Some thought “Game of Thrones” might end up with a weak showing on this year’s Emmy nominations list. Naturally, there has been a sentimentalist urge to honor a TV monument and cultural phenomenon for its final round; but the reviews for the season — an especially short, rushed season — were largely negative.
But “Game of Thrones” and its cast got plenty of recognition — too much recognition, in my opinion — when the nominations were announced (by a playful D’Arcy Carden and Ken Jeong) on Tuesday morning. All the drama acting categories contained “GoT” cast members — Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke for their leading roles and Gwendoline Christie, Lena Headey, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Alfie Allen for their supporting work. Add in the nomination for best drama and it’s clear the Television Academy didn’t care about the griping.
Or, perhaps, they didn’t watch. With all due respect to a wonderful show that didn’t land intact, a number of those nominations ring hollow. I’m a massive fan of Headey as the nefarious Cersei, but really she was barely in the season. And Turner, who played my favorite character, Sansa, brilliantly, hardly had a chance to shine. Perhaps those slots could have gone to some more interesting actors (see snubs below)? Suranne Jones of “Gentleman Jack,” I’m looking at you.
The “Game” is not up, then, as we head toward the Sept. 22 Emmy ceremony, and HBO is certainly benefiting. The cable channel, which still comes up with TV’s finest lineups, broke a single-season Emmy nomination record with 137 nods this year. HBO even beat last year’s most nominated TV outlet, Netflix, which this year drew 117 nods. Yes, streaming-only sites are ascendant, but not necessarily to the exclusion of the likes of HBO.
Surprise: Few knew about Pop’s “Schitt’s Creek,” until old seasons showed up on Netflix. It became an overnight sensation, despite already being many seasons into its run. Now, as the Canadian show heads into its sixth and final season on Pop, Emmy voters have finally taken note, with three major nominations — for stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara and for best comedy. That’s all good, but does it highlight the fact that voters weren’t duly noting the show before its sudden rise in popularity? Could it mean they’re not as thorough as we’d expect?
Snub: I’m thrilled that FX’s “Pose” won some recognition, for best drama and for Billy Porter. But really, the show is fueled by the stunning work of Mj Rodriguez, Dominique Jackson, and Indya Moore, in addition to that of Porter, and each of these trans women deserved some love.
Surprise: I felt the second season of “Barry” was good, but disappointing after the bravura first round. Emmy voters passionately disagreed with me, and didn’t just give the HBO show its expected nods for best comedy and for last year’s winners, Bill Hader and Henry Winkler. This year, voters also recognized Anthony Carrigan (great as NoHo Hank), Stephen Root, and Sarah Goldberg for their supporting turns.
Snub: There was D’Arcy Carden on stage announcing the nominees. But her name wasn’t among the honored few, despite her remarkable work as the robotic human — or is that the human robot? — Janet on “The Good Place.” That’s a shame; the episode in which she plays all the other characters was a highlight of the year.
Most surprising snub: Amazon’s amazing drama “Homecoming” is nowhere on the list of major nominees. Created by Sam Esmail, the beautifully filmed series was engaging, clever, and beautifully acted by, among others, Julia Roberts and Stephan James. I assumed that Roberts was absolutely going to get some love, but even she was ignored. Go figure.
Snub: How on Earth did voters overlook the year’s most powerful performance, by Suranne Jones on HBO’s “Gentleman Jack”? You’ll never convince me that she’s not better than some of the nominees in the dramatic actress category, including Sandra Oh, Mandy Moore, and Robin Wright. Watch the first episode of the series, and I think you’ll quickly understand what I mean.
Surprise: I love it when voters manage to get on board great shows early on. Sadly, it doesn’t happen often enough. This year, Amazon’s “Fleabag” and Netflix’s “Russian Doll” are the lucky and deserving newcomers rolling in comedy nominations, especially the former series, which was noticed not just as best comedy and for its lead, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, but also for two excellent supporting actors, Olivia Colman (yup, the Oscar winner) and Sian Clifford.
Snub: I’m a fan of Hulu’s “Catch-22,” especially its lead actor, Christopher Abbott, and its supporting actors Kyle Chandler and George Clooney. And yet: crickets. The miniseries had some hardcore competition, to be fair, especially from Netflix’s memorable “When They See Us,” which was nominated for best limited series and six acting awards. HBO’s “Chernobyl,” FX’s “Fosse/Verdon,” Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora,” and HBO’s “Sharp Objects” also deservedly filled up those categories.
Snub: Hulu’s “Shrill” deserved a nod or two. Aidy Bryant was perfect as a woman dealing with other people’s discomfort about her weight. She shoulda been a contender.
Surprise: I’m endlessly pleased that Jodie Comer was finally nominated for “Killing Eve.” But did the voters watch that second season? It was a mess, after the perfection of season one (which was written by Waller-Bridge), and even Oh had trouble rising above the chaotic and absurd story line. Only Comer emerged with extraordinary work.
Snub: No “Better Things,” Pamela Adlon’s phenomenal portrait of an intergenerational family of women? That’s a major shame. Adlon has been nominated twice for best actress in a comedy, so we know the voters are aware of her and her FX series. Come on, folks. I hope it’s not because the first two seasons included Louis C.K. behind the scenes.
Snub: The outstanding variety talk category is filled with goodness, including TBS’s “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” and “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.” But “Late Night With Seth Meyers” really, truly ought to be on the list, moreso than “The Late, Late Show With James Corden.” Meyers has evolved into a sharp social and political critic with sometimes unexpected guests, and yet he has never been nominated.
Surprise: Netflix’s “Dead to Me” was light — very light — fun, but Christina Applegate, as a widow searching for the driver who killed her husband was quite good in the show. I’m glad the voters were able to find her in such a slight series.
Supporting snubs: Timothy Simons as Jonah Ryan in “Veep.” He has never been nominated for the best supporting work on a show brimming with supporting brilliance. Gillian Anderson was endlessly amusing on Netflix’s winning “Sex Education.” Asia Kate Dillon walks away with Showtime’s “Billions.” These three should have been no-brainers.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.