Emmy Madness!

It's Emmy time!

*Crickets, crickets*

Unlike the Oscars (our awards show Super Bowl) or the Tonys (that classy uncle we really know nothing about, but who seems quite witty) or the Grammys (the most laughable of all awards-- I mean, Christopher Cross has one), no one seems to care that much about the Emmys. They so oddly balance excellence and mediocrity, predictability and surprise, old-school and new school, that any obsessive anger and/or excitement seems to be canceled out by a general shrug of "Oh, that's on? Huh."

Which is funny, because I'd argue Americans obsess over television more than any other pop cultural medium (and yes, I love comics and movies and pop music even more, but TV has an immediacy and reach that those other media can't beat). We watch, argue, spoil each other, post on truly evil message boards, write fanfics about our favorite characters, and have made television shows the most purchased genre of DVD. In turn, the rise of DVD (which allows for constant re-watching) and all these other paratextual outlets has shaped the richer mythologies and ambiguous character arcs of recent programs like Lost, Mad Men, Alias, Heroes, The Wire, The Sopranos, and all of Joss Whedon's work. These are programs that assume viewers will take the time to not only watch but immerse themselves in a vast fictional universe: fan investment and writerly creativity have connected and looped through each other in very exciting ways. Even sitcoms like The Office aren't immune to the mental and emotional fan-mapping that we might generally associate more with dramas.

Maybe that's why the Emmys don't resonate as much as other awards shows: as with sports teams, viewers feel a certain ownership of a program, and don't need the stamp of approval from an Academy (compare that to the general critical rapture that occurred when No Country For Old Men won big at the Oscars this year-- many a film blogger geeked out as if the Pope himself had finally blessed their love of the Coen Brothers). It might also be because many a great show or performance has been overlooked by the Television Academy in their rush to bean David E. Kelly with yet another undeserved golden trinket. The Wire, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, My So-Called Life, Angel, Battlestar Galactica (current version). Sports Night, and Gilmore Girls-- all recent, critically acclaimed shows-- were never nominated in their respective categories of comedy or drama; Hugh Laurie, Jennifer Garner, Michael Hall, Victor Garber and Martin Sheen were all nominated in recent years, but never won; and the tendency, as the excellent television critic Robert Bianco put it in a recent column, to "nominate movie stars for 15-second TV appearances" only reinforces the notion that the Emmy folks feel insecure about their own medium, and don't understand just how rich, complex and enjoyable it so often is.

All that said, I'll watch tonight, because I love the cheesy pomp of an awards program, and I'm pulling for a Mad Men sweep; honestly is there a more enjoyable or interesting show on TV right now, or another that so sensuously evokes a time or mood? It meanders, lingers on offbeat details, lets the landscape of an opaque face or the brush-by of a skirt carry the meaning that dialogue can't express; it cares less about plot than character, less about theme than tone, less about the arc of a drama than the sound of an ice cube in a scotch glass; and it knows in its bones that all of this is only possible on television, where the story can be stretched, the investment enriched, the payoff delayed (or redefined, because in TV the payoff isn't the endpoint but the journey across multiple episodes), in a way that movies don't allow. That Emmy might shower this smartly decadent delight with awards makes me think that there's hope for the Television Academy yet.


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