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Raves, grumbles, and swaps from this year's familiar Emmy nominations

Our TV critic’s Emmy cheers and jeers

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We now know our 2017 Emmy nominees, bright and shiny before us, all deserving for the most part. But all I see are the snubbed, the overlooked, and most of all, The Leftovers. The best show of last season was ignored by Emmy voters in every category except one. But Ann Dowd in the Outstanding Guest Actress, Drama category isn’t sufficient to make up for the omission of Carrie Coon’s performance, Mimi Leder’s direction, or the show in general. The absence of The Leftovers highlights a year in which Emmy recognized an abundance of fresh faces and a diverse range of visions (it helped that Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Tatiana Maslany couldn’t compete this year) yet seemed to play it safe anyway. Many of the most exciting, invigorating developments happening in the drama and comedy categories today are represented, but for the most part, Emmy chose the most familiar — and not always the best — expressions of them.

Outstanding Drama Series
Better Call Saul, AMC
House of Cards, Netflix
Stranger Things. Netflix (new)
The Crown, Netflix (new)
The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu (new)
This Is Us, NBC (new)
Westworld, HBO (new)
2016 nominees not returning: Downton Abbey, PBS (canceled); Mr. Robot, USA; The Americans, FX; Homeland, Showtime; Game of Thrones, HBO, which won but wasn’t eligible this year.

Rave: The newcomers are excellent and represent trends worth celebrating. Stranger Things is unpretentious, humane, fun-time escapism; The Handmaid’s Tale is resonant alt-world provocation with an essential perspective; This Is Us is an old-fashioned broadcast drama for new-century America; and Westworld is state-of-the-art mystery serial offering a meta-reflection on American history and reality-blur culture. And yet, interesting how everything “new” in this category is also rooted in nostalgia for something old, certain, classical. That may say something about the state of our culture right now, but it also symbolizes the hedgy whiff permeating this year’s crop of noms.

See the 2017 Emmy Nominees!

Grumble: The Leftovers was superior to every show here. Period. The absence of The Americans — which finally broke into the field last year after four seasons — is dispiriting, but perhaps not surprising: I suspect it paid a price for buzz that deemed season 5 not quite as good as previous years. (Then again, maybe our chatter counts for nothing. Our noisy raving on behalf of The Leftovers seemed to fall on deaf ears.) People: We’re talking the difference of, like, half a grade. I’d take the sustained excellence of The Americans over House of Cards. I’d also take the weird highs of Mr. Robot’s uneven second season over the polished classiness of The Crown’s familiar pleasures. American Gods, Legion, and The Good Fight would have also been more thrilling choices.

Swap: The Leftovers for House of Cards, The Americans for The Crown

Outstanding Lead Actor, Drama
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us (new)
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us (new)
Anthony Hopkins, Westworld (new)
2016 nominees not returning: Rami Malek, Mr. Robot, who won last year; Kyle Chandler, Bloodline

Rave: Emmy was correct to single out Brown and Ventimiglia, anchors of a valuable new broadcast drama. They brought to deep life a pair of characters that speak powerfully to all people, particularly the men they represent. And I’m glad to see that The Americans didn’t fall completely off Emmy’s radar.

Grumble: Did Emmy not watch Mr. Robot? Or did they simply trust the reviews that complained about a sophomore slump? A shame. Because Malek was as consistently sensational in season 2 as he was in season 1. He was certainly more effortlessly electric than Spacey, who remains entertaining, in large part because he’s clearly trying to be. I’m a Westworld fan and I appreciate Hopkins’ commanding, grounding presence, but I’m bumming for Justin Theroux of The Leftovers and Dan Stevens of Legion, who gave more interesting, dynamic performances while providing the same kind of strong center. Schreiber is a fantastic actor, and yet even he can’t get me interested in Ray Donovan.

Swap: Malek for Spacey, Theroux for Schreiber.

Outstanding Lead Actress, Drama
Viola Davis, How To Get Away With Murder
Robin Wright, House of Cards
Keri Russell, The Americans
Claire Foy, The Crown (new)
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld (new)
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale (new)
2016 nominees not nominated: Tatiana Maslany, Orphan, Black, who won last year but isn’t eligible this year; Claire Danes, Homeland; Taraji P. Henson, Empire

Rave: This is a competitive category and every single one of these actresses deserves their nomination…

Grumble: … but the omission of Carrie Coon of The Leftovers is gutting.

Swap: Coon for Davis, only because Davis has won before.

Misc. Drama Observations:

  • After Coon, the most egregious snub of the 2017 Emmy nominations is Michael McKean, not recognized for his superb work on Better Call Saul. I’m glad David Harbour (Stranger Things), Ron Cephas Jones (This Is Us), John Lithgow (The Crown), Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul), and Jeffrey Wright (Westworld) were nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor, but McKean should have gotten a nod ahead of Mandy Patinkin (Homeland) and Michael Kelly (House of Cards).
  • The Outstanding Supporting Actress category might be the most competitive of any. Uzo Aduba, Orange Is the New Black; Samira Wiley, The Handmaid’s Tale; Ann Dowd, The Handmaid’s Tale; Chrissy Metz, This Is Us; and my two personal faves, Thandie Newton, Westworld, and Millie Bobby Brown, Stranger Things. Better luck next time, Aubrey Plaza, terrifically, terrifyingly gonzo in Legion, and Emily Browning, who stole the show as a redemption-questing revenant in American Gods.
  • Thrilled that Gerald McRaney (This Is Us) and BD Wong (Mr. Robot) are contending in Guest Actor (though they deserve to be full-fledged supporting actors in their shows) and Ann Dowd (The Leftovers) and Alison Wright (The Americans) were recognized in the Guest Actress category.
  • The Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things, “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”), Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale, “Pilot”), and Jonathan Nolan (Westworld, “The Bicameral Mind”) were all rightly honored for their directing work. Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot), Noah Hawley (Legion), and Mimi Leder (The Leftovers) were wrongly ignored for their brilliant image-making, bravura storytelling, and shepherding of performances.

Outstanding Comedy Series
black-ish, ABC
Veep, HBO (won last year)
Silicon Valley, HBO
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Netflix
Master of None, Netflix
Modern Family, ABC
Atlanta, FX (new)

2016 nominees not returning: Transparent, Amazon

Rave: The year in TV comedy was exceptional, headlined by the creative triumph of Donald Glover’s Atlanta, the jewel of this category. So Emmy got that right.

Grumble: Snubs in this category are in the eye of the beholder. But I’m stunned that Emmy didn’t take the opportunity to celebrate NBC’s The Good Place, a bright new gem among broadcast TV sitcoms, as they did with This Is Us in the drama category. In fact, as great as Veep, black-ish, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Silicon Valley, and Modern Family are or have been, these new perennials don’t capture the innovating, invigorating creativity that TV comedy has given us the past 12 months.

Swap: Catastrophe for Modern Family, The Good Place for Silicon Valley, and Better Things, Insecure, Search Party, One Day At A Time (and so many more!) for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent (won last year)
Anthony Anderson, black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
William H. Macy, Shameless
Zach Galifianakis, Baskets (new)
Donald Glover, Atlanta (new)

2016 nominees not returning: Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley; Will Forte, Last Man on Earth

Rave: A solid bunch in another brutally competitive category. Glover and Galifianakis represent the diverse, eclectic sensibilities animating comedy — and TV in general — right now. Ansari stepped up his game this season.

Grumble: Macy is a treasure, but like Schreiber in Ray Donovan, he’s not enough to entice me to watch or stick with Shameless.

Swamp: Rob Delaney — hilarious and heartbreaking in Catastrophe — for Macy

Outstanding Lead Actress, Comedy
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (won last year)
Tracee Ellis Ross, black-ish
Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Allison Janney, Mom (new category; supporting actress nominee last year)
Jane Fonda, Grace and Frankie (new)
Pamela Adlon, Better Things (new)

2016 nominees not returning: Laurie Metcalf, Getting On (canceled); Amy Schumer, Inside Amy Schumer

Rave: Broken record time: a solid bunch in a brutally competitive category. Adlon is the balm that soothes the burn of Coon’s snub in the drama category.

Grumble: Among those I wish had been nominated: Kathryn Hahn in I Love Dick, Sharon Horgan in Catastrophe, and Justina Machado in One Day at a Time.

Swap: Hahn for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who’s won enough, although I would have no problem with her winning again, because she was, as always, outstanding.

Misc. Comedy Observations:

  • The most glaring snub among all comedy nominees was Ted Danson in The Good Place. How the devil was he not honored in the supporting actor category for his diabolically divine work in this afterlife comedy?

 

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