TV’s biggest awards show has never had a reputation for embracing the new, but after today, we might have to revise that. This morning’s announcement of the 2016 Emmy nominations contained (as always) good and bad news — but the folks at USA Network are likely thrilled that “Mr. Robot,” its complex and captivating hacker drama, was included in the Best Drama category.
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In addition, the series was nominated for Outstanding Casting, Music Composition, Sound Mixing, Writing and Lead Actor. It’s a set of nominations that cements “Mr. Robot” as that rarest of things — groundbreaking, challenging and popular. The fact that Rami Malek was able to break into the Actor in a Drama category despite a tough field and an unconventional performance is especially something to celebrate. It’s a moment that’s reminiscent of how “The West Wing” and “Mad Men” also shot to the pinnacle of Emmys success in their first seasons (and stuck around for seasons beyond).
But it’s also real proof that as television has evolved, the Emmys have finally caught up. “Mr. Robot” stood out in 2015 as truly representative of the new aesthetic for television — we often referred to it as “cinematic,” but really what we were referring to is the fact that in film, directors pay careful attention to a film’s look, striving to find something that makes it individualistic and special. “Mr. Robot” was deliberately unlike anything else on TV, enabled by its creator’s background as an independent filmmaker. And it also symbolized the fact that what television looks like is no longer easily defined, that it’s now truly a place for independent voices to be recognized as such.
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Earlier this year, the Golden Globes — much more eager to consider new shows over old — nominated “Mr. Robot” for three awards, handing out wins for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama (congrats, Christian Slater) and Best Drama Series. The latter category was surprisingly fresh in comparison to years past, with fellow nominees “Empire,” “Narcos” and “Outlander” also being recognized for their first seasons.
By comparison, “Mr. Robot” is the only freshman drama series recognized by the Emmys this year (though “The Americans” finally got some love for its fourth season) and easily the most unconventional.
The series’ success this morning shows that USA Network has truly shed its lingering legacy as a “light” network (Tony Shalhoub won all those Best Actor awards for “Monk,” but remember, it was a “comedy”), while proving that the Academy no longer fears change. The things “Mr. Robot” was attempting to do in its first season weren’t necessarily the easiest thing to understand. It’s not an easily digested show, thanks to its challenging premise and even more challenging execution. But somehow it hacked the system — perhaps for good.
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