Critics’ Conversation: The 2022 Emmy Nominations Are a Mix of Inspired and Inane

DANIEL FIENBERG: HAPPY EMMY MORNING! Sorry. I’m a little pumped up. It’s the most exciting morning of the year for people who love television and like to measure success or failure based on the opinions of a couple thousand industry insiders, rather than a pair of sage TV critics, like us!

So where do we want to start?

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Are we going to lead with excitement over Rhea Seehorn finally breaking through and earning her first nomination for Better Call Saul? Or our excitement for fresh faces like Yellowjackets and Severance or Abbott Elementary making big splashes? Or the well-earned title sequence nomination for the jubilant opening to Pachinko?

Or do we want to lead with rage that that was the only nomination for Pachinko and that Reservation Dogs received a whopping zero nominations, tying with Better Things?

Light side or dark side of the Force, Angie?

ANGIE HAN: Life’s short — I say we start with the good stuff. Like, yes, Rhea Seehorn finally getting the Emmy nomination she’s so richly deserved for years now in her final outing as Kim Wexler! I’m not even going to quibble over the fact that she got it for Supporting Actress when she’s so obviously a lead.

To your list of exciting newcomers I’d add Squid Game. It’s rare for a non-English language series to get Emmys attention at all, and I’m thrilled that so many of the individual cast members got their due, too — I’d been hoping for Lee Jung-jae and maybe Jung Ho-yeon, but Park Hae-soo, Oh Yeong-su, and Lee You-mi are just as deserving. I guess Emmy voters found that first season as addictive as we did.

And while I don’t know that Ted Lasso and The White Lotus need to be taking up quite as much space in their respective categories as they are, the upside is that they had room for some less obvious choices: Sarah Niles, Toheeb Jimoh and Sam Richardson for the former (Richardson should have gotten his nod for The Afterparty, but whatevs, I’ll take this guest nod), and Jake Lacy and Natasha Rothwell among many, many others for The White Lotus.

D.F.:  It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: It’s a 550+ show universe, but Emmy voters very much get fixated on just a small corner of that diverse landscape, so you get Succession and Ted Lasso and The White Lotus, all prohibitive favorites now, getting 20+ nominations apiece, and that means a lot of categories become the dominion of just a couple shows. Like that supporting actress in a limited or anthology category, where you have seven nominees and they’re all from White Lotus or Dopesick. It isn’t that any of those actors is exactly undeserving, but that’s a huge category, and when even somebody like Laurie Metcalf for The Dropout can’t break through, that’s strange. Fortunately, Metcalf got a nomination for Hacks, not that I worry about Laurie Metcalf and awards. She’s fine. But anyway, that’s how you end up with something like We Own This City getting zero nominations. Man, Emmy voters just do not like David Simon shows.

Sorry. You wanted to start with positivity.

Double nominee Sydney Sweeney! I don’t always like the leering and lascivious way Euphoria treats her, but you can’t say she doesn’t act the snot out of whatever tawdry material she gets. She was even good in that pervy Amazon thriller she did. Speaking of The Voyeurs — we were not — why can’t the Emmys fix the outstanding TV movie category? You have HBO’s The Survivor and then “movies” based on Rescue RangersReno 911!Ray Donovan and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. There are so many movies dropping every week on streaming. How did we get here?

Sorry. Positivity!

Double nominee Harriet Walter for Ted Lasso and Succession! Jerrod Carmichael nominations all over the place! Double directing nominee Hiro Mirai! (Wait, but no Station Eleven nominations for the series or for Mackenzie Davis?) Bill Hader nominations everywhere!  (Wait, but no Barry nomination for Sarah Goldberg?)

I tried to be positive.

A.H.: … And that’s the other reason I wanted to start with the positive: Because the more I look at this list, the more even the stuff I’m glad about reminds me of stuff I’m not so glad about.

I’m delighted that so many Severance actors got in there, and disappointed that Britt Lower wasn’t one of them. I’m glad Margaret Qualley and Andrew Garfield got the recognition they deserved, but annoyed that Inventing Anna and Dopesick edged out Maid and Under the Banner of Heaven in Best Limited Series. I can’t complain too much about Succession‘s incredible success since I love it, too — but does it really merit one-third of the drama acting slots?

Pachinko‘s opening credits deserve the nomination they got, but the rest of the show deserves a bunch more nominations they didn’t get. At least they did better than fellow newbies Reservation Dogs, Somebody Somewhere, The Afterparty, Minx, Our Flag Means Death and We Are Lady Parts, with their combined zero nominations.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m pleased though not surprised that Abbott Elementary and Only Murders in the Building fared as well as they did (although: Where’s the love for Selena Gomez? There I go, complaining again). But surely Hacks and Ted Lasso could have scooched over to make room for some of those comedies.

Sigh. All right, Dan. Time to go full dark side. What are your biggest gripes?

D.F.: The “Wait, you nominated TKTK, but you didn’t nominate TKTK?!?” game is one of my favorites.

Oscar Isaac for Scenes from a Marriage but not Jessica Chastain? You mentioned voters missing out on Britt Lower for Severance, which is absolutely true, but all of those nominations and no Tramell Tillman either? Finally nominating Rhea Seehorn — actually a double nominee, since she’s up for something called Cooper’s Bar as well — and leaving out Patrick Fabian, Michael Mando and Tony Dalton? Continuing to nominate What We Do in the Shadows but none of the cast members?

Honestly, my biggest gripes are things I’ve touched on throughout already. It’s ridiculous that Better Things ended without a single directing nomination for Pamela Adlon, though I don’t want to start pointing fingers at shows in that category and I’m very amused at the multi-cam nomination for BET+’s The Ms. Pat Show, which I guarantee you nobody saw coming. Being unable to even acknowledge Reservation Dogs for writing or guest acting is madness. The lack of below-the-line technical nominations for Pachinko is even more ridiculous than the lack of big nominations for the Apple TV+ drama.

And that’s without getting into categorization things. Seehorn, as you say, should have been a lead for Better Call Saul. Oh well. How the heck is Julia Garner a lead in Inventing Anna, which is structured entirely around Anna Chlumsky’s character? Was Donald Glover REALLY a lead actor on Atlanta this season? How many episodes were built around his character?

OK! Bigger picture! The TV Academy didn’t break nominations out by network/streamer this year, reflecting shifts in TV viewership and production and whatnot. Still, our spectacular colleague Lesley Goldberg did the duties and it was a tremendous morning for HBO/HBO Max with 140 nominations, and that’s with a lot of under-performers, including several of the shows you mentioned — plus Julia, which at one point felt like a middle-brow slam dunk, but may have confused viewers who didn’t think it was a comedy. Netflix got 105 nominations and that’s leaving a lot of potential nominations on the table for original movies. Apple TV+ finished fourth (with Hulu between them) and that’s with the Pachinko near-shutout and the total absence of Shining Girls and Slow Horses.

What jumps out for you, big picture?

A.H.: Netflix coming in second for total nominations is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but I do think it’s interesting that, as Lesley also points out, those 105 noms are across 35 different shows (including Dave Chappelle’s The Closer, which scored two despite the loud public outcry over its transphobic material).

In other words, no one Netflix title is a juggernaut the way Succession, The White Lotus and Hacks are for HBO/HBO Max, or the way Ted Lasso is for Apple TV+. Netflix’s best-performing program this morning was Squid Game with 14 nods, making it only the seventh-most nominated title overall.

Again, it’s still something for Netflix to celebrate! And the streamers in general are still faring much better than broadcast, which — Abbott Elementary notwithstanding — were mostly met with shrugs in the major categories. Not even CBS’ Ghosts got in. It’ll just have to settle for being very popular with actual viewers — much like Paramount Network’s Yellowstone, another highly rated series that got completely shut out.

I could go on all day about the Emmys’ many good decisions and bad ones, and I’m sure you could too. But in the interest of wrapping things up, I think I’ll close out by giving thanks for some of the little things.

Congrats to Star Wars Visions, maybe my favorite Star Wars TV show, for getting into the Short Form Animated category. And to Chadwick Boseman and Jessica Walter for their posthumous nominations for Marvel’s What If…? and Archer, respectively. How satisfying that Severance, Squid Game and The White Lotus were among those recognized for their incredible production design. I don’t think anyone’s shocked that Stranger Things‘ “Dear Billy” got notice for music supervision, but I thank that team for making Kate Bush ubiquitous this summer.

Am I saying any of this makes up for Reservation Dogs going woefully under-appreciated? Of course not. But that’s the Emmys for ya. I’ll take what I can get.

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