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Five takeaways from the 2022 Emmy nominations

Jeremy Strong from HBO's Succession, which earned 25 nominations in this year's Emmy awards.
Macall Polay
Jeremy Strong from HBO's Succession, which earned 25 nominations in this year's Emmy awards.

When introducing the nominations for this year's Emmy awards, Television Academy Chairman and CEO Frank Scherma crowed about the number of entries, citing a record amount of TV production and lots of high-quality programs.

So why were so many categories dominated by performers from a handful of shows?

This dynamic showed up often in the supporting acting categories, as if academy voters couldn't be bothered to pay attention to the full casts of all eligible shows. Consider the supporting actress category for limited series, where there were seven nomination slots, all filled by actresses from just two shows: HBO's The White Lotus and Hulu's Dopesick. (The supporting actor category found room for a performer from one more show: Seth Rogen of Hulu's Pam & Tommy).

Awards show experts have fretted about this tendency for years, because it hints that TV academy voters haven't sampled a wide enough array of potential Emmy nominees and winners. Instead, there's a narrow band of shows which get multiple nominations in each category.

This year, HBO's comedic drama Succession topped the list of most-nominated shows, with 25 nominations, including best drama series. Among the eight slots for supporting actor in a drama, three of them are taken by actors from Succession.

Apple TV+'s Ted Lasso and The White Lotus are the next most-nominated shows at 20 nods each; as the most-nominated comedy, Ted Lasso also looms large in supporting categories with a total six nominees among the slots for best supporting actor and actress in a comedy.

Emmy voters did make room for a few new shows among major nominations, with ABC's breakout comedy Abbott Elementary scoring seven nominations, including best comedy series and best actress in a comedy for star/creator Quinta Brunson. Other series new to the Emmys which scored important nods: Hulu's Only Murders in the Building and its limited series Dopesick, Pam & Tommy and The Dropout; Apple TV+'s oddball triumph Severance and Showtime's Yellowjackets.

The Emmys even made a little history, advancing Netflix's blockbuster hit from South Korea, Squid Game, as the first non-English language TV series nominated for best drama series (the show got 14 nods overall, including five acting nominations).

Still, this year's Emmy nominations were a needlessly narrow slice of an industry which has never had more quality programming worthy of recognition. Here's a list of my biggest takeaways from the announcements made today.

Emmy favorites weren't punished for lackluster seasons

Jason Bateman and Laura Linney on Netflix's Ozark.
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney on Netflix's Ozark.

Cool as it was to see key nominations for new shows like Abbott Elementary, Severance, Squid Game, Yellowjackets and What We Do in the Shadows, voters showered nominations on returning favorites, even if their most recent seasons didn't inspire quite as much love from critics or fans.

Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel racked up nominations for best comedy as well as for stars Rachael Brosnahan, Tony Shaloub and Alex Borstein – despite a recent season that didn't quite measure up to past heights. Similarly, the stars of AMC's Killing Eve – Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer – were both nominated as best actress in a drama, though the finale season got skewered by many critics. Crushing reviews for the finale of Netflix's Ozark didn't keep voters from giving it a nod as best drama series, along with nominating stars Jason Bateman, Laura Linney and Julia Garner.

And I'm still trying to figure out how Larry David's HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm can get nominated as best comedy series but score no acting nominations at all.

Diversity was a mixed bag

Asian performers and shows centered on Asian characters did well this year, thanks to the success of Squid Game and actors like Sandra Oh and Saturday Night Live's Bowen Yang.

But with shows that featured lots of non-white characters either snubbed or not eligible – including This Is Us, Black-ish, Lovecraft Country, Bridgerton and Hamilton – the overall numbers of non-white nominees dipped significantly.

I counted 25 non-white nominees among the acting categories this year, down from 41 non-white nominees last year. In particular, this year we saw fewer Latino and Black nominees, which pulled down the numbers. That's a sad trend, given how many opportunities the TV academy had to highlight the work of non-white performers.

Controversy didn't make much difference

Despite the furor he generated from critics and advocates who called his standup special transphobic and homophobic – including me – Dave Chappelle scored Emmy nominations for his Netflix show The Closer. And despite the criticisms of some who felt the show may have exploited some of its female talent or presented young subjects in overly explicit situations, HBO's Euphoria also scored a best drama series nomination and a nod for stars Zendaya and Sydney Sweeney as best actress and best supporting actress in a drama.

Epic snubs, especially for shows on broadcast and cable TV

Mandy Moore on This Is Us.
Ron Batzdorff / NBC
Mandy Moore on This Is Us.

It was disappointing to see that series finale seasons for broadcast shows like ABC's Black-ish and NBC's This Is Us didn't get major nominations – especially because they were past Emmy darlings. Mandy Moore certainly deserved some recognition for her textured, complex and expansive portrayal of matriarch Rebecca Pearson on NBC's family drama. It was also odd to see one of TV's most popular shows, the Paramount Network's Yellowstone, snubbed here, especially star Kevin Costner.

Pamela Adlon's personal, insightful family dramedy for FX, Better Things, also was snubbed after its finale season, alongside the channel's groundbreaking comedy centered on Native American characters, Reservation Dogs.

Other stars who didn't fare so well: Jennifer Aniston, who saw co-star Reese Witherspoon snatch up the only best actress in a drama nomination for Apple TV+'s confused The Morning Show; Saturday Night Live stalwart Kenan Thompson (who got two nominations last year); David Hyde Pierce, who was so wonderful as Julia Child's husband on HBO Max's Julia; Samuel L. Jackson, who had a shot as star of Apple TV+'s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey; Selena Gomez, who was the only one of the three stars from Hulu's Only Murders in the Building who wasn't nominated in an acting category; movie stars Sean Penn and Julia Roberts, who appeared as Martha and John Mitchell in Starz's Gaslit.

And I was personally bummed to see Peacock's The Amber Ruffin Show snubbed, especially since the best variety sketch category repeated its two nominations from last year, A Black Lady Sketch Show and Saturday Night Live. (As I've noted before, the lack of nomination slots can lock out a lot of new shows featuring vibrant, non-white voices, like Showtime's Desus and Mero and HBO Max's That Damn Michael Che.)

Superheroes took a back seat

This year, the so-called "genre" show which got a nomination as best drama was Netflix's horror/supernatural drama Stranger Things. Last year, superhero shows like Amazon's The Boys and Marvel's WandaVision on Disney+ got major nominations. But superhero fatigue seems to have spread to Emmyland in 2022, resulting in major category snubs for Loki and its stars Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson.

A few cool extras

It was wonderful to see Better Call Saul star Rhea Seehorn finally get a nomination, even if it was for best supporting actress in a drama (since she is the most visible female character on the program, I'm assuming her submission as supporting actress was a strategy to land in a less competitive category – which worked). First-time nods for ace performers like comic Jerrod Carmichael (for SNL and his standup special Rothaniel), The White Lotus' Jennifer Coolidge, Euphoria's Colman Domingo and Andrew Garfield from FX's Under the Banner of Heaven, were especially gratifying. I also loved seeing Lizzo's Amazon series Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls shake up a best competition category usually dominated by RuPaul's Drag Race.

And I was personally hyped to see two important documentary projects on Black culture get nominations: W. Kamau Bell's We Need to Talk About Cosby on Showtime and Netflix's jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, both nominated as best documentary/non-fiction series.

Winners in the 74th Emmy awards will be announced live Sept. 12 on NBC.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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