For Television, the Golden Globes’ Idiosyncrasies Prove a Double-Edged Sword

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is a strange beast. At just 90 members — just a third of the number the Motion Picture Academy invited to join in 2014 alone, and a small fraction of the Television Academy’s twenty thousand-plus — the trade organization responsible for the Golden Globe Awards is bound to be more idiosyncratic, and have more definite preferences, than larger groups. And for this year’s television nominees, those preferences were on full display. 

In the era of Peak TV, no awards show, top 10 list, or critics’ poll can hope to even be comprehensive, let alone please everyone. The best that we as viewers can hope for are selections that simply don’t enrage us — like the Emmys, at long last, ditching Modern Family, only to go for Veep and leave the likes of Transparent and Louie on the table. By that measure, this morning’s nominations did… simply okay. But there’s a certain method to the HFPA’s madness, one that explains this year’s surprises, both pleasant and not.

Here are the main takeaways from this year’s television nominees:

International shows get a big boost.
Shocker — the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is pretty into shows with casts and creators from outside the United States! This explains this morning’s two most baffling winners, at least relative to their critical acclaim: Netflix’s drug war drama Narcos and Amazon’s classical music comedy Mozart in the Jungle. Narcos got nods for both Best TV Series, Drama and Best Actor in a TV Series, Drama for lead Wagner Moura, ousting the critical darlings (The Americans, The Leftovers) and older Emmy stalwarts (Downton Abbey, Homeland) alike. Ditto for Mozart, which edged out both a totally snubbed Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and candidates like Master of None for Best TV Series, Comedy, as lead Gael García Bernal got a nod for Best Actor in a TV Series, Comedy. Scotland-set Outlander, too, got a more welcome lift, landing nominations both as a series and for lead Catriona Balfe.

Being new, and on a newer platform, helps.
The Globes pride themselves on being a little more with it than their notoriously stodgy counterparts (see their early recognition of Mad Men and last year’s wins for Transparent and Jane the Virgin‘s Gina Rodriguez). The upside of this is early recognition for underrated freshman series — your correspondent literally yelped when she learned that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend‘s Rachel Bloom got a much-deserved nomination — and newer outlets like Hulu, which started its original output in earnest this year and earned a nomination for the solid, bittersweet Casual. The downside? A tendency to ignore strong showings from later seasons of well-established shows, like Mad Men, which didn’t score nominations for Best TV Series, Drama or any of its actors except Jon Hamm, and a near-total dominance of streaming and cable over network. Not a single comedy series nominee airs on a network, and only one drama series does (Empire, natch).

The acting categories are rigged.
Because the Globes have to handle both television and film, not to mention keep the award ceremony’s live broadcast at a reasonable length, it makes sense that they’d keep categories as streamlined as possible, with an ever-so-slight emphasis on film (14 to TV’s 11). But when it comes to television’s supporting acting category, that streamlining virtually guarantees that essential performances don’t even make it onto the ballot. There’s only one supporting actor and actress award for the entirety of television, which the Globes otherwise split into three categories: drama, comedy, and limited series or movie. That means a total shutout for Mad Men’s actresses, comedy actors as a whole, and most of Orange Is the New Black, whose entire cast basically counts as “supporting.” Funneling the majority of television performances into a single category is bound to end in disaster, though Christian Slater’s basically-guaranteed win for Mr. Robot will be earned and then some.

Those trends don’t cover all the Globes’ eccentricities — no limited series nomination for Show Me a Hero, for example, even in a less competitive category — but they do explain some of them. There’ll doubtless be more surprises still when the Ricky Gervais-hosted ceremony airs this January. ‘Til then, we’ve got a month to accept the Globes’ oddities for what they are: a double-edged sword with as much power to elevate underdogs as shut out the deserving.