The Gilded Age ends tonight, and it does so in spectacular fashion.
The episode, likely the best overall of season one, focuses on Gladys Russell’s (Taissa Farmiga) coming out ball, the culmination of a season-long effort to free Gladys from the intense protection of her mother Bertha (Carrie Coon). Aside from the ample human drama on display (and there’s a LOT of that), the ball gives ends the season with something I suspect many fans of the series have long craved — a lot of fun and joy. The customs and social pressures reflected in The Gilded Age, not to mention its storylines, suppress expressions of joy, of fun. Tonight’s ball ends all that. I mean, within reason, of course. It is a joyous celebration, for sure, but it’s still The Gilded Age. It’s joyous with appropriate restraint.
But putting that aside, the ball provides a ludicrously splendent below-the-line buffet for the eyes. The costumes. The production design. The camerawork. The lighting. The editing. The score. All the attention to detail that fans of the series have come to expect are on full display here, and they’re truly remarkable. It ends the first season, which has only improved in quality and in ratings since it premiered, on a much-needed high note that will send it into Emmy season an incredibly formidable contender.
But will the Television Academy be fully receptive to its Gilded splendor?
The Emmys can be notoriously reluctant to broadly embrace new series. Take HBO’s own Succession for example. Despite raves online, the series only received five Emmy nominations, eventually winning for writing. Some series immediately break through in big ways (Lost, Game of Thrones, Watchmen), and some never catch on at all (The Leftovers, Hannibal, The Wire). It took The Americans four seasons to be nominated for Drama Series only to be left out for season five, never winning.
So, a flashy production design and HBO pedigree wouldn’t be enough alone to guarantee the show ranks as one of the final eight. Working both for it and against it is its status as essentially “the American Downton Abbey.” Consider it the unofficial prequel to that long running, award-winning British series adored by millions worldwide. Since it comes bearing the Lord Julian Fellowes pedigree, I believe 2022 Television Academy voting members are already primed to more than consider the show. They know its beats, its measures, its character archetypes, and they have a history of loving them. Now, does the American setting somehow diminish the tony British setting of Downton Abbey? Possibly.
But I have a very hard time imagining a scenario where The Gilded Age is not nominated given the number of craft awards it’s likely to receive. So, let’s look at what’s likely to happen.
Comparisons between The Gilded Age season one and Downton Abbey season one are tricky. First, Downton Abbey initially competed in what are now known as the Limited Series / TV Movie races. There, its first season saw 11 nominations, reaching a series-high of 16 nominations for its second season — the first in which it competed as a Drama Series. Second, Downton Abbey first premiered in the UK a good six months ahead of its US premiere on PBS. It had time to build buzz to eventually become a sensation when it premiered here.
Looking back at what the Television Academy embraced for season one, Downton Abbey received the following below-the-line nominations (starting with crafts as those are where The Gilded Age will mostly likely perform best):
- Art Direction
- Sound Editing
If The Gilded Age receives only a single Emmy nomination (extraordinarily unlikely that it receives only a single Emmy nomination), then it is is guaranteed to receive a nomination for Period Costumes. I will bet the farm on it. If it receives two nominations, then it will receive Period Costumes and Production Design for a Narrative Period or Fantasy Program. Those two, guaranteed. Oh, and Period and/or Character Hairstyling plus Period and/or Character Makeup. Those seem fairly secure too, and they’re separate categories here! The only shows really competing in this space this Emmy season will be Bridgerton and The Great, so those look pretty safe as well.
But what else would be guaranteed?
It seems likely that The Gilded Age’s reputation for filming during the pandemic and giving so many out-of-work Broadway actors a source of income will help it merit a Casting for a Drama Series nomination. I mean, just look at that cast. How many Tony nominations and wins do they have in total? I haven’t counted, but it must be dozens. Audra MacDonald alone has six Tony wins from her nine nominations. I feel fairly safe in securing an Emmy nomination for the brilliant team that assembled such an embarrassment of acting riches.
I’m less certain with other below-the-line nominations. Mentions should come for Cinematography, Main Title Design, Music Composition for a Series, Original Main Title Theme Music, and Special Visual Effects in a Single Episode (or potentially Series, I’m not sure where they will submit to be honest; The Crown was nominated here, and much of The Gilded Age is seamlessly blended CGI). I’m setting aside Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series since it’s not incredibly flashy, although there is great work in the season finale. Ditto for the two Sound races: Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series and Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (both one hour). It’s interesting to note that Downton Abbey only missed Sound Mixing once in its six seasons.
Still, that leaves us with five safe nominations:
- Production Design
Add to that five strongly possible nominations:
- Main Title Design
- Music Composition
- Main Title Theme
- Special Visual Effects
That hypothetically gives us ten below-the-line nominations for The Gilded Age. Hard to see it missing Drama Series with that much support in the important craft races.
Primetime Category Nominations
The true test of strength for The Gilded Age will come in the acting races. There are simply too many performances in the series for everyone to get in, and the series is structured so that many actors won’t factor into the Guest Actor/Actress in a Drama Series at all. The Television Academy’s rule for these categories states that an actor can only be considered “Guest” if they appear in less than half of the series’ episodes. Because high-wattage, highly praised supporting performers Audra MacDonald, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Debra Monk, Kelli O’Hara, and others appear in nearly every episode, that elevates most actors into the Supporting races where they simply cannot compete given their reduced screen time. Again, given the rules, even if they only walk on-screen for five seconds, they’re considered IN that episode. Even Nathan Lane, who would seem perfect for a Guest Actor nomination given his crazy Savannah accent, is likely in too many episodes to be eligible for Guest Actor.
I believe the only real Guest contenders are Donna Murphy (who actually may be in too many episodes, but I have not counted specifically), Ashlie Atkinson (Mrs. Fish), and Michel Gill (the doomed Mr. Morris). Donna Murphy stands the best shot, but I’m not going to predict her until I go back and count.
UPDATE: Thanks to IMDB for providing the exact episode count. Murphy and Lane are indeed in too many episodes (just one more to be exact) to be eligible for Guest nominations. Based on the numbers, I would say the only actors in contention for a Guest nomination would be the aforementioned Gill and Atkinson, Linda Emond (Clara Barton), Sullivan Jones (T. Thomas Fortune), John Sanders (Stanford White), and John Douglas Thompson whose role as Arthur Scott affords him several juicy scenes. He may be the one who gets into the Guest race in the end.
For the Supporting races, the most obvious contender is Christine Baranski who has been given the “Dowager Countess” (re: Emmy-winner Dame Maggie Smith) role here. Baranski’s performance may be the best in the series given the subtleties she’s able to work into the at-time obvious script. I would also argue that Denée Benton stands a strong shot at a nomination as she worked directly with the producing team and Fellowes himself to expand her character, making hers a more richly realized portrayal of a Black woman during the Gilded Age than we likely would have seen. She’s also been widely recognized for that involvement, and HBO would be wise to continue pushing that narrative. Cynthia Nixon, Audra MacDonald, and Jeanne Tripplehorn (so great in a mid-season episode that dives into her character’s backstory) are all contenders as well. Currently, I’m only predicting Baranski, but I would highly advise the Television Academy to seriously consider Benton (a Tony nominee for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812).
The Gilded Age is all about the women, honestly. That seems to be one of the themes of the series as it shows them in subtle positions of power, even if they had none in terms of broad recognition. Of all the men in the show, I only consider Morgan Spector to be a serious contender in the Lead Actor race (assuming that’s where HBO slots him). Yet, both male acting categories are stacked with major challengers, including five men from Succession. That likely pushes Spector or even Nathan Lane out of contention.
Lead Actress, however, seems fairly strong with Carrie Coon whose Bertha Russell provides much of the entertainment value over season one. She has several fantastic scenes and achieves what almost no one else in the series is able to — rage and fight for her share of the social pie. She also excels in the quieter scenes where Bertha feels insecure about her social status and must conceal it. Coon is a fantastic actress who has yet to fully receive her Moment. I hope this series brings the nomination for which she is so ludicrously overdue.
Likely also positioned in Lead Actress is Louisa Jacobson, the arguable lead character of the series. She’s one of the few who navigates between the new and old monied world of 1882 New York. However, Jacobson feels slightly handicapped by her role as the ingenue, seemingly innocent and always challenging social mores with a near-bland demeanor. She’s also handicapped by being Meryl Streep’s daughter, something that has unfortunately seen unfair and unkind online comments.
So, with ten likely nominations in the crafts world, we’re probably only seeing two acting nominations (possibly three if Murphy is eligible for Guest Actress). If you see more than that for a Nathan Lane or a Denée Benton, then you’ll know the Academy has truly connected with the series.
That brings us to Direction, Writing, and Series.
As of now, given everything I’ve discussed above, I’m fairly confident that The Gilded Age makes it into Drama Series. The crafts reputation coupled with the enormous cast with friends all over the Television Academy seem to buy it a slot in the final eight. It doesn’t compete against Succession for the win, but I do believe it will be there. Direction comes down to two candidates: Michael Engler and Salli Richardson Whitfield. Whitfield has under her belt the stand-out episode that explores the Black middle class in Brooklyn during the period, but Engler directs the pilot and season finale. Given the thrill of the finale, I suspect HBO will push forward Engler, but the tradition is to submit the director of the pilot, which doesn’t feel as strong given the combination of two episodes into one. All the ingredients are there, but the mixture somehow feels a little off, likely resulting in the lower-than-expected critics grades that came out last January.
With writing, how do you ignore Lord Julian Fellowes? This is his show. He’s been working on it for ten years. However, younger audiences on Twitter have admittedly ridiculed some of the more obviously stated moments of the series as well as the repetition of character archetypes from other Fellowes series and films, including Downton Abbey. Because HBO’s own Succession is likely to factor into the writing race significantly, I’m a little reluctant to predict any nominations here.
So, that brings us to the final predicted tally of around 14 Emmy nominations going into tonight’s season one finale:
- Drama Series
- Lead Actress, Carrie Coon
- Supporting Actress, Christine Baranski
- Production Design
- Main Title Design
- Music Composition
- Main Title Theme
- Special Visual Effects
In its first season, that would allow The Gilded Age to nearly match Downton Abbey’s series-high 16 nominations, and that honestly feels about right. The Television Academy doesn’t typically “go big” on a series in its first season. Save that for season two.
We’ll be updating our Emmy forecast for The Gilded Age as the Emmy season progresses. What do you think of the series and its chances? Sound off in the comments!