Following the announcement of the nominees for the 70th annual Primetime Emmy Awards, it occurred to me that the awards show might actually not be that terrible. The show will be hosted by head “Saturday Night Live” writers Michael Che and Colin Jost, who have some real potential. The duo has decent chemistry, and their “Weekend Update” hosting is kind of funny sometimes.
While we can most certainly expect a three-hour-plus barrage of Donald Trump jokes, the two tend to favor making people laugh over preaching heavily about politics. The selection of Jost and Che was a bit surprising at a time in which it seemed the identity politics of Hollywood would dictate the selection of a woman or women for the host spot.
Like every year, there are those few shows that seem to dominate in almost every category and have the potential to make the ceremony incredibly boring if you aren’t an ardent fan of them. This year, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in its depressingly lame sophomore season, came up with 20 nominations (which includes several Creative Arts Emmys that will be mercifully awarded days before the live ceremony). Seven women from the series were nominated over the acting categories of Leading, Supporting, and Guest Starring, leaving a well-shrunken window of chance for many outstanding performances in other dramas. “Handmaid’s” was bested by “Game of Thrones” with 22 nominations, “Saturday Night Live” with 21, and “Westworld,” also with 21.
While the drama categories were well-dominated by just a few shows, there was some excellence still recognized. “Killing Eve,” which consisted of only eight, breathtakingly awesome episodes, managed to find enough recognition to get a handful of nominations, including Best Actress in a Drama for Sandra Oh. Both Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell got nods for their portrayals of the Jennings in the final season of “The Americans,” as well as a shot at Best Drama for the show itself. Notably absent from all major categories, including every acting category, is “Better call Saul,” one of the best shows currently airing, and this ignored season was its best yet.
The Comedy category was more diverse, giving much deserved nominations to “Barry” for its wonderful first season, and recognizing the brilliance of “Atlanta” in its second season, with the most nominations for a single comedy series. Netflix’s joyous wrestling comedy, “GLOW,” received some love, but the absence of acting nods for Alison Brie and Marc Maron is borderline criminal.
If Brie’s comedic performance in “GLOW” isn’t worthy of an Emmy nomination, my understanding of the process is clearly lacking. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which almost seemed designed for the sole purpose of winning awards, received fourteen. The acting in “Maisel” is quite good, particularly that of Alex Borstein of “MadTV” fame, and she along with Rachel Brosnahan and Tony Shalhoub were recognized accordingly. After nine years, “Modern Family” finally slipped away from its one-time command of the nominee pool, receiving no nominations for major categories. Also, notably absent from the Best Actress in a Comedy class was Julia Louis Dreyfus, for the first time since 2011.
The Limited Series category becomes more relevant each year, as the quality of short-run series continues to rise. The Ryan Murphy-created “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” received several nominations, as well as “The Looming Tower,” which had some incredibly good episodes, and an incredible performance from Jeff Daniels. “Godless,” a solid western, and “Patrick Melrose” also received recognition in the category. “Genius: Picasso,” which is fairly terrible, and panned by critics, was the recipient of a shocking six nominations. The “Law & Order” true crime series, “The Menendez Murders,” actually a pretty strong court room procedural, did not impress, securing only one nomination for Edie Falco’s lead character.
The Outstanding Talk Variety category is only in its fourth year, after separating from sketch comedy, and seems to exist for the sole purpose of giving liberal comedians awards for saying liberal things. Trevor Noah has upped his political passion this year, so he made it into the category, bringing “The Daily Show” back into the fold for the first time since Jon Stewart’s departure. No matter how silly all that seems, the most ridiculous stat is the 21 nominations bestowed upon “Saturday Night Live,” though it should be noted the awards broadcast is produced by Lorne Michaels.
HBO lost its 18-year streak of most nominated network, bested by the streaming giant most obsessed with original programming, Netflix. Having expanded heavily into comedy specials and original movies, Netflix seems poised to maintain their top spot, or at least remain quite competitive for many years to come. While there are still some shows that are not getting the recognition they deserve, and many that are getting way more than they deserve, it seems to be a year that shows voters stepping away from habit, if only a little bit, to include some shows that are a bit outside their comfort zone, which makes for much more exciting results.
The full list of nominations can be seen here, and if you haven’t seen a lot of the shows, you’ll have plenty of time to catch up. The Emmys air September 17 on NBC.