In a first look at the Outstanding Drama Series race, Jalal Haddad outlines the six contenders competing for the Emmy®. And then there’s “House of Cards…”
Starting ten years ago with Lost, Emmy voters began chipping away at the traditional view of what an Emmy contender could be. After that, massively popular fantasy shows like True Blood were nominated, the drug and crime focused Breaking Bad became one of the most beloved shows on television, and Game of Thrones became a massive sensation. Now in the most competitive Outstanding Drama Series race in the history of the Emmys, any preconceived notion of what voters will gravitate towards should be disregarded.
20,000+ Television Academy members are asked to choose between Queen Elizabeth and a pack of pre-teens battling a monster. Between a show that features a character going to a fat camp and a show about an amusement park filled with robot prostitutes and murder. In the end, the Outstanding Drama Series race is a battle between the old Television Academy and the new. Shows like This Is Us and The Crown are obvious Emmy contenders that would have been just as beloved if they had come out 15 years ago. Now they face competition from genre shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, and Westworld. These three shows wouldn’t have stood a chance five years ago but benefit from the ever-expanding world of TV.
In the end, predicting what show will win will simply be a determination of how the new popular vote system works. After voting was opened up to the entire Television Academy two years ago, there was no stopping Game of Thrones. So with a whopping 22 nominations, is Westworld the clear choice? Or is Stranger Things redefining what big means with a standout online presence from the kids’ endless presence on talk shows to the viral sensation #justiceforbarb?
The Handmaid’s Tale
When Emmy nominations were announced, the shocking support for The Handmaid’s Tale (13 nominations) proved that the Television Academy paid attention. There’s no denying that the show strikes a chord right now in America especially due to our current political climate. Every time voters turn on the news, there seems to be a threat to take healthcare away from millions or a direct attack on the transgender community. As voters grapple with that, the easiest way for them to channel their anger might simply be to vote for The Handmaid’s Tale.
There is a chance that could backfire. Getting inside the head of 20,000+ voters is impossible and it might be that what they are looking for in response to what is going on in the world is pure escapism which all of the other nominees offer. Unfortunately for The Handmaid’s Tale it also might be at a bit of a disadvantage simply for airing on Hulu when the other nominees all come from networks with a strong track record of winning Emmys.
After winning the top award at the PGA and SAG awards, Stranger Things is the safest bet when it comes to predicting the winner of Outstanding Drama Series which is an achievement in and of itself. Five years ago, a streaming show essentially a throwback to 80s horror would have never come close to 18 Emmy nominations. After Game of Thrones won the top award for the past two years, it’s officially time to redefine what it means to be an awards contender. Just about every branch of the Television Academy singled out Stranger Things, particularly key predictors like the sound mixers and picture editors. The actors even made room to nominate Shannon Purser for her guest role as Barb.
The hysteria around Stranger Things cannot be denied, but without streaming ratings, it is hard to gauge just how popular the show is and with what demographics. Will that excitement continue once voters sit down to cast their final ballots? In fact, the one thing getting in the way of Stranger Things historic win might be the fact that the show doesn’t seem important especially compared to other nominees like The Handmaid’s Tale. Some voters might disregard the show as pure entertainment even if it’s exquisitely made.
Better Call Saul
All of the focus has been on the record breaking five new shows nominated, but in its third season, Better Call Saul might have an advantage that pushes itself to its first major win. While the other shows are untested at the Emmys, Better Call Saul gained support within the Television Academy for the past three years on top of all the goodwill for Vince Gilligan that started with the massive success of Breaking Bad. With a new popular vote, fans of the show might be able to pull off the biggest upset of the night while the rest of the votes are split among all of the new shows.
Better Call Saul earned nine nominations. That might not seem like a lot compared to the other shows recognized this year, but after looking closer, it received recognition in multiple key categories proving there is passion behind the show. First, it was nominated for both directing and writing after being left out by both branches last year. The sound mixing team earned their third consecutive nomination in a key category in predicting the top award of the night. The show received two editing nominations which is particularly telling since the editors branch didn’t nominate three of the big new shows (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, This Is Us) in a category that has only snubbed the drama series winner once this century. Possibly most telling is the show’s nomination in the brand new music supervision category, especially since the show isn’t exactly known for the way it incorporates music.
In the end the winner might be determined by a mere 15% of the votes which might make it easier for a small yet loyal fan base for a show like Better Call Saul.
The sci-fi epic earned a whopping 22 nominations in its first season, and that is nothing to take lightly. To put it in perspective, that’s more nominations than the any of the first four seasons of Game of Thrones received. That puts HBO’s hit in the same ballpark as when the reigning winner finally started taking home the top prize. On top of that, the cast was nominated in each of the top four acting categories, an accomplishment that last happened when Mad Men was the biggest hit at the Emmys.
Originally, there were some doubts on whether or not voters would respond well to Westworld’s plot twist-filled plot in addition to the controversy about rewrites and reshoots halfway through production. Clearly none of this bothered the Television Academy, and like general audiences, they were completely enthralled in this world building sci-fi epic. Still it’s hard to imagine the same voting body that waited five seasons to finally crown Game of Thrones to award Westworld the same award in its first year, but if HBO finds a way to market the epic as a show relevant to the world we live in today, they might be able to hold on to the top award of the night.
This Is Us
Clearly a testament to the power broadcast dramas can still hold in our modern expanded television landscape, no other nominee this year was able to sustain weekly water cooler buzz quite like This Is Us. Beyond critical and audience excitement, This Is Us has everything an Emmy winner needs: a breakout cast, the ability to tackle themes like adoption and anxiety in a fresh way, and pure heart. With the state of the world right now, that feeling of comfort could catapult NBC to their first Outstanding Drama Series trophy in 14 years.
As much as the industry has celebrated This Is Us, there is a possibility that voters will in the end dismiss the show as comfort food and not seriously consider it as worthy material for the best drama of the year. Yes, the acting branch fully embraced the cast with seven nominations, but both the writing and directing branches skipped over the family drama, an unmistakable blow to the show’s Emmy chances. In the modern Emmy era, only twice has a show won without nominations in both categories and never without support from at least one of the two branches. Still, with voting now open to the entire membership, This Is Us has the opportunity to overcome those statistics.
Before The Crown even premiered on Netflix, the season focused on the early years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign became an Emmy frontrunner. After a long history of period pieces about the Queen earning countless awards, there was no doubt that The Crown is the definition of awards bait. Coming as a surprise to no one, the first season earned 13 nominations.
Thirteen nominations is nothing to ignore in a show’s first season, but compared to the other new shows over-performing with overall nomination,s the question needs to be asked on whether or not voters simply admire The Crown but not enough to award it with the top award of the year. If the near shutout at the BAFTA TV awards earlier this year is any indicator, The Crown might face a problem. If there was a sense of overall excitement for the show, more actors besides Foy and Lithgow would have been nominated, and the show would have earned an editing nomination.
House of Cards
The only nominee without a real chance at winning an Emmy in September. For whatever reason the political drama struggles to win awards even for well-received seasons. Now that the current fifth season has one of the worst Metacritic scores (60) of any show ever nominated in the category, any hopes the show had of being the first streaming show to win are dead.
- The Handmaid’s Tale
- Stranger Things
- Better Call Saul
- This Is Us
- The Crown
- House of Cards
Readers, what drama are you predicting to win the top award of the night? Is this a race between the five new shows or is there an opportunity for a returning favorite to pull ahead?