When I read the list of Emmy nominations this morning, it didn’t take long for me to don my opinionated blogger cape and get to work listing the praise and criticism I had for this year’s picks. I scribbled down a quick bulleted list of what I liked and what I didn’t while I was on the clock and called it good. But when I got home from work and sat down at my laptop to catch up on the rest of the world’s opinions from the day, I realized something interesting about my relationship with the Emmys. I am always pretty well in agreement with the drama nominations, but the comedies always end up missing the mark to a certain extent. Why is this? What makes my taste in good television dramas so similar to the forces behind the Emmys, and why can’t we seem to sync up our laugh-o-meters?
When it comes to Mad Men’s 17 nominations, and Breaking Bad’s equally staggering 13, I’m totally on board. Please, all of the awards to Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul and John Hamm. Not to mention, thanks for noticing Jason Ritter on Parenthood, because he was absolutely stellar. I recognize the greatness of Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey even without being a devoted viewer of either (yet). But when I reach that OUTSTANDING COMEDY heading, my head tilts slowly to the left. I skim through the whole list. There are certainly some redeeming and deserving names. 30 Rock/Tina Fey, Curb Your Enthusiasm/Larry David, Louis C.K., Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, and I’ll even give a nod to Zooey Deschanel and the Modern Family gang. But honestly, every time I see anything associated with The Big Bang Theory or Two and Half Men, I have to let out an audible sigh.
While I found myself less disappointed this year than last, I still couldn’t manage to really get excited about the comedy nominations. Community manages to make a disheartening solo appearance in the OUTSTANDING WRITING IN A COMEDY category (“Remedial Chaos Theory” was amazing) and Parks and Rec, while giving Amy Poehler much of the attention she is due, heartlessly skips over Nick Offerman and Adam Scott, (not to mention Paul Rudd made a delightful guest-star). So where is the disconnect? I know I’m not alone in lamenting the unsung glories of NBC’s non-30 Rock ensembles. I can’t be the only one puzzled at 4 supporting actor noms from Modern Family alone (come on guys, just pick a favorite!). Well here is the best answer I’ve come up with.
Most of the problem is generational. Whereas in a drama series, we’re all looking for the same thing—an intense storyline with a range of interesting, albeit damaged, characters—in a comedy, different generations have different needs. My mom will sing the praises of The Big Bang Theory from dawn until dusk, but she has no interest in any of the comedies I so ardently cherish (Parks, Community, The Office, Seinfeld, Curb, etc.). She believes her generation turns to comedy for something light, something easy, something accessible. This opened my eyes a bit. I think many of the twenty-somethings I grew up with find accessibility in television to be a bit of a turn off. We’re snobs. We like our top shelf TV, our British humor, our single-camera deadpan mockumentaries. That kind of humor is widely inaccessible by a generation who experienced comedy through the veins of shows like Mary Tyler Moore and Happy Days, and later Cheers and The Cosby Show. All of these comedies had a sort of inviting warmth to them. It made perfect sense to relax at the end of the day with the Huxtables or the Cunninghams. Today, we get off of work or out of class and our internet connection is slow and our facebook feed won’t refresh so we turn on something as hilariously miserable and cynical as we are.
We’re narcissists. Our generation turns to comedy to hyperbolize every aspect of our life, from the mundane to the exciting. Whether we’re stuck in an office job with no upward mobility like Jim Halpert or fueling our amazing writing job in NYC with copious amounts of caffeine like Liz Lemon, or making snarky remarks over movie marathons in our dorm rooms like Troy and Abed, we let our comedy shows become extensions of ourselves. We live vicariously through these characters who are really caricatures of what we envision our lives to be. We fancy ourselves as deeply cynical, or wildly successful, or charmingly quick-witted and we like our television to embody these elemental aspects of who we are. Inversely, our parents used comedy as escapism. While they turned on the tube at night to get away from the office, to separate themselves from their daytime identities, we emblazon them on our chests.
I could go on, drawing dichotomies between generations X and Y, but what it ultimately boils down to is this: we are after the same things. We all want to laugh. And while the Emmy nominations don’t all fall into the hunky-dory category, I would argue that they are stand-ins for the shows our generation wants to see in those spots. Many of our best-loved shows right now are enjoyed largely online and by a group of ultra-tech-savvy-post-grads who can do everything in creating a cult following but are largely powerless to impact ratings or award trophies. So I am calling for a passing of the torch. Let the voices of a new generation be heard. Put down the Nielsen ratings and start tracking Netflix and Hulu subscriptions. I think it’s time the award show is allowed to speak for the generation it most widely represents. Now who’s with me?
At least we all have John Hamm, right?