Emmy Nominee Primer: What's 'Top of the Lake' and 'Parade's End'?

"Scandal," "The Big Bang Theory," "Breaking Bad" … even if you've never watched them, you know what they're about. But there may be a few entries on today's list of 2013 Emmy nominees that have you scratching your head, and with that in mind (Ha! Head … mind, get it? Anyway …), here's a quick primer on a few Emmy-nominated programs to put on your must-catch-up-with viewing list:

"Top of the Lake"

Star Elisabeth Moss earned one of her two 2013 Emmy nominations for this intense, emotional drama about a detective (Moss), who returns to her New Zealand hometown to visit her mother, and gets drawn into the mystery surrounding a 12-year-old pregnant local who's gone missing. Think "Twin Peaks"-meets-"The Killing," with a thoroughly fantastic cast (which also includes Holly Hunter), and writing and direction by Oscar winner Jane Campion. The Sundance Channel miniseries received eight Emmy nominations, including Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for Moss, Supporting Actor for Peter Mullan, Outstanding Miniseries or Movie, and nods for writing, directing, casting, editing, and cinematography. So, yeah, it's good.

Watch: On Netflix and iTunes, and Sundance Channel is running a marathon of the series on July 28 starting at 1 PM

"Restless"

Charlotte Rampling, currently starring as the "Psychopath Whisperer" who helped create serial killer Dexter Morgan on "Dexter," got her first Emmy nomination (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie) for this Sundance Channel original series, in which she stars as World War II spy Sally Gilmartin, who went into hiding after a mission ended badly. Now, Sally draws her daughter Ruth ("Downton Abbey" Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series Emmy nominee Michelle Dockery) into her dangerous past so she can uncover the truth about who her mother really is. The series also stars Michael Gambon and Rufus Sewell.

Watch: Sundance Channel is running a marathon of the series on July 31 starting at 8 PM

"Parade's End"

The man with the most fun name in Hollywood — Benedict Cumberbatch, of course — stars in this Tom Stoddard-written adaptation of Ford Madox Ford's novels about the World War I love triangle between Christopher Tietjens (Cumberbatch), his spoiled, plotting wife Sylvia (Rebecca Hall), and young suffragette Valentine (Adelaide Clemens). The miniseries, which aired on HBO in February and also stars Rupert Everett and Rufus Sewell, received Emmy nods for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie (Cumberbatch), as well as writing, costumes, cinematography, and music.

Watch: On HBO Go

"The Girl"

Based on the 2009 Donald Spoto book "Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies," the HBO flick stars Toby Jones and Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as actress Tippi Hedren, whose experience making "The Birds" and "Marnie" with an obsessed Hitchcock was so traumatic that it eventually led to the end of her Hollywood career. The movie is nominated for six Emmys, including Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for Jones, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for Imelda Staunton as Hitchcock's wife Alma, and nods for directing (Julian Jarrold), costumes, music, and cinematography.

Watch: On Amazon Instant Video, HBO Go

"Political Animals"

The USA miniseries, which the network considered turning into a series, earned Emmy nominations as Outstanding Miniseries or Movie, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for Sigourney Weaver, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie for Ellen Burstyn, and nods for casting and hairstyling. The political family drama revolves around Weaver's Elaine Barrish, the divorced former First Lady and Governor of Illinois who seeks the Democratic nomination for President. Her Hilary Clinton-ish character finds herself in the middle of personal and political drama after she drops out of the race and becomes the Secretary of State for her former opponent. Burstyn is her tough, former Vegas showgirl mama Margaret, while James Wolk, Carla Gugino, Adrian Pasdar, Dylan Baker, Roger Bart, Blair Brown, and Vanessa Redgrave also star.

Watch: On Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes

"Steel Magnolias"

The 2012 Lifetime remake of the Oscar-nominated Robert Harling-penned movie features an all-African-American cast, including Queen Latifah as M'Lynn (Sally Fields in the original movie), Alfre Woodard as Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), Phylicia Rashad as Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), and Rashad's daughter Condola Rashad as M'Lynn's daughter Shelby (the role that earned Julia Roberts her first Oscar nomination). Woodard received an Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie nomination for the TV film.

Watch: On Amazon Instant Video and iTunes

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See the biggest snubs and surprises from the 2013 Emmy noms:

SURPRISE: "The Big Bang Theory" stars Mayim Bialik and Kaley Cuoco
"Blossom" alum Bialik snagged her second consecutive nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series as her Amy ... more 
SURPRISE: "The Big Bang Theory" stars Mayim Bialik and Kaley Cuoco
"Blossom" alum Bialik snagged her second consecutive nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series as her Amy Farrah Fowler saw her relationship with boyfriend Sheldon heat up (relatively speaking, of course) last season. But for every Emmy surprise, there is an Emmy snub, and in this case, it's Bialik's "Big Bang" co-star, Kaley Cuoco, who continues to be ignored by Emmy voters, despite a fine season of her own in which her Penny finally started to mature in her relationship with on-again, off-again love Leonard. less 
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Getty Images | Photo By Monty Brinton / CBS via Getty Images
Wed, Jul 17, 2013 9:00 PM PDT

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