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The Winners and Losers of the 2018 Emmy Nominations

Congratulations to ‘Game of Thrones,’ Netflix, and Sandra Oh; condolences to the ‘Twin Peaks’ fans out there

HBO/FX/Amazon/BBC/America/Ringer illustration

Months of grueling, pricey campaigning has come to an end: The nominations for the 70th Emmy Awards are finally here. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences tasked The Handmaid’s Tale’s Samira Wiley and The Blacklist’s Ryan Eggold with getting glammed up before 9 in the morning and reading out a list of honorees that included its fair share of snubs and surprises, but for the most part, looks … pretty familiar. Like a good awards-show speech, we’ll cut to the chase and get straight to the winners, losers, and other lessons the Academy has to give us about television in 2018.

Winner: Comedy

Last year, drama was where all the new blood went, with then-rookies Stranger Things, Westworld, This Is Us, The Crown, and eventual victor The Handmaid’s Tale rushing to fill the vacuum left by Game of Thrones extended hiatus. This year, comedy was the category of opportunity: Veep is on a break before its final season, meaning that both Outstanding Comedy Series and Lead Actress in a Comedy Series—a prize that typically has Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s name deservedly pre-engraved on it—were up for grabs.

The most likely beneficiary of this clearing is Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Not only is the show a gorgeous, light-on-its-feet period piece with a stellar cast and a veteran creator, it’s also the deep-pocketed tech company’s surest contender now that Transparent has fallen out of favor. Amazon rose to the occasion by funneling cash into a ubiquitous, hot-pink campaign, a strategy that paid off in accolades across the board: not just a nomination for the series as a whole, but cocreator Amy Sherman-Palladino for writing and directing; Rachel Brosnahan, Tony Shalhoub, Alex Borstein, and Jane Lynch for acting; and technical categories like costumes, cinematography, art direction, and editing. It’s a rare alignment of resources, novelty, and quality that adds up to Academy catnip. And best of all for viewers, it helped knock Modern Family out of the running.

But Maisel is just the most heavily favored competitor in a category that boasts a refreshing number of new faces and pleasant surprises. Bill Hader’s Barry earned nominations for Hader as an actor and director, plus Henry Winkler and the show overall—not shocking for a well-reviewed, tonally ambitious freshman HBO series, but gratifying nonetheless. Ted Danson broke through for the second season of The Good Place, and Betty Gilpin for her scene-stealing turn as Liberty Belle on GLOW, also nominated as a series. And Atlanta stayed strong in its second “Robbin’ Season,” acquiring new nominations for Brian Tyree Henry, Zazie Beetz, and Katt Williams’s guest appearance in addition to repeats for Donald Glover and Hiro Murai. (American Vandal technically submitted as a limited series, but we’ll count its writing nod as a victory for comedy, too.)

Loser: Drama

Drama, by contrast, is relatively moribund. Game of Thrones has returned to resume its undisputed dominance, even picking up a writing nomination for a season that was widely criticized for its haphazard plotting. (Other acknowledgements will prove less controversial: Peter Dinklage is back in the mix, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau broke through a crowded ensemble for the first time.) Putting Thrones aside, though, the only turnover to speak of in the category was swapping out a scandal-ridden House of Cards for The Americans, earning a Leftovers-style “we goofed” nomination for its final season. (Better Call Saul was the other non-returning Best Drama nominee, though only because it’s debuting later than usual this year, and thus not in the eligibility window.) With so little surprise now and so little suspense over the eventual victor, drama isn’t making much of a case for its vitality as a form this year.

Winner, Even If It Was Snubbed in Best Drama: Killing Eve

Already known and loved by the Academy for her years on Grey’s Anatomy, Sandra Oh stood a decent chance of earning recognition for her performance as bored, slovenly American-British intelligence agent Eve Polastri. Creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing nod for the premiere, however, feels like a direct result of Killing Eve’s almost unprecedented word-of-mouth success, which earned it more viewers with each passing week of its eight-episode run—almost unheard of in this era of binge-watching and DVR use. Yes, the show itself got edged out of Outstanding Drama, plus Jodie Comer was snubbed as Eve’s counterpart, Villanelle, a globe-trotting Russian ex-con turned glamorous assassin. But those feel like snubs only because two of Eve’s creative pillars made it under the wire. Pop the champagne! Just don’t trash the fancy apartment that comes with it.

Winner: Netflix

A truckful of Game of Thrones and Westworld nominations just couldn’t outpace the streaming service’s torrent of content. For the first time in nearly 20 years, HBO lost out on the lead in total Emmy nods, with Ted Sarandos’s ever-growing operation stealing the title. The difference comes down to just four nominations—112 on Netflix’s part, 108 on HBO’s—but the symbolism is greater. Netflix will doubtless tout this to its shareholders as a sign of its influence and ubiquity, and it won’t be wrong. No one series propelled Netflix over the line: GLOW, Stranger Things, Mindhunter’s Cameron Britton, and its prodigious stand-up output all contributed to the Emmy haul. Instead, it’s the sheer volume that stands out, making yet another argument for Netflix’s “do everything for everyone” model.

Loser: Twin Peaks: The Return

No, 18 hours of horrific imagery sourced straight from David Lynch’s subconscious does not Emmy bait make. Just allow this TV critic a few sentences of lament for a magnificent work of art that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association at least mustered a Kyle MacLachlan nod for, and which is most definitely better than National Geographic’s Genius: Picasso. (David Lynch was nominated for directing the entire operation, but a series and acting snub is tough.) Ask not for whom the Black Lodge ethereally whooshes; it whooshes for thee.

Loser: Jimmy Fallon

For the second year in a row, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon lost out on a nomination for Outstanding Variety Talk Series, the only one of the three 11:35 p.m. network shows to do so. Neither of NBC’s late-night offerings got a series nod, but at least Late Night With Seth Meyers, Fallon’s follow-up, earned its second writing nomination in a row. Aside from a nomination for The Tonight Show’s web series “Cover Room,” Fallon was completely shut out this year after a single Outstanding Interactive Program nomination in 2017, a striking message from an Academy that’s turned its attention to Trevor Noah’s Daily Show and Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal. NBC as a whole doesn’t need to worry, given that SNL will likely maintain its hold on comedic acting awards, and two cast members are hosting the ceremony in September. Fallon, on the other hand, is losing out on audiences, critical acclaim, and awards. At least he’s still got the demo.

Winner: Performance Art

Parks and Rec alum, Good Place writer, and all-around Twitter champion Megan Amram had a dream: to get herself nominated for an Emmy. To that end, she created, wrote, and starred in An Emmy for Megan, fulfilling the bare-minimum requirements for Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series with panache, fourth-wall-breaking transparency, and many guest stars. Her campaign—a single billboard in Hollywood—worked, and got her an Outstanding Actress nod to boot. Congratulations to Megan Amram.

Winner: Consensus

All in all, this Emmy class drives home the message the Academy has been sending for the past five years, since the dawn of Peak TV: It will nominate whatever the highest number of the Academy’s 25,000-plus members make time in their busy schedules to watch, and, as anyone who survived high school knows, popularity is not synonymous with quality. The Emmys in their current form are heavily biased toward blockbusters, like Game of Thrones and Westworld, and crowd-pleasers, like Stranger Things and This Is Us. Omissions like Halt and Catch Fire barely count as snubs, because they never stood a chance in the first place.

One could argue that the Emmys’ gravitation toward consensus picks—the shows everyone agrees are tastefully made (The Crown), enjoyable (Maisel), or important (Handmaid’s Tale)—is a way of rewarding shows that prove an old-school model of television’s significance is still viable; it’s the Academy’s way of endorsing its own image of itself. That’s certainly part of the takeaway, but I’m inclined toward a simpler interpretation. The people who make up the Television Academy spend their days making television. They don’t have time to sample everything, and they’re just as prone to watching Game of Thrones because it’s The Show People Watch as the rest of us. There’s no time to sample everything, meaning there’s no way to meritocratically consider everything for awards, either. Television these days tends to cluster around a very limited number of centers of gravity, and the Emmys do, too.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.