2019 Emmy Nominations Did Right by a Great Year in Comedy (Column)

Even before the 2019 Emmy nominations were announced, the biggest and most obvious story belonged to the fact that last year’s drama nominees almost completely cleared the way for the final season of “Game of Thrones.” But for as weak as the drama categories are overall (give or take a “Pose”), the comedy categories have rarely had stiffer competition than they did this year, as creators innovated the genre into thrilling new shapes. Comedy was so good this year, in fact, that disappointment in the Emmy nominees seemed inevitable…until it didn’t.

By the time the final outstanding comedy nominees were announced Tuesday morning, it was clear that the Television Academy is eager to honor the kind of series that reveal the depth of what comedy can do. Sure, the overwhelming love for HBO’s “Veep” and Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” was unsurprising. On the other hand, almost everything else in the comedy categories was a breath of badly needed fresh air. HBO’s pitch black “Barry” expanded its presence beyond the twofer of Bill Hader and Henry Winkler with nominations for extremely good and worthy co-stars Sarah Goldberg, Anthony Carrigan, and Stephen Root.

Netflix’s twisty thriller “Russian Doll,” a deliberately strange blend of comedy and tragedy, cleaned up with deserved nods for writing, directing, and co-creator Natasha Lyonne in the highly competitive outstanding actress category. NBC’s “The Good Place,” which has proved the power of highly serialized comedies, landed its first outstanding comedy nod. Pop TV’s warmhearted Canadian comedy “Schitt’s Creek” managed to crack into three major categories, including nominations for industry legends Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. Maybe most surprising is the enormous impact of Amazon’s “Fleabag,” which firmly established creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge as a force by recognizing not just her and her director’s contributions, but all her female co-stars for their resonant performances.

Of course, even a cursory glance at the major comedy categories reveals that the nominations could still stand to be more inclusive. Previous nominees like Tracee Ellis Ross and Issa Rae were bumped, while Justina Machado and Rita Moreno continue to get snubbed for their deft “One Day At A Time” performances. And in a truly just world, scene-stealing turns from actors like Maya Erskine (“Pen15”), Manny Jacinto (“The Good Place”), William Jackson Harper (“The Good Place”), Greta Lee (“Russian Doll”) and Charlie Barnett (“Russian Doll”) would get the tangible credit they deserve.

If you look beyond the main category, however, there are still some wonderful surprises. Intriguing new shows got encouraging support in categories like Writing (“Pen15”) and short form/comedy (Netflix’s “Special”). There are welcome first nominations for long deserving parties in categories from best animated program (“BoJack Horseman” and “Big Mouth”), to writing (“The Good Place”), to outstanding guest actress (Fiona Shaw and Kristin Scott Thomas).

Hell, one of John Mulaney and Seth Meyers’ more demented “Documentary Now!” collaborations even got some love in the original music/lyrics category for their spot-on Stephen Sondheim parody, a motor-mouthed interlude called “Holiday Party (I Did A Little Cocaine Tonight).” TV comedy right now is wild and weird and unafraid to push what the medium can do, and it’s as startling as it is exciting to see the Emmy nominations actually reflect it.

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