Emmy season is upon us yet again! Emmy nominations were announced Thursday, July 12th, with “Game of Thrones” leading the pack at 22 nominations. As we speed toward the September 17th telecast, Awards Circuit is taking a look at all of the major categories. Each acting, writing and directing nominee must choose one episode to be judged on. The series nominees all submit six episodes. Each Friday, we will watch all the nominated episodes in a given set of categories and provide a power ranking of the nominees. Check here for all of our articles in the series.
The Writing categories have been home to many a shocker. “Master of None” won their sole Emmys in this category two years in a row. “Black Mirror: San Junipero” beat frontrunner “Big Little Lies” in this category last year. “Friday Night Lights,” “The Hour,” and “Sherlock: His Last Vow” all were surprising winners over other frontrunners. Will this year provide any other surprises? Check out our analysis of the nominated episodes to find out.
Best Writing in a Drama
“The Americans” – “Start” – Written by Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg
Plot: The Jennings family face a choice that will change their lives forever.
The series finale of “The Americans” puts the Jennings family in a truly wrenching decision. The 80s set spy thriller forgoes the exciting thrills in favor of a more wrenching family drama. After six seasons of espionage and lies, it’s incredibly satisfying to watch the family unit take central stage. A moving sequence set to “With or Without You” leaves one emotional. From there, it’s an expertly calibrated ending that gives us a wrenching, yet satisfying moment for our central characters. Shows have often won for their finale episode. In fact, “Friday Night Lights” surprised everyone by winning its first above the line Emmy in this category for its final episode. The Emmys have warmed to the show over the years, and even given it a few awards. With it ending, this may be the perfect way to send them off in proper fashion.
“The Crown” – “Mystery Man” – Written by Peter Morgan
Plot: A salacious government scandal hits close to home for Elizabeth and Philip. Elizabeth retreats to Scotland for the rest of a difficult pregnancy.
“The Crown” works mainly for its spectacle of production value, rather than soaring storytelling. The episode at hand features a strong culminating argument between Elizabeth and Philip that works really well. However, much of the rest of the episode bores. Everything about the season culmination feels dutiful rather than dramatic. There’s a large contingent of the Emmys that clearly loves “The Crown.” Yet, those that don’t won’t be swayed. The fact the series went down to 8 nominations from 13 last year doesn’t bode well for it.
“Game of Thrones” – “The Dragon and the Wolf” – Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Plot: Everyone meets in King’s Landing to discuss the fate of the realm. In Winterfell, Sansa confronts Arya. Sam reaches Winterfell, where he and Bran discover a shocking secret about Jon Snow.
Before taking a year off, “Game of Thrones” was coming off a two year winning streak in this category. Upon its return the show brought together all of its disparate characters and had them all meet. This final episode gives us answers on some of the biggest “Game of Thrones” mysteries, features a trademark sprawling action set piece and adds on a long awaited romance to boot. Still, there is a bit of rust in the armor of HBO’s behemoth. The recent season (its penultimate) was not as well received as those in the past. This episode in particular features some of the more glaring quibbles in terms of plot holes and fan service. It’s possible the series roars back at the Emmys. However, HBO has to compete with some heavy hitters on streaming in order to do so.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” – “June” – Written by Bruce Miller
Plot: Offred reckons with the consequences of a dangerous decision while haunted by memories from her past and the violent beginnings of Gilead.
Few moments in TV this year are as haunting as the Handmaids led to gallows in the opening moments of season two. The show wastes no time sending us back to the horrors of Gilead. This possesses some of the most potent, threatening and interesting moments of the second season, which becomes repetitive quickly as time goes on. Additionally, the episode gives Offred (Elisabeth Moss) plenty of ammo to begin plotting her crusade against Gilead. “The Handmaid’s Tale” won this award last year. However, it contends against “Game of Thrones,” which won this category two years in a row. “June” could win it a second time. However, the series finale of “The Americans” or fellow drama nominee “The Crown” could rob both incumbents of another win.
“Killing Eve” – “Nice Face” – Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Plot: MI5 security officer Eve Polastri is bored in her job and yearns for a more exciting life. When a Russian politician is murdered, Eve is tasked with protecting the only witness and soon finds herself on a collision course with a violent and extraordinary assassin, Villanelle.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge displays the trademark wit that made her such a hit in comedy. “Killing Eve’s” dialogue is potent and lethal at all points. The intricate character work ties in nicely with the expertly woven plot. Our two main characters are introduced efficiently and seem tied to each other, even though they are far apart. It’s a tango of wits that’s electrifying. Pilot episodes usually do very well. However, shows usually never win Writing if they are not nominated in the Series category. “Killing Eve” takes the “Unreal” mantle of new, critically acclaimed show that breaks into the acting and writing categories, and nothing else. The show’s buzz puts it in the middle of the pack, but the Emmys would’ve had to go crazy for the series for it to have a competitive shot.
“Stranger Things” – “Chapter Nine: The Gate” – Written by The Duffer Brothers
Plot: Eleven makes plans to finish what she started while the survivors turn up the heat on the monstrous force that’s holding Will hostage.
The kids are back to take on the Upside Down. The submitted episode wisely focuses on the kids’ heroic exploits in regards to the central monster. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) gets another strong showcase. Still, it’s the gaggle of teens and pre-teens on a mission that give this the dash of fun and nostalgia people love. However, the show’s trademark nostalgia seems to have worn off. Yes, there’s still a great deal of charm to the retro throwback. However, its five nominations is down drastically from eighteen the past year. Last year also didn’t reap any above the line wins. It’s a long-shot for the Duffer Brothers to walk away with the writing award.
- “The Americans” – “START”
- “The Handmaid’s Tale” – “June”
- “Game of Thrones” – “The Dragon and the Wolf”
- “Killing Eve” – “Nice Face”
- “The Crown” – “Mystery Man”
- “Stranger Things” – “Chapter Nine: The Gate”
Best Writing in a Comedy Series
“Atlanta” – “Alligator Man” – Written by Donald Glover
Plot: As “Robbin’ Season” dawns on Atlanta, things escalate when Earn and Darius pay a visit to Earn’s uncle, “The Alligator Man.”
Glover welcomes us back to the world of Atlanta with a fast food restaurant robbery gone wrong. The episode brings us deeper into the world we’ve already signed on to learn more about in season one. “Robbin’ Season” ups the stakes. The majority of this episode looks at the urban legend of the Alligator Man. Earn ends up in the middle of a domestic dispute with ties into this mythical, fearsome man. It’s a fun opener to the season and probably stands out more between this and “Barbershop.” “Atlanta” is the hot returning show this year and it increased its nomination tally year over year. Still, vote splitting could lead to something else coming out ahead.
“Atlanta” – “Barbershop” – Written by Stefani Robinson
Plot: Al runs into a series of obstacles while trying to get his hair cut.
This episode of “Atlanta” reads as much more classically funny. Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) wants a haircut, but his barber (Robert Powell) takes him on a wild goose chase. The two travel all around Atlanta fulfilling his barber’s outlandish errands. It’s a fun ride, but the joke only repeats itself until it ceases to be funny any longer. Much like Paper Boi being carted around, we get restless. If voters are looking for a more overtly comedic choice, they might go with this. However, “Atlanta” stands a better shot at winning for its season opener, “The Alligator Man.”
“Barry” – “Chapter One: Make Your Mark” – Written by Alec Berg and Bill Hader
Plot: A disillusioned hit man wants to start a new life after following his quarry to an acting class.
The pilot of “Barry” delivers on more than the simple logline suggests. Yes, Barry (Bill Hader) is a hitman who, upon attending the acting class of his latest mark, catches the acting bug. Much of the charm of the pilot has to do with the introduction of the world of the acting class. The send up of LA involves a hack teacher (Henry Winkler) and narcissistic wannabe actors with varying degrees of lack of talent. Yet, Bill Hader looks upon this world with a wide-eyed enthusiasm that’s infectious. Voters clearly love “Barry,” as the HBO comedy scored 10 nominations. Pilots often do well here, and this could be the best shot to bring down “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Still, its other nominated episode features quite an emotional wallop that changes the series. Voters may be torn on which episode to pick, which could doom the show’s chances.
“Barry” – “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast and Keep Going” – Written by Liz Sarnoff
Plot: After a shootout at the airstrip, Barry must make a tough decision to avoid capture. Sally worries her performance in MacBeth will be compromised and ruin her chance at impressing a top talent agent.
The seventh episode of “Barry” takes the series to the next level. The episode begins with a truly defining decision that sets a new tone for the series. It’s still got quite a bit of comedy to it. Sally (Sarah Goldberg) appears hilariously frazzled as she prepares for what she hopes is her big break. However, the episode belongs to Bill Hader’s masterful performance in the title role. While this may be the turning point episode, it faces a harder path to victory. Voters typically go with the Pilot episodes for new series as it provides an introduction for all that are unfamiliar. Additionally, this category typically rewards more overt comedic episodes like the pilot. Still with “Master of None” and “Louie” each taking home two prizes in their prime, the writing branch may be open to different definitions of what makes a winning comedy tape.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – “Pilot” – Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino
Plot: Midge Maisel has the perfect life. She is supportive of her husband’s dream of becoming a stand up comic until he bombs on stage and blames her, leading Midge back to the comedy club and an act that might change her life.
Amy Sherman-Palladino’s trademark voice shines through from the first moments of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Few pilots shine like this one. Midge Maisel flies off the screen from scene one as she gives the toast at her own wedding. The failings of her marriage give way to her entrance to comedy in interesting and believable ways. Sherman-Palladino treats all her characters with dignity and respect. Plus, she knows how to write zingers like no one else. On talent alone, she would win for this perfect pilot. While “Atlanta” and “Barry” both have two nominations, this does allow for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” to win if they both split their votes.
“Silicon Valley” – “Fifty-One Percent” – Written by Alec Berg
Plot: In the season five finale, Monica is suspicious of PiperNet’s early success. The team races against the clock when their future is threatened. Richard makes a surprising move.
“Silicon Valley” has been nominated for a writing award every season and has never won. In fact, it has never won any above the line awards (only 2 below the line ones for its second season. This year’s submission is unlikely to change that. The season finale features a lot of fun one liners as the team scrambles to save their new internet. However, that’s the same plot as every other episode submitted of “Silicon Valley.” It might also be the same plot for every episode of the show. One of the smarter things this season of “Silicon Valley” has done is to give Monica (Amanda Crew) more of a voice. However, this reads as another token nomination for the show that Emmys like, but never love enough to give it a trophy.
- “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” – “Pilot”
- “Atlanta” – “The Alligator Man”
- “Barry” – “Chapter One: Make Your Mark”
- “Barry” – “Chapter Seven: Loud, Fast and Keep Going”
- “Atlanta” – “Barbershop”
- “Silicon Valley” – “Fifty-One Percent”
Best Writing in a Limited Series or Made for TV Movie
“American Vandal” – “Clean Up” – Written by Kevin McManus and Matthew McManus
Plot: Peter is forced to reckon with his actions and attempts to learn lessons in the aftermath of the documentary. But the investigation might not be over.
Netflix received much praise for their ingenious satire on the “Making a Murderer”/”Serial” investigative form. “American Vandal” investigates an act of vandalism where an entire high school faculty has their car tagged with dick drawings. The final episode proves the series is more than just a winking spoof. Dylan Maxwell, the wrongfully accused frat bro, rejects the assumption that he doesn’t have anything going for him. The finale episode submitted still delivers on the fun of the format. However, it carries a surprising amount of warmth and gravitas as well for a show about dick drawings. The Emmys did not nominate “American Vandal” in any other category, which all but eliminates its chances. Still, the writing categories usually go for the buzzy title and “American Vandal” has the most buzz from the average person.
“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” – “House by the Lake” – Written by Tom Rob Smith
Plot: Minneapolis architect David Madson is forced to go on the run with Andrew Cunanan.
Ryan Murphy’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” is a misnomer. The show was more about assassin Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). It starts with the titular murder and works backwards to the impetus of Cunanan’s disturbances. The submitted episode works best as an engrossing two hander. David Madson (Cody Fern) conveys fear as his kindness places him in the hands of a murderer. It’s harrowing and engrossing. It walks into this category as the frontrunner. The first “American Crime Story” won this award two years ago. However, no other Ryan Murphy miniseries has won the category. Even “American Horror Story” wasn’t nominated until season three. Even if “Gianni Versace” runs away with the Emmys, it could stumble here, as frontrunners often do. If so, what is the buzzy crowd-pleaser that will take its place?
“Godless” – Written by Scott Frank
Plot: In the 1880s American West murderous outlaw gang leader Frank Griffin hunts for ex-protege Roy Goode. Frank’s chase leads him to La Belle, New Mexico – a town inhabited, after a mining disaster, almost entirely by women.
Netflix’s western succeeds at populating the town of La Belle with interesting characters. Mary Agnes (Merritt Wever) stands out among the crowd as the woman who takes charge of a town in duress. The relationship between true rugged cowgirl Alice (Michelle Dockery) and outlaw Roy (Jack O’Connell) also sparks some of the best moments. However, the plotting of the miniseries sets its sights on the wrong focus. For a show about a town of women, it centers its conflict over Roy running away from outlaw boss Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels). Still, the Emmys gave it seven nominations, six of which are part of the Primetime ceremony. That’s the second most of any of the nominees. It stands a chance, but this doesn’t seem to be the place where voters will reward it.
“Patrick Melrose” – Written by David Nicholls
Plot: Patrick learns of his father’s passing and must travel to New York to collect his remains, whilst struggling with drug withdrawals.
What starts as a tale of a drug addicted playboy with daddy issues becomes much more interesting the more the series goes on. Most of that can be attributed to the kinetic direction of Edward Berger. The script has some crackle in it as well. With much of the dialogue coming from stream of consciousness through Patrick (Benedict Cumberbatch), Nicholls nails a unique, entertaining voice. However, the writing makes it seem like the audience is in an echo chamber, much like Patrick. The series did well in the above the line nominations, but still trails some of its fellow nominees. Voters love Cumberbatch’s projects in the past, with “Sherlock: His Last Vow” even winning this category in a surprise upset. It’s unlikely “Patrick Melrose” will surprise, but there’s a slim chance for it.
“Twin Peaks” – Written by David Lynch and Mark Frost
Plot: Picks up 25 years after the inhabitants of a quaint northwestern town are stunned when their homecoming queen is murdered.
David Lynch returned to TV with the latest installment of “Twin Peaks,” his short lived 90s zeitgeist hit. The revival received mixed reviews thanks to its ambitious, yet cloudy series of events. The show’s storytelling definitely recalls typical Lynch tropes. However, its clues never amount to much either literally or thematically. The images are provocative, which helps it more in directing. Still, even in its heyday, “Twin Peaks” never won any above the line races. The revival underperformed, not even making it into acting categories or the Best Miniseries race. This eliminates its chances at pulling out a win here.
“USS Callister (Black Mirror)” – Written by William Bridges and Charlie Brooker
Plot: A woman wakes up on a Star Trek-esque ship where the crew praise their all knowing and fearless captain.
“USS Callister” shows an impressive amount of visual and storytelling wit as it conjures a vintage “Star Trek”-esque horror. However, the theme of bullied people becoming bullies has been done before and done better. The writing is crisp and easily digestible, but it’s hardly revelatory. This is the category where surprises often happen. Just last year, “Black Mirror: San Junipero” won over the presumed juggernaut “Big Little Lies.” If there’s an upset brewing, “Black Mirror” could win again. However, this entry is much less buzzed about than “San Junipero” was last year. Will another buzzy title claim its award?
- “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” – “House by the Lake”
- “USS Callister (Black Mirror)”
- “American Vandal” – “Clean Up”
- “Patrick Melrose”
- “Twin Peaks”