Emmy nominations are a tough time for a TV critic.
That's because much of the work involved in choosing the best achievements for television's highest award is done in the nominating process.
Tatiana Maslany, the talented Canadian actress who plays a multitude of clones on BBC America's mind-bending sci-fi drama Orphan Black, found that out the hard way. She wasn't even nominated for an Emmy last year, despite nailing the most difficult role in one of TV's most challenging new series.
But there's still a chance in 2014. On Friday, Emmy nomination voting ends among the members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the results will be announced by The Voice host Carson Daly and Mindy Project star Mindy Kaling on the morning of July 10.
So, as academy members file their final ballots, here's a few things I hope they keep in mind, to make sure they really honor some of the best TV performances and shows out there.
Don't forget Tatiana again. Yes, Orphan Black's second season has been much more confusing and less entertaining than the first. But that hasn't stopped Maslany, who still manages to inhabit an impressive array of different characters so well, you forget there's a single actress playing them all. I can't imagine a better acting feat on TV this year.
Don't overlook the sidekicks or subtleties. Some nominations seem a given: James Spader is going to be nominated for single-handedly turning The Blacklist into the most successful new network TV show of the season, and Matthew McConaughey is very likely going to add to the "McConnaissance" with a nod for playing tortured, existential crime solver Rust Cohle on HBO's True Detective.
But McConaughey's onscreen partner, Woody Harrelson, also shined in an arguably more difficult role, playing the more conventional half of a detective duo who turned out to have a dark side wrapped in adultery, jealousy and drunkenness.
Similarly, Billy Bob Thornton will get lots of attention for playing eccentric, deadly hit man Lorne Malvo on FX's amazing re-imagining of Fargo. But British actor Martin Freeman also nails his part as a nerdy loser insurance salesman inspired by Malvo to kill his wife and frame his brother for the crime. And his "Minnesota nice" accent is aces too, don't cha know.
Don't overlook great female parts in male-driven pieces. Speaking of Fargo, turns out newcomer Allison Tolman was playing the series' hero, as always sharp/often ignored Deputy Molly Solverson. Her performance was likewise easy to take for granted, but it provided the backbone for the series' quirky, wide-ranging story.
True Detective's co-star Michelle Monaghan had an even more thankless role; when her Maggie Hart wasn't hassling Harrelson's character for being an awful husband and father, she slept with McConaughey's Cohle to blow up her marriage. But she also provided a moral center to a story that got awfully bizarre in places.
And Sarah Baker's guest turn as overweight waitress Vanessa on FX's Louie was also a tour de force. Sure, some saw her heartfelt speech about the struggles of a fat woman trying to date as preachy, but I loved the honesty of the ideas, hammered home by an authentic, captivating delivery.
Do reward some people who aren't stars — but maybe should be. I love Kerry Washington as much as the next Scandal fan. But my favorite actor on that show is Joe Morton, a longtime character actor who has the amazing ability to make the mountains of emotional dialogue creator Shonda Rimes hands him every week look compelling and believable. He embraces the operatic nature of the show's emotional peaks in a way that is awesome to behold. See a great example here.
Also, HBO's Boardwalk Empire was saved this past season by the addition of Jeffrey Wright as charismatic, Harlem-based bad guy Valentin Narcisse; his war with Michael K. Williams' Chalky White was the season's action-packed centerpiece and gave both actors some signature moments. Finally, Demian Bichir was also captivating as a flawed, pragmatic Mexican police officer on FX's The Bridge.
Do right some longtime wrongs. My fellow critics have been pressing these cases for a while, but I'll add my voice in saying it's long past time Nick Offerman got some Emmy love for playing Park and Recreation's Ron Swanson, TV's coolest combination of macho eccentricity and deadpan hilarity. Patricia Heaton also deserves some attention as harried mom Frankie Heck on ABC's The Middle, an often overlooked role on a great family comedy too often overshadowed by network sibling Modern Family.