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Just How Dominant Can The Bear Get in 2024?

Photo: FX on Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection

This article originally appeared in Gold Rush, a subscriber-only newsletter about the perpetual Hollywood awards race. Sign up here.

The Emmys’ scope is getting narrower and narrower. In 2019, Game of Thrones nabbed 7 out of 13 nominations in the Supporting Actor/Actress categories alone. In 2021, first-time comedy honoree Ted Lasso earned seven acting nods across Lead and Supporting (winning three), while over in drama, Netflix stalwart The Crown got seven (winning four) and the long-in-the-tooth The Handmaid’s Tale got eight (plus two nominations in the guest-acting categories). Last year, Succession got nine acting nominations in drama, and The Bear got 13 in comedy (both walked away with three wins each). FX’s new darling is primed to repeat its domination in 2024, racking up nomination tallies as fewer and fewer shows in general stand a chance of recognition. This is great news for Matty Matheson and Abby Elliott, but the trend itself is an irksome one.

Uh, Why Does This Keep Happening?

The problem is certainly not that there aren’t enough shows to award. The expanse of the Peak TV era has led the Emmys to increase the number of nomination slots in certain categories to accommodate all the TV that’s being made today. For example, in 2018, the Best Drama and Comedy series categories grew to eight nominees apiece (up from six), as did all the Supporting Actor and Actress categories. And yet last year, only 10 drama series and 11 comedies were represented in the Lead and Supporting acting categories; compare that to 15 years ago, when there were 15 dramas and 16 comedies represented at the 2009 Emmys.

There are a few reasons why this might be. The least charitable of them is that Emmy voters, faced with an ever-increasing amount of television shows, have simply given up and are only watching the most heavily campaigned shows — mostly returning series with a few flagship newcomers sprinkled in. The more charitable theory is that with so many new shows to consider, the votes end up spread far too thin in a winner-takes-all, academywide voting system — the result of changes made in 2015 and 2016 to help shake Emmy voters out of some Modern Family–size ruts (the show had just won Outstanding Comedy Series for the fifth straight year, while Jon Hamm was still trophy-less for Mad Men).

And the old system certainly had its drawbacks. It employed blue-ribbon panel voting that, by virtue of its small-group-mindedness, persistently excluded entire genres like sci-fi or entire shows like The Wire. But that same system also tended to honor standout performances in shows that didn’t dominate the Emmys otherwise, resulting in some surprising but really satisfying wins like Michael Chiklis for The Shield, Željko Ivanek for Damages, and Archie Panjabi for The Good Wife. Today, a purely popular vote, in which all Academy members vote on everything, sounds more equitable but ends up weighting the awards even more heavily toward the most widely viewed, buzziest titles. This leaves shows that might have stood a chance at sneaking into a single category with the more bespoke voting patterns of the panel system — shows like Reservation Dogs or The Good Fight — on the outside looking in.

Okay, how do we fix it?

No matter how much you love Succession or Ted Lasso or The White Lotus or The Crown — you’ll take Kieran Culkin and Sarah Snook’s trophies out of my cold, dead hands — sweeps get boring. The same theme music played for the same cast of characters, all thanking the same network execs. It’s making the Emmys less fun, and the Emmys really can’t afford to get less fun. When only two shows are represented in a category of eight nominated actors — as was the case with Supporting Actor in a Drama only recognizing cast members from Succession and The White Lotus last year — that’s an audience-experience problem, one that can be solved by some changes in voting policy.

One popular suggestion is to simply limit the number of nominees that can go to a single show in a given category. If you capped shows to two nominees per category, you’d have four free slots in that aforementioned Supporting Actor category. The downside is that you lose the opportunity to nominate a performer who did phenomenal work near the bottom of their show’s cast list: Alan Ruck on Succession or Simona Tabasco on The White Lotus, say. Just because it’s annoying when one show gobbles up all the nominations in a category doesn’t mean those nominated actors aren’t very worthy of recognition. But a cap on nominations from a single show could force voters to be more discerning in deciding which cast members truly stood out, rather than just blithely passing the whole cast through.

There’s also the notion that winning an Emmy ought to make you ineligible for nomination the next year. It would certainly free up some space in a category if Jennifer Coolidge and Matthew Macfadyen had to take a year off after their victories. Then after that year off, the former winner could be back in the pool. A variant to this rule is that an actor can only win for a role a certain number of times, say twice. This would end anyone’s hopes of matching Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s gaudy win total, but it would free up nomination space for someone new and it would keep the Emmys from settling into repeat-winner ruts.

My personal favorite suggestion is to simply go back to the panel system, which required those small groups of voters to watch every episode of TV submitted to their category before they made their decisions. The pre-2015 system asked acting nominees to send in one or two episodes of their best work, and there was a soft science to episode submission — do you pick an episode where your character is isolated (and thus in the spotlight) or one that highlights your ability to bounce off of your co-stars? Submit an episode where your character is particularly likable or where you’re performing darker, more challenging notes? Today, nominees still technically submit episodes, but they tend to make little impact in a popular-vote system that requires everyone to watch everything.

Fine, But What Does This All Mean for The Bear?

If recent tradition holds, The Bear looks to be in line for a ton of nominations in the Comedy acting categories. Expect current awards magnets Jeremy Allen White and Ayo Edebiri to get nominated in Lead Actor and Lead Actress, respectively (Edebiri is leveling up after winning Supporting last year). Ebon Moss-Bachrach will be back to defend his win in the Supporting Actor category. Then it gets interesting. The “Honeydew” episode (the one where Marcus goes to train in Copenhagen with Will Poulter’s arms) ought to be enough to get Lionel Boyce nominated. Matty Matheson’s bump to main cast gave him plenty of chances to get laughs as Fak; that combined with his status in the culinary world should make him a fun choice for a nominee. Oliver Platt, having appeared in the requisite 50 percent of season two’s episodes, will be eligible for Supporting Actor, so definitely expect a nod for him as well.

In Supporting Actress, Liza Colón-Zayas had a tremendous season as Tina made her way through culinary school; Abby Elliott stepped up in a big way as Natalie became an integral part of the restaurant’s redesign, not to mention the angst she played so well opposite her domineering mother in “Fishes.” Molly Gordon, as Carm’s love interest Claire, cleared the 50 percent threshold, so expect her to reap the benefits of a Bear windfall as well. Who not to expect in the Supporting Actress category is Jamie Lee Curtis, who only appeared in two episodes, but whose outsize performance ought to be catnip to voters in the Guest Actress category. (The Bear may set a record for Guest nominations this time around, with Curtis, Poulter, Olivia Colman, John Mulaney, Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Gillian Jacobs, Robert Townsend, and Jon Bernthal all big, shiny options.)

Do Any Other Shows Stand a Chance?

The two comedies that managed to remain relevant while Ted Lasso was busy hogging all the nominations for three years were Abbott Elementary and Hacks. It’s unlikely either of them fades this year. Abbott returned after the strikes and delivered a third season that should be plenty sufficient to get Quinta Brunson, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Tyler James Williams back on the Emmy ballot. (Whether there’s still space for Janelle James, Lisa Ann Walter, and Chris Perfetti in Supporting might be a trickier question.)

Meanwhile, Hacks is barreling its way into Emmys eligibility, having premiered its third season on Thursday and launching two episodes per week so it can be done by May 30, just as the eligibility window closes. The show was a back-to-back nominee in Outstanding Comedy Series in 2021–22, and Jean Smart won Lead Actress in a Comedy for each of those years. Hannah Einbinder was a back-to-back nominee as well, and she might benefit from Edebiri moving up to Lead. Jean Smart versus Ayo Edebiri might be the hottest battle on the Emmys ballot this year.

Old faves like Only Murders in the Building (with a Meryl Streep nod in Supporting Actress a near certainty) and Curb Your Enthusiasm (Larry David’s show never misses with Emmy voters and certainly won’t in its final season) should also expect nominations. What room does this leave for shows looking to crack the comedy races for the first time? Not much. But it’s worth putting up a fight for the right snow, like Hulu’s Reservation Dogs, which has been a critical darling for its three seasons despite getting increasingly conspicuous cold shoulders from the Emmys votership. The Emmys have been known to finally jump in on a show in its final seasons — Friday Night Lights and The Americans finally got their flowers from the Academy late in their respective runs. There is a glimmer of hope and a sliver of space on the ballot this year. Maybe we can all make a ResDogs nomination happen.

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