It was MIA last year, but don’t count out ‘Westworld’ in Best Drama Series at the Emmys

Following an almost two-year hiatus, HBO’s “Westworld” returned with its third installment in March and is ready to invade the Emmys once more. Will it snag another Best Drama Series nomination after scoring back-to-back citations for its first two seasons? Although our early odds have it just outside the top seven in eighth place, here’s why I think the sci-fi epic will make a grand return to the drama series lineup.

“Westworld” came out of the gate roaring with 22 nominations for its debut season in 2017, tying “Saturday Night Live” as the most nominated program that year. Not only did it rack up a ton of below-the-line mentions — which were expected, given the show’s spectacle-heavy nature — but series creators Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan were shortlisted for penning the finale “The Bicameral Mind,” while Nolan was also recognized for directing it.

Plus, thanks to Anthony Hopkins, Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton and Jeffrey Wright, the show broke into all four main acting categories, with Hopkins’s inclusion in Best Drama Actor boasting unexpected support. Sure, he’s a living legend who has an Academy Award and two Emmys under his belt, but his role as Robert Ford — the park’s creator and co-director — was rather limited in screen time and arguably a supporting role. The show didn’t nab any above-the-line wins, but it did walk home with five below-the-line statuettes for its first season.

SEE ‘Westworld’ cast explained: Who’s a robot? Who’s human?

Despite the second season’s intricate, and sometimes hard-to-follow, storylines, “Westworld” defied the odds once again by bagging a whopping 21 Emmy bids in 2018, trailing HBO companion and nominations leader “Game of Thrones” by a single nom (alongside “SNL”). Since “Thrones” wasn’t eligible at the Emmys in 2017, we hadn’t yet seen “Westworld” square off against the Emmy juggernaut, which had already claimed Best Drama Series in 2015 and 2016. Hence, “Westworld” could have easily declined in noms — especially in the below-the-line races since Thrones” was as, if not more, spectacle-driven — but it held its ground.

“Westworld” was left out of the writing and directing races in 2018, which could have been a result of the show submitting too many episodes in both categories and consequently splitting its own vote. Had it submitted more wisely, it’s possible it would have even edged out “Thrones” as the nominations leader.

Newton, Wood and Wright all held on to their acting bids, while Ed Harris and Jimmi Simpson saw their inaugural Emmy mentions for the show in Best Drama Actor and Best Drama Guest Actor, respectively, after they were eligible, but snubbed, in supporting actor for the first season. Hopkins, who dropped down to supporting, was the only one who didn’t return, but his character’s storyline didn’t kick in until the final batch of episodes, at which point voters were already marking off their ballots. And since Ford died at the end of the first season, it was a rather unexpected to see him make a reappearance.

Even though “Westworld” claimed one fewer statuette for its second season than for its first, one of its four wins was its maiden above-the-line victory: Best Drama Supporting Actress for Newton. Given that Newton had to overcome a highly competitive field, including reigning champ Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), who had beaten her the year before, her win speaks to “Westworld’s” strong support from the acting branch of the TV academy.

SEE Brace yourself for the first broadcast-less Best Drama Series Emmy lineup in 4 years

With that said, the show had a rather underwhelming run at the winter awards for its second season. It underperformed at a handful of guilds, including the all-important Screen Actors Guild Awards, where it wasn’t able to hold on to its noms for drama ensemble and drama actress for Newton, even though she was fresh off her Emmy win. While that may be concerning en route to this year’s Emmys, its third season might turn the tide.

The season navigates vastly different, but equally intriguing, waters, taking place for the most part outside of the park. It primarily sees Dolores (Wood) residing in 2058 neo-Los Angeles and getting a taste of the real world, while still occasionally jumping back to both familiar and new parts of the Delos park. Although the show hasn’t doubled down on its intricacies and mind-bending storytelling, it’s much more accessible than last time around and might therefore appeal to a broader audience.

On a technical level, it is unimpeachable with its new lavish set and production design, and is sure to make a gigantic dent in the below-the-line races once again. And although our odds are currently only forecasting an acting nom for Newton (who sits in fifth place), don’t be surprised if Harris, Wood and Wright all return. While Harris won’t make his first appearance until the fourth episode, Wood and Wright continue to turn in searing work, with the former having dominated the opener. Plus, don’t forget about new addition and three-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul, who plays Caleb, a former solider trying to stay afloat as a construction worker and trivial criminal in the real world. Not only does he turn in a beautifully layered, subtle performance, but he could also capitalize on added visibility thanks to “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” for which he’s contending in Best Limited Series/TV Movie Actor.

Going off the branch-wide support for the first two installments and the third season’s quality thus far, there’s no reason to believe that the show won’t be able to reap its third straight drama series citation and continue to scoop up a boatload of nominations across the board. Since the eight-episode third season ends in early May, it’s also airing at a prime time, especially with many voters quarantined at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Our odds currently forecast noms for HBO’s “Succession,” Netflix’s “The Crown,” AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” Netflix’s “Ozark,” Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Apple TV+’s “The Morning Show” and HBO’s “Big Little Lies.”

PREDICT the 2020 Emmy nominees now; change through July 28

Be sure to make your Emmy nominations predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before the nominees are announced on July 28. And join in the thrilling debate over the Emmy Awards taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our TV forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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