Emmys 2016: The 5 Most Attention-Grabbing Craft Contenders

"The People v. O.J. Simpson," "Mr. Robot," "The Man in the High Castle," "Outlander" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" captured the zeitgeist with the help of great craftsmanship.
Mr. Robot

There’s good reason newcomers “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” “Mr. Robot” and “The Man in the High Castle” distinguished themselves with Emmy craft noms: they brought authenticity to stories that tap into the racial divisiveness, violence and alienation that are weighing heavily on our minds this Presidential election season. And riding the surge of female empowerment, impeccably produced “Outlander” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” also landed craft recognition.

FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” grabbed 22 noms (including cinematography, costumes, makeup and editing), second only to Emmy leader “Game of Thrones” with 23. What they achieved with recreating “the trial of the century” in the ’90s was bringing it eerily full-circle today.

Verisimilitude, of course, was crucial. For cinematographer Nelson Cragg, the Bundy Drive crime scene where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered provided one challenge. Since the Brentwood condo no longer exits, they had to build it themselves and have it look so real that it would hold up to scrutiny for anyone going on Google.

The infamous chase on the 405 Freeway was the other big challenge. They had one weekend to shoot on a two-mile section of the 710 Freeway where it ends below Pasadena. The end result made it come alive with unsettling relevance.

THE PEOPLE v. O.J. SIMPSON: AMERICAN CRIME STORY "The Race Card" Episode 105 (Airs Tuesday, March 1, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: (l-r) Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden, Cuba Gooding, Jr. as O.J. Simpson. CR: Ray Mickshaw/FX

Speaking of unsettling, USA’s “Mr. Robot” (nominated for music score and sound mixing) captured the social anxiety disorder of vigilante hacker Elliot Alderson (Emmy-nominated Rami Malek) in a way that makes him both scary and empathetic.

It’s a splintered psychology inside the mind of Elliot — passive and aggressive — which Mac Quayle’s score punctuates with relentless percussion and synth in conjunction with a host of eerie sounds.

Amazon’s Philip K. Dick-adaptation, “The Man in the High Castle,” offers an alternate, Nazi-ruled America in the early ’60s, which also serves as an allegory about terror and freedom. It received noms for production design, cinematography, VFX and main title design.

Production designer Drew Boughton tapped into exec producer Ridley Scott’s iconic “Blade Runner” for a surreal, retro-futuristic look with German and Japanese influences. It’s a subtractive aesthetic in every way, devoid of everything that’s real.

At the same time, cinematographer James Hawkinson looked to Kodachrome film to achieve the right retro look with bursts of Technicolor reds for dramatic impact.

Zoic made the seamless VFX: digitally creating cities, vehicles and techy details that fit the fabric of this nightmarish dystopia run by the Axis powers from World War II.


Starz’s “Outlander” finally broke through with well-deserved production design and costume Emmy noms. In Season 2, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) continues her trippy journey as she travels with Jamie (Sam Heughan) from Scotland to Paris to thwart the Jacobite rebellion.

And there’s a welcome glam appeal. According to production designer Jon Gary Steele, it was about embracing the decadence of 18th century Paris and Versailles: deep, rich, emerald and gold with printed tapestries and gilded moldings.

For costume designer Terry Dresbach, this was like a fashion show as well as zipping off to another planet. Therefore, dressing Claire meant making her painfully mannered in the French Court, but still retaining her iconoclastic personality.


Meanwhile, the songs from the CW’s brilliantly subversive musical comedy series, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” chart the emotional highs and lows for Rachel Bloom’s Rebecca. “Crazy” nabbed four noms: main title theme, original music and lyrics, choreography and comedy series editing.

And the nominated “Settle for Me” (from Bloom and songwriters Jack Dolgen and Adam Schlesinger, who also serves as exec music producer) reveals how pathetic love can be when Rebecca pursues Greg (Santino Fontana), an underachieving bartender, in “I’m Going on a Date with Josh’s Friend!”

It’s Fred and Ginger turned on its head with the aid of Cole Porter-like romanticism — the perfect pursuit of love for all the wrong reasons.

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