TALE OF THE TAPE
With Game of Thrones out of the running this year, the Emmy field for best drama is wide open
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
THIS IS US
HOUSE OF CARDS
Big Little Lies, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, is Tony Wong’s pick for Best Limited Series.