Everyone knows that the Emmys are, essentially, bullshit. Yet there is already hue and cry about Tatiana Maslany not being nominated for playing a constellation of clones on BBC America's beloved Orphan Black.
Orphan Black is a great show, in an unusual way. It resists a lot of deep reading, relying more on the plot to keep it cracking than real character development or serious logic. Scratch too hard on its international clone conspiracy architecture and you'll start to have doubts. But mostly the show's whipping pace won't leave you with time for them. And that is kind of unique in the current television landscape. We live in an age where the slow plots of Mad Men or the non-plots of Girls are often held up as the pinnacle of dramatic work! It's nice to have another sort of thing to watch.
Maslany is the thing that takes the show to another level. Her virtuousity in switching back and forth between the various clones — the buttoned-up Alison, the street-smart Sarah, the bookishly-angsty Cosima — is often what's praised about her work. It is pretty great to watch. But her true skill is taking all that silly plot architecture, the whiplash, and the bad wigs, and by sheer force of will turning it into something emotionally affecting. There is some Jon Hamm-level stuff going on there.
But these things — the markers of actual excellence — are not the criteria that the Emmys tend to respect. And perhaps never have.
Instead they respect marketing. Because one reason this show and this actress are unlikely to be nominated ever is genre, yes. Shows whose plot engines involve vague international genetic-research consortia, or vampires, or spaceships, tend to be disqualified from the category of "good television."
Orphan Black isn't the first or even the most egregious example of that, I think! There is perhaps no show more responsible for the smart-alecky and self-referential feel of most popular television shows today than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And yet it made do with a few production nods and a single writing nomination.
But it's not just genre that dooms it for awards-marketing criteria. Game of Thrones squeaked by, and there are an awful lot of swords and sigils there which would otherwise keep it out of the running. But Game of Thrones has the crucial stamp of being a self-consciously prestige show. Increasingly that feels like a critical marketing category, to be rolled out by a network as "ambitious." The industry seems to just buy it, hook, line, and sinker.
Lots of those shows end up being pretentious garbage, of course, not fit to lick Maslany's great thigh-high boots. Excellence (and great footwear) sometimes just has to be its own reward!