Finally distanced from the Game of Thrones finale, the race for Outstanding Drama Series is finally exciting again. For a year now, the ADTV team talked about the exciting possibilities the newly competitive category boasts. Strong contenders include eleven past nominees, the return of an instantly iconic limited series, and the birth of two major streaming networks.
The Front Runners
Right now, we have three early front runners, and surprisingly they all have one element in common. All three focus incredibly distorted family dynamics as they grasp for power. Succession’s Roy family is in a never-ending quest for their father’s approval. Ozark’s Wendy and Marty Byrde have had to reevaluate their valuers as parents as they put their family in danger with the cartel. Then there’s The Crown‘s Queen Elizabeth who has to deal with the bitter reality of a crown that has permanently distanced her from her entire family.
As of now, Succession is the perceived front runner both among our own ADTV pundits and by just about every other major pundit. Last summer, the Roy family was able to become a pop culture phenomenon without dragons, incest, distracting CGI, or an 80s soundtrack. Instead, audiences embraced the adult drama, turning it into an unlikely meme generator – one that dominated Twitter week after week.
Since then, Succession turned that popularity into a major awards contender, winning the top drama award at both the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice awards as well as top awards from the producers and writers guilds. It is worth pointing out that the only guild group it hasn’t won over is the actors, and as of now, the huge ensemble has not been embraced by its peers, one of the biggest voting groups in the Television Academy.
Then, there is the long anticipated third season of The Crown, the one drama everyone expected to be the front runner. With Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter taking over major roles, there was a lot of excitement to see what they would do with the roles. It went on to win two major acting prizes: Olivia Colman at the Golden Globes and the top ensemble prize at the SAG Awards.
On paper, it seems like The Crown is poised to continue its popularity with Emmy voters, but it also seems like its momentum has halted. The third season seemed to come and go quickly, and that could be for any number of reasons. Maybe audiences didn’t respond as strongly to the show or maybe it’s hurt by the Netflix distribution model. There’s also a chance that voters are still catching up with the season, and once voting commences, it will be embraced with open arms.
Instead, a different Netflix drama has risen up to become a surprising front runner capitalizing off its massive word-of-mouth appeal. In March, the third season of Ozark premiered, and it was able to grow from its beginning as a sleeper hit into one of the most talked about shows of 2020. The newest season has been able to capture the zeitgeist in a new way with everyone from industry professionals to distant relatives on Facebook raving about it.
The most important thing to keep in mind about Ozark is that it’s exciting, and that can help it go a long way in the Emmy race. The third season was filled with endless water cooler moments with Laura Linney going head to head with just about everyone, and then of course the shocking note that the final episode leaves us on. It won two major Emmys last year, and now it’s heading into this year’s race as a front runner for Outstanding Drama Series. It could easily win the main four acting prizes on top of that.
Returning (Former) Favorites
Beyond the top three front runners, there is an insane number of past Emmy favorites fighting to stay in the conversation. Emmy voters (and awards prognosticators) have the impossible task of choosing from nine past nominees where any one of them can easily be nominated or forgotten: Better Call Saul, Big Little Lies, The Handmaid’s Tale, Homeland, Killing Eve, Pose, Stranger Things, This Is Us, and Westworld.
The surest bets are most likely Better Call Saul and The Handmaid’s Tale. The fifth season of Better Call Saul just wrapped, and somehow it only seems to be getting more popular, even slightly improving on last year’s ratings. Fans are as passionate as ever, and the prequel found a way to jump out of the shadow of Breaking Bad, inspiring conversations and online excitement it hadn’t quite reached in the past.
The Handmaid’s Tale, on the other hand, almost seemed to be a nonstarter with the storyline stuck in a creative rut until its explosive finale. Since then, Hulu revealed that the season premiered to strong ratings and has remained the most watched season to date. It also had one of the best guild scorecards earning top nominations from the SAG, WGA, ADG, CAS, CSA, and MPSE awards on top of winning a guild award for its cinematography.
Beyond that, what returning dramas stand out? Both Stranger Things and This Is Us were completely shut out of the major four guild awards – even for SAG ensemble, an award both shows have won in the past. If the actors branch has moved on, it’s hard to imagine Emmy voters will be any different, but in such a crowded year, these two shows are the some of the more accessible dramas and might very well benefit from that.
Pose is another show that didn’t break into any major guild prize – not even an individual SAG nomination for Emmy-winner Billy Porter. With the second season premiering last summer and no new season ready to air, there’s a good chance that Emmy voters will have forgotten about the groundbreaking drama.
If spring releases are getting extra attention because everyone is stuck at home, what exactly does that mean for the newest seasons of Westworld, Killing Eve, and Homeland? Killing Eve broke out in a major way at last year’s Emmys, and the newest season is continuing to excite fans and grow in the ratings.
So far, Westworld has had a strong showing at the Emmys. The second season, although dividing audiences, went on to be nominated for 21 Emmys, winning over Academy members in just about every branch. However, as audiences caught up with the full season, excitement waned, and it was snubbed by all four major guild awards. So far the response to the third season has been mixed, and in fact, the finale came and went over the weekend with barely a whimper.
Homeland has had an interesting run at the Emmys. After winning for its first season, it was nominated for its second, fourth and fifth seasons but has since fallen out of favor. This past week, however, fans of the once beloved series celebrated the series finale as one of the strongest and most timely send-offs they’ve seen in a while with Carrie becoming a whistle blower. With that goodwill peaking at the right moment, there could be a chance for Homeland to reenter the category one last time.
There are so many returning dramas that it almost feels unfair for any new drama that has premiered over the past year.
If any new drama will be able to stand out it will be The Morning Show. On its own, The Morning Show captivated a news cycle as an interesting portrayal of the entertainment industry and the Me Too era, Reese Witherspoon’s newest prestige television project, and Jennifer Aniston’s SAG-winning return to television. It also serves as the grand debut of Apple TV+.
Apple isn’t the only new streaming service trying to make a name for themselves at the Emmys. Disney+ is hoping that their tentpole show, The Mandalorian, is remembered by Emmy voters come voting. Genre bias at the Emmys is no longer a thing, and a surprise nomination for The Mandalorian isn’t out of the question. Disney+ brought it back into the conversation this week with a new documentary series. Disney Gallery dedicates its first season to the filmmaking behind the Star Wars series. However, it’s much more likely that it racks up nominations in the below-the-line categories or even Taika Waititi for his direction.
Some of the other premieres worth noting include Hunters, Euphoria, and The Outsider. All three shows were able to captivate audiences as they aired without ever quite hitting the level of the main competition. You never want to outright dismiss an untested show in the Emmy race, but when it comes to these new shows, they might have a better chance at a nomination in other categories.
Our Current Rankings
In The Conversation
3. The Crown
4. Better Call Saul
5. The Handmaid’s Tale
6. Killing Eve
7. Big Little Lies (Tie)
7. The Morning Show (Tie)
10. Stranger Things
12. This Is Us
15. The Mandalorian