After four years serving as the entertainment industry's yappy, overly-eager-to-please pet award show, the Critics' Choice Television Awards have still not managed to suitably justify their own existence. Last night's award ceremony, televised on the CW, didn't do much to change that.
The Critics' Choice Television Awards were established in 2011 after the Broadcast Film Critics Association decided to create a television offshoot — the Broadcast Television Journalists Association — in order to do for TV what the BFCA did for movie awards. Namely, offer the movie studios plenty of fodder and precursor attention for their Oscar campaigns. The BTJA has never been quite as brazen as their film counterparts about their intentions to feed the greater award ambitions of their nominees, but you don't have to look much farther than the nominations themselves to see that this is far less a critical enterprise and more an enthusiastic feeder system for Emmy campaigns.
At last night's awards, Orange Is the New Black took the award for Best Comedy Series, Matthew McConaughey won Best Actor in a Drama Series for True Detective, Fargo won a slew of awards in the Miniseries categories, and Aaron Paul won Best Supporting Actor in a Drama. Every one of those wins flies in the face of categorization controversies that most critics have railed against. What do they all have in common? They're all in line with how the networks and the shows themselves have decided to campaign for Emmys. When Orange decided to campaign as a comedy instead of a drama, widely seen as a strategic move to get it away from fellow Netflix awards hopeful House of Cards, critics everywhere raised their skeptical eyebrows. True Detective's entry into the drama category has been a source of critical consternation for months. Aaron Paul, despite all those Emmy wins, hadn't been a "supporting" player on Breaking Bad since season one, and any critic could tell you that. And yet this organization of critics have consistently declined to set these records straight in order to hew closely to the Emmy categorizations. (The one area where this is not true: Amy Schumer was nominated as a lead actress in a comedy for Inside Amy Schumer, meaning the Emmy categorization of sketch performers as supporting in all cases is too crazy for even the sycophants at the Critics' Choice to follow along with.)
And so with pretensions towards critical independence thrown out the window, who exactly are these awards for? With wins for Emmy favorites like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jim Parsons, and Aaron Paul, it's hard to make the claim that the Critics Choice TV Awards are offering an alternative to the same-old establishment award shows. At the same time, wins for Emmy-ignored performers like Bellamy Young (Scandal) and Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) seem to suggest a yearning to be different. But without any kind of critical rigor to back it up, these more adventurous choices feel like little more than TV journalists writing their "should-win" columns, only these get aired on national television (or whatever the CW is).
It seems insane to ask "What is the purpose of this award show?" when the answer is ultimately "None, just like all the other ones." TV and film awards are a delicate fiction we tell ourselves. The tradition and establishment nature of the Oscars and the Emmys preserve them as a kind of barometer for approval, even when most of us agree that those bestowing that approval may not be any more qualified than anyone else to bestow it. The Golden Globe Awards are an out-and-out sham that don't hold up to even the most cursory examination. But they're a sham we all accepted decades ago while nobody was paying attention. That doesn't mean we get to create new shams when there's an internet and everybody knows better. Of course, we can, but a) don't call them "critics" awards when they don't even assert the critical independence to stand up to something as toothless as an Emmy publicity campaign, and b) the rest of us need to stop pretending that they mean anything but a chance for a handful of TV bloggers to get Allison Janney to show up drunk on their stage.