And the winners are:
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Life's Too Short (HBO)
Modern Family (ABC)
Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
This was the toughest competition of the season, as Nurse Jackie (2010's winner) edges out Parks and Recreation (last year's winner). Parks was pretty great again (although ratings have cratered, as they have for all of NBC's Thursday lineup) but Nurse Jackie was as good this season as it was in its first two seasons, even though there are still a few episodes left. This is a sober Jackie for the very first time, a necessary step in the arc of the show -- her drug abuse was getting worse and worse and affecting her family and work -- and it was going to have to end. Badly. Which it did when guest Billie Joe Armstrong died in her arms after an overdose. They handled the rehab rather well (although quickly) and have handled the "clean and sober" part equally well, as her husband has sued for divorce and custody of the kids, putting the rest of her life in danger in the absence of the drug use. O'Hara's pregnancy has been a welcome addition (I assume Eve Best is pregnant in real life, but either way it works). Getting Anna Deveare-Smith out on the floor as a nurse again was a stroke of genius. And the inclusion of Bobby Canavale was a wise decision to give Jackie a foil (with the twist that she befriended his addict son in rehab -- a juicy detail that I can't wait to see how it resolves). All in all, the show has focused more on the hospital than Jackie's family life (now that her husband has left her) and that has probably been for the good (he was always the weakest character). So in the end, Nurse Jackie beats out the great "Leslie running for town council" season on Parks and Recreation. Coming in third again was another solid season for Modern Family, edging out the 2nd season of the awkward but wonderful comedy of Louis CK.
Game of Thrones (HBO)
True Blood (HBO)
Game of Thrones is having a great season and last week's episode -- with the shocking string of events at the conclusion, almost approximating an "end of The Godfather" conclusion, is still reverberating in my mind. But of course this is a show that killed off its main character at the end of Season 1. So yeah. No one is safe. It loses the crown to Shameless, though, which wins Best Drama in each of its first two seasons on Showtime, giving the pay cable net that few people have the best two programs on television. Very impressive. And a very impressive season for the show. The only complaint I had on the first season was that Frank Gallagher, the alcoholic deadbeat father of the family at the center of the drama, was so reprehensible as a character that it was tough to watch at times. This year, with the introduction of Frank's mother (just out of jail and dying of cancer) as well as the welcome return of Monica, his wife, we got to see how Frank got so damaged as a person and got to see him as a slightly sympathetic figure (even though he again had some undeniably sociopathic behavior this season). As for the rest of the family, Fiona appeared pretty damaged as well (which was only hinted at last season) but she held it together for the most part... handling Monica's attempted suicide on Thanksgiving night incredibly (amazing acting by Emmy Rossum again). Lip's story arc was a reversal of season 1, as he descended into madness over his feelings for his clearly psychotic girlfriend in a difficult plotline to watch. The other kids also got plenty of screen time and plotlines and despite the heaviness of most of the story, there was still plenty of humor, and overall, it's just a really compelling and well-made show. Good enough to edge out Game of Thrones.
Best Reality Show
America's Got Talent (NBC)
The Next Food Network Star (Food)
The Next Iron Chef (Food)
Real World / Road Rules Challenge (MTV)
Best Actor, Comedy
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Louis CK, Louie
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Warwick Davis, Life's Too Short
Charlie Day, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
This came down to last year's winner (Burrell) and a new star on the block, the undersized but brilliantly funny Warwick Davis. Louis CK and Larry David were great, but are basically playing themselves so I'm not sure there's a lot of acting there. Baldwin's show is a shell of its former self and his bloated figure doesn't help anymore. Charlie was great as always, but this wasn't a great year for the series. So it was Burrell -- really great this year, but not quite the revelation that he was in their inaugural season -- vs. the former star of Willow and Return of the Jedi (as a child, as an Ewok), which he was fond to remind everyone of the entire season of this "mockumentary", the latest Ricky Gervais / Stephen Merchant offering that was flat-out funny throughout, mostly because Davis was willing to do anything (including falling out of his SUV every episode) for laughs.
Best Actress, Comedy
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Veep
Mary Louise-Parker, Weeds
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Falco edges out Poehler on the basis of the show having a stronger season (slightly) and it doesn't hurt that a "clean" Nurse Jackie is a bit more sympathetic than the junkie she had turned into in Season 3. Louis-Dreyfuss is great as the Vice President, though -- basically playing Elaine if she were the Vice President (kind of dumb and ineffective and not confident but hilarious). Bowen was also great this year.
Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
Rob Lowe, Parks and Recreation
Rob McElhenny, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Nick Offerman, Parks and Recreation
Chris Pratt, Parks and Recreation
Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation
I predict that Ron Swanson is not going to lose this award as long as Parks and Recreation is on the air.
Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Eve Best, Nurse Jackie
Alyson Hannigan, How I Met Your Mother
Rosamund Hanson, Life's Too Short
Rashida Jones, Parks and Recreation
Aubrey Plaza, Parks and Recreation
Anna Deavere Smith, Nurse Jackie
Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie
Dr. O'Hara has become a bigger force in this season, not just because she is physically bigger (pregnant) but also because she has become Jackie's main outside work contact, now that her family has basically left her and she's done boffing Eddie. We actually got to see inside the hotel suite where O'Hara lives (filled with shoes) and the closeness of the relationship between she and Jackie is definitely sweet to see. The other actresses were all great and deserving, but Eve Best wins for the 2nd straight year.
Best Actor, Drama (Supporting or Main)
Stephen Dillane, Game of Thrones
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
William H. Macy, Shameless
Cameron Monaghan, Shameless
Alexander Skarsgard, True Blood
Jeremy Allen White, Shameless
One of the toughest battles this year was between Macy and Peter Dinklage, now the biggest star on Game of Thrones (after several leads including the main character got killed off last year). Dinklage is great and I can't even find a word to fault his portrayal of an "imp" who has gone to King's Landing to be the right hand of the king -- his immature lout of a nephew "King" Joffrey -- bringing him into serious conflict with his sister and all the underhanded underlings while preparing for a war and trying to save the realm for his father. But unfortunately for him, there are at least a dozen other major characters, each with plotlines and supporting characters around them, so Dinklage's screen time cannot compare with Macy's, even though his show also has a large cast and a bunch of plotlines. But Macy has found that sweet spot in playing a deplorable character with just enough grace that the viewer can feel a little sympathy for him, an amazing performance.
Best Actress, Drama (Supporting or Main)
Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones
Joan Cusack, Shameless
Louise Fletcher, Shameless
Lena Headey, Game of Thrones
Anna Paquin, True Blood
Emmy Rossum, Shameless
Chloe Webb, Shameless
I really thought I was going to give this to Rossum, whose Fiona remains the central character on the best drama on television, but Joan Cusack's portrayal of agoraphobic homemaker Sheila was just a study in incredible acting this season. Her role expanded from the oblivious nutjob mother of Karen to a more well-rounded character with a bunch of plotlines and Cusack, the pro that she is, brought so much life to all her scenes that I just had to give her the win.
Best Late Night or Variety Program
This year at least, I found myself enjoying Colbert more than his companion on Comedy Central, Jon Stewart, even if only slightly. Colbert's interviews are better and his openings are often better. He doesn't get to use all the great correspondents that Stewart does, which gives Daily Show the edge, but when he does do a set piece -- like the interviews with Maurice Sendak or Julie Andrews -- it's just about the best thing on television. That's enough to edge out the Daily Show here.
Best Late Night or Variety Host
Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report
Jimmy Fallon, Late Night
David Letterman, Late Show with David Letterman
Seth Myers, Saturday Night Live
Jon Stewart, The Daily Show
Best Late Night Performer (Non-Host)
Samantha Bee, The Daily Show
Jason Jones, The Daily Show
Aasif Mandvi, The Daily Show
John Oliver, The Daily Show
Jason Sudeikas, Saturday Night Live
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
John Oliver is the best right now of an amazing group of Daily Show correspondents. And I highly recommend his podcast "The Bugle", if you're into that sort of thing (podcasts, not bugles). In fact, I really need to write about podcasting, which I only recently discovered and have fallen in love with. But anyway, The Daily Show, still great.
Best Overall Program
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
Modern Family (ABC)
Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
In order I would rank them like this: (1) Shameless, (2) Nurse Jackie, (3) Colbert, (4) Parks & Recreation, (5) Game of Thrones, (6) Daily Show, (7) Modern Family, (8) Louie. The top 3 -- the 3 "winners" above, were almost a coin toss but based on the overall season (admittedly Nurse Jackie isn't finished her season yet), I had to give it to Shameless. But what a great year for Showtime. And what a great year for American televsion.