With a Comedy Series category nearly identical to last year, will Emmy® voters choose a repeat winner in Veep or favor a dark horse contender?
So much time and energy has been focused on the onslaught of new drama series this year. Unfortunately, that has led the Outstanding Comedy Series race to be largely ignored. Emmy voters didn’t spend any time getting to know any of the new comedies, heavily favoring repeat winner Veep. The rest of the field emerged as nearly the same as last year with two key exceptions: Atlanta and Pamela Adlon for Better Things. Every other new acting nominee linked back to a past winner or nominee like the cast of Saturday Night Live, Kathryn Hahn for Transparent, or Zach Galifinakis for Baskets.
Does a stagnant year for comedy in terms of nominations make the category that much easier to predict? With only three different winners over the past ten years, the Television Academy clearly finds comfort picking their favorite show and sticking with it for years, making Veep the clear frontrunner.
The big question heading into the Outstanding Comedy Series race is whether or not the new-ish voting system leaves room for more upsets. In the past, comedies like Frasier and Modern Family set records in the race by fairing well in a preferential ballot system. Would a show with momentum like Orange Is The New Black beat Modern Family if the winner was determined by a one-and-done voting system like it is now? Is Veep a show that initially rose to the top because of the preferential ballot or is it really that popular? More importantly, is there any show popular enough to beat it?
Every available sign points towards Veep easily winning its third consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. The current sixth season earned 17 nominations, a personal best for the HBO comedy beating its record by raking in recognition for acting, writing, and directing. The cast continues to be nominated year after year without anyone dropping off.
On paper, Veep is the obvious frontrunner, but without any precursor awards, it’s difficult to gauge how voters will respond to the current season. Yes, the show set a personal record with 17 nominations, but the overall belief is that the buzz around the series has diminished now that Selina and team aren’t united in the Oval Office. There wasn’t much excitement regarding the subplots with Dan on morning TV, Amy in Nevada, and the groan-inducing presence of Catherine. Will fans of the show abandon ship because of an aimless season and no endgame in sight or ignore the course of the series and simply take the opportunity to reward one of the best casts working in television?
If Veep ends up losing the Emmy, Mandel should take it as a hint that Sue was the thread that held it all together and she needs to be brought back.
Atlanta debuted to a mini phenomenon last fall. Critics were obsessed with the show, and everyone from those on Twitter to industry professionals seemed to be buzzing about it. Still the show didn’t seem like the type of comedy voters usually gravitate towards. Then the guild awards showered Donald Glover with recognition with wins at the Producers Guild Awards, Writers Guild Awards, and even two wins at the Golden Globes.
Atlanta represents the auteur-driven comedy that has been changing television for a while now starting with shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Louie. It’s time a singular vision like this wins the top comedy award. More importantly, Donald Glover was able to create one of the most innovative shows in years, and rewarding that would highlight what television has the power to do right especially over film. If he goes home empty handed this year, voters will risk pushing the Emmys towards irrelevancy and embarrassing themselves like AMPAS has done so many times. I think voters are aware of that. It’s simply a matter of whether or not they care.
Master of None
Winning the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series requires a show to have something special that gets voters excited. Master of None may seem like a small show, but arguably more than any other nominee, the auteur comedy hits a personal chord with audiences challenging them, exciting them, and overall leaving them fulfilled. Episodes like “Thanksgiving” turn the show into one of the most culturally important comedies on television. While many of the past nominees and winners are struggling to stay relevant, Master of None solidifies its place as great TV.
Beyond the buzz around the sophomore season, it needs to be pointed out that with 8 nominations Master of None is the only nominee along with the HBO giants to get support from a wide variety of the branches, especially in multiple key categories. On top of nominations for acting and writing, the show also received nominations for casting, sound mixing, and picture editing. These are three of the categories with the best track record at predicting the top awards. Broad support across these key branches shows that this small personal show is resonating personally with voters in a way that most of the other nominees are not. Making people feel good might be the key to an upset.
Year after year, Silicon Valley becomes more popular at the Emmys debuting with five nominations and four seasons later doubling that to ten. The tech-bro comedy has been singled out by various branches including the writers, directors, editors, sound mixers, casting directors, and cinematographers which is a huge accomplishment seeing as it isn’t a heavily intricate of a show in terms of production. The one red flag is the shutout of the ensemble even though Thomas Middleditch was nominated last year. Shows don’t tend to fare well in the Outstanding Comedy Series race without at least one nomination. In fact, the last time a comedy won without support from actors was The Wonder Years back in 1988.
Even without the actors branch behind the show, there is no denying that Silicon Valley remains one of the most popular comedies with Academy members right now. It earned more nominations than any other nominee besides Veep, and it even beats out the repeat winner week by week in ratings. In order to win the top award, however, voters need a reason to rally behind it. There have been complaints that the show has become repetitive with Pied Piper gaining success and then the team being knocked back down only for the cycle to continue. The biggest headline to come out of the fourth season was TJ Miller’s crude exit. That’s not going to help the show’s chances.
Clearly a large portion of the Television Academy enjoys Silicon Valley or the show wouldn’t be growing in nominations year after year. However, to upset a show like Veep, voters would need a reason to rally behind it. The tech-bro comedy simply doesn’t have that strong of a campaign narrative. The plot for better or worse has become repetitive, and the biggest headline about the fourth season was TJ Miller’s crude exit which likely hinders their chances rather than boosting them.
After breaking into the Emmy race last year, black-ish was poised to enter the 2017 Emmy season as a formidable alternative to Veep and expand its overall nominations beyond recognition for the series and its two leads. Unfortunately for black-ish, Emmy voters didn’t shower the show with more nominations. It only picked up the same as it did last year with the addition of a surprise guest nomination for Wanda Sykes. For whatever reason, all of the craft categories ignored the show, most notably writing and directing. Either voters just aren’t watching the show or are simply over the idea of a family sitcom.
A show winning the top award without any support from the writing, directing, or craft branches seems almost impossible although with the popular voting method anything can happen. Black-ish is still an immensely popular show with some of the funniest performances on television, and I won’t pass up any opportunity to remind everyone that Jenifer Lewis was robbed of yet another Emmy. Any voter longing for the days of Norman Lear will certainly gravitate towards the Johnsons. Still, if the excitement for the show was there it would have resulted in more nominations.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
When Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt premiered two years ago, it came with excitement and the catchiest theme song of the past ten years. Voters were eager to embrace Tina Fey’s follow-up to 30 Rock especially the standout ensemble. In the years that followed, however, there seems to be a growing disconnect between audiences and the disappointing plotlines even if fans of the show are still in love with the cast and hit-and-miss humor of the show.
The show has yet to win an Emmy for any of its three seasons, and the only sign of support at the guilds is an individual episode win. There isn’t any real indicator that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has any momentum to pull off an upset this year. In fact, Netflix should focus its entire campaign for the show on turning Titus Burgess into a real contender in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series race and build off of that momentum.
It’s sad when a show overstays its welcome at the Emmys, especially one that’s tied the record for the most Outstanding Comedy Series wins like Modern Family has. There’s no obvious answer to why voters lacked any originality in the comedy races besides the fact that they love the familiar. No comedy is as relatable to upper middle class families in southern California as the Dunphys.
Even though Modern Family has been nominated for eight consecutive years, does it stand any chance of pulling off an upset in the top race? Once voters move on they don’t choose to go back unless they have a good reason like an undeniable or final season. Modern Family had neither, and with a new voting system that benefits passionate choices, there isn’t any indicator that the show stands a chance.
- Master of None
- Silicon Valley
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
- Modern Family