Critic's Notebook: SAG Award Nominations Welcome 'Stranger Things,' 'The Crown'

'Westworld' also made a big SAG Awards play, but the actors ignored Donald Glover and 'Atlanta' on the comedy side.
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Millie Bobby Brown of 'Stranger Things'
Like the wacky parents and children in a 1980s body-swap comedy, almost overnight, the Screen Actors Guild Awards became the Golden Globes, at least when it comes to TV nominations.
 
It used to be that the Golden Globes were the voting body distracted by the shiny and new — I wrote an analysis on the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's easy swayability just two days ago — and the SAG-AFTRA voters were the ones who continued to nominate the exact same things every year, resolutely insisting that Dame Maggie Smith was always worthy of individual recognition no matter how little the Dowager Countess had done in any particular Downton Abbey season.
 
So it was shocking to wake up on Wednesday morning to see that while Dame Maggie was nominated as part of the unimpeachable Downton Abbey ensemble, she failed to get a nomination for female actor in a drama series because SAG decided this was the year to embrace the new.
 
Don't pity Smith too much. She'll be fine.
 
 
Instead, look with awe at the huge splashes made by The Crown, Stranger Things and Westworld in the nominations for the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards.
 
All three new shows, two from Netflix and one from HBO, received drama ensemble nominations from SAG, just days after picking up drama series nominations from the HFPA, establishing momentum they hope will still be there seven months from now when Emmy voters get their ballots.
 
Also continuing momentum with their second major nominations of the week were The Crown's Claire Foy and John Lithgow, Westworld's Thandie Newton and Stranger Things' Winona Ryder. Evan Rachel Wood wasn't able to follow up her Golden Globe nom with SAG notice, but Millie Bobby Brown gave Stranger Things a second awards contender. 
 
On Globes morning, I suggested Brown, perfectly otherworldly as the powerful Eleven, would have been a worthy nominee in place of the double-nominated This Is Us, so I can endorse this nomination, even if she's taking a place that could have gone to Keri Russell of The Americans
 
Yes, even though Golden Globe and Emmy voters decided to finally notice The Americans in recent years, SAG voters kept their eyes resolutely closed, though rather than picking on the presence of Netflix's underdog '80s Stephen King/Steven Spielberg pastiche, it's easier to quibble with the persistence of House of Cards, where Robin Wright and Kevin Spacey took nominations that surely could have gone to Russell and Matthew Rhys. At least House of Cards dropped out of the ensemble field, where the three newcomers and Downton Abbey are joined by Game of Thrones.
 
Such a big player for the awards show that airs on NBC, NBC's This Is Us wasn't completely shut out by SAG, as Sterling K. Brown received a male actor in a drama nomination to join Lithgow, Spacey, Rami Malek and Peter Dinklage.
 
Brown was probably a surprise nominee here, but he's my favorite part of the very good This Is Us ensemble. He also was probably my favorite part of the The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story ensemble, so it was nice to see him nominated for male actor in a TV movie or limited series along with Courtney B. Vance and to see that forced to make choices from the FX anthology series' ensemble, SAG voters went with the right picks and didn't nominate John Travolta's eyebrows. Also getting double-recognition in the category was The Night Of, with Riz Ahmed and John Turturro following up their Globe nominations, and Bryan Cranston nominated for All the Way.
 
Sarah Paulson will, of course, win a SAG Award for The People v. O.J. Simpson, but it's cute that they nominated other people as well.
 
[Here I'll briefly stop to ponder why SAG classified both American Crime Story and American Crime as movies/miniseries this year after American Crime, American Horror Story and Fargo were all forced to submit as dramas last year. This is the kind of back-and-forth category swapping that would make one unable to trust the SAG Awards, were one inclined to trust them in the first place.]
 
The nominations are more traditional on the comedy side, where last year's winners Jeffrey Tambor, Uzo Aduba and Orange Is The New Black are all nominated.
 
There are no first-year shows nominated in any SAG TV category, which most conspicuously means that Donald Glover and Atlanta weren't nominated, because if you're SAG you can't not nominate Modern Family and Ty Burrell. I'd be willing to say that SAG voters decided that because Atlanta has a somewhat smaller ensemble, perhaps it's not an "actors" kind of show, but the Atlanta ensemble is spectacular and SAG voters nominated the two-man "ensemble" of Key and Peele just last year, so really SAG just missed the boat on this one. Try harder next year, guys.
 
SAG may not have followed everybody else's lead in discovering The Americans, but Black-ish went from nowhere to SAG favorite with Anthony Anderson and a nom for the show's great ensemble. Also making gains were Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which added Tituss Burgess and an ensemble mention to last year's nominee Ellie Kemper, and Netflix's Grace and Frankie, which saw Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda both earn nominations. Tomlin will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award this year as well.
 
 
Generally, it's a hard nomination slate to get worked up by, but one can at least raise a few questions like:
 
*** How do you drop Transparent out of the comedy ensemble field? Whatever else the show has, it has a great and deep ensemble.
 
*** Who decided only the women of Westworld get individual acting nominations? Yes, they were the show's real standouts, but Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright have big names that I thought would have played well with both SAG and the HFPA.
 
*** Again ... No Atlanta? No Insecure? No Better Things? No Louie Anderson for Baskets? No Search Party? It's not like it was a bad year for new comedies, Screen Actors Guild voters!
 
*** Downton Abbey has a great ensemble. I'll never quibble with SAG in that regard. But, in addition to The Americans, some other great drama ensembles include: Halt and Catch Fire, Rectify, Horace and Pete, Queen Sugar and Better Call Saul.
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