With every round of awards season, be it for film, television or something else, we are reminded of the generally underwhelming nature of the entire process. The months of campaigning, round-table interviews and industry schmoozing come to a head with the nominations announcement, and every year we are inevitably disappointed.
Yet this year, with the 2017 Emmy Awards nominations, the dissatisfaction was greater than usual. Even the most seasoned awards prognosticators couldn’t hide their cynicism at the potential winners. Expectations were relatively low but noting the major omissions alongside the undeserving repeat nominees made the whole hoopla more exhausting than usual. Given how painfully aware the Emmys are of their diminishing power in the age of Peak TV, along with the seeming improvements they made last year, the disappointment coming from critics and fans over the nominees may leave them concerned, especially with that ever-present need to keep TV ratings for the ceremony itself high. Unfortunately, while there are glimmers of hope amidst the hundreds of names and show nominated, the omissions are too great to ignore.
There are shows that were never going to be nominated, but their absence is not made easier by that knowledge, particularly in the category of comedy. In a perfect world, TBS's Search Party - one of the most intriguing comedies of the season - would be nominated, but it was always too abrasive for that. Amazon's acclaimed comedies from the UK, Catastrophe and Fleabag, failed to capitalize on early buzz despite offering some of the most poignant and scalpel-sharp examinations of relationships and depression on TV (although the late Carrie Fisher did receive a guest actress nomination for her appearance on the former). The network comedy has experienced a major boom in the past few years, but none of that extra attention fell upon the very deserving Speechless or Fresh Off the Boat. These omissions, and many more in comedy, were made all the more disappointing by the constant presence of Modern Family, earning its eighth Best Comedy nomination (which it has won five times). The show is fine, and was often great in those early seasons, but it’s not enough to be fine when the competition is stellar, so its presence in the category every year reeks of laziness.
The drama categories benefited from the absence of Game of Thrones, which was ineligible due to its summer start date. Few of us expected acclaimed but little-seen shows like Rectify to get in, as satisfying as that would have been, but the snubbing of HBO's The Leftovers, which may have been the most rapturously received drama of the year, can't help but sting. There's a show doing something utterly unique in the medium, executed with impeccable precision, but there's just no room for it because House of Cards refuses to go away. Westworld's domination across the board, with 22 nominations (the most of any show except for Saturday Night Live, with had the same number), isn't exactly perplexing, but one almost gets the feeling the voters just chose it because it's a HBO show that was kind of like Game of Thrones. Westworld is undoubtedly a technical marvel, but its first season was inconsistent and dulled in comparison to the competition.
The acting nominations offered more hope, but signs of the same laziness from voters were evident across the categories: William H. Macy is good in Shameless, but him making the Lead Comedy Actor category every year while his superior co-star Emmy Rossum fails to make the cut seems silly; Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie was arguably the most competitive category, but that does little to excuse Oprah Winfrey's snub for her career best turn in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright being nominated for House of Cards seems like a consolation prize for making a terrible season borderline watchable through sheer force of will.
Omissions here make even less sense given the inconsistency of the number of nominees in each category - there are six men up for lead actor in a comedy but seven women in lead actress. Why not just expand each category to a bigger number instead of jumping up and down? The Oscars made this change with the Best Picture category and it’s drastically improved the selection of nominees we got. More genre-heavy films sat alongside the expected awards bait, so why not do the same for the Emmys? Wouldn't it be a real thrill to see something like HBO's Insecure alongside Modern Family and Veep, or American Gods - which received a grand total of one nomination for its opening titles - nominated next to Better Call Saul and The Crown?
While the Emmys did lean more into mainstream audience tastes with choices like Stranger Things, which swept up 18 nominations including Best Drama and Best Supporting Actress for Millie Bobby Brown, some of its nominations proved more confusing. Shannon Purser is great as Barb but was she really worthy of a guest actress spot? Sometimes, when a show dominates the nominations, it can get in for the oddest choices simply because the option is available.
Stranger Things was a buzz-heavy show that everyone talked about, which is something the Emmys love, as is evidenced by their choices. There's little on display here that would inspire surprise or suggest the voters dug deep into their screeners to find hidden gems. The nominees are everything you expect them to be, no risks taken: BoJack Horseman was the best comedy of 2016 but didn't even make it into the animated program category, let alone the main comedy one (to this day, only one animated show has been nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series - Family Guy).
With Donald Trump dominating the talk-show monologues, it was no surprise to see The Late Show with Stephen Colbert nominated, but the snub of Late Night with Seth Meyers, whose hilarious and incisive commentary on the political sphere were frequently the smartest on TV, highlighted the unwillingness of voters to try new things. Speaking of Trump, Saturday Night Live crowned its comedic renaissance with the most nominations of any comedy, which feels overdone. The show is definitely more relevant than it’s been in years but remains maddeningly inconsistent. Like Barb’s nomination, SNL’s slate seems akin to rewarding the most popular meme of the season.
There are things to celebrate amidst the predictable disappointments: The Handmaid's Tale combined heart breaking drama with political urgency; Big Little Lies triumphed in its exploration of smothering suburbia and received much-deserved nominations for several of its actors; Three of the seven nominees for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series were women (including Reed Morano for The Handmaid's Tale); and RuPaul's Drag Race became a bona fide mainstream hit.
The biggest crime about this year’s selection is just how damn boring so much of it is – we all knew The Crown would do well because it’s exactly the kind of show the Emmys love, especially now there’s no more Downton Abbey (although even in its over-rewarded state, the lack of nomination for Jared Harris is criminal); There was no doubt Veep would do well, even in a weaker season, because they love that show regardless; Modern Family was always going to be present in the comedy categories, and will probably still be there until the show is cancelled. There were risks that could have been taken by the voters, but they chose to stay in their lane. That’s expected, but when buzz-heavy mainstream hits deserving of awards love can’t even make the cut because they need to make space for the same old faces, that’s a problem. It’s only the Emmys will have to face sooner or later, or risk irrelevance.
The awards won't be handed out for another two months, giving us all enough time to further complain about the snubs. Which nominees did you enjoy the most? Which omissions disappoint you, and which nominees would you change? Let us know in the comments!
The 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast on Sunday September 17th, hosted by Stephen Colbert.