Critic’s Notebook: New and Old Favorites in Emmy Nominations

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Netflix; HBO

The dragons have spoken.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, except maybe the vocal critics who objected to how Game of Thrones ended its epic journey, the HBO fantasy dominated this year’s Emmy nominations, with a mammoth 32 nods for its final season. And yet there were pleasant surprises as well, as several acclaimed cult series, mostly comedies, made the cut. Check out the full list of 2019 Emmys nominees over here.

Some thoughts on the breakthroughs and curiously overlooked, by genre:

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It’s a Thrones bonanza, any way you look at it. (The next most nominated drama with 11 is Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which few take as seriously anymore as it takes itself.) While fellow Outstanding Drama nominees Better Call Saul, Killing Eve (Yay!), Ozark and sole broadcast contender This Is Us tied with nine nominations each, and Pose (with six), Succession (5) and Bodyguard (2) rounding out the category, it would be hard to bet against the warriors of Westeros this year. The cast made a killing as well, with Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington up as leads, and seven supporting candidates (Peter Dinklage, Nicolas Coster-Waldau, Alfie Allen, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Lena Headey and Gwendoline Christie) who may end up canceling each other out.

Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri, Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve (Nick Wall/BBCAmerica)

The lead actress race becomes more interesting now that both Killing Eve stars are in the running this year, with Jodie Comer joining Sandra Oh, and good for This Is Us star Mandy Moore finally getting her due (ditto for co-star Chris Sullivan in supporting). Thrilled that the electrifying Pose star Billy Porter got noticed for lead actor, but surprised that Bodyguard’s Golden Globe-winning Richard Madden was passed over. (And I’m prepared to be perpetually chagrined that the TV Academy refuses to acknowledge Freddie Highmore’s terrific work as The Good Doctor. Other regrettable absences: Suranne Jones from HBO’s Gentleman Jack, Brian Cox and his Succession co-stars, and Christine Baranski with the rest of her remarkable ensemble in CBS All Access’s The Good Fight.)

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While the nine nominations garnered by the final season of Veep are dwarfed by 20 for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, it’s likely to be a close race between these favorites, for Outstanding Comedy and for lead actress in particular. HBO’s Barry made an impressive showing as well with 17 nominations (including first-time bids for supporting players Stephen Root, Anthony Carrigan and Sarah Goldberg). Netflix’s buzzy Russian Doll wasn’t far behind, scoring with 13.

Cult comedies from Amazon (Fleabag) and Pop (Schitt’s Creek) broke through in a big way, with Fleabag earning 11 nods (including for Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Olivia Colman and Sian Clifford in supporting, and Kristin Scott Thomas and double-dipper Fiona Shaw, also in Killing Eve, as guest actresses). No doubt helped by its exposure on Netflix, Schitt’s Creek landed surprise nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series and for lead actors, beloved SCTV veterans Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. Christina Applegate, so terrific in Netflix’s Dead to Me, was the sole nominee for that twisty dark comedy.

Noah Reid as Patrick and Dan Levy as David in Schitt’s Creek (Pop TV)

The success of the underdogs denied recognition in the top category for two Chuck Lorre comedies: Netflix’s acclaimed The Kominsky Method—though Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin are front-runners in their respective categories—and for the final season of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, which was pretty much shut out. (Others left out of the running include Better Things, Insecure, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and, once again inexplicably, One Day at a Time.)

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Limited Series/Movies

I’m putting my money on Netflix’s shattering When They See Us (16 nominations), although HBO’s Chernobyl (19) and FX’s Fosse/Verdon (17) edged Ava DuVernay’s docudrama about the exonerated Central Park Five in total nods. When They See Us managed to accumulate eight acting nominations, several for relative unknowns, against all-star casts, which is a remarkable achievement. And while marquee names including Mahershala Ali (True Detective), Patricia Arquette (Escape at Dannemora and The Act), Amy Adams (Sharp Objects), Benecio Del Toro (Dannemora) and the Fosse/Verdon duo of Michelle Williams and Sam Rockwell dominate the field, I’d expect a few of the When They See Us ensemble — most notably Jharrel Jerome, Michael Kenneth Williams and John Leguizamo — to make a strong showing.

Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise in When They See Us (Netflix)

The most surprising omissions: Ian McShane and his co-stars in Deadwood: The Movie (which failed to earn even a writing nomination) and any of the starry players of Hulu’s Catch-22 (including George Clooney and Kyle Chandler in showy supporting roles).

Let the arguing begin as we await the final results in September.

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My knee-jerk predictions, which I’ll refine closer to air (and not always expressing my preference):

Drama: Game of Thrones

Drama lead actor: Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul

Drama lead actress: Sandra Oh or Jodie Comer, Killing Eve (a tie?)

Drama supporting actor: Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones

Drama supporting actress: Julia Garner, Ozark

Comedy: Veep

Comedy lead actress: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep

Comedy lead actor: Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method

Comedy supporting actor: Alan Arkin, Kominsky

Comedy supporting actress: Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Limited series: When They See Us

Movie: Deadwood: The Movie

Limited series/movie lead actor: Mahershala Ali, True Detective

Limited series/movie lead actress: Patricia Arquette, Escape at Dannemora

Limited series/movie supporting actor: Ben Whishaw, A Very English Scandal

Limited series/movie supporting actress: Patricia Clarkson, Sharp Objects

Competition Series: RuPaul’s Drag Race

Variety Sketch Series: Saturday Night Live

Variety-Talk Series: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

71st Primetime Emmy Awards, Sunday, September 22, 8/7c, Fox