On Tuesday morning, months of For Your Consideration campaigns culminated in the nominations for the 74th Emmy Awards. Members of the Television Academy will make their final picks known at the ceremony on September 12, but these early honorees offer a glimpse into what voters have been watching—and what they haven’t. Staff writers Alison Herman and Miles Surrey convened to sort through the winners and losers of the latest long Emmy campaign.
Winner: Rhea Seehorn
Our long national nightmare is over: Rhea Seehorn has an Emmy nomination. Despite consistently putting in the work on Better Call Saul, Seehorn has been denied an elusive nomination on five previous attempts—a move that’s all the more disheartening since the series hasn’t exactly been ignored by the Television Academy. The Emmys tend to favor A-listers and showier roles, and Seehorn’s subtle, nuanced performance as Kim Wexler wasn’t falling on their radar. (Like the show she’s in, Seehorn’s finest moments are often the most understated.)
Thankfully, with Better Call Saul approaching its final episodes and the actress receiving a host of glowing features, Seehorn has finally broken through on television’s biggest stage. For the Better Call Saul fans of the world, it’s time to celebrate by popping a bottle of Zafiro Añejo tequila. —Miles Surrey
Loser: Strategic Scheduling
This spring saw a pent-up flood of high-profile releases, all scrambling to get in before the Emmys’ eligibility cutoff while staying fresh in the minds of voters. Some of those shows, like Barry or Better Call Saul, showed up on Tuesday’s roster, but they tended to be established hits relatively late in their runs. HBO hopefuls like We Own This City were nowhere to be found; neither was the second season of Netflix comedy Russian Doll beyond a single cinematography nod, nor entrants in the ongoing true crime wave like Candy or The Girl From Plainville. Gaslit, a Watergate drama starring Julia Goddamn Roberts, barely made a ripple with the Academy, netting just four nods for its production and none for its writing, directing, or performances.
This isn’t to say there weren’t breakouts. The Academy used to be much more resistant to newcomers, awarding the same set of winners year after year; recently, it’s pivoted more to sweeps within a year, allowing for more turnover. This time, those contenders mostly aired at times that weren’t completely overcrowded with competition. The White Lotus, which dominates categories like Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, was a surprise hit last summer; Only Murders in the Building stepped off the elevator in early fall; Abbott Elementary, a network sitcom, debuted at the midseason mark in winter; Severance, the dystopian mystery box, kicked off in February, before the arms race got started in earnest.
In future years, schedulers might do well to remember that arranging one’s calendar around the Emmys can quite easily backfire. It’s not impossible to grab audiences’, or voters’, attention, but you’re more likely to do it by simply making good TV, not aggressively gaming the system. —Alison Herman
Winner: Squid Game
Netflix may be having a tough year, but its main bright spot continues to pay dividends. Stranger Things, Maid, Inventing Anna, and Nailed It! are all up for various Emmy awards. They’re all still trailing Squid Game, the show most likely to follow up The Crown as the streamer’s next winner for Outstanding Drama Series—this time without the pandemic thinning out the field.
Hwang Dong-hyuk’s surprise phenomenon earned 14 nominations for redefining what a hit TV show can look like in the digital age. Should it take the top prize, there will be obvious echoes to Parasite’s Best Picture win in early 2020. But in film, there’s a long legacy of international features getting at least modest distribution in the U.S., hence the category dedicated to them at the Oscars. There’s no such infrastructure in TV, or at least there wasn’t before streaming services like Netflix set their sights on building a truly global subscriber base. A rising tide hasn’t lifted all boats, considering shutouts for the likes of Lupin and HBO’s My Brilliant Friend, but a sea change is still afoot.
Of all Squid Game’s potential honors, the most exciting to my mind is Dong-hyuk’s for penning the script to season finale “One Lucky Day.” It’s the category most biased in favor of English-language work, and therefore the most remarkable to see Squid Game listed alongside Succession and Severance. With its increasingly internationalized membership, the Film Academy has shown that Parasite’s success wasn’t a fluke. Hopefully, its television counterpart will follow suit. —Herman
Winner That Should Be a Loser: Killing Eve
One of the biggest complaints lodged against the Emmys is that they tend to keep nominating shows after their moment in the spotlight has long since faded. (A reminder that Modern Family somehow scored 75 nominations during its run.) To that end: Killing Eve was once a thrilling cat-and-mouse spy drama brought to life by Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s acerbic wit and two compelling lead performances from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. But the longer Killing Eve went on, the more the show lost its initial spark. (The only result of changing showrunners each season was making the series a tonally jarring mess.)
All told, Killing Eve probably would’ve been better off as a miniseries, and that’s before we address an ending so universally loathed that the author of the book series the show is based on wrote an op-ed for The Guardian slamming it. Yet even with all these bad vibes surrounding it, Killing Eve still managed to score two Best Actress in a Drama Series nominations, for Oh and Comer. Take nothing away from the actresses, but the Emmys should’ve read the room instead of following the script. —Surrey
Loser: Sentimental Send-offs
On the other hand: At least the Television Academy doesn’t always follow the script. With two longtime Emmys favorites up for their final seasons in This Is Us and Black-ish, all signs pointed to their once again sneaking into the Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series categories, respectively. But instead of favoring sentimentality, the Emmys opted for some fresh blood with shows such as Yellowjackets, Squid Game, Only Murders in the Building, and Abbott Elementary taking their place.
It’s not the send-off that This Is Us or Black-ish might’ve expected, but at least the Emmys shook up the status quo for some worthy newcomers. (Seriously, if you haven’t watched Yellowjackets yet, you’re missing out.) —Surrey
Winner: Abbott Elementary
If Squid Game represents an unprecedented Emmy success story, Abbott Elementary is the opposite: the kind of show that used to dominate the comedy slate, but has lately taken a back seat to edgier, more explicit projects on cable and streaming. In 2022, a sunny ABC sitcom is the underdog insurgent, not Ted Lasso or Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Captained by Quinta Brunson, the workplace ensemble is plenty contemporary, deftly mining a Philadelphia public school for pathos and laughs. (In other words, it’s no Modern Family, patting itself on the back for its own progressivism while repeatedly winning out over better, more interesting shows.) With nominations for supporting players like Sheryl Lee Ralph and Janelle James, the Academy has recognized that Brunson’s success is the product of a group effort. It’s a heartwarming comeback story for the network half-hour, and you can’t not root for it to take home its seven potential trophies—even if that means a little less love for a reigning champ like Hacks. —Herman
When it comes to the Emmys, I no longer believe in the concept of the “snub.” There are simply too many worthy candidates competing for too few spots across too skewed a span of time. (The White Lotus and Season 2 of Ted Lasso debuted before last year’s ceremony even aired, but they’re eligible for this round of Emmys.) It’s easy to look at Tuesday morning’s nominations and notice what’s missing: the gorgeous, wrenching adaptation of Pachinko, apart from a nod for Main Title Design, or the poignant coming-of-age comedy Reservation Dogs. But it’s not so easy to blame the Television Academy for failing to squeeze a seemingly limitless swath of work into a limited amount of space—and before that, its members’ own DVRs.
It’s my job to watch TV and keep up with what’s new or noteworthy, and I regularly find myself falling short. It’s members of the Academy’s job to make TV, which theoretically qualifies them to recognize great work when they see it. But they’re also busy on set or in the editing booth and may not have time to catch gems like Tokyo Vice or Our Flag Means Death. And in a voting body of nearly 20,000 people, the law of averages means that mega-hits like Stranger Things stand a far better chance of rising to the top, simply because more people have watched them. TV awards in 2022 are a numbers game, full stop.
In other words, it’s time to acknowledge that, structurally, the Emmys are simply not capable of recognizing all that’s good in the wide world of television, if they ever were. (That leads to compromises within the spread of nominations, too—hence Station Eleven’s Himesh Patel getting a nomination, but not the series he led.) Instead, we’ll celebrate the wins where we get them. For me, that means raising a glass to Yellowjackets’ Karyn Kusama, and trying not to wince at the love for Inventing Anna. —Herman
Winner: Double-Dipping Actors
While some talented actors have to scratch and claw their way to a single overdue Emmy nomination—one more shout-out to Rhea Seehorn, who deserves the world—others find themselves competing in multiple categories. This year, Sydney Sweeney (Euphoria, The White Lotus), Julia Garner (Ozark, Inventing Anna), and Bill Hader (Barry, Saturday Night Live) all have the potential to win multiple acting Emmys in roles that range from soulless hitmen and smooth scammers to angsty teens and foul-mouthed criminals. (Hader is up for even more awards if you include his work behind the camera on Barry; he cowrote one of the show’s two episodes up for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and he directed the episode nominated for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series.)
Whether or not any of these actors end up double-dipping at the Emmys in September, it bodes well for their award season prospects when the Television Academy clearly favors them. Hell, Hader and Garner already have five Emmys between them, and I doubt either of them will be finished there. —Surrey