Emmys 2018: Joanna Robinson and Sonia Saraiya on the Nominations

 vanityfair.com  7/13/2018 8:42:00 PM  2  Joanna RobinsonSonia Saraiya

From left, from NBC/Getty Images, courtesy of Showtime, courtesy of BBC America, courtesy of Netflix.

Joanna Robinson: What does it look like when a bruiser like Game of Thrones—which took last year off—returns to potentially dominate awards season once again? That was the big question going into 2018’s Emmy nominations. Though the show has long been a major player, there was some concern that its truncated seventh season, which debuted almost a year ago, would have faded in the minds of voters by the time nominations rolled around. Game of Thrones also took a gamble by submitting two of its stars—Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke—in the lead-actor categories, rather than supporting, for the first time.

That gambit didn’t end up being successful—which means that HBO’s flagship series earned just three nominations in the major acting categories, for on-screen siblings Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, and Peter Dinklage. Thrones still led the nominations, with 22 altogether—but its chief competition, Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale, were right behind it with 21 and 20, respectively. Even more crucially, for the first time since the streaming service became serious about awards season, Netflix garnered more nominations overall than HBO: 112 to 108, breaking HBO’s 17-year streak as the most lauded network in TV. Sonia, is this just a case of Game of Thrones overplaying its hand in some categories—or could it be the beginning of the end of a dynasty?

Sonia Saraiya: It’s got to be the beginning of the end, right? I mean, don’t get me wrong: my guess is the final installment of Game of Thrones will be an awards juggernaut, and it’s hard to judge voters for losing interest when most of us have forgotten that Thrones was even eligible this year—despite airing this time last year. But that small number of acting nominations suggests waning interest to me.

Instead, it seemed like voters were really interested in the deep benches of the ensemble casts in both Westworld and The Handmaid’s Tale. I didn’t even recognize the name of Kelly Jenrette, one of the guest-actress nominees for the Hulu drama—but you better believe I know who she is now.

It’s interesting: the Academy avoided rewarding genre shows for a long time, but now it seems like genre is where it lives. It’s the more traditional dramas that fell by the wayside this year: Billions, which I for sure thought had a fighting chance, and Killing Eve—which did make Sandra Oh the first Asian actress nominated for a lead role—were shut out of the outstanding-drama race. Meanwhile, Stranger Things broke into the top category, which is sweet but . . . utterly bizarre?? And Tatiana Maslany was nominated for a show I didn’t realize was even eligible this year.

Joanna, I know you’re about to say something smart, but first let me scream a little: SANDRA OH GOT NOMINATED FOR BEST ACTRESS!!

Robinson: You know that I’m on record with my Killing Eve love. Can I join you in your all-caps shouting, but in the other direction? OH MY GOD, HOW COULD THEY FORGET KYLE MACLACHLAN! With nine nominations, Twin Peaks didn’t get overlooked entirely—but can you believe that the deeply ambitious, 18-episode The Return didn’t get nominated in the limited-series category, and that its leading man went unrecognized for the three (THREE!) brilliant performances he pulled off? It’s astonishing.

At least his co-star Laura Dern got a nomination for her truly amazing turn in HBO’s The Tale. I can’t see how anyone beats that performance in the lead-actress-in-a-limited-series category—and it feels a little unfair to put TV performances up against something that, out of Sundance at least, was considered a potential Oscar role. Dern especially seems a lock considering all the Television Academy goodwill she has leftover from Big Little Lies.

As I started this section with an all-caps exclamation of disappointment, it’s only fair that I end it with an expression of joy—for the long, long, long-overdue Emmy recognition for Kenan Thompson, who has had a record-breaking 15-season stint on Saturday Night Live. He’s joined by castmates and fellow nominees Aidy Bryant, Leslie Jones, Kate McKinnon, and the presidential-impersonator in chief himself, Alec Baldwin. McKinnon’s two-year winning streak and Baldwin’s win last year make it feel inevitable that at least one of the S.N.L. cast members will go home with an Emmy this year, and I hope it’s Thompson.

Saraiya: I’m so curious about the confluence of factors that led to Thompson getting an Emmy nomination 15 years into his tenure on the show, but I’m not complaining. The lock that Saturday Night Live has on the Emmys is sometimes a little frustrating, but considering the players who just got their first nominations, it seems that at least voters are appreciating not just the show’s breakout political performances, but the week-to-week hard work of keeping the show interesting.

Joanna, I’m also pretty bummed out about Twin Peaks—especially since it was beaten by the likes of TNT’s The Alienist and Nat Geo’s Genius: Picasso, which also snagged Antonio Banderas a lead-actor nomination. It’s always hard to come to terms with which shows Academy voters get excited about, and which ones just never pique their interest. This year was the last opportunity for the incandescent Halt and Catch Fire to be nominated, but the Emmys have never noticed that show—and they weren’t about to start now. (Sorry, Lee Pace.)

I also wish the Emmys could have found a little more love in their hearts for BoJack Horseman, which has never been nominated for outstanding animated series. One Day at a Time, High Maintenance, The Good Place, Dear White People—so many of my favorite shows this year don’t get Emmy voters in the same way that they get me.

But you can see those slivers where the industry is warming up to change, whether that’s Oh’s historic recognition, Ted Danson’s nomination for The Good Place, or the late-run nominations for FX’s The Americans—four plum nods for its final season. And in comedy series, fully eight shows were nominated, which is surprisingly stacked for a category that is supposed to carry only six honorees.

Did any of the snubs or surprises really stand out to you? I confess that Alison Brie wouldn’t have been my pick for lead actress in a comedy—but I’m still shocked she wasn’t nominated, given her record of fantastic performances and her winning turn as Ruth on GLOW.

Robinson: If I’m being honest, if I had to pick anyone on GLOW to nominate, it would have been Betty Gilpin for her great supporting work. So I think this is one case where the Television Academy’s taste and my taste perfectly aligned. As far as that lead-actress-in-a-comedy category goes, it is, of course, more open than it’s been in a long time, due to the fact that perennial winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus is not eligible for the first time in six years. The favorite in that category is the great Rachel Brosnahan, who scooped up a Golden Globe win for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel earlier this year.

But a real a potential dark horse there is Pamela Adlon, who won a 2017 Peabody Award for her work on FX’s Better Things. The Television Academy loves to recognize multi-hyphenate talents like Donald Glover and Aziz Ansari, who are not only the stars of their shows, but creatives as well. As director of every single episode of her show’s second season and the writer of many of them, Adlon is a real force to be reckoned with. She may, however, run up against resistance due to her long collaboration with the disgraced Louis C.K., who served as executive producer and co-writer on Better Things. In other words, politically, this could be a tough win for her.

And speaking of politics, one last disappointment I would like to register is with Seth Meyers being overlooked for the fourth year in a row. Much has been made of Samantha Bee’s nomination coming so soon after a public dust-up with Ivanka Trump, and serving as anti-White House sentiment of sorts from the Television Academy. And Bee’s not alone when it comes to the politically heavy late-night nominees; HBO’s John Oliver and Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah also landed nods. But what, I ask you, does Seth Meyers have to do to land a nomination for his show? Host the Emmys? Oh, wait; he did that years ago. What’s the hold up?

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