Sunday 24 June 2018

Pat Stacey: Emmy snubs are as bad as the Oscars – especially for female talent

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Fargo
Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Fargo

Pat Stacey

Fargo and Better Call Saul's female stars get cold-shouldered...

Ten years ago, before most of us owned fancy smartphones, before some of us shared every boring detail of our lives on Facebook, and before Twitter replaced reasoned debate with bile-filled idiocy, things were different.

Ten years ago, before streaming services, catch-up players, time-shifted viewing, YouTube, VPNs and mass illegal downloading changed the way we watch television, as well as the kind of television we watch, few people in this part of the world really gave a damn about the Emmys.

Sure, we knew they were television awards. We also had a vague idea that the phrase “Emmy-winning” intimated some kind of quality. If a series had won an Emmy, it must be worth watching, mustn’t it?

I mean, Roots won nine of the things. M*A*S*H won 14 over its long lifetime. Great series, both of them. What’s to argue with?

And yet, so what? The Emmys were strictly an American thing and often related to programmes we hadn’t yet seen in Ireland. Back then, as had once been the case with American movies, American TV series sometimes took a while to reach these shores, if they ever reached them at all.

With so comparatively few channels compared to the eye-frying blitz of them we have now, broadcasters had to be selective about what they bought.

Besides, back then, the wider world was still preoccupied with the Oscars. That’s where the real glitz, the real glamour, the real prestige, the real stars — big, 50-feet-tall-on-the-screen movie stars — were to be found.

Except, the Oscars have long been a bit of a joke. They frequently get things howlingly wrong. When faced with the choice of something radical or something conservative, the predominantly decrepit Academy voters usually prefer to play it safe.

This why Forrest Gump won in 1994 and Pulp Fiction didn’t, and why Driving Miss Daisy won four years earlier while Do the Right Thing wasn’t even nominated.

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Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction

In a relatively short time, however, television has outstripped cinema as the dominant cultural force as people look to the small(er) screen for the kind of intelligent, literate, nuanced stories that blockbuster-obsessed Hollywood doesn’t do in any great number anymore.

We don’t just watch television now; we analyse it, argue over it, pick it apart and put it back together again. In this climate, the Emmys, which take place in the early hours of Monday morning our time, have come into their own. It won’t be just TV industry people and critics chewing over the winners. Regular viewers and ardent fans will be doing it, too.

And there’s a lot to chew over. It’s a fantastic field of runners this year, particularly on the drama front. The thing is, though, the more attention you pay to the Emmys, the more you realise that they’re are just as prone to outrageous oversights and inexplicable blindspots as the Oscars.

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Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Fargo

For my money, the two most egregious snubs this year involve actresses. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gave a fantastic, breakout performance in Fargo as Nikki Swango, who evolved from small-time grifter at the start to ruthless avenging angel, showing her vulnerable, fragile, insecure side during the course of the journey.

It was arguably the toughest part of all to play, simply because it wasn’t the showiest, and her performance was a marvel to behold. Disgracefully, she wasn’t even nominated for best supporting actress in the limited series category.

Nor was there a nomination in the drama series category for Rhea Seehorn, who has been absolutely crucial — and crucially, absolutely brilliant — as the ill-fated Kim in three seasons of Better Call Saul. Was the performance of Millie Bobbie Brown, engaging as she was in Stranger Things, really more worthy of a nomination than Seehorn?

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Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman and Rhea Seehorn as Kim in Better Call Saul

They did, however, find room for Robin Wright, doing her now-familiar ice queen number in House of Cards, and co-star Kevin Spacey, despite their characters and the series itself descending to the depths of self-parody this season.

In the comedy category, serial nominee Modern Family — one of the most overrated series of all time — once again takes up a berth that could have been given to a far more deserving show.

These things are subjective, of course, but any awards ceremony that snubs Winstead, Seehorn and another Better Call Saul standout, the wonderful Michael McKean, should be treated with scepticism.


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