It would’ve been embarrassing to overlook Melissa Leo when handing out the Emmy nominations this year. After all, just five months ago, she won herself an Oscar. So on Thursday, she got a well-deserved nod for the HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce.”
That got Emmy voters off the hook. In the process, it spared them the burden of examining Leo’s work in “Treme,” the HBO drama series of which she is one of many Emmy-worthy cast members.
Leo was probably the best shot “Treme” had at recognition. But, instead of landing even one nomination — for acting, writing or anything else — the series got the back of Emmy’s hand.
What a shame. “Treme” is easily among the best drama series on the air, and takes a backseat to no show for the breadth and excellence of its cast. One more thing that makes “Treme” praiseworthy: its uniqueness.
For viewers (and, apparently, a crop of Emmy voters) who don’t know, “Treme” is set in post-Katrina New Orleans and follows a broad sample of its residents coping with the disaster’s aftermath and otherwise living their lives. If “Seinfeld” was famously a show about nothing, “Treme” is a show about everything. Everything human. Which it manages to pull off without feeling overstuffed, overwrought or artificial.
“Treme” is not dense or dark or difficult, which were words that seemed to attach themselves to a previous extraordinary series created by David Simon. Instead, “Treme” is hopeful and, befitting its setting, filled with music and stout-heartedness.
Moments big and little comingle in its narrative, the way they do in real life. In the exotic, challenged world that is New Orleans after the storm, “Treme” identities the common themes that unite its characters with its audience.
The actors make the whole thing look easy. They are a diverse crowd, diverse without a sense of satisfying any quota. However beautiful or ordinary-looking, each of them seems part of a relatable community — not members of a heightened actors’ class.
Consider, just for starters: Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters (both memorable from “The Wire”); Kim Dickens (“Deadwood”); Khandi Alexander (“CSI: Miami,” HBO’s “The Corner”); Steve Zahn (“Riding in Cars With Boys”); and Melissa Leo. All of them belong on Emmy’s lists of nominees.
But “Treme” has no exaggerated violence, sex, villainy or glamour. It just feels natural. And natural can be a tough sell in TV drama. So on Thursday, just as last year at this time, “Treme” lost out.
Of course, “Treme” wasn’t alone among the sadly snubbed. But it stands tall as the saddest. And as this year’s towering example of the Mariska Hargitay Syndrome.
Nothing against Mariska Hargitay, who, for the record, won an Emmy in 2006. But for the past eight years and counting, she has been nominated for the same leading role (Detective Olivia Benson) in the same show (NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”), a show and a performance that by now are both on automatic pilot.
Hargitay is lovely, reliable and furnished with plenty of scenery to chew on. By now, watching her is as much a habit for the audience as performing the role seems to be for her. And as habitual for the Emmy voters who select her.
In the process, a show such as “Treme” (as if another show were like “Treme”) gets the cold shoulder, along with its stars.