×

Why the Emmy 2019 Nominations Represent an Overdue and Refreshing Change of Pace (Column)

The 2019 Emmy nominations saw HBO surging back to the top of the pack, thanks to the final season of “Game of Thrones,” which scored a record 32 nominations. Perhaps it was to be expected that the epic drama would keep its network at the center of awards conversations, but, happily, it couldn’t dominate every category. Comedy, especially, opened up this year to welcome plenty of new faces, representing an overdue and refreshing change of pace. Here, Variety’s TV critics talk about key themes of this year’s Emmy ballot.

Daniel D’Addario: I’ll start with the heavy hitters — the signature, departed hits from nomination leader HBO, both past winners and both likely to repeat again. I share in the general consensus that the level of recognition for both “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” is no surprise. With that said, there are surprises within those nominations. I had perceived Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington as on the bubble (she for her character’s unpopular heel-turn, he for being less flashily written). Both made it in; so too did first-time nominees Alfie Allen, Gwendoline Christie and Sophie Turner, all three in the supporting categories. “Thrones,” especially, was nominated about everywhere it conceivably might have been — a startling result only given that the season was so widely pilloried by its fans online. Perhaps its ability to catalyze such strong emotion makes the case for it as a defining drama of our time. Were you as surprised by the outpouring of love as I was?

Caroline Framke: To be honest, no. Given how relatively thin the drama race was this year since almost all of 2018’s nominees (save “Thrones” and “This Is Us”) were ineligible, it seemed inevitable that HBO’s landmark series would crush the competition even if the final season were a complete disaster (I don’t actually believe it was, though I know many on the internet would disagree). “Game of Thrones” is basically getting to take a victory lap at the Emmys eight years after it changed the face of TV for good, which feels about right.

Still, I really was encouraged by some of this year’s new faces in the drama categories. Namely the rise of FX’s “Pose” (not to mention star Billy Porter) has been a treat to watch, and I’m thrilled that “Killing Eve” star Jodie Comer got a nod alongside her more feted onscreen partner, Sandra Oh.

D’Addario: I share your enthusiasm for “Pose,” and was also pleased to see the love for “Bodyguard,” a show that streams on Netflix stateside, and that I hope will encourage the streaming service to continue acquiring shows aggressively and inventively. (The absence of “Thrones” alum Richard Madden in lead drama actor category was a surprise of a less-pleasant sort.) But, yeah, pound-for-pound I think best limited series is a richer category than best drama, even with a mere five nominees compared with drama’s eight.

I was happy the Academy remembered the year-old “Sharp Objects,” and was surprised at the breadth of love for “Chernobyl” and especially “When They See Us” across all categories. Both those new limited series, but especially the latter, were about tough-to-watch topics, but seemed to be immediately embraced by TV fans; they also clearly crested at the right time as voters watched. Seeing young actors like Jharrel Jerome and Asante Blackk honored for their work feels like an exciting moment of torch-passing.

Framke: Speaking of torch-passing, I’m still having trouble reconciling my perennially low expectations with the reality of this year’s comedy series category, which hews extremely close to what I personally would have picked. The domination of “Veep” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was expected, but the expansive love for “Russian
Doll,” “Barry,” “The Good Place” and “Fleabag” are extremely welcome additions. The depth of recognition for “Fleabag” and its many magnificent actresses is especially encouraging; that second season cemented the show as one of the most affecting I’ve ever seen, period.

D’Addario: We don’t have much to disagree on so far — I was delighted by the comedy nominations as well! (The supporting actress field, featuring “Fleabag’s” Sian Clifford and Olivia Colman and “Barry’s” Sarah Goldberg, among others, is an all-timer.) I think you get at something more sweeping in responding to the comedy nominations, too: In all fields, the big, dominant shows (“Thrones,” “Veep,” “Maisel”) obscure just how broad the Emmys were willing to go this year. Seemingly more than usual, there are stray nominations or love for less-heralded shows. “Pen15” got a writing nomination! Nineteen-year-old Joey King beat out much more widely known performers to get in for “The Act”! And it’s pretty astounding that a show on the Pop network is a comedy series nominee.

Framke: If you had told me five years ago that a Canadian sitcom called “Schitt’s Creek” would find its way into three major Emmy categories, I never would’ve believed you. And yet, its nods for comedy series, lead comedy actor (Eugene Levy) and lead comedy actress (Catherine O’Hara) are indeed richly deserved, and prove that HBO and Netflix are far from the only players in this game. Across the board, this year’s nominees give me some hope that the categories are opening up to let perhaps more untraditional and farther flung talent enter the ring.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend -- "Yes, It's Really

    Emmys: Netflix, 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Take Early Wins as TV Academy Announces Juried Awards

    Netflix is taking the early lead at this year’s Emmys race, with six wins, thanks to the Television Academy’s juried award winners for animation, choreography, interactive programming and motion design, which were announced on Friday. The outstanding individual achievement in animation category, a “juried” prize that means several, one or no winners could be named, [...]

  • Jussie Smollett

    Special Prosecutor Appointed to Investigate Why Jussie Smollett Charges Were Dropped

    A Chicago judge appointed former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb to investigate why local officials dropped charges against Jussie Smollett, who was accused of paying two accomplices to stage a racist and homophobic hate crime against himself. Cook County Judge Michael Toomin concluded a two month search beginning in June for a special prosecutor, landing [...]

  • 'Lizzie McGuire' Reboot Series in the

    'Lizzie McGuire' Reboot Series in the Works at Disney Plus

    Get excited “Lizzie McGuire” fans because a reboot series of the much loved Disney Channel teen show has been picked up at Disney Plus. Lizzie McGuire herself Hilary Duff, who is set to reprise the role, announced the series at Disney Plus’s D23 Expo event. Terri Minsky, who created the original, is also aboard the [...]

  • Disney Fans Lineup to Subscribe to

    Fans Line Up to Subscribe to Disney Plus at D23

    Disney fans lined up to be among the first to subscribe to the company’s forthcoming streaming service. The D23 Expo convention hall, filled with giant Marvel exhibits and cos-players also featured a kiosk to sign up for Disney Plus. The incentive? An offer to save $23 per year on a three-year subscription to the service. [...]

  • Cine-y-Series

    Chilean TV Grapples With Globalization

    SANTIAGO, Chile – Globalization was the key word in a TV panel held during Sanfic where Mega TV’s International Content chief Juan Ignacio Vicente, CNTV development head Ignacio Villalabeitia and DirecTV programming director Rossy Hernandez debated the myriad challenges Chile’s television industry faces today. Like its counterparts worldwide, Chilean TV is dealing with the spectre [...]

  • Mickey Mouse waves to members of

    Spider-Man, Spicer and Splashy First-Looks: Everything We're Looking For at D23

    As if Disney hasn’t owned enough weekends this year at the box office, the biennial D23 Expo will light up Anaheim, Calif. over the next three days to celebrate the content monolith. From a new Netflix-competing streaming platform to scores of movie and series reveals — along with a few hot controversies to confront — [...]

  • PHINEAS AND FERB - "The Fast

    'Phineas and Ferb' Disney Plus Movie Details, Including Title, Revealed at D23

    Five years after summer ended for “Phineas and Ferb,” the show returns with a new movie on Disney Plus in 2020, new details of which were revealed on Friday at the D23 fan convention. In “Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe,” currently in production for the new streaming service, stepbrothers Phineas and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content