Outstanding Drama Series
Let’s start with the excellent fact that The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t have a season this year and therefore frees up eight acting slots. (Seriously Emmy, what were you thinking?) The good news is there are only two series from last season that are eligible for nominations: This is Us and Bridgeton and the odds for the latter are dropping daily. The bad news is, there are quite a few series I have listed in my Overrated series that are almost certainly going to dominate the nominations. I’m willing to grant a little latitude for Succession, but far less for Ozark. (There’s one more I refuse to mention at all, but I think we all have a feeling what it is.)
I’m going to try and find a balance between the series I think absolutely deserve to be here, and the ones that are going to be here regardless. If the Emmys will find it in their hearts to nominate more of the former, I’ll be grateful. If they nominate more of the latter, I won’t be shocked. Anyway, here we go.
Better Call Saul (AMC)
The Academy has had increasingly terrible excuses for not giving this series anywhere near the love that it gave its parent series Breaking Bad over the past few years (cough, Game of Thrones). Now that one of the greatest shows in the history of the medium is coming in to its final stretch, they are rapidly running out of them. The first half of the final season featured some of the series greatest moments — the incredible final act of Nacho, a pawn in the cartel who exited the board on his own terms, the continued degeneration of Kim Wexler, one of the series break out characters into Jimmy’s true soul mate, and the climax of the season finale when the two world that Jimmy has been balancing finally collided — and Howard, who’d already been the professional victim in the first one, became an almost casual casualty of the second. Do I think the series has enough momentum to overcome Succession? I really don’t know. But given just how things managed to play out for Breaking Bad when Gilligan and AMC used this exact maneuver ten years ago, maybe there’s a real chance to Emmys will finally call Saul.
Big Sky (ABC)
The biggest longshot of my potential nominees. I know that network television is basically considered too pedestrian for the era of awards series TV these days. That’s been the law of the land since Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey were put ahead of The Good Wife and Parenthood no matter how much better the latter series were. But it’s hard to look at the majesty of Big Sky – a series as close to the idea of the Western as Justified once was — with its incredible group of heavies and villains, and Jenny Hoyt and Cassie Dewell as the only woman who can stand against the forces of malevolence that people like Ronald and Wolf Legarski represent (just nominate John Carroll Lynch for an Emmy already!) This is the reinvention of the procedural that network television desperately needs and compared to a pedestrian series like Ozark which just picks and chooses its villains like there holdovers from every clichéd drama, it deserves to be recognized as a true original.
The Gilded Age (HBO)
This is the HBO series about the struggles of the wealthy that deserves all the recognition from the Academy that it can possibly get, a period piece that has all the cleverness and wit that Succession purports to have, but has absolutely none of the profanity in its bon mots and is yet infinitely more clever. Have I been underestimating Julian Fellowes all these years because I couldn’t understand Gosford Park and I never watched Downton Abbey? Well, clearly his latest work — my first choice for the first great show on television since This is Us debuted — has demonstrated that I have made a critical error. The atmosphere of 19th Century New York, the brilliance of the dialogue and the incredible performances — from Christine Baranski and Carrie Coon all the way down to Louise Jacobson (it’s another of Meryl’s daughters) indicate this series will someday be contending for major awards. To paraphrase the series itself, I think it’s time for new money to be invited in.
Squid Game (Netflix)
Will the Emmys make history this year? For the entirety of the history of the awards, Emmys have essentially been the property of English speaking series. Given how Squid Game took command of America this past fall, how it managed to sneak in two vital upsets in what look liked a domination of Succession at the SAG awards and again at the Critics Choice, how it managed to become part of the culture even if you didn’t see it, and how there’s now a real life version of it planned for Netflix — all while not only being subtitled, but coming from South Korea — makes you realize just how big a phenomena the series has become in less than a few months. It’s not a question of if Squid Game will get nominated for Best Drama, its how many members of its cast and technical team will end up part of the party this September.
Stranger Things (Netflix)
I have no real explanation as to why I just stopped watching Stranger Things two years ago. Life got in the way, that’s the best I can tell you. But watching it return to the scene after nearly three years was one of the great pleasures of my summer. I don’t care how much older the youth of the series look now compare to the passage of time; the point is I will always be a follower of all of these remarkable kids and adults and that the power of their friendship is far greater than any power than Eleven might have (or as was the case for half of Season 4, didn’t have). Yes, a lot of this series is based on the idea of nostalgia, but that’s less important than the basic idea of what it represents: the power of friendship and family. Stranger Things might not be able to save Netflix, but that’s not the responsibility of any single series. The series’ job is to entertain and enrapture, and no one can argue Stranger Things doesn’t do that.
Yes, I know. I’ve written multiple articles saying that this is one of the most overrated series on the air these days. But to pretend that there aren’t some good aspects about Succession would require a level of denial that I’m just not capable of doing the game way I was with Game of Thrones. (Though I still claim partial vindication there given the final season…) Admittedly quite a lot of the performances, particularly Danny Strong’s collapse as Kendall, Kieran Culkin as the always snarky but clearly damaged Roman and the incredible work of Matthew MacFayden as Tom, whose possible betrayal of his in-laws was more diabolical then his byplay with Greg, are exceptional work by some truly gifted actors. Don’t get me wrong. I want Succession to have as little succession at the actual awards as the Roy’s have at outsmarting Logan. But you can’t deny their ability, even if you question the legacy.
This is Us (NBC)
It was also going to be agonizing saying goodbye to the Pearsons, and of course they put us through every ringer possible in the last season. The continued deterioration of Rebecca, until she finally passed away in the penultimate episode (give Mandy Moore an Emmy!) watching the inevitable breakup and dissolution of Toby and Kate’s marriage (oh my heart still aches) and finally learning Miguel’s story just in time for us to loose him. (I always loved him, by the way.) But despite everything we’ve been through with the Big Three for six incredible seasons, they still had each other. They managed to find love either with new loves (Kate), old loves (Kevin) or the love of the next generation meeting the old (Randall finally learning he had a grandson). And we did find new stories even as we exited — Charlie’s finding a way to move on past his old love, Jack’s relationship with his father. The series exited in the quietest way possible after all the drama, and I’m actually fine with that. The show’s gotten a decent amount of love from the Emmys over the years, but I think a little bit more for the Pearson clan before they go out the door would be fitting for all of them.
I came to the realization of this series greatness a little too recently (i.e. this month) but it hasn’t taken more than a couple of episodes for me to realize I’m witnessing what may be the first truly great mythology series (sort of) since Fringe departed the airwaves nearly a decade earlier. The plane crash will evoke Lost (which can only help it at awards show time), but it is the fact that this is a celebration of female power in a way that not even that most precious of female-dominated series, The Handmaid’s Tale can call itself. Four of the greatest female performances of the season are in this series: Melanie Lynskey and Christina Ricci are practically sure things for Best Actress and Supporting Actress nominations, and Juliette Lewis and Tawny Cypress will join them soon, if not this year, then the next. And that’s without counting all of the extraordinary young actresses who make up the immediate survivors of the crash. What truly happened? What’s stalking the women now? We’re only starting to find out. But this is the first show in a long time where I’m looking forward to see how the mysteries play out, even if they’re already known the characters, if not the audience.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Evil (Paramount +)
It is more likely that Yellowstone, a series that has grown to an out sensation over the last few years, will end up being this streaming services first Emmy nomination. I could use this space to advocate for The Good Fight which was there first, but if the Emmys haven’t bought into it yet, they won’t now. So let’s go for something even harder to quantify by those same writers: one of the most daring pure horror series so far this century. Robert and Michelle King have gone into another world that is exactly like ours and have recruited the most unlikely pair of investigators since Mulder and Scully to look at it. The supporting cast alone — Michael Emerson, chewing the scenery until there isn’t any left; Aasaf Mandvi, demonstrated why he may be this decades Bob Odenkirk, Christine Lahti and Andrea Martin as two maternal figures you won’t see anywhere else — could each inspire their own spinoff and I hope they don’t. The Emmys recognize a lot of great series. Maybe they could acknowledge the power of Evil? (Sorry.)
Tomorrow, I start tackling Best Actor in A Drama.