Emmy Underdogs: 4 Shows I’d Like To See Break Into The Best Drama/Best Comedy Races

comedy and drama underdogs

We are living in a golden age of television. It may not seem that way when there are so many real housewives and shirtless Jersey Shore residents wandering around the dial, but scripted television has never been better. From the chilling devolution of Walter White on Breaking Bad to Leslie Knope’s quest to earn a council seat on Parks and Recreation to the thrilling Battle of Blackwater on Game of
, the 2011-2012 season was overflowing with amazing moments. The great shows somehow became greater, many good shows suddenly became great and a handful of newcomers immediately proved their worth.

This overabundance in quality has just one downside: not every show is going to receive the recognition it deserves this award season. The four shows on this list are unlikely to crack the top two Emmy races, but each week they consistently delivered original, vibrant storytelling that left me wanting more. They may not make it onto the real ballot, but if I were an Emmy voter they would all make my shortlist.

1. Justified

Justified Slaughterhouse Season 3 Episode 13

What Justified does every week looks simple. There is an easy cadence to the dialogue, a pulpy western feel to the shootouts and the actors seem so comfortable in their characters’ skins that you half believe that’s just who they are. It’s a modern western at heart, one that is darkly comedic, violent, and chock full of the blood feuds that run deep through the families that populate Harlan County. Still, on the surface it appears lighter than the shows that generally land a nomination in the Best Drama Series category.

In its third season, Justified had the unenviable task of finding a villain worthy of filling the shoes left behind by Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale). The results could have been disastrous had the writers focused on one-upping themselves, but instead of bringing in one new antagonist, they opened the floodgates. New and old faces alike struggled to fill the power vacuum left by Mags’s departure from Harlan, throwing the crime community into chaos. Among the standouts were Neal McDonough as the carpetbagger Quarles, a deeply disturbed and dangerous man who proved a worthy opponent for Raylan, Jeremy Davies who somehow made Dickie even twitchier and slyer than he was in season 2, and the always terrific Walton Goggins who seemed to lead his character Boyd off the path of redemption for good this time. As always, at the center of the chaos stood U. S. Marshal Raylan Givens, played with a mesmerizing mix of devil-may-care bravado and searing intensity by Timothy Olyphant.

The thing about Justified though is it all seems simple right up until the moment when you look down and realize it has shot you right in the gut. Because in between all the great one-liners and impressive gunfights lies a show that is dark, complex and brutal enough to end a season with its hero quietly accepting with tired resignation that his father tried to kill him.

2. Happy Endings

Happy Endings Big White Lies Season 2 Episode 20

When it debuted, Happy Endings appeared to be yet another Friends knock off, but it has been proving that it is anything but ever since. Happy Endings is weird and I mean that in the very best way possible. The jokes fly fast, often one flowing right into the next to create a near constant thirty-minute stream of funny. And what jokes they are–this season alone featured gags as varied as Max turning into a bear and Alex adopting a racist parrot. Like I said, it’s weird. But also wonderful.

What Happy Endings does share with Friends is a cast possessing flawless chemistry. The six performers on the show play off of each other beautifully and half of the fun is seeing which configuration the characters will be in from week to week. Everyone shined this year, including the guest actors (James Wolk!). It’s hard for me to accept that I live in a world where a show that is as consistently hilarious and delightful as this one isn’t universally recognized as one of the best comedies on air.

3. The Killing

The Killing Season Finale 2012 What I Know - Who Did Kill Rosie Larsen

No other genre of television is as beloved as the crime drama and no other genre is more tired. Procedurals all move in the same way: each episode the characters get a case, they suffer through a few red herrings and before the hour is up the case is solved. There may be an overarching mystery that they just can’t crack (often something personal to add a layer of irony to the proceedings–they can help everyone but themselves), but that’s just to create the semblance of an arc.

The Killing is the procedural deconstructed. It is slow and meticulous, it follows leads that go nowhere, one case takes 24 episodes to solve and the grief of the victim’s family is on full display the entire time–it’s dreary and messy and at times maddening. And those are the very things that make it brilliant. In its second season The Killing became sleeker; it embraced its noir leanings and allowed its two immensely talented leads to let loose as the case threatened both their careers and their sanity, and it was better for it. However, what ultimately solidified The Killing as one of my all-time favorite shows was the end of the Larsen case.

When we finally found out who killed Rosie there was no great moment of release, no sudden satisfaction that justice would be done. Holder tells Linden they “got the bad guy” and Linden shoots back, “Yeah? Who’s that?” The Killing understands that there is no triumph in death, that even when a case is solved it doesn’t end; the effects it has on the community, on the detectives and especially on the family linger on long after the story fades from the papers. The Killing embraced the chaos of tragedy, the horrible randomness of it, without ever flinching or looking away. It wasn’t always an easy show to watch, but if you stuck it out to the end it was a rewarding one.

4. The Middle

The Middle

The Middle suffers a bit from airing on the same channel as Modern Family. That show is a juggernaut and the traditional nuclear family of The Middle looks a bit dated next to the sprawling family tree of the Tucker-Pritchett-Delgado clan. When we dig a little deeper though it becomes clear that The Middle depicts a picture of modern family life that is just as relevant as the one seen on Modern Family and one that is often just as funny too.

The Hecks hail from middle America, they are always low on funds, always exhausted and always eating fast food right out of the bag in front of the television, but there is no mockery of their lifestyle, just gentle laughs at the crazy schedules they keep as they try to make ends meet and keep their kids in line. If it sounds a bit old-fashioned, it is, but there’s nothing wrong with that. There will always be room for quality working class comedies on television, and especially for one that is as lovably quirky as The Middle.


And with that we wrap up the Emmy Underdogs feature, remember the official Emmy nominations will be announced on July 19th. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your picks for best drama and best comedy underdogs in the comments!

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