“Penny Dreadful” is in the middle of its third season, and it’s only been eligible for the Primetime Emmys once.
The upcoming 2016 ceremony will mark its second shot at cracking the top categories — most importantly for its unparalleled leading lady, Eva Green — but the Showtime horror-drama feels like it’s been around forever. After all, Season 3 will have long wrapped by the time the Emmy Awards are handed out in September. Fans have already grown impatient re the series’ lack of recognition (earning just three Creative Arts nods for Season 1), and far fewer critics are beating the drum for John Logan’s creation than other passed over favorites like “The Americans” or “The Leftovers.”
And, to be fair, it doesn’t quite compare to those top-tier TV shows overall, even if Green is just as deserving as Keri Russell and Carrie Coon. But herein lies the issue. Not only has Green been overlooked because she’s “only” carrying one of the best shows on TV rather than a Top 10 pick, but it feels like the TV Academy is even more eager to dismiss her because “Penny Dreadful” is a horror show. While it’s hard to prove wide-ranging bias in a group of 19,000-plus, below we’ve outlined some myths and facts pertaining to “Penny Dreadful” and this year’s Emmys race, with the hope of shining a light on at least one truly outstanding contender.
Fact: The 2016 Race Will Test the Academy’s Bias in a Big Way
The one exception to the bias against the horror genre is a show many of you have already undoubtedly thought of, as horror is literally part of its title. “American Horror Story” has seen unprecedented success at the Emmys, winning 18 times as a perennial nominee during its four-year run. And that’s great, but there are reasons why this could be the exception that proves the rule.
For one, when “American Horror Story” first landed, its competition in the miniseries categories was pretty pathetic. Only “Luther” and “Hatfields and McCoys” represented the genre alongside Ryan Murphy’s anthology series in the combined Outstanding TV Movie and Miniseries category. The pedigree has certainly improved since, but as everything from “The Big Bang Theory” to “Downton Abbey” has proven, all you have to do is get your foot in the door with the Emmys to get an invite every year.
The 2016 race will be a big test of the franchise’s appeal. The limited series contenders are now so renowned they rival those in the drama category, and Ryan Murphy’s long-standing Emmys juggernaut could end up edged out of the race because of it. It’s one thing to compare “American Horror Story” to “Political Animals,” but it’s a whole other ballgame to choose between “American Horror Story” and “American Crime Story” — one of these is not like the other. If the former does get bumped, it could indicate how the TV Academy feels toward genre in general — that it doesn’t hold a candle to “serious” drama — and that’s bad news for “Penny Dreadful.”
Myth: Horror Isn’t Made to Be Taken Seriously
One of the many defenses people have for ignoring something is tossing into a bin; labeling it for a purpose without ever considering its true intentions. And so, with horror, people often claim it’s not aiming to be taken all that seriously, or at least not as seriously as some of these “important” dramas. Well, try telling that to the production designer of “Penny Dreadful” (Jonathan McKinstry), who crafts a world befitting of its period yet just a tick to the troubled side; or Abel Korzeniowski, who scored one of “Penny Dreadful’s” three Emmy nods, his for the haunting main title theme; or Gabriella Pescucci, a costume designer who’s crafted 20-plus episodes of period wear on par with what’s seen on “Downton Abbey” and “Better Call Saul.” (Don’t forget: It’s a period piece.)
While you’re at it, don’t forget to tell every horror creator out there who aims a bit higher than a few frights. Even the Oscars have stepped up sometimes when the movies can’t be ignored, like “The Exorcist” or “The Silence of the Lambs.” “The Walking Dead” may not be the best show on television, but it’s certainly one of the most talked about, with themes and characters aspiring to start conversations about more than merely who’s still alive and who’s not. “Outcast” looks to continue the trend on Cinemax this summer, and you better believe “Penny Dreadful” isn’t just playing fan fiction with literary characters. Each and every scene is a carefully considered puzzle piece placed with precision, and each member of the cast is given depths to search for might, mystery and meaning. Horror isn’t made to be taken seriously? Now that’s a laugh.
Myth: The Confusing Submission Timeline Is a Problem
With “Penny Dreadful” releasing in May each year, it doesn’t qualify for that year’s Emmys. A show must have debuted more than half of its submitted season by May 31 to be considered, meaning in 2016, “Penny Dreadful” will be campaigning for Season 2. If Ms. Green does land the nomination she so truly deserves this year — and she could, considering the Globes embraced her for Season 2, as did the Critics Choice Awards — that means she’ll only have been snubbed once. So the tricky Emmy calendar is not why she’s Emmy-less. In fact, that could actually be helping the series earn what little attention it’s already gotten.
Shows like “Orange is the New Black” play around with the traditional Emmy calendar by releasing new seasons while old seasons are under consideration. The theory is similar to Oscar contenders aiming for late-year release dates. By extending the film’s time in theaters to include voting season, it helps keep the movie in the news cycle and thus on voters’ minds. That goes double for TV because the press may struggle to write something new about “Homeland” in June — with Season 6 months out and Season 5 months over — but “Orange is the New Black” cast members can discuss the season under consideration and use the new season as a peg for added buzz. Hulu is trying the strategy out in 2016 with “Casual,” and “Penny Dreadful” could benefit in a similar fashion.
Fact: Seriously, You Guys, Eva Green is the Shit.
How Green missed out on a nod for “Seance,” her breakout episode from Season 1 (as if you forgot), can only be attributed to some sort of screener error. Maybe they got lost in the mail. Maybe the online version kept freezing. Maybe stodgy old Academy voters simply couldn’t figure out how to work their electronics that day — or, more likely, maybe they chose not to because, oh, it’s just some horror show. Whatever the reason, it’s a crime Green isn’t looking at her second consecutive nod in 2016 rather than her first.
But her talents have only grown. Season 2 saw Green’s character, the depressed medium Vanessa Ives, grow in a number of exciting ways, and she started at an emotional bottom. In the clip above, you can see how Green is able to portray the manic side of Vanessa; the woman terrified by the power she’s glimpsed within herself and how that makes her aware of darker forces who want it. Yet what’s commendable in this fraught scene is also her empathetic air; Vanessa’s never a victim, not really, and Green’s knowledge of this informs the way she moves around the room, as well as how she asks Ethan (Josh Hartnett) if she can stay the night. A romance may be kindling (and Vanessa and Ethan’s dancing montage later in the season is also award-worthy), but Green keeps her grounded throughout.
I noted in my review of Season 3 that “Green plays ravenous just as enticingly as she portends possession,” and that’s true for Season 2, as well. The culmination of eligible episodes is so wild, so batshit bonkers and so dangerously on the edge of spiraling out of control that it would take an actress of equal power to Vanessa’s supernatural endowment to pull it back from the brink. If such an actress existed, she’d undoubtedly be heaped with praise for her performance. Such an effort couldn’t be overlooked for any reason, be it institutional bias or confusing submission procedures. This actress would simply not spend another year empty-handed…right?