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Emmy voters will likely keep drama to a minimum this year

Emmy voters will likely keep drama to a minimum this year
Jodie Comer, left, and Sandra Oh in a scene from "Killing Eve." (BBC America)

Emmy voters nominated five first-year dramas in 2017 — "The Crown," "Stranger Things," "This Is Us," "Westworld" and the eventual winner, "The Handmaid's Tale."

Joining them were "Better Call Saul" and "House of Cards," two series with new seasons that will arrive too late this year to be Emmy eligible, the same situation Emmy powerhouse "Game of Thrones" found itself in last year. "Thrones," of course, is back, meaning there's not a whole lot of wiggle room for shows looking to break through in the category this year.

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Here's a look at what's shaping up to be the season's most repetitive race.

DRAMA SERIES

"The Handmaid's Tale"

"Game of Thrones"

"This Is Us"

"Stranger Things"

"The Crown"

"Westworld"

"The Americans"

Possible spoilers: "Ozark," "Homeland," "Killing Eve"

In the mix: "The Deuce," "The Good Doctor," "Mindhunter," "Counterpart," "Orange Is the New Black"

Analysis: Did any of last year's rookie class endure a sophomore slump? Not by any discernible measure. "The Crown" still offered high-class melodrama. "Stranger Things" maintained its Spielbergian sense of wonder. (Better, in fact, than Spielberg managed in "Ready Player One.") "This Is Us" kept the water works flowing, while "Westworld" doubled down on its willful weirdness. The dreadful, dystopian future of "The Handmaid's Tale" opened its second season with the threat of a mass hanging … at Fenway Park. (Where have you gone, Big Papi? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo-woo-woo.)

Millie Bobby Brown in a scene from "Stranger Things."
Millie Bobby Brown in a scene from "Stranger Things." (Netflix)

So while the novelty surrounding each show has worn off to varying degrees, the quintet kept the customers satisfied. No series lost its focus and ran off the rails like "Mr. Robot" did last year, though perhaps "Westworld" is heading down a similar path of no return. (I'm just four episodes into unraveling the tangles as of this writing.)

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As I mentioned, "Game of Thrones" is returning and given that it has been nominated for each of its six seasons, winning for the last two, it's safe to say voters will bring it back.

That leaves one open slot.

This year's freshman class couldn't help but suffer by comparison to its predecessor. Netflix's "Ozark" lacked urgency; "The Good Doctor" came off overwrought and overstuffed. "Mindhunter" was smart and suspenseful, but forgive me for feeling a certain fatigue for shows about serial killers. "The Deuce" took pains not to be exploitative in telling the story of tawdry '70s-era Times Square, but its eight episodes felt like a long windup for what's to come. James Franco's headline status will also muddy the waters with voters as "The Deuce" wasn't a particularly easy series to embrace in the first place.

BBC America's "Killing Eve," meanwhile, proved instantly addictive. Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the creator of Amazon's bracingly original comedy "Fleabag," "Eve" follows the cat-and-mouse game between an MI5 desk agent (Sandra Oh) and a psychopathic contract killer (Jodie Comer). Yes, I did complain earlier about the oversaturation of serial killer shows, but Waller-Bridge has fashioned something different here: a clever, funny and stylish series that upends gender tropes and takes as its theme the costs that come from underestimating women. It's entertaining and escapist, smart and subversive. If enough Emmy voters caught just the debut episode, it'd be nominated because "Killing Eve" is pretty much lab-engineered for binge-watching.

At the other end of the spectrum you'll find "The Americans," a show that is ending, not beginning, and a program that could never be confused for being "fun." The Cold War-era spy drama earned its first Emmy series nomination for its fourth season, rare late-in-the-game recognition. Voters passed it over last year, but could put it back among the nominees for its final season, a nod that would have nothing to do with sentimentality. This year, "The Americans" stands as television's best drama, an intense, final act clash over ideology, progress and change. As I write this, the final episode hasn't yet aired. But my stomach is in knots thinking about it. Do svidaniya!

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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