“Snowpiercer,” TNT’s adaptation of Bong Joon Ho’s sci-fi fable, premiered on TNT on May 17. Like the film and the French graphic novel it’s based on, the series is set in a dystopian future where Earth has frozen over and the last remnants of humanity survive on a constantly-moving train divided by class, with the rich living in luxury at the front and the poor crammed together in the back. It’s the latest in a long line of big budget science fiction and fantasy television, and much like its predecessors it could be the next big hit at the Emmys.
The show checks off a number of boxes when it comes to Emmy ballots: it’s based on a recognizable IP, it features major stars (including Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly and “Hamilton” star Daveed Diggs) and the production values are on the level of a studio blockbuster. Best of all, it’s set in a fantastical world, one that viewers will hopefully want to visit every week and fully explore.
All of this is a major boon at the Emmys, especially in recent years. Its most obvious predecessor is “Game of Thrones,” which arguably began the trend of big-budget prestige sci-fi/fantasy TV shows. “Thrones” dominated the Best Drama Series category from 2015 to 2019, with a run that was only briefly broken by another prestigious sci-fi show, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in 2017. The other antecedents are “Westworld,” HBO’s big-budget follow-up to “Thrones,” and Netflix’s 80’s homage “Stranger Things,” both of which received tons of nominations for their first two seasons.
Prior to that, science fiction had seen little representation at the Emmys, as they were dominated by legal procedurals, medical dramas and cop shows. A few titles managed to get some attention, including “Twin Peaks,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “The X-files,” a cop show with a sci-fi twist. The real breakthrough was ABC’s mysterious island drama “Lost,” which won Best Drama Series for its first season in 2005 and received two more nominations for its fourth and fifth. Though it was not based on any pre-existing IP, it featured many science fiction and fantasy elements, a dense mythology and no shortage of big budget spectacle.
“Thrones” may be gone, but “Snowpiercer” faces other challengers in a crowded field, including the return of sci-fi faves “Westworld,” “Stranger Things” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” But much like the poor and downtrodden at the back of the train battling their way to take control of the engine, the road ahead might be tough, but the rewards will be worth the fight.
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