Which Sci-Fi Shows Will Be Overlooked By the Golden Globes This Year?
Reading Golden Globes predictions is somewhat depressing for sci-fi fans. There are usually several genre shows in the conversation, but very few of them will actually be nominated or win in any of the significant categories. Historically, major awards such as the Golden Globes and Emmys tend to ignore sci-fi fare even as critics insist that they are well-written, well-acted, and often destined to become classics. Firefly, for all its critical acclaim, was only ever nominated for visual effects, Battlestar Galactica was sporadically nominated for writing and directing, but only ever won in technical categories. Star Trek: Voyager never landed a nomination in any of the dramatic categories, in spite of taking out ads to promote themselves in their final season. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was intellectual enough to spawn an entire academic field devoted to studying the nuances of its writing, was only nominated for one writing award, as well as one lonely nod for Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Fantasy, and especially fantasy on HBO, tends to fare a little better, with shows such as Game of Thrones and True Blood dominating the awards season from time to time. It's difficult to say exactly why these shows are automatically taken more seriously; they definitely have high production values, sophisticated writing, and top-notch acting, but then again, so does The Leftovers, so it does seem to be a bias against sci-fi to some extent. Lost was technically sci-fi, particularly in the later seasons, but it garnered most of its most prestigious awards in the beginning, when it downplayed a lot of its genre trappings. Similarly, American Horror Story is "genre" in the sense that it has fantastic and/or sci-fi elements, but it's such a genre-bender that it doesn't really feel like you're watching a fantasy or sci-fi show. (You just sort of feel like you have no idea what happened to you.)
The X-Files was an interesting case, as it was nominated for plenty of prestigious awards over its acclaimed nine-year run. But the X-Files began over twenty years ago, before quite so many prestige dramas began to crop up on television. There's no way to know for sure, but I doubt the X-Files would be nominated today if it had to face up against awards juggernauts such as Breaking Bad, The Good Wife, Downton Abbey, or True Detective. When the show was nominated in 1996, for example, it was up against ER, Chicago Hope, Law and Order, and NYPD Blue. Of those shows, it's likely that ER is the only one that would even stand a chance today.
To some extent, I understand this bias, because if a show follows too many genre conventions, then the writing is conventional. Plus, magic and science fiction often produce more contrivances than realistic drama, particularly if a show isn't too picky about following its own rules. I consider myself to be a sci-fi fan, but I'm not a fan of shows that veer past genre and into cheesiness, like Stargate SG-1 or almost anything on Syfy besides Battlestar. And some sci-fi fare is too lighthearted to be considered for these categories; some may see this as another bias, but I think it's fairly legitimate, as it's much easier to craft a fun, lighthearted show than an ambitious, multi-layered drama. So while I see why acclaimed shows like The Flash or Arrow are left out of the conversation, some other future snubs are much more egregious. Here are the top five shows (and particularly actors on those shows) that are critically acclaimed and will be on many critics' wishlists, but will likely never see a nomination:
1) Orphan Black - Tatiana Maslany
This is not news to anyone who's been following the awards circuit for the past few years. Critics have been calling for Tatiana Maslany to be recognized for her nuanced work as nine different clones (so far) on Orphan Black. Her omission from the major awards is illustrative of a bias against genre shows, especially because this is the kind of gimmick that awards organizations usually eat for breakfast. The Oscars love when actors physically transform for their movie roles, or when they play real people in biopics so the critics can marvel at their "uncanny mannerisms" and their skill at "embodying" that person. Maslany, and actors who play multiple roles on other sci-fi shows like Dollhouse, continually transforms her mannerisms, body language, and even accent to play these different characters. We should be getting annoyed this time of year that Orphan Black is obvious awards bait, but we would never say that, because it's sci-fi.
In the same vein, no one is even mentioning the possibility of the show being nominated for Best Drama Series. I'm not absolutely sure it deserves a nomination over shows like The Good Wife or True Detective by any means, but it is definitely well-written, well-acted, and morally ambiguous enough to be in the conversation.
2) The Leftovers - Justin Theroux - Carrie Coon
The Leftovers has all the makings of prestige awards bait: it's on HBO, it has a great cast and high production values, and it's populated with dark, morally questionable characters. But the show, as well as acclaimed star Justin Theroux, have only been mentioned as dark horses in this race. One could argue that this has as much to do with the oppressively gloomy tone as it does with any genre classification, but I think it's reasonable to argue that it's partially being overlooked because it feels very much like a dystopian show.
Carrie Coon, meanwhile, is being seriously mentioned in conversations about the Oscars for her supporting turn in Gone Girl. She was great in Gone Girl, but honestly, she had the chance to play a much more complex character and to do much more nuanced work in The Leftovers, but she hasn't been mentioned at all.
3) The Walking Dead - Melissa McBride
Once again, if there was no bias against sci-fi shows, we would probably be cynically commenting that "The Grove," the infamous "don't look at the flowers" episode, was clearly awards bait for Melissa McBride. She has consistently performed beautifully in a very challenging character arc that saw Carol transform from a seemingly helpless battered wife to a bonafide warrior. Then, this episode saw her character make the harrowing decision to kill her surrogate daughter, Lizzie, after she killed her younger sister and tried to kill an infant. That's Oscar/Emmy/Golden Globe bait if I've ever seen it.
Also, the show has not been nominated for a Best Drama Series award since 2010. I'm not sure if I'm in the camp that would insist it should be nominated for a Best Drama award, even though fans and critics alike are hailing this as the best season yet. I personally think the action has taken the forefront a little too much, and that the midseason finale especially prioritized genre trappings over good writing. But once again, it at least deserves to be in the conversation, and it probably should have been nominated more than once in its acclaimed five-year run.
4) Outlander - Caitriona Balfe
Outlander hasn't been the buzziest show of the season, but it's certainly acclaimed, with Huffington Post calling it a "masterpiece" and many calling it a genre-bending version of Downton Abbey. By all accounts, the time travel aspect is handled in a tasteful and decidedly not cheesy way, but once again Outlander doesn't even merit a mention in the Golden Globes discussion. Star Caitriona Balfe has been thrown out there for a possible Best Actress nomination, but considering that all five nominees from last year (all of whom are actors in straight dramas) are eligible once again, and that Viola Davis is considered to be a lock for "How to Get Away with Murder," Balfe is a dark horse at best.
5) Gotham - Robin Lord Taylor
I can't even really pretend to be in the camp that thinks Gotham should be considered for a Best Drama nomination. It has a multitude of glaring flaws, and often adheres to genre cliches in the worst way. It would be more appropriate for someone who agrees with the awards bias against genre shows to cite Gotham in their argument than it would be for me to use Gotham as an argument against it.
But Robin Lord Taylor's performance has been praised to an extent that would be ridiculous and over-the-top, if he wasn't just so damn good. For all the show's flaws, the acting is extremely high-caliber all around, but Taylor has been the undeniable standout. Awards organizations tend to reward actors for being on shows that are already critically acclaimed; you're more likely to get a nomination for a so-so performance on Breaking Bad than for an amazing performance on One Tree Hill. And most of the time this makes sense, because they're given better and meatier material to work with. But when someone like Taylor takes material that could be incredibly cheesy and gives a career-making performance, that should be worthy of just as much recognition, if not more. Unfortunately, especially since the Supporting Actor category is overcrowded with contenders from movies, television, and miniseries, he's not even really in the conversation.