If you think there’s something odd about the list of Emmy nominations announced on Tuesday morning, there is. It looks oddly out of touch.
Each year, one looks at the Emmy nominations with raised eyebrows and maybe a little sputtering of, “What, what ...?” This year, more so than usual.
To qualify for the 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards, a program must air between June 1, 2018, and May 31, 2019. First, take note that the eligibility period covers the traditional, old-school broadcast TV season. Second, take note that this means that recently airing, sensationally good series such as HBO’s Euphoria are out of the running until next year. Same goes for current seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies and Stranger Things.
The Emmy Awards are always a bit preposterous and this year doesn’t disappoint in outlandishness. Game of Thrones set a record with 32 nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series and 10 separate acting nominations. “But, but,” you will say, the final season of GoT, the one nominated, was castigated by fans and critics for being half-baked in execution and often harebrained in plotting. Exactly what is getting the acclaim here? Probably old memories of old seasons. The Emmy Awards list is not a guide to the best TV of the year, not now and not ever. You knew that, right?
In the big picture, and the continuing battle between Netflix and HBO, this round goes to HBO. The premium cable channel has 137 nominations for this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards and Netflix drew 117. Last year – you must remember last year – Netflix topped HBO with 112 nominations to 108. That was the first time since the year 2000 that HBO didn’t have the most.
Netflix is still trying to be HBO, but it isn’t succeeding. It has power but not artistic legitimacy. With about 40 shows to be considered for an Emmy this year, Netflix chose to push three at academy voters – Ozark, Russian Doll and Bodyguard. They succeeded in getting those three in prestige categories, but only Russian Doll can be considered an artistic triumph, a work of great TV storytelling and a drama with serious intent. Both Ozark and Bodyguard (the latter already in production for BBC TV when Netflix came on board) are slick and great entertainment, but both are derivative.
One bizarre anomaly from last year is fixed. In 2018, Sandra Oh became the first Asian actress nominated for Best Actress in a Drama Emmy, for her role in Killing Eve. That was dandy and much celebrated. But Killing Eve is emphatically a two-hander and Jodie Comer was shockingly ignored for her role as the outrageous Villanelle. This year, both actors are nominated together, as they should be.
But, but, wait – of course there are preposterous snubs this year. Let’s talk Fleabag.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dark comedy is a critical fave and a huge cult show for Amazon Prime Video. It’d be refreshing to see it in the Comedy Series category and there’s a lead actress nomination for Waller-Bridge. Plus it has two supporting actress nominations (for Sian Clifford and Olivia Colman), and yet, more in two guest actress spots for Kristin Scott Thomas and Fiona Shaw. The snub is the lack of recognition for Andrew Scott, the key male character in the season. Was it because he’s just called “the Hot Priest” on the show?
In the same Comedy Series category, you’ll find Schitt’s Creek, which airs on Pop in the United States. Its presence is largely down to its ubiquity on Netflix. (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara are also nominated for it.) Academy voters tend to favour shows easily accessible on streaming services rather than small, niche cable channels. Some recent critical attention to the show, which originated on CBC, also helped, with the consensus being that later seasons are far, far better than earlier ones.
In the most prestigious and culturally important category, Drama Series, it is Better Call Saul (AMC), Bodyguard (Netflix), Game of Thrones (HBO), Killing Eve (BBC America), Ozark (Netflix), Pose (FX), Succession (HBO) and This Is Us (NBC). If there’s justice, the award will go to Pose for what it is; one character described it as “a gathering of people who are not welcome to gather anywhere else, a celebration of a life that the rest of the world does not deem worthy of celebration.” At least it’s nominated and that’s noteworthy, not preposterous at all.