Sterling K. Brown, left, and Ron Cephas Jones in "This Is Us," one of several new TV shows in contention for the drama series Emmy. (Paul Drinkwater / NBC)
“Game of Thrones” won the Emmy for drama series the last two years, but, with its seventh season pushed back to a July premiere date, it’s ineligible to compete this time around.
Would “Thrones” — which will sport a seven-episode run for the upcoming season before wrapping up its saga in year eight — have pulled off the Emmy hat trick? We’ll never know. But history isn’t on its side. “Law & Order” is the only drama to win the series Emmy as late as its seventh season, and that was something of a make-good as it had been nominated five times previously without winning.
So we’ll have to wait a year for a return trip to Westeros. In the meantime, we’re going to have a new Emmy winner … and the usurper will probably be one of the great new shows that premiered this year. Here’s a look at the category:
Claire Foy in "The Crown." (Alex Bailey / Netflix)
“The Handmaid’s Tale”
“This Is Us”
“Better Call Saul”
Rutina Wesley, left, and Dawn-Lyen Gardner in "Queen Sugar." (Skip Bolen Warner Bros. Entertainment)
Besides “Game of Thrones,” the other notable absence here is “Downton Abbey,” nominated for each of its six seasons. (Its first earned a nod for limited series.) Lucky for Anglophiles and voters who can’t resist sumptuous, intimate dramas about British families, there’s “The Crown.” The new Netflix series will easily fill the “Downton” tea-and-crumpets slot and could well win the Emmy for its superb craft, smart writing and excellent acting. It wouldn’t be the most cutting-edge choice, but it’s the show that probably has the most appeal for the Television Academy’s older voters.
Then again, if voters came of age in the ’80s (which will still render them ancient to their kids), another Netflix freshman series, the sci-fi horror throwback “Stranger Things,” could have the edge. It almost certainly will be nominated, having already won the top prizes at the SAG Awards and from the Producers Guild. Yes, it premiered in July, but people haven’t forgotten its swift-moving, immersive storytelling.
Broadcast networks haven’t scored a drama series nomination since “The Good Wife” earned a nod for its second season six years ago. NBC’s addictive melodrama “This Is Us” should put an end to that dry spell as it earned solid reviews and grew its viewership over the course of its 18-episode first season. It’s a show that could make even the most hardened curmudgeon reach for the tissue box — probably minutes after complaining about some contrived plot line or another.
Elisabeth Moss in "The Handmaid’s Tale." (George Kraychyk / Hulu)
The fourth new drama likely to find favor is “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Hulu’s unflinching adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel. Current events have given the show’s cautionary tale an added relevance, which has catapulted coverage of the series to the op-ed pages. Hulu has never been much of an Emmy player, but the streaming service has never had a show as great or topical as this one. If it’s not nominated, there should be a march on the Television Academy.
If four new series are going to make it in — and maybe five, if the provocative, star-studded “Westworld” keeps HBO’s dominance in this category going — then some old favorites are going to have to step aside. “House of Cards” has been nominated for all four of its seasons; “Homeland” for four of its five. Both series still have strong bases, but they’re also at the point in their runs where some fatigue has set in.
Meanwhile, “Mr. Robot,” nominated last year for a first season that saw its star, Rami Malek, win the drama actor Emmy, went a bit off the rails in its second go-around, baffling and annoying even its most dedicated fans. Malek might return to the Emmys, but the year’s strong freshman class will probably crowd the show out of the series category.
There were also a couple of sci-fi newcomers — “Legion” and “American Gods” — delivering knockout visuals and inventive storytelling that surpassed “Mr. Robot’s” second year. Emmy voters have been traditionally a bit slow in casting aside favorites, even when their current seasons haven’t been on par with the past. But there’s too much great television right now for that to happen. It doesn’t mean it won’t. This is, after all, still the Emmys.
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