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Television John Doyle: Golden Globe TV nominations are good, bad, strange as usual

The great thing about the Golden Globes is that the awards shindig includes television. The even better thing is that the Golden Globes' TV categories are eccentric to the point of being bizarre. Monday's announcement was the usual puzzler.

Mr. Robot, which was last year's winner in the Best Drama Series category, is shut out this year. Instead, attention is lavished on hotter, newer shows like Stranger Things and Westworld. It's as if Mr. Robot didn't have a second season. It did and went awry into obscure plot twists and near-impenetrable conspiracy theories. But that's not why it's shut out.

The show, which did garner nominations for actors Rami Malek and Christian Slater, is shut out because the Golden Globe voters really like sparkling new productions. One can imagine the subject of Mr. Robot coming up at a meeting and somebody announcing, "That's so old," while everybody else nods in agreement. There's a generally held opinion that members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are doddery old-timers but when it comes to TV they're like little kids who need shiny new things to get excited about.

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This aspect of the Golden Globes has its advantages. It is a relief to see Riley Keough nominated for The Girlfriend Experience, a series that was outstanding but under the radar this year. Made by the Starz channel and airing in Canada on Super Channel, it's a deeply disquieting drama about sex as transaction. Keough plays Christine, a law student who becomes a professional "girlfriend" and the series was so far from salacious that it was at times chillingly creepy. Her performance was remarkable, brave and dexterous.

With the Globes happening in January, and therefore midway through the TV season, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association gets to signal what is good and great about the avalanche of new series that pours down in the fall.

Sometimes, this is a darn good thing – a show that had critical acclaim but a small audience gets a boost. Sometimes, mind you, it means the show getting the attention is the one that is fresh and talked about but not particularly outstanding.

This year, the case in point is NBC's new hit This Is Us, a well-crafted exercise in sentimentality that is so manipulative it can make its trite moments seem profound. Respect must be shown for the craft involved, but the series amounts to hackneyed bromides.

On the other hand, Golden Globe attention for FX's critical hit Atlanta is very welcome. Atlanta is immensely hard to define but it has a heft which is subtly meaningful. Surreal, dark, funny and humane, it's about race but at the same time it isn't – it's about day-to-day life in all its small triumphs and failures.

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Last year, Amazon's Mozart in the Jungle won in the Best Series - Musical or Comedy category and the win was greeted with perplexity. Mozart – which is nominated again – is a lovely, charming but often insubstantial series. If Atlanta wins in January, the honour will be well-deserved.

Airing Wednesday

Star (Fox, 9 p.m.) gets a one-off airing tonight on the coattails of Empire and becomes a regular-schedule Fox drama in early January. If your tastes run to the hip-hop drama of Empire, Star is a must-see.

Like Empire, it's created by Lee Daniels, the man who also produced and directed the Oscar-nominated movie Precious. There is a touch of Precious here – it's about escaping poverty and dealing with the terrible indignity of foster homes and social services. But mostly it's about forming an all-girl pop group and aiming for success.

First, Star Davis (Jude Demorest) escapes an endless series of foster homes to find her sister Simone and try to use their voices to make music and become somebodies. The third actor in this plan is Alexandra "Alex" Crane, a wealthy 20-year-old who wants to shove her privilege aside and make authentic music.

Then there's godmother Carlotta (Queen Latifah) who likes church music and doesn't appreciate the young women's plan to be pop stars. The show is a wild mix of anger, music, pathos, sex and tears. What Lee Daniels is doing here is, at times, wildly provocative.

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