TALE OF THE TAPE

With Game of Thrones out of the run­ning this year, the Emmy field for best drama is wide open

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - TONY WONG

Tony Wong breaks down the race for best drama at the Em­mys,

Emmy vot­ers are a frus­trat­ingly pre­dictable bunch.

How best to ex­plain that Ju­lia Louis-Drey­fus — as bril­liant a comedic ac­tor as she is — re­mains the lead­ing con­tender for a fifth con­sec­u­tive Emmy Award for com­edy for Veep on Sun­day?

But then again, with nearly 500 new dra­mas out an­nu­ally in the era of peak TV, can you blame vot­ers for fail­ing to ex­e­cute due dili­gence? Un­like TV crit­ics, Emmy vot­ers have lives: lun­cheons to at­tend, pilots to film, not to men­tion a likely pun­ish­ing hot yoga sched­ule.

But this year, the 69th Prime­time Emmy Awards (CTV at 8 p.m.), hosted by talk show host Stephen Col­bert, have an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic dose of in­cal­cu­la­bil­ity. It helps that, not un­like the top seeds drop­ping out of the re­cent U.S. Open, Game of Thrones, the most Emmy-awarded show on TV, is out of the run­ning be­cause it aired out­side the voter win­dow.

That leaves the drama field the most open it has been in decades, with the ma­jor­ity of the seven nomi- nees new to TV. The last time this hap­pened was, as­ton­ish­ingly, back in 1961.

My pick would be the Toronto-shot The Hand­maid’s Tale, a dystopian drama based on the Margaret At­wood novel that echoes the seis­mic cul­tural shift to the right in the United States.

It oozes the best of pres­tige tele­vi­sion and Alexis Bledel ( Gil­more Girls) has al­ready picked up an Out­stand­ing Guest Ac­tress tro­phy. Elis­a­beth Moss, sub­lime as the hand­maid Of­fred, would be the sen­si­ble choice for Best Ac­tress.

But this may be too dark for Emmy vot­ers, who may be seek­ing es­capism, not po­lit­i­cal al­le­gory.

If so, there is the weepy fam­ily drama This Is Us. The show has been a mon­ster hit for NBC and it is, re­mark­ably, the first nom­i­na­tion for a net­work broad­caster for drama since The Good Wife in 2011. This is Ni­cholas Sparks-wor­thy fare on steroids: clever, slick, con­trived and unashamedly ma­nip­u­la­tive. It is the lifeaf­firm­ing tonic in the era of a di­vi­sive pres­i­dent.

But then of course, there is West­world. HBO has been look­ing for a fran­chise to re­place GoTand this has been an ex­tra­or­di­nary run­ner-up. The re­make of the film writ­ten and di­rected by Michael Crich­ton about ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence run amok in a Western-themed Dis­ney­land, star­ring An­thony Hop­kins, is darkly sat­is­fy­ing. It is Elon Musk’s worst night­mare.

Also in the fan­tasy field is Stranger Things, an homage to early Steven Spiel­berg movies such as E.T. and the nov­els of Stephen King. The show is en­ter­tain­ing but trite. It may skew too young for some Emmy vot­ers.

Also new to the drama cat­e­gory is Net­flix’s The Crown, a look at the early life of Queen Elizabeth II. The pe­riod drama is tra­di­tional, con­se­quen­tial tele­vi­sion, but I think too safe and con­ven­tional a bet in these more ad­ven­tur­ous times.

The two in­cum­bent nom­i­nees are House of Cards, which is nom­i­nated for a fifth con­sec­u­tive sea­son, and Bet­ter Call Saul, the spinoff of Break­ing Bad with its third con­sec­u­tive nom­i­na­tion. Both are de­serv­ing can­di­dates, al­though nei­ther has been dis­tin­guished with the top drama prize.

The lat­est sea­son of House of Cards, in par­tic­u­lar, which fol­lows the out­landish ma­noeu­vrings of a seem­ingly so­cio­pathic pres­i­dent, seems to have faded into ir­rel­e­vance dur­ing the Trump era. Vince Gil­li­gan mean­while, con­tin­ues to as­tound with self-as­sured and exquisitely de­tailed work in Bet­ter Call Saul, mak­ing the bleak strip-mall land­scape of Al­bu­querque, N.M., seem as fas­ci­nat­ing as any­thing in Wes­teros.

So the race is on and it’s any­body’s guess at this point, which is a good thing.

But what about the Cana­di­ans? Apart from the ab­sence of Ta­tiana Maslany, who won Best Ac­tress in a Drama for her role as mul­ti­ple clones in Toronto-shot Or­phan Black last year, Cana­di­ans are still very much present at this year’s Em­mys. (The fi­nal sea­son of Or­phan Black falls out­side the vot­ing win­dow.)

Full Frontal With Saman­tha Bee is up for Best Va­ri­ety Talk Show and the Cana­dian host has al­ready picked up a writ­ing Emmy for her spe­cial Not The White House Cor­re­spon­dents Din­ner.

My pick for Best Lim­ited Series is the un­set­tling, but lus­ciously shot HBO drama Big Lit­tle Lies. Quebec di­rec­tor Jean-Marc Val­lée ( Dal­las Buy­ers Club, Wild) also has a di­rect­ing nom­i­na­tion for his work, which fea­tures a killer cast in­clud­ing Ni­cole Kid­man, Shai­lene Wood­ley, Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz.

The lim­ited series race has seen an em­bar­rass­ment of A-list star riches. This was a cat­e­gory once known as “minis­eries” that in some ear­lier years could barely field enough con­tenders. But now it seems that TV is where in­de­pen­dent film mak­ers go — if they’re not mak­ing Fast and Fu­ri­ous 10.

Apart from Big Lit­tle Lies you have Feud: Bette and Joan, star­ring Su­san Saran­don and Jes­sica Lange as Bette Davis and Joan Craw­ford; Ge­nius, di­rected by Ron Howard and star­ring Ge­of­frey Rush as Al­bert Ein­stein; Fargo Sea­son 3, star­ring Ewan McGre­gor, and The Night Of with John Tur­turro.

It’s strange to think that only last year Game of Thrones made Emmy his­tory by be­com­ing the most awarded show ever at 38, beat­ing the sit­com Frasier by one Emmy.

The bar has ob­vi­ously moved. But even in this new golden era, it seems odd that the work of Kelsey Gram­mer was once seen as a pin­na­cle of crit­i­cal tele­vi­sion. TV view­ers have truly never had it so good.

BET­TER CALL SAUL These seven series are com­pet­ing in the Out­stand­ing Drama Series cat­e­gory at this year’s Em­mys.

THE HAND­MAID’S TALE

WEST­WORLD

THE CROWN

THIS IS US

STRANGER THINGS

HOUSE OF CARDS

GETTY IM­AGES

Big Lit­tle Lies, di­rected by Jean-Marc Val­lée, is Tony Wong’s pick for Best Lim­ited Series.

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