Tuesday, May 9, marked the official deadline for 2023 Emmy submissions. That date traditionally isn’t a show-stopping milestone on the road to Emmy, but it sometimes offers a handful of surprises. After May 9, the Television Academy firms up their massive ballots for Phase 1 Emmy voting, which starts on June 15 this year. Those ballots often feel like candy to Emmy watchers who often pour through them looking for surprise inclusions or omissions that aren’t necessarily publicized in other outlets.
But by May 9, actors and series have to firm up their category placements. Mostly, we know exactly where certain series or actors will land. However, this year as with years past, we’ve had a degree of suspense around some potential category fraud. Category fraud games are always very tricky games to play in awards voting.
On the plus side, a borderline lead performance could comfortably nest in a supporting race where they’re more likely to win. Or a series could run to a less competitive category where it stands the chance to receive more nominations and potential wins where changes were nil previously.
On the down side, actors could risk exclusion by overreaching for higher placement. Also, series run the risk of the Television Academy calling their bluff. The most famous example of this stems back to 2015 when Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black denied a petition for the hour-long dramedy to compete in the comedy races. There was a precedent for the inclusion: hour-long series like Glee, Jane the Virgin, and Shameless all competed in the comedy races. Orange itself competed in 2014 as a comedy series and won three awards in that genre. But when the Television Academy sought to officially define a comedy series as a 30-minute program, it allowed longer series the opportunity to petition for inclusion in to the comedy races. They just didn’t feel Orange actually met the definition of a comedy.
This year, there are some notable category changes and clarifications that could shake up potential winners in the race. Let’s take a look.
Brian Cox Pulls the Ultimate Logan Roy
Would this be an Emmy column without talking about HBO’s Succession?
Over the past few weeks, Variety’s Clayton Davis reported selection of lead category placements for the Roy children in the wake of ***SPOILER*** Logan Roy’s (Brian Cox) death. While it certainly cleared the way for a probably Sarah Snook Emmy win in the relatively weaker lead actress race, it pitted Jeremy Strong and Kieran Culkin against each other in the lead actor race. While category splitting was always a risk here, the general sense was that one of the two actors could pull ahead, entirely depending of course on the remainding series episodes.
However, celebrated actor Brian Cox took a page from the Logan Roy book by declaring himself a candidate for Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Succession‘s final season. It’s an incredibly ballsy move given that Cox’s season four material effectively emerges as 2 full episodes, a quarter of a third, and a guest appearance in a fourth (so far). Based on those numbers, Cox could qualify for a guest actor Emmy, which he would most definitely win. I never thought he’d go that far down given previous nominations in the lead actor category. My best guess was that Cox would tangle with Matthew Macfadyen in the supporting race for the win, but even that was a challenge given the huge number of contenders for slots from the series. We’re now predicting Macfadyen to face Alexander Skarsgård, Alan Ruck, and Nicholas Braun for the win. Despite Macfadyen’s brilliant work again Snook in multiple buzzy episodes, Cox probably would have emerged victorious there as recognition for his work across all four seasons of the series.
But that is not to be.
When the placement announcement became public, Twitter lit up and proclaimed that Cox really does hate Jeremy Strong. Television gossipers have long rumored that Cox and Strong hated each other, even attributing the sudden series finale to their inability to work together. Of course, it’s entirely gossip lacking any confirmation. Still, by going lead, Cox puts into play a scenario where, should he receive a nomination, he siphons enough votes from either Strong or Culkin that he costs Succession a lead actor trophy. It would be a historic nomination as no drama series has received three lead actor nominations before, but it feels like a tough split to break.
Who would benefit? The most likely beneficiary would be Better Call Saul‘s Bob Odenkirk. His Emmy story already boasts a significant number of pluses: a long beloved character and character actor who have never received acting Emmy attention, a critically adored series finale, and a shocking and much-reported heart attack that reportedly nearly cost Odenkirk his life. Odenkirk feels overdue, and should Cox receive the lead actor nomination, he could be the beneficiary of too many Succession options on the table. That’s likely what robbed Game of Thrones of its series finale directing nomination: voters couldn’t decide between the three episodes nominated and Ozark‘s Jason Bateman surprised with the win.
The Real Surprise Is No Surprise
Leading up to May 9, Emmy gossip pointed to both The White Lotus‘s Jennifer Coolidge and Better Call Saul‘s Rhea Seehorn moving into the lead actress race, which as I’ve already said is widely perceived to be competitively weaker this year. However, when the May 9 dust settled, Emmy watchers were all surprised by… nothing. Both Coolidge and Seehorn opted to submit in the supporting actress category. The Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category does offer the option to expand up to 8 nomination slots based on number of submissions, but it’s a far more competitive category. The White Lotus, Succession, Better Call Saul, Yellowjackets, House of the Dragon, and many, many more high profile drama series all prominently feature incredibly strong supporting actress contenders. It makes sense that both actresses considered the move.
In Coolidge’s case, she previously won an Emmy for The White Lotus in the Supporting Actress in a Limited Series category for playing Lotus‘s Tanya McQuoid. However, since Mike White carried the character into the second season of what was originally to be an anthology series, the Television Academy would likely deem The White Lotus a drama series. I still believe it’s still a limited series, and I will die on that hill. But HBO appears to be submitting the series in the drama series races.
Coolidge appeared to be waiting for Sarah Snook to make her official move as her Shiv Roy performance would be significantly difficult to beat given Succession‘s near-guaranteed dominance this year. Once Snook decided to move to lead, Coolidge stayed in the supporting race where she remains the front runner to win a second Emmy for the role. And who could beat her? Tanya McQuoid remains the most quoted, the most meme’d character in television right now. And who doesn’t love Jennifer Coolidge, particularly when she so desperately pleaded, “These gays! They’re trying to murder me!”
Rhea Seehorn’s move to lead actress, to me, always seemed far more dubious. Seehorn, fantastic in Better Call Saul for year, only received her first Emmy nomination last year in the supporting actress category. That’s after Emmy watchers had long given up on her nomination. So, even though lead actress is weaker this year, there was absolutely zero guarantee that Seehorn would show up there given Saul‘s smaller number of episodes in contention. She’s likely to gain a second nomination this year in the supporting race, but it’s definitely not guaranteed.
The beloved The White Lotus: Sicily could merit three nominations between Coolidge, Aubrey Plaza, and the celebrated Meghann Fahy. A fourth nomination for Haley Lu Richardson is more challenging but isn’t out of contention. The Television Academy clearly loves that series, and Season 2 is widely considered to be even better than Season 1. Succession‘s J. Smith-Cameron is almost certain to receive her first nomination as is Elizabeth Debicki for playing Princess Diana in the subdued fifth season of The Crown. Seehorn even faces stiff competition from the recent birthday girl Carol Burnett whose role in the final season appeared in enough episodes to force her into the supporting race.
In the end, the placements for both actresses feel right, but Coolidge’s choice to remain in the supporting race pretty much guarantees her a win.
Unless Succession powers Smith-Cameron to a surprising win as Schitt Creek‘s final season did for Annie Murphy.
Peacocking Mrs. Davis as a Limited Series
Emmy watchers were initially perplexed at the curious case of Peacock’s Mrs. Davis. On one side, it hails from Lost impresario Damon Lindelof. But so did The Leftovers which remains one of the most egregiously overlooked series in Emmy history. It featured Betty Gilpin, a 3-time Emmy nominee for Netflix’s Glow, in another star-making, committed, and fiercely intelligent performance. But she also gave a star-making, committed, and fiercely intelligent performance in last year’s Gaslit, which was nearly completely ignored in the 2022 Emmy race.
And then there’s the series itself.
Mrs. Davis is an oddball series. Something that conflates artificial intelligence with broad embraces of faith, religion, Jesus, and the Holy Grail. The first few episodes feel very dense, full of exposition, and just plain batshit crazy. But the series evens out and becomes increasingly compelling as it progresses. Gilpin’s fantastic lead performance, peppered with her now trademark intelligence and wit, brings the viewer into the madness and gives the audience a viewpoint from which we can relate to the often out-of-left-field material.
Funny thing, though… Most Emmy watchers considered the series a drama series.
That is until Peacock announced that Mrs. Davis would shift to the limited series/anthology category, leading to tweets like this:
This is one way to cancel a show https://t.co/lQNV5rUJmAContents
— Rob’s Cheaper, Ad-Supported Version (@r0bwatson) May 9, 2023
Granted, there’s no way to know whether or not series creators Lindelof and Tara Hernandez intended for the series to continue beyond its current incarnation. I’ve seen the remaining episodes, and everything is completely wrapped up in ways that make logical sense. The move likely stemmed from a realization that Mrs. Davis — no matter how critically acclaimed it is — would be completely buried in the drama series category.
In the limited series/anthology categories, it stands a far better shot at nominations, particularly for Gilpin’s awards-worthy lead performance. The series could now also contend in the direction, writing, and supporting actress (Elizabeth Marvel) categories in addition to the limited series / anthology category itself. So, it’s likely a good move overall. They still face an uphill battle, but the hill feels less steep here in this playing field.
This Year’s Sneaky Orange
As I said above, Netflix’s Orange is the New Black tried to remain in the less competitive comedy series races after the Television Academy issued rules forcing longer series in the drama categories. The Television Academy called their bluff, and Orange remained in the drama series race where it still netted a win for Uzo Aduba in the Supporting Actress in a Drama Series race. This year, AppleTV+’s Schmigadoon! joins Orange in the “hand slapped by the Academy” hall of shame.
Last year, Schmigadoon!‘s first season competed in the comedy races but only received nominations in the Creative Arts categories of Choreography, Music Composition, Music and Lyrics, and Production Design, winning for Music and Lyrics with “Corn Puddin’.” Schmigadoon! It also received Critics Choice, Hollywood Critics Association TV Awards, and guild awards all in the comedy categories.
But this year, Apple appealed to the Television Academy to include the far-better Season 2, sort of subtitled “Schmicago!,” in the obviously less competitive scripted variety category. It was a bold move, for sure, although certainly a head-scratcher. The move would have pitted the series against such series as Saturday Night Live and A Black Lady Sketch Show. The rules for the category require at least six episodes that are primarily scripted but include an aspect of improvisation.
Schmigadoon!, though, featured characters and a thematic storyline that fully continued from its first season. It also feels tightly scripted, particularly since it’s largely a musical comedy. Regardless of placement, the season remains an incredibly funny and far more engaging entry that features a bevy of fantastic performances, particularly from Dove Cameron who should be a god damned giant star after this second season.
I totally understand why Apple wanted to make the shift: the series will almost certainly be shut out of the comedy series category thanks to far more high profile series. And that would be a shame. But it would also be a shame to see it benefitting from blatant category fraud in a scenario where it faces off against something like Saturday Night Live.
So, we wait for the Emmy ballots to appear on June 15. Until then, we have Succession episode 8, reportedly the most shocking of the season according to creator Jesse Armstrong, to keep us warm.