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Emmy Nominees Are Fresh but Still Familiar

When it comes to the Emmy Awards, familiarity breeds…familiarity. That’s why voters have honored the same shows year after year (read: “Modern Family,” which finally fell out of favor this time), often to the chagrin of critics who fawn over their latest darlings and cry foul when the lists are unveiled. It’s only become harder for new shows to break through, given the sheer glut of content voters need to wade through — witness the record 9,100 submissions received by the Academy this year, and the stacks of screeners piled up on desks across town.

All of the drama series nominees are shows in at least their second season — with two of the contenders at or near the end of their run (FX’s “The Americans” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones”). Barring a major upset, the drama winner will be a show that’s been crowned before by the Emmys, be it last year’s champ “The Handmaid’s Tale” or HBO’s juggernaut “Game of Thrones,” which owned the category before sitting out last year.

It’s tight, too, in the comedy field — the slate expanded to eight nominees to accommodate the wealth of content. But here, three new shows managed to break through: HBO’s “Barry,” Netflix’s “GLOW” and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” That’s a race that’s harder to predict — “Maisel” is riding the momentum of the win at the Golden Globes, but the critical favorite and reigning champion is FX’s “Atlanta,” which once again astounded with a risk-taking, boldly creative season.

That’s not to say a new show can never make it to the winner’s circle. ABC’s “Modern Family” began its stranglehold on the category with a win for its freshman season in 2010. But it took “Veep” four seasons to begin its own reign, which was only interrupted by a break for its star’s health issues this season. Neither are in the running for the comedy trophy.

And on the drama side, “Handmaid’s Tale” triumphed in its Emmy debut last year — alongside a slate of four other newbies, all of which avoided that famous sophomore slump to return to contention this year. 2017 was clearly a boon for creativity, a feat rarely seen at the Emmys.

“Game of Thrones” didn’t score with voters until season 5, as did “Breaking Bad.” It was “Homeland” back in 2012 that scored that rare trifecta, with wins across all the top drama categories — taking home lead actress for Claire Danes and lead actor for Damian Lewis.

Of course the limited series race offers more opportunity to recognize the fresh and new — though as more and more so-called limited series go back for yet another round (“Big Little Lies,” “The Sinner”), that category, too, may well become a list of returning favorites. Get ready to see more familiar faces at next year’s awards.

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