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Looking Toward the Outstanding Drama Series Race at the 2018 Emmys

In a first look at the upcoming Outstanding Drama Series category at the 2018 Primetime Emmys, Jalal breaks down the main six contenders as well as the new shows trying to stand out.

For the most part, this year’s Outstanding Drama Series lineup is largely set in stone. All five of last year’s breakout hits are poised to return, and the return of Game of Thrones is a certainty. Both Better Call Saul won’t return until later in the year which means there is an opportunity for at least one new show to break in. There are two former nominees that are popular enough to sneak back into the race (The Americans and Homeland), and there are plenty of new shows fighting to stand out although none of them were strong enough to make a dent at the guild awards.

With months to go until the final round of voting, it looks like the race will  come down to three different dramas representing three very different parts of TV. The Handmaid’s Tale made history as the first streaming show to win a top program award, and unless it drastically dips in quality it will likely return as a frontrunner. Before taking a year off, Game of Thrones was an Emmy juggernaut, and the penultimate season is sure to be a major success for the premium network. After winning the SAG ensemble award, This Is Us proved that it has mass appeal with a large group of voters. Plus, after ending the second season on a high note, there is a good chance that broadcast TV can make a comeback in the drama categories.

(Photo: HBO)
The Likely Six

After taking a year off from the Emmy race, Game of Thrones has returned as the likely frontrunner at the 2018 Emmys. On top of winning the top drama award for its past two seasons, the groundbreaking fantasy epic has won a total of 38 Emmys out of 108 nominations. In its seventh season, the show is still breaking ratings records. The short seventh season also came with endless watercooler moments including a long awaited death, multiple twists involving dragons, and my personal favorite moment – “tell Cersei, I want her to know it was me.” The biggest question heading into awards season is whether or not the fan favorite is able to rebuild its traction after taking a break.

The first season of The Handmaid’s Tale was able to make history as the first streaming show to win a top award at the Emmys. It captivated audiences week by week with perfect storytelling and perfectly related to audiences still trying to come to terms with the previous election. Now the show has taken on an even more prevalent meaning in the wake of the #metoo movement in Hollywood. Because of that The Handmaid’s Tale is the show to beat at this year’s Emmys. The second season doesn’t premiere until later in April but from what we at ADTV have seen so far the outstanding quality of the show remains the same. Now that the Hulu sensation has been introduced to even bigger audiences, it will be interesting to gauge how they respond to discovering the expanding world of Gilead and if it remains the show of the moment.

We still have four more seasons of The Crown to look forward to, however the recent second season feels like a finale in and of itself by bringing an end to the Claire Foy era of the Queen Elizabeth II epic. In its second season, The Crown was even more well-received by critics and guild groups earning top recognition from SAG and PGA groups as well as plenty of craft support. The show may have a hard time actually winning a popular vote, but as one of the sleekest (and most expensive) costume dramas ever on television it’s a near-lock for a second series nomination.

Even more so than last year This Is Us is the dark horse contender in a category no one thought a broadcast drama would ever have a fighting chance again. With the rest of the completion consisting of genre shows like Stranger Things and Game of Thrones, This Is Us stands out for captivating audiences week after week simply by being sincere. After pulling off an upset at the SAG awards, the second season was able to capitalize on the mystery around Jack’s death all season long. The show succeeds the most in the present with a heart-wrenching storyline focused on Randall and Beth adopting a teenage girl named Deja. This year the entire core Pearson family has a chance to all pull off Emmy nominations, and if they are able to do that alongside recognition for writing or directing, it just might be able to be the first broadcast drama to pull off a win since 24 twelve years ago.

(Photo: HBO)

HBO is saving the second season of Westworld for its coveted spring slot which is a big indication that the sci-fi epic will be a major Emmy contender this year. Last year just about every branch of the Television Academy fell in love with Westworld with a total 22 nominations. We don’t know much about the second season besides a trailer that was released this week. Personally I’m most excited to see what the show does with new cast members Betty Gabriel and Oscar nominee Rinko Kinkuchi. As the world expands out of its robot cowboy setting it will be interesting to see where the show goes from there. Emmy wise, its biggest concern will be trying to stand out to voters against HBO’s other major series Game of Thrones.

The first season of Stranger Things appeared unstoppable at the Emmys and even though it won five creative arts Emmys the Netflix sensation left the main ceremony empty handed. Even if it lost the top award to The Handmaid’s Tale there is no doubt that Stranger Things is probably the most widely watched show of all the likely nominees and will continue to be a major Emmy player. The show may have an ever harder path to a Drama Series victory but David Harbour has become an unexpected frontrunner in the supporting actor race and has a good chance of becoming the show’s first major win at the Primetime ceremony.

On The Bubble

Ozark may not seem like an obvious Emmy contender but the crime drama has proven to be a ratings juggernaut for the streaming service since premiering last summer. SAG voters singled out past Emmy nominees Jason Bateman and Laura Linney and also earned a surprise WGA nomination. The premise of Ozark isn’t inherently original but it is Emmy friendly and might excite the same voters who easily embraced Breaking Bad and Bloodline. With a wide open race for that seventh slot Ozark may be the odds on favorite for its wide appeal and overall certainty that most voters have had the chance to stream the show after being widely available for the past year.

(Photo: Netflix)

Last fall Mindhunter became a sleeper hit at least on Twitter.  The show seemed like an obvious awards contender mixing prestige names like David Finches with FBI agents and serial killers, a subject matter that always seems to have mass appeal. Shockingly the first season was ignored by every major awards group and only received guild support for cinematography and art direction. It’s a possibility that voters simply hadn’t had enough time to watch the first season by the time they started voting and by the time the television Academy makes their final decisions in a couple months the show will breakthrough.

For whatever reason Hollywood can’t get enough of the Getty family and the infamous international kidnapping plot of John Paul Getty III in 1973. Ridley Scott’s 2016 film is better known for its Kevin Spacey drama so it’s hard to tell whether or not FX’s Trust will have more luck finding a larger audience. Originally it was conceived as a limited series where it would have undoubtedly been a major success, but in the much more crowded drama series race it is too early to tell whether or not voters will embrace the show. It comes with plenty of Oscar friendly names attached including Danny Boyle, Hilary Swank, Donald Sutherland, Simon Beaufoy, and a potential comeback caliber role for Brendan Fraser. The reviews following this week’s premiere have been mostly positive and as the season progresses Trust might become the most talked about new drama of the year.

The sole Outstanding Drama Series nomination for The Americans back in 2016 is one of the best examples of fans and critics incessantly rallying behind a show year after year until Emmy voters finally listened. Then the spy drama hit a minor bump last season with an uneventful fifth season that prevented voters from bringing back the critical darling for a second year in a row. The final season just premiered this week and no matter what fans are going to rally in full force in hopes that Emmys send the show off with a final hug. With at least one spot up for grabs in the Drama Series Race voters could easily default back to The Americans if no other show catches their interest

No drama has had quite as complicated of a relationship with Emmy voters as Homeland has. When the CIA drama premiered in 2011 it became an instant hit and immediately won multiple awards including Outstanding Drama Series at the Emmys. The show continued to be a major player with voters and has dipped in and out of major nominations depending on the year.  The Drama Series Race might be too crowded for the Showtime hit to make a comeback but audiences seem to be enjoying the currently airing seventh season and that might be enough for the show to sneak back into the category.

(Photo: Showtime)

Earlier this year Showtime premiered their new drama The Chi about the interconnected lives of people in a Southside Chicago neighborhood. The cast features up-and-coming actors like Moonlight’s Alex Hibbert and Jason Mitchell from Mudbound and Straight Outta Compton but most importantly it’s the newest project from Emmy winner Lena Waithe who is quickly taking over Hollywood and on top of this is in the upcoming blockbuster Ready Player One and just landed her first Vanity Fair cover which is relatively unheard of for a writer/showrunner. The Chi premiered to strong reviews and over the course of the season grew in ratings without much support from major culture writers. If Showtime is able to get more voters to pay attention to the well-likes first season and capitalize on Lena Waithe’s popularity the show might have a shot at being the sole new drama series in the top category.

On paper The Deuce seems like the perfect awards contender.  From HBO and starring two Oscar nominees it’s a period drama about the New York City underbelly of the 70s. For whatever reason however Emmy voters have always been apprehensive to celebrate the shows of David Simon most notably by snubbing The Wire throughout its entire run. It might have to do with his writing approach which is often described as journalistic but The Deuce and HBO have the added disadvantage of trying to market the new show in the thick of the #metoo movement and the allegations against James Franco.



Likely Contenders


The Handmaid’s Tale

Game of Thrones

This Is Us

Stranger Things


The Crown


The Americans



The Chi


Readers what do you think of the 2018 Outstanding Drama Series race? Are the returning six shows as sure bets as we think they are? What new drama has the best chance of breaking in?