Television has been there for us during the Great Pandemic Shut-In. Now it's time to honor the shows that saved us from ourselves and the plague outside our front door. Nominations for the 72nd Emmy Awards, scheduled to air Sept. 20 on ABC, were announced this morning, and there's plenty to celebrate, bemoan, debate and quietly overthink as we wait for a COVID-19 vaccine. Here are five takeaways to get things started:
The academy misses the fantasy of 'Game of Thrones'
HBO's "Watchmen" received 26 nominations. Disney's "The Mandalorian" landed 15. Netflix's "Stranger Things" is up for the top drama prize and FX's vampire comedy, "What We Do in the Shadows," emerged as one of the day's biggest surprises.
Who can blame voters for wanting to escape? The last year has been a wrecked clown car inside a dumpster fire that's riddled with the plague. Series that deal with today's ugly reality through a sci-fi or comic-book lens are a fine way of working through tough issues without subjecting oneself to the here and now. "Watchmen" tackles the deadly implications of racism by revisiting the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, with the benefit of superhero courage and otherworldly powers. Plus, avenger Angela Abar (Regina King, who's also nominated for her role) looks phenomenal in a mask, and that means a lot right now.
Black representation grabs the spotlight in the major categories
Comedy, drama and limited series alike, Black narratives and leads were nominated in record numbers. Besides "Watchmen's" eye-popping haul, "Insecure," "black-ish," "Little Fires Everywhere" and "A Black Lady Sketch Show" are among the series competing for the big prizes.
The fragmentation of the TV landscape — as basic and premium cable have been joined by Netflix, Hulu, Apple+ and now Quibi — has created space for shows and talent that might have otherwise been overlooked by an old network system that saw non-white stories as too risky for prime time. The recent flood of original programming has made television a more daring and creative place than film. Let's see if that dynamic carries through to when the winners are announced in September.
Don't raise your glass yet. Narratives about other American shades of color, especially the immigrant experience, were overlooked.
Six words: Netflix breakthrough "Never Have I Ever." Mindy Kaling's teen comedy about the trials of an Indian girl growing up in the San Fernando Valley was totally snubbed, and that's a crime. It is, hands down, one of best comedies in the Emmy eligibility period, and it was passed over.
Hulu's "Ramy," arguably one of the sharpest half-hour series on television, was also locked out of the comedy series category even though it had all the markings of a show primed to make the cut: Its creator won a comedy acting Golden Globe and the show itself won a Peabody. Adding to the slight, the snubs come in a year when the comedy series category was expanded to eight frontrunners! What gives? Still, "Ramy" did make history as the first Muslim American sitcom to earn an Emmy nomination — three, in fact, with co-creator/star Ramy Youssef for comedy actor and director and Mahershala Ali was nominated for his supporting role in the series.
But it's not enough. Apple+'s fantastic collection of immigrant tales "Little America," and TV series about the Latino experience fared even worse, with worthies like Starz's East L.A.-set drama "Vida" and Pop TV's "One Day at a Time" left out in the cold. Even the documentary categories snubbed a myriad of productions about the immigrant experience, such as Netflix's "Living Undocumented," for the salacious "Tiger King." Grrrr.
When forced to choose new shows, the academy does well
Looking at the majority of top nominees, it may as well be 2019, '18 or earlier "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," "Ozark," "Schitt's Creek," "Curb Your Enthusiasm." That's not to say those shows are undeserving, but modern television is not a staid medium. The TV academy should not be swimming in the same stagnant pool each season.
But when it comes to limited series, there are no previous-year winners or runners-up to choose from, so voters are forced to do the unthinkable: try something new. The limited series nominees represent some of the more daring programming of 2019 and 2020. And they all happen to revolve around female leads: "Watchmen," "Mrs. America," "Unbelievable," "Unorthodox," "Little Fires Everywhere."
It's not streaming that rules. It's Netflix
Streaming did not unseat HBO. Netflix did. The service that brought viewers tasty junk food like "Cheer" and "Tiger King" totaled 160 nominations, while the premium cable network that's home to "I Know This Much Is True" and "Our Boys" as well as "Watchmen" landed 107. That's a reversal of fortune from 2019, when Netflix garnered 117 nominations and HBO boasted 137.