Best Reason for Things to Change: OK, I lied I'm going to gripe. Robbed this season: Bryan Cranston, "Malcolm in the Middle"'s Hal, a dead-funny actor who added a sensitive streak to the overfamiliar dunderheaded Dad character; "Gilmore Girls," twice as likable as nominated newcomer "Ed," which begs for your affection like a golden retriever puppy in an animal shelter; and lastly and eternally "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." And next year after it moves to UPN which probably gives the prissy Emmy voters the vapors whenever they come within two channels of it its chances will move from zilch to zero.
Best Reason for Things to Stay the Same. In a way, it's best that not too much has changed at the Emmys, at least with regard to what is becoming a perennial Rocky-vs.-Apollo-Creed grudge match: the annual battle between "The Sopranos" and "The West Wing" for the soul of television. Wherever you think of the shows and with 40 nominations between them, you're going to be sick of them by the time Emmy night's over there are no more appropriate standard-bearers for today's cable-vs.-network death struggle.
I've sounded off on this ad nauseam before, so I'll limit my comments to a single, open-minded statement: Anyone who still believes "The West Wing" is a better show than "The Sopranos" does not deserve to own a television. There are many reasons, but let's take just one, character development. After 39 episodes, "The Sopranos" has opened worlds within worlds on even its supporting characters. After 44 episodes, what more do you know about "The West Wing"'s characters not biographical backstory but actual inner lives than you did the first time the show aired? Bupkes. Squat. And the personal tidbits we have learned (Bartlet's MS, Leo's drug addiction, Sam's father's infidelity) have been stock TV-drama twists that Aaron Sorkin has used simply to add another alabaster slab to the base of his characters' pedestals. If you disagree with me, take heart: Emmy voters, who hate giving actual awards to cable series, will probably be on your side.
Worst Sopranos Nomination: Having said that, even "The Sopranos" is now able to benefit from Emmy voters' tendency to buy in bulk, giving a hot show nominations in every category, deserving or not. This year, even those "Sopranos" fans who like Aida Turturro's portrayal of flaky sister Janice have to recognize that, this season, her role was so circumscribed after Livia's funeral, she did almost nothing but strum a guitar that it scarcely qualified as "supporting."
Actual Best Category Showdown: Anybody who thinks reality TV is just a trend and not the most exciting area of TV going should take a look at the nominations in the first year for the category. (Actually, categories: it's divided between "reality," for documentary type shows, and "special class" for reality game shows.) Besides "Survivor," Fox/PBS's "American High" outdid any WB teen drama not to mention so-called quality melodramas like "Once and Again" for capturing the exhilaration and suckiness of youth; the engineering battle "Junkyard Wars" on TLC is more entertaining than 99% of TV sports; VH1's "Bands on the Run" took four unsuccessful bands on the road and proved that their drunken antics and the sad mismatch of their dreams with their talents made for great viewing if lousy music; and HBO's "Taxicab Confessions," the undersung dirty old man of the reality genre, tells verite stories of beautiful losers and sexual exhibitionists week in and out (pun intended).
Best Vindication: HBO's chilling "Conspiracy" an understated but awe- inspiring movie detailing the hour-and-a-half meeting where the Nazis hammered out the Final Solution for the Jews got more nominations than the network's higher-profile "61*," a competent baseball movie, and "Wit," the moving but simplistic story of a professor dying from cancer, which all but grabbed Emmy voters' arms and forced them to write it onto their ballots.
Best Return from the Dead (tie): Andre Braugher, in a well-deserved Best Actor nod for the cancelled "Gideon's Crossing," and Paul Feig, getting an even better-deserved Comedy Writing nomination for "Freaks and Geeks," despite the show's having been canceled a year ago. (Emmy honored the show's finale, which NBC burned off last July, before it had highbrow fare like "Fear Factor" to offer in the summer.)
And finally, The What, Are You Saying Jessica Alba's Body Isn't Real? Award: Fox's "Dark Angel," nominated for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series. Oh, you mean *those* visual effects! Yeah, like anybody pays attention to them.