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Emmys 2017: the 11 biggest surprises from this year’s nominations

The internet memed Barb from Stranger Things into an Emmy nomination.

The 2017 Emmy nominations were always going to go in a bit of a different direction than we’ve gotten used to in recent years. Not only is there more TV to choose from than ever, but some of the awards’ most reliable reigning champions — like Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey — weren’t eligible this year, leaving room for newcomers such as Stranger Things and This Is Us to sweep in and make their presence known.

But even while we expected a fair amount of upheaval, we still found ourselves pretty surprised by some of this year’s nominations — and omissions — in ways that ranged from great to bad to downright confusing. (And to be clear: “Surprises” isn’t the same as “snubs”; I’m not surprised that Netflix’s Stranger Things cleaned up while the final season of HBO’s excellent drama The Leftovers was almost completely shut out, but I’m not happy about it, either.)

Here are the 11 biggest surprises from the 2017 Emmy nominations.

Rami Malek isn’t nominated in the category he won last year

Mr. Robot
Think he just heard the news?

The second season of Mr. Robot might not have premiered to nearly as much acclaim as the first, but it’s still a shock to realize that star Rami Malek — who won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2016 — wasn’t even nominated in the category this time around. The 2017 drama races certainly got shaken up by a wave of popular new shows in the field, including This Is Us and Westworld (both of which earned nods in the Lead Actor category), but it’s still rare to have a previous winner not get a repeat nomination the following year.

If it’s any consolation to Malek, though, he was far from the only surprising omission in the acting categories...

Legacy actors Ted Danson and Rita Moreno were shut out

My thoughts exactly.
NBC / Netflix

NBC’s The Good Place and Netflix’s One Day at a Time are both excellent comedies. With that said, it was unlikely that the Emmys would recognize either show as such, given the awards’ history of honoring the same comedies over and over again — and lo, that’s exactly what happened this year with another wave of nominations for Veep and an eighth consecutive Outstanding Comedy Series nod for Modern Family.

Still: Danson and Moreno both gave fantastic supporting performances on their respective shows. Moreno grounded One Day at a Time with an endlessly fun turn as a passionate family matriarch; Danson delivered one of the year’s best comedic performances, period, as a jaunty celestial being. But the most surprising thing about their omissions is that Danson and Moreno qualify as the kind of entertainment royalty Hollywood loves to recognize — and they still couldn’t snag a nomination, which is a real shame.

Three seasons later, Kristen Schaal earns BoJack Horseman’s very first nomination

Netflix’s animated comedy/existential drama BoJack Horseman is a show that purposely defies definition — which, unfortunately, undoubtedly hurts it as far as awards contention goes. But Kristen Schaal, who plays unstable child star turned adult train wreck Sarah Lynn, managed to break the show’s “streak” of going unrecognized by the Emmys with a well-deserved voiceover nod for “That’s Too Much, Man!” — one of the show’s best episodes to date. BoJack Horseman still deserves more accolades than it gets, but it’s still a thrill to see Schaal included here.

Pamela Adlon cracks the competitive Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy category

Adlon’s nomination in this category is another great surprise. FX’s Better Things — which Adlon created, writes, directs, and stars in — is the kind of intimate, bracingly funny, and generally underwatched series that tends to draw critical acclaim and not much else. But Adlon is fresh off her TCA Awards nomination for Individual Achievement in Comedy, and her name came up again on Emmy nomination morning alongside more predictable names like Lily Tomlin and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. It’s exactly the kind of nomination we might not have placed bets on but are very excited to see.

Kathryn Hahn is finally acknowledged for her work on Transparent

Both Kathryn Hahn and Rabbi Raquel are the best.

Kathryn Hahn has been churning out some of television’s most reliably sharp performances for years, portraying an impressively wide range of characters — from an exhausted mom (Girls) to a casually merciless campaign manager (Parks and Recreation) to a horny-as-hell writer (I Love Dick). But she’s been a particular bright spot on Amazon’s Transparent, where she took the role of Rabbi Raquel and made every inch of the character’s vulnerability and determination feel achingly real. Despite the Emmys’ ongoing affection for Transparent and its actors, this is Hahn’s first individual nomination, and it’s a welcome relief.

Girls helps two actors rack up double nominations

The final season of HBO’s Girls was one of the show’s best, but the only people to get acting nominations out of it were those who competed in the guest categories. While Becky Ann Baker earned a (long-overdue) nod for playing Hannah’s long-suffering mother, Matthew Rhys and Riz Ahmed’s Girls nominations — for their respective roles as two men who collide into Hannah’s life to varying disastrous levels — meant that both actors earned two nominations apiece. (Rhys is also nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama for The Americans; Ahmed is also nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series, for The Night Of.) Nice work, Boys!

RuPaul’s Drag Race becomes a true reality show awards contender with seven (and a half) nominations

RuPaul's Drag Race
Ru better werk.

After eight seasons on the air, RuPaul’s Drag Race has officially begun to dominate the reality competition categories in a fittingly spectacular fashion. The show earned seven nominations — for reality competition series, reality host, makeup, hairstyling, casting, editing, and costumes. (The “half” I’m referring to comes courtesy of a nomination for “Untucked,” Drag Race’s aftershow that airs behind-the-scenes footage on YouTube the morning after every episode.)

Though RuPaul once famously declared that he’d rather have “an enema than an Emmy,” the charismatic host has nevertheless now brought his world of gender-bending drama more into pop culture’s mainstream consciousness than ever — and in fact, he won the Emmy for reality show host in 2016. No matter how Drag Race fares in September, getting this many nominations is a clear sign that the show has traveled well outside its initial audience of preexisting drag fans.

But the reality show game has a new double threat in an unlikely pair: Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg

This show is real, and it’s spectacular

Yes, you heard me right: Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg are officially an Emmy-nominated duo. The two earned a joint nomination for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program category for their work on Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, an amazing show title that immediately answers the question, “Why?” Why NOT, I say! Besides, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler paved the way by sharing a nomination in 2016 for hosting SNL, and I like to think they’d approve of their successors being none other than Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg for the novelty factor alone.

Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” earns its very own nod

Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw
If you haven’t watched Yorkie and Kelly fall in love yet, what are you even doing?!

Black Mirror’s anthology format — wherein each episode tells an entirely different story with an entirely different cast and creative team — works well for the show’s needs, but also makes the series a little tricky to categorize as far as awards nominations go. So even though I considered its gorgeous “San Junipero” chapter to be one of 2016’s very best TV episodes, I didn’t expect it to be recognized as such — but the Emmys proved me wrong. The episode was nominated in the “Television Movie” category, alongside offerings like HBO’s The Wizard of Lies and NBC’s Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love. An eclectic category for sure, but hey, do what you have to do, “San Junipero”!

Liev Schrieber collects three nominations — two of which are in the same category

In a curious twist, Liev Schreiber became this year’s most nominated performer by amassing not one, not two, but three nominations. Not only did he earn his third nomination for Lead Actor in a Drama for Showtime’s Ray Donovan, he also snagged two more in the Outstanding Narrator category, for HBO sports documentaries Muhammad Ali: Only One and UConn: The March to Madness.

Stranger Things’ Barb goes from ironic icon to Emmy nominee

Barb’s skeptical face was my face upon seeing this nomination

It’s true: Stranger Things’ breakout star Barb managed to elbow her way out of the Upside Down and land actress Shannon Purser an Emmy nomination in the Guest Actress in a Drama category. Purser, who made her TV debut with Stranger Things, joins the likes of The Americans’ Alison Wright (getting her first nomination for this crucial role), the titanic Cecily Tyson (nominated for playing Viola Davis’s mother on How to Get Away With Murder), and The Leftovers’ Ann Dowd (landing the show its first and only Emmy nomination ever).

I’ll be blunt: This is ridiculous. Purser’s time on Stranger Things as the show’s ill-fated teen slut shamer was brief, and more memorable for fans’ outsize reaction to her death than anything she did onscreen. More than most any other submission on the entire Emmys ballot, this nomination is a perfect demonstration of the lack of scrutiny among Emmy voters that shuts out deserving nominees every year in favor of something that broke through the pop culture zeitgeist.

In conclusion, the criminally un-nominated Rita Moreno may have said it best.


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