Parallel Universes: Repeat Emmy Winners among Supporting Acting Nominees

Over the past couple of days, we’ve been exploring the question of how Emmy voters’ love affairs with a handful of shows or actors might create a sort of Emmy carousel, with the same few favorites winning over and over while others are forever kept off the ride. While there have been a lot of repeat winners over the past two decades, nine different women have won the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Comedy in the last nine years. Does this signal a new dawn of diversity for the Emmys?

We’re especially curious about how these patterns work for supporting categories. Not only are ensemble shows where all of the actors submit in supporting categories common (think Modern Family, for example, where everyone from Ed O’Neill to Nolan Gould submitted in the supporting category last year), but shows that center around a lead character, such as House or The Closer or The Office, are often successful because of the strength of their supporting casts. There are so many supporting roles and so many excellent performances in them that we often have great difficulty narrowing down these categories to just a few nominees. With so many possible nominees, repeat winners might be an even bigger problem in supporting categories. So–are they?

Supporting Actor in a Drama: 5% repeat winners, 5% multiple winners

I would have sworn on my grandmother’s grave that William Shatner had won multiple times, but nope–only Ray Walston for Picket Fences all the way back in 1995 and 1996. We have tons of complaints about who doesn’t get nominated, but the wealth certainly gets spread in this category, at least in terms of wins. And last year’s winner, Aaron Paul, can’t repeat this year because of Breaking Bad‘s broadcast schedule. So much variety might point to the popularity and quality of ensemble shows, with many deserving performances from which to choose. But since the Academy shows here that they can be eclectic, why aren’t they in other categories?

Supporting Actress in a Drama: 10% repeats, 15% multiple winners

In fairness, this is probably less balanced than it seems, as Allison Janney might have dominated for years if she hadn’t started entering in the lead category after winning here twice. Still, it’s much more balanced than the lead category, where 65% were multiple winners. I blame Blythe Danner, who won in 2005 and 2006, for blocking CCH Pounder, Chandra Wilson, and Sandra Oh, but mostly I blame her for foisting Gwyneth Paltrow on the world.

So far, it seems like things are looking up–there are many more winners in the supporting categories as compared to the lead categories, where more than three times out of five we’re getting repeats. Rather than greater numbers of terrific performances leading to greater numbers of actors left in the cold, the ensemble shows are producing a greater variety of winners. This might be plain old common sense, since there should be many more supporting performances to choose from than there are lead performances. That doesn’t mean the Academy would have to use common sense, though, so hooray for them. It’s all good from Diego to the Bay, right? Right?

Supporting Actor in a Comedy: 25% repeats, 65% multiple winners

Really? Really. Puzzling. This category is regularly at least as difficult to narrow down as the supporting actor in a drama category–let’s examine the possibilities this year. Aziz Ansari. Ty Burrell. Chris Colfer. Ted Danson. Charlie Day. Garrett Dillahunt. Peter Facinelli. Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Zach Galifianakis. Donald Glover. Ian Gomez. Neil Patrick Harris. Ed Helms. John Benjamin Hickey. Josh Hopkins. Ken Jeong. Nick Kroll. Stephen Mangan. Rob McElhenney. Nick Offerman. Ed O’Neill. Oliver Platt. Danny Pudi. Stephen Rannazzisi. Paul Scheer. Adam Scott. Atticus Shaffer. Eric Stonestreet. Brian Van Holt. Rainn Wilson. I know I watch too much TV, but that’s 30 excellent actors in excellent performances of excellent roles just this year–just off the top of my head. That doesn’t count previous winners who just aren’t to my taste (Jon Cryer and Jeremy Piven, for example), or probably good performances on shows I just don’t like (the Big Bang guys or the great Weeds ensemble), or good actors I just don’t think are getting good enough material (former nominees Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer, or Cory Monteith), or the fourth person from the same show who is great but doesn’t rank quite as highly as his brethren (Chevy Chase or Mark Duplass), or actors and performances I like that I’ve just never thought of in terms of Emmy quality (the guys from Chuck and Psych, for example). Add those in, and you’re up to around 50 actors off the top of my head who could have a justifiable claim on a nomination this year…and yet a handful of winners take home the hardware over and over (and over).

David Hyde Pierce won four times for his role as Niles Crane on Frasier, and Michael Richards, Brad Garret, and Jeremy Piven won three Emmys each. During those same years, actors who didn’t win included Jeffrey Tambor, Phil Hartman, Peter Boyle, John Mahoney, Bryan Cranston, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, and Neil Patrick Harris. Shoot, I can’t stand Seinfeld and I still feel sorry for Jason Alexander. And that’s just among the actual nominations, which also tend to circle around the same people over and over. With so many worthy performances to choose from, why is this category so stuck on the same winners over and over?

Supporting Actress in a Comedy: 25% repeats, 65% multiple winners

The same as their funny brethren. Double winners include Bebe Neuwirth, Kristen Johnson, and Megan Mullaly, while Laurie Metcalf and Doris Roberts won three apiece. While there has been more variety recently, nominees who never won in those repeat years include Faith Ford, Estelle Getty, Rhea Perlman, Janeane Garofalo, Jennifer Aniston (who finally won in lead), Kim Catrell, Wendie Malick, Cheryl Hines, Vanessa Williams, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Perkins, and Jessica Walter. (And, again, that’s just among the nominees, most of whom were nominated multiple times.)

So…what the what? The idea that Emmy voters just get stuck on the same few winners, whether that’s because of buzz, comfort, or plain old love, makes sense, as the supporting comedy numbers are similar to those in all four lead categories. But then why are the supporting drama categories so different? The theory that the wealth will be better spread in supporting categories makes sense, too–the numbers for the drama categories suggest that when there are lots and lots of great possibilities, Emmy voters are capable of enjoying a large variety of performances. But then why are the comedy supporting categories so much different than the dramatic categories? Friend O’ Bacon Bgirl suggests that people who make TV have little time to watch TV and tend to vote based on buzz and social networks. Even though voting panels change annually, there’s probably not a huge shift in the overall population of Academy members from whom those panels are drawn from year to year, so that explanation makes a lot of sense for the categories that are stagnant–people vote for their friends or what they hear is good year after year without seeing other notable performances. But if that’s the case, why doesn’t it hold true for the supporting dramatic categories? We’d love to hear your explanations.

Sunday: Is this a problem? I mean, it’s not like According to Jim ever won for Outstanding Comedy. Maybe Academy voters just recognize the best quality, and quality doesn’t go away from year to year. But if stagnation is an issue, or if there are lots of high-quality programs and performances that could be equally honored, are there solutions to break away from repeat winners and spread the wealth?

Masters of Karate and Friendship for Everyone: IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA Season Premiere Tonight

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Well, maybe not for everyone. Susannah correctly points out that a lot of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is that very particular brand of comedy improv that has people talking over each other, trying to one-up the last outrageous statement. If that kind of thing annoys you, this Philly crew might not be for you. If you like more realistic fare, you may not be suited to be a Philly fan–watching these guys screw up, well, everything is like watching live-action cartoons. If feigned animal cruelty (I assume no animals were actually harmed in the making of the following clip)–or child cruelty or geriatric cruelty or jokes in bad taste of any kind–gets you hot under the collar, you might want to avoid this burg.

If, however, you relish biting wit at the expense of dunderheads so hopeless you know you don’t have to fear their showing up in your neighborhood, come sit next to me. The season premiere of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is tonight, and I plan to be there with bells on. Liberty Bells, perhaps. Tonight at 10pm Eastern on FX, with reruns to follow.

Emmys with a Side of Bacon

Susannah and I have been kicking back at the Emmys for a good long time now. We’ve wept. We’ve wailed. We’ve gnashed our teeth. Personally, I’ve worn sackcloth and ashes, but that’s just my general fashion aesthetic.

Part of the issue is that we can’t put our finger on what the problem is–something’s wrong (really, Academy–Entourage? Really?), but what is it? We’re inclined to blame the Emmy categories–is Pushing Daisies really the same kind of beast as Two and a Half Men? Should Dirty Sexy Money–or Boston Legal, for that matter–really be considered a drama? We’re embarrassed to admit, however, that every new categorization scheme we tried went exactly nowhere.

We considered doing away with “Drama” and “Comedy” and going instead with “Half-hour”/”Hour” or “Single-camera”/”Multi-camera”, both of which are already used in the technical and animated categories. In today’s television landscape, however, that left us with a couple of strong contenders and a couple we could argue about in the half-hour or mutli-camera categories while overloading the hour/single-camera even more than the current drama category already is. We toyed with the idea of honoring more actors by creating lead, supporting, and ensemble categories. These might allow for, say, Hugh Laurie (lead), Robert Sean Leonard (supporting), and Omar Epps (ensemble) or Steve Carell (lead), Rainn Wilson (supporting), and Ed Helms (ensemble) to be nominated for the same show, or for the large ensemble casts of, say, Lost or Friday Night Lights to be considered separately from shows that focus on true leads, like House or Life. The details necessary to make that work, however (“if the character appears on-screen for less than 30% of the broadcast…”), both felt arbitrary and were, frankly, nearly impossible to hammer out. We played with the possibility that there just aren’t enough slots available to honor all of the great performances out there, so we tried adding and dividing up categories differently–”Classic Sitcom”! “Workplace Drama”! “Speculative Fiction”! “Human Interest (read: Soap Opera”)! Each of those seemed just as arbitrary as “Comedy” and “Drama,” though–is Grey’s Anatomy a workplace drama or a human interest show? You could argue either category for Mad Men. We were stumped.

And then it occurred to us: maybe the categories are the problem–and maybe that means there shouldn’t be any categories at all. This was a strangely liberating idea. We kept the sex split, both because it seems less arbitrary than the above and because we feared our lists would be swamped with male roles otherwise (try filling out the female comedy roles under the traditional categories–brutal). We limited ourselves to people on the official Emmy ballot, which meant excluding favorites because of production-based eligibility problems (goodbye, British-based Doctor Who crew), because of genre (sorry, Venture Brothers–we’ll catch you next time), and because they simply didn’t appear on the ballot for reasons beyond our understanding (who dropped the ball on submitting Dan Byrd from Aliens in America?). We began with a list of 40 actors of each sex, then narrowed the list to 30 and ranked them. By assigning points to those rankings, we were able to compare and combine our lists to create a category-less Bacon Emmys. After complaining that there just weren’t enough spots to honor all of the excellent performances out there, we were pretty surprised to find that in the end we shared 21 ranked male actors and 21 ranked female actors–with one tie in the Lead Actor in a Drama category leading to 21 official male Emmy nominees in the “major” acting categories this year, that means our numbers are pretty much right on the real numbers. Some other patterns surprised us, too:

Male actors (in alphabetical order):

  • Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Steve Carell, The Office
  • Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
  • Gaius Charles, Friday Night Lights
  • Henry Ian Cusick, Lost
  • Glenn Fitzgerald, Dirty Sexy Money
  • Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
  • Ed Helms, The Office
  • Michael Hogan, Battlestar Galactica
  • Hugh Laurie, House
  • Robert Sean Leonard, House
  • Zachary Levi, Chuck
  • Damian Lewis, Life
  • Zeljko Ivanek, Damages
  • Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock
  • Chi McBride, Pushing Daisies
  • Lee Pace, Pushing Daisies
  • Wendell Pierce, The Wire
  • Andre Royo, The Wire
  • Michael K. Williams, The Wire
  • Ray Wise, Reaper

Female actors (in alphabetical order):

  • Julie Benz, Dexter
  • Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
  • Rose Byrne, Damages
  • Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies
  • Glenn Close, Damages
  • Tina Fey, 30 Rock
  • Anna Friel, Pushing Daisies
  • Ellen Greene, Pushing Daisies
  • Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
  • Holly Hunter, Saving Grace
  • January Jones, Mad Men
  • Angela Kinsey, The Office
  • Swoosie Kurtz, Pushing Daisies
  • Mary McDonnell, Battlestar Galactica
  • Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost
  • Adrianne Palicki, Friday Night Lights
  • Amy Pietz, Aliens in America
  • Jamie Pressley, My Name Is Earl
  • Sarah Shahi, Life
  • Sonja Sohn, The Wire
  • Natalie Zea, Dirty Sexy Money

For the record, Susannah’s top two ranked actors I didn’t list were Lost‘s Michael Emerson and FNL‘s Jesse Plemmons, while my top ranked she didn’t list were Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day. For the women, her top two ranked picks I didn’t list were The Riches‘ Minnie Driver and Lost‘s Evangeline Lily, while my top picks she didn’t list were Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica and Sunny‘s Kaitlin Olson.

These 42 actors represent 17 shows, which isn’t as many as the real nominees (24 shows). So maybe the Emmys do a better job of spreading the wealth than we would. On the other hand, they spread that wealth by nominating Charlie Sheen and Mariska Hargitay, and…yeah, we’re not going to apologize for not spreading the wealth quite that far. In fact, TV Bacon and the Academy agree on slightly fewer than 25% of the nominees (ten out of 41/42). It’s a supporting-heavy list, although that’s slightly skewed by self-submissions we’d place elsewhere (in what universe is Connie Britton supporting?)–that may reflect the current popularity of the ensemble shows we had such a hard time categorizing. It’s a very, very white list, especially for the women. Thank goodness for The Wire–if we remove their four candidates, 35 out of 38 of the remaining nominees are white. We’re still doing a little better than the real Emmys, who, including The Wire (from which they chose zero nominees), had four minority nominees out of 41 total. While we’ve both had America Ferrera and Edward James Olmos on our lists in the past, even including them wouldn’t hide the whitewash that is American television in 2008.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is that after all our complaining about the traditional categories–and we’re still plenty irked about several exclusions among the real nominees–it wouldn’t take us long to declare winners in each of those. Adding together our rankings to create a “winner,” we’d have to go exactly four names down our list of female actors to fill the four traditional categories, as our top four were Connie Britton (supporting actress in a drama), Glenn Close (lead actress in a drama), Kristin Chenoweth (supporting actress in a comedy), and Anna Friel (lead actress in a comedy). The pattern for the men isn’t nearly so clear, since we’d have to go five whole places down our list to declare winners in the four traditional categories: Andre Royo (supporting actor in a drama), Lee Pace (lead actor in a comedy), Alec Baldwin (lead actor in a comedy), Kyle Chandler (lead actor in a drama), and Jack McBrayer (supporting actor in a comedy). If we’d hewn even more strictly to the Emmy rules and judged a single episode the actors submitted, Baldwin’s tour de force journey through 70s sitcoms might well have pushed him over the top. So after all our complaining and rearranging–are the categories really the problem after all?

What do you think? How would you have rearranged the Emmy categories? Who do you think was robbed? Are you coming after me with pitchforks because it was my list that kept John Krasinski out? Will the Emmys ever get it right?

Can’t Rain on My Parade, Because IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA

I was apparently one of four people on the planet who could not bear to watch Seinfeld. No matter how funny the episodes ever were, I’d end up rocking back and forth on my couch, wailing, “You could stop all this trouble if you’d just tell the truuuuth!” I could never shake the nagging horror that these awful, awful people could move in next door or show up in my office. I’ve learned phrases like “master of my domain” or “close talker” or “Festivus” in self-defense, but Jerry and Friends just aren’t people I can spend time with.

You may be suprised, then, to learn how excited I am about tonight’s return of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, another saga about nothing focusing on terrible, terrible people. With the pride it takes in using stock footage and music and the fact that its pilot cost $200 (or less!), Sunny might be viewed as nothing more than a low-rent Seinfeld. And yet, I can’t help it–I love them so much I want to sew their sweatshop dresses and have their dumpster babies. The story of three guys who own a Philadelphia bar, the twin sister of one of the co-owners, and the twins’ father, the show is essentially about what happens when deeply stupid people are overly competitive. The tall, beautiful twins (Glenn Howerton–yes, he was in Serenity–and Kaitlin Olson) have only recently come to the realization that Danny DeVito is not their biological father, a fact you’d think they might have tumbled to earlier. Episodes have focused on staging fires in an effort to break into the news industry, the artisitic benefits of paint huffing, and finding the aforementioned dumpster baby and, rather than calling the police, trying to make money off the kid. Which is about what you would expect of a group where one member’s ghastly accident teaches the others that faking physical disabilities could open new and exciting doors for them. These people are very, very wrong, and the show is very, very funny.

I don’t really have an explanation. My best guess is that the Philadelphia characters are so ridiculous, so over-the-top, that they’re living cartoons. I don’t fear that Charlie‘s going to show up at my place of business and start stalking me (unlike the show’s unlucky barrista, who is married to Charlie Day in real life). I’d cringe at the idea of George or Elaine popping up in the next cubicle, but there’s no chance of Dennis and Dee doing the same–they’re far too busy getting hooked on crack in order to cheat the welfare system to do anything as pedestrian as, you know, work. They’re so audacious that we’re freed of expecting social mores to apply to the characters, which lets us laugh at them. Or maybe it’s just the singing (“Rock, flag, and eeeeeeeagle!”). Tonight’s season premiere is two episodes for the price of one, with Mac (co-creator Rob McElhenney) and Dennis taking advantage of Charlie and Dee’s newfound taste for human flesh (I don’t know either) by hunting the most dangerous prey of all–man! And I can’t wait. Premiere tonight and episodes every Thursday at 10pm Eastern/Pacific on FX.

Bacon Bits: Michael Phelps, Dumpster Babies, and More

- Olympic superman Michael Phelps will be hosting the season premiere of Saturday Night Live on Sept. 13.

- Remember The WB? Well it’s been resurrected as TheWB.com, a new web site that lets you watch early episodes of Gilmore Girls, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Veronica Mars, Smallville, The O.C., Friends, Smallville, Roswell, and more.

- Speaking of Gilmore Girls, did you know that Gilmore Girls creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino were blogging the Democratic National Convention for EW? Well they are.

- Is the BBC planning a Red Dwarf special? We hope so!

- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has a blog. And look, you can win your own dumpster baby.

ALWAYS SUNNY Creators Plan Space Comedy for Fox

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Twentieth Century Fox TV has inked a two-year overall deal with Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton–the trio behind the FX cult favorite It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. As part of the deal, Fox has ordered a pilot and five additional scripts of their new comedy, Boldly Going Nowhere.

The single-camera half-hour, focused on day-to-day life aboard an intergalactic spaceship helmed by a rogue captain, is based on an idea by Sunny writers’ assistant Adam Stein. “All of us grew up watching Star Trek and other sci-fi series, and they’re always about these adventures,” McElhenney said. “We thought a great area to explore is what happens between the adventures, how the crew members take care of daily routine stuff on the spaceship.”

Unlike Sunny, the trio won’t be starring in Boldly Going Nowhere. They plan to begin prepping the pilot and writing the extra five scripts in October, after they wrap postproduction on the upcoming season of Sunny.

The 10 Best Musical Moments in Television of 2007

I am apparently extra-susceptible to being emotionally bludgeoned by well-placed music in my TV. Seeing me get a little teary-eyed over a musical montage, Susannah’s munchkin recently asked her mother in disbelief, “You’re not crying over this, are you?” as if to confirm only a crazy person would get misty over music. Maybe she’s right, but this tendency means that focusing on musical moments was the perfect approach to my year-end Top 10 list. Since ten is a small number, and since I kind of like being emotionally bludgeoned by my TV, I’d love to hear your nominees as well.

2007′s Top Musical Moments in Television:

10. “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” in “Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale” (aired December 16 on HBO)

I’ve heard some criticism of this choice, generally centered on the “obviousness” of choosing a Smiths tune associated with screen angst. I’d argue that this is missing the point (which seemed to happen a lot with people wanting Extras to be The Office). While the song is playing, we see Maggie retreating from Andy’s cruelty by locking herself in her own car and Andy awakening to his situation…but rather than going to Maggie, getting the fired extra rehired, or making a sweeping statement declaring his freedom from celebrity, he bulls his way into the Ivy and literally begs his agent to give him what he wants (fame, money, and artistic integrity, all at once) this time. It’s ugly and embarrassing and painful and all of the things that elevate Gervais and Merchant above the typical comedy.

9. “Frodo (Don’t Wear the Ring)” in The Flight of the Conchords‘ “The Actor” (aired August 26 on HBO)

It’s awfully hard to choose from the Conchords’ panoply of musical genius—you could just as easily go with “Business Time” (“Tuesday night is the night we go and visit your mother, but Wednesday night is the night that we make love”), “Humans Are Dead” (“Binary solo!”), or “Hip-Hopoptamus vs. The Rhymnoceros” (“Ain’t no party like my nana’s tea party”). But the brilliance of having poor Murray’s low-budget video shoot feature Conchord Bret McKenzie, who actually appeared in The Lord of the Rings, as a hapless Frodo while uber-fan Mel proves she can speak Elvish is simply too much to contend with. Hurray—you made it!

8. “The Chairman’s Waltz” on So You Think You Can Dance’s final 16 episode (aired June 27 on Fox)

Even reality shows that require some talent or skill—Project Runway, American Idol, or, in this case, So You Think You Can Dance—are often cheesefests that get by on a lot of glue and glitter. Wade Robson taking a lovely John Williams waltz from Memoirs of a Geisha and creating a love story between a hummingbird and a flower, however, shows that every once in a while the cheese can be blown aside like the parting of the Red Sea while something that’s actually mesmerizing rises from below.

7. “Shambala” in Lost‘s “Tricia Tanaka is Dead” and “The Man Behind the Curtain” (aired February 28 and May 9, respectively, on ABC)

I admit to being increasingly frustrated with Lost, to the point where I enjoy hearing Lindelof and Cuse explain what’s wrong with the show more than I like the show itself. (Shut it, Jack.) The use of “Shambala,” however, highlights the ways their twisted labyrinth can work beautifully: the song represents one of the few moments of victorious joy our castaways have been allowed, as Hurley finally triumphs over his “curse” by getting a decrepit VW van (with requisite Three Dog Night 8-track, of course) running. Everyone is so lucky! Everyone is so kind! It also represents one of the creepier moments of the season a few months later as the song’s reappearance during young Ben’s flashback van ride with his father clues us in to imminent fate of said father. Everyone is not so kind on the road to Shambala, Ben.

6. “Pictures of Matchstick Men” in Life‘s “A Civil War” (aired November 7 on NBC)

Solving the murder of two Persian kids in a convenience store becomes even more urgent when it becomes apparent a third kid has disappeared and may still be at risk. What seems initially to be a typical procedural about racism becomes a complicated and sad story about a mother losing her grip on her son and taking love from all the wrong places. Life isn’t a typical procedural, and using the Camper Van Beethoven cover of “Pictures of Matchstick Men” underscores that, as the fiddles start sawing right when we swivel from the son permanently slipping away from the mother straight to the realization that Reese’s father is probably a very, very bad guy. “Your face just won’t leave me alone,” indeed.

5. “Dayman/Nightman” in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s “Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person” (aired October 11 on FX)

Having convinced golddigging Dee that her white rapper boyfriend is developmentally disabled, the rest of the Philadelphia crew decide they should be able to achieve musical stardom as well. Mac, Frank, and Charlie create their own band, but are unable to choose a name from among Electric Dream Machine, Pecan Sandies, and Chemical Toilet—you have to admit, they all have their strengths. Mac and Frank are alarmed when Charlie’s ode to the mysterious world of the night takes a turn to, er, darker places (Mac: “But it sounds like a song where a man breaks into your house and rapes you.”) Banned from Pecan Toilet—or something—Charlie huffs paint for several hours before a fellow refugee from Chemical Sandies—or something—finds him and they create an anthem celebrating the master of karate—and friendship!—for everyone. You…kind of have to see it, but it’s possibly the the hardest I laughed at television this year.

4. “Devil Town” in Friday Night Lights‘ “State” (aired April 11 on NBC)

A reprise back to the second episode of the series, where Austin legend Daniel Johnston’s “Devil Town” (good luck finding the Tony Lucca cover they use on the show) perfectly underscored the empty, mundane, football-related activities these shallow kids and their shallow parents put such an incredible amount of weight on. Fast-forward to the season finale, where the same song is playing during the parade celebrating the Dillon Panthers’ state championship. As the camera catches each of the characters we’ve suffered with and cheered for throughout the year, highlighting the ways the empty, mundane, football-related activities make these people a town, “turns out I was a vampire myself in the devil town” takes on quite a different meaning. If Lisa tries to tell you that when she showed me this scene on her laptop in a motel room I had to go cry in the bathroom, don’t believe her (although it may be perfectly true).

3. “Renegade” in Supernatural‘s “Nightshifter” (aired January 25 on the CW)

The Supernatural gang tends to favor rawk songs that match the sibling demon hunters’ kickass Chevy Impala (HA!), and this is no exception. The brothers track down a shapeshifter who steals the bodies of bank tellers or jewelry store workers, the better to gain access to safes and vaults and the like, only to be stuck in what appears from the outside to be a hostage situation. Making matters worse, a federal agent who has the wrong idea about the Winchesters’ exploits shows up with the intent of bringing the boys in, dead or alive. A tidy twist provides an escape, leading us to a closing scene in the Impala. Dean: “We are so screwed.” Styx: “Oh, Mama, I’m in fear for my life from the loooong arm of the laaaaaaw.” I laughed for five full minutes. Ben Edlund is not to be messed with.

2. “Abide with Me” in Doctor Who’s “Gridlock” (aired April 14 on BBC One and July 20 on Sci Fi)

Since I start muttering unkind asides about fellow drivers’ ancestry after being stuck in heavy traffic for 15 minutes, it’s hard for me to imagine a 20-year-old traffic jam, like the one in New Earth’s undercity, not descending into cannibalism, graffiti, and dogs and cats living together (humans and cats, on the other hand, is an entirely different story). Perhaps it’s the Daily Contemplation, with every car singing hymns together, that keeps the peace. This hymning explains why the city, newly freed by the Doctor and friends, is singing a gorgeous version of “Abide with Me” as Martha demands to know why the Doctor is alone. I admit the song is meaningful to me anyway, but the fact that Agyeman and Tennant absolutely knock it out of the park as the Doctor describes the home he’ll never see again will break even people who have never heard the hymn before. I defy you to watch the Doctor’s 900-year stare as he describes the Gallifreyan sky that no longer exists and then keep making fun of me for being a television weeper.

1. “Morning Has Broken” in Pushing Daisies‘ “Smell of Success” (aired November 20 on ABC)

So I’ve got a thing for the hymns. So sue me. But Aunt Vivian (the fantastic Ellen Greene) persuading her sister that it’s brave to choose to be happy, embracing the cleansing rain and praising its new fall, is perhaps the gentlest, loveliest moment on television this year. We’ve written here before about how Pushing Daisies is all about how even a world that is drenched in death is one that can provide hope and family and love, and that message is never more apparent than in the moment Lily and Vivian choose hope–and each other–and get back in the water. It encapsulates that first moment after great grief when we first feel something joyful again, when we can first express praise for elation. Leave it to a show so much about pie to point out that those moments are all the sweeter after we’ve swallowed the bitter down.