The Emmys are the most frustrating award show out there. They really are. I’m sure the others can be argued for, but I really do not believe that there is a moment where there is more communion between critics and fans then on Emmy nomination day. Because on that day we all rise up together and scream in frustration for those who have been snubbed. And there is no class of television actor worse snubbed than the sci-fi actor.
This is the issue across most awards shows in general – they all seem to be afraid of spaceships and the like. But it’s always felt worst in the television arena. Of the multitudes of science-fiction/fantasy movies that come out every year there are very very few that feel truly worthy of Oscar nods. Even rarer is the sci-fi film in which the performances are what stands out the brightest. The opposite tends to happen in television. There are scores of shows to choose from, but again very very few of which would feel worthy of a Best Drama nod. But, in those shows that do show real contention, it’s the actors that elevate them to the next level.
Tatiana Maslany’s snub this year is brutal. She’s fresh off of a Critics Choice Award win, her show gained a whopping 90% in season 2 viewership over season 1, she’s LITERALLY PLAYING 5 CHARACTERS REGULARLY. Regardless of the problems with the show itself (and as a fan I can call out when the plot or story feels weak) her performances this year have only gotten better. As Sarah she gives a leading lady performance that is as good as almost any other on television. As Cosima, Helena, and Allison she got to stretch inside of these glorious supporting characters she had already put her mark on. As Rachel, Tony, and Jennifer she got to try out brand new ways of expressing herself. I do not believe there is any actress in television as chameleon-like as her – there are moments (and judging by blogs and tumblr posts it happens to us all) where I honestly forget that this is one girl playing so many characters.
And while Tatiana is acting in a class all her own right now, she has joined an impressive camaraderie of actors who were also once the best in the game. And like Ms. Maslany, they had the misfortune of acting in a genre that was deemed unworthy by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Here are the most egregious:
1. Mary McDonnell – Battlestar Galactica
This is the worst. The actual literal worst. There has never been anything that has made me angrier and I still find myself randomly furious over this on a bi-weekly basis. Mary McDonnell - Oscar nominated Mary McDonnell if you were keeping score – played President Laura Roslin for 4 years. And over the course of the series she got to explore more tenets of a person’s psyche than most. She was a leader, she was inexperienced, she was in love, she was imprisoned, she was dying, she was a prophet, she was a general, she was my everything and I would have followed her off a cliff. It’s hard to choose one Laura Roslin moment, but if I had to I’d tell you to go watch the fantastic season 4 mutiny two-parter “The Oath” and “Blood on the Scales.” Roslin really gets to run the emotional gamut in those episodes, and none better than her chill-inducing “I’m coming for all of you!” Seriously. Watch the scene. It even makes the Cylons cry.
1.5. Edward James Omos and Michael Hogan – Battlestar Galactica
If forced to pick two mega-talents to fill out Laura Roslin’s cabinet of awesome it would have to be Bill Adama and Saul Tigh. [I mean, give me enough time and I could make a good Emmy case for Katee Sackhoff's Starbuck and James Callis' Baltar.] But these two giants never stopped being just that on this show. There is no better proof of their talent than in season 4 when Tigh is forced to reveal something about himself to his best friend and Admiral. Their confrontation and subsequent fallout scene is so intense you’d swear you could feel them come through your television and fight in your living room. Not to mention of course that Michael Hogan did all of this with ONLY ONE EYE. That one eye expressed more emotion than most network actors at the time.
2. John Noble – Fringe
Any fan of Fringe will stand and proselytize for days about the glory of Walter Bishop. John Noble’s portrayal of the psychologically fragile genius was one that always kept the audience on their toes. One second he’d be techno babbling, the next making a guffaw inducing non sequitur, then suddenly he’s displaying latent fatherly affections that has you in tears. Then of course came Walternate – an entirely different character from a parallel universe with almost as many different facets as the original. Noble played all of this with a grand simplicity that was enviable and he consistently upped the acting games of those around him. Including…
2.5. Anna Torv – Fringe
Anna Torv is a bit of a wild card here as sometimes the deadpan and serious nature with which she played Olivia Dunham rubbed some the wrong way. But it’s hard to play the straight man in such a fantastical show, so I give her an INSANE amount of props. Like John Noble, she too got to play multiple versions of the same character and it was incredible. Olivia Prime and Fauxlivia were so insanely different that even the way she smiled was unique depending on who she was at the moment. The best, however, was one spectacular episode in which she played Leonard Nimoy inhabiting Olivia’s body. Torv nailed every inflection and eyebrow lift. Utterly exquisite and completely overlooked.
3. Patrick Stewart – Star Trek: The Next Generation
That’s right. Sir Patrick Stewart never got an Emmy nomination for playing Captain Picard. Let that sink in until your brain bleeds. TNG was not always the most high-brow form of entertainment; it’s hard even for fans to sit and watch season 1 from top to bottom. But what never changed was the electricity that came off of Stewart every time he delivered a monologue on the bridge. Once TNG found its storytelling legs, his acting in it only got better, particularly when they allowed Picard to have more human moments. Look no further than The Best of Both Worlds for proof. No actually go and look at Chain of Command. Hang on – Family. Family tugs on your heart str- WAIT NO! The Inner Light! I mean of course then there’s Darmok. Gah - Tapestry. Can’t leave out All Good Things… Come back in an hour. I got a million more examples of Sir Patrick Stewart earning his knighthood in a red jumpsuit if you still need injustice fuel.
3.5. Brent Spiner – Star Trek: The Next Generation
While most of the Enterprise crew got at least one showcase episode (sorry Marina Sirtis – you did not) there was no one doing so much with so little than Brent Spiner as Data. Data was an android. Meant to be the Spock of TNG the writers initially gave Data only curiosity and the inability to speak contractions. As the show continued on, they used Data to explore just what it means to be human. Without a natural ability to display emotion, Spiner had to convey everything fans love about the android through slight head tilts and deliberate pauses in speech. Toss in the occasional episode in which Data does something completely against his programming (like when he gets the gift of laughter) and the bare bones acting Spiner had to do daily becomes all the more impressive.
3.75. John de Lancie – Star Trek: The Next Generation
OK so I’m slightly cheating here. Sue me. John de Lancie has the privilege of being one of the few actors to appear in 3 different Star Trek television series. He’s also the only non-bridge crew character to appear in both the pilot and the finale of TNG. Throughout the seasons, no matter what the feeling of the show was at the time, an appearance from de Lancie always elevated what was going on. Even in Q episodes that weren’t as great as others, he was never not entertaining. And if that’s not the definition of a Best Guest Star then I don’t know what is.