By Josh Axelrod
The Emmy Awards used the hype surrounding Oscar week to mask its big announcement about reforming its categories. In addition to revamping what’s considered a mini-series and expanding its comedy and drama categories from six to seven nominees, it also set a strange precedent for what is now considered a comedy and a drama.
In the eyes of Emmy voters, a comedy is now any series with episodes 30 minutes or less, and any show with episodes over 30 minutes will be considered a drama. There’s so much wrong with these definitions I’m not sure where to begin. So instead, I want to talk about a show that the Emmys tend to love: “The Big Bang Theory.”
No one has ever argued that “The Big Bang Theory” should be nominated in a category other than comedy. But last night’s episode, “The Comic Book Regeneration,” was a good reminder of how outdated the idea of a show being a pure “comedy” or “drama” really is. Sure, the episode mostly went for laughs, as it always does. But it ended on a punch to the gut that, say, “Scandal” wishes it could pull off convincingly.
When Carol Ann Susi, the never-seen but always-heard voice of Howard’s mother, passed away a few months ago, it was only a matter of time before “The Big Bang Theory” dealt with its loss. Instead of doing it right away though, the show waited a few months for Howard to get the call that his mother had died. The moment admittedly came out of nowhere, but that didn’t diminish its impact.
In fact, what made it that much more powerful was that the lead-up to it was typical “Big Bang” silliness. Howard was upset that Stuart moved some of his mother’s furniture into his refurbished comic book store, Leonard and Raj were harassing Nathan Fillion at a deli, and Shamy was running a hilariously mean experiment on Penny. And then BOOM, all the bickering stopped as the gang rallied around Howard. Even Sheldon was there for his friend with some genuinely sweet words of wisdom.
You never expect comedies to bring a tear to your eye. I didn’t expect “How I Met Your Mother” to do it when Marshall’s dad died. I wasn’t prepared when “Glee,” TV’s most tonally schizophrenic show, used Lea Michelle’s real, raw emotion to send off Finn after Cory Monteith’s tragic death. And “Parks and Recreation” got me when Ben proposed to Leslie…and when Leslie and Ron made up…and just last week when Andy made it clear that April was the most important thing in his life.
The point of this little exercise is that the best comedies on TV handle drama just as well as their bread and butter. And the reverse scenarios work for dramas as well. “Mad Men” is the master of black humor, which is still best exemplified by “Not great Bob!” I busted a gut when I saw Gale Boetticher’s music video on “Breaking Bad.” There was that one time on “Game of Thrones” when Podrick was so good in bed the prostitutes returned his money. And, as I’m finding out on my current binge, every word out of Tim Riggins’ mouth on “Friday Night Light” is hilarious, intentionally or not.
So here’s my question: Why are the Emmys still operating under the delusion that you can define a comedy and a drama? And why do they think the length of the show has anything to do with genre? “Girls” packs A LOT of drama into 30 minutes along with Lena Dunham’s millennial humor. And the criminally underrated “Suits” would baffle Emmy voters with its trademark wit and the shockingly dark places it takes its characters sometimes.
Of course, the reason the Emmys did this is probably because of the outcry after “Orange is the New Black,” an hour-long show that is both hilarious and deals with an incredibly serious subject, was labeled a comedy. Now it has to be considered a drama, which still doesn’t solve the problem.
The only real solution to this issue would be to install a Dramedy category where shows like “OitNB,” “Transparent,” and “Better Call Saul” (which, as a drama anchored by a comedian, should make Emmy voters’ heads explode) can get their proper dues. The more ambiguously categorized shows would get honored for everything they do well, not just one element.
There’s no need to abolish the comedy and drama categories; Emmy voters just need to use a little more common sense when sorting its shows. “The Big Bang Theory” is still a comedy, and “Mad Men” is still a drama. But since any show good enough to be nominated for an Emmy should be able to handle both drama and comedy, categorizing shows by length diminishes what makes them Emmy-worthy in the first place.