Advertisement

There's no escaping politics in these Emmy races

There's no escaping politics in these Emmy races
Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin won Emmys for their work on "Saturday Night Live" last year. (Will Heath / NBC)

“Saturday Night Live” earned a show-record 22 Emmy nominations last year for its 42nd season, winning eight, including variety sketch series. But its ratings tumbled this year — even Donald Trump seems to have stopped hate-watching it. Still, even with “Portlandia” bidding farewell with a sweet, understated finale, “SNL” figures to easily defend its series Emmy category.

Here’s a look at that race along with variety talk series and television movie.

Advertisement

VARIETY SKETCH SERIES

“Saturday Night Live”

“Portlandia”

“Tracey Ullman’s Show”

“Drunk History”

“At Home With Amy Sedaris”

“Nathan for You”

Possible spoilers: “This Is Not Happening,” “The Half Hour,” “Tosh.O,” “The President Show”

In the mix: “The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale,” “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” “Hood Adjacent With James Davis,” “Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents”

Analysis: When the Television Academy split the variety series Emmy between talk and sketch shows in 2015, programs like “Inside Amy Schumer” and “Key and Peele” were in their heyday, helping define the culture. A separate category made sense because as great as these series were, Emmy voters regularly ignored them, bestowing most of their nominations on late night talk shows.

But TV is cyclical and, three years later, there’s a bit of a scramble to fill out this category. Among last year’s nominated shows, “Billy on the Street” is gone and the terrific “Documentary Now!” is on break. Among the newcomers, TruTV’s “At Home With Amy Sedaris” stands out for its silly and often bizarre sendup of TV home shows and the kooky brilliance of its host. It’d also be a fine time to reward Comedy Central’s absurdist docu-reality series “Nathan for You,” which has evolved over the course of four seasons to the point where documentarian Errol Morris gushes that it’s “unfathomably great.” Nominating Nathan Fielder and Sedaris in the same year would justify keeping this category around for another year or two.

"Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" won the Emmy for variety series last year.
"Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" won the Emmy for variety series last year. (Eric Liebowitz / HBO)

VARIETY TALK SERIES

“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”

“The Late Show With Stephen Colbert”

Advertisement

“Jimmy Kimmel Live!”

“Full Frontal With Samantha Bee”

“The Late Late Show With James Corden”

“The Daily Show With Trevor Noah”

Possible spoilers: “Real Time With Bill Maher,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”

In the mix: “Conan,” “The Opposition With Jordan Klepper”

Analysis: There’s no getting around Trump-era politics in this category. Last year’s winner, “Last Week Tonight,” exists as a fact-filled corrective to the nebulous news emanating from the White House, as does, to varying degrees, Colbert’s program and “The Daily Show.” Meanwhile, last year’s biggest omission in this category — and in this case, it would be accurate to call it a “snub” — was Fallon’s talk show, shunned after its host’s fawning, hair-tousling, pre-election interview with Trump.

This year’s voting will come shortly after the controversy surrounding Bee’s profane blasting of Ivanka Trump, which could cost her a few votes but, more likely, harden the support of those Television Academy members who applaud her no-holds-barred outspokenness. (Bee has been much harsher on politicians before this current flap. And she will be again, perhaps without the vulgarity.)

It should be noted that Maher earned yet another nomination last year shortly after using the N-word on his show. He’ll probably be nominated again, though you’d think voters have had enough time to appreciate Noah’s work on “The Daily Show” to do the right thing.

Jesse Plemons stars in "Black Mirror: U.S.S. Callister."
Jesse Plemons stars in "Black Mirror: U.S.S. Callister." (Netflix)

TELEVISION MOVIE

“Black Mirror: USS Callister”

“The Tale”

“Paterno”

“Fahrenheit 451”

“Flint”

Possible spoilers: “The Child in Time”

In the mix: “I Am Elizabeth Smart,” “Notes From the Field,” “Electric Dreams: The Commuter"

Analysis: HBO has long dominated this category, usually pulling in two or three of the nominations. This year, two of its most touted entries — the cautionary portrait of complicity “Paterno” and a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s timeless “Fahrenheit 451” — were met with muted enthusiasm. The network’s most recent effort, a gripping portrait of the toll of abuse titled “The Tale,” turned out to be its most noteworthy and could well win its lead, Laura Dern, an Emmy for a second consecutive year. (She took the supporting actress trophy in 2017 for her turn in the limited series “Big Little Lies.”)

“Black Mirror” won this Emmy last year, and the Netflix anthology series has another leading contender with “USS Callister,” a stinging critique of toxic masculinity that ranks with the show’s finest episodes. It also works as a hilarious sendup of the original “Star Trek” series and a tense sci-fi thriller romp, meaning there’s something for just about everyone. And Jesse Plemons’ Shatnerian line readings are just the best. I’ll talk about his deserved Emmy nod in the next column.

Advertisement
Advertisement