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‘The Leftovers’ Is Officially an Elite HBO Drama, Thanks to the Emmys

Being ignored by the Emmys puts "The Leftovers" right next to "The Wire" in an elite TV club — and it deserves the comparison.

The Leftovers Season 3

Van Redin / HBO


Emmy nominations are out, and they largely went as expected for “The Leftovers”: No nomination for Outstanding Drama Series, nothing for leads Justin Theroux or Carrie Coon (though the latter omission was stunning), nothing for writers Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta (or any of the talented staff), no nod for the gorgeous work of director Mimi Leder, and very nearly nothing across the board.

Save for one glorious exception: Ann Dowd.

Up for her turn on “The Handmaid’s Tale” as a supporting actress, Dowd snagged her second nomination of the morning as a guest actress on “The Leftovers.” To say this came as exciting news would be an understatement. The level of respect and adoration heaped upon Dowd by her fellow cast members, the writers, and Leder is unparalleled; to see the industry follow suit is the kind of things that keeps us invested in the Emmys. Dowd deserves both trophies and then 10 more for good measure.

Which would be fitting, given the lack of attention paid to “The Leftovers” overall. It is the series’ first and only nomination, and — while it’s kind of fitting to remember “The Leftovers'” Emmys’ ambition via the image of Patti Levin, loudly laughing and mocking supporters for wasting our breath — it’s a travesty more of the team wasn’t honored as well.

The Leftovers POST-AIR Season 3 Episode 7 Ann Dowd Justin Theroux

But it’s important at times like these to keep perspective. It’s far from a stretch to say a series doesn’t need the Emmys to become iconic. Plenty of landmark television series over the years have been turned away from the TV Academy’s guarded doors and gone on to change the medium forever. And HBO dramas — which include, in their entirety, some of the most heralded programs in Emmy history — are still no exception to this rule.

First and foremost is “The Wire.” David Simon’s opus on American institutions through the troubled city of Baltimore, MD notoriously earned just two Emmy nominations. Both were for writing: Season 3’s “Middle Ground,” and the series finale, “30.” Simon and co-writers George Pelecanos and Ed Burns, respectively, lost both years, and the show earned no other accolades from the TV Academy.

But the series itself has never been held in higher regard. It’s widely considered and commonly ranked among the Top 10 TV shows of all time, hitting No. 9 on the WGA list of best written series, No. 3 on Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz’s “TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time,” and No. 1 on Entertainment Weekly’s all-time rankings. Essays are still being written about it; creators still hold it up as one of the greats; the world respects it more than plenty of past Emmy winners, let alone multiple nominees.

And it’s not alone. Among other, less heralded HBO dramas, “Oz” stands out as under-appreciated by the Emmys. Tom Fontana’s prison drama snagged two nominations in Season 2 — casting and Charles S. Dutton as a guest actor — and that’s it. Between 1997 – 2003, “Oz” ran for six seasons and, while “The Sopranos” was raking in gold statues, its HBO brother was ignored.

The Wire Dominic West Sonja Sohn Clarke Peters

“Oz” doesn’t have quite the legacy “The Wire” does, but it sits at No. 101 on the WGA’s list and Simon himself has praised the series at length. One would be hard pressed not to consider it among the great HBO dramas, if not one of the best TV shows of all-time.

The relationship “Oz” has to its network at the time parallels that of “The Leftovers” today. Last season, when Lindelof and Perrotta’s series developed into the widely acclaimed, list-topping “best show on TV,” HBO already had an Emmys contender at the ready. “Game of Thrones” was coming off its first win for Outstanding Drama Series and had all the momentum it needed to keep HBO in the money (so to speak). “The Sopranos” served the same role at the time, earning nominations for three straight seasons during “Oz’s” first three years of contention. David Chase’s drama, “Six Feet Under,” or both represented HBO at the Emmys every year “Oz” was on the air.

That’s not to say “Oz” couldn’t get in, as well, but that as Emmy voters transitioned away from broadcast fare to cable offerings, it may have been harder to find a second or third slot for “Oz.” “The Leftovers” has been competing against peak TV each year, including “Game of Thrones,” making its hopes of garnering Emmy’s attention harder and harder with each passing season.

To start talking about “The Leftovers” as one of the greatest of all time may be a tad premature. Time is needed not only from the season that emotionally overwhelmed us but from the biting sting of the industry ignoring the series. Emmys morning isn’t the time to make big, grand statements, but a time to consider the overall lasting impact of series you love. “The Leftovers” has done all it can to deserve comparisons to “The Wire,” and we’ll just have to wait and see if fans are debating whether either of the two are better than “The Sopranos” in the years and decades to come.

All this is to say the Emmys are not the end all be all of great television. “The Leftovers” made its mark while it aired, and will likely continue to change lives for years and decades to come. The critics I know who fell in love with the last season (if not prior entries) will not soon let anyone forget it. It had a profound effect on a very small group, producing unparalleled personal essays, critiques that defied convention, and potential new career paths, if even for the briefest of moments.

And that’s just the critics. This group, assuming we’re doing our jobs correctly, represents so many more viewers at home who struggle to put their feelings into words or don’t have the proper outlet to do so. As Lindelof himself has said, “The Leftovers” was made with the hope it would be just one person’s favorite show. Given I’m personally able to attest to that, it’s safe to assume that goal has been exceeded by leaps and bounds.

“The Leftovers” doesn’t need the Emmys to make it great. However this morning played out, Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta’s achievement could not be lessened or bolstered. It is what it is. To us, that means it’s the best show of 2017. To the Emmys, well, let’s just make sure Dowd wins, OK?

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