Overlooked, they could fill an Emmy hall of shame

By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / August 17, 2008
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What if the Emmy voters got everything right, and all the very finest shows and actors were honored every year? Yawn. The Emmy Awards would be a perfect bore.

So we probably shouldn't complain when worthy shows and actors are dissed - it makes for lots of entertaining debate. But still, we love to complain. With the 60th annual ceremony airing on Sept. 21, it's time to look back at some members of the Emmy Snub Hall of Fame.


Yes, the HBO prison drama that ran from 1997-2003 was violent and hard to watch. That was the point. "Oz" effectively delivered to viewers the very worst of human nature against a gray, windowless backdrop. But the performances were some of TV's bravest ever, and it's just bizarre that the Emmys never saw fit to nominate one single regular actor for an award. J.K. Simmons was indelibly creepy as white supremacist Vern Schillinger, Christopher Meloni was almost demonic as Chris Keller, and Rita Moreno was loving and human as Sister Pete.


I'm consistently disappointed that, while the Emmy voters have been willing to nominate Denis Leary, they've never given this series a nod for best drama. "Rescue Me" will return for its fifth season next March in need of renewed vigor, but its first two seasons were dramatic dynamite. They were visceral manifestations of post-9/11 sorrow, anxiety, and gallows humor. Also unfairly overlooked: the extraordinary supporting work of John Scurti as Kenny and Andrea Roth as Janet.


I've always grieved the lack of recognition accorded to David Cross for his hysterical turn as Tobias Funke on "Arrested Development." The show got some Emmy due for best comedy, and a number of actors including Jason Bateman and Will Arnett were nominated. But Cross stole almost every episode of the three-season show, which ran from 2003-06. He was brilliant as the clueless therapist-actor and "never-nude" who, in one bravura series of episodes, dressed up as a British nanny named Mrs. Featherbottom in order to spend time with his daughter.


The Emmy voters tend to be stingy when it comes to teen actors such as the younger cast members on "Friday Night Lights" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." This bias was acutely obvious during the 1999-2002 run of "Once and Again," the broken-family drama from Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, when Evan Rachel Wood was not given any props. The young actress was heartbreakingly good as the quiet victim of her parents' divorce. The show, so elegant and honest, also failed to win any best-drama nominations.


Go ahead, laugh at me. I probably deserve it. But shazam, people: Gomer Pyle, who started out on "The Andy Griffith Show" and then headed up "Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C." from 1964-69, was a man-child for the ages. Nabors created a unique innocent who was both stupid and honorable, and he was the perfect foil for the even more ridiculous Sergeant Carter. Without Nabors, I suspect "30 Rock" would be without Jack McBrayer's Kenneth the intern. Kenneth is nothing if not a Gomer baby. As Gomer himself might have put it: Shame, shame, shame.


Yes, Neil Patrick Harris has gotten a pair of nominations for his unforgettable turn as Barney. But the first three seasons of this inventive sitcom (returning on Sept. 22) have failed to get any Emmy love in the best comedy category. While the generic "Two and a Half Men" just keeps raking in the best-comedy nods, "HIMYM" has been consistently dissed. Maybe the Academy will get on the "HIMYM" bandwagon later in the show's run, when it's running out of inspiration. That would make sense in an Emmy kind of way.


If you saw this HBO series, then you know what I'm talking about. As the suicidal teen gymnast Sophie, Mia Wasikowska delivered an excruciatingly vulnerable turn that made adolescence all too real for the viewer. And, with the help of a nuanced script, Wasikowska believably brought Sophie through a full psychological arc. Expect movie stardom for this Australian actress with the perfect American accent: Director Tim Burton has wisely cast her as the lead in his upcoming adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland."


"Scrubs" has been famously underserved by the Emmys, despite a few token nods. Unfortunately, the comedy, which moves to ABC in the fall after seven seasons on NBC, has been showing its age of late. But for its first five years, "Scrubs" was an extraordinary piece of work, mixing surrealism and slapstick with poignant hospital and romantic drama. It still galls me that, aside from Zach Braff, no members of one of TV's best-ever ensembles - including Sarah Chalke, John C. McGinley, and Judy Reyes - have been nominated. Most of all, though, Donald Faison has deserved singling out, as Turk, J.D.'s best buddy. Both broadly comic and precise, Faison has been unfailingly entertaining.

"ROSEANNE" Famously, while "Roseanne" got lots of Emmy recognition for its acting, it never got a nod for best comedy during its nine-season run from 1988-97. The show was a breakthrough for Roseanne and John Goodman, but it was also a canny updating of working-class family concerns decades after "The Honeymooners." During the first few seasons, the "Roseanne" writing was as funny and warm as it was insightful about class differences in America. ANDY GRIFFITH IN "THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW" Yeah, Andy Freaking Griffith was never nominated. The man was the heart and soul of "The Andy Griffith Show," one of TV's most humane sitcoms of the 1960s, but he was ignored by Emmy. The show was nominated for best comedy, Don Knotts took home five statues, and Francis Bavier won one. Maybe Griffith's manner was so convincingly effortless, the Emmy voters deluded themselves into thinking that he wasn't acting at all. "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER" This influential supernatural teen drama deserved so much more than one writing nomination and a bunch of technical nods during its seven seasons from 1997-2003. Creator Joss Whedon invented a fresh approach to high school and college, using monsters and apocalypses as metaphors for internal demons. He also gave us a strong, smart heroine and her unforgettable Scooby gang. "Buffy" should have been a contender. "HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET" The pivotal cop series that ran from 1993-99 did get some Emmy notice for its casting, directing, writing, guest performers, and lead actor, Andre Braugher. But it's still a matter of Emmy shame that the series was never even nominated for best drama. From Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson, based on a book by David Simon, the show was unusually rich for a network crime series, as its cold visuals perfectly supported its unsentimental tone and its moral muddiness. "FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS" Of course this series is on the Emmy snub list, and near the top. It has been a highlight of dramatic television during its two seasons, a beautifully acted, filmed, and written look at teen life in a small Texas town just slightly beyond MTV's reach. Why the Emmys have all but ignored the show is a great mystery, and a tragedy. The actors, particularly Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, but also a number of the younger players, have brought a welcome naturalism to prime time. "THE WIRE" This series was wronged in so many ways, it's hard to know where to begin. And that's strange, since HBO's series don't generally go so thoroughly unnoticed by the Academy. How can it be that "The Wire" was never nominated for best drama? The acting in the sprawling cast was almost uniformly excellent, including indelible performances by Michael K. Williams as Omar, Andre Royo as Bubbles, and Clarke Peters as Lester. And the writing and the storytelling were sophisticated and realistic, deserving of more than only one writing nomination during the show's five seasons. Oops - sophisticated and realistic. Not Emmy's favorite qualities. Matthew Gilbert can be reached at For more on TV, visit

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