Is ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ being underestimated at the Emmys again?

What We Do in the Shadows” surprised with eight Emmy Award nominations this summer for its second season on FX, quadrupling its haul from last year. None of these are for acting, but do not count it out of the Best Comedy Series race yet. The Emmys have awarded five Best Comedy Series that they snubbed for acting. “Art Carney Special,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Jack Benny Program” and “The Monkees” achieved the feat in the 1960s. It was 21 years until the next instance, when “The Wonder Years” won for its 1988 debut, with its only other nomination being for Best Comedy Writing. “The Wonder Years” went on to sweep up wins from the Casting Society, Directors Guild, Television Critics Association and Writers Guild for its first season, before exploding to 14 Emmy nominations for its second, including three for acting.

With that second season, “The Wonder Years” became the fifth in Emmy history to occupy at least three Best Comedy Writing slots simultaneously. “What We Do in the Shadows” is the ninth, with all three of its submissions nominated: “Collaboration” by Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil, “Ghosts” by Paul Simms and “On the Run” by Stefani Robinson. The last was “30 Rock” in 2009, with heavyweights like “Atlanta,” “Russian Doll” and “Veep” each going only two for three in recent years. Only “The Larry Sanders Show” of the eight before “What We Do in the Shadows” never won Best Comedy Series at some point during its run.

Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi‘s vampire mockumentary has considerably greater support from the writers’ branch now than it had last year, when it failed to get its lone submission nominated. Gold Derby’s combined odds favor “Collaboration” over “Ghosts” and “On the Run,” but this is inexplicable. “On the Run” has what it takes to overcome vote-splitting the way that the “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” episode of “The People v. O.J. Simpson” did for Best Movie/Limited Writing in 2016, the year that the Emmys introduced plurality voting (and vote-splitting).  “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia” was the clear favorite among viewers of the three episodes nominated, with an 9.0 IMDb rating, opposite 8.6 for “From the Ashes of Tragedy” and 8.5 for “The Race Card.” “On the Run” similarly rates 8.8 opposite 8.2 for both “Collaboration” and “Ghosts.” Nothing was triple-nominated for writing the last three years.

“On the Run” writer Stefani Robinson is a past nominee in this category for “Atlanta” and stands out in the category this year not only as the only female nominee, but also the only Black one amid Black Lives Matter’s call to action to support Black artists. The other seven nominees are white men, which is typical for the category, but one has not won in five years. A woman has won in each of the last three years.

“What We Do in the Shadows” also boasts key nominations below the line in the likes of Best Half-Hour Production Design, a category that has only existed the last six years. The only Best Comedy Series not nominated for its production design in the last six years was “Fleabag,” which was likely the result of timing. “Fleabag” surged late last Emmy cycle; it was later nominated for Best Half-Hour Production Design by the Art Directors Guild, which shares voters with the Emmy category.

“What We Do in the Shadows” contends additionally for Best Comedy Casting and Best Comedy Single-Camera Editing. The Emmys introduced the latter category in 2003; the Best Comedy Series has been supported by an editing nomination 15 of the 17 years. The Emmys created the former in 2000 and it has supported the Best Comedy Series with a nomination 17 out of 20 times. Best Comedy Casting became extra important in 2015 when the academy opened up voting on it to directors and producers in addition to casting directors. This cross-section makes it difficult to be nominated without broad academy support; the Best Comedy Series winner has actually also won Best Comedy Casting all five years that the award has been voted on by three branches instead of one.

Finally, because the directors’ branch is seemingly larger than those for casting directors and producers, it suggests that “What We Do in the Shadows” was snubbed in Best Comedy Directing not because of a deficit of support among that branch, but because of vote-splitting. “What We Do in the Shadows” had three entries on the Best Comedy Directing ballot and the directors’ branch has been less keen than the writers’ to nominate the same comedies repeatedly. The nomination for the “Modern Family” series finale this year represents the only Best Comedy Directing nomination in the last three years for a comedy that submitted three or more times. Support from the directors’ branch is important because “The Office” in 2006 was the last Best Comedy Series without a Best Comedy Directing nomination.

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