There is so much television out there to watch now, so much more than there ever was, and the Emmys keep expanding to allow more and more nominees to each category. It used to be five, then six, seven, and now it’s actually up to eight. This is especially relevant because, in this pandemic year, so many established shows didn’t produce new seasons, thus opening the door for lots of new blood (some of it literal, but we’ll get to that).
The eight 2020 nominees for Best Drama Series were, in alphabetical order, Better Call Saul, Killing Eve, Ozark, Stranger Things, Succession, The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Mandalorian. Of those eight, the first five — including winner Succession — are not eligible for this year’s awards, which means that, at the very least, there will be a minimum of five new nominees in the category. Now, my instinct would be to think that this hasn’t happened in a very long time, but it actually happened two years ago, when the category extended from seven nominees to eight. It also happened in 2017, two years after the numbers went from six to seven. So, y’know, it’s not totally unheard of, but is a fairly recent phenomenon.
Still, it’s been four years since the defending champion was not eligible to repeat. Game of Thrones won this award for each of its last four seasons (at least two of which were supremely undeserving, but that’s a debate for another time), but there was a break between Seasons Six and Seven, allowing Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale to sneak through in its debut season to become the first streaming show to win an Emmy for Best Series, in either the comedy or drama division …. and royally pissing off both Netflix and Amazon in the process. I can imagine them sitting there, looking at each other, and saying, “Hulu? Really? Frikkin’ Hulu wins before us? COME ON!!” But I digress.
Point is, you’ve got The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Mandalorian, all eligible to turn up in this category again, and I think the first two are dead locks to do so. I’m not as big a fan of The Mandalorian as a lot of other people are, as I tend to think it’s a pretty straightforwardly derivative Western structure set in space and given gravitas by its inclusion in the Star Wars universe. Then again, I didn’t find the second season any different from the nominated first one, and — six month spoiler alert! — there was that big Mark Hamill thing at the end which blew everyone’s mind, so … I figure it’s pretty close to a given.
Which gives us spots for five other shows, something we genuinely might not see again for a while. There are always great new shows premiering, and at least a couple of them are almost certain to be called as nominees next month, but there are also more shows coming back next year, including each of the five shows mentioned above, two of which (Better Call Saul and Ozark) will air their final seasons.
The best thing about this is that it allows us enormous room for speculation and prognostication, which happen to be a few of my favorite things. One of my big beefs with the Emmys through the years is how consistent they are, with a lot of the same shows being nominated over and over again, long after said shows have passed their Sell By date (again, see Thrones, Game of). Now, we can have fun thinking about series that might not have otherwise broken through, but which have a genuine shot in this peculiar, one-of-a-kind year.
Let’s start with the obvious one, FX’s Pose, which is simply one of the loveliest and most moving series to ever appear on television. The first season earned a nomination here, with star Billy Porter winning the trophy for Best Actor in a Drama Series, but the bravura second season was somehow overlooked. With so much space available this year, it would be an absolute crime if it gets hosed again, though I think it’s unlikely. Quality aside, the avowed wokeness of the members of the Television Academy would not allow them to pass up the chance to honor a show featuring LGBTQ+ characters at this particular moment in time. Let’s use indelible ink to enter that one on the list.
Another sure thing, in my mind, is Netflix’s Bridgerton, which was silly and weightless but, concurrently, totally fun and enjoyable. It also played with race and ethnicity in interesting ways, using colorblind casting for the Regency era of British history (that would be 1811 to 1820, for all you non-history majors out there, a particularly white period in one of the whitest countries on the planet), and used a sort of anachronistic take on language and character development to great effect. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, and whenever that happens, I sit up and take notice. That, really, is all we ask from our sources of entertainment: surpass our expectations. Think about it. No matter what you’re watching, reading, listening to, or otherwise consuming, no matter what we’re hoping to get from the experience, if the content surpasses those hopes and expectations, we are enormously satisfied. Sure, simply meeting expectations will also do that, but not in the same way. I won’t sit here and try to tell you that Bridgerton is the second coming of The Wire (for my money, the single greatest show that the medium has ever produced), but I think it’s hard to deny that any time something comes along and offers a pleasant surprise, it should be acknowledged.
That leaves three. I think there’s a real chance that This Is Us will make a reappearance in this category after being absent last year. NBC’s show was nominated in each of its first three seasons, but not for last year’s fourth outing. It’s possible that this fifth season could be recognized, but I also wonder if the days of network shows being honored here are now finally a thing of the past. Would you care to hazard a guess as to the last network drama to be recognized in this category before This Is Us? Go ahead. Think about it. I’ll give you a moment and come back to give you the answer after the next paragraph.
HBO has two serious contenders in Lovecraft Country and In Treatment. The former was lauded by critics and loved by audiences, and is also a terrific horror series that offers plenty of the aforementioned blood. The latter is a reboot that never got any Emmy love the first time around, but this one stars Emmy sweetheart Uzo Aduba as the show’s shrink, and things like that go a long way. I think that one of these will make the grade, maybe both, but if I had to pick, I’d go with Lovecraft Country, because it’s a fresh and interesting take on the genre.
Back to the trivia question asked two paragraphs previously. Give up? It was the second season of The Good Wife, 10 years ago. Yes, a full decade since any network show other than This Is Us was honored by the TV Academy with a Best Drama nod. That’s insane, and makes me think of the long extinct Cable Ace Awards, which honored cable shows because the Emmys weren’t ready to do so yet. Is there an analogous ceremony in our future, designed by the networks so that they get some kind of honors from somewhere? Let’s come back to that in a future column.
Another solid possibility is the Amazon show The Boys, which deconstructs the superhero genre and is a wildly popular series. The Boys is unlike anything that has been on TV before, but then, the comic book was a wholly original publication, too. The show takes some storytelling leaps from the source material, but it works, and dramatically it is as good as most things on TV. Likewise, another Amazon superhero deconstruction, the animated Invincible, is dynamite, but will almost certainly be relegated to the Animated category, which is a shame, as I think it’s better than The Boys. But then, I don’t get a vote.
While either In Treatment or This Is Us will probably get the eighth nomination, I’d like to put forth the suggestion that the Academy recognize Ronald Moore’s For All Mankind, which is a stunning sci-fi series that imagines a world where the Soviet Union got to the moon before the U.S. did. Apple’s The Morning Show did not get a nomination in this category last year, and I don’t think For All Mankind will, either, but between these shows and Home Before Dark, another excellent drama from the burgeoning streaming service, it’s only a matter of time before Apple breaks through with a nomination here. Just probably not this year.
Ultimately, it’ll be really interesting to see how it all shakes out, and which series get the nod before all those other ones return, but in the end it probably doesn’t matter. Nothing’s going to beat The Crown, anyway. Not this year.
I’m off next week, but back the week after. Enjoy your Fourth of July. Happy Birthday, America!
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday.