Critic’s Notebook: Emmy Nominations, Breakthroughs and Snubs

With Game of Thrones not eligible for an Emmy this year, HBO's Westworld became the most-nominated drama with 22, including acting nods for Anthony Hopkins and Jeffrey Wright.

This is more like it: an Emmy nominations list teeming with new shows and actors, reflecting a year of breakthroughs on multiple platforms, including (miracle of miracles) where it all began: on network broadcast TV, which often feels like an Emmy afterthought anymore.


Let’s start where so much of the new action is, with five first-timers among the seven nominees for best drama. NBC’s crowd-pleasing tearjerker This Is Us, with 11 nominations, is the first network drama to make the cut since 2011’s The Good Wife (whose spinoff for CBS All Access, The Good Fight, was thoroughly snubbed).

With Netflix second only to HBO in total nominations (91 to HBO’s 111), the streaming giant’s cult hit Stranger Things (with 18) and the glorious The Crown (13) joined longtime academy favorite House of Cards (6). Rival Hulu made a strong showing with its gripping adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale (13). And with two-time winner Game of Thrones sitting this year out, HBO’s provocative Westworld became the most nominated drama, with 22 (tying Saturday Night Live). AMC’s Better Call Saul, with nine nominations, is also a contender, but never the front-runner of its predecessor, Breaking Bad.

In the acting categories, This Is Us pits Milo Ventimiglia against Sterling K. Brown as lead-actor nominees, with supporting nods for Chrissy Metz and Ron Cephas Jones. The lead actress race is likely a showdown between The Crown’s luminous Claire Foy and Handmaid’s long-suffering Elisabeth Moss. A shoo-in: The Crown’s John Lithgow in supporting as a commanding Winston Churchill.

Biggest surprise: A guest-actress nomination for Stranger Things acting newbie Shannon Purser, as the ill-fated Barb.

Notable snubs: Last year’s lead-actor winner, Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek, FX’s The Americans for best drama, Saul’s heartbreaking Michael McKean, Netflix’s controversial 13 Reasons Why, Showtime’s Homeland, HBO’s The Leftovers, WGN America’s Underground.

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Donald Glover’s brilliant Atlanta for FX is the sole newcomer in the best-comedy race, and fellow FX stars Pamela Adlon (Better Things) and Zach Galifianakis (Baskets) join Glover as first-time lead-actor nominees, while Jane Fonda helps twice-nominated co-star Lily Tomlin represent Netflix’s Grace and Frankie. ABC has two shows, black-ish and longtime industry darling Modern Family, in the running, but it will be hard for anything to topple last year’s winner, HBO’s Veep, the most-nominated comedy with 17, including for perennial champ Julia Louis-Dreyfus and co-stars Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale and Matt Walsh.

Saturday Night Live, an Emmy powerhouse, scored with nods for last year’s winner, Kate McKinnon, and Trump impersonator Alec Baldwin, plus Leslie Jones, departing cast member Vanessa Bayer and guest hosts Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Dave Chappelle, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Hanks. McCarthy’s most notable competition as guest actress: a posthumous bid for the beloved Carrie Fisher for her last role on Amazon’s Catastrophe.

Biggest surprise: the terrific Kathryn Hahn, passed over for Amazon’s I Love Dick, earns her first Emmy nomination for Amazon’s Transparent (supporting actress)

Notable snubs: Issa Rae of HBO’s Insecure, Rita Moreno of Netflix’s One Day at a Time revival, Hank Azaria of IFC’s Brockmire, ABC’s Speechless, NBC’s The Good Place, CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, Amazon’s Transparent for best comedy.

Limited Series/Movies

The star power is off the charts as four Oscar winners contend for lead-actress recognition in the year’s two top miniseries: FX’s delicious Feud: Bette and Joan (18), featuring Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange as legendary divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford; and HBO’s addictive Big Little Lies (16), starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. (Both shows did well in supporting categories, with nominations for Feud’s Judy Davis, Jackie Hoffman, Alfred Molina and Stanley Tucci, and Lies’ Laura Dern, Shailene Woodley and Alexander Skarsgard.)

Robert De Niro is the presumptive favorite among lead actors as a frightening Bernie Madoff in HBO’s The Wizard of Lies, especially if John Turturro and Riz Ahmed cancel each other out for HBO’s The Night Of, which earned 13 nominations. National Geographic’s first season of Genius, starring nominee Geoffrey Rush as the adult Albert Einstein, impressed with 10 nominations, pushing out ABC’s American Crime for the first time.

Biggest surprise: NBC’s latest Dolly Parton Christmas schmaltz-fest, Circle of Love, got a best-movie nomination, exposing the weakness of that category.

Notable snubs: Oprah Winfrey for HBO’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Jude Law for HBO’s The Young Pope, Mary Elizabeth Winstead for FX’s Fargo, Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

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Reality Competition

Who’d have guessed VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race would have the moxie to boot ABC’s Dancing With the Stars from the category for the first time since it was eligible? Otherwise, the same as last year. But RuPaul Charles, last year’s surprise winner in the host category, faces intriguing competition from Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg of VH1’s Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, W. Kamau Bell of CNN’s United Shades of America, Match Game’s Alec Baldwin and MasterChef Junior’s Gordon Ramsay.

Variety Talk

Make way for the fearless Samantha Bee of TBS’s Full Frontal, breaking into the boys’ club alongside fellow Daily Show veteran John Oliver (of HBO’s Last Week Tonight), and CBS’s Stephen Colbert, snubbed a year ago but scoring with his politically barbed humor. Left out: NBC’s Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers (though his Late Night scored a well-deserved writing nomination) and Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show.

Variety Sketch

While Saturday Night Live dominates this category, here’s to Billy Eichner’s uproarious Billy on the Street on truTV for making the cut, alongside IFC faves Portlandia and Documentary Now!