With its best drama series nominations at the Golden Globes and the WGA Awards on Wednesday, on top of its recognition as one of the top 10 TV programs of the year by the AFI, not to mention its seven Emmy Awards and 15 nominations, including for best drama, last fall, the Disney Plus series “The Mandalorian” is now unmistakably prestige awards television — words that, a year ago, pretty much no one would have taken seriously.
That’s no knock on the show itself, which instantly became no less than a cultural sensation when it first debuted at the end of 2019, and only further solidified that reputation with its second season. But since the first “Star Wars” movie (i.e. 1977’s “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope”) earned 10 Oscar nominations, including for best picture, and four Golden Globe nominations, including for best drama, not a single “Star Wars” project has earned top nominations at the Globes or Oscars. The unfairly decided conventional wisdom that “Star Wars” is commerce, not art, has for decades confined the franchise — and many more like it — just to awards for its superlative technical achievements.
With “The Mandalorian,” the “Star Wars” franchise has finally joined a rarefied club of genre series that were deemed worthy of major artistic awards consideration, including “Game of Thrones,” “Stranger Things,” “Westworld,” “Heroes,” “Lost,” “Alias,” and “The X-Files” (which actually won the Golden Globe for best TV drama three times). The only show remotely like “The Mandalorian” — that is, a sci-fi adventure saga set in space — to earn a top awards nod is the original “Battlestar Galactica” series, which earned a 1978 Golden Globe nomination for best TV drama.
“Game of Thrones” and last year’s awards darling “Watchmen” — the first comic book adaption to win a top Emmy award — have been particularly instrumental in reframing popular genre entertainment as at once wildly entertaining spectacle and deserving of recognition for its artistry. But despite its love for “The X-Files” in the 1990s, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has been far less eager to ultimately reward genre shows with a statue — “Game of Thrones” never won, and “Watchmen” wasn’t even nominated — so it’s unlikely that “The Mandalorian” will break the HFPA out of that particular trend.
What is perhaps even more significant, however, is the Writers Guild’s recognition of “The Mandalorian.” Other genre shows have earned WGA nominations recently — including “Watchmen,” “Game of Thrones,” and “Stranger Things.” But, again, no show steeped in sci-fi tropes like spaceships and laser blasters has earned a WGA nod since a 1989 episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and a 2006 episode of the updated “Battlestar Galactica.” With “The Mandalorian,” it appears writers within the industry have seen past the whiz-bang production value of the show to appreciate the spare and carefully calibrated writing at its center.
This is all good news for genre storytelling in general, suggesting that the antiquated bias against popular entertainment as its own artform is becoming a thing of the past. The WGAs also nominated Amazon’s gritty superhero satire “The Boys” for best drama, HBO’s ambitious pulp fantasy/horror series “Lovecraft Country” for new series, and HBO Max’s outré sci-fi series “Raised by Wolves” for its pilot episode; while the Globes also nominated “Lovecraft Country” for best drama.
The biggest test now is whether any of these shows will actually win a top award, which — as is the case every awards season — has as much to do with how deserving the show really is with how deserving the industry thinks it should be.