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Sepinwall on Emmys 2018: Comedy Nods Outshine Dramas

This year’s nominations spotlight innovative comedy series and stars – but on the serious side of the spectrum, the Academy’s choices are a snore

Rachel Brosnahan as Midge Maisel, Bill Hader as Barry Berkman, Betty Gilpin as Debbie Eagan glow

Rachel Brosnahan as Midge Maisel, Bill Hader as Barry Berkman, Betty Gilpin as Debbie Eagan.

Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Studios, John P. Johnson/HBO, Erica Parise/Netflix

Last year represented something of a changing of the guard when it came to Emmy-nominated dramas. With Game of Thrones taking the year off, and other former nominees either being gone (Downton Abbey) or suffering through down years (Mr. Robot, Homeland), a whopping four new shows got Outstanding Drama Series nods in 2017.

With this year’s nominations, it was comedy’s turn for the new. Defending champ Veep and frequent nominee (and winner in other categories) Master of None were both absent during the eligibility window, while the TV Academy’s love affair with repeat winner Modern Family finally came to an end (it was shut out other than a sound mixing nomination). Between that and the tie-breaking rules that delivered eight nominees this year instead of seven, there was room for three first-year comedies – in Barry, GLOW and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – to go along with sophomore comedy (and unofficial Best Show on TV this year) Atlanta and veterans black-ish, Silicon Valley, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the long-absent Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Even if you feel that Kimmy’s most recent half-season (released at the very end of the eligibility window) was underwhelming, and that Curb and Silicon have both seen better days, this is still a much more exciting and adventurous group of nominees, especially when you move to the comedic acting categories to find the likes of Better Things star Pamela Adlon, The Good Place‘s Ted Danson and Insecure star Issa Rae. Those three shows deserved more widespread nominations, but all three actors got back in the race, along with a bunch of great people like Bill Hader, Rachel Brosnahan, Henry Winkler, Tony Shalhoub and Betty Gilpin from the freshmen best comedy nominees.

The drama side of the field in theory had room to keep adding fresh blood. Better Call Saul and House of Cards both sat out the window (Saul will be back next month, Cards later in the year). Game of Thrones returned, but for a season even many diehard fans found underwhelming; Westworld‘s sophomore season was divisive at best; and even This Is Us, The Crown and The Handmaid’s Tale weren’t quite as universally beloved as a year ago. But instead of making room for a deserving newcomer like Killing Eve (which did get nods for star Sandra Oh and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the Outstanding Drama Series category was for former nominees (including The Americans, last included here in 2016) only. Oh and Ozark‘s Jason Bateman are the only actors to be nominated for a new drama series this year (if we expand it to the guest categories, we can add Mindhunter‘s terrifying Cameron Britton), as some returnees notched new nods, such as Yvonne Strahovski and Joseph Fiennes from Handmaid’s and Ed Harris sliding into Anthony Hopkins’ Westworld slot.

Peak TV is hard. There are many more deserving actors and shows than there are slots. Netflix alone has so flooded the field – and was rewarded by breaking HBO’s 18-year streak of leading all nominated networks – that it would be easy to complain just about all of their shows that deserved better. (And heck, at least American Vandal and Big Mouth got nominations for, respectively, writing and songwriting.) So it’s harder to get outraged about snubs than it was in other eras, especially when the Academy finally stopped rubber-stamping the likes of Modern Family. But it’s definitely easier to feel thrilled by what’s happening in the comedy realm: to see Hader and Donald Glover pick up four nominations apiece (and probably five once producer credits get factored in), to see Mrs. Maisel recognized for its technical excellence on top of Rachel Brosnahan’s charismatic performance, to see Better Things be acknowledged at all rather than treated as radioactive in the wake of the Louis CK revelations.

For much of this century, the idea of “quality TV” was largely defined by dramas. More recently, the most interesting work has often been done in the half-hour space with shows like Atlanta. So it’s not surprising that the Emmy comedy space should also be more colorful this time around.

Other Emmy thoughts:

  • Good Place writer Megan Amram shamelessly, transparently and hilariously campaigned for Emmys in the short form categories with her web series An Emmy for Megan. So far, the campaign seems to be working, as both she and the show got nominations. Here’s hoping the primetime telecast somehow finds an excuse to show Amram singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the fifth episode.
  • We have a longer list of Emmy snubs here, but among my biggest disappointments: Jodie Comer, who was every bit as important as Oh to the joy of Killing Eve; BoJack Horseman, which couldn’t crack the animation field despite submitting last season’s brilliant and sad “Time’s Arrow”; Kyle MacLachlan, doing insanely great work in three different roles in Twin Peaks: The Return (which did pick up a trio of nominations for writing, directing and, most appropriately, sound design); GLOW leading lady Alison Brie (who was, like the show itself, eligible for the first season, when she carried a huge comic and dramatic workload); and, especially, Noah Emmerich, who was just as important to the devastating Americans endgame as Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. I’d be frustrated about the incredible final season of Halt and Catch Fire being ignored if it had ever been nominated for anything besides the design of its opening credits.
  • “Time’s Arrow” didn’t make it, but Rick and Morty‘s “Pickle Rick” did. “Emmy-nominated ‘Pickle Rick'” is a good phrase. (As is “Emmy-nominated mockumentary about who drew 27 dicks on 27 cars in a high school faculty parking lot.”)
  • That shows like Black Mirror and, in past years, Sherlock, can submit feature-length episodes in the movie and miniseries categories is a weird Emmy quirk, which this time resulted in seven nominations for this season’s highlight, the Star Trek-meets-toxic-masculinity parody “USS Callister.” Somehow, though, its star Cristin Milioti didn’t get one of those nominations.
  • Netflix edging out HBO for total nominations, 112-108, probably won’t slow down the fervor of AT&T execs to make the pay cable giant more like its streaming rival.
  • It was a mixed bag for revival series. Curb got four nominations, which is roughly how it did for its last few seasons, including that comedy series nod and one for Larry David, while Twin Peaks, Roseanne and Will & Grace had to settle for relatively small hauls compared to the number of nominations they got back in the day.

In This Article: Alison Brie, Bill Hader, Emmy Awards

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