ty Burrell is an Emmy darling. O’Neill has been nominated 3 consecutive times (from 2011-2013), but he missed out last year. Is his nomination luck completely gone?

When O’Neill starred on Married…with Children, he connected with audiences because he was a beleaguered, weary man who just wanted to get ahead with what he had. The show had a cult following, but it was probably too low-bow and trashy for anyone to take any serious awards notice. God forbid we have some great fun with our television. His Jay Pritchett has the same kind of tired and sly wit. He’s a cuddly curmudgeon in a crushed velour track suit who wants his beer cold and his television loud. He’s basically the best version of your grandfather that you’d ever want. Jay might be prickly and spiky on the outside, but his center is soft and gelatinous.

One of the best elements of Modern Family has been the dynamic between Jay and Cam, his son’s husband. Jay has never been fully comfortable with his son’s sexuality and Eric Stonestreet always manages to push the limits of Jay’s comfort zone. In this season’s episode “Knocking ‘Em Down,” Cam tricks Jay into participating in a gay bowling league. Since Jay is a strong bowler (another reason why my dad would enjoy the company of Mr. O’Neill), Cam doesn’t tell him that he has to pretend to be gay in order to play until Jay arrives willing to bowl. Cam’s nemesis (played by Oliver Platt) doesn’t buy Jay’s charade for one second, and Cam tells him to flounce it up. Jay’s reaction: “Why doesn’t he believe I’m gay? I’m not handsome enough—is that it?!”

Normally, I am not a fan of “career awards.” It should always be based on the work that is presented. Either way, O’Neill has always been a strong contender, but I’m sure there are Modern Family haters out there that would disagree with me. Why shouldn’t we award a character like Jay? He’s a man who has worked hard his entire life, and now he is expected to change his viewpoints on everything in a world that is rapidly changing around him. With a lesser man, they would be more stubborn and not adapt. O’Neill’s Jay might be resistant to some change (who isn’t?), but he is a character that always realizes that his change of opinion is for the better. He is a family man who values family above all else. He loves his crazy kids unconditionally and his sometimes crazier wife and stepson.

The notion that O’Neill hasn’t won an Emmy is absurd. Give it to him—not because he has been in the industry for so long. Because he has been in the industry for so long and delivers strong, subtle, hilarious work.

Zach Woods is the hardest-working man on TV.

In 2014, he appeared on Veep, USA’s Playing House, The Good Wife, FXX’s The League, and finally, his most notable role as Jared (or Donald) on Silicon Valley. And in each role he plays, Woods subtly steals scenes away from his leads with his quirky characters.

For example, there’s Zach on Playing House, Maggie’s (Lennon Parham) brother, also known as “the male Joan [from Mad Men]”:

His delivery is so quiet and unique, and yet it garners big laughs.

But while his collective work as a character actor is solid, he especially stands out on Silicon Valley, as either the brunt of everyone’s joke (“Retarded Frankenstein, AIDS Lady, Effeminate K.D. Lang”) or as the one delivering the best lines with dead-pan inflection (“Are we to understand you did not ‘crush it’ in 2012?”). While creator Mike Judge has clearly been trying to pitch Richard as the heart of the show this season, especially with the Pied Piper CEO’s pension for making wrong decisions at the expense of doing what is “right,” Jared has sacrificed more in the name of Pied Piper, specifically his name (he goes by “Jared,” but his real name is Donald) and having a place to live (he resided in the Pied Piper garage for a while). Plus, he cares just as much as Richard, if not more, about the company’s success, which comes across in his positivity and even his purposeful use of the SWOT board (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).

Of course, I’m talking a lot about the character like he’s real, which is a testament to Woods’ work. T.J. Miller is the show’s best bet for a Best Supporting Actor Comedy Emmy nomination, but Jared may be the best supporting character on the show.

You can put him in the Strengths bucket.

The Best Reality Show Host is an Emmy category that seems on the brink of extinction. Its debut in the late-2000s during the boom of reality television essentially demanded awards recognition for a medium that was in the early throes of drowning us all. The category has been dominated by competition series on major networks, and Ryan Seacrest has been nominated almost every year. While cooking shows and singing competitions dominate the category, I plead and implore voters to nominate someone who has created one of the most successful and talked about reality shows of all time: RuPaul of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

It should be no surprise that I am going to baton for RuPaul. I’ve been a devoted fan since the show literally put LOGO TV on the map back in 2009. In its first season, there were only nine contestants, and the camera had such a gauzy haze to it that people (Ru herself) joked that there was two inches of Vaseline applied to the lens to hide everyone’s flaws. By the time the show returned for a second season, the show was a hit and on its way to becoming one of the biggest social media sensations in recent reality show history.

With every passing season, the ratings for this sequined train have risen, and that’s mainly because of the star at the helm: Mama Ru. Sure, the vibrant contestants and their antics make audiences tune in week to week, but RuPaul herself is the genius behind all the tuckery and insanity that happens on the show. She handpicks every single drag performer that appears on her show, and that’s because she sees something special in every one of the designated queens she brings on to her program. There are performers who audition every single season (this season’s Mrs. Kasha Davis submitted a tape every year), but she won’t select someone until they show who they truly are in the audition process.

When it comes right down to it, RuPaul is two hosts in one beautiful, doesn’t-need-to-be-airbrushed package. She’s father and mother. Teacher and guidance counselor. She serves up comfort and tough love simultaneously, and I think she goes out of her way for these performers with legitimate love and support. When she hands you the opportunity to be on Drag Race, she expects you to go out of your way to make the best of your own time. RuPaul won’t simply hand you a golden ticket, because she knows you won’t learn from that. You need to work your ass off in these ridiculous challenges, and that light at the end of the tunnel is a better performer and, ultimately, a better person.

Every time RuPaul walks around the Werk Room at the beginning of each episode (dressed as himself, RuPaul Charles), he is trying to get the gears turning in your head. Hell, he sometimes just wants to mess with your head. He knows you’re standing on the edge of the cliff, and he’s going to give you a slight nudge just to see if your toenails are dug far enough into the sand. You better be holding onto dear life, because he wants to see how much you want it. RuPaul isn’t going to hand over a check for $100,000 and the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar without knowing you will work tooth and painted nail to know that you deserve it.

Shouldn’t every host push the contestants like that? I may not have seen American Idol very much in the last 15 years, but I highly doubt that a host like Ryan Seacrest has been able to effectively touch the lives of a potential superstar singer. The judges, maybe, but not Mr. Seacrest. In the fifth season, contestant Roxxxy Andrews had a breakdown on the runway after an emotional lip synch battle. She revealed her mother abandoned her at a bus stop at a young age, and Ru assured her that “As gay people, we get to choose our family—we get to choose the people we are around.” While her methods of pushing you to that limit may sound tough, she loves everyone that comes down that runway. When her final three have “lunch” with her (that consists of one hilariously single orange Tic-Tac), she is listening to her favorite yearly trio as they describe why they deserve to win and why they deserve to symbolize her brand. She genuinely wants to hear what keeps them going as a performer and a person in the community, and she did the same thing on her self-help spin off, Drag U.

The gay community can be unstable, depressing, and fraught with unfortunate circumstances. RuPaul wants nothing more than to bring acceptance, light, and lot of laughter. RuPaul’s Drag Race is the most self-aware reality competition out there. Where else can you hear references to Raquel Welch, Nicki Minaj, and The Pointer Sisters all in one episode? It’s silly, over-the-top, loud, and, yes, touching and addictive.

So if the Best Reality Show Host category eventually goes away, so be it. Does RuPaul need an Emmy? Not necessarily. But she deserves one. And it would look fantastic with whatever she’s wearing.

Vera Farmiga

“Parents do not have needs. You ever read the book ‘The Giving Tree?’ It’s about this tree and this kid keeps coming and taking stuff from it his whole life until there’s nothing left but a stump and then the kid sits on the stump. That’s being a parent.” – Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga), Bates Motel

Few television actresses are giving the kind of material that Vera Farmiga has been blessed with in A&E’s drama Bates Motel, which recently completed a much-improved third season that saw the series draw closer to the original Psycho mythology. As Norma Louise Bates, Farmiga’s turn over the show’s first two seasons primarily focused on two aspects of her character: her unending love for her son, Norman (played by the brilliant Freddie Highmore), and her admirable (to a fault) ability to ignore the truth and plow forward with psychotically plucky optimism.

Yet, in Season Three, Farmiga and her writers have grown Norma beyond the singular tropes that covered the first two seasons. Her cracks and neuroses begin to unravel, exposing the raw nerve at the core of this battered and embattled woman. Farmiga’s performance over Bates‘ third season ranges from one of a mother’s unbridled adoration to a woman scorned’s fury to a sexual woman’s seduction to giddy (if fleeting) empowerment. Farmiga’s transformation over the season has been a marvel of complex and awe-inspiring acting, and, if the Emmy gods pay attention, then she will be awarded with a nomination for Best Actress in a Drama Series on nomination morning.

Farmiga’s finest hour over the 10-episode season (and hopefully one she considers for her official Emmy submission) was its sixth hour: “Norma Louise.” Here, Norma reacts poorly to an earlier confrontation with her sons – Dylan and Norman – over her brother’s secret wish to reconnect with her. Remember that Norma’s brother effectively raped her as a young girl, impregnating her with Dylan. Furious at her sons and terrified of the potential reconnection, Norma storms out of the house, fleeing White Pine Bay in an attempt to restart her life. That’s what Norma does – she runs away, constantly looking for the Next Best Thing. In Portland, she tries on a new persona by buying new clothes and trading in her car. When she seduces a man at a bar, he assumes things will progress in his truck, but Norma, faced with sexuality as the unsettling undercurrent of her brother’s actions loom large, freaks out on him, raging against the confused suitor.

Later, she experiences a similar attraction/repulsion relationship with psychologist James Finnigan who attempts to dive into her troubled past under the guise of helping Norman. It’s clear he considers her damaged goods as well. She begins to open up to him after he gently earns her trust and shares perhaps a bit too much about her past. Frightened, she tries to leave, but James pulls her back inside, carrying her upstairs where she can rest. Norma then does what only a sexual creature can: she uses her looks and body to divert James’s focus on her troubled past. Despite the inappropriate nature of the relationship, Norma is able to fully seduce him. When she arrives home, she agrees to meet with Caleb, and the episode culminates in a tender, emotional scene in which the two damaged people ultimately – if only for a moment – reconnect with tears and embraces.

Just within the single episode, Farmiga leads us on an incredible journey through the tortured psyche of Norma Bates from mother to whore to the damaged little girl in a woman’s body. It’s a touching, incredibly powerful episode that changes not only the character of Norma Bates but the direction of the series. Only an actress of incredible range and laser focus could convincingly take us on this journey, let alone leave such vivid scenes burned into our collective memories. Taken piece by piece, Norma’s path over the season dangers on touching so many emotional hot spots as to become unbelievable, yet, somehow, Farmiga carries it beautifully. Whether though outcries of rage or silent glances, she manages to gracefully connect the pieces of Norma Bates. Even in the subsequent episode – “The Last Supper” – she tries to return to the bliss of ignorance, to regress into the world of denial, by constructing an impossibly perfect family meal, and Farmiga makes the regression a believable one. Here is a woman that, above all, wants a sense of normalcy in her life – the one thing she can never have.

Vera Farmiga has always been a top-notch actress – the rare combination of beauty, brains, and raw sexuality that echoes the great Hollywood actresses of the 1940s. However, modern Hollywood doesn’t understand how to use her. Fortunately for her and us, she has been given the opportunity to mold one of cinema’s most infamous mothers into a flesh and blood woman on television. Bates Motel isn’t the story of Norman Bates, ultimately. It’s more the story of (presumably) the fall of Norma Bates, the shattering of a woman whose greatest mistake was thinking she could be a good mother.

Farmiga has once before been Emmy nominated for the role in Season One but was overlooked in Season Two (understandable given the overall deterioration in quality for the sophomore season). Yet, Emmy voters need to reconsider her towering achievements in Season Three and nominate her once more. The field is crowded for sure, but there is little excuse for not recognizing this talented actress this year. I beg all Emmy voters to consider her “Norma Louise” performance before checking off the obligatory Julianna Margulies or Viola Davis boxes (no offense to those fine actresses).

You wouldn’t want to upset Mother, would you?

Showtime’s The Affair is, at its core, a character drama masquerading as a mystery. Sure, the device of the “he said / she said” gimmick helps propels the story and ultimately becomes a through-line into the narrative, but the heart of the series – its most valuable asset – lines within its carefully constructed characters. The heartbroken waitress who opens herself to an affair to cope with the loss of a child. The struggling author disappointed in his adult life. And the wife coping with an unravelling family and the loss of her husband, the rock upon which she relied.

That wife, Helen Solloway, is marvelously lived-in by previous Emmy nominee Maura Tierney (E.R.). If justice prevails on Emmy nomination morning, then she will be rewarded again with a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

The beginning of The Affair centers mostly on the central embroiled pair: Noah Solloway (Dominic West) and Alison Bailey (Ruth Wilson). Tierney spends the first three-quarters of the show drifting in and out of his storyline, serving the part of the dutiful wife and mother at their summer in Montauk. The wealthy daughter of a celebrated novelist, Helen always appears to have settled for Noah – at least that’s what he believes – but you’re always aware that through all of the child, parent, and job stress she deeply loves him. So, when Noah begins the affair with Alison, the audience is somewhat torn. Helen isn’t a shrew. She isn’t a bitch. She’ isn’t a saint either. She’s a real woman in the real world. And that is, perhaps, too much for Noah to absorb.

Once they leave the island, the audience believes Noah has escaped detection. After a panic attack thought to be a heart attack shakes him, Noah confesses his infidelity to Helen. When Noah says the words “I had a fling,” Tierney’s face registers each and every arrow that hits her heart. You could watch the scene in slow-mo and pinpoint the exact moment she loses her faith and love in him and in life itself. You think, for a while, that the uptight, extremely waspy Helen will overlook the incident, much as her mother had for a lifetime. Yet, at home, Tierney gradually unravels, building the confrontation scene from a one of incredulity (Noah tries to make the affair about his damaged ego and his self-induced shortcomings)  to one of seething woman-scored rage (later, when she discovers a tell-tale pair of panties in his dresser drawer).

The part of the cheated-upon wife has been written many times in all forms of art, yet Tierney expertly renders the soul of the woman. Even after things appear at its bleakest, she remains hopeful. She is torn. She is disappointed. She is hurt. Yet, she fights for him in the end. And ultimately loses, we discover. While West and particularly Wilson are both excellent in the series, Tierney’s performance is the drama’s quiet anchor, and, when all is said and done, you’re left wondering if Noah made a huge mistake in turning her away.

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