Five first-year TV shows earned Emmy nominations last year for best drama series, offering a rare, almost revolutionary jolt of change to a set of awards that, over the years, have celebrated monotony and excellence in equal measure.
This being the Emmys, all five of those series — “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Stranger Things,” “The Crown,” “This Is Us” and “Westworld” — are expected to be nominated again this year … and probably the year after that … and … you get the idea. Emmy story lines revolve around whether a particular program or performance will finally fall out of favor (I’m looking at you, “Modern Family”) as much as which shows will break through with voters.
That being said, this year’s Emmy races offer a few areas of interest beyond the same old, same old. Here are five I’ll be paying close attention to when the nominations are revealed Thursday morning.
Which drama series winner will voters reward the most?
“Game of Thrones” won the Emmy for best drama series in 2015 and 2016, but the first half of its seventh and final season debuted too late for it to be eligible last year. Would it have prevailed over “The Handmaid’s Tale”? I’m guessing not. Then again, with 38 Emmys (including a record dozen in 2016) and 110 nominations over the course of its run, “Game of Thrones” stands as the most decorated series in Emmy history.
The timing of the “Thrones” layoff sets up an Emmy first — a showdown between two shows that, technically, are both defending the drama series crown. History might offer a clue as to which show owns the upper hand. In 2005, “The Sopranos” took a year off, returning in 2006 with the first half of its final season. It lost the Emmy that year to “24,” but prevailed in 2007 for its concluding run of episodes.
“Game of Thrones” might see the same outcome, losing the Emmy this year to “The Handmaid’s Tale” or ratings powerhouse “This Is Us,” a popular favorite that figures to lead the field in acting nominations.
But if “Thrones” leads the field in total nominations? I’m not betting against it.
Will Emmy voters give “The Americans” a proper sendoff?
Television academy members didn’t fully embrace FX’s stellar spy drama “The Americans” until its fourth season, handing it five nominations that year including its first series nod and recognition for leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys.
Rhys and Russell again earned nominations last year, but the show was pushed aside by that wave of first-year dramas.
“The Americans” should be back in the fold this year, partly thanks to the absence of two of last year’s nominees (“Better Call Saul” and “House of Cards”), but mostly because it delivered a near-perfect final season, an intense, final act clash over ideology, progress and change, laden with recriminations and regret. And that final episode — Paige got off the train! — was an instant classic, both surprising and satisfying. Even the unanswered Renee part. She was a Russian spy, right? Nyet?
Will Sandra Oh become the first Asian American woman nominated for lead actress in a drama?
Television has been becoming gradually more inclusive in its casting in recent years, and Emmy voters have followed suit, bestowing groundbreaking awards that have taken a ridiculously long time to happen. In 2015, Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder”) became the first black woman to win the Emmy for lead actress in a drama. Last year, Donald Glover made history as the first black person to win the Emmy for directing a comedy series.
Oh earned five supporting actress nominations for playing Dr. Christina Yang on “Grey’s Anatomy.” On BBC America’s first-year drama “Killing Eve,” she makes the most of her career-first lead role playing a British intelligence agent who becomes obsessed in all kinds of ways with the young female assassin she’s tracking.
Oh is terrific, creating a complex character who’s caustic, witty, intense and imperfect, and the wildly entertaining series steadily built an audience over the course of its first season. She has more than earned that historic Emmy nomination.
Will voters shun “Roseanne”?
“Roseanne” was always a long shot for a comedy series nomination, and that was before ABC cancelled the program following Roseanne Barr’s racist slur on Twitter.
But while Emmy voters consistently ignored “Roseanne” in the series category during its first run, they gave its cast members loads of nominations. Laurie Metcalf won three Emmys from 1992-94 for playing Roseanne’s sister, and John Goodman earned seven nominations during that original run.
Barr herself received four nominations, winning once, 25 years ago. She’s out of the picture this year for sure, but now that the network has spun off Goodman and Metcalf, among others, into their own show, it’s possible that voters might be inclined to separate them from the divisive Barr and reward them as they have in the past.
Which comedy series takes over in the absence of “Veep”?
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ cancer treatment sidelined “Veep,” which has been nominated for comedy series for each of its first six seasons, winning for the past two. Louis-Dreyfus has won the comedy lead actress Emmy six years running.
Amazon Studios’ celebrated first-year comedy, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” figures to slide into that vacancy as the series — and its star, Rachel Brosnahan — won Golden Globes earlier this year. Reboots of past Emmy favorites “Will & Grace” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” will likely find support, though hopefully not to the detriment of more deserving new comedies like HBO’s “Barry” and Netflix’s “GLOW.”
The comedy favorite though should be “Atlanta” for a second season that was ambitious, intense, superbly written and shot, sad and funny and always unpredictable. Glover, the show’s creator and star, won two Emmys last year. He’s going to need to find room for more.