Ive been making some version of the same “Tony Shalhoub wins yet another Emmy” joke for years. But, in my defense, he did keep winning Emmys (for Monk) for years. (Well, three anyway.) Same with Kelsey Grammer, and now Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whos won six in a row for Veep, which has won outstanding-comedy-series trophies for the last three years. The Emmy Awards can be awfully repetitive, a fact people often point to when asked why, in a much-ballyhooed golden age of television, the Emmys arent celebrated like the Oscars are. When the same shows are nominated and win year after year, any individual ceremony fails to seem urgent.
To fix this problem—if it is indeed a problem—some have suggested putting a cap on how many Emmys a show or an actor can win. Two per series and youre done, maybe. Which, yes, would mean that a show rewarded earlier in its run wouldnt get recognition for a late-in-the-game creative renaissance, or a masterful final season. But they rarely do anyway. (Homeland has turned into excellent television after a few seasons in the weeds, but is anyone really paying attention?) The capping idea could be a good solution, especially for the acting categories, since there are so many contenders who miss out.
For the drama-and comedy-series categories, though, a part of me would love to see the Television Academy do something really radical, like declaring that only new shows are eligible for Emmys. I know the Academy is often slow to catch on to certain series, so it might seem that under this strict rule many shows would never get the recognition they deserve. But surely if Modern Family hadnt won for the third time in 2012, Veep could have taken the prize for its first season. (Or maybe Girls could have won—and wouldnt that have been a thrill!) Yes, some series would inevitably lose out, but many of them are losing out already. And the change in policy could add some life-or-death stakes to the competition, meaning more people might tune in to the awards telecast. (Not that ratings are the sole purpose of the Emmys, but they help.)
If this mandate went into effect for the 2017-18 season—which need not become Academy-official if enough voters simply enact it themselves—what shows might be in the running? I wouldnt dare try to imagine the tastes or psychology of a typical Academy voter, but I can certainly make a few suggestions of my own.
In comedy, Id love to urge voters to cast a ballot for Foxs excellent The Mick, but that caustic, slapstick series just concluded its second (and now final, boo) season, so under my Draconian new Emmys dictum, its out of the running. (But, seriously, please vote for The Mick. Rules were made to be broken.) Luckily there are two other comedies that premiered this season that are funny and engaging in interesting, offbeat ways.
TBSs The Last O.G., co-created by 2018 Oscar winner Jordan Peele, is a silly-sweet joy. The show finds Tracy Morgan enjoying a comeback, and playing a comeback. In real life, Morgan recovered from a horrific 2014 car accident that killed a dear friend of his; with The Last O.G. he makes a triumphant return to series TV. On the show, Morgans character, Tray, comes back to a changed Brooklyn after 15 years in prison. The Last O.G. mines a lot of good, specific material from that culture clash. But its not all easy hipster jokes, nor does the series minimize the real pains and complications of gentrification. The Last O.G. has a true and wise heart, with Morgans surprisingly layered, lived-in performance providing a sturdy center for the shows balance of absurd humor and quiet pathos.
Nominating The Last O.G. would also be a great way to get fan favorite Tiffany Haddish to the Emmys. Shes terrific as Trays tough but kind ex, Shay, and were she to win or, hell, just present an award, shed likely be a highlight of the evening. Last summers Girls Trip and the upcoming Night School suggest that television could soon lose Haddish to the movies. Getting her in the Emmys mix now could encourage her to keep one foot on the small screen.
At the Emmys, what counts as comedy and what counts as drama is an increasingly confusing issue. In recent years, Orange Is the New Black has switched between drama and comedy categories (and won prizes in both), while the sad, gloomy Transparent has qualified as a comedy based pretty much solely on the length of its episodes. Back in the aughts, however, there was a moment of principled clarity: though it was an hour-long network show, the smash hit Desperate Housewives was successfully submitted (and rewarded) as a comedy series. This year, I hope the same will be true for another female-led, hour-long network show about suburban darkness, NBCs Good Girls.
The show making perhaps the strongest network debut of the season, Good Girls is a heist dramedy that plays like a gentler, but still plenty twisty and compelling, tweak on Breaking Bad. And its beautifully acted by three television luminaries: Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Retta (Parks and Recreation), and Mae Whitman (Parenthood). Though Good Girls has not been the buzzy hit it deserves to be (and is nowhere near the phenomenon that Desperate Housewives was), it might stand a dark-horse chance were it competing only with fellow first-seasoners. Or, perhaps, it and The Last O.G. are simply destined for legacies of unrewarded niche fandom. There are worse things, I suppose.
In the land of drama, I wish I didnt have to say that yet another David Simon series has been a bit overlooked, but that seems to be the fate his shows are forever doomed to suffer. The Wire, often hailed as one of the greatest TV shows ever made, could score only two measly writing nominations in its exalted five-season run, and Treme eked out only a sound-mixing win from its six total noms in four seasons. Simons newest show, The Deuce, on HBO, takes a look at the prostitution, porn, and peep-show culture of 1970s New York City, and has the titillating promise of sex to draw viewers in. It premiered last summer to critical raves. But, alas, it hasnt yet found much of a place around the digital watercooler.
The Deuce is more than deserving of the TV Academys attention for its fine acting (from the likes of James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dominique Fishback, Gbenga Akinnagbe, et al.) and for the way that it largely resists tawdriness. It is, instead, like Simonss past series, a humane and sprawling survey of economics, crime, race, and urban life. It has sociological reach and emotional heft, and is massively entertaining. But it could very well be sidelined by Emmy voters, with returning series such as Game of Thrones, The Crown, Stranger Things, and The Americans serving as dependable distractions. Were they nominating only first-time shows, though . . . who knows?
I realize that to impose a rigid ordinance like this would be unfair to the many series that ripen as they age. Really, the best way to introduce more variety into the yearly mix would be to add an outstanding-debut-series category, which could act as a kind of farm league for some smaller shows before they go to the majors. (Of course, plenty of shows that have been nominated or won multiple times scored nominations for their first season, so there would be some doubling up.)
Another, certainly less drastic model, which has proved effective at the Oscars—in terms of excitement, if not ratings—has been the expansion of its most coveted category, best picture, to include more than five nominees. Perhaps the TV Academy could do the same for the drama- and comedy-series categories, thus increasing the chances that favorites old and new would have seats at the table. Given the sheer size of the current TV landscape, it would be impossible to honor every deserving series—1 season in, or 10 seasons running. But the ceremony would certainly seem less predictable if some outliers made their way to the front alongside the stalwart favorites.
The Emmys have adapted to a rapidly shifting medium in at least one crucial way: reverting back to the pre-2011 practice of having separate TV-movie and limited-series categories. Though Big Little Lies may have cheated by announcing a second season only after it had racked up awards as a limited series, its teary, much-celebrated coronation last year proved that the limited-series category has the potential to be the most exciting one of the Emmys because, for the most part, its all new and fresh and tweeted-about stuff. The more traditional categories could take a cue from that. Old pros make for a solid, reliable game. But, as several movies and TV shows have shown us, its much more fun to root for the rookies.
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