No matter what happens at this year’s Emmys, there is going to be a new comedy series winner. With triple reigning champion “Veep” temporarily out of the picture — it didn’t air new episodes during the eligibility window — and perennial favorite “Modern Family” squeezed out for the first time since its premiere in 2010(!), every nominated comedy has a real chance of grabbing its first top prize.
It’s an exciting prospect, and not just because it’s always more fun to see something new win. It’s a rare treat in this particular category, where voters tend to choose a favorite and stick with it for at least a few years in a row.
A closer look at the wildly different nominees in this category reveals the directions in which scripted comedy has been going, with one notable exception. Despite bigger network investment in multi-camera sitcoms lately, no multi-cam shows were nominated in this category for the first time in more than 50 years. Otherwise, however, this year’s nominated comedies make the genre’s diverse and creatively exciting evolution crystal clear.
The most obvious split among the eight nominees (the most in Emmy history) is between the newcomers and the repeats. ABC’s “Black-ish” is back for the third year in a row, HBO’s “Silicon Valley” returns for its fifth and Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” snuck in right under the qualifying wire to land its fourth consecutive nom in the category. In a bit of a twist, HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” landed its eighth series nomination after Larry David resurrected the show from the seeming dead for season nine.
But none of these returnees are ultimately surprises, having established themselves among voters as solid favorites.
The new kids on the block are all critically-lauded comedies that couldn’t be more different from each other.
There’s Netflix’s “GLOW,” an action-packed ’80s comedy that leans on its stellar female ensemble to sell everything from slapstick to pathos. Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is another period piece, but focuses on the wildly disparate worlds of Upper West Side propriety and the Lower East Side stand-up scene. HBO’s “Barry” spotlights co-creator Bill Hader in a pitch black comedy about an assassin trying to make right.
And while FX’s “Atlanta” is technically a returnee, an Emmy nomination for its purposefully disorienting “Robbin’ Season” feels less like a reward for an old favorite than recognizing a genre-smashing show that continues to challenge voters’ very perceptions of what a TV series can do.
Together, these new nominees in particular show how some of TV’s most daring choices are being made in the scripted comedy genre. This is where networks — most especially streaming and cable, as evident in this year’s list of nominees — have invested in creators who have distinct, unique visions of what they can do with TV if they can have the room to get a little weirder with it.
What’s more, they have all succeeded exactly because they all bend the TV rulebook to fit their inventive needs.
So what’s going to win? The safest bets are on “Maisel” and “Atlanta,” both of which burst out the gate brimming over with creative energy. But again: take a look at those two shows and consider just how incredible it is that they both exist and excel in this new age of TV. What could be more representative of today’s thrilling creative prospects than that?