Emmy noms: An embarrassment of riches

How about those 2012 Emmy Award nominees? When you pore through this year’s list of celebrated shows and actors, one sees just how fabulous television can be. (Read: justification for all those hours on the couch!)

Every category is teeming with great performances, but as an example of just how high the bar has been raised, let’s just look at the top noms in the drama series categories.

Up for best drama is “Boardwalk Empire,” HBO; “Breaking Bad,” AMC; “Downton Abbey,” PBS; “Game of Thrones,” HBO; “Homeland,” Showtime; “Mad Men,” AMC.

OK, I’ve watched all or a healthy sample of every nominee up there except “Homeland,” and the academy’s got some tough work ahead in picking a winner. (I’ve heard nothing but good things about “Homeland” from friends and critics and even the Commander in Chief is a fan.)

“Mad Men” always wins; it’s up for its fifth Best Drama statue this year and with good reason. We’ve watched the 1960s unfold in NYC and it’s been hardly been all peace, love, and understanding at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (poor, poor Pryce!). Thankfully, we got a dose of the Fab Four with the season’s best episode, “Lady Lazarus,” the merits of which alone should grant show creator Matthew Weiner and co. another Emmy.

Other shows to reach the four-Emmy mark went away long ago: “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “The West Wing.” “Mad Men” is more than on par with this esteemed series, and I’d be very pleased to see a well-crafted, funny, heart-breaking, stylish, slick series like “Mad Men” win again, but then again, its competition are fair-game contenders.

“Breaking Bad’s” last season started slow and burned quickly to a shocking finale. We thought meth-maker extraordinaire Walter White had hit bottom when he masterminded a cutthroat plot to enact job security. (Poor Gale!); we thought maybe Jesse was finally going to flip for good. He almost did — but then he grows up in the only way he knows how. It’s not exactly a traditional career path, but at least he quits hangin’ with those creepy meth-head friends of his. We thought Gus was nothing more than a cold-blooded businessman, but then again, he has some good reasons for revenge. Suddenly we care about all these sociopaths! Skylar and kids be damned!

As for “Downton Abbey,” it is perhaps the most gorgeous series on television—from costumes to scenery to actors. We see two earnest young lovers declare their love for each other against all odds, set against the atrocities of World War I. And they’re rich! And altruistic! Heroes we can get behind!

“Games of Thrones” is a lush, Tolkein-esque dreamscape in which dragons are the ultimate weapon and kings battle to the bitter end for power with the advice of strong female players to guide them. Two words: Aria Stark.

“Boardwalk Empire” has the most fantastic production values on television at this point, and no wonder with Martin Scorcese on the creative team. Who knew Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson could emerge a power player to be reckoned with (who among us hasn’t seen his easy target Donny in “The Big Lebowski” or the worst wedding guest ever in “The Wedding Singer”? The man’s got gravitas!) And talk about beautiful costumes!

I’d really be fine with any of these series taking home the gold, as it were. (Naturally, I’m rooting for “Mad Men.” I can’t help but love John Hamm as Don Draper. Sue me. Just hit that link ladies, and you'll see what I'm saying.) These are good times to have televisions or Internet services that get us the good stuff. With cinema prices at $10 a ticket on average, we find ourselves with a wealth of fabulous story to enjoy on the small screen. Villains are the new hero (Walter White; Nucky Thompson) and the true heroes (Ned Stark; Matthew Crawley) have earned their stripes. For my money, I’ll happily hang at home on the couch and see what unfolds next.

Check out a full list of the Emmy nominees in the major categories here. You’ll find a feast of viewing pleasure in most categories and new (Elisabeth Moss for “Mad Men” and Lena Dunham for “Girls”) and established favorites to root for (Tina Fey for “30 Rock”, Julia Louis Dreyfus for “Veep”). Who’s got your vote? Drop a comment below and let us know.

The Emmy awards will be presented Sunday, Sept. 23, on ABC.

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