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For whatever reason, Emmy nominations for my favorite shows engender within me an odd sense of vindication. I suspect it’s a way to justify all that TV-watching I do for “science” and “research.”
Still, I’ve argued to some that television has evolved into a fierce art form; yep, we had classic greats like “M*A*S*H,” “Cheers” and “Twin Peaks” (don’t judge me), but we can thank the likes of “The Sopranos” and its makers for raising the bar on what TV can do with a story. Who knew you could pack that much drama into an hour? These are small films, people, and they are no longer stranded on elite networks like HBO and Showtime. Cable and non-cable outlets like AMC, PBS, and FX (home of “Sons of Anarchy” and concluded, excellent series “Rescue Me”) have joined the fray and rocked the world.
And now the form has evolved once again, now that the The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has named the Netflix-exclusive series “House of Cards” (based on a British series of the same name) a contender for Best Drama, alongside powerhouse competition like the spectacular “Game of Thrones,” the wicked and wonderful “Breaking Bad,” my beloved “Downton Abbey” and “Mad Men,” and “Homeland,” which won the honor last year. It’s fabulous: a digital-only, subscription-based series easily could win one of the highest honors in television in just one season.
Which is entirely justified. Watch Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey in action for a few moments and you’ll get it. Their nominations as best actors in a drama should scare the pants off their competitors. Wright is the cool, coiffed politcal mastermind wife to Kevin Spacey’s pathologically ambitious House Majority Whip. They are equally not to be trifled with. Kate Mara follows suit as a very dark, very broken journalist who gets mixed up in a game of stinking political intrigue. (She’s even scarier than she was in “American Horror Story” season 1. Remember the crazy eyes? Yeah.)
The fact that heavy hitters like Wright and Spacey elected to join the cast of a Netflix experiment says much about the digital entertainment landscape. Meantime, a gaggle of stars are churning out original content on You Tube’s WIGS network (Ms. Anna “Sookie Stackhouse” Paquin stars in one of its newest, “Susanna”), Amazon’s streaming video service and beyond. Want to see what the creator of the ever-hilarious series “Weeds” is up to? Go to Netflix, where Jenji Kohan has knocked another out of the park with “Orange is the New Black,” a series about the new girl in a suburban prison. I wonder if the gals at York get Netflix...
So script writers, English majors and couch potatoes rejoice: we’ve got a television renaissance going on. The major networks will have to compete or die and the Internet is boundless. Sure, we’ll get some clunkers along the way, but the envelope shall be pushed in great ways, too.
Besides, we’re all going to need new stuff to watch after “Mad Men” ends.