Winners: Atlanta, The Handmaid’s Tale, and (sigh) Saturday Night Live. Losers: Modern Family and anything surprising.
In the past few years, the Emmys have become the worst thing of all: predictable.
Ten years ago, if you were in the business of making Emmy predictions, nomination day was inevitably filled with disappointments and confusion, but it also inevitably featured a handful of wild surprises, nominations that came out of nowhere and spiced up otherwise drab proceedings.
In 2018, it might be the march of the Emmy prediction complex toward dominating the half of the awards calendar not already devoted to the Oscars, or it might be the change in Emmy voting rules and the growth of big-money campaigning for contenders (to the degree that Netflix takes over a full soundstage in Hollywood to stump for its shows), but the Emmys feel less and less like the collected whims of a bunch of irascible retired TV professionals and more and more like company voters following a straight corporate line.
This has largely made the nominations more representative of the overall quality of television in any given year — though heaven knows they miss the mark here and there. But they’ve also become slightly duller. Even seeing my beloved The Americans stars nominated for the third year in a row mostly got an approving nod from me. “Good work, Emmys,” I said, and if they had been a small child, I would have patted them on the head.
But even though most of the 2018 nominations were thoroughly expected, some interesting narratives emerged, for better and for worse. Here are the nine winners and six losers at the center of them.
Winner: Netflix, for dethroning HBO
For the last 17 years, HBO has been the king of the Emmy nominations. The network routinely blew away the competition with its ability to compete in all categories, not just a handful. Whether it aired a drama series or a variety special, HBO was sure to at least earn a look from the Emmys.
HBO’s streak has now ended. The network still pulled 108 nominations, down from 111 in 2017, but that number was no match for Netflix’s 112 nominations, which were up a staggering 20 nods from the streaming service’s 2017 total of 92. Like HBO, Netflix can compete in essentially every category. While it’s never won a major series category — something HBO has done multiple times — Netflix’s ascent suggests it’s just a matter of time. (Though probably not this year.)
What’s even more remarkable is how many different programs helped Netflix rack up 112 nominations. HBO’s top two honorees — Game of Thrones with 22 nominations, and Westworld with 21 — accounted for just under 40 percent of the network’s total. But Netflix’s top two — The Crown, with 13 nominations, and then pick either Godless or Stranger Things, which garnered 12 nominations apiece — account for just over 22 percent of its total.
Overall, Netflix has four shows that are each nominated in the double digits, with GLOW’s 10 nominations joining the three programs already listed. And you can go beyond those to look at, say, the assorted nominations for Black Mirror, or the two directing nominations for Ozark (for some reason), or the various one-off nominations the service snagged for less-heralded programs, like a guest acting nomination for Mindhunter and an editing nomination for One Day at a Time and a writing nom (yes!) for American Vandal.
Yeah, there are Netflix shows that deserve more Emmy love. That the awards continue to ignore One Day at a Time in the major categories is ridiculous, and what does BoJack Horseman have to do to get a nomination? Similarly, the once Emmy-approved Orange Is the New Black seems to have completely fallen out of favor. But for one year at least, Netflix is your new Emmy king.
Winner: HBO, which is still doing just fine
Of course, saying that HBO ceded ground in the Emmy nominations race by only achieving 108 nominations ignores that the network still earned 108 Emmy nominations. That’s a ridiculously good total.
Plus, it’s bolstered by the fact that HBO managed to get three separate shows — Barry, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Silicon Valley — nominated for Best Comedy Series, as well as both Westworld and Game of Thrones nominated for Best Drama Series. Had the network somehow rushed to get Sharp Objects, its critically acclaimed new miniseries, on the air in April, it almost certainly would have retained the nominations crown. (Indeed, the real reason HBO seems to have slipped isn’t that Netflix surpassed it, but that HBO didn’t have a strong Limited Series contender this year, while Netflix had Godless.)
Plus, if you look past the HBO versus Netflix match-up, you’ll find NBC in third place with 78 nominations. Before HBO ruled the roost, NBC was the Emmy king, and the network is also still doing fine, thanks to shows like Saturday Night Live, This Is Us, and Jesus Christ Superstar. The top three nominated networks suggest that when it comes to garnering Emmy nominations, TV is strong across the board.
Loser: Modern Family
After eight consecutive nominations for Best Comedy Series — and five consecutive wins from 2010 to 2014 — Modern Family has finally succumbed to the laws of Emmy gravity and slipped quietly out of the comedy series category. What’s more, it only garnered one nomination total this year, for its sound mixing. Bye, Modern Family. It was kind of fun when you won those first few Emmys, and then it became dull and repetitive.
Winner: New comedies Barry, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and GLOW
The comedy turnover of 2018 isn’t quite to the level of five first-time nominees crowding into the Drama Series category in 2017, but this year saw three first-season comedies leap into the Comedy Series category, with all three grabbing 10 or more nominations.
HBO’s hitman farce Barry pulled in 13, Amazon’s stand-up period piece The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel grabbed 14 (and instantly quadrupled the perpetually snubbed Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s number of Emmy nominations), and Netflix’s wrestling comedy GLOW landed 10 nominations.
What’s more, with returning champion Veep ineligible (as it aired no new episodes during the eligibility period to let Julia Louis-Dreyfus undergo treatment for cancer), you could make an argument for one of these programs winning — especially the very Emmy-friendly Maisel, which could easily be described as “Mad Men with harder jokes.” Except I think the winner is going to be…
Winner: Atlanta (and other second-season shows)
The 2017 Emmys brought an impressive influx of new shows, with five new dramas nominated and Atlanta breaking into a very competitive comedy series category. And though three of those dramas saw their nominations totals dip a bit — Westworld fell from 22 nods to 21, Stranger Things from 19 to 12, and This Is Us from 10 to eight — all of them hung around in their respective categories and even kept up some of their big nominations in other categories. (Westworld managed five acting nominations, for instance.)
And then there was Atlanta, which leaped from six nominations to 16, the highest tally earned by any comedy series. It received two writing nominations, two directing nominations, and four acting nominations, three of which were for members of its regular cast. (The fourth was a guest acting nomination.) Atlanta’s success further cemented Donald Glover’s takeover of the pop culture landscape, and it only underlined the FX series as one of the best shows around.
On the drama side, the two other second-season drama series’ nominees also fared very well. The Crown matched its season one total with 13 nominations. And then there was The Handmaid’s Tale.
Winner: The Handmaid’s Tale and especially The Handmaid’s Tale’s cast
The Handmaid’s Tale made the leap from 13 nominations to 20 nominations, only barely trailing Game of Thrones and Westworld. When you consider that The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t boast the massive effects sequences that those two HBO dramas do, it becomes even more impressive that the series was able to garner so many nods.
It did so thanks to one big strength: its cast. The Handmaid’s Tale garnered eight acting nominations, which isn’t quite a record (The West Wing once pulled in 12) but is, needless to say, an incredibly difficult feat in an age when there are so many different TV shows on the air. What’s more, Handmaid’s dominated the Supporting Actress and Guest Actress categories, grabbing three nominations in each. Even Kelly Jenrette, the woman who played the first wife of Luke in a flashback, was nominated, something that I, for one, would never have predicted.
It’s vaguely remarkable that Handmaid’s managed so many nominations after a second season that was more polarizing than its first. (Then again, since voting closed well before the season’s most divisive episode — its finale — aired, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.) But considering that level of Emmy voter support, particularly from the Television Academy’s actors, The Handmaid’s Tale has to be considered a strong bet to win its second Drama Series crown.
Losers: Alison Brie and Marc Maron of GLOW
There weren’t a ton of surprising “snubs” this year — in which performers or series that are considered shoo-ins go unrecognized — because, again, the Emmy-nomination prediction complex grows with every year.
But two assumed nominees who were unexpectedly passed over were Alison Brie and Marc Maron, who had both managed several nominations from other awards bodies for their roles on GLOW but weren’t nominated by the Emmys in favor of other performances.
Considering those performances were probably Insecure’s Issa Rae (over Brie) and Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry (over Maron), we can’t be too upset. But Maron still would have been a much better nominee than Saturday Night Live’s Alec Baldwin. Speaking of which…
Winner: Saturday Night Live (sigh)
For the second year in a row, Saturday Night Live is one of the top nominated programs, with more than 20 nominations. Its 21 nominations, compared to 22 in 2017, are ever so slightly down, sure, but the show still continues to haul in nominations for essentially everything it does.
I’m not going to begrudge guest nominations for Donald Glover or Tiffany Haddish or Bill Hader from when they hosted the show. Nor am I going to be upset that, say, Kenan Thompson finally earned a nomination for his long-running, frequently brilliant work on the series.
But it is galling to me that Baldwin was nominated yet again for his smugly horrible sleepwalk of a Donald Trump impersonation, which is not in the 100 worst things about the Trump administration but is surely in the top 200 somewhere. Right? It has to be. Right? Moving on.
Winner: Megan Amram
I am delighted that comedy writer and Twitter jokester Megan Amram is now a two-time Emmy nominee for the short-form program An Emmy for Megan, whose title is now almost prophetic.
Losers: Twin Peaks and The Terror
The Limited Series categories are a bit of a mixed bag this year. On the one hand, the bold FX series The Assassination of Gianni Versace managed 18 nominations, despite being more polarizing than its People vs. O.J. Simpson predecessor. On the other hand, a bunch of nominations went to Godless, which was okay, I guess, but not 12 nominations okay. And then you come to projects like Genius: Picasso, which was genuinely awful, and The Alienist, which was fine, and Patrick Melrose, which I liked but feels like it’s taking up space.
All I can think when looking at the 2018 Limited Series slate is: There were so many better options! Including Twin Peaks: The Return, which was perhaps the best TV series of 2017. Sure, the show managed several technical nominations, as well as nods for its writing and direction, but nothing for its cast or for the series itself. This is unconscionable — even if you could see the snub coming from a mile away, since Twin Peaks is so strange and esoteric as to actively turn off as many voters as it attracts!
But at least I can be happy about the handful of nominations Twin Peaks did get. My other favorite in this category, AMC’s The Terror, received zero nominations, despite being a genuinely brilliant and unsettling dive into survival horror, the likes of which TV hasn’t really seen before. The show didn’t even get nominated for its sets and costumes, which feels like the Emmys deliberately ignoring it. C’mon, Emmys!
Loser: Noah Emmerich of The Americans
It’s been nice to see The Americans, once a perpetual Emmy snub waiting to happen, quietly become a nominee. It’s been especially nice to see stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (who better win, I swear!!!!) receive nominations in the lead acting categories.
But you know what? The snub I’m most sad about is Noah Emmerich, who richly deserved a nomination for his deconstruction of FBI agent Stan Beeman in the show’s final season, if only for what he does in the series finale alone. And with the supporting actor category being a little weak this year, I thought it might actually happen.
But no, it didn’t. Emmerich will never receive an Emmy nomination for his work on The Americans, and that’s too bad.
Winner: Sandra Oh (and history)
On the other hand, Sandra Oh broke through in the ultra-competitive Lead Actress in a Drama Series race, with her sizzling work on Killing Eve, snagging one of just two nominations for the hot new series. (The other was for its pilot script.) Oh was nominated several times for her past work on Grey’s Anatomy in the supporting category, but this is her first lead nomination — and the first lead nomination period for an Asian actress in the Lead Actress in a Drama Series category.
Loser: Halt and Catch Fire
Yeah, this show was never going to be nominated, but it should have been. It was one of the best dramas of its era, and its complete lack of Emmy love will always be disappointing.
Winner: John Legend, EGOT in the making
There aren’t a ton of EGOT stories waiting to happen at this year’s Emmys, but there is one: John Legend, who could complete his collection of the four biggest trophies in entertainment by winning either of his two nominations for NBC’s live concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar. (Legend already has 10 Grammys, an Oscar for writing the song “Glory” for Selma, and a Tony for producing a revival of the play Jitney.)
His nomination for his Jesus Christ Superstar performance seems out of reach — he’s up against everybody from Darren Criss to Benedict Cumberbatch to Jeff Daniels — but he was also a producer of the special, which gives him a much easier path toward a win. All Superstar has to do is beat the Grammy Awards, and who cares about those?!
Yes, there were some nice surprises at this year’s Emmys. Rae’s nomination for Insecure, as well as Ted Danson’s for The Good Place, are both richly deserved and hopefully presage further Emmy love for both programs. There were also some inexplicable surprises, like Jason Bateman being nominated for his work on Ozark (over several much more deserving potential nominees) while his co-star Laura Linney (who was just as good, if not better) was not.
But, really, this was a fairly expected Emmys, to the degree that I, a casual prediction-maker, got almost everything right.
Maybe this is indicative of the fact that I put way more effort into thinking about the Emmys than most people, but the same reaction seems common across the internet. The Emmys can be infuriating, but I almost rather they’d be infuriating instead of boring. So there’s only one solution here: Bring back Modern Family!!!