‘The Bear’ Is a Comedy, ‘White Lotus’ a Drama, as PGA Winners Set a Chaotic Stage for the Emmys

At the PGA Awards, Christopher Storer's Hulu comedy and Mike White's HBO drama helped solidify their category designations for the 2023 Emmy race.
"The Bear" Episode 7
"The Bear"
Courtesy of FX

Chaos in February is a feeling generally relegated to relentless weather, Valentine’s Day nerves, and the typically intense Oscar circuit. But this year’s winter awards run has proven critical for a couple of TV shows, as they aim to solidify their chosen genre placement amid debate over where they really belong. Surprise, surprise: Saturday night’s PGA Award winners made a major impact, as “The Bear” and “The White Lotus” snagged key wins in the categories of Comedy and Drama, respectively

Yes, “The Bear” is a comedy series — at least, that’s how it’s been designated throughout the winter awards cycle and where it’s destined to run this summer at the 2023 Emmys. The DGA Awards, Critics Choice, Writers’ Guild, and more have all honored Christopher Storer’s half-hour original series in their Comedy categories, and the cast will compete for two SAG Awards Sunday night against the likes of “Abbott Elementary,” “Barry,” “Hacks,” and “Only Murders in the Building” — the same series it faced at the PGA Awards.

As awards experts know, success with one guild doesn’t guarantee success with another. The PGA Awards tend to reward runaway success stories, and “The Bear” was a true out-of-nowhere hit. Producers Josh Senior and Tyson Bidner (who were on hand to accept the honor) helped fashion a show about a Chicago kitchen staff into a ferocious, addictive, genre-bending breakout. The FX production found its audience on Hulu, and with Season 2 expected this summer, there’s little reason to think momentum will flag.

But is it a comedy series? That question resurfaces every year, as TV shows meant to break boundaries are forced into one of three boxes for awards reasons, but “The Bear” may have to reckon with it more than most. While comparing the blacker-than-black comedy of “Barry” to the heart-pounding pressures of preparing Chicago’s best beef may seem doable, Storer’s series is going to have to face the joyous highs of “Ted Lasso” and extraordinary silliness of “What We Do in the Shadows” come Emmy voting. (Not to mention “Abbott Elementary” and “Only Murders” again.) With so many shows in competition that are actually built around laughs, will “The Bear” stick out like a sore thumb or elevate itself above the pack?

Similar questions will hang around “The White Lotus” — which won the PGA Award for Drama Series Saturday evening — but they’re unlikely to hamper Mike White’s beloved series. For those in need of a reminder: “The White Lotus” competed as a Limited Series during its first season, and it did quite well. SAG, PGA, DGA, and WGA nominations built to an Emmy run that ended with 10 gold statues. By all accounts, the series’ future was set — but then Jennifer Coolidge came back for Season 2, making it ineligible at the Emmys in the Limited Series categories. (Anthology series are accepted, but once voters saw Season 2, they realized Coolidge’s role was prominent enough to constitute an “ongoing storyline,” forcing a move to Comedy or Drama.)

So, how has the shift affected Season 2? In short, it hasn’t. “The White Lotus” Season 2 has now won PGA and DGA Awards, after only being nominated for Season 1, and it could still take home SAG and WGA trophies as well. Voters don’t seem to care where it’s competing; they love the show, and they’ll support it no matter what it’s labeled. Where it gets a little confusing is that some organizations do consider it a comedy. The DGA Awards nominated it as a Comedy Series for both seasons, while the Guild of Music Supervisors and British Film Editors both nominated the first season in their Comedy categories.

HBO has already confirmed the series will be running as a drama at the Emmys — where the network will look to land three key nominations for Best Drama Series in “The White Lotus,” “Succession,” and “House of the Dragon” — and, again, it appears voters are open to whatever direction the black comedy/satiric drama wants to lean. (Plus, given their shared “eat the rich” themes, biting wit, and HBO’s convincing campaigns, having “The White Lotus” competing next to “Succession” should help win over any suspicious voters.)

“The White Lotus” departing to Drama cleared the PGA’s Limited Series category for “The Dropout,” which certainly made for a great night at Hulu headquarters. We’ll see if the critically acclaimed Elizabeth Holmes’ miniseries will complete a solid awards run Sunday night, when Amanda Seyfried looks to add a SAG Award to her mantle (next to her Emmy).

Elsewhere, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” won a very messy TV Movie race, which included similarly strong entries in “Fire Island” and “Prey,” but also nominated that other “Pinocchio” movie — the one on Disney+, not by Guillermo del Toro (which had a good night). “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy” triumphed in the Non-Fiction category over the likes of “60 Minutes,” ESPN’s “30 for 30,” “George Carlin’s American Dream,” and Amy Poehler’s “Lucy and Desi” documentary. “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” came out on top in the Game/Competition race, and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” just keeps winning, wherever it goes.

We’re still nearly four months away from finding out what all this means for the Emmys, but guild wins are industry wins. They signify at least one professional group is behind these shows and accepts them for what they are. For “The Bear” and “The White Lotus,” wins are a big step toward widespread acceptance — turning chaos into congruence, congruence into conquest.

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