Emmy surprises: ‘Squid Game,’ Dave Chappelle, ‘This Is Us’
The Emmy Award nominations announced Tuesday included some snubs and surprises. “This Is Us” walked away forever without a top nomination and Nathan Lane made history as the most-nominated best comedy guest actor in Emmy history.
Here’s our rundown.
NOT JUST A GAME
“Squid Game,” the brutal Netflix survival drama about desperate adults competing in deadly children’s games for a chance to escape debt, won in its bid to become the first non-English-language drama series ever nominated for top drama.
In the bleak and disturbing series from South Korea, hundreds of men and women on the brink of financial ruin compete in a deadly battle for roughly $38 million in cash. Every game is a traditional Korean children’s game such as Red Light, Green Light, but the consequence of losing is death. The winner is the person who outlasts all opponents.
It remains Netflix’s most popular series. “Squid Game” became the first series to cross the streamer’s 1 billion hours-viewed mark and was awarded 14 Emmy nods in its freshman year. The cultural impact of the show was nearly immediate. People dressed as the pink-jumpsuited “Squid Game” guards for Halloween, TikTok challenges launched and memes filled social media.
The success of “Squid Game” comes three years after the South Korean film “Parasite” won best picture at the Oscars, overcoming what its director Bong Joon-ho called the “one-inch barrier of subtitles.”
This may make “This Is Us” fans cry: The show will go into the TV sunset without ever having won the Emmy for outstanding drama series.
The NBC tearjerker has won Emmys for actors Gerald McRaney, Sterling K. Brown and Ron Cephas Jones but has never been crowned best drama. This past season was the show’s sixth and final one, and it picked up a single nomination this time, for outstanding original music and lyrics, not exactly a rousing goodbye.
“This Is Us” tells the story of the Pearson family across multiple generations via flashbacks, present-day stories and flash-forwards. It premiered on NBC in 2016 starring Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley and Brown.
While some groused that the series was manipulative and overly soap opera-ish, it dealt with real issues like the loss of a parent, struggles with pregnancy, depression, drug addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, coming out and interracial adoption.
The show has been nominated multiple times for best drama — 2021, 2019, 2018 and 2017 — but lost to shows like “Game of Thrones,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Crown.”
Dave Chappelle’s 2021 special “The Closer” which included anti-transgender comments, was nominated for best variety special and directing for a variety special.
Netflix ran into a buzz-saw of criticism not only with the special but in how internal memos responded to employees’ concerns. Netflix employees at one point walked out in protest.
But co-CEO Ted Sarandos wrote that Netflix doesn’t allow titles that are “designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe ‘The Closer’ crosses that line.”
Critics said that while the streaming service offers positive fare for the LGBTQ community, Netflix is having it both ways by also offering a show like Chappelle’s that includes disparaging comments about trans women.
Louis C.K.’s “Sorry” in 2021 was his second self-released special since his career slowed down after admitting to sexual misconduct. It did not move Emmy voters.
LASSOING NODS STAYS STEADY
A dip this year after a romp last year was perfectly understandable, but “Ted Lasso,” the most nominated freshman comedy series in history, kept up the scoring with Emmy voters.
The Jason Sudeikis-led comedy earned 20 nods, the same number of nominations for “Ted Lasso” last year in its debut season, on its way to eventually winning seven trophies, including outstanding comedy series and lead actor for Sudeikis.
The show centers on an American football coach who takes charge of an elite British soccer team in England despite having little knowledge of the game. Sudeikis’ Lasso may be a fish out of water, but he’s relentlessly optimistic and kind, armed with homespun wisdom in the face of hostility.
If the first season established the characters and the tone, the second was about deepening and exploring what the creators have already built, with many secondary characters finding their voices. The dedication to fleshing out characters meant the second season largely abandoned the overall plot machine of the club’s success. The third season — expected to be the last — is already in the works.
The show’s success may be due in part because the world is reeling from the devastating effects of COVID-19 and Lasso’s homespun slogans and kindness in the face of adversity seem to touch a nerve.
‘ONLY MURDERS’ KILLS IT
Hulu’s buzzy true crime satire “Only Murders in the Building” was eligible for the first time this year and slayed with 17 nominations, including writing and outstanding comedy.
It may have helped that stars Martin Short, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez were already appearing in the show’s second season during much of Emmy voting. Short and Martin earned acting nods; Gomez didn’t get one of those but has a producer credit nomination.
In the first season, the three played true crime podcast fans who solved a murder in their apartment building on New York City’s Upper West Side, creating a popular podcast in the process. In the second season, Gomez’s character has been accused of killing the building’s board president. Martin, who plays a washed-up actor, and Short, a faded stage director, want to prove her innocence
Helping the show along are plenty of guest stars, including Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Jaboukie Young-White, Jackie Hoffman, Jayne Houdyshell, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, Ali Stroker and Sting. But much of the show’s success is due to the chemistry between the three leads, what BuzzFeed called “the terrific trio we never knew we needed.”
STAYING IN HIS LANE
Nathan Lane has made history as the most-nominated best comedy guest actor in Emmy history.
The three-time Tony winner outmuscled the late Fred Willard for the most nominations in the category for his work on “Only Murders in the Building,” leaving him with six nods to Willard’s five.
Lane has yet to win a Primetime Emmy, though he is the recipient of two Daytime Emmys for his voice work in “Timon and Pumbaa” and “Teacher’s Pet.” He has been nominated for best comedy guest actor six times and best drama guest actor once. The previous comedy bids were for his work on sitcoms “Frasier,” “Mad About You” and “Modern Family.”
In “Only Murders in the Building,” Lane plays a deli chain owner/podcast sponsor who is harboring dark secrets.
Lane has won Tonys for the Broadway shows “Angels in America,” “The Producers” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” He also has a Screen Actors Guild for his work in “The Birdcage.”
AN ELEMENTARY CHOICE
Network TV is dead — or is it? “Abbott Elementary″ once again proves it is not.
The hilarious mockumentary became ABC’s first comedy to quadruple its ratings since its premiere, and it nabbed seven nominations. “Abbott Elementary″ follows a documentary crew while they film the lives of teachers and students at a struggling, underfunded Philadelphia school.
It earned nominations for outstanding comedy series, comedy writing, casting and acting for Tyler James Williams, Janelle James and Sheryl Lee Ralph.
It was created and written by comedian Quinta Brunson, who plays Janine Teagues and also earned an acting nod Tuesday. She previously appeared in “A Black Lady Sketch Show” and “Big Mouth,” and is currently working on the script for the second season of “Abbott Elementary.″ It airs on ABC and Hulu.
“Abbott Elementary″ is a true workplace comedy in the vein of “The Office” or “Superstore” and achieved ABC’s highest ratings since the “Modern Family” finale. At one point, it was the most tweeted-about TV comedy of the year.
TV Guide in June called it the best show on television right now, saying it is “revitalizing the network sitcom by shrinking the distinction between broadcast and streaming.”
BROADWAY SATIRE FINDS NO LOVE
The musical theater valentine “Schmigadoon!” didn’t make Emmy voters whip out their jazz hands.
The series starring Cecily Strong with Keegan-Michael Key found hilarity in the clash between modern sensibilities and classic Broadway musical theater norms. But it didn’t get any big Emmy nods, earning nominations for production design, choreography, music composition and original music and lyrics.
The town of Schmigadoon is stuck in the overly cheery Technicolor age, where two hotel rooms cost $1 — unmarried couples should never sleep in one bed, of course — and residents suddenly sing about corn pudding. Strong and Key star as doctors who have grown tired in their relationship and decide to go on a camping retreat, ending up lost in Schmigadoon.
The six-part limited series that premiered on the streaming service last July was filled with some of the best and brightest of Broadway, including Tony winners Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Jane Krakowski and Aaron Tveit, plus Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose and legend Martin Short.
Musical television series haven’t always hit the high notes with viewers and critics. “Smash,” a look behind the scenes at a Broadway musical was cancelled after two seasons and won a single Emmy. The CW’s “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” starring, co-created, written and directed by Rachel Bloom, ran from 2015-2019 and won four Emmys, while NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playhouse,” which ran from 2020-2021, won a single statuette, for choreography.
Apple TV+ announced in June that there will be a second season of “Schmigadoon!,” which will parody the musicals of the ’60s and ’70s.
A SAD GOODBY-ISH
Fans of “black-ish” may feel aggrieved that Emmy love never came, even at the end.
The show — a vehicle for nuanced chapters about racism, parenthood, sexism and police violence all within a comedy — ended its eight-season run this year without ever winning the outstanding comedy series crown or trophies for lead actors Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson.
The series earned a prestigious Peabody Award and other awards – including multiple NAACP Image Awards — but top Emmys remained out of reach. It got one, for hairstyling, in 2020. This year it got two nominations: hairstyling and costumes.
The series was a network TV rarity: A depiction of a prosperous, tight-knit family of color, the Johnsons, with Black creators shaping their stories.
Anderson did score an impressive seven best comedy actor nominations in a row, plus four additional bids for producing when “black-ish” earned best comedy series nominations in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2021.
‘SEVERANCE’ NOT CUT OFF
“Severance,” Apple TV+’s vicious satire of office culture, managed to charm Emmy voters with 14 nominations.
“Severance” is set in a shadowy corporate headquarters where employees have agreed to get a chip implanted in their brains that separates the personal life from office life. Though conceived before the pandemic, it arrived just as many white-collar workers were making their first tentative steps back to the office — and questioning why.
The show — written by newcomer Dan Erickson, with all episodes directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle — is drenched in paranoia about what corporate work does to people and became one of the most acclaimed series of the year.
Adam Scott stars as the leader of a group who work under bright florescent lights and wander down endless antiseptic corridors, cut off from the world outside. In Season One, the series morphs from satire to thriller as some employees start questioning what is happening to them.
Among the show’s nominations are a berth in top drama series and a best writing honor. Scott earned a lead actor nod, Patricia Arquette got one as a supporting actor and Stiller for directing the episode “The We We Are.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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