While much of the talk surrounding the announcement of the 2014 Emmy nominations focused on bigger-picture issues (snubs both critical and fan-enraging, the historical impact of a Simpsons omission, and so on), the year leading up to Thursday’s roll call was actually made up of many smaller flashes of brilliance on the small screen.
EW launched its 50 Best TV Scenes of the Past Year three weeks ago in an effort to highlight some of those moments—the most powerful, funny, touching, lusty, or sometimes just plain awkward moments over the 2013–14 season. It’s no surprise, then, that many of the key players involved with these scenes, both in front of and behind the camera, heard their names on Thursday morning. Maybe… EW launched its 50 Best TV Scenes of the Past Year three weeks ago in an effort to highlight some of those moments—the most powerful, funny, touching, lusty, or sometimes just plain awkward moments over the 2013–14 season. Unsurprisingly, many of the key players from those scenes (both in front of and behind the camera) heard their names on Thursday morning.
Simply put, the scenes below, which we think in had no small hand in earning the nominees their spots at the Emmys ceremony on Aug. 25, are the best of the best.
POWERHOUSE PLAYERS: LADIES’ SINGLES
Actresses who made mincemeat of the scenery, coincidentally almost all of which was within the confines of the Beltway
Veep‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Louis-Dreyfus scored one of the series’ nine nominations (including Outstanding Comedy Series, three additional acting hat tips and, understandably, a nom in the Casting category). Her straight-(wo)man shtick moves along this tech-tacular flameout surrounding a new Smarch (smart watch) that’s actually pretty dumb, both in concept and execution.
House of Cards' Robin Wright, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Wright perfectly balanced the nuances of Claire Underwood's crafty abortion "confession," which stoked debates off screen as well as on.
Homeland's Claire Danes, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
After the gut-punch of Brody's death, Carrie's DIY addition of his name on the CIA's Memorial Wall served as a goodbye and a silent rebellion. ("The Star" also earned a nod for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series.)
Girls' Lena Dunham, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
A perfect-storm collision of personalities made "Beach House" Girls' best episode of season three by a Montauk mile. Dunham's writing showcased each character's personality at its boiling point and exposed the group's dynamic at its most naked—and I'm not just talking about Hannah's teeny-weeny green bikini.
POWERHOUSE PLAYERS: MEN'S SINGLES
A Mad man, a Bad man, ruminations on time and love, plus some serious drama in court
Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
A majorly climactic moment in one of the series' finest episodes ("Ozymandias" is up for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series), Cranston proves why playing Walter White has made him three Emmys richer. It seems likely he'll have a fourth by August's end.
Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Among Thrones' 19 nominations, Dinklage's was probably the most surefire (he won in 2011 and has been nominated each year since). Witness: His pyrotechnic performance as a mad-as-hell Tyrion Lannister going off at King's Landing court.
Mad Men's Jon Hamm, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
This dance, a fan-pleasing throwback to season four, shows Hamm's (and Don Draper's) leading-man skills.
Sherlock's Benedict Cumberbatch for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie
Sherlock Holmes is an ornery, complicated best friend, and his Best Man speech at John Watson's wedding followed suit.
True Detective's Matthew McConaughey, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
This episode, "The Secret Fat of All Life," is up for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. Five words ("Time is a flat circle") and one mid-McConaissance performance make it clear why.
POWERHOUSE PLAYERS: DOUBLES
With war a-brewin' between two Lou'siana witches, a police officer gets a chilly reception from a hitman in North Dakota.
American Horror Story: Coven's Jessica Lange, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie, and Angela Bassett, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Of the first meeting between Miss Robichaux's Academy Supreme Fiona Goode (Lange) and voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (Bassett), Ryan Murphy told EW, "The first time I saw that scene, I literally cackled with glee. I thought it was so fun."
Fargo's Billy Bob Thornton, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie, and Colin Hanks, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Another first-time meeting, featuring a performance by Thornton that's at once fire-breathing and cold as ice, plus an introduction to single-father policeman Gus Grimly that Karen Valby deemed "Hanks' finest work."
Actors who propped up those around them yet still managed to make their presence known
The Good Wife's Josh Charles, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Before his character's story finished with a bang, Charles's Will was explosive in his own right after discovering Alicia was betraying him to form her own firm. Not all fireworks are good. Some are great.
Orange Is the New Black's Uzo Aduba, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series
"I feel very protective of the character," Aduba told EW of Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren. "You know, she’s a person who has feelings." This unexpectedly self-aware conversation with Piper was the first time those feelings, not to mention Aduba's beautiful acting, were on full display.
The Big Bang Theory's Mayim Bialik, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Amy Farrah Fowler's simultaneous patience and passion for her prickly beau Sheldon Cooper (played by fellow acting nominee Jim Parsons) have made for one of the more hilariously—and oddly compelling—arcs on Chuck Lorre's ultra-popular geek-com, earning Bialik her second Emmy nom along the way. A train trip that resulted in a surprisingly intense liplock for the mostly chaste couple was a rather, um, climactic moment for the relationship. ("The Locomotive Manipulation" will also compete for the prizes in Art Direction and Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Series.)
Masters of Sex's Allison Janney, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series
In most circumstances, the part of sexually unsatisfied housewife Margaret Scully would be little more than an also-ran. Not on Janney's watch. Through Margaret's painful self-realization (and Janney's expertly subtle performance), we learned more about the Provost's wife in four minutes than we learn about most characters in an entire season.
FUNNY IS AS FUNNY DOES
Confronting the taboo and an un-bee-lievable miscalculation, finding the humor in celery and (cringe) knock-knock jokes
Parks and Recreation's Amy Poehler, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Did the four-time nominee disappoint when her well-intentioned gesture of unity was buzz-ted by a bunch of bees? Knope.
Inside Amy Schumer, Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series
Amy Schumer's bid for an Outstanding Supporting Actress (on her own, self-titled series) may have stumbled, but this actually-funny sketch about rape shows why Schumer's subversive humor earned her a writing nod.
Portlandia's Steve Buscemi, Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
Scoring a nod alongside Writing and Supporting Actor Fred Armisen, Buscemi's rat-a-tat delivery during a sketch about the glamorous topic of celery peppered the dipster skitcom with just the right nervous punch.
Archer, Outstanding Animated Program
Knock knock! Who's there? A heckuva a cliffhanger on FX's culty cartoon.
SURPRISINGLY POIGNANT MOMENTS
Funny men who played it straight to great effect
Louie, Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
Louis C.K. was announced as an Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series contender this morning, and his writing for the heart-grabbing "So Did the Fat Lady" shone a spotlight on guest star Sarah Baker, who told EW's Melissa Maerz that this scene cuts to the quick of "whatever your vulnerabilities are that make you feel like, 'I'm not gonna get that great love.' There's a million different reasons that people can feel that way. And in this moment, Vanessa feels like, 'Really? Am I supposed to not get all of those things just because [I'm heavy]? That's crazy.'"
The Colbert Report, Outstanding Variety Series
Steven Colbert's tribute to his mother, who had passed away at age 92, was moving and from-the-heart. For a man who has rarely allowed the news spoof's audience to see what's under the façade of his blowhard, Conservative character, it was an exquisitely vulnerable moment. We can't wait to see what he brings to late night. (Colbert also personally got a nod for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series, which the Report won last year.)
AND NOW FOR A MUSICAL INTERLUDE...
That awesome moment when Blues Traveler and PCD inspire some of the year's most electrifying moments.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Outstanding Variety Series
Fallon and his staff also scored an Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series nomination. And, sure, very little writing goes into the show's Lip Synch Karaoke bit—just fierce, laser-like focus—it's the kind of disruptive, instantly obsession-worthy concept that has breathed new life into the 50-year-old Tonight Show franchise. (Click on the shot of Stone to play.)
Saturday Night Live's "The Holiday (Twin Bed)," Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics
Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon have taken up SNL's musical mantle in the post-Andy Samberg era. "Twin Bed" (which featured Fallon in a hosting turn that earned him a Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series nomination) kicked off a new series of Pussycat Dolls-esque pop chart-worthy parodies. "What’s crazy about it, I think, is the production value," Bryant said to EW. "And any kid dreams of being in a music video, too." McKinnon also heard her name called among the nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. (Click on the shot of McKinnon to play.)
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE
Mafia gags and mean tweets
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Outstanding Variety Show
Reframing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal as if it were one of TV's many Garden State-set wiseguy stories. "You're an embarrassment to dialogue," Stewart scolded of Christie's e-mails. Just another reason why Stewart and his team are also up in the Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series category, and they're looking to reclaim the trophy after winning it in 2012 and being bested by their own spinoff series, The Colbert Report, in 2013.
Jimmy Kimmel Live, Outstanding Variety Series
Kimmel has been boldly challenging the late-night titans in recent years, particularly when his show moved to the prime 11:35 p.m. slot. Among the successes that have raised his stock, the Mean Tweets video series forcing (or sometimes enabling) A-listers to confront their detractors. Co-head writer Molly McNearney laughed, "Some celebrities are really comfortable reading the harsh[est tweets]. In fact, some guests ask, 'Can we please get another round? These aren’t mean enough.'" Whether Emmy will be nice to Kimmel & Co. on Aug. 25 remains to be seen.