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The 2016 Emmy nominations were announced this morning, and crowd favorite Downton Abbey was among the nominees for Outstanding Drama. The question is, was the show really as good as the other nominees this season?
Don't get me wrong, Downton Abbey was full of its trademark romantic drama, family shenanigans, downstairs troubles and shocking twists. But, was Season 6, which just so happened to be the last season of the PBS drama, as good as it was in its heyday? And, even more importantly, was it as good as the other shows that were also just nominated for Outstanding Drama? Downton is up against six other highly praised dramas for the award: Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, Mr. Robot, House of Cards, Homeland and The Americans. That's some pretty tough competition, even for a show that's been as lauded as Downton Abbey has in the past.
All of Downton's competition are seen as current paragons of TV drama. Game of Thrones has been a huge critical and audience success for HBO since it arrived on our screens in 2011, and this most recent season saw some long-awaited reveals and damn near unbelievable turns that must have managed to shock even the most jaded television viewer. Better Call Saul has been a strong contender in the drama category since it received its first nomination last year, which was for Season 1 of the show. Plus, it has the benefit of giving audiences more of a character that had become a memorable part of another critical and audience darling, Breaking Bad, and has not disappointed fans. Mr. Robot has had a breakout first season; the USA show about a vigilante hacker quickly became a buzzed about program in Season 1 that led to a slew of non-Emmy award nods for the show and a ton of anticipation for the recent Season 2 premiere. House of Cards has been a powerhouse of drama since it debuted in 2013; Homeland had another powerful season after suffering some creative setbacks in seasons past, and The Americans has finally gotten the Emmy love the show has deserved for years.
Downton Abbey spent a good part of its final season doing what all shows do in their final season: wrapping up plotlines. And, while this isn't a bad thing, it does mean that the drama was steeped in past stories instead of bringing the audience new dramatic plots that we could sink our teeth into. The competition for this category has managed to wrap up lingering plots while also giving us new mysteries, something that Downton, to be fair, really wouldn't have wanted to do in the final season. So, we finally got a happy Edith, a happy Mary, a back-at-Downton-for-good Branson and Sybbie, a non-blood-spitting Robert and an all around more calm and collected clan. But, did that really make for outstanding drama?
A good portion of the supposed drama in Downton's last season came from a battle over the future of the local hospital between Cora and Isobel on one side and the Dowager Countess on the other. It was obviously meant as a mostly light-hearted feud, but when a good deal of a story is as (harmlessly) silly as this was, can we still put the show in contention for best drama? The competition was dealing with major political power struggles, crime, terrorism and treachery in ways that Downton could never really compare to even in its best time on the air. When you have a season of TV that mostly featured couples falling in love, breaking up, finding out big secrets about one another and then deciding whether or not to reconcile, it can be hard to see that season as the best use of an Outstanding Drama Emmy nod.
While I enjoyed the last season of Downton Abbey, I will say that it's possible that this was a going-away nomination for a show that brought a lot of elegance and good old-fashioned soapy drama to primetime television. And, really there's nothing wrong with that, especially since I'm stumped as to what other drama should have nabbed an Emmy nod instead of this show. Letting them go out with an Emmy-laced bang is just fine by me.