×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Emmys 2017: Noms Span Extreme Edges of Drama Spectrum

With five debut series cracking what is arguably the most venerated category at the Emmys, the Television Academy signaled a willingness to expand its definition of what makes an Emmy-worthy drama. By the numbers, it was an intriguing year: 180 series submitted for the category, the highest number ever. Four of the seven nominees are on streaming services; three of the seven are science-fiction shows; and three are led by ensembles anchored by women. Statistically, this is a magnificent array of shows — indicative of the changing nature of Hollywood and the breadth of options now available to viewers.

It’s baffling that voters overlooked “The Americans” just one year after ushering it into the drama series nominees — and it’s really disappointing, if not surprising, that “The Leftovers” failed to impress the Academy. There are a few other worthy shows floating around — “Halt and Catch Fire,” also on AMC, is one of my personal favorites, and Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful” has been totally underrated by the Emmys. And as the Academy is often politically minded — “Veep’s” long-running winning streak speaks to Emmy voters’ feelings on Washington, and Alec Baldwin this year has a nom for his performance as the president — it seems significant that of the seven nominated shows, only two are in the present day. One of those, “This Is Us,” is so warm it’s gooey. The other is the reliably chilly “House of Cards.” Perhaps, in the tumultuous landscape of 2017, only extreme optimism or extreme pessimism can be tolerated.

In a way, that’s the story of the five shows that aren’t set in the present-day, too. “Stranger Things,” a sleeper hit for Netflix, is also comfortable, with a nostalgic narrative arc that references a whole decade of filmmaking and stars a whole crew of charming kids. “The Crown,” a masterfully rendered period piece about the young Queen Elizabeth II, presents geopolitics as a world run by dignified, self-sacrificing adults. On the other hand, “Better Call Saul” depicts a character inching closer toward being a villain, in a denouement we already know is pretty pathetic; and “The Handmaid’s Tale” is, well, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

“Perhaps, in the tumultuous landscape of 2017, only extreme optimism or pessimism can be tolerated.”

With so many new shows, it feels especially difficult to try to name a favorite. “Better Call Saul” certainly has a shot at the statue because it’s been nominated so many times. “Game of Thrones’” win last year could signify a warmth toward genre shows that lays the groundwork for “Westworld,” a daring and adventurous show with a sprawling range of thematic implications about consciousness, creation, and storytelling. (That it plays with and tweaks the Hollywood standard of the Western in its production design surely can’t hurt it.) But at the same time, that political spirit could rally around “The Handmaid’s Tale” or even longtime nominee “House of Cards.” If the message is for pure escapism, maybe the sumptuous drama “The Crown,” which lays out civilized British nobility with refined flair, will seize the Academy’s fancy.

Whatever the Academy’s choice, it’s almost a guarantee that it will be a provocative one. Voters have an opportunity to cast ballots for dystopia, spinoffs, history and science-fiction; each nominated show is so wildly different from the others that whatever the Academy coalesces on will be an interesting snapshot into the industry’s psyche. What does a “Stranger Things” drama series win look like? Even choosing “House of Cards,” which is probably the least interesting show here, would be a shocking and fascinating statement.

Drama is in a little bit of a soul-searching moment in a general sense, beyond just this Emmy category. So much of the innovation in television has decamped from dramas to half-hours and anthology series that dramas seem to be degrading from one season to the next faster than ever. To wit, “UnReal” and “Mr. Robot,” two exciting shows from the 2016 race, dropped off dramatically in quality — and the nominations reflected that. The Academy likes to set off a debut show on a reign of glory, as it did with “Mad Men” and “The Sopranos.” That requires envisioning where these shows are going — a second season that will have the seal of the Academy’s honor branded on it.

It feels very 2017 for the Academy to be sifting through several different possible visions for how to move forward — whether that is outright dystopia, a paralyzing slide into obsolescence, a leaf from the British handbook, the comfortable citadel of cynicism, or something else entirely. These candidates for Academy honors have a lot of new blood in the mix, making for a surprising array of intriguing options.

More TV

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Whiskey Tango Cavalier

    TV Review: 'Whiskey Cavalier'

    The crux of “Whiskey Cavalier” can be found right in its protagonist’s name. “Will Chase” is a purposefully ridiculous wink of a name that tries to be both debonair and very silly all at once, just like the FBI agent (played by Scott Foley) to which it belongs. This isn’t a regular spy drama, “Whiskey [...]

  • Brody Stevens Dead

    Comedian Brody Stevens Dies at 48

    Prominent Los Angeles comedian Brody Stevens died Friday in Los Angeles, Variety has confirmed. He was 48. “Brody was an inspiring voice who was a friend to many in the comedy community,” Stevens’ reps said in a statement. “He pushed creative boundaries and his passion for his work and his love of baseball were contagious. [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Malik Yoba to Reprise Role in 'New York Undercover' Reboot at ABC

    Malik Yoba, who starred as Detective J.C. Williams in the 90s show “New York Undercover,” is set to reprise the role in the ABC reboot, sources tell Variety. Picking up 20 years after the end of the original series, “New York Undercover” will follow detectives Nat Gilmore and Melissa Ortiz as they investigate the city’s [...]

  • Chris Burrous dead KTLA anchor

    KTLA Anchor Chris Burrous' Cause of Death Released

    An investigative report on KTLA anchor Chris Burrous has determined that his cause of death was attributed to methamphetamine toxicity, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office. Burrous, 43, was found unconscious at a motel in Glendale, Calif on December 27, and later died at the hospital. The death has been ruled as accidental. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Late Show With Stephen Colbert' Win Publicity Campaign Awards

    Hollywood publicists have selected “Crazy Rich Asians” as the top movie publicity campaign for 2018 and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” as the best television campaign. Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” topped the campaigns for Disney’s “Black Panther,” Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Paramount’s “A Quiet Place,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” and Universal’s “Halloween” for [...]

  • THE MASKED SINGER: Rabbit in the

    Live+3 Ratings for Week of Feb. 11: 'Masked Singer' Easily Tops Competition

    Fox’s “The Masked Singer” was the highest-rated broadcast show of the week in both Live+Same Day and Live+3. For the week of Feb. 11, the unscripted singing competition series went from a 2.4 rating in adults 18-49 to a 3.4, a rise of 42%. In total viewers, the show went from 7.8 million viewers to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content