Television is Much Better than the 2017 Emmy Nominations Would Have You Believe

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For the Emmy nominations to “get it right” in 2017 — when there has never been more television shows or places to find them — they must reflect the landscape’s diverse options by rewarding shows that expand the boundaries of the medium or innovate within it.

With so much to choose from, it’s never been harder for the Emmy nominations to get it completely right. But it’s still not that hard for them to get it wrong. Case in point: Yesterday!

It’s hard for me — as it would be for anyone, even a professional TV critic — to make definitive arguments about the absolute best that television had to offer from June 2016 to May 2017. I’ve only seen a fraction of what was eligible, and a sizable portion of what I watch falls under the category of “little-watched gems with niche appeal and widespread critical acclaim.”

But.

Modern Family is nominated for its seventh consecutive Outstanding Comedy Series award. By all accounts, the show has shed almost everything that made its early years so pleasurable and surprising. It won this award five years in a row. Meanwhile, here’s a list of comedy series I love that have never been nominated: Better Things, Brooklyn Nine-NineCatastropheFleabagFresh Off the BoatThe Good PlaceJane the VirginThe Last Man on EarthOne Mississippi, Review with Forrest MacNeilYou’re the Worst. Here’s a list of critically praised comedy series I have not seen that have never been nominated: BasketsBrockmireCasualCrazy Ex-Girlfriend, Dear White PeopleGirlsI Love DickInsecureIt’s Always Sunny in PhiladelphiaLemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate EventsMan Seeking WomanSurvivor’s Remorse, Take My Wife.

So this category clearly presents a pressing issue: There are far too many great shows going unrecognized. That means those shows — many of which are produced by creatives from underrepresented minority groups, and many of which are stylistically inventive in a way that Modern Family will likely never be — won’t get the bump in prestige and network attention that comes from being recognized by TV’s foremost awards-giving body. This is a problem! (My suggestion would be to disqualify a show from being nominated after it wins three times. Take that to the bank.)

Inertia often wins out over innovation, as time-constrained voters tend to choose performers and shows they already know, even if they haven’t seen their latest work. Looking at you, House of CardsHomeland, Ray effing Donovan, and Sherlock. I don’t care for any of these shows, but I feel similarly about shows I do like that have been richly rewarded in the past. Veep and Silicon Valley were good but probably not top-tier this year, and it’s downright shameful to afford them 8 of the 12 available slots for comedy writing and directing.

But there’s another entire area in which the Emmys got it wrong this year as well, more so than they have recently. For the most part this year, when voters deviated from their tired formula, they did so to vote for shows that represent the medium’s status quo, not its future. Stranger Things is a pleasant homage to 80s-era Hollywood blockbusters, but it’s not a revolutionary piece of art. I fell asleep nearly three times watching the first episode of Westworld, which seems to set up  bunch of potentially intriguing stories but failed to grab me with any of them. The Crown is no doubt handsome and compelling, but it’s also an obvious successor to perennial nominee Downton Abbey, which ended last year. This Is Us is “great for a network show,” but I doubt think anyone would argue its quality justified crowding out so many other contenders. By contrast, The LeftoversThe Americans, Queen Sugar and Rectify add new colors to TV’s palate, as do other dramas I haven’t even seen, and maybe haven’t even heard about. But Emmy voters don’t have time to expand their horizons, and thus existing horizons remain in place.

There’s no way the Emmys can please everyone. There’s also no way the Emmys can entirely please me. The least they can do is honor the industry as it is and could be, not how it once was. This year, at least, they missed the mark.

Additional Thoughts:

*I could have predicted that Aden Young, Justin Theroux and Kofie Siriboe wouldn’t be among the Lead Actor in a Drama Series. I could not have predicted that last year’s winner, Rami Malek of Mr. Robotwould be squeezed out in year two to make way for Anthony “Category Fraud” Hopkins of Westworld and Milo Ventimiglia of This Is Us. Malek’s performance was every bit as gripping in season two, even if the show was more hit-or-miss.

*Brian Tyree Henry got a nomination for guest-starring on This Is Us, but I was dismayed to see that he, along with Lakeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz, missed out on a supporting actor nomination for Atlanta. Few would argue Donald Glover gave that show’s standout performance, but he was the only one to get a nod. A similar story happened over on Master of None — Aziz Ansari got his second acting nomination, but Lena Waithe and Bobby Cannavale got no love. (Angela Bassett is a Guest Actress nominee for  that show’s “Thanksgiving” episode, though, so there is a God.)

*CARRIE COON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Consider half of those exclamation points excitement that she was recognized for a season of Fargo I have not yet started, and the other half abject disappointment that her dynamite work on The Leftovers will go forever unrecognized by the Emmys.)

*Lead Actress in a Comedy Series could have been one of the show’s tightest races, but this list of nominees feels like a relic of past years. Gina Rodriguez, Issa Rae, Constance Wu, Aya Cash, Tig Notaro, Rachel Bloom and Sharon Horgan could have livened things up.

*This season of The Americans was the show’s weakest so far, but I’m willing to bet it was a more sincere achievement in smart writing and thoughtful direction than House of Cards, which slipped into Outstanding Drama while The Americans dropped out, just one year after finally breaking through in its fourth season.

Tony Hale, Matt Walsh and Anna Chlumsky have all been wonderful on Veep throughout the acidic comedy’s illustrious run. But Sam Richardson, Kevin Dunn, Gary Cole, Timothy Simons, Sarah Sutherland and Clea Duvall deserve their fair share of shine as well.

*Five very good nominees on the female side that were anything but sure bets: Pamela Adlon in Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy for Better Things; Vanessa Bayer and Leslie Jones joining Kate McKinnon in Supporting Actress in a Comedy for Saturday Night Live; Kathryn Hahn for Supporting Actress in a Comedy for Transparent; and Ann Dowd for Guest Actor in a Drama for The Leftovers. Patty Levin forever.

*SNL hosting stints from Tom Hanks, Dave Chappelle and Lin-Manuel Miranda are competing against Matthew Rhys and Riz Ahmed from Girls and Hugh Laurie from Veep in a rich Guest Actor in a Comedy lineup. Hanks seems like the frontrunner there, though it would be great to see Chappelle win.

*I just finished Catastrophe season three a few days ago, so maybe I’m experiencing recency bias, but Carrie Fisher’s excellent posthumous nomination aside, that show was seriously underappreciated this year. Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan were never better as actors and writers. The final five minutes of the season were among the most wrenching I’ve seen on any show in a while. With only six episodes per season, the show is stingy in the best way. It’s a winner in my heart.

*The late Carrie Fisher or the late Sean Spicer? That’s the choice Emmy voters will face in the Guest Actress in a Comedy category, in which Fisher faces off against Saturday Night Live guest Melissa McCarthy, who had the season’s most biting political impression (sorry, not sorry, likely Supporting Actor in a Comedy winner Alec Baldwin).

*No single episode of Black Mirror is a movie. No single episode of Sherlock is a movie. Who would disagree with this? The Emmy rulemakers, apparently.

Real Time with Bill Maher was nominated just a month after its host shamelessly uttered the “n-word” on national television and appeared defensive about it a week later during a tepid show of repentance. Meanwhile, Trevor Noah’s improving The Daily Show and Seth Meyers’ consistently terrific Late Night were passed over, though the latter earned a writing nod.

*Pour one out for superbly written and directed but unrecognized episodes of The LeftoversQueen SugarThe AmericansMr. Robot and Orange is the New Black.

*I guess I have to get a Hulu subscription now, huh?

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