My bad: Last week, asked to pick which show would take home the best drama at the 64th annual Emmys, I reflexively chose "Mad Men," a decision born of weariness, cynicism, and a fundamental belief that when asked to pick a winner themselves, Emmy voters usually go for the safe choice — the one they made the year before.
Not that "Mad Men" didn't deserve to win Sunday night except that any of the five nominated shows could have won, and a very strong case could be made for the fact that any of the four BESIDES "Mad Men" should have won.
In my opinion, "Breaking Bad" was probably most deserving. But that's neither here, there or anywhere. Let's go to the winner: "Homeland." Why? If numbers are any indication, most of you out there have never seen this show and have no idea what it's about. Showtime calibrates about 4.4 million weekly viewers, but that's a compilation of playback. The real "in pattern" number hovers just above one million. "Homeland," as good as it is, is not a national fixation or even a show that's attended to with the same devotion as say fans of "Downton."
What happened is simple: "Homeland" and Showtime, allowed to submit as many episodes as liked for consideration, probably only submitted just two — the pilot and the finale, called "Marine One," which nailed down the award for Damian Lewis. These were the two best episodes of the season — along with maybe "The Vest" and "The Weekend" — and established the show's themes, directorial style, and writing quality better than any other. They demanded viewers' attention. They were a sharp departure from "Mad Men," which has become ever more cerebral. They basically insisted — this show is different and it's about something important, namely the state of homeland defense ten years after 9/11.
Having to make a choice between a crisis in the CIA's antiterrorism unit or whether Don's new marriage would work out after abandoning Megs at an upstate Howard Johnson's, they chose .?.?. well, you know.
Why not "Breaking Bad?" Simply because they never have. The Emmy voters are basically fusty traditionalists. They like traditional shows about good guys and bad guys; they like lines of moral authority clearly drawn; they'll tolerate ambiguity so long as there's no ambiguity about how the final results turn out. They can award "Mad Men" — but they can't award Jon Hamm and his ambiguous anti-hero Don Draper .?.?.
"Bad" is about a bad man who does bad things. "Dexter" is about a serial killer with a heart. "Boardwalk Empire's" hero runs booze and kills his de facto son in the season finale. "Game of Thrones" is worst of all from their perspective — a high-blown fantasy epic with dragons and wraiths. They don't get it and they never will, I suspect.
That leaves "Homeland." Carrie Mathison is the perfect heroine — a troubled woman who sees the truth when no one else does. She heroically fights her demons until she can fight them no more, and undergoes electroshock therapy — mostly because she doesn't want to remember her torrid and ill-gotten romance with Nicolas Brody. She's a damaged human being trying to do good — and who we know will triumph this season at some point. Carrie is perfect from the Emmy voters' perspective. "Homeland" — a very good show with a pair of pretty near perfect bookends — is too.