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This story first appeared in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Snagging an Emmy nomination is almost always torturous, and even with the categories broadened to accommodate seven, rather than six, nominees this year, the squeeze couldn’t be tighter.
Clearly, the TV Academy should have adjusted to allow 10 contenders in the major categories, which more accurately would have reflected the overwhelming number of worthwhile series on television today.
But we work with what we’ve got, and when it comes down to the Emmy for outstanding comedy series, this will be a defining year in terms of difficult decisions. Do voters express their loyalty to heavyweight mainstays like ABC’s Modern Family (which has won five straight times), CBS’ The Big Bang Theory (nominated four straight years) and HBO’s Veep (nominated three straight years)? Do they go in a new direction by pulling the trigger for outstanding freshman possibilities like ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Amazon’s Transparent (which won the Golden Globe)? Do they make sure that fine shows like NBC’s Parks and Recreation and HBO’s Girls, both left out in the cold last year, find their way into the nominees’ circle this time around?
The choice is a hard one, and the options are numerous.
Amid this bounty of worthy programs, the TV Academy has revised its rules about one-hour comedies. Under the new rules, Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black can’t be considered a comedy — though, strangely, Showtime’s equally dramatic Shameless can. The CW’s more comedic hourlong Jane the Virgin, meanwhile, also will be eligible. As if that wasn’t enough for voters to consider, you’ve got extremely strong returning nominees in FX’s Louie and HBO’s Silicon Valley — both of which have a good shot at getting recognized again.
If you want to turn a blind eye to the seemingly endless possible nomination configurations in this category and strictly predict based on history, the “locks” appear to be Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, Veep, Silicon Valley and Louie, which leaves only two slots left — likely to be filled by the very timely Transparent and the critically acclaimed freshman sensation Jane the Virgin.
That’s it — over.
And yet, a strong argument can be made that Girls, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Fresh Off the Boat are all plausible contenders that very easily could oust one or two of those alleged frontrunners.
Additionally, the sentimental — and not undeserving — choice could be Parks and Recreation, whose series finale aired in February. And if image-conscious Emmy voters are looking to prove that they’re not a bunch of old sticks in the mud, that they actually hear buzz and can spot zeitgeist as well as anyone else, watch out for such wild cards as the Comedy Central double threat of Broad City and Inside Amy Schumer.
Meanwhile, even darker horses include ABC’s Black-ish, HBO’s Togetherness, Fox’s The Last Man on Earth and the aforementioned Shameless.
Indeed, there are a lot of strategies Emmy voters could pursue and mentalities they could adopt in cobbling together the group of comedies they deem worthiest of the prize. They could take the platform-agnostic approach by including shows such as Transparent and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt from the main streaming sites. Or they could try to hug everybody by divvying up their love across the spectrum of networks, including upstart pay-cable channels, ad-supported channels and streaming services.
But none of that is possible without dumping what are seen as the “locks” — in other words, getting rid of older, widely adored nominees like Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory. Such a radical gesture is, in the world of the TV Academy, totally unimaginable. It’s just not going to happen.
So I don’t know the answer. All of the shows I’ve mentioned here are funny — even if something like The Big Bang Theory is not necessarily my cup of tea and even if I think that Modern Family, which I do watch and like, has had better seasons and already has been duly recognized.
If you’re thinking there’s no good answer to this problem, you’re wrong. Again, it’s the all-too-sensible solution of expanding the categories to welcome 10 nominees.
Given that that’s not the reality we’re dealing with, the seven shows I would (struggle to) pick, based not on Emmy history or hunches but only on my opinion as a critic, would be: Louie, the most imaginative and daring comedy on television, one coming off arguably its best season; Veep, an assured, vicious, intelligent series that only grows more confident and searingly funny as it moves forward; Silicon Valley, the skewers on its satire pitchfork ever deadlier; Brooklyn Nine-Nine (overlooked in its freshman year), a show that features nonstop hilarity coming from every character, but one that also manages to be warm and smartly plotted; Jane the Virgin, my only hourlong pick, a wonderfully unique balance of comedy and drama that affectionately spoofs telenovelas, reinvigorates voiceover narration and offers triumphant diversity and an excellent cast; Transparent, a show that’s not overtly comedic but is funny in a new and fresh-feeling way as it creatively studies the absurdity of life and the foibles of its characters; and Fresh Off the Boat, the type of first-year revelation that deserves to be encouraged, with its inspired take on issues of immigration and identity and its stellar breakout performances by stars Constance Wu and Randall Park.
Fresh Off the Boat also was flat-out hilarious week to week and filled that cherished family sitcom niche that Modern Family — farewell, old favorite — has occupied so well for so long.
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