2017 Primetime Emmy Categories Reviews

Cast members Dern, Kidman, Woodley, Kravitz and Witherspoon pose at the premiere of the HBO television series "Big Little Lies" in Los Angeles

The nominations for the 2017 Emmy Awards are out! And, even though after every award season I vow never to review the nominees again because this is all bullshit…I always end up back here a year later, reviewing the nominees. So that is what I am going to do, again. I’m going to try review as many categories as I possibly can. I pride myself in reviewing categories that most other television reviewers don’t touch; however, unlike last year, I actually have a full time 40-hour a week job, so it’s going to be tougher. But, again, I’ll try!

However, there’s something different I am doing this year. For many of the performance and program categories, each nominee submits an episode that is supposed to be representative of their best work. While I would usually watch those episodes again (even if I’ve already watched the show’s season) and rank the nominees primarily based off those episodes, this year I’m not going to do that. While I think there are benefits to the episode submission rule, I don’t truly believe voters watch all of them. I think voters only watch the episode submissions of shows that they don’t watch. So that’s pretty much the direction I am going in. I’ll mostly be giving a general ranking of the actors and programs in the categories. If I run across a show that I do not watch regularly, or I have not watched the episode, I’ll watch the submission and make a note of that in the review, and hope that I can be fair in my rankings. Otherwise, the tapes are irrelevant to me this year.

Note #1: These are NOT predictions. These are my subjective picks as to who I think should win each category. I’ll probably write another post closer to ceremony where I actually attempt to predict the winners. But, for right now, this is more of a “If I was an Emmy voter” sort of situation.

Note #2: I will be continuously updating this page, adding categories throughout the summer. Bookmark this page and check back every week. Use the “Find…” link to search for your favorite categories. Categories are ordered by “importance.” This message will be deleted once I have finished and reviewed all the categories I wanted/can. I may still be reviewing categories after the winners have been announced.

*For a full list of the nominees, go to Emmys.com (or wikipedia 2017 Emmys).

Outstanding Television Movie: I think the only possible outcome for this category that would annoy me is if Sherlock: The Lying Detective wins, because it’s not a movie. It’s just an episode of a TV series that only produces three episodes a year. At this point, the Emmys needs to change its rule and allow it (or force it) to compete as a Drama Series. Or a Comedy Series! I don’t care! I just don’t think it belongs here…even if it is 90 minutes of solidly good television and John Watson coming to terms with his dead wife made me tear up a bit. Otherwise, this is strongest set of nominees this category has had in years. For once, HBO has two great movies (usually, I think there’s one that’s great and one that, well, isn’t). The Wizard of Lies is a really comprehensive look at George Madoff’s lies and deceptions and the harm he caused his family and, more significantly, the hundreds of people and organizations who trusted him. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a story about the daughter of Henrietta Lacks, Deborah, writer Rebecca Skloot, and their uncovering of Lacks, and the cancer cells her doctors extracted from her in the 50’s, without her permission, for further (decades of) research into the disease. The movie features great performances by Oprah and Rose Byrne, both who should have been nominated.

Seeing the Dolly Parton Christmas special that aired on NBC get a nomination was a pure delight, because I thought voters would simply vote for another stodgy British period piece in its place. It’s an inspired nomination; and I feel Dolly Parton and co. really fought for it, so go them! I think the first special deserved a nomination even more, but seeing it win this year would almost be like giving both specials the Emmy. However, if I had to pick a winner, I’d go with Black Mirror: San Junipero. Was this my favorite Black Mirror episode? No. Personally, Shut Up and Dance and Nosedive were the two strongest episodes of the season. Honestly, I thought Black Mirror would be eligible as a miniseries, but I guess I can understand why it wasn’t. Each “episode” is its own story with its own cast. “San Junipero” was really popular with fans, so I can see why the producers chose it to represent the series. This episode, about a time traveling couple who have to make an important decision regarding their future, is as poignant and sweet as it is thought provoking. Even if it’s not my favorite Black Mirror special, it shows how great Black Mirror is that a “middle of the pack” episode could still beat all the nominees. I hope it wins. I think it might have a chance.

Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special: This is a strong selection of television documentaries. My favorite of the bunch would have to be Ava DuVernay’s 13th, which was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year. The documentary has a clear thesis which is, “Even though the 13th Amendment made slavery illegal, our police and prison culture still enslaves and targets many people of color today.” I actually already knew a lot of the points this documentary was making before watching it, but it’s still an engrossing and all encompassing look at this country’s racism problem, from Reconstruction, to right this second. The Amanda Knox documentary is chilling and beautifully shot, and proves that no country has a perfect legal system. The Vice special, A House Divided is a really informative look at how/why this country became so polarizing that someone like Donald Trump could be elected president. However, I think, in trying to be “fair,” the special did not go far enough in admitting how much racism (against our country’s first black President) affected our polarization. In any case, I abhor pretty much all the Republican members of Congress, and this documentary certainly didn’t change my mind. LA Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later has some interesting insights and stories (particularly one of the daughter of the Korean shop owners whose business was burned down by the rioters), but The ESPN OJ Simpson documentary and 13th cover a lot of the same ground more poignantly. And the final nominee is Ron Howard’s Beatles documentary, which is cute and fun…but I’ve sort of resented it ever since it beat Beyonce’s LEMONADE at the Grammys for Best Music Film. #sorrynotsorry

Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking: I have read the rulebook for the Emmys many times, and I still don’t quite understand the difference between this category and the other Documentary Special category. I want to say this category features Oscar nominees, but then Ava Duvernay’s Oscar nominated 13th is nominated in the other category. As far as I know, the producers have to attach a written word statement with their submissions. Also, it’s a juried award, so…there may not be a winner this year? I doh-no! Shrug emoji! In any case, what we have are five more exceptional and thought-provoking documentaries. In any case, the clear winner is the epic, Oscar winning OJ: Made in America masterpiece miniseries. It’s like 3 documentaries in one. It talks about OJ Simpson, the person, the clown car that was trial, the racial tension during the early 90’s, how Soon Ja Du got away with murder. It’s crazy. It’s messy. It features all sides. It should pretty much win all its categories. Not that the other movies aren’t good in their own right. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds is funny, touching, and heartbreaking to say the least, particularly the scene where a vibrant, yet clearly senile Debbie Reynolds accepts her SAG Lifetime Achievement award with Carrie by her side. LA 92, another documentary about the LA race riots is almost poetry. It features no current interviews or narration. It just plays the harrowing footage of the riots and newsreels during that time. The Oscar winning White Helmets is a 40 minute short film about brave volunteer aid workers in the heart of the Syrian Civil War. The PBS special about the Oklahoma City bombing is a very informative look about the dangers of the NRA, COUGH sorry, white supremacy. It’s very good, but it’s not as artistic and creatively made as the other four nominees in the category.

Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series: I think all the nominees are great, and there isn’t a choice that I’m particularly passionate about. I think if I had a real choice, I’d vote for The Keepers, because, unlike the other nominees, it’s more of a miniseries that tells one story with a beginning, a middle, and conclusion. The documentary is a gripping story about a nun schoolteacher whose murder in 1969 remains an inconclusive mystery. The documentary, similar to the Oscar winning movie Spotlight, is an exploration into the abuse and sexual exploitation young people are subjected to by Catholic priests and other religious leaders, and the Archdiocese attempt at covering up these offenses. It’s chilling, and it’s incredibly depressing. I wasn’t as moved as I was with Netflix’s 2015 documentary series Making a Murderer, but both documentaries do a very good job of exposing the dark crevices of our American justice system. The other nominees are more anthology series, akin to 20/20 and Dateline*, except with a higher budget per episode, and more artsy. If I had to choose between 30 for 30, Chef’s Table, Planet Earth II, and American Masters, I’d choose 30 for 30, because the documentaries are genuinely interesting and unique from each other (and I say that as someone who only watches sports on TV when it’s the Olympics).

*I learned something today! 20/20 and Dateline don’t submit for the Primetime Emmys. They submit their broadcasts for the “News and Documentary Emmys.” So between all the categories the Primetime Emmys offers, and the other award specifically for news broadcasts and cable news special reports, the Emmys gives plenty of honors for nonfiction television……I wish it did the same for youth media.

Outstanding Music and Lyrics: I always hesitate when I suggest a new category should be added (because, frankly, the Emmys already have enough categories), but I sort of wish there were two separate “Music and Lyrics” categories, one for dramatic songs, and the other for comedic. Because, how can I possibly compare Common’s Black Lives Matter rap anthem for Ava DuVernay’s 13th to the five other funny songs nominated. I feel especially bad because, even though the lyrics are deep and the melody is tight…it is not my favorite nominated song. It’s like a solid third. Not bad…but I still feel bad. Anyway, the other nominees below that are good in their own right. Jimmy Kimmel’s “The Ballad of Claus Jorstad (Devil Stool)” is funny, but considering its low view count on Youtube, it didn’t make much of an impact when it first premiered. “Jing a Ling a Ling” from the Mickey Mouse Christmas special is cute, but conventional. I’m SO happy Rachel Bloom could get another nomination this year for Best Song. Lead Actress would have been preferable, but I’ll take this! She, along with her co-songwriters were nominated for “We Tapped That Ass” (which, to date, is Santino Fontana’s last performance on Crazy Ex Girlfriend). It’s a funny song, but there were better songs from this season, Like, at least ten better songs. I was personally hoping “Love Triangle” would get nominated. I don’t know if Rachel Bloom and co only submitted this song for consideration, or the voters decided that “We Tapped That Ass” was the most worthy. Someone did something wrong. If “Love Triangles” had received a nomination, then that would have been my top choice. If  “We Tapped That Ass” gets the win, I’ll pretend it is for “Love Triangles.” Humph!

My number two choice is SNL’s “Last Christmas,” which was Kenan and Chance the Rapper’s tribute to Barack Obama. It’s funny. It’s dope. It’s sentimental. It is important. Man, watching the video from time to time still tears me up. I miss you, Obama…….Anyway, my top choice, by a mile, is Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s “Hell No,” which was pretty much a parody of Beyonce’s “Hold Up.” Frankly, the beat and the lyrics are better than “Hold Up.” That drinking Sprite instead of water line always gets me. Tituss Burgess is a genius on the show, and the Lemonading episode might end up being his magnum opus. But, let’s give credit where credit is due. Jeff Richmond is the best music composer and producer on television, and anytime he gets a nomination for his music, my chest becomes too small for my heart. I hope he wins. He needs to win. I will riot if he does not (or at least bust someone’s car window).

Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series: I made this same point last year: I really like this category, but I don’t like how it’s practically taken over by “webisodes” of traditional length television series. I think they should either have their own category, or compete in the “Interactive” television category. I think this category should only be reserved for original, independent series. So, my top pick is Brown Girls, which is a seven episode webseries about the love lives of a gay Indian young woman and her African American best friend. The show is going to be adapted into an HBO series, so I’m guessing the large block of HBO voters probably pushed for this nomination to give the title some buzz before its television premiere. But it’s certainly deserving a nomination, and, given the competition, a win. Hack into Broad City is always fun, and it’s nice that Jacobson and Glazer are “Emmy nominees” since their actual show gets no support. Los Pollos Hermanos Employee Training is funny and quicky and a nice companion to Better Call Saul. Fear the Walking Dead: Passage and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: Slingshot seem like regular episodes of their series, but just cut up in 5 minute chunks, but they’re well-made nonetheless. But, like Children’s Program, I don’t think voters care much about this category and it shows in the nominees.

Best Choreography: Lemme be real with you…I used to be OBSESSED with So You Think You Can Dance. The first season I watched was the third season and it was my jam for, maybe, five seasons after that (I think Melanie Moore winning was the last full episode I watched). And then I just…stopped…watching. And I haven’t been able to watch since then. I don’t want to get into why I don’t like the show anymore. But, I will say, that those artsy fartsy, metaphorical Mia Michaels-cloned contemporary dances don’t do anything for me anymore. So all the routines from both SYTYCD nominees (Mandy Moore and Travis Wall) that I watched specifically for this post are just sort of “meh.” I also didn’t really much care for Derek Hough’s “Kairos” routine for Dancing with the Stars. Great dancer. Great showman. But his other routines for the show have been better. So, it’s really between Lala Land‘s Mandy Moore and Fred Tallaksen. Yes, Mandy Moore is nominated twice. I generally like Moore’s choreography because it’s relatively simple, accessible, and it’s easy to dance to (at least, it looks that way). Her “On Top of the World” routine, which opened season 23 of Dancing with the Stars is lively and a lot of fun (although the aerial cinematography for the outdoor portion helps.) Ultimately, my choice is for Tallaksen, who was nominated twice before for Malcolm in the Middle. This year he’s nominated for three short routines he choreographed for The Real O’Neals. The routines mostly showcase the dancing skills of the show’s star Noah Galvin. One is a gay Superbowl dream sequence. Another is a West Side Story-inspired wrestling round. And the last is another dream sequence to the original song “Boyfriend.” The choreography serves the overall plot of the episode well, and, in cases like these, the choreography is sufficient enough for a win. Frankly, I encourage voters in the future to look beyond DWTS and SYTYCD because there’s great, creative, fun choreography everywhere, and it’s not all that interesting when those two shows dominate the category. (In fairness, neither of those shows won last year, but still!)

Outstanding Commercial: Seriously, take 10 minutes out of your day to watch all the commercials nominees. It’s fun! I think this is a nice category in theory, I just feel like so many of the nominated commercials are “pro-social;” and, this year, 4/5 of the nominees fit that bill. Usually, there’s, at least, more variety. I don’t think I needed the mediocre women’s march commercial to be included (Oh, look! They’re all standing in front of a white screen, answering a “Why do you do this?” question with “Because…” so original). Or another “Year in Review” Google commercial (seriously, are voters gonna nominate this every year??) Those could have been replaced with commercials that are actually selling stuff (gasp!) However, the other three commercials are fine. The John Malkovich Squarespace commercial is cute and funny. And I also really like the Ad Council’s “We Are America” spot featuring John Cena. I think those two commercials were perfectly cast, with the right famous lead actors for the jobs. My personal favorite would have to be the John Cena spot, just because I think it’s a great, well-written, thoughtful message in a simple package, and John Cena (considering his base) was brave to participate in the commercial. However, Ad Council’s other nominated commercial, “Love Cam,” and all its tearjerking glory, would be a worthy understudy for the podium.

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