If television is the new cinema, as it’s become au courant to say, then why restrain it from the spotlight during this most feverish of award seasons? The Golden Globes do not — the January kudo fest has always made room for the small screen, and the timing of it, nearly nine months before the Emmys roll around, makes it first by a long mile to anoint the winners among the new summer and fall shows.
There’s no separate category for newcomers, though. They have to muscle in among the returning dramas and comedies. Television award voters dearly love to repeat themselves, and this year the resounding, post-Emmys conclusion of “Breaking Bad” means it may still have awards left to win. Even so, the months since the June 1 Emmys eligibility cutoff have yielded a number of new entries special enough to have a shot at Golden Globe recognition. Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara weighs in on this assessment.
This wittily observant, 1950s-set drama, built around the pioneering sex studies of medical researchers Masters & Johnson, offers an emotionally engrossing, even feminist-leaning through-line along with its nudity and enthusiastic couplings. Lizzy Caplan brings a distinctly modern fizz to the role of Virginia Johnson, a sexually evolved, twice-divorced single mother who starts out as a secretary to Dr. William Masters. Michael Sheen plays Masters as a man whose tormented humanity occasionally breaks through his stiff-necked reserve. Critic Alan Sepinwall, writing on Hitfix.com, called it “the best new show of the fall by a very long stretch,” while Los Angeles Times critic Robert Lloyd was not as thoroughly seduced, reviewing it as “easy to watch and recommend, with almost nothing to insult your intelligence.”
“It doesn’t seem to be generating the kind of talk that a hit cable show usually does, but it’s got a lot of awards potential,” McNamara says. “Lizzy Caplan is tremendous, and I assume that she and possibly Michael Sheen will be nominated.”
Photo credit: Michael Desmond / Showtime
‘Orange Is the New Black’ (Netflix)
Funnier and more ambitious than the real-life fish-out-of-water tale it’s adapted from, this hourlong comedy about an educated, creative-class Manhattan blond (Taylor Schilling) doing a yearlong prison stretch has emerged as easily the most daring series on the Netflix slate — mainly because it’s so committed to telling the unvarnished stories of her multi-ethnic fellow inmates.
“It’s brave, unique and really ground-breaking in a ‘The Wire’ sort of way, with all the multiple story lines and back stories,” says McNamara. “We’ve heard a lot about Netflix changing the distribution model, but this is a case of [the online-only network] really changing television. This is content that’s like nothing we’ve seen before.” The ensemble nature of the cast could work against it, though, as it’s hard to single out a performance. “It has to win something,” says McNamara, noting that Kate Mulgrew as “Red,” a Russian inmate who serves as the cell block’s cook and de facto den mother, is among the standouts. Another challenge: Netflix’s unusual release strategy — the entire first season went online in August — could make it tough for it to figure in the conversation come awards voting time.
Photo credit: Paul Schiraldi / Netflix
‘Ray Donovan’ (Showtime)
A rough, stylish L.A. noir about a “fixer” (Liev Schreiber) who cleans up scandals for the rich and famous, “Ray Donovan” premiered splashily in midsummer with top ratings (the highest ever for a Showtime premiere) and a “Sopranos”-style aura of smart, character-rich humor tempered by violence. By the end of Season 1, though, that same familiarity had muted its impact.
“There was a kind of antihero fatigue settling in,” says McNamara, “and here was another barely shaven man beset by demons and family problems.” Critics complained its characters were hard to connect with, while still praising the excellent performances. Jon Voight, as Ray’s ex-con father, Mickey, is “riveting, menacing, nuanced and electric,” said the Hollywood Reporter. Eddie Marsan as Terry, Ray’s brother who has Parkinson’s disease, also deserves recognition, says McNamara.
Photo credit: Suzanne Tenner / Showtime
‘The Blacklist’ (NBC)
A well-connected, mastermind fugitive (James Spader) turns himself in to the FBI and offers to help capture all the shadowy figures on his list of the world’s most dangerous criminals. But — shades of Hannibal Lecter — he’ll work only with a young, untested female FBI agent (Megan Boone). Best reason to tune in? “The sheer, swoony pleasure of watching Spader chew through scenes and scenery with epicurean delight,” said McNamara in her L.A. Times review.
“It’s definitely the top drama of the new fall season on broadcast,” McNamara adds. “The plot is kind of silly, but what makes it special is Spader — he’s having the time of his life, and I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t get nominated.”
Photo credit: Barbara Nitke / NBC
‘Orphan Black’ (BBC America)
This sci-fi thriller premiered in March but was overlooked at the Emmys, drawing howls of protest from critics who hope the Golden Globe voters will rectify the matter. Newcomer Tatiana Maslany pulls off a startling array of roles — punk, soccer mom, science geek — as a street-wise hustler who, after assuming a dead woman’s identity, finds she’s stumbled into a cloning experiment. “Maslany shape-shifts with near-miraculous believability,” said McNamara in her review. Jordan Gavaris as the lead’s gay foster brother, Felix, is a real standout too, she adds.
“You don’t watch just for the trick of it — the show is very sophisticated. I won’t be surprised if it gets a best drama nomination.”