By Tom O’Brien
It may only be early May on the calendar, but you’d never know it from the Emmy Awards activity that has been popping up around Los Angeles in recent weeks. The Television Academy in North Hollywood has been booked solid with For Your Consideration events, and screener links to what seems like every conceivable show have been flooding the inboxes of Emmy voters. The ceremony itself won’t be until Monday, September 12th, but the politicking has begun earlier and is being waged more intensely than I’ve ever seen in my years as a TV Academy member.
With COVID-related production shutdowns in 2020-21 seriously reducing the number of eligible series last year, the product has come roaring back in 2022, with networks and streaming services premiering new series seemingly every week, adding to the pile of screeners that voters have to prioritize in the few weeks before Emmy voting begins. The competition has become so stacked, in fact, that, in both the comedy and drama series categories, there are more serious Emmy players than there are open slots, a situation threatening to leave many worthy shows empty-handed on nomination morning.
What complicates the matter further (as if we need any more) is the large number of highly-regarded freshman series vying for their first chance to crack the Emmy lineup. Do any of these newcomers, many of which would be a sure thing for an Emmy nomination in another year, even crack this year’s eight-show lineups? Let’s start on the comedy series side.
Of last year’s eight nominees for Best Comedy Series, only Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” (Best Comedy Series champ) and HBO Max’s “Hacks”(winner for Comedy Writing and Directing) are widely considered to be sure things to return. Emmy favorite “Black-ish” might get a farewell nomination for its eight-season run, but even this esteemed series could fall short, given the number of returning comedy series whose Emmy pedigrees are just as impeccable.
Poised to fill the still-available Emmy slots in this category are no less than seven strong contenders from earlier seasons, each of which was previously nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy.
- Amazon Prime’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (54 previous Emmy nominations, 20 wins)
- HBO Max’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (47 nominations, 2 wins)
- HBO Max’s “Barry” (30 nominations, 6 wins)
- FX/Hulu’s “Atlanta” (22 nominations, 5 wins)
- Netflix’s “Russian Doll” (13 nominations, 3 wins)
- HBO Max’s “Insecure” (11 nominations, 1 win)
- FX/Hulu’s “What We Do In The Shadows” (10 nominations)
With all of these strong series circling about looking to grab one of those remaining slots, does a freshman comedy series have any chance at all? Based on the kind of series to which Emmy voters have responded in the past, I’m betting yes and have narrowed the field down to five first-season series that have the stuff to sneak in…
“Abbott Elementary” (ABC)
“Abbott Elementary” currently holds the hot hand in this year’s freshman Emmy race, having just completed a successful first season where audience numbers built week after week, a rare feat in network television. A Best Comedy nomination for the show, set in a Philadelphia inner-city grammar school, would be the first for a network comedy since NBC’s “The Good Place” in 2020, as well as the first freshman series by a broadcast network since both “Glee” and “Modern Family” 12 years ago. Acting, writing, and directing nominations are likely as well, so an Outstanding Series nod would not be surprising.
“Only Murders in the Building” (Hulu)
If there’s any new series that can surpass “Abbott Elementary’s” current heat, it’s this comedy/mystery starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. Following a critically-acclaimed first season, this showbiz-oriented mystery focuses on three Manhattan neighbors, all fans of one particular murder podcast, who set out on their own to investigate what they think is a murder in their tony apartment building. Taking a page from last year’s successful “Ted Lasso” campaign by Apple TV+, Hulu will begin airing Season 2 of “Only Murders In The Building” a few weeks before Emmy voting starts as a handy reminder. And the show’s nomination for the Peabody won’t hurt, either.
“Reservation Dogs” (FX/Hulu)
This Taika Waititi co-creation follows the adventures of a quartet of Indigenous American teens who live on (and are often seeking to get away from) their Oklahoma reservation. Already the winner of a Gotham Award and two Indie Spirit Awards, the series has also been nominated for the Critics Choice, Writers Guild, and Peabody Awards, a stamp of approval that means a lot to many Emmy voters. Still, what makes “Reservation Dogs” stand out is the fact that we have rarely heard these voices on television before, much less in a comedy series. But it’s not just representation — it’s a contender because it’s fast, it’s fresh, and it’s funny.
“The Afterparty” (Apple TV+)
“The Afterparty” may appear to be a younger, hipper take on “Only Murders In The Building,” but the Apple TV+ comic whodunnit is playing with genre in a way that no other series can approach. Set in a beach house where an arrogant pop star has been murdered, all the suspects are his former high school classmates. The series abounds in great comic character actors (Tiffany Haddish, Sam Richardson, Ben Schwartz, and Ilana Glazer, to name a few). Still, its natural appeal is its meta take on the form — every week, when suspects tell their story, it’s told in a different film genre (musical, slasher movie, animated children’s show, etc.). A series this different could definitely break through the noise of its rivals.
“And Just Like That…” (HBO Max)
As we’ve seen in the Emmy’s past, nostalgia can be a powerful force for Emmy voters when marking one’s ballot, and this HBO Max series may be counting in part on that. Certainly, fondness for the six-season run of “Sex And The City,” which premiered 24 (!) years ago and earned seven Emmys from its 54 nominations, might be the show’s secret weapon for an Emmy return. Reviews for the series were not nearly as strong as that for its previous incarnation, but praise was given to the returning series regulars as well as its depiction of women facing middle age. Its chances for a series nomination might be a longshot, but once you’re a nominee, you’re always a threat.
Most of last year’s nominees for Outstanding Drama Series have either concluded their runs or are between seasons, leaving only two potential returnees from last year: Netflix’s “Bridgerton” and NBC’s veteran “This Is Us” in its final season. Both are possibilities, but neither are considered locks for a return, particularly considering the number of former Emmy champions that are returning to the contest this year.
With such an open field, these five series, all previously nominated as Outstanding Drama Series, would have to be considered the strongest contenders for one of those coveted slots —
- AMC’s “Better Call Saul” (39 previous Emmy nominations)
- Netflix’s “Stranger Things” (38 nominations, 7 wins)
- Netflix’s “Ozark“ (32 nominations, 3 wins)
- HBO Max’s “Succession“ (23 nominations, 9 wins)
- AMC’s “Killing Eve” (19 nominations, 1 win)
Add to that the rising Emmy buzz for Paramount+’s “Yellowstone” and HBO Max’s “Euphoria,” and you’ve got a traffic jam of contenders ahead. With all of these established series once again in contention, it would seem that the eight slots for Outstanding Drama Series are just about spoken for, right? Not so fast. Not only do we have five first-year candidates that are all of Emmy quality, there’s even one or two capable of pulling an actual upset win. Let’s take a look at this year’s freshman drama class…
“Squid Game” (Netflix)
The South Korean sensation has kept its awards run going ever since its September 2021 premiere, scooping up three SAG Awards, two Critics Choice Awards, and a key nomination by the Producers Guild. Such support from the industry holds a significant influence over Emmy voters and may persuade those few voters who have yet to see the dystopian adventure to move it to the top of their screener pile. This year’s ceremony on September 12th is nearly one year to the day after the series premiered — a very long time in Emmy circles to maintain awards heat — but so far, there are few signs that the series’ upward trajectory won’t continue through nomination day.
“Severance” (Apple TV+)
If awards heat ever fades for “Squid Game,” it will likely move over to this new kid on the block, Apple TV’s science-fiction thriller “Severance.” Set in a sterile office complex in the hopefully distant future, the series focuses on a group of white-collar workers who have agreed to have their non-work memories completely severed from what they experience on the job. However, they begin to suspect that something unknown and nefarious is going on. Despite the show’s stellar cast — Oscar winners Patricia Arquette and Christopher Walken are joined by Adam Scott, John Turturro, Zach Cherry, and Britt Lower — the series premiered quietly on the streaming service in February but has picked up significant critical support in recent weeks. In an awards race, that’s where you want to be: “Severance” may be peaking at just the right time.
It’s a tricky feat that this Showtime series manages to pull off — balancing two narratives from two timelines, each centered around the same traumatic event. In 1996, a plane carrying the members of a New Jersey soccer team crashes in the Canadian forest, and the four surviving teenage players must do everything they can to stay alive. Intercut with their struggle is the current-day depiction of those same young women still coping with the event while becoming caught up in a mystery all their own. Of all the 2022 freshmen, “Yellowjackets” may have the most consistent social media presence, thanks to a devoted fanbase that has kept the show’s buzz going. Emmy voters may well take note.
“The Gilded Age” (HBO Max)
Oscar and Emmy winner Julian Fellowes follows up his beloved “Downton Abbey” with another series about class, this one set in 1882 New York, depicting the clash between established families with “old money” and the nouveau riche. Like “Downton Abbey,” “The Gilded Age” offers upstairs and downstairs storylines, but here Fellowes also includes race, examining middle-class life among Black New Yorkers at the time. The show’s sprawling cast (made up of what seems like half of Broadway) received widespread praise, as did the series’ finely-detailed crafts and production design. And if that support can translate into votes from the acting and tech branches, that may be enough for the series to land that Emmy nod.
“Pachinko” (Apple TV+)
It may be a stretch to think that the Academy would consider nominating a second series, not in the language as Outstanding Drama Series, but the near-unanimous raves for this Korea-set drama may be hard for Emmy voters to ignore. Based on the New York Times bestselling novel, the series chronicles the saga of four generations of a Korean family as they fight the odds to survive. Unlike most of its Emmy rivals, the series’ scope is vast, but in its depictions of this one family, it is as delicate as the most intimate drama, offering a contrast that is right in the Academy’s wheelhouse. And unlike “Squid Game,” “Pachinko” has a genuine star, Oscar winner, Yuh-Jung Youn, heading up its cast. A dark horse, but a strong one.
Clearly, given the sheer volume of contenders, 2022 is promising an Emmy race like none other, with the Academy marquee contests, those for Outstanding Comedy and Drama Series, looking to be the most up-in-the-air of all. All will be revealed when the Emmy nominations are announced on Tuesday, July 12th. And that’s when the race will really begin.
Which of these series do you think will be nominated for either Outstanding Drama or Comedy Series in their first season? Are there any others we left off which you think could get in? Do you think any of these shows could win the top award on their first try? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Tom and hear more of his thoughts on the Emmys and TV on Twitter at @thomaseobrien