The Emmys don’t like teenagers — not usually anyway. We’ve seen that in the past with frequent snubs of critical favorites like “Felicity,” “Freaks and Geeks,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and even more adult-skewing shows with teens like “Party of Five” and “Gilmore Girls.” So this year “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix comes in at somewhat of a disadvantage. But there is precedent for a teen breakthrough that should be encouraging for the show’s breakout star, Katherine Langford. Am I crazy to think so?
The high-school drama “My So-Called Life” only lasted one season on ABC 22 years ago, but it earned four nominations in 1995, including Best Drama Writing, Best Drama Directing and Best Drama Actress for its breakout star Claire Danes, who was just 16-years-old at the time. The series has been a cult favorite ever since, and of course Danes eventually got her due at the Emmys — three times, in fact. She won Best Movie/Mini Actress for “Temple Grandin” (2010) and Best Drama Actress twice for “Homeland” (2012-2013).
Almost a decade later another teen show was an unexpected hit at the Emmys. “Joan of Arcadia” aired on CBS, and like “My So-Called Life” it struggled in the ratings, lasting only two seasons (2003-2005), but in its first year it picked up surprise nominations for Best Drama Series and Best Drama Actress (Amber Tamblyn), as well as Best Drama Guest Actress (Louise Fletcher).
“13 Reasons Why” has an advantage over those shows in that it’s already a huge watercooler hit. It has been renewed for a second season, and if it maintains the same level of viewer engagement in season two it has the potential to last much longer. Of course, a lot of that fandom comes from teens and young adults who aren’t likely to be members of the television academy. However, we know that at least one segment of adults are fans: TV critics, who gave the series strong reviews. And the show has a grown-up pedigree that might get academy attention: it’s created by Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Yorkey (“Next to Normal”), and it’s produced and directed by Oscar winner Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”).
It doesn’t hurt that the reigning champion for Best Drama Actress, Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”), is out of the running. Her show didn’t return until June, so she had no new episodes airing during the eligibility period. “Orphan Black” isn’t a teen drama, but it has some of the same youth appeal as teen shows of the past, so some of those voters might just mark down Langford on their ballots.
It’s hard to tell how any of this year’s crop of new shows will do. There are more new shows than there have probably ever been before, and more of those new shows are of a caliber would have easily put them on the awards radar 10 or 20 years ago. The Emmys are far more competitive these days than the Oscars, but even still I think we may be underestimating Langford as a contender for Best Drama Actress, especially if the TV academy wants to anoint a star in the making, as it did with Maslany, Sterling K. Brown (“The People v. O.J. Simpson”) and Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”) last year.
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