The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. often prides itself on being trendsetting when it comes to recognizing new talent and programming, and the 2019 crop of nominees certainly follows that pattern. But sometimes celebrating something new actually means celebrating something old, in the form of storytelling that explores key eras in history.
FX Soviet spy drama “The Americans,” which was set in the 1980s and dove into period-specific politics, locations and looks throughout its six-season run, nabbed three coveted Golden Globe nominations for the 2019 awards: lead drama actor for Matthew Rhys, lead drama actress for Keri Russell and drama series. Meanwhile, the cabler’s freshman ballroom culture drama, “Pose,” also tackled that time period but through the lens of gender identity, found family and the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York. “Pose” picked up a lead drama actor nom for Billy Porter, as well as a drama series accolade.
“I took strength from their strength,” “Pose” creator Steven Canals says of the real-life ballroom community that existed just miles from where he grew up in New York City. “The fact that in the ‘70s and ‘80s, in the face of disease and violence and poverty, that they could still be their authentic self was so inspiring to me. That’s what inspired me to come out and be my authentic self, and so for me ‘Pose’ was not only a way to highlight a particular experience that these black and brown queer and trans people were having, but it was also a way to say thank you to this incredible community that inspired me.”
The limited series and TV movie category is dominated by period pieces this year, with four of the five nominees set in the past. TNT’s “The Alienist” dives the deepest, set in 1896 New York when psychological profiling was still a new idea to the police force, while Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora” is the most contemporary offering, taking place only a few years earlier than our current timeframe, based on the real-life 2015 Clinton Correctional escape.
FX’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” starts with a dramatization of the 1997 murder of the titular fashion designer before moving backwards through time with his murderer Andrew Cunanan to track what turned a young man with aspirations of fame into the infamous spree killer he became.
Nina Jacobson, who executive produced both “Pose” and “Assassination” (as well as “Crazy Rich Asians” on the film side), notes the time a story is being told is just as important as the time it depicts. “I think audiences [and] critics are really ready to embrace stories that haven’t been told before, [stories of] lives [that] don’t often get explored in a way that reveals all of their potential,” she says.
Amazon’s limited series “A Very English Scandal” is set during the real-life 1970s sex scandal involving U.K. parliament leader Jeremy Thorpe. It picked up accolades for limited series-TV movie, as well as limited series-TV movie actor (for Hugh Grant) and supporting actor (for Ben Whishaw) but is only one of two of the streamer’s key contenders.
Last year’s comedy darling “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” set in 1950s New York and Paris for its second season, scored even bigger on the ballot for its sophomore year, nabbing noms for musical or comedy series, musical or comedy actress (for Rachel Brosnahan) and supporting actress (for Alex Borstein).
A unique and distinctive time period certainly aids in the production value of a series — from wardrobe, to hair and makeup, to props and picture vehicles — which can scream for added attention contemporary projects have to work harder to grab. But that is not enough to cut through the clutter of content in today’s increasingly crowded television landscape of 500 scripted series.
“We had such incredible talent at the center of these shows but they were also all so original,” says Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke. “The originality of the ideas, the execution, and then just to have the undeniable talent at the center is a trifecta of excellence.”