Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz. Leading up to the 72nd Emmy Awards, he'll be taking a hard look at the shows that were nominated (and those that were not) searching for insight into how Emmy voters are likely to cast their ballots ahead of this year's award ceremony.
Ozark didn't exactly make a splash when its first season premiered in 2018. Starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney as a married couple who get entangled in a money laundering operation involving a drug cartel in the Ozark mountains of Missouri, it never had the buzz that other Netflix shows like Stranger Things and The Crown enjoyed from the start. Likewise, it was far from a critical darling, with the most common assessment being that it was a poor man's Breaking Bad clone.
The first big sign that Ozark was more than what many of us thought came at the 2018 Emmys, when Netflix campaigned hard for the series. And although the show only got five nominations that year — and was beaten out by The Crown and Stranger Things for an Outstanding Drama nod — one of them was for Bateman in Outstanding Actor and two were for directing, a category that traditionally hews to the series nominees. So it appeared that Ozark was a bit of an Emmy fave. This was confirmed last year when the show got nine nominations, including Drama Series, and even scored upset victories in Directing (for Bateman) and Supporting Actress (for Julia Garner), despite the hulking presence of final-season Game of Thrones in both categories.
Ahead of this year's nominations, with Thrones out of the way, the Drama categories were wide open, with the one thing that was almost universally predicted being that Ozark would see its highest tally yet. And indeed, it did, scoring 18 nominations, tied with Succession for the most of any drama series. By now, it's no longer surprising that Ozark would be an Emmy favorite. After three seasons, both the reviews and mainstream attention have come around, with the show becoming a must-watch binge during early quarantine times.
So the question is: how high will theceiling go when it comes to the Emmys? Ozark faces its biggest competition in its nomination-tally neighbor, Succession. If Ozark experienced a (blue-tinted) media glow-up between its second and third season, the one show that dwarfs that evolution is Succession, which in its original season was met with a whole lot of raised eyebrows at the idea of a show where the protagonists were a rich, amoral corporate-media dynasty, but in its second season became TV's trendiest and most addictive serio-comedic pleasure. Netflix has still never won in Outstanding Drama, while HBO is quite at home in that rarefied air, so if Ozark is going to take the evening's top prize, it will have to be in a bit of an upset.
With that in mind, let's take a look at Ozark's nomination haul and break down where it stands its best chance of winning big:
A lot of people were predicting Tom Pelphrey to pick up a nomination for his performance as Ben, the troubled, volatile brother of Laura Linney's Wendy. Introduced in Season 3 and serving as an agent of chaos in the narrative, Pelphrey's performance drew raves and was expected to contend in the Supporting Actor race.
Having won last year, improbably slicing through the bloc of Game of Thrones actresses to take the Supporting Actress trophy, it's quite easy to see Julia Garner triumphing again. Though one assumes that a big part of her victory last year was that the Westerosi contingent split each other's votes. No such luck of that this year, as the only nominated supporting actresses from the same show are Laura Dern and Meryl Streep from Big Little Lies.. There's also the 2018 champ from this category, Thandie Newton (Westworld), and the formidable and hugely spotlighted Helena Bonham-Carter for The Crown. Not to mention the woman who probably deserves the win most (but who faces an uphill star-power battle): Succession's Sarah Snook.
Elsewhere, Bateman took home the Directing trophy last year, so the voters clearly are into what Ozark is delivering on that level. But if Bateman's star power was a boon to him in the category, that wasn't the case this year as neither of the two episodes he directed were nominated.
And then there's the matter of Laura Linney, a four-time Emmy winner who by all accounts delivered a powerhouse performance in Season 3. She's up against some real star power — Jennifer Aniston for The Morning Show; Olivia Colman for The Crown — but last year's winner Jodie Comer as well as her co-star Sandra Oh are repping a fading series, and surprise nominee Zendaya (Euphoria) is probably too much of a long shot. Underestimate Linney's chances at your peril.
There's no doubt that Succession is the frontrunner in the Outstanding Drama Series category. They've got the full weight of HBO's publicity push behind them, whereas Netflix has three mouths to feed in this category (Ozark, The Crown, and Stranger Things). They utterly dominated the acting nominations. And while Ozark took that surprise Directing win last year, Succession picked up an equally surprising Writing win. Moreover, Succession is the buzzier show, and the one that seems to speak more urgently to this particular moment in time.
That said… don't count out Ozark. This is a show that has thrived on being not the cool show, just the entertaining show. Which isn't to say that Succession isn't also entertaining, but Ozark tells a story the Emmys have already proven they love, given their historical fondness for Breaking Bad. If the wealthy TV insiders who make up part of the Emmy voting pool start to chafe just a bit at Succession's vicious treatment of the rich and powerful, that could be all the opening Ozark needs to cast the Emmys in a murky shade of blue.
The 72nd Emmy Awards are set to air September 20th on ABC.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.