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Why The Bear and Shogun Have the Best Writing Episodes for Emmys

For all the attention paid to acting races, the writing categories are equally competitive — if not more so. Among the contenders, there are two shows, one in drama and the other in the comedy category, with especially strong episodes worthy of consideration. The second season of FX’s “The Bear,” competing for the comedy trophy, overflowed with compelling storytelling, but only one episode, titled “Fishes,” was submitted. On the drama side, FX’s “Shōgun” was strong over the course of 10 episodes. However, the premiere, “Anjin,” is impossible to ignore.

Here, senior awards editor Clayton Davis and TV critic Alison Herman make the argument for each.

Read: All Primetime Emmy predictions in every category on Variety’s Awards Circuit.

Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto and Jon Bernthal as Michael Berzatto in ‘The Bear’
Chuck Hodes

“The Bear” (FX) – “Fishes” by Christopher Storer and Joanna Calo

It’s rare to watch TV and realize what you are seeing isn’t just another episode of your favorite series: You could be witnessing one of the best episodes of television. Viewers may recall similar moments in other series, such as the seventh season of “Mad Men” with “The Suitcase,” or, more recently while watching the demise of Logan Roy during “Connor’s Wedding,” the third episode of the final season of “Succession.”

Written by co-showrunners Christopher Storer and Joanna Calo, “Fishes” jumped back five years to a heated Christmas dinner at the Berzatto household. Jeremy Allen White, revered as the aspiring restaurant owner Carmy, and his beloved supporting players Ebon Moss-Bachrach, Oliver Platt and Abby Elliott have received their fair share of praise for their performances in the series and in this episode. But for “Fishes,” Storer (who also directed) and Calo bravely allow their main characters to take a backseat, introducing the audience to a litany of three-dimensional human constructions that feel all too familiar.

As Donna, the alcoholic mother, prepares a seven-fish spread, Jamie Lee Curtis charts a course riddled with tears and explosive unpredictability. It’s her most compelling moment on any screen during her illustrious career. But it’s not a solo act. Playing Donna’s son Mike, the ghostly and tragic motivation behind the entire series, Jon Bernthal hangs on by a thread, making even the holding of a fork feel enduring. And then place actors Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Paulson, Gillian Jacobs and John Mulaney around the table in front of him and you see a masterful balance impossible to forget. – CD

Hiroyuki Sanada as Yoshii Toranaga in “Shogun

“Shōgun” (FX) — “Chapter One: Anjin” by Rachel Kondo and Justin Marks

To call the process of crafting “Shōgun” merely “writing” feels like an understatement. To arrive at the action and dialogue we see onscreen, creators Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo had to embark on a journey that’s part adaptation and part translation — not just across languages, but across time, crafting characters who speak and act like they’re in 17th century Japan. (In an era-appropriate analogy, Marks and Kondo have compared the show’s dialect to Shakespearean English.)

And in “Anjin,” the first of the possibly-no-longer-limited series’ 10 episodes, the co-showrunners have to do all this while also introducing viewers to author James Clavell’s sprawling portrait of feudal Japan at a political crossroads. From the moment Richard Blackthorne (Cosmo Jarvis), the English captain and the episode’s namesake, washes ashore, he’s plunged into a knotted web of tensions and alliances.

By the time the credits roll, we not only understand the goals of Lord Yoshii Toranaga (Hiroyuki Sanada) and his translator Lady Mariko (Anna Sawai), but also Marks and Kondo have planted the seeds for these characters to join Blackthorne as true co-protagonists of the story. They’ve even made translation a key part of the text. Just as the makers of “Shōgun” had to toggle between languages, so do its characters. All the work is there on the screen. – AH

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