By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 27, 2013 at 2:19PM
Though "Girls" took a tiny bit of a dip quality-wise in its second season, following one of the best debut runs we can remember, there's not much shame in that. Plus for the occasional wrong turn it took, there were many right ones, not least in developing some of its more neglected characters. In the first season, Zosia Mamet's Shoshanna stole scenes, but didn't have much dimension; she was the Phoebe or the Charlotte of the group, good for comic relief, but not necessarily given the depth of the others. Mamet continued to bring the comedy gold this time around, but also got to stretch her dramatic legs a little more too, as she embarked on her first relationship with Alex Karpovsky's Ray, only to find that she wanted something more. Mamet did a lovely job at showing that Shoshanna was more than just a naive princess, all the while continuing to be one of the more original comic creations of the last few years. Mamet might have had some bad press in the last few weeks due to her ill-advised Kickstarter plan, but so long as she keeps knocking it out the park like this, we don't care too much.
Star-free, vaguely premised and in a less-than-spectacular Saturday timeslot on BBC America (admittedly after "Doctor Who," but still...), "Orphan Black" turned out to be something of a gem, with an ever-growing cult. And Tatiana Maslany's central performance isn't just the best thing in the show, it is the show. To begin with, she's plays Sarah Manning, a con-artist and foster child who returns to Canada to reunite with her daughter, only to witness the suicide of a woman who looks identical to her. It's already an impressive performance, but then you discover that Sarah is one of a series of clones, and Maslany does-quintuple duty as a German whistleblower, a Ukranian assassin, a Canadian soccer mom and an American scientist, each entirely distinct in personality. And it gets more complex when the characters start impersonating each other. It's head-spinning stuff just to watch, but to be switching between them on a dime, and in turning in such truly excellent performances while carrying the entire show on her back, the mostly-unknown Maslany is deservedly becoming a star. Of everyone on the list, she probably has the best chance of actually getting an Emmy nod -- there's been a steady swell of buzz behind her, and a lot of critical support. If it happens, it'll be the most deserving nomination all year.
No one can say that "30 Rock" has been overlooked by the Emmys: it's won ten trophies over the years, and has broken the record for the most nominations in the comedy category twice, with 17 in 2008, and a whopping 22 in 2009. That said, it's dropped off of late, failing to win any for a few years now, and despite this year's season being the last one, it'd be a surprise to see it return to former glories. In particular, there's one performer on the show who's never quite got the awards acclaim he deserves -- Tracy Morgan, as semi-namesake Tracy Jordan. Morgan did pick up a nomination in 2009, but that remains his lone nod, and if season seven made anything clear, it's the monumental contribution that he makes towards the show, at least on a par with more lauded co-stars Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Jane Krakowski. Perhaps he's overlooked because of the similarities between his public persona and character, which are often deliberate, but his arc this season (which saw Tracy set up his own Tyler Perry-style movie studio, complete with Madea-esque Aunt Phatso character) hammered home that whatever the links, it's always been a performance, and always a deeply brilliant one. It's hard to imagine the show being the same without him, and it'd be a shame to see him go unrewarded again. Especially as it would put Morgan on the path to a real-life E.G.O.T.
It's hard to know how Emmy voters will take to "Top Of The Lake," which we named the best show of the 2012/2013 season. On one hand, the miniseries/TV movie category is a bit thinner, on the other, it was a foreign-made Sundance Channel series barely watched by anybody. We suspect it'll pick up some nods, but if Peter Mullan doesn't get one -- in fact, if he doesn't win -- it'll be a downright tragedy, because the ever-undervalued Scottish actor gave probably the greatest performance in a career already full to the brim with great turns. At first glance, it's the kind of thing Mullan's done plenty of times before (indeed, there was something similar on British TV only just before "Top Of The Lake" aired, in ambitious but middlingly-executed miniseries "The Fear"); a Scottish-accented, thuggish crime boss. But Matt Mitcham was a different kettle of fish altogether. He was terrifying, yes, notably in a scene where he kills a dog in front of police inspector Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss, also superb, and probably getting a nomination). But he could also be tender, as when he strikes up a relationship with an American woman and takes ecstasy with her, or with what seems to be genuine love for his daughter Tui. But that tenderness only goes so far, and within seconds, Matt could be flagellating himself on his mother's grave, or threatening violence. It was a spectacularly complex role, truly one for the ages, and you couldn't ask for a better actor than Mullan to pull it off.
"Boardwalk Empire" has such depth in its ensemble that you're surprised that no-one except Steve Buscemi and Kelly Macdonald have picked up Emmy nominations in the past; every week brings great turns from Stephen Graham, Shea Whigham, Gretchen Mol, Jack Huston, Bobby Cannavale and more. But our favorite performance in season three came from someone we'd never heard of before, but will certainly be keeping an eye on going forward -- Meg Chambers Steedle -- playing Nucky's new mistress, and aspiring actress Billie Kent. Steedle has almost no credits so far, bar a one-shot appearance in "Body Of Proof," but as with much of the cast of the show, she broke out in New York theater, having made a splash as the lead in a revival of Neil Simon's "Barefoot In The Park." And the instant she appears on screen as babyfaced, flapperish free-spirit Billie, you know she's going to be a megastar at some stage -- it sometimes feels like the casting directors found some previously unknown silent movie star frozen on ice, dethawed her, and let her loose in front of the cameras. She was a breath of fresh air to both the audience and to Nucky, and her explosive death at the hands of Gyp Rosetti is one of the most bruising of the series' many grisly endings.
Honorable Mentions: James Wolk and Linda Cardelleni from "Mad Men," Anna Torv and John Noble from "Fringe," Dakota Johnson from "Ben & Kate," Kate Mara in "House Of Cards," Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza in "Parks and Recreation," Charles Dance in "Game Of Thrones," and Luke Wilson in "Enlightened." Anyone you think deserves some recognition? Agree with our picks? Weight in below.