The 2020 Emmy nominations, like any other year, delivered many disappointments and surprises.
One of the surprises was the success story of The Mandalorian.
Who would have thought the Star Wars-themed series about a bounty hunter would snag 15 nominations?
The Mandalorian receiving Emmy love has a positive side. Its nominations, along with the nominations for Watchmen, What We Do In The Shadows, Stranger Things, and The Good Place in major award categories indicate greater (and long overdue) recognition for genre TV.
Taking a look at the nominations The Mandalorian received, most of them make sense: costuming, editing, music, and so on. What seems to be puzzling people is the nomination for Outstanding Drama Series.
The Mandalorian is good television. Yet when compared against fellow nominees like Better Call Saul and Succession, snubbed shows like Pose, or worthy shows that will never get nominated like Queen Sugar, it's hard not to conclude The Mandalorian received the nomination because of its popularity.
To be fair, determining what is an outstanding drama, comedy, or limited series is a nebulous affair. Should all components be weighted equally or do some matter more than others? What if the TV show as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts?
The Mandalorian belongs to "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" category.
Evaluate the show solely on its technical components, and it can compete with the best. However, the story and acting components (while good) are not yet at the level of outstanding, and it weighs against calling The Mandalorian an outstanding drama series.
One of the reasons The Mandalorian is a good TV show is because it knows how to tell a story. That already puts it ahead of many other TV shows in quality.
The issue is The Mandalorian hasn't pushed the bounds of storytelling the way most nominees for Outstanding Drama Series have.
Episodes like The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode 4 (an homage to Seven Samurai/The Magnificant Seven) and The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode 6 (prison break story) are common TV stories. Without the Star Wars setting, there wouldn't be anything remarkable about those episodes.
Let's compare The Mandalorian to another TV show nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, Better Call Saul. Both The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode 5 and Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 8 are about the main character having a misadventure in the desert.
Both shows do a good job of executing their respective episode, but Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 8 is the better episode because it tells much a deeper, richer story with more developed characters.
To use a sports metaphor, watching The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode 5 is like watching a figure skater perform a double axel. Watching Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 8 is akin to seeing a figure skater perform a quadruple axel.
When evaluating The Mandalorian Season 1 and Better Call Saul Season 5 as a whole, you reach the same conclusion. The same argument could be made in favor of other nominees like Succession or The Crown.
The gold medal (or rather the Emmy statuette for Outstanding Drama) belongs to the series landing the quadruple axel.
Sometimes the acting can overcome the story's lack of depth, but The Mandalorian hinders itself that area too.
Pedro Pascal is dream casting for Din Djarin, the title role, but Din is a man of few words. The character doesn't naturally lend himself to acting showcases like Jimmy's "lightning bolt" rant on Better Call Saul Season 5 Episode 7.
The in-universe rule forbidding Mandalorians from showing their faces to living beings cuts off another way for Pascal to show Din has a far deeper emotional life than he's willing to say out loud.
IG-11 sacrificing himself to save the others on The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode 8 was a season-high. Din's desperation and sadness helped to greatly sell the impact.
Allowing its lead actor to be more expressive going forward will go a long way in making The Mandalorian more Emmy worthy in non-technical categories.
The Mandalorian Season 1 wasn't an outstanding drama, but it created a strong foundation for the series to become one in the future.
The Mandalorian's first season ended with Din on a mission to find Jedi and the reveal of Moff Gideon possessing the Darksaber, which is the Mandalorian equivalent of The Sword in the Stone from Arthurian legend.
These developments suggest The Mandalorian Season 2 will be diving much deeper into Star Wars' cultural, mystical, and political elements. This should help make the plotting less generic and more epic.
It also promises to continue challenging Din on a personal level because many more of his beliefs, such as viewing Jedi as the enemy, are likely to be questioned.
Once the characters (Din, The Child, Cara, Greef, and Moff Gideon) are further fleshed out, The Mandalorian could boast a cast of characters as complicated and intriguing as its co-nominees.
All too often Emmy voters are too complacent in their choices and nominate (and award) TV shows past their prime. Strangely, The Mandalorian's nomination for Outstanding Drama Series was the inverse of this phenomenon.
In the future may the Force remind Emmy voters to vote for The Mandalorian when it truly becomes an Outstanding Drama Series.
Over to you, TV Fanatics!
What are your thoughts about The Mandalorian’s Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series?
Do you think The Mandalorian Season 2 will engage in deeper storytelling?
Hit the comments below.
Becca Newton is a staff writer for TV Fanatic.