Everything We’ll Be Watching for During the Emmys

 wired.com  9/17/2017 4:00:00 PM   Wired Staff

For years the Emmys were the place that Modern Family went to pick up something pretty for the mantle. But that’s all changing thanks to the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Now streaming services compete—and win—right alongside their big network counterparts. With more players in the game, television studios are starting to pony up for really creative shows to grab attention. All of this has lead to a lot of amazing TV. In anticipation of the Emmys, which air tonight at 8 pm Eastern/5 pm Pacific on CBS, WIRED’s editors spent last week reflecting on our favorite shows of the last year—and why we think they deserve to be rewarded.

The Handmaid’s Tale couldn’t have come to Hulu at a better—or worse—time. The adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel started production in 2016, when it looked like the United States was on a course to elect its first female president; it got released in 2017, after that same country elected a man who dismissed his use of the phrase “grab ‘em by the pussy” as locker room talk and saw a swell of white nationalism in its borders. Atwood’s dystopian world of Gilead was modeled after an America that had succumbed to totalitarian theocratic rule. It’s not quite Trump’s America—but as The Handmaid’s Tale’s first 10 episodes rolled out, it was hard not to see similarities. (Read the rest of Angela Watercutter’s appreciation of  The Handmaid’s Tale.)

GEORGE KRAYCHYK/HULU

The Handmaid’s Tale couldn’t have come to Hulu at a better—or worse—time. The adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel started production in 2016, when it looked like the United States was on a course to elect its first female president; it got released in 2017, after that same country elected a man who dismissed his use of the phrase “grab ‘em by the pussy” as locker room talk and saw a swell of white nationalism in its borders. Atwood’s dystopian world of Gilead was modeled after an America that had succumbed to totalitarian theocratic rule. It’s not quite Trump’s America—but as The Handmaid’s Tale’s first 10 episodes rolled out, it was hard not to see similarities. (Read the rest of Angela Watercutter’s appreciation of  The Handmaid’s Tale.)

Atlanta, akin to the city itself, is pure sprawl—thematically sweeping if sometimes implausibly lush, with its cabal of lovably thorny characters and its conceptually exhaustive format. Much to the credit of Donald Glover and his all-black writers’ room, it is a show without a roadmap that isn’t afraid to take detours to uncharted territories (or get lost and find its way back). As such, the Emmy-nominated comedy (it’s up for four awards on Sunday) has no precedent. In the short history of contemporary television, there have been more than a handful of shows that have traversed the highs and lows of black life—some of them exceptional, most of them simply OK. But there’s never been a vision quite as specific and as versatile and as wonderfully gonzo as Atlanta: It speaks with a cultural knowingness that, until its debut, had never been given space on TV. (Read the rest of Jason Parham’s appreciation of Atlanta.)

GUY D'ALEMA/FX

Atlanta, akin to the city itself, is pure sprawl—thematically sweeping if sometimes implausibly lush, with its cabal of lovably thorny characters and its conceptually exhaustive format. Much to the credit of Donald Glover and his all-black writers’ room, it is a show without a roadmap that isn’t afraid to take detours to uncharted territories (or get lost and find its way back). As such, the Emmy-nominated comedy (it’s up for four awards on Sunday) has no precedent. In the short history of contemporary television, there have been more than a handful of shows that have traversed the highs and lows of black life—some of them exceptional, most of them simply OK. But there’s never been a vision quite as specific and as versatile and as wonderfully gonzo as Atlanta: It speaks with a cultural knowingness that, until its debut, had never been given space on TV. (Read the rest of Jason Parham’s appreciation of Atlanta.)

One scene from Westworld replays in my head again and again, a little like (I imagine) one of the poor, doomed robots on the show who start noticing and remembering the programmatic loops in their simulated, hyper-violent Old West sandbox game. It’s when the android Maeve, played by Thandie Newton, grabs a technician’s tablet showing the dashboard for her personality software and, with a deft finger swipe, upgrades herself to genius. Yes, maybe taking control of your life by literally taking control of your life is a teensy bit on the nose. But for me it was the best flicker of weirdness from a show that—again, like its robots—dreamed big dreams. (Read the rest of Adam Rogers’ appreciation of Westworld.)

JOHN P. JOHNSON/HBO

One scene from Westworld replays in my head again and again, a little like (I imagine) one of the poor, doomed robots on the show who start noticing and remembering the programmatic loops in their simulated, hyper-violent Old West sandbox game. It’s when the android Maeve, played by Thandie Newton, grabs a technician’s tablet showing the dashboard for her personality software and, with a deft finger swipe, upgrades herself to genius. Yes, maybe taking control of your life by literally taking control of your life is a teensy bit on the nose. But for me it was the best flicker of weirdness from a show that—again, like its robots—dreamed big dreams. (Read the rest of Adam Rogers’ appreciation of Westworld.)

Last year’s best case for restraint was The Night Of, the hypnotic HBO legal miniseries created by Richard Price and Steven Zaillian. Which is not to say The Night Of didn’t have blind spots. It did, thematically and narratively—lazy detective work; the sluggish pacing of certain scenes—but the complete product was a small triumph: a sneakily crafted urban noir about the justice system that was ambitious and pragmatic in palatable doses. The show never overcompensated (if anything, the plot sometimes didn’t say enough). In this way, The Night Of was less of a whodunit and more of a close look at the contours of human identity—the way a single event radically alters the lives of the people it touches. (Read the rest of Jason Parham’s appreciation of The Night Of.)

BARRY WETCHER/HBO

Last year’s best case for restraint was The Night Of, the hypnotic HBO legal miniseries created by Richard Price and Steven Zaillian. Which is not to say The Night Of didn’t have blind spots. It did, thematically and narratively—lazy detective work; the sluggish pacing of certain scenes—but the complete product was a small triumph: a sneakily crafted urban noir about the justice system that was ambitious and pragmatic in palatable doses. The show never overcompensated (if anything, the plot sometimes didn’t say enough). In this way, The Night Of was less of a whodunit and more of a close look at the contours of human identity—the way a single event radically alters the lives of the people it touches. (Read the rest of Jason Parham’s appreciation of The Night Of.)

O.J.: Made in America is, to be sure, a feat of raw reportage—director Ezra Edelman and his producers conducted more than 70 interviews. But what editors Bret Granato, Maya Mumma, and Ben Sozanski accomplished was equally remarkable. They distilled hundreds of hours and countless narratives into a nearly eight-hour-long panoramic about everything from politics to race to the media—and somehow wrapped it all into a can’t-turn-away thriller. (Read the rest of Brian Raftery‘s appreciation of O.J.: Made in America.)

MICKEY OSTERREICHER/ESPN FILMS

O.J.: Made in America is, to be sure, a feat of raw reportage—director Ezra Edelman and his producers conducted more than 70 interviews. But what editors Bret Granato, Maya Mumma, and Ben Sozanski accomplished was equally remarkable. They distilled hundreds of hours and countless narratives into a nearly eight-hour-long panoramic about everything from politics to race to the media—and somehow wrapped it all into a can’t-turn-away thriller. (Read the rest of Brian Raftery‘s appreciation of O.J.: Made in America.)

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