“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Wire,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Treme,” “The Hour,” “Community” and “Scrubs” – what do these programs have in common? They’re all among my favorites of the last 20 years, all were generally under-appreciated by the Emmys, and only one branch of the TV academy nominated every single one: the writers. I don’t like to play favorites – oh who am I kidding, of course I like to play favorites — the writers branch is clearly the best branch of the TV academy. That’s why I look forward to their nominations more than any other field.
Almost every year the writers surprise us, and it’s almost always a welcome surprise, bolstering a truly great piece of storytelling from an otherwise unheralded show, like “Buffy’s” bold silent episode “Hush” in 2000 or “Community’s” time line-juggling “Remedial Chaos Theory” in 2012. Those shows received no other nominations in primetime telecast categories – ever.
Not all of my favorite episodes from this past television season were entered for consideration for their writing, but here are my top eight underdogs on the Emmy ballot I’d love to see included on Thursday morning even if the programs struggle for recognition in other categories.
Best Comedy Writing
“Review” (“Buried Alive; 6 Star Review; Public Speaking” by Gavin Steckler and Jessie Cantrell)
Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) reviews life experiences, and this episode in particular revels in the most absurd, meta, and deeply personal aspects of the black comedy.
“You’re the Worst” (“LCD Soundsystem” by Stephen Falk)
The only episode submitted by this dark comedy is a slightly twisted and ultimately revealing take on depression as Gretchen (Aya Cash) tries to live vicariously through a suburban couple she’s stalking, only to be crushed when she learns even their life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Best Drama Writing
“The Americans” (“Persona Non Grata” by Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg)
“The Americans” was nominated last year and should be nominated again, this time for the fourth season finale in which the FBI gets subtle hints that could expose Philip and Elizabeth (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) as Russian spies.
“Doctor Who” (“Heaven Sent” by Steven Moffat)
Moffat was a surprise Emmy winner for writing “Sherlock” in 2014, but this season he undertook a greater challenge in one of his best “Who” scripts yet – which is really saying something – a one-man showcase for star Peter Capaldi that spans literally billions of years. (Read my Emmy spotlight about it here.)
“The Leftovers” (“International Assassin” by Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse)
I’m a sucker for dream sequence episodes. Handled well they can be creatively liberating, absurd, and uniquely revealing. “Assassin” is all of the above.
“The Walking Dead” (“The Same Boat” by Angela Kang)
One of the horror show’s best qualities is its ability to shift away from gory mayhem for quieter, character-driven pieces about morality. “Same Boat” is one such episode – this script could just as well be performed on a stage.
Best Movie/Miniseries Writing
“London Spy” by Tom Rob Smith
Imagine “Looking” as written by John le Carre. On its surface an espionage thriller, “Spy” is actually just as much a meditation on gay anxiety and persecution in public life. (Read my Emmy spotlight about it here.)
“Show Me a Hero” by David Simon and William F. Zorzi
Simon’s work tends to do better in longform categories than drama races (“The Corner,” “Generation Kill,” “Treme”), so even though this dense miniseries aired last summer and could be overshadowed in other categories there’s already a solid chance it will be nominated for its insightful take on modern segregation.
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