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Emmys 2017: Was the TV Academy on Autopilot When Nominating Comedies?

At first glance, this year’s Emmy noms may seem like a boon for new programs. A whopping five freshman shows are nominated for best drama series, projecting a considerable sense of freshness. But when you cast the spotlight over to the comedy side, it’s difficult to shake a sense of stagnancy.

Granted, across the major categories (series, acting, directing, writing), more comedies were Emmy-nominated overall this year than dramas — 17 to 15. But FX’s “Atlanta” (best series, lead actor, directing and writing) and “Better Things” (lead actress) were the only two new comedies recognized on July 13.

It seems as if every year the same question lurks going into nominations: How much will voters revert to standbys in the face of the ongoing peak TV glut? Among other things, the presence of ABC’s “Modern Family” in the comedy series category suggests a level of autopilot may have kicked in. That’s a shame, given such a vibrant field of contenders.

We’re approaching the height of auteur-driven comedy in many ways, yet shows such as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag” (Amazon), with such a singular point of view, walked away empty-handed. So, too, did Issa Rae’s “Insecure” (HBO) and Tig Notaro’s “One Mississippi” (Amazon). Jill Soloway’s “I Love Dick” (Amazon) may have been divisive, but Kathryn Hahn was a stand-out in a very competitive lead actress field and still failed to secure a nom. (She did, however, land a supporting notice for Soloway’s “Transparent”).

Sharon Horgan’s “Catastrophe” (Amazon) barely managed to squeak in with a guest actress nomination for the late Carrie Fisher after landing a writing nomination last year. Meanwhile, Lena Dunham’s “Girls” (HBO) closed out its run with one of its strongest seasons to date, yet could only muster love for guest actors Riz Ahmed and Matthew Rhys.

Then there are ongoing shows including Netflix’s “Love” and FXX’s “You’re the Worst,” which remain unsung underdogs seemingly destined to be ignored every season.

Drilling deeper into the nominations, it’s clear rubber-stamping occurred. Matt Walsh was excellent and duly nominated for “Veep” last season, but this year his part was back-burnered, giving co-star Timothy Simons more room to shine. Yet Walsh passed on through. And what about Andrew Rannells in “Girls,” or Brian Tyree Henry in “Atlanta,” deserving players who might have given, say, “Modern Family’s” Ty Burrell a vacation from the circuit?

Also: three supporting actress nominations for “Saturday Night Live?” Did Allison Janney’s category shift for “Mom” really leave such a hole to fill? Admittedly it was not the most competitive field, but Rita Moreno (Netflix’s “One Day at a Time”), Kether Donohue (FXX’s “You’re the Worst”) and Kimberly Hebert Gregory (HBO’s ”Vice Principals”) are just a few contenders who could have used a serious look.

It’s easy to complain, and maybe a bit unfair as well. This has been one of the busiest Emmy seasons in history. It’s difficult for campaigns to break through all that noise to reach 21,000-plus voting members of the TV Academy, and even more difficult for those members to find the time to be responsible voters. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to see the same au courant flourishes throughout the comedy categories that we got with the dramas.

However, what we do have is a quality assortment of programming. In particular, repeated Academy love for “Black-ish” and “Master of None” is refreshing. Kenya Barris continues to tap the zeitgeist with aplomb on his ABC sitcom, while Aziz Ansari builds outstanding showcases for the underrepresented on his Netflix series.

It was also nice to see Zach Galifianakis join co-star Louie Anderson on the ballot for FX’s “Baskets.”That’s a high-wire act that felt a bit under-appreciated last year. And Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” was one of the most exciting shows of the year, and thankfully it was remembered despite airing in the fall.

And though we all knew they were destined for nominations, it’s great to see Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy’s “Saturday Night Live” send-ups of Donald Trump and Sean Spicer, respectively, make the cut. It’s hard not to pull for them both to win.

Going forward there will only be more new comedies to add to the mix, so maybe it’s time to take a step away from “Modern Family,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and even “Veep.” There is simply too much deserving new blood watching the Emmy competition unfold from the sidelines.

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