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The Winners and Losers of the 2017 Emmy Nominations

Congratulations to ‘Atlanta’ and new dramas! And apologies to ‘The Leftovers.’

(HBO/FX/Netflix/Ringer illustration)
(HBO/FX/Netflix/Ringer illustration)

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The announcement process for the 69th Emmy Awards did not get off to an auspicious start. Rather than broadcast the nomination announcement on, say, television, the Academy instead opted for a Facebook Live stream … which proceeded to experience extreme technical difficulties. (I caught half a millisecond of Evan Rachel Wood’s face before settling for Variety’s Twitter feed.) But if you can look past the discomfiting metaphor for the industry’s state of technological flux, the Emmys managed to produce a surprisingly dynamic and exciting field for a notoriously static awards show. As always when voting bodies are involved, there are some disappointments, but the 2017 Emmy nominations give us plenty to chew on when it comes to new faces and emerging Goliaths.

These are the winners and losers of the 2017 Emmy nominations, which are either a definitive statement on where TV stands now or what happens when more than 20,000 people with very different DVR queues try to work toward a consensus. You decide!

Winner: Turnover (For Drama, That Is)

As all critics do, I’d braced myself for the inevitable collision of Peak TV with a notoriously staid organization with a tendency to reflexively nominate old favorites for as long as they remain on the air. It was doubly surprising, then, to see no less than five freshman series up for Outstanding Drama Series. The category was admittedly the most wide-open of any major award — hence this spring’s head-spinning gold rush — but that was by Emmy standards. But seeming locks like Mr. Robot, old stalwarts like Homeland, and even last year’s late-blooming breakthrough The Americans were sidelined in favor of a mostly brand-new slate. The reasons behind these particular nominations are more familiar: Stranger Things, This Is Us, Westworld, and The Handmaid’s Tale are rare (relatively) massive hits, and The Crown is an old-fashioned middlebrow period piece to carry on the Downton tradition. But it’s extremely rare, and extremely welcome, for any category to shift so totally from one year to the next, and given that Game of Thrones will be back in competition next year, the novelty is likely temporary. For once, the Academy seems to be recognizing a change in TV as it’s happening, in a timely and responsive fashion. Let’s commend it while we can.

Winner: Inertia (For Comedy, Sadly)

Or rather, where we can, because every Emmy stereotype still holds true for Comedy. Yes, Modern Family is still getting nominated — in fact, so is every single show from last year, with the frustrating exception of Transparent. Ironically, the half hour — which is now what the Emmys mean when they say "comedy" — was a far more interesting category last year than the hour, though maybe that’s the problem: the Academy is far more used to digestible, recognizable forms of Very Serious Prestige than the uncategorizable kaleidoscope of a BoJack Horseman or even the high-concept storytelling of The Good Place. And so relatively weaker seasons of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep, and Silicon Valley squeak by, even as the delightful Insecure is nowhere to be found.

The silver lining is that the lone exception is also the most deserving. Atlanta is setting itself up to be this year’s Master of None (also cleaning up nicely, with eight nominations across the board), with not just an Outstanding Comedy Series nod, but also an acting nomination for Donald Glover and a double nomination for its writing team. Atlanta was my personal vote for best series of the past TV season. I hope it wins, even if I wish it were competing in a field more reflective of the very healthy state of TV comedy.

Loser: ‘The Leftovers’

As interesting as the Drama category might be, there’s a glaring exception that it is my contractual obligation as a TV critic to complain about. The Leftovers was a magnificent show, and 2017 was the Academy’s final chance to recognize it. Instead, The Leftovers didn’t get a series nomination; Mimi Leder, so crucial to its success, didn’t get a directing nomination; and Carrie Coon didn’t get an acting nomination (for her work as Nora Durst, at least). Ann Dowd’s Guest Actress nod for her single-episode reappearance as cult leader/figment of Kevin Garvey’s subconscious Patti Levin managed to make it in there, but otherwise, the Academy just squandered its chance to honor one of the best shows of the past five years in its final year of eligibility. What a bummer.

Winner: Women on Television

One of the new Drama nominees is about what it means to wield power as a young, newlywed woman; another is an explicitly feminist dystopia about the evils of religious fundamentalism and curtailing reproductive rights; all newcomers in the category have primary or equal female leads. Meanwhile, the Lead Actress in a Limited Series category pits Reese against Nicole and Susan against Jessica to virtually flood the field with stories about complicated female frenemy-ships. (Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley, Judy Davis, and Jackie Hoffman replicate the same dynamic over in Supporting.) Ryan Murphy’s Feud: Bette and Joan raked in 18 nominations alone. Television is by no means a paradise of gender equality, but it’s been a good year for shows about complicated and compelling female characters, and the nominations reflect that.

Winner (And Also Loser, in a Way): Politics

The reason House of Cards is hanging on by one of Claire Underwood’s impeccably manicured fingernails is the same reason Saturday Night Live is tied for this year’s most-nominated series — including a Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series nomination for Alec Baldwin, who isn’t even a regular cast member. Trump-adjacent shows, and even accidentally Trump-parallel shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, are what got voters’ attention this year. This fact is especially evident over in the Variety categories: Last year, Stephen Colbert’s Late Show appeared to be on life support; this year, it’s joined The Late Late Show in the Outstanding Variety Talk Series space, and so has the viciously anti-Trump Full Frontal With Samantha Bee. In Variety Special, you’ll find both Full Frontal’s anti-White House Correspondents’ Dinner and Colbert’s accidentally profound live Election Night special; in Writing for a Variety Series, you’ll find Seth Meyers’s current events–obsessed version of Late Night. The Academy is as freaked out by the state of the country as everyone else, and it’s responding just as favorably to the entertainers who can help it make sense of it all, whether or not you really do think SNL is having an especially great year.

Winner: The City of Atlanta

Atlanta did great. So did Stranger Things, which was filmed in Atlanta, if not actually set there. Shout-out to Millie Bobby Brown, David Harbour, and tax incentives. Keep an eye out for that Georgia peach at the end of the credits!

Loser: Proper Nominations for Actors

Carrie Coon did get nominated … but for her work on Fargo, not The Leftovers. Brian Tyree Henry got nominated … but for his work on This Is Us, not Atlanta. Kathryn Hahn did get nominated … but for her work on Transparent, not I Love Dick. An award is an award is an award, but this is like Julianne Moore winning an Oscar for Still Alice instead of, well, basically anything else in her career — and in the same year as other, more deserving performances. It’s easier to land on the map in some categories than others, but it’s my blog post and I’ll complain about improper recognition if I want to.

Winner: "Hot" Historical Figures

Congratulations to Genius, which you may or may not know as "the show about sexy Einstein," for its nomination for Outstanding Limited Series.

Loser: "Hot" Religious Figures

TFW The Young Pope gets completely shut out of all major categories:

Loser: Whining

All told, this was a pretty good year! After some cursory wound-licking, I’m more than excited for September’s show, and more importantly, I get the sense that the Academy is, too. This field is about as far from pro forma as any in recent memory, and even if I’m deprived of the moral umbrage of complaining about a long list of snubs, the thrill of a potential Atlanta win makes up for it. See you in the fall.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.