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The Trouble with the 2017 Emmy Nominations

"The Television Academy once again gets a lot wrong"

There will never be a perfect set of Emmy nominations that will please everyone. There will always be a beloved show or star left out of the running. And there will always be a show or star that sneaks in with little or no valid reason, most likely because voters recognized a celebrity’s name or because they loved that show six years ago when it premiered and haven’t watched it since.

But every year there will be pleasant surprises: character actors who have toiled in relative obscurity for years, only to be rewarded with multiple nominations (this time around, Ann Dowd for both The Handmaid’s Tale and The Leftovers), a relatively unknown actor on a critical darling who gets recognized for a role (Carrie Coon for Fargo, even though she should have gotten a nomination for The Leftovers), or a stunningly gorgeous visual show who gets the technical nominations it deserves (American Gods, nominated for its excellent opening credits).

All of that happened with this year’s Emmy nominations. And while I’m certainly not as depressed by the glaring omissions as I have been in the past, I remain disappointed that the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences continues to cling to shows that are well passed their sell-by date, leaving some of the best shows currently on television without recognition from television’s biggest award show. Here’s a look at the major nominees.

Best Comedy

Atlanta (FX)

black-ish (ABC)

Master of None (Netflix)

Modern Family (ABC)

Silicon Valley (HBO)

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

Veep (HBO)

The only glaring error in this category comes from Modern Family, which is a perfectly fine, pedestrian sitcom. It is not, however, one of the best seven comedies currently on television (neither was Silicon Valley this past year, but I have hopes that this year was an aberration and not the start of a trend). If Emmy voters wanted a traditional family sitcom to round out the category, they could have included Netflix’s delightful One Day at a Time. If they wanted another broadcast series, CW’s excellent musical-comedy Crazy-Ex Girlfriend, or NBC’s brilliant The Good Place, or even ABC’s Speechless would have fit nicely.

Best Actress, Comedy

Pamela Adlon (Better Things)

Jane Fonda (Grace and Frankie)

Allison Janney (Mom)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep)

Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish)

Lily Tomlin (Grace and Frankie)

Sigh. I get that voters are drawn to names they recognize (Tomlin and Fonda), and past winners (Janney, although she got a promotion from Supporting to Leading Actress this year, and Louis-Dreyfus), but this category could really do with some new blood. There are so many actresses doing great comedic work, and seeing the same names every year is pretty dull. Kristen Bell for The Good Place, Rachel Bloom from Crazy-Ex Girlfriend, or Justina Machado from One Day at a Time would have worked perfectly. Although, we all know Julia Louis-Dreyfus will win again, so I suppose it really doesn’t matter who else is nominated.

Best Actor, Comedy

Anthony Anderson (black-ish)

Aziz Ansari (Master of None)

Zach Galifianakis, (Baskets)

Donald Glover (Atlanta)

William H. Macy (Shameless)

Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)

William H. Macy is this category’s Modern Family: he’s just going to keep getting nominated until the show goes off the air. On the whole, though, these nominations are pretty good. It’s great to see Galifianakis get a nomination for the underappreciated Baskets, and Glover deserves his first nomination for the brilliant Atlanta.

Supporting Actor, Comedy

Louie Anderson (Baskets)

Alec Baldwin (Saturday Night Live)

Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

Ty Burrell (Modern Family)

Tony Hale (Veep)

Matt Walsh (Veep)

Aside from Anderson (last year’s deserving winner) and Burgess, this category got it pretty wrong. Baldwin’s passable Trump impression isn’t enough to deserve a nomination (for a look at what kind of work should get a nomination, check out the three SNL ladies nominated below). I would have liked to see one of the fellows from Silicon Valley acknowledged here, especially Zach Woods. The category also picked the wrong Veep actors, with Timothy Simons or Sam Richardson the more worthy nominees.

Supporting Actress, Comedy

Vanessa Bayer (Saturday Night Live)

Anna Chlumsky (Veep)

Kathryn Hahn (Transparent)

Leslie Jones (Saturday Night Live)

Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)

Judith Light (Transparent)

Chlumsky was only fine this year on Veep. I would have liked to see someone else sneak in, perhaps Rita Moreno from One Day at a Time. I can’t fault the three SNL nominations, especially Breyer, in her final year on the show. And Hahn and Light were often the best parts of a season of Transparent that had a hard time finding its way, so kudos to them for picking up their first nominations for the series.

Best Drama

Better Call Saul (AMC)

The Crown (Netflix)

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

House of Cards (Netflix)

Stranger Things (Netflix)

This Is Us (NBC)

Westworld (HBO)

Last year’s winner, HBO’s Game of Thrones, wasn’t eligible this year (as the season starts this Sunday, well after the Emmy’s end of May cut-off date) and perenial nominee Downton Abbey was also gone due to ending, so we knew there would be some new blood. I certainly didn’t expect the large number of new series to make the cut. The Crown and The Handmaid’s Tale are wholly deserving of their nominations. That being said, This Is Us absolutely doesn’t belong here, but I get the need to include the most popular new network show (even if it takes a spot that should have gone to something like The Leftovers or Rectify). Likewise, Stranger Things was fun, but it’s not one of the best dramas on television. Tapping into 80s nostalgia might score with viewers, but it doesn’t mean the show is actually all that good.

But there’s absolutely no excuse for House of Cards continuing to take up a slot when it’s nowhere near the top drama on television. It’s past season was nearly unwatchable, and it’s the most glaring example of voters simply checking a box because they liked the show once upon a time (and clearly haven’t watched it since). Considering the massive culling of the category (Cards and Saul are the only returning nominees), there is no reason to have a plain bad show like House of Cards remaining while a far superior previous nominee like The Americans didn’t make the cut. Sure, this was the weakest season The Americans has had in awhile, but it was leaps and bounds ahead of the dreck doled out by House of Cards this year.

Best Actress, Drama

Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder)

Claire Foy (The Crown)

Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale)

Keri Russell (The Americans)

Evan Rachel Wood (Westworld)

Robin Wright (House of Cards)

Last year’s winner, Tatiana Maslaney of Orphan Black, was not eligible since her show premiered after the cut-off this summer, so there will be a new victor (if it’s not Moss, there is no justice in the world). Moss, Foy, and Russell are all very deserving nominees. Davis is on a subpar show, but she’s such a great actress one can’t expect the Academy to ignore her. I love Wright and Wood as much as the next person, but neither should be nominated this year. Wood had very little to do throughout most of the season, and we’ve already discussed House of Cards situation. The lack of a nomination for Carrie Coon for The Leftovers is pretty awful, particularly since HBO could have easily pushed for her over Wood if it wanted to. But, Westworld is HBO’s dull future, while The Leftovers is now their prestige past.

Best Actor, Drama

Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us)

Anthony Hopkins (Westworld)

Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul)

Matthew Rhys (The Americans)

Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan)

Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)

Milo Ventimiglia (This Is Us)

There’s plenty to be disappointed about in this category. Brown is the best part of the treacly This Is Us, and I would love to see him win since he didn’t for last year’s The People vs. OJ Simpson. Rhys has mastered the art of making the more depressingly sad faces. And Odenkirk had another stellar year on Better Call Saul. But everyone else? Ugh. Hopkins spent the better part of Westworld‘s season smirking and talking in riddles. If anyone should have gotten a nomination here for Westworld it should have been Jeffrey Wright, who gave the best leading performance on the series (he’s nominated as Supporting, but I would argue he’s the male lead of the series). Liev Schreiber continues to get nominated when he shouldn’t, and Spacey’s scene-chewing performance doesn’t deserve the recognition either. There were many strong male dramatic performances last season (to continue beating The Leftover‘s drum, Justin Theroux, for example), and to see them passed over is disheartening.

Supporting Actor, Drama

Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul)

David Harbour (Stranger Things)

Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us)

Michael Kelly (House of Cards)

John Lithgow (The Crown)

Mandy Patinkin (Homeland)

Jeffrey Wright (Westworld)

How in the world did Better Call Saul‘s Michael McKean get left off this list. He’s a veteran actor who gave one of the greatest dramatic performances of the year. It’s an absolute travesty that he isn’t here, while Michael Kelly (who has done good work on Cards in the past, but doesn’t deserve a perennial nomination) makes the cut. I would replace Michael Kelly with Michael McKean (Better Call Saul), who gave one of the greatest dramatic performances of the year. I’m flabbergasted that he was left off the list. That being said, I can’t find fault with the rest of the nominees. All strong performances, even Patinkin on a series that should have ended years ago.

Supporting Actress, Drama

Uzo Aduba (Orange Is The New Black)

Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things)

Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale)

Chrissy Metz (This Is Us)

Thandie Newton (Westworld)

Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale)

Now, I think Uzo Aduba is a great actress. And I loved season four of Orange is the New Black (which aired last summer, and was the season eligible for consideration this year). But the lack of a nomination for Danielle Brooks or Lori Petty here in favor of Aduba was a glaring error. Heck, I’d even say Samira Wiley should have been nominated for her final season on Orange rather than this season of The Handmaid’s Tale. And while I don’t think Chrissy Metz has had the writing to justify a nomination here (the show cannot seem to figure out what to do with her character), I understand the decision to nominate here. But I would have loved a nod for Amy Brenneman here for The Leftovers.

 

A Few Other Thoughts:

— It was nice to see The Handmaid’s Tale rack up so many nominations in its first time out. In addition to the ones above, Alexis Bledel earned a Guest Actress nomination (one she deserves to win).

— It was disappointing to see some of the most creative shows on TV all but shut-out. The Leftovers managed to snag a single acting nomination (Ann Dowd for Guest Actress), while Netflix’s amazing BoJack Horseman didn’t get a nomination for its spectacular silent episode.

— There’s too much good TV to acknowledge it all. But one step toward getting some of the really great shows recognition would be to expand the nominations to ten per category. Some already have eight nominees, and two more wouldn’t hurt. It could only help low-rated gems find an audience, and new, but excellent, actors get the chance to shine. Just a thought.

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About / Bio
TV critic based in Chicago. When not watching and writing about awesome television shows, I can be found lamenting over the latest disappointing performance by any of the various Chicago sports teams or my beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Follow me @JeanHenegan on Twitter.

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