Sunday brings the 2011 Emmys to your small screen, and with it the possibility that someone new will ascend the throne of television immortality. Or whatever comes with winning an Emmy.
Going back to the beginning of the award, the Emmy for Best Drama has been dominated by police, law, doctor and political shows. Law & Order, Cagney & Lacey, The West Wing, ER, The Practice, Mission: Impossible to name a few.
The 2000s actually brought about 5 different winners: West Wing, Sopranos, Lost, 24, and Mad Men, with the latter taking home the last 3, and looking like a good choice to take home a 4th.
Keeping in mind that Breaking Bad is not eligible for this year's award (they did not air a single episode in the 2011 eligible time frame), here is a breakdown of the nominees:
Mad Men - Don Draper is divorced, Betty has moved on with Henry, and Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Price is moving forward. Maintaining arguably the best character development on television, the 4th season of Mad Men showed no dip in creativity, and Matthew Weiner kept it running at its expected high levels.
Don continues his loose lifestyle, but he is not constrained by his marriage or his "fidelity" to Betty. It was inevitable that Mad Men would deal with divorce, since it has done such a good job of depicting the 60s to this point. With that comes many of the things that made that decade morally problematic, including sex, drugs, lying, cheating. Don's false identity took on a new role when SCDP was working towards a defense contract.
As always, the immorality, not only of Don, but Betty and Roger Sterling and the rest of the agency, are a focal point of the series. But their actions are never glorified, and the results of their choices affect those around them.
Game of Thrones - One of two freshmen series to be nominated, Game of Thrones more than deserved to be on this list. Based on George RR Martin's popular series, GoT proved that fantasy, well-done fantasy, has a place and an audience as a serial hour long program.
Set in the fictional world of Westeros, Game of Thrones was a mix between medieval England and Middle Earth. There were knights and maidens, politics and doublecrosses, dwarfs, direwolves, unexplainable enemies and explainable enemies. And dragons. Did we mention dragons?
As would be expected in a fantasy world, the concept of gods and God are discussed, with references to the old gods and the new. There is relatively little swearing, and there are some scenes of sex and nudity. The violence is present, but is never overdone. But this is still definitely a show meant for a mature audience. Death is abundant, and the motives behind actions is never really crystal clear.
This presents an interesting look for the audience, as there are very few black and white characters, although there is a clear idea of good and bad. Very similar to the Wire in this regard, in that there aren't necessarily "good" characters and "bad" characters, but rather characters who do good and who do bad.
Friday Night Lights - The final season of NBC's superb series about high school football finally came to a close, bringing with it a very satisfying finale.
There is the expected amount of teenage sex and drinking (expected here, not being a good thing, but being almost a requirement on network television). But everything outside of this is an honest look at Americana, from the honest friendships, loyalty and dedication of the football players, and especially in their youthful jubilation and struggles.
But the most positive thing about the show, now as always, was the brilliant depiction of a strong married life between Coach Taylor and Tammy. Their dialogue and their delivery are honest and true, their disagreements are about things in their life, not things in each other, and they never stray or abandon the other. Their actions are real, their emotion is true. It is truly refreshing to see this, and to see the honest love of man and wife.
Boardwalk Empire - The other freshman series to garner a nod, HBO's historical fiction of prohibition Atlantic city carried the exact amount of debauchery that a series about such a subject as you would expect.
There are relatively few honest-to-goodness "good" people in this show, the same was that The Sopranos had very few moral mobsters. Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson is at the forefront, both as the protagonist and as the moral decision-maker. And by that I don't mean that he makes the most moral decisions, but that he has the opportunity to make the most. Usually he fails.
With methodical pacing, Boardwalk Empire is able to deal with the Women's Temperance League, the treatment of World War I veterans, even the Black Sox scandal with due diligence, focusing notsomuch on the events themselves, but rather on the characters that each event impacts.
Dexter - Ahh, Dexter. The serial killer's serial killer. Rather than focus on the moral implications of each death, Dexter is presented as a sociopath, who, although he doesn't have a traditional Judeo-Christian morality, still understands good guys and bad guys, and understands that if bad guys are not stopped, they will hurt more good guys.
This is Moral Relativism as its finest, although it never presents Dexter's actions as good, but rather necessary. And Dexter himself actually has no morality, and the only code he goes by is "don't let people find out what you are."
This season was one of its better ones in recent years (although still probably not necessitating a best drama nod), introducing Julia Stiles as a serial killer in the making.
The Good Wife - the only show on this list I do not watch, and thus am unable to comment on to give it any justice.
All in all, a pretty good year for television. Plato said that it is stories that help us to learn about ourselves and the human condition, and if he were alive today, he would hopefully watch these shows. The important thing to remember, as always, is that television is designed to tell a story, to depict a world similar to ours that is not ours, and that if watched with a properly formed conscience, it can be very rewarding and very intellectual.