This year’s Emmy nominations were announced on Thursday. James Poniewozik, the chief TV critic for The New York Times, and Margaret Lyons, a critic for The Times’s Watching site, conducted a brief conversation about this year’s snubs, surprises and most deserving nominees.
MARGARET LYONS Jim, happy Emmy day to you. Let’s start with the good news: “Barry” cleaned up. Ted Danson got a nomination for “The Good Place.” “GLOW.” Issa Rae. Brandon Victor Dixon for “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I feel honestly good about a lot of this!
JAMES PONIEWOZIK “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” “At Home With Amy Sedaris,” an abso-friggin’-lute delight that I know you’re a fan of, too. Both Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell. (Philip and Elizabeth stayed together in the end!) I am happy to see quality — within the limits of Emmy plausibility, anyway — win out in a lot of these.
But I also feel some responsibility to be That Guy and take note of a pretty big milestone in these nominations: “Modern Family,” which has been coasting on momentum for years, was finally left out of the best comedy category. I’d rather be happy for the deserving than celebrate anyone’s omission, but it does feel like a moment: the fall of the Dunphy Wall.
LYONS The end of an era! An era that had ended … way before the Emmys took notice. Speaking of the Emmys not noticing things: “Curb Your Enthusiasm” pulled in a bunch of nominations for what I did not think was a particularly strong season. This feels a little more like “Oh yeah, that’s a good show I think, right?” than “I actually watched and enjoyed these episodes.”
PONIEWOZIK A new season of “Curb” felt like something that could either surprise us all with its renewed life or implode horribly and show its age. Instead, this one just kind of … landed. It was forgettable, the one thing you don’t expect “Curb” to be. But Emmy, as we’ve seen, has a hard time forgetting when it comes to repeat nominees. Still, I’m happy to see the doors open, a little.
LYONS I like to look beyond the main categories, too, which is where you can see some of the artsier choices. “American Vandal” didn’t get a series nod, but it did for best writing for a limited series. David Lynch DID get nominated for “Twin Peaks,” just for directing and writing. That seems more accurate to me than for the series on the whole to be nominated.
PONIEWOZIK I’d have nominated “Twin Peaks,” if only relative to the rest of the category. (“Genius: Picasso”?) But to the extent it worked, yes, it was a triumph of direction. The eighth episode alone: I couldn’t explain it to you, but it’s one of the things I will remember seeing on a TV screen my whole life. (Also glad to see it got a nomination for sound mixing, which was essential to that whole season.)
LYONS So … snubs. I’d have put “Killing Eve” up for best drama, I think. “The Good Place” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” are two of my favorite comedies. I don’t know why the Emmys are allergic to “BoJack Horseman.” “Jane the Virgin,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “One Day at a Time.” I was about to say there weren’t many real snubs this year, but actually there are 1,000.
PONIEWOZIK I’m fascinated by the “snub” as a philosophical category. Does being “snubbed” simply mean something was deserving, or that it was deserving and had a realistic chance, yet was conspicuously left out? Case in point: I’d put “Halt and Catch Fire” on my best drama list, and it ended about as well as I’ve seen any drama end. But I never thought it had a shot. I don’t know if that’s a snub, or just further proof we live in a fallen world.
LYONS Define “realistic chance.” Once upon a time, I thought “Orphan Black” was a wild long-shot for any Emmy consideration. “American Ninja Warrior” is an Emmy-nominated show. “Jay Leno’s Garage” is nominated. “Fuller House” is nominated. Trying to guess what’s “realistic” for the Emmys — or for any awards show, honestly — is not a reasonable metric. Snub means “good show that didn’t get recognized.” So yeah, “Halt and Catch Fire” was snubbed. But at least “Wild Wild Country” made the cut.
PONIEWOZIK I’ll try and step back and big-picture these nominations a bit, which is hard when I’m speed-reading a list of about five billion categories. First, and a big headline: Netflix finally got more nominations than HBO. That may partly be a function of doing business in volume than anything, but it’s not nothing. And second, to me, comedy is a stronger category this year than drama, which makes sense, because, generalizing wildly, comedy is a stronger genre in TV than drama right now.
LYONS I agree with that wild generalization, there are way more comedies I look forward to watching than there are dramas. And this year’s comedy category is really strong, though again, I’m not sure everyone is really punching in the same weight class. I just think “Atlanta” and “Barry” are way beyond what other shows are doing. I watched both those seasons twice. (Also worth noting that “Atlanta,” “Barry,” “GLOW,” “Mrs. Maisel” and “Silicon Valley” were also nominated for outstanding casting, which is a huge factor for all them.)
PONIEWOZIK “GLOW” may be the best-cast show on TV. While we’re on the comedies, something that comes up a lot in recent years is the argument that a lot of the celebrated ones — say, “Atlanta” and “Barry” this year — are just as much dramas. This doesn’t bother me; the categories are arbitrary, but I think there’s more that makes a comedy than laughs-per-second. (It is interesting that “Killing Eve,” which shares a lot with “Barry,” was competing in drama, because, I guess, length?)
LYONS I think length? I’m fine with it, too, and the truth is as serious as “Barry” and “Atlanta” often are, I genuinely do laugh at them. “Babka … two babka” has been running through my head for months, and the “Atlanta” button of “It’s Michael Vick!” was one of my favorite TV moments of the year. When I’m looking at comedies, I guess my bigger question is, “Are the parts that are supposed to be funny actually funny?” So for shows like, I don’t know, “Young Sheldon” or whatever (where the answer is “no”), they’re only being compared to themselves. That’s not how the Emmys do it, I assume, but in the Kingdom of Marg, that’s the rule.
PONIEWOZIK I’ll bend the knee to that. Speaking of which, I guess we need to address “Game of Thrones,” which picked up a trove of nominations and may well ice out (ice-dragon out?) all the better dramas we’re cheering for, despite having aired what was really half a season, and a middling one at best. Is that category a foregone conclusion?
LYONS “Game of Thrones” is not the best in any of its categories, it’s just the most. I think “The Americans” is 20 times the show “Thrones” is, but did they ever have a mammoth battle or neon-green faux-nuclear weapon or a zombie horde rise up? No, it’s more like, a quiet stare of maternal indifference and sad parking garages. I prefer it! But if the prevalence of Cirque du Soleil in our culture tells us anything, it’s that spectacle counts.
PONIEWOZIK I will allow myself one bit of stupid optimism, because what’s the fun of awards if you don’t open yourself up to being crushed? I’m not going to call “The Americans” the favorite, but I’m going to say it has a shot — if only by benefit of 1) attention for a deservedly praised final season and 2) the awareness that “Game of Thrones” is going to return one last time and incinerate everything like the Lannister army for its final season.
LYONS Oh, I’m rooting for “The Americans” like crazy. Olive oil shots for everyone!
PONIEWOZIK On the other hand, best comedy is wide open, with returning champ “Veep” out of contention. Who picks it up? “Atlanta” is most deserving from where I’m sitting; my uninformed gut tells me that the Emmys follow the Globes and give it to “Mrs. Maisel” instead. But you know what? I would not be sad to see it go to “GLOW,” which deserves credit for showing that having something relevant to say does not mean you can’t also be body-slammingly entertaining.
LYONS I had more fun watching the first season of “GLOW” than I did watching any of these other shows, even though I think “Atlanta” and “Barry” are both better series in a lot of ways. I’d be happy with “Atlanta,” “Barry,” “GLOW” or “Mrs. Maisel,” too.
Over all, this strikes me as a pretty good year with a pretty wide selection and some really solid picks. Compared to the Emmys of even six or seven years ago, this feels like a huge relief.
PONIEWOZIK I’ll take it. To borrow from “Game of Thrones,” all dynasties must eventually fall, and to borrow from “GLOW,” it’s just a lot more fun when a new contender gets a shot at the title.
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