Why Selena Gomez Deserved a Nod, the Rise of ‘Abbott Elementary’ and More Emmys Takeaways From Variety’s Critics

The 2022 Emmy nominations, marking a year in which the TV industry roared back from early-COVID production slowdowns, seem as competitive as they’ve been in years. Though some select few shows continue to dominate their respective categories — here’s looking at you, “Succession” and “Ted Lasso” — newcomers like “Squid Game,” “Abbott Elementary,” “Severance” and “Yellowjackets” battled their way into the fold to challenge the heavyweights for their titles.

Variety’s chief TV critics Daniel D’Addario and Caroline Framke break down the list — what they’re delighted made it through the gauntlet, and what they wish Emmy had found room for.

Daniel D’Addario: I’d expected to feel as though this was the awards season of “Succession”-vs.-”Squid Game” — two very different visions of the competition for survival, themselves competing for dominance — but looking at this list, I’m not so sure. It’s an incredibly strong set of nominees both in terms of quality and audience response. (A personal favorite of mine, “Euphoria,” may be critically divisive, but I can’t think of another series this side of fellow nominee “Stranger Things” that catalyzed fan response in quite the same way.)

As we start with the top-level nominees, though, the thing I’m curious about lies in the Best Comedy race. With “Black-ish” (and, on the drama side, “This Is Us”) ignored in their final outings, ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” is the one Best Series nominee from a broadcast network. It’s up against “Only Murders in the Building” and a sextet of previous Best Comedy nominees — some of which the Academy has previously embraced in a very big way, and all of which lack the constraints of network television. I think there’s an argument to be made that a healthy broadcast environment is good for TV generally, and I wonder — with multiple acting nods as well as one for writing — if “Abbott” can go the distance.

Caroline Framke: At this point, I’d be a little surprised if it didn’t — and that would be fine by me.

Unlike the slightly slower burn of “Ted Lasso” becoming a minor phenomenon ahead of the 2021 nominations, “Abbott” was such a cross-platform sensation so quickly based on its perfect casting (quite rightly nominated this year) and the strength of its jokes (a fading art in the increasingly self-serious comedy category). As you note, the love for the show goes beyond its well-deserved acting nods, and there’s hardly been a more heartening awards season story than the rise of creator Quinta Brunson. Absent any love for fellow freshman comedy breakout “Ghosts” (a bit surprising!), “Abbott Elementary” taking up the broadcast network mantle in “Black-ish”’s absence would be a welcome development.

Still: I wouldn’t count out “Only Murders in the Building” as a possible spoiler for the ultimate comedy prize. Despite the Selena Gomez omission — a shame, as her salty performance so perfectly balances out the well-established slapstick rhythms of co-stars Steve Martin and Martin Short — the Academy clearly responded to it, which makes sense. “Only Murders” might not have quite the same lasting bite as a “Barry” or “Hacks,” or have inspired quite the rabid fanbase of an “Abbott” or a “Lasso,” but it very smartly combines sly humor with the sweet Upper West Side nostalgia of something like onetime favorite “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — a powerful combination, especially if the currently airing Season 2 sticks the landing.

D’Addario: I’m a big “Only Murders” fan — and I agree that the omission of Gomez is unfortunate. She gets the chance to do deeper and more emotional work in season 2, so all is not lost — but maybe one shouldn’t have to go to ravaging places to win a comedy acting prize! Taking nothing away from “Barry,” which I deeply admire, that show being considered a pace-setter for television comedy, as opposed to the dark drama with occasional jokes that it is, is an awards-season quirk I’ll never get. (And speaking of acting omissions, Sarah Goldberg did do powerful emotional work on the most recent “Barry” season — a performance that would have fit oddly into an acting category with “Abbott’s” Sheryl Lee Ralph and Janelle James, but which belonged at the Emmys in general.)

While it edges as close as anything on TV to “Squid Game” in terms of body count, I don’t know if there’d have been room for “Barry” on the drama side, though; coming after last year’s more anemic Emmys, it’s a bit startling to recall just how much TV there’s been over the past twelve months. (I was surprised, for instance, that there wasn’t room for Sadie Sink, the obvious acting breakout of the most recent “Stranger Things” episodes, even after the show seemed to explode across the TV landscape at just the right time.) Amidst the cacophony, though, I was pleased to see Rhea Seehorn finally break through for her role as the most intriguing supporting player on “Better Call Saul,” and to see that “Succession’s” chokehold on the acting races remains in effect. I can find the rubber-stamping of certain shows a bit excessive — and I don’t know that every single one of its many guest acting nominations was needed — but this is a single instance where nominating broadly across a talented ensemble feels merited.

Framke: Without taking up all our remaining space with my feelings on the hyper-concentration of supporting nods from a select few shows, I’ll just say that I wish more actors outside the overwhelming favorite series in each genre could’ve been recognized. Still: it’s hard to deny the uniformly stellar work on something like “Succession” (which went ahead and broke a “West Wing” acting noms record) or “The White Lotus” (which absolutely dominated the limited series supporting categories, to “The Dropout”’s ultimate detriment). Plus, I was genuinely thrilled to see true supporting standouts like Toheeb Jimoh and Harriet Sansom Harris join their many “Lasso” and “Hacks” castmates, respectively.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see Showtime’s “Yellowjackets” make such a strong showing in drama, especially for writing and directing. I’d be shocked if “Succession” director Mark Mylod doesn’t win for his (superb) work on the season finale, but frankly, Karyn Kusama deserves it for creating such a perfectly unsettling world for “Yellowjackets”; the series simply wouldn’t have been half as affecting without her.

What else were you particularly happy to see recognized this year, Dan? I, for one, am thrilled the “Late Night with Seth Meyers” team finally got included alongside the usual suspects in variety talk, and was also relieved to see voters veer from their typical “let’s nominate every famous ‘SNL’ host for guest acting” to solely bestow that honor upon Jerrod Carmichael (also, happily, nominated for his searingly good standup special, “Rothaniel”).

D’Addario: I was very happy for the leads of “The Staircase,” Colin Firth and Toni Collette, who overcame their show dropping in the very height of end-of-season glut to get deserved nominations. And while I’m tepid on “Squid Game,” I think its presence in the acting categories — as opposed to just general excellence — is cool, and demonstrates that viewers were paying attention and are willing to break the language barrier. I was also pleased that there was room amidst multiple “Succession” directing nominees for Lorene Scafaria, who conjured a hellscape of a family party, and such an effective reckoning for Jeremy Strong’s Kendall, in the episode “Too Much Birthday.” The extreme desperation of “Squid Game’s” actors pushed to the brink vs. the lower-key melancholy of the Roy children — maybe that’s what the drama race is coming down to after all.

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