When it comes to this year’s Emmy nominees, it was a very good year to be either a kid, an old pro, or a political satirist. Netflix’s Stranger Things (the story of a gaggle of youths confronting the supernatural) and FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan (the tale of the rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford) were among the newcomers which racked up the most nominations. Other new shows that did well? This Is Us, Atlanta, and The Crown. NBC should thank its lucky stars that it has one of the most popular new shows (This Is Us) and one of the most popular old shows (Saturday Night Live) on the air. At a time when the broadcast networks are frequently locked out of any acclaim in this Platinum Age of quality TV, This Is Us scored a best-drama nod as well as numerous acting nominations, while SNL benefited mightily from the drama of Donald Trump, with nominations for Alec Baldwin (for his Trump), Melissa McCarthy (Sean Spicer), and Kate McKinnon (Hillary Clinton), as well as Vanessa Bayer and Leslie Jones in the Supporting Actress in a Comedy category.
Among talk shows, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Real Time with Bill Maher were joined by the equally partisan newcomer Full Frontal with Samantha Bee in the Variety/Talk Series list. (Sorry, Trevor Noah and Seth Meyers, and by now I almost feel sympathy for the benighted, apolitical Jimmy Fallon.)
I was super pleased to see Donald Glover’s Atlanta get nominations for best comedy and best actor. I wish his co-star, Brian Tyree Henry, had also been recognized for this show, but Henry did score a nom for his guest work in This Is Us. Indeed, This Is Us is the gift that keeps on giving for its network (NBC is now the first broadcast network since CBS — in 2011, forThe Good Wife — to get major-category drama nominations) and for its actors: Much of its large cast was nominated in lead and supporting categories.
A couple of days ago, I correctly predicted some big Emmy love for Big Little Lies, Feud, Stranger Things, and Atlanta. But where did I go wrong? Chiefly in thinking that Issa Rae’s Insecure comedy on HBO would be an Emmy breakout, and in hoping that FX’s Legion would score some recognition for its acting. Certainly the absence of Game of Thrones as an eligible show opened up a some doors for HBO’s other big fantasy series, rookie Westworld.
The best surprises for me were seeing Bill Camp get a nomination for his world-weary cop in HBO’s The Night Of (that miniseries did very well, with multiple nods), and Pamela Adlon for the FX comedy she co-created with Louis CK, Better Things. Stepping back and taking the long view, this year’s Emmy nominations have upped the percentage of nonwhite performers to a gratifying degree. And while the overall list of nominees contains some repetitions from years past — did both Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin really merit more Grace and Frankie nominations? — there is clearly an openness to new shows that expand the vocabulary of their genres (Atlanta, Master of None, and Handmaid’s Tale) that is truly heartening. I’m looking forward to cheering on many of these nominees — and to seeing Stephen Colbert host these awards.
The 69th Annual Emmy Awards will air Sunday, Sept. 17, at 8 p.m. on CBS.