Emmy Episode Analysis: Will All Writing Categories Reward New Shows?

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, Emmy season.

To prepare for TV’s biggest night (not looking at you, SuperBowl), we are going to dive into each of the major categories. Each acting, writing or directing nominee must submit one episode to be judged on. For series nominations, the series submits six episodes to be judged on. Each Friday, we will tackle a new set of categories to examine and predict the winners after watching (or re-watching) each submitted episode.

Our third week delves into the writing categories for Drama, Comedy and Miniseries/TV Movie. These performers had to submit episodes for the ballot phase. Shows are able to get nominated for multiple episodes, but each episode will take up another nomination slot. Somehow “Big Little Lies” was able to achieve a nomination for the season, likely due to the entire show being written by one writer and submitted as a whole.

Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series

“The Americans” – “The Soviet Division”

IMDB Synopsis: Phillip and Elizabeth race against the clock as a life hangs in the balance, while Stan faces an uncertain future.

After breaking through in a major way last season, it seems “The Americans” has regressed a bit. Part of that is the less exciting, more subdued recent season that just aired. For what it’s worth, “The Soviet Division” acts as a high point for the season, as well as just being the season finale. The moments Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) share with their fake adopted son/fellow operative Tuan (Ivan Mok) act as the strongest of the episodes. However, compared to some of the high stakes emotional fireworks of the past, this one merely acts as a promise of better things to come next season.

“Better Call Saul” – “Chicanery”

IMDB Synopsis: Kim and Jimmy face off with an adversary. Jimmy looks to Chuck’s past to secure his future. Jimmy loses an ally and gains another.

The Emmys treat “Better Call Saul” as the scrappy, yet inferior, younger brother of “Breaking Bad.” Undeterred by losing as frequently as they get nominated, “Better Call Saul” returns to the writing category for the first time since its inaugural season. The submitted episode, “Chicanery,” won me over on a show that traditionally has done little to excite me personally. Concentrating on the feud between brothers Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean), both in and out of court, the conflict electrifies. Electrifies is an apt description, as Chuck’s electromagnetic hypersensitivity comes to head in an organic and heartbreaking way. This was an excellent submission for a show that seems to only get better.

“The Crown” – “Assassins”

IMDB Synopsis: As tensions with Phillip increase, Elizabeth spends time with her old friend Porchey. Churchill’s portrait is painted for his 80th birthday.

While “Downton Abbey” may have ended, “The Crown” is more than ready to take its position in all categories as the resident “stuffy British period piece.” Strong performances by John Lithgow and Claire Foy gives “The Crown” much of its appeal, particularly in this episode. While Elizabeth’s (Foy) burgeoning friendship with Porchey occupies much of the episode, the pay off falls short of the impact it thinks it achieves. The real standout storyline of the episode is the painting of Winston Churchill (Lithgow). Much of the praise around “The Crown” seems to be around its high production value. The writing, while competent, does little to rouse.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” – “Offred (Pilot)”

IMDB Synopsis: Offred, one the few fertile women known as Handmaids in the oppressive Republic of Gilead, struggles to survive as a reproductive surrogate for a powerful Commander and his resentful wife.

Hulu’s latest offering “The Handmaid’s Tale” announces itself as a force to be reckoned with almost immediately. The show’s vivid portrayal of a futuristic society built upon the abuse of women couldn’t be more potent. The writing is particularly smart, vivid and evocative within the voiceover of Offred (Elizabeth Moss). Having been captured and separated from her child, Offred exists currently as a handmaid, a servant assigned to a home specifically for the purposes of procreation. Compared to fellow nominee “Westworld,” the pilot episode here does a great job world building without sacrificing character or cohesion. It’s an impressive and buzzy frontrunner.

“Stranger Things” – “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”

IMDB Synopsis: In a small Indiana town, the disappearance of a young boy sparks a police investigation.

What started as a piece of 80s curio has cemented itself in the modern lexicon for now. The pilot for “Stranger Things” takes the old-fashioned nostalgia J.J. Abrams “Super 8” had, but marries it with an intriguing mystery plot that carries. What makes the writing of this episode particularly interesting is how it captures the time, while also developing interesting character dynamics. The central squad of kids have a specific nerd chemistry that is both old fashioned, but feels current in the resurgence of nerd culture. The introduction of Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) could feel out of place. However, the strong structural elements of the mystery integrate it well into the episode.

“Westworld” – “The Bicameral Mind”

IMDB Synopsis: Ford unveils his bold new narrative; Dolores embraces her identity; Maeve sets her plan in motion.

If there’s one thing HBO knows about, it’s ambition. With “Game of Thrones” not on the air this Emmy year, the premium channel fills the void with this genre blending blockbuster. The culmination of a secretive first season is heavy on the science fiction elements. With season standout Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) figuring out the central mysteries, we are treated with the robotic members of the western park rebelling against their creators. It’s ambitious for sure, but not engaging for a viewer who is not fully bought in to the lofty premise. With so many nominations, the show can sweep. However, it could just as well find detractors.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. “The Handmaid’s Tale” – “Offred”
  2. “Better Call Saul” – “Chicanery”
  3. “Stranger Things” – “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
  4. “Westworld” – “The Bicameral Mind”
  5. “The Americans” – “The Soviet Division”
  6. “The Crown” – “Assassins”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. “The Handmaid’s Tale” – “Offred”
  2. “Westworld” – “The Bicameral Mind”
  3. “Better Call Saul” – “Chicanery”
  4. “Stranger Things” – “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
  5. “The Crown” – “Assassins”
  6. “The Americans” – “The Soviet Division”

Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series

“Atlanta” – “B.A.N.”

IMDB Synopsis: Paper Boi appears on Montague as a guest and must put up with a tedious interview.

Few episodes on TV this year have made me laugh out loud as much. The talk show at the center of “B.A.N.” is a squeaky clean local show, complete with laughably amusing infomercial style commercials. While on the show, Paper Boi is taken to town by a panel of politically correct advisors who feel his comments on Caitlyn Jenner were transphobic. The entire episode is a hilarious send up of the lengths political correctness has taken. A side story on a black man who identifies as white and is looking to transition walks a neat tightrope and pays off in a perspective shifting gut laugh moment. With the show doing so well in writing/directing comedies, the Emmys could give this episode the win to anoint a new favorite show.

“Atlanta” – “Streets On Lock”

IMDB Synopsis: Earn awaits bail after the boys get arrested for their shooting incident.

Donald Glover’s series about a duo of down on their luck rappers who rise to prominence in their community rose quickly in the critical community. The second episode of the first season, “Streets On Lock” wrings laughs out of painful observations out of the two settings the characters find themselves in. Earn is stuck in a holding pattern of jail waiting to be processed for the shooting incident and tries, in vain, to stay out of the drama of the people who frequently find themselves in this station. Meanwhile, “Paper Boi’s” fame gives him an episode best scene interacting with three young kids and their, at first, disapproving Mom. The episode does not stick out in the same way “B.A.N.” does, but it acts as a good entry point as to why people enjoy the series.

“Master of None” – “Thanksgiving”

IMDB Synopsis: Over a series of Thanksgivings from the ’90s to the present, Denise settles into her sexuality and faces the challenge of coming out to her family.

In many ways, “Thanksgiving” has emerged as the episode of TV for the year. It’s a painfully heartfelt decades long look at Dev’s (Aziz Ansari) best friend, Denise (Lena Waithe), and her journey to come out to her family. The half hour is funny to be sure. Ansari and Waithe, who co-wrote the episode, have the most fun sketching out Denise’s mother and wisecracking aunt. However, the episode is unique and specific in how it sketches out the coming out journey for a black woman. “Master of None” won this award last year. It has a good chance of repeating if newcomer “Atlanta” and juggernaut “Veep” have their votes split among their multiple episodes.

“Silicon Valley” – “Success Failure”

IMDB Synopsis: The guys struggle to find funding for Pied Piper’s video chat app to keep up with their rapidly growing user base. Erlich faces resistance from Big Head’s father. Jack steps on Gavin’s toes at Hooli. Richard gets sage advice.

After a few revelatory early seasons, “Silicon Valley” has settled into the stereotype of being the tech version of “Entourage.” The show spins its familiar wheels, with the central storylines providing very little room for character growth among the group. This season opener sets up the latest hurdles the Pied Piper team will have to clear, but manages to still keep the men in stasis. In fact, the only real new laughs were between Jack and Gavin, as their partnership doesn’t quite mesh well. The show manages to increase in nominations, but wins evade them. Until they submit a stellar episode, they’ll never make it past just being a nominee.

“Veep” – “Georgia”

IMDB Synopsis: Selina and her team travel to Georgia (the country, not the state) to oversee the country’s first free election.

“Georgia” is filled with some great moments, but doesn’t quite hold the title of most memorable “Veep” episode. What distinguishes this episode are the fantastic guest performances. Stephen Fry hams up the disgusting factor as Georgian candidate Nikolai Genidze. Sally Phillips continues to be a riot as Minna Häkkinen, Selina’s condescending frenemy. Her feelings of Nikolai deepen the character and make her less of a one note character. While these detours are fun, the episode is lighter on the biting satire that has become so trademark of “Veep.” There were better episodes this season, although this one is by no means a dud.

“Veep” – “Groundbreaking”

IMDB Synopsis: Selina and her team prepare for the long awaited opening of her library.

The season finale of “Veep” attempts to join both the present and the past throughout. As Selina prepares to break ground on her Presidential library, we flash back to her stints in the mental hospital following her Presidential loss and also her early political career. The jokes between the different time periods play well, even if they can get a bit redundant. However, the story builds in a satisfying and funny way, culminating in a big reveal for next season. If voters are looking to reward an episode from the juggernaut show, this is the clear favorite over “Georgia.”

My Personal Ballot:

  1. “Master of None” – “Thanksgiving”
  2. “Atlanta” – “B.A.N.”
  3. “Veep” – “Groundbreaking”
  4. “Atlanta” – “Streets on Lock”
  5. “Veep” – “Georgia
  6. “Silicon Valley” – “Success Failure”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. “Master of None” – “Thanksgiving”
  2. “Atlanta” – “B.A.N.”
  3. “Veep” – “Groundbreaking”
  4. “Silicon Valley” – “Success Failure”
  5. “Atlanta” – “Streets on Lock”
  6. “Veep” – “Georgia

Outstanding Writing in a Miniseries/TV Movie

“Big Little Lies”

IMDB Synopsis: The apparently perfect lives of three mothers of first graders unravel to the point of murder.

The epic HBO miniseries stands as one of the strongest book to TV adaptations thanks to the singular work of David E. Kelly. The tale of a group of first grade mothers whose feuds manifest themselves in a mysterious murder enraptured audiences and gained plenty of praise. What could pose as a chink in the show’s armor is the fact that the nomination is for the entire series rather than one episode. This makes it less of an easy watch. In addition, the strongest work is in the back half of the series, with some opening dialogue coming off a bit stilted.

“Black Mirror” – “San Junipero”

IMDB Synopsis: In a seaside town in 1987, a shy young woman and an outgoing party girl strike up a powerful bond that seems to defy the laws of space and time.

“San Junipero” is a fully contained, beautiful romance that spans decades, space and time. It’s ability to weave science fiction into this burgeoning romance without getting bogged down in exposition or world building is exemplary. It’s brilliant how it repurposes the past and our nostalgia for it in order to build its concept. At the center of it is the bond between Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis). The writers convey a clear dynamic between the two and amp the supernatural stakes up to emotionally satisfying levels. There’s a small but passionate fanbase for this episode, which puts it in the perfect position as a spoiler.

“Fargo” – “The Law of Vacant Places”

IMDB Synopsis: A twisted sibling rivalry leads to murder, mobsters and cutthroat competitive bridge in a small Midwestern town.

This season of “Fargo” felt in many ways like a parody of what made earlier seasons work. As we go through the pilot episode for this latest season, we are treated to some familiar iconography. We’ve got the chilly Minnesota locale, the comically overdone accents performed by renowned actors and a crime with the potential to balloon out of control. Ewan McGregor as twins from opposite sides of the track plays more as a gimmick than as a compelling direction. Luckily, Carrie Coon takes on the de facto Marge Gunderson role to give audiences hope for the season to come. The rest of the season played out as solid, yet disappointing, as the beginning. This hurts it in the hunt for Emmy gold.

“Feud: Bette and Joan” – “And The Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)”

IMDB Synopsis: The fallout from the Oscar nominations leads to underhanded tactics from Joan, while Bette relishes the opportunity to break a record.

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s epic “Baby Jane” feud came to a head for the public at the 1963 Oscars. With Davis but not Crawford nominated, the episode expertly chronicles how Crawford managed to accept Best Actress on behalf of Anne Bancroft, the upset winner. The script succeeds in dramatizing this well documented evening. It stands as the strongest episode of the series. However, the praise heaped on the episode helps it more in the directing category than writing, as it deals with the painstaking recreation on display.

“Feud: Bette and Joan” – “Pilot”

IMDB Synopsis: Cast aside by Hollywood, screen legends Joan Crawford and Bette Davis battle each other when they sign up for What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

Creator Ryan Murphy starts every project off with such great energy and flair. This is also true with the pilot for “Feud,” which sets the stage of the sexism of 1960s Hollywood. The episode is responsible for not only showcasing the making of this landmark film, but also providing the backstory for why both Davis and Crawford did not get along. The episode manages to illustrate the actresses’ differences, rather than baldly spelling them out for us. Even more interesting is the hostile Hollywood climate at the time. It’s a strong submission, but the Oscar episode is more lauded. In the end, the two may vote split and end up out of the running for a win here.

“The Night Of” – “The Call Of The Wild”

IMDB Synopsis: A controversy surrounding the defense puts Stone in the spotlight as Naz’s trial reaches its climax. 

Making Naz more of a complex figure throughout the show made for some interesting drama. However, despite a strong, compelling court case in this episode, the transformation of Naz never feels as satisfying as our introduction. It’s interesting that “The Night Of” makes it in this category for the finale. The miniseries expertly set up the premise in the pilot and made Riz Ahmed an overnight sensation. However, the final episodes lose some of the magic of the beginning. In tying up the ends of the story, one looks back wistfully at the ambition and promise of the pilot. Episode submission hurts the show in this category.

My Personal Ballot:

  1. “Big Little Lies”
  2. “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
  3. “Feud: Bette and Joan” – “And The Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)”
  4. “Feud: Bette and Joan” – “Pilot”
  5. “The Night Of” – “The Call Of The Wild”
  6. “Fargo” – “The Law of Vacant Places”

My Emmy Prediction:

  1. “Big Little Lies”
  2. “Black Mirror: San Junipero”
  3. “The Night Of” – “The Call Of The Wild”
  4. “Feud: Bette and Joan” – “And The Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)”
  5. “Feud: Bette and Joan” – “Pilot”
  6. “Fargo” – “The Law of Vacant Places”

Who do you think will win the Writing categories at the Emmys? Share with us in the comments.