Thursday, July 13, 2017

Brief Thoughts on the 69th Annual Emmy Awards Nominations

The nominations for the 69th Annual Emmy Awards were announced this morning, and this year the Academy unleashed quite a few surprises. HBO's perennial juggernaut Game of Thrones is absent after not airing any episodes during the eligibility period, yet the network still reigned supreme with 110 total nominations. Netflix, however, followed close behind with 91 total nominations, and both platforms far outpaced their closest competition, NBC (60). The latter's Saturday Night Live was recognized for it's return to the zeitgeist with 22 nominations, matching HBO's new science-fiction/Western hybrid Westworld (22) for the most among programs. Those programs were followed by Netflix's retro sci-fi/horror Stranger Things and FX's Ryan Murphy-produced showbiz anthology series FEUD: Bette & Joan with 18 nominations apiece. The reigning winner of Best Comedy Series, HBO's Veep, led all comedies with 17 nominations.

 Stranger Things

The wider variety of choices available in the era of "Peak TV" and the Academy's new online voting system seems to have shaken up their selections. Sure, voters stubbornly refuse to let Modern Family slip from the Best Comedy Series lineup, where Atlanta is the only debutante in a season that saw a wide range of new comedies debut. Best Drama Series, on the other hand, sees five first-time nominees among its seven honorees, and all five of those series are in their first season. Plus, the nomination for The Handmaid's Tale marks Hulu's breakthrough at the Emmys, joining fellow streaming sites Netflix and Amazon. Best Limited Series - which is tailor-made for anthology dramas - saw both American Horror Story and American Crime fall away in favor of "event series" Big Little Lies and The Night Of from HBO, suggesting that maybe the self-contained miniseries isn't dead yet (those rumors of more Lies be damned). And the new Best Variety Sketch Series opened the doors for IFC's Documentary Now! and truTV's Billy on the Street to be recognized alongside Saturday Night Live and Portlandia as sketch comedy continues to blossom critically once again.

The full list of nominees can be found here. My thoughts on the biggest surprises and snubs can be found after the jump.

This is Us

This is Us brings broadcast drama back to the big stage. The hype of the "Peak TV" era has centered around cable and streaming networks' programs, as shows from HBO, FX, and Netflix are considered "more cinematic," "more artistic," or just flat-out "better" than what the broadcast networks put on, largely because the latter is beholden to content restrictions and mass-audience appeal (even though the latter is certainly up for debate today). It should come as no surprise, then, that network dramas have slowly been edged out of the Best Drama Series category over the past 20 years, to the point where, by 2009, only two of the seven nominated shows aired on broadcast networks (ABC's Lost and FOX's House). Until This is Us snagged a nomination this morning, no broadcast network drama had been nominated for the top prize since CBS' The Good Wife in 2011. The show is also the first NBC drama to be nominated for Best Drama Series since Heroes in 2007 (for its first season...hopefully this is not a harbinger of things to come for the delightful multigenerational family drama). Though it remains a longshot against buzzier cable and streaming fare such as The Crown (Netflix), Westworld, and The Handmaid's Tale, This is Us could be the first broadcast network show to win this prize since 24 did it in 2006.


HBO's (non-Veep) comedies strike out. While Westworld performed very well and positioned itself as the heir-apparent to Game of Thrones as the crown jewel of HBO's dramas, the network's comedies didn't fare quite as well. This is excepting Veep, of course, which, as previously mentioned, landed 17 nominations and aims to win Best Comedy Series for the third year in a row and Best Actress in a Comedy for Julia Louis-Dreyfus for the sixth(!) consecutive year. For the rest of the network's stable of comedies, however, the nominations were pretty unimpressive. Girls landed a few well-deserved nods for its final season (more on that below), and Silicon Valley picked up another Best Comedy Series nod. Yet the latter show's total is down from previous years and none of the performers earned nods (a true shame, considering Zach Woods had a banner year as tightly-wound Jared). Ballers, Crashing, Vice Principals, and High Maintenance, however, combined for a total of zero nominations. Divorce, which earned a high profile by marking Sarah Jessica Parker's return to the network that made her a star with Sex and the City, earned a single nomination - for cinematography. Most disappointingly, Insecure, one of the season's best new shows, failed to earn a single nomination despite a terrific performance by creator/star Issa Rae. Hopefully HBO's decision to make the entire first season available for free on YouTube will bring people in for season two's July 23 premiere.

The Get Down

The Emmys aren't down with The Get Down. Look, I'm aware that Netflix's very expensive, Baz Luhrmann-created show about the birth of hip-hop in the 1970s Bronx was not going to be for everyone. The show swung wildly from a half-baked gangster drama to a achingly sweet coming-of-age tale to a vibrant, exhilarating musical fantasia, all in a single hour. It was probably never in the running for Best Drama Series (though more adventurous voters hopefully mentioned it). The should-be star-making turns by Justice Smith and Herizen F. Guardiola weren't going to pick up nominations, either, nor was Shamiek Moore delivering on the promise he first showed in Dope two years ago. But no recognition for the elaborate, period-accurate production design? Nor for the terrific, lived-in costumes? Nothing for the original songs, which were always the highlight of the show? Given the show's recent cancellation, this was the Academy's chance to recognize Luhrmann's and co-creator Stephen Aldy Guirgis' bold vision. It's a shame they whiffed at it.

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies deservedly dominates the Limited Series nods. Reese Witherspoon or Nicole Kidman for Best Actress in a Limited Series or Movie? That's going to be a compelling decision for voters to make, one that won't be helped by the category also being stacked with the likes of Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon (both of FEUD), Carrie Coon (Fargo), and Felicity Huffman (American Crime). Yet it highlights the nomination success of HBO's miniseries, which earned a total of 16 nominations, matching Fargo for the most among limited series. It seems a bit odd that Shailene Woodley is competing in Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, given how central her character is to the plot. Yet it does recreate (theoretically) the conflict between her character and Laura Dern's within the show, which is juicy fun to imagine. Jean-Marc ValleƩ's direction, David E. Kelley's scripts, and the masterful music selections (few shows had better soundtracks that this one this year) were all deservingly nominated as well. Big Little Lies stands to disrupt Ryan Murphy's shows' dominance of these categories.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

The CW still struggles for love... I can't help but love this little netlet. Ever since I defended it in my Television Theory class as the most important network on television, I've cheered on The CW to find the respect from the Academy that it deserves. And yet here we are, with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend only picking up a single nomination (for Best Original Music & Lyrics), MADtv picking up a makeup nod, and that's the full sum of the network's nominations; Oculus also earned two nominations, and YouTube earned five, for comparison. Granted, The CW doesn't exactly traffic in "traditional" Emmy fare. But that's still no excuse for failing to recognize the brilliance of Jane the Virgin's Gina Rodriguez, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom and Donna Lynne Champlin, and the network's stable of superhero shows that offer creative stunt work and visual effects. 


...but Girls picked up some well-deserved looks for its final season. Lena Dunham's HBO series wrapped up with a strong and unexpected season, and thankfully the Academy took notice. Though Dunham herself wasn't nominated, Riz Ahmed, Matthew Rhys, and Becky Ann Baker all earned guest acting nods, and the show's music supervision was also recognized. It's also a shame that Allison Williams wasn't nominated for some of her strongest work on the show, but overall it feels right to send this singular series out with some well-earned recognition.

Music supervision finally gets its due. Music is such an integral part to so many shows that it's shocking that the Academy is only now recognizing music supervisors. What would teen dramas, Shondaland shows, and countless montages be without just the right pop song playing extra-diegetically? The inaugural crop of nominees includes two of my personal favorites, Girls and Big Little Lies, as well as Better Call Saul, Master of None (which I haven't finished but adore), and Stranger Things. All of these are solid choices, but no love for The Get Down, Insecure, or The Americans?

It was a good year for The Daily Show alumni. Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee, and John Oliver all earned multiple nominations, including all three of them competing against one another in Best Variety Talk Series. Notably missing from the nominations, however? The Daily Show itself, which only managed a nomination for its online "Between the Scenes" program.

RuPaul's Drag Race

RuPaul's Drag Race finally gets the Emmy attention it deserves. It took far too long for voters to recognize the brilliance of RuPaul's divine drag competition show, but this year it finally secured a nomination for Best Reality Competition Series. RuPaul herself will get a chance to win consecutive hosting Emmys, and the program totaled seven nominations - more than double its cumulative total prior to this year.

The Mindy Project

I don't watch a ton of Emmy-nominated shows. Stranger Things, Veep, Westworld, This is Us, Big Little Lies, Girls, Master of None, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Silicon Valley are among my watchlist, as are the aforementioned snubbees The Get Down, Insecure, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Jane the Virgin. Bob's Burgers managed two nominations, as did Orange is the New Black, while Archer, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Marvel's Luke Cage only scored one. The Mindy Project, New Girl, Narcos, and Maria Bamford's Netflix special Old Baby all came up empty handed. Of course, this shouldn't be too surprising: no one has time to watch everything that's critically acclaimed, and my tastes certainly intersect and deviate from the Academy's at various points. Still, it would have been a welcome surprise to see more of my personal favorites among the nominees.

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