[Written by Jeremy Grayson]
I make fun of the Emmy Awards a lot, and with good reason. They constantly pick the same shows over and over. They fail to recognize many of television’s greatest and most laudable shows. They constantly change their own voting rules, to the point that it all currently amounts to little more than a popularity contest. And when all is said and done, they’re just another awards ceremony in which Hollywood congratulates Hollywood for being Hollywood.
Still and all, the Emmys – much like the Oscars, Grammys, or Tonys alongside them – have some degree of cultural importance. Shows which get nominated tend to garner more publicity, and more recognition by future generations. (It’s doubtful that Cheers would have lasted more than a few seasons if not for the Outstanding Comedy win it garnered in its first season, and it would not be remembered nearly as well.) So whenever the nominations are announced, we shut our eyes and pray that maybe, just maybe, the voters have lost interest in Modern Family.
Well, Modern Family has received yet another Best Comedy nomination (its eighth!), and a few other nominees were eye-rollingly predictable. But, by and large, this was a less-awful pool of finalists than those of years past.
Much hay has already been made over the snubbing of The Leftovers, which ended its three-season run last month, and received only one nomination, for guest actress Ann Dowd. But in today’s age of nonstop TV, any hope that a series as low-rated and outside the public consciousness as The Leftovers could score a nomination was wishful thinking at best. Ditto Halt and Catch Fire, Rectify, Jane the Virgin, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. (Although Rachel Bloom, as I’ve heard, doesn’t care about award shows.) Some of TV’s most acclaimed shows will forever walk away empty-handed, simply because their voices are not loud enough to reach the podium. (You can call it the Buffy Effect, if you like.)
But looking over the shows that did have a snowman’s chance of making it in, there are a lot of pleasant surprises. This is especially true in the Drama categories, which welcomed a lot of fresh blood. Of the seven nominees, only two (Better Call Saul and House of Cards) are returning shows; the remaining five (The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, This Is Us, and Westworld) are all freshmen.
More importantly, there’s actually some suspense in this category this time around. Game of Thrones, which has won the award for the last two years, is on hiatus, and is thus ineligible for the current ceremony. (The seventh season will be eligible in 2018, and the eighth season in either 2019 or 2020, depending on when it airs.) The Emmy’s new rules, introduced in 2015, allow voters from any branch in the Academy to vote in the highest categories – which means that Thrones, the most popular prestige drama on television, will pretty much win the top award in every year that it’s eligible. The fact that it’s temporarily out of the running could give one of the younger shows the opportunity to step in and claim the prize. (As to which one… well, that’s a discussion for a later date.)
The Best Comedy category, by comparison, is rather pedestrian, with six of last year’s seven nominees (Black-ish, Master of None, Modern Family, Silicon Valley, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Veep) returning to the fold. Still, I’m not shedding any tears over the loss of the overrated Transparent, which was replaced by the uneven but ambitious Atlanta. Sometimes, you just take what you can get.
That philosophy has long helped me tolerate the Emmys, even as I feel compelled to thumb my nose every time House of Cards gets another series nomination. You take what you can get – and this year, we got a bit more than we’d anticipated.
Some scattered thoughts about the overall nomination field:
* This Is Us is the first broadcast network series to be nominated for Outstanding Drama since The Good Wife in 2011. While it’s not a perfect show, I’m glad the NBC hit has reaffirmed that awards love for the major networks is not completely dead.
* Tatiana Maslany was last year’s Dramatic Lead Actress winner, but she can’t be nominated this time around. Because Orphan Black, like Game of Thrones, was on hiatus this year, Maslany will have to wait until 2018 for the chance of a final-season nomination.
* Perhaps the most startling event in the nomination pool involves one of the Emmys’ all-time favorite shows. Saturday Night Live scored an incredible 22 nods, more than any other season in the show’s history. The show won an acting award (for Kate McKinnon) last year, so the event is not entirely unprecedented, but there’s a clear sense that politics had a hand in shaping this year’s field. (If you think Alec Baldwin received his nomination based on the quality of his Trump impression, you probably haven’t seen his Trump impression.)
* In addition to Baldwin, three SNL women received Supporting Actress nominations: Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and (for her farewell season) Vanessa Bayer. Truly a banner year for the late-night sketch series.
* At age 13 (she was 12 when the show aired), Millie Bobby Brown is one of the youngest people ever nominated for an Emmy. The only person who has her decisively beat is Keshia Knight Pulliam, who was only 7 years old when she was nominated in 1986 for The Cosby Show. (Johnny Crawford and Fred Savage were also 13 when they received nominations, for The Rifleman (1959) and The Wonder Years (1989), respectively.)
* Bojack Horseman’s “Fish Out of Water” was my favorite TV episode of the year, but it was not nominated for Best Animated Program. (Bojack received only one nomination, for Kristen Schaal’s voicework in “That’s Too Much, Man!”) Boooo.
* Black Mirror is now an American production, having been bought out by Netflix last year. The episode “San Junipero” is up for Outstanding TV Movie. (It didn’t air on TV and it’s not technically a movie, but don’t question these things.)
* Go away, Amazing Race. You’ve had your fun. Now just… go… away.
* Genius, the first scripted show from National Geographic, was nominated for Outstanding Limited Series. Given the stiff competition it faces from shows like Feud and The Night Of, it likely won’t win, but it’s cool to see a network score this kind of acclaim on its very first try.
* For the first time ever, Michelle Pfeiffer and Reese Witherspoon are Emmy nominees! Hopefully, this means that their careers are finally taking off.