This year’s Emmy nominations juggled a seemingly impossible task, trying to identify standout new series, like “Only Murders in the Building” and “Abbott Elementary,” while acknowledging older ones, including past winners and a number of shows that were in or about to enter their final seasons.
Add to that an increasingly international flavor to the television landscape, with Netflix’s South Korean sensation “Squid Game” securing a best-drama nomination — the first non-English-language show to achieve that feat — and you have a solid prescription for what an overwhelming task this has become.
How overwhelming? Well, for starters, the Television Academy dispensed with decades of tradition and didn’t bother to break down the nominations by network, in part because the advent of streaming platforms has made tallying up who owns those bragging rights — Netflix? Some combination of HBO and HBO Max? Disney’s assorted platforms with Disney+, ABC and Hulu? — too much of a headache to tackle.
For what it’s worth, after a neck-and-neck race last year, HBO opened up a wider lead over second-place Netflix this time around, with a whopping 140 nominations, buoyed by the 25 for drama favorite “Succession,” followed by “The White Lotus” (20, including a staggering eight supporting-acting bids), “Hacks” (17), “Euphoria” (16) and “Barry” (14). Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” (20) was again the most-nominated comedy. (Like CNN, HBO is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.)
One complicating factor has become the longer-than-traditional breaks between seasons, meaning several of the shows nominated this year weren’t in the running in 2021 — heck, FX’s “Atlanta” was absent for nearly four years — while something like “The Crown” is missing after dominating last year’s awards.
Another reason the Emmys have become so messy is the explosion of the limited series category, which qualitatively has perhaps eclipsed higher-profile contenders for drama and comedy series. Those competitions have the benefit of eight nominations each, as opposed to five in the limited ranks, which might explain why Colin Firth and Toni Collette were nominated for HBO Max’s “The Staircase,” but the program itself wasn’t.
Notably, HBO’s vacation-from-hell “The White Lotus” (which actually premiered a little over a year ago, missing the deadline for last year’s awards) stands out as the only original concept in the limited-series field. It is joined by a quartet of fact-based productions: Netflix’s “Inventing Anna” and a trio of Hulu productions in “Dopesick,” “The Dropout” and “Pam & Tommy.”
In terms of episodic series, the balance between nostalgia and the freshness of discovery is very much evident, as well as the influence of streaming, which swept the limited-series choices and accounted for half of the comedy and drama series contenders.
As for the traditional broadcast networks, their dwindling role was highlighted by the lone inclusion of ABC’s new sitcom “Abbott Elementary.” Another fledgling hit, CBS’ “Ghosts,” failed to make the cut, and NBC’s “This is Us” was overlooked in its grab-the-tissues final season, other than a nomination for best song.
Indeed, the evidence that academy voters were feeling sentimental about shows that have signed off, or are about to, was decidedly mixed. While “Ozark” amassed 13 nominations and “Better Call Saul” nabbed seven, Issa Rae’s nomination marked the only major recognition for the final season of HBO’s “Insecure,” joined by “Killing Eve” stars Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, a series whose last stand generated a largely negative response.
In addition to the two aforementioned comedies and “Squid Game,” new series breakthroughs include a pair of mysteries in the Showtime drama “Yellowjackets” and Apple TV+’s “Severance.” Apple’s “Pachinko,” another well-reviewed international drama shot predominately in Korean and Japanese, couldn’t break through, leaving “Squid Game” to try to match the milestone that “Parasite” pulled off at the Oscars in 2020.
Last year’s Emmys did include a populist touch in the form of several Disney+ shows, which might have contributed to a rebound in the ratings after record-low numbers in 2020.
Yet after making a major splash last year thanks to “The Mandalorian” and “WandaVision,” Disney+ hovered back down to Earth. The service’s Marvel and “Star Wars” shows amassed a fair number of nods in technical areas — including eight for “Moon Knight,” a half-dozen for “Loki” and four to “The Book of Boba Fett” — there was no major recognition. (“Moon Knight” star Oscar Isaac was nominated for best actor in a limited series, but for HBO’s remake of “Scenes from a Marriage.”)
Whether that will impact the audience for this year’s show remains to be seen. Perhaps the best thing the Emmys have going for them is a wide assortment of tastes to tease different palates, in what’s become a pretty crazy galaxy of television.