Emmys with a Side of Bacon: 2011 Edition

The 2011 Emmys take place tonight, and we’re still kind of squinting at them, trying to figure out what’s going on. We were prepared to post in outrage when the nominations came out, but with the exception of the nearly across-the-board snubbing of Community (boo! Boo, I say!) they were…largely adequate. No, seriously, we agreed with 56% of the nominations, which is more than double our norm, so it was hard to get too outraged. Whether this is because the academy is drawing closer to our tastes–or we to theirs–or just because we’re not terribly excited by the dramatic offerings so we shrugged and accepted what we were given, this could have been worse.

Still, we’re always interested in who wins, and are often astonished. And just as often, that astonishment is not the good kind. This leads to all kinds of curiosity about what people vote for and how they come to vote that way. We also wonder how outcomes might be different if different voting systems were used. So this year, we solicited our own Bacon voters and asked them to rank the nominees, just like the real voters do. Let me note for the record that our sample is small compared to the actual voting pool, and that it was certainly non-random (although the real Academy membership is, too). There’s another key difference between our voters and the real ones we’ll get to in a minute, but I can vouch for the fact that the Bacon pool is made up of serious TV watchers and thoughtful voters (even if the winners listed below sometimes ended up different than our personal choices!). Thanks again to all who participated!

So what did we learn? Different ways of counting up votes often led to nominees swapping places, but that was usually something like swapping third and fourth places–it typically didn’t change winners. When it did make a difference, however, it made a pretty big difference, as you’ll see below. We were also interested to find that, generally speaking, people rank things they’re unfamiliar with last. “Buzz” or critical acclaim just didn’t seem to matter much, at least to our group of voters–if they hadn’t seen it, it came in last on their ballots. The one exception to this was when there was something they genuinely loathed in the category–they were happy to rank that behind something they’d never laid eyes on. We can’t prove it with these data, but we wouldn’t be surprised if that’s human nature and the real voters work this way, too. Similarly, some voters reported ranking people higher simply because they like them from other projects, not because of their work this year. Again, it wouldn’t surprise us to learn that the Emmy voters think that way, too.

One key difference that might affect things like the above, however, is that we didn’t ask our voters to actually watch the episodes the nominated shows or actors submitted. Real Emmy voters are divided into panels and sent DVDs containing the submitted episodes, which the producers or performers select as their best work. Voters sign an affidavit saying they’ve viewed the submissions before making their selections, although of course no one’s watching them do the watching. This seems to be the key–an actor from a less popular or established show might come from behind with a canny or stunning episode submission. Our voters didn’t have that luxury (maybe next year!), but at the same time we can only hope the real voters take advantage of it. We may never know for sure, but we have two data points from our little game that are interesting: Two of our voters’ least favorite candidates, Paul McCrane from Harry’s Law and Gwyneth Paltrow from Glee, have already won Emmys this year, as the guest categories were awarded at the Creative Arts Emmy ceremony. We can’t entirely separate out all the factors that might have contributed to that–Paltrow’s a movie star “slumming” on TV; McCrane had the type of David E. Kelley bombast we’re just tired of–but maybe their episodes were persuasive.

The finding that might have surprised me the most, however, was that everything’s loved by someone: Almost every nominee got at least one first place vote. Pretty much everything, no matter how little viewed by the public or how disrespected by the critics, has someone who loves it. The only exceptions? Harry’s Law‘s Kathy Bates and Paul McCrane (an actual Emmy winner, I remind you) and Two and Half Men‘s Jon Cryer. Yes, even Gwyneth got a first place vote–everything’s got someone who loves it. Perhaps even more surprising, there wasn’t a single case where two ballots were identical. Let me reiterate that: there was not a single case where two people completely agreed who or what deserved an Emmy. Not one. That’s something to put in your pipe and smoke as we think about how the voting happens and why voters make the choices they do–even in a relatively small, relatively homogenous group such as our voting pool, there was no agreement on what’s good, bad, enjoyable, annoying. Maybe we’ll never figure out the patterns at all–maybe there aren’t any.

Or maybe we’ll try having voters actually watch the submissions next year, and we definitely want to see if a different pool/different voting systems make a difference at the key nomination stage. Never say die! So plan now to be a Bacon voter next year!

Drama Series: Friday Night Lights (FNL–and pretty much everything associated with it–were the clearest winners in any category.)

Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights

Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights (Britton had the most #1 votes of any nominee in any category, making her, I guess, the Pork Queen Extreme.)

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones (An interesting case–Dinklage was much loved even by people who ranked GoT very low in the series category.)

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Christina Hendricks, Mad Men (Mad Men‘s only win, and nothing else came terribly close. We’re unsure whether that’s because our pool doesn’t watch it as much as real Emmy voters, if they felt it had been recognized enough in previous years, or if there was a push to reward FNL‘s last chance.)

Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife (We note he has actually already lost to the aforementioned McCrane.)

Guest Actress in a Drama Series: Joan Cusack, Shameless (Cusack is perhaps the best example of residual affection from other projects, as many of our voters reported never having heard of Shameless, let alone having watched her in it. Cusack lost to Loretta Devine of Grey’s Anatomy.)

Comedy Series: Modern Family (An easy win over a 2nd place Parks and Recreation, which people either loved or hated.)

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series: Ah, and here we hit trouble. Using the Emmys’ preferential ranking system, the top three choices are Steve Carell from The Office as the winner, Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory in second, and 30 Rock‘s Alec Baldwin in third. Other voting systems, however, flop that all around, with the most common outcome being Baldwin winning ahead of Carell and Parsons. Since the preferential ranking has benefited both Baldwin and Parsons in the past but never Carell, we’re content giving him the win, but it’s interesting.

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope (A winner by a comfortable margin; it will be interesting to see the actual Emmys and whether this is an artifact of our specific pool or if everyone has such excellent taste. As she is awesome.)

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: A tie, between Ty Burrell of Modern Family and Chris Colfer of Glee. Alternate voting systems pretty invariably had Burrell in front. (Colfer was remarkably polarizing even among our voters, whom I happen to know lean toward people who actually like him even when they were ranking him low, so it’s hard to imagine that real voters wouldn’t have the same polarization for about a hundred reasons, including his episode submission positioning him as the genuine contrast candidate.) (I should probably also note the opportunity for a new CBS mulit-camera, laugh-track sitcom called Everybody Hates Jon Cryer, because wow, most voters really, really did.)

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: Ooh, fun, more trouble. The preferential voting system actually used by the Emmys gave us a pretty clear win for Glee‘s Jane Lynch. Other approaches, however, bumped her all the way down to third, behind Modern Family‘s Sofia Vergara and Julie Bowen (in that order). (Glee is an interesting case–it did poorly in series, but some voters seemed to carry that over to the actors, while many were willing to “forgive” the actors the show’s sins.)

Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Will Arnett, 30 Rock (He actually lost the Emmy to Justin Timberlake’s SNL hosting gig, which finished fifth in our pool. Screeners? Star…whoring? Our voters being uninteresting in bringing sexy back?)

Guest Actress in a Comedy Series: A tie, between Raising Hope‘s Cloris Leachman and Glee‘s Dot-Marie Jones. Alternate voting systems put Jones on top. (Gwyneth Paltrow actually won. I’m sure she’ll be posting instructions on how to turn your own Emmy into a fashionable paper towel holder for your guest house kitchen on GOOP soon.)

I have a sneaking suspicion the actual winners will look quite different–that’s the pattern so far–but it will be interesting to see where and speculate as to why. Please join us in untangling it all!

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?

You Just Keep Me Hanging On: Repeat Emmy Winners among Lead Acting Nominees

All hopped up on the excitement of Emmy ballots coming out on Monday, we posed the question yesterday of whether Emmy voters’ love affairs with certain shows might be blocking other deserving winners. 30 Rock and Mad Men are great, but does rewarding them over and over “cheat” other great shows out of the prize? It’s a tricky question–maybe these shows (or their submissions) really are the best, or really do best match voters’ tastes. While voting panels change from year to year, it’s not like there are sweeping changes to the overall Academy membership across short periods of time.

Still, the numbers suggest that there’s a pretty good case to be made that logjams among series winners are creating a few victors and a block of losers. We wondered, however, whether the pattern of repeat winners would be the same for performers. There are obviously many more actors to choose from than series, and since actors submit a single episode to be judged, an especially striking performance or storyline might propel a seeming underdog to victory. At the same time, everyone can think of anecdotal evidence suggesting that some lauded actors just aren’t able to break through. Hugh Laurie and Steve Carell, for example, have both done seven seasons of their signature roles, they’ve both been nominated for performance Emmys five times for those roles…and they’ve both won exactly zero times. Could repeat wins for other actors be the explanation? Today we look at 20 years of actors in lead categories.

Lead Actor in a Drama: 25% repeat winners, 60% multiple winners

Dennis Franz, who was terrific on NYPD Blue, won four times; during those years George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Jimmy Smits, Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, and David Duchovny were nominated multiple times and never attained the prize. (You thought Jimmy Smits won one of those years, didn’t you? Me too. Like Laurie and Carell, he was nominated five times without a win.) James Gandolfini’s three wins kept Orbach, Peter Krause, and–hold me closer, tiny dancers–Martin Sheen off the podium, while James Spader’s and Bryan Cranston’s three wins apiece have pretty effectively blocked Laurie, Michael C. Hall, Gabriel Byrne, Denis Leary, and Jon Hamm.

Lead Actress in a Drama: 15% repeats, 65% multiple winners

To be fair, the annual nominations of the usual suspects in this category probably reveals a dearth of quality roles for women. But from year to year, this tends to be the same small number of women trading off the trophy. With a historic lack of good leading roles for women, is rewarding the same good stuff over and over a problem? As much as I like Angela Lansbury, for example, I can’t get that worked up over Kathy Baker’s three victories keeping Murder, She Wrote out of the winner’s circle. Still, The Edie Falco and Allison Janney Hootenanny Variety Hour (I would totally watch that) that soaked up five Emmys effectively blocked Jennifer Garner and Frances Conroy from winning for notable performances, and a second win for Glenn Close for a lesser season of Damages could have gone to someone like Holly Hunter.

Lead Actor in a Comedy: 20% repeats, a staggering 70% multiple winners

The six-year Kelsey Grammar/John Lithgow stranglehold shut out John Goodman, Gary Shandling, and even Michael J. Fox’s Spin City performance until he was forced to leave his show. (It also shut out Paul Reiser while Helen Hunt won four Emmys in a row for the same show and Jerry Seinfeld while his show was the biggest phenomenon on TV, but, like Sue Sylvester, I don’t care so much about that.) While Tony Shaloub’s Monk was certainly a great performance, his three wins came at the expense of  Matt LeBlanc, Bernie Mac, and Steve Carell, who I note again has never won for playing Michael Scott. (Alec Baldwin’s repeat win in 2009 helped with that little blockade.)

Lead Actress in a Comedy: 25% repeats, 50% multiple winners

While the 50% multiples number is a lot, there hasn’t been a repeat winner in almost a decade. The Candice Bergen/Helen Hunt (four in a row)/Patricia Heaton era, during which five women won in 12 years, meant no awards for Betty White, Delta Burke, Marion Ross, Cybill Shepherd, Ellen DeGeneres, Calista Flockhart, and Jane Kaczmarek. Since Heaton’s repeat win in 2001, however, nine different women have taken home the Emmy in this category. A sign of a sea change?

All of this is only mentioning the repeat nominees who were blocked–second, third, and fourth wins also beat out solo nominations for the likes of Ian McShane, Dylan McDermott, Matthew Fox, Kyle Chandler, Amber Tamblyn, Minnie Driver, Zach Braff, Jason Bateman, Bonnie Hunt, Marcia Cross, and Connie Britton (although we’re still hoping Chandler and Britton will become two-time nominees this year). And of course, repeats mean leaving out a laundry list of never-nominated actors too long to list here. As was true of serial series nominations and wins, there is little representation for genre stories (where is Mary McDonnell’s Emmy? Where is Nathan Fillion’s? Where is Kristen Bell’s? Where is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s?)–would requiring a winner to sit out, even a year, open up the field for unexpected nominees and maybe even winners? Would instituting such a rule have solved your favorite example of a great performance that missed out on a nomination or win?

Saturday: Ensemble shows probably make up the bulk of TV–quality and otherwise–today, and we tend to find the supporting categories the toughest to winnow down as we try to pick nominees. With so many actors to choose from, is the winners carousel even more problematic in supporting categories?

Repeat Offenders: Consequences of Emmy Love Affairs

Ah, spring–when a TV watcher’s heart turns to Emmy consideration. Ballots come out on Monday, and since there’s nothing the Baconeers love so much as a good list (you may have noticed), said ballots whet our appetite. As much as we are sometimes frustrated with the Emmys–and oh, how frustrated we get–last year’s had some surprisingly great moments. Remember the murderous comfort food cookoff judge from the greatest Pushing Daisies episode ever? Eric Stonestreet has an Emmy now. How neat is that?  While we might gripe about who was excluded from nominations–wherefore art thou, Community and Friday Night Lights?–Modern Family and Mad Men were deserving winners. Huh. Maybe that adorable Jimmy Fallon-Glee opening just put everything in a more flattering light.

Bryan Cranston gives me pause, though. I love Cranston–I thought he was robbed of an Emmy for his Hal on Malcolm in the Middle, and his performance on Breaking Bad is a genuine tour de force. It’s certainly hard, then, to argue that he shouldn’t have won. At the same time, this was Cranston’s third win in a row, while nominees like Hugh Laurie–who, believe it or not, has never won for House–continue to languish unrewarded. While I’m not ready to ask Cranston to remove himself from contention this year (Breaking Bad‘s broadcast schedule takes care of that), it got me to wondering about how often the Emmys get “stuck” on one winner, and what repercussions that might have beyond the winner.

We looked back at the last 20 years, examining in particular three things: first, the percentage of repeat winners (winning in consecutive years for the same role or show), such as the Cranston example above. Second, we looked at the percentage of multiple winners (winning in non-consecutive years for the same role/show)–two lauded performances trading off wins across several years might block notable others from winning just as much as one repeat victor might. Third, we looked at who the other nominees were during years with repeat or multiple winners. Who is potentially being blocked from an Emmy when the Academy becomes obsessed with a single winner? If, for example, Frasier‘s multiple wins came at the expense of The Nanny, maybe that’s not a problem–maybe it’s justice.

Drama Series: 40% repeat winners; a whopping 75% multiple winners

While Mad Men has won the last three trophies, the most notable repeat winner in this category in the past 20 years was The West Wing. The show usually cited as a close second-place–or robbed, depending on your perspective–was The Sopranos…which won the Best Drama Emmy twice, so maybe things turned out just fine. In the past 13 years, however, only 6 series have won (The Practice, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Lost, 24, and Mad Men). Notable nominees during that time who never won? Six Feet Under, Deadwood, House, Grey’s Anatomy, Boston Legal, Damages, Breaking Bad, and Dexter. While I like some of those shows very much, and while I would have preferred to see some of them win in their nominated year(s) (hi, Deadwood), the repeat winners do look pretty strong.

Maybe the problem is in the nomination process: notable shows that couldn’t break the repeat stranglehold because they were never nominated include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars, and Friday Night Lights, among others. If repeat winners had to skip a year or took themselves out of contention, would genre spoilers sneak into contention?

Comedy Series: 30% repeats and 60% multiple winners

Two non-consecutive wins each for Murphy Brown and Everybody Loves Raymond (Except Me), but four consecutive wins for 30 Rock and five for Frasier (Modern Family‘s win certainly raises the question of whether Christopher Lloyd has the submission process dialed in). Frankly, I personally have more trouble with some poorly chosen one-time winners than these repeaters (Ally McBeal? Really?), but notable nominees who lost to repeaters include Scrubs and The Larry Sanders Show. On the other hand, I can’t feel that bad about Two and a Half Men.

Still, perhaps the problem is–again–in the nominating process, since Frasier and 30 Rock tended to beat the same competition over and over: Pushing Daisies, Gilmore Girls, and, perhaps most notably, The Simpsons were boxed out entirely during these repeat winner years.

Are repeat winners a problem, or just rewards for a job well done? Should the Academy attempt to spread the wealth more? What series do you think were most unfairly denied the gold by repeat winners?

Friday: But you were talking about Bryan Cranston and Hugh Laurie. Does the tendency toward repeat winners hurt individual actors more than series?

M Is for the Murders That She Ordered: TV’s Best and Worst Moms

Susannah is off being feted for Mother’s Day; I, on the other hand, am cheerfully/crabbily boycotting. This, then, seems the perfect Bacon nod to Mother’s Day: celebrating those TV moms who did it right and side-eyeing those who could have used a refresher. Or a visit from Social Services.

Let’s look at some heroes first:

10. Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox), Cougar Town: Heaven knows she’s a tad on the clingy side–we expect a whole episode to be built around Trav finding a NannyCam implanted in roommate Kevin. But when push comes to shove it turns out Jules knows when to back off (even if she doesn’t want to) and when to step in. What makes her a compelling candidate for the good list, however, is all the mothering she does of the Cul-de-Sac Crew that makes up her little constructed family. No one in the neighborhood is going without wine, advice, or hugs while Jules is on the job. (Well–maybe Tom.)


9. Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), Downton Abbey: We love our PBS costume dramas, with Downton Abbey the latest obsession. Isobel Crawley’s progressive ways make her not only an encouraging, inspiring mother to reluctant heir Matthew, but, in the ways she’s searching out to let him be lord of the manor while keeping a toe in the career she’s so intensely proud of, the mother to a new age. Plus, she’s got the cojones to toe-to-toe with Dame Maggie Smith’s fearsome Dowager Countess of Grantham without even flinching.

8. Virgina Chance (Martha Plimpton), Raising Hope: Virgina might seem an odd choice, given that she gave birth at 16 and then raised a son for whom a Wal-Mart level job was a huge step up, but the pilot demonstrated that Virginia’s someone you want on your side. Between walloping the serial killer who would become the mother of her grandchild on the melon with a household appliance and tenderly singing said granddaughter to sleep, Virginia’s got all the mothering bases covered in her own way.

7. Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri), Doctor Who: Jackie’s another tough initial sell–it certainly takes the Doctor a while to warm up to her. As her layers are peeled back, however, we find a fiercely protective Jackie who fought on after being widowed to raise a girl so brave and resourceful she can hold her own with a Time Lord. On top of that, Jackie’s observant enough to worry about how Rose’s journeys are changing her. “Let me tell you something about those who get left behind,” she tells someone perceived as a threat to her daughter and the Doctor, “because it’s hard, and that’s what you become: hard. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that I will never let her down, and I’ll protect them both until the end of my life. So whatever you want, I’m warning you, back off.” We’ll take Jackie’s tough love any day of the week.

6. Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), The Simpsons: She’s brought down tyrants through the hearth arts (scotching Mr. Burns’ gubernatorial campaign with one well-placed entree). She’s shielded Lisa from the Simpsons Gene. For the love of Pete, she’s homeschooled Bart Simpson. Marge has given up a lot to put her kids first, but she might be rewarded one day by being the mother of a president. And Bart Simpson.

5. Patty Chase (Bess Armstrong), My So-Called Life: The anchor of a show that was too good for this world, Patty could bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and nurture Angela through all the heartaches great and small that come from just trying to grow up in this world. And in her spare time, she could do the same for Rayanne and Rickie. We wish Angela had been our friend in high school, mostly so we could hang out at her house and have Patty mother us.


4. Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), Friday Night Lights: If mothers are judged solely on how their kids turn out…well, they shouldn’t be. But if they were, Tami’d better hope Gracie Belle turns out well, because Julie Taylor is working our last nerve. But the Julie saga is actually a perfect example of why Tami’s a great mom–by turns sympathetic and demanding, she gives her kids all the support they need to succeed and then insists that they work hard to be all they can be. Then she does that for an entire town of kids. Add to that her example as a wife and professional (well, most of the time), and she’s top-notch.

3. Claire Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad), The Cosby Show: Claire’s the head badass in charge, and everyone in her house knows is. She’s head disciplinarian, head cattle prodder, head listening ear…she might be the #2 dance leader in the house, but you get the idea. To be fair, the dream life the Huxtable kids live has a lot to do with their socioeconomic status, but Claire is an equal partner in providing that, too. And she does it all with class, sass, and, yes, being a badass. If I could choose one of the moms to be instead of one of the moms to have, it might be Claire.

2. Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Tortured, torturing. Shooting, being shot. Taking on the military-industrial complex to save her son, who will lead the glorious revolution against our robot overlords. Sarah’s not just mothering John Connor, people–she’s giving up her hopes and dreams, and maybe her own life, to save us all.

1. Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), Gilmore Girls: She may every once in a while be a little overindulgent, but Lorelai’s determination to give her daughter the childhood she herself never had sets off a cascade that starts with a teen mom raising her daughter in a potting shed and ends with Stars Hollow’s Most Beloved Girl Ever graduating from Yale. Along the way, we see one of the warmest, most supportive mother-daughter relationships ever shown on TV. We might want to be both Lorelai and the daughter she raised.

And to those moms you might not want to emulate:

10. (Tie) Lucille Bluth and Lindsay Bluth Funke (Jessica Walter and Portia de Rossi), Arrested Development: One makes her youngest son so codependent that when trying to escape her he mistakes the warning “Loose seal!” for her name and loses a hand. She then uses his prosthetic replacement in…happy times and leaves it in the dishwasher for him to find. The other merrily ignores her daughter until she wants to date said daughter’s high school boyfriend. The apple doesn’t fall far from the funny, funny tree.


9. Mom (Tress MacNeille), Futurama: On the surface, a sweet, bustled woman who just wants you to be happy because she loves you so much. Underneath the corset, a corporate overlord who just wants to suck the life (and all of your money) out of the entire galaxy. Don’t disappoint Mom–she might slap you. Or send her army of killer robots to express her displeasure.

8. Lianne Mars (Connie Bohrer), Veronica Mars: Imagine a mother who gives up every vestige of her old life, including being able to see or care for her teenage daughter, in order to protect that daughter from nefarious folk. A candidate for the best moms list, right? Sure, until she returns, drains her daughter’s college savings going to fake rehab, and then steals a very hard-earned paycheck on her way out the door a second time. Veronica became a better person with Lianne out of the picture anyway.

7. Colleen Donaghy (Elaine Stritch), 30 Rock: Highly critical. Ridiculously demanding. Acid-tongued. Unaffectionate (“Tell him his mother loves him. But not in a queer way”). The anti-matchmaker. And almost sure to bring all of these delightful qualities to the next generation (“I see you brought the bag…that my bastard grandchild will come in”). Like some of our moms on the best list, Colleen did the best with what she had, but now that she has more she’s happy to use it to keep twisting the knife.

6. Ellis Grey (Kate Burton), Grey’s Anatomy: It seems like we should have felt sorry for Ellis Grey, given that her career as one of the foremost cardiothoracic surgeons in the world was cut short by early-onset Alzheimer’s. And maybe we would have, if she hadn’t treated her husband with contempt, cheated on him and then pushed him out of their daughter’s life. Or expressed nothing but disappointment in Meredith, while spitting on her dreams at every opportunity. Oh, and then there was the time Ellis slashed her wrists in front of her daughter, just to manipulate a lover. Meredith drives us up a tree, but she comes by her crazy honestly.


5. Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), Weeds: We’d like to watch this show more regularly, but we can’t get over the intense discomfort we feel when Nancy puts her children in grave danger not only because she’s running a weed business, but because she’s just so bad at it. We can understand being scared about losing her lifestyle along with her husband, but in what world did exposing her children to criminals and druggies become a better choice than downsizing and getting a crappy desk job?

4. Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), Justified: Well, she’s all about family, you have to give her that. A rural version of the Godfather, Mags is willing to use anyone to further her Kentucky kingdom, and that includes selling out her sons, pitting her sons against one another, manipulating her sons, putting her sons in danger, asking her sons to commit heinous crimes…and if they don’t obey to her satisfaction? She smashes their fingers with a ball peen hammer. Sure, she feels deeply sad when things go badly for said sons, but you’ve also gotta suspect she’s got one of those poisoned mason jars set aside for everyone in the family, just in case the need should arise.

3. Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), Damages: Patty would like you to know that she loves her son very much, albeit in her own heartless, extremely demanding way. That’s why she lies to him about his paternity, disowns him, has all of his belongings removed from her home, attempts to bribe his pregnant girlfriend, and has said girlfriend arrested for statutory rape. At least she was pretty understanding when, in return, he tried to run over his mom with her own car.

2. Betty Draper Francis (January Jones), Mad Men: Look, I can understand how soul-killing it might have been to try to live the traditional roles that were imposed on women in the 50s and 60s. It’s not all the smoking and drinking and dieting she does while pregnant, or even the frequently administered spankings that make her such a bad mother, because, hey, it was a different time and who didn’t let their kids play with dry cleaning bags back then? It’s the fact that she allows her bitterness about her strangled life to manifest as resentment of her children. Most of the other moms on this list at least manage to pretend to show some affection towards their kids every once in a while. Not Betty. When she’s not ignoring hers completely or telling them to go away and watch TV, she’s shutting them in closets, telling them to go bang their heads against a wall, or force-feeding them sweet potatoes in front of her new in-laws. But perhaps the worst thing she’s ever done was petulantly fire Carla, the maid who was the closest thing to a loving caregiver those poor kids ever had.



1. Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand), The Sopranos: She’ll probably end up on every bad mom list you’ll see, and she’ll even probably come in at #1 on most. That’s what happens when you compare your children to dogs, fake a stroke to manipulate the entire family, ruin your daughter-in-law’s relationship with her own family, make it clear you think your son will tire of his wife…yeah, Livia’s a peach. Until another TV mom tries to persuade family members to kill her own son, Livia’s likely to be the undisputed queen of the damned. Where’s the Hallmark card that says, “I’m Glad We Got Over Your Putting a Hit Out on Me–Happy Mother’s Day?” In Livia’s cold, dead hands, that’s where.

PSYCH Pineapple Watch “He Dead”: Release the Hounds!

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Perhaps Psych‘s outlandish sense of humor is best matched with outlandish settings or situations. Put them in a telenovela, have them work the runway, or dangle the murder of a sea lion in front of them and they’re a lot of fun. Put them in a traditional mystery with traditional suspects and they can be a little flat. Even the martini-dry Christine Baranski adds little new to her repertoire here–as the releaser of said hounds, she has little on Monty Burns.

On the other hand, as the victim’s wealthy widow Baranski offers entree into this week’s pineapple, a lovingly sliced and diced specimen available for the sampling on a table at the country club. Might have been more fun if the bad guy had been trying to shred it to hide evidence.

Squee! It’s…

Nostalgia squee tonight, as Bess Armstrong pops up on Criminal Minds. Now, I got fooled last week into watching Criminal Minds (Randy Mantooth=totally worth it), but I found it to be one of those off-putting crime procedurals where putting beautiful young women in torture-bondage situations where they are fighting for their lives passes as entertainment. Not for me, thanks. But…but…Angela Chase’s mom is on tonight! <cough> Er, in addition to My So-Called Life, you may remember Bess Armstrong from shows such as Boston Legal, One Tree Hill, and The Nanny. And My So-Called Life! <cough> Sorry.

If you just can’t stomach Criminal Minds, you can get double your nostalgia fix over on the US version of Life on Mars. Not only will you swim through the 70s, but tonight you’ll do it with Jason Kravits, the most excellent ADA Richard Bay on The Practice. You might also remember Mr. Kravits from shows such as Gilmore Girls, Ed, and various crime procedurals. Speaking of nostalgia, he recently survived Liz Lemon’s high school reunion. Wonder when Angela Chase’s is? Criminal Minds on CBS at 9 Eastern and Pacific; Life on Mars on ABC at 10 Eastern and Pacific.

30 ROCK “Senor Macho Solo”: It’s What They Call a McRib

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Perhaps it is because I have long maintained that I would run away with Peter Dinklage in a heartbeat if he so much as blinked in my general direction (unlikely to happen given that I am a woman of equivalent enough thickness to trigger Tracy Jordan’s post-nup), or perhaps it’s because I never saw the Sex and the City movie, but watching Liz muck up a promising relationship with her crazy was squrim-inducing. What are the odds she’s ever going to find another boyfriend who will introduce her to new kinds of doughnuts or put her through to the Italian ambassador for a prank call? Maybe the real issue is that making Liz too crazy blunts her purpose, which is to provide the not-quite-but-almost-sensible core to a universe full of crazies.

But what a universe of crazies she anchors. The level of lunatic detail to which the 30 Rock crew will go for a joke reminds of us the heydey of our beloved Arrested Development. From Jack eating a mint with the wrapper still on after finding a growth on his…never mind, to his waving a bottle of liquor around in a park but bringing Pringles in a brown paper bag, Alec Baldwin shines when his tightly-wound character is on the verge of losing it. Tracy’s stunningly inappropriate expressions of love are apparently nothing new, if the alarms are anything to go by. Kenneth’s random selection of a rap song from Teen Witch, of all things, is surpassed only by his apology that their regular warm-up comedian overdosed in a gay man’s apartment that morning. Even Jenna’s Janis Joplin “tribute” song “Chunk of My Lung” is capped with a genius final line: “You know you bought it if you buy it with things.” Yes. Yes, you do.

So make Liz reasonable or make Liz loony (cat sound!)–we don’t care quite so much as long as the jokes keep coming. We’d rather see more of Peter Dinklage than Salma Hayek, though–can’t we see more of the UN High Commission on Water Temperature and Food Taint?

30 ROCK, MAD MEN, CLOSER Top SAG Noms

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This year’s Screen Actors Guild nominations, announced this morning, seem to look an awful lot like last year’s SAG nominations. There were only a few surprises, among them well-deserved nods for Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss and Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union. Also, oddly, this is the first year that House has been nominated for an ensemble award by SAG.

The 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will be simulcast live on TNT and TBS on Sunday, Jan. 25, 8 p.m. ET/PT. Recipients of the stunt ensemble honors will be announced from the SAG Awards red carpet during a live pre-show webcasts.

A complete list of primetime television nominees is behind the cut…

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