As an organization made up of journalists, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. (HFPA) seems to pride itself on celebrating programs and talent that are breaking new ground in any given year. Last year, Netflix’s “The Crown” and FX’s “Atlanta” both broke into the Golden Globes nominee pool for their first season and then walked away with the drama and comedy series trophies, respectively. The stars of those shows — “The Crown’s” Claire Foy and “Atlanta’s” Donald Glover — also picked up drama actress and comedy actor trophies, respectively. This year, for the 75th Golden Globe Awards, “The Crown” joins a long list of critical darlings vying for trophies based on strong sophomore seasons, although with its second season debuting in 2018, “Atlanta” must sit this race out. The returnees must battle a new freshman class also eager to snatch up precious nominations, however.
Frankie Shaw, who created “SMILF” and also produces, writes, directs and stars in the Showtime series, is following in Glover’s “Atlanta” footsteps in auteur comedy.
“SMILF” just premiered on Nov. 5, but is already grappling with the type of topical issues that can help a new series break through. Episodes depict the show’s characters — from Shaw’s Bridgette to Connie Britton’s Ally to Rosie O’Donnell’s Tutu — dealing with trauma in their own ways, as well as their relationships to money and motherhood.
“We explore a lot of different things that I hope resonate with people,” Shaw says. “We get into issues I care about: class, race, motherhood, sexual violence. I also think, tonally, we explore deeper emotional moments [with] the comedic moments and also the absurdity, all while attempting to remain honest. It’s a very specific tone, but I think it’s like if you tell something in an honest way, people will relate to it.”
Fresh female faces have broken into the comedy actress race the past three years — “Jane the Virgin’s” Gina Rodriguez in 2015, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s” Rachel Bloom in 2016 and “Insecure’s” Issa Rae just last year — so an acting nomination could also be possible this year for Shaw.
Another strong comedy contender comes from NBC. While last year ABC’s “Black-ish” was the lone broadcast representative, the return of Max Mutchnick and David Kohan’s “Will & Grace” has been not only buzzy, but a proven ratings performer as well. The premiere alone brought in a 5.0 in the key 18-49 demo and saw a Live+7 total number of 15.8 million viewers. It is currently averaging a 2.1 rating in adults 18-49 and 7.5 million viewers per episode.
“It’s the comfort of old friends,” Mutchnick says, explaining why the show is resonating so well today.
While “Will & Grace” as a series is not brand new — during its original run, the comedy picked up six Golden Globe noms — but it is a newcomer to today’s far more competitive television climate. Kohan notes that they have “been able to reach a new audience due in part to the show’s active social media presence [and] its sudden political relevance,” which could prove to be a winning combination in helping the show make it onto the ballot again.
Over on the drama side, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a Globes newbie that has already racked up impressive hardware. Premiering in April, “Handmaid’s” was eligible for Emmy Awards (nommed for 13 and won eight) prior to being eligible for Globes. So while many series are able to tout Globes recognition as a way to strengthen their Emmy campaigns, for “Handmaid’s Tale,” it is the other way around.
“Awards can’t help but add pressure just because you get the recognition of your peers and so many groups you respect so much,” says “Handmaid’s” executive producer Bruce Miller. “In the first season, you’re just beavering away on your project, but then people actually pay attention with it comes out.
“‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ came up at a time when it just happened to be topical,” he continues. “People have become more comfortable talking about their views and where they’re coming from. Things that happened in private or smaller arguments turned into bigger, more public arguments, and that, I think, is the biggest factor — political differences have turned into human differences have turned into gender-based differences, and then you’re on a track that gets you to watching our show.”
“Awards can’t help but add pressure just because you get the recognition of your peers and so many groups you respect so much.”
Freshman dramas including HBO period piece “The Deuce” and ABC medical series “The Good Doctor” are also stirring up early awards discussion for their equally thought-provoking tales.
While “The Deuce” is a character study of entrepreneurial spirit set in a world of the New York mafia and emerging porn industry, “The Good Doctor” centers on a surgeon who has both autism and savant syndrome and therefore practices medicine in a new way. Should “The Good Doctor” get a nom, it will follow in the footsteps of NBC’s “This Is Us,” which was the lone broadcast drama in the running last year.
“The audience reaction has been incredibly gratifying,” “The Good Doctor” executive producer David Shore says. “This is a unique character, a very specific character. I think he speaks in universal truths and makes us ask very fundamental questions. I think this is an important story. We’re embracing emotion in an honest way, and the more we get to know people who are different from us, even from watching a TV show about it, the better we are.”
Of course on the limited series and TV movies side of the ballot those in the running are always rookie contenders. Even when a project is an installment of a larger anthology production, the stories, casts and characters change each awards season. This year some likely candidates are Emmy winner “Big Little Lies” from David E. Kelley, FX anthology “Feud: Bette and Joan” and Showtime’s “Twin Peaks” revival.
A potential late addition to the ballot also comes in Netflix’s “Alias Grace,” a six-part series from Sarah Polley based on Margaret Atwood’s novel that explores the complexity of a woman accused of murder who is recounting her own story in a very subjective way.
“The story of Grace Marks has haunted all of us and stayed with all of us. So I guess we hope that putting it out into the world now, it resonates in the same way,” says “Alias Grace” star Sarah Gadon. “That’s kind of the greatest hope you have: that people will watch it actively and it will cause some kind of discourse. Any acknowledgement beyond that is some kind of beautiful icing on the cake.”